Thank Full

viaIt’s not every day that you move into the home of a stranger.  Seven years ago, this fall, Melody and her husband, Sandy, offered us their home as we moved to Cambridge to serve at Heritage.  I (Linda) had met Melody on the Via Rail train heading to Ottawa.  While I often speak to strangers about Jesus, it was Melody who years later “showed hospitality to strangers” (Heb 13:2), offering us the use of their newly renovated Stratford home.   How does one adequately say adequate “thanks”?

On Thanksgiving weekend, seven years ago, Rick publicly resigned from the Metropolitan Bible Church.  That afternoon, we experienced Quebecois hospitality with friends (and with tears).

Our step of faith towards Heritage after two sets of sevens at the Met (fourteen years) was tentative but trusting.  God’s call to Rick at Mt. Hermon and the sense of changing circumstances moved us forward.  By faith, we put our home up for sale, seven years ago

stratford

A scene from Stratford, Ontario

this week.  We bid on the very home we now live in and struggled when our Ottawa home did not sell quickly.  In the final hours in late November, God sent along our first and only buyer.  It was then Stratford became our transition place, a beautiful context for reading goodbye letters near a warm fireplace.

God is faithful:  our home sits across from a beautiful forest.  As we look over our years at Heritage, we’ve found new roles, enjoyed Christian higher education, and watched our children transition to kingdom servants.  Most recently, the debt demolition and recent gift of ten million dollars to build a new seminary building, along with freedom from cancer have made these years “exceedingly abundantly beyond all we could ask or imagine. . .” (Eph 3:20).

To Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever” (Eph 3:20-21). Being “in Christ” is also taking on new meaning.  With Him dwelling within,  we have new freedom (Rom 6:1-11), great power for ministry (Acts 1:8), and the ability to be thankful in all circumstances (I Thes 5:18), even in the more challenging times.

Thanksgiving this year is a time for reflection over seven great years.  We’ve been personally blessed and would love seven more here at Heritage (or more).  And thank-you, Sandy and Melody, for “showing kindness to strangers.”  We’re truly thank full.

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The Heart of the Preacher: Book Launch

heart of preacher

Today is a joyful day for us.  It’s the official book launch day for the book that I (Rick) wrote entitled The Heart of the Preacher.   (The best price right now is from Christian Book Distributors, but you can also order from Amazon)

The book deals with some of the personal, internal challenges that test the hearts of preachers and teachers.  Challenges like dealing with ambition, comparision, insignificance, laziness, boasting, and a sense of failure.  The book concludes with ten habits of the heart that can strengthen us to face these tests well.

I’m praying God will use the book to stretch and strengthen the hearts of those who have the joyful responsibility of preaching and teaching God’s Word.

Here’s a sample chapter on dealing with ambition.

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ambitionThe Test of Ambition

One of my favorite preacher jokes would be a lot funnier if it weren’t so convicting.

A pastor and his wife were driving home after the morning service. “Do you know what Mrs. Peterson told me today? She said I was one of the great expositors of our time.” His wife remained quiet, eyes straight ahead. After a few moments of silence, he continued, “I wonder how many great expositors there are in our day?” Without a pause, she answered: “I don’t know. But there’s one less than you think.”

Most of us aren’t likely to be named one of the great expositors of our time. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t appreciate being nominated. Like the pastor in the joke, we can have our own secret exposition ambitions. Some days we daydream of greatness. Even if we can’t be a legend in our own time, we can at least be a legend in our own minds. Even if we aren’t one of the great expositors of our day, there will be days when our hearts are tested by the pull of ambition.

Ambition Suspicion

Ambition is defined as the strong desire to achieve something. This is a tricky topic for us as preachers, as ambition can be godly or fleshly. Strong ambition can drive us to improve, but it can also drive us crazy.

Godly ambition can fuel a passion to proclaim Christ to people who have yet to hear the gospel. This worked for the apostle Paul: “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Romans 15:20). But where godly ambition motivates us to preach the message, fleshly ambition messes with our motives. We end up preaching for the wrong reasons.

