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Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012 – A study in contrasts

Change and transition. Loss and gain. Ending and beginning. Leaving and arriving. Saying “goodbye” and saying “hello.” West to East. Finishing and starting anew. Betrayal and blessing. Sorrow and joy. Disappointment and delight. Highs and lows. Weeping and celebrating. Old friends and new friends. Discouraging words and affirmation. Providing and withholding. Marvelous and mundane. Slipping and standing. Family time and empty nest. Marking time and moving forward. Questions and answers. Sammamish, Tsibanobalka, Seattle, Wenham, Beaverton, Cerritos, & Chicopee. Traveling and staying put. Praying and pondering. Seeking and finding. Rain, sun, and snow. Amusements and puzzles. Trials and tests. Selling and storing.

Through it all, grace, mercy, and great faithfulness.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22–23, ESV)

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2012 in Personal growth, Scripture

 

Whiter than snow

On Saturday, we received a true New England winter storm. The region received between 3-9 inches. We got around 3-5 inches at our house.

There is something beautiful and peaceful about new fallen snow. It’s not quite so pretty when it starts turning brown from the sand, salt, and traffic after a few days. But fresh powder is quite a sight.

Watching the snow fall reminded me of how God compares forgiveness to snow in Isaiah 1:18.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

When God forgives our sins, he cleanses us completely. He doesn’t merely cover our sins with a dusting of snow, he transforms us and makes our sin as white as snow.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2012 in Chicopee, Massachusetts, Photos, Winter

 

What Needs Are Met In Christ?

During the Christmas season, we enjoy singing familiar Christmas carols. There are two in particular that cause me to think.

The words to, O Little Town of Bethlehem, say, “O little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by; Yet in thy dark streets shineth the ever-lasting light; The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

The carol, Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, expresses this sentiment: “Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art; Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.”

After singing these carols, I was struck with this question, “If the words of these two Christmas carols are correct, what hopes, fears, and desires are met in Christ?

The search for an answer to that question took me to the gospel of John. Seven times in that gospel, Jesus makes the statement, “I am . . .” Through these statements, Jesus reveals his identity and purpose in coming to earth. In so doing, I believe that Jesus meets us at our point of need

Each one of us longs for satisfaction. In John 6:35, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Hunger and thirst are two of the most basic needs of life. They reveal a desire for satisfaction and contentment. As the bread of life, Jesus satisfies the deepest desires of our hearts.

Many times throughout our lives, we need guidance and direction. In John 8:12, “Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I amthe light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” When the power goes out, we look for candles or flashlights to lead us to safety. Children want a light to lead them to mom & dad. As the light of the world, Jesus leads us out of the darkness and guides us to safety.

John 10:7–9 reveals another aspect of Jesus’ identity. “So Jesus again said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.’” A door keeps out the bad people—the thieves and robbers. It makes us feel secure. But it also opens to a place where we can rest and relax. As the door, Jesus brings us into a place of rest, safety, and provision.

In John 10:11–14, Jesus meets our need for belonging. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” Jesus is more than a hired hand who takes care of people. As the good shepherd, Jesus knows our name and our needs. He builds a relationship with us. He treats us as part of his family.

John 11:25 addresses the question of whether there is hope beyond the grave. “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.’” As the resurrection and the life, Jesus assures us that heaven awaits for those who believe in Christ

We live in a world of multiculturalism, pluralism, and world religions. We are told that truth is what you determine for yourself. Every belief is of equal value. We are left confused and wondering. In John 14:6, Jesus addresses our need for certainty. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” As the way, the truth, and the life, Jesus gives us a sense of certainty in an age of perplexity.

At times, we may feel like our lives and careers are going nowhere. We feel as if we are spinning our wheels. In John 15:5, Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” As the vine, Jesus produces fruit in us if we stay connected to him. Jesus will give our lives purpose and meaning.

During the holiday season, our eyes are drawn to scenes of the nativity; to the babe lying in a manger. This year, let your heart come closer. Draw near to the One who says “I Am the Bread of Life, the Light, the Door, the Good Shepherd, the Resurrection, the Way, and the Vine”. 

