Over the last couple of weeks, we have been preaching through John 10 on Sunday morning, addressing the issues of false shepherds. In this chapter, Jesus calls them thieves and robbers, they are people who seek to take from the sheep, not serve them. In today’s culture, this so often looks like ‘pastors’ gathering people around a false gospel focused on prosperity, “God will bless if you give with enough faith.” This obviously cannot be further from the truth and is not the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So what should Pastor’s do when it comes to money, wealth and net-worth? How do they balance being supported by the folk that they shepherd without stealing from them?
Freedom and Sacrifice
Every pastor and church has a set of organizing assumptions that provide an implicit framework for how they relate to money. The problem is that few people acknowledge the narratives that drive those assumptions. I believe the two basic narratives of money—freedom and sacrifice—provide the subtext for the financial anxiety experienced in ministry. Certain people, owing to their wiring and upbringing, are drawn toward the freedom money can provide, while others will be inclined toward self-sacrifice. However, the truth is that we need to pursue both realities if we are to flourish as human beings in our ministries. Decoupling freedom and sacrifice leads to three distorted “gospels,” or stories, that then shape faulty assumptions about money.
Gospel of Security
If we experience too much freedom without sacrifice, we can quickly become preoccupied with ourselves and isolated from the concerns of our neighbors. Ministry in this framework becomes another vehicle for pursuing our own comfort, security, and lifestyle privilege (1 Tim. 5:5–10).
Consider, for example, the assumption in some affluent megachurches that pastoral compensation should borrow purely from marketplace principles like scale and organizational value. Senior leaders are compensated like corporate executives, including lavish signing bonuses and fully loaded benefit packages. This narrow focus on compensating for security creates a lifestyle that limits risk and vulnerability for pastors and can lead to disparity, injustice, and corruption.
Gospel of Suffering
If we experience too much sacrifice without freedom, we often become overwhelmed by the needs of others while ignoring the welfare of our own families (1 Tim. 5:8). Ministry in this framework becomes martyrdom, with families feeling trapped and obligated to long hours with little pay.
I’ve seen this mentality play out in historically rural denominations and lean church-planting networks where the assumption is that a low ceiling should be placed on a pastor’s earning potential. I have friends involuntarily living below the poverty line and making less than the minimum hourly wage while juggling multiple jobs to afford the rising costs of living in the city or supporting their children with special needs. While there is certainly nothing wrong with taking a vow of poverty, there is a tragic injustice that occurs when financial decision makers (many of whom are themselves financially benefiting from evangelical-based systems or are independently wealthy) force people into poverty without taking into consideration their unique needs and desires. This assumption robs pastors and their families of the dignity God designed them for as image-bearing humans.
Gospel of Stoicism
If we lack both freedom and sacrifice, we fall into the worst story: stoicism. Ministry in this framework feels like a cold war, where desire is stifled and everyone is passively resigned to waiting for others to make the first move. Nobody feels empowered or motivated to speak up for the financial health and well-being of the church or its leaders.
This is probably the most common narrative I witness in church planting. It’s rarely intentional, but so many churches (especially younger and more idealistic communities) suppress honest money conversations. Since everyone is busy pursuing their own careers, families, and hobbies, the church lacks the urgency to set good policy and facilitate life-giving practices. The result is that pastors can be left feeling frustrated, embittered, and detached.
Leaning into the Tension
What does it look like for pastors to flourish financially? God exercised his creative power in the beginning to create a world of love that was “very good” (Gen. 1:31), and Jesus came to restore this vision of “abundant life” for everyone, including those in ministry (John 10:10). While we certainly aren’t free to conflate that with the Western master narratives of individualism, capitalism, and achievement, I also think there is a subtle danger to settle for less in our ministries today than Jesus was offering. Returning to our tension, I would argue that flourishing is found in the pursuit of freedom and sacrifice that leads us to a place of active surrender.
This idea of resolute surrender is best captured in Anabaptist spirituality by the word Gelassenheit, which is a German way of combining serenity and tenacity. Gelassenheittranscends our weak notions of surrender as resignation or passivity, replacing them with a yielded fortitude that is both strong and submissive. I believe this is the heart of the apostle Paul’s radical spirituality of money, which enabled him to speak with a refreshing boldness to the Philippian church concerning his feelings (Phil. 1:7), wounds (Phil. 1:17), future hopes and expectations (Phil. 1:20), anxiety (Phil. 2:28), story (Phil. 3:4–6), journey to contentment (Phil. 4:12), and gratitude for their generosity that left him overpaid (Phil. 4:18). Struggle, adversity, and surrender created the internal capacity for him to freely enjoy good times when they came and to also embrace strategic sacrifice when the situation called for it (Phil. 4:11–13).
“Marlo, what would you like to pray for tonight?” is the question that I end every night with, as I snuggle my son into his bed. He is always quick to recite a list of family and friends that he knows and loves (and yes, sometimes Dora the explorer sneaks on the list too).
