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Category Archives: Genesis

Worshipping without Masks

Although First Central Bible Church has reopened, some people have not returned because they don’t want to wear a mask to church. Having twice worn a mask for eight hours during a recent flight from Boston to Los Angeles as well as on the return trip, I can understand and empathize with their reluctance.

Worship was never designed to be done while wearing a mask. Worship is best done when we are face to face with our Savior.

As the Bible opens, Adam and Eve were in perfect fellowship with their Creator. Genesis 2:25 says that Adam and Eve were “naked and unashamed.” While that certainly describes their physical relationship with each other, I think it aptly describes their relationship with God. It is especially true since Genesis 3:8 explains that they hid from God’s presence after they disobeyed his command and sin entered their lives.

The Bible closes with the statement in Revelation 22:4 that in heaven, our broken relationship with God will be restored. We will see his face, and his name will be on our foreheads.

While we may need to wear a mask to protect against COVID-19, we don’t have to wear a mask when we enter God’s presence. Like Moses, we can speak with God face to face (Exodus 33:11). Hebrews 4:16 tells us that because Jesus removed our sin and cleansed our hearts, we can come into God’s presence with confidence, knowing that we will receive the grace and help we need.

Hebrews 4:16 – Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Take off your mask and enter God’s presence to worship him today.

 

Take Charge of your Death

What do you want written on your epitaph? How do you want to be remembered?

Hebrews 10:37-39 tells us that we need to live by faith. In chapter 11, the author of the book gives numerous examples of ordinary men and women who took God at his word and acted accordingly. In Hebrews 11:17-22, we discover that not only do we need to live by faith, we also need to die by faith. We need to understand that the legacy we leave is more important than the heritage we received. Through the example of the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph—we discover how to finish well and leave a legacy of faith.

Model faith to your children (17-19). Abraham obeyed God’s command to give his son, Isaac, back to God. God had promised to bless the world through Abraham and give him as many descendants as there were stars in the sky. While Abraham might not have fully comprehended God’s instruction to sacrifice Isaac, he trusted God to keep his promise even if it meant raising Isaac from the dead. Abraham trusted the promises and the power of God. Imagine the impact that had on Isaac on the return journey.

Look to the future with confidence (20). Isaac rode a roller coaster of faith throughout his lifetime—one minute trusting God and the next minute trying to do things his own way. God answered his prayers for children (Genesis 25:21). God promised that “the older will serve the younger (25:23). In the midst of a famine, God confirmed his promise about his descendants (26:3-4). Isaac then lied about his wife (26:7) and followed it up by building an altar (26:25). Isaac then ignored God’s instructions and set about to bless the son he favored, Esau (27:1-4). He was first deceived into blessing Jacob (27:5-9) but then later chose to bless Jacob (28:1-4). Isaac pictured a hopeful future for his son, Jacob, in his blessing.

Bless your descendants with intentionality (21). It took Jacob a lifetime of divine discipline to learn obedience. Jacob went from praising God (Genesis 28:16-17) to bargaining with God (28:20-21) to acknowledging God’s blessing (31:5) to wrestling with God (32:24-26). At the end of his life, he resisted the temptation to be “fair” and passed on a unique blessing to Joseph’s sons.

Anchor your life on the promises of God (22). As Joseph’s death drew near, he used the event as a teachable moment. He reminded his family of the promises given to Abraham that Israel would be strangers and slaves in Egypt for 400 years but afterward, God would bring them back to the Promised Land. Joseph made them promise not to leave his bones behind in Egypt when they left and returned to the land of their ancestors. Joseph was confident that nothing could annul God’s promises.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave your children? How can you model your faith to them? Do they know what you believe and why you believe it? Do you have a confident hope about the future? How can you be intentional in the way you treat and bless your children and grandchildren? Is your life and faith anchored on God’s promises?

What changes do you need to make today to make sure you leave a godly legacy? Remember that the legacy you leave is more important than the heritage you received.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 29, 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.

