This Sunday at First Central Bible Church, we will unpack the end of the book of Hebrews. In 13:20-25, the author says that we should praise God that he equips us with everything we need to do his will. Here is a video preview to whet your appetite. Please join us to learn more about what God has done.
Monthly Archives: January 2020
First Central Bible Church recently held its annual meeting where we elected officers, adopted our annual budget, and approved some changes to our constitution. While we have a membership of 185, only 68 attended the meeting. So I wrote a letter to the congregation talking about the changes in our budget and challenging people to pray about our finances and what God would have them give this year..
This was originally published in July 2013 and reposted in April 2017. With the recent death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter and the others in the helicopter with them, I thought perhaps I should repost it again.
I’ve noticed recently that several Christian friends on Facebook post “Rest in Peace” when a well-known actor, author, or celebrity dies. It caused me to ask the question, what exactly do we mean when we say, “Rest in Peace”?
In one sense, death is a time of rest, at least for our physical bodies. Scripture uses the metaphor of “going to sleep” to describe death. This picture is mentioned three times in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Dr. Luke uses the same concept in Acts 7 and the apostle Paul uses it again in 1 Corinthians 15 on two occasions. In Mark, chapter 5, the daughter of a religious leader had died and Jairus, her father, begged Jesus for help. Jesus said, “She’s not dead; she is asleep.” In this sense, death is a time of rest.
In another sense, death is a time when we rest from our labors and enjoy our inheritance. Hebrews 4 talks about the “Sabbath rest” for the people of God. It links the idea to God’s work of creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh day as well as Israel’s wandering in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. Tying them together, to rest means to cease from our labor of trying to earn God’s favor and enjoying the inheritance and blessings he has prepared for us.
This doesn’t mean, however, that eternity will be spent floating on clouds strumming a harp. Scripture pictures heaven as a place where we engage in meaningful activity. We will be engaged in worship (Revelation 22:1-3), praising Christ for providing our salvation. We will also be serving as we reign with Christ in eternity (Revelation 20:6).
However, these pictures of rest are only true of those who trusted Christ for salvation during their lifetime. Those who rejected Christ as savior will find themselves in hell enduring an eternity of suffering (Matthew 13:42, 50).
With this is mind, we need to be careful about whom we say “Rest in Peace” to. We don’t want to come across as closet universalists who believe all people go to heaven regardless of their beliefs or lifestyle. Nor do we want to communicate that we secretly believe God grades on a curve and the more well-known you are, the more likely you will be in heaven. We also don’t want to act as if this life is all there is, and there is no afterlife. In addition, we don’t want to say “Rest in Peace” simply because we don’t know what else to say.
Eternal rest is only available to those who stopped working to earn their salvation. For the Christ follower, they can go to sleep and later wake up in the arms of Jesus. They can rest and fully enjoy the blessings of salvation and heaven.
The world’s idea of faith is summed up in this Non-Sequitur comic strip.
However, faith is based on facts and has a foundation. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Some translations may describe the objective sense, “substance,” or the subjective sense, “confidence” or “assurance.” It helps us to understand that faith is both a conviction and a sense of certainty. One author described it as the title deed on which we build our lives. The verse helps us to understand that faith is the organ that helps us to see the unseen.
The African Impala is a beautiful animal that can jump over a height of ten feet and a span of 30 feet. But it can be kept in a zoo enclosure with only a three-foot wall. The reason is that the impala will not jump where it cannot see where its feet will land. Faith enables us to trust God and to venture into the unknown and the unseen.
C. S. Lewis described the substance of faith when he said, “We trust not because ‘a god’ exists, but because this God exists.” Since we have a record of how God worked in the past, we can trust him for the future.
While faith certainly requires a step of faith, it doesn’t necessity a blind leap. We can step out in faith knowing that God will guide and lead us each step of the way.
We seem to have a love/hate relationship with leadership. We want to be led, but we don’t want to follow. We want leaders to provide clear direction and vision, but we want the freedom to pursue our own agendas. One of the prevailing values of our culture is individualism. And nothing and no one better get in the way of me pursuing ME!
Our emphasis on individualism means that we chafe against the command in Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” And yet, the passage explains that there are benefits for the leader and the individual when we follow this command. As the author explains in Hebrews 13:17-19, Submitting to church leaders makes their job easier and more enjoyable, and we enjoy the benefits as well.
It would be easy for me to skip over this passage out of fear of being perceived as an autocratic dictator or the criticism that might come my way. Whether you shoot the messenger or not, please understand that God speaks clearly about this issue of obedience and submission to church leaders.
Obey your church leaders (17). Since the context of Hebrews 13 is corporate ministry and religious issues, it is evident that the leaders he has in mind as pastors and elders in the church. The author indicates that the aim of church leaders is the benefit or profit of the congregation, especially the good of their souls.
We need to recognize that “Obey your leaders and submit to them” is a command rather than a suggestion. It involves a voluntary subordination, followed by a desire to do what the leader suggests. Rather than focus on the possible exceptions, focus on the clear teaching of Scripture. Keep in mind that submission is only an issue when you don’t agree with what the leader is asking for. Then, you have to make the choice whether or not you will submit.
