10 Ways for Every Pastor to Be More Relational

There are pastors who love crowds, but not people so much. I understand. People can be the worst part of ministry, and at the same time be the best part. But, I think it’s important as we approach the new year to remind ourselves that leadership, at its core, is really about people. Here are several practical actions to help leaders be relational and build the kind of authentic community that makes leadership personally fulfilling.

  1. Build community one relationship at a time. There really are no shortcuts for building community. It takes time to sit with people, get to know them, and prove that you genuinely care. Sending out an e-mail or having a group meeting helps you communicate information, but it’s no substitute for getting to know a real person.
  1. Make time for downtime. Setting aside planned time to “build relationships” can make it seem forced or programmed. Build relationship all the time in brief, everyday interactions with people. Take a minute to ask someone how he or she is doing. Say hello to people you pass in the hallway. This may seem basic, but a friendly word or smile can make someone’s day. In other words, be friendly and make a connection.
  1. Listen more than you talk. Leaders are famous for loving to hear themselves talk— and to mostly talk about themselves. Seek to listen to others more than you speak (James 1:19). If you ask people about their life and world, and take the time to listen attentively, they will become drawn to you and more readily trust you. This means sincere care, not pretend listening.
  1. Try to remember names. You will be amazed at the response if you remember someone’s name after meeting him or her the first time. This one practice attracts people toward a leader like almost nothing else. It shows your interest in the other person and dignifies their presence with you.
  1. Go where people are. If you want to build community, you have to go to the places where other people go: picnics, parks, events, parties, playgrounds, youth soccer games, etc. Don’t isolate yourself from people. They matter.
  1. Accept people as they are. Some leaders communicate in subconscious ways that others just don’t measure up. Leaders who constantly critique and come across as judgmental are leaders no one wants to be around.
  1. Work with people; don’t use them. It’s inauthentic to form relationships just to get people to do things for you. That approach won’t work in the long term because people will feel used. Leaders should approach relationships with integrity. We form relationships because we genuinely care and because we share a common mission. Of course, we cannot be friends with everyone. Determine the appropriate level of a relationship, establish boundaries with it, and act authentically within those boundaries. Remember, however: the more you ask of someone, the more need there is to have relationship with him or her. Making demands of people without a measure of care, concern, and trust for them creates resentment.
  1. Be relational; don’t just act relational. People quickly learn whether you genuinely enjoy people or are bothered by them. Again, appropriate boundaries are needed because there are many demands upon a leader’s time, but how you are perceived is important—and perception flows from what is actually in the heart of the leader. Ask God to give you a genuine love for people. If you genuinely enjoy people, whether you can spend a lot of time with them or not, others will be attracted by your attitude.
  1. A note about time. It’s not logical to assume that leaders can spend quality time with every person in the organization. However, biblical leaders determine the key people with whom they will have quality relationships, and they go about investing in them by the example of Jesus. This number can normally be no greater than ten to twelve (notice that Jesus engaged twelve disciples). Beyond this number, time is a constraint and relationships enter into a different category of intensity and intimacy. In other words, you cannot build community with all, but you must have it with a few. Normally, many of these key people will be those with whom the leader interacts on mission and on a regular basis. While leaders should be genuine with everyone, it is wise to invest at this level with people who hold pivotal roles in an organization. This matter of ten to twelve not only aligns with the time bandwidth of leaders, but also with the emotional bandwidth. We only have a maximum amount of time to be able to invest in this number of relationships, but we also possess a maximum emotional capacity that tops off at about the same number. Most of us don’t possess the emotional resources to genuinely care, be concerned for, and build authentic relationship with more than that. Understanding these limitations actually helps leaders be more effective toward the ones God has given them.
  1. Building friendships. Finally, leaders should give themselves permission to have the deepest of friendships and it is healthy for these relationships to exist outside the church or organization. These kinds of friendships provide downtime and companionship, wise counsel outside the loop of the organization, healthy accountability, and loving support during difficult seasons. A good pattern for healthy leadership seems to be one or two safe, deep friendships with people of the same gender and who stand outside the leader’s core group, church or organization. 

3 Things the Gospel Isn’t

We live in an age of gospel illiteracy. Unchurched people have never heard this message. And I wonder about a lot of churched people too. But it’s always been this way. The Reformers’ recovery of the good news was not a one and done deal. We are daily in danger of gospel amnesia, so we must always be recovering the astounding announcement of grace.