Godly ambition turns fleshly when it becomes selfish ambition—something the Bible repeatedly condemns: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit” (Philippians 2:3). God knows that when ambition turns selfish, ministry turns sour: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:16).

A challenge we face as preachers comes in discerning whether our ambition is God-honoring or self-promoting. Honest, accurate assessment is complicated by our vulnerability to self-deception in matters of the heart. We tend to assume the best about ourselves and overlook the worst.

Chasing Ambition

chaseEver hear the name Salmon P. Chase? You may be familiar with Chase bank, a financial institution that bears his name. His story is woven into historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bestseller Team of Rivals.

Chase ran unsuccessfully against Abraham Lincoln in the Republican primary of 1860. Still, Lincoln selected Chase as his Secretary of the Treasury, considering him the best man for the job. Unfortunately, Chase continued to believe he was the best man for Lincoln’s job. He remained ambitious to replace Lincoln even while serving in his cabinet, undercutting him to prop up his chances of replacing him.

While this kind of maneuvering is rather common in political circles, two aspects of Chase’s ambition caught my attention in a way that hit closer to home. First, Chase was a churchgoing, Bible-believing, morally upright man. He read Scripture and prayed daily. He faithfully attended an evangelical church. In many ways, he qualified as one of the “good guys.”

Second, Chase somehow remained clueless about his own selfish ambition. In his journals and letters, he repeatedly casts his actions in noble, virtuous terms. He was convinced that he sought the good of the nation while he ardently pursued his own selfish ends. Sadly, he could never seem to smell the foul odor of his own selfish ambition, but everyone else could.

As Goodwin notes, “Chase could not separate his own ambition from the cause he championed. The most calculating decisions designed to forward his political career were justified by the advancement of the cause.”[1] Or in the words of historian Stephen Mazlish, “Chase could join his passion for personal advancement to the demands of his religious convictions. … ‘Fame’s proud temple’ could be his and he need feel no guilt in its pursuit.”[2]

Chase’s life serves as a cautionary tale for preachers: selfish ambition can infect the heart of those who show signs of genuine spiritual life. We can remain in the dark about the dark side of our own ambition. It’s dangerously easy to convince ourselves we are pursuing Christ’s glory while advancing our own selfish ends.

Redeeming Ambition

So what should a preacher do to guard against selfish ambition? Some might argue the safest course of action involves the total abolition of ambition. But Paul shows us a better way.

From candid comments recorded in his letters, we get the sense that Paul was naturally ambitious. As a young man, he desired to excel. He understood his personal trajectory as headed upward toward prominence. As he wrote to the Galatians, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:14). Like Salmon Chase, Paul blended his personal ambition with his spiritual commitments. He sought to make a difference for his cause and make a name for himself.

Being captured and captivated by Christ brought a radical change to Paul’s life, including a change to his ambitions. Paul didn’t discard his desire to make a difference. Neither did he lose his drive or tireless work ethic (1 Corinthians 15:9–10—“I worked harder than all of them”). Instead, he lost his need to promote himself or impress other people. His selfish ambition took a big hit.

We see the change in Paul’s ambition when the Christians in Corinth put him in an awkward situation. The believers in the church in Corinth had a nasty tendency to rank ministers and promote their favorite (1 Corinthians 1:12). While some preferred Paul, others were big fans of Apollos (a capable, captivating preacher, Acts 18:24–28) or Peter (the recognized leader of the apostles).

Paul could have easily felt threatened and insecure. Fleshly ambition could have driven him toward self-promotion or ministerial competition. But Paul would have none of it. His response to the Corinthians reveals how Christ had supernaturally reoriented his natural ambition. In 1 Corinthians 4:1–5, Paul highlights four truths that, if we hold on to them, will keep us from drifting toward selfish ambition.

