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Monthly Archives: April 2019

Prayer is an intimate conversation with God

In his book, Abba’s Child: The cry of the heart for intimate belonging, author Brennan Manning tells the story of how prayer can be an intimate conversation with God.

Once I related the story of an old man dying of cancer. The old man’s daughter had asked the local priest to come and pray with her father. When the priest arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed. The priest assumed that the old fellow had been informed of his visit. “I guess you were expecting me,” he said.

“No, who are you?”

“I’m the new associate at your parish,” the priest replied. “When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.”

“Oh yeah, the chair,” said the bedridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?”

Puzzled, the priest shut the door. “I’ve never told anyone this, not even my daughter,” said the man,” but all my life I have never known how to pray. At the Sunday Mass, I used to hear to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head. Finally I said to him one day in sheer frustration, ‘I get nothing out of your homilies on prayer.’

“Here,’ says my pastor, reaching into the bottom drawer of his desk. ‘Read this book by Hans Urs von Balthasar. He’s a Swiss theologian. It’s the best book on contemplative prayer in the twentieth century.’

“Well, Father,” says the man, “I took the book home and tried to read it. But in the first three pages I had to look up twelve words in the dictionary. I gave the book back to my pastor, thanked him, and under my breath whispered, ‘for nothin.’

“I abandoned any attempt at prayer,” he continued, “until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Sit down on a chair, place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky because He promised, “I’ll be with you all days.” Then must speak to Him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.’

“So, Padre, I tried it, and I’ve like it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful, though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm.”

The priest was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old guy to continue on the journey. Then he prayed with him, anointed him with oil, and returned to the rectory.

Two nights later the daughter called to tell the priest that he daddy had died that afternoon.

“Did he seem to die in peace?” he asked.

“Yes, when I left the house around two o’clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me one of his corny jokes, and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the store an hour later, I found him dead. But there was something strange, Father. In fact, beyond strage—kinda weird. Apparently just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside his bed.”

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2019 in Prayer, Quotes

 

Russia 2019 – trip itinerary and prayer requests

In a few short hours, I will board a plane for Russia, where I will be serving from April 29 – May 11. This is my eighth trip in nine years, helping to train pastors and leaders in Anapa and Elista. As on previous trips, I will be working with John & Naomi Musgrave, missionaries who lead a ministry called “Mentoring Matters.” This ministry follows the example of the apostle Paul in Acts 13-14, helping to strengthen and establish churches by training leaders.

Since 2011, I have taught on several books of the Bible or biblical leaders—Joshua (2011), David (2012), the Patriarchs-Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph (2014), Moses (2015), Romans (2016 & 2017) and Revelation (2018). Carol went along in 2011 and 2014 and served behind the scenes. This year I will be teaching a Harmony of the Gospels. Last year, 43 people from four different cities attended the classes.

Thanks to your prayers and generous gifts, the trip is fully funded.

Here’s the schedule for the trip:

  • April 29 – May 1 Travel (Boston – Amsterdam – Moscow – Anapa)
  • May 2-4                Teach class in Anapa
  • May 5                    Church in Anapa
  • May 5-6                Travel (Anapa – Krasnodar – Elista)
  • May 7-9                Teach class in Elista
  • May 9-11              Travel (Elista – Krasnodar – Moscow – Amsterdam – Boston)

Please pray for safe travel, good health, effective communication, and mutual encouragement with the participants.

Internet permitting, I will try to provide periodic updates and post them on the blog.

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Scripture Reveals the Health of our Heart

When you were growing up, did you read comic books like I did? Do you remember the ad in the back for glasses that would give you X-Ray vision? The ad explained that for only $1, you could see through your skin, see an egg yolk, or see lead in a pencil. What young boy or girl didn’t want X-Ray vision like Superman?

Hebrews 4:12-13 tells us that God sees the condition of our hearts. In fact, nothing escapes his notice, and he uses Scripture to assess the health our heart.

In Hebrews 4:1-13, the author of the book encourages his readers not to make the same mistake Israel did at Kadesh-Barnea—disobeying God’s word and missing out on God’s rest. As he explains: (1) the aim of life is to enter God’s rest (4:11); (2) to enter his rest, we must believe God’s promises (4:3); (3) to trust him, we need to hear the good news that was preached to us (4:2); (4) we need to guard our hearts against unbelief (3:12); (5) we need the Word of God (4:12) and the God of the Word (4:13) to give us an honest assessment of the health of our hearts.

The Word of God: God uses Scripture to assess our health (4:12). The word of God is living and dynamic. It drives home warnings to the disobedient and promises to the believer. The word of God is living because it endures forever (Psalm 119:89).

The word of God is active. You cannot passively listen to it and then ignore what it says. It actively works in our lies to change us. It will accomplish the purpose for which it was spoken (Isaiah 55:11).

The word of God is penetrating. It can cut through the hard shell of our souls like a hot knife through butter. It can penetrate the furthermost recesses of a person’s spiritual being.

The word of God is discerning. It can sift out and analyze the thoughts and intents of the heart. What we think is secret and hidden will be brought to light.

If you want to truly know yourself, fill your life with God’s word. It will act like a mirror to reveal the state of your soul. When we read Scripture, Scripture reads us as well.

The God of the Word: Nothing escapes God’s notice (4:13). The God of the word will examine every Christian. Nothing and no one is hidden from his sight.

The God of the word will expose our hearts. The phrase, “all are naked and exposed” can refer to a wrestler’s headlock hold or pulling back the head of a sacrificial animal to expose their throat to the knife. All creatures are in the grip of God, totally vulnerable, helpless, and laid bare.

The God of the word will hold us accountable. As Christ followers, we will one day stand before the throne of Christ to give an account of how we lived our lives.

