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In September of 2011, Debbie and I arrived in Stamford, CT, excited at the new ministry to which the Lord has called us at Stamford Baptist Church. The time with this wonderful church has been a blessing from the Lord, and we are so grateful to Him for allowing us the privilege of serving as its pastor. Three and a half years ago, Chief Robert Nivakoff asked if I would serve as the chaplain for the Stamford Police Department on a voluntary basis. Again, serving as such has been an incredible blessings from the Lord.

When we came to Stamford, we were planning to stay at the church until retirement; but over the last 12 months, the Lord has gradually, but definitively, been showing us that His desire is for us to serve as chaplain for our first responders on a full-time basis. About a year ago, we established Life Line Chaplaincy, Inc as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation to help offset some of the expenses of serving as chaplain. Little did we know He would use this to provide the resources for us to launch the chaplaincy on a full-time basis.

When we came, we had no idea that the Lord would take us this direction, but He has, and we are eagerly following His lead. Today was my last official Sunday preaching as pastor at Stamford Baptist Church. I will serve this week in the office, then take some remaining vacation time. Then in December, I will start full time with Life Line Chaplaincy.

We make this transition with mixed emotions: we love the people of Stamford Baptist Church dearly, and I have been so richly blessed by God in serving here. But we are so excited at the next chapter that the Lord has for us in serving our first responders who put their lives on the line for us every day.

The website for Life Line Chaplaincy is http://www.LLChaplaincy.org, and the new Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/Life-Line-Chaplaincy-774320282693969/?ref=hl

We welcome your prayers for us as we make this transition, but also as we strive to serve those who sacrificially serve us all so well.

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Good News!

The Good News about Jesus

1. God is the Creator, and so the Ultimate Owner, of everyone and everything in heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1; Ex. 9:29; Ps 24:1; 1 Cor 10:26, 28). As such, He has absolute authority over everyone and everything.

2. From the very beginning, mankind has resisted and rebelled against His authority, setting himself up as his own authority (Gen. 3). God calls this defiance and rebellion “sin,” and the reality is that EVERYONE has rejected and rebelled against His authority (Romans 3:23).

3. This rebellion has separated us from Him, set us up in opposition to Him, and violated the law He established in eternity past. The penalty for that violation is our spiritual death—now and for all eternity (Romans 6:23).

4. God is love, and He loves mankind. He was willing to pay that penalty on our behalf—at great cost—through the sacrificial death on the cross of His only Son, the Almighty King Himself—Jesus (Romans 6:23; John 3:16). Jesus was/is God in the flesh, and alone was able to pay this price.

5. All who are willing to repent of their sin and surrender themselves back over to His reign and rule (which is called “faith”), will be forgiven and restored to a right relationship with Him now and forever (John 20:31).

The incredible truth of this Good News is that because of His immeasurable and incomparable love, the Almighty King of the universe—the One who has absolute and ultimate authority over every kingdom, king, and inhabitant on earth; the One who created all the heavens and the earth, and therefore has absolute and ultimate ownership of everything in the universe; the One who deserves full obedience, submission, reverence, and faithful allegiance from every person on earth; the One whom we all have rejected and rebelled against, setting ourselves up as our own personal kings instead—this very King, because of love, demonstrated ultimate humility by taking on flesh and living the life of a humble man; He presented Himself as King to the Jewish people and was rejected as such; He was arrested, tried, convicted, and executed merely for claiming to be King; and He willing paid the ultimate penalty for our rebellion—a penalty we could never pay—by dying a criminal’s death on the cross.

What an incredible irony, that the King would be executed, simply for being the King, BY those refusing to submit to Him as King, and FOR those who refused to submit to Him as King!

But He demonstrated His absolute and ultimate authority over all things, including death, by rising from the dead on the third day! As a result, all who are willing to bow before Him and acknowledge Him as King, all who repent of rejecting and rebelling against Him as such, all who ask to be forgiven for that rebellion, will be once for all forgiven and pardoned for that rebellion, delivered from the wrath of God that was truly deserved, and warmly welcomed into a restored and loving relationship with Him for now and all eternity.

