Pastor Miles DeBenedictis
The Key to Unlocking Joy: That Your Joy May Be Full
I spaced. In the midst of the craziness of the ministry here, I completely spaced and forgot this was my day to post.
So, I’ll be very brief and share with all of you what I share with my congregation every year at this time.
Even non-Christians like to ponder the idea of the “spirit of Christmas”. I believe it’s good for us to ponder this too. But as a follower of Jesus and a believer in the bible as God’s Word, I believe we should at least make an effort to define the “spirit of Christmas” in a way that lines up with what the bible teaches.
Here’s what I tell the people in my congregation:
“If you want to really express the “spirit of Christmas”: consider thinking about one or more of these people:
1. The neighbor who hates you no matter what you’ve done to try to live peaceably next door to them.
2. The relative who talks negative about you even though you’ve helped that person out financially or by connecting him or her with friends or relatives when they had a need for a job or help in some other way.
3. The co-worker whose lack of work you covered and yet they still got the recognition for having accomplished the job in such a great manner….and actually got a promotion because of it, a promotion that you deserved.
4. The thief who would steal from you if they could get access to any of the things you own.
5. The murderer who would take your life if he was ever given a chance to be a part of your world.
Then, take the money and the time you were going to use to show your love to family and friends, and lavish it upon any one of the people above.
If you actually did that, you’d be approaching the biblical concept behind “the spirit of Christmas”.
This is what our God did in sending His Son, and what that Son taught in the first recorded sermon we have from Him. Matt 5:43-48
1 Thess 5:14-15 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.
There are just times in life when you are going to have to deal with difficult people. Just the other day my seven year old daughter told me that when she says hi to a girl in her class the girl replies “I don’t like you!” It’s sad because the girl is the daughter of a pastor and you would expect better but as we all know dealing with difficult people can be tough. It is especially so in the church because we usually expect more from others than we do from ourselves.
Paul gives us some tips on the seven types of difficult people that you will come across in the church:
I have dealt with these types of people over and over in the church. They drain you of every resource but they can not take your joy. If Christ is our true source of strength, peace, and joy we will consider it a privilege to minister to them.
My city, outside of Afghanistan and refugee camps in Pakistan, hosts the third largest Afghan population in the world (30,000 – 40,000 depending on who you ask). My home is a ½ mile from Little Kabul – an area of kabob restaurants and Afghan owned businesses. Four doors down from the church is the Ibrahim Khalilallah (Abraham the Friend of God) Mosque. The Lord has led CC Fremont into the ministry of Muslim evangelism.
Being involved in Muslim evangelism brings one face-to-face with certain questions. One question I have always answered in the negative is: Is the God of Islam the one true God? I have always thought myself justified in my negative response because some of the character descriptions of Allah in the Qur’an, its Unitarianism as opposed to Trinitarianism, and its lack of incarnational mission paint Allah in much different colors than Yahweh in His full Biblical portrayal. But I think I am changing my mind – and here’s why.
Many who argue that the God of Islam is not the one true God go on to assert that the God of Judaism is the one true God. And yet the God of Judaism seems closer to the God of Islam than to the God of Christianity.
I don’t see how the denial of Islam’s’ God would not force denial of Judaism’s God. And if one asserts that Judaism worships the one true God, I don’t know how you could deny Muslims the same status.
Consider also Paul’s sermon to the Athenians on Mars Hill (Acts 17:23). Upon noting the plurality of their gods, he says,
For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. NASB
Implicit in Paul’s announcement is that they worship the one true God! They worship Him in ignorance, but He is the object of their worship. Yet –
In speaking with the Samaritan woman, Jesus says:
You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. John 4:22
Grammatical note: in both Acts 17:23 and John 4:22 the relative pronoun HOS is used. It can be mean who or what depending on context. It is interesting that, in the KJV, the translators used the word whom in Acts 17:23 and what in John 4:22, both referring to God. I think it is safe to say that both rabbis, Jesus and Paul, think of God as a who and not a what. Jesus doesn’t tell the Samaritan woman that she has the wrong God, but that she has a misguided worship. Paul tells the Athenians that they worship the one true God in ignorance. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that she, and by implication the Samaritans, worship the one true God in ignorance.
Jesus said that no one comes to the Father but by Him.
The problem for the Athenians, the Jews, the Samaritans, and the Muslims isn’t the God they worship, but their worship of that God – it is an ignorant worship – not a false God. Ultimately, their problem isn’t with the Father, but with the Son.
