Think Richly Upon Jesus

This morning I came across the video of a question and answer session from the conclusion of a Ligonier Ministries Conference.  Sounds riveting, I know. In fact, it was quite informative, covering a wide variety of questions from the audience with thoughtful and pastoral answers.  One of the final questions to the panel was a powerful one, “What is the greatest threat to the Church today?”  Before reading further, how would you answer the question yourself?

We might be given to answer that it is the cultural conflicts the church is facing today that pose the biggest challenge to the Church.  Or we might answer it is the tendency toward compromise in the basic teachings of the church to become more “relevant” to the world around us. Some might even argue that it is still the “Worship Wars” which threaten the church today, the long argument over the style and content of our worship, particularly the music of worship.

While these are all important challenges that the church faces today, interestingly, that is not where the panelist focused in their answers.

The first response to what the biggest challenge facing the church today was “Not preaching the gospel.”  By this he meant losing a love for and trust in the life changing message of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Becoming tired of the word, looking for worldly means to supplement the preaching of the gospel, this the challenge the church faces.

The second response was “That I lose my love or passion for Jesus.”  The panelist clarified by saying it is not that he would deny his faith, but that he would grow cold and indifferent in his affections toward Christ. This, he said, is the greatest challenge the church faces.

The third panelist said the biggest challenge the church faces is that we would have a “shallow perception of who God is; that we would take God casually.”

Notice the common thread in all of these responses?  They are all internal, not external threats to the church.  The greatest threat to the life of the church today is not the existential, philosophical, or political climate in which the church finds itself today.  It is the threat of losing our love for Jesus.

This is the charge that the Lord brought against the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7. “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”  Losing this love for Christ is disastrous for the church, and threatens her witness and very life. Jesus even said, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent.”

How do we maintain a love for Christ?

I think it begins by thinking richly upon Christ and all that He is.

Think of His glory

Consider the glory of Christ the Lord:

(John 1:1–3) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

(Colossians 1:15–20) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

(Hebrews 1:3–4)He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

That’s just a few of the passages of Scripture that make much of the glory and splendor of Christ.  If there is any deficiency in our love and adoration of Christ, it is not because he lacks any worth, but because we think too little of his worth.  Consider the wonder of who Christ is, and let His glory fuel your affection.

Think of His love

Another way to maintain our love for Christ is to consider Christ’s love

He loved the Father.  In John 14:31 Jesus says, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”  He lived in perfect obedience to the Father, accomplishing the work of salvation for which the Father had sent him.

Not only did Jesus love the Father perfectly, he also loved his people perfectly.  Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14–15).

Considering Christ’s life for us brings us into richer fellowship with hm. Ephesians 3:17–19 prays for us, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Think of His sacrifice/suffering

If we consider his love, we must also consider the depth to which he came to demonstrate or prove that love for us.

(John 3:16)“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

(2 Corinthians 5:21)For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

(Romans 3:23–25)for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

(1 Peter 3:18)For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

In the powerful hymn of Isaac Watts we sing

Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

Think of His coming in power

Thinking richly on the glory of Christ, his love and his sacrifice, are sufficient enough to fan the flames of our love for Christ.  But consider also his coming for the church in power.  He has not left us or abandoned us, but has poured our his Spirit upon the Church.  He has not ceased from his work for the Church, but continues to intercede for the Church at the right hand of God.  One day, he will return for his bride, and bring all the faithful unto himself, that where he is, we shall be also.

(John 14:3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

(Revelation 22:12–13) “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

(1 Thessalonians 4:16–17) For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Think richly upon Christ. Look to him who is the author and finisher of your faith.  Think of Christ in his glory, in his love, in his suffering, and in his soon-coming for the church. May your consideration of Christ renew and keep your love for him!

SDG

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Dealing with Questions and Doubts

Sometimes Pastoral Ministry means going out and seeking the sheep who have gone astray, and leading them back to the green pastures.

Sometimes in Pastoral Ministry, the sheep just sort of wander into your office and ask to be fed.

The latter has happened a couple of times this past week.  New faces come into the church,  sometimes asking for help, other times just to talk; but always with questions.  If I can be patient, the questions start flowing, and relationships start forming.  It’s awesome.

Why do we discourage questions?

