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Monthly Archives: September 2016

Please help me encourage believers in Russia

I have been invited to return to Russia in March 2017 to help encourage and strengthen pastors and leaders. Below is a letter I sent to my church explaining the ministry and asking for their prayer and financial support. Please read through it and prayerfully consider joining my support team. Thanks for your consideration.

First Central Baptist Church First Central Baptist Church

 

 

Moving Heaven for Earth

There are many misconceptions about prayer. If you listen to some folks, you get the impression that God only hears prayers offered in 16th Century King James English—“Dear Heavenly Father, we comest to Thee and bowest in Thine presence as abject worm-eaten sinners.” Others act as if they must find the right key to open heaven’s doors or perhaps need to hack God’s operating system and find the password to get in the back door. Still others believe God is so busy running the universe that we must take a number and wait in line until he has time for us. In addition, some folks pray as if God is required to do their bidding and so they make demands that he bless every plan.

You get a different perspective when you read about Abraham’s conversation with God in Genesis 18:16-33. You discover that prayer is a conversation where God reveals his plans to us and where we respond and ask how we can help him accomplish his plans. This fits with what we have discovered thus far in our series, that prayer is a conversation with a God who knows our needs, cares about our needs, and moves to meet our needs. We focus on God and his concerns first before we bring our requests to him.

Genesis 18:16-17 shows the depth of God’s relationship with Abraham. A servant is not privy to his master’s plans, but a friend will share his thoughts with his friends. As the friend of God, Abraham is included in what God has in store for the world. Abraham was to be a channel of blessing to the world (18:18), so he needed to know why God was removing one of those nations before he had a chance to bless it. Abraham was to teach justice to his children and grandchildren (18:19), but he needed to see it demonstrated so he could do more than teach the theory. God is going to model justice for Abraham in how he deals with the sin of Sodom (18:20-21).

Throughout this passage, God models his character for Abraham. God is omniscient and knows everything. He hears the cries of the oppressed and the downtrodden. But he is also a just judge who will base his judgment on firsthand information. He sends his angels to Sodom to investigate if things are as bad as he has heard (18:15, 21).

As Scripture reveals, Sodom had seen and experienced God’s grace on numerous occasions. When the inhabitants of Sodom were captured in the battle of the kings (Genesis 14:1-16), God allowed them to be rescued by Abraham. They heard the witness of Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High (14:17-20). They witnessed Abraham’s response to the king of Sodom that he would only serve the Most High God and would not take any of the spoils of war (14:21-24). Despite the repeated evidence of God’s grace, the people of Sodom were incredibly wicked. (This is not New England “wicked”—“wicked cold,” “wicked awesome.” This is evil wicked. On a scale of 0-10, these folks were a minus 15.) They were guilty and fully deserving of God’s righteous judgment.

And yet, the just judge is also a merciful God. He will spare the wicked for the sake of the righteous.

Abraham’s conversation with God is not a beat down of God. Abraham is not arm wrestling God in order to get his way. Abraham’s prayer is modest. He never challenges God’s evaluation of Sodom or pries into the details. His prayer is humble. He recognizes God is the Lord and he is but “dust and ashes” (18:27). Despite his modesty and humility, Abraham is persistent in his prayer. Six times he asks God for something specific, and becomes bolder with each request (50, 45, 40, 30, 20, 10 righteous people) (18:24-32). Abraham’s prayer is also persuasive as he appeals to God in light of God’s character. “Will not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” (18:25, 32).

As Christ followers, we need to understand God’s plan and our role in helping carry it out. God’s plan is to reach the world with the message of grace. Our role is to share the gospel and make disciples. Since God is going to bring judgment on the world, we must intercede for those who need mercy. Rather than just focus on ourselves, we should pray for the oppressed and downtrodden in our city, state, nation, and world.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 18, 2016. It is part of a series on Prayer: Moving Heaven for Earth. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Take the risk of showing real friendship

befriendBook Review: Befriend: Create belonging in an age of judgment, isolation, and fear, by Scott Sauls

What might happen if we took seriously Christ’s command to “love one another”? What might happen if Christ followers sincerely tried to love the least and the lost? What are some practical ways that we can create real friendship with those on the fringes of society? These questions lie at the heart of pastor and author Scott Sauls’ latest offering, Befriend: Create belonging in an age of judgment, isolation.

Far too often, according to the author, we settle for “less real versions of friendship.” These might include digital friendships, transactional friendships, and one-dimensional friendships. Rather than settle for false versions of friendship, the author challenges us to pursue real friendship—“the multilayered kind that exposes us to the grit of our own and each other’s lives; the kinds that positions us to love across the lines of our differences; the kind that leads us to lay down our lives for each others’ sake.”