Coming to the provisional conclusion that Allah is the one true God has relieved me of a burden I didn’t know I was laboring under. There has been in me a desire to speak with Muslims in a way that communicates (ever so subtly) that I have a profound disrespect for Allah. To compare Allah of the Qur’an and Yahweh of the Bible will yield some interesting results, but will not result in a Muslim being impressed, let alone converted. I see now that I don’t need to speak with a Muslim about the misguided notions they hold about God, I just need to speak to them about Jesus! Through Christ, God comes into focus. Wow! What a burden lifted. When they look at God through a Christological lens, He will come into proper focus. Any kind of apologetic or polemic that attempts to equate Allah with the Moon-God or any other derivation gets about as much traction as someone trying to convince us that Jesus is the mythical lovechild of Semiramis and Tammuz. Since Islam knows nothing of God as Father, the focus on Christ is paramount because in and through Christ the Father is known.
That Muslims worship the one true God, albeit imperfectly, is a thesis that is making more and more sense to me. What do you think? If you disagree, just don’t write and tell me so, tell me why. Who knows, you may win me over. I welcome irenic discussion of this. I am willing to yield to wisdom and good reason.
Finally, please pray for our outreach to Muslims. So far, I don’t feel that we’re doing a good job. Pray that the love of Christ would be seen in us and the power of the Holy Spirit would flow through us.
And please, always remember – Muslims are not the enemy, they are victims of the enemy.
Many people don’t like Monday’s because it marks the end of their weekend and the start of a new work week. As a teaching pastor, I have discovered that Monday’s are days where discouragement often strikes. The day to daydream about the 9-5 sort of job. The jobs pastors daydream about are sort of funny. I have heard that Driscoll daydreams about being a bread baker, others UPS drivers, and many others that offer clear work and off hours. Why are Mondays so brutal for preaching pastors? It is a strange thing really. I am convinced that this is a reality for most pastors…or I hope I am not alone.
I read “Preaching for God’s Glory” by Alistair Begg the other day (and am currently reading “On Being a Pastor“). I really liked it and suggest that you as a preaching pastor read it! There was a line in it that resonated with me in light of this post. He quoted this from Thornwell, “Any man who has had some glimpse of what it is to preach will inevitably feel that he has never preached. But he will go on trying, hoping that by the grace of God one day he may truly preach.” This quote nails the weight of our strain so clearly.
The weight of the Word. We have been given this awesome responsibility to communicate God’s Word to the people in our midst. Who am I to convey this? I need to hear it more than I need to preach it!
This awesome responsibility drives us to study, meditate, and to pray about the text. The pastor who understands his task and his responsibility (notice that we “will give an account” (Hebrews 13:17) to before God for our people’s souls) to effectively communicate His Word is driven to study the text!
The limited ability to transfer your study to the people. In seminary, yes I support the value of Bible Colleges and Seminary (good ones that are anchored in the Word of God), a professor made an illustration of the importance of individual study. He said something along the lines that a mother bird can effectively transfer nutrients by chewing up her food and then vomiting it into her chicks mouth. Unfortunately, the only real way for one to gain nutrients of the Word is to study and digest on their own. As a preaching pastor you should have so consumed that text that it permeates all of your thoughts and dreams. So after seven days of study, you only have 45-75 minutes to transfer what God has taught you from the text. There is no way to transfer everything, therefore you will always feel like you dropped the ball in your teaching.
Seek to please God in your preparation. I have been preaching week-to-week now for about five years. In this time I have discovered that I can walk away from the sermon feeling two things that are not mutually independent: 1) I pleased God with my delivery, and/or 2) I delivered in a technically sound way to the people. I have discovered that I am most satisfied when my prep time and heart are in the right place with God as I deliver the sermon. In contrast, I am least satisfied when, regardless of the sermon delivery, my heart or prep time were not pleasing to the Lord. Each week my goal is to prepare in a way that is pleasing to Him. I don’t always succeed due to life.
Be yourself and relax! I can’t tell you how encouraged I was to read Charles Swindoll encourage young preachers to be themselves in their preaching. Too often young pastors try to be someone other than themselves in their preaching. God created you uniquely and your preaching style will be unique to your personality. The sooner you realize you are not Rick Warren, Charles Swindoll, Allistair Begg, Chuck Smith, or David Jeremiah the better off you will be!
Connect with other pastors. One of the greatest blessings in my growth towards maturity as a teaching pastor is the fellowship I have shared with other senior pastors that are further down the road then myself. They have so much wisdom to share and understand what you are talking about if you are venting. I highly encourage you to find a “Paul” in your life as it relates to preaching.
Two of my favorite Christmas time movies (or plays) are It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. You’re probably familiar with both productions … I watch them every year for entertainment and inspirational purposes.
