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Category Archives: Gospel of Matthew

Using Jesus’ model prayer to guide us in praying

Here is the prayer guide we used last night for our Zoom Prayer Gathering

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A Prayer Gathering

April 29, 2020

Using Jesus’ model prayer to guide us in praying.

Matthew 6:9–13 (ESV)

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Adoration

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

  • Elohim – “The Strong One” (Genesis 1:1)
  • El Elyon – “God Most High” (Genesis 14:19-20)
  • Adonai – “Lord” (Genesis 15:1-8; Exodus 4:10-16)
  • El Shaddai – “God Almighty” (Genesis 17:1-2)
  • Jehovah Jireh – “The Lord will Provide” (Genesis 22)
  • Yahweh – “The Self-Existent One” (Exodus 3:1-15)
  • Jehovah Rapha – “The Lord who Heals you” (Exodus 15:22-27)
  • Jehovah Nissi – “The Lord is our Banner” (Exodus 17:8-16)
  • Jehovah Mekadesh – “The Lord who Sanctifies you” (Leviticus 20:7-8)
  • Jehovah Shalom – “The Lord is Peace” (Judges 6:24)
  • Jehovah Sabaoth – “The Lord of Hosts” (1 Samuel 1:10-11; 17:45-46)
  • Jehovah Rohi – “The Lord my Shepherd” (Psalm 23)
  • Jehovah Tsidkenu – “The Lord our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5-6)
  • Jehovah Shammah – “The Lord is There” (Ezekiel 48:35)

Praise God for who he is and how he has revealed himself to us.

Petition

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

  • Pray for greater vision, faith, and confidence in God
  • Pray for our city, state, and national leaders
  • Pray for upcoming elections
  • Pray that God will guide our elders as they lead our church
  • Pray for the finance board as they manage our money
  • Pray that God gives us wisdom to evaluate our ministries
  • Pray that we would discern where God is at work and what he wants us to do for his kingdom
  • Pray that we would become more outward focused
  • Pray for our ministries that reach into our community—Awana, Lord’s Pantry
  • Pray for our ministries that help people grow—Sunday School, Small group Bible studies, women’s ministries, youth group
  • Pray that each attender will be fully engaged
  • Pray that we would be fruitful and effective, rather than busy
  • Pray that we would be willing to change and adapt, rather than hold on to the past
  • Pray that God would give us a spirit of generosity

“Give us this day our daily bread,”

  • Pray for financial provision
  • Pray that God raises up people who are willing to serve
  • Pray that God would add new believers to our church
  • Pray for greater boldness and open doors—church, missionaries
  • Pray for personal needs—health, finances, jobs, wisdom, energy

Confession

“forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”

  • Confess personal sins
  • Confess corporate sins
  • Confess national sins
  • Pray for broken relationships

Dependence

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

  • Pray for our staff, elders, deacons, deaconesses, worship leaders, board and committee members
  • Pray for purity
  • Pray for willingness to say “NO!” to temptation and sin

Adoration

“For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (While not found in most early manuscripts, many of us learned the prayer this way.)

Praise God!

 

What’s Your Investment Strategy?

What is your investment strategy? Sports memorabilia? Stamps? Vintage comic books? Stocks & bonds? Or is your investment strategy giving it all away? Serving others?

In our series on Generosity, we have seen the following principles in the Scriptures—It all belongs to God. We give back to God what he has given us. We worship God with our first and best. God promises that if we give, he will meet our needs; that is, if we follow the sequence of we give first, then God meets our needs. We are to give generously and see what God does. We have been blessed in order to be a blessing.

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), we see one more principle—We are to use all we are and all we have for God’s glory. Matthew 25 contains two parables about the kingdom of God. The parable of the 10 virgins (1-13) emphasizes that we are to WAIT faithfully until Jesus returns. The parable of the talents (14-30) emphasizes that we are to WORK faithfully until Jesus returns.

God has entrusted some of his resources to each of us (14-18). Jesus tells the story of a rich man who heads out of town on a long journey. Prior to leaving, he entrusts his portfolio and possessions to three trusted servants. Since a talent represented 20 years’ wages, he is giving each one an enormous amount of money. But he is a wise leader, and he tailors the assignment to each one’s ability (15).

