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Monthly Archives: December 2018

Lord, increase my faith

A prayer at the end of a year

Lord, increase my faith. I live among people who are jaded and cynical because of fake news. It is so tempting to begin to view your promises in the same way. It is so easy to believe your promises are too good to be true. Help me to take you at your word and believe what you say.

Lord, increase my faith. I live in a world that seems to become more evil every day. People become more negative as time passes. It is so easy to wonder if prayer even makes a difference. It is so tempting to forget that you can change hearts and lives. Help me to focus on what you are doing in the world. Help me to pray, believing that you can change hearts.

Lord, increase my faith. I live in a world that is permeated with a scarcity mentality. “There is only so much time, money, and energy available. When it’s gone, it’s gone.” It is so easy to forget that you are able to do abundantly beyond what we ask or think. It is so easy to forget that you are almighty God for whom nothing is impossible. Help me to trust you to provide all that is needed and more besides.

Lord, increase my faith. I live in a world that is punctuated by pragmatism. “Use your brain. Do what works. Take the safe, sure, easy, secure route.” It is so easy to think I can live without faith. It is so tempting to only attempt what I can do in my own power. Help me to step out in faith and take more risks for your glory.

Lord, increase my faith. I live in a world that goes through the motions. “Take it easy. Don’t work too hard. Just do what needs to be done, nothing more.” It is so easy to stop dreaming of “what if?” It is so tempting to stop asking, “what might God want me to do?” It is so easy to merely coast along. Help me to dream. Help me to work hard for your purposes. Cause me to grow.

Lord, increase my faith. The pressures are so great that I am tempted to jump into work and skip reading your word and praying. It is so easy to succumb to the pressure to be productive. Help me to “waste time with God.” Help me to saturate my mind with your word. Help me to submit my plans and schedule to you first. Help me to center my life and day on you.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. Lord, increase my faith.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2018 in Personal growth, Prayer

 
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How are you using your life?

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2018 in Quotes, Tim Challies

 

Snow ! or ?

The comic strip, Betty, accurately presents our love/hate relationship with snow. We want a white Christmas where we can enjoy the beauty of the falling snow, take romantic walks, and play in the snow. But when it comes to shoveling snow, driving and living in it … not so much.

Perhaps Calvin & Hobbes sums up our feelings about snow the best.

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2018 in Calvin and Hobbes, Winter

 

Over the years and across the miles

Happy anniversary to my wife, best friend, and lover. 38 years is too short a time to be married to your best friend. We’ve gone from SoCal to Western MA, with stops in Dallas, TX; Anaheim, CA; Wheaton, IL; Moreno Valley, CA; Redmond, WA; Sammamish, WA; and now Chicopee, MA. We’ve served Christ at churches in Wheaton, Bellevue, Seattle, and Chicopee. We’ve led ministry teams to Toral and Malaga, Spain; Moscow, Tsibanobalka, and Anapa, Russia. We’ve traveled up and down the West Coast, across the States, visited London and New Zealand. We’ve celebrated graduations and weddings, sorrowed at funerals, and encouraged each other with rehab. We’ve experienced, benefited from, and enjoyed the grace of God through the ups and downs of life over the years and across the miles. May God grant us many more years to serve him together!

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2018 in Family & Friends, Personal growth, Photos, Weddings

 

Christmas devotionals

Jack Gilbert was able to capture two videos from our Christmas Eve service at First Central Bible Church. In one, I am reading the book, The Littlest Magi, to our children. In the other, I am sharing a devotional, “How do you wrap an indescribable gift?” Thanks, Jack.

 

 
 
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Celebrate the Son!

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2018 in Christmas, Isaiah, Scripture

 

How do you wrap an indescribable gift?

Christmas gifts are part of our celebration of the season. We often wrap packages creatively to add to the festivity. Sometimes, we take the Matryoshka doll approach. We wrap small packages in successively larger boxes. Maybe you wrap a globe to look like a basketball. You camouflage an educational gift to look like a toy.

In 2 Corinthians 9:15, the apostle Paul referred to Jesus as an indescribable gift from God. If you were God, how would you wrap an indescribable gift?

Jesus came wrapped in prophecy. Isaiah 7:14 tells us that Jesus would be born of a virgin. Isaiah 9:6 said that this child would have a significant future. He would come from the family of King David, according to Isaiah 11:1. Micah 5:2 identifies his birthplace, the city of Bethlehem.

God also wrapped Jesus in history. According to Galatians 4:4, Jesus was born at a certain point of history, when everything was ready.

Jesus also came wrapped in mystery. Luke 2:9 explains that Jesus’ birth was accompanied by angelic messengers. Luke 2:14–17 gives more clues about this mystery. This is the incarnation—the glory of God in human form.

Imagine that your parents or spouse or a friend spend all year long looking for the perfect gift for you. They pick out something they know you will love. It is something you will exclaim, “It’s what I always wanted.”

They wrap the gift creatively. It has shiny paper and beautiful bow. It has a tag with your name on it. They place the gift prominently in front of the Christmas tree where you can’t miss it. But rather than open the package and enjoy the gift, you leave it sitting under the tree. You push it to the side. You ignore it.

God has given the best gift of all to you and me. The gift came wrapped in prophecy, history, and mystery. To enjoy the gift, we have to receive it. In John 1:12, we read, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

God offers each one of us the gift of salvation, the gift of forgiveness. He offers us the gift of becoming part of his family.

This Christmas, let me encourage you to receive his gift. It is as easy as A-B-C.

