1-4-2012 The Bible and its “one another” verses for you and I to live out. Are you in???

Some years ago I was introduced to the phrase “one another” in the bible.  When I did some more investigation, I came to see that there are at least 30 and some people say up to 37 “one another” verses in the New Testament.  A one another verse is a concept that involves interaction with others and should be lived out between people who hang out together on a consistent basis. The goal should always be to bring God his due glory. So as we interact with each other, these verses can and should bring us into a place where we should think about right attitudes and actions that will God glory in all of life.

I'm a firm believer in the bible being a book that is beneficial for all of life. As I saw these one another verses in mass, I started to contemplate what this looked like in my own life.  Some of these relative to my life are somewhat dormant.  Others have been practiced, but not always in the right spirit, or with the right goal. I also started to think what would happen if the church actually put into practice these biblical concepts. So my hair brain idea is to go though them with my family and friends as we prepare to launch a church this upcoming year.

I also thought it would be much easier to remember them if we put them into alphabetical order.  If you've never heard of these concepts or seen them in scripture, I pray you embrace them and be willing to put them into practice where you share and live life.  Not only are these principles beneficial for Christians, but I believe they are profitable for all people.

The first “one another” verse I wanted to dialogue on is the concept of admonishing one another. The are eight verses in the new testament that contain  the root word νουθετέω.  They are Acts 20:31;Romans 15:14;1 Corinthians 4:14; Colossians 1:28,3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:12,14, 2 Thessalonians 3:15. It can mean to warn, counsel or instruct.  Depending on the context, this word may have a different emphasis.

Today I will focus on Colossians 3:16. It says “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God”. (Col 3:16).  Any time I read the scriptures before I attempt to put any command (imperative) into practice, I always like to look at what is said before the command (indicative) to find encouragement in practical living. This section of scripture deals with the new life we have as Christians.  Paul is reminding them that as new creations there lives should be marked by a new mindset which should flow into new actions.  A right thinking mind is necessary to living well . A couple of reminders that encourage us to admonish each other are found in Colossians 3:1 -3.  In verse one it saysI've been raised in Christ.  No longer am I a child of wrath, but an adopted Son of God.  I need not live like i once did. God sent Jesus in my place to live the perfect life God required and he also became my substitute by dying on the cross in my place.  My sins are no longer the issue with God.  They have been cast away (Psalm 103:12) because of Jesus and I have joy because God demonstrated his love and put it into action.  In verse three it says my life is hid with Christ.  I haven't hidden myself, but God has hidden me and put me in a safe place.  My position as a saint is secure.  Although I still struggle and fight with sin, God now sees me as a saint.  My status has changed and I am IN the family.  I am a sinner and saint simultaneously.

Because of this the word of God has become authoritative and as it dwells in me it gives me discernment to deal with the complexities of life.  Last night we spoke of 5 qualities that those in 1 Peter 3:8 must have to suffer with joy.  One of them is sympathy.  Sympathy doesn't say I know how you feel BEFORE you've heard the person share.  It is willing to listen to  their burden which enables one to spend time encouraging and helping.  Therefore when correction and direction are needed, the person admonishing is seen as a person who is invested.  The old saying “people don't care how much you know till they know how much you care is imperative  when it comes to admonishing.  Will you consider this week taking the time to hear before you counsel, instruct and warn.  If we do this well we will find a friend and in the process practice the principle of admonishing in a right spirit that is winsome.  Remember it says in Colossians 3:17 right after the request to admonish, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17).  I pray your desire is to bring God glory in your admonishing this week, with friend, spouse, children and neighbors!! Lets share how God's word is relative to everything  we say and do.


12-24-2011 Merry christmas We are Getting Ready to Go

There is so much to be thankful for this Christmas.  This is our first Christmas back in New England in eight years.  When we left Somerset, MA in August of 2004, I had no idea what would become of our family, only that I wanted to do Christian ministry in Fall River, MA.  God has seen fit to bring us back.  The path is definitely one I would not ask for any of you, and yet for most Christians it must happen.

Suffering is a part of the Christian heritage.  Remember for all eternity we will continue to see the holes in Jesus hands (John 20:27). First he had to break us.  As many of you know we went through a season, where life was horrific and downright unfair….. so we thought.  Sometimes God can do more in your life when he has you alone than he can when you are surrounded by favorable circumstances.  The bible describes God's word as cuttting, sharp,piercing, and discerning. (Hebrews 4:12. It goes on to say in Hebrews 4:13-16-And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”.

This is the God I have come to know and yearn for others to see.  You are not hidden from his sight.  He knows everything about you from the number of hairs on your head, to the thoughts and intentions that no one else ever gets the opportunity to hear!!!   A God who can be approached, CAN sympathize, ‘even if I fail you, he won't’, and wants to use your life for his glory!!

