Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Message of Christmas: Hope

The Message of Christmas:If you focus on the headlines of the daily news, you develop a rather bleak outlook on life.

  • Riots in Ferguson, MO, after the grand jury decided not to indict police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown
  • Nor’easter disrupts already rough travel day
  • Police officers in Cleveland, OH, shot a 12-year-old boy who had a toy gun
  • Four polio workers killed by gunman in Pakistan
  • Two FBI special agents shot near Ferguson, MO
  • Austin Police Kill Gunman After Shots Fired at ‘Multiple Buildings’

A smattering of the week’s headlines leads one to conclude:

  • The world in going to hell in a hand basket
  • Circle the wagons and get the women and children indoors
  • Curl up in a corner and weep quietly to yourself
  • Start shouting, “The sky is falling!” to all who will listen

The Message of Christmas:Now, more than ever, we desperately need to understand the message of Christmas. During this season of Advent, our church is focusing on four prophecies about the Messiah found in the book of Isaiah. In 9:1-7, the message of Christmas is one of hope. In 11:1-4, it’s a message of justice. In 40:1-5, it’s one of comfort. In 52:13-53:12, the message is one of redemption. Jesus Christ brings light, joy, peace, and hope to our lives.

As Isaiah 9 is being written, Israel is facing challenges not unlike what we find in today’s news. God allows the nation of Assyria to attack Israel because she failed to obey God’s law (8:1-10). Assyria is allowed to become strong (9:8-11). Despite the fact that it seems as if God is not at work, he promises to judge Israel (10:3-4), Samaria and Judah (10:11-12), and Assyria (10:33-34).

The Message of Christmas:I’ve had the privilege of hiking the Olympic Mountains in Washington, skiing the Rockies in Colorado, and driving through the White Mountains in New Hampshire. From a distance, a mountain range looks two-dimensional. One peak blends into the next. What you cannot tell from a distance is how wide and deep the valleys are in between.

In the same way, Isaiah sees a prophecy about the coming of the Messiah. What he doesn’t understand is that it will occur in two phases. Part of it occurs when Christ came as a child during his first advent. The rest will occur when he comes as conquering king during his second advent. But there is a gap of time in between the two.

What Isaiah knows is that light comes to those living in the darkness (1-2). Gloom and darkness will be a thing of the past.

The lands of Zebulun and Naphtali were in the northern part of Israel. In the first century, this area was known as the province of Galilee. They were among the first regions humbled by foreign military invasions, as well as being the region most influenced by foreign cultures and religions. The way of the sea describes a major international highway running through the region. The invading Assyrian soldiers took the route when they invaded the Northern Kingdom.

God turned invasion into mission by making the people of Galilee the first ones to see the light of Jesus. That is how God ushered in the new era of triumphant grace. Matthew understood and applied verse 2 to the ministry of Jesus (Matthew 4:15-16).

God the Father will lead his people from spiritual darkness into light by sending the Messiah (3-5). Isaiah uses four word pictures to describe this glorious day. The coming of the Messiah will be a day of:

  • Expansion – God will multiply his people (3a).
  • Joy – It will be a time of celebration like that following a harvest or great battle (3b).
  • Deliverance – It will be a time of victory like when Gideon conquered the Midianites (4).
  • Peace – Like the clean-up after battle, the uniforms of war will be destroyed (5).

Isaiah records five key facts about the coming Messiah (6-7).

  • God’s gift to us is a child. “Child” emphasizes his humanity; “Son” emphasizes his deity.
  • The child will rule over God’s people. As king, he will govern the nation properly.
  • His titles reveal his character. As a Wonderful Counselor, he has the best ideas and strategies. As the Mighty God, he defeats his enemies easily. As the Everlasting Father, he loves endlessly. As the Prince of Peace, he reconciles us while we are still his enemies.
  • The Messiah will have an eternal rule of peace and justice. No one will be able to oppose his authority or undermine the positive effects of his government.
  • All of this will be accomplished by the zeal of the Lord Almighty. The coming kingdom depends on God, not Israel or us.

The Message of Christmas:The message of hope reassures us that God will keep his promises in spite of all the terrible, dark circumstances that surround us. Where do you need … a Wonderful Counselor … a Mighty God … an Everlasting Father … a Prince of Peace?

Jesus Christ brings light, joy, peace, and hope to our lives.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on November 30, 2014. It is part of a series on the message of Christmas. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


Winter Wonderland in Worthington

This morning, we drove over the river & through the woods to Worthington, MA, in the Berkshire Hills to reach the Justamere Tree Farm. Then we walked over the bridge and through ankle deep know in search of the perfect tree. We discovered the farm when we moved to MA in 2012 and have been coming back each year. The snow certainly adds to the ambiance and feeling of the Christmas season. Carol was taking pictures and captured some intriguing photos of the roads and countryside.

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Posted by on November 29, 2014 in Christmas, Massachusetts, Photos


Experiencing life as God intended it

Life with a capital LBook Review: Life with a capital L: Embracing your God-given humanity, by Matt Heard

Many people can quote Jesus’ statement in John 10:10b, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” However, very few know how to truly experience that abundant life. Jesus is talking about “doing life in a way that goes beyond what is normally experienced by human beings, but not beyond what was originally intended.” To experience this quality of life requires being fully human, that is, engaging “with life in both a physical and a spiritual way, and not just as two parallel, unrelated compartments.”

