Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Operation Christmas Child 2016

On Saturday, November 19th we gathered in Fellowship Hall and put together 127 shoeboxes stuffed with toys, books, hats and other fun stuff for Operation Christmas Child. Organized by Janet and Brian Gerbutavich, about 20 volunteers gathered to stuff and pray over the boxes. This was the fourth year we have done this and it continues to be one of the best supported mission efforts of the church. Thank you to all who donated throughout the year in order to bless these children from around the world.

Here are a few photos from the evening.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Thanksgiving Sunday worship

On Sunday, November 20th we celebrated Thanksgiving Sunday. We had lots to be thankful for as we offered up our giving Estimates for 2017, blessed the Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes and praised God for all of the blessings we had received. I also took a few minutes during the service to give a short quiz and rewarded correct answers with copies of Rev. Joshua McClure's new book, Made for Glory, and CD's from the Bennett family.

The hour ran a little long so I cut my sermon short and focused on ways to develop a grateful heart. Here is the link to the podcast if you'd like to hear it. Just cut and paste the link into your browser. I will also include the text below. Enjoy.

“The Blessings of A GRATEFUL HEART”

November 20, 2016                           2 Corinthians 9:6-15
This morning we conclude our stewardship series on “Giving it all you’ve got!” Now the truth is that you can’t give God your best, you can’t fully utilize your spiritual gifts and you can’t share the Gospel if you don’t have a grateful heart.
You can talk about giving all day long and it will fall on deaf ears if your audience doesn’t understand what it is to be grateful. As good as things are in America, we live in a society where everything is taken for granted. In politics we talk about “entitlements.” Many of us fall prey to the idea that we are owed something. When we don’t get what we want we get upset and angry and hold back our giving. We become Scrooges and look at the world with the narrow view of only responding to those who can give us what we want.
It even happens in churches. If you don’t like the minister, or the program, or the lady sitting next to you, it is so easy to decide that you won’t support that ministry. Now I’m not talking about bad theology or a church that is moving away the center of scriptural practices. I’m talking about people who look at their giving as a carrot to get someone to do their bidding and to get what they want. What they don’t get is that they are holding back from God.
I thank God that this doesn’t happen here. The truth is that we are blessed at Central Baptist with people sitting in the pews beside us who get it. You are giving it all you’ve got. You are here because you have experienced the generosity of God. You have experienced his love first hand. You see, we have a Father in heaven whose very nature, we read in 1 John 4, is love. He has shown that love in the gift of his son, Jesus. In John 3:16 we read, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” Why? “So that whoever believes in him” that’s you and me, “shall not perish but have eternal life.”
How many times have you felt the blessings of God? At the birth of your children? On the day of your wedding? When you bought your first home? After recovering from surgery? When you get together with a lifelong friend? When you get your new job? For some people it is at the dawn of a new day. For others it is just getting through a trying period of life.
One of my favorite songs in the old gospel hymn, “Count Your Blessings.”
When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
·       Refrain:
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
You can’t help but be a thankful person if you have experienced the transforming power of God’s love. It turns you into a grateful and generous person. You are touched so deeply that you want to pass it on.
I’ve heard Brian Gerbutavich talk about why he believes in Operation Christmas Child. As a kid he had to scramble to get what he wanted. But then the love of God came into his life and it changed him and now he wants to give back, to be a blessing to others.
I’ve listened to Jonathan Gibson share his testimony as to how Jesus came in and changed his heart. He received the blessing of a new life and it gave him his family back and a new perspective on everything.

I love the third verse of the hymn, “Pass it on!” It goes,
I wish for you my friend
This happiness that I've found;
You can depend on God
It matters not where you're bound,
I'll shout it from the mountain top
I want the world to know
The Lord of love has come to me
I want to pass it on. 