After taking time to think through his list, we always open and close our prayers with the same phrases. The first phrase I borrowed from BOZ (a Christian children’s show on Right Now Media), “Thank you, God, as this day ends. For my family and my friends. Taking time to sit and pray, thank you, God, for this great day.” The second phrase thanks God for sending Jesus, “and I thank you for sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sin and rise again so that I can have a relationship with you. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
It is already a precious gift from God to pray with my son before he goes to sleep, but the other night I was provided a moment that I will cherish so long as I have my memory. As I was beginning to pray the second phrase – closing out our prayer for the evening – and before I could take my next breath, Marlo started ahead of me. With his little voice, he began, “and thank you, God, for sending Jesus…” As my heart welled up with overflowing joy, I composed myself enough to join my two-year-old as he closed out our prayer time for the evening with Gospel.
Now, I don’t know how much his little two-year-old mind can grasp, and if he genuinely prayed “the sinner’s prayer” at that moment, but that’s not the point. The point is that the message of God’s passionate pursuit of His world (and Marlo) through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, is something that he is beginning to hear and resonate with at this young age. My prayer as a father now is that it would move from recital to regeneration. I’m praying that the steady dose of unconditional love, unmerited grace and the culture of repentance and forgiveness that he hopefully sees at home becomes the other ingredients in the recipe that God uses to soften his little heart towards the saving message of Jesus at the youngest age possible.
Parents, don’t trivialize or rush precious moments like bedtime. They are never too young, and your phones and televisions can wait. It is never to early to introduce your kids to the message that changed your eternity. There is nothing quite as powerful as the consistent message of God’s grace.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believesRomans 1:16 (ESV)
The Apostle Paul is instructing us that the precise message of Jesus coming to this earth and living as a sinless man but dying a sinner’s death on our behalf to satisfy the debt we owed God’s wrath – then rising again to unite us to Him – is the very power of God to save people, even your children. Don’t be ashamed of it.
May we be the parents who are willingly held accountable by the prayers that we pray with our children. May we have the kind of relationship that we thank God for making attainable. May the truth of the Gospel not only resonate with their little hearts but may God use it in our lives too; and may we become parents who understand the Father Heart of God as we learn the joy of pointing our children to Him through prayer.
“and I thank you for sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sin and rise again so that I can have a relationship with you. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
In light of Mother’s Day, we wanted to share this blog by Susan Rockwell from the Gospel Coalition. Mother’s, we pray it blesses and encourages you.
If you have young kids, I know one thing about you. You’re tired. Chances are you haven’t slept well in months, possibly years, and the thought of going to church can seem tiring, daunting, a bridge too far. And on those Sundays you do drag your exhausted family along, the kids don’t settle in, you don’t really hear the sermon, and it all seems so hard. So every Sunday morning, you wake with a knot in your stomach. Should we stay or go? And the danger is, you won’t go.
It makes me teary to think of struggling parents who stop going to church because it is all too hard. The need to push through exhaustion and prioritize church is vital, not only for you, but also for your children.
I understand. Believe me, I understand! I’ve been attending church in a sleep-deprived state for more than a decade. My youngest, who is now 4, has hardly slept through the night in his whole life. I have children who have separation anxiety and won’t be left in the children’s church program. I can’t remember the time I last heard a sermon from beginning to end. The struggle is real for me every week. The thought of staying home enters my head every Sunday morning because I am tired—oh, so tired—and that is easier. Yes, I’ve been a minister’s wife, and yes I’m now a missionary, but there are plenty of times I would’ve rather stayed in my pajamas and eaten pancakes! And yet, I know just how important it is for all of us to go.
Here are five reasons why.
1. You’re Not Going Just for Yourself
As with many other things in life when you become a parent, you no longer go to church for yourself alone. You also go for your children. If I lack the energy to go, I go for them. What message am I giving them if I stay home? That church is not a priority. That being tired means that God’s people aren’t worth the effort.
Let me be clear: Going to church does not make me, or my child, a Christian. Going to church does, however, encourage us, encourage others, and bring us into the presence of God’s people. This is priceless. Weekly attendance helps develop a family culture that will, hopefully, continue for our children as they grow older.
Everything we do sends messages to our kids. Going to church weekly sends a simple one: God is a priority for this family.
2. Church Is About More than a Sermon
“I don’t get to hear the sermon anyway, so what’s the point?” Perhaps you’ve heard (or voiced) that objection, too. But while hearing the sermon is a large part of going to church, it’s not the only part. In this stage of your life, you may not get to hear many full sermons. This is hard, but God’s Word is powerful. It can penetrate even our hazy, baby-fog brains.
And there are many other good reasons to go to church. Singing with a whole congregation of people can be hugely encouraging. It can be uplifting to your soul when your body is so tired. Church will also give you encouragement, through your friends and fellow believers, as you fellowship with them before or after the service.
3. Your Presence Encourages Others
As a believer, sometimes you encourage other believers simply by being present. At the very least, you encourage your minister who has faithfully worked on a sermon throughout the week to bring God’s Word to you. You’re not just a recipient who gets stuff out of church; you contribute simply by showing up. Seeing a young, exhausted parent continue to come to church week in and week out is a massive encouragement to the rest of the congregation.
