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Category Archives: First Central Bible Church

The High Cost of Christmas—The Story of Joseph

Each year I check out the Christmas Price Index published by PNC Wealth Management. They detail what it would cost to give the gifts listed in the song, “12 Days of Christmas.” This year, the gifts would cost $38,993.59 as single gifts, and $170,298.03 as the song indicates with multiple gifts each day. You will pay 0.2% more than last year.

But what if Christmas cost more than money? What if your choice of gift cost you your reputation, standing in the community, business prospects, and hope for career advancement? What if your choice of Christmas gift left you the subject of rumor and innuendo?

Imagine that you take in an alcoholic relative and the rest of your family thinks you’re foolish to give them another chance. Perhaps you decide to sponsor a Syrian refugee in your home and your neighbors don’t want anything to do with you because they think you are friendly with terrorists. Possibly a group starts to boycott your business establishment because you set up a Nativity scene in your lobby. Maybe you bring a pregnant teenager into your home and the rumors start to fly that you are the one who got her pregnant.

What if Christmas cost you your reputation, standing in the community, business prospects, and hope for career advancement, and left you the subject of rumor and innuendo? That is what it cost Joseph to celebrate the first Christmas (Matthew 1:18-25).

Matthew 1:18-19 explains that Joseph was a righteous man. As a businessman aspires to be a C.E.O., as an athlete aspires to be an all-star, so a Jewish boy aspires to be a righteous man. It meant he demonstrated an uncompromising obedience to the Torah, the Old Testament law.

Joseph had the reputation for being a righteous man. But he also had a very big problem. His fiancé was 3-4 months pregnant, and he had no idea who the father was. Since they both lived in a small town, people would naturally assume he couldn’t keep his pants on. Before too long, the rumors would start flying.

As a righteous man devoted to the Torah, Joseph had no choice but to divorce Mary. The only question was how—publicly or privately. If he did it publicly, it could result in her being stoned for her seeming infidelity (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). If he did it privately, it would break his heart but save Mary some of the embarrassment. All he knew for certain was that if the wedding took place, he would lose his reputation, standing in the community, and any hope of business prospects. All Joseph would be left with were rumors and whispers.

At this point, an angel appeared to Joseph to calm his fears (1:20-23). Mary had not been unfaithful to him. Rather, God was performing a great miracle by fulfilling the promise of Isaiah 7:14 through Mary. God himself was coming to earth. He was sending the Messiah to save the world from its sins.

Being the righteous man he was, Joseph wasted no time in obeying God’s instructions (1:24-25). He immediately took Mary as his wife and named the new baby, Jesus. Joseph chose commitment to God over the opinions of other people. Righteousness was more important than reputation.

The story of Joseph reveals the high cost of Christmas. Embracing Christmas may cost everything we hold dear. Like Joseph, we should be willing to sacrifice our status, careers, possessions, convenience, reputation, and freedoms for Jesus.

This year, strive to be like Joseph. Cultivate a trusting heart that takes God at his word. Cultivate a sacrificial heart that is willing to forsake everything to follow Jesus. Cultivate a committed heart that chooses obedience over convenience.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 8, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on Advent. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

God uses nobodies – The Story of Mary

“I’m nobody special.” “I’m not gifted.” “I’m not important.” “I have nothing to offer.” “God could never use me.”

Have you ever said those words? Then you are in good company with Mary. If Luke 1:26-38 teaches us anything, it is that God specializes in using nobodies to accomplish his plan and purpose.

Mary was probably no more than 14 years old. She was a virgin and inexperienced in the ways of the world. She was engaged to be married. Like most peasant girls, she was probably illiterate. Chances are that she had not traveled very far outside of her home area.

Mary lived in the town of Nazareth, a corrupt village halfway between the port cities of Tyre and Sidon in the province of Galilee. If there was a bright spot in Israel, Nazareth was a far away as possible. It might not be the end of the world, but Mary could see it from there.

And yet Mary was the object of God’s special favor. God sent the angel Gabriel to explain that God had chosen her to be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. Gabriel explained that she would give birth to the one whose kingdom would never end.

Mary responds with the simple, yet profound question, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Mary knew enough about biology to know this would require a miracle. She believed the “what” but did not understand the “how.”

