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…
When I pray each day for my and my family’s purity and biblical faithfulness, I often pray for my children’s future spouses. I pray that my children will walk closely with Jesus Christ and have no desire to marry someone who is not a faithful follower of Jesus. Please understand, too, that I pray this because I want for my children what God wants for my children. Unless they have the unusual gift of celibacy, my children will one day desire to be married. And, God’s desire for them is that they marry faithful Christians.
God’s Word is abundantly clear on this, as we are commanded not to marry unbelievers (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 7:39, which gives a Christian widow the freedom to remarry but only to remarry someone who is a believer – “in the Lord.”). This command, though, is not because we are better than others but rather because God knows we are not.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Ezra 9–10 on “Reclaimed Repentance.” The ending of Ezra provides a sobering reminder of why we must never compromise our faith in God by marrying those who do not have such faith. Sure, there are times when “things work out,” by the grace and mercy of God. What ends up happening, more often than not, however, is that when a believer marries an unbeliever, the believer ends up compromising his or her faith and betrays the Lord. That happened over and over again in Israel’s history, and it continues to happen today.
Thus, we must pray that God will protect us from such temptation. Pray this for yourself if you are single and hope to be married one day. Parents, pray this for your children. Grandparents, pray this for your grandchildren. Let us pray this for our church family and others throughout the body of Christ. Let us pray that we will be faithful to the Lord, which includes obedience to His Word. When we fail, let us pray for our hearts to be broken and for sincere repentance.
If you have come to know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, then you have His Holy Spirit living in you. One of the clear evidences of such a salvation and the presence of God in your life, then, is an ongoing desire to turn away from sin and draw closer to the Lord. This certainly includes – and is even much more – than our most intimate relationships.
This past Sunday morning, I had the amazing privilege of baptizing our son Silas and niece Sahari. Praise the Lord! Also, our dear friend Preston Thompson got to baptize his daughter, Charli. You can watch the testimonies and baptisms below (or skip ahead to any particular one by clicking HERE and following the linked notes from the video)…
After I became a Christian during my sophomore year of college, I remember having some conversations with a Christian friend about tattoos. In my attempt to convince my friend the err of his ways, I told him tattoos were sinful, as I misapplied Bible verses and took them out of context. I was convinced that getting a tattoo was a sinful act, and surely, one cannot walk faithfully with Jesus and willfully get a tattoo.
As I grew in my Christian faith, however, I began to better understand the Christian liberty my friend explained. Sure, not everyone agrees on the issue of tattoos, and they certainly can be sinful if they, just like anything else, dishonor God and glorify sin. The Bible, despite my early misunderstandings and many others’ misrepresentations, does not condemn those who get tattoos. Rather, there is freedom to get them or to not get them.
Now, this is not a post to defend the case for tattoos or condemn the practice. A short and potentially helpful article on battling with that in your own mind is here. Rather, I simply want to make the point that what I once thought to be a form of godliness (judging others on issues of liberty, like tattoos) was actually a great deal of spiritual immaturity and ungodliness.
Do you have issues in your life like that? Are you finding yourself stumbling spiritually over the freedoms of others? If the Bible is clear on something, then let us stand up for such Truth. When the Bible is unclear, though, let us not divide.
Are you letting debatable things like food (and tattoos) rise to the level of that which makes us “acceptable to God?” If so, you are struggling with what Bob Ingle calls “weaker believer syndrome.” By the grace of God and a growth in spiritual maturity, you can grow past such struggles of conscience and pursue biblical unity in the body of Christ.
No, I have no desire or plans to get a tattoo. While I used to tell my parents I was going to get one as soon as I turned 18 (because they would not let me as a child), that desire diminished. I am thankful for that because I had planned on getting a really silly one that I would certainly regret today. Still, I in no way think that a Christian who gets a tattoo (as long as motives are pure and God is honored) is any less faithful to God’s Word.
Telling a Christian he is in sin for getting a cross tattoo on his forearm is no different than that same Christian telling me I am in sin if I do not get the tattoo. We can feel differently, respecting one another’s freedoms while uniting in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Spring is a time of new beginning and growth. Praise the Lord – He is always at work in people’s lives, bringing forth new beginnings and growth! Just as the grass grows and the flowers blossom, so God brings about spiritual growth and development.
Of course, we are completely incapable of experiencing that growth and development apart from God’s grace. We must continually rely upon Him by seeking Him through His Word, walking with Him in prayer, serving alongside His church, and being committed to His mission.
Do you have people in your life to challenge, sharpen, and encourage you to walk with the Lord? Have you sincerely surrendered your life to Him? Are you continually depending on Him?
Knowing how much we need prayer and how much we need one another, I wanted to share some ways you can be praying for our family right now…
Please pray that we will love, serve, and honor Jesus Christ above all.