In other words, God has to grab hold of YOU, not what others see in you but the real you.  This is found in the deepest darkest recesses of your inner being, whether you call it your heart, soul, spirit, mind… It is the painful path, the narrow path that we all must travel.  While Jesus suffered unjustly, there was a reason for this.  It was for the unjust (Romans 3:26).

I have prayed that God would open a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ (Colossians 4:3).  He has recently done this.  There is a place in the city of Fall River called “Corky Row”. I get a little nervous being there on my own sometimes. It has been notoriously known as the roughest place in the city to live.  My grandparents and parents lived there in the 1940′s and 1950′s.  They lived in an apartment on the corner of Third and Morgan.  it is no longer there, but the memories remain of walking down to Al's Variety which to this day is.

I'm an outsider, and yet God wants me and those he sends to our small gathering to love and embrace this place.  I am sure there are many that are looking for hope and community just like we are.  I want many to be an insider!!!   The Apostle Paul spoke of a WIDE door for ministry- “for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries”. (1Co 16:9).  I'm sure there are those who may not identify or may not want to identify with people who have had to struggle.  If you've been around me long enough, I pray this is not you.

It's easy to sit and hang out with people you are comfortable with, but is that really the mission of God.  I mean Jesus who was perfect and in perfect fellowship with his Father and the Holy Spirit, came from perfect heaven to hang out with a bunch of dirt (thats you and Iwith a soul), who continue to sin daily, who often  blame God, and often are indifferent to the ones we love MOST.  We often have an inflated view of ourselves, and yet in the scriptures I listed above, God KNOWS who we truly are.  And inspite of ourselves he has chosen many to put into service for his glory (Romans 11:36).

We will be discussing this Tuesday how we can start to make friends with those in Corky Row.  We hope to start doing services in February.  There is a Spanish Pastor willing to share his church with us.  It's on the corner of Fifth and Morgan.  You might miss it because it doesn't have a banner flying in front, (has a couple of bullet holes on the side….. just kidding)BUT it is a church and God is using it to build his kingdom.

In the last book of the bible, there is a place where John speaks of an open door.  John is speaking to the Church of Philadelphia (ironic huh, the city of brotherly love) and says in Revelation 3:8-  ”I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name”. The same God who had spoken to John about the church in Philadelphia has opened a similar door for Redemption Fellowship in the city.  He also said NO ONE can shut it.  Pretty powerful huh!! It may not look like a church on the outside, (it was a former bar, closed down for a murder some years back), but God has seen fit to redeem this place for his glory.

My question is, are you up for the task, or do you want to play it safe.  I have lot's of friends who claimed to be reformed, believe in God's sovereignty, and yet ministry in the city is TOO risky.  I hope this isn't you and I pray you consider using your giftedness for the glory of God.  We will need lots of help.  Lots of resources and EVEN money.

Starting in January,  I need to speak to people of our plight.  It is real, and it is possible to change this place  and bring hope if only people will get involved with their time, treasure, and talent.  Hope and salvation happens for a person when they turn from their sins, repent of them and trust alone in the perfect life of Jesus.  It happens like this.  1-Jesus lived the perfect life we couldnt live to appease God who required all of mankind to have a perfect standing (no sin).  So Jesus does for man what man can't do on their own (live perfectly).  2-Then when Jesus died on the cross, the sins of those who would trust in Jesus were placed on him so that we (those who repent)would no longer be seen by God as sinners. THE GREAT EXCHANGE TAKES PLACE.  3-While our sins are placed on Jesus, his perfection is imputed or granted to us. Now God sees those who have trusted alone in Jesus as having a righteousness that is acceptable in his sight.  It's not mine to claim or give away!!  Remember Jesus will judge us all some day (Acts 10:42, 2 Tim 4:1,1 Peter 4:5) and this is what we need to be in right standing with God, HIS righteousness.

If you are not involved in a local church or feel stagnant because their is no place for you to serve, please consider coming Tuesday.  God doesn't want you sitting in a pew, but being part of growing his kingdom.  Your voice can count here, and God wants you to be active in discipling other people.  Are you being discipled?  Are you discipling others?  Isn't the great commission involve discipling (Matthew 28:19)?  The command is to MAKE disciples.  We aim to do that here in the upcoming months.  My prayer is that all of us get out of the pews and start impacting our local church and community.

God bless you all and have an amazing Christmas!!

12-2-2011 Observations from Living In the City

What is it about ministry in the city?  Ever wonder why the Apostle Paul went INTO the cities and shared the gospel there?  Have you ever considered doing ministry IN the city.  I just wanted to make some observations from being in the city for six weeks.