4. Those Who Stop Going Don’t Always Start Back
I often hear people say, “It’s too hard now. We’ll wait a few years and then return when the kids are a bit older. They’re too young to know the difference anyway.” However sincerely you mean this when you stop attending, the reality is that most people will not return for a long time, if ever. Habits change, priorities change, and it becomes effortless to not be at church. How easy it is to slowly drift from the Father who longs to holds you close. You may think this will never happen to you, but the world and the Devil will take any opportunity to pull you from the path of righteousness.
On the other hand, habits are powerful teaching tools for our kids. Even when they’re so young that they don’t know what’s happening, they’re learning. They learn either that church doesn’t matter or that church is a priority. Which do you want them to believe when they’re older?
5. Some Church Is Better than No Church
I know firsthand the difficulty of having kids who will not separate from you. My eldest would start crying when we turned the corner onto the road going to church, and that’s when he was only 18 months old. Now my youngest doesn’t want me to leave him, doesn’t like other children anywhere near him, and doesn’t want other adults in his space! Leaving him, at this stage, is not really an option, so I miss many sermons. Currently, I stay in church for the singing and prayers as long as I can with him, then I sit with him in his kids’ program. I return after the service to fellowship with friends and fellow believers. This is not ideal, but I still get some time with God, encouragement from others, and a chance to encourage. And my son gets to hear a message in his kids’ program each week, which is also important.
This is a stage. He will not always be clinging to me, and I will, one day, hear a full sermon again and not be too tired to listen to most of it. But for now, this is what I do, and it is better than staying home. My children are seeing me make church and God a priority in my life, and I consider that a win.
Sisters, God holds you close. He longs for a relationship with you and has sent his Son to prove it to you. So hold on to him through the tiredness. Keep him and his people a priority. Draw strength from the church he’s given you. Let others know you’re tired. God will strengthen you, uplift you, and grow you as you press into his people. No matter how hard it is, keep going. Draw near to him, and he will draw near to you.
There is a question that I’ve been pondering, and feel compelled to share.
Is the Jesus you believe in a result of your experiences, circumstances, and influences, or is the Jesus you believe in a result of your time in God’s Word?
Now, I’d graciously ask you to not assume the answer, but instead, take a minute and do what I’ve been challenged to do. Consider what is being asked.
A harsh reality.
As someone who has lived in Christian circles my whole life, I’ve not only seen the cliche culture that exists, but I have very much been a part of it. It’s simpler to spend time talking about the Bible than studying it. Over the years Bible study groups have morphed into places where a Bible passage is read (maybe once – without any context), then the next 45 minutes is spent talking about everyone’s opinion or interpretation of it. Most answers given are surface level at best; packed full of Christian inuendoes. Churches across the western world are filled with groups like these. Even pulpits across North America and the world are filled with communicators citing verses without any reference to its original context or backstory. Instead, they offer a well-crafted motivational presentation that honestly has very little to do with the passage cited. Surface level Christianity has become the norm.
So as I revisit my original question, hopefully, we can begin to see it’s legitimacy.
Is the Jesus you believe in a result of your experiences, circumstances, and influences, or is the Jesus you believe in a result of your time in God’s Word?
Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a place for discussion and that everyone needs to shut up and be taught. I’d never advocate for that. However, I am proposing that if we have existed (at some level) within church culture, that there is a possibility that our opinion of Jesus has been shaped by the views of others and not the Bible itself.
A rabbinic culture.
We find a version of this erroneous approach as we weigh up the Rabbinic culture of the 1st Century. It was common-place for a disciple to welcome every word from their Rabbi as truth. It was often frowned upon for a disciple to challenge their Rabbi’s opinion.
The problem with opinions, however, is that they are subjective. Yes, the hope is that a person’s view would be based on an accurate understanding of scripture. But that’s not always the case, and so we move in a dangerous direction if we allow the subjective to inform the objective, not the other way around.
A Different Question
Now I also don’t ask this question to insert doubt into your life or to spark a level of anxiety as you think about your faith. I pose this question only as a means of accountability to rustle the feathers of status quo Christianity.
Have we become complacent? Are we stuck in a rut of learning? Is it possible that we’ve settled for someone else’s Jesus rather than the Jesus of the Bible? Thess questions really challenged me.
Ideas are amazing, excellent and very helpful. They can be a tool that God uses to teach us and grow His body, but they were never designed to be the substitute for a substantial, in-depth understanding, based out of a healthy season of study.
As a pastor, I’m praying that we continue to grow in our desire to know and learn what God’s Word says by truly pressing into the authors original intent. I’m praying that we, as a body of believers, dig into a robust, effective and Spirit-illuminating framework for reading God’s Word.
May the objective always advise the subjective.
If you are looking for a way to understand the Bible more effectively. Check out Ray Lubeck’s book titled, Read the Bible for a Change
We have contracted McHugh Painting and General Contracting to fix our stained glass issues along with repairing and painting the stucco in the foyer. We’re grateful that our insurances covered the majority work that needed to be done. We’re looking forward to having our beautiful windows reinforced for the years to come.