Are you following Jesus, or using Him?

That seems like such a foreboding question, but consider the difference and how our evangelical sub culture can easily emphasize and reinforce the latter.

First, in the Book of Acts, true followers took every opportunity to talk about their Christ/King—they were essentially obsessed with Him and would not—could not—stop talking about Him (review Acts 1-5, and then take special notice of 5:42). They could not “get over” the fact that the King over all creation would voluntarily offer His life as a sacrifice for their rebellion against God. Their lives were centered on their King, and they viewed themselves as belonging entirely and exclusively to Him, to be used by Him however He chose. They were willing to do anything and everything He asked, regardless of the cost. The entirety of their days, vocations, plans, energies, and efforts were to Him and for Him. And this wasn’t a level of spiritual maturity that culminated after years of teaching and grooming; it began immediately upon the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in chapter 2 (see also Acts 13 20-21, where Paul’s preaching resulted in the making of “many disciples” in a relatively short time).

Furthermore, their evangelism focused more on who Jesus WAS—the Christ/King who was worthy and deserving of all worship, submission, and surrender—rather than on the benefits He could provide FOR people (2:36; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:42; 7:52-53; 8:5; 27-35; 9:20-22; 10:34-43; 13:27-41; 17:2-3; 22-31; 18:4-5; 27-28; 19:8-10; and more. Consider Paul’s recounting of his conversion, his testimony before Roman officials, and the closing statement in Acts 28:30-31.)

But today, it is easy for us to present a message of Jesus that portrays Him primarily as the One who provides deliverance, comfort, and strength; One who can walk with and comfort us in our struggles, and One who will deliver us from our immediate crises, not to mention eternal damnation. Thus, we inadvertently present Christ based on what He can DO for us, rather than who He IS.

Of course, our King loves, cares for, provides for, and delivers His people. Our Shepherd loves, cares for, provides for, and delivers His sheep; but these all point to the incredible nature and Person of our Lord. These truths were not bargaining chips used to persuade people to consider the benefits of “asking Jesus into their hearts.” And when benefits were emphasized in Scriptural instances of evangelism, they tended to focus on the Lord’s most-loving and gracious offer to forgive our rebellion, redeem us from slavery to sin, and reconcile us to the Father whom we had gravely offended. But even these pointed back to the King in His rightful place and our corresponding responsibility to submit and surrender to Him.

As a result of such an imbalanced presentation of Christ, I fear we have created a culture/climate of spiritual entitlement in which our people are primarily focused on the benefits of the Kingdom and what the King can do for them. We are not accustomed to viewing ourselves as His bond-slaves (Phil 1:1), but rather, are quite comfortable viewing Him as ours—thus, the mindset of using Christ for personal benefit.

I have half-jokingly referred in recent sermons to our mindset of wanting to develop and download a “Jesus Ap” for our electronic devices so we can pull Him up whenever we want Him, or need Him, or get in a bind.

And pastors/teachers, we are not exempt—we can fall prey to using Jesus to have our egos stroked through our preaching and teaching, or using Him to pad our bank accounts through speaking and/or writing.

Jesus never presented Himself as One who would follow after His “followers” to do their bidding and grant their wishes; quite the contrary, He emphasized the cost of following Him and the need to surrender/sacrifice everything in order to be His disciple (Matt 16:24-26). His emphasis was that His disciples were to follow Him regardless of the consequences, and He even stressed that some of those consequences would be quite unpleasant.