Even in the early church, in the days of the historical newness of the gospel there was so much confusion. If we think about it long enough, we can feel, for instance, Paul’s exasperation with the Galatians. “I’m astonished at how quickly you’ve deserted this message,” he says in the introduction to his letter. And so he fires all his cannons in this short letter, rebuking the pharisaical heresy of the Judaizers, who insist that the good news is Jesus PLUS something – namely, circumcision – and calling the Galatian church to return to the undiluted, unvarnished truth. And as he rounds the corner into chapter 5 of that letter, he’s doing some meticulous work of what we might call “gospel distinctions.”

Here’s Galatians 5:13-25:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who dosuch things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

Many people treat the good news of Jesus as a kind of ideological abstraction, as a shibboleth, as amorphous, ambiguous, a biblical feelgoodism to which we can attach any meaning at all. So it’s important not just to understand the gospel by its affirmations, but also by denials. Here from Galatians 5 are three things the gospel is not.

1. The gospel is not license.

It seems clear that Paul is addressing a somewhat common assumption that since grace is free, it must not cost much. Which is like saying it doesn’t matter much. The good news is an announcement of great freedom, including – apparently – the freedom not to take it too seriously. He addresses this in a few of his letters and puts a little ink toward that idea here too. As in verse 13: “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.”

Or, as vv.16-17, when he lays out the weightiness of grace. Because the gospel comes by the Spirit, it is in opposition to fleshly appetites. Desires of the flesh are against the Spirit. The point he’s making is similar to the point in Romans 6, when he brings up hypothetical – “If grace abounds more than sin abounds, should we continue in sin to get more grace? Of course not!” he says. How can you continue living in something you have died to?

Here in Galatians 5:24 he says, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

In short, the good news doesn’t just give us pardon, it gives us Christ HIMSELF — which is to say, it gives us a new life.

In his work Concerning Councils and Churches, Martin Luther addresses this kind of antinomianism and puts it this way

Verily, it amounts to this, that Christ is taken away and made worthless in the same breath with which He is most highly extolled. It means to say yes and no in the same matter . . . According to the logic of Nestorius and Eutyches these people, in masterful fashion, preach a Christ who both is, and is not, the Redeemer. They are excellent preachers of the Easter truth, but miserable preachers of the truth of Pentecost. For there is nothing in their preaching concerning sanctification of the Holy Ghost and about being quickened into a new life. 

It is proper to extol Christ in our preaching; but Christ has acquired redemption from sin and death for this very purpose that the Holy Spirit should change our Old Adam into a new man, that we are to be dead unto sin and live unto righteousness, For Christ has gained for us not only grace (gratiam), but also the gift (donum) of the Holy Ghost, so that we obtain from Him not only forgiveness of sin, but also the ceasing from sin. Any one, therefore, who does not cease from his sin, but continues in his former evil way must have obtained a different Christ 

Christ is too precious to live as if he’s not. But we do live as if he’s not, don’t we? Every day we do. In fact, we find that we often can’t seem to help it. And this is why the second denial is actually a comfort:

2. The gospel is not law.

The gospel is not license. But also, the gospel is not law.

Paul writes in 5:18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

This is the overarching point of Galatians in fact. (See verse 13: “For you were called to freedom, brothers.”)

Earlier in the chapter, in vv.1-3, he says:

It is for freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.

Paul recognizes the great danger in failing to make proper distinction between law and gospel. It’s the same danger the church faces in every age. It’s the same danger you and I face every day, and it makes the biggest difference between seeing the Christian life – the way of Jesus himself – as a burden or as a liberation. In a way, Paul’s letter to the Romans is about the gospel to the world. Galatians is the gospel for the church.

I grew up in church hearing about people who had “fallen” into sin, people who had “fallen away,” and it usually referred to people who had given in to sexual sin or some kind of immorality or debauchery. But that’s not the danger Paul is emphasizing here at all. No, in v. 4 he defines “falling away” as those who depart from the truth of grace! Not those who engage in licentious sin but those who adopt legalism. It’s the legalists who have fallen away!

Both license and legalism are self-salvation projects. What can save us?

The true gospel? The Holy Spirit working through the announcement of the finished work of Christ.