We are servants and stewards—not celebrities. “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (4:1). Paul saw himself as a servant of Christ and a steward of his message; he encouraged others to view him that way as well. He fought against the tendency to turn ministers into celebrities. To combat fleshly ambition, I must consciously adopt the identity of a servant and steward, resisting the dark desire to be seen as a semi-celebrity.

We must test our own hearts, but not fully trust our own tests. “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted” (4:4). Paul understood that self-examination was essential for a minister. We should test the motives of our hearts and seek to live with a clear conscience. But, like Paul, we must remember our own assessment isn’t foolproof. Our self-appraisals may not be fully accurate. We may fail to detect the odor of selfish ambition that others can smell, so we need to make a habit of listening to others’ evaluations of our actions.

Christ will evaluate our motives and not just our actions. “It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (4:4b–5a). Paul envisioned a day when Christ would evaluate the hidden purposes of his heart. He knew that Christ knew his motives. He might be able to fool others, or even fool himself; however, he could never fool the Lord Jesus. This truth sobers me and moves me to intentionally invite the Lord to search my heart and know my thoughts (Psalm 139:23). I don’t want to be painfully surprised on judgment day.

God will commend us for faithful ministry. “Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (4:5b). We should be sobered by the thought of Christ doing an audit of our ministry motives. However, we don’t have to be terrified. Paul makes it clear that God’s desire is to find something in us to commend! In his eyes, faithfulness is success: “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (4:2). As we seek to faithfully serve Christ and regularly bring our hearts into the light of his presence, we can anticipate his commendation on the final day.

This side of heaven, we will always need God’s supervision over our ambition. Our motives will become mixed at times. We will need to regularly allow God’s Spirit to redeem and reorder our ambition as preachers. Still, we can serve with a sense of anticipation and joy. The Lord Jesus redeemed Paul’s natural ambition, and he can do the same in us.

[1] Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), 109.

[2] Stephen Mazlish, quoted in Goodwin, Team of Rivals, 109.

 

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Praise and Prayer Update October 4, 2019

It’s been quite a week at Heritage.   As I wrote in my last post, on Tuesday the school paid the final installment of its mortgage and became debt-free.  We’ve been rejoicing all week.

hpl 1On Thursday, we hosted our annual Heritage Preaching Lectures.  This year we had the privilege of having Dr. Winfred Neely from Moody Bible Institute as our guest presenter.  Dr. Neely spoke on preaching that moves hearts and minds.

As Dr. Neely was speaking, Linda was leading a parallel track for women who wanted to learn more about ministry service and leadership.  Almost 50 women gathered for a day of biblical instruction, encouragement, and friendship.

While it’s already been a full week of ministry, we’re not done yet.  Here are a few requests for this weekend.

On Saturday morning, I (Rick) speak at a Men’s Breakfast in Kitchener.  Please pray that my message will help men take steps of faith towards the Lord Jesus.

WomenOn Saturday, Linda teams up with Dr. Terri Stovall from Southwestern Seminary in Texas) to offer a course in the Graduate Certificate for Women in Ministry.  Please pray that the women who attend will be strengthened to serve Christ in their local churches.

Sunday morning, I (Rick) will be preaching at Calvary Gospel Church in Beamsville.  Pray for strength of soul, body, and voice as I preach on the important subject of prayer.

Thank you for continuing to pray for us and with us.

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Paid in Full!

Today is a historic day in the life of Heritage College and Seminary.

debt freeOn this day—October 1, 2019—the school is officially debt-free for the first time in our history.

Just a few years back, our school debt was at 3.7 million dollars.  Today, it’s zero.

