The Power of a Joyful Pastor

Phillip Brooks, an Episcopalian rector in Boston over 100 years ago,
and author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” wrote this about how pastors are to serve Christ’s church. His main thesis here can be extrapolated to any job:

I think, again, that it is essential to the preacher’s success
that he should thoroughly enjoy his work.
I mean in the actual doing of it, and not only in its idea.
No man to whom the details of his task are repulsive
can do his task well constantly,
however full he may be of its spirit.
He may make one bold dash at it and carry it over all his disgusts,
but he cannot work on at it year after year, day after day.

Therefore, count it not merely a perfectly legitimate pleasure,
count it an essential element of your power,
if you can feel a simple delight in what you have to do as a minister,
in the fervor of writing,
in the glow of speaking,
in standing before men and moving them,
and in contact with the young (and the old).

The more thoroughly you enjoy it, the better you will do it all.

Therefore, let us “serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 100:2)!

Confessing Our Lack of Joy

Almighty God, our Everlasting Father,
we acknowledge that for our joy
you have sent us a Comforter – the Holy Spirit.
You have multiplied your promises to us.
You have shown us the future happiness that awaits us in heaven.
You have given us a living fountain to cleanse us from sin.

But we have so quickly forgotten these realities that prompt joy in our hearts.
We confess that we have sinned against You
by allowing divisions,
quarrels,
contentions,
weariness,
sadness,
despair,
and suffering
to rob us of our joy in You.

We ask that you restore to us the joy of our salvation
and create within us a pure heart and a willing spirit.
Forgive us O Lord and open our hearts to experience the joy of forgiven sin.
We pray this in the name of the One who poured out His life for our unending joy,

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Reflections to Cultivate Joy for Your Journey

  • Life need not be easy to be joyful. Joy is not the absence of trouble but the presence of Christ. – William Van der Hoven
  • The surest mark of a Christian is not faith, or even love, but joy. – Sam Shoemaker
  • When I think upon my God, my heart is so full of joy that the notes dance and leap from my pen; and since God has given me a cheerful heart, it will be pardoned me that I serve Him with a cheerful spirit. – Franz Joseph Haydn
  • Solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion’s children know.         – John Newton
  • No one can live without delight, and that is why a man deprived of spiritual joy goes over to carnal pleasure.  St. Thomas Aquinas
  • A common but futile strategy for achieving joy is trying to eliminate things that hurt: Get rid of pain by numbing the nerve ends, get rid of insecurity by eliminating risks, get rid of disappointment by depersonalizing your relationships. And then try to lighten the boredom of such a life by trying to buy joy with material things. – Eugene Peterson
  • Winners of souls are first weepers for souls. So our prayer should be: Let me look on the crowd as my Savior did, till my eyes with tears grow dim. Let me view with pity the wandering sheep and love them for love of Him.

The Cross Overcomes All the Enemies of Joy

“Here in the cross is where every enemy of joy is overcome:

  • Divine wrath, as he becomes a curse for us;
  • Real guilt, as he becomes forgiveness for us;
  • Lawbreaking, as he becomes righteousness for us;
  • Estrangement from God, as he becomes reconciliation for us;
  • Slavery to Satan, as he becomes redemption for us;
  • Bondage to sin, as he becomes liberation for us;
  • Pangs of conscience, as he becomes cleansing for us;
  • Death, as he becomes the resurrection for us;
  • Hell, as he becomes eternal life for us.”

C.H. Spurgeon

A New-Born King: The Irony – Matthew 2:1-12

Have you ever lived in a city where it was difficult to become an insider? No matter how hard you tried, you always felt excluded and on the fringe. Our experience in church can oftentimes be the same. Have you ever attended a church where you felt like you didn’t measure up and no matter what you did you could never break into the inner circle?

One of the results of sin is that we all tend to exclude others and to feel excluded ourselves because we all struggle with an inflated sense of self-importance and a sense of personal inadequacy. At times, we actually begin to believe that God is blessed to have good people like us on his team. Furthermore, we tend to view outsiders with suspicion. A question: How would you respond if a spiritually seeking Muslim with a turban on his head walked into our church facility this morning?

How do we ensure that we do not succumb to this insider mentality of the holy huddle syndrome? This morning we observe from Matthew’s Christmas story, from the very beginning, the gospel of Jesus Christ is meant to make us a people for others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that: “The church is the church only when it exists for others.” As we move through the text, watchfor the interplay between outsiders and insiders.

