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The secret to revival

Why do those who want victory over sin struggle to say “No” to temptation? Why do those who want to walk with God seemingly spin their wheels and go in circles? Why is it that those with the greatest of intentions never move forward? Why is revival so elusive when it is desired so deeply?

The book of Ezra describes a revival that took place after the Jews returned from a 70 year exile in Babylon. Cyrus, the king of Persia issued a decree allowing the Jews to return home and rebuild the temple (1:1-4). Zerubbabel led the rebuilding of the temple (chapters 1-6) and Ezra rebuilt the people (chapters 7-10).

The secret to the successful revival lies in a simple three-word phrase, they “made a beginning” (3:8). Good intentions were not enough. Permission and encouragement was not enough. Passionate desires were not enough. Revival would never break out until they “made a beginning.”

Once they made a beginning, they laid the foundation for a new temple (3:8-14). Opposition rose up to test their resolve (chapter 4). They had to restart the work (5:2). They completed the temple and worship was restored (6:13-22). A beginning was needed to start and complete the building project.

Making a beginning was also needed for personal revival. Ezra “set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” Ezra (1) made a beginning (set his heart) for (2) personal study, (3) personal obedience, and (4) teaching others to do the same.

The secret to a successful revival is taking the first step. Revival seldom breaks out until we make a beginning and set our hearts to study, obey, and share God’s word with others. Granted, we need to follow it with further steps of obedience and bathe the revival in prayer. But it never begins until we make a beginning.

 
 

Jack Gilbert’s ordination

Below is a letter sent to our congregation this week letting them know about the exciting prospect of ordaining one of our own people for ministry. Exciting things are happening at First Central Bible Church.

 

 

How NOT to promote discussion

While it would stifle discussion, it might make business meeting more lively. 😉

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2017 in Fun

 

Don’t be consumed by worry

Rather than be consumed with worry, Christ followers are to practice the advice given by Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:25–34, he said,

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2017 in Baby Blues, Scripture

 

Build your life on truth

Life is uncertain with few guarantees and little that can be depended on. Health, employment, investments, and relationships can all change in an instant. We purchase life, health, auto, and homeowners insurance to try to protect us in case of illness, accidents, and damage. In a world of uncertainty, we long for security and stability.

In his first letter, the apostle John encourages his readers and us to build our lives on truth. As he closes this letter (5:13-21), he gives four foundational principles that can give us a solid foundation. He also adds one final warning that will keep the foundation strong. To give us a sense of foundational certainty, John uses the phrase “you know” or “we know” six times in nine verses. We can have confidence about our salvation (13), prayer (14-17), victory over sin (18), and our identity in Christ (19-20). We need to guard our hearts against anything that tries to take God’s rightful place (21).

Our salvation is secure (13). John is writing “…that you may know you have eternal life.” The word “know” points to a settled and absolute conviction. The word “have” points to a present reality. Salvation is secure because it rests on God’s promises, not our performance; God’s faithfulness, not our faithlessness; God’s Word, not our works. Salvation is secure because it rests solely on God, not on us. David Smith stated, “Our security is not our grip on Christ but his grip on us.”

God answers prayer (14-15). When we pray, we can have confidence that God hears and answers our prayers. We can come boldly into his presence and present our requests to him. If our prayers are unanswered, it may be due to unconfessed sin (Psalm 66:18), strained relationships (1 Peter 3:7), lack of prayer (James 4:2), selfish requests (James 4:3), disobedience (1 John 3:22), or it is not in God’s will (1 John 5:14).

Intercession makes a difference (16-17). John gives a specific encouragement to pray that God would restore a fellow believer who is sinning. We’re puzzled by the “sin that leads to death.” It could be a specific deadly sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, total rejection of the gospel, or the premature death of a sinning believer. Rather than get hung up in debating the meaning, John’s point is to pray for those who are straying from God. We should pray for believers whose marriage is in trouble, for those who are becoming hard hearted towards God, for those who are impatient, for those who are becoming increasingly materialistic, and for those who are discouraged and ready to give up.

We can enjoy victory over sin (18). While we will never become sinless in this life, we should sin less. Sin should not be the predominant pattern or practice of our lives. Victory is possible because God protects us. Satan cannot touch us without God’s permission.

We are part of God’s family (19). While the world system resides under the control of Satan, we are free from its power. Having put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, we are one of God’s children.

Jesus came so that we might know God (20). Being “in Christ” is the means by which we can enjoy fellowship with God. We can know God intimately and can abide in him and in his Son.

Stay away from anything that takes God’s rightful place (21). It is all too easy to “forget” God’s benefits and chase after shiny things. Work, bank accounts, happiness, comfort, family, retirement, leisure, personal preferences, and the desire for control can all become idols if we are not careful. We must be vigilant to guard our hearts.

Build your life on truth. Know that our salvation is secure. Know that God answers prayer. Know that we can enjoy victory over sin. Know that we belong to Jesus. Don’t let anyone or anything take God’s rightful place in your life.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 21, 2017. It is part of a series on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Live a life of submission to God

Book Review: Start with Amen: How I Learned to Surrender by Keeping the End in Mind, by Beth Guckenberger

If you asked a person about the word, “Amen,” most would respond by explaining it is a word you tack onto the end of a prayer. Most people think of it a form of punctuation. In contrast, author Beth Guckenberger views it as posture of life, or an attitude of the heart.

This is amen: hands raised, faces bowed, hearts at peace. There our metaphorical spiritual buckets get filled, and there is plenty to offer each other. Unity is felt among the church, and communion is a reality. Here, in this posture, I am always surprised by what God has for me.

If I could pray no other word ever again, I would be okay. Amen speaks affirmation and commitment. It says yes to a lifestyle where he is to be trusted and I can rest in him.

When I talk to God, I start with amen, and, with it, we communicate intimacy and a sense of knowing.

I know he’s got this.

He’s knows I’m letting him have this, whatever in the moment “this” may be.

As the author explains in the acknowledgements, her style is storytelling. Thus, it naturally follows that the book is a collection of stories loosely tied together to illustrate a principle. She weaves in personal stories, examples, principles, and biblical stories into her presentation.

While I appreciate and agree with the concept that we need to submit all the parts of our life to God, it felt like proof texting to base that principle on one word. While her stories were entertaining and encouraging, I didn’t really see how they were tied together. It felt a bit like stream-of-consciousness writing. This is not to say the book is a bad one. It just did not appeal to me.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2017 in Books

 

FCBC at the bat – Coed team

On Thursday evenings, First Central Bible Church fields a coed softball team in the Interchurch Softball league. While still competitive, the emphasis is more on fun, fellowship, and friendship. Not a bad way to spend a 95 degree evening.