 

Faithing the Unknown

For every Annie who believes the sun will come up tomorrow, there are countless others who want to run and hide from the unknown. Whether it is going downstairs to the dark basement, picking up the phone to ask someone out on a date, being the new kid at a new school, going to a job interview, or heading into an unknown future, we need encouragement to face the unknown.

In Hebrews 10:38-39, the author of the book explains that we are to live by faith. In 11:2, he states that a lifestyle of faith is the only way to receive God’s approval. In the rest of chapter 11, he gives numerous examples of ordinary people who chose to believe God’s promises and to live by faith. The life of Noah (11:7) demonstrates that when we are faced with the unknown, we need to act on what we know. His examples gives us four characteristics of faith.

Faith takes God at his word. Noah was a righteous man who lived in an ungodly world (Genesis 6:9, 13, 17). God gave him a heads up about the judgment that was coming. While Noah had not seen rain, a flood, or judgment during his lifetime, he took God at his word and believed that God was able to do what he said he would do.

As you face the challenges of your day, do you focus more on your problems or on God’s promises? Are you consumed with worry over job security, health, your children’s future, caring for aging parents, or whether you’ll have enough to retire on? Or you do meditate on God’s promises about his presence, his care, his provision, his protection, or his faithfulness?

C. S. Lewis stated, “We trust not because ‘a God’ exists, but because this God exists!” Take time to get to know God better. Keep a record of how you’ve seen him answer prayer and meet your needs.

Faith must be followed by action. It is not enough to say we believe. We must act on that belief. Noah believed God’s warning and started building the ark. He “did all that God commanded him” (Genesis 6:22; 7:5). Obedience is the litmus test of faith. It demonstrates whether or not we truly believe. James 1:22 says that we are to do the word and not merely listen to it.

Faith requires persistence. Noah listened to God’s warning and instructions and went to work. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, Noah built the ark for 120 years. The ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, 45 feet tall, and would displace 43,000 tons of water. This was not a project you could hide in your backyard and call “a shed.” Not only was the task overwhelming, but he also had to deal with critics, cranks, and complainers who made fun of him.

William Carey is considered the father of modern missions. Over a period of 40 years, he translated all or portions of the Bible into 34 of the languages and dialects of India. When praised for his work, he replied, “I am not a genius, just a plodder.”

Faith always makes a difference. Noah’s faith and actions had three practical results (11:7). His family was spared from judgment. His words and actions condemned those who chose not to believe. He was the first person in Scripture declared, “righteous” (Genesis 7:1).

What impact has your faith had on your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, church …?

Author Penelope J. Stokes wrote, “God calls us to many unknowns—new places, new relationships, new jobs, different homes, different friends, unfamiliar frustrations, uncommon joys. Our vision for the future is myopic at best—at worst, totally dark. We cannot see what lies ahead. But we can see the countenance, the character, the direction, of the One who calls us to walk with him and holds the lantern to light each faltering step.”

When faced with the unknown, act on what you know. Keep your focus on God.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 15, 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.

 

When “good enough” is not enough

A single sparkler on the Fourth of July may be good enough, but a Bonfire Deluxe box of fireworks or a City Spectacular is even better. A single scoop of vanilla ice cream on a sugar cone may be good enough, but an ice cream creation from Cold Stone is even better.

If that is the approach we take with our preferences, why do we often settle for “good enough” when it comes to worshipping God? Why do we think that attending church once or twice a month is good enough for God? Why will we buy new furniture or a new TV for our house and give our old couch or TV to the church because it’s good enough for God? Why do we settle for worshipping God halfheartedly?

Worship that honors God and earns his approval is determined not by the nature of the gift, but by the attitude of the giver. That is the lesson we learn from the life of Abel (Hebrews 11:4; Genesis 4:1-10). He demonstrates what it means to worship God by faith.

