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Saturday evening, the women of First Central Bible Church hosted their annual Women’s Christmas Friendship Dinner. It is probably our most effective outreach event of the year, when the women invite their unchurched friends to join them for an elegant evening of food, entertainment, conversation, and gospel message. The theme was “Ring the Bells” and it was fitting that the evening’s entertainment was provided by the Hockanum Valley Ringers. My wife, Carol, was the emcee, and Lynn Johnson shared the devotional message. The hospitality team did the cooking and the men of the church served the meal. Thanks go to our Women’s Leadership team–Carol Wheeler, Rose Eldridge, Gail Grant, Tammy Downs, and Carol Faita.
When we come to the story of Christmas, our eyes are drawn to the baby in the manger. Many of our favorite Christmas carols focus on baby Jesus—“Away in a manger,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” “Silent Night,” “What Child is this?” and “Sweet little Jesus boy,” to just name a few. Occasionally, we might reflect that the manger sits in the shadow of the cross and remember that Jesus came to die for the sins of the world. On even fewer occasions do we recall that Jesus is the righteous ruler who will establish a kingdom of justice and peace.
During the season of advent, our church, First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, is examining several of the prophecies in Isaiah. In 9:1-7, we read the divine birth announcement, “It’s a boy!” We discovered that Jesus Christ brings light, joy, peace, and hope to our lives. In 11:1-16, we read a royal announcement, “It’s a king!” We learn that Jesus Christ will establish a kingdom of justice and peace.
In Isaiah 10, God brings judgment on Israel (3-4), Samaria and Judah (11-12), and Assyria (33-34). God’s judgment is like a logger clear cutting a stand of trees. Nothing is left standing. But from a small, inconspicuous stump sprouts a shoot that grows into a spectacularly fruitful tree (11:1). From the humble family of Jesse will come not only King David but Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
As the righteous ruler, Jesus Christ is empowered by the Holy Spirit (11:2). Isaiah pictures what will take place at Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:9-11). The Spirit provided him with wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, and knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
When we hear the word, fear, we think of intimidation, terror, or trepidation. Surprisingly, Isaiah says that the Messiah will take great pleasure in fearing God (11:3). He will have a sense of awe and wonder at who God is. When we fear the Lord, we will respond with awe, trust, obedience, and worship.
A healthy sense of the fear of the Lord will lead to righteous judgment (11:3-5). Jesus will not be swayed by popularity, persuasive arguments, public opinion polls, or bribes. He will judge with righteousness and fairness. The weak will not fear oppression. The guilty will not escape punishment. The righteous ruler will be a just judge.
Isaiah pictures a kingdom of peace established by the coming ruler (11:6-9a). The Messiah will not only change the social order, he will also reestablish nature as it was intended to be. Predators and prey will coexist together in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility.
In the same way that water covers the oceans, so the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God (11:9b). Rather than merely knowing about God, people will live out the truth in obedience.
In what will look like a second exodus, the Messiah will regather his people from the ends of the earth (11:10-16).
As I reflected on this passage, I took away several principles.
You are never too small or insignificant to do something great for God. I may feel like I have nothing to offer. But who knows, I might raise the next great world leader or disciple the next evangelist.
If Jesus needed the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s purpose, how much more do I need his power? I desperately need wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, and knowledge that can only come from God.
Take delight in knowing and fearing God. Rather than checking off my list that I read the Bible, I should take great pleasure in getting to know God better. Instead of treating him with casual indifference, I should maintain a healthy fear of God.
Trust God to be a just judge. I don’t need to take matters into my own hands and seek revenge. God will settle the account in due time. He will be just, fair, and righteous.
Enjoy the peace of God. God can not only break down the barriers, but he can pour out an abundant blessing.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 9, 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.
“People are leaving the church!” “I don’t feel connected!” “The church is slipping away!”
When comments like these are heard, the natural tendency is to want to calm the disgruntled, keep them happy, and satisfy their whims.