We often raise our first objection at this point. We believe that life should be fair and we should be treated equal. We complain if we get less than someone else. However, as F. D. Bruner pointed out, “In the kingdom of God, not all are created equal.” Some have a greater capacity than others. If you gave five talents to a one talent person, you would frustrate and overwhelm him. If you gave one talent to a five talent person, she would be bored out of her mind. God in his grace gives us exactly what we deserve and are capable of handling.

God will hold us accountable for what we do with his resources (19-30). After a long absence, the master returns and wants to settle the accounts. We see that faithfulness will be rewarded (20-23) while unfaithfulness will be punished (24-30).

The servant given five talents brings his ledger and shows that he doubled the master’s investment. The master praises him, promotes him to a greater level of responsibility, and invites him into a celebration party. The servant given two talents brings the same rate of return and receives the exact same praise, promotion, and reward. It is significant to note that rewards are NOT based on results. Rewards are based on faithfulness.

The servant given one talent operated out of a sense of fear and a scarcity mentality. Fearful of making a mistake, he was paralyzed into inaction. John Gardner once observed, “One of the reasons why mature people stop growing and learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.” Instead of receiving praise, the master calls him lazy and wicked. Instead of receiving a promotion, he loses what he was given. Instead of being invited into the party, he is kicked to the curb.

What is your investment strategy? What is in your portfolio? What financial resources has God given you? What is your spiritual gift? What natural talents and abilities do you possess? How are you using them for God’s kingdom?

Brendan Francis said, “If you have a talent, use it in every which way possible. Don’t hoard it. Don’t dole it out like a miser. Spend it lavishly like a millionaire intent on going broke.”

Don’t be afraid to take a risk and step out of your comfort zone. Hudson Taylor’s words on this subject are encouraging—“Unless there is an element of risk in our exploits for God, there is no need for faith.”

The story is told of the great artist Bertoldo di Giovanni. He was the student of Donatello and the teacher of Michelangelo. On one occasion, he came into the studio and found Michelangelo working on something beneath his abilities. Giovanni picked up a hammer and smashed the project. He proclaimed, “Michelangelo, talent is cheap; dedication is costly! It will cost you your life.”

How are you investing your life? David Garland posed a rather convicting question, “When Christ returns, he will not ask if one had the date right but ‘What have you been doing?’”

Use all you are and all you have for God’s glory.

This is the synopsis of a sermon preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 1, 2020. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the topic of Generosity. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Sandwiched between Faithfulness & Fruitfulness

I live my life sandwiched between two tensions. I want to be found faithful while at the same time, I want to be found fruitful.

As a pastor, I struggle with numbers. I watch the graphs of our attendance and chart the ups and downs of our giving. I know that people pass judgment on me based on those figures. People look at those numbers and determine my worth.

However, I know that my success is not measured by numbers. The artificial measuring sticks—bodies, budgets, buildings, baptisms, books, broadcasts, and blogs—are valuable indicators, yes, but they are not what God will use to evaluate and determine whether or not I am successful.

God will not evaluate my ministry based on the size. He will evaluate whether or not I was faithful. “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the master does not praise his servants based on their production. The one with the five talents received the same reward as the one with the two talents. Both were faithful in using their talents for the master and heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21, 23).

People may judge my success or failure based on numbers and size, but God will evaluate whether or not I was faithful to use the gifts and abilities he has given me for his service. I get that.

And yet, at the same time, I want to be fruitful. In John 15:1-11, Jesus speaks of the progression of moving from no fruit to fruit to more fruit to much fruit. In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23; Mark 4:1-20), some of the seed produces thirtyfold, some sixtyfold, and some hundredfold.

I desire to produce much fruit. I want to be one who produces hundredfold. While that may be my desire, I recognize that I cannot produce anything in my own power. Much fruit only comes as I abide in Christ and his life flows through me. God is the one who produces the size of the harvest.

This brings me back full circle to faithfulness. I must be faithful to abide in Christ and depend on him for life, growth, and fruitful ministry. I must rely on him to determine how, when, and where he will use me. I must be faithful to use everything I have for his glory. I must focus on depth—building deeply into my life and the life of others—and allow him to determine the breadth and effectiveness of my ministry.

