911

I was substitute teaching at Cuyahoga Falls High School on September 11, 2001. During one of the morning classes, the Principal of the school announced over the loudspeaker that the World Trade Center was under attack. Within a few moments, the Principal put the school on lockdown. As the day wore on, I was able to catch a glimpse of the horrific situation developing in New York. The images of the planes hitting the trade center is fresh in my memory. On that day, 2996 people lost their lives and the nation was changed. We were no longer blind to the threat of terrorism. It was no longer isolated to the Middle East or other countries around the world. It hit us in our neighborhood, in our backyard. For the first time in a long time, Americans didn’t feel safe. As I watched the news coverage over the next several weeks, one question seemed to permeate: how could this happen? People in America experienced the wretched condition of humanity on a single day. However, the Bible addresses the question and provides a clear framework for the origin of wickedness.
Romans 3:23 declares, “All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.” That word sinned speaks of breaking the will and law of God. At its core, the meaning carries the idea of wrongdoing or conduct not in keeping with God’s character. The problem with mankind is not that he is intrinsically good; but rather that he is bent towards doing what is wrong. Unfortunately, this condition leaves room for all sorts of heinous and despicable acts like we witnessed on 911. However, this condition leaves mankind in a predicament before God. The Apostle Paul writes, “Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3). The lost are children of God’s wrath. Someday God will take vengeance on all who have turned aside from the truth of the gospel and have followed the wicked heart of Satan. But, there is hope! God can change hearts and lives at the foot of the Cross. God takes us where we are and through the life-changing blood of redemption, gives us a new heart and a new desire. A desire to obey God and love others. Turn your life to Christ and start your life over! As I close this letter, please remember to pray for all those who lost loved ones on that day. Pray that God will give them the strength to continue. Also, pray that the gospel will have an open door. Share it regularly with those who don’t know Christ and the power of His forgiveness.
In Christ, Pastor Mike

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Hearers of the Word (Part 2)

Part 2 Continued…
We have already set-forth three things to look for in a sermon. Now, we will continue with the list of two more important elements of a sermon.
4. Does the pastor provide an outline? There have been very few times in my ministry that I didn’t provide an outline for the congregation – weddings, funerals, special speaking engagements and a few sermons. However, these are exceptions to the rule and not the norm. So, why do I believe the pastor needs to provide an outline for the listeners? Well, an outline provides direction for the sermon. People need to know where the sermon is going. If there is a mist in the pulpit, there will be fog in the pews. An outline removes the fog and points in a direction. Beyond the basic function of an outline, an outline demonstrates organization and attention to detail. In fact, I would argue that a good outline helps support and strengthen the sermon. The listener needs to be able to work through the sermon with the pastor. I like to call it, playing along with Pastor. I know you are thinking, wait a minute, an outline might constrain the pastor and the role of the Holy Spirit. First, yes it might constrain the pastor to actually staying on task. I don’t see that as a bad thing, but as setting parameters for the message. Second, does the Holy Spirit work better through rational thought or flying by the seat of your pants? The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “But all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). Of course, this verse comes at the end of how the church should worship and conduct business in the house of God. Yes, I believe outlines are important and help establish order to the sermon.
5. Does the pastor highlight the immediate context? Along the same lines of sermon organization, the pastor needs to set the context of the passage. Actually, this step is vital for interpreting the text. For example, did you know that the Bible says, “There is no God.” Yes, the Scripture does make that statement in Psalm 14:1. Shocking! Unbelievable! Really? But, that is quoted out of context. The whole verse reads, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” I’ve heard many a sermon when the pastor launches into the sermon without any reference to the context or setting of the passage. This can become a dangerous practice because it enhances the chances of misinterpreting the text. The Apostle Paul instructs Titus, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). The word “accords” (πρέπω) refers to that which is right or fitting in relation to correctness. “Sound” (ὑγιαίνω) conveys the idea of being accurate in one’s views and that which is healthy. And the word “doctrine” (διδασκαλία) refers to what is being taught or communicated in the teaching. Therefore, the sermon should shed light on the immediate context of the passage in order to accurately interpret the meaning and application of the passage of Scripture. One question to ask when listening to a sermon is, “Hey, where did you get that?” If the pastor fails to establish the setting for the text, the sermon runs the risk of wrong interpretation.