For a number years, God has been growing a passion in my heart to see the body of Christ know, understand and discern His Word correctly. It can be very easy to miss the heart of some texts and allow convincing voices in your life to teach you something incorrect concerning Scripture. Here is a great example of how a Prosperity Preacher might teach a text, versus how the Word of God teaches it. Context is key!
This is a great article from Ed Stetzer at Christianity Today. Ed sat down with Jerry Gillis, Lead Pastor of the Chapel and discussed what God was doing through the Church of Western New York. Take some time to read this and celebrate how God is using us in this mix.
Jesus set us up in such a way that it requires his whole body to bring the whole gospel to the whole geography.Jerry Gillis
Not too long ago I talked with Jerry Gillis, Lead Pastor of The Chapel in Buffalo, NY. Jerry and others are leading a movement to saturate western New York with the gospel called The Church of Western New York. Below I talk with him about what God is up to in their region.
Ed: Tell me about the Church of Western New York and Pentecost Together. The video shows a remarkable array of Christian leaders who I never imagined seeing together in one place. What did you do and how did you get there?
Jerry Gillis: Two things. We’ve had two large scale events for the church in western New York. One was a 2013 Good Friday Together. We basically gathered ourselves together in downtown Buffalo and had worship and communion. There was preaching around the seven last sayings of Jesus during the time leading up to his crucifixion. We took up an offering and invested it into the city through a number of different city initiatives, whether that was toward education, housing, or other similar things.
And then we had another event in June of 2017, which we called Pentecost Together. It took place around the time of Pentecost, June 9th, which was right before Pentecost Sunday. Thousands of believers from all across the western New York region gathered together to worship. We hosted it in the First Niagara Center, which is in downtown Buffalo where the Sabers play.
To be able to have those kinds of events in the First Niagara Center takes time and intentionality – those things don’t just happen. Over the course of the last 12 years or so there has been a relational development in the Church of Western New York where brothers and sisters in Christ have determined that we are better together.
We believe that no local church can do the ministry and mission that Jesus has called us to on their own. Jesus set us up in such a way that it requires his whole body to bring the whole gospel to the whole geography.
So there were a lot of relational investments – meetings, coffees, breakfast, lunch, hanging out with one another, getting to know one another. Then, ultimately through a handful of us that God brought together, God birthed this vision to pull together an event as a testimony to the region and to the community.
Western New York has been a declining population for the last 40 years or so. Our community has struggled a bit over the last few decades, although signs are much better now economically.
We wanted to say to the community that we live in – the community of western New York – that we’ve come to the realization that we’re all on the same team and that we are united in the mission God has for us.
We believe our mission is that every man, woman, and child here in western New York would have a repeated opportunity to hear, to see, and to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Ed: The event was quite diverse, both ethnically and generationally. That might have been a first for some people. What was the response of the people in the room?
Jerry: It was tremendous. I mean, the funny thing is that I have a tendency to think that sometimes we as leaders and as pastors are behind our people rather than being in front of them. In other words, it seemed as if the people that were there thought Yeah, this is what we should be doing. What took you guys so long?So sometimes it feels like we as leaders are trailing the people rather than leading the people.
In this instance particularly, that’s what it felt like in the room. It felt like people were thinking to themselves “I’m at a family reunion. There are people here that I don’t know.” We did some things intentionally to help people get to know, learn the names of, and pray with people they would never ever run into otherwise.
The only common denominator they had was Jesus. That was the only commonality in the room for everybody. And that was enough for all the people who attended. It was the beginning of relationships with people who weren’t like them but who were a part of the body of Christ. At that event, these kinds of relationships began to foster and start. It was super encouraging to be part of that.
Ed: I want to ask you a little bit about the title of your movement, “the Church in Western New York.” Why that language?
Jerry: Well, plain and simple is that we don’t think Jesus is a polygamist. We believe he has one bride. At the end of the day there is one church in our region. I could say it this way: if Jesus were writing a modern-day letter to the church like he did in Revelations 2-3, it would be addressed to the Church of Western New York. It would be to all of us believers who are making up his bride in this region.
We intentionally decided that this was the title we wanted to have because we didn’t want to give a sense of a bunch of local churches. We do have a bunch of local congregations of the Church of Western New York that are represented together, but what we wanted to communicate is that we are one church.
Ed: Back in the days of the early church, they would have one church united under a bishop. You don’t have a bishop. Usually when people talk like about unity and really mean it, there is somebody in charge that makes it one church. How does it work since you don’t have a bishop-like figure?
Jerry: We run around a phrase on occasion here in our local context that Jesus is the senior pastor. Once we get that theology straight, that Jesus himself is the head of his church, we can understand that Jesus is the senior pastor. For all the rest of us that means that, regardless of what we do in the body of Christ, we are some part of the body other than the head because he himself is the head.
We just have to find our place in the body. So we basically got a consensus from a bunch of churches in the region to form a core group which would be a part of pulling [the initiative] together and help set an agenda for what it would look like.
