RSS

Category Archives: First Central Bible Church

Preparing for Victory

National Geographic once ran an article about the Alaskan Bull Moose. The males of the species battle for dominance during the fall breeding season, literally going head-to-head with antlers crunching together as they collide. Often the antlers, their only weapon, are broken. That ensures defeat. The heftiest moose, with the largest and strongest antlers, triumphs. Therefore, the battle fought in the fall is really won during the summer, when the moose eat continually. The one that consumes the best diet for growing antlers and gaining weight will be the heavyweight in the fight. Those that eat inadequately sport weaker antlers and less bulk. The Bull Moose has to learn the principle that strength for trials is best developed before it’s needed.

What is true for the Bull Moose is also true for us. Victory is not won during the battle. Victory is won during the preparation. If we want victory over the trials that will come our way, we must commit ourselves to holiness. Only then can we enjoy the protection and blessings that God promises.

In Joshua 5:1-15, Joshua learns four key principles about preparing for victory. He must recognize God’s providence, recommit himself to obey God’s plan, rejoice in God’s provision, and recognize God’s presence.

Recognize God’s Providence (1). The miracle of the parting of the Jordan River accomplished two key things. One is that the surrounding nations were completely intimidated. The second is that the enemy understood God was fighting for Israel. If we want victory, we must train our spiritual eyesight to see where God is already at work. Then we join him and participate in his plan.

Recommit yourself to obey God’s Plan (2-9). Israel now finds themselves between the flood swollen Jordan River and the city of Jericho. Rather than issue the order to attack, Joshua instructs the people to prepare themselves spiritually. In so doing, Joshua helps the people understand that they were facing a spiritual battle, not merely a physical one.

On the one hand, it seems odd that God would reinstitute the practice of circumcision at this point in time. If nothing else, Israel will be vulnerable while the men heal from the operation. On the other hand, since circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, Israel needed to reaffirm their relationship with God before they could claim the covenant land. They also needed to be circumcised before they could celebrate the Passover.

Since the nature of our battle is spiritual, it requires that we not only prepare our bodies and minds, but that we prepare our hearts to obey.

Rejoice in God’s Provision (10-12). Now that they have reaffirmed their commitment to God, Israel could celebrate the Passover in their new home. God stopped providing their daily provision of manna and the people started living off the land.

Sometimes God provides through extraordinary means. Sometimes he provides through ordinary means. Sometimes he provides manna and sometimes he provides through the normal cycle of planting and harvesting. Either way, we need to discover that God’s grace is enough and we should give thanks.

Recognize God’s Presence (13-15). Feeling the lonely pressures of leadership, Joshua seemingly goes for a nighttime stroll near the city of Jericho. He encounters an unknown warrior and challenges him, “Friend or foe?” The warrior identifies himself as the Captain of the army of heaven.

Like Joshua, there are times when we ask, “Whose side is God on?” Instead, God asks us, “Whose side are you on?” Like Joshua, we need to learn to depend on God for success. We must come into his presence with humility and worship him. Only then do we discover that God is ready and willing to fight our battles for us.

Where do you need victory today? Are you dealing with a difficult boss? Are you facing opposition at school/home/work? Are you trying to share the gospel with a neighbor? Do you need strength in caring for a loved one?

Public victories are won in private. We must be spiritually prepared if we want to do God’s work effectively. We must commit ourselves to holiness if we want to enjoy God’s protection and blessings.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on October 21, 2018. 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.

 

A change in our Sunday morning worship schedule

Beginning December 2 as we enter the season of Advent, we will make a change to our Sunday morning schedule at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA. Below is a letter to the congregation explaining the details.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 18, 2018 in First Central Bible Church, Worship

 

What do these stones mean?

What do you have that reminds you God answers prayer? What helps you remember God’s good gifts down through the years?

When our children were young, we had a prodigal hamster named Smokey. One Friday morning, we discovered Smokey was not in his cage. We turned the house upside down looking for him. Before sending the kids to school, we gathered together and prayed that God would keep Smokey safe and return him to us. Throughout the day, I continued to pray that God would return Smokey safely so that my children would know God answers prayer. Twenty-four hours later, he showed up in my son’s bedroom. Placing him back in his cage, he gulped down as much food and water as he could hold. We gathered as a family and prayed again, this time thanking God for answering prayer and returning the wayward rodent back safely. Afterwards, I wrote the details down in my journal so that I would not forget God’s goodness to my children.

Following the death of Moses, the children of Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land. Poised on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, opposite the city of Jericho, they awaited the orders of General Joshua. In Joshua 4, God gave Joshua his marching orders, which included a curious directive. Twelve men, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, were to each take one stone from the middle of the Jordan River to the place of the first night’s encampment. There they were to erect a 12-stone memorial over the dry riverbed of the Jordan. These stones were to act as a vivid reminder (a memorial) of God’s work of deliverance and an effective means for the Israelites to teach the next generation.