In Christ, Pastor Mike

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Hearers of the Word (Part 1)

The Apostle James says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). Christians know this verse well or have at least heard a sermon on the text. However, I want to focus on the middle part of the verse – “not only hearers.” The word hearers (ἀκροατής) refers to someone who listens. The same concept is found in Romans 2:13, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” The idea of listening is important. When you go to church, you listen to a sermon and possibly take notes. So, it is important because you can’t live out the truth being taught in a sermon if you’re not listening. And that’s exactly what I want to discuss in this three-part article. When you go to church, what should you be listening for in a sermon? I am going to present the top 12 things you should listen for when the pastor is preaching. The list could be greatly expanded, but for brevity, I will keep it short. Having preached for nearly 3o years, I personally believe that if a couple of these are violated, you should look for another church.
1. Does the Pastor read Scripture? Yeah, this should be obvious but it’s not always the case. When I was in seminary at Midwestern Theological Seminary, I visited a local Southern Baptist Church one Sunday morning. The pastor got up in the pulpit and proclaimed, “Today, I will not be using scripture, but will be preaching from this book.” Yes, brothers and sisters, a Southern Baptist Church. So, it’s not automatic that Scripture will be read. The Apostle Paul writes, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). So, the reading of the biblical text is vital to the life of the church and those who sit under the exhortation and teaching. The word exhortation (παράκλησις) means to be encouraged, encouragement or to console. The word teaching (διδασκαλία) means to provide instruction either in a formal setting such as worship or in an informal setting such as small groups or individual training. Therefore, the reading of Scripture in a worship setting is not only biblical, it is commanded for the purpose of encouraging the church and teaching God’s people how to live for him in this world! If God’s Word is not read, get out!
2. Does the Pastor respect the pulpit? I think this is just as important as reading the biblical text. So, what do I mean by asking this question? The pulpit is not the place to vent or push a personal vendetta or play games. I’ve heard pastors preach out of anger and that is not preaching. I recently witnessed a pastor, Steven Furtick, using a water pistol to squirt people in the congregation which is paramount to stupidity and he was extremely disrespectful of the pulpit. The pastor should be confident, but not cocky. He should approach the pulpit the same way he approaches God in prayer – respect! God has given the pastor a charge to care for His sheep. The Apostle Luke teaches, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). The issue here is what does the pastor do while he is in the pulpit. Is he flippant in his preaching, is he angry, is he sarcastic or do you sense a God-calm control in his preaching? Although pastors will raise their voices at times during the sermon; there should be a sense of respect and honor for the preaching of the Word. If the pastor gives the appearance that he doesn’t respect the pulpit, that should be a red flag.
3. Does the Pastor stay with the biblical text? By this I mean, does the pastor read the text and draw the main points from the text? There is a lot of rabbit preaching going on out there. The pastor may read the text but then launch into all sorts of issues and thoughts. I call this rabbit chasing, but one thing about rabbits is they are hard to catch. No, the pastor should draw his main points from the text and develop the sermons sub-points from within the text he is preaching. Paul instructs young Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The words rightly dividing (ὀρθοτομέω) refer to teaching correctly but also to cut in a straight line. Therefore, the pastor must dissect the passage and teach what is in accordance with the right biblical instruction. I can listen to a preacher within the first five minutes and tell if he knows what he is doing or not. Rabbit preachers will read their text, then springboard into numerous issues and ideas, but never ground it in the text just they read. One of my favorite television shows is Survivorman. Les Stroud, an outdoor survival expert, talked once about rabbit starvation. He teaches that if you eat only rabbits in the wilderness, though you are consuming food, you will eventually starve to death because of lack of nutrients. So, if your pastor is chasing rabbits every Sunday, you better look for another church before you starve yourself spiritually.
More next week.
In Christ, Pastor Mike

