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Monthly Archives: March 2018

Clean Hearts in a Dirty World

Is holiness possible today?

We might agree that holiness is an essential characteristic of God. We might also agree that Scripture says that we are to be holy. But if we are honest, we don’t think that we can ever be holy ourselves.

When it comes to holiness, there are many misconceptions. We have the idea that holy people are religious fanatics, and we don’t want to be thought of as “holier-than-thou.” We believe that a lifestyle of holiness will cause us to be miserable. Former quarterback Joe Theismann allegedly explained to his soon-to-be-ex second wife why he had an affair: “God wants Joe Theismann to be happy.” Holy people are hypocrites, or so we believe. A hypocritical Boston tycoon once told Mark Twain, “Before I die I mean to make a pilgrimage to the top of Mount Sinai in the Holy Land and read the Ten Commandments aloud.” “Why don’t you stay right home in Boston,” suggested Twain, “and keep them?”

Scripture calls us to live holy lives. In 1 Peter 1:13-16, we are told to set our hope on Christ and live a holy life. I don’t believe God sets us up for failure. If he gives us a command, it is with the expectation that it is possible to do it.

Verse 13 begins with the word, “Therefore …” I was always told that anytime you see the word, “therefore,” you need to find out what it is “there for.” What Peter is saying is that in light of our great salvation (1-12), we are to live differently. Salvation should have an impact on our lives. In fact, Peter points out five areas where salvation changes how we live.

  • Mental outlook (1:13). We are to set our hope solely on God.
  • Lifestyle (1:14-16). We are to live holy lives.
  • Worship (1:17-21). We are to live life governed by reverence for God.
  • Relationships (1:22-25). We are to love one another.
  • Spiritual disciplines (2:1-3). We are to be nourished by spiritual food.

Today, we are looking at the first two areas. We will examine the remaining three areas after Easter.

Mental Outlook (1:13). We are to set our hope solely on God. Peter begins with the idea of having a steadfast hope. This is much more than a wishing well kind of hope. “I hope it doesn’t snow this week. I hope my team wins the World Series.” It is a confident expectation of what God is going to do. By linking it to verses 1-12, Peter is saying that on the basis of what happened when Christ came the first time, we are to put our full confidence in what will take place when he comes again.

We are to act like we mean business. We are to prepare our minds for action. It literally says, “gird up the loins of your mind.” It pictures someone wearing a long garment. If they wanted to move quickly or run, they would gather up the garment and tuck it into their belt. Today, we might say, “Roll up your sleeves and get to work.” We are to have a sense of intentionality about how we think. We need to gather all the random, disparate thoughts and focus them on God and his kingdom.

John Brown, a 19th Century Scottish theologian said, “Holiness does not consist in mystic speculations, enthusiastic fervours, or uncommanded austerities; it consists in thinking as God thinks, and willing as God wils.”

In addition, we are to be sober-minded and avoid mental intoxication. Rather than live a life of self-indulgence, we are to live discipline and self-controlled lives.

What distracts you from focusing on God? Are there other things that you place your hope in? If you really believed Christ would return today, how would you live? Wrestling with these types of questions will help us to focus our thoughts and hope squarely on Christ.

Lifestyle (1:14-16). We are to live holy lives. Holiness refers to purity or moral integrity. It involves separation from all that is morally impure and evil. It is dedication to a life of righteousness. As these verses explain, God has called us to a life of holiness. It is NOT optional.

Rather than command us to be obedient, Peter says we are to act like obedient children. In essence, we have an obedient nature and should act in light of that.

We are to actively resist our own temptations. Rather than be controlled by our desires, we are to control them. As unbelievers, we were ignorant of God’s standards. Now that we know better, we should live differently.

Holiness should permeate every aspect of our being. We are to be holy in the classroom, on the playground, at work, at home, in our workplace, in our schools, in our homes. Holiness should pervade every area of our lives and personalities.

In pursuing holiness, we demonstrate the family resemblance. God is the ultimate model of holiness and we are called to be like him.

As we evaluate our lives, we should ask ourselves several questions. Does this activity conform to the character of God? Is it the natural outcome of a life that has benefited from salvation? Will it stand up to God’s scrutiny in that final day when we stand before his presence?

We are to set our hope on Christ and live holy lives.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 18, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 
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Shine brightly

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2018 in 1 Peter, Maine, Quotes

 

Questionable recruiting

I received this email note last night.