I can’t tell you how many times people have come to me afraid to ask questions.  Somewhere along the way someone has told them that asking questions is the same thing as questioning God, and if they can’t just accept what they are told, then they cannot be saved.

I want to encourage questions.  I think it was Anselm who said, “Theology is faith seeking understanding.”  You cannot seek understanding unless you first recognize what you do not already know.  And what you don’t already know is usually expressed in the form of questions.

People have said there are no stupid questions.  I don’t know if I’d always agree.  I had one student in confirmation class who kept asking me if goats will fly in heaven.  That was a stupid question.

Honest, heart-felt questions that try to get to a deeper richer understanding of who God is, who we are, and how we get right with him – those can never be stupid questions.  Ask away. Jesus said no one may enter the kingdom of heaven unless he comes like a child, and if you’ve ever spent any time with a child, you know they ask a lot of questions.  It is the only way we ever really learn.

But that’s the flip side of the invitation to asking, you have to be ready and willing to find the answer.  Simply asking for questions but never listening for the answer is the formula for folly.  If you are going to ask questions of faith, then you must also look to the Scriptures, which are the only rule for life and faith.  Take up and read, pursue wisdom at all costs, stay deeply rooted in the Word of God.  Only there will you find the answers you seek.

Related to questions is doubt.  Doubt is that painful, nagging gap between our experience and our faith.  We know God has promised X, but our experience has been Y, can we really trust and rest in what He has said?

Our confession reminds us:

True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounded the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, but God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair.

Ether through quiet spiritual neglect, or by willful rebellion in sin; we have our faith shaken, and we can be overcome with doubt.  Yet we are reminded in God’s Word, that even when our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our heart, he knows everything (1 John 3:20).

So come to God with your questions, come to Him with your doubts and worries.  Come as you are, not as you think you should be. Come to Him.  Let His Word speak to you, teach you, and bring life to you through faith in Jesus Christ.

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Do This

“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Luke 22:19

I’ve been thinking a lot about this phrase lately.  Whenever we gather at the Table in worship, the bread is broken, the cup is poured out, and we hear the words of our Savior saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  We hear these words, we see the signs, and we are reminded of Christ’s sacrifice for our Salvation.  His body was broken, his blood poured out, in order to bear the wrath of God against our sins which He bore on the cross, that we should be reconciled to God and born again unto new and eternal life.

At the Table we are reminded that Christ is the only source of life, and that there is no life without Him.  In John 6 we read, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my mood abides in me, and I in Him.”  Of course, this isn’t a call to cannibalism.  Rather, Jesus is telling us that we make take Him in by trusting and believing in Him and in His atoning death.  Neither is Jesus teaching that merely pulling up to the table and eating the bread and drinking the cup will give you life.  Instead, it is through abiding in Christ, and trusting and resting in Him alone that we find life, forgiveness, strength, and peace.

So we gather at the Table. Christ commands us to “Do this in remembrance,” and so we break bread together and remember Christ’s sacrifice for our Salvation. We see the grace of God evidenced in our communion with Him and with one another. We “do this in remembrance” of Him.

But is that all that is meant by that phrase? Is that instruction tied only to the Table? Is it possible that “do this” could also mean “be broken, yourselves”?

I don’t mean to suggest in any way that Christ is calling us to try to repeat His atoning work. If that were possible, why would he have had to die in the first place.  His death accomplished our salvation, His resurrection secured our justification.  Nothing more could be added to this perfect and complete work.

But are we not also called to a certain brokenness?  The apostle Paul describes his own life as being “poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith” (Phil 2:17), and even “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24).  Now Paul couldn’t be saying that Christ’s suffering was deficient in any way for our salvation, for he had just written of Christ saying, “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1:19-20).  What was “lacking” in Christ’s afflictions was the ongoing manifestation, the sharing in the sufferings of Christ, “carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor 4:10).  We share in Christ’s sufferings, we lay down our lives daily and take up the cross, we “do this in remembrance” so that His goodness, His love, His grace may be made known in us.

How then are we broken for others?  It is certainly seen in the persecution of the faithful; but it is not limited to such extremes.  Could not our brokenness in remembrance also be seen as we give sacrificially to support missions and the ongoing ministry of the church?  I’m not talking about giving up that extra latte each week – the luxury items you could live without – but genuinely giving sacrificially for the benefit of others. This is the type of giving that Paul honors when writing about the Macedonian churches who gave “beyond their means, of their own accord, begging … earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” (2 Cor 8:3-4).

