O Volunteers, Where Art Thou?
Volunteers in the local church seem to be an endangered species. It is not as if this is a new problem, but is seems acute at this season