The Hardest Pain of Pastoring

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.

Is church not really a priority for you right now because you are not sure it is worth the effort? Are you unsure about following God and what that means? Would you consider checking out The Story to learn what it means to know the Lord, experience His salvation, and live for Him? Check it out HERE.

Are you in or out?

When it comes to commitments in life, we are often tempted to “ride the fence.” How will this commitment benefit me? How will it make me feel? What will it do for me? When we get favorable answers to those questions, count us in, right? Otherwise, we will teeter back and forth on our commitments (or at least be tempted to do so).

Usually, though, when it comes to the most important commitments and responsibilities, riding the fence will not do. This is especially true in our relationship with God. You are either in, or you are out. The King of kings and Lord of lords does not settle for half-hearted devotion and commitment, and He should not. Otherwise, He would cease to be Lord.

In 2 Kings 17, you can read about such an attempt at half-hearted devotion to God with the nation of Israel. “They feared the Lord, but they also worshiped their own gods according to the custom of the nations where they had been deported from” (2 Kings 17:33). Their supposed fear of and commitment to the Lord God Almighty was insincere. If they truly feared Him, they would have worshiped Him and Him alone.

And, as Charles Spurgeon said, “Another person’s shipwreck ought always to be a beacon to us.” Those who claimed to follow God in 2 Kings 17 were not truly following God. Let us learn from their failure and cry out to the Lord for His help to be sincere in our devotion to Him. If you read 2 Kings (and the rest of the Bible), you will recognize God’s clear judgment for sin. Yet, you will also recgnize His incredible mercy, grace, love, compassion, and forgiveness for all who turn to Him.

Are you in or are you out? If you are still breathing, it is not too late for you to fully surrender yourself to the Lord. Do not settle for less than sincere commitment and devotion.

Let us be inall the way in. To God be the glory!

Do you want to make sure you are fully committed to the Lord and all in? Seek Him with all your heart and surrender your life to Him today. You can learn more by checking out The Story by clicking HERE.

Why is forgiveness so difficult?

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.

Ask for forgiveness and offer forgiveness.

3. RECEIVE FORGIVENESS

If you do not ask for forgiveness and offer forgiveness, then you will not receive forgiveness. Praise God, though, that such forgiveness from Him truly is free when we sincerely turn to Him in faith and repentance, trusting in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for our salvation.

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!

To know and experience the forgiveness that leads to eternal life, check out The Story.

Don’t Love Isolation

Our dog, Lottie, spotted a turtle walking across our driveway yesterday morning and was immediately curious. After watching the turtle slowly advance toward the house, Lottie decided to check it out for a quick sniff. Then, as the turtle remained still, Lottie proceeded to lie down and rest in the turtle’s company.

This is not unusual behavior for our golden lab. She does not love isolation but rather is always interested in the company of others – humans, other dogs, other animals, etc. While she gets plenty of alone time when the kids are at school and Marsha and I are working (and Lottie is “guarding” our front yard), she never chooses alone time when opportunities for company are available. If anyone in our family is outside, whether paying attention to Lottie or not, she will be right there. Busy doing something else? No problem – Lottie will lie next to you.

I believe we can learn a lesson from a lab here. Yes, there are times when we need to be alone, and some people need more alone time than others. Even Jesus “often withdrew to deserted places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). We ought not love isolation, though, but rather should long for the company of others. This is especially true if you are a follower of Jesus, the One who created you to live in fellowship with Him and with His church (i.e. see Hebrews 10:19-25).

Labs love to be around others. This is one of their characteristics and one of the reasons, along with their loyalty, that dogs are traditionally called “man’s best friend.”

Christ-followers love fellowship and worship with other Christ-followers. Our care and concern for one another is what proves our relationship with Jesus, as He said, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Loving others requires relationships, and good, loving relationships require time together.

Do you love being with other Christ-followers? If you are a Christ-follower, the answer can only be yes. If you are quick to answer no to that question and/or you are trying to justify your lack of desire to be around other believers on a regular basis, please examine your heart and your faith to make sure you have truly surrendered your all to the Lord.

Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commands” (John 14:15), and He certainly commands our faithful commitment to a local church (i.e. see 1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; Ephesians 3; and again Hebrews 10:19-25).

In Matthew 16, Jesus founded the church. In Matthew 18, Jesus established the church’s authority. In Matthew 28, Jesus commissioned the church. And, throughout the book of Acts and church history since then, Jesus has grown the church through the power of His Holy Spirit, the partnership of His people, their proclamation of His gospel, their perseverence in the midst of persecution, and His continued provision in keeping His promises.

Please understand, the church was and is Jesus’ idea, not our idea, and there is no plan B. Thus, it is not possible for a genuine follower of Jesus to lack in his or her desire to be in fellowship with a local church. Sure, circumstances will arise (sickness, military deployment, temporary work requirements, etc.) when involvement becomes inconsistent, but the desire will always be there. The commitment to return will be obvious. Otherwise, saving faith is surely missing, is it not?

John made this clear when he was talking about unbelievers who proved themselves so when they were no longer involved in local fellowship with believers in the church: “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).

Those who love Jesus love His church and thus love being with His church. Those who do not love the church and isolate themselves from her prove themselves to also not love Jesus.

Do not love isolation. Follow Jesus and love His church. If this is a struggle for you, pray for the Lord’s grace, mercy, and help. He desires that you walk with Him and find fulfillment in Him. The church is part of His plan for that to happen.

Learn a lesson from Lottie, and do not pursue isolation. Pursue the company of those who love Jesus and will thus love you and help you to grow closer to Him. All glory be to Christ!

To learn more about what it means to truly know and follow the Lord, please check out The Story.

When Boasting Is Beautiful

Most people would agree that we should not boast about ourselves. Bragging about your own accomplishments is usually a turnoff and not something we would encourage of others. “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth — a stranger, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2).

Who do you brag about most, though, and what does such boasting say about you? We tend to brag about our spouses, our children, our favorite school, our favorite sports team, etc., and while none of that is necessarily wrong (when truthful and seeking to honor others’ worthy achievements), such boasting does say a lot about who we are and what we value.

I believe we would do well to take stock of our boasting. Whom we boast about most, after all, says a great deal about our commitments, priorities, loyalties, and devotion, right? If you love and care about your family, you will talk positively about your family. If you are a big sports fan, people will know what teams have your allegiance. Again, not necessarily anything wrong with that kind of boasting, unless, however, it progresses to worship.

Boasting is beautiful only if and when appropriate priorities are in line. And, God’s Word determines those priorities for us. Above all else, His glory is to be the priority. He alone is worthy of our greatest boasting – boasting that is worshipful and points others to Him.

When boasting is beautiful, God gets the glory.

What if we bragged about God as much as we bragged about ourselves or our children or our favorite teams or our favorite ________? You might say, “Well, I love my ______, and I’m not ashamed of them. I want the world to know it.” Hey, that might be just fine, but do you love God more? Do you love Him most? If so, should not your greatest amount of boasting and your only worship be about Him?

If you were to scroll through your social media feeds, who is getting the most glory? If you could listen to recordings of all of your conversations, who would get the most attention? If you could see a log of all your thoughts and ambitions, what would they say about your greatest devotion?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Psalm 40 on “Turning the Page.” Do you prioritize turning the page of God’s Word in your everyday life? Are you seeking to grow in your commitment to Him and His Word? Do others see in you a contagious devotion to the Lord Almighty?

I delight to do Your will, my God; Your instruction lives within me. I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly; see, I do not keep my mouth closed — as You know, Lord” (Psalm 40:8-9).

Perhaps we are pretty good about not keeping our mouths closed when we brag about our children or sports teams, but the One about whom we should never keep our mouths closed is the King of kings. Boasting about Him and His provision and His faithfulness and His goodness – that boasting is beautiful!

Are you in His Word enough to know and meditate on how great He is? Are you devoted to Him enough to prioritize your relationship with Him above all else? Are you pointing others to Him?