Knowing these things should motivate me to remain faithful even when those around me are giving up. It should encourage me to fill my life with God’s word.

How’s your heart today? What would God say about your attitudes, actions, beliefs, behaviors, desires, drives, motives, or methods? Allow God to examine your heart and life. Allow him to change you.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 28, 2019. It is part of a series of sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Hebrews 4:12-13 – Preview

 

It is reasonable and rational to believe in Christianity

Book Review: The Logic of God: 52 Christian Essentials for the Heart and Mind, by Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias has written a thought-provoking book aimed at those seeking to better understand the Christian faith. The Logic of God: 52 Christian Essentials for the Heart and Mind addresses the most common struggles, obstacles, and questions that Ravi hears from both skeptics and Christians alike.

As the author explains in the introduction,

Today, many people think it is naïve to believe in God because there is not enough evidence for His existence. Others conclude that even if He does exist, He has insufficiently revealed and inadequately explained Himself; therefore He has not convinced us that He is real. Even less has He affirmed that the claims of the gospel of Jesus Christ are true and lead to a worldview that offers the most coherent and logical answers to life’s four essential questions—origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.

For the Christian this is where the battle must be fought, for no worldview suffers more from the loss of belief in God than the Christian one. And unless the “logic” of God—the evidence He has provided us of His existence—is defended, is sought after, is fully engaged with our hearts and minds, every essential of the Christian faith will be deemed illogical and untrue, thereby making them unworthy of rational assent.

The question then is, how does a person come to view this “logic” (this “evidence”) as a reason to believe in a God on whom all other essentials of the Christian faith are built, by which life must be governed, and with which your personal beliefs, your culture, and the unique message of Jesus Christ are examined? The purpose of this book and the way it is designed to be used, is to guide you on that journey.

As the subtitle indicates, the book focuses on 52 key issues including “The Pathway of Pain,” “Behind every question,” “Christianity without Christ?” “Does prayer matter?” “Scandal of the Cross” “Are you lonely?” and many more. The book is designed to be read one topic or question a week. Each topic is relatively short—2 or 3 pages followed by two “Reflection Questions” and two ideas for “Personal Application.” By taking the time to work through the various ideas and arguments, one will gain the conviction that God is real, the He loves us, and that He desires to fulfill the longings of our hearts.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.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 April 24, 2019 in Apologetics, Books, Evangelism, Quotes, Theology

 

A desire to finish well

I started rereading Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul, by Lance Witt. It was one of the books recommended at the SonScape Retreat. I agree with the author’s statement at the end of the first chapter.

I want to get to the finish line still in love with Jesus, still in love with the church, still in love with being a pastor. With my head held high, with my dignity and honor still intact, I want to look back over my shoulder and say it was worth it.

To that, I say, “Amen!” I want to finish well. But it means I need to guard my heart and feed my soul.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2019 in Personal growth, Quotes

 

Is the Resurrection too good to be True?

There are some things that sound too good to be true. Santa Claus. The Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy. Fat free food that tastes good. Guilt free chocolate. Healthy fast food. Sasquatch. All of these things fall into that category. Some people, including some of Jesus’ disciples, would place the resurrection of Jesus Christ into the too-good-to-be-true category. They have a hard time believing it actually took place.

In Luke 24:36-53, Jesus presented his disciples with three types of evidence to convince them that he actually rose from the dead. Rather than continue in our skepticism and disbelief, we need to consider the evidence closely. There is more than enough evidence to believe—physical evidence, biblical evidence, and personal evidence. When we believe the evidence for the resurrection, our lives will be transformed.

Physical Evidence: Jesus Christ had a physical body (36-43). The disciples were meeting in the upper room trying to process the stories they were hearing that Jesus had risen from the dead. Suddenly, he appeared in their midst. Needless to say, they were stunned and shocked. Jesus asked them two questions—Why are you troubled? and Why are you doubting? He stretched out his hands and offered them as evidence that he was not a ghost. Like a sports fan marveling at a last second winning goal, home run, or three-point shot, they disbelieved with joy. If they still weren’t convinced, Jesus asked for some food and ate some broiled fish. Add up the evidence and you conclude that Jesus Christ had a physical body that could be seen and touched.

Biblical Evidence: Jesus Christ fulfilled the prophecies of Scripture (44-46). Jesus took them on a journey through the three major sections of the Old Testament—the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms or Writings—and demonstrated that he is the central focus of Scripture.

 

Messiah would Suffer

Messiah would Rise from the dead

Law

Exodus 12

Exodus 3:6

Prophets

Isaiah 53

Hosea 6:2

Psalms

Psalm 22

Psalm 16:8-11

Add up the evidence and you conclude that Jesus Christ is the focus and fulfillment of Scripture.

Personal Evidence: The disciples were transformed (47-53). Jesus gave his disciples a mission to accomplish. They were to tell of what they had seen. Rather than being a change in direction, this too was spoken of in the Old Testament.

Mission

Law

Genesis 12:2, 3

Prophets

Isaiah 49:6

Quoted in Acts 13

Psalms

Psalm 22:27, 28

Before setting off on their mission, they were to wait for the coming of the promised Holy Spirit. As the book of Acts testifies, the disciples were transformed and were never the same again. They went from cowardice to confidence, from fearful to boldness, from hiding to public, from worry to worship. Add up the evidence and you conclude that the disciples were transformed by the truth of the resurrection.

How should we respond to this account? Let me encourage you to examine the evidence. Ask God to answer your questions. Believe the message. Receive the gift of forgiveness. Let God transform your life.

When we believe the evidence for the resurrection, our lives will be transformed.

The Lord is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 21, 2019. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.