But let’s get beyond money. Are not our lives to be broken, poured out, for the sake of others around us?  Are you investing in, pouring yourself out to, another person?  Are you sharing your faith with those who do not know God, and encouraging the faith of other believers?  The old hymn goes

Did Christ over sinners weep,
and shall our cheeks be dry?

If Christ was broken for the salvation of his people, and we are called to follow Him, shall we not be broken also in remembrance of Him?

The next time you gather at the Table, eat and drink in remembrance of Him. But don’t leave it there.  When you walk from that table into the world around you, be broken with Him, that all may see and wonder at the amazing grace of His redeeming love.

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Haiti Update Day 6

The Lord’s DayExodus 20:8-11 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

A blessed day of rest in the Lord today in Haiti. We rose early to make it to the Consolation Center for worship at 7:00. To hear the children singing at the top of their voices songs of praise to our God in the name of Christ the Savior was just awesome. We sat in a packed church with beautiful children of God from Haiti and the US, in Creole and English, with hearts and hands raised to the Lord in praise and adoration. We heard a powerful message, with translation, on the importance of following the movement of the Holy Spirit, preached from Acts 2. The songs were amazing, some we knew, many we didn’t, but the singing was heartfelt and worshipful.

Service at the Consolation Center ended just before 9:00 – we had no idea the time had gone so quickly. From there we drove to the Village of Hope for their worship service. We were welcomed warmly, and blessed by powerful prayer, a wonderful children’s choir, and a sermon form Hosea 2 on the Faithfulness of God toward unfaithful Israel, and a call to turn from idolatry. There was no interpreter for this sermon, so it was difficult to follow, but I knew enough of the text and could pick up some key words to try to make sense of it – and Les filled us in on the finer details after the service.

It is an understatement to say that the worship services in Haiti are different than those in the US. Where we are more reserved, quiet, and reflective, the Haitian services are experiential, responsive, and very active services. The music has a free flow to it, bringing their cultural styles and rhythms to songs we may sing very differently in our services. Prayers are longer, considerably, but passionate and free. I was particularly moved by the prayers. I didn’t understand much of them, but the Spirit of prayer was clearly seen. These prayers were prayed by people of prayer. Some Puritan somewhere once wrote that it was better to have prayer without words but full of heart than prayer full of words but without heart. I am convicted that sometimes I have prayed and my heart has been a mile away. This was not the case today. Also, their prayers were full of thanksgiving. The one phrase you could not help but pick up in the prayer was “Mesi Senior,” “Thank you Lord!” Repeated over and over again. Repeated with those things they were thankful for. Surrounded by such poverty and devastation, to hear prayers of thanksgiving causes me to repent of my lack of thankfulness for the abundance I have been given. I may not have understood much of what was said in worship this morning, but I believe the Spirit was speaking to me through the Word and in our time of worship. I am thankful for this Lord’s Day.

In the afternoon we rested at the beach. What a refreshing balm to sore and tired bodies after a week of tenuous travel and strenuous work. Wading in the water, letting the tide roll over you, visiting with friends about matters of faith and the Word of God – it was a perfect rest for the day. I am thankful for this also on this Lord’s Day.

We drove into the city of Les Cayes for supper tonight, a real treat – Pepperoni Pizza. We sat at the table together, telling stories of God’s provision, making plans for the coming day, and enjoying the fellowship of the table. A group of Haitian teens sat behind us, having a great time – as they left, they circled up and prayed with one another. As we left the restaurant, the car was being difficult, and we got to watch a parade of bands pass by. We have no idea what the parade was for, but it was absolute chaos. Bands of drums and large horns, surrounded by crowds dressed in masks and costumes filled the streets, and cars and motor cycles still pushed their way through. We got caught in the traffic, and are grateful that Les was driving tonight – I never would have got us out of that mess. If this had been in the brochure for the trip, I don’t know if anyone would have come, but it was a once in a life time experience.

We ended the evening as we always do, sitting in a circle by the pool, bats swooping overhead, as we discuss our day and the devotion. This is a sweet time of prayer and fellowship, continuing the worship of our God under His stars – truly a blessing!

