Monthly Archives: December 2015


When we sin, we do so in God’s presence


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Posted by on December 23, 2015 in Quotes, Tim Challies


I’m dreaming of a White Christmas – New England version

Finally, an honest version of a famous winter song.

White Christmas - New England version

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Posted by on December 22, 2015 in Fun, Winter


Devotional guides should be more than heart-warming stories

Make your own application - Work Woes and WisdomBook Review: Make Your Own Application: Volume 2—Work, Woes, and Wisdom; A 40-Day Devotional, Written by Michael Newnham

I was contacted by the folks at New Wind Business Solutions and their publishing arm, Reader Hill, to see if I was interested in reviewing a new series of devotional books by Michael Newnham, the nationally-known PHOENIX PREACHER blogger. While I had never heard of the author nor his website, “free” and “books” are two of my favorite words. So I agreed to take a look.

The author has written a series of 40-day devotionals under the heading of “Make Your Own Application.” The book I reviewed, Work, Woes, and Wisdom, is the second book in the series. Each devotional is 2-3 pages long, contains a story from the life of the author, and ends with the instruction, “Make your own application.” Some of the devotionals include one verse of Scripture, a few contain a paragraph of Scripture, and perhaps one-third contain no Scripture at all.

I cannot say I was impressed and I would not recommend the series as a devotional tool. At best, it might serve as a source for sermon illustrations. But it does not fit my expectations for a devotional guide. I want a devotional that gets me into the Scriptures, teaches the meaning of a verse or paragraph and guides me in applying the verse(s) in appropriate ways in my life. I find very little help in a feel good story with a verse tacked on that leaves the interpretation and application up to me. I think my negative reaction is also based on the fact that as a pastor, I believe my task is to explain the meaning of the Scriptures and what it looks like in daily life. It is a balance of explanation and application. The idea of merely telling a story without explaining the Scripture and then leaving the application up to the individual is foreign to my way of thinking.

In the bio section, the author claims that his website is one of the top 200 Christian sites on the Internet. It strikes me that his book is a collection of his blog posting and loosely grouped into topics. While the stories are interesting, I would not call them devotional thoughts.

I received this book for free from in exchange 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 December 22, 2015 in Books, Spiritual disciplines


Don’t lose your joy in the midst of the junk

“Don’t lost your joy in the midst of the junk.” Dr. Mark Bailey, President, Dallas Theological Seminary

In John 15:1-11, Jesus explains that the path to fruitful living requires complete attachment to himself. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (4). By staying connected to Jesus and drawing our life and strength from him, we can experience true joy (11).

The problem we face is that we are easily distracted by all the “junk” of life. News about the latest shooting, Presidential debates, marriage and family issues, raising children, caring for aging parents, economic challenges, weather, aches & pains, misunderstandings, unanswered questions, criticism, stress, pleasing an unreasonable boss, satisfying a difficult client, loss, layoffs, … and much, much, more conspire to take our focus off Jesus Christ. We get weighed down by the problems and junk of life and we become negative, cynical, and critical. We lose our joy and chase after substitutes that promise happiness.

In an online course on the Gospel of John, Dr. Mark Bailey reminded his students to stay connected to Jesus. Only by abiding in him can we experience fruitful, meaningful lives. Only by abiding in Jesus can we experience true, lasting joy.

Don’t lose your joy in the midst of the junk.


Wait for the Lord

Psalm 130-5-6

Sunrise over Chicopee, MA, on December 20, 2015

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Posted by on December 21, 2015 in Chicopee, Photos, Scripture, Sunrise


Wise People Ask For Directions

“To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year.” That statement, penned almost 60 years ago by E. B. White, is still true today. Between the grief and mourning over the shootings in San Bernardino, the focus on Presidential debates, fears of terrorism, and the over-commercialization of Christmas shopping, it is difficult to find the meaning in the madness of the season.

Once discovered, people respond in a variety of ways to the message of Christmas. Some are offended. The Freedom From Religion Foundation takes the opportunity of the holidays to promote their manifesto. Some are nonplused. They know the story but go about their business without pausing to consider the meaning. But those who discovered the savior rejoice in his birth. The account of the Magi searching for Jesus portrays all of these responses (Matthew 2:1-12).