I.         The Irony – Outsiders inform insiders of astonishing and breathtaking news: Your King is born (Matthew 2:1-2). Spiritual-seeking pagans tell religious people who Jesus is. If insiders will not welcome, honor, and worship Jesus, outsiders will. How ironic that outsiders are the ones most galvanized and determined to find and worship the Messiah.

We three kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar, field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.” It’s a popular carol sung during the holiday season depicting the scene we so often see on Christmas cards, ornaments and manger scenes.  It’s a wonderful carol apart from the fact that they were not kings, there were not three, and they didn’t go to the manger.  They were astrologers, they brought three gifts, but there is no mention that there was three of them, and Scripture seems to indicate that they arrived months after Jesus was born at the house where Mary and Joseph and now baby Jesus lived.  The Magi were astrologers, the epitome of non-Jewish believers. We could designate them the “outsiders” or “people on the margins of society”. Herod, the chief priests and scribes were what we might call “insiders” or “people at the center of society — the establishment”.

Insiders refuse to search for and receive Him gladly. Thus, the almighty God of creation leads outsiders to find and worship His appointed King.

What do you think these wealthy strangers expected to find in Jerusalem? I think they probably expected the entire city to be beaming with anticipation and excitement over the birth of its newborn King. They probably expected everyone to be talking about the time, place, and circumstances of His birth.

They would have been shocked to realize that they would be the first ones to announce His birth. They would have been startled by the stir that they created with their announcement.

What are the practical implications of this?

1.    There’s hope for you if you didn’t grow up in church…  if you don’t consider yourself an insider. It does not matter where you come from or what your spiritual heritage is. If you accept Jesus as the Messiah, you become a member of His heavenly kingdom.

2.    Another practical implication here: Matthew challenges insiders’ prejudice against outsiders. To whom is Matthew writing? In his gospel written primarily to Jewish believers, Matthew highlights that Gentiles are the first ones to worship Jesus. The gospel makes us a people for others. The gospel must be taken to the nations.

3.   Those who seem to us to be outsiders may be more spiritually attuned than we are. All throughout Jesus’ ministry, prostitutes and tax collectors enter the kingdom ahead of the religious insiders. Here, God is guiding outsiders to the Messiah to worship him. And he is doing it by exerting cosmic influence and power to get it done. This irony of outsiders getting the real identity of Jesus is repeated often in the life of our Lord (Compare  Matthew 27:41-43, 54)

The New Born King – The Agony – Matthew 2:1-12

The Agony – How do insiders respond to this news? The birth of this King troubles and agitates insiders… the power brokers of the establishment (both political and ecclesiastical). Rather than rejoicing at this news, they are troubled by it. Now, if we are honest, most of us find repulsive the idea of someone ruling over us.

A.         One word in verse 3 summarizes the insiders’ response: Troubled. This word means “to cause one inward commotion and take away calmness of mind.” This sense of agitation and trouble is reflected in two types of opposition. Indifference and hostility.

Indifference – Spiritual apathy and complacency. The first kind is a group of people who simply do nothing about this news of a newborn King. The chief priests and scribes represent this group. Verse 4: “Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, [Herod] inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.” The sheer passivity and inactivity of the leaders is overwhelming in view of the magnitude of what was happening. This is not only their failure, but ours at times.

Matthew challenges what he regards as spiritual complacency. The insiders knew precisely where their Messiah would be born, but they refused to join the Magi on their quest. Their sin of taking Jesus for granted is a sin that can especially characterize the leaders of God’s people.

B.         Indignant/hostile – A new ruler meant one thing for King Herod: political instability. He would interfere with Herod’s power, position, and control.

Herod the Great reigned from 37-34 b.c. The Roman Senate appointed him king. He was ruthless: murdering his wife, three sons, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, and many others. It is no surprise he had no problem killing babies in the surrounding district of Bethlehem.

C.         Practical Implications:

1.         People concerned with their own status, position and stability refuse to acknowledge and bow before King Jesus as the only rightful ruler of His people.

2.         People of the establishment in positions of power and control typically resist God’s purposes, while the lowly and marginal (the Gentile magi) embrace them.

3.         I, like Herod, am a pretender-king, and Jesus, is the real King. How often I have been more interested in saving my good name, my kingdom, and my throne rather than saving my soul.