  • Admit you are a sinner.
  • Believe the message that Christ died for your sins.
  • receive Christ as Savior and Lord.

This is the synopsis of a message shared at the Christmas Eve service on December 24 at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA.

 
 

Christmas Brings a Savior who Died for our Sins

Christmas is a study in contrasts. The light of the world shines in a world of deep darkness. A child born in obscurity who will reign over all. A message of hope announced to outcasts on the fringe of society. Perhaps the most shocking contrast is that the child was born to die. The manger sits in the shadow of the cross.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 points a prophetic portrait of the Messiah as the suffering servant. Through five stanzas of three verses each, the prophet describes the inconspicuous, unappreciated servant of the Lord who will suffer and die for the sins of the world. Stanzas one and five speak of his exaltation, two and four address his rejection, and stanza three highlights the redemption he provides.

This is perhaps the best-known section in the book of Isaiah. It is widely quoted in the New Testament. Most of the passage concerns the suffering and rejection of the Messiah, but the main point is that his suffering will lead to exaltation and glory. The passage is at the heart of the gospel message.

Stanza 1: Exaltation—Though unrecognized, the Messiah will be successful (52:13-15).

The servant will act wisely in accomplishing his mission on the earth. As a result, he will be highly exalted.

By earthly standards, Jesus was not attractive when he was on earth. During his trial and crucifixion, he became so disfigured that people were repulsed by his appearance. Yet it was his extreme suffering that gave him the power to cleanse us from our sins.

In response, people will be struck dumb. They will stand in slack-jawed amazement.

Stanza 2: Rejection—Though unimaginable, the Messiah was rejected (53:1-3).

So few people will believe the message about the servant. So few will acknowledge the message as coming from God. The responses will move from simple astonishment to outright rejection.

People might say pleasant and complimentary things about Jesus. They will praise his ethics and his teaching. They will proclaim him a good man and a prophet. They will say he has the answers to the problems of society. However, they will not acknowledge that they are sinners and deserve punishment, and that Christ’s death satisfied the justice of God and reconciled us to God.

Stanza 3: Redemption—Though we deserved the punishment, the Messiah took it on himself (53:4-6).

The servant is characterized by grief and sorrow, but they are not his own. God was not punishing him. Instead, he was bearing the consequences of our sin.

The essence of sin is going your own way, rather than God’s way. The tendency of sheep is to follow others, even to their own destruction. Humans are no better.

We are fortunate that we have a shepherd who gave his life for the sheep, namely you and me.

Stanza 4: Rejection—Though innocent, the Messiah silently submitted to suffering (53:7-9).

Sheep are submissive when being sheared or slaughtered. That is the picture of Jesus as he quietly submitted to his death because he knew it would benefit those who would believe in him.

If his life ended with the grave, his heroism would have been admirable but futile. The empty tomb proved that there was more to his death than anyone realized.

Stanza 5: Exaltation—Though the Messiah’s death appeared a tragedy, it was part of God’s plan and would result in victory (53:10-12).

The suffering and death of the servant was clearly God’s will. None of this was accidental, it was all intended. His suffering was a guilt offering, but not for his own sins, but for those of the people. Still, God made him prosper.

His suffering led to life. Because his substitutionary work was completed, he now can justify those who believe. His bore our punishment so we would not have to die. Because of his sacrifice, he can now make many righteous.

Isaiah gives us a multi-faceted portrait of the message of Christmas. Jesus Christ is the child who brings hope to the world (9:1-7). Jesus is the king who will establish a kingdom of justice and peace (11:1-16). Jesus is the shepherd who delivers his people (40:1-11). Jesus is the savior who died for our sins (52:13-53:12).

Celebrating Christmas is as easy as A-B-C. Admit you are a sinner. Believe the gospel that Christ paid the penalty for your sins. Receive Christ as Savior and Lord.

Give thanks for the Savior who was born in Bethlehem and who died that you might be forgiven. Celebrate the Son!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 23, 2018. It is part of a series on The Message of Christmas. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Christmas flashback

This week, the comic strip “Arlo & Janis” included an aluminum Christmas tree and color wheel as part of the story line. My family had one in SoCal in the late 60’s. What a flashback of the ghosts of Christmas’ past.

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2018 in Christmas, Culture, Fun

 

Sword Brothers

In several of his novels about Celtic history, author Stephen R. Lawhead makes use of the term, “sword brothers.” It is a term of affection that one character uses to refer to the men he goes into battle with. His sword brothers are those he counts on to uphold him, protect him, and fight at his side in the cause they are pursuing.

I was reminded of the term as Carol and I hosted two gatherings at our home this past week. On one evening, our elders and wives gathered for our annual Christmas dinner. Carol and I cook and serve the meal as a way of saying “Thank you” to the team that upholds, protects, and fights with and for us. On another occasion, we hosted our staff Christmas lunch at our home. This meal was catered and provided a time when our staff and office volunteers could celebrate what God has done in and through us in the past year.

I am grateful for my sword brothers and sisters in our elder and ministry staff team—Stan & Christine, Joe & Peg, Doug & Nancy, Doug & Robin, and Jack & Simcha. I am indebted to my sword brothers and sisters among our office staff and volunteers—Jack, Robin, Gail, Robin, Dave, John, Bev, Flavia, Brenden, Lee, Marie, and Chris. All of these folks support, encourage, challenge, pray, serve, give, guard, protect, uphold … and make me look better than I am.

Thanks for being a vital part of our team at First Central Bible Church. I am in your debt.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2018 in Church, First Central Bible Church