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Category Archives: Preaching

On the Fast Track to Failure

The story is told of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and how he played a practical joke on some friends. As the story goes, he sent an anonymous telegram to each of twelve friends, all men of great virtue and considerable prestige and position in society. The message simply said: “Flee at once … all is discovered.” Within twenty-four hours, all twelve had left the country.

No doubt there is some playful exaggeration here, but the point is that each one of us can identify with failure. Each one has at least one skeleton in their closet. However, very few are willing to admit it. John F. Kennedy once said, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan; no one wants to claim it.”

Moses was no stranger to failure. Though he was on the fast track to success, he ran ahead of God, made a huge mistake, and then ran and hid from his failure. His early life provides a cautionary tale for us all about the danger of running ahead of God’s plan.

Moses was on the fast track to greatness (Acts 7:20-25). Moses had:

  • Position (21). Moses was brought up in Pharaoh’s palace and nurtured for the throne.
  • Education (22). Moses was probably educated in the Temple of the Sun, “the Oxford of the ancient world.”
  • Skills (22). Moses possessed intellect, charisma, eloquence, and leadership. He made a name for himself as a young man.
  • Heritage (20, 23). Though raised in the palace, he identified with his Jewish family. He knew who he was.
  • Sense of compassion and justice (24). Moses could not stand idly by and watch the weak being downtrodden. He wanted to help the oppressed.
  • Destiny (20, 25). Though God does not call him into service until the burning bush (Exodus 3), Moses seemed to sense what God was going to do through him.

Moses ran ahead of God’s plan (Exodus 2:11-12; Acts 7:23-25). As a man of action, Moses did not like marking time and waiting. He initiated his own plan to deliver the nation of Israel (Acts 7:23). He rolled up his sleeves and jumped in. In so doing, he demonstrates a misguided understanding of his own importance (Acts 7:25). He seemed to have the idea that all he had to do was sound the rallying cry and all Israel would come running. Rather than think through the situation and develop a plan, he reacts emotionally (Exodus 2:11-12). He acted alone, in secret, and in his own strength. With one rash act, he threw away forty years of preparation.

Moses ran away from his mistakes (Exodus 2:12-15; Acts 7:26-29). When you act in the flesh, you have to cover up your sin. Moses buried his in the sand (Exodus 2:12). However, it did not remain a secret very long and the next day it was common knowledge. Rather than embrace him as deliverer, his own people rejected him (Exodus 2:13-14; Acts 7:26-28). After realizing his failure (Exodus 2:14), Moses flees and becomes an exile (Exodus 2:15; Acts 7:29).

When we take matters into our own hands …

  • We think we are the answer to God’s problems, not the other way around. He reveal our pride and arrogance.
  • We become impatient because God is not moving fast enough. We become anxious and chafe at waiting.
  • We react instead of respond. Rather than think through the issue and develop a plan, we react emotionally in the heat of the moment.
  • We experience rejection because of our foolish mistakes. Instead of our message being rejected, we are rejected for our choices, rudeness, or compromising approach.
  • We end up as exiles. We find ourselves on the sidelines wondering if God can ever use us again.
  • We discover the well of a new life lies nearby (Exodus 2:15). Unbeknownst to Moses, the well Moses sat next to would lead to a new life and renewal.

Don’t run ahead of God. As Moses learned, God will not be bent to our will. He will bend and shape us to his will. Even if it means letting us sit on the sidelines for 40 years.

This is the synopsis of a message given to the congregation of First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on June 18, 2017. It is part of a series of messages on The Life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

What is the secret of effective ministry?

On the evening of June 11, 2017, I had the privilege of preaching the message for Jack Gilbert’s ordination service at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA. The synopsis of my message and the challenge I gave to Jack follows below.

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What is the secret of effective ministry? Several passages of Scripture have been read that all touch on this question. Isaiah 6:1-8 tells us that effective ministry begins with a great vision of God and a great vision for God. Colossians 1:24-29 informs us that ministry is a stewardship that sometimes requires suffering. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 instructs us to do the work of ministry–preaching, teaching, encouraging, rebuking, and sharing the gospel.

In addition, effective ministry requires balanced growth in all areas of life. If we want to impact the lives of people, we need to grow in our knowledge of God and his word, deepen and mature in our character, sharpen and hone our skills for ministry, and use our spiritual gifts to impact others. Effective ministry requires balanced growth in our content, character, competence, and call. That’s the message of 1 Timothy 4:6-16.

The Secret of Effective MinistryEffective ministry requires growth in our …

Content (6-10). We need to grow in our knowledge of God and his word. Each one of us should have a plan to deepen our knowledge of the Bible and theology. We might consider reading books on church history and Christian classics.

