For close to 115 years, the congregation of First Central Bible Church has gathered at Szot Park for our annual Thanksgiving Bonfire and Praise Service. It is a wonderful way to start Thanksgiving Day, by singing hymns and praise songs, sharing favorite verses, talking about what God has done in our lives the past year, and then ending with a time of fellowship, coffee, hot chocolate, and donuts. About 45 people joined us this morning. 40 degree weather was quite balmy compared to 11 degrees last year. Thanks be to God!
Monthly Archives: November 2019
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.
Occasionally, cartoonists speak the truth. The writer and artist of Non-Sequitur comes close to the truth of Scripture with this comic.
In one sense, the author is expressing what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 7:21–23 – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
On the Day of Judgment, there might be many people who know the language but who never really knew the Savior.
In another sense, the author misses the point completely. Good works and a consistent lifestyle will NOT get anyone into heaven. Only faith in Jesus Christ will enable anyone to enter God’s presence.
John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Ephesians 2:8-9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Resolve the matter of faith and forgiveness today. Don’t wait until you stand before God.
For several years now, I have seen spots before my eyes. In non-technical terms, they are “eye floaters.” My doctor said it was nothing to be worried about. He said that as we age, the fluid in our eyes can dry or harden and the small pieces begin to clump together and float. Generally, they are transparent, but occasionally they will catch the light and appear as shadows in your vision. Most of the time, I don’t see them, but depending on what type or color of background or wall I’m looking at, I will become aware of them.
As a pastor, I am aware of a different type of floater. These are people who float in and out of the church and never seem to attach or connect. One group of floaters are those who float in and out from week to week. Perhaps they attend once or twice a month and yet consider your place their church home. Another type is even more sporadic in their attendance, floating between your church and their cabin in the woods or camping at the lake. Still others are what are termed as CEOs—Christmas & Easter Only. They show up during the holidays and are gone for several weeks and months before turning up again.
Another group of floaters are those who come into the church excited and enthusiastic. They love the preaching and the music. They gush about the programs. They want to be discipled. They desire to serve. Over time, they may even become members. But then one day, you realize you haven’t seen them for several weeks. Apparently, their roots were too shallow and they drifted away. On very few occasions, they will say “goodbye” and explain why they are leaving. Perhaps it was a perceived slight or offense. Perhaps they didn’t have as much influence as they were hoping for. Maybe the pastor didn’t greet them or the worship leader didn’t incorporate their favorite song into the worship set. More often than not, they simply floated away without saying anything. It’s only later that you begin to notice their absence and wonder, “Whatever happened to so-and-so?”
Floaters in the eyes may be a natural part of aging. On occasion, however, it could be a sign of something more serious that needs to be checked and corrected. Floaters in the church may be a reflection of our culture and our lack of commitment and connection. On occasion, however, it could be a sign of a weakness in the church or the individual that needs to be checked or corrected.
If your eyes have floaters, talk to your doctor. If your church has floaters, ask the people graciously why they stopped attending. If there is something that needs to be corrected and/or healed, do what you can to fix the problem. If you are a floater, get counsel from a trusted friend as to what is holding you back from committing yourself to a church body.
In running, they talk about the phenomenon of “hitting the wall.” It is the sudden fatigue and loss of energy that comes from using up all the nutritional reserves stored in your body. Maybe you hit the wall because of a mountain of debt or the unexpectedly poor results of a medical test. Perhaps the constant conflict in your family leaves you feeling drained and hopeless. Maybe your spiritual life feels desert like and you find yourself running on empty.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we are in a race. His message in 12:12-17 is that in order to finish the race, we need to run hard in the company of others and remove the obstacles that threaten to trip us up.
He begins verse 12 with the simple word, “therefore.” He is connecting his instructions with what he said previously. In verses 1-3, he explained that we are to run the race of the Christian life with our eyes on Jesus. Now, he says that we are to finish the race. In between (4-11), he explains that we are to accept God’s discipline in order to grow. By using the athletic metaphor of being in a race, it helps us understand how and why God uses discipline in our lives—to help us run and finish well.
Run hard in the company of others (12-14). His first instruction in verse 12 speaks of personal responsibility. When we feel worn out, run down, discouraged, and ready to give up, we need to renew our strength. Keeping our focus on Jesus and understanding God’s purpose in discipline will help invigorate us. We also need to abandon fear and despair and keep running.
