Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December's newsletter article: The reason for the season

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7

I can’t believe December is here again. I feel like it was just a second ago that Veronique and I were busily moving; and yet a year has come and gone, December is here, and the Christmas season has begun. Decorations are going up, plans are being made to visit friends and relatives, the children are practicing for their annual performance, which will be on the 19th, the ladies are baking up a storm for the cookie walk, and the advent wreath is going up. Soon, we will be gathering with friends and families, getting ourselves involved in that frantic race to finish our Christmas shopping, and going to Childrens Christmas pageants. Soon, we will be busily decoration our houses, and preparing for open houses.

I have found myself looking forward to the Christmas season with a sense of anticipation. Joseph is getting to the point where he can take part in placing a few things on the tree (a few), and he will love the bright lights, and the gifts under the tree (if he can leave them wrapped). I’m excited to get up, and have the fun of tearing those gifts open with him.

But in the middle of all the fun and business, my encouragement to you is, don’t lose sight of the reason for Christmas. As we get busy shopping, planning events, decorating, and doing the million other things that we do at Christmas, don’t lose sight of the reason for the season, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

This is where our focus should be, on the God man who came to reconcile the world to God. On the baby, who came in the midst of obscurity, and changed history forever. James Francis noted that “He was a man born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. While still a young man, the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. When he was dead He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the centerpiece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life”.

As we come to the Christmas season, don’t lose sight of the main event, keep your eyes fixed on Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, the one who came as a child, showed himself to be God as a man, went to the cross for you, and will return to rule the living and the dead.

In Christ,
Pastor Jonathan

Christmas musings

Christmas musings

Galatians 4:4-6: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"

Philippians 2:6-7: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

This Christmas, I have found myself struck by several wonderful truths.

The first one that has struck me is the reminder that as Christians, we live as people whose lives are shaped by the reality of the past, and the hope of the future. Christianity is not just an antiquated set of rules to live by; instead, it is a source of hope, or joy. This world, with its problems, challenges, and hardships is not our home. We may live in this world, but this is not our final destination. As Paul wrote, “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21). Because of this, our lives should be lived with anticipation of Christ’s return, and as people who seek to glorify God joyfully.

The second truth that I have been struck by here at Christmas is that we live in light of a wonderful paradox. A paradox is an apparent contradiction which conceals a profound truth. The Bible is filled with paradoxes. We triumph by first surrendering to God. We see the unseen through faith. We find freedom in becoming Christ's servants. We can truly live only if we die to self. The greatest paradox in the entire Bible is found in the birth of Jesus Christ.

Over the years, this paradox has been explored and written on by some of the greatest minds in Christendom. Here at Christmas, let me share some with you. Augustine wrote that “He lies in a manger, but contains the world. He feeds at the breast, but also feeds the angels. He is wrapped in swaddling clothes, but vests us with immortality. He found no place in the inn, but makes for Himself a temple in the hearts of believers. In order that weakness might become strong, and strength became weak” C.H. Spurgeon wrote that He was “Infinite, and an infant— Supporting the universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother’s arms— king of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph— heir of all things and yet the carpenter’s despised son. Sam Storms wrote “The Word became flesh! God became human! The invisible became visible! The untouchable became touchable! The transcendent one descended and drew near! The exalted was humbled! Glory was subjected to shame! From a throne to a cross! And just this month, the folks at igniter media wrote for a short video, “Though he left his throne he became our king. A king who came not to be served, but to serve. A king whose death would bring us life. A king whose single sacrifice would serve as the ransom for us all. It’s a wonderful paradox. It’s a paradox that brings hope, and ultimately, brings joy. Because of the incarnation, we find the reason for true joy.

This is the third truth that has struck me here at Christmas. Christ’s birth is a true reason for joy. We find many things that give us happiness in life. But here at Christmas, we see the true reason for joy. The king has come, He has opened our prison door, and offered us life as citizens of his kingdom. He has come, and as my favorite preacher, John Piper wrote, “blew the lock off the prison of death and gloom and returned to the gladness of God. With that He put His sanction on the pursuit of happiness. And He opened the way for sinners to find never-ending satisfaction at the fountain of the glory of His grace.” (Piper, The Gladness of the Risen God) Here at Christmas, rejoice. The king has come, and now, your citizenship is in heaven. If you are in Christ, you are adopted as Gods children. So here at Christmas, as children with full inheritance rights, as people who can cry “Abba father”. Rejoice!

