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Hancock Shaker Village

On Saturday, Carol and I ventured an hour west to the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, MA. Ironically, we ran into some friends from church, Chris & Theresa, who were touring the village at the same time.

Before our visit, I only knew of the Shakers as a religious sect best known for simple living, architecture, and furniture. During the visit, I discovered they were known for their emphasis on celibacy, communal lifestyle, confession, pacifism, and equality of the sexes. Further research helped me understand that they were an 18th-19th Century religious cult founded upon personal experience and the misinterpretation of Scripture.

Ann Lee, who came out of an abusive marriage, joined the Shakers in 1758. Believing that the sin of Adam and Eve was sexual impurity, she taught celibacy. In 1770, Ann Lee was revealed in a “manifestation of Divine light” to be the second coming of Christ and was called Mother Ann. 1774, Ann Lee and eight of her followers, including her estranged husband, sailed from Liverpool for the United States. They settled in colonial America and founded other communities in New England. Their goal was to create a working heaven on earth.

At its peak in the mid 19th century, there were 6,000 Shaker believers. By 1920, there were only 12 Shaker communities. Today, only one remains in Maine. As we learned, the group died off, not due to celibacy, but rather due to cultural change and urban migration tied to the end of the Civil War and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution.

The Hancock Shaker Village is now a museum. One of the distinctive features is its round barn. It was an interesting place to visit.

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2014 in Massachusetts, Photos

 

It Just Isn’t Fair

When I was a seminary student in the early 1980’s, I worked for a drafting firm in Dallas, TX. One of my coworkers was a Russian émigré named, Roman. He had a degree in computer engineering but was working as a draftsman. When Roman was in Russia, he could not get a job because he was Jewish. When he immigrated to the States, he could not get a job because he was Russian. (Remember the Cold War was still alive and well in the 80’s.)

Your hurdleSometimes, life just isn’t fair.

What if you work hard and save the company money, but you get passed over for promotion? Perhaps you do the majority of work in a group, but someone else gets the credit. Maybe you take a stand on a moral issue, and you wind up being ostracized. What if you ask the coach of your child’s youth soccer team to not use profanity around the kids, and he retaliates by benching your son or daughter in the next game? Perhaps you declined to go bar hopping with your coworkers, and they start spreading rumors about you.

whineSometimes, life just isn’t fair. Rather than whine, complain, vent to the world on Facebook, or shout to the rooftops … when life is unfair, we are to live our faith.

In Genesis 37, Joseph is upright in his character and shares his dreams, but his brothers hate him and sell him into slavery. In chapter 39, Joseph refuses to compromise, and he winds up falsely accused of rape and imprisoned. In chapter 40, Joseph serves compassionately, and ends up being forgotten. Life goes from bad to worse, and from worse to worser.

As Genesis 40 opens, Joseph is 28 years old. He has been in Egypt for 11 years. He will be in prison for two more years. It will be 11 more years before he sees his family.

Genesis 40:1-4 find Joseph in prison with Pharaoh’s political prisoners. Among them are the butler and the baker. Rather than becoming self-centered and self-focused, Joseph is compassionate and caring. He noticed the butler and the baker are downcast (6). Inquiring about their concerns, he learns they had dreams but don’t know what they mean (8).

Joseph could easily have become a self-promoter and announced, “I know a thing or two about dreams. In fact, let me tell you my dreams.” Instead, Joseph lives out his faith and points the men to God, “Do not interpretations belong to God?”

The butler shares his dreams about the grapes and the wine (9-11). Joseph declares, “That’s easy. In three days, you get your job back (12-13). When that happens, put in a good word to Pharaoh about me” (14-15).

Figuring his dreams also portend a happy ending, the baker shares his nighttime wanderings with Joseph (16-17). Joseph responds, “That is easy as well. In three days, you’re dead!” (18-19). Rather than telling the man what he wants to hear, Joseph demonstrates integrity and tells him the truth.

Three days later, Pharaoh celebrates his birthday by restoring the butler and killing the baker (20-22). But rather than keep his promise, the butler forgot Joseph (23). It is probably one of the saddest verses in all of Genesis.

Sometimes life just isn’t fair. We may receive unfair treatment from family members, perhaps even abusive treatment. Perhaps life treats us unfairly through an accident or disease, and we are trapped in a prison of pain. Possibility we are the victim of untrue accusations or rumors or lies. Maybe we were abandoned by a husband, wife, or parents.

It Just Isn’t FairRegardless of the reasons, how should a Christ follower respond when life just isn’t fair? Joseph gives us a great model, in addition to several other passages of Scripture. When life is unfair, we are to live our faith.

When life is unfair …

  • Don’t wallow in self-pity. Instead, remember that God is with you. You are neither alone, nor abandoned.
  • Don’t allow bitterness to capture your soul. Instead, practice kindness, compassion, and forgiveness (Ephesians 4:26-32).
  • Don’t allow bitterness toward others to become bitterness toward God. Instead, trust in God’s sovereignty (Romans 8:28, 35, 37) and grow in faith (1 Peter 2:18-21).
  • Don’t become vindictive towards those who have mistreated you, seeking to get even. Instead, patiently wait for God to vindicate you and to honor both your faith and your positive attitudes (Romans 12:10, 17, 21).

