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Monthly Archives: October 2013

Red October

Paul Revere announces the arrival of the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox.

Paul Revere Statue with Red Sox Jersey and Beard - World Series 2013.CR2

After two decades of watching miserable baseball in Seattle, it’s nice to have a winning team to root for.

Congratulations to the Red Sox!

Both the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox have Christ followers on their respective teams, as the interviews in the video demonstrate. It helps reveal their true priorities and motivations.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2013 in Sports

 

40 Days of Prayer

40 Days of Prayer - Fall 2013 - Prayer calendar-1A Concert of Prayer - 10-27-13 prayer guide - booklet-1Between October 27 – December 7, our church, First Central Baptist Church of Chicopee, MA, is hosting four outreach events and facing three significant decisions. We recognize that we are in over our heads and need God to step in and work on behalf.

To demonstrate our dependence on God and ask for his help, we are engaging in 40 Days of Prayer. We kicked off our emphasis with a Concert of Prayer where we used a Prayer Guide to help focus our prayers. We also provided people with a 40 day prayer calendar to give specific things each person could pray for each day.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2013 in First Central Baptist Church, Prayer

 

The Blueprints for the Church

In a pluralistic, multi-cultural world, is the church even needed, let alone relevant? What is the role of women in today’s church? Assuming the church continues, how should worship be structured? How should the church relate to the poor and disenfranchised? What is the church’s responsibility towards widows? What should our attitude be towards wealth and materialism? Is Christianity simply one religion among many? What should our attitude be towards leaders? What is the meaning of the word, “godliness”? Is doctrine needed today, or is it enough to just love Jesus?

church blueprintIn his first letter to his protégé, Timothy, the apostle Paul addresses these questions as he lays out the blueprints for the church. Theme of the letter comes from verses 14-15 in chapter 3 where Paul says, “…I am writing these things to you so that…you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God…”

The first two verses of the book (1:1-2) provide the necessary background information we need to begin a study of this letter. The book was written by the apostle Paul. When he described his credentials, Paul usually said he was an apostle by the “will of God.” In this letter, he says he is an apostle by the “commandment of God.” This gives him greater authority and, in turn, gives Timothy greater authority to address issues in the church in Ephesus.

The letter was written in A.D. 62 or 63, most likely between Paul’s first and second time in prison. Paul wrote the letter to Timothy. Not only was Timothy Paul’s protégé, but Paul also considered him to be his son in the faith. When Paul departed from Ephesus, he left Timothy behind to lead and care for the church.

Ephesus was certainly a challenging place to live and minister. It was a trading center and seaport on the Aegean Sea. It was home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the temple of the goddess Artemis. Ephesus was a pluralistic, multi-cultural city.

Paul hoped to return to Ephesus, but in the event he was delayed, he wanted to provide Timothy some much needed instructions on how the church was to act and live (3:14-15). In chapter 1, Paul addresses the importance of teaching sound doctrine. Chapter 2 focuses on the role of both men and women in worship. Chapter 3 is all about leadership. Rather than discussing skills and techniques, Paul talks about the character qualities of the leader. In chapter 4, Paul takes on false teachers and paints a contrast between a false teacher and a good one. Chapter 5 discusses the church’s responsibility towards widows and leaders. Chapter 6 tackles the topic of the leader’s motives.

One writer said that Christianity is a religion of personal pronouns. Paul certainly agrees as refers to God as “our Savior” and Christ Jesus as “our hope.” He also includes his usual greeting of grace, mercy, and peace.

In addition to the background information for the letter, I take away two principles from the opening verses. The first principle is that God’s grace saves us. Each one of us is a sinner in need of a savior. Like Paul, we can never be sinful enough to erase God’s love for us. Like Timothy, we can never be spiritual enough to erase our need for God. The second principle is that God’s grace sustains us. Not only are we saved by grace, we also live by grace.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on October 27, 2013. It is the first in a series on 1 Timothy. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

How to kill your church

The following article was originally posted on ChurchLeaders.com. Two people brought it to my attention, and I reposted it because I found it to be convicting and challenging. I trust it will do the same for you.

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How to kill your churchHow to Kill Your Church in 5 Easy Steps by Joel Rainey

Follow these steps if you’re hoping to push the nuclear button on your church.

The following is based on experiences I’ve had with churches I’ve consulted with in more than 20 years of service in ministry. Over that time, I have become convinced that we have perfected the pathology by which we can accelerate the decline and eventual demise of a local church.

I’ve seen the following happen in different orders, with different emphases, and I can guarantee that if you implement these five things, you will be pushing the nuclear button on your congregation.