Hi Mark,

I’m Steve, CEO of Restless Bandit, and we work with companies to find top talent. We saw that you have experience as a Senior Pastor at First Central Baptist Church. Our matching algorithms identified you as a great candidate for Davisville Church’s open position: Youth Pastor. Your skills and background make you a great match; if you’re interested, you can see the job description and find all the details to apply here.

If you want to learn more about me you can check out my LinkedIn profile by searching for Steve Goodman or by clicking here. You can also learn more about Restless Bandit by checking out our press page here.

We want to bring you the best jobs. If this was not a good match, update your information here so we can improve your results.

Thanks for your consideration!

All the best,

Steve Goodman

CEO, Restless Bandit

33 New Montgomery Street

San Francisco, CA 94105

P.S. To ensure you continue receiving great job opportunities, please add us to your trusted senders.

I’m not sure what algorithm they are using, but I certainly question the accuracy. 1) After 14 years as a Senior Pastor, why would I want to be a Youth Pastor? 2) Who would want to hire a 63-year-old youth pastor anyway? 3) Their info is not correct since we changed the name of the church to First Central Bible Church almost two years ago. This tells me their research is not accurate and doesn’t give me much confidence in the rest of their note.

Needless to say, I unsubscribed from their mailing list.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2018 in Ministry, Personal growth

 

Russia 2018 – March update

It is now less than four weeks before I leave for Russia. While I don’t have a completely clean bill of health quite yet, both my primary care physician and my surgeon said that there is nothing preventing me from traveling. The blood clot(s) in my calf are still present. My primary care physician is changing my medication and sending me to a specialist. He did say, however, that it shouldn’t be an issue for me while traveling.

I continue with PT (physical therapy) twice a week and I do 45-60 minutes of exercises & stretching 2-3 times a day to rebuild the strength in my leg. I am now using a cane to walk. Several times a week I either go into the church’s gym and walk 2-3 laps or go to a local mall and walk the length of it.

A study of the book of Revelation appears to be very popular as the classes are starting to fill up. 23 students are registered for the first week in Anapa. They will come from Anapa, Pyatigorsk (9 hours to the south), and Crimea (a long bus, ferry, and bus ride). I haven’t heard yet on the class in Elista, but I anticipate it will be packed as well.

Praises

  • The trip is fully funded!
  • The travel arrangements are all made.
  • I received my visa.
  • My leg/hip is getting stronger!

Prayer requests

  • Greater insight and understanding of the book of Revelation.
  • Complete recovery and full health and strength in my leg/hip.
  • Be able to walk without the cane by end of March.
  • Blood clot(s) in calf completely gone.
  • Be able to travel without limitations.
  • Safety and protection for those who will attend the classes.

Thanks for your prayers and encouragement. I’m in your debt.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2018 in Ministry, Missions, Prayer, Russia

 

The Majesty of Salvation

What difference does salvation make in our lives? Is salvation just a matter of a hope in heaven? Is it just pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by? What difference does salvation make in the boardroom? On the assembly line? How does salvation affect our ethics? Our marriage? Our family? Our time with our grandkids? What difference does salvation make when we face an uncertain future? How does it affect how we face persecution?

In 1 Peter 1:1-12, the apostle Peter presents the idea that understanding the nature of salvation provides encouragement for those facing an uncertain future threatened by persecution. The main idea of the passage is that because our salvation is secure, we have hope for the future and joy in the present.

Someone might ask, Why is salvation even necessary? Don’t all roads lead to the top? Isn’t God too big for one religion? Aren’t people basically good? Yes, we might have problems, but it’s a disease, weakness, bad habit, or victimization. It’s not sin, after all.

In the first chapter of his letter, the apostle Peter talks about the nature of salvation. Salvation is new birth (3) to a living hope (3). Salvation brings us a secure inheritance (4). Our future salvation is secure (5) in which we will be redeemed (18). However, salvation is only available to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ (2, 14, 21).

In verses 1-2, Peter presents a theology of salvation. As he explains it, each member of the Trinity is involved in our salvation. We are chosen by the Father. We are set apart by the Spirit. We are forgiven by the Son. We are saved in order to be obedient. Other passages of Scripture point out our role in the process and that God holds us accountable for our choices. But Peter focuses on what God does to secure our salvation.

After laying the foundation, Peter then describes the nature of salvation (3-12). These 10 verses are an English teacher’s nightmare. It is one long sentence in which Peter piles words upon words giving praise to God for our salvation.