God commanded Joshua to establish “Stones of Remembrance” (1-7). Kneeling at the foot of the Ark of the Covenant in the middle of the dry riverbed, 12 men pried up large stones and then carried them on their shoulders some eight miles to Gilgal, the site of their new camp site. We don’t know if they piled them in a heap or arranged them in a circle, but it was a monument to the momentous event they just witnessed.

Verse nine indicates that Joshua erected a similar monument in the middle of the riverbed. This second memorial would only be visible when the Jordan was at its lowest level.

There must have been shouts of joy when the priests stepped out of the riverbed and the waters of the Jordan roared back. There was probably dancing and singing around the campfires that night.

In God’s good timing, they arrived in the Promised Land on the tenth day of the first month. On that same day forty years previous the first Passover Lamb was selected (Exodus 12:3-6). God had arranged for their arrival in Canaan four days before the annual Passover was to be celebrated, on the very day when preparations were to begin.

The stones of remembrance were to remind people of the past (7), witness to the nations in the present (23-24), create a teachable moment in the future (6, 21-22), and inspire people to trust God forever (24).

Since there was no Instagram account or Facebook page commemorating the event, God provided Israel with a visible reminder of the miracle he had performed (7). This was necessary because Israel was a forgetful bunch (Deuteronomy 6:10-12). Psalm 78 provides the history of a nation who continually forgot what God had done.

The stones also served as a witness to the nations (23-24). The crossing of the Red Sea and the Jordan River were meant to inspire the surrounding nations to discover who God is. Rahab heard about the miracles and wanted to follow God (Joshua 2). The stones would be a visible invitation to “come and see” the greatness of God.

The stones would also serve a conversation starter. Over time, the following generations would ask their parents, “What do these stones mean?” The parents could then tell the story in great detail (6, 21-22). As parents, we need to be on lookout for opportunities to teach our children and others about who God is. Skinned knees, school exams, missing hamsters, service projects, ministry trips and many others provide opportunities to teach our kids that God answers prayer and provides for our needs.

Lastly, the stones of remembrance would inspire future generations to trust God forever (24). We have to be careful, though, not to allow memorials to become idols. While Gilgal was a place of remembrance for Joshua, it was the scene of idol worship during the ministries of Hosea and Amos.

I have numerous “Stones of Remembrance” in my office. When I look at a certificate for 30 years of service to Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, I recall the encouragement I received from John, Maggie, Phil, and others during difficult days. I remember the people who trusted Christ as Savior during the many seminars I taught. When I look at the many gifts I received while ministering in Russia, I remember how God answered prayer for safety, health, financial provision, wisdom, and much more. When I look at a family photo, I remember how God answered prayer to provide spouses for my two daughters, and met our needs as a family in countless ways. I also have a shelf filled with journals I have written in over the past 30+ years. They record what God has taught me, how he answered prayer, and the many experiences he has brought me through. All of these serve to help me remember who God is and what he has done.

What helps you to remember God’s goodness in your life?

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on October 14, 2018. 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.

 

Trunk ‘R Treat

This is a note sent to our church family explaining why we are not offering Trunk ‘R Treat this year. It shows the challenge of evaluating ministries and the process of making difficult decisions.

***********

Dear friends,

In talking with our staff, namely Robin Dolbow & Jack Gilbert, the three of us decided it was best not to offer Trunk ‘R Treat this year. As we have been evaluating our ministries, we’ve been asking some difficult questions: Where are we most effective? What is the best use of our time? What is a ministry and what is merely an activity? Are we equipping people or just keeping them busy? How can we best accomplish our goals and purpose as a church?

This discussion led us to conclude that while Trunk ‘R Treat has given us an opportunity to bless the community by providing a safe alternative for Halloween, it has not been particularly effective as an outreach. No one has come to faith in Christ and only one person in six years started attending the church as a result of the event. It has a high cost—time, energy, personnel, finances—with a small return. While it is a good event, it has not been a particularly effective or fruitful one.

In light of that, we felt it best to take this year off and reevaluate whether or not to do it again in the future. While this is not necessarily a forever decision, it was what we felt was best for this year.

Thanks for understanding.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 9, 2018 in First Central Bible Church

 

Overcoming Obstacles

The road to spiritual maturity is seldom a straight line. Instead, it is littered with zigzags, obstacles, and trials. You have to navigate through health issues, financial challenges, marital issues, parenting, caring for aging parents, unemployment, worries, setbacks, and more. As Scripture explains, these detours are part of God’s curriculum to help us grow to maturity.

In Joshua 3, the nation of Israel faces the challenge of crossing the Jordan River. The way they cross this barrier provides us with four principles that will help us navigate and overcome the obstacles in our path.