This is a great cause for praise and celebration.  I am grateful for the friends of Heritage who gave generously to demolish the debt.  Some were part of our 1000 x 1000 initiative. Some were able and willing to give hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As a result of this outflowing of generosity, our Director of Finance, David Kiff, was able to drop off the final payment to the lending agency.  We are now debt-free.

paid fullAs I have been reflecting on this incredible story of God’s goodness and grace to Heritage, it hit me that the idea of paying off another’s debt is at the heart of our faith.  The Lord Jesus paid our debt of sin, redeeming us and setting us free from bondage (Ephesians 1:7).  His death on the cross was sufficient to pay for the sin of the world (1 John 2:2). That’s why He could cry out, “It is finished.”  It’s not an accident that the Greek word translated “It is finished” can be translated “Paid in Full”

On this day of Jubilee, I want to express praise to God for His lavish grace.  He has enabled Heritage College and Seminary to be debt-free.  Better yet, through the sacrificial death of His Son, He has made a way for all of us who turn to Christ in repentance and faith to have the debt of our sin completely demolished.  That’s a reason to celebrate, not just on October 1st, but for all eternity.

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Praise and Prayer Update September 27, 2019

I’m writing with a heart full of gratitude to God for an amazing week at Heritage.  God has graciously answered the requests I gave you last Friday.   Here’s an update on how the Lord answered our prayers.

Graduate Certificate of Biblical Preaching.   I had the joy of teaching 18 pastoral leaders this week in our Graduate Certificate of Biblical Preaching program.  What a joy to be with men who take their calling to preach God’s Word seriously and want get better at it. Part of my life calling is to raise up expository preachers for Canada and beyond.  This program gives a platform to do this.

celebration dinnerCelebration Dinner.  On Wednesday night a large group of faculty, staff and supporters gathered at Heritage for a Celebration Dinner.  We were rejoicing in God’s amazing goodness is letting us demolish our school debt.  Next Tuesday (October 1st) we will pay off the final amount we owe and be debt-free for the first time in our history.  We ended the evening burning our mortgage and singing my new favourite song:  The Goodness of God. 

ESL Classes.  I’m writing from the Hespeler Library where Linda and Heritage students are teaching a room full of new Canadians.  These ESL (English as a Second Language) classes give us a wonderful opportunity to share the love and message of Christ.  We are thankful that more students continue to come to the classes.

Prayer requests for the coming week.

This Sunday, I will be preaching at the Chin Baptist Church in Kitchener.  The Chin people immigrated from Myanmar (Burma) in recent years.  Their pastor is a grad of Heritage seminary.  We look forward to being with them for the Sunday service, lunch and an afternoon workshop for church leaders.  Please pray that we will serve them well.

HPL PROMONext Thursday, October 3, Heritage hosts our annual Preaching Lectures.  This year we are delighted to have Dr. Winfred Neely as our guest presenter.  Winfred teaches preaching at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.  Please pray that all who come will be challenged and equipped to better teach and preach God’s Word.   On the same day, Linda hosts a parallel track for women.  She has invited Dr. Terri Stovall from Southwestern Theological Seminary in Texas to be the guest presenter.   Again, please pray that the women who attend will be equipped to serve Christ in their churches and communities.

If you’d like to come to the Preaching Lectures or session for women (with Linda and Terri Stovall), you can find more information here.

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Praise and Prayer Update September 20, 2019

This past week has been Spiritual Life Emphasis Week at Heritage.  We’ve had our hearts stirred by the messages we heard in our chapel services.  Special thanks to Pastor Dwyane Cline (Hughson Street Baptist in Hamilton), Pastor Robbie Symons (Hope Bible Chapel in Oakville) and Pastor Daniel Winter (Calvary Church in Toronto).  Each of their messages challenged and strengthened our hearts in Christ.  Join me in thanking the Lord for the way His Spirit is moving in our lives.

Prayer Requests:

  1. Beginning on Tuesday, I teach a two and a half-day course on The Personal Side of Expository Preaching.  This course is part of our Graduate Certificate in Biblical Preaching.  It’s designed to strengthen pastors who have a preaching ministry, helping them improve in noticeable ways.  Please pray for strength of body and soul as I teach.  Ask the Lord to help each of the pastors who attend to grow in their ability to preach God’s Word.  (Here’s a short video that explains the Graduate Certificate in Biblical Preaching).

