RSS

Category Archives: First Central Bible Church

Live an Awe-Full Life

Fear is a part of our lives. Some fears can be debilitating like a fear of insects, animals, heights, water, public transportation, storms, closed spaces, crowds, people, illness, public speaking, or death. A German proverb states, “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.”

Perhaps our fear of fear makes us question the Apostle Peter’s statement, “…conduct yourselves in fear…” Instead of avoiding fear at all costs, we need to use it as a motivating factor. What Peter is trying to communicate is that if we call God our Father, we need to live with a healthy fear and awe of him because he is a holy God who judges justly. That is the main idea he presents in 1 Peter 1:17-21.

Because of who God is (1:17a). Peter states this paragraph with the word, “since.” In so doing, he connects this thought to the previous one on holiness. He shows that a healthy fear should motivate us to holy living. Peter is writing to believers who enjoy an intimate relationship with their heavenly father. Rather than treat him flippantly, we need to be mindful that God disciplines us in the same way an impartial judge dispenses justice. Years of obedience cannot purchase one hour of disobedience.

Because of what God has done (1:18-21). God redeemed us from an empty way of life. Our redemption was accomplished by something of greater value than precious metals—the blood of Jesus Christ. Before God created the world, he knew that Jesus would die for our sins and that God would raise him from the dead. That places a very high value on our salvation.

Live in Awe of God (1:17b). Because of who God is and what he has done for us, we should have a healthy fear and awe of him. We need to recognize that we are strangers and exiles. Earth is not our true home, but rather we are citizens of heaven residing temporarily on earth. In light of that, we should travel lightly.

Far too often, we go from one extreme to another regarding fear. With no fear of God, we view him as a buddy who overlooks our sin. With an unhealthy fear of God, we view him as a harsh judge and we live in fear. The one leads to license while the other leads to legalism.

In contrast, a healthy fear of God motivates me to live a holy life. Because I remember who God is, I will strive to avoid sin. When I do sin, I will remember his grace. Traveling lightly, seeking to honor God, and telling others of his grace all demonstrate my sense of awe and worship of God.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 8, 2018. It is part of a series of messages on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

From Broken Hearts to Burning Hearts

Have you ever felt disappointed about something God did? Have you been disillusioned because God did not answer a prayer the way you wanted? Have you been discouraged because faith is much harder than you imagined? Have you wondered if trusting God was worth the trouble?

Over the past five months, I have wrestled with each one of those issues as I recover from my broken hip. The question of “Why God?” came to the forefront of my thoughts. This is not the first time I’ve questioned God’s decisions or actions. More times than I care to admit, I have wondered aloud why God didn’t give me a different personality or set of gifts to be successful in ministry. “Why did God call me to a task that he did not equip me for?” I’ve thought on several occasions.

If you have ever been disappointed, disillusioned, discouraged, or despairing about your relationship with God, you’re in good company. Jesus’ own disciples felt those emotions following the crucifixion. Luke 24:13-35 tells the story of two disciples who gave up after the crucifixion and went home. The story points out that Jesus can handle our disappointment, discouragement, and doubt. He can restore our hope and reignite our passion.

The story begins at the end of the worst weekend of their entire lives. For three years, the disciples followed Jesus. They learned from him. They believed in him. A few days previously, they hailed him as the triumphant hero as he entered Jerusalem. But then he was crucified. Now, feeling discouraged (17) and disappointed (21), they gave up and went home (13). These two disciples had a threefold problem—they didn’t see (16), they didn’t understand (17-24), and they didn’t believe.

As they are traveling the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, Jesus joins them on the journey. He asks what they are talking about (17). Surprised he doesn’t know the current events (18), they fill in the backstory (19-24).

During the course of the conversation, Jesus meets them right at their point of need, though he does so in reverse order. He rebuked their unbelief (25), he explained the truth (26-27), and he opened their eyes (30-31).

While the text doesn’t tell us the content of their discussion, it’s not hard to imagine what they might have talked about. Perhaps Jesus began in Genesis 1 by explaining that God created a perfect world and perfect people. But sin entered the world and people chose to sin (Genesis 3). Perhaps Jesus reminded them that God promised to send a deliver who would crush Satan (Genesis 3:15). Maybe he discussed the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4) and how Cain tried to earn God’s approval through his own efforts but Abel brought a sacrifice. Chances are Jesus brought up Abraham sacrificing Isaac and his confidence that God would provide a substitute (Genesis 22). Undoubtedly, Jesus talked about the need for the Passover lamb to be without spot or blemish (Exodus 12:5) and that atonement came through the blood of the sacrifice (Leviticus 17:11). Jesus probably spoke of the fact that the Messiah would suffer for our sins (Isaiah 53, Psalm 22).