Follow God’s Leading (1-4). After hearing the encouraging report from the two spies (2:23-24), Israel moves from the acacia groves of Shittim to the banks of the Jordan River (1). They are given specific instructions to follow the priests as they carry the ark of the covenant into the river (2-4). The ark symbolized the presence of God. It contained the tablets of the law, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded. God was going to go before Israel over the Jordan and into the Promised Land. Israel’s duty was to follow. When we have confidence in God’s calling and direction in life, it will provide us with the spiritual strength to face great obstacles.

Get Ready Spiritually (5). Heading into battle, you would expect Joshua to issue the command, “Sharpen your sword and polish your shield!” Instead, Joshua tells the people, “Consecrate yourself!” Joshua demonstrates that spiritual, not military, preparation was what Israel needed the most. God was about to reveal himself and do a great miracle. Spiritual preparation involves hearing, believing, and obeying God’s Word. It involves searching your heart and confessing any known sin. Only then will we be ready to follow God wholeheartedly.

Step Out In Faith (6-13). Unbelief says, “Let’s go back to where it’s safe.” Faith says, “Let’s go forward to where God is working.” The Jordan River would not part until the priests took the first step and got their feet wet. Crossing the Jordan River would demonstrate three things: God is alive; God lived in Israel’s presence; and God has the power to accomplish his plan (10). We must take the first step in faith and then follow it with further steps of obedience.

Watch God Work (14-17). The Jordan River is normally about 100 feet wide and 3-10 feet deep. At flood stage, it stretches to almost one mile wide and rushes by at about 10 miles per hour filled with brush and debris. Once the priests stepped into the Jordan, God parted the flood swollen river and piled the water up in a crystal heap some 15-20 miles upstream. The river bed was dry all the way to the Dead Sea.

Some try to explain this miracle as a natural phenomenon such as a rock slide. However, it is a supernatural miracle for several reasons. The event came to pass as predicted (13, 15). The timing was exact (15). The event took place at flood stage (15). The wall of water was held in place for many hours, possibly an entire day (16). The soft, wet river bottom became dry at once (17). The water returned immediately as soon as the people had crossed over and the priests came up out of the river (4:18).

Where is God waiting for you to take that first step of faith? What is the obstacle you are facing (your Jordan)? What is the step of obedience that God is asking you to take (your dry sandals experience)? Trust God for the unexpected, and let him surprise and delight you by doing the unexplainable!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on October 7, 2018. It is part of a series of messages on the book of Joshua. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

A Faith that Works

In Ecclesiastes 3:11, Solomon made an interesting statement. “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart…” In Joshua 2, we see an example of that statement. We meet a woman who was prepared and ready, so much so that when the message of deliverance came, she risked everything she had to take advantage of it. The story of Rahab and the two spies demonstrates that true faith is active faith.

Faith takes bold risks (2:1-7). The book of Joshua begins with a transition. Moses died and General Joshua is in charge of the nation of Israel. God gave Joshua the command to cross the Jordan River.

In verse 1, Joshua demonstrates that planning and faith go hand in hand. While trusting God for the outcome, Joshua sends two spies on a reconnaissance mission. They are to “look over the land, especially Jericho.” Before moving forward, Joshua wants to gather as much intelligence as he can.

The spies enter Jericho and try to blend in as best they can. A prostitute named Rahab takes them in and gives them lodging. Is this merely a coincidence or an example of God’s providence? Since she is the only one in the city who believes in the God of Israel, I believe God sovereignly and providentially brought them together.

Over the centuries, people have tried to soften Rahab’s profession by referring to her as an innkeeper. The idea of God using a prostitute as part of his plan offended their sensibilities. While she has a checkered past, she also reveals the beginnings of faith and a willingness to risk everything to follow God.

The spies certainly failed the secrecy test. The king of Jericho learns of their presence and asks Rahab for some answers. Her first step of faith is to lie. In fact, she tells three lies: “I did not know where the spies came from;” “They already left;” and “I do not know where the men went.” Unbeknownst to the king, Rahab had hidden the spies on her rooftop under sheaves of grain.

Rahab’s actions beg the question, Does God approve of lying? Does the Bible teach situation ethics? We need to understand that while the Bible records lies, it doesn’t condone them. Abraham (Genesis 12:10-20), Isaac (Genesis 26:6-11), and David (1 Samuel 21:2) all lied on occasion. The Bible faithfully records their actions, but does not give approval to them.

On the one hand, Rahab risks her life to protect the spies. On the other hand, she lies to protect the spies. While she makes a strong statement of faith, her lifestyle has not changed. At best, we might classify Rahab as a young, immature believer.

Faith makes bold requests (2:8-14). Prior to going to sleep for the night, Rahab meets with the spies on the rooftop. She demonstrates the beginnings of her faith with four “I know” statements. “I know the Lord has given you the land.” “I know the fear of you has fallen on us.” “I know all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.” “I know the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” She had heard the evidence for God and she chose to believe.