Character (12). Though in his 30’s, Timothy felt intimidated by the task of leadership. Rather than focus on his age, Paul encouraged him to be an example of godly character. We are to model Christlikeness to all those around us. We should demonstrate measurable growth in obedience, honesty, integrity, humility, courage, and the fruit of the Spirit. We should grow in our ability to withstand temptation.

Competence (13). Paul encouraged Timothy to become proficient in reading and teaching the Scriptures. As Christ followers, we should develop a plan to sharpen our skills in Bible study and prayer. We should hone our ability to share our faith and disciple others. We should seek to grow in our ability to lead and manage our time. We should become more proficient in teaching and evangelism so that we can share what we believe with others.

Call (14). In our day, we have placed an emphasis on discovering our spiritual gifts. In contrast, Paul instructed Timothy not to neglect using his spiritual gift. Each of us should seek to use our spiritual gifts for maximum impact. We should have a better understanding of who God designed us to be, including identifying lifelong goals, core values, and a sense of purpose.

Effective servants are lifelong learners (15-16). They practice, focus, immerse, and persist in pursuing growth. They keep in mind that the goal is progress, not perfection. People should be able to see growth and change in all areas of our lives.

The Secret of Effective MinistryThis passage places the responsibility for personal growth squarely on our individual shoulders. We are to become lifelong learners and grow in our content, character, competence, and call. Other passages of Scripture reveal that the Holy Spirit assists us in this process. He illumines the truth and guides us as we study. He deepens our character and helps us mature. He equips us and anoints us so we can become more effective in using our skills. He gives us spiritual gifts and confirms our sense of call. Growth is a partnership where we work together with God to become more effective.The Secret of Effective Ministry

 

 

 

Where is God when life is darkest?

The headlines of the past week scream loudly about the darkness of our world!

  • 12 killed and dozens wounded in ISIS attack on Iran’s Parliament and Islamic shrine
  • Veteran to be arraigned on bomb possession, threat charges
  • Qatar and its neighbors have been at odds since Arab Spring
  • 22 die at Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England
  • London Bridge attack—ISIS claims responsibility for Borough Market terror
  • Feds arrest alleged NSA leaker, Reality Winner
  • 5 reasons why marriage is harder in 2017
  • Russia has the third-highest number of new HIV infections in the world
  • Uber fires 20 employees after sexual harassment claim investigation
  • Study: Phone obsessed parent have naughtier kids
  • Three Michigan State University football players charged with sexual assault
  • Mom, young son dead after gunman opens fire on car in Utah
  • Bodies, plane parts found in search for Myanmar aircraft carrying 120
  • Japan murder suspect arrested after 45 years on the run
  • Springfield-Holyoke, MA (Pioneer Valley) is #3 of list of Top 20 Most Unchurched Cities (57% have not attended a church service in past six months; #5 on list to Top 20 Most Dechurched Cities (43% formerly were active but now are not)

Where is God? Doesn’t he care? Why doesn’t he do something?

3,000+ years ago, Moses was born into a situation very similar to our own. Exodus 1:1-2:10 describes the dark world that Moses was born into.

In the midst of darkness, God remembers his people (Exodus 1:1-7). In Genesis 15:13-14, God told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in Egypt for 400 years and that he would bring them back to the Promised Land after that time. God told Jacob that he would prosper the nation during the time of adversity (Genesis 46:1-4). Even though they faced difficult times of oppression, God had not abandoned his people. He knows their names and their number, and he prospers them. Over 300+ years, they grow from 70 to 2-3 million people.

In the midst of darkness, God causes his people to grow (Exodus 1:8-14). After the death of Joseph, there is a regime change. Rather than being viewed as an asset, the Jews are seen as a threat. The Pharaoh decides to oppress the Jews in an attempt to blot them out. He is unaware of the Second Law of Thermodynamics—the greater the heat, the greater the expansion. Instead of disappearing, God prospers his people and they expand.

In the midst of darkness, God brings help from unlikely sources (Exodus 1:15-22). Since Plan A—oppression didn’t work, Pharaoh turns to Plan B—abortion. However, he didn’t account for god-fearing midwives who practice civil disobedience. He then implements Plan C—infanticide, murdering baby boys.

In the midst of darkness, God raises up a deliverer (Exodus 2:1-10). Moses is born at the right time in history. He becomes a man of great faith because he had parents of great faith. In an effort to hide the baby boy, God brings an unlikely ally, the daughter of Pharaoh. She rescues Moses, adopts him as her son, but allows Moses’ mother to nurse and raise him.

