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Category Archives: First Central Bible Church

In praise of effective worship leaders

I am grateful for Dave & Wayne, the worship leaders at our church, First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA. They do a wonderful job in planning and leading our worship services. They work hard at incorporating hymns and praise songs and blending new songs with old ones. They model how to enter God’s presence and worship him. They demonstrate flexibility and openness in allowing me to make suggestions and add new elements to our services. They make it easy for me to preach because they draw people into God’s presence and prepare their hearts to hear from him.

Because of their unique role, they receive as much scrutiny, and sometimes more, as I do for preaching. When we do our jobs well, it often goes unnoticed because people have come to expect high quality. Many times, the only comments we hear are of the complaint variety.

I am grateful for their partnership in ministry.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2019 in First Central Bible Church, Worship

 

Passing the Torch

One of the memorable events of the Olympic Games is the Torch Relay. The Olympic Flame is lit at Olympia in Greece and then carried by relay to the host-city of the games. For the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the flame traveled 101 days through 17 cities and provinces in South Korea. It was carried by runner, cow, robot, hot air balloon, and helicopter. The Torch Relay symbolizes the passing of Olympic traditions from one generation to the next.

Nearing the end of his life, General Joshua is ready to pass the torch to the next generation. When the book opens, Joshua and Caleb are 78 years old. In chapter 14, they are 85 years old.  Chapter 22 occurs that same year and peace is declared after seven years of fighting to conquer the Promised Land. In chapter 24, Joshua dies at the age of 110. Chapter 23, where Joshua passes the torch, occurs somewhere towards the end of his life, between 10-25 years after the events of chapter 22.

Joshua calls the leaders of Israel together (23:2). His message is simple and direct. Because God keeps his promises, we should obey his commandments. Since God has been faithful, we should be faithful.

Joshua begins by reminding the leaders of God’s faithfulness (23:3-5). Over the past seven years, they had been eyewitnesses of God’s power and miracles. They saw God part the Jordan River, bring down the walls of Jericho, rain hail down on the enemy army, and make the sun and moon stand still for the longest day of battle. Not only are these miracles cause for celebration, but they should instill confidence for the future.

In light of God’s faithfulness, we should stay centered on God’s Word (23:6-11). In 1:7-8, God told Joshua to obey and meditate on God’s Word. Now, Joshua instructs the leaders to keep and do God’s Word (23:6). As Joshua knew firsthand, it was the secret of success.

Joshua cautions Israel about not giving in to small compromises (23:7). Instead, they are to cling tightly to God (23:8). The word “cling” is the same word used in Genesis 2:24 to describe a marriage relationship. In the same way that a marriage is made strong by a husband and wife holding fast to each other, so we are to cling to God. Clinging to God will bring power and victory (23:9-10).

In addition, Joshua challenges the leaders to love God with all of their being (23:11). Centering your life and God’s Word, clinging tightly to him, and loving him with all your heart will protect us from falling away from God.

Joshua closes his charge by reminding the leaders of what will happen if they disobey (23:12-16). If they give in to the short-term pleasure of sin and choose to associate and intermarry with their neighbors, they will lose God’s favor and he will no longer fight their battles for them. In addition, their neighbors will become a snare, trap, whip, and thorns. And they themselves will ultimately perish.

Godly living is not accomplished by winning a single skirmish but by enlisting for lifelong service. For Joshua and Israel, the clashing of swords had stopped, but the need for a faithful, diligent commitment was greater than ever.

Because God keeps his promises, we should obey his commandments.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 13, 2019. It is part of a series of sermons on the book of Joshua. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

2019 Annual Report

Each year, the ministry leaders of First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, publish an annual report. It is a combination of looking back and celebrating what God did in the previous year and looking forward and giving a glimpse of the plans for the coming year. Here is the one I wrote as the Senior Pastor.

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Words that begin with the letter “R” could be used to sum up the past year for me—recovery, rehab, Russia, and renovation.

I spent the early part of 2018 in recovery and rehab. When I fell and broke my leg in November 2017, I was told the recovery would take several months. The bone needed to heal and I needed to rebuild the strength in the muscles. While I was on the disabled list, Jack Gilbert filled in admirably and preached in my absence. When I returned, I spent several months preaching while sitting on a stool. Then I spent a few weeks standing during the first half of the sermon and sitting during the second half. While my leg is still not 100%, I am on my feet and walking. During my recovery, God taught me several lessons about prayer, relying on his grace, asking for help, and “walking” with him more closely. I am grateful for all the help, prayer support, and encouragement from the congregation.

