I love Christmas time and am already sad that it is over. Well, almost over (we still get to sing some of the great Christmas hymns of praise in our upcoming Sunday morning service with our church – praise the Lord!). Over the past couple of weeks, though, I have loved time with family, including our amazing church family. God has been so good to us. To Him be all the glory!
Here are some picture highlights from the past couple of weeks…
What is the most disappointing broken promise you have ever experienced? In asking that question, I am thankful to say that I am having a hard time thinking of one that stands out above the rest. Sure, I have been disappointed by a lack of loyalty and faithfulness, but by the grace of God, I have a great family, great friends, and a great church family.
Admittedly, I take for granted that I have not experienced some of the most devastating broken promises imaginable – the infidelity of a spouse, the abuse and neglect of bad parents, the backstabbing betrayal of a close friend, etc.
The reality, though, is that everyone experiences broken promises and betrayal, as we live in a broken world full of sinful people, including you and me. Some might have an overwhelming sense of gratitude for most of the people in their lives, as I do, whereas some might struggle and wonder, “Can I rely on anyone!?”
Really, we can boil relationships down to one of two categories – problem or provision. Do they cause problems, or do they provide what you need? Yes, we all cause problems at times, but generally speaking, do you fall into the problem or the provision category?
Are you a problem because of unreliability, or do you provide assurance through your reliability? Are you a problem because you run your mouth, or do you provide security by honoring confidentiality? Are you a problem because of dishonesty, or do you provide sincerity through honesty? Are you a problem because of laziness, or do you provide dependability by your hard work?
The questions could continue over a variety of other issues, but while we all have our strengths and weaknesses, we are all prone to weakness apart from the grace of God. He alone is perfect in His provision and never the problem. Yet, are we looking to and trusting in Him first for the provision we all need?
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Isaiah 11:1-9 on “The Promise of Provision.” God’s provision is perfect in and through the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us trust Him! Let us find our satisfaction and fulfillment in Him!
Regardless of how many broken promises you have experienced and/or broken yourself, it is not too late for you to trust and depend on God’s provision above all else. He never breaks His promises, and He never fails.
As we trust and rely on the Lord, only then can we really be the faithful providers we need to be for one another – at home, in the church, at work, for the team, etc.
God declared about the promised Messiah who was yet to come (and who took on flesh and was born of a virgin, as promised), “Righteousness will be a belt around His loins; faithfulness will be a belt around His waist” (Isaiah 11:5). Yes, it was true. Yes, it is true. Yes, it will always be true. He is righteous and faithful!
Our perfect Provider came as promised, and He will come again as promised. Are you ready for Him? Are you trusting in Him? Are you following Him?
One of the most quoted (and wrongly applied) Bible verses is Jesus’ statement, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Many people love to say things like, “Don’t judge me,” when defending themselves in confrontations.
What people often miss, though, is the context of that conversation during Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount,” a message in which He was judging all of us and also calling us to judge one another. Matthew 7:1 is a clear command to not judge others wrongly (by our own standards, rather than God’s standards).
Just verses later, though, Jesus is quoted, “Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). In other words, do not be a hypocrite and expect from others what you yourself refuse to do. Remove the sin from your life, and then you can help others remove the sin from their lives. Examine (and judge) yourself according to the standard of God’s Word, and then you can rightly judge others according to that standard.
While those in rebellion against God and His Word are quick to say, “Don’t judge me,” followers of Jesus should be quick to say, “Please judge me.” Why? Well, because we are all in need of such judgment – accountability, encouragement, and sharpening.
Please judge me. It might be the most loving thing you can do.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Galatians 6:1-10 on “The Service of Grace.” How does the gospel of grace impact our relationships in the church? How are we called to serve one another?
One of the most important ways we can and should serve one another is through intentional discipleship – building one another up and opening up our spiritual lives to one another. “If someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2).
Do you see the call for judgment there? Please judge me. Judgment that seeks restoration is essential to that burden carrying and thus essential for fulfilling the law of Christ – to love God and love others.
To be clear, of course, there is gentleness and love required for such judgment. We are not called to the harsh and condemnatory judgment that is anything but loving, but rather to the concerning care for others that longs for them to experience a right relationship with God and with others. That kind of judgment is restorative.
Please judge me. For the sake of my relationship with God and for the sake of my relationships with others, please judge me. When I am stuck in “any wrongdoing” (and this happens to all of us, since we are all sinners), then I need to be judged – called to repentance and action – for the sake of restoration and healing.
