Monthly Archives: January 2013

Of snow shovels and squeegees

When we lived in Chicago (actually Wheaton, IL) in the late 80’s, people used to tell us, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. It’ll change!” The same can be said of our New England winter this year.

On Monday, it snowed. I shoveled the driveway and salted it to make it safe for those arriving for Bible study that evening. Tuesday morning, I scraped ice off my windshield from the freezing rain that fell overnight. This morning, it is 55 degrees. We have a pond in our backyard from last night’s thunderstorm. And if that weren’t enough, the forecast is for snow again on Sunday. Weather whiplash at its finest.

At least there are no tornados or hurricanes on the near horizon.  🙄

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Posted by on January 31, 2013 in Chicopee, News stories, Weather, Winter


Settling for less

A woman at a previous church always brought dry toast to church on Sunday morning to eat during the worship service. She never enjoyed the muffins and pastries offered in the adult Bible fellowship classes.

Another woman brought a bag of rice cakes to a Christmas party. Rather than partake of the holiday treats, she simply ate from her sack.

Perhaps they were concerned about food allergies and blood sugar. Perhaps they were ultra-disciplined about diet. Perhaps they recognized their limitations and took the approach, “while others can, I cannot.” Whatever the reason, for good or bad, these individuals missed out on more sumptuous fare.

How often do I miss God’s treasure because I am satisfied with the same-ol’-same-ol’? Have I missed God doing a new work because I was satisfied with status quo? How often have I settled for less rather than take the risk to try something new? How many of God’s richest blessings do I not receive because my hands are clutching dry toast and rice cakes?

C. S. Lewis expressed it well when he wrote,

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3, ESV)

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Posted by on January 30, 2013 in Personal growth, Quotes, Scripture


Complete in Christ

A marshal in Napoleon’s army—a man who was devoted to the emperor—was mortally wounded in battle. As he lay dying in his tent, he sent for his chief. Napoleon came. He earnestly pleaded with his leader to save his life. The emperor sadly shook his head and turned away. As the man was dying, he was heard to shriek out, “Save me, Napoleon! Save me!”

What man cannot do, God did. Through his death on the cross, Jesus Christ provided full and complete salvation.

In Colossians 2:9-10, Paul stated that because Jesus Christ is fully God, believers have been given fullness in Christ. In 2:11-15, Paul explains that our salvation is complete, our forgiveness is complete, and our victory is complete.

When it comes to salvation, we have a problem. We have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard of absolute holiness. If we want to be saved, rituals are not enough. Pilgrimages do not make a difference. Hours of devoted service do not help. For all our modern medical sophistication, no surgery can cut out our sinful nature and give us new life.

In verses 11-12, Paul uses two metaphors to demonstrate that our salvation is complete. Circumcision illustrates we identify with the death of Christ (11), while baptism pictures our identification with the burial and resurrection of Christ (12). We are saved totally and exclusively through the work of God, not through any human activity.

In 13-14, Paul says that God wiped off our certificate of debt. Christ took the IOUs and nailed them to the Cross above his head (just as the charges were nailed over him by Pilate), and then completely forgave us all. Not a trace of it remains to be held against us. God erases the document and cancels the debt. When Jesus died, he hit the “delete” key. The condemning document was destroyed. Our forgiveness is complete.

Martin Luther experienced the reality of this truth in a dream in which he was visited at night by Satan, who brought to him a record of his own life, written with his own hand. The Tempter said to him, “Is that true, did you write it?” The poor terrified Luther had to confess it was all true. Scroll after scroll was unrolled, and the same confession was wrung from him again and again. At length, the Evil One prepared to take his departure, having brought Luther down to the lowest depths of abject misery. Suddenly the Reformer turned to the Tempter and said: “It is true, every word of it, but write across it all: ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.’”

Verse 15 explains that our victory is complete. Through his death on the cross, Jesus Christ won a decisive victory, making clear to the universe that Satan is a vanquished foe. First, He “disarmed the powers and authorities”, stripping Satan and his army of whatever weapons they held. Second, Jesus “made a public spectacle” of the enemy, exposing Satan’s deceit and vileness.

In the early 1900s, there was a man in the Russian army who had the job of paymaster. His job was to accept and then distribute the pay to the soldiers of the units in his area. This young paymaster had a problem with gambling. After having received a large sum of money for a company of soldiers he became caught up on a game and lost not only his own pay for a month but the pay of the entire unit. He knew there was no way he could ever repay the money and knew there was no hope but prison or a firing squad.