In April, I returned to Russia to continue teaching and training pastors and young leaders. I have gone once a year since 2011 to teach a series of 3-day classes on a book of the Bible. In 2018, I taught the book of Revelation. In May 2019, I will be teaching a harmony of the gospels, weaving together Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These trips allow me to model short-term missions for the congregation and to invest in the next generation in Russia. I will be going to Russia twice in 2019. In May, I will teach another 3-day class in Anapa and Elista. In October, Carol and I have been asked to teach a seminar in Moscow on leadership development—how to identify and train leaders.

In September, we completed the two-year process of renovating our facility. 18 months of planning and six months of construction. Thanks go to our renovation team—Dave Guilbert, Doug McVeigh, Carol Wheeler, and Dave Krok—for their tireless efforts, as well as to our Trustees for their volunteer labor in helping move the project forward. Thank you to all who gave of their time and finances so that we could renovate our facility and better prepare it for ministry for the next generation.

In April, Carol and I will be attending a seven-day retreat in Colorado called SonScape. The retreat is designed for pastors, missionaries, and parachurch leaders seeking a retreat to deepen their walk with Jesus or to sort out the struggles of ministry life. SonScape offers something very different from a busy pastors’ conference with loads of information and a packed schedule. The retreats offer a welcoming atmosphere, engaging program, and relaxing schedule. The retreats are small in size, with only four couples in each session, which allows for more personalized attention. The teaching/discussion topics include: (1) Intimacy with Jesus; (2) Living as “You” in Ministry; (3) Wounds and Losses; (4) Biblical Ministry; (5) Sabbath Rest; and (6) Audience of One. Carol and I attended one of the retreats in 2011 and found it very insightful, encouraging, and beneficial. We thought it would be wise to get a refresher as we think about and prepare for the next decade of life and ministry.

After we conclude our study of the book of Joshua, we will work our way through the book of Hebrews on Sunday mornings. Allowing for Easter and Advent, that series will take us into February 2020.

As we move into this next year, I encourage all of us to choose our perspective. Rather than succumb to the negativity and cynicism of our culture, choose to focus on the goodness and grace of God. Give thanks for who God is and what he has done in your life. Ask him to increase your faith and trust him for greater things in 2019.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2019 in First Central Bible Church

 

When Misunderstandings Arise

While we may speak the same language, it doesn’t mean we use the same definitions. It follows that misunderstandings are part of daily life. Sometimes they lead to laughter, sometimes to broken relationships, and other times to conflict and war. Joshua 22 tells the story of a conflict between family members that led to the brink of civil war.

After seven years of conflict, the conquest of the Promised Land is complete (21:43-45).  General Joshua dismisses his troops to their well-deserved rest (22:1-4). Joshua 13-21 describes how the land was parceled out among the 12 tribes of Israel. According to Numbers 32, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh decided to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan River rather than inside the Promised Land.

As Joshua dismisses the soldiers, he is like a concerned parent watching a son or daughter go off to college or into the world. He wonders whether or not they will walk with God. So Joshua challenges the people to the deepest spiritual commitment with six short commands—pay attention to God’s instructions; love the Lord your God; walk in his ways; keep his commandments; cling to God; serve God with all your heart and soul (22:5).

As the two and a half tribes head east, they set up a large, imposing altar on the eastern side of the Jordan River (22:10). The tribes who stayed in the Promised Land immediately jumped to the conclusion that their brothers had abandoned the faith. They were ready to go to war to bring them back (22:11-12).

On the one hand, Israel was to be commended because they took the holiness of God seriously. They were not willing to compromise one iota. On the other hand, they based their judgement on circumstantial evidence. They were cynical and suspicious and believed the worst rather than believing the best about their friends and family.

Rather than avoiding conflict at any cost, Israel formed a delegation to confront their supposed erring brothers (22:13-20). They went directly to their brothers and spoke what they thought was the truth. Unfortunately, they failed to ask questions and get all the facts first.