Our salvation provides hope for the future (3-5). Salvation comes from the mercy of God where he demonstrates his kindness to us. Because Christ conquered sin and death through his death, burial, and resurrection, we can have a personal relationship with him. As a result, we now have a secure inheritance that is death-proof, sin-proof, and time-proof. Our inheritance won’t perish, spoil, or fade away. It is protected by the power of God for us.

Our confidence leads to joy in the present (6-9). In the midst of trouble and difficulty, it is easy to forget what God has done for us. Peter wants his readers to experience joy in their present circumstances. To do that, we need to understand that trials are temporary and short-lived compared to eternity. They are also necessary because uses trials to shape our character in the same way a goldsmith uses heat to purify gold. With this perspective, we can show our love for Jesus and rejoice with glorious joy.

Our salvation was revealed in the past (10-12). We enjoy something today that the prophets and angels only dreamed about understanding. If they spent so much time trying to decipher what God was going to do, how much more should we enjoy our salvation and tell others about it?

Praise God that our salvation is secure! Praise God that the trials we experience are not meaningless, but refine and purify our faith! Praise God that his promises about Christ have been fulfilled! Because our salvation is secure, we have hope for the future and joy in the present.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 11, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

The comfort of God’s Word, or, the benefits of memorizing Scripture

I have felt down the past couple of days. Tuesday evening was a more difficult PT session. My leg was more tired which made it harder to do the therapy exercises. Thursday morning I was discouraged as I was doing my therapy routine. My mind was filled with doubts. “What made me think I would be ready to travel in April? I have four weeks to get ready. There’s no way I’ll be able to walk by then. How naïve was I to think I could go to Russia so soon after my fall? What will the ultrasound show on Monday? I’m hopeful the blood clots are gone, but I’m fearful they are not. What if …?” My faith wavers and falters.

In the midst of my doubts, the Holy Spirit reminded me of 2 Corinthians 12:9. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” He also brought Matthew 6:34 to my mind. “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.”

Rather than worry about what ifs, I need to rely on God’s grace and seek his kingdom today. God will take care of the rest. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2018 in Health, Personal growth, Scripture

 

Avoiding grade inflation

One of the challenges of serving as an adjunct professor for online courses is grading papers. Each week the students submit a 300-500 word post on the week’s discussion question as well as comment on two other student’s posts. They also take a weekly quiz. In addition, they turn in a 1200-1500 word paper during the seventh week. While the quizzes are automatically scored by the computer, it is my task to evaluate and grade their posts and term papers.

I use a rubric with several different categories to help me grade the assignments. They include content, research, original thinking, spelling and grammar, use of Scripture and textbooks, and much more. The papers are also evaluated by SafeAssign, a program which measures how much of the document is original and how much is copied.

With all the evaluation tools at my disposal, I still have to make a judgment call on the quality of the assignment. Do I put in under a microscope or do I give it a general once over? Do I criticize every jot and tittle or do I give an “A” for showing up? On the one hand, I don’t want to be too critical and fail every student. On the other hand, I’m not doing them any favors in praising mediocrity. While I have to identify and point out errors, I also try to suggest what they could do different next time to improve.

Ultimately, I want all my students to succeed. But it means I need to be honest with them and challenge them to grow and improve.

 
 

Who are you cheating?

Well over a decade ago, I read a book by Andy Stanley entitled, Choosing to Cheat: Who wins when family and work collide? The book was later retitled, When Work and Family Collide: Keeping your job from cheating your family.

The premise of the book is that all of us have a limited, finite amount of time. Consequently, we must cheat to be successful. You have to cheat your family if you want to be successful in your career, or, you have to cheat your career to be successful in your family responsibilities. We have to determine our priorities and decide who is going to get the most amount of time.

While the book focuses on work and family, the principle holds true in every area of our lives. You cannot be equally successful at home, work, school, church, friendships, sports, etc. You have to make difficult choices where you will invest your time and energies. You have to give yourself permission to get a “B” instead of an “A.” You have to be satisfied with being an employee rather than a manager or an owner. You have to be content with having an apartment instead of a house, or a house and car rather than a house in the city, a cabin in the country, and two cars and a boat.

At some point in time, you have to wrestle with the question, who are you going to cheat? But spend much time in prayer before you make that choice to insure you make the right one.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2018 in Books, Culture, Personal growth

 

Parking perplexities

I attended a funeral on Saturday. As I pulled into the church parking lot, I headed for the handicapped parking. A car arrived just before I did and pulled into the spot closest to the handicapped entrance. I parked in a normal parking spot two spaces away. Four people got out of the car in the handicapped space and walked normally (without crutches, canes, walkers, wheelchair, limping) to the front of the church. I got out of my car and used my cane to limp to the handicapped entrance and elevator.