I’ve seen it happen enough times, and western evangelicalism has developed habits that have perfected this approach.

1. Perpetually send an unclear sound.

Make sure that key leaders remain clueless, and divided, when it comes to the identity, purpose, vision and direction of the church.

Speak in spiritual euphemisms that seem holy, like “we just want to love Jesus and each other,” or “we just want to follow the Bible.” These sorts of nebulous statements, absent of any contextual application, are a way to sound thoroughly biblical without actually being biblical.

Furthermore, they are the perfect way to stay adrift in a sea of irrelevance, and never identify who God created your local church to be, and what He wants her to do.

The result, of course, is that the church will do nothing.

2. Invest more time in needy people than in leaders.

You know the old saying; “The squeaky wheel gets the most grease.” In many local churches, those who “squeak” the loudest seem to get all the grease!

And the grand mistake of church leaders is to give inordinate attention to the loudest and most needy people in the congregation, rather than invest in those God has gifted to lead the church.

This sets up an environment in which people learn that the most attention will always be paid to the loudest complainers. And this is precisely the kind of environment that will suck the life out of any real leader—or inadvertently push leaders right out the door.

3. Try to please everybody.

Almost without exception, in every church I’ve ever consulted with that is in decline, decisions are never executed without the final question of “who will be upset by this?” Inevitably, good decisions are always sabotaged by someone suggesting that “doing this might really upset … [fill in the name of your preferred group].”

In fact, the one way to ensure that #1 above takes place is to assume this posture, because you can’t make a clear decision about anything if the number one concern is always about someone not being pleased.

Guess what?

There is no significant decision that will ever be made in a church that makes everybody happy!

This means, of course, that if you are trying to please everybody with decision and direction, you will never make a substantive decision, and you will never have clear direction.

Atrophy is the inevitable result, because in the attempt to please everybody, you have displeased God.

4. Refuse to confront troublemakers.

Principled dissent is one thing. Saboteurs are an entirely different matter and, in too many churches, they are allowed to run free and do what they please, no matter the negative impact they have on the rest of the body.

They may come in the form of the lady who “holds back” her tithe because she doesn’t like a decision that was reached. They may come in the form of the guy who presumes the right to “pull the e-brake” on anything church leaders have decided on that he doesn’t agree with. It may come in the form of those who use the phone or Internet as a corridor for gossip to undermine the forward progress of the church.

Strong leadership is needed in these situations.

The gossip has to be called out and confronted. The self-proclaimed “devil’s advocate” with his hand on the e-brake needs to be told that the church isn’t interested in Satan’s opinion. And the lady who steals from God needs to be reminded that she isn’t just “punishing the leadership,” she is breaking her covenant promise to those in her church family, and to her God.

Without strong leaders to confront such nonsense, troublemakers will be free to throw additional anchors over the side of their drifting ship to ensure that it goes precisely nowhere.

5. Seek to live in the past.

Churches actually do this in a number of ways, the most obvious of which is to be highly suspicious of any sort of change.

Music styles, architecture, structural paradigms and cultural engagement in general are all evolving concepts, and if the church does not reflect the culture in which it finds itself in all these areas, the result is far worse than simply an unclear Gospel.

In the end, the church may lose the Gospel altogether, because they have identified its delivery with certain cultural accutrements rather than a bloody cross and an empty tomb.

But there is more than one way to live in the past.

As with any social system, churches, over time, develop corporate patterns of behavior, and some of these patterns are not healthy. If they are not repented of and clearly dealt with, they become the growing snowball that leads the church in one direction; downhill!

One thing is for sure, though. If you want to ensure that you don’t exist in the future, then just refuse to think about it.

Roughly 3500 churches in North America close their doors for good each and every year. The vast majority of those I’ve seen close with my own eyes did so by following the strategy I’ve outlined above. Many of them were not even aware of what they were doing, and when their subconscious path was pointed out, they simply chose to deny it … and keep dying!

So, if you are following the principles above, and refuse to repent, I can guarantee that your church will eventually be included in that number.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2013 in Church, News stories

 

Anatevka still lives

“The Russia Left Behind” is a fascinating, yet sobering look at modern day Russia. It reveals the growing gap between the haves and the have nots. On previous trips to Russia, I was struck that once you get outside the major cities, there are villages that look like they are straight out of Dr. Zhivago or Fiddler on the roof. The article is good background reading for anyone who wants to visit or minister in Russia.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2013 in News stories, Russia

 

Fall in Connecticut

Carol and I took a drive through northern Connecticut to observe the fall foliage. We stopped at Mansfield Hollow Lake and Bigelow State Park.