Abel didn’t offer a sacrifice that was good enough. Abel offered a better sacrifice (11:4a). The question is, what made Abel’s sacrifice better than his brother Cain’s offering? Scripture indicates that Abel’s sacrifice was better because of his obedience and his attitude.

Romans 10:17 states, “So faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Thus, it is logical and reasonable to conclude that God had given the first family—Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel—instructions about worship, even though they are not recorded in Scripture.

Genesis 4:3-7 indicates there was a time to worship. “in the course of time” (4:3) literally means, at the end of days, or at the end of the appointed time. Since Cain and Abel brought their offerings to the Lord, it appears that there was a place to worship, possibly an altar that Adam had erected previously. Since God tells Cain, “if you do well, will you not be accepted?” we can conclude that he knew the way to worship.

While Cain brought “an offering” (4:3), Abel “brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions” (4:4). Abel brought the first and the best. Cain responded in anger (4:5) when God did not accept his efforts to worship God in his own way.

Abel received God’s approval (11:4b). Abel offered his gift in faith and God commended him as righteous by accepting it.

In comparing Cain and Abel, Cain operated out of a sense of duty while Abel showed delight in his worship. Cain was arrogant while Abel was humble. Cain did it “my way” while Abel did it God’s way. One tried D-I-Y (Do it yourself) worship while the other demonstrated dependence. Cain worshipped by good works while Abel worshipped by faith. Cain was considered religious while Abel was commended as righteous.

Abel still speaks to us today (11:4c). Though his words are not recorded in the book of Genesis, Abel’s example still speaks to us today about how to approach God in worship.

What sacrifice are you offering to God today? Give God your best.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 1, 2019. It is part of an ongoing series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Don’t let anger lead you into sin

Eve had to be talked into sin by Satan (Genesis 3:1-7). Cain was so angry he could not be talked out of sin, even by God (Genesis 4:1-8).

When we give into anger, we give the devil a foothold in our lives (Ephesians 4:26-27).

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2019 in Genesis, Scripture

 

Jehovah Jireh – The LORD Will Provide

Mention the word, “Test,” and you will strike terror into the heart of the average person. Blood pressure will rise and brows will become sweaty. Needless to say, most of us don’t like tests.

Some tests are Pass—Fail. There’s no middle ground for “almost.” Some tests are used to weed out candidates down to a manageable number. Tests are used to identify areas of giftedness in children.

God uses tests to prove our faith and demonstrate the growth in our lives. God also uses tests to reveal something about himself that we might not already know. In a very intense, personal test, God reveals himself to Abraham as Jehovah Jireh, the Lord will provide (Genesis 22:1-19). Abraham discovers that Jehovah Jireh provides all we need and more besides.

Oftentimes, we get confused by temptation and tests. James 2:1-15 helps explain the difference.

Temptation

Test

Comes from evil desires within

Comes from God above

Reveals our weaknesses

Reveals our strengths

Brings out the worst in us

Brings out the best in us
Appears logical

Appears unreasonable

Common to all

Unique to each person
Results in our failure

Results in our growth

God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on one of the mountains of Moriah. God does not ask us to give what we do not treasure or what we no longer care for or need. God asks us to give him the very best we have. When he asks us to make this type of sacrifice, it is often because he wants to give us something even better.

Chances are good that all of us have an Isaac that we are reluctant to give up. It may be a career, a car, a retirement account, a vacation, a relationship, security, or … The question we have to wrestle with is, “Do I love God MORE than I love __________?”

After a three-day journey, Abraham arrives at Mt. Moriah. Heading up the mountains, Isaac notes the fire, the wood, and the knife. When he asks his father where the lamb is for the sacrifice, Abraham responds in faith, “God will provide for himself the lamb.”

Regardless of whether it appears logical or illogical, reasonable or unreasonable, we need to be obedient to God’s commands. We must give him our all, holding nothing back. We cannot procrastinate since delayed obedience is really disobedience. We cannot make the journey to the altar of sacrifice but stop short of completion because partial obedience is complete disobedience.