1-First I was not raised a city boy.   I was born in the city of Fall River and lived on Plymouth Ave in my infancy, but soon enough, was shuffled out to the suburbs called Somerset, MA.  Somerset today although the geography is the same is in some ways different than it was in the 70′s. In those days we could cut across yards and there was a fear of authority in the neighborhood.  Today fences cut off much of the former community we naturally generated and as for authority, it is lacking everywhere, not just in the burbs. The further we move away from Jesus Christ and the scriptures, the less we consider the need or privilege of having authority in our lives.  Good authority figures care first about what God say's about order and then are willing to trust and rely on it for stabilization.  That's why the bible speaks about order in the church  (Ephesians 1:22, family  (Ephesians 5:23)and society (Romans 13:1).  Without it we have chaos and people who reject it eventually live in chaos.  Sometimes it not outwardly observed, but without healthy stuctures and boundaries, things around us eventually crumble (1 Cor 14:33;40).

2- City life is different in the sense that people are more prone to converse about spiritual issues.  This is just my observation, but those who have something to hold onto, whether it be a home, job position, status in the community, or reputation hold them tightly.  Jesus is always a threat to what I hold onto and possess. Yet Jesus said (What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul-Mark 8:36).  We all have idols (those things we value more than God, whether it be all the time or in the moment). Yet the bible declares that God has created the universe through him and FOR him and HIS glory!! (For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him-Col 1:16).  Have you ever wondered why the new home never fully satisfies you after the season changes.  Or that new job which fulfills you in some ways, but always keeps you wanting for just a little bit more?  I'm not saying that this atttude is only prevalent in suburbanites, but usually in the suburbs a higher percentage of people own  expensive stuff.  When someone has less possessions, they tends to look outside themselves for satisfaction.  CS Lewis once said “The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather for the devil”.  It's in the middle that we often make our final eternal choices.  What we pursue and treasure and bury ourselves in to the neglect of the Triune God of the scriptures inhibits us from treasuring  what's most important. We get stuck and can't get out of the routine of neglect.

3. The less we own, the more we look to each other for friendship and relationship.  Life is hard for all of us, but I have had countless opportunities to share the glories of Jesus, just by daily being around people I rub shoulders with  consistently. I not only have the best friend a man could ever have (Jesus Christ) but  I consider it a blessing that God has given me friends who treasure him and his church.  Today we have a habit of looking at the local church as a last resort, or an option when things aren't right outwardly or inwardly.  I guess I was blessed.  My crisis hit at 31 years of age and I found everyone and everything but God lacking. In Christ I found  in the New Testament book of Galatians what the scriptures call the fruit of the Spirit  (love, joy,peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self control, against such things there is no law-Galatians 5:22-23). All these things I couldn't purchase, manufacture or absorb from someone else, were coming forth in my life.  I didn't work it out in my own strength but the Holy loving God of the universe worked them into my being.  No amount of money, effort, or consideration was involved.  He just said here they are, and the only response I could bring forth was thank you.  It was pure unadulterated grace.  Yes GRACE.  Grace is not what we say at a mealtime, but what the Holy Spirit of God places within us as we recognize we are sinners, repent of our sinful lifestyle and trust alone in Jesus perfect life (I need his perfection to stand before God) and his substitutionary,sacrifical death.   Grace is what God gives us as a result of his work FOR us.  It's not earned.  It saves us from his wrath, it makes us his friend, it places us in his family and we do nothing to derive this benefit. Only God could make this offer, because He owns everything, even our souls, and therefore  can offer this deal!!

Christmas is on the horizon.  Would you consider bringing Jesus Christ into the season. You can keep doing it your way, BUT how's that doing for you?  My life is not perfect.  I still sin, infact God is showing me areas of my life where I never recognized I was failing but the better news is that Grace is greater than any sin I ever commit.  The more holy you see God, the more depraved you should see yourself.  The paradox of the Christian experience is that you will continue to see yourself as more wretched, while seeing him as more holy!!  That's the way it was intended from the beginning.  John the Baptist said “he must increase and I must decrease-John 3:30″. Now although I still sin, I hate it when I do. and one of the best signs that I know I am his is the conviction that leads to daily repentance in my life.  Maybe this is the year when you'll become less and he will become great!!  Remeber, every baby born will die, BUT Jesus was the only baby born TO die.  We proclaim this with much joy because the end is always better than the beginning with Jesus Christ!!

11-12-2011 Annual Meeting= Fun

Just got back from 24 hours of meetings in Marlborough, MA.  This was our first year as church planters and it was an opportunity to briefly share our vision.  This has been the best week we have had as church planters.  A total of 14 people came to our house this past Tuesday and we also were offered a $500 gift for outreach in the city.   The BCNE leadership and our church planting friends and Pastors showered us with love and care and we can't thank them enough for not letting us go in the church planting process. Our kids didn't want to come home today because they were having that much fun sitting in a hotel.