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2013 in Connecticut, Fall, Photos

 

…makes a Great Church

Do you need a church to be a true follower of Jesus Christ? Can you be more fruitful and effective without the church? In a multi-cultural, pluralistic world, is the church even relevant?

Many people answer these questions with a resounding, “NO!” They look at churches and see people playing religious games. Rather than living with intentionality, the theme song of many churches is, “We’ve always done it this way!” Consequently, many dismiss the church as out of date, out of touch, ineffective, and irrelevant.

Slide 1Rather than be confused, we can be confident about God’s plan for the church. The church is central to God’s plan to reach the world with the message of salvation. In Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus explains that when the church is centered on Christ, it is an irresistible influence.

In this passage, Jesus takes his disciples north to a retreat setting. Caesarea Philippi was a multi-cultural, pluralistic region. It had long been the center of Baal worship. Later, shrines were built to honor the Greek god, Pan. More recently to Jesus’ day, Herod the Great built a temple to honor Caesar Augustus.

Jesus seemingly commissions a community survey. He asks his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” (16:13). A percentage of the people thought he was John the Baptist back from the dead. A handful of people concluded he was Elijah. Still others were convinced he was Jeremiah. A few more had no idea as to his identity, but held the opinion he must be one of the prophets.

Jesus turned the tables on the discussion. He moved from opinion to conviction, from general to specific, from “they” to “you.” He asked his closest followers, “Who do you say I am?” (16:15). Speaking for the rest of the group, Peter stated with conviction, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16).

In a world of many options, there is only one Savior. All roads do not lead to the top. Every belief and religion is not equal. It does matter what one believes. Jesus is the only way to heaven.

Jesus goes on to explain that a church built on himself will be an irresistible influence (16:17-20). Rather than giving clarity, this passage often confuses people. It has been mistaught and misunderstood throughout the centuries.

The phrase, “…you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…” is used by the Roman Catholics to teach that Peter was the first Pope and started the process of apostolic succession. In an effort not to be Catholic, Protestants go to the other extreme and say it refers to Peter’s confession, not the man himself. I think the answer is found in the middle.

The word, “Peter,” is a masculine noun, “petros,” and means “rock.” The word “rock,” is a feminine noun, “petra,” and means, “rocky slope” or “mountain.” I believe that Jesus is commending Peter for his confession. He is the rock. Jesus is referring to the rest of the disciples as the rocky slope or mountain. Peter is one rock among a rock quarry. He would become the first among equals, the leader of the disciples. However, we lose sight of Peter after Acts 12 when Paul gains prominence. In Ephesians 2:19b-20, the apostle Paul said the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, but Christ is the cornerstone.

The next phrase in 16:18 says, “…I will build my church…” We need to remember that the church is built by Christ, not by our efforts. In addition, the church does not belong to me or to you. It belongs to Christ himself.

The last phrase in verse 18, “…and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…” is often misunderstood. While it is true that the church is under attack by the forces of evil, we don’t get that doctrine from this verse. Instead, this verse tells us that the church will triumph over the enemy.

The gates of a city were not designed to be an offensive weapon. Instead, they were constructed to keep the enemy out and the citizens safely inside. Instead of the gates of hell attacking the church, the church is the one on the attack. Like Aragorn and the armies of Middle Earth storming the gates of Mordor, we are on a rescue mission trying to save people from hell.

Another way to understand this phrase is to understand that Hades is the realm of the dead. When Christ says that the gates of Hades will not overcome the church, he is stating that death will not defeat God’s plan—not the death of Jesus or the death of other Christ followers. The church will be triumphant.

Peter took the keys of the kingdom (19) and opened the door for the gospel to the Jews (Acts 2), the Samaritans (Acts 8), and the Gentiles (Acts 10). Since “binding” and “loosing” (19) always refers to forgiveness (Matthew 18:18; John 20:22-23), Peter and the other disciples could determine what can/cannot be done in the early church; but only what had already been decided in heaven.

Wrapping up this series, we come full circle to the question we started with, “What makes a great church?”

Doug McVeigh's logoA great church is centered on Jesus. He is the Son of God. We are to be passionate followers of Christ. We are to obey the great commandment to love God with every aspect of our being. The church belongs to Christ, not us.

A great church combines good works and good news. We are to love people. Rather than church being all about us, we are to be externally focused. We are to share the gospel and make disciples. We are to live as salt and light in the world. We are to serve others.

A great church is an irresistible influence. It has a positive impact in the community. As a result, God is glorified (Matthew 5:16) and people come to faith in Christ (Acts 2:47).

A Great Commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission makes a Great Church!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on October 20, 2013. It is the final message in a series on “What makes a great church?” Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 
 
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