Abraham obeyed because he kept his focus on God’s character. He was confident that “the Lord will provide.” Abraham also kept his focus on God’s promises. He stated, “I and the boy will worship AND return.”

God designs tests to prove the quality of our faith. To pass the test, we must pay attention to the sequence. In Abraham’s case, the sequence was OBEY … GOD PROVIDES. We want to change the order. If God provides, we think, then I will obey. But God calls us to obey and trust him. Then he reveals himself to us.

Abraham remembers the lesson by naming the place, Jehovah Jireh, The Lord Will Provide. How will you remember the things you learn about God?

Not only does God provide the ram for the sacrifice, he also expands the scope of his blessings to Abraham. Abraham discovered that Jehovah Jireh provides all we need and more besides.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 17, 2016. It is part of a series on The Names of God. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Ask me questions I can answer

In an online course on the book of Genesis offered by Dallas Theological Seminary, a student asked Dr. James Allman a question about the story of Jacob. Dr. Allman responded, “There are intelligent questions and there are stupid questions. The intelligent questions are the ones I can answer.” And then he laughed and complimented the student on asking a profound question. I knew just how he felt.

 

El Elyon – The Most High God

Where do you find security?

When we were children, we turned to various sources of security when we were scared—a night light, a blanket, an older brother, or our dad. Maybe we turned to comic book superheroes and debated whether or not the Marvel heroes were stronger than the DC family. Whatever source we turned to, it was because we wanted someone or something that is bigger and stronger and can make us feel secure.

As adults, we might turn to money, status, success, or pleasure to find that feeling of security. We might research other religions to provide hope for the future. We need to be careful, however, because the things we put our trust in can easily become the things we worship. Matthew 6:21 illustrates this fact, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Our challenge is similar to what Abram went through in the early stages of his faith journey.

In Genesis 14:1-16, Abram goes into battle to rescue his nephew, Lot. He is outnumbered and outgunned. And yet, he is victorious because God delivers him. On the way home, he meets an individual who introduces him to El Elyon, the Most High God. Abram discovers that the Most High God is the only one who is worthy to be worshipped.

Based on Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God, we learn the principle that in a world that worships comfort, pleasure, money, status, success, power, and a host of other lesser gods, El Elyon, The Most High God, deserves our wholehearted worship and allegiance.

In Genesis 12, God calls Abram to leave Ur and journey to the Promised Land. Abram brings his wife, Sarai, his nephew, Lot, and his father, Terah. Terah dies in Haran. In chapter 13, Abram’s and Lot’s herds grow to the point where they need to separate and seek different grazing areas. Lot chooses the valley near Sodom and Gomorrah because it is well watered and looks better.

Genesis 14 opens with the explanation that the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah are aligned with three other kings in the Jordan Valley. The Jordan Valley had been conquered and was subject for 12 years (4). During the thirteenth year, they rebelled (4). In year fourteen, there was payback (5).

Four kings, Chedorlaomer and his allies, attack and capture the five kings and their armies. Lot is captured and carried off as a prisoner (1-12). One fugitive escapes and comes to Abram (13). Abram organizes his forces of 318 men and chases the marauders 240 miles and defeats them. Abram returns home with the captives and the spoils of war (14-16).

After the victorious battle, Abraham begins the return trip with Lot and his possessions and family and other captives. On the way home, Abram is met by two kings, Bera, king of Sodom, and Melchizedek, king of Salem (17-24).

King

Bera, King of Sodom

Melchizedek, King of Salem

Meaning of name

Bera – gift

Sodom – burning

Melchizedek – king of righteousness

Salem – peace

Character

Wicked

Righteous

Attitude

Serves self Serves Most High God

(Demonstrates that the Most High God is known outside of Israel—see Daniel)

Believes that prosperity comes from man

Proclaims victory and blessing come from God

Relationship to Abram

Acted superior to Abram even though defeated in battle and rescued

Abram recognized him as a spiritual superior

Makes demands of Abram

Honors Abram

Offers to bargain

Offers a blessing

Implications of choice

If you accept the gift from the world, you will get scorched

If you accept the gift of righteousness, you will receive peace

Abram’s response

Abram rejects the offer and receives nothing from Bera

Abram receives the blessing and gives a tithe as an offering of worship

Abram declares his allegiance to the Most High God

From this meeting (Genesis 14:17-24), we learn several key facts about El Elyon, the Most High God.