Arriving at their destination, the two disciples invited Jesus to join them for a meal and to spend the night with them. During the meal, their eyes were opened as he broke the bread and gave it to them. Maybe his language or mannerisms reminded them of when Jesus fed the 5,000. Perhaps they had heard the story of the last supper in the upper room. Possibly they saw the nail prints in his hands when he distributed the bread. Either way, they recognized him right before he disappeared from their presence.

Now that their eyes were opened, they had to tell someone. They hustled back to Jerusalem to spread the news (33-35). The risen Christ gives us a message of hope to share with others.

What can we take away from this story?

  • Jesus suffered and died for our sins as the Scriptures foretold.
  • He rose from the dead on the third day as the Scriptures predicted.
  • Not only did he appear to these two people, he also appeared to over 500 others.

How should we respond to this message?

  • Examine the evidence. See for yourself what the Bible says about Jesus.
  • Ask God to answer your questions. He can handle your doubts.
  • Believe the message. Ultimately, it comes down to making the choice to believe the facts.
  • Receive the gift of forgiveness. Jesus died on the cross so we can be forgiven.
  • Tell others what Christ did for you. Be like these two disciples and spread the good news.

The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 1, 2018. It is one of several messages preached on the resurrection of Jesus. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Chicopee Easter Egg Hunt 2018

Rather than host an Easter Outreach on our property, First Central Bible Church joined with the City of Chicopee for their Easter Egg Hunt. This is our second year to participate in the event. We hosted a table where we gave out coffee, water, and snacks. We also gave out free bags which included brochures about the church. Our team served the coffee, gave out the bags, and had many conversations with people. The event allows us to bless the community and be present in a non-threatening manner. Who knows where the conversations and brochures might lead?

 

Good Friday 2018

During the Good Friday service at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, I shared a few thoughts on 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

  • “He himself” – Jesus was personally involved. He died in my place.
  • “bore our sins” – actually comes first in word order in the Greek New Testament. Peter wanted to emphasize that Christ died for our sins.
  • “die to sin and live to righteousness” – not only did Christ free us from the power and penalty of sin, he gave us the power to live differently, to live righteously.
  • “By his wounds you have been healed” – this speaks of spiritual healing, not physical healing. The verb is past tense. It has already been accomplished.

I had people write their name of the card, signifying that Jesus died for their sins. They then nailed that card to the cross to drive home the point. Afterwards, people took communion before exiting quietly.

 

All Hail King Jesus

Spring is the season of expectations.

In MLB baseball, every team starts out in first place, believing that this is their year. In the NFL, teams prepare for the draft, hoping they get the right player to help put them into the Super Bowl.

Around the house, people begin their spring cleaning to declutter the storage room or clean out the garage. Others plant flowers and resolve to rid their lawn of crabgrass, moss, or dandelions.

Palm Sunday is a day that is all about expectations. The king is coming and he is going to make changes. We tend to think of Palm Sunday as a day of celebration. We have children waving palm branches. We sing songs of praise. But after the confetti settles, what are we left with? Is the king on his throne? Do we all live happily ever after?

Not hardly.

The reality is that Palm Sunday is a declaration of war, not a day of celebration. The king throws down the gauntlet and pushes for a confrontation. Palm Sunday is a day when expectations clash head on.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus Christ presents his claim to be the Messiah. He introduces his credentials. He orchestrates events that fulfill the Scriptures. He calls attention to himself and challenges the religious establishment. This was the only time in his ministry when Jesus actually planned and promoted a public demonstration. Up to this event, he had cautioned people not to tell who he was. He had deliberately avoided public scenes.

Now, Jesus throws down the gauntlet. He publicly presents his credentials. The responses he receives range from praise and adoration to statements of personal expectations to outright resistance and disrespect.

Three events immediately precede Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and help explain what occurs. (1) For the third time, Jesus predicts his imminent death (Matthew 20:17-19). (2) In a discussion on rank and privilege, Jesus explains that greatness is based on service (Matthew 20:20-28). (3) In a nation of spiritually blind people, Jesus gives sight and salvation to the blind (Matthew 20:29-34).

Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is one of the few events of his life recorded in all four gospels. By weaving them together, one can gain a composite view of the chronology of the events that took place on that day.

Jesus makes preparations for his entrance into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-3, 6, 7a; Mark 11:1-7a; Luke 19:28-35a; John 12:2, 12). As Jesus departs from Bethany, he sends two of his disciples into a small village, Bethphage. He gives them detailed instructions in order to enable them to fetch a donkey on which he plans to ride into Jerusalem. The disciples carry out Christ’s command.