Praise God that we can have lots of joy being Christians and I believe the best is yet  to come as we find more and more people in the city of Fall River and it's surrounding towns who want to gather and ALSO proclaim and serve others in this city.  If your Christianity has no purpose, or is stagnant give me a call.  We have a Turkey blessing coming up and some outreach in the upcoming months.  You might actually have a great idea for reaching the hurting of Fall River.  God wanted you to use your giftedness in a community of people who are looking upward for strength and outward for opportunity.

11-7-2011 Listen Then Speak

I am a person with many opinions. I have been trained to share Jesus with those who don't know of his great work for their benefit. The rich theological term is redemption. God in the person of Jesus Christ came to earth on a mission. His goal was to save sinful people and by living perfectly and dying as our substitute, he has rescued many a soul/person. He appeases God by living perfectly and dying sacrificially for sinners,  and those who repent and trust in Jesus get the benefit of eternal life with God.  Good deal huh!!!  My mission, as a result of being his disciple, is to tell people about this amazing mission that brought God the Son (Jesus) to earth. You may have another mission. But we all have an action plan. We get up with goals and we go through certain motions to achieve them. Sometimes all we do is do a job haphazardly so that we can get money at the end of the week and pay the essentials and use the rest on whatever interests me.

Not Jesus. He came to seek and save sinners like you and I (Luke 19:10). AND HE DID IT!!!! His one goal was to please his Father, who the bible says is sovereign wise and good, and in that process procure a new status on people like me. Today instead of Tom Cabral being a sinner heading to hell, I am a saint heading to heaven. What makes me different than some people? One thing. I am forgiven, and I am no longer an alien child, but now I am an adopted Son. I actually took God at his promise and confessed my sins to him in the quietness of my own heart and asked for forgiveness (repentance) while trusting alone in Jesus (faith) perfect life (Romans 10:17).

I say this because today I met a friend of a friend. He shared with me his business, and then I shared with him mine. He was looking to help, and so was I. He was humble, and genuine, and I was trying to be. He heard about Jesus. So had I. Yet when the rubber met the road, he was unsure of where he would spend eternity. I patiently heard his plea to help me, and then I shared my plea with him. I want him to be God's friend. The fancy word for this is reconciliation. Jesus not only placed me in his family when I repented and trusted in HIS action plan, but now I'm his friend. I'm no longer his enemy, I don't fear him, and I know that when I breath my last breath in life, things will get better.  Salvation assures that on the other side everything get's better!!

Unfortunately not many people today believe that in the end it gets better. Buit the scriptures tell us confidently that this is only the testing grounds for all eternity.  In the end, the Son never stops shining (Revelation 22:5).  Until then we will continue to learn and grow in grace, helping each other not only to tell this story, BUT enjoy it on a daily basis in our personal lives.

In the interim, in our current bible study, we  practice telling the greatest story ever told over the next 7 weeks on Tuesday nights. I'm learning that  once you learn to listen, people are more prone to here you share what's important to you.  The people in our culture have lot's to teach us.  Pray we are good listeners.

I can't wait to connect this new friend I met this morning to my current  friend. Maybe he'll have an amazing impact on this person. I'm excited because God was orchestrating this moment, and seeing now the joy of the Lord being my strength (Nehemiah 8:10). There is tremendous inner joy when saints share their faith. Even when mocked and ridiculed. Pray that Walter comes to know Jesus personally!!

8-5-2011 Painful Joy

Jonathon Edwards was a mountain of a man when it came to theology.  He is considered one of the foremost theologians in American Evangelical circles. He has influenced numerous Pastors and lovers of God's word and has written numerous books and journals, one of his best being Religious Affections. 

Last night we spoke of the Christian life being one of PAINFUL JOY.  We also were able to share some of the functional idols we defer to that keep us from having what the author of 1 Peter called “inexpressible joy. While painful joy is part of our new nature, have you wondered why many of us are on the painful path to maturity.  It is to help us be good counselors  and guide others down the same path. Have you ever met a good counselor who HASN'T suffered?

For most of us suffering is in our future.  And suffering when done with a godly perspective can and does produce painful joy.In fact this joy is produced through an assortment of trials and difficulties that have no rhyme nor reason.  Nonetheless, in our bible study,we reminded each other that this is the life that God has ordained for those who will follow him.  Yes there is security in our salvation because God has secured it (1 Pet 1:1-2), yes their is tremendous hope in salvation, ( an  inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading and yes we are kept by HIS power (1 Peter 1:3-5), and often it is so that on the other side of these trials we will be humble broken counselors/disciplers.  Someone recently reminded me that a faith that hasn't been tried is a faith that can't be trusted.  So it is only God who knows what each of us need!