When life is darkest, remember …

  • God knows where you are and what you need. Hard times don’t erase God’s promises. Harsh treatment doesn’t escape God’s notice.
  • God will use the situation for your benefit. Romans 8:28-30 reminds us that God is actively engaged in overseeing the details of our lives and can use anything and everything to help us grow to be more like Christ.
  • God will provide the help you require. If you choose to honor God in (whatever challenging situation you face), how might God meet your needs?
  • God is at work to deliver you. God’s timing is always best. Deliverance doesn’t always mean removal. Sometimes God takes us out of the trial; sometimes he takes us through the trial.

When life is darkest, remember that God is at work in the dark.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church on June 11, 2017. It is the opening message in a series on The Life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

The challenge of preaching

Adlai Stevenson summed up the challenge that all public speakers face, including preachers, when he addressed the students at Princeton,

“I understand I am here to speak and you are here to listen. Let’s hope we both finish at the same time.”

Cited in James: Faith That Works (Preaching the Word Commentary Series) by R. Kent Hughes

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2017 in Preaching, Quotes

 

A Tale of Two Leaders

Imagine your church bulletin contains an announcement, “Housing needed for a pastor and his wife, who will be in town for 5 nights from September 28 – October 3.” Would you offer to host the guests at your home? Would you wonder why they can’t stay in a hotel and rent a car during their visit? How you respond to this opportunity says much about your character.

In his third letter, the apostle John paints a contrast between two different leaders. Their character is revealed in how they treat ministers and missionaries. John encourages his readers to make a wise choice as to whom they will pattern their lives after.

Like a musical composition or a movie script, 3 John has both a major theme and a minor theme, a plot and a subplot. The major theme is to make a wise choice as to whom you follow (11). The minor theme is that ministers and missionaries are to be loved and cared for (5-8).

Gaius was a man who put ministry first (1-8). Gaius was a man who had a healthy spiritual life (2-4). He walked in the truth which pleased John immensely. He was a man who was generous and hospitable towards visiting ministers and missionaries (5-8). He was ministry minded and honored those who loved Jesus Christ.

Diotrephes was a man who put himself first (9-10). In contrast to Gaius, Diotrephes was a man who was ambitious, arrogant, a malicious gossip, and controlling. His root problem was pride and he wanted to be preeminent. He was not teachable and would not submit to authority. He made evil accusations against the apostle John and spread malicious rumors. He wanted to be the gatekeeper of the church, controlling who came and went. If you did not agree with his position, he asked you to leave the fellowship. His life was a contradiction to the gospel.

John encourages his readers to make a wise choice in whom they follow (11). He points out Demetrius as an individual with an excellent reputation (12).

Like 2 John, John closes his letter with heartfelt greetings (13-15). While he has much to share, he prefers to do so in person rather than in a letter.

In this short letter, John paints a stunning contrast between two leaders.

 

Gaius

Diotrephes
Motivation Love for others

He took care of strangers; others gave testimony about his love

Love of position

He wanted to be first; to be recognized as most important

Attitude to Instruction

Walks in truth

Listened to instruction; obeyed the Scriptures

Won’t listen

Would not submit to John’s leadership

Treats Others

Open arms

Welcomed strangers

Closed heart

Refused to welcome fellow ministers and threatened others if they didn’t follow his opinion

Builds up

Looked for opportunities to encourage

Tears down

Spread malicious lies about John; evil gossip

Use of Resources

Generous

He gave and supported other ministers and missionaries

Controlling

He controlled not only his resources, but those of others as well

Focus

Ministry

Whatever it takes to move the gospel forward

Maintenance

Don’t rock the boat; don’t change things

Priority

Honor God

Sent missionaries off in a manner worthy of God

Honor self

Wanted to be first

Result

Commended

John praised him for his lifestyle of truth and love

Confronted

John pointed out his ambition, arrogance, gossip, and controlling nature

Is your example worth following?

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on June 4, 2017. It is the final message in a series of sermons on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Stay On The Path

How faithful do you have to be in order to be faithful? If your car starts two days out of three, do you think it is faithful? What if one of your employees skips works periodically without saying anything? If you miss a couple of house payments a year, does the bank say, “Ten out of twelve isn’t bad?” How faithful do we have to be in our Christian walk?

The apostle John wrote a letter to a church commending them for their faithful Christian walk and exhorting them to resist false teaching. He wanted his readers to be as dependable as the daily mail in both their actions and the beliefs. In 2 John, the apostle encouraged his readers to stay faithful by knowing (1-3), practicing (4-6), and protecting the truth (7-11).

Not only is truth an objective revelation from the Father, but also a subjective experience in our personal lives. The truth “abides in us and will be with us forever” (2). It helps point out that knowing the truth is more than an intellectual exercise. It means that our lives are controlled by a love for the truth.