He decided the only thing he could do was to take his own life. He sat at his desk with a pistol and wrote this note. “So great a debt. Who could ever repay?” As he sat in anguish thinking about what he must do, he fell asleep. Nicholas, Tzar of Russia at the time, happened to be out for an evening walk and noticed the light still on at the paymasters’ quarters. He decided to stop in on the young man. He found the door open and the young man asleep with the pistol on his desk and the note. He took the pistol and wrote on the bottom of the note, “Nicholas can.”

Like the young paymaster, we have a great debt we cannot possibly ever repay. Not one of us can ever earn enough to deserve the reward of heaven. We have so great a debt. Who can ever repay? Jesus can—and he did.

Because Jesus Christ is completely God, we are complete in him. Our salvation is complete. Our forgiveness is complete. Our victory is complete.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 27, 2013. It is part of a series on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


A stretching prayer

I was challenged by the following words from John Piper.

Have you ever prayed a prayer like this?

Lord, let me make a difference for you utterly disproportionate to who I am?

That’s the prayer I wrote in the margin of a book last week beside a quote from David Brainerd. Brainerd was a missionary to the New England Indians 200 years ago. He wrote

Oh, that I might be a flaming fire in the service of the Lord. Here I am, Lord, send me; send me to the ends of the earth…send me from all that is called earthly comfort; send me even to death itself if it be but in Thy service and to promote Thy kingdom.

Brainerd has made a difference for God utterly disproportionate to who he was. He was an obscure missionary in New England. He died at the age of 29. He was not well known. He was extremely vulnerable to depression. But his life has inspired the modern missionary movement perhaps more than the life of any other person in modern times. Why?

He was so aflame for God that Jonathan Edwards felt led by God to put Brainerd’s brief missionary career of five years and his journal into a book. And that book has changed the world. It is amazing what God can do through a short life ablaze for his glory. The impact can be all out of proportion to who a person is.

I hope hundreds of you pray, “O, Lord, let me make a difference for you utterly disproportionate to who I am.” This is a prayer that the so-called nobodies in the world can pray without fear of presumption.

This is a prayer I might begin praying. If God answers it, there will be no question who gets the glory–certainly, not me!

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Posted by on January 25, 2013 in Prayer, Quotes


2020 Vision

To help communicate our 2020 Vision to First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, I created the poster below. You can download it as a pdf file by clicking the link.

2020 vision poster

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Posted by on January 24, 2013 in First Central Bible Church


Senior pastor annual report for 2012

This evening, our church, First Central Baptist Church of Chicopee, MA, holds its annual meeting. I wrote the following as my ministry report for 2012.


2012 was a year of transition, both for FCBC and for me personally. God brought Carol and me from the west coast to the east coast, from WA to MA, from Sammamish to Chicopee. Our family celebrated as our youngest child graduated from college and entered adulthood. We began new family traditions as all three of our children joined us here for a white Christmas. Carol and I are grateful for how you warmly welcomed us into your hearts. Thanks for inviting us to join you in ministry.

There are many activities that are part of a pastor’s ministry—administration, boards, baptisms, budgets, classes, committees, counseling, discipleship, evangelism, fellowship, and the alphabetical list goes on to visitation, worship, and beyond. In the midst of all of these important responsibilities, a pastor must keep three priorities at the forefront—preaching & teaching, casting vision, and training and equipping.

As a pastor, I want to preach and teach the whole counsel of God. Over the course of time, I try to find a balance between Old Testament books, New Testament books, and topical series. I am committed to expository preaching—explaining what the text means and how to apply it in daily life. In the fall 2012, we looked at what God called the church to be—a community of faith (Acts 2:42-47), an equipping center (Ephesians 4:11-6), and a sending church (Acts 13-14). In October, we began a study of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, which emphasizes the supremacy of Christ. After taking a break during December to study the characters in the nativity story, we resumed our study of Colossians and will continue through May.

As a leader, a pastor needs to cast vision and point the congregation forward. To accomplish this, I spent the first two months of my tenure meeting with various boards and committees to observe and learn more about the church. I wanted to understand the current makeup and needs of the church before moving into the future.