There are three main actors in this part of the Christmas drama—King Herod, the wise men, and the star.

King Herod was not Jewish, but was declared “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate. He ruled Palestine from 37-4 B.C. He was cruel and merciless, jealous, suspicious, and paranoid. He killed his enemies including his brother-in-law, one of his wives, and three sons.

Rather than kings, the magi were of a priestly caste from Persia or Babylon. They were skilled in astronomy and astrology. The magi probably learned about the one true God and the coming Messiah from Daniel, who was the leader of the magi (Daniel 2:48).

The star was either a natural phenomenon such as a star, comet, supernova, or conjunction of planets; a supernatural phenomenon; or an angel. The significance is not found in what the phenomenon was but rather what it pointed to.

Verses 1-2 explain that wise people seek Jesus. The wise men saw the star and knew it signified the birth of royalty. They correctly interpreted the signs and knew the messiah of Israel had been born. They traveled some 900 miles from Babylon to seek the newborn king.

On December 17, 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their “flying machine” off the ground. Thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.”

In the same way, the religious leaders of Israel saw the same signs as the magi but completely missed the point. Foolish people ignore Jesus (3-8).

Knowing he is not the rightful heir to David’s throne, Herod feels threatened by the birth of a new king (3). He summons the religious leaders and asks them to explain what the magi were talking about (4). The religious leaders know the facts about the Messiah’s birth, but don’t appear overly impressed (5-6).

Feigning interest, King Herod sends the magi to Bethlehem to finish their quest. Once they find the newborn king, they are to send word to Herod so that he can come and pay his respects (7-8). As the text explains later, Herod is secretly hatching a plot to protect his throne by eliminating a supposed rival (16-18).

Verses 9-12 show that wise people worship Jesus. The star reappears and leads the wise men to the child in Bethlehem (9). The magi honor Jesus as they present their gifts to him (10-11). Their quest ends in worship.

I put together the following chart to compare and contrast the differing responses by the characters in the story. It is difficult not to identify with one of them.

Foolish people

Wise people


Scribes & Priests




















The question each one of us must answer is, “How do we respond to the message of Christmas?” Are we antagonistic? Do we reject the birth of Jesus? Are we apathetic to the news of the gospel? Do we know the story so well that we are no longer moved? Are we just going through the motions? Do we express praise and adoration? Like the wise men, do we come and worship the God who sent his son to be our savior?

The magi discovered that those who seek Jesus Christ are invited to worship him. May we seek him and find him and worship him as well.

This message was preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 20, 2015. It is part of a series on Advent. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


Weather Logic

Perhaps this is why winter is delayed in the Northeast.

Peanuts - run out of snowflakes

We used up so much snow back in February that it is now backordered in December. It’s starting to feel more like a California Christmas than a New England Christmas.

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Posted by on December 19, 2015 in Christmas, Fun


Ripple Effect

PowerPoint Presentation

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Posted by on December 17, 2015 in Scripture


Awana Ugly Sweater Christmas Party

Tonight was our Ugly Sweater Christmas Party in Awana at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA. It was a great night of food, Bible lesson, and presents provided by some generous donors (THANKS to all who gave! The kids were blown away.). Colleen won the contest for the leader’s category of ugly sweaters. It was a wonderful evening.

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Posted by on December 16, 2015 in Awana, First Central Bible Church, Photos


Stop keeping score

Back when I led the adult ministries at Crossroads Bible Church in Bellevue, WA, we held an annual Couples Conference focused on marriage enrichment. One of the tools we used was a series of video sketches by Paul & Nicole Johnson. Carol and I were reminded recently of one entitled, “The Ledger People.” It tells in a humorous manner how couples often keep score rather than truly loving each other. Here’s a YouTube video of the sketch performed by Nan & Ron Deal. Let the laughter penetrate your heart and change how you to relate to others, especially at home.


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Posted by on December 16, 2015 in Marriage, Videos