The Magi from the East

One of my favorite accounts surrounding the birth of Christ is the Magi from the east. Many movies, articles, and figurines depicting the wise presenting their gifts in Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus are inconsistent with the Scripture. Matthew 2:9 says, “When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.” First, I am sure Matthew is able to distinguish the difference between an infant and a child. If he would have used the word “infant” or “baby” in describing Jesus, then we could assume the wise men were present at the stable. But, Matthew calls Jesus a “young child” indicating the Savior was not an infant. Second, Matthew 2:11 says, “And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother and they fell down and worshiped him.” Unlike the stable narrative which often appears in movies and plays; the wise men go into a house, not a stable. Third, King Herod orders the killing of every male child two years and under, “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16). It is my contention that the Magi started their journey when the star first appeared. Since the wise men traveled from Persia (Iran), the journey was a little over 1,000 miles and would have taken 18-24 months on a camel. The journey was dangerous so the Magi would not have traveled alone (see picture above). The wise men would have needed water, food, tents and other items for survival not to mention security. So, I believe the wise men didn’t arrive for nearly two years. This helps explain King Herod’s edict to kill all children two years and younger. In closing, the wise men stand as an exceptional model for the Christian faith. They blindly followed a star across many miles just to see this King, who was born to take on the sins of the world and bring redemption for those who believe in Him.

May God bless you this Christmas season!

Pastor Mike

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Christmas without Christ

Years ago at my first church in Bible College, I preached a sermon entitled: “Christmas without Christ.” It was an unusual Christmas sermon because most pastors preach on the Coming of the Messiah, the gift of salvation or even the place where Jesus was born. However, that Sunday I preached “what if” Christ had not come. I gave the congregation a litany of implications of Christmas without Christ: no beautiful Christmas carols, no Christmas tree, no presents under the tree, no Christmas shopping, no family gathered together to celebrate the joy of the season or days off work. Then, I drilled down a little deeper. There would be no forgiveness of sin, no redemption, no joy of eternal life, no peace with God, no hope of seeing loved ones again, and no presence of God in our lives. Then, I read the last words in the Old Testament, “else I come and strike the land with total destruction” (Malachi 4:6). Yeah, that is a sobering thought, isn’t it? I left the congregation stunned with those words and turned out every light in the sanctuary. We were in total darkness. You could have heard a pin drop. Then, I had one of the ushers turn the lights back on. Christmas without Christ isn’t pretty, is it? Thankfully, Christ did come and die on the cross for the sins of the world. We do have forgiveness, redemption, renewal with God and the hope of heaven in our hearts! Praise be to God in the highest for sending Jesus into our dark and dying world! So, while you’re shopping, singing and enjoying the Christmas season – remember, Christmas is about Christ from start to finish!

May the Lord who blessed us this Christmas season, bless your hearts with the peace of His presence!

God Bless,

Pastor Mike

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Southern Baptist Article

5 reasons a shrinking church may be a good thing

NOT ALL CHURCH DECLINE IS BAD.

If there is something all pastors and churches will agree on it is this: nobody wants their church to decline. Nobody. The SBC’s primary way of measuring the condition of local churches is by this tri-fold rubric: Growing. Plateau. Decline. The declining church is always seen as bad. There are typically legitimate reasons for concern when a church declines in its finances and number of people.
And yet, as I have watched our local church cycle through growth, plateau, and decline several times in the last 15 years, I have learned there are some good, healthy, and exciting ways God shows to be at work in a church through decline.

DECLINE=HEALTH?

I want to challenge this common way to evaluate local churches with five reasons we want a church to decline, a reality that demonstrates health and life, not dysfunction and death:

  • Your church sends missionaries to the field.
  • Your church places pastors in other local churches.
  • Divisive or unconverted members leave.
  • Members relocate to improve their family situation.
  • Members leave to help plant or revitalize a church.