El Elyon created, owns, and rules the universe (19). Elohim is the strong one who created the world. El Elyon is the Most High God who owns it all.

Everything—heaven and earth—belongs to him.

El Elyon protects and delivers (20). Abram went into battle with 318 trained men against the armies of four kings (1-16). He chased them for 140 miles and defeated them in a surprise attack. He then chased them for another 100 miles. And he was victorious and routed the enemy at every turn. Why? Melchizedek explained that God delivered the enemy into Abram’s hand.

El Elyon deserves our worship (20). Abram recognizes God’s position—Most High, Creator, Owner. He recognizes God’s protection and deliverance—gave enemy into his hand. Abram responds in worship. Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils as an act of worship.

El Elyon has earned our allegiance (22). Abram did not pursue comfort (13:10), the spoils of war (21), or political patronage (23). Instead, he swore an oath to serve the Most High God (22).

Are you following the gods of this world, or have you pledged your allegiance to the Most High God? The Most High God is the only one worthy to the worshipped. The Most High God deserves our allegiance and devotion.

This is the synopsis of a message delivered at the Annual Picnic of First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on June 26, 2016. It is part of a series on the Names of God. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Choose your alliances carefully

In Genesis 14:17-24, Abram returns home victorious from a battle. He meets two kings with vastly different philosophies. They force Abram to make a choice as to whom he will form an alliance with.

By way of background, the Jordan River Valley was conquered and subject to Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, for 12 years (1-4). A coalition of five kings rebelled in year 13 (4). Chedorlaomer and his allies put down the rebellion in year 14 and carried off the captives and plunder, including Abram’s nephew, Lot (5-12).

One fugitive escapes and comes to Abram (13). Abram organizes his forces of 318 men and chases the marauders 240 miles and defeats them. Abram returns home with the captures and spoils of war (14-16).

On the way home, Abram is met by two kings, Bera, king of Sodom, and Melchizedek, king of Salem (17-24). Their names give Abram a hint of what is coming and how to respond. “Bera” means “gift,” while “Sodom” means “burning.” Bera is a wicked king in a worldly city. “Melchizedek” means “king of righteousness” while “Salem” means “peace.” Melchizedek is a priest of El Elyon, the Most High God. Abram rejects Bera and worships with Melchizedek.

Choose your alliances wisely. If you accept the gift from the world, you will get scorched. If you accept the gift of righteousness, you will receive peace. It’s a pretty clear choice when you spell it out.

 

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2016 in Abraham, Genesis, Scripture

 

El Shaddai – God Almighty

How do you respond when you hear the words, “That’s impossible!” Are you intimidated? Do you figure you might as well not try because you are doomed to failure? Or you are inspired? Can you think of 23 new ideas that haven’t been tried yet?

What if your impossible task involves managing finances with rising medical, education, and housing costs? What if your challenge is bringing peace to a house or an office filled with conflict? What if someone offers an empty platitude of “Trust God” while you’re facing chemotherapy?

If your impossible situation has left you disappointed with God, then you are in good company with the patriarch, Abraham. At the age of 99, his life was filled with disappointment, heartache, failure, and doubt. It’s in his time of great need that God introduces himself as El Shaddai, the almighty God for whom nothing is impossible.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me , and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” (Genesis 17:1-2)

To understand the significance of this name, we need to examine the meaning of the words and how they are used.

El comes from Elohim and means “strength” or “power.” Shaddai comes from two possible root words—one means “nourishes, supplies, or satisfies” while the other means “strength and stability.” El Shaddai means “The powerful strong God” or “The God who satisfies.” As El Shaddai, God is all-powerful and all-sufficient.