This is the premise that lies at the heart of Matt Heard’s new book, Life with a capital L: Embracing your God-given humanity. Life is not merely to be lived, but rather is to be deeply experienced, lavishly enjoyed, and exuberantly celebrated. As the author points out, that is what the gospel is all about.

In Part 1, the author discusses how to reclaim our humanity. He discusses how to get in touch with our desires and longings and what it means to be fully alive. In Part 2, he describes ten experiences of what a full, deep life is all about.

The deeper I got into the book, the more I enjoyed it. The author’s stories, examples, principles, and illustrations caused me to think and reflect. Rather than employing the typical trite phrases about spiritual formation and disciplines, the author takes us deeper into real life. I found his chapters on worship, brokenness, and heaven to be especially insightful and challenging. His chapter on worship explained that it’s not necessary to feel we need to have all the answers about God. Admitting, “I don’t know,” can be a liberating act of worship as we live in the mystery of God. The chapter on brokenness focused on how God uses painful experiences to teach us about himself and life. In the chapter on heaven, the author reminds us that in the midst of pain and brokenness, there can be Life as we keep our focus on seeing God face to face.

The author combines biblical principles with real life stories of success and failure to paint an accurate account of how to go deeper with God. While the book is easily read, it is worth slowing down to reflect and process the lessons.

I received this book for free from The Blogging for Books program for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Posted by on November 28, 2014 in Books, Quotes, Scripture, Spiritual disciplines


The cleansing power of God’s forgiveness

Isaiah 1-18

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Posted by on November 28, 2014 in Chicopee, Photos, Scripture


Not ready for winter?

Ready of not, winter is upon us.

Peanuts - not ready for winter

At least, we don’t have as much snow as Buffalo.

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Posted by on November 28, 2014 in Fun, Winter


White Thanksgiving

Yesterday, we received our first snow storm of the winter. We received about 3 inches of your basic heavy, wet, heart-attack variety snow. Because it is so wet and heavy, it will give you a heart attack if you try to shovel it. It is certainly pretty to look at. With the temps a bit warmer today, we’ll see how long it lasts. Our only casualty was a stately birch tree in the backyard that was bent over with the weight of the snow. We hope it will bounce back.

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Posted by on November 27, 2014 in Chicopee, Photos, Winter


Thanksgiving Day Bonfire 2014

For the past 105 years (I think, at least 100+ years), the people of First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, have gathered around a bonfire in Szot Park at 7AM on Thanksgiving day to give thanks to God. Though it snowed yesterday, it did not deter the 40 folks who came out this morning for a time of warm fellowship as we sang, shared favorite verses, gave thanks to God, and enjoyed donuts, coffee, and hot chocolate. It’s a great way to start the day.


I give thanks

David’s opening words in Psalm 138 arrested my attention.

“I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. (1-2)

I was stunned as much by what David didn’t say as what he did say. David doesn’t say, “I feel thankful. I am grateful. I feel like praising God. I want to worship God.” David doesn’t say anything about his feelings, emotions, desires, or longings.

What David says is, “I give thanks … I sing your praise … I bow down … and give thanks …” Regardless of his circumstances, regardless of his feelings, regardless of whether his life is good, bad, or mediocre at the moment, David makes the choice to give thanks and praise God.

David’s thanksgiving is not tied to his circumstances. Instead, it is directed towards God’s character and attributes. “I give thanks to your name.” Knowing that in the Old Testament, God’s name always reveals his character, David is choosing to praise God for who he is. He also praises God for what he has done—his faithfulness.

Through this psalm, David taught me two essential principles of thanksgiving:

  • Thanksgiving is a choice I make regardless of my circumstances.
  • Thanksgiving is directed toward God for who he is and what he has done.

Give God your praise and thanks, not just one day a year, but every minute of every hour of every day of every year of your life. As long as you have breath, make the choice to give thanks.

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Posted by on November 27, 2014 in Scripture, Thanksgiving Day, Worship


Don’t worship a shimmering mirage

Several summers ago, during a drought and food shortage along the West Coast, more than thirty brown pelicans from California crash-landed on asphalt and sidewalks in various parts of Arizona. The state’s Game and Fish Department officials nursed the emaciated, bruised, and scraped-up pelicans back to health. They concluded that the dehydrated pelicans, due to mirages created by the sun’s reflection on the hot and cool layers of air, mistook the pavement for water and attempted to land. Gliding in with their thirst to settle on water they had been desperately longing for, the pelicans experienced a jolting shock when pain came instead of relief.

I know that feeling. It’s familiar to all of us idol factories.

God refers to our propensity to exchange his glory for worthless idols by using a metaphor of water and thirst. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13). We build our own broken containers from dream vacations to long-sought promotions to sex sprees to substance abuse. We are deluded by the assumption we’ll be able to use them to quench our soul’s thirst. It’s why Jesus offered the Samaritan woman what he called “living water.” She had been trying to land her thirsty longings on the asphalt of failed marriage after failed marriage, and he was offering her the opportunity to dive into real water.

At its core, the issue is our misdirected worship. We weren’t created to worship those things as a human being, that’s not the purpose for which I was originally made.

Taken from life with a capital L: Embracing your God-given humanity, by Matt Heard

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Posted by on November 26, 2014 in Books, Quotes, Scripture, Worship


If Only I Had Known

If only I had known

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Posted by on November 25, 2014 in Photos, Quotes