Edwards is quoted in John Pipers book God is the Gospel  as describing what the glorious gospel produces in the life of the believer.  He said “all gracious professions that are a sweet odor to Christ, and that fill the soul of a Christian with a heavenly sweetness and fragrance are brokenhearted affections. A truly Christian love, either to God or men is a humble broken hearted love.  The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires: their hope is a humble hope: and their joy, even when it is unspeakable, and full of glory, is a brokenhearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behavior”

Let us remember that as great as our salvation is, the road to our full inheritance is filled with bumps and bruises.  These trials will often   make or brake people. In the last month, since coming back to MA, I have heard numerous stories of those who once ran strong with the Lord, now off the narrow path, and heading in the opposite direction.  They are now on the broad road.  It brakes my heart and it ought to be a warning to all of us that we can't go through suffering alone. Yet their are also some who persevere and  their testimony of ongoing faith is a sweet balm to those who WILL travel this path (John 16:33).  It is a sweet aroma to those who need encouragement and wisdom in a broken and chaotic world.  God bless your weekend!!

7-8-2011 Mercy In Judgment

We have the privilege, one of God's graces extended towards us, to daily open his word and find truth in the stories of the bible.  Today's  scripture dealt with the ongoing mercy that God extended to his chosen nation Israel.  Just as God chose Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, he also chosen us to be a light of his grace for all the nations.  In 2 Chronicles 28, King Ahaz  the King of Judah has rejected God as his protector and provider.  His kingdom is crumbling. He has gone to the foreign nations for help, seeking relief from foreign oppression.  Judah, the Southern portion of Israel has again drifted in it's worship to God, and as a result  is being overtaken by his brothers and neighboring adversaries.  Ahaz needs help!!!

The bible literally says in 2 Chronicles 28:5, that God gave Judah over to Syria, as and act of  God's judgement.  God is a covenant making King.  He rules over all the affairs of mankind, including nations.  Just as leaders are responsible for their people, we are responsible to those under our authority.  And families have authority figures too.  Families function well when people live within the guidelines of their superiors, and yet here, Judah has forgotten it's head.  When we forget God is our ultimate authority, we have the propensity to plunge deep into sin. God is not only a God of grace, and mercy, but a God who is just.  We must remember that in these times of turbulence there is a way of escape.

Unfortunately many in our culture reject God and his authoritative word. There's no deep dark gnostic knowledge that is affordable to specific groups of people to the neglect of others.  In the United States we are all privileged to have God's word available  and at our disposal.  It is a powerful tool for change when used correctly. God will faithfully send us daily reminders as we dig into his word as to who he truly is!  Unfortunately, God gave Judah into the hands of both the King of Syria and the King of Israel.  In fact his brother Israel took captive 200,000 of their relatives, and yet God in his mercy sends a voice, a prophet, to call them back to repentance. There is a way of escape.  their is a way of pardon.  There is hope for those caught up in all types of trouble.

In this story Ahaz chooses to trust in man and turns to the King of Assyria.  It says God was humbling Judah because of Ahaz.  Leaders can have an affect on their people.  But,  here in the midst of this downward spiral, Ahaz refuses to look up. All the while, God is getting ready to reveal his mercy AGAIN!  First,  God uses Tiglath-pileser to afflict rather than help Ahaz.  Can you see the problem.  Ahaz has lost all hope in the only one who can help him.  And then when he again reaches out for help to the gods of Damascus, God takes his life.  In judging, God is also saving. So where's the mercy.  First we see it when God changes leadership, puts Hezekiah on the throne and soon enough Hezekiah looks up rather than out for help, and God, in one night, wipes out an army of  Assyrians (2 Chronicles 32:20).  Seven hundred years later the greatest act of mercy ever extended mankind would come.  Jesus would mercifully take upon himself the sins of many. He would become God's sacrifice for sin. Man is in a hopeless state.  He needs to be  saved from God's wrath.  By renouncing and turning from your sins and trusting alone in Jesus Christ man can be saved!!!  Will you?

We like Ahaz are still desperate today.  We as believers still need to repent and trust daily while being reminded of the saving mercy and grace of God through Christ. Those who have not yet trusted have the opportunity TODAY to repent and trust.

I was again reminded today  that God is in charge of the affairs of man “The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. (Pro 21:1 ESV).Second, God is a God of mercy who continues to provide a way out.  God sent prophet after prophet, sent his discipline and yet Ahaz never looked up.  He chose to extend it through another. Third, God is just and is willing to extend his justice and judgement toward HIS people when they refuse to turn back to him.  Last, I was reminded of the verse in Acts 3:19-20 which says “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out,  that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus.  May we be reminded tat this life is one of ongoing repentance and faith and God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  May we stay humble in our struggles and reach out to our God who is merciful.

6-18-2011 Celebrating Christ Like We Celebrate the Bruins

Today the Boston Bruins are being cheered and admired by their fans in New England.  I must admit I'm a band wagon Bruins fan.  By that I mean that I do not follow them as I do the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics.  In my youth,  I knew my days on the ice were numbered when my contemporaries were skating backwards faster than I could go forward.  This led to long winters playing sock hockey indoors and driveway basketball with Big Joe Courville.  He loved Boston Sports and I still remember sitting and watching hours of  Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins and Patriots  with him.  I eventually chose to play basketball rather than hockey, and since 1972, have admired the Bruins from a distance.