2.  On Wednesday we have a Heritage Board Meeting and a Celebration Dinner.  We have much to celebrate this year at Heritage (I’ll write more about this topic next week).  Please join me in thanking the Lord for the men and women on our Board.  Ask that our meeting and dinner would further God’s work through the school.

3.  Linda continues to lead an active TESOL program (Teaching English as a Second Language) in the community and on campus.  Our students are gaining experience on how to use English to reach out in Christ’s name.  Pray that we’d see more new Canadians from the community join in these ESL classes. 

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Remembering my Dad

maynor 1Today, September 18th, is my dad’s birthday.  If he were still living on earth, he would turn 90 today.  Shortly after his upward call to glory, I wrote some of my reflections on his impact on me as a father.  Today, in gratitude for his many years of faithful ministry, I want to recount the story of how God moved him to step into pastoral ministry.

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He took me to the very spot where it happened. We walked together into an empty church sanctuary in Everett, Washington. We made our way towards the front of the church, somewhere about the fourth or fifth row of seats. It was here my dad told me about a conversation that God used to significantly change the course of his life. And mine too.

The conversation he told me about had happened decades before, but the memories of it were still vivid to him. Two older women in his church—women known for their devotion to Christ and their faithful prayers—had pulled him aside after a Sunday service.

“Maynor,” they said, “we’ve been watching you. And we think God may want you to be a pastor.”

My father had been active in ministry over the years. He led a Christian club at Everett High School and was significantly involved in serving at the church. These two women had seen in him the kind character and capabilities needed for fruitful ministry. Though he didn’t know it, they had been praying for him. And they had been praying about this conversation. One Sunday after church they approached him and challenged him to consider vocational service.

That conversation changed the course of my dad’s life. While the thought of Christian ministry had crossed his mind, he was still unsure, uncertain he was cut out to be a pastor. The affirmation of two respected, praying women gave him the courage to take the next step.

After finishing an undergraduate degree, he headed off to Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, Oregon. He went there to prepare for a lifetime of ministry as a pastor or missionary. At Multnomah, he not only received quality theological preparation, he also met the woman who would be his partner in life and ministry. My dad and mom served the Lord in four churches over the next four decades.

He finished his ministry as a pastor to pastors for his denomination. The churches my dad pastored flourished under his teaching, leading and shepherding. His example shaped me and helped prepare me for a lifetime pastoral ministry.

In 2005, my dad was given the sobering news that he had Alzheimer’s disease. Over the ensuing years, he walked through the valley of the shadow. It was a difficult journey, filled with grief but strengthened by grace.

One morning, when dad was in hospice, I was alone with him in his room. I picked up a thick, binder filled with letters of appreciation from people in a church he had pastored for over twenty years. I read through dozens of the letters. Some thanked him for faithfully teaching God’s Word, week after week, year after year.

Many expressed gratitude for the way he and my mother lived out the truth they taught to others. There were many references to his sense of humor, his devotion to prayer, his hospital and home visits. Some wrote to thank him for helping them work through marriage problems; others for helping them come to know Christ in a personal, life-changing way.

maynor 2I was moved at the stories of how God had used a faithful servant to impact the lives of many people. Not just for time but for eternity. I’m also moved at the impact of the two women who affirmed my dad’s gifts and challenged him to consider ministry so many years ago. I wonder if the story of his life would have been different without that conversation. Only God knows.

I can’t help thinking that there are still men and women who need a personal word of encouragement and challenge to affirm and strengthen a sense of God’s calling on their lives. I believe there are others, like my dad, who need godly, respected spiritual leaders to speak into their lives and affirm their gifts and calling. God uses those conversations to change lives in a way we won’t fully know until heaven.

I’m so thankful for the influence my dad had on me, my sisters, and on so many others.

I’m also thankful for the two women who noticed his character and gifting, prayed for him, and encouraged him to pursue pastoral ministry.

Let me ask you:  Should you be pursuing a life of vocational ministry?  Is there someone you know who could use your words of encouragement to move towards pastoral ministry?

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