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Category Archives: Scripture

Racism, Supremacy, & Terrorism

The events of the past week—Charlottesville & Barcelona—should break our hearts and drive us to our knees. They should motivate us to repent of our pride and arrogance and beg God to pour out his Spirit and send revival.

Rather than turning to God, however, we spout rhetoric and criticize “the other side.” We use human logic, saying that black and white athletes should stand together. We denounce political leaders when they don’t denounce the ones we think they should. We spout slogans, call for hearings and debate, and ridicule those who don’t agree with our viewpoint.

Racism, Supremacy, and Terrorism are complex issues without easy answers. Or so we tell ourselves and those who will listen to us. Like any problem great or small, complex or simple, there is a two-fold solution—Identify the problem and Fix it.

The core issue at the heart of racism, supremacy, and terrorism is SIN. It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). When Adam and Eve chose to do what they wanted rather than obey God, sin entered the world. The first casualty was their son, Abel, who was murdered by his brother, Cain, who thought he was superior to his brother (Genesis 4:1-16). By the time the book of Genesis closes and the book of Exodus opens, the Israelites have been oppressed and enslaved by the Egyptians for over 400 years (Exodus 1:8-14). Not only does the Egyptian Pharaoh enslave the Israelites, he also issues a decree to kill all the male children under the age of two years old, practicing genocide (Exodus 1:15-22). Racism, supremacy, and terrorism are running rampant.

Racism, supremacy, and terrorism are ultimately an assault on God’s creative activities. Rather than acknowledging that all races and genders are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27; 9:6), we allow pride to rear its head and shout, “I’m better than you are.” We echo the pigs who control the government in George Orwell’s novel, Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Since sin lies at the heart of racism, supremacy, and terrorism, the only answer is the gospel. It is in Christ that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female (Galatians 3:28). It is in Christ that men and women are joint heirs of the grace of God (1 Peter 3:7). Heaven will be populated by “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10).

True equality will not come through political debate, athletes standing together, protest marches, Facebook posts, or social engineering. True equality only comes when we acknowledge our sin, ask Jesus for forgiveness, and become part of the family of God. Far too often, we focus on the symptoms rather than addressing the root cause.

If you want to bring an end to racism, supremacy, and terrorism, denounce evil and call sin, sin. But don’t stop there. Take the next step and share the message that Jesus Christ can forgive sin and change hearts. Hope and healing is only found in Jesus Christ.

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2017 in Bible Study, News stories, Scripture, Theology

 

What are you feeding your mind?

I am surprised, amazed, saddened … by what people think about and share with the world. There is a decided lack of civility in public discourse, especially regarding politics. On the one hand, Facebook is filled with posts about depression, anxiety, and darkness. On the other hand, it is also populated with trivial games, comments, videos, and frivolous pursuits.

When you calculate what people are thinking about, is it any wonder our world is in trouble?

This morning, I was challenged by Jeremiah 15:16 – “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.”

The verse reminded me of the apostle Paul’s instruction in Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

As Christ followers, we need to make healthy choices about what we feed our minds. While we cannot avoid the negative, we also don’t have to focus and meditate on it. We must make the choice to fill our minds with Scripture in order to gain God’s perspective on life. We must choose to focus on those things which will build us up rather than tear us down.

What are you feeding your mind?

 

Following God … to a Dead End

Have you ever felt like your life hit a dead end? You were heading in the right direction. You were making good progress in your marriage, career, relationships, etc. And then without warning, everything went off the rails. You came to a sudden, inexplicable, jarring halt. You couldn’t go forward and you couldn’t go backwards. Regardless of your best efforts, you were stuck.

That was the dilemma the nation of Israel faced when they found themselves trapped between the Red Sea and the armies of Egypt (Exodus 14). Before they could go forward, they needed to learn some new lessons about who God is and what he was going to do on their behalf.

God often places us in situations where we have to rely on him (1-14). On those occasions, God displays his glory so that we might know him better.

God led Israel into a cul-de-sac in order to demonstrate his glory (1-4). With armed fortresses to the north, the desert to the south, the Red Sea to the east, and the armies of Egypt advancing from the west, Israel was at a dead end. God led them into this problem so that they might know him better.