The message of each is similar. A man’s life is evaluated by its effect on others. George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life) sees that his life IS worth living, though it seems to him like he’s made a royal mess of it. Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol) sees the end that his calloused, hardhearted ways produce. His “bah humbug” attitude about generosity, Christmas, and all things good has got to change, or else.
As a result, both men gain a new and strong motivation to live and think differently about the true purpose and goal of life. They will never be the same again.
I love this stuff. I’m motivated by it. I want to live a life that matters, I want a wonderful life, and I want these things on God’s terms. In other words, in whatever ways God defines a wonderful life that matters, that’s the kind of life I want to live. I’m quite sure that almost every pastor feels the same way.
Certainly, our Lord Jesus lived in view of these things.
John 8:29 “And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.”
John 17:4 “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.”
Paul the apostle sought the same sort of life.
Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
Thankfully, each and every true believer has the same opportunity to discover the essence of his/her life.
Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
In my own life, this passion or goal is challenged constantly … challenged by my flesh which is lazy, incorrigible, and wholly unreliable; it’s challenged by the enemy of our souls: who becomes alarmed when we start to center in on God’s purposes for us; it’s challenged by the world which wants a tame sort of pastor, one which it can control.
Today (December 11) would have been my 35th wedding anniversary, had not my first wife ended the marriage in 2006 to do her own thing. Of course I was struck down by that chain of events (I wouldn’t wish divorce upon anyone … it’s a horrible experience).
But I was also desperate … desperate to know if God’s purposes for my life had been derailed. Even though the divorce was based upon Biblical grounds, it was still a faith test for me, for I’d always thought that the whole of my life would be consumed with the ministry of God’s Word.
Please allow me to regress a bit. It all started back in 1976, when I attended the communion service of a charismatic Lutheran church in another city (no one knew me there, and I knew no one). As I knelt and received the bread and cup from two of the church elders, one of them told me he was having a vision concerning my life. He then went on to share about a tree, a tree with no foliage, bare branches, and no visible fruit. But underneath the ground, he saw a large and extensive root system developing. The interpretation was that the Lord was doing a work in my life, establishing me, rooting and grounding me in the faith (Colossians 2:7).
To this my spirit bore witness. I was at that very time in my life involved in an extensive study of the book of Romans—a book I somehow knew would be foundational for me as I grew in the Lord. I could feel happening in me what the vision was picturing.
Well, a year went by, and I decided to go back to that same service. Again, communion was served as I knelt before two elders. Once again, one of them had a vision of my life. This time, there was large tree with full branches and lots of fruit; in the branches were many birds and small animals, and under its shade were many people and larger animals. The interpretation of the vision was that the Lord was making me into a pastor, and that He would bear fruit through my life. As a result, many would find nourishment and protection under the ministry He was giving me.
My spirit once more bore witness. I had already begun pastoring a vigorous and lively home group of 40-60 people, and was sensing the Lord’s hand upon my life. So this vision was confirming to me. Freshly sensing God’s call, we boldly stepped out in faith, moved to another part of the state with $125, some furniture, clothes, and two VW bugs—to start our first church. That happened, and after 27 years of fruitful ministry, my marriage ended.
So back to the question: had God’s purposes for my life been derailed? The Lord Jesus was very gracious as He answered me. “No, they are not,” I heard Him saying to me. “Human choices cannot stop My purposes for your life.” Not only did He remind me of my original calling, He also continued to use me … and each time He did so, I felt like He was kissing me on the cheek. If I love Him, I’m to tend and feed His flock. I’m so thankful for that.
Soon after my divorce the Lord was mega-gracious to bring to me a woman (Sheri), a former missionary who not only loves and serves the Lord but who also loves me. Like me, her previous marriage ended on Biblical grounds. And like me, she believed that God’s purposes for her life could not be thwarted by human choices. As a result, we came up with the following conclusion:
When God’s Plan A for our lives didn’t work out (an ongoing, long-lasting marriage until death do us part), He didn’t create a Plan B; He just made another Plan A!
We’re living in God’s Plan A right now. Because of God’s grace, we have the chance to live lives that are worth living, that will bring glory to the Father, and that will be abundant and wonderful.
I share these thoughts with the hope that others may be empowered by grace and God’s Spirit to move beyond their pasts, and to experience a truly God inspired wonderful life.
I recognize that this title is a bit provactive. It is not written merely to be so. Perhaps I could have entitled it “Calvary Chapel D3,” but “D+” actually does a better job of presenting what I see as a problem.