As the author explains, the book “is a collection of twenty essays. Each essay attempts to explore a unique picture of real friendship…. Real friendship happens when we move toward the people we are most tempted to avoid. These are the people who are best equipped to challenge our perspectives, push our buttons, and require us to put on love.” Included in his list of challenging people to love are “prodigals and Pharisees,” “the ones you can’t control,” “dysfunctional family members,” “the poor and empty-handed,” “bullies and perpetrators,” “vulnerable women and humans not yet born,” and several others.

The book is well written and will challenge your thinking. The book is biblical and practical. It includes many real life stories and examples. I found it especially timely in light of the current debate over athletes who stand/kneel during the national anthem.

My impression is that the book appears to be written to those who are already following Christ. The only negative I found in the book is that it lacks a gospel presentation. In the chapter, “Befriend the one in the mirror,” he deals with the subject of shame and says that Christ has “lifted our shame off of us, nailing it to the cross.” However, he doesn’t go further to explain how we can receive forgiveness for our shame and sin.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Tyndale Blog Network http://tyndaleblognetwork.com/ book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2016 in Books, Evangelism, Scripture, Theology

 

A collection of stunning photographs

photographs-from-the-edgeBook Review: Photographs From the Edge: A master photographer’s insights on capturing an extraordinary world, by Art Wolfe with Rob Sheppard

Art Wolfe and Rob Sheppard put together a collection of stunning photographs in a coffee-table quality art book. The book has the appearance of a “greatest hits” album of master photographer Art Wolfe’s work over the years. The work is organized by decades, starting in the 1980’s when Art used print film and going up to the 2010’s when he now specializes in digital photography. Much of his work centers on wildlife, but also includes geography and people from all over the world.

Each picture is dated, titled, and located geographically as to where and when it was taken. The author also gives the details of what camera was used, the film or ISO setting, and the lens he used. The artist also gives an explanation of the circumstances that led to each photograph, how he chose the subject, setting, lighting, etc. The editor also includes a section on “The nature of the photo” which explains a little about the animal, geographic landmark, or person in the picture. There is also a “Photo tip” about how to use lighting, lenses, color, and background to take a similar photograph.

The book is both entertaining and informative. I learned by reading the explanations and tips as well as by studying the details of the photos.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2016 in Books, Photos

 

A cautionary tale about our global market economy

the-domino-effectBook Review: The Domino Effect: A Novel, by Davis Bunn

What might happen if unregulated banks colluded on “investment” strategies? Might they be able to trigger a global meltdown that would plunge the world into depression? Might they be able to profit from the ensuing chaos and still become billionaires? These questions are the thread that ties together Davis Bunn’s latest novel, The Domino Effect.

The book tells the story of Esther Larsen, a top risk analyst at one of the country’s largest banking institutions. For years, she has been researching and tracking the trends that led to the 2008 stock market crash. She is becoming more and more convinced that a similar, yet more damaging, crash is looming on the horizon. As her own employer pursues risky “investment” strategies, she becomes convinced that she needs to speak up and warn someone of the danger. But what can one person do?

Like the biblical book of Esther which refers to God’s activity without mentioning his name, so this novel has characters who follow biblical principles without appearing overtly Christian. The main characters attend church and act in a moral fashion, but there is no mention of prayer or gospel message.

The book is a cross between a thrilling conspiracy story and a cautionary warning about the need to rein in big banks and those who design and institute economic policies. I enjoyed the story but got lost in some of the economic theory.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Bethany House through the Bethany House Blogger Review Program http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/bethanyhouse/bookreviewers. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2016 in Books

 

Getting a handle on Reformed theology

what-is-reformed-theologyBook Review: What is Reformed Theology? Understanding the Basics, by R. C. Sproul

Reformed theology seems to be making a comeback among prominent church leaders. At least, you see more pastors and writers claiming to be reformed. Since I had an inadequate understanding of Reformed theology, I welcomed the chance to read and review R. C. Sproul’s book, What is Reformed Theology: Understanding the Basics. The book was originally published in 1997 and was repacked and rereleased this year.

Sproul divides the book into two parts. In the first section, he lays out the five foundational principles of Reformed theology. In the second section, he explains the five points of Reformed theology. As he explains in the introduction, the book is not intended to be

a textbook on systematic theology, nor a detailed, exposition of each and every article of Reformation doctrine. It is, instead, a compendium, a shorthand introduction to the crystalized essence of Reformation theology.