A demographic study of our region tells us that 461,000 people live within a 10-mile radius of the church. 38% of the population, or 175,000 people, do not attend any church, cathedral, synagogue, or cult. If you add in the percentage of people who follow false religions, there are easily 250,000+ people within a short drive of our building who desperately need the gospel. We live in a unique mission field.

To reach our community, we cannot afford to be satisfied with doing business as usual. We need to commit ourselves to a renewed and refocused sense of vision. Vision helps us know what direction we are going in and how to get there. It helps us know what to say “Yes” to and what to say “No” to.

As the deacons talked about vision, direction, purpose, and goals, we agreed on a revised purpose statement—“At First Central Baptist Church, we are Building a Community to Change the World.” We also adopted a path of discipleship that we want everyone to move through—“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 graphic below provides a visual illustration of how the purpose and path work together.

Purpose statement

Tying together where we minister, our purpose and direction, and our vision and values, the deacons adopted a series of goals for the future. It is referred as our 2020 Vision, and describes the type of church that we want to become in the coming years.

By 2020, we will . . .

  • Be a church of 500-1000 people (since there is no evangelical church over 500 in the region, this will take God’s power to accomplish)
  • Half of our growth will come through evangelism—new believers
  • Plant 2-6 churches—locally (1-3) & internationally (1-3)
  • Each ministry will be fully staffed
  • The budget will be fully funded
  • The church will be led, fed, guarded, and cared for by a team of elders and deacons
  • Children’s & Youth ministries will be the strongest programs in the church; they will be central in attracting and reaching families in the community
  • The nursery will be the jewel of our facility and children’s ministry in order to communicate to parents that we care for their children
  • Strong small group ministry – 1/2 to 2/3 of all adults will be in small groups; small groups will be a key component in our strategy for discipleship
  • Adopt 1-2 unreached people groups and see a church planted among these groups
  • Send out at least two annual short-term ministry teams made up of adults—both domestic and international (I stressed adult trips because the youth are already doing them)
  • Become a regional center for church-based theological education
  • Offer an internship program to train future staff and leaders
  • Train and raise up our own staff
  • Be a blessing to the community by offering services such as counseling; after school programs; marriage, parenting, finance classes, etc.
  • Fifty years from now, no history of the region can be written without including the ministries of FCBC

The third major responsibility of a pastor is training and equipping. During 2013, I will be leading 17 couples through a study of the book, Elders & Leaders, by Gene Getz. The study will help us make the transition from deacons to elders, from managing the church to leading the flock.

While First Central has a strong history and heritage of mission and ministry, I believe our best days are still to come. God has brought the church through a difficult transition over the past five years. He has given us a renewed sense of vision and direction for the future. My prayer is that our latter days will be much more fruitful than our former days. Let’s join together as we build a community to change the world.

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Posted by on January 23, 2013 in First Central Bible Church


Celebrate Life!

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision handed down by the US Supreme Court on abortion. Below is a copy of an insert we included in our church’s bulletin this past Sunday guiding people how to think, pray, and respond to the issue.

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

“Forty Years After Roe, How Should We Think About Abortion?” is a thought-provoking interview with Dr. Scott Rae, a professor at Biola University, in which he discusses the impact of the Supreme Court ruling, the ethics of abortion, and the biblical perspective of life.


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Posted by on January 22, 2013 in Biola University, Culture, News stories


Living an Awe-Full Life

Author Paul David Tripp points out what happens when we lose our sense of wonder of the majesty of God. We become self-centered, small people.

Awe of God must dominate my ministry, because one of the central missional gifts of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to give people back their awe of God. A human being who is not living in a functional awe of God is a profoundly disadvantaged human being. He is off the rails, trying to propel the train of his life in a meadow, and he may not even know it. The spiritual danger here is that when awe of God is absent, it is quickly replaced by our awe of ourselves. If you are not living for God, the only alternative is to live for yourself. So a central ministry of the church must be to do anything it can to be used of God to turn people back to the one thing for which they were created: to live in a sturdy, joyful, faithful awe of God.

Cited in Dangerous Calling: Confronting the unique challenges of pastoral ministry

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Posted by on January 22, 2013 in Books, Ministry, Quotes, Worship


Don’t be led astray

Some time back, I was the victim of an April Fool’s Day prank. A missionary friend sent an urgent “prayer request” saying they were being threatened with deportation if they did not comply with new rules for foreigners. I swallowed their story hook, line, sinker, pole, boat, and outboard motor. I offered advice, prayer, and numerous suggestions. Boy, did I feel sheepish when I discovered I had been royally punk’d. I was gullible to the nth degree.