While John was encouraged that his readers were obeying God’s commands, he wanted them to continue doing more of the same (4-5). He wanted them to think of truth as a lifestyle or a daily walk. To walk in the truth requires both belief and behavior. In addition, John wants the church to continue practicing love for one another (6).

John was equally concerned that his readers protect the truth (7-11). He wanted the church to be aware of false teachers that wanted to lead them astray and cause believers to lose their rewards (8). In a rather non-politically-correct statement, John instructs the church to practice intolerance (10-11). Like a protective mother bear, we should guard against false teachers.

To practice John’s advice today, we should ask two basic questions of any new teacher or teaching—What do they say about Jesus? and What gospel are they preaching?

Who is Jesus? Mormons believe Jesus is a created being; the elder brother of spirit beings and Satan. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus is a created being; before his birth he was Michael the archangel. Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet who did not die but bodily ascended to heaven. Only Christianity teaches that Jesus is both fully God and fully man.

What gospel is preached? There is a “forgiveness only” gospel which proclaims forgiveness of sin without any requirement of discipleship. A “therapeutic gospel” focuses on self-help or self-esteem. A “prosperity gospel” preaches health, wealth, and happiness. A “consumer gospel” teaches that God is present to satisfy all our desires. Only the gospel of the kingdom teaches that we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.

Following John’s instructions, we must be very careful about what televangelists we listen to and what bestselling authors we read. When cultists come knocking at your door, graciously refuse their literature and politely send them on their way. Do your research on what relief agencies you contribute to or what short-term ministry projects you support. Stay on the path of truth.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 28, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

A Faith You Can Believe

Several years ago, I served on a jury hearing a case involving shoplifting at a hardware store. The prosecution’s case rested on a plain clothed security guard who followed the suspect through the store. After deliberations, the result was a hung jury. Half of the jury believed one credible witness was enough to convict while the other half thought the prosecution needed a stronger case.

One or more credible witnesses can change the outcome of a court case. It shifts the evidence from circumstantial to verifiable. It makes the difference between a weak case and a strong case, from the jury having doubts to developing settled convictions.

In 1 John 5, the apostle John teaches about putting our faith in Jesus Christ. In verses 1-5, he speaks of the experience of faith, while in verses 6-12 he focuses on the object and content of our faith. His argument rests on the evidence produced by key witnesses. It is so important that he uses the noun or verb form of the word “witness,” “testify,” or “testimony” nine times in verses 6-12. John’s point is that when it comes to Jesus Christ, the evidence is overwhelming. We must believe the evidence if we want to enjoy eternal life.

The witnesses all agree: There is more than enough evidence to believe (6-9). John explains that there are three witnesses to the identity of Jesus—the water, the blood, and the Spirit. Over the years, there have been three primary theories as to what John meant by “the water and the blood.” Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin thought it referred to the ordinances or sacraments of the church—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However, John is talking about a completed event, not an ongoing practice. Augustine believed it referred to Christ’s death when blood and water came out of Jesus’ side when he was pierced by a spear (John 19:34). However, this reverses the word order. The most likely explanation was offered by the early church fathers such as Tertullian who believed it pointed to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River and his death on the cross. These two events at the beginning and end of his earthly ministry point out that the same man was involved in both. They sum up the totality of Jesus’s ministry on earth.

If one credible witness can change the outcome of a court case, and two witnesses can prove a fact, how much more can three witnesses do? Deuteronomy 19:15 explains that two or three witnesses can establish a charge against someone. As John asks, if we take the word of earthly witnesses, how much more should we believe God when he provides three reliable witnesses?

Those who believe the testimony enjoy eternal life (10-12). The purpose of John’s letter is not to win an argument. Rather, he is trying to promote fellowship and joy. He wants to encourage people to believe the message, not merely be convinced it is true. John explains that eternal life is not possible apart from true belief that Jesus is the Son of God (10a). To reject the testimony is to impugn God’s character and call him a liar (10b).

There are three primary ways to reject God, all of which reveal attitudes of pride:

  • “I can handle this myself.”
  • “Why would he do this for me? I’m nobody.”
  • “He better not ask me to do something stupid, because I won’t do it!”

We must believe the testimony about Jesus in order to enjoy eternal life (11-12). We either believe the message or we reject it. We either have Jesus or we don’t. We either enjoy eternal life or suffer eternal punishment. There is no middle ground.

After examining the overwhelming evidence, how will you respond? Are you a sinner? Do you want forgiveness of sins? Do you believe Jesus died on the cross for you and rose again? Are you willing to surrender yourself to Christ? Are you ready to invite Jesus into your life? Believe the evidence and enjoy eternal life.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 14, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.