The first foundational principle is that Reformed theology is centered on God. “Reformed theology is first and foremost theocentric rather than anthropocentric. That is, it is God-centered rather than man-centered.” Secondly, it is based on God’s Word alone. This is the “sola Scriptura” of the Reformation. Third, Reformed theology is committed to faith alone, the “sola fide” or justification by faith alone, of the Reformation. Fourth, Reformed theology is devoted to Jesus Christ as prophet, priest, and king. The final foundational principle of Reformed theology is that it is centered on three covenants. This is where it gets the nickname of Covenant Theology.

Part two covers the five points of Reformed theology, also known as the five points of Calvinism. (1) Total depravity—Humanity’s radical corruption; (2) Unconditional election—God’s sovereign choice; (3) Limited atonement—Christ’s purposeful atonement; (4) Irresistible grace—The Spirit’s effectual call; and (5) Perseverance of the saints—God’s preservation of the saints.

I found the book to be well written and easy to understand. While I appreciated the author’s presentation and learned much about Reformed theology, I wasn’t persuaded to change my own theological perspectives. I’m not convinced God and theology can fit nicely into a small package. I’m willing to live with the tension of seeing that Scripture teaches both God’s sovereign choice and man’s free will, and both a limited and unlimited atonement. While I understand Reformed theology better, I’m still dispensational in my understanding and leanings.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2016 in Books, Quotes, Theology

 

Congratulations to Greg & Whitney

Yesterday, we had the privilege of attending the wedding of Greg & Whitney (Fenton) Gutgsell. The wedding was held in Jericho, VT and the reception at a vineyard in Huntington, VT. Whitney and our daughter, Caitlin, were roommates at Gordon College and sherpas in Gordon’s La Vida program. In addition, Whitney’s parents, Dennis & Gwen Fenton are vital members of our church in Chicopee, MA. As you can see from the pictures, it was a beautiful and memorable day.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2016 in Photos, Weddings

 

Don’t Pray This Prayer

There are some prayers we shouldn’t pray because they are frivolous. In that category would be “The Yuppie Prayer,” “The Woman’s Prayer,” and “The Man’s Prayer.”

The Yuppie Prayer – Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray my Cusinart to keep. I pray my stocks are on the rise, and that my analyst is wise. That all the wine I sip is white, and that my hottub’s watertight, that racquetball won’t get too tough, that all my sushi’s fresh enough. I pray my cordless phone still works, that my career won’t lose its perks, my microwave won’t radiate, my condo won’t depreciate. I pray my health club doesn’t close, and that my money market grows. If I go broke before I wake, I pray my BMW they won’t take. Amen.

The Woman’s Prayer – Dear Lord, So far everything has gone well today. I have been patient. I have been thoughtful of others. I have put others first. I have not gossiped, been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or self-indulgent. I have not lost my temper, or even been brusque. I have not whined, bitched, cursed, or eaten any chocolate. However, Lord, in just a few minutes I’ll be getting out of bed and I am going to need all the help I can get!

The Man’s Prayer – I’m a man … but I can change … if I have to … I guess. From the Red Green Show, on PBS

There are other prayers we should not pray because they are dangerous. The model prayer taught by Jesus in Matthew 6:9-15 is one that should come with a warning label—“Don’t pray this prayer … unless you are serious about God changing your life!”

When Jesus begins, “Pray then like this” (9a), he is saying this is a framework to follow, not a prayer to mindlessly mouth the words. It is a model, a guideline for praying. The four parts of this model include Invocation, Requests, Benediction, and Implications.

Invocation: “Our Father in heaven” (9b). “Our Father” tells us God is personal while “in heaven” tells us he is powerful. One stresses intimacy and the other sovereignty. The first phrase tells us to come close while the second cautions us to come with awe. When we pray, we need to remember who God is. When we bring our requests, we focus on God’s concerns first—your name, your kingdom, your will; and then bring our concerns to him—give us, forgive us, deliver us.

May your name be honored (9c). To hallow God’s name means to hold it in reverence, to honor, glorify, and exalt him. The composers of the psalms knew what this meant (Psalm 34:3). We should seek to exalt God’s name, not use it flippantly.

May your rule be obeyed (10a). We look forward to the time when God’s messianic kingdom will be established by Jesus’ return to earth. Since the kingdom comes by way of conversion (Matthew 18:1-4), it means that we are praying for the salvation of our neighbors, coworkers, family, and friends. Since the kingdom comes through commitment, it means that we are asking God to help us be more submissive and obedient to his direction.