No, the gospel is not law. It’s not advice. It’s not instructions, commandments, or exhortations. It’s not moral uplift. It’s not an inspirational maxim or a religious aphorism. It’s not a spiritual imperative. It’s not anything we do. Sometimes we hear people say things like “We just need to ‘be’ the gospel to people.” Look, if you could be the gospel, you wouldn’t need the gospel.

No, it’s not anything you or I do. It’s a declaration of something that HAS BEEN DONE.

It’s a newspaper headline! It’s an announcement. It’s glad tidings of great joy. It’s a proclamation of something that happened. The gospel does not demand “Get to work” but announces “It. is. finished.”

Because the gospel is not law, you are not your sin. You are not your worst day. Or your best. Because the gospel is not law, the summons is not to come prove yourself, but to come BE yourself.

Isn’t that amazing? To qualify for the gospel, all you must be is a sinner. Who couldn’t qualify for that? You qualify. If it’s not beneath you to admit it.

The freeness of the gospel seemed too good to be true to the Galatians. Which is just a way of saying they were too good to be true . . . To tell the truth about themselves. The great problem of legalism is in fact not thinking too highly of the law but not thinking it highly enough! Thinking too highly of ourselves that we think it manageable, achievable. But we are wretched sinners. That’s the truth. And because that is true, the gospel can never be law.

But what neither license nor legalism can do, the gospel can. Which leads to the third denial:

3. The gospel is not lacking in power.

License claims to make much of grace but belittles it – it says the gospel is big, but not big enough to empower obedience. Legalism claims to make much of the law, but belittles it – it says the law is ultimately manageable, doable. Thus, license and legalism are more alike than we often think. They are basically both self-salvation projects. One seeks to liberate the self through feeding of the flesh. The other seeks to elevate the self through religious merit. Both are bullet train journeys into hard canyon walls.

If you want real liberation and real elevation, it can only come through the unfiltered, unadulterated, undiluted grace of Jesus. Only grace has the power to save. Only grace has the power to transform.

So we look at those two lists Paul contrasts with each other in vv.19-23 in a new light. We notice a difference. The first list (in vv.19-21) is largely a list of actions, even if mental. The second list (the fruit of the Spirit in vv.22-23), by contrast, is a list of conditions, qualities. Isn’t that interesting? Paul doesn’t contrast a list of bad things we do with good things we do; instead, he contrasts a list of bad things we do with good things to be.

Because the fruit of the Spirit cannot be faked, because it is the result not of religious behavioral change but Spiritual heart transformation, it can only be brought to flourishing in us through the gospel of Jesus. Only the gospel has the power to affect real, deep heart change. That is real power.

Links For The Church (4/19)

Ministry, Personal Limits, and Saying “No”

Ed Welch provides diagnostic questions to provide healthy boundaries for your ministry.

God Has Not Forgotten You

In this article, Vaneetha Rendall Risner shares three truths to remember about God and His faithfulness to you.

The Gift of True Words

“We don’t say what we know and feel and appreciate often enough. We assume things are understood, and we underestimate the impact of our words.”

The Perseverance of the Father’s Heart

We may, at times, forget our love of God and try to turn away from Him, but His love never leaves us, and it will not.

There Will Most Assuredly Come A Morning

A year ago, we gathered in a cemetery chapel next to a coffin that seemed too small to be real. That beast Cancer had taken another. This time, little Finn.

Through tears and a shaky voice, I offered the words God gave me as best I could. Moments later, I watched parents bury their earthly dreams for their boy. The dirt piled on. They said their goodbyes. But how does a parent bid goodbye to their three-year-old son? How do they go on, parenting their other two boys when the one missing pulls their heart underground with them?

I don’t know. But God knows. And in moments like that, that’s the greatest hope we have.

Last week, on the anniversary of Finn’s death, we gathered to remember. We grieved together as those in Christ grieve—truly but with all the hope Jesus gives. There is a day coming when death shall be no more. We believe that. We look forward to it. Today, though, isn’t that day. So we cry with aching hearts. But we won’t bury our hope. How could we? Our hope rose from the grave.

For two and a half years, the fight for a cure was in full force. Then, suddenly, one day it was over. For a year and a half, all Finn’s parents had each night as they tucked their boy into bed was that morning would come bearing new mercies. Perhaps one day, they hoped, the mercy of a cure would come knocking on their door.