In the last 12 months, we have experienced all five of these realities.
Our small and simple church of 75 members in the south end of Louisville has, in the past year, send out one couple to the mission field.  We have placed four men as pastors in local churches who were trained, affirmed, and sent by our church.  A divisive family left.  We have watched a beloved family relocate to be near aging parents and to move into a better job situation.
A family left to go and help support a pastor in a dying church.  Another family went out to help a church plant.  Although we have gained some families this last year, they have not equaled all these losses—good losses, all of them.
Even as I write this, we are about to report to our local association that we have fewer members and attendance now than we did last year.

YOU’LL BE JUST FINE

We have less money for our budget that is requiring some tough cuts to come for next year’s budget. We are a declining church. But, don’t worry about us. Don’t panic. If you are declining for these reasons, your church will be fine. In fact, our members feel we have a lot to celebrate. We will celebrate as we wait for God to send others to us to replenish our laborers and resources, just as he always has in previous seasons of decline for these same reasons.
So, is a declining church bad? Sometimes. But not all the time. Pastors, look for the evidences of church health, not church numeric growth. They are not always the same.

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Change of Seasons

Although it is officially Fall, we are quickly approaching winter. Beyond the joyful time of Christmas and New Years Eve celebrations, I don’t like winter. The days are cold and dark. It seems the winter season last forever. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, we are in for a rough winter with plenty of snow and cold temperatures. Yeah, I don’t like winter! I will be looking for and be anticipating Tuesday, March 20 – the official start of Spring. In the Spring, my attention turns to warmer weather, baseball and golf. Unfortunately, springtime is still four months away. In thinking about the seasons, I think there is a metaphoric similarity between the earthly seasons and the seasons of our lives.  Springtime would be when things are new – salvation or new beginnings in our lives such as the birth of a child, a new job, or a new home. Summertime is when things are joyful and life is going well. It’s a time when we feel blessed by the Father and we can sense His presence. Fall time is a mixed bag – some things are wonderful and beautiful; some things are difficult and hard. Then, there is winter. A time in our lives when nothing is going right. It’s a place of darkness and abandonment. A time when we don’t sense the presence of God. A time when we feel lonely and afraid. Yet, within the despair and darkness, there is good news. I am reminded and encouraged by the wise words of King Solomon, “For everything, there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Eccles. 3:1). King Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes near the end of his reign. So, Ecclesiastes 3:1 is a reflection of how the seasons of life change. I would like to make a few brief points. First, the word “season” (זְמָ֑ן) means an appointed time. Solomon goes on to mention numerous couplets to stress the opposing times of life. Everything in life has an opposing element. Birth and death, sorrow and joy, hatred and love, etc. These are all appointed to mankind. They are inescapable. Second, the word “matter” (חֵ֫פֶץ) refers to something that happens. The reference can be either good or bad. But, again these are unavoidable. So, why am I encouraged by Solomon’s words? Because I know whatever season I am in right now, it will change. I will not remain in a bad situation forever. So, be encouraged! You will laugh again. God will turn the season when the time is right!

God Bless,

In Christ, Pastor Mike

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Engage, Connect & Serve

I want to focus this week on how we carry out the work of ministry in our church. Engage: we engage God in worship and engage the lost by sharing the gospel. The primary mission of the church is worship and evangelism. Connect: we connect people to God’s Word for cultivating spiritual growth and for developing an authentic community environment. Serve: we serve in the church, our local community, and the world. So, how does Engage, Connect and Serve function on a practical level? As ministry teams meet to discuss events and make plans, the focus should be on how to include engage, connect and serve. For example, if the team is planning to have a special meal (e.g., Valentine’s Day dinner), there are numerous possibilities. The team could invite someone to speak on evangelism (love of God) or have a Bible study or request food for a local food bank. Anyone of these ideas would fit Engage, Connect or Serve. So, I would like the encourage all teams to begin thinking about how your team’s ministry plans will fit into the Engage, Connect and Serve model. Don’t be afraid to be creative! If you need help, please do not hesitate to talk to me. God Bless and thank you for serving Christ and the church!

Pastor Mike

 

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