In Christ,
Pastor Jonathan

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Puritan Thanksgiving Prayer

Here at thanksgiving, a puritan prayer for you to mull from The Valley of Vision

This prayer is taken from a collection Puritan prayers and devotions in a book called The Valley of Vision (highly recommended).

O My God, thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves thee, for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in ceaseless flow. When I think upon and converse with thee ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up, ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart, crowding into every moment of happiness.

I bless thee for the soul thou hast created, for adorning it, sanctifying it, though it is fixed in barren soil; for the body thou hast given me, for preserving its strength and vigour, for providing sense to enjoy delights, for the ease and freedom of my limbs, for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding; for thy royal bounty providing my daily support, for a full table and overflowing cup, for appetite, taste, sweetness, for social joys of relatives and friends, for ability to serve others, for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities, for a mind to care for my fellow-men, for opportunities of spreading happiness around, for loved ones in the joys of heaven, for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.

I love thee above the powers of language to express, for what thou art to thy creatures. Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.

Our identity redefined

The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter). John 1:41-42

I was reading in John today, and looking at Jesus encounter with the first disciples. One thing stuck me anew as I looked at this story. Jesus redefines who Simon. Simon is a fisherman. an angry man, a troubled man. A man adrift.

Jesus gives him a new identity. He says, Simon, you will be called Cephas... Peter. When Jesus calls Peter, He redefines who Peter is. Peter will go through a process to learn what this means, but at this point, God has begun a process of making him a new man. One who will follow Christ, and one on whom the church will be built. One who is completely God's, and will die as his Lord died.

As I think about this statement in my own life, the reminder that I see is this. Christ’s call redefines who I am. I am no longer a free agent, alone and adrift in the world. I have an identity and a place in this world. I am now God’s child. I am His son, and that means that like Peter, I have entered the process of being transformed into the image of Christ, the image of God. Will it be hard? It was for Peter. But the fruit of that process is that our lives, and my life, is brought towards its chief, most important, end- glorifying God and enjoying Him forever, and that, I want more than anything else.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Giving Thanks In Both Good and Bad

It is finished! The thanksgiving letter is done. If you do not get the First Baptist church mailings, I hope you enjoy.

As I look back on this year, I find myself amazed by God’s provision in my life. Since I last wrote a thanksgiving letter, my family and I have moved from our small apartment in Wilkins Glen, to the Parsonage (with the help of many of you). Veronique and I have watched Joseph go from a baby that was still crawling, to a boy that is running, and as a family, we have experienced God’s amazing care, from providing for us in amazing ways financially, to getting me through the ordination process (!), to giving us a great group of friends and wonderful church family. We truly have a great God who shows His goodness in wonderful ways.

But, as we approach thanksgiving, I have found myself thinking that it’s easy to stop and be thankful when you can point to many blessings, but what about the tough years? What about those years of loss, when everything goes wrong? In 1607, German pastor named Martin Reinkardht wrote..."Now Thank We All Our God". “Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices, Who wondrous things has done, in whom His world rejoices, Who, from our mother's arms has blest us on our way, With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today”…. “All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given…All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given, The Son, and Him who reigns with them in highest heaven, The one eternal God whom earth and heav'n adore, For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.” It is an incredible hymn of thanksgiving, one of the greatest hymns of thanksgiving ever written. What is amazing about this hymn is the story behind it. In the year that Reinkardht wrote it, over 6000 people in his village died. Among the dead were his wife and children. If anyone had reason to say, “I can’t give thanks God”, it was Reinkardht. And yet, in the midst of that great catastrophic social and personal loss, Reinkardht wrote one of the most powerful hymns of thanksgiving.

How do we praise God in those kinds of years? How do we give thanks when things have gone terribly wrong, and we feel like going, where are you God? By holding fast in faith like Job, who declared, “though He slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15), and by remembering God’s character, He is good; His love endures forever. Even in the worst of years, this is reason to give thanks. He is good, His love endures forever; He is at work on the behalf of those who love him and have been called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28), and He plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). Even when you can’t believe that this is true, it is, and you can rejoice in this truth.