So, how are the differences between a Jesus follower and Jesus user manifested? These observations occur to me:

  • A follower never grows weary of hearing and being taught about Jesus. A user wants to hear about Him when it suits him/her, or in the midst of a crisis.
  • A follower willingly accepts the mission and call of God. A user attempts to direct/determine God’s mission and call according to his/her desires and inclinations.
  • A follower prays, “Father, please direct and use me today for your purposes and glory.” A user prays, “Lord please bless my plans and activities today.”
  • A follower delights at the opportunity to fellowship with God through studying His Word and praying daily. A user might have daily “devotions” in order to feel good, relieve guilt, or earn heavenly points.
  • A follower craves daily fellowship with the Father now, and can hardly wait to celebrate Him forever directly in His presence. A user primarily is looking forward to seeing Him one day in heaven where the streets are paved with gold and where there will be no more struggles.
  • A follower follows Him seven days a week, not just on Sunday, and views Sunday as a time to celebrate Him and learn of how to better follow Him. A user attends church services and events in order to receive inspiration or to earn/maintain status with God.
  • A follower recognizes the under-shepherd(s) in the local church as appointed by the Shepherd and will joyfully follow. A user wants the under-shepherd(s) to serve him/her, much the way they expect the Shepherd to serve him/her, and is dismayed and disgruntled when he/they fail to do so.
  • A follower is deeply grateful, primarily, for the forgiveness of sin. A user is deeply grateful and relieved, primarily, that he/she has been delivered from hell.

So, which are you today, a Christ follower or user?

PS–I do not write this as one who has conquered, but rather as one who is striving. Too often I find myself in the “user” column…which deepens my appreciation for His love, mercy, and grace.

 

The Empty Tomb

Can you imagine the devastation Jesus’s disciples were feeling that Thursday night and Friday as they witnessed the most crushing scene conceivable. They had invested everything—their lives, careers, families, future—into one person based on their conviction that He was the Messiah/King, the God/Man. And this man had given them every reason to believe that He was indeed legitimate; but now they were faced with that haunting, gut-wrenching prospect that their beliefs and convictions were misdirected and unfounded.

The Twelve had stuck with Him through thick and thin. Perhaps they had some questions during that unsettling trend when Jesus’ popularity waned, but they remained true. And then, when the multitudes affirmed and celebrated Him the previous Sunday, they began to see everything come together; the stage was set for the Messiah/King to launch His reign and rule over the earth.

But they watched those hopes and dreams die a dreadful death on a Roman cross at the hands of those whom He was supposed to conquer.  Even more, He had preached against the false and twisted religion of the Pharisees, but apparently they were right, because they won—convincingly.

On top of that, they watched someone whom they deeply loved falsely tried and wrongly executed. Their hearts had to have been crushed to see a loved one treated in such a way, and then to have His life and His love ripped away from them. This should not have happened—how could it have happened?

This was not what they expected. Jesus’ broken and lifeless body had been placed in a tomb, and they believed that was the end.

They weren’t expecting the tomb to be empty that Sunday morning, but it was, and the empty tomb changed everything.

You see, the empty tomb validated all of Jesus’ claims. Over the course of His ministry, Jesus repeatedly and consistently identified Himself as the Messiah/King, fully understanding all of the implications for His followers. But honestly, anyone could make that claim, and in fact many have over the centuries.

Jesus set Himself apart from the rest in one very unique and powerful way. He is the only one in history to raise Himself from the dead. And in that resurrection, He validated every truth He proclaimed and every claim He made.

When Jesus stood before the Pharisees, He enraged them with His blatant admission to being the Christ. But His resurrection confirmed that assertion and reality. While they refused to accept the broader implications, it was impossible for them to ignore the truth of an empty tomb. In that encounter, Jesus ultimately won—convincingly.

And the Roman authorities who had the authority to crucify Him, and who stood guard outside His tomb, didn’t have the authority or power to keep Him dead and confined to that tomb.

That morning, what had once been a dark and dismal symbol of devastating defeat was transformed miraculously into a glorious beacon of ultimate and conclusive victory.

But more than demonstrating His power and authority over the Pharisees and Rome, the empty tomb testified to the reality that the King accomplished the Kingdom agenda for which He came the first time. Jesus’ mission was not to launch an insurrection, it was to address the needs of sinners. It was to flesh out God’s love in such a way that sinners could be reconciled with the Father. It was, as the Lamb of God, to pay the price and penalty for our sins. The empty tomb testifies to the fulfillment of that mission. And even more, it demonstrates His victory over death.

Sin entered this world in the Garden of Eden, and the universal impact was physical and spiritual death for everyone. The empty tomb bears witness to our King’s absolute, undeniable, conclusive, and ultimate victory over both!