       The happiest people I know are generous people. They share everything. It doesn’t mean they don’t have problems in their life. It simply means that they are rooted in the love of God. Like the apostle Paul who said in Philippians 4,

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Why is it so difficult, then, for us to grow grateful and generous hearts? I think one reason is that we have, as author Brennan Manning says, “Condemning hearts.” We have messed up in our past and that keeps coming back to haunt us. We hear that voice telling us over and over again, that we are failure, or that we have let people down. We hear that voice telling us we should have done better. We are not good enough.
The voice often comes to us with our mother or father’s name on it. It may come from a teacher or even a priest or minister. It plays over and over again in our heads and it condemns us for what we have done. Psychologists tell us that what often happens as a result of this condemning heart is that we turn it around and condemn others.
We become critical of everything. Nothing is good enough. What others do is not acceptable. We withhold praise and only pass out criticism. We collect grievances and hold grudges. The truth is that critical people are not happy people.

So in order for us to know the blessing of a grateful heart, we need to repent and turn around. We need to own it as our own and then turn it over to God and ask God to forgive us. Once we are forgiven it opens up a whole new world for us. There used to be a saying, “This is the first day of the rest of your life.” I think this is exactly what Jesus was talking about with Nicodemus in John 3 when he said you must be born again. For people who turn from the past and give their lives to Christ see everything in a new light. Jesus forgives that condemning heart. He says, “I forgive you! Now embrace the new life.”
I had a friend who used to share his testimony. He was an ugly miserable person. He was on drugs. He did things to spite people. He ran around and didn’t care about anyone else. He was a bully. One of our Trustees said that they grew up together and he was scared of him. Going to Viet Nam made him even worse. But then some friends started praying for him. He had his own Damascus Road experience and it changed his life forever. He became a new creation and it showed in everything from the way he treated others to his giving in church. He became a tither. He became a giver in every area of his life, a mentor to kids and witness to his friends.

My friend came to know that God’s love had transformed him into a person with a grateful heart. The bitterness, anger and jealousy that had marked him before was now vanquished by the love of Christ and his life took on a new feel. The truth is that when you know that god loves you and that you have been forgiven you can do crazy things. You can love without limits. You can be an encourager without fear. You can give generously without worrying about tomorrow.
When Paul writes to the folks in Corinth in his second letter he writes the word that Anita shared earlier. He says,
“Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God”
So let me say this: Giving should always be a joyful thing. It should come as a response to what God has done to bless you. The scripture says, “God loves a cheerful giver.” You know why? Because it says that you appreciate what God has done in your life and you want to pass it on.
Please read this passage again if you get a chance. It suggests that God gives us all we need. He supplies the sower… It suggests that the more generous we become, the more blessings will flow into our lives. I’m not just talking about giving money, although that is important to meet the needs of our ministry. We need people who will give sacrificially especially in a year when we are stepping out in faith to do some great things. We need people to meet the challenge of our spending plan.
Even more so, I’m talking about being generous in everything. Be generous with words and compliments. Do all you can to make someone’s day. We live in a world that beats people down. You can change someone’s day with a smile or a kind word. Be generous with encouragement and look to lift someone up who is down. Find a reason to compliment someone. You don’t know how much that will do to change a person’s life. There are enough others who are trying to knock people down. Be generous with your time. We are too busy and there are people all around us who simply need to know someone cares. Giving some a few minutes of your time speaks volumes and let’s them know they are important.
I think you get the point. The truth is that Paul suggests that whenever you do this, God will be glorified for you will be a witness to his grace and love.
The truth is that you will be blessed too. For it is a blessing to walk around filled with God’s love in your heart. So let’s give thanks and praise God.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Holiday Bazaar

The Friendship Circle hosted our annual Holiday Bazaar on November 19th. It was a great day with lots of people coming through the doors. We had everything from crafts, yarn, oils & vinegars, tupperware, cosmetics and more. Here are a few photos from the day!

Be blessed!  Cal

Avondale Bible Study

On Thursday, November 17th Gary Engler led us through an introduction to Advent at the Avondale
Chapel. Using video we learned several things about the season of Advent that many of us as Baptists were not aware of. It was a great start to a four week study leading up to Christmas.

The Bible studies at the Avondale Chapel are first class. This Fall we were studying the book of Ezekiel. Team taught primarily by Norm Steadman and Gary Engler these days, the group also features guest lectures by Rev. Joshua McClure and myself.

Norm says that the mature level of the content recognizes that the participants want to go a little deeper in their understanding of the Scriptures. I told him that it truly felt like a college level course for those of us who are regular attendees.