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Creation

I have long been fascinated with space and its exploration. Growing up in Titusville, Florida (Cape Canaveral) might have contributed to my love for exploring the outer galaxies. Recently, I was given a wonderful telescope by one of our church members. While I am still learning how to use the telescope, I am looking forward to viewing the Moon, Saturn, Venus, Pluto, Mars and other planets. Of course, when we talk about the heavens above, my mind naturally turns to God, who created the earth, the animals, vegetation, the seas and the galaxies. The scientific community tells us that the world began with a bang and from that bang, everything came into existence. Therefore, we are to believe that one single molecule created everything. While the explanations for this phenomenon are complex and detailed; scientists have still not answered how the single cell or molecule came to be. On a practical level, it takes much more faith to believe this explanation than it does to believe that a supreme being created the universe and the worlds beyond earth. It’s not only that God created, but He ordered everything to work perfectly – the seasons, the tides, the food chain, the climate and ecological systems. Illustrations abound that God’s thumbprint is on the creation – the women’s reproductive system, the purpose for seasons, how plants and vegetation feed specific animals, etc. Yes, God ordered everything to work perfectly. So, am I to believe that one molecule ordered everything? Or is it much more realistic and plausible to believe Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning (רֵאשִׁית), God created the heavens and the earth.” The word beginning is a point of reference or a starting point for everything that follows in Genesis Chapter 1. Thus, we can say that God, who created (בָּרָא) or shaped and molded everything, is the necessary cause agent in creation. It appears to me that the belief in the existence of God and His work in creation is the only explanation! So, when I look through my telescope in the evenings, I see the glory and majesty of the Lord. And this makes me praise His wonderful work!

In Christ, Pastor Mike

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Overcoming Adversity

On August 10, 1989, Dave Dravecky took the mound to pitch for the San Francisco Giants.

UNITED STATES – AUGUST 10: Baseball: San Francisco Giants Dave Dravecky (43) in action, pitching vs Cincinnati Reds during first start after having cancer surgery in pitching arm, View of WELCOME BACK DAVE sign on screen scoreboard at Candlestick Park, stadium, San Francisco, CA 8/10/1989 (Photo by Mickey Pfleger/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

As you can see from the picture, he was warmly welcomed back by the fans. Why is that so remarkable? Well, it’s because Dravecky had endured surgery to remove a tumor in his deltoid muscle in 1988. The doctors informed him that he would never pitch again. Dravecky spent over a year rehabbing and recovering, determined to get back on the mound. And on August 10, he pitched the game of his career. He went 8 innings of 3 run ball in defeating the Cincinnati Reds. However, his next outing on August 15, 1989, in Montreal would end his career and change his life forever. Dravecky pitched three no-hit innings, but in the fifth inning, he felt a tingling sensation in his arm. In the sixth inning, he started off shaky, allowing a home run to the leadoff batter and then hit the second batter, Andres Galarraga with the pitch. Then, on his first pitch to Tim Raines, his humerus bone snapped; the sound of it breaking could be heard throughout the stadium. Dravecky fell to the ground, writhing in pain. Eighteen days later, doctors informed Dravecky that cancer had returned to the arm. For the next two years, Dravecky endured surgeries and therapy. Then, on June 19, 1991, doctors amputated his shoulder and arm.
Dravecky, a Christian, went through an emotional rollercoaster – anger, depression, and disbelief. Yet, his faith in Christ kept him going. Dravecky, “When I broke my arm, I knew there was something a lot bigger than baseball (about to happen) … I had a sense that God had something for me, something bigger than baseball.” Today, Dravecky is a motivational speaker and helps people overcome their adversities.
As believers, we are promised adversity, sometimes it is from the world and other times God allows things to happen to us. And nothing will stop or hinder God’s plans for our lives. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). The verse promises that God is at work in our lives, whether we sense His divine plan or not. God is at work! We overcome adversity by trusting him daily and knowing that He will fulfill the work He began at our salvation! Just trust Him!
God bless,
Pastor Mike

 

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