But that cure never came. Instead, the tumors grew larger and faster, making their home in a place they didn’t belong. The medical landscape dried up. Time ran out. One final morning, it was all over.

I remember the moment I saw the text message come in. As I looked at the words there in black and white, I grieved. I knew this was coming. We all did. But it hurt. It felt surprising. Death always leaves you longing for just one more something—one more visit, one more hello, one more goodbye, one more hug, one more look, one more smile, one more anything. Among the many things death steals is the normal things of life that you don’t even notice until you can’t have it again. Those are the things that really hurt. The toys sitting on the living room couch. The label that prints his name for Sunday School at church. The things of life that just happen until they suddenly don’t. Those are the things that hurt so much more than we expect.

Days after his death, we showed up to a church in town to mourn together and to celebrate a life too short but oh so meaningful. We wore our avocado pins because they were Finn’s favorite food. We told stories and gave hugs and we worshiped God because that’s what you do when you have no other answers. You lift your praise to the one who knows what it’s like to lose a son. And you put your hope in that Son’s resurrection.

During the service, there was a slide show of Finn’s life. Ellie Holcomb’s Red Sea Road served as the soundtrack for the first part.

We’ve buried dreams,

Laid them deep into the earth behind us

Said our goodbyes

At the grave but everything reminds us

God knows we ache,

When He asks us to go on

How do we go on?

How does a family go on? I didn’t know. So I looked to the one who was trying to—to Finn’s dad. And he gave me hope. On this anniversary of Finn’s burial, I know no better words than Dan’s, which I have included below.

Every night before bed, we had the same routine. We’d get a glass of water, and say our prayers. Sometimes we would pray but there were times when he would pop up and say, “I want to pray.” So he would pray. He’d say the usual prayers and when he was done praying, he’d look at us, and hold his arms out and say, “Hug and kiss.”

So we’d tuck him in, snuggling with his lion blanket. We’d pull his blanket over him, and he would give us just the sweetest and gentlest hug and kiss you can imagine. And every night without fail, he would finish by saying in the cutest little voice, “See you in the morning.”

Finn is profoundly missed. Where once there was a loving and joyful presence in our lives, there is now a gaping, jagged raw hole. The loss of Finn is so real, so physical, so emotional, and it is so life-dominating that it is hard to think of anything beyond our present moment of sorrow. And as we cry out to God in our sorrow and our anger, it’s hard to see any hope in any of this. And yet in the midst of this bitter grief, the Bible does still give us hope. Psalm 30 says that weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning. It teaches us that because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the things that are will not always be. There is a hope for those in Christ Jesus, and a glorious future to look forward to. The apostle Paul spoke of this and he said it makes our current suffering seem light and momentary in comparison.

What is will not always be. We may be deep in the night now, but there will most assuredly come a morning. And with that morning will come great joy.

For now we mourn. But we cling to the hope that we will see Finn again. We will see him without tubes, without bags, and without the ravages of cancer. We will laugh and we will run. And we will probably eat avocados.

Finn, we will see you in the morning.

This is the hope of Advent lived in between the death we experience and the life promised. As Fleming Rutledge says, “The disappointment, brokenness, suffering, and pain that characterize life in this present world is held in dynamic tension with the promise of future glory that is yet to come. In that Advent tension, the church lives its life.”

Only the church has this hope. The promise of future glory is yet to come. A light will shine in the darkness. So we go on, as Ellie Holcomb sings, because in Christ, by the power of his gospel, we can sing this good song of gospel hope to our souls.

Where He leads us to go, there’s a red sea road

When we can’t see the way, He will part he waves

And we’ll never walk alone down a red sea road

Why? Because God is always there. Even in the midst of the deepest sorrow. He was there when Finn took his final breath. He was there a year ago when we laid him in the ground. He was there last week when we gathered to remember. And he will be there every moment of every hour of every day because he is a faithful God.

On a day like today, as I remember the pain of last year, and as Finn’s parents weep and remember, there is a God above who is faithful, who is bringing a morning so bright that all this pain will certainly be in comparison light and momentary. And all those little things we miss today he will restore. In our mourning, in Christ, we can know that there will most assuredly come a morning. The years that the locusts have taken will be ours again, and no one will snatch them from our resurrected hands.

Editor’s Note: This originally published at Things of the Sort.