The group meets regularly through the Fall, Winter and Spring on Thursday mornings at 8:30 a.m.  Everyone is welcome to attend. Come early. The coffee is ready at 8:00 a.m. each week.

The Clergy Association Steps up to pray for our community

On Wednesday November 16th a few of us from the Westerly Pawcatuck Clergy Association met with Westerly Town Manager Derrik Kennedy and Town Councilor Jean Gagnier to talk about the upcoming meeting of the Town Council. We were asked to be present to offer prayer for the Town Council, the newly elected officials, our schools and our community. We agree on a format and Father Mike Najim from St. Pius X, Father Sunil Chandy from Christ Episcopal Church, Denise Heitmann a representative from the Jewish Community and I will all have roles in the Council meeting.

Since I became the President of the Westerly Pawcatuck clergy Association after Rev. Clark Rumfelt left, I have consistently held the position that as clergy we need to communicate with each other and be ready to work together when needs arise within our communities. There are spiritual needs that can only be addressed by us. That has become apparent in recent months as we have been contacted by people like Councilor Gagnier, representatives from the L & M Westerly Hospital and others to meet and talk about issues that are important to the health and well being of our towns.

The Council meeting scheduled for Monday, November 21 has been postponed but we will be there to pray for our leaders and or community on Monday, November 28th.

Working to become the best

I don't care who you are. A performance review can be stressful. The subject of my annual evaluation came up at the Church council meeting this month. The group is planning on tackling it over the next month. I'm not really worried but evaluations can sometimes bring up our worst fears. I know that I have flaws and weaknesses. It is part of the human predicament. Yet, like most people, they can be painful to confront.

My ministry began in August of 1982 as I stepped into the pulpit of the Cross Mills Baptist Church in Charlestown, RI. I was young but was blessed by having three mentors who helped me hone my gifts and skills. Rev. John Brooks was my pastor and he blessed me in so many ways and helped me understand what it meant to be a pastor. We would meet often in those days. Rev. Sheldon Keller of the First Baptist Church of Westwood, Massachusetts and Rev. Richard Bowser of the Wakefield Baptist Church both took the time to meet with me. They walked through those early days as confidants and gave me things to think about as they listened to what was happening. I grew a lot in those early days and was shaped to become the person I am today.

I have continued to study, to attend worships, seminars and conferences so that I could grow and become more effective as a pastor in our ever changing world. I want to be the best pastor I can be.
The truth is that unless you know your blind spots, your weaknesses, you cannot effectively address them. So I welcome discussion on the ways that I can grow, improve and be better at serving both the Lord and the congregation.

If you have thoughts, whether it is praise for things being done, or a thoughtful suggestion on how I can do things better, please speak to Meredith Eckel or one of the Church Council members.

A long distance visit with our mission partner Mercy Gonzales Barnes

Technology can be a gift. It certainly was on Tuesday afternoon. I dialed into a video conference with Rev. Mercy Gonzales Barnes. She is in El Centro California. Within a few minutes three other colleagues signed in and we had an hour to talk about the work she is doing in Christian leadership education in Ibero-America.

She shared a bit about what she was doing through a program with Palmer Seminary. Men and women in Mexico, Central and South America are trying to help pastors and young leaders receive the training they need that will also allow them to earn a degree which will open doors to them outside their current context. Most of the students don't have much money but thankfully their are some scholarship available. Of course they always need more money to fund them.

We also prayed for Mercy's family; Her husband Rick works at a detention facility along the border and is always in the midst of stressful situation. Her daughter, Aida, was married last year. She and her husband are living in Virginia. Her oldest son, Rich, lives in Alaska where he is involved in archeological studies. Her youngest, Joshua is in high school and planning to graduate next Spring.

Keep Mercy in your prayers as she develops this ministry God has given her. She can also use your donations. It is easy to donate. Simply go to

and make your donation with your credit or debit card.

We also support Mercy and her ministry with our ongoing gifts through our Mission Spending Plan at church.

Janet Gerbutavich and I are on Mercy's Missionary Partnership Team along with Curt Brockway, Rev. Michelle Madson Bibeau and Amanda Shanks.