Let us join David in declaring to the Lord, “Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; let those who love Your salvation continually say, “The Lord is great!”” (Psalm 40:16). Praise and glory be to God!

If you have not yet experienced how great it is to know and worship the Lord, would you consider checking out The Story and turning to Him today?

Zoe’s Testimony & Baptism

A few weeks ago, I had the amazing privilege of baptizing Zoe and my sister Ashley. Praise be to God! Below, you can see their testimonies and baptisms (first video) and/or just watch Zoe’s testimony (second video).

Never have I been more proud to be Zoe’s dad and Ashley’s brother than when they publicly professed their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord by sharing their testimonies and being baptized. What a blessing and privilege it was to get to baptize them!

Honest Doubt

Because none of us is perfect, none of us has perfect faith. Our imperfect faith results in a struggle with doubt. What should we do, then, when we struggle with doubt? How should we respond?

There was once a desperate father with a very sick son who said to Jesus, “If You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22).

Clearly, in saying “If you can…,” this man doubted Jesus. He struggled with his doubt and yet was honest in his request to Jesus. Does that make this man’s doubt acceptable? No, but it does give us an example of the honest struggle with sin that we all need to confess, as well as giving us an amazing picture of Jesus’ kindness and compassion.

Then Jesus said to him, “‘If You can’? Everything is possible to the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe! Help my unbelief”” (Mark 9:23-24).

How do you deal with your doubts? How should you? While there might be several ways one would answer those questions, I believe there are a couple of common wrong ways to deal with doubt and only one right way.

WRONG: Deny the struggle.

Some people try to “tough it out” and deny the struggle with doubt. They might think and/or say things like, “Eh, I’ll be fine. No worries,” while struggling deep down with doubts about God’s provision, God’s goodness, and God’s faithfulness. Perhaps they even profess to believe while still thinking of God, “If He can ____…

God knows our hearts, though. He knows of our struggles. He knows of our doubts. Thus, there is no need to deny the struggle but rather, like the man in Mark 9, admit, “Help my unbelief!” Have honest doubt, and do not deny the struggle.

WRONG: Deny the Savior.

Another wrong response is to give up on the Lord and deny His sovereign control and provision. When you struggle with doubt, do not give up on God. Yes, do give up thinking you can solve your problems, but do not deny the Savior. Jesus is Lord, and He alone is able to save us from our sins, make us right with God, and give us lasting hope and peace in the midst of our doubts.

When doubts come, do not see your doubts as a sign that God is failing. Rather, be reminded that you are failing. I am failing. We are failing. God never fails. May our doubts, then, never cause us to deny the struggle or deny the Savior!

RIGHT: Turn to the Savior.

The only right response to our struggle with doubt is to turn to Jesus – the One and Only Savior of the world. He is the Only One capable of meeting our eternal needs, satisfying our God-created longings, and restoring the holes in our hearts.

When you struggle with doubt, be honest. God knows. Do not deny the struggle, and do not deny the Savior. Instead, cry out to Him. Admit to your struggles and ask for His help. If you read the rest of the story (Mark 9:25-29), you can see that Jesus did indeed have compassion and help the man’s son. He healed the boy like only the Promised Messiah and Savior could do. Then, He reminded His disciples (and us) of our need for Him.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Mark 9:19-29 on our journey “From Doubt to Faith.” To move from doubt to faith, your faith must be in the Only One who can deliver you from the source of your doubts. Faith in Jesus alone diminishes doubts. Respond to doubt, then, by turning to Him. Believe, and cry out to Him to “help your unbelief.”

Struggling with doubt and discouragement to the point of hopeless despair? Turn to Jesus today. You can learn more by checking out The Story.

What changes will cure your doubts?

If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why do so many bad things happen?

If God is in control, why is there so much injustice in the world?

If God really cares about me, why do I feel so far from Him?

If Jesus is the perfect Son of God, why is so much evil done by those who claim to follow Him?

