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Category Archives: Preaching

Bible Believing – video preview

What is the purpose of Scripture? How do I know it can be trusted? These and other questions will be asked and answered this Sunday at First Central Bible Church as we continue our series on vision for the Church. We will unpack 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to discover what it means to be “Bible Believing.” Here’s a video preview.

 

2021 annual report

Each year I write a report for the church as part of our annual business meeting at First Central Bible Church. Sometimes it looks backward on what we did in the previous year. Sometimes it looks forward and casts vision on where we are headed in the coming year. Here is what I penned over the past few weeks as I reflected on what God did in 2020.

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2020 is a year that needs to come with an asterisk. In terms of ministry, it can best be expressed with a “Yes, but …” approach.  “Yes, much of our ministry was shut down and/or changed, but look what God did!”

  • Yes, the church was closed for 11 weeks from March to May due to COVID, but we were able to adapt quickly so we could minister online in a virtual format.
  • Yes, our in-person attendance was lower once the church was able to reopen in late May, but our online attendance has remained high.
  • Yes, our in-person attendance has been limited by restrictions, but we have been able to minister to people in the Berkshires, Maine, Connecticut, California, Nevada, Florida, Washington, Puerto Rico, and other locations through our online presence.
  • Yes, the church was closed for 11 weeks and we had to change how we take offerings once we were able to resume meeting, but our giving has remained very healthy throughout the year. Our giving has been over our budget plan and our expenses have been down. God has richly provided for us through your faithful, generous giving.
  • Yes, there were times when we could not meet physically, but we were able to hold Sunday School classes, small group Bible studies, and board meetings via Zoom.
  • Yes, the annual Women’s Christmas Friendship Dinner was not held in the gym, but the Women’s Leadership Team provided a creative alternative and the tools for women to host a smaller gathering in their own homes.
  • Yes, our children’s ministry was curtailed and we could not host Sunday School, VBS, Awana Camp, Awana, and other activities, but Robin Dolbow was able to provide material and resources for families to do Sunday School at home.
  • Yes, we were not able to host any missionaries this year, but several of them did send a video update in the spring.
  • Yes, I was not able to go to Russia this year, but I did minister to pastors in several cities in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Belarus during an eight-hour Zoom conference in October.
  • Yes, I had two Walk Thru the Bible training conferences canceled and rescheduled, but I was able to be trained via Zoom in a new version of the New Testament event, NTLive.
  • Yes, the two pastor’s groups I meet with monthly were forced to stop, but we were able to connect virtually through Zoom, and one resumed meeting physically in the fall.
  • Yes, our ministry was forced to change and adapt, but we were still able to celebrate communion, baptize young believers, sing praises, teach the Scriptures, hold prayer gatherings, and encourage one another.
  • Yes, planning has become very difficult since everything is fluid right now, but we are still making plans (tentatively—in January I will preach a five-week series on vision for the church; we will continue our study of 1 & 2 Thessalonians in February – May; we will offer NTLive in the spring).
  • Yes, life, work, education, and ministry has changed, but our God is still on his throne. He is using these challenges to accomplish his plan and purpose.

Yes, there have been disappointments and discouragement in 2020, but God’s promises are still true and he can be trusted. Because God’s mercies are new every day, we can face the future with confidence.

 

Christ Centered

What is the missing ingredient that moves you from lethargic to engaged? What helps you to move forward and make progress in your personal growth? What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning and step into life?

In 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2, the apostle Paul explains what it means to live a Christ centered life. He uses the phrase “in Christ” and shares how that knowledge changes our identity and gives us a new motivation and a new sense of purpose. Paul explains that because Christ died for us, we are live for him by sharing the good news of the gospel with others.

Christ took our sin and died for us. After examining all the evidence, we can conclude that Jesus died for the sins of the world (5:14). The one who never knew sin was made sin for us in order that we might become God’s righteousness in him (5:21). The result is that we who were God’s enemies are now his friends. We have been reconciled and now have peace with God (5:18-19). Not only are we reconciled, but we are completely transformed (5:16-17). The apostle Paul went from persecuting the church to proclaiming the gospel message. In addition, we have a new sense of purpose. Instead of living for ourselves, we can live for Christ and serve others (5:15).