Today I see them more clearly than I ever have in years.  Why?   Because I hung out with them a bit this playoff series.  When it comes to the spiritual realm, it is no different.  Our bible has clearly declared that we come to know, grow and go  for Jesus Christ ( in a healthy fashion)  as we spend consistent time with him.  He is found on the pages of scripture.  In fact the whole bible points forward or backward to him, depending on where we are in the text.  Ultimately, God is glorified in judging and saving people.  Salvation happens in the context of proclamation.  God uses his Spirit and his word to save those who are lost. People  don't know they are lost until they see themselves as sinners in desperate need of a Savior. This the bible clearly affirms from Genesis 3- Revelation 22.  He alone is  is the only Redeeming God and Savior. The more we see God for who he is, the more we see ourselves as wretched and needy. And as we come to understand this, we start to admire him as New England fans are admiring their present day heroes as VICTORS!!  The bible is very clear in declaring that Jesus is the champion when it comes to saving sinners (Acts 4:12).  Tim Thomas may have made amazing saves and been the best in his business this past playoff season, but when it comes to rescuing the lost from Hell and damnation there is only one hope, JESUS (John 3:17)!

In the upcoming weeks I will be discussing how we can in perpetuity celebrate Jesus and bring hope to all those who have no champion for their own depravity.  First we need toknow who Jesus is.  If we are being taught half truths about the mission of Jesus, then it will be hard to embrace our champion who has qualified us for heaven, delivered us from Gods wrath, transferred us positionally from being sinners to being saints, redeemed us from a life of sin, and forgiven us from the penalty of sin (Col 1:9-14).

Second we as Christians truly want to grow in our faith.  Yet there is much confusion on how this actually works.  There was and I'm sure will continue to be some wonderful dialogue over at the gospel coalition blog  this past week referencing the effort required by Christians involved in our faith walk.   Much of the dialogue  and the question we often ask is ” how does one truly grow in godliness”.  Years ago Jerry Bridges wrote a book called “The Crisis in Caring”.  He describes the four ways we live as believers (page 35-37).  The first way he described as self effort and willpower.  For the Christian we know that this eventually leads to either pride or burnout.  This second way is often a reaction to the first attempt which produces no abiding fruit.  It is also referred to as the “Let go and Let God” pursuit.  Since self efforts does not bring God honoring results, many who fail in the first method choose  not to work at the Christian life but  just “trust” God and allow him to do all the work.  This too is lacking. The third way is the “Lord help me” approach which is a combination of me and God working in unison.  There is this idea that within me, there is this reservoir of goodness and strength upon which I can draw for the ordinary duties of life.  I too have fallen into this category at times, forgetting that I possess nothing good within me to carry out God's call on my life in all arenas.  The fourth way is the abiding in Christ way.  It is only when the believer starts to recognize that he needs God's help in all areas of life, that he will contemplate all that is needed to accomplish this task.

Yet what motivates one in the direction of godliness? Here is where I am starting to grasp the idea that swimming in our justification is the means by which I am motivated to live in my sanctification.  Yes, I'm saying that going forward requires first going backward.  Remember God's grace is not only profitable in saving souls (initial salvation), BUT it is also the key ingredient in growth and godliness (sanctification).  In other words, I see that grace not only saves, but sanctifies.  The commands that harken us to obedience are there to guide us, but they in themselves give no enpowerment.  The law is a guide, but it is the gospel that empowers.  Here by going back to what Jesus has done for me, is what is ultimately inspiring me to go forward.  It acts as a springboard!! I say this because there is lots of preaching out there that strives to inspire people to be godly and serve others in a Christ honoring way, that although it is well meaning is actually more crippling to ones advancement in godliness.  The idea of following Jesus  and being holy although it is true, focuses more on looking in rather than up.  Looking inward too much is damaging to our walk, because although we need to know where we are, we need to find strength  to deal with the struggles of living in a decrepid body of sin. And yet we are reminded for every one look in, we should take ten looks up.   Up at the victorious work of Christ!! Yes, at what he has done for us. Remember the gospel is DONE and not DO. The done deal is what is most inspiring to sinners, who daily fail and forget who they are in Christ.  I need to daily be reminded of who I now am in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14).

The gospel has nothing to do with what you and I do but is completely centered on what God has done through Jesus Christ for sinners.  We just act upon what has already been done for us. This is the most liberating message in the world.  Infact as much fun as it is to celebrate the Bruins great championship today, they have to go back out on the ice in 4 months and prove that they again are champions.  Yet for those who claim Christ as their victor, we are CHAMPIONS FOREVER (1 Cor 15:54-57, 1 Jn 5:4).  We are eternal champions IN Christ.