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 27, 2014. It is part of a series on the life of Joseph. Click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Why on earth are you here?

One of the things I pray for each of my children is Colossians 1:9-10. I pray that “you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” I’m convinced that understanding your purpose in life and where you fit into God’s plan changes how you live on a daily basis.

Last night, Carol & I were part of our monthly elders & wives Bible study. We’re working our way through a series on the church put out by the Centers of Church-Based Training. Last night’s study was on the purpose of the church.

Discovering my purposeAs I told the group, I saw the unit as a funnel or triangle. The question of purpose is asked at several points in the funnel. I think there are three primary levels—What is God’s overall purpose in history? What is God’s purpose for the church? What is God’s purpose for me? The answer to one helps shape our answer to the next as none of them exists in isolation.

As far as God’s purpose in history, my personal conviction is that God’s overall purpose is to bring glory to himself (Psalm 19:1; 86:12; Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).

I see God’s purpose for the church summed up in Acts 2:42-47; Ephesians 4:11-16; and Acts 13-14. I used those passages to craft First Central’s purpose statement which describes the type of church we want to become. “At First Central Baptist Church, we are Building a Community to Change the World. We seek to Glorify God by Connecting people to Christ, the church, and one another; so that we can Grow in our faith, character, and skills; in order to Serve the cause of Christ with our time, talents, and treasures; and to Share the message of the gospel where we live, work, and go to school; both locally, and as far around the world as we can reach.”

The last issue is, “What is God’s purpose for me? Where do I fit into God’s plan in history and his plan for the church?” Once I answer that question, I need to ask, “Where do I need to make changes in my life to accomplish what God wants to do in and through me?” It requires us to do some thinking and reflection about our spiritual gifts, passion, temperament, skills, abilities, etc.

Over the years, I’ve used several different resources to help me think through those issues and answer the questions personally. As part of the process, I wrote my own personal mission statement several years back which I now include in my resume.

My mission is to serve the purpose of God in my generation, thus bringing glory to His name. My life vision is to train and equip others through preaching, teaching, writing, and leadership development.

I believe that the goal of ministry is to produce fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ who are grounded in their faith and established in sound doctrine (Colossians 1:28; 2:7). My passion is to preach and teach the whole counsel of God, and to equip people to walk with God and serve Him (Ephesians 4:11-16). I want to bring all to maturity and many into leadership.

From personal experience, I can attest that it takes time and effort to work through these questions and come to solid conclusions and personal convictions. However, the benefit of having an answer about purpose—overall, church, and personal—helps us know what to say, “Yes,” to and what to say, “No,” to. It gives a greater sense of direction, purpose, and meaning.

 

 

Evaluate your church

Two ideas for evaluating and improving the ministries of your church.

The 1 percent difference

  • Evaluate all your current ministries and make a list of the twelve most important ones to your church and its future.
  • Looking over your list, what could you do this year in each area to improve it by only 1 percent? How can you upgrade each area this year so that it will be better next year? Be as specific and practical as possible.
  • Once you’ve made your list, get started. If you accomplish each one, you’ll have upgraded your ministries by about 12 percent.

One Little Thing

  • Launch a “one little thing” program for your church. Print a card with the following statement on one side: “It often takes just one little thing to make a church more effective. Please answer the following two questions.” On the other side of the card, print the following and allow room to write an answer: “One thing I keep hearing others say about our church is …” and “One little thing we could do to address this comment is …”
  • Give the cards to the leaders and/or congregation. Ask them to answer the questions. Then collect the cards and begin the one little thing.

Adapted from Beyond the First Visit: The complete guide to connecting guests to your church, by Gary L. McIntosh

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2014 in Books, Church, Quotes

 

Awana Camp 2014 slideshow

July 2-5, 2014, 70+ children, youth, and adults from First Central Baptist Church of Chicopee, MA, gathered at Pine Brook Camp in Shutesbury for our annual Awana Camp. We enjoyed games, crafts, singing, food, and fellowship. I had the privilege of teaching a Walk Thru the Bible Old Testament Live Event. Here is a slideshow that gives you a flavor of the week. The music is “Praise like fireworks,” by the Rend Collective. Click on the link to enjoy the video. #LiveGodsWord.

Slide 1

 
 

What’s your church’s purpose?

A few years back, the London Observer reported that a platoon of Chinese soldiers was stationed in the middle of the Gobi Desert at a little place called Quingsha. Their only job was to keep the railroad track clear of blowing sand. No passengers travel by train along the track to Quingsha except for an occasional soldier. The only freight the railroad carried was supplies for the soldiers stationed there. The soldiers’ only orders were to maintain the railroad track, and the railroad’s only function was to supply the soldiers.

Gary L. McIntosh adds the following comment, “Sounds like some churches that have forgotten their primary mission and spend all their energy caring only for themselves.”

Cited in Beyond the First Visit: The complete guide to connecting guests to your church

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2014 in Books, Church, Quotes

 

Is your church filled with risk takers, caretakers, or undertakers?