May your will be accomplished (10b). It is possible to pray for God’s will while resenting that God is God. To pray this request means that we must be willing to allow God to do whatever it takes in our lives to accomplish his plan and purpose. It means we pray that God’s will becomes our will.

Please meet our needs as we depend on you (11). In the same way that manna was only given one day at a time, so we are to rely on daily provision for life from God, helping us to develop a continuing dependence on him.

Please grant us forgiveness and a forgiving spirit (12). Sin creates an obligation or “debt” to God that can only be removed through forgiveness. A forgiven person is a forgiving person. This request is singled out for further discussion at the end of the prayer.

Please protect us from falling into sin (13). On the one hand, God does not lead his people to do evil (James 1:12-13). On the other hand, God does allow us to be tested (James 1:2-4). While we know that trials are good for us, we have no desire to be in a place that might lead to sin.

Benediction: “To God be the glory” (13b). While this section is not in the earliest manuscripts, it does fit with the character of Old Testament praise (1 Chronicles 29:11). It reinforces the fact that true prayer is preoccupied with God and his glory.

Implications: This prayer is lived in community (14-15). Those who have received God’s forgiveness should be motivated to forgive others. A forgiving spirit is evidence that we understand and appreciate God’s grace.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church on September 11, 2016. It is part of a series on Prayer: Moving Heaven for Earth. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2016 in First Central Bible Church, Prayer, Scripture

 

We need continual repentance

In my reading for a sermon on prayer, I came across a prayer from a Puritan of many generations past entitled, “Continual Repentance.” It is credited to a book, The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. I particularly was impressed by the phrase, “I need to repent of my repentance” and especially the final paragraph.

O God of Grace,

You have imputed my sin to my substitute, and have imputed his righteousness to my soul, clothing me with a bridegroom’s robe, decking me with jewels of holiness. But in my Christian walk I am still in rags; my best prayers are stained with sin; my penitential tears are so much impurity; my confessions of wrong are so many aggravations of sin; my receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness.

I need to repent of my repentance; I need my tears to be washed; I have no robe to bring to cover my sins, no loom to weave my own righteousness; I am always standing clothed in filthy garments, and by grace am always receiving change of raiment, for you always justify the ungodly; I am always going into the far country, and always returning home as a prodigal, always saying, “Father, forgive me,” and you are always bringing forth the best robe.

Every morning let me wear it, every evening return in it, go out to the day’s work in it, be married in it, be wound in death in it, stand before the great white throne in it, enter heaven in it shining as the sun.

Grant me never to lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the exceeding righteousness of salvation, the exceeding glory of Christ, the exceeding beauty of holiness, the exceeding wonder of grace.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2016 in Prayer, Quotes

 

Are you outraged?

Two weeks ago (or several years in terms of news cycles) NFL San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to sit during the playing of the National Anthem. Since then, other sports stars such as NBA star Stephen Curry and soccer player Megan Rapinoe, and others verbally applaud and or sit/kneel along with Kaepernick. The NFL Seattle Seahawks are considering a team unity protest to show their solidarity with Kaepernick.

On the one hand, the response to the issue reminds me of Peter Finch’s “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” speech in the 1976 movie, Network. His character, Howard Beale, expresses his outrage on live TV and tells his viewers to stick their head out the window and shout along with him. The next scene shows a city block of apartment dwellers doing just that.

On the other hand, I find it both interesting and sad in how the focus of the issue has changed. Initially, Kaepernick was protesting what he deems are wrongdoings against African Americans and minorities in the United States. The uproar had to do with whether or not people thought his actions were disrespectful to the flag. Now however, the issue is on free speech and whether or not an athlete or anyone else has the right to speak their mind.

Personally, I was put off by his actions. I agree that an athlete or anyone else has the right to speak their mind. The manner in which he did it was disrespectful, at least in my opinion. As Christ followers, we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and season our words with grace (Ephesians 4:29).

What gets lost in the media haze is: (1) Is there a problem of injustice and inequality in America? and (2) How can we deal with and fix the problem? I believe the answer to the first question is, Yes, there is injustice and inequality in America. The answer to the second question, however, will not be found through donating the proceeds of jersey sales or roundtable discussions. The answer will only be found by coming to Jesus Christ.

Ultimately, it is not a simple matter of injustice and inequality. The root of the problem is sin in the heart of each and every person. True equality is only possible when the problem of sin is addressed. It is only through Jesus Christ that we become sons and daughters of God on equal footing. Neither a social protest nor a social program will fix the problem. Only the gospel can make a man or woman new from the inside out.

“for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).

 

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2016 in News stories, NFL, Scripture, Videos