The author gives several reasons why we should obey and submit. One reason is that pastors and elders maintain a constant watchfulness over the spiritual health of the congregation. A second reason is that God will hold the leaders accountable for how they carried out this task. A third reason is that ministry can either be a joyful exercise or a draining burden depending on how the congregation responds. We can either make the leaders’ task easier or more difficult.
Demand a voice
Make task easier
|Make task harder|
Pray for your church leaders (18-19). While the author of the book has a clear conscience about his life and ministry, he also recognizes he is just as susceptible to temptation as those he is warning. So he asks his readers to pray for him.
How will you respond to these instructions? Let me encourage you to obey your church leaders and pray for your church leaders. Submitting to church leaders makes their job easier and more enjoyable, and you will enjoy the benefits as well.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 26, 2020. 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.
Book Review: Younique: Designing the Life that God Dreamed for You, by Will Mancini
While there are many things you can do, what is the one thing that you must do? What is the one thing that only you can do?
Answering those questions lies at the heart of Will Mancini’s latest offering, Younique: Designing the Life that God Dreamed for You. The author pulls together every possible tool and resource for discovering your personality, purpose, strengths, weakness, operating style, passion, ability, dreams, and environment, and then weaves them together so that they are aiming in the same direction. That will help you discover your “sweet spot” where you will be the most effective, fruitful, and fulfilled.
The book is by far the most comprehensive volume on the topic of discovering your unique life purpose that I have read. That being said, it is also overwhelming and feels like you are drinking from a firehose. One-third of the way through the book, I felt like I was being buried by an avalanche of information. While there are helpful charts and tips for application, I was surprised that there weren’t any worksheets to compile your personal ideas and information and/or links to the various tools you would need to use to discover the unique details about yourself.
While the book is extremely informative, you really need a coach to help you walk through and understand the information and what to do with it. Ideally, it needs a companion workbook for those who are disciplined enough to do it on their own, or perhaps a guide that you could use in a small group to work through it with others.
Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Publishing through the B&H/Lifeway Bloggers program http://www.bhbloggers.com/. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.
This Sunday at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, we will unpack Hebrews 13:17-19 as we consider our “Responsibilities to Church Leaders.” Here’s a video preview of the topic. Hope to see you this weekend.
I used to struggle with people’s expectations. Take your pick—personality, performance, preaching—I don’t measure up to what “they” expect a “perfect pastor” should be and do. In regards to my personality, some want me to be someone different—more gregarious, more outgoing. I’ve been told to my face that I don’t have the right personality to be a pastor. One went so far as to tell me the church would never grow because of my personality.
In my lower moments, I wondered if God made a mistake. He either gave me the wrong personality when he created me, or he should never have called me into ministry. Why did he give me a task that he did not equip me for? Those were the whispers I listened to and told myself.
I was recently reading 1 Corinthians 2 for our monthly elders & wives Bible study. I was struck by the fact that the apostle Paul took great pride in his weakness. That way, the focus was on Jesus rather than himself.
1 Corinthians 2:1–5 – 1And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul explains that he gave up asking God to take away his thorn in the flesh because he learned to depend on God’s grace. He discovered that his weakness was actually a position of strength.
2 Corinthians 12:8–10 – 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Since I seem to fall woefully short on the perfect pastor scale, that must mean there is more room for God to demonstrate his power. My weak personality and preaching skills (according to some) are actually a position of strength. It means God has more room to work and that more glory will go to him. Rather than whine and complain, I need to give thanks that God wired me as he did. I need to spend more time praying that God will demonstrate his grace and power.
Thank you, Lord, for how you put me together. Thank you for the training and experiences you have brought me through. Thank you for my weaknesses and limitations. Thank you for putting in a position where I have to depend on you. Pour out your Spirit and demonstrate your power and glory. Amen!
Book Review: Growing in Holiness: Understanding God’s Role and Yours, by R. C. Sproul
How do you grow spiritually? How do you progress from new faith in Christ to spiritual maturity? This is the question addressed by R. C. Sproul in his book, Growing in Holiness: Understanding God’s Role and Yours. The book is drawn from his lectures and explores the doctrine of sanctification, how to deal with obstacles and continue to grow towards greater maturity in Christ.
The book is written in an easy to read, conversational style. Dr. Sproul presents practical and helpful ideas, both to understand the doctrine of sanctification and how to press forward. He talks about how to deal with the obstacles presented by the world, the flesh, and the devil. He explains how to pursue righteousness. He clearly explains how we can have the assurance of our salvation and greater confidence in Christ. He stresses the importance of displaying love and developing the fruit of the Spirit. The author concludes by encouraging us to grow up into the fullness of Christ.
This is a helpful, practical book for a new believer who wants to understand what the Christian life is all about. It provides encouragement for a Christian who is frustrated by the lack of growth and progress in their life. Whether new to the faith or a long-term believer, the book will encourage all to press on and persevere.
Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.