The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and east Manasseh could have acted offended and sullenly refused to listen to the wrong accusations. However, they wisely took the opportunity to present their reasoning (22:22-23). In doing so, they also engaged in some blame shifting as they too had believed the worst about the tribes who remained in the Promised Land (22:24-25). They explained that rather than setting up a competing altar for worship, their replica altar was a witness to the unity of the entire nation (22;26-29, 34).

After hearing the explanation, the delegation from the west was satisfied and peace was restored (22:30-33).

In the Bible Knowledge Commentary, Dr. Donald Campbell gives four principles we can take from this chapter. (1) It is commendable for believers to be zealous for the purity of the faith. Compromise of truth is always costly. (2) It is wrong to judge people’s motives on the basis of circumstantial evidence. It is important to get all the facts, remembering that there are always two sides to every dispute. (3) Frank and open discussion will often clear the air and lead to reconciliation. But such a confrontation should be approached in a spirit of gentleness, not arrogance. (4) A person who is wrongly accused does well to remember the wise counsel of Solomon, “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:11).

When misunderstandings arise, seek to be a peacemaker. In his book Living on the Cutting Edge: Joshua and the Challenge of Spiritual Leadership, Pastor R. Kent Hughes offers his adaptation of the beatitudes with these words—“Blessed are those who … do not assume the worst when they hear of the sins of another; go directly to supposed sinners; are frank and up-front about their concerns; are loving and magnanimous in their confrontations over sin; reprove their sinning brother in private; go a second time to their brother with others who care; will, when all else fails, tell it to the church—with tears.”

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 6, 2019. It is part of a series of sermons on the book of Joshua. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Women’s Ministry Q&A with Pastor Mark & Jack

The women’s ministry at First Central Bible Church hosted a Q&A session with me and Jack Gilbert, our Minister of Adults and Outreach. It was designed as a follow-up to the Women’s Christmas Friendship Dinner. Though lightly attended, it was a good time of discussion.

Here’s a list of the questions that were asked and how Jack and I answered them.

Should we pray for immoral leaders? If so, what do we pray? Yes, 1 Timothy 2:1-2 says we should pray for all who are in authority. In Paul’s day, that meant Caesar, the leader of the Roman empire.

How can a Christ follower die well? One aspect is to start preparing now by studying what Scripture says about death, eternity, and heaven. A second aspect is to believe what you believe. A third aspect is to spend time with believers who are dying to encourage them by reading Scripture, singing favorite hymns and praise songs, and praying with them.

Is demon possession real? How is it manifest in today’s world? Yes, we are in the midst of a spiritual battle. There are some demons who possess individuals and it is seen in overt evil. They are other demons who influence people in making wrong decisions. Still others might masquerade as good people who lead others astray. Any time a believer engages in sin, they allow Satan to gain a foothold in their life (Ephesians 4:26-27; 1 Timothy 6:9-10).

How can we pray for someone’s salvation when we struggle to believe they can be saved? Claim the promises of Scripture about salvation (2 Peter 3:9). Be honest with God about your lack of faith. Ask him to increase your faith. Stay faithful in praying for the person.

Do you have plans to teach/preach a series on the book of Revelation? Not at this time. The book has been taught twice in the past six years at the church. Since I taught it last year when I was in Russia, my sense is that it would probably fit best in a classroom setting where people could ask questions.

How do you determine what you will preach on next? My philosophy is to preach the whole counsel of God. I try to balance teaching through Old Testament books, New Testament books, and topical series. I plan out my sermon calendar 6-24 months in advance so I know where we are going. This month we will wrap up our study of the book of Joshua. Next month we begin a study of the book of Hebrews which will take us into 2020. After that, we will study the life of David.

When it says God rested on the seventh day of creation, one author says he is still resting. Is that true and if so, what does it mean? Without reading the quote, I’m not certain what the author meant. Scripture says that God rested from his creation because it was complete. However, Scripture also says that God is actively at work in other areas of our lives (Philippians 2:12-13).

What is the role of good works in salvation? In the life of a Christ follower? Ephesians 2:8-10 and James 2:14-26 would be the core passages on the subject. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Good works play no part in our salvation. After we are saved, we are to engage in good works as evidence of our salvation.

 

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.

 

 
 

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.