Based on her knowledge of God’s judgment and her belief in his sovereignty, Rahab asks the spies for mercy. “Please spare my family.” Rahab cries for mercy and God extends grace to her.

Faith is rewarded (2:15-24). Rahab begins to act on her growing faith. The two spies give Rahab three instructions: “Hang a scarlet rope in the window;” “Gather your family into the house;” and “Tell no one anything.” If she follows through, they will spare her and her family when Jericho is attacked. Rahab obeys and helps the men escape the city by climbing out a window.

Rahab’s faith is rewarded in four specific ways. One, Israel was encouraged by the spies’ report (2:23-24). Two, Rahab and her family were spared during the attack (6:24-25). Three, Rahab was declared righteous because of her actions (James 2:25). Lastly, Rahab became the great-grandmother of King David and an ancestor of Jesus (Matthew 1:5-6).

How can you put your faith into action this week?

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 30, 2018. 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.

 

How Do I Survive Change?

Many people approach change like my good friends Calvin and Hobbes.

Like Calvin, many say “I hate change!” and avoid it at all costs.

Since change is part of life, we should not be saying, “How can I avoid change?” Even “How can I survive change?” is perhaps not the right question to ask either. Instead, we should be asking, “How can I thrive in change?”

The Old Testament leader, Joshua, was no stranger to change. Throughout his lifetime, he progressed from slave to servant to spy to soldier to statesman. Along with way, he had to deal with the death of his mentor, Moses, and the loss of friends. He faced a fear of failure, the challenge of leading a nation into the unknown, and facing numerous enemies.

The first chapter of Joshua’s book provides us with a several principles of how to survive and thrive in change. We are to anticipate and prepare for change, step out in faith, be strong and courageous, and fill our life with God’s Word. The first principle comes from an observation about verse 1. The remaining three principles are direct commands in verses 2-9. Weaving them together, we learn that we are to take the first step of faith and then follow it with further steps of obedience.

Anticipate and Prepare for Change (Joshua 1:1-2). Verse 1 begins with a statement of change, “After the death of Moses …” While it sounds sudden, it was not unexpected. In Deuteronomy 27, Moses was told by God of his impending death. Moses took the necessary steps to prepare his successor, Joshua. Moses commissioned Joshua in the sight of the people. Joshua and the nation of Israel knew this change was coming.

As a pastor, I’ve had the joy of performing many weddings over my 30+ years in ministry. Before agreeing to perform the wedding, I require the couple to meet with me for 6-8 sessions of premarital counseling. I want to make sure they are prepared for marriage, not just for the wedding itself.

The better you anticipate the change … the better you prepare for change … the better you are able to adapt and thrive.

Step Out in Faith (1:2-5). Joshua is given a direct command in verse 2, “Go over this Jordan.” Considering the river was at flood stage (3:15), this was a daunting challenge. When you add in the fact that crossing the Jordan was like throwing the gauntlet and declaring war on the people of Canaan as well as the fact that Joshua was not taking in a group of hardened soldiers, you can imagine his trepidation and fear.

It is significant that the promise of success comes after the command to obey. Like the Oklahoma land rush of 1889, God explains that Israel can claim every piece of land they walk on. While there will be opposition, no one will be able to stand against them.

Like a child is unafraid to walk through a scary forest because they are holding on to their daddy’s hand, so Joshua and Israel do not need to be afraid. God promises, “I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.”

Be Strong & Courageous (1:6, 7, 9). The command to “be strong and courageous” requires more than a superhero’s mask and cape. It requires stepping out in obedience to what God calls us to do.

When my children were younger, we read a number of stories and books. Many times we would come to the end of a chapter and the hero or heroine would be in danger. When my kids would beg to know what happens next, I’d say, “Wait until tomorrow.” After they went to bed, I’d flip ahead a few pages to see how they story would turn out. When God tells Joshua that Israel will inherit the land, God was explaining how the story would end.

God again encourages Joshua with the promise of his presence. “…for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua could be confidence because of God’s promise and his presence.

Fill your Life with God’s Word (1:7-8). When we talk to young believers about spiritual disciplines, we encourage them to read God’s Word. I find it interesting that God gives Joshua two instructions. He is to obey God’s Word and to meditate on God’s Word. Rather than emptying his mind, he is to fill it with God’s promises and instructions. Instead of merely reading and thinking about it, he is to commit himself to obedience. Only then will he enjoy true success. Only then will he accomplish what God wants him to do.

As you think about your life this week, what obstacles are in your way? What Jordan Rivers do you need to cross? What is God calling you to do? What is the step of obedience that he is asking you to take? Take the first step of faith and then follow it with further steps of obedience.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 23, 2018. 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.