In chapter 11 of his book, Beyond the First Visit: The complete guide to connecting guests to your church, author Gary L. McIntosh tells the following story about taking risks.

It was Carthage, North Africa, in AD 252 that the bubonic plague terrorized the city. Death raced from door to door. The odor was horrifying. People resisted helping each other for fear of contracting the disease themselves. However, a local church, committed to caring for people, made a strategic investment in their lives of the citizens of Carthage. These people chose to put their lives on the line for the cause of Christ. They called themselves “parabolani“–the risk takers. They followed the courageous model of Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:25-27, and their loving acts of service impacted an entire city. History records the decisive fact that Carthage was saved from destruction because of the risk takers of the church.

Later in the chapter, he paints the contrast between risk takers, caretakers, and undertakers.

One of my friends likes to say that there are three kinds of leaders in the church: risk takers, caretakers, and undertakers. Leaders who are undertakers serve in churches that show great fear of serving others. Leaders who are caretakers take enough risk to serve each other but stop short of going beyond the people of their own church. It is the risk takers who courageously lead their people to serve people in the community as well as each other.

In order to impact the world for Jesus Christ, we need to encourage our churches to take greater risks and to reach beyond the four walls of the church. We can compare it to a financial investment strategy.

People do not make fortunes by worrying about the daily direction of the stock market. Fortunes are accrued by people who are convinced of a growing economic future and who buy stocks that will accurately represent that future. Risk is a part of the investment decision. Those who invest well reap huge rewards. Those who make wrong predictions of the future lose. But the biggest losers are often those who fail to take any risk, for while they limit their potential for loss, they also have no chance to reap the rewards.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2014 in Books, Church, Quotes

 

Relive the joy of VBS

I put together a slideshow of our Vacation Bible School (VBS) program at First Central Baptist Church, July 14-18, 2014. Click on the link to watch the video and share our joy. 2014 VBS

 
 

Does your church have Guests or Visitors?

Some time ago, I challenged the leaders of our church to change our vocabulary regarding newcomers. I encouraged people to stop using the word, “visitors,” and start using the word, “guests.” I explained that visitors visit, but don’t come back. In contrast, we want guests who feel at home.

In the early part of his book, Beyond the First Visit: The complete guide to connecting guests to your church, author Gary L. McIntosh offers several more contrasts between visitors and guests.

Visitors

Guests

Often unwanted

Expected and wanted

Just show up

Invited

Expected to leave

Expected to stay

Come one time

Return again

“Friendly churches had great potential for growth, while less friendly churches had little potential for growth. True friendliness begins with welcoming newcomers to our church as honored guests.

While no one unites with a church without first visiting, we must remember that connecting guests to our church is a process that goes beyond the first visit. We want to provide a warm and friendly welcome to first-time guests, but it takes more that friendliness to help newcomers connect at a deeper level.”

Later in the book, McIntosh explains that we need to “guesterize your church.” Since he is coining a new term, he adds a definition to explain what he means.

Guest*er*ize (‘gest-er-ize), vt: to make a church more responsive to its guests and better able to attract new ones. syn see service, care, love, acceptance.

Guesterizing your church occurs when you make guests the most important people at your church on Sunday morning. It means responding to their needs in a manner that causes them to enjoy their time with you. It means giving superior service so that they want to move beyond the first visit.

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2014 in Books, Church, Quotes

 

Can I improve my preaching?

Pastor and professor Hershael York has written an insightful article on preaching, “4 Reasons Why Some Preachers Get Better and Others Don’t.” I particularly identified with his illustration in the section on “Passion.”

I once heard a missionary preach at the Southern Baptist Pastors Conference. He was dynamite, preaching a great expository sermon with incredible energy and moving the entire audience by his treatment of the Word and his testimony of baptizing tens of thousands of Africans. Astonished by his great preaching, I approached him and held out my hand to introduce myself.

“Hershael,” he said, shocking me that he knew my name, “we went to seminary together.” Embarrassed, I admitted that I did not remember him. “You had no reason to,” he explained. “I was very quiet, never spoke in class and never went out of my way to meet anyone.” I asked him to explain what happened.

“When I got on the mission field, no one would listen to my preaching of the gospel. I was putting them to sleep. When I came stateside and preached in churches, they were bored to tears. Finally, I realized that the only way to be effective was to preach the Word in the way it deserved to be preached, so I became willing to go beyond my natural personality and comfort zone and allow God to make me effective. I prayed for the Word to so grip me in the pulpit that I would never be boring again.”

His teachability led him to show a passion that was not natural to his introverted personality. It was supernatural.

The missionary’s experience certainly resonates with my own. I vividly recall coming to the conclusion a few years back that my preaching was boring and I had to do whatever it took to improve. Over the years, I have read books, attended seminars, employed new techniques, and strove to stretch and expand my comfort zone until I started to become effective and fruitful. As I told my congregation recently, I am now willing to be a fool for Jesus if it will help get the message across. In addition to praying specifically about this area, I will do whatever it takes to communicate the gospel effectively.

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2014 in Preaching, Quotes

 
 
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