Jesus starts riding toward Jerusalem (Matthew 21:4, 5, 7; Mark 11:7b; Luke 19:35b; John 12:14, 15). The disciples throw their garments on both of the animals, and when it becomes clear that Jesus wishes to ride upon the colt, they assist him in mounting it. Jesus starts riding toward Jerusalem. Jesus is deliberately staging the manner of his entrance into Jerusalem to fulfill the prophetic expectations of Zechariah 9:9.

People accompanying Jesus from Bethany spread their outer garments on the path, while others cut branches from the trees to help pave the way (Matthew 21:8; Mark 11:8; Luke 19:36). Between the garments and the branches, they are giving Jesus the “red carpet treatment.”

Pilgrims already in Jerusalem who had heard about the raising of Lazarus join in the celebration (John 12:1, 12, 13a, 18). The crowds in Jerusalem pour out of the city to join with those on the road to welcome the Messiah.

As the two groups meet, the enthusiasm mounts (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9, 10; Luke 19:37, 38; John 12:13b). As the crowd moved along, they shouted words of praise, celebrating the arrival of Israel’s Savior, the Messiah-King. Hosanna is literally a plea to “save now.”

The excitement reaches a climax as those who had seen the resurrection of Lazarus bear testimony (John 12:7).

Beside themselves with envy, the Pharisees appeal to Jesus to stop the celebration (Luke 19:39, 40).

As Jesus sees the city of Jerusalem, he weeps (Luke 19:41-44). Jesus knows that the praise will soon turn to scorn and the voices crying, “Hosanna!” will soon be shouting, “Crucify him!”

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, the entire city is stirred (Matthew 21:10, 11; Mark 11:11, 12). Everyone is asking, “Who is this?”

On Palm Sunday, the question is asked, “Who is Jesus?” (Matthew 21:10). Some think he is the Messiah (Matthew 21:9). Others believe he is just a prophet (Matthew 21:11). What the people missed is that Jesus had already presented his credentials.

  • Jesus is the suffering servant who will die for his people.
  • He has power over sickness and death.
  • Jesus is omniscient, knowing all.
  • He is Lord of all. He fulfills prophecy.
  • He is the king who brings peace.
  • He accepts worship.
  • He is compassionate.

Palm Sunday declares boldly that Jesus is the Sovereign King who brings Salvation.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 25, 2018. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Clean Hearts in a Dirty World

Is holiness possible today?

We might agree that holiness is an essential characteristic of God. We might also agree that Scripture says that we are to be holy. But if we are honest, we don’t think that we can ever be holy ourselves.

When it comes to holiness, there are many misconceptions. We have the idea that holy people are religious fanatics, and we don’t want to be thought of as “holier-than-thou.” We believe that a lifestyle of holiness will cause us to be miserable. Former quarterback Joe Theismann allegedly explained to his soon-to-be-ex second wife why he had an affair: “God wants Joe Theismann to be happy.” Holy people are hypocrites, or so we believe. A hypocritical Boston tycoon once told Mark Twain, “Before I die I mean to make a pilgrimage to the top of Mount Sinai in the Holy Land and read the Ten Commandments aloud.” “Why don’t you stay right home in Boston,” suggested Twain, “and keep them?”

Scripture calls us to live holy lives. In 1 Peter 1:13-16, we are told to set our hope on Christ and live a holy life. I don’t believe God sets us up for failure. If he gives us a command, it is with the expectation that it is possible to do it.

Verse 13 begins with the word, “Therefore …” I was always told that anytime you see the word, “therefore,” you need to find out what it is “there for.” What Peter is saying is that in light of our great salvation (1-12), we are to live differently. Salvation should have an impact on our lives. In fact, Peter points out five areas where salvation changes how we live.

  • Mental outlook (1:13). We are to set our hope solely on God.
  • Lifestyle (1:14-16). We are to live holy lives.
  • Worship (1:17-21). We are to live life governed by reverence for God.
  • Relationships (1:22-25). We are to love one another.
  • Spiritual disciplines (2:1-3). We are to be nourished by spiritual food.

Today, we are looking at the first two areas. We will examine the remaining three areas after Easter.

Mental Outlook (1:13). We are to set our hope solely on God. Peter begins with the idea of having a steadfast hope. This is much more than a wishing well kind of hope. “I hope it doesn’t snow this week. I hope my team wins the World Series.” It is a confident expectation of what God is going to do. By linking it to verses 1-12, Peter is saying that on the basis of what happened when Christ came the first time, we are to put our full confidence in what will take place when he comes again.

We are to act like we mean business. We are to prepare our minds for action. It literally says, “gird up the loins of your mind.” It pictures someone wearing a long garment. If they wanted to move quickly or run, they would gather up the garment and tuck it into their belt. Today, we might say, “Roll up your sleeves and get to work.” We are to have a sense of intentionality about how we think. We need to gather all the random, disparate thoughts and focus them on God and his kingdom.