The Weightier Weight

Editor’s Note: The weekend can be an incredibly distressing time for many pastors to enter into. The desire to spend quality time with family while juggling the pressures of an unfinished sermon can be an exhausting reality. What many pastors need are not more tips on how to prepare better sermons as much as some encouragement to better prepare their hearts to preach the sermon they have. Join Ronnie Martin every Friday for The Preachers Corner, where he offers some words of comfort and stories of hope to help preachers enter the weekend encouraged by the gentle and lowly heart of Jesus. 

A sermon is never finished. 

Depending on the kind of person you are, that either evokes a sigh or a sigh or relief in you. What I mean is that until you actually step up and preach the thing, a sermon can be endlessly changed, edited, revised or tossed across the room into an overflowing trash bin of frustration. 

This is probably one of the reasons that preaching can feel so heavy, and with a weight that feels nothing less than unbearable at times. And preaching should be heavy in some sense, right? There is a weighty kind of weight for the person who steps up to the pulpit and declares “Thus says the Lord.” And if that ain’t heavy enough, James bluntly informs us that teachers will be “judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). 

If that was the only kind of weight we carried, we would likely spend the time we’re not clicking away on our keys kneeling before the Lord, and pleading for His help. 

But I wonder if the weight we often carry is mixed with a less weighty weight? One that manifests itself in those unspoken cavities of the heart that seek things like authority, affirmation, acclaim and adulation. The kind of weight that keeps our pulses racing at night because what we actually crave is a sermon that will spotlight us as intelligent, funny, thoughtful, and insightful people. A sermon where we get to share some of God’s unshareable glory. All of this creates a heaviness, but it’s not the kind you or I really want. It’s not an “eternal weight of glory” that Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 4:17, which is how we learn to endure some of the momentary affliction that accompanies the Christian life. 

No, these are the subtle weights of the world. Anchorless passions and wandering desires that form hearts heavy with cares that we were never meant to carry.

Is this the kind of weight you carry as you slog your way toward Sunday morning week after week? Has the pulpit become the proving ground of your worth to the world once again? 

Maybe you need to stop. Stop and reset your gaze on the weightier weight that you hold in your hands as you open God’s word with your people. The weightier weight that is contained in your heart because of the Spirit that inhabits it. The weightier weight of your mind that Christ is transforming and renewing day by day. 

This preaching thing was never meant to be about us. When we begin to believe that, the easy yoke of Jesus will lighten our weighty hearts with a love that is heavier than the very universe itself.

Patrick Schreiner on How an Understanding of the Gospel of the “Kingdom” Influences Christian Ministry

We asked Patrick Schreiner, associate professor of New Testament and Biblcial Theology at Midwestern Seminary, “How does understanding the gospel of the “Kingdom” influence Christian ministry today?”

Deep Discipleship: A Book Review

It is somewhat ironic that Deep Discipleship released in 2020 during a global pandemic of the coronavirus disease. As we’re all aware, this past year resulted in lockdowns, cancellations, and zoom meetings; all of which birthed renewed desires for the local community that gathers around the Word. This past year reminded us how critical the gathered new covenant community is to one’s being conformed to the image of Christ. Thus, as this year pushed us into separation, J. T. English’s Deep Discipleship was released.

English calls his readers to see the discipleship disease that is prevailing within the church and the importance of diagnosing it correctly. Importantly, the disease persists because we’ve gotten too deep and have treated it by requiring less of our people. By contrast, self-centered discipleship and spiritual apathy are the actual diseases. The treatment? More Christ, Bible, theology, and spiritual disciplines. English says: “Our ministry aim is to ask God to bring us into his inexhaustible presence, bottomless beauty, and infinite glory. Fellowship with the Triune God is where we are going, and fellowship with the Triune God is how we are going to get there.” (p. 18) Reality must be reoriented such that true knowledge is apprehended through self-denial. That is, knowledge of God and all things in relation to God. Deep discipleship matters because of the inexhaustible richness of God.

This God-centered vision for deep discipleship fleshes itself out in five areas; space, scope, sequence, send, and strategy. These form the structure of the book going forward.

The first area, space, addresses where discipleship happens in the church. According to English, many church have a community-oriented discipleship philosophy or a learning-oriented discipleship philosophy. While we cannot be disciples outside of the community of Christ, we can be in a community that is not teaching us to be disciples of Christ. To strive toward both a community and learning oriented discipleship philosophy, English provides a discipleship space inventory and a sample description of an active learning space. Deep discipleship is holistic, placing a high value on both community and learning.

