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Monthly Archives: April 2016

I want to live a supernatural life

I want to live a life that can only be expressed by the phrase, “Look what God did!” I echo the sentiment expressed by Francis Chan in his book, The Forgotten God: Reversing our tragic neglect of the Holy Spirit (pages 142-143).

I don’t want my life to be explainable without the Holy Spirit. I want people to look at my life and know I couldn’t be doing this by my own power. I want to live in such a way that I am desperate for Him to come through. That if He doesn’t come through, I am screwed. (I probably shouldn’t write that word here, but it’s how I truly feel about this.)

There was a time when I got excited over a crowd showing up to hear me preach, but those days are long gone. Now I deeply desire that the Spirit of God would do things that I know are not of me and that cannot be faked or accounted for by human reason.

I don’t believe God wants me (or any of His children) to live in a way that makes sense from the world’s perspective, a way I know I can “manage.” I believe He is calling me–and all of us–to depend on Him for living in a way that cannot be mimicked or forged. He wants us to walk in step with His Spirit rather than depend solely on the raw talent and knowledge He’s given us.

Amen!

While that is my desire, unfortunately and far too often, I settle for the comfortable, easy, and familiar ways of doing things rather than take the risk of stepping out in faith and walking in the Spirit.

May God help him to long for him and depend on him alone. May God grant me the sensitivity to see where/what the Spirit is doing and to get in step.

 
 

Using short-term ministry teams for discipleship

I have been engaged in short-term ministry trips since the early 90’s. I have led, participated, trained, and sent numerous teams. I was fortunate in my early years to gain from the wisdom and experience of those went before me–Dan Hollingsworth, Tim Jack, Kaye Edds, John & Naomi Musgrave, and others. Because of their influence, I saw short-term ministry teams as a prime vehicle for discipleship and leadership development.

I am currently engaged in training a team that is going to Ghana this summer. As you can read in the Training Manual, we are combining Scripture memory, reading assignments, cross-cultural simulation exercises, and skill development to help prepare them for their task. Each member is memorizing 26 Scripture verses–1/3 of which are focused on presenting the gospel; 2/3 are all about servanthood; and the final two dealing with worry. They are reading John Piper’s book, Let the Nations Be Glad! The supremacy of God in missions, which is the best book on missions I have read. We’ve used the BARNGA game and the LUNA game as a way of helping them experience what it is like to enter another culture. The members will also be working on specific skills necessary to use puppets in sharing the gospel, interacting with people, and teaching groups of women and children.

 

This is the Calvin & Hobbes / Star Wars mashup you’ve been looking for

Classic Calvin & Hobbes comics updated with a Star Wars theme, by Brian Kesinger, a story artist at Walt Disney animation and Marvel comics, and by djkopet. Very creative and well done.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2016 in Calvin and Hobbes, Fun

 

Let Justice Roll Down

For one of the few Mondays in recent memory, I didn’t spend the day thinking about church. Instead, I participated in the justice process—I was on jury duty. (I was originally asked to serve while I was in Russia, but delayed my service until yesterday.)

I checked into the 4th floor jury pool room at the Hampden County Superior Court at 8AM, and then spent three hours waiting, watching TV, reading a Stephen Lawhead novel, and people watching. They had a big screen TV in the jury pool room with Good Morning America on at the time of check in. Later, they played a video on the MA justice system which was informative.

I must say I was amazed/dismayed at the quality (or lack thereof) for what passes for entertainment on morning TV. It seemed like it degenerated by degrees with each hour of the morning. Good Morning America was a mix of news, culture, and trending issues. Rachel was a mix of pop culture interviews, cooking tips, and gossip. Wendy was pure, unadulterated gossip. The View was a discussion of gossip. Good thing I had a book to read, though the volume on the TV was loud enough to be a distraction.

Sometime after 11AM, me and 120 of my closest friends were taken down to Courtroom 2 on the 3rd floor. We received an orientation from the presiding judge, and met the Assistant DA and his assistant, as well as the two defense attorneys. We then learned that we were part of the jury pool for a criminal trial that might last up to two weeks. The defendant was accused of committing murder in 2014.

As it turned out, I was juror #127. They started with #2 and worked their way through the pool to find and seat 16 jurors. I must admit to having mixed feelings. I was willing to serve, but I really didn’t want to give up two weeks to do it. It would be an inconvenience to sit on a jury during the day and do church work and sermon prep at night. Rather than ask God to get me out of the task, I decided to simply leave it in his hands.

