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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.

 

When Did Television Become So Amoral?

When did television become so amoral? At first blush, you naturally assume I mistyped my question and meant to say “immoral” rather than “amoral.” But no, it is not a typing error. I meant to say amoral.

To call something “immoral” means that there is a recognized standard of right and wrong and people willingly choose to do what is wrong. “Amoral” means that there is not a recognized standard of right and wrong, but people act according to their own personal standards of right and wrong.

Based on that definition, we are living according to the description found in the final verse in the book of Judges in the Old Testament. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

In the past week, I have been struck by how amoral television has become. Here are three examples from the few TV shows I happened to watch recently.

The Catch (ABC) – A splashy, sexy show introduced last month about a female private detective cheated by a con man, and the chase is on. In the first episode, the female private detective admits to sleeping with random strangers. In the third episode, she works inside or outside the law depending on the situation, and has a stolen painting in her bedroom. In the fourth episode, she helps the con man escape an FBI agent. Meanwhile, the con man’s female partner murders one “mark” and sleeps with both men and women.

Once Upon A Time (ABC) – Now in its fifth season, the show adds a new twist to every fairy tale you’ve ever read. In the most recent episode, the writers added an LGBT element by having Ruby kiss Dorothy, offering “true loves’ kiss” to rescue Dorothy from a sleeping curse. In the opening episode of their spring season, OUAT introduced the idea that you can work your way out of hell by settling your “unfinished business” in a positive manner.

Blue Bloods (CBS) – Over the course of the sixth season, Danny Reagan, a seasoned NYPD detective, has been chasing a serial killer. In the most recent episode, he shot and killed the man, even though he was unarmed. When Danny’s sister, Erin, an Assistant District Attorney, asked if he shot in self-defense, Danny responded, “It was justified.” Over the course of six seasons, every member of the family, save Danny, has slept with someone they weren’t married to.

If you said that these were exceptions to the rule of wholesome entertainment, you would be deluding yourself. You can find a multitude of other examples of amoral behavior just by watching the previews of different programs.

The writers and producers of television and movies seemingly have the agenda to demonstrate that any and every form of behavior is perfectly acceptable. It is up to each one’s individual standards of morality as to whether it is right or wrong. And if you disagree or find it objectionable, then you need to be tolerant because others may hold to a different standard.

Judges 21:25 certainly describes Television and America in 2016. We are doing what is right in our own eyes. What we fail to realize is that the book of Judges also describes the chaos that descended on the nation of Israel because they chose to follow their own standards rather than God’s laws. We delude ourselves if we believe we will find utopia by following our own rules. Doing what is right in our own eyes is not a recipe for freedom and happiness. Amorality and tolerance will only lead to disaster and judgment.

Watching television today requires a heightened sense of discernment and vigilance. You cannot shut your brain off and “veg out.” You will unknowingly adopt values which are unbiblical and ungodly. After every episode, show, movie, ad, and commercial, you have to ask yourself, “What does Scripture say about this?”

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2016 in Culture, Scripture

 

Touching the sheep

A shepherd touches his sheep every day. This point was made by a good friend in a sermon on Psalm 23. In the same way, a good pastor or church leader should maintain contact with the members of his flock, the local church.

On the one hand, I agree with the statement. Ministry is a contact sport. Personal contact communicates care and compassion. The members of a local church need to know that their pastor, elders, and leaders are concerned about them and know their needs.

On the other hand, I struggle with how to live up to this standard. I wrestle with self-doubt already, feeling like I’m never doing enough to lead, feed, guard, and care for the congregation of my church. Add to it the expectation that I need to have personal contact with everyone every day, and …

I also struggle with the idea because if a pastor like myself takes this burden on himself, it will ultimately limit the size of the church. Somewhere along the line, I read that the average person can know and remember about 200 names. If that’s true, no church can grow beyond 200 people.