We are to share the good news of the gospel with others. In 5:10, Paul mentioned that we will all stand before Christ to give an account of our lives. That understanding gave Paul a healthy fear as motivation (5:11). In addition, Paul was also motivated by the love of Christ (5:14). Consequently, Paul did not care what people thought about him and was willing to be thought of as a foolish fanatic (5:12-13). As Paul explains, we have been left on planet Earth as God’s ambassadors (5:18-20). We are to use every means possible to convince people of the truth of the gospel (5:11; 6:1). We recognize that there is no time like the present to believe and present the gospel (6:1-2).

In order to live a Christ centered life:

  • Understand your identity “in Christ”
  • Understand the results, benefits, etc., of your salvation
  • Ask God to give you a burden for the lost
  • Ask God to give you one person to share the gospel with
  • Write out your testimony
  • Think through how to share the gospel
  • Ask God for boldness

Understanding who we are in Christ completely changes us. We have a new sense of identity, a new value system, a new sense of purpose, and a new sense of urgency. Our motivation is that because Christ loved us enough to die for us, we want to share this vital, urgent message with as many people as people. Our task is that as Christ’s ambassadors, we persuade, implore, and urge others to believe the good news of the gospel.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 10, 2021. It is the second message in a five-part series of expository sermons on vision for the church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Christ Centered – Video preview

What motivates you to live your life? How would your life change if you were motivated by the love of Christ? Those are the questions we will ask and answer this Sunday at First Central Bible Church. As we continue our five-week series on vision for the church, we focus on being “Christ Centered” from 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2. Here’s a video preview.

 

Faithfully Following

The story is told of a world-famous archer who boasted of his accuracy. On the eve of a competition, someone came upon practicing in secret in a forest. He would fire an arrow indiscriminately in any direction. Wherever it landed and whatever it struck, he would go up and paint the target around it. No wonder he hit the bullseye every time.

Churches can be like that archer, firing arrows in several directions and hoping to hit something. We can become busy doing church but not achieving any specific purpose.

At First Central Bible Church, we have a purpose statement that says we are Building a Community to Change the World. But what does that community look like? How can we change the world? Our elders spent several months trying to answer those questions. We decided to use our initials, FCBC, to add further definition to our purpose. We seek to be a Faithfully Following, Christ Centered, Bible Believing, Caring Community. During the month of January, we are spending one week on each of the concepts.

In Matthew 16:21-28, Jesus explains what it means to be Faithfully Following. He teaches his disciples the type of commitment he requires from anyone who wants to follow him. The passage serves as a hinge between Jesus’ public ministry (Matthew 4-16) and his private ministry (Matthew 16-28). Prior to this section, Jesus focused on teaching the crowds. Now he will pour his life into his disciples.

In verses 21-23, Jesus tells his disciples he must do four things—go to Jerusalem, suffer many things, be killed, and be raised on the third day. Peter decides that is totally unacceptable. He takes Jesus aside and tries to dissuade him from this talk of suffering and death. Jesus confronts Peter and points out that this type of thinking comes straight from the enemy himself.

Years ago, I was teaching a Walk Thru the Bible Old Testament live event. A pastor from another church was present and was considering hosting a New Testament event at his church. He had some concerns about the seminar, however. “How do you present the book of Romans.” I explained that we use the phrase, “Paid in full,” to summarize the message of Romans. He did not like that. He said that his church believes Christ gave us an example to follow. But the idea of Christ dying on the cross was offensive to them.

I think there are times we try to soften the gospel. Like Peter, we prefer comfort to the cross. We want risk free faith, commitment free service, sacrifice free giving, and pain free devotion. We want the benefits of discipleship without any of the costs. Like Peter, we need to learn that the desire for a comfortable lifestyle and the avoidance of suffering is a hindrance to kingdom work.