The second area, scope, addresses what disciples need. What are the absolute necessities? “A healthy disciple must be growing in the understanding of God’s Word, founded on distinctively Christian beliefs and practicing spiritual disciplines.” (p. 105) These three are necessities (Bible, beliefs, and spiritual habits) for fellowship and communion with the triune God in the local church.

The third area, sequence, addresses how disciples grow in knowledge of the triune God. English gives a few examples of trinitarian picture of salvation from the New Testament and maturing in it (1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Peter 1:2; Phil. 3:11-16). English presents three tiers of discipleship growth: discipleship for everyone, discipleship for disciple-making disciples, and discipleship for disciple-making movement disciples. While leaders will need to address the varying levels of maturity, the subject and object of Christian discipleship is the same as the subject and object of Holy Scripture: the triune God.

The fourth area, sending, addresses where disciples go. Christian maturity naturally results in multiplying other mature disciples. Thus, a church that is training mature disciples is also sending mature disciples to replicate more mature disciples. Maturation in Bible, beliefs, and habits do not hinder mission, “deep discipleship and mission, training and sending, are meant to work together and complement one another. Deep discipleship is the fuel for the mission.” (p. 181)

The final area, strategy, addresses how to adopt and incorporate this holistic discipleship in a sustainable manner. English argues that “deep discipleship” can be implemented in any ecclesial context through the principles of structure, predictability, accountability, accessibility, community, and excellence. Operating with structured rhythms and accessible content aides the disciple’s commitment to learning in community to the glory of God.

Deep Discipleship is a book on Christian discipleship that has been missing for some time now. Particularly because the project is 1) principally and eschatologically oriented unto the Triune God, and 2) asking completely different questions: Where does discipleship happen in the church? What do they need? How do disciples grow? Where do disciples go?

The importance of this book is its emphasis on reorienting disciples to true reality: God and all things in relation to God. Deep Discipleship “is about a redirection of our loves to the One who is lovely.” (p.20) In effect, the book is an excursus on Psalm 119. God, who is life, gives life through his Word, Ways, and Promises. This is how Christian disciples are made and mature: apprehension and fellowship with the Triune God.

Episode 113: FTC Mailbag

For The Church Podcast

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

On this installment of the regular Mailbag feature of the FTC Podcast, Jared and Ronni discuss listener-submitted questions, including first steps for new believers, the timing of children’s baptisms, sermon prep schedules, and building theological interest in a church without intimidating them.

Pain Our Teacher

Pain is a prominent and protruding feature of a global pandemic. So many folks have experienced pain in new ways. The pain of death, the pain of loneliness, the pain of individuals, families, and nations have all been extremely visible. Is there a purpose to the pain? How can God be working all things for the good of those who love him even in the pain? I think a lot of us are wrestling with these questions. I know I am. 

Growing up in a family with several physicians pain was not a distant thought. I remember seeing many wince as my father assessed their physical condition. In these moments pain was proven to be valuable. Pain revealed a need for healing. Without pain, we would not know we are in need of help. Without pain, we would not know there was a need for a physician in the first place. Internal bleeding, broken bones, and decaying joints would doom us to death far faster without pain’s revelations. 

In my wrestlings regarding the pain of this world, I have begun to learn to turn to the Great Physician to see how He is using this pain to shape, heal, and refine me to his image. In this poem, you will see portions of my doubts, prayers, and findings as I have sought the Lord. I pray this poem will help you process the pain too. Pain has a purpose. 

Seared emotions.
Cauterize the feeling to stop the bleeding.
They said that killing the pain will lead to healing,
But that simply is not true.

Pain is a sign of life.
You can’t ask for surgery and avoid the knife.
A numb limb is doomed to be broken
Even still unaware of this token.
To lose the feeling of pain is to lose feeling altogether.
The same nerve that stings captures the softness of feather.

There are itching ears here demanding a scratch,
And poisonous myths just waiting to hatch.
The birth of a song, it is sweet. It is seduction.
A descant from demon by device of destruction.
Distraction is this salve— impermanent and lethal
Coaxing the mind, undying and deceitful.

Yes, the buzz in the pocket is like that of the bottle,
Except one is regulated, and one runs full throttle.
For you need not be convinced to give your life all to evil.
You only need be pulled away to throw your life in upheaval.
Removal from reality is enough to convince
That peace cannot come from the presence of the Prince.