It appeared that Israel’s enemies had gained the upper hand (5-9). A few days after the Passover, Pharaoh changes his mind about allowing the Israelites to leave. He dispatches 600 of his best chariots and armed forces to bring them back. It appeared that he had them trapped in a geographical cul-de-sac.

Rather than rely on God, Israel reacted in fear (10-12). They weren’t merely afraid, they were greatly afraid. They were in full blown panic mode. Like many of us, they cried out to God and then blamed the leadership (Moses) for their predicament.

God wanted Israel to depend on him (13-14). God gives them four commands—fear not, stand firm, see the salvation of the Lord, and be silent. Like Israel, we tend to do just the opposite. We are afraid, run away, don’t look for God, and complain to everyone around us. In so doing, we miss what God is doing.

When we trust God, he fights our battles for us (15-29). Contrary to human wisdom, God instructs Israel to move forward (15-18). God then moves to stand between Israel and her enemies (19-20). During the night, God opens a path through the Red Sea (21-22, 29) and then destroys the Egyptian army when they try to pursue Israel (23-28).

Seeing God at work should cause us to trust him and to worship him (30-31).

There are four life lessons I take away from this account. (1) It often takes dead ends to break lifetime habits. God often has to bring us to the end of ourselves and our resources in order to truly change and transform our lives. (2) When you have nowhere else to turn, trust God. Far too often, trust in God is viewed as a last resort. (3) If God is to get the glory, he must fight the battle. If I can do it myself, I will take the credit. (4) Red Seas open and close according to God’s timing, not ours. God’s timing is always best, but it is always different from mine.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 13, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

The shortest distance between two points is a zigzag

From the earliest days of geometry, we’ve been taught that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. However, that is not always the case in real life.

I go to Russia once a year to help train leaders. I fly from Boston to Amsterdam to Moscow to Anapa. During the first week, we meet in Tsibanobalka. Then we drive twelve hours to Elista in the steppes region of the Caucasus Mountains. You have to go the roundabout way to get there.

When it comes to spiritual growth, the shortest distance between two points is often a zigzag route. While God might take us from “A” to “B,” he often does it by way of “M,” “F,” “Q,” “V,” and “D.” We see a graphic example of this in Exodus 13:17-22.

The most direct route from Egypt to the Promised Land was the coastal route along the Mediterranean Sea. However, that was also the military road of the Egyptians. It was dotted with military fortresses and led directly through the land of the Philistines. Having recently escaped from 400 years of slavery, God knew that Israel was not ready to battle. At the first sign of conflict, they would turn tail and run back to slavery in Egypt.

In light of that, God took Israel on a zigzag route that was especially designed for them. They needed lessons that God had in store for them at Mt. Sinai. In the same way, there are times in our lives when we are not ready for God’s plan.

If you compare this to parenting, what parent in their right mind would give a three-year-old the keys to the car? No, you give a three-year-old a big wheel. Then you graduate them to a two-wheeler with training wheels. When the time is right, you take off the training wheels. Later, you let the kids drive the Autopia cars at Disneyland. When they turn 15 ½, they take drivers training to learn how to drive properly. Once they pass their drivers’ license test, then you finally let them drive by themselves.

As parents, we grow our children gradually. In the same way, God grows us gradually. Exodus 23:27-30 provides an interesting perspective. God says that he will help Israel “little by little . . . until you have increased.” Perhaps God will give you an assignment that stretches your character. You learn patience or compassion. Then God puts you in a situation that helps you gain new skills—job skills, life skills, ministry skills. Maybe God then stretches you and expands your network of contacts. Finally, God gives you an assignment that stretches your faith¸ teaching you to depend on him for strength.

God takes us on a zigzag path that is designed for our growth. Along the way, he provides encouragement. For Israel, that encouragement came in the bones of Joseph and the cloudy/fiery pillar that led them in the wilderness.

The bones of Joseph reminded Israel of God’s providence and his promises. 400+ years previously, Joseph told his brothers who passed it down through the generations that God would visit them and come to their aid. God would keep the promise he made to Abraham to return Israel to the Promised Land. When that time came, Joseph did not want to be left behind. By taking Joseph’s bones with them on their exodus from Egypt, the people demonstrated their confidence in God’s word.