In verses 24-28, Jesus raises the bar on commitment. Rather than viewing ourselves as the center of the universe, we are to deny ourselves. We are to take up our cross daily. Some think that a difficult roommate, a demanding boss, or a physical ailment is their “cross to bear.” In the first century, taking up your cross meant a one-way journey to death. It was a full commitment to die to self. Once we deny ourselves and die to self, we can fully follow Jesus. True discipleship involves following Christ and doing his will, wherever he leads and whatever the cost. Glory and rewards are only attained after a life of self-denying service.

These verses present the tale of two lifestyles:

Live for yourself

Deny yourself

Ignore the cross

Take up your cross

Follow the world

Follow Christ

Save your life for your sake

Lose your life for Jesus’ sake
Gain the world

Forsake the world

Lose your soul

Keep your soul
Lose Jesus’ reward and glory

Share Jesus’ reward and glory

A. W. Tozer once wrote, “In every Christian’s heart there is a cross and a throne, and the Christian is on the throne till he puts himself on the cross; if he refuses the cross he remains on the throne. We must do something about the cross, and one of two things only we can do—flee it or die upon it.”

Christ wants each one of us to get out of our easy chair and invest our lives in his kingdom work. Perhaps that means to stop attending church and become a member; stop observing and start serving; stop talking only to friends and welcome newcomers; stop attending an adult Sunday School and start teaching a class.

Perhaps you could skip one latte a week and use the funds to support an orphan or a missionary. Maybe you could do a brown bag lunch one day a week instead of eating out and use the funds to send a child a camp. Perhaps you could sacrifice watching a football game and help a neighbor or give up your favorite TV show to mentor a newlywed couple.

Instead of buying more possessions you could give more to God. Instead of having a family dinner at home, maybe you could serve dinner at a rescue mission. Perhaps you could take your family on a short-term ministry trip instead of going to an amusement park for vacation.

Christ wants us to give up your personal preferences and defer to others’ needs. He wants us to let go of our planned, controlled life and allow him to interrupt our carefully laid plans. He wants us to trade our safe, cautious, predictable, comfortable lifestyle and instead join him on the risky adventure of faith.

We are to faithfully follow Christ as his disciples.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 3, 2021. It is part of a series of expository sermons on Vision for the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Faithfully Following – video preview

How can we fulfill our purpose as a church? What does it mean to be a community of faith? During the month of January, we are going to be answering those questions, using the initials of our church, FCBC. This Sunday, we will examine Matthew 16:21-28 to discover what it means to be “Faithfully Following.” Here’s a video preview.

 

Where do you want to go?

Over the years, my wife and I have done a number of road trips. We drove up and down the west coast to visit family and take our children to college. We drove cross country on a couple of occasions for vacation and to deliver a car to one of our children. Before heading out, we planned the route, the daily driving distance, and where we would stop for hotels and meals.

As you think about the coming year, where are you headed? What route will you take? How will you know you will arrive at your destination?

Many people think we have many different options and roads we can take. Scripture tells us that there are only two roads that we can travel. Psalm 1 explains that one path leads to happiness and one path leads to ruin.

Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm that use contrasts to present truth. The psalm paints a contrast between happiness and ruin, the righteous and the wicked, and blessing and misery. Verses 1-3 describe the road to happiness. Verses 4-6 describe the road to ruin.

If you want to arrive at true happiness, don’t follow the crowd (1). The psalmist paints a vivid picture of what we need to do if we want to receive God’s blessings. The chart describes the three things that the happy, blessed person must avoid.

Walk

Go along with

Counsel

Purpose, plan, values

Wicked

Want nothing to do with God’s way

 

Beliefs

Stand

Become influenced and involved

Way

Conduct, behavior, habits

Sinners

A life dominated by sin

 

Behavior

Sit

Dwell, remain, abide

Seat

When you sit in someone’s seat, you become like them

Scoffers

Those who ridicule, mock, and reject God and his word

 

Belonging

The psalmist presents a gradual descent into evil. You move from the casual influence of ungodly people to collusion with them in their scorn against the righteous. Rather than advancing towards godliness, you start sliding backwards until you settle into a lifestyle dominated by sin.