Instead we buy the lie that leads to death;
Sold a toxin of diversion as addictive as meth
Simply because it kills the pain.
But pain is a sign of life.
And the alternate reality is a barbed and bloody knife
With a shrouded slash of fraudulent facts.
Because the lie hurts less you can ignore your tracts.

But how long will that last you? How long can you avoid what’s true?
That anesthesia will wear off, or you will be dead and through.
Ruined by your fight to avoid everything that bruises
You may be the one who misses out or loses,
Unknowingly doomed to an eternal fire,
A pain irremovable no matter your desire.

So, what is the value of pain here and now?
Is it not just a portrait of eternity’s brow?
No, the Prince says there is hope in the secondary coming.
This the tune of the church which the saints have been humming.

As they look to that day the pain increases the yearning,
While all creation is groaning and aching and burning 
For the skies to be split and their eyes to be learning
The face of their Savior in the clouds there returning. 

The pain also purifies in the heat of its fire
Removing all the dross of erroneous desire.
It floats to the surface unveiling the heart.
Thus refining the faith that doubt may depart. 

Purification is preparation for an eternal weight of glory.
The pain it will cleanse and renew your whole story.
The weight of the agony does not compare to the impending. 
It’s a momentary affliction juxtaposed to His ascending.

The risen Lord means confidence in the inheritance that is looming
For the saints of His bride to hold a bouquet that is blooming
With recreation and beauty by a glassy sea of his grace
At the marriage banquet they will finally get their long awaited embrace. 

Without a trace of their sin.
Without a face carrying tears again. 
Without a race wearying the years of men. 
This is the place of marrying their greatest friend.

So yes, the growing pain is worth the gain through this season.
The stretching soreness is a tool for a reason. 
Pain points us to better things and it draws us to a Savior. 
Pain teaches us dependency thus shaping our behavior.

The potter has his clay, which he beats down to build up.
Only then can the vase be a living water filled cup.
Pain has a purpose, so in the aches do not wander, 
For with Christ in every tribulation we will more than conquer.

God Doesn’t Need You

He is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.” Acts 17

Paul on Mars Hill in Athens proclaimed the entire self-sufficiency of God.

We are his body, it is true, which is the fullness or completion of the Head. He uses us. But he needs nothing from us. Let that sink in. We do not add to him in any way, but rather, he gives us our “life, our breath and everything else.”

He does not need my service to him. I do serve him, but he does not need it because he is the source of everything I have. He started out before my birth with everything that I could give him.

My money is not needed.

My time is not needed.

My intellect is not needed.

My skills are not needed.

My efforts are not needed.

My devotion is not needed.

My wisdom is not needed.

My personality is not needed.

My sincerity is not needed.

My LIFE is not needed.

Though he has the right over all of that and everything else, they are not needed. He gave them to me in the first place. I can add nothing to him that he does not already possess.

I do not make him stronger, bigger, wiser, or more loving, kind or just.

You may think that you have a lot to offer God. Perhaps you have years of experience or a tender heart or an intriguing story, or a sharp mind or a quick tongue, or an easy way about you that people like. God needs people like you, right? Not so. He may use you, but he does not need you. He gave you whatever you think is so special in the first place. He can produce a lot of “me” whenever he wishes.

In fact, you could have a heart attack today, and God would not be diminished one tiny bit. Others may miss you and feel the loss, but God is able to raise up more like you if he wishes. And, he can make even better ones than you if he wants to. After all, he gives breath. He can take it away. He will not even miss you because he has given you life with him forever if you are a Christian. He suffers no loss by your death.

No, we serve him not because he needs us to, but because he has given us everything we have. This is the reason that God demands that we give allegiance to him. Repenting and believing in Christ is not an option, but a requirement from the one who gave you the breath to say, “I believe.” It’s due him. He made you. He’s not begging; he’s demanding. Paul went on to say, “he commands all people everywhere to repent.”

But he is also kind and loving. He is as gracious as he is just. It is a privilege to serve him. But he still does not need you. If you get to serve him, you are blessed beyond imagination.

I’m of the opinion that truly understanding the self-sufficiency of God will cause us to want to serve him forever.

Editor’s Note: This originally published at Christian Communicators Worldwide