Here’s a collection of New Years’ resolutions and reflections, courtesy of my friends at B.C., Calvin & Hobbes, Peanuts, & Zits. It’s good to start and end the year with some laughter.
Monthly Archives: December 2019
One of the Christmas gifts I received was a book by Rick Reed, President of Heritage College and Seminary entitled, The Heart of the Preacher: Preparing Your Soul to Proclaim the Word. In the Foreword, Pastor Bryan Chappell introduces the concept of “heartload” as an explanation for pastoral burnout.
A decade ago, about thirty percent of all North American seminary graduates were leaving pastoral ministry within the first five years. It was assumed that the main reason was pastoral burnout—being “expected to work long hours to serve declining congregations with diminishing finances, weakening denominational commitments, lower biblical literacy, and smaller staffs.” While fatigue was certainly a factor, it was discovered that “workloads were not as damaging as ‘heartloads.’ The Moses factor that more and more preachers were facing was heavy workloads combined with a sense of being unappreciated for bearing them. It is one thing to feel the weigh of the burdens of ministry, but quite another to be blamed for the burdens.”
Chappell goes on to point out that it’s not just fatigue that leads to failure.
Good research over the last decade has disclosed that such factors are still at work in modern ministry. At the same time that pastors’ workloads have been increasing, they are easy-target explanations for the diminishing congregations, finances, and loyalties. Local preachers are increasingly compared to the master communicators on radio and the internet. As lessening denominational loyalties lead to increased church shopping and hopping, ministry are too often judged for their “effectiveness” rather than their faithfulness. As pastor respect diminishes throughout the culture for a variety of reasons, pastors and their families experience increased scrutiny and insecurity. Ministry seems increasingly dangerous, and ministers feel increasingly unappreciated.
Chappell concludes the foreword with a personal statement. “I know the pain of personal attack, the pressure to succeed, and the disappointment of not meeting others’ expectations. I know how bitterness can grow in me when complaints about me multiply in others.”
The sentiments expressed in the foreword certainly captured my attention as they resonate with my own experience. I look forward to reading the book and seeing what the author suggests as a means of strengthening my own heart.
A. W. Tozer wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Your view of God will determine how you worship God. If you view God as distant and uncaring, you will live life in your own power. If you view God as welcoming and caring, you will come into his presence and bring your concerns to him. If you view God as a judge who grades whether or not you obey his list of rules and regulations, you will seek to earn his approval through your performance. If you view God as a compassionate, you will draw near and desire to maintain a close relationship with him.
How you view God will determine how you worship him. That is the emphasis of the author of Hebrews in 12:18-29. Throughout his letter, the author of this book has portrayed the superiority of Jesus Christ. He has also warned his readers not to forsake Christ and return to the rules and regulations of the Old Testament Law. Both elements are evident in the end of chapter 12. He paints a contrast between two ways of worship (18-24) and emphasizes that worship through a relationship with Christ is better than anything the Old Testament offered. He also issues a final warning not to turn away from God and return to the Law (25-29). His point is that because of the blessings of the new covenant, we should worship God with reverence and fear.
Your view of God will determine how you worship him (18-24). The author uses Mount Sinai and Mount Zion to contrast two approaches to worship.
|Mount Sinai||Mount Zion|
|Motivation||The fear of the Law||
The grace of the Gospel
View of God
|Basis for worship||Rules & regulations||
Verses 18-21 paints a vivid picture of the physical display of God’s power and glory when the Law was given on Mount Sinai. The people were so thoroughly awed that they stayed away and did not want to hear God speak. Even Moses feared and trembled!
Verses 22-24 paints a much more welcoming picture. Believers can worship God in full fellowship and joy. In heave, “you have come to”: (1) the city of God; (2) angels; (3) fellow believers; (4) God the Judge; (5) Old Testament believers; (6) Jesus: and (7) forgiveness because of Jesus’ sprinkled blood.
Our perspective of God will affect our approach to worship. We will avoid a god who keeps us at arm’s length and passes judgment. We will come close with great joy to a God who offers us a relationship based on grace.
We are to worship God in reverence and fear (25-29). Throughout his letter, the author of Hebrews has contrasted the superiority of Christ with a series of warnings not to walk away from him. This is the last of five warning passages in the book.
|2:1-4||“Pay attention lest you drift!”|
|3:7-4:13||“Beware of a hard heart!”|
|5:11-6:20||“Don’t stray from the path of spiritual growth!”|
|10:19-39||“Stand firm in the faith or be judged by God!”|
|12:25-29||“Don’t turn away from him!”|
The author gives two instructions in this section—Obey God and Worship God! When God is speaking, we had best listen. If God punished Israel when they didn’t obey, how much more will he deal with us if we reject him (25). Because we have an unshakeable kingdom, and because is a consuming fire, we should worship him with reverence and fear (26-29).