Do you love others enough that when you notice unrepentant sin in their lives, you seek to “restore such a person with a gentle spirit“? Also, though, are you careful to seek and trust God according to His Word, “watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted“?
Please judge me according to the standard of God’s Word, and please open your life to the judgment of others. Jesus called us to this judgment, and we all need it.
Realize, too, that we all judge people, as it is impossible not to. We make judgments all the time. The key is – what is your standard for judgment? Let us make sure the Word of God is the standard.
We must invest in one another and have the tough conversations, not allowing our judgments to unnecessarily damage relationships.
God is the eternal Judge, and He created us in His image. Naturally, we are going to judge one another when mistakes are made and sin is committed, but we must also forgive one another and love one another, even in our judgments.
Please love those closest to you by judging them for the purpose of restoration, and be sure to communicate that such judgment is a two-way street. We need such accountability to be who God created us to be and to do what God created us to do.
If you, like me, are blessed and thankful to be married, why do you do the things you do for your spouse? I happen to be married to the woman of my dreams, and while I am far from adequate in showing her how grateful I am for her, the reason I do the things I do for my wife is because I love her. Also, I am confident in and grateful for the love she has for me.
Thus, when I give my wife a gift, perform an act of service for her, tell her how much I love her, or give her a kiss goodbye, I never do those things to earn her love. I do those things because I have her love and because I love her. There is no checklist I must complete in order to become my wife’s husband. I already am her husband, and so the things that I might put on such a checklist are things I desire to do. Unfortunately, I wish I did a better job, but the truth and reality remain the same, regardless of my failures.
Did you know there is no checklist with God, either? Well, at least not one we are able to complete. Before I truly understood the gospel and placed my faith in Jesus Christ, I thought such a checklist was exactly what I did have to complete in order to earn God’s favor and have eternal life. I was wrong. The Law of God recorded in the Word of God is such a checklist, but none of us is able to complete it. None of us is good enough to obey it. None of us is sufficient to fulfill it. Otherwise, there would have been no reason for Jesus to come, die on the cross in our place for our sins, and rise again to win the victory over sin and death for all who call upon His name.
Because God is perfect and holy, we are required to be perfect and holy to enter His presence and have a relationship with Him. None of us is perfect and holy, though. Yet, He loves us so much that He sent His perfect and holy Son to “complete the checklist” for us. Jesus alone obeyed the Law of God perfectly before becoming the sacrifice (in our place) that God’s perfect justice demanded. Now, if we simply place our faith and trust in Jesus to forgive us of our sins and take over our lives, it is as if we “completed that checklist.”
Praise God that there is no checklist we must fulfill to know and follow Him! His Son did that for us.
Now, His followers do not seek to serve and honor Him to earn His favor and become His children. Rather, we seek to serve and honor Him because we have received His favor and been declared His children through Jesus Christ our Lord.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I am going to preach through Galatians 4:8-31 on “The Identity of Grace.” When we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, He gives us a new identity. This identity of grace declares us to be children of God, as if we fulfilled His perfect checklist. Why? Because in and through Christ, we “know God, or rather have become known by God” (Galatians 4:9).
Just as Paul pleaded with the Galatians, I plead with you – do not try to fulfill some sort of religious checklist to make yourself right with God. Put your faith in the only One who can make you right, and trust in and follow Him every single day. To God be the glory!
I have long-made the argument that if our most important relationships are healthy, we can endure just about anything. On the flip side, even if we are successful in our careers, healthy, wealthy, and wise, we will be miserable without healthy relationships. Relationships matter.
Perhaps the greatest curse of sin that we all deal with in this life is broken relationships. Certainly, the greatest curse of sin eternally is broken relationships – most importantly, with God, but secondarily, with everyone else. Eternal death includes the death of all good relationships, namely any chance at a right relationship with God.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Galatians 3:26– 4:7 on “The Promise of Grace.” Without giving too much away before Sunday, I will be discussing the greatest blessings of the gospel of grace. God’s grace is promised and fulfilled in Christ. How? That is what we will consider from this amazing passage of Scripture.
How are your relationships? How is your most important relationship – your relationship with God? While our sin prevents us from perfect relationships (for now), we should certainly pursue and can experience healthy, growing relationships. That is God’s desire for us, but such relationships are only possible (in any lasting way) if and when you turn to the Lord Jesus for help. Jesus alone brings about reconciliation in our most important relationship and establishes for us the second best relationships.
For those who are part of our church family (or who live near us and do not yet have a church family), I pray you will join us Sunday to learn more about the greatest blessings of the Christian life. If not, the message should be available online Sunday evening.