John Brown, a 19th Century Scottish theologian said, “Holiness does not consist in mystic speculations, enthusiastic fervours, or uncommanded austerities; it consists in thinking as God thinks, and willing as God wils.”

In addition, we are to be sober-minded and avoid mental intoxication. Rather than live a life of self-indulgence, we are to live discipline and self-controlled lives.

What distracts you from focusing on God? Are there other things that you place your hope in? If you really believed Christ would return today, how would you live? Wrestling with these types of questions will help us to focus our thoughts and hope squarely on Christ.

Lifestyle (1:14-16). We are to live holy lives. Holiness refers to purity or moral integrity. It involves separation from all that is morally impure and evil. It is dedication to a life of righteousness. As these verses explain, God has called us to a life of holiness. It is NOT optional.

Rather than command us to be obedient, Peter says we are to act like obedient children. In essence, we have an obedient nature and should act in light of that.

We are to actively resist our own temptations. Rather than be controlled by our desires, we are to control them. As unbelievers, we were ignorant of God’s standards. Now that we know better, we should live differently.

Holiness should permeate every aspect of our being. We are to be holy in the classroom, on the playground, at work, at home, in our workplace, in our schools, in our homes. Holiness should pervade every area of our lives and personalities.

In pursuing holiness, we demonstrate the family resemblance. God is the ultimate model of holiness and we are called to be like him.

As we evaluate our lives, we should ask ourselves several questions. Does this activity conform to the character of God? Is it the natural outcome of a life that has benefited from salvation? Will it stand up to God’s scrutiny in that final day when we stand before his presence?

We are to set our hope on Christ and live holy lives.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 18, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

The Majesty of Salvation

What difference does salvation make in our lives? Is salvation just a matter of a hope in heaven? Is it just pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by? What difference does salvation make in the boardroom? On the assembly line? How does salvation affect our ethics? Our marriage? Our family? Our time with our grandkids? What difference does salvation make when we face an uncertain future? How does it affect how we face persecution?

In 1 Peter 1:1-12, the apostle Peter presents the idea that understanding the nature of salvation provides encouragement for those facing an uncertain future threatened by persecution. The main idea of the passage is that because our salvation is secure, we have hope for the future and joy in the present.

Someone might ask, Why is salvation even necessary? Don’t all roads lead to the top? Isn’t God too big for one religion? Aren’t people basically good? Yes, we might have problems, but it’s a disease, weakness, bad habit, or victimization. It’s not sin, after all.

In the first chapter of his letter, the apostle Peter talks about the nature of salvation. Salvation is new birth (3) to a living hope (3). Salvation brings us a secure inheritance (4). Our future salvation is secure (5) in which we will be redeemed (18). However, salvation is only available to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ (2, 14, 21).

In verses 1-2, Peter presents a theology of salvation. As he explains it, each member of the Trinity is involved in our salvation. We are chosen by the Father. We are set apart by the Spirit. We are forgiven by the Son. We are saved in order to be obedient. Other passages of Scripture point out our role in the process and that God holds us accountable for our choices. But Peter focuses on what God does to secure our salvation.

After laying the foundation, Peter then describes the nature of salvation (3-12). These 10 verses are an English teacher’s nightmare. It is one long sentence in which Peter piles words upon words giving praise to God for our salvation.

Our salvation provides hope for the future (3-5). Salvation comes from the mercy of God where he demonstrates his kindness to us. Because Christ conquered sin and death through his death, burial, and resurrection, we can have a personal relationship with him. As a result, we now have a secure inheritance that is death-proof, sin-proof, and time-proof. Our inheritance won’t perish, spoil, or fade away. It is protected by the power of God for us.

Our confidence leads to joy in the present (6-9). In the midst of trouble and difficulty, it is easy to forget what God has done for us. Peter wants his readers to experience joy in their present circumstances. To do that, we need to understand that trials are temporary and short-lived compared to eternity. They are also necessary because uses trials to shape our character in the same way a goldsmith uses heat to purify gold. With this perspective, we can show our love for Jesus and rejoice with glorious joy.

Our salvation was revealed in the past (10-12). We enjoy something today that the prophets and angels only dreamed about understanding. If they spent so much time trying to decipher what God was going to do, how much more should we enjoy our salvation and tell others about it?

Praise God that our salvation is secure! Praise God that the trials we experience are not meaningless, but refine and purify our faith! Praise God that his promises about Christ have been fulfilled! Because our salvation is secure, we have hope for the future and joy in the present.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 11, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.