Please pray that we will be good stewards of our resources.
Please pray that we will be disciples who make disciple makers.
One of the clearest evidences that someone is a follower of Jesus is that the individual loves the church of Jesus (John 13:34-35). The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated this, as Christ-followers who have quarantined and consequently missed gathering with the church have longed to return. That return is sweet and precious, and we believers understand that, perhaps now more than ever.
Most have returned, while others remain isolated, to some degree, for various reasons. In conversations with many of those individuals, I can sense their heartache as they long to be back with the body of Christ. Hopefully, that return will be sooner rather than later.
Then, there are others who are not with the body because they are out of the habit of gathering and have failed to make corporate worship and fellowship a priority. For most, this is likely because no genuine relationship with Jesus exists. “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us” (1 John 2:19).
For others, though, perhaps they have fallen into unrepentant sin, or they are about to fall into such a trap. Rarely is someone walking with Jesus while simultaneously willfully neglecting the body of Jesus – His church.
Whatever your situation, would you consider your values and priorities? Is corporate worship important to you? Is church involvement a priority? Even if, for health reasons, you are currently unable to gather with your church family, are you staying connected for the sake of growing closer to Jesus and helping others grow closer to Jesus?
Remember, church is not just about you. Primarily, church is about the glory of God. Secondly, church is about building up His people. We need one another, so when you are tempted to think, “I don’t need the church to worship God,” remember that the church needs you. And, really, you do need the church. We all do. Jesus established the church, in part, because we are to be interdependent on one another, needing one another to grow as He intends.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will begin a new sermon series on the power of repentance and returning to God in worship. Looking at Nehemiah 7:1-5 and 8:1-8, I hope to encourage our church family to value and prioritize “True Worship.” Nehemiah led the efforts to identify the people of God, rebuild the wall for protecting those people, and return to faithful worship with those people. While we do not have a need to rebuild a wall, we do have a need to identify what it means to be a Christ-follower and regularly turn to Him in faithful worship.
What will it take for you to gather back with the body? Please understand, I am not asking this question to those who are waiting for the vaccine and are thus self-isolating for health and safety reasons (for a time). Rather, I am asking this question to those who are willfully neglecting the church – the family of God. Will you return? Will you let us walk alongside you? Will you tell us how we can help and how we can pray for you?
When our children get along and play well together, life is so much more enjoyable than when they are not getting along. Duh, right? Last Saturday, I walked outside and saw my wife and kids playing together in the snow, and my heart was made happy. They were having fun, and life was good.
Relationships matter, and when our relationships are good, life is good. Rarely can I think of exceptions, as there is perhaps no greater dictator of our contentment than the status of our relationships. When times are tough financially or politically or physically, those storms can be weathered when our relationships are healthy. On the flip side, though, even if everything else in our lives is great (health, job, weather, political climate, sports, etc.), we will find very little enjoyment in all that greatness if any of our most important relationships are broken.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Hebrews 13:1-19 on how “Jesus Calls for Better Relationships.” Genuine faith in Jesus Christ impacts our relationships in a way that should bless and encourage us and bless and encourage others. If we truly know and follow Jesus, our relationships should honor Him. The way we behave and relate to others is important, and the Bible is full of instructions emphasizing this.
Jesus declared, in fact, that the entire law of God is summed up by relationships – our love for God and our love for others (see Matthew 22:37-40).
How are your relationships? How is your faith impacting your relationships? Whether we recognize and admit it or not, faith impacts relationships for the better or for the worse.
WHAT WE NEED
As the author of Hebrews made clear, we need to “run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1b-2a). Prioritizing our relationship with Jesus will, in turn, improve our attitude and behavior toward others. Does that mean everyone will love and appreciate us? Of course not. What happens when we put Jesus first, though, is a resulting love and concern for others that only His Holy Spirit working in our hearts can generate.
Our relationships with others are better when our relationship with Jesus is sincere and faithful. Jesus calls for better relationships, and so when we know Him and strive to live and walk according to His Word, our relationships will reflect that.
Because we are all sinners, healthy relationships are not a given. Lasting, healthy relationships require hard work and commitment, and I believe there is no greater indication of the curse of sin in this world than broken relationships. First and foremost, of course, our relationship with God is broken until we trust in and surrender our lives to Jesus Christ.
The curse of sin affects other relationships, too, though – all relationships. Thus, we need to turn away from sin and turn to Jesus and continuously ask for His help, that we will treat others the way we would like to be treated. We need to depend on Him to enable us to live according to His Word, which calls for better relationships.
What relationships in your life can be better? What can and will you do to fix them? Really, rather, will you ask the Lord for help and obey His Word in how you think, speak, and act? Let us do better by turning to Him first!