There were a handful of us leaders pulled from all over the place to help in a variety of capacities. We were granted permission by those in the Church of Western New York to lead and serve in that way. It was a mutuality of interdependency – nobody was the boss, which was remarkable.
Ed: The church you lead, The Chapel, is the largest church in western New York. Why not operate within your own system? Why help plant churches that are in other denominations as well?
Jerry: Here’s the motivation: If I’m compelled by what I believe the mission of God to be, and if I genuinely believe that God’s desire is that every man, woman, and child have repeated opportunities to hear, see and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ, if I believe that rises up out of Scripture from beginning to end, that this is his heart, that his glory would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, that there would be a saturation of the gospel in our region, I have to know that that can’t possibly happen just with my church, even though we might be the biggest fish in the pond.
We measured our church members and their gospel presentations in our region and we accounted for less than one percent of the population of western New York in our gospel presentations. We’re the largest church in western New York, and we only got to one percent of the population. It can’t just be us. We need a team if we want to live into our mission.
It’s either ignorant or arrogant to even think in terms of doing it by yourself. Jesus has set this up in such a way that it is going to require the whole body to fulfill his mission. If we want to reach every man, woman, and child, it’s going to take every man, woman, and child in the body of Christ do it.
Whatever God is going to do in the world and in our geography, he’s going to do it through all of Christ’s people, not just through a select few. He’s going to do it through the mobilization of everyday people who are walking temples, who are a mobile presence of God in the places that they work, and eat, and hang out.
That is the only way this is going to happen. If I’m committed to that vision, our mission cannot be simply brand replication for The Chapel. If it was, we would not actually be helping move forward the mission of God at that point. We’d be growing our own empire. We can’t waste time doing that. We have a job to do.
The Chapel has a big role in that, because “to whom much is given, much is required.” We have a responsibility to partner with other local congregations to help plant other workers. And if those other workers are Southern Baptist, or if they’re Evangelical Free, or if they’re nondenominational with a bent toward being charismatic, we have a responsibility to partner in planting them all.
Ed: If you continue as you are doing what you’re doing, what’s the hope and the goal ten years from now?
Jerry: We put saturation at the center of the bullseye. We believe it’s God’s heart that this whole entire region has access to the gospel. Maybe even without coming or going anywhere, because God’s people are in all of these locales and locations.
Then we can measure that by looking at how many local congregations we have per populous. A number of years ago we had one local congregation that had this kind of mission for every 150,000 or 250,000 people in what we call western New York. That’s gotten down to 1 for every 50,000 people, and we’re on our way to one for every 25,000 people.
Where we’d like to get to is 1 for every 10,000 or even 1 for every 5,000. Can we do that in 10 years? I don’t know, that’s a little aggressive, but that’s where we’re headed.
Ed: So if I was in, say, Dubuque, Iowa, and I want to create the Church of the Dubuque, what pattern would you encourage me towards?
Jerry: I would have a couple of recommendations. There’s a pattern and a resource. The pattern that I would suggest is, first of all, if you don’t know your brothers and sisters who are leading other congregations in your region, then you have to get to know them. This is going to be painstakingly long to do. This is generally the price that people don’t want to pay because it’s messier. It’s harder, it can be more challenging, it’s going to require of you a lot of coffees, and a lot of breakfasts, and a lot of lunches.
You’re going to have to get together and start asking questions across the table of other leaders saying, “What is it you think God wants for our city?”
Here’s the bottom line: When the Spirit of God is doing work in the hearts of people, we come to generally the same conclusions. It’s going to be something that sounds a whole lot like the Great Commission. That’s where we end up.
When we ask those questions and other leaders start thinking about them, then we start asking ourselves, “What does God want for the city? And what would it look like if God did what he wanted?” Those two questions are vision casting and match striking enough in the hearts of people that they’ll start thinking about it.
But this means we better know one another first.
Once you have a relationship you can start asking strategic questions. What does pursuing God’s heart for our community look like? Do we need to plant churches together? Do we need to partner together on some initiatives in our community and our city? How’s that going to look?
I try not to make that prescriptive city to city myself because I think the Spirit of God knows far better than I do what it needs to look like in a particular location. In any specific place there will be a lot of cultural relatives.
But these are things that we’ve done before so you can easily go to Christtogether.orgto be able to see how we’re doing some of those things. There are a bunch of free resources that are there.
This a great blog (from The Village Church Resources) for any of us who not only hold onto the victim mentality but enjoy weaponizing it too.
When we’ve been wounded, some of us have a tendency to inflict that pain on others, hoping to lessen the pain we’re feeling. But in this hurt, we have hope in Christ—the Wounded Healer.
I was a bit of a sulker growing up. Being sent to my room or even grounded felt, in some way, like a secret reward—there I could nurse my wounds in whatever which way I wanted. Thank God He saved me, or I’d still be sulking in a corner somewhere. Quieting ourselves away with a wounded heart or spirit can be a good thing—God can bring clarity to situations, slow our response time before saying something sinful and reveal our own sin. But sulking over a seeming injustice against us can also result in a grievous sin against God and others. We may see the ways God hasn’t answered a specific desire or has answered it and the answer brings with it difficulty we couldn’t imagine, so we react with pride or anger or bitterness. Forgetting that Christ was wounded on our behalf, setting us free from the power of sin and death, we can begin to weaponize our wounds against others, wounding them in the belief that it will lessen the ache of our own.