I’ve been a part of the Calvary Chapel Movement since I was 11 years old. Almost my entire Christian experience has been within the Calvary style of ministry. I’ve served in full-time vocational ministry within Calvary Chapel for nearly 13 years in many different capacities. I’ve served as a youth pastor, assistant pastor and now senior pastor at Calvary Escondido. I’ve taught at Calvary Chapel Bible Colleges in Siegen, Germany; Murrieta, California and Costa Mesa. I assisted with Worship Generation at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa back in 2000 and 2001. I’ve been privileged to work alongside men who I consider to be giants in the faith. But my heart has been troubled over the last several years to see certain shifts within this great movement. Troubled as we, the Calvary Chapel Movement, have become detached, disengaged and defensive.
I am still in awe that I have been given the opportunity to teach at Calvary Chapel Bible College for the last 8 years. What began as a wishful desire has become a regular part of my routine. This semester I had the largest class I’ve had to date, nearly a 100 students. Most of those students are in their last semesters at the school. They are preparing to go into “the ministry.” In my interaction with them I am amazed how detached they are from the larger work of God through the [non-Calvary Chapel] church. I realize that this is likely a reality within many such institutions. Two examples of this immediately come to mind.
Early in this last semester I had made a passing comment about the work being done by Acts29 and Mark Driscoll. I was stopped by raised hand within 30 seconds, “What’s Acts29 and who is Mark Driscoll?” I asked my students, “How many of you know what Acts29 is and about Mark Driscoll?” I think 2 people, out of a hundred, raised their hands.
Just a couple of weeks ago, in talking about eschatology (I rotate between teaching Isaiah and Jeremiah at the college) I made reference to amillennial and preterist doctrine; again I was stopped, “What is that?” Again I asked, “How many of you know what these things are?” Blank stares abounded.
My point is not that everyone should know of Acts29 or Mark Driscoll, or that all Christians should have a good grasp of preterism and amillennial theology, but that we, the leadership and future leaders of the movement are a bit detached from the larger work of the church and what is happening in current ecclesiology in our own sphere. If 3rd and 4th semester Bible College students at our movement’s primary school have no clue about the opposing eschatological views within Christendom, in a movement which has, as one of it’s primary distinctives, a pre-millennial and pre-tribulational eschatology, there’s a problem.
One of the primary curricula at CCBC is listening to audio tracks of Pastor Chuck Smith’s through the bible series, recorded in the 1970’s & 1980’s. Please don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say. I love Pastor Chuck Smith and greatly appreciate his ministry. I don’t know that I’d be in the ministry today if it were not for his clear exhortation to serve and follow God given at a youth camp I attended as a sophomore in high school. Be that as it may, I do not believe this emphasis to be helpful, for several reasons.
Given enough time I could probably come up with a dozen or more additional reasons. I realize that by writing such things I’m opening myself up to get slammed. I pray that that will not be the case. Speaking to students at the Bible College and pastors throughout our movement I find many times over that we’ve become detached from the the larger work of the church. This detachment is not at all intentional. A couple of months ago I had an opportunity to meet and interact with Ed Stetzer on the topic of Calvary Chapel, he observed very much the same detachment when told me, “Calvary Chapel has become insular.” His words were in no way antagonistic; rather he expressed them with a bit of sorrow. Unfortunately I believe his observation to be spot on. It is grieving when I meet pastors from outside Calvary who say to me, “What has happened to Calvary?” My answer to Ed Stetzer and many others who have expressed such concern has been, “We’ve begun to define ourselves by what we’re against on not by what we’re about.”
Our detachment has lead to a defensiveness toward other theological positions and a disengagement from our original mission. In seeking to clearly articulate what a Calvary Chapel is we’ve opted to tell everyone what we are not, instead of showing people who we are. “We are not Calvinists,” “we are not emergent,” “we are not seeker,” “We don’t like John Piper, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, etc…” There was a time where defining exactly what a Calvary Chapel was wasn’t entirely easy, but those on the outside of the movement couldn’t argue against what they were witnessing. Sinners were being saved and transformed into saints who went on to plant churches, lots of them; and many of them became the largest in the nation. Yes, on some levels that is still happening, but it is much harder to be “Calvary” in 2011 than it was in 1991, or even 2001. In defining who we aren’t I believe we’ve lost sight of what we’re truly are all about.
Sure, there are things that are distinctively “Calvary Chapel,” but mostly we’ve been a non-denominational, bible believing/preaching movement that makes disciples and plants churches. The question is, can we move through this awkward grumpy old man stage and reengage on the offensive for the cause of the Kingdom, and not be distinctively detached, disengaged and defensive?
Alright give it to me… but remember I’m sleep deprived having just brought my wife and our 3rd baby home from the hospital within the last 48 hours 😉