So that was the day, this Lord’s Day. I don’t know when this will get posted; my ability to get WIFI is limited, and my phone is kaput. We have a full day of work lined out for tomorrow, and we say goodbye to the children before heading back to Port Au Prince on Tuesday. It will be a difficult day, but we pray that God will bind our hearts together in love, as we have been already bound together as the body of Christ.

We are grateful for your prayers – keep praying for our work and travel home!

Grace and peace…

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Hurry Up and Wait

Day 1 of our Haiti Mission Trip is winding down, and here we are making our home in the luggage claim area of the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport.  We’re playing the waiting game.

That seem to sum up the whole day, really.  We arrived, as recommended, 3 hours early for our international flight from Sioux Falls, SD, only to have to wait to even check in for our first flight.  

The first was a great flight, and it was a first in several ways.  For Zach and Caleb, it was their first flight ever.  For the rest of us, it was the first of several flights for our round trip journey to and from Haiti. On top of that, we also landed in Chicago 30 minutes earlier than expected, so that was an added bonus.

Except… it meant more waiting.  We waited in the Chicago. O’Hare airport for about 4 hours, which really isn’t a terrible wait – unless you’re flying with very active teenage boys.  It’s so hard to be patient.

Our flight to Florida was another smooth and unremarkable flight – the best kind in my opinion.  The downside (and I’m really not looking for the dark cloud behind the silver lining) is that now we wait, again, for our next flight.  Ft. Lauderdale doesn’t have an “International Section,” and the entire terminal has to be cleared at night for security screening.  So our waiting tonight will be with the other overnight travelers in the baggage claim section of the airport.  We can check back in at 4:00 in the morning; which is only 4 hours away. So, yea!, more waiting.

I don’t think I’m really good at waiting.  I can’t blame the boys for being impatient – I’m really no better. I like to see results, I like to get where I’m going; I like to be on the move.  Waiting takes patience, trust, and faith.

And so we wait.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the description of the Godly Man in Palm 1:

He is like a tree planted by stream of water that yeilds its fruit in its season…

Tree take time.  They don’t grow overnight, and what grow does come is measured in decades not just years.  It takes time for the fruitful season to come – and growing from seedling to fruit bearing might seem an eternity.

But the Godly man is like this tree planted by the streams of water.  I could talk here about this being the action of God – the tree doesn’t plant itself.  I could show how the permanence of being planted by streams of water is a contrast to the life ever-digressing life of the wicked. But what strikes me tonight, as I wait, is the patience of the man of God.

What is it that Treebeard the Ent says to young Pippen and Merry, “Don’t be so hasty!”

And so we wait.  We wait; expecting more travels and adventures tomorrow.  We wait; praying that God has great things in store for us as we serve Him and His people this coming week. We wait; realizing that none of us are really going to get a good night’s rest, but also remembering that they who “wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

Until tomorrow!

SDG

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Encouragement from Old Letters

This afternoon I had the opportunity to pick up and dust off my copy of “Memoir and Remains of R.M. M’Cheyne.”  M’Cheyne was a Scottish Presbyterian minister, who lived from 1813 to 1843.  He was educated at the University of Edinburgh and at the Divinity Hall of his native city, where he was taught by Thomas Chalmers. He first served as an assistant to John Bonar in the parish of Larbert and Dunipace, near Falkirk, from 1835 to 1838. After this he served as minister of St. Peter’s Church (in Dundee) until his early death at the age of 29 during an epidemic of typhus.  Were it not for his friendship with Horatius Bonar (who is also know for many of his hymns) M’Cheyne’s writings would have been lost.  Fortunately, for us today, the wonderful letters, sermons, and poems of this young pastor have been preserved for us today.  I love this book, it’s one of my favorite biographies, and I find great encouragement and guidance as a Pastor from these memoirs from long ago.

Today, I thought I’d share the following letter from M’Cheyne to one of his church members who had initially written, complaining of the “plagues of the heart.”  I think it shows great pastoral care and compassion, but also demonstrates a lost art of Pastoral Letter writing.  Still, I think his encouragement to “cleave close to Christ” is one that we need to hear again and again.  May your hearts be strengthened as you read.

Passing on to glory

ST PETER’S, March 8, 1843.