If you look at Psalm 106, you see a painful, sad situation. The Psalmist is recounting the sins of Israel from Babylon. Israel is in exile, and the Psalmists world had been turned upside down. It would have been easy for him to have thrown up his hands in this situation and said, God I can’t worship you. But what does he do? He finds solace in the fact that God is still good and loving, and so he writes, Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; His love endures forever (106:1), and praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting, let the people say amen, Praise the Lord (106:46).

As we come to thanksgiving, my encouragement to you is, give thanks to the LORD. Give thanks, if this has been a wonderful year of blessing, and give thanks, if this has been a year you would like to forget, give thanks because in good times and bad, in moments of triumphs, and moments of agony, he is still God, and He is still good, and His love endures…forever.
In Christ,
Pastor Chechile

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The fixation with the length of service

I have been pondering a question for the last 24 hours. Where did the fixation with keeping the service to an hour come from? Why do we feel this crushing need to keep it to an hour? Wouldn’t the worship experience be richer and fuller if we said forget this time cap, lets enjoy worship? Have the worship last 3, 4, 5 songs to begin, have the parts of the service that people are attached to, and have a solid length service. Why are we so attached to “gotta keep it to an hour”?

From time to time, Pastors get some intense pressure to keep things short, short, short. I was recently told that three songs is too many. Really? We’re just getting to worshiping at three. To add to that, it seems that praise songs are an imposition, because they are too long. This attitude that praise songs are to long goes hand in glove with the idea that the service must be short, short, short…. And with that, pastors hear, don’t preach to long (we might learn something, or be convicted, or worse, realize that being religious doesn’t equal salvation…), don’t sing to long (the holy spirit might show up), keep it short and safe, a zone that God cannot intrude, so that in the end we can say, “OK, we’ve punched our time clock for God”.

It’s something that’s been bugging me lately. Where did we get this attitude that church should be one hour. Our puritan fore-bearers used to sit in church for hours. Now, we think the sermon should be twenty minutes….max, and the worship should be short, no more than two songs to start, a middle after, and one at the end… and the Holy spirit should leave us alone… Most angering of all is the attitude that it’s MY CHURCH. It’s not your church, it’s not my church, It’s God’s church. we are the body of Christ, He is the head. It’s not our church…

God, send your spirit…. Christ is the head, it’s not our church, it’s not about us. Send your spirit through your church, and give us a love of you.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bishops and Sola scriptura

The Boston globe had an interesting article this week, one that makes me shake my head. We won't even have on set confession (Don't get me started on that- we absolutely should), and yet, apparently, we now have bishops in baptist churches.

This is a movement that I cant wrap my mind around. It's a strange step back towards Catholicism, and one that requires a strange theological twist. One of the key things that the reformers like Luther and Calvin argued against was the authority of the pope (along with apostolic succession).

As I look at this issue, i think that there are several issues in play. The first is the reformation view of sola scriptura (Latin for "by scripture alone"). This is one of the five sola's on which the reformation was built (Sola Scriptura-Scripture Alone, Solus Christus - Christ Alone, Sola Gratia - Grace Alone, Sola Fide - Faith Alone, Soli Deo Gloria - The Glory of God Alone). The doctrine of Sola Scripture teaches that scripture alone is sufficient.

The issue is authority. The scripture, or someone that is “appointed”. What's really odd is that if anyone gets a magic mitre, it should be  someone like the executive director of the state, who essentially does the work a Bishop (but with a different title). This feels to me a bit like Napoleon crowning himself, rather than the cardinal laying his hand on someone to promote them. I’m just curious where this goes, and what’s the endgame. To me this is just something for which the world can mock Christians, which causes the kingdom to lose.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A rage against God

Here's an article that worth a read. It's basically a promo for Peter Hitchens new book, 'A rage against God', which I'm looking forward to reading.


Jeremiah 44

I was reading In Jeremiah 44 this morning. And I was struck by two things, our rebellious hearts, and the fact that our own sin brings God’ sovereign punishment on our lives so that we can learn.

The context of Jeremiah 44 is that the Jerusalem and temple have been destroy. God has just punished Israel for her idolatry. Most of the people have been taken into exile. Yet what happened. Those that stayed then fled to Egypt, in rebellion to what God told them to do through Jeremiah. Then, in Jeremiah, 44, the people declare that they will continue to worship idols, specifically the “queen of heaven”, Asherah. What struck me was the cold blooded rebellion. They have been punished severely; and yet they still keep sinning, willfully saying my will be done. So often, we are the same way. We are incredibly rebellious. Even believers continually rebel against God, rather than serving him out of gratitude to his mighty salvation.

