Christ Came Down At Christmas

At the close of the First World War, Prince Edward of Britain visited a hospital that was caring for thirty-six of Britain’s greatest war heroes. The Prince was taken first to a ward of twenty-four men. Before leaving, he asked, “Are there not others?” The nurse responded in the affirmative, but she had questioned whether or not the Prince wanted to see those who were more seriously wounded. Demanding to see them all, he was taken to another room of eleven men. The Prince was stunned at the awful condition of these noble defenders to the Crown. He was moves to tears as he offered each and deepest appreciation for his noble service.

Again upon leaving the room the Prince remarked that if he had counted right, there was still one more. The nurse remonstrated rather strongly about seeing the last one since that veteran was in isolation and his condition was so critical. The Prince demanded a visit. The nurse protested that the situation of the man might truly be unbearable to the royal visitor. Edward would not be dissuaded and was soon standing by the bedside of the dying hero. He was not prepared, however, for what he saw. The brave soldier had taken the worst of a fiery explosion. Much of his body had been either blown or burned away. His face was disfigured beyond recognition. The stench of death lay heavy in the room. The Prince shuddered as a wave of horror swept over his soul from what he saw.

However, after a moment to regain himself, the Prince leaned over the bed, and calling the soldiers name, told him who he was. The old warrior’s eyes twitched; and the stub of an arm on the right side of his body jumped in an effort to salute. Prince Edward stooped down in the tenderest tones poured out the deepest thanks on behalf of his country. Then stooping lower, he kissed the disfigured brow of the dying soldier. This was a condescending moment for the noble Prince of the English throne.

There is a greater One, however, who has stooped far lower to plant the kiss of redemption upon the execrable and wretched brow of lost humanity. Oh what incomparable condescension! The King of Glory came down. He wrapped himself in the fading garment of our humanity and pitched his fleshy tent in silence on straw in a stable under a star. Why did he come? He came to save! How would he save? By identifying completely with our humanity, yet remaining the sinless Son of God.

You see, God had created man but he had never been a man. He had watched men toil, but he had never blistered his own hands with a carpenter’s tool. He had never felt the onslaught of the tempter, or had his soul been pierced with the sorrows of life. He had seen men sink into the hopeless depths of the grave, but He had never felt the cold grip of death or spread His omnipotent shoulders on the bottom of a sepulcher. But He would yield Himself to be judged and unjustly condemned at Pilate’s bar, so that we might be acquitted at the tribunal of heaven. He took our place and was crucified as a despicable wretch, so that rebellious sinners might be reconciled to God and sent forth as kings and priests. He suffered the sting of death, yet He broke the bars of the grave so that we might cry, “O death where is thy sting? Oh grave where is thy victory?”

Why did Christ come down? He came down that His mysterious Incarnation might reunite us to God; that His Atonement would purchase our justification; that his death would become the spring of our eternal life; that His resurrection would be the pledge of our glory; and His ascension the triumph of our souls!

Hallelujah! Christ came down at Christmas!

Pastor – Remember “Your” Sabbath Day!

–October of 2008

Pastor – Remember “Your” Sabbath Day!

A large number of America’s pastors live on the edge of emotional and physical collapse.  Many of the pastors I talk with are battling a frustrating fatigue that vacations and off days won’t cure.  Few seem to be able to diagnose the problem much less prescribe a cure.

Are the clergy just a special class of workers whose occupation demands so much of them that burnout is inevitable?  I don’t think so.  Many accountants, nurses and farmers regularly put in 70 hour weeks.  What about the single mom who works two jobs to meet the needs of her struggling family, surviving on just a few hours of sleep each night?  To isolate the clergy as special class of “over-worked” professionals would neither be fair nor accurate.

However, the ministry does carry with it certain occupational hazards. The local church is often a place of imbedded opinions, unique doctrinal views, carnal ownership and wounded feelings.  Not to mention dysfunctionalisms of varying degrees in many if not all of the families that makes up the local congregation. These problems demand long counseling sessions, special prayer times and well crafted sermons.  In addition, the pastor or his wife may function as the janitor, groundskeeper and secretarial staff.  Couple this work load with unfair comparisons to the church across town or the speaking  talent of a nationally known radio preacher  and it comes as no surprise that most pastors suffer with feelings of inadequacy and failure from the outset!  Nevertheless, these factors are rarely at the core of burnout.

The key to understanding the fatigue factor among pastors lies in understanding that there is a clear distinction between the ministry and all other professions.  Spiritual work is vastly different from selling cars, building houses or planting crops.  The builder or farmer may work a twelve hour day, retire exhausted, but awake refreshed both mentally and physically.  If more rest is needed then a relaxing weekend, a round of golf, a good book or a game of checkers might be the answer.  The minister’s work is also taxing both mentally and physically but it is more.  His work happens in the spiritual realm and it draws on his inner spiritual resources.  These resources are not renewed simply by a night of rest, a trip to the lake, or family time at the zoo.  Replenishing them requires a time of solitude where one can engage the means of grace in an unhurried way with God.  A life without such a time easily becomes destructive. When one is left to do spiritual work with just human resources, doing becomes more important than being and results become more important than the people we serve.  The pastor who possesses a dynamic personality or who has a great deal of natural giftedness may hide this deficit for sometime, but in the end it will shrivel his soul, fray his emotions and exhaust him physically.  The least that can happen is burnout – the worst is ministerial failure.

Is there an answer? Yes!  First, Ministers need to commit to a time of vigorous exercise to support both physical and emotional health. Second, they need to commit to creative time that stimulates the mind and lifts the spirit.  If all a pastor ever does is what he or she has to do, then stagnation sets in and meaninglessness is the result. Third, every pastor needs to commit to keeping a personal Sabbath for the renewing of spiritual energy.

Most pastors neglect God’s Sabbath provision.  The one day of Sabbath rest out of every seven is God’s way of saving us from self-destruction and keeping us spiritually renewed.  I’m not talking about making sure you take one day off each week.  The pastor needs that day just to catch up on the normal chores that life can bring as well as a time to unplug from the normal routine.  I’m talking about a time each week that is spent in solitude with God as a means of grace. Do not confuse this with a daily quiet time.  I mean an extended time each week that is set aside as a personal Sabbath.  Some would have the ability to take a whole day, but every pastor should take at least the time from early morning till noon on a set day each week. There should be extended versions of this at least two to three times a year.  This time should include: solitude, scriptural meditation, worship, reading, prayer, singing and occasionally soul-cleansing discussion with a trusted spiritual advisor. If it is a longer time it should include periods of family worship and fellowship. If habitually practiced the benefits are two-fold.  First, the spiritual blessing and insight that follows will be so self-evident that a skeptical congregation will be convinced of its value.  Second, it will lengthen the ministry and effectiveness of every pastor.

If you’re the self-absorbed CEO type or the workaholic pastor who needs to stay busy to feel valued, then this idea will sound foolish.  If your just too undisciplined to control your time or too full of excuses why this won’t work, then you will just have to live with the fatalism of fatigue.  But to the pastor who isn’t tripping over his ego and has emptied himself of the foolish pride of always having to appear busy, it can be the salvation of both his body and soul.  Not to mention the secret to a long and fruitful ministry.  Give God’s plan a try – take a Sabbath!