“When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
When was the last time you held back saying something to someone, though you knew you should have, because what needed to be said would have been hard to hear? We have all been there, right? Perhaps we even hold back sharing truth under the supposed act of “love” for that person. We might say or think something like, “Well, I love them and don’t want to hurt them, so I’ll just look the other way [(or accept them as they are) or (let them live their lives)].”
To be clear, though, that is not love. Love demands truth.
You cannot claim to love someone, for example, while at the same time being okay with them playing Russian Roulette. If you know what Russian Roulette is, you know that “dangerous game” is an understated description. Furthermore, if someone continues to play Russian Roulette, they will eventually “lose” (and die). Love, then, demands we share the truth with them.
To say something foolish like, “I know playing Russian Roulette makes you happy, and I want you to be happy. If that makes you happy, play on,” is not a loving thing to do. No, the loving thing to do is to beg and plead with them to put the revolver down and live. Do not take such chances with your life. Please!
As dangerous and devastating as Russian Roulette can be, how much more dangerous and devastating is the eternal death that comes as a result of sin. It is the death we all deserve because of our sin, but God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to “take that bullet” for us. Now, everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
Refusing to turn from sin and surrender your life to Jesus, though, is like playing the ultimate horrifying game of Russian Roulette. The consequences are so much worse than a bullet to the brain and the end of physical life. The consequences are eternal death.
We cannot be sure when this life will end for any of us. We cannot be sure when Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. And, once this life is over, the chance for repentance and faith will be too late. That is why God’s Word appeals to all, “‘Don’t receive God’s grace in vain.’ For God says: ‘I heard you in an acceptable time, and I helped you in the day of salvation. Look, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation‘” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).
Do not play Russian Roulette with your spiritual life. Do not be content with any plan other than God’s plan for you (according to His Word). And, do not think that the loving thing to do is to sit by while others play Russian Roulette with their spiritual lives. We cannot take the gun out of their hands, but we can love them enough to tell them of the consequences and plead with them to surrender their all to Jesus and let God “take the gun.”
We discussed in our adult Bible study with our church family last night the calling of Jesus on our lives – “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them — this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
If you were so blinded from the truth that you thought Russian Roulette was the right thing to do, would you not want someone to tell you? Would you not want someone to do whatever they could to get that gun out of your hand and help you experience hope and healing? Of course you would! To love someone is to act on that love. To love someone is to speak the truth into their lives.
God alone saves. He alone has the solution to our eternal problem. Have you surrendered your all to Him and begun to experience that solution? Do you love others enough to tell them?
I love being a pastor. Really, there is no other job I want, nor one that has ever been so fulfilling. Furthermore, I love my church family – one of the primary reasons I so love being a pastor. Richland Baptist Church has been so good to my family and me, and we regularly praise the Lord for the blessing of having such a great church family.
Our church really is our family. For that reason, the most painful part of pastoring is not the long hours, the continued necessary preparation work, the middle-of-the-night calls or texts, the occasional confrontations, or even the funerals, as overwhelming as those can be at times. Because church is family, the hardest pain of pastoring is when people leave the church family.
Now, I am not talking about when people leave because they moved away. Sure, that is not easy either, but it is obviously understandable. No, what I am talking about is when people leave without explanation or with an unbiblical explanation. They might leave for another church nearby or for no other church at all, but it always hurts.
“It’s not personal, but…,” might be something that is said if an explanation is given, but as a pastor who loves my church family, it is personal for me when people leave. How could it not be? Would anyone really want to be part of a church in which it would not be personal to leave?
If someone in your family said to you, “You know, I’ve decided that I don’t really want to be part of this family anymore. There is a family that lives in a nearby town that I am going to join instead. It’s not personal against you, but I’m leaving our family for them. They’re going to be my new family,” would you take that personally? Of course. Would it hurt you deeply? Of course, if you love your family.
You might be thinking, “Nick, that’s ridiculous. You can’t compare leaving a church to leaving a family,” but why not? Some of the closest relationships I have are with my church family. The people I spend the most time with on a consistent basis (next to my immediate family) are the people who are active in our church (which, of course, includes my immediate family). The people with whom I share the most important beliefs, values, priorities, commitments, and goals in life are the people with whom I have covenanted with in church membership. Our church is our family is a statement of truth that makes up part of the mission and purpose of our church.
When a person leaves a church – at least a church as defined throughout the New Testament – he or she is leaving a family. That hurts, as it should.