As we look on, we see the other shoe drop. For that rebellion, God says in verses 25-28, “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: You and your wives have shown by your actions what you promised when you said, 'We will certainly carry out the vows we made to burn incense and pour out drink offerings to the Queen of Heaven.' "Go ahead then, do what you promised! Keep your vows! But hear the word of the LORD, all Jews living in Egypt: 'I swear by my great name,' says the LORD, 'that no one from Judah living anywhere in Egypt will ever again invoke my name or swear, "As surely as the Sovereign LORD lives." For I am watching over them for harm, not for good; the Jews in Egypt will perish by sword and famine until they are all destroyed. Those who escape the sword and return to the land of Judah from Egypt will be very few. Then the whole remnant of Judah who came to live in Egypt will know whose word will stand-- mine or theirs.”

What God says is, "for your rebellion, I will punish you." He is now going to be against those that have rebelled against Him, and bring harm on them for their rebellion.

What we see in this is that our sin brings God’s punishment. But it is not just punishment, it’s punishment to teach a lesson. Just as I punish my son to teach him, God punishes us so that we can learn. God says that this punishment comes for a reason, "then the whole remnant of Judah who came to live in Egypt will know whose word will stand-- mine or theirs".
In the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews tells us that the Lord chastises His children, like a parent are to chastise their children. He says through the writer of Hebrews, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-11)

If we are walking in sin, we should not be surprised when God does not bless us, and even makes life difficult. Do not be surprised when the blessings of the Lord are not seen in your life. God says here, if you rebel, I am working against you, punishing you for your sins. But I am doing it, to teach you a lesson. When you encounter hardships, when it seems like God has turned against you, examine your heart, see if there is any wicked way in you. Don’t foolishly blame God for your hardship, instead, ponder if there is something God is teaching you, as he works for your overall good.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Our agenda and God’s direction

Here is the July/ August newsletter article.

Proverbs 16:9: In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.

A month and a half before we got married, the hotel that we had reservations with canceled our reservation. Veronique and I had feared that it would happen, but they kept promising that they would not. Then, they changed their mind. The reason was understandable. They had been hit by hurricane Wilma, Katrina’s little sister, and despite their plans to be open before our honeymoon, they had recognized that it wasn’t going to happen.

Their rebuilding plans had gone amiss. On our end, we were in a jam. We were 6 weeks out from our wedding, with no honeymoon location. Thankfully, as we looked for an alternative God allowed us to find a great trip to St. Lucia, one that I believe would have been way better than a trip to battered Cancun.

Why am I telling you this? Because while we make plans, we need to remember that God is in control. While we try to decide how to go forward, and map out our future, scripture says, in the end, God is the one shaping our path. What should our response be when the plan doesn’t come together the way we hoped, or when God doesn’t act that way that we think he should? We should follow his leading, knowing that while we make plans “it is the LORD's purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).

A wonderful example of changing plans and following God’s leading is found in Acts 16. Paul was on his second missionary journey. He had traveled through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, and when he and his team tried to enter the city of Bithynia, the Spirit of the Lord would not allow them to. They had planned to go and minister in this city; it was the next place on the agenda. They were intent on doing good work for God there, but for some reason, God said, no. So what happened? They kept going, they went to another city, and while there Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us" (Acts 16:5-10). They did; and the gospel entered Europe. Their plan was replaced by an even better plan.

While we make plans, we need to be open to God changing them, and understand that He is the one that determines our steps. In the next few months, we are hoping to do a couple of things here at First Baptist Church. We are hoping and planning to start a long range vision committee, and we are hoping that this committee will be able to draw out a map for long term growth. But as we do, we need to remember, we can plan, but God is the one that determines our steps. The other thing we hope to do is acquire the property next to the church. Right now, the going is slow. Maybe the church will get the property, but maybe not. Whatever the outcome, we need to remember it is the LORD's purpose that prevails”. God is the one that in control. While we make plans, while we try to find the right offer, and pray that God will give it to us, God determines our steps, He controls the outcome.