By 3:30PM, they were up to juror #70 and had chosen 20 prospective jurors. The judge asked the remaining 50 of us if serving on a two-week jury would be a hardship. Several hands went up and they were excused. Since I couldn’t claim a hardship such as having young children at home or caring for aging parents, my hand stayed down. By the time His Honor asked a few more questions, there were only 7 of us left in the pool of prospective jurors. He then asked if the rest of us were willing to return on Tuesday to continue the selection process. I was honest enough to admit I was willing, but I would prefer not to. Fortunately, I was excused and on my way.

Since MA implements a one day, one trial system, I have fulfilled my obligation for another three years.

After arriving home, I started my usual Monday task of mowing the lawn. I began praying for the trial that justice would be done. I prayed that …

  • the prosecutor would present a solid, strong case
  • the defense attorney would represent his client with dignity
  • the judge would have wisdom and fairness in his rulings
  • the witnesses would tell the truth
  • the family of the victim would find peace and closure
  • the jury would have wisdom and insight in coming to a verdict
  • God would be honored through the proceedings and that justice would roll down.
 
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Posted by on April 26, 2016 in Culture, News stories

 

What in the world is God doing?

We had two new families in our 11:00 worship service yesterday at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA. One was a family of refugees from Congo who spoke only French & Swahili. The other was a military family relocated from Hawaii and the wife was a former French teacher. Only God could orchestrate something like this!

God is on the move!

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2016 in First Central Bible Church

 

The relationship between worship and missions

Missions exists because worship doesn’t. The ultimate issue addressed by missions is that God’s glory is dishonored among the peoples of the world. When Paul brought his indictment of his own people to a climax in Romans 2:24, he said, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” That is the ultimate problem in the world. That is the ultimate outrage.

  • The glory of God is not honored.
  • The holiness of God is not reverenced.
  • The greatness of God is not admired.
  • The power of God is not praised.
  • The truth of God is not sought.
  • The wisdom of God is not esteemed.
  • The beauty of God is not treasured.
  • The goodness of God is not savored.
  • The faithfulness of God is not trusted.
  • The commandments of God are not obeyed.
  • The justice of God is not respected.
  • The wrath of God is not feared.
  • The grace of God is not cherished.
  • The presence of God is not prized.
  • The person of God is not loved.

The infinite, all-glorious Creator of the universe, by whom and for whom all things exist—who holds every person’s life in being at every moment (Acts 17:25)—is disregarded, disbelieved, disobeyed, and dishonored among the peoples of the world. That is the ultimate reasons for missions.

The opposite of this disrespect is worship. Worship is not a gathering. It is not essentially a song service or sitting under preaching. Worship is not essentially any form of outward act. Worship is essentially an inner stirring of the heart to treasure God above all the treasures of the world—

  • a valuing of God above all else that is valuable
  • a loving of God above all else that is lovely
  • a savoring of God above all else that is sweet
  • an admiring of God above all else that is admirable
  • a fearing of God above all else that is fearful
  • a respecting of God above all else that is respectable
  • a prizing of God above all else that is precious

John Piper in Let the Nations Be Glad! The supremacy of God in missions, third edition

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2016 in Books, Missions, Quotes, Worship

 

The Trials of Pilate

Once an African chief happened to visit a mission station. Hanging outside the missionary’s hut on a tree was a little mirror. The chief happened to look into the mirror and saw her reflection, complete with terrifying paint and threatening features. She gazed at her own frightening countenance and started back in horror, exclaiming, “Who is that horrible-looking person inside that tree?” “Oh,” the missionary said, “it is not in the tree. The glass is reflecting your own face.” The African would not believe it until she held the mirror in her hand. She said, “I must have the glass. How much will you sell it for?” “Oh,” said the missionary, “I don’t want to sell it.” But the woman begged until he capitulated, thinking it might be best to sell it to avoid trouble. So he named a price and she took the mirror. Exclaiming, “I will never have it making faces at me again,” she threw it down and broke it to pieces. This is precisely what the Jewish religious leaders did to Jesus. They would dash this mirror of their souls! So they nailed him to a cross, only to find that this magnified the reflection.

Mark 14:53-65 describes the religious trials of Jesus, where he was accused of blasphemy, claiming to be God. 15:1-20 describes the political trials where he was accused of treason, claiming to be a king. As God, Jesus suffered for us. As King, Jesus died in our place.

Since the Jewish Sanhedrin did not hold trials at night, they reconvened shortly after daylight to finalize their verdict. Since they did not have the right to carry out executions (John 18:31), they sent the matter to Pilate, the Roman governor, hoping he would rubber stamp their decision (1). Surprisingly, Pilate wanted to hear the case (2-5).