PONDERING THE PAIN
This summer, I have been incredibly blessed to be on a short sabbatical for the purpose of rest, spiritual renewal, and more time with my wife and children. By far the hardest part of my sabbatical has been missing much of my church family (thankfully, I have still seen and spent time with some at our Saturday Men’s Fellowship and other visits and meetings), worshiping with them on Sunday mornings (I have been attending other church services and learning from other pastors and leaders), and enjoying the various times of weekly fellowship on Sundays and Wednesdays.
Why has that been the hard part of the sabbatical? Well, because my church is my family, and I need my family. Returning at the end of next month will be a sweet reunion for me, and I look forward to that, even though the sabbatical really has been a huge blessing and encouragement.
One of the best parts of my sabbatical, second only to being able to spend more time with my family, is more intentional time in prayer, reflection, and reading. Sure, all of those things are things I do a lot anyway (as a pastor and as a Christ-follower), but so much of my time spent doing those things is for the purpose of sermon and Bible study preparation, counseling, and church ministry. My focus this summer has been more on how I can be a better Christian, a better husband and dad, and a better pastor.
More than I have in years (or maybe ever), I have done a lot of time just “being still” this summer. Less rushed to finish my next sermon, prepare for the next Bible study, get to the next meeting, etc., I have been incredibly blessed to be able to slow down when reading my Bible, praying, reading encouraging Christian books, and just thinking about things.
When thinking through pastoral ministry, though, I cannot shake the pain of all those who have left our church in my nearly-nine years here. Please do not misunderstand me – the blessings of pastoring and being part of this church family far outweigh the discouragements, but the pain hurts. For whatever reason, perhaps because my sinful flesh has led me to dwell on the past rather than focus on more consistently rejoicing in the Lord and looking to the future He has for us, I have thought a lot about the pain of loss this summer – the loss of people leaving.
Regardless of why this has been on my mind, the truth is still the same for me (and I imagine for many other pastors) – the hardest pain of pastoring is when people leave.
The same reason the hardest part of the sabbatical has been missing my church family is the reason the hardest pain of pastoring is when people leave our church family. Our church is our family.
As I have pondered this reality recently, I have realized that so often my response to the fear of more people leaving has been sinful. Rather than trusting the Lord for purpose and identity and relying on Him to be the husband, dad, and pastor He has called me to be, I so often focus on how I can do better to make others happy and not push people away. Granted, we should desire that others be happy and not be pushed away, but that desire should be rooted in our identity in Christ and our obedience to His Word and our fulfillment of His purpose for our lives. Only then can we truly be happy, content, and satisfied.
What I have realized that happens when I am obsessed with doing whatever I can so that someone(s) stays involved and does not leave the church is that I am a pathetic husband and dad. You see, never am I concerned that my wife is going to leave me. She is godly, faithful, loving, kind, and patient. Her leaving never even crosses my mind. Likewise, I am never concerned that my children will leave. Really, they cannot – at least not yet. Who would pay their bills and meet their needs? Plus, they have an amazing mom, even when their dad is a failure.
And, what happens when you have something secure but are fearful of losing something else? You focus on that something else and potentially neglect what you already have. Shame on me. I am neglecting my wife and children because I am fearful of more people leaving.
Church members leave, though. While I have so many great friends (family) in our church, history does not lie. Great friends (whom I considered family) left before. Thus, I cannot shake the feeling that what if more leave? No, it is not about the attendance numbers. While I care how many people are here and desire for us to reach more and more people for Jesus, helping more and more people to be disciples who make disciples, God has protected me from obsessing over numbers. I have no desire to leave for a bigger church. No, it is not about the numbers; it is about the people. It is personal for that very reason. Numbers are not personal. People are personal. So, when people leave, my heart hurts.
I have wept over people leaving. I have lost sleep over people leaving. I have wondered why people were leaving. I have not stopped thinking about people who have left.
Last week, I started to count in my mind the people who have left Richland in my time here, and I realized that I could not keep count without paper and pen, so I gave up. I realized that I ponder this pain so often because it is the greatest pain of being a pastor.
PRAYING FOR THE PEOPLE
When I add someone to my regular prayer list after they join our church, I do not remove them from that list when they leave our church, regardless of the reason. I continue to pray for them. Perhaps they left for sinful reasons. Perhaps they faded away and have proven themselves to not be genuine followers of Jesus (see 1 John 2:19). Perhaps I or someone in our church family sinned against them, and they have not been able and/or willing to get past that. Perhaps the Lord called them to a new place, including a different church. Regardless of the reason, I am praying and will continue praying, by the grace of God.