In your own lives, I would encourage you to remember the same thing. You plan, you organize. You seek God’s directions, and then you implement your plan. But as you execute that plan, be open to God changing it, remembering that He is the one that determines your steps, remembering that He is faithful, and that remembering that in the end, "He works all things together for the good of those that love him and are called according to his purposes".

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sad goodbye, but more fun before the end

The church covenant series is almost over. First Baptist has a church covenant that is a wonderful tool for helping us live as disciples of Christ, and this winter, Chris Cos and I preached on the subject of covenant, and then, I have been preaching through First Baptists covenant.

I am sad to see it come to an end, because I have invested allot into this series, but I am very excited about this weeks sermon. We have come to one of the most important topics in the covenant, Proclamation.
We will look at the statement that says, "We will also look at the sharing our faith by word and deed with all who are under our care", and we will look at the statement that says, "we will proclaim the good news of the Gospel to the whole Human Family". These statements are directly linked to our mission as a church, which has been summarized as "proclaiming Jesus to Medfield and beyond". These statements are all statements that remind us that we are called to proclaim the gospel.

Whats sad and challenging is that Evangelism is something like a dirty word in many churches. I went to a conference, and attended a workshop called overcoming the E- word. Somehow, churches have come to fear evangelism. If we want to have serious kingdom impact in Medfield and the surrounding region. This is something that First Baptist Church must overcome. It was once in our DNA, but now, we're scared of it. We must overcome this fear. We must be proclaiming the Gospel.

So this Sunday, we will look at the topic of evangelism and being witnesses through the lense of Acts 1:1-8. The lesson for us there is that because Jesus died, roses again, and showed himself to be God through his teachings and actions, we should proclaim the kingdom of God to our communities, to our region, and to the uttermost ends of the earth, knowing that Christ may return at any point, and that He will empower us as his commissioned witnesses.

This is an exciting passage, and the sermon be allot of fun. We need to overcome the E-Word fears. Evangelism is something that the church has been called to do, empowered to do, and it is something that First Baptists covenant calls us to do.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

God's direction

Scripture declares clearly that God directs our paths. Proverbs 16:33 declares that "The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD". Proverbs 21:1 tells us that "the king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases", and Proverbs 20:24a says that "A man's steps are directed by the LORD". But while we see it in scripture, its far more awesome to see how God changes your plans, and give you something better.

I have been preaching through the churches covenant for almost three months now. The process began before the ordination council, with Chris Cos preaching on biblical covenants. This Sunday I was going to preach a four passage topical sermon, as I deal with the clause,‘We will seek out God’s truth as seen in scripture, and as experienced in life’. As i was thinking this morning, a statement by Haddon Robinson, my preaching prof at GCTS, was ringing in my mind. He said, on more than one occasion, that "you should preach one topical sermon a year, and then repent". I had no peace, and so I began to poke around more for a passage that I may have overlooked. Sure enough, God gave me one that speaks to this clause much more clearly. Psalm 19. It has a clean 3 part structure, God's revelation of himself through nature, God's revelation of Himself through His word, and the response to this revelation.

Which brings me back to where I started, and this thought. While we may make plans, we need to be open to God's direction as he points us to where he wants us to go, and submit to His leading as we seek to glorify him with our lives.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

God's goodness

I am continually awed by God's goodness. We have a situation in our life. About a week and a half ago, we learned that our Tax bill is significantly higher than we can afford. Every Quarter, we owe 2060 to the US government, and don't have the income to support it. We had been saving 1450 a quarter, which means we're about 650 short per quarter. Either we eat, or the Taxman gets paid. Ugh....

To compound things, we also learned that we owed 900 from last year. To say fear set in is an understatement. How would we pay this bill? The church doesn't have this money available.

After being given some money, and cobbling together all that we had set aside, we were short. 616 dollars short.

The question remained. How would we pay this bill?

Last Wednesday, I shared all this to a pastor friend, and He and I spent allot of time praying over the issue, and through it, God made clear, He would provide. All to often, we forget, He is the one that always provides. Even through we may have Jobs, ultimately, He is the one that provides. In situations like ours, when we have no ability to provide, He provides. He cares; and He is at work for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes. He provides, when we are weak. He is a good God who cares for His children.

This morning, someone just told me they are sending a check that will cover the balance.

The Lord is good, and his love endures forever, his faithfulness reaches to the skies.