MY DEAR FRIEND,—I send a few lines to you in answer to yours. You complain of the plague of your own heart, and so you will till you die. You know little yet of its chambers of imagery. All that is ours is sin. Our wicked heart taints all we say and do; hence the need of continual atonement in the blood of Jesus. It is not one pardoning that will serve the need of our souls. We must have daily, hourly pardons. I believe you are in the furnace, but it is a short one. Soon the Bridegroom will come, and we shall be with Him, and like Him, and God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes. I burst through all the cobwebs of present things, and, his Spirit anointing my eyes, look at Jesus as one beside me. Blessed Elder Brother, with two natures—God and man—ever-living, never-dying, never-changing! I was preaching last Sabbath on Heb. 9:13, 14: “He through the Eternal Spirit offered himself. It was very sweet to myself. In the afternoon I preached on Rev. 2:4, 5: “I have this against thee, that thou hast left thy first love.” I fear many of my people have done so; therefore it was very suitable. Several I see have felt it very deeply. In the evening I preached on Ps. 78:41: “They turned back, and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel,”—on the sinfulness of limiting God. It was a very sweet and solemn day. Meantime, stay your soul on God. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.” A few more trials, a few more tears, a few more days of darkness, and we shall be for ever with the Lord! “In this tabernacle we groan, being burdened.” All dark things shall yet be cleared up, all sufferings healed, all blanks supplied, and we shall find fulness of joy (not one drop wanting) in the smile and presence of our God. It is one of the laws of Christ’s kingdom, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” We must not reckon upon a smooth road to glory, but it will be a short one. How glad I am that you have “received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost!” Cleave closely to Jesus, that you may not have to say in a little, “Oh that I had affliction back again to quicken me in prayer, and make me lie at his feet!”

Trials make the promise sweet,
Trials give new life to prayer;
Trials bring me to his feet,
Lay me low, and keep me there.

This land will soon be strangely convulsed, if God prevent not. The plans now preparing for carrying the gospel into every corner of the land are sweet indeed. If I be spared and strengthened, I go to London towards the end of April. My stay must be very short. It is also intended to send me to the General Assembly in May. My poor flock, how I yearn over them! So many of them careless, and judgment at the door! Mr Burns comes to me to-morrow.
I must add no more, as I have work before me. May you experience more and more, that “when He giveth quietness, none can make trouble!”—even as you once experienced the other, “When He hideth his face, who then can behold Him?” Soon we shall see Him as He is; then our trials shall be done. We shall reign with Him, and be entirely like Him. The angels will know us by our very faces to be brothers and sisters of Jesus.
Remember Jesus for us is all our righteousness before a holy God, and Jesus in us is all our strength in an ungodly world. Persevere ever to death; eternal life will make up for all. I was reading to-day, “God hath granted repentance unto life.” Remember Barnabas’s advice, “Cleave to the Lord,”—not to man, but to the Lord. May He perfect all that concerneth you. Do not fear the face of man. Remember how small their anger will appear in eternity. Till then, believe me, your friend in gospel bauds, etc.

McCheyne, Robert Murray, and Andrew A. Bonar. Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne. Edinburgh; London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1894. Print.

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The Dangers of Professional Christianity

Does anyone know that the liturgical calendar calls the Sunday after Christmas?

Answer – Assistant Pastor’s Sunday.

Okay, it’s not an actual liturgical day – but boy am I glad the Assistant Pastor could fill in for me.

The last time I had taken a full day off from work was when I was on bedrest following a week in the hospital – and even then I started back to work before the Doctor’s recommended timeline.  I was feeling burned out. I just had to make it through Christmas Eve – and Christmas day since it fell on a Sunday – then I could finally get away for a little bit.

I read somewhere that there are a couple of clues to when a Pastor needs to take a break:

  1. When he repeats the same sermon two weeks in a row and the congregation doesn’t notice, and
  2. When he repeats the same sermon two weeks in a row and he doesn’t notice.

I hadn’t gotten to that point, but I was close.  Spending time away from the church – which is difficult for me since I live directly across the street from it – helped me to see how close I had come to a burnout.  From the realistic understanding that the work of the Church is essential, important, and urgent, to the unrealistic expectation that I can do it all myself and in my own strength; I stood little chance of survival.  I was increasingly frustrated with myself, making careless mistakes, growing short-tempered, and becoming an overall “bah-humbug.”  (My apologies to my family for bringing this on during Christmas, too – we always hurt the one’s we love…) Getting away for a week and realizing that the church would go on, even thrive, without me gave me that little jolt I need to get back into the proper perspective.