Those questions and so many more are and have been asked often. While the purpose of this post is not to give adequate answers to those questions, there are adequate answers to those questions. Of course, you and I might not be the ones to give such answers, especially when it comes to specific situations, but God certainly can and will. To a degree, He already has, and to the ultimately-satisfying degree, He will when Jesus Christ comes again.

All of those questions (and more) were ones I struggled with before coming to know the Lord. With great joy and thankfulness, I can honestly say those are not a struggle for me anymore, though. That does not mean I never have doubts or that my faith in God is perfect. Far from it! Like all Christ-followers, I am a work in progress and am far from where I need to be.

Still, I am grateful that by the grace and mercy of God, I have been changed. The change is not my doing but His doing. If you, too, have come to know the Lord, you understand what I am saying. If not, I highly encourage you to check out The Story by clicking on the picture below.

The change that occurs when we turn our lives over to the One who Created us is a change that affects every aspect of our lives, including how we deal with doubt. Again, this does not mean we will never have doubts. This does not mean we have all the answers to life’s difficult questions. This does mean, though, that we can move “From Doubt to Change,” as I will discuss in my message from Matthew 16:21-24 on Sunday morning, Lord willing. Instead of being consumed by worldly doubts, we can experience and rejoice in biblical change.

In your spare moments, what is more likely to consume your thoughts – God’s goodness or the world’s problems? In times of difficulty and discouragement, what is your source of comfort – the Spirit of God or the hopes of humanity? When you long for more happiness, what do you long for – more of Jesus and His church or more of health and prosperity? When you need answers, where are you more likely to turn – the Word of Christ or the winds of culture?

Your doubts that ultimately come from sin and the world cannot be cured by our sin and the world. God alone can cure our doubts. He alone can take away our sins. He alone can satisfy our needs. He alone can give us the purpose, hope, meaning, joy, fulfillment, and peace that we truly desire. Are you looking to Him for change? Are you seeking Him through His Word? Are you trusting Him? Let’s go from doubt to change!

To experience the only change that will last and endure the trials of life, turn to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Learn more by checking out The Story.

Don’t fight doubt with dirt.

When I was a kid, I thought quicksand was going to be a much bigger deal than it has turned out to be in my life. Learning and reading about quicksand, I thought for sure that by now, I would have needed to be rescued from quicksand. After all, quicksand is a really big problem and a dangerous common occurrence, right? Turns out I was wrong. To this day, I have yet to encounter the perils of quicksand.

Last summer, though, I was exploring a creek with my kids, and we came across some really thick mud with a thin layer of water over it. One of my kids stepped in it and sank in deep enough to get stuck and then almost lose a boot when getting pulled out. We were fascinated by this, as it was the closest thing to quicksand any of us had ever experienced. Thus, we proceeded to “play in the mud” and take turns rescuing one another from what we pretended was quicksand.

One thing was clear during this little adventure – the way to get out of that mud was not by using the surrounding mud. Even the dirt nearby was not helpful because it turned to mud, too. What we needed was help – the help of a person on solid ground, the help of a tree limb, and the footing of a firm foundation.

The difficulties of life are like that mud. Easily, we can get sucked in and stuck in the struggles, frustrations, stress, and devastation. What can rescue us then? How can we escape the perils of our fallen world?

Because of this reality, we all naturally struggle with doubts. Uncertainties, as a result of our obvious limitations and inadequacies, abound. We continuously have doubts, which lead to fear, discouragement, and failures.

How can we fight those doubts, then? How can we press on and not get sucked into the traps? How can we live a life of hope, assurance, and peace when there is so much evil, turmoil, difficulty, stress, and frustration?

Unfortunately, just like my kids and I foolishly thought we could “master” that mud on our own and be the first one to get out of the sinkhole without help, we so often do this with our doubts and fears. When my kids and I would get stuck in the sinking mud, we would grasp for the closest dirt bank we could reach, but it too would turn to mud. It looked firm and helpful, but it was not. We needed something solid and firm and immune to the softening effects of the water. Otherwise, we would only be digging ourselves further into the mud.