May I be found faithful and fruitful. The one is up to me. The other is up to God. I need to live contentedly between those two tensions.

 

Wise Men & Foolish People—The Story of the Wise Men

“To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year.” That statement, penned 65 years ago by E. B. White, is still true today. Between the focus on impeachment hearings, Presidential debates, school shootings, fears of terrorism, and the over-commercialization of Christmas shopping, it is difficult to find the meaning in the madness of the season.

Once discovered, people respond in a variety of ways to the message of Christmas. Some are offended. The Freedom From Religion Foundation takes the opportunity of the holidays to promote their manifesto. Some are nonplused. They know the story but go about their business without pausing to consider the meaning. But those who discovered the savior rejoice in his birth. The account of the Magi searching for Jesus portrays all of these responses (Matthew 2:1-12).

There are three main actors in this part of the Christmas drama—King Herod, the wise men, and the star.

King Herod was not Jewish, but was declared “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate. He ruled Palestine from 37-4 B.C. He was cruel and merciless, jealous, suspicious, and paranoid. He killed his enemies including his brother-in-law, one of his wives, and three sons.

Rather than kings, the magi were of a priestly caste from Persia or Babylon. They were skilled in astronomy and astrology. The magi probably learned about the one true God and the coming Messiah from Daniel, who was the leader of the magi (Daniel 2:48).

The star was either a natural phenomenon such as a star, comet, supernova, or conjunction of planets; a supernatural phenomenon; or an angel. The significance is not found in what the phenomenon was but rather what it pointed to.

Verses 1-2 explain that wise people seek Jesus. The wise men saw the star and knew it signified the birth of royalty. They correctly interpreted the signs and knew the messiah of Israel had been born. They traveled some 900 miles from Babylon to seek the newborn king.

On December 17, 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their “flying machine” off the ground. Thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.”

In the same way, the religious leaders of Israel saw the same signs as the magi but completely missed the point. The religious leaders portray the foolish people who ignore Jesus (3-8).

Knowing he is not the rightful heir to David’s throne, Herod feels threatened by the birth of a new king (3). He summons the religious leaders and asks them to explain what the magi were talking about (4). The religious leaders know the facts about the Messiah’s birth, but don’t appear overly impressed or interested (5-6).

Feigning interest, King Herod sends the magi to Bethlehem to finish their quest. Once they find the newborn king, they are to send word to Herod so that he can come and pay his respects (7-8). As the text explains later, Herod is secretly hatching a plot to protect his throne by eliminating a supposed rival (16-18).

Verses 9-12 show that wise people worship Jesus. The star reappears and leads the wise men to the child in Bethlehem (9). The magi honor Jesus as they present their gifts to him (10-11). Their quest ends in worship.

I put together the following chart to compare and contrast the differing responses by the characters in the story. It is difficult not to identify with one of them.

Foolish people

Wise people

Herod

Scribes & Priests

Magi

Intimidated

Indifferent Intrigued
Duplicity Disturbed

Devotion

Troubled

Factual Rejoiced
Opposing Ignoring

Seeking

Antagonism

Apathy Adoration
Hostility Disinterest

Worship

The question each one of us must answer is, “How do we respond to the message of Christmas?” Are we antagonistic? Do we reject the birth of Jesus? Are we apathetic to the news of the gospel? Do we know the story so well that we are no longer moved? Are we just going through the motions? Do we express praise and adoration? Like the wise men, do we come and worship the God who sent his son to be our savior?

The magi discovered that those who seek Jesus Christ are invited to worship him. May we seek him and find him and worship him as well.

This message was preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 22, 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.

 

Are you a wise person or a foolish one?

This Sunday, we will examine Matthew 2:1-12 at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA. It tells the tale of “Wise Men & Foolish People–The Story of the Wise Men.” Here’s a video preview of the message. Why don’t you join us?

 

Russia 2019 – April Update

Praying friends,

Thanks to God’s grace and your prayers, my passport and visa to Russia arrived this morning. Considering I leave in 10 days, it arrived none too soon!

On this trip, I will be teaching a three-day course on the Harmony of the Gospels in two locations—Anapa and Elista, Russia. So far, 25 students have registered and the number will probably increase as we get closer to the date. Last year, 43 people from 4 cities attended the classes.