However, we are not to run alone. We need to remember and practice the “one another” commands found in the book. In so doing, we will be able to help those who are weaker than we are.
We are to run hard after peace and holiness. The natural tendency when we are in the midst of trials is to look out for number one. Instead, we are to strive for peace with everyone. That does not mean we will achieve peace with everyone, but it should be our goal. We are also to pursue holiness. We are to cast off sin and press hard after holiness.
By doing these things, we can rest assured that we will arrive at the finish line. We will see the Lord when we step into his presence.
Remove the obstacles that threaten to trip us up (13, 15-17). Like a road grader smoothing out uneven ground, so we are to remove the obstacles that cause us to sin. The author gives four specific obstacles to get rid off—gracelessness, bitterness, immorality, and worldliness. A person might miss out on grace because of unconfessed sin, a lack of God’s word in their life, or being absent from church. One can develop a bitter spirit through continued anger, unforgiveness, nursing grudges, or always complaining, “It’s not fair!” Bitterness will poison not only your heart, but those around you. Pursuing sexual satisfaction outside the bonds of a husband-wife marriage will trip one up as well. In addition, a worldly attitude of instant gratification can lead to deep heartache and regret. That was the experience of Esau who traded away his inheritance for a single meal.
What obstacles are holding you back from spiritual growth? Have you given up and stopped trying? Are you trying to do it on your own? Are their broken relationships or unconfessed sin in your life? Are you experiencing a spiritual famine because you stopped reading God’s word or attending church? Are you struggling with pornography or having an affair? Is your heart filled with worldly desires? If your answer is “Yes” to any of these questions, then confess your sin and repent.
If you want to finish well, then renew your strength, run hard, run with others, and pursue peace and holiness. Remove any and every obstacle that is tripping you up and hindering you from moving forward.
Remove the obstacles. Run hard with others. Finish well!
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on November 24, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
When we are suffering, it is easy to feel sorry for ourselves. We can begin to think that God does not care about us. We can harbor doubts about whether or not God really loves us.
The author of the book of Hebrews is writing to a group of people who are beginning to face persecution. Some are questioning whether or not to leave the faith and return to Judaism. He writes his letter to encourage them to remain faithful. In Hebrews 12:4-11, he tries to put their suffering into perspective. He explains that trials come from the hand of a loving God who uses them to produce greater spiritual growth in our lives. He wants his readers to remember four things when they face trials.
When you find yourself in the middle of a trial, remember that …
It’s not as bad as it could be (4). The Christian life can be a struggle. We try to avoid persecution from sinful people. But we also have to avoid sinful situations where we might be tempted to compromise our faith. Regardless of how challenging our opposition, it hasn’t yet cost us our lives. While the readers of Hebrews might be aware of those who were martyred, that type of persecution hasn’t yet come to them.
Scripture gives us a different perspective about trials (5). Apparently, the readers of Hebrews had forgotten the encouragement found in Proverbs 3:11-12. On the one hand, we should not treat God’s discipline lightly. We might do this by developing calloused hearts, by complaining, by questioning God, or by becoming indifferent. On the other hand, we should not give up and throw in the towel. We need to remember that God uses trials to cause us to grow.
God’s discipline demonstrates we are one of his children (6-8). Rather than being proof that God doesn’t love us, his discipline actually demonstrates how much he cares for us. It proves we have a relationship with him. God can and will use both positive and negative methods, both discipline and punishment. Punishment focuses on past misdeeds while discipline focuses on future correct deeds. Punishment aims to punish wrongdoing and produce remorse and repentance. Discipline aims to train us for maturity and will result in a sense of security and belonging. Because we belong to God, he is actively involved in our spiritual growth.
God’s discipline has positive results (9-11). While no one enjoys discipline, we can take comfort that it results in a deeper, more abundant life and we can share in God’s holiness and righteousness. Though painful and challenging, it is worth it in the end.
Dr. Tom Constable tells the story about some birds that built a nest in his garage. “During some spring seasons, I used to notice that birds were building a nest in my garage. When I saw that, I moved the nest outside. It would not be safe for the birds to live in the garage, since their access to the outdoors would be greatly limited by the closed door. I am sure that they did not appreciate my moving their nest from it secure place indoors. But I had to do it for their welfare. Likewise, God sometimes moves our nests from comfortable places to locations that are better for us in the long run.”
A loving Father uses trials to stimulate our spiritual growth.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on November 17, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.