El Shaddai appears 7 times in the Old Testament, 6 of which are in Genesis and Exodus. 5 of the 6 examples in Genesis and Exodus are linked with God’s promises.

  • God and Abram (Genesis 17:1-8, 15-22; 18:1-14)
  • Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 28:1-4)
  • God and Jacob (Genesis 35:1-15)
  • Jacob and his sons (Genesis 43:14)
  • Jacob and Joseph (Genesis 48:1-6, 21-22)
  • God and Moses (Exodus 6:1-8)

Shaddai appears 41 times in the Old Testament, 31 of which are in the book of Job. The usage contrasts the weakness and frailty of men and women with the power of God (especially evident in Job). God uses times of crisis to give us hopeful revelations of who he is.

By weaving the meaning and the usage together, we discover that as El Shaddai, God is all-powerful and all-sufficient. His strength is best seen in our weakness. El Shaddai reveals God’s ability to keep his promises to his people.

By examining Genesis 12-18, we discover that God as El Shaddai, meets Abram right at his point of need.

At the age of 75, God called Abram and promised to make him a great nation (12:1‑3). When Abram’s faith wavered (15:1-2), God promised him untold descendants (15:3-5) and established his covenant with Abram (15:7-21).

11 years after the initial promise, Abram and Sarai grew tired of waiting and took matters into their own hands (16:1-3). Sarai, in particular, blamed God for her infertility. Running ahead of God, they created problems the world is still dealing with today.

24 years after the initial promise and 13 years after the birth of Ishmael, Abram undoubtedly is struggling with disappointment, discouragement, failure, and doubt. In the midst of his struggle, God reveals himself to Abram as El Shaddai, God Almighty (17:1-2). God reaffirms his promises (17:1-8, 15-21). God changes Abram’s and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah as a preview of his covenant and promise (17:5, 15).

God changed Abram’s & Sarai’s name

Looks backwards

Looks forward
Abram – “Exalted father”

Abraham – “Father of a multitude”

Sarai – “My princess”

Sarah – “Princess”

 

God expands his promises to Abraham

I will

Confirm my covenant

Make you fruitful

Make nations of you

Multiply you greatly

Bring kings from you

Establish an everlasting covenant

Give you the land forever

Abraham listens to God’s promises and then falls on the floor laughing (17:17). He tries to bargain with God by asking God to bless Ishmael. God assures him that his plan will be fulfilled through Isaac (17:19). Sarah laughs just as hard when she hears the news (18:12). God responds to Sarah’s doubts by asking her, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (18:14).

Sarah recovers from her doubts and learns to trust God’s promises. Hebrews 11:11 explains, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.”

I take away three primary lessons from a study of God (El Shaddai) and his interaction with Abraham. One lesson is that God will keep his promises … in his time, not ours. God’s promises did not fail. However, it took 25 years before they were fulfilled. But God was faithful and blessed Abraham abundantly. God’s promises are secure because they are based on his power to keep them, not on my ability to believe them.

A second lesson I learned is that God’s plan is not hindered by our doubts or our failures. Abraham and Sarah both laughed at God’s promises. They thought they were too good to be true. Abraham and Sarah ran ahead of God and created difficult challenges and problems as a result of taking matters into their own hands and forcing God’s will. However, their doubts and failures did not derail God’s plan. God is still sovereignly in control and will accomplish his purpose.

I also learned that to fully enjoy God’s promises, we must walk with him and live a holy life. There is an order and sequence in Genesis 17:1-2. We love the idea that God (El Shaddai) is all-powerful and all-sufficient. We want his promises and we crave his blessings. That being said, we want to skip over the instructions in the middle, “walk before me and be blameless.” We want to live independently and gloss over holiness. But to fully enjoy God’s promises and blessings, we must walk with him and live a holy life.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 19, 2016. It is part of a series on The Names of God. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.