In the same way, Christ followers can be led astray by false teachers. To prevent that from happening, the apostle Paul pointed out to the church in Colossae that the best defense against error is a thorough knowledge of the truth (Colossians 2:8-10).

Paul begins by warning the believers to be on guard. Just as I was taken captive by a gripping and believable prayer request, so a believer can be taken captive by a false teacher.

How is it possible for false teachers to capture people? The answer is simple: These “captives” are ignorant of the truths of the Word of God. They become fascinated by the philosophy and fancy arguments of the false teachers. When a person does not know the doctrines of the Christian faith, he or she can easily be captured by false religions.

The important thing about any teaching is its origin: Did it come from God or from man? No teaching can be Christian teaching if it is contrary to the basic truths of Scripture and the Word of God.

In verses 9-10, Paul explains that because Christ is completely God, believers are complete in Christ. This is perhaps the most definitive statement of Christ’s deity in the epistles. It is the rock upon which all attempts to disprove Christ’s deity are shattered.

Jesus Christ is more than merely God-like. He is more than simply overflowing with the character of God. Instead, the essence of God, undivided and in its whole fullness, dwells in Christ in His exalted state, so that He is the essential and adequate image of God. Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man.

And as the One possessing all the fullness of Deity, Christ is the head over all rule and authority. He was not one of a series of lesser beings emanating from God, as the false teachers maintained. Rather, he is God Himself and thus the head over the entire angelic realm.

False teachers were not just a problem in the past. They still exist today. Some of the doctrines being taught today include ideas such as good people naturally go to heaven; if a celebrity writes a best seller, it must be true; God wants me to be happy; you can set a date for the rapture and end of the world; tolerance is the ultimate virtue; experience is more important than what Scripture teaches; people die, go to heaven, and then come back to life all the time; don’t make commitments, but keep your options open; and many more.

Rather than accept any teaching at face value, we need to ask the question, “What does Scripture say about this subject?” To avoid being punk’d by false teachers, we need to seek our answers in Jesus Christ.

This is a synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 20, 2013. It is part of a series on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


The battle for your heart

The greatest battles we fight today are internal ones. They are fought within our heart.

Pastor and author Paul David Tripp has written a helpful book for pastors entitled, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the unique challenges of pastoral ministry. In a chapter titled, “War zones,” he explains that pastoral ministry is always shaped by a war between the kingdom of self and the kingdom of God. While he writes to pastors, his insights are applicable to all Christ followers, especially as it relates to our battle with our own sin nature.

. . . the DNA of sin is selfishness. Sin inserts me into the middle of my universe, the one place reserved for God and God alone. Sin reduces my field of concern down to my wants, my needs, and my feelings. Sin really does make it all about me.

Because the inertia of sin leads away from God’s purpose and glory toward my purpose and glory, as long as sin is inside of me there will be temptation to exchange God’s glory for my own. In ways that are subtle and not so subtle, I begin to pursue the accoutrements of human glory. Things like appreciation, reputation, success, power, comfort, and control become all too important. Because they are too important to me, they begin to shape the way I think about ministry, the things I want out of my ministry, and the things I do in ministry. (I think you can substitute the word “life” for the author’s use of “ministry.”)

Later on in the chapter, the author continues his thoughts with these words.

Monasteries were a failure because they neglected one very significant biblical truth: the biggest danger to every human being, even those in ministry, is located inside of him, not outside of him. There is something dark and deceitful that still lurks in the heart of every one of God’s children who has not yet been fully glorified: sin. It is only ever the sin inside of you that draws and hooks you to the sin outside of you. Every day there is a war fought for control of your heart. But your jealous Savior, with the zeal of gorgeous redemptive love, will not share your heart. He will not rest until your heart is ruled by him and him alone.

On the one hand, it is an extremely sobering thought that we are engaged in a heart-to-heart struggle and battle every day of our lives. On the other hand, it is encouraging to know our Savior fights for us and wants the best for us. He has delivered us and gives us the strength to win the battle.

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Posted by on January 18, 2013 in Books, Ministry, Personal growth, Quotes