The cloudy/fiery pillar reminded Israel of God’s presence and his provision. The pillar never left Israel. It demonstrated God was always with them. But the pillar also led Israel. It went before them and guided them through the wilderness.

Over 2,000 years ago a young Greek artist named Timanthes studied under a respected tutor. After several years the teacher’s efforts seemed to have paid off when Timanthes painted an exquisite work of art.

Unfortunately, he became so enraptured with the painting that he spent days gazing at it.

One morning when he arrived to admire his work, he was shocked to find it blotted out with paint. Angry, Timanthes ran to his teacher, who admitted he had destroyed the painting.

“I did it for your own good.  That painting was retarding your progress.  Start again and see if you can do better.”

Timanthes took his teacher’s advice and produced the Sacrifice of Iphigenia, which is regarded as one of the finest paintings of antiquity.

30 years ago, I was pursuing a Ph.D. with the hope of teaching in a university or seminary. Every door I knocked on was closed and remained that way. Instead of academia, God kept me in the church, first as an associate pastor and later as a senior pastor. It was only this past spring when God opened the door for me to become an adjunct professor at a Christian college. I now blend church ministry with college teaching.

In bringing believers to spiritual maturity, the shortest distance between two points is a zigzag. It may not make sense at the time, but in hindsight we can sometimes see what God was doing.  Along the journey, God will remind us of his good intentions through his providence—he will come to our aid; his promises—he keeps his word; his presence—he is with us; and his provision—he will guide us.

If you are anything like me, your spiritual journey will have surprise twists, dangerous turns and an incredible destination. The Adventure is Just Beginning!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 6, 2017. (The title and outline were borrowed with permission from Dr. Donald Sunukjian.) It is part of a series of sermons on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Russia 2018 ministry trip

I have been invited to return to Russia in 2018 to continue the process of helping train and equip pastors and young leaders. When I was there in March, several asked me to return to teach the book of Revelation. That is the plan for the upcoming trip. Click on the image below to open a pdf file of the trip proposal and details. Please pray that God provides all we need and more besides for the trip.

 

Don’t be a knucklehead

If I did something stupid while growing up, someone would comment, “Don’t be a knucklehead!” As a pastor for 31 years, there have been times when I was tempted to use that phrase to describe someone.

According to the Urban Dictionary, a “knucklehead” is someone of questionable intelligence. It doesn’t generally mean the person is stupid but rather that they are smart enough but still engage in stupid actions.

I came across a biblical example of a knucklehead in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament portion of the Bible. In Isaiah 30:1-2 and 31:1, the prophet pronounces judgment on those who rely on the world rather than on God.

Isaiah 30:1–2 – “Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord, “who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my direction, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

Isaiah 31:1 – Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!

According to Scripture, a knucklehead tries to solve their own problems rather than turn to God for wisdom. They try to clean up their life and break an addictive pattern of behavior in their own power rather than admit they can’t do it and seek help. A stubborn, obstinate person presses harder in the same direction instead of acknowledging their approach doesn’t work. A knucklehead shifts blame onto others rather than admit their responsibility. They focus on self-improvement instead of confessing their sin and asking God for forgiveness. They hold onto past hurts and nurse grudges rather than releasing the pain and forgiving the offender. They go through life and problems alone rather than seeking accountability and encouragement from a trusted friend. They try to make a bargain with worldly resources instead of submitting to God.

If any of these statements describe you, stop being a knucklehead. Turn to God, consult his plan, and find refuge in his strength. Perhaps I need to follow my own advice and stop my knuckleheaded ways.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2017 in Bible Study, Character, Scripture

 

Embracing failure

I came across two statements on failure today. One was in a comic strip and the other in a novel. Both emphasize the importance of embracing failure, albeit for different reasons.

“In order to welcome redemption, one must first embrace the utter hopelessness of failure. For how can a man look for rescue unless he knows he is truly lost?” Stephen R. Lawhead in Pendragon (Pendragon Cycle, Book 4).

Until you admit you are a sinner, you cannot be saved. Until you confess your sins, you cannot be forgiven. Until you acknowledge your weakness, you cannot receive God’s provision.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9–10)

Perhaps failure, or at least acknowledging and embracing it, should become our signature move.

 

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2017 in Quotes, Scripture, Zits