If you are . . .

  • Hungry, yet longing for something to truly satisfy.
  • Lost and alone in the dark, searching for answers and guidance.
  • Feeling insecure and defenseless, or searching for security and protection that will be there when you need it.
  • Feel like you don’t belong, and are searching for a sense of family and relationship.
  • Long for the assurance that there is more to life than just this—that there is life beyond the grave.
  • Confused by so many different beliefs and options, and are searching for certainty in an age of perplexity.
  • Wondering if you matter and if your life will make a difference, longing for a sense of significance and a source of fruitfulness.

. . . then come to Jesus. He will sooth your fears and satisfy the deepest longings of your heart.

This message was preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 30, 2012. It was the conclusion of a series, “The Mystery of the Nativity.” To download a copy of the sermon notes, click on the link.

 

Don’t deceive yourself

Everyone, but especially spiritual leaders, needs to be part of a small group. So says pastor and author Paul David Tripp in his book, Dangerous calling: Confronting the unique challenges of pastoral ministry.

One of the benefits of such a group is the practice of encouraging one another. Hebrews 3:12-13 states that encouragement will help prevent us from becoming hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

One of the more helpful parts of the author’s discussion is his description of how we make ourselves feel good about sin, or how we deceive ourselves that we are not so bad after all.

I can erect some system of self-atonement that essentially argues for the rightness of what I’ve done. What I am doing here is making myself feel good about what God says is not good. I am participating in my own spiritual blindness. Every person still living with sin inside is a very skilled self-swindler. I think we do this way more often than we are aware.

So the pastor who has just become angry during an elders’ meeting will tell himself he wasn’t angry; he was just speaking like one of God’s prophets: “Thus say the Lord!” The husband and wife who are gossiping about someone in their small group all the way home from the meeting will tell themselves that it isn’t gossip; it’s just a very extended and detailed prayer request. The tightfisted businessman who struggles to be giving will tell himself that he is just being a good steward of the resources that God has entrusted to him. We all have a perverse ability to make ourselves feel good about what is in no way good.

In lying to ourselves, we cover our sin and defend our righteousness. Rather than trust in the sufficient grace of God, we work to tell ourselves that we are not really sinners in need of mercy. Our self-atoning arguments wind up being acts of pride, rebellion, and unbelief, which in turn, give sin more room to operate.

If we are not careful, we end up with a “hardened heart,” which the author or Hebrews warn us to guard against.

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2012 in Books, Ministry, Personal growth, Quotes, Scripture

 

I (Still) Do

Wheeler wedding 1Mark & Carol Wheeler-Sept 201232 years ago this afternoon, Carol and I stood before “God and these assembled witnesses” and pledged our love and commitment to one another. On that day, we moved from “single” to “married.” Since that day, we have transitioned to “family” and on to “empty nest” as our children have grown.

When we started our journey, it was our hope that we would be married longer than our parents. On the surface, that statement makes it sound like our parents’ marriages did not end well. On the contrary, we were blessed with parents who had strong marriages that endured and we wanted to follow in their footsteps. When cancer claimed my father’s life in 1983, my parents had been married 44 years. Carol’s parents have been married 50+ years and are still going strong. This weekend, Carol and her siblings will gather together to celebrate their mother’s 80th birthday.

Carol and I were fortunate to have godly parents who modeled love, commitment, faithfulness, service, and sacrifice to each other and to their children. Now we have the privilege, burden, and responsibility of modeling those same values to our children.

I am grateful to God for bringing Carol into my life. Outside of salvation, she is God’s best gift to me. Happy anniversary to my wife, partner, lover, and best friend! May God grant us many more years of serving him together.

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2012 in Family & Friends, Photos, Weddings

 

Bright Nights at Forest Park

Forest Park in Springfield, MA, holds an annual Christmas light show. We were able to go courtesy of a friend who gave us a pass. Elaborate and creative displays, a very fun, enjoyable event.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2012 in Christmas, MA, Photos

 
Gallery

Christmas with the Wheelers

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2012 in Christmas, Family & Friends, Photos

 
 
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