Pilate was a Roman prefect, or governor. He ruled over Judea from A.D. 26-36. While he normally lived in Caesarea by the Mediterranean Sea, he came to Jerusalem during Jewish festivals to help keep an eye on things and to maintain order.

Pilate was a true politician. He usually made decisions that increased his stature and favor with Rome. The people’s desires and well-being were secondary to him. He was especially careful in dealing with the Jewish people. While he despised the Jews, charges had been brought against him because he offended them on two previous occasions.

Since the Roman officials left for more pleasurable activities by mid-morning, Pilate held court from 6-9AM. This is when he opened the proceedings against Jesus.

During the religious trials, the Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy, claiming to be God. In the civil trials, they change the accusation to one of treason, claiming to be a king. Since Pilate is concerned about a king who would threaten Caesar, he inquires whether Jesus is the King of the Jews (2). Jesus’ response indicates, “Yes, but not in the way you are thinking.” After Jesus’ explanation, “My kingdom is not of this world,” (John 18:36), Pilate realizes that Jesus is not a threat to Rome.

Though Pilate asked Jesus to defend himself, Jesus remained silent. Such silence was rare in a Roman court, and Pilate was amazed. At this point, Pilate’s initial feeling is that Jesus is not guilty.

However, Pilate discovered Jesus was a Galilean. Hoping to avoid making a judgment against him, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod Antipas, the governor of Galilee, who also happened to be in Jerusalem during this time. Herod only mocked Jesus by asking Jesus to entertain him by doing a miracle. When Jesus declined, Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate (Luke 23:6-12).

During the Passover Festival, the governor’s custom was to release a prisoner selected by the people (6-8). Rather than acquit Jesus of the charges, Pilate offered the customary Passover amnesty. Instead of choosing Jesus, the people chose Barabbas (11).

Barabbas was a freedom fighter, robber, and murderer, the equivalent of a first century Robin Hood. He had been condemned to death and was awaiting execution.

Pilate was shrewd enough to recognize that while Jesus was innocent, he had been arrested out of jealousy and hatred (10). He offered to release Jesus, probably in an attempt to spite the Jewish leaders. Being a political animal, Pilate also recognized he would have a riot on his hands if he did this. When he took a poll of the people, the demanded execution by crucifixion (12-14).

In releasing Barabbas, Pilate unknowingly provided an example of substitutionary atonement. Jesus, an innocent man, would die in the place of a guilty convict.

The Roman practice of crucifixion was more than hanging on a tree. It included humiliation and unrestrained torture. During a scourging (15), the prisoner was stripped, often tied to a post, and beaten on the back by several guards using short leather whips studded with sharp pieces of bone or metal. While the Jews limited the punishment to 39 lashes, the Romans had no set limit on the number of blows. Often this punishment was fatal as the subject’s flesh hung in shreds.

If this wasn’t enough, the Roman soldiers toyed with Jesus like a cat toys with a mouse (16-20). They took a faded scarlet military cloak and put it on Jesus like a royal purple robe. A crown of thorns became the victor’s laurel wreath. A reed or staff took the place of the royal scepter. The mocking cry, “Hail, king of the Jews!” parodies the Latin greeting, “Hail, Caesar, Emperor!” As a whole, it was a grotesque, vaudeville production designed to humiliate Jesus before his crucifixion.

On January 23, 1968, the USS Pueblo, a U.S. Navy intelligence ship, was hijacked by North Korean patrol boats in international waters off the coast of North Korea. The incident provoked a tense diplomatic and military standoff for eleven months. The eighty-two surviving crew members were taken into captivity. In one particular instance, thirteen of the men were required to sit in a rigid manner around a table for hours. After several hours, the door was flung open, and a North Korean guard brutally beat the man in the first chair with the butt of his rifle. The next day, as each man sat at his assigned place, again the door was thrown open, and the man in the first chair was brutally beaten. On the third day, it happened again to the same man.

Knowing the man could not survive, the next day, another young sailor took his place. When the door was flung open, the guard automatically beat the new victim senseless. For weeks, a new man stepped forward each day to sit in that horrible chair, knowing full well what would happen. At last the guards gave up in exasperation. They were unable to overcome that kind of sacrificial love.

Each of us is the person sitting in the first chair, but instead of getting beaten, we are to die. Knowing this, Jesus traded places with us and took the death blows that were intended for us. No one suffered more than Jesus. Why? Because he loved us. Jesus is the King who died in our place.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 24, 2016. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.