For many this great moment of Bruins victory will eventually wear off  and depression or some type of emotional turmoil will resurface.  Many will sublimate in a myriad of activities, and yet the dark cloud never goes away. Yet in Christ we have the opportunity to come daily and be reminded of who we are , and learn in a deeper way what has been afforded  us in his redemptive work; yes,we are adopted children and heirs of his kingdom….  This is why celebration in Christ is far superior to any sports victory.  Hey, I love the fact that my own beloved region is the first American sports city to have 4 major sports teams each win a championship within a ten year gap, and yet the greatest celebration I have is daily going back to what God has done for me,  reminded that he has claimed me out of the slave market of sin FOREVER, by his blood,  promising that things will be perfect when the hero of the bible, Jesus Christ, comes back to reign.  Until then I can taste in small portions all those benefits ( I drink from the cup of grace).  I am presently a child of the King.  I live in a now/not yet reality.  Now I see glimpses of all that I am, and some day, I will see them in their entirety when Christ returns.

This leads to my last point which is brief.  Now I go and proclaim the message of redemption, reconciliation, and  propitiation. Again, it is what has been done for me, not what man must do to appease the God of wrath, whoser judgement will fall on those who reject God's offer of salvation. Therefore, I don't build God's kingdom, but I proclaim that the King has arrived, procured everything you and I need to be right with God, based on his work for us (John 19:30), and in the interim care for those in Christian community as well as those who surround me in the community I live.  We go not because we need to, but because we are  loved eternally by the Savior.  He is good and his love is steadfast and enduring.  We go not to gain God's favor, but because we have God's favor!!

May your celebration continue WITH Christ!!

5-23-2011 Where Are We in the Church Planting Process

It's May 23rd and the last week of June is soon to be upon us.  Right now I am preparing to end my teaching career in North Carolina and begin a new journey in Fall River, MA as a church planter this summer.  Deb is packing, Tiffany just scored two 4′s on the End of Grade testing (highest scores), at WFR Elementary School,and Bethany is doing her end of year testing.  Right now I am gathering a bunch of names  to petition.  I will very soon be sending out a request for support from the many of you who have touched our lives over the years.  Church growth has been pretty much non-existent in New England for many years.  The percentage of people going to Evangelical churches while it is not dramatically changing is none the less increasing. <!–move–>

The difficulty right now is that there has not been any available means to fund people looking to plant churches in SE New England. That is now slowly changing.  A network of churches out of Boston have recently started working together sharing vision and ideas  called theBoston Church Planting Center and they are hoping to encourage and support future church planting venues all through New England.  The days of going alone are hopefully in the rear view mirror.  In the interim, while these churches work together under the watchful eye of Joe Sousa, church planters are still looking for finances.  Churches in New England, in the past, have not networked, and according to my recent conversations with  local Pastors, monies are tight because of economic issues.

None the less, I am not dismayed.  The vision God planted in my mind 10 years ago to plant a church in Fall River, MA is finally taking firm root.  Our family is ready and excited to exult the name of Jesus with the many in the Fall River area who are looking for a gospel centered church AND network, that will work together, in future years, to plant many more churches.  The local churches vision should always be firmly rooted in the gospel, building God's kingdom, through local churches laboring together.  We are excited to be the next link in the chain of churches helping churches plant churches in and around our local community.

Yet, in the present, we will need your support.  We are asking you to come alongside us in one of three ways. First, we covet and ask for your prayers.  God's work is always blanketed with God's people praying (1 Thes 5:25, 1 Sam 12:23, 1 Thes 5:17).  We plead with you  to pray for this vision and beg God to send us like minded individuals who can co-labor and harvest the fields (John 6:37). Our emphasis must and will always be on the one the Father has sent, Jesus.  We want to be about making disciples.  Our core values include 1-the gospel, 2- community, and  3-mission.  Second, we need financial resouces.  Right now we are about a third of the way to our annual goal of approximately $70,000.  I must say up front that we are all stewards. If a healthy church is to get off the ground, I will need to work part time and spend lots of time directing the church plant.  I cannot and must not do this to the neglect of my family. The monies are necessary for living and planning events that will promote the fame of Jesus and the vision of Redemption Fellowship. And if you know of anyone who might be willing to invest in the gospel please let me know. We are in the process of going through a church planting assessment  with the Baptist Convention of New England and the North American Missions Board, requesting to be missionaries and yet even with the help of these groups (if the Lord wills) we will still need to have monies available to promote the activities that will help the vision grow and multiply.  I currently have over 200+ names of individuals and families  and will be adding to this list in the upcoming days.   For as little as $10  per month, and more if you feel the leading of the Lord, this will allow us to do the hard ground braking work that is necessary in any church plant.  These offerings are tax deductible through Open Door Baptist Church in North Raleigh, NC (our local church) and the North American Church Planting Foundation. Would you please consider how you might help?  Third, we need laborers (Mat 9:37).  Why?  If we are going to be  effective in the city of Fall River, it's important that we get a knowledge of how the people see Jesus, the word of God, and the local church as it pertains to their community.  I think there is a lot for all of us to learn as we exegete the city.  We will be doing lots of surveying during July and August while  looking for gospel opportunities to serve others leading up to our bible study start-up in September.  The surveying  is going to be exciting, as we sit, listen and learn from the people of this once great mill city as they share there lives, cares and concerns with us!!!