The empty tomb changed everything. Because of that empty tomb, we can be assured that our deepest needs have been met: the need for sins to be punished—Jesus took that punishment for us; the need for forgiveness—because of Him, we can be; the need for reconciliation with the Father against Whom we have rebelled—His death secured that reconciliation; and the need for deliverance from eternal death—the empty tomb confirms that our King has indeed conquered death, once and for all time.

Perhaps you have found yourself confused and disillusioned by the crushing blows of life. Perhaps you’ve even been confused and disillusioned by the Lord’s failure to do what you expected Him to do. Perhaps you’ve felt you had a need that He failed to meet.

Just remember what He accomplished on the cross for you, and remember that the empty tomb verifies and validates everything He said and did.

And that changes everything.

When I awoke to the election news this morning, I immediately thought back to my reflections from four years ago; the biblical truths I referenced then are just as relevant today—perhaps more so—as they were then:

https://gettingthemost.wordpress.com/2008/11/05/a-defining-moment-change-has-come-to-america/

As we consider the implications and absorb the impact of yesterday’s election results, there are additional biblical principles and perspectives we must recognize and embrace if we are to be effective in accomplishing the Lord’s Kingdom agenda here on earth.

First, we must remember that when we hang our hopes and dreams on a candidate or campaign, we set ourselves up for grave disappointment. This is true regardless of who had won the elections yesterday. We must never lose sight of this universal truth: every candidate in the election yesterday was, is, and will be a sinner. Regardless of who might have won yesterday, that fact would not have changed. And sinners are experts at doing one thing—sinning! No elected official has ever done otherwise—each one, universally, has been impacted and swayed by the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life. No candidate or political party will ever usher in lasting hope or the most essential change. Only One Person can do that, because only One Person can change hearts; and He wasn’t running for office yesterday. Only when we hang our hopes and dreams on Him—only when we become obsessed with obeying His mandate—will we see the kind of change we need in our nation.

Next, it is never appropriate for followers of Christ to express disdain or disrespect for any individual, but especially for elected officials, even if they oppose us and our faith. Instead, we are to pray for them, and honor them. Paul wrote:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Ti 2:1–2 ESV).

This, from a man who was eventually put to death by the government and king for which he prayed.

Peter wrote:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor (1 Pet. 2:13–17 ESV).

Again, this from a man who was eventually put to death for his faith by the government and king he honored and to which he submitted. Jesus Himself submitted to—and indeed died for—officials in a hostile civil government. He loved those in government who took His life.

The commands are for us to submit to, pray for, and honor government officials. Much of the Internet chatter I’ve seen from Christians is not in keeping with these passages—there is no room in the life of a Christ follower for such attitudes, comments, or behavior. They bring shame on the name of Christ and destroy the witness of His people. They place barriers in the way of the Gospel, linking Christian faith to one political party or another. How can we preach love if our Internet language is hateful? How can we expect adherents of a particular political persuasion to hear our Gospel if we demonize their leaders? This applies to all sides of the political landscape, regardless of our preferred candidate yesterday. We are all commanded to show honor to all people, especially our government officials.

Finally, the King was not up for election yesterday, and His assignment has not changed. Jesus is still King over all creation; He was not surprised or disturbed by the results, and His plan remains in effect. Our primary focus is the same—taking His Gospel to the ends of the earth and making disciples of all nations. There is no reason for any follower of Christ to miss a step in obeying this assignment. The setting in which we accomplish the command indeed may shift in coming months and years, and we should not be surprised if we face increased societal, cultural, and perhaps even governmental obstacles as we strive to obey Him. But ever since the cross, His followers have faced such challenges and have faithfully held forth the light of the Gospel in the darkest corners of the earth—why should we expect to be exempt from such challenges today? We may need to consider a paradigm shift in the way we minister and evangelize in this country—I believe we need to start viewing ourselves as missionaries in a hostile land, and embrace an approach that is consistent with the growing reality. If so, so be it. Let us not sit around bemoaning the poor state of affairs in our land; rather, let us embrace anew the privilege and honor of denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following Him, demonstrating and declaring the Gospel of the Kingdom for all to see and hear. Let us be overwhelmed by the Lord’s love for us (and for those in all political parties), and let His love constrain us and compel us. Let us embody His example, so all the world can see this truth of Christ in us:

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:6–11 ESV).