God is like a surgeon, slicing our skin and piercing our protection in order to reveal and remove what festers within us. He does it because He’s good and He desires us to be healed and whole. If we only view our wounds as punitive punishment from Him or others, we will be prone to weaponizing them against others instead of receiving the grace of God for whatever we face.
Whatever season of life you’re in—a tired parent of little ones, a single person who desires marriage, an infertile couple who longs for children, a janitor who’s qualified to be an executive, a business owner who feels thwarted, a father who just lost your job, a mother whose children have left home, a minister who feels unseen and unthanked—God is working in your wounding. He’s working in the ways you feel overlooked, unheard, unseen and hurt. He’s working in your weakness. The Psalmist wrote of God, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Ask your Father to help you lay down the arms you use to self-protect, step off the platforms you use to keep yourself separate and silence the screams that no one cares about your season of life.
When we come out of the corners where we sulk over our wounds and lay down the weapons we form from them, we begin to see the great level land before the cross—all of us in equal need of the gospel for whatever season or struggle or sin we are engaged in. Christ’s wounds were weaponized with finality against the Enemy so our wounds wouldn’t have to be weaponized against anyone ever.
For further reading/listening:
This week has been a tough week for the evangelical Christian community (a community that I consider myself very much a part of). On Tuesday night, January 22, I posted a blog detailing my perspective on the new Abortion Bill that had been passed in Albany that day. My goal was to offer a unique viewpoint as a 31-year-old male pastor who was adopted from birth. I understood that the timely nature of this post would mean that it would experience some traction, but I didn’t anticipate quite as much as it did. As a small town pastor, you don’t expect any level of wide-spread exposure, but I suppose that’s the potential that Facebook offers anyone with an internet connection.
As I have spent time with God this week, navigating through my emotions, I believe He would have me share the journey He has had me on, and where He has taken me in scripture. I am forever grateful to have a God who helps me navigate my thought process in challenging situations.
This blog today is explicitly written with the Christian in mind, and I pray that, as a Pastor, God would grant me enough authority to speak into the lives of those who sit under the grace of Jesus Christ (even those who are not directly under my oversight).
What if we were all murderers?
I am not the only evangelical Christian who has responded to this situation, and I’m certainly not the only evangelical Christian who struggles with any Bill that legalizes abortion at any level. But I do want to be one of the first Christians to remind Christ’s Bride (the church) of what Jesus said to all those who would listen in Matthew 5.
 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.  So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go.Matthew 5:21–24
Firstbe reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Jesus’ best friend, John, also reiterated Jesus’ heart in his first letter to a bunch of house churches in Ephesus as he encouraged them towards loving unity.
 We know that we have passed out of death into1 John 3:14–15
life,because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
Yes, John is explicitly talking to a group of believers in regards to how they ought to interact with one another. But we can’t over contextualize this text and treat this advice as unique to believers only, and thus negate how we are called to love the world in and through its mess. The second greatest commandment still stands true today (Matthew 22:36-40).
This week social media has seen a flurry of Christian’s responding (including me) to this Bill in ways that could potentially open the door for hatred to take root in our hearts and distance us from a world we’ve been commissioned to with the Gospel. As you read this, ask God to reveal your heart to you. Was it filled with hatred? Is it still filled with hate? If so, recognize that you to have fallen into the same category as the one involved in abortion; you too are a murderer, and you also need the same grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ at this moment. It’s sufficient for you and sufficient for them.
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.Matthew 7:5
We cannot and must not forget to examine our own lives before casting judgment on a lost world that we once belonged to. If it wasn’t this week, at some point, we have all murdered. Therefore it’s imperative that we allow His new mercies – every morning – to inform the truth and grace that we walk in daily. May we walk in humility and not arrogance.
Now, please do not think that this my attempt at minimizing what I still believe to be murder. Any termination of a third-party’s heartbeat will always be considered murder in any circumstance or situation. But as far as Jesus is concerned, so will hate; and as Christians, we cannot miss this. The danger for us doesn’t come in minimizing abortion as something less than murder, but reducing the hate in our heart as less than murder.
A church of murderers
My prayer for us as the hands and feet of Jesus today, is that His churches would be full of murderers. Murderers who all humbly sit under His grace and forgiveness. Murderers who lift their hands and hearts in awe of a God who saved them from their wicked ways and moved them into a relationship with Him. Murderers whose souls are enlightened to His design for His creation. Murderers who now value what He values, as He values it.
I do believe that abortion for some is a solution to maintain a level of selfish convenience, but I also recognize that for some, it was a genuine struggle as they navigated through problematic waters without guidance and support. Either way, the last thing that these women need from the church is shame and condemnation. Instead, they need a group of people ready, willing and able to welcome them and walk with them to the open, reconciling arms of Jesus Christ.