Our view of God will determine how we worship him. Because of who God is and what he has done, we are to obey him and worship him with reverence and fear.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 29, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
Happy anniversary to my wife, best friend, ministry partner, and lover. 39 years is too short a time to be married to your best friend.
39 years ago today, we stood before God, family, and friends and pledged ourselves to each other with the simple words, “I do!” Who knew the twists and turns our journey would take? Who knew where God would lead us and what he would do in and through us?
We’ve gone from SoCal to Western MA, with stops in Dallas, TX; Anaheim, CA; Wheaton, IL; Moreno Valley, CA; Bellevue, WA; Redmond, WA; Sammamish, WA; and now Chicopee, MA. We’ve served Christ at churches small, big, and in between in Wheaton, Bellevue, Seattle, and Chicopee. We’ve ministered to children, youth, adults, men, and women. We’ve traveled up and down the West Coast, across the States, visited London, Oxford, Edinburgh, and New Zealand. We’ve led ministry teams to Toral and Malaga, Spain; Moscow, Tsibanobalka, and Anapa, Russia. We’ve celebrated graduations and weddings, mourned at funerals, seen our children grow to maturity, and encouraged each other through rehab. We’ve ridden the roller coaster of “richer and poorer, in sickness and in health.” We’ve experienced, benefited from, and enjoyed the grace of God through the ups and downs and twists and turns of life over the years and across the miles.
May God grant us many more years to serve him together!
Carol, Jonathan, and I spent the day in Newport, Rhode Island. We toured four of the Newport Mansions–The Breakers, Marble House, Rosecliff, and The Elms–which are decorated for Christmas. The mansions are beautiful, opulent, and provide an inside look into America’s history. We enjoyed a late lunch at The White Horse Tavern, the oldest restaurant in the USA, which has served meals continuously since 1673. It was a good day to explore one corner of New England.
Here’s a video of our children singing on Christmas Eve at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA.
Here’s some photos from the Christmas Eve Service at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on 12/24/19. Celebrate the Son!
Where will your journeys take you this Christmas?
Will you go over the river and through the woods to visit family? Will you get on an airplane to visit relatives? Will you ride a ferry and cross a bridge to connect with old friends?
Journeys play a big part in the Christmas story. From an earthly perspective, Jesus Christ’s journey certainly had many twists and turns.
- Gabriel journeys from heaven to earth twice to deliver news to Mary (Luke 1:26-38) and Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25).
- Mary & Joseph journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-7).
- The shepherds journey from the fields to the stable (Luke 2:8-20)
- The wise men journey from the east to the house where Jesus is (Matthew 2:1-12).
- Joseph, Mary, and Jesus journey from Bethlehem to Egypt, and then later back to Nazareth (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23).
In September, Carol and I journeyed to SoCal and Las Vegas to visit family. In October, we journeyed to Moscow for ministry and stopped in the U.K. on our way home. We took a number of pictures in each of these locations. Each snapshot told a piece of the story of those trips.
The manger in Bethlehem only tells one scene of the story of Jesus Christ. If you focus only on the baby in the manger, you will miss the whole point of the story. In order to fully understand the story of Jesus, start at the manger, and then go to the cross. The cross is why Jesus came. That was his purpose.
Listen to how Jesus described why he came to earth.
- Matthew 20:28, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
- Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
- Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
- John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Jesus Christ did not come to be:
- A baby in a manger
- A Christmas ornament
- A decoration on a lawn
- A story told once a year
- A character in a pageant
- A reason to give presents
- An excuse to visit family
- A reason to be nice to neighbors you don’t like
- A time for a ceasefire or a call to end a war
- A reason for a party
Jesus Christ came to be our Savior. He was born to die. He came to pay the full and final price for our salvation. He came to give his life as a sacrifice. He came to ensure our forgiveness and freedom from sin. He was born to die so that we might spend eternity with God.
During his life on earth, Jesus never instructed his followers to remember his birth. But he gave us two practices, two ordinances, baptism and communion or the Lord’s Supper, so that we might remember his death and resurrection.
In your spiritual journey, start at the manger, and then go to the cross. Remember his birth, but consider his death. Confess your sins and receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal life he offers.
This is the synopsis of a devotional shared during the Christmas Eve service at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 24, 2019.