Last, if you have any ideas or suggestions, feel free to email me attom@redemptionfallriver.com.  I pray that our church becomes a place where all types of people can have INPUT and IMPACT.  God has chosen the foolish  and weak  to  shame the wise and strong (1 Cor 1:27).  Here,  I am speaking of myself. Yet our greatest strength will be worshipping with others in Spirit and truth (John 4:24). The gospel alone alone has the words of life, and yet how will they know unless someone preaches to them the gospel (Romans 10:13-150.  Would you come alongside us and help us show other broken people where and who THE BREAD IS (John 6:35).  Everyone is hungering and thirsting and we know who can fulfill their deepest need!!

4-16-2011 This Years Vacation Is Playing for Planning

VACATION!! What a beautiful word.  Associated with our vacation this spring, are words like sand, beach, warm weather, April.  Yes April!  Here in North Carolina we will joyfully head down to Wilmington next week for a few days.  We look forward as a family to relaxing, playing, swimming and sharing the love of Christ with each other.  While I look forward to this joyous time, there are also future events that we are looking forward to.  Moving back to Massachusetts, re-connecting with old and new friends and bringing the glorious gospel to Fall River, MA.  This will include three future bible studies I wanted to introduce you too!!

We are so thankful that many of the structures are in place to buffer our landing.  We have friends, family, and knowledge of the area.  We also have a church to worship at, Meetinghouse Church in Taunton, MA. It is  approximately 10-12 miles from where will be living in Fall River.  Family friends and worship are huge benefits for any church planter.  We are thankful that this ten year passion to go to Fall River is finally coming to fruition.

We also are excited to share the gospel from a new perspective.  When I say new, I mean deeper.  The gospel had always been an announcement but in recent years I have discovered it is much more.  It also involves a story and community. It is not just a proclamation with a hero, but a story that promotes and produces spiritual life long change in a community.  So this amazing story  introduces a powerful creator who speaks our world into existence resulting in everything being good. Yet soon enough sin enters and distorts all, creation and man. But, God has a redemptive plan to recreate and make things brand new.  This involves a special person. The whole story points to his arrival and work (John 5:39, Luke 24). We see kingdoms rise and fall, kings come and go, and yet something is still missing.  The true King.  He's the central focus, yet he's hidden in the old testament story so that at the exact time in the exact place in a humble fashion the creator sends him to fulfill and begin the final stage of human history, found in the new testament.  The person is Jesus and the story is the gospel.  This gospel community is birthed by the gospel announcement. The church is not the good news; we announce the good news, and the communal life together is intended to be a display of the good news to a watching world.  This gospel community is made up of broken people who learn to speak the gospel into each other's life to the glory of the creator.  This community is built up as we speak the gospel (the story and announcement) into each other's lives.

My focus over the past few months has centered around the gospel.  If we don't get the gosel right, everything else done is for naught. In the upcoming year I'm planning to teach small book studies as God gathers people into this new community of Christ exalting  saints. I pray he sends people who have gifts that will promote healthy gospel community.  I'm also excited to promote the first three book studies that will each be 8 weeks in length and highlight each portion of the three legged  gospel stool (story,announcement,community). They will be held mid week. The first book study will explain the story, counterfeit gospels by Trevin Wax. This book will express the significance in the three legged stool and its counterfeit gospels.  The counterfeits look and sound so good.  The greatest challenge the church has today are these counterfeits which impoverish and ruin souls. The second study, later in the Fall,will focus on the announcementThe essential Jesus by Whitney T. Kuniholm will help us to see that in the story there is an announcement.  The scriptures declare Jesus to be the one chosen by God to come and rescue fallen humanity, why he was sent, what he taught, how he treated people, why he did miracles and the meaning of his death, burial and resurrection.  There are 100 readings in the book and we will choose and dialogue around the most significant readings that will enhance our understanding of his entrance and work . The third book study after Christmas will be 9 Marks of a healthy church by Mark Dever.  This book will describe the key components involved in a healthy church community. It is not exhaustive, but necessarily list and explain the nine marks that promote gospel community health, and what it means to be faithful. When churches unravel, you can often point to these missing elements. These marks will provide the essential structure that  is necessary  in building a firm foundation in the local church.