Grace and forgiveness are available for all murderers without exception, and Wilson FBC will forever be a place for anyone to come as they are, but never stay as they are.
Heavenly Father, we not only continue to pray for our country, and it’s leaders; that they would turn from their wicked ways. But we pray that we would not lose sight of the unmerited grace that you have saved us with. God protect us from our pride and hatred, and allow us ALWAYS to be your body that responds equally balanced in truth and grace. Freedom is ONLY and FOREVER found in you! In Jesus’ name, amen!
Over the years when it comes to politics, I have chosen to stay in my lane. I’m a Pastor, not a politician. Yes, God has appointed both of those roles, but they are significantly different in their functions and responsibilities. As most conservative evangelical Christians out there, I too believe in the importance of the separation between Church and State in a fallen world. I have never been one to post or comment my political opinions on social media; however, when the issue of morality as scripture would define it, is challenged, I believe we then have a Biblical responsibility to voice our concerns graciously and firmly rooted in truth.
Over the last two weeks, I have heard more frequently about the proposed NY Abortion Bill that has now been voted on. Initially, when I saw it on Facebook, I wrote it off as another fabricated news article looking to get a rise out of people who only read titles, not the whole article. However, as I realized this was indeed a real story with an actual Bill, I was mortified at what it was proposing. The Bill is effectively removing the 24-week term limit from the current abortion law, allowing women the opportunity to abort their pre-born babies at any stage of the pregnancy. Currently, the policy writers are ensuring the public that the removal of this term limit is only to protect the health of the mother in case of an emergency that would put her life at risk. However, we all know that moral collapse doesn’t happen overnight. Therefore I’m concerned that it would merely be a matter of years before the term ’emergency’ is redefined.
Adopted not aborted
Not only am I a pastor, or even a Father awaiting the birth of his second son, I am also a 31-year-old male who was adopted at birth. I don’t know all the details surrounding my conception story, but I know enough to know that if the women who gave birth to me lived in 2019, she could have legally chosen when to terminate my inconvenient life being formed inside of her, and justified it as ‘moral.’ Had she elected to do so, I would cease to exist today.
- I would never have had a name.
- I would never have experienced love.
- I would never have known what it felt like to kick a soccer ball or score a goal.
- I would never have been able to hug my dad or kiss my mom.
- I would never have become a pastor.
- I would never have had the joy of serving people.
- I would never have become a husband or a father myself.
One little choice to remove what was brewing inside of her would have killed all that has come about in my life and all the people I have connected with over the years.
This world and its policies continue to enable a society to stop thinking about the greater good and focus on the greater-self. We are too focused on our life that we fail to consider how we might be affecting the lives of others. Jesus said, ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ not, hate your neighbor by loving yourself.
Now even as I type this, I am fully aware of the counter-arguments that include questions surrounding rape victims, etc. This blog isn’t intended to get lost in the sensitive nature of those arguments, but I will acknowledge again that I do not know the details surrounding my conception. I only know they were complicated. My goal for this blog is to share a Biblical perspective on the value of all human life, born or unborn.
The Value of Human Life
“…God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'”Genesis 1:26
I think it is important to notice here that the value of human life was given to us to steward, but not define. Yes, as humans, we have dominion over this world, but God Himself remains the definer of our value. As our Creator, He kept that role for Himself. He did not give that to us. H
All Children are blessings.
I have always subscribed to the saying that there might be unplanned parents, but there are never unplanned pregnancies. Even if the circumstance proves to be far from perfect, I continue to hold fast to the truth of David’s Psalm in chapter 139;
 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
Even if conceptions (like mine) don’t come through the traditional Biblical marrital union, the miracle of birth still has God’s hands all over it. No one can tell me that God didn’t have a plan for my life but had to make one up because two people made a mistake. Also, anyone who has been pregnant or witnessed the process cannot argue that there isn’t a miraculous nature to those 9-months. Each life is precious in the sight of its creator, and its Creator has been active in its creation. Nothing is created without a creator.
God Bless America?
The struggle for our Nation arises when we examine scripture and see that God has always been opposed to the Nations who disregarded the precious sanctity of infant life and opted for its murder as an option to its inconveniences.
Since 1970, around 60,000,000 unborn babies have been terminated in this country. Each one of those is a life lost. Each one of those is an opportunity missed. Each one is a ball never kicked; a hug not shared, and a name not given. Each one of those is a rejection against our Creator’s creation.
I firmly believe that until we as a Nation (leaders included) can become a people who place the appropriate value back on the image and likeness of God and cherish the sanctity of human life, we will forever be a hypocritical Nation asking for God’s blessings. We cannot pray for God’s protection in one breath and kill His creation with the next. May our prayers begin to change; from blessings to mercy. God forgive us and have mercy on us as we turn from our wicked ways.