Would you please pray for me, too? Pray that I will keep my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Pray that I will be a better husband, better dad, and better pastor by being a better follower of Jesus.
Would you please pray for our church? Pray that we will be gospel-centered, biblical, united in Christ, and faithfully committed to God’s Word, His church, and His mission.
Would you please pray for at least one person you know who might be leaving his/her church for the wrong reasons? Maybe this person is living in sin and will not repent. Maybe this person is holding a grudge and will not forgive. Maybe this person looks at church like a consumer and desires something else because of what he/she can receive. Whatever the reason, that individual needs your prayers, just like we all need prayer.
May God help us to love Him in such a way that we desire to love and serve others, promoting the biblical unity of the church and investing ourselves in God’s only plan for fulfilling His Great Commission – the local church.
Perhaps the greatest visible devastation of the fall of mankind is the reality of broken relationships. Does anything hurt more than when a meaningful relationship is broken? How many of those relationships are broken because of a failure to ask for forgiveness and/or a refusal to offer forgiveness? The vast majority, I imagine.
Why is forgiveness so difficult?
In thinking through the devastating tragedy of unforgiveness recently, my heart has been hurting for those who are stuck in that horrific rut of unforgiveness. How many relationships could be healed by forgiveness? How many churches could be united once again by forgiveness? How many lives could be eternally changed by forgiveness?
While difficult to embrace and live, the need for forgiveness is simple. There are a few things we must do to experience the freeing joy of forgiveness. Together, these three things are essential and inseparable, I believe…
1. ASK FOR FORGIVENESS
Start by looking in the mirror and examining your own heart. We all need to do that and do so more often, do we not? From whom do you need to ask for forgiveness?
Prideful fools claim they do not need to be forgiven. We all need to be forgiven. We all make mistakes. We all sin against God and against others. We all need to ask for forgiveness.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Ask for forgiveness. You might be one of the very rare people who does not need to ask for forgiveness from another person (at this time – though you certainly will need to eventually), but there is no doubt you need God’s forgiveness. No broken relationship is more eternally devastating than a broken relationship with the God who created you. Start by asking for His forgiveness, as well as asking for His help to know whom else you need to ask for forgiveness.
Can you imagine how much better life would be if we were all better about asking for forgiveness?
2. OFFER FORGIVENESS
Ultimately, bitterness hurts the one who is bitter far more than it hurts anyone else. Do not hold on to bitterness and unforgiveness. Offer forgiveness to others and forgive them! I do not believe we will end up regretting having hearts of forgiveness. Sure, we might get burned, but who has ever said, “I sure am glad I refused to forgive and instead, held on to that bitterness!“? Plenty of people have held on to bitterness, but I have never met someone who was glad he or she did.
In the great words of Tony Stark in Avengers: Endgame, “Turns out resentment is corrosive, and I hate it.“
More importantly, in the words of Jesus Christ, “If you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” (Matthew 6:15). To be clear, Jesus did not put conditions on that. He did not say that we have to forgive people who “earn” our forgiveness. Rather, He said that if we fail to forgive others, God will not forgive us.
Do you realize how big this is? Eternal life is not possible without forgiveness from our sins, and so, if you do not forgive others who sin against you, eternal damnation in hell is your only option. No exceptions.
Now, while God is perfect in His gracious forgiveness, we are not. People are not. Still, when we are humble enough to admit our mistakes and ask for forgiveness, we can and will see the benefits of such behavior. How many of our broken or severed relationships could be restored?
Turn to the Lord to receive His forgiveness, and humble yourself enough to seek and receive the forgiveness of those you have wronged, even if it is not “all your fault.” God honors humility, and He expects it from those who know and follow Him.
You might be thinking, “What about the people who have sinned against me?” Well, if you are faithfully doing the three things above, only then can you rightly respond to those who have sinned against you. I would encourage you to check out Matthew 18:15-20 and follow Jesus’ advice on dealing with those who are sinning against you, sinning against the church, and/or simply living in clear, unrepentant sin.
In the meantime, though, first make sure that you are asking for forgiveness, that you are offering forgiveness to others, and that you are receiving forgiveness. To God be the glory!
I love this country because I love the people, love the culture, love the food, and love the history! Over the past several days, I have really enjoyed my time here with friends. We have had some great conversations about Jesus, and we have enjoyed Turkish hospitality.
Of course, I am greatly looking forward to being reunited with my family and, Lord willing, will be on my way home when this post is published.
Still, I wanted to share some pictures from my trip…