At this point, the preparations are essentially complete. My notes are ready to go. I made copies of my handouts in Russian to take along. I purchased short-term ministry trip insurance. The only thing left to do is get some dental work taken care of and then pack.

Here are some items for your intercessory efforts:

PRAISES

  • Passport and visa to Russia arrived in a timely manner without complications.
  • The trip is fully funded.
  • Carol and I enjoyed a wonderful, refreshing time at the SonScape Retreat in Colorado.
  • I am finally healthy, having gotten over a cold/cough that plagued me for two weeks.

PRAYER REQUESTS

  • The students who will attend.
  • Safe travel.
  • Good health.
  • Effective ministry.
  • Dental work—I’m getting a root canal in a tooth on Monday.
  • Good Friday and Easter services this weekend.
  • Pray for Carol as she remains at home.

While you are praying, could you also pray that God will provide the necessary funds for Carol and me to minister in Moscow this fall in October? We will be part of a team teaching a week-long seminar on leadership development—identifying and training young, emerging leaders in the church. So far, $825 has been given towards the $4,200 needed for the trip. My prayer is that God will provide the total amount by June so that we can purchase airfare and make plans. If you would like to support the trip financially, please send a check to First Central Bible Church, 50 Broadway St, Chicopee, MA, 01020. Checks should be made out to FCBC with “Moscow Conference” in the notation line.

Thanks so much for your prayers, encouragement, and support. I’m grateful.

Mark Wheeler

 

After the Confetti Settles

Each one of us experiences many turning points in our lives. They are events which paint a distinct before and after picture. Before the event our lives were headed one direction. After the event, we headed off in an entirely different direction. Before we thought one thing; afterwards we had an entirely different perspective.

Sometimes the turning points are joyous occasions. Graduations, weddings, the birth of a child are events that drastically change a person’s life. Sometimes the events are traumatic such as an accident or doctor’s appointment where we are told we have cancer. Sometimes our life changes because of someone else’s action or decision. Whether the turning point is good, bad, or indifferent, life is never the same again.

The day Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is one such event. Matthew 21:1-11 records his triumphal entry. On this occasion, Jesus presented his credentials as the Messiah/King, the Son of David. The crowds shouted his praise. But what happened after the confetti settled and the parade was over? How was life different for the disciples or the people of Jerusalem? In the same way, how is life different for a Christ follower after Jesus enters his or her life?

Matthew 21:12-22 gives us an answer to that question. (Mark 11:11-12 adds the perspective that these events take place the day after Palm Sunday.) These events help us understand that life is never the same after King Jesus arrives. Jesus will challenge our priorities (12-13), heal our hurts (14), confront our biases (15-16), and expect fruit in our lives (18-22).

The day after Jesus entered Jerusalem, he makes his way to the temple. There he observes how the temple complex had been turned into a place of commerce. There were pens of sheep and livestock available for purchase to use as sacrifices. If you could not afford those, you could buy pigeons or doves. Before making any purchase, you had to exchange your regional coins for temple money.

Jesus begins to drive the merchants and money changers out of the temple (12-13). He declares that the temple was to be a place of prayer, not a safe house for bandits. In his actions, Jesus challenged the priorities of the prevailing culture. Instead of focusing on worship, they were more concerned about busyness. By driving the merchants out, Jesus removed the weapons of mass distraction. He called for people to refocus their attention on the purpose of the temple—a place where people of every nationality could come to pray.

In verse 14, Jesus healed those who were blind and lame. Because of their physical disability, they were not welcome in the temple. They could not worship their creator. Beyond the physical healing, Jesus removed the barriers that kept these folks from entering the temple to worship.

After showing mercy to hurting people, Jesus confronted the bias of the religious leaders who were outraged that people were not worshipping in the proper manner (15-16). Ironically, they put up with the noise of commerce but cringed at the noise of praise. As he often did, Jesus comforted the afflicted and he afflicted the comfortable.

Outside of the city, Jesus saw a fig tree in full bloom (18-22). Normally, leaves meant the presence of figs. But that was not the case. The tree had the appearance of health and fruitfulness, but it was all a sham. Because of its hypocrisy, Jesus said the tree would never bloom again. Through his actions, Jesus taught his disciples that outward appearances are not enough. He expects to find fruit in our lives. Jesus also used the occasion to teach about prayer and faith. He explained that God can do what is humanly impossible.