When Jesus came to this earth, he restored many of our attempts to redefine His standard, and in one particular instance, he showed us how all children should be treated. In Matthew 19:14 Jesus said,
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”Matthew 19:14
Children born or unborn have never been an inconvenience to God, but always a blessing. When Mary was pregnant with Jesus (might I add, through an incredibly unplanned circumstance), ironically the first person to recognize who He was, was another unborn baby, his cousin John (see Matthew 1 and 2).
So my prayer for us today is that we would not treat this as another political party conquest or ideology, but that we would see this issue, and many others, as God sees them. Would we recognize today that as we nailed Jesus to a cross to die, that He even restored that through His resurrection? He was killed so that, if we believe in Him, we might have life and give life to others. I will be forever thankful to Jesus and the lady who chose life for me, not death, even though I was a significant inconvenience.
Heavenly Father, break our heart for what breaks yours, in Jesus name.
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Join me this year as I (Stephen) read through Crossway’s one-year reading plan for Proverbs.
Just a Few Verses Per Day
The book of Proverbs is a unique and treasured part of the Bible, rich with timeless wisdom. It is meant to be read slowly and meditatively, yet most reading plans require whole chapters of reading at a time.
© 2018 Crossway. All Rights Reserved.
This reading plan leads you to open up space and time to absorb the truths of Scripture at a slower pace. Read through the book of Proverbs in a year—a few verses per day—with this 365-day plan.
I came across this great little article from Vaneetha Rendall Risner at Desiring God. Veneetha offers us a healthier understanding of the word Blessed from the Bible.
Feeling blessed is in vogue.
A quick look at Facebook and Twitter shows how many people today feel #blessed. In our social-media world, saying you’re blessed can be a way of boasting while trying to sound humble.
College scholarship? #Blessed. Unexpected raise? #Blessed. Wonderful family? #Blessed.
As Christians we use that term too, of course. We pray God will bless our family. We attribute our undeserved gifts to “God’s blessings.” We talk about ministries being blessed. But what does it really mean? How should we understand the blessing of God?
The Good Life
For believers, is the blessed life synonymous with the successful life? Is it the Christian version of the good life? A loving marriage, obedient children, a vibrant ministry, a healthy body, a successful career, trusted friends, financial abundance — if these are the characteristics of a blessed life, then having all of them should translate into an extraordinarily blessed life.
But does it? If someone had all those things, would they be extraordinarily blessed?
Rather than turning to God, they might feel self-sufficient and proud. Perhaps a bit smug and self-righteous. After all, their hard work would be yielding good fruit.
Moreover, they wouldn’t need to cry out to God for deliverance; everything would already be perfect. They wouldn’t need to trust God; they could trust in themselves. They wouldn’t need God to fill them; they would already be satisfied.
God’s Richest Blessings
My desire for God is greatly fueled by my need. And it is in the areas of loss where I feel my need most intensely. Unmet desires keep me on my knees. Deepen my prayer life. Make me ransack the Bible for God’s promises.
Earthly blessings are temporary; they can all be taken away. Job’s blessings all disappeared in one fateful day. I, too, had a comfortable life that was stripped away within a span of weeks. My marriage dissolved. My children rebelled. My health spiraled downward. My family fell apart. My dreams were shattered.
And yet, in the midst of those painful events, I experienced God’s richest blessings. A stronger faith than I had experienced before. A deeper love than I had ever known. A more intimate walk than I could explain. My trials grounded my faith in ways that prosperity and abundance never could.
While my trials were not blessings in themselves, they were channels for them. As Laura Story asks in her song “Blessings,” “What if your blessings come through rain drops? What if trials of this life — the rain, the storms, the hardest nights — are your mercies in disguise?”
This revolutionary idea of blessing is also firmly established in Scripture.
The Common Thread
One translation of the New Testament (ESV) has 112 references with the words bless, blessing, or blessed, none of which connects blessing to material prosperity. Consider these passages:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit. . . . Blessed are those who mourn. . . . Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake . . . Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:3–4, 10–11)
“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28)
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial. (James 1:12)
There is no hint of material prosperity or perfect circumstances in any New Testament reference. On the contrary, blessing is typically connected with either poverty and trial or the spiritual benefits of being joined by faith to Jesus.
According to the Key-Word Study Bible, “The Greek word translated blessed in these passages is makarioi which means to be fully satisfied. It refers to those receiving God’s favor, regardless of the circumstances” (emphasis added).
What is blessing, then? Scripture shows that blessing is anything God gives that makes us fully satisfied in him. Anything that draws us closer to Jesus. Anything that helps us relinquish the temporal and hold on more tightly to the eternal. And often it is the struggles and trials, the aching disappointments and the unfulfilled longings that best enable us to do that.
Pain and loss transform us. While they sometimes unravel us, they can also push us to a deeper life with God than we ever thought possible. They make us rest in God alone. Not what we can do or achieve for him. And not what he can do or achieve for us.
In pain and loss, we long for Presence. We long to know that God is for us and with us and in us. Great families, financial wealth, and good health are all wonderful gifts we can thank God for, but they are not his greatest blessings. They may make us delight, not in God, but in his gifts.
God’s greatest blessing always rests in God himself. When we have that, we are truly #blessed.
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