Let us remember and flesh out daily the mindset and mission of Jesus, our King, keeping our eyes fixed on that day when He will be recognized by all as Lord of all.

Over the last few years, I’ve been telling folks that I have shifted into a “regret management” mode. By that, I mean that when I face a decision, I try to make a choice based on how I will view that choice in 20-30 years, and even more, in eternity. I ask myself, “Down the road, when I look back on this decision, with all things considered, which choice will likely have the lowest level of regret?” That perspective may seem like it should be blatantly obvious, that it would be our default mode, but I realize that I have made so many choices based on what is most expedient at the moment, or on what would give me the highest level of immediate satisfaction/gratification. Most often, those choices have not lined up with biblical priorities.

After more than 56 years of life, I am starting to experience and appreciate the long term benefits of good choices, and the haunting reality of bad choices. I am personally experiencing the glory associated with making good, biblically consistent choices, while at the same time becoming painfully aware of the far reaching impact of failures, in every aspect of life–as a son, brother, husband, father, minister/pastor, employee, and friend. I’ve made good choices and bad on every level, and now I live with the consequences of those choices.

I forget who gave the advice, but it is such good counsel: Make your choices VERY carefully, because the consequences of those choices will accompany you the rest of your life.

Which brings us back to the Gospel and the amazing grace of our Lord–He has been compensating for–and mitigating the consequences of–our wrong choices since the Garden of Eden. Praise God for His loving intervention, for His mercy, for the cross, and for His forgiveness. If He had not made the choice to offer these, we would all be doomed to any number of levels of hell, both now and for all eternity.

When the sun rose

On Friday night, all day Saturday, and Saturday night, Jesus’ disciples were facing the deepest darkness of their lives.

They had just experienced ultimate disaster: Their King—Whom they expected to overthrow the Roman empire—had been humiliated and executed by the Roman authorities. They had bet their lives on the legitimacy of His claims, and they had just lost the bet.

They were experiencing devastating fear:  Their leader had just been executed for treason, and there was every reason to expect the religious leaders and Romans to seek them out and do the same to them.

They were grappling with deep shame: They had deserted—and even denied—Jesus after they promised to stand with Him to the death.

They were facing crushing loss: They had just watched a person Who loved them deeply—and whom they deeply loved—as He was arrested, tried, convicted, beaten, executed, and buried.

And they were struggling with debilitating uncertainty: They had tied their futures to the reign of a King who had been defeated by the foe. What would they do now? What could they do now?

But when the sun rose that Sunday morning, everything changed…because the Son rose that Sunday morning!

Disaster was erased by boundless joy, because Jesus demonstrated that He had everything under control the whole time.

Fear was exchanged for fixed confidence, because Jesus demonstrated His absolute authority over those who executed Him.

Shame was replaced with overwhelming solace, because Jesus still loved them—indeed, His death was so they could know forgiveness for all their sin.

Loss was eclipsed by endless celebration, because they had not lost Christ—you can’t lose God…and He won’t lose us.

And uncertainly was traded for absolute assurance, because they realized that God alone is God, and that He has a plan. His plan all along was to provide a sacrifice for our sin—our rebellion against His rightful reign and rule over our lives—and that the sacrifice would pave the way for our redemption from that sin and reconciliation with God. Their future in Christ was certain because of His death, burial, and resurrection.

Perhaps you have struggled under the weight of disaster, fear, shame, loss, and uncertainty. He has addressed and conquered all of these and more. His death, burial, and resurrection have addressed our greatest need—our need for forgiveness and redemption. The events of that first Easter weekend opened the door for us to have a right relationship with the One whom we have denied.  

When the sun rose that Sunday morning, everything changed…because the Son rose that Sunday morning.