The time away also helped me to see that while my walk with Christ is essential to  my pastoral ministry, my pastoral ministry may often be a detriment to my walk with Christ.   There are several traps that are easy to fall into as a Pastor, shortcuts that seem to help make discipleship and pastoral ministry go hand in hand, but in reality, destroy both.

Here are just a few examples:

(Warning – there’s some brutally honest self disclosure coming here!)

Substituting Spiritual Studies for Spiritual Life

My workweek usually requires writing two sermons, planning and leading two worship services, writing a Sunday School and a Wednesday night bible study, writing this blog, and the occasional bible studies, devotions, and weddings and funerals – not to mention visitations, meetings, and the administration responsibilities of pastoral care.  Oh, and did I mention I have a wife and 4 kids, too.

It is a joy to be called by a congregation to study, teach, and preach God’s Word, yet there are often times when the tyranny of the urgent, the never ending, relentless onslaught of Sundays overwhelms and incapacitates.  And then sacrifices are made.  The quiet time of study and reflection, listening to God’s Word for me personally is crowded out by the need to find something that I’m supposed to say to my congregation.  The time on my knees in prayer and fellowship with God finds its way to a prayer at the pastor’s desk.  Worship becomes work. Sanctification becomes sanctimony.  What should nourish and feed the Spirit becomes a drain, until you’re left, well, like this:

bilbo

Time away from the pulpit, from the office, from the demands of ministry, help me to find the peace and joy of stopping and dwelling in the presence of God.  Like that break in college when you went home, just for a bit, to be nurtured, strengthened, and rejuvenated for the return to reality – we all need moments when we can return to home base with God, resting and waiting upon Him.  Proverbs 18:10 says, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” I’m not one to run from my problems, but there are times when all you can do is drop everything and run to the Lord.  Only then can you find the strength and the wisdom to face what’s before you.

Worship as Perpetual Motion

I was sitting in worship in another Presbyterian Church on Sunday, with relative anonymity and no responsibility other than that I was there to worship God.  In that moment it dawned on me that I had gotten to the point where my preparation for worship, and my experience in worship on a Sunday morning had become an act of perpetual motion rather than heartfelt worship.  Like the “white-washed tombs,” I had fallen into a Pharisaical practice of having the name of God on my lips while He was far from my heart.

Okay, so maybe that’s a bit harsh, but maybe you know what I’m talking about.  Sundays came and went as a matter of course; I was going through the motions of worship, occasionally allowing my heart to actually break into what I was doing, but more often than not, that just took too much out of me – so I had to keep it all bottled up for the sake of moving forward.  When all the while, it was holding me back.

John Bunyan once wrote, “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”  Amen. Worship isn’t really worship if you’r heart is a million miles away.  If you’r heart isn’t fixed on God in worship, it isn’t a praise song, no matter how many times you repeat the chorus.

It took getting away from leading worship for a Sunday to get myself back into the right perspective for worship.  I’m only too grateful that God saw fit to show me this and restoration a heart of praise.

Trusting What’s Works Rather Than The One Who Works

Finally, it is all too easy to rely on the tools of the trade, rather than the Hands of the Master.  I have a pretty framed degree from a rather prestigious seminary on my wall – that should account for something, right?  I know my Greek and Hebrew, and can exegete a text forwards and backwards.  I bring a natural comfort to the pulpit, an easy manner in speaking, and that helps me communicate with the congregation.  With all of that going for me, this whole ministry thing should come together pretty well, shouldn’t it.

The temptation in ministry is to rely on my skills, my professional development, my education, my talents, my resources… You see what’s happening there.  If that’s the source of ministry, then all you’ll get is me.  Trust me, no one needs more of me.

Instead, all of this pedigree for ministry is simply rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.  How does Paul put in in Philippians:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7–11)

Interestingly, that was my foundation verse when I was in Seminary. Whatever I was confronted with, I would come back to this passage – I want to know Christ above all things, before all things, in all things.  It’s funny, that need never really goes away.

So – a huge thank you to my congregation and elders and assistant Pastor for making time away possible.  A huge thank you to my family and friends for bearing with me as I worked through all of this.  And a huge thank you to my savior, for being eternally patient with this work in progress.

SDG

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