Just because you have a handicapped placard, should you park in the space if you really don’t need it? Just saying.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2018 in Personal growth

 

A heart shaped by grace

People occasionally ask me why I do what I do. Why do I go to Russia once a year to teach and train leaders? Why do I mentor students through online classes at Regent University? Why did I teach a class on the character and habits of a leader last fall? Why do I invest in interns?

My passion for leadership development is because I failed as a leader. When I started in ministry, people assumed I knew what I was doing and no one mentored me. Getting fired from my first ministry was the best thing that happened to me because it shaped the course of my ministry. I learned the hard way of how to lead and I wanted to help others succeed without making the same mistakes I did.

As we see in the apostle Peter’s first letter, his message is shaped by several key events that took place earlier in the gospels. As we begin our study of 1 Peter today, we’re going to focus more on the background of the letter. Next week we’ll begin our exposition of the letter.

Author: Peter was one of the twelve disciples (Mark 3:13-19). The word, apostle, is used in a technical sense of one who was sent on a mission. He was part of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples. Along with James and John, Peter was present during Christ’s transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8) and when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 26:37). His name, Peter, was actually a nickname given to him by Jesus (John 1:42) and means “rock.” Jesus saw potential in his life and pictured his future strength of character.

Recipients: The letter is written to both Jewish (1:1; 2:12) and Gentile (2:10) believers who were scattered abroad because of persecution.

Date: The letter was written from Babylon (5:13) which is probably a code word for Rome. It was most likely written about A.D. 64, just before the persecution begun by Emperor Nero.

Theme: The theme of the book is Hope in a Hostile World. 1 Peter was written to Christians who were experiencing various forms of persecution. Peter exhorted them to steadfast endurance (5:13) that resulted from putting one’s focus on Christ even though they lived as aliens and strangers (2:11). Peter reminded his readers that we have a living hope because of a living Christ (1:3).

Divisions: There are three main divisions in the book. Each one focuses on a theme and answers a basic question. Salvation: What does it mean to be a Christian? (1:1-2:12). Submission: How are we to living in relationship to others? (2:13-3:12). Suffering: How should we respond to those who oppose the gospel? (3:13-5:14).

The events of Peter’s life shaped his heart and his message.

Event

Heart Shaping
Matthew 16:13-23 Peter confesses that Jesus is the Son of God.

Christ will build his church and Peter will be involved.

1 Peter 1:15, 20-21; 2:4-8

Jesus is the Holy One who called you.

Jesus is the cornerstone of the Church.

John 13:1-10

Peter was proud and unwilling to have Jesus wash his feet. 1 Peter 5:5-6 God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
Matthew 26:30-35, 69-75 Peter is unaware of the spiritual warfare taking place.

Operating in his own strength, he denies Jesus three times.

1 Peter 5:12

Stand fast in the trued grace of God. Don’t give up and walk away.

John 21:15-17

Jesus restored Peter and gave him a task—Be a good shepherd of God’s flock. 1 Peter 5:1-4 The elders are to shepherd the flock of God. They are accountable to the Good Shepherd.
Acts 10:9-16 Peter was prejudiced. God had to help him understand that the body of Christ is bigger than his narrow theological convictions. 1 Peter 2:9-10

The body of Christ is unique.

When you compare Peter in the gospels with the message of 1 Peter, you see a profound transformation. Peter goes from spiritually dense to spiritually discerning; from listening to Satan to listening to God; for worldly minded to heavenly minded; from proud to humble; from walking away from Christ to standing fast in God’s grace; from having a narrow view of the gospel to having a broad view of the church; from being a failure as a disciple to being a restored servant; from being a stumbling block to God’s plan to being used by God to help build the church.

Life Lessons:

  • Nothing is ever wasted in the will of God. The trials and experiences we go through are part of God’s curriculum to prepare us for an even more determinative ministry.
  • Failure is not fatal. No matter what you’ve done. God can forgive and restore and use you in ministering to others.
  • Don’t allow pride to keep you from serving and ministering to others.
  • The Body of Christ is BIG. It is bigger than just us and those of our narrow theological persuasion.

This is a synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 4, 2018. It is the opening message in a series on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.