These same lessons should be true in our lives as well. When King Jesus comes into our lives, life is never the same again. He will challenge our priorities. He wants us to pursue a relationship with him rather than settle for busyness. He will heal our hurts and remove the barriers that hinder us from approaching him in worship. He will make us uncomfortable as he confronts our biases. And he will expect us to be fruitful in serving him.

Have you given King Jesus permission to cleanse and change your life? If we’re honest, we might have given him permission to cleanse our lives. We want forgiveness and heaven. But change our lives? Many of us want to continue living by our own standards. But that is just not realistic. When King Jesus truly comes into our lives, he changes everything. Life is never the same after King Jesus takes up residence in our lives.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at the First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Palm Sunday message preview

 

Russia 2019 – March update

Dear friends,

I am grateful for your support, encouragement, and prayers for my upcoming trip to Russia. It is only through your intercessory efforts that I am able to do what I do. Thanks so much!

I hope to apply for my Russian visa in the next couple of weeks. The LOI (letter of invitation) from Moscow should arrive next week. Once I receive it, I will head for the Russian visa office in New York City to apply in person for the visa. I will be applying for a humanitarian visa for religious work, in order to be above board on what we are doing and not take a chance in getting in trouble with the authorities. Please pray that the process goes smoothly and without complications.

I completed the third round of editing my notes for the Harmony of the Gospels course. As I mentioned previously, the challenge of teaching through four gospels is deciding what NOT to say. After cutting the material in half through the editing process, I still have a bit too much. Until I teach through it the first time, I won’t know for sure. Please pray that I have wisdom to know what to include and what to leave out.

Please pray for the students who will attend the course. They are currently working on the preclass assignment. They are to read through one of gospels and write down their questions. They are also to answer two questions: (1) What does it mean to worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23)? How do you do that personally? and (2) How did Jesus fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17-20)? Should Christians follow the Law today?

Please pray for Carol and me over the next seven weeks—safe travel, good health, wise use of our time, boldness to share with people, etc. Next week, I will be in Atlanta, GA, for a Walk Thru the Bible faculty conference. When I return, Carol heads for the west coast to visit her parents and sisters and to see two of our children. In early April, we will attend a SonScape pastoral retreat in Colorado. It will be a time of rest, refreshment, encouragement, challenge, and planning for the future. In mid-April, we will be involved in our Easter outreach here at the church. The week after Easter, I leave for Russia. As you can see, the next seven weeks are filled with many opportunities for ministry.

Thanks for your support, encouragement, and prayers. I’m in your debt.

 

Russia 2019 – February update

Dear friends,

I was recently reading through the book of Exodus and came upon every pastor, missionary, and ministry leader’s ideal regarding financial giving. Exodus chapters 35 & 36 describe the offering for the construction of the tabernacle. Moses called for those who were willing and generous to bring their offering. People gave so much that Moses finally had to call a halt.

35:4 Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s contribution…20 Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. 21 And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution …36:2 And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the Lord had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning… So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.

Once again, through your prayers and generosity, God has provided for my May 2019 ministry trip to Russia. Two weeks ago, I was able to purchase airfare and make hotel reservations. Thank you, Lord!

I have started the process of applying for a Russian visa. Once I receive the LOI (letter of invitation) from our contact in Moscow, I will apply for a humanitarian visa for religious work. Rather than the normal 30-day visa, I will be applying for a one-year visa. (Carol and I have been invited to come to Moscow in October to help teach a seminar on leadership development. More about that trip next month.) Please pray that the process goes smoothly and without complications.

I have been working on my notes for the Harmony of the Gospels course over the past few weeks. In previous years, I only taught one book of the Bible during the three-day course. As you can imagine, the challenge of teaching through four books is deciding what NOT to say. Please pray that I have wisdom to know what to include and what to leave out.

Please pray for the students who will attend the course. Last week I sent a preclass assignment for them to begin working on. They are to read through one of gospels and write down their questions. They are also to answer two questions: (1) What does it mean to worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23)? How do you do that personally? and (2) How did Jesus fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17-20)? Should Christians follow the Law today?

Thanks for your support, encouragement, and prayers. I’m in your debt.