Likewise, when we face our doubts and try to conquer those doubts with “dirt” – some seemingly helpful solutions that only turn to mud and throw us deeper into the pit of doubt and despair – then we are hopeless. Dirt cannot save you from mud because it just turns into more mud, especially when the waters of difficulty do not recede.

Do not fight doubt with dirt. You need the rescue that can pull you from the mud. You need the foundation that can keep you on solid ground. You need the Rock!

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be starting a new sermon series (Help My Unbelief: Dealing with Doubt), preaching this first message from Matthew 11:2-6 on going “From Doubt to Pursuit.” When you struggle with doubt, respond by pursuing Jesus. He alone is the Rock who can deliver you from the mud of despair.

Are you struggling with debilitating doubt, perhaps resulting in fear and despair, because of your circumstances? Jesus alone is the answer. He is the Rock, whereas every other supposed answer is nothing more than dirt. I invite you to trust in Him for hope and peace, and continually depend on Him for the strength to press on and endure. You will not regret trusting the firm foundation of His Word and the power of His Spirit.

To learn how to know and follow God in a right and growing relationship with Him, please check out The Story.

Have Mercy

I am not exactly sure what was happening in the above picture, but I love the example of sacrificial service on display by my mom as she was leading a game with the 4-to-6-year-old children Wednesday evening. Marsha and her (and several other amazing volunteers) serve our church family by ministering to dozens of children on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. They do so with very little fanfare and certainly little (if any) appreciation from the children, who do not yet know how to express much appreciation.

Effective children’s ministry, much like most Christian ministry, requires a lot of mercy and grace. Those children (just like the rest of us, by the way) do not deserve the time and effort volunteers put forth week after week. Ministry, especially children’s ministry, is utterly exhausting, very demanding, and extremely underappreciated. When I see some of the things our church volunteers endure (the spitting, kicking, screaming, pouting, scowling, yanking, pulling, tackling, throwing, etc. – plus all the things children do ;-)), I am amazed more volunteers do not burnout and run away.

Here they are, though, faithfully serving the Lord and His church week after week, year after year. Praise God for their Christlike examples!

WHY?

Why do these faithful volunteers (and so many others) endure the difficulties of ministry? Why do they have and extend the mercy and grace that ministry requires? The simple answer to that question is because they have received and experienced that mercy and grace from the Lord. Once you experience such amazing mercy, you cannot help but have mercy.

A changed life leads to a desire to see the lives of others changed. Thus, disciples of Jesus want to help others know and follow Jesus. Disciples make disciples who make disciples who make disciples…

Those who have experienced much will give much.

HOW?

How, though, can people serve so faithfully when there is so little gratitude and appreciation and reward? The simple answer is that they are able to do these things by the same grace and mercy of God that saved them from their sins. These incredible volunteers are not super-humans (although they look like it sometimes), and they are not super-Christians with some extra measure of faith that others cannot experience. Rather, they trust and depend on the grace of God that is necessary for anyone to do anything good.

They have experienced the mercy of God, and as they continue to trust His mercy and grace, they have mercy and compassion for others. The same God who opened their hearts to turn to Him is the same God who enables them to serve Him and His church so faithfully?

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Have you experienced God’s mercy through Christ? Are you extending that mercy to others? In what ways can you better demonstrate God’s mercy in and through your everyday life?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Luke 10:25-37 on “Giving Mercy.” If you have received mercy from the Lord, then you will have and give mercy to others. How we treat others is the evidence of our relationship with God (see HERE and HERE, for example). Even when others are not kind and gracious to you (just like preschoolers who have kicked and hit volunteers), embracing God’s mercy and grace leads to the extension of that mercy and grace to others. See Luke 6:32-36 for a great example of this.

Let us know Jesus (in receiving mercy), and let us make Him known (in giving mercy). Have mercy to the glory of God!

To understand and embrace the mercy of God in and through a saving relationship with His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, check out The Story and call upon His name.