If you want to arrive at true happiness, focus on the word of God (2). Sir Winston Churchill once remarked, “A fanatic is someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” A godly person is someone who has a love affair with God’s word. They passionately devote themselves to reading, studying, and memorizing Scripture to the degree that it shapes everything about their lifestyle.

If you want to arrive at true happiness, plant yourself where you can grow (3). Rather than a dandelion seed blowing in the wind and landing in a field, a godly person intentionally plants themselves in a good church, a Sunday School class, or a small group Bible study where they can grow. In that environment, they are productive and prosperous. They understand that where you stand and how you live will have life shaping consequences.

If you want to arrive at destruction, be a worthless lightweight (4). In contrast to the godly, wicked people have no value or substance. They are like chaff that a farmer separates from the wheat. They are so light that they blow away in the wind.

If you want to arrive at destruction, fail the test (5). Since they have no root system, the wicked lack stability. Like a rootless tree that topples during a wind storm, the mildest trial will leave a wicked person cowering in the corner. They will be fearful in the day of judgment.

If you want to arrive at destruction, ignore the warning signs (6). Scripture is clear that God rewards those who seek him and punishes those who reject him. The problem is that many people think they will be the exception to the rule and God will overlook their sin. However, they have no relationship with God and will face his judgment.

Your destination is determined by which path you choose

Wicked

Righteous

Easily influenced by ideas

Focused attention on God’s word

Randomly Rootless

Intentionally Planted

Withers

Growing
Worthless chaff

Valuable fruit

Judged/Perish

Rewarded/Prosper
No relationship with God

Known by God

Sorrow

Joy

Where are you headed? If you want to arrive at true happiness, you must choose to follow God.

This is the synopsis of an expository message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 27, 2020. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Where do you want to go? – Video preview

Where do you want to go in the coming year? How will you get there? What route will you take? These are the questions we will ask and answer as we unpack Psalm 1 on Sunday, December 27, at First Central Bible Church. Here’s a video preview of the message. Please join us.

 

The Christmas Hunt

Sharon was someone who loved Christmas, and especially, Christmas presents. Her family could never hide the gifts from her. Sharon would search throughout the house from top to bottom until she found the latest hiding place. She would carefully unwrap the presents, gaze at them in wonder, and then wrap them back up and return them to the hiding place.

In a similar manner, 1 Peter 1:10-12 explains that the prophets and even the angels wanted to sneak a peek inside the Christmas gift that God had planned for the world.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Take the prophet Isaiah for example. He had a glimpse of both Christmas and Easter. He had a glimpse of Christmas when he penned Isaiah 9:6-7.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Isaiah spoke of a child-son who would be given to the world. He would be fully God and fully man. The four two-word titles describe the character and ministry of this child. He would sit on the throne of David and his kingdom would have no end.

Isaiah had a glimpse of Easter when he wrote Isaiah 53:4-6.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah likened the human race to a herd of sheep who willfully wandered away and deserved punishment. But God sent a suffering servant who would take our sins upon himself. Through his death we would find healing and forgiveness.

The prophets and angels wanted to know more about the gift God was giving to the world. We now know the fully story. Jesus Christ came to light the way back to the Father. Jesus is our Savior. He came to die for our sins and to restore us back to a relationship with God.

Thanks be to God for his gracious gift of salvation. Celebrate the Son!

This is the synopsis of a devotional shared during the Christmas Eve 2020 service at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA.

 

The Best Christmas Gift

What’s the best gift you ever received for Christmas? Not the one you bought for yourself and placed under the tree. Not the one you stood in line on the 26th to return for cash so you could get the size, color, or item you really wanted. Not the one you saved for next year’s white elephant gift exchange, Yankee Swap, or National Regifting Day.

The best gift is not necessarily the one you thought you wanted the most. It’s not the one that you place at the top of your wish list. The best gift doesn’t always come in the biggest box or is wrapped in the shiniest paper and have the biggest bow on top.