For a church to grow, the pastor has to change his mind about three key areas of ministry. One change is to realize there is more than one way to touch a person. The pastor touches the congregation through his preaching. Everything from sermon preparation to preaching itself to posting the audio or video of the sermon helps the pastor touch the congregation. If he writes a blog or a newsletter or a book, he is touching people. The pastor can touch individuals through cards, notes, email, phone calls, conversation in the hallways, dinners in his home, having coffee, or a myriad of other ways. Perhaps the most important way to touch people is by praying for them by name. The pastor can also touch his leaders by training them, sharing the load of ministry, and debriefing them after their task.

In my church, I touch everyone when I preach on Sunday mornings. I touch a smaller group in the adult SS class I teach. Over the past two years, I have touched a group of men on Tuesday evenings in our Men’s Fraternity meetings. I touch the kids by teaching periodically in our Awana ministry. I touch our leaders in our elder and wives’ monthly Bible study and by participating in various board meetings. I invest in pastors and leaders in Russia when I go once a year to teach them.

For the church to grow, the pastor also needs to change his mind about the nature of his task. Rather than taking on the burden and doing all the work himself, the pastor’s primary task is to equip others for ministry (Ephesians 4:12) so that the body builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16). The pastor needs to enlist others in the task of shepherding, train them to do it well, and then step out of the way and let them care for others.

While I agree that the sheep need to be touched every day, one person cannot shoulder all the responsibility. In our church, we have enlisted our Sunday School teachers and small group leaders as the primary shepherds of the congregation. Their task is to make sure the people in their classes and small groups feel cared for. Since not everyone is in a class or small group, we have enlisted our Deacons and Deaconesses as part of a safety net to make sure no one slips through the cracks.

In one sense, the pastor shepherds the leaders who in turn shepherd the people, and all are cared for. In this way, we strive to practice the “one another” commands of the New Testament.

One other change the pastor needs to employ is to remember that he is called to please the Chief Shepherd, not the people.

Galatians 1:10 – For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? It I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Some expect the pastor to do all the work. Some don’t value a hospital visit from an elder or a deacon. Some expect the pastor to show up at every activity and board meeting. Some will never buy into this approach of the body ministering to the body. But the pastor has to decide if he is going to focus on pleasing people and burning out, or pleasing God by obeying his commands and changing how he does ministry.

1 Peter 5:1–4 – 1So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

 

Choosing a New Name for First Central – revised list of top 12 names

Here’s a revised list of the 12 names we are going to consider during the next phase of choosing a new name for First Central Baptist Church. (We discovered that two of our previous finalists, Cornerstone Bible Church and Crossroads Bible Church, are too similar to other churches in our area. They have been removed from consideration to avoid confusion.)

  • Chicopee Bible Church                                                                         
  • Christ Centered Church                                                                      
  • Christ First Central                                                                              
  • Church of Faith and Grace                                                                   
  • Faith Bible Church                                                                               
  • First Central                                                                                       
  • First Central Bible Church
  • First Central Church
  • First Central Community Church
  • First Central Fellowship Church
  • First Central Gospel Church
  • Grace Bible Church                                                                             

As we narrow the list, we have to wrestle with many questions:

  • Who is the name for?
  • Who are we trying to attract?
  • Are we trying to preserve the past?
  • Are we trying to reach the lost?
  • What is the right length? Two words? Three words? Four words? Is the name too long? Too short?
  • What do the words “First Central” communicate to the community?
  • Which of these names will best position us to accomplish our purpose of “Building a Community to Change the World”?
  • Will these names promote growth? Hinder growth?

Considering that seven of the twelve names contain “First Central”, I wonder if we are overly enamored with the name. I wonder if our emotional attachment to our old name is hindering us from thinking objectively about the future. I’ve heard a few people voice this opinion, but I’m sure that others will disagree as well.

My hope and prayer is that we will prayerfully consider the issues and options, and that we will listen to God as he directs us in unity to the name he has picked for us.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2016 in First Central Bible Church