Gabriel explained that Jesus’ birth would be accomplished by the creative power of the Holy Spirit. As confirmation, Gabriel told Mary her aging relative, Elizabeth, was six months pregnant, proving that nothing was beyond God’s power.

Mary could have responded in a variety of ways—“I won’t do it!” “I can’t do it!” “If I have to.” “If I can do it my way.” Not choosing any of these options, Mary said simply, “Yes, Lord.”

Mary had no credentials other than her availability. She had no reason to be chosen other than her willingness to serve. God sovereignly chose her and she responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Like Mary, we should cultivate a humble heart, an ongoing poverty of spirit that is open to God’s grace, and desperately longing for it. We should cultivate a believing heart, a willingness to take God at his word and trust his power and promises. We should also cultivate a submissive heart, an attitude that says “Yes” to whatever God asks us to do.

Regardless of our gifts, abilities, talents, or lack thereof, God can use each of us to accomplish his plan. In fact, he specializes in using nobodies to achieve his purposes.

This message was preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 1, 2019. It is part of a collection of sermons on the people and events of Christmas. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Thanksgiving Bonfire 2019

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!

 

Finish the Race

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.

 

Change Your Mind About Trials

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.

 

Moscow Conference – Trip Report

Here are the PowerPoint slides I used this morning when I shared with the congregation of First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, about what God did during our recent ministry to pastors in Moscow.

 

Mission: Possible

While we might grudgingly admit that Scripture calls us to live by faith (Hebrews 10:37-39), we secretly believe that it is an impossible task. We feel that it is only something that supersaints can achieve. But normal people have no chance at reaching to that lofty standard.

To challenge that assumption, the author of Hebrews 11 gives numerous examples of ordinary people who took God at his word. Abel went out of his way to please God and worship him extravagantly. Enoch walked with God in the midst of a corrupt society. Noah trusted God for the unknown. Abraham and Sarah left their comfort zone and followed God’s call. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph left a legacy of faith to their descendants. Moses left the comfort and pleasures of Egypt to endure hardship with God’s people.

In Hebrews 11:30-31, the author encourages his readers to learn from the example of Joshua and Rahab. Their faith demonstrates that when we face an impossible situation, we must believe that God will make us successful by trusting his plan and obeying his instructions.

God may give us an impossible task. From a human standpoint, Jericho was an impossible city to conquer. The city of Jericho covered about eight acres. It was strategically located in the center of Canaan and controlled the path into the hill country. It had a double set of walls and the gates were locked up tight. The first obstacle to overcome was not the Jordan River or the city of Jericho. The first obstacle to overcome was unbelief.

Believe that God will make you successful (Joshua 6:1-5). God had already prepared the way for Israel to be successful. The people of Jericho were scared (1). God promised the victory (2). God gave clear, direct instructions how to proceed (3-5). If God has called us to do something, then success is guaranteed. We need to understand that we fight from victory, not just for victory. While the battle plan was not physically taxing, it did require no small amount of courage and faith.

Recognize that success comes by trusting God’s plan (Joshua 6:6-16, 20). Scripture is very clear that faith precedes victory and belief precedes blessing. We must take God at his word and believe his promises if we want to achieve victory and enjoy his blessings. Because Israel stepped out in faith and trusted God’s plan, the walls of Jericho fell by faith (Hebrews 11:30).

Success comes by obeying God’s instructions (Joshua 6:17-19, 21-27). God gave four specific instructions. (1) Devote the entire city to God (17-18). (2) Rescue Rahab and her family (22-25). Joshua 2 explains that Rahab was an unlikely person to put faith in the true God, yet she did, and was saved by faith. She demonstrated her faith by her works of welcoming the spies (Hebrews 11:31). (3) Destroy every living thing (21). (4) Burn the city (24).

It is these last two commands that give us the most heartburn. The best explanation is to compare it to a surgeon removing a cancerous tumor from a person’s abdomen. God was removing evil from the land. Please understand that God had been patient from the time of Abraham (Genesis 15:16). He waited some 600 years before bringing judgment on the land.

Maybe God has not tasked you with conquering a city. Maybe your impossible task is living as a single parent. Perhaps your challenge is being a witness in the public schools. Maybe you are trying to live with integrity in a world that prizes deception. Perhaps your task is to conquer an addiction.

If God gives you a seemingly impossible task, trust his plan and obey his instructions. He will make your successful.

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