The best gift is the one that is personally picked out just for you. The best gift is the one you open and exclaim, “How did you know? This is not what I asked for, but it’s what I always wanted!”

In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed that God’s best gift to us is a child. It is a son whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. Jesus is God’s Christmas gift to us.

In Isaiah 9:6-7, we read,

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Isaiah said that the child who was born, this son who was given would be both God and man. Child emphasizes his humanity while son points to his deity. He would wear the robe of authority and his reign would have no end. Isaiah used four descriptive names or two-word titles which revealed the character of this child and the type of ministry he would have.

When we are discouraged and ready to give up, we need a counselor who will come alongside and encourage us. God’s gift to us is more than just one who dispenses good ideas. As Isaiah explained, he is the Wonderful Counselor. He is a supernatural counselor who will implement supernatural wisdom in discharging his office. He has the wisdom to rule justly.

Where do you need wisdom? Do you face difficult decisions about your children or parents? Do you face problems at work for which you don’t have answers? The promise of Christmas is that we can go to the Wonderful Counselor and know that he will give us wisdom.

Do you ever feel like David, facing a Goliath with only a sling and a few stones? Can you identify with Gideon, being heavily outnumbered and short on resources? Do you face a situation like Mary, having to trust God for seemingly impossible promises?

Take comfort in the assurance that our Savior is a powerful warrior. He is the irresistible battle champion who will obtain the final victory in the arena of history. He is the Mighty God.

Where do you need God to intervene on your behalf? Do you need him to change the heart of your employer? God hears those prayers and it is in just such situations of hopelessness and helplessness that his almighty power is born. It is there that God leaves his treasure. The promise of Christmas is that the Mighty God has the strength that we lack.

What does a good father do? A good father protects his children from those who want to harm them. He provides for their needs and many of their wants. A good father cares, counsels, accepts, loves, challenges, and encourages his children.

Yet with all of their good intentions, earthly fathers come and go. Earthly fathers grow old.  Some become ill and die. Others serve in the military and are deployed overseas. Some are killed in battle. Still other fathers abandon their children.

In contrast, our Savior is an Everlasting Father. He will never leave or abandon us. There is no end to his protection and provision.

Where do you need a father’s touch in your life? Do you need to crawl up into daddy’s lap and pour out your heart to him? Where do you need your father to step in and tell you that it will be all right? The promise of Christmas is that the Everlasting Father will love and care for his children forever.

As much as we desire peace, we cannot achieve it through our own efforts. Fortunately for us, our Savior is the one who brings in and maintains peace. Not only is he a peacemaker, he is the Prince of Peace.

Where do you need to experience God’s peace? Are there problems and concerns that are troubling you? Are there broken relationships that you would like God to heal and restore? The promise of Christmas is that the Prince of Peace both makes peace and gives us peace.

More than 2,500 years ago, the prophet Isaiah told of one who would be the hope of mankind, the long-awaited Messiah who would establish an eternal kingdom based on justice and righteousness. Isaiah’s important pronouncement told that this one would be a God-man: a child born, referring to his humanity, and a son given, referring to his deity. The four names ascribed to this one give further insight into His character and ministry:

He is the Wonderful Counselor. He is our guide through life, and our advocate before the heavenly Father. He is the one who freely gives wisdom when we ask. Follow him.

He is the Mighty God. He is the God before whom every knee shall one day bow. He is the one who intervenes and works on our behalf. Hide behind him.

He is the Everlasting Father. He is the God of eternity. He is the Father who cares for and meets the needs of his children. Enjoy him.

He is the Prince of Peace. He is the one who will bring a true tranquility among all nations. He is the one who brings peace to our troubled hearts. He is the one who heals broken relationships. Welcome him.

As you long for joy and peace during this Christmas season, remember that Jesus Christ is God’s best Christmas gift to us. The more intimately we know the “child-Son,” the deeper grows our love and devotion for Him. Worship Him even now and throughout this season as you sing of the joys of Christmas.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 20, 2020. It is part of collection of expository sermons on Advent. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.