In contrast, what we should do is challenge the folks to reengage and serve. That is the conviction of pastor and author Carey Nieuwhof in a blog post entitled, “7 Ways To Grow Church Attendance By Increasing Engagement.” (Thanks go to Robin D for alerting me to the article.)
He begins his article by stating,
In an era of declining church attendance, how do you grow your church and advance your mission?
Well, one key is this: you turn ordinary attenders into passionate champions of the mission.
… For too long, too many North American Christians have thought that sitting passively in the back row to get fed is what’s required of them, or that the main goal of finding a church is to attend one you ‘like.’
The goal of any Christian should never be to find a church you like and sit in the back row. The goal should be to fully engage the mission.
Again and again, it’s engaged Christians who advance the mission.
Engaged people are passionate people. They know what the mission is. They serve in it. They live it out.
They’re passionate enough about it to invite their friends.
His first point, “Challenge people to serve,” resonates with one of my convictions. The best fellowship does not come from social gatherings or even from small groups. The best fellowship comes as we serve alongside others in the cause of Christ.
I know this is near heresy in some circles, but encouraging people to volunteer may be more important than encouraging them to join a group.
At Connexus, where I serve, we’re finding that our healthiest people are not those who are in groups: they’re those who serve. People who serve (as a rule) get the mission. They’re on mission. And they love the mission.
Our goal is to get everyone into a group, but only doing group can lead into a self-centered agenda in the same way sitting in the back row and not engaging the mission is a bit of a selfish approach to church for a long term Christian.
Groups can be about you, whereas serving is almost never about you.
I still think everyone should be in a group, but if group is all you do as a Christian, it can feed into the consumer frenzy that is North American culture.
You might not agree with everything he says, but it will challenge and encourage you to reexamine how we can encourage our congregation to reengage with the mission of the church.
Celebrate the Son!
Is your church effective? Is your church accomplishing its mission and purpose? If not, should you gather your friends and complain about everything that’s wrong? Or you should you get involved and help make a difference?
Pastor and author Carey Nieuwhof has written a blog post entitled, “7 Ways to Grow Church Attendance By Increasing Engagement.” He argues that rather than cater to people’s whims, we should challenge them to get engaged in the mission of the church. That will turn them from passive followers into passionate champions.
The article is well worth the read.
Thanks for your prayers for the preparation of my May 2019 ministry to Russia.
As you may remember, I will be teaching a three-day class on the “Harmony of the Gospels.” Using several different resources, I put together an outline which I have sent off to be translated. I want to give it to the students during the course as a resource for their future studies. I have attached a copy of the pdf file if you’d like to look at it.
As of December 2, I have received $4,659 towards the goal of $6,135 needed for the trip. I’m three-fourths of the way there and only need $1,476 to reach the goal. Half of the funds cover travel expenses and half covers the cost of the pastors and leaders attending the class. I am praying that God will provide the entire amount by the end of this month. I look forward to saying, “Look what God did!” and rejoicing in his generous provision.
If you would like to support the trip financially, you can send a check to First Central Bible Church, 50 Broadway St, Chicopee, MA, 01020. Checks should be made out to FCBC with “Black Sea Conference” in the notation line.
John Musgrave, the missionary I work with in Russia, and I are already talking about what comes after the May trip. There are some exciting possibilities on the horizon. I’ll share more in the future as the plans solidify.
Thanks for your prayers for Carol’s recovery from her knee replacement surgery. She had her right knee replaced in September and her left knee in November. She is doing well and making good progress. A few minutes prior to her second surgery, her anesthesiologist said he had his knees replaced this past year and commented, “It’s the best thing I ever did.” He said it took one year to fully recover, and that this past September he hiked the Himalayas—25 miles and 18,000 feet. It was a very encouraging comment.
Once again, thanks for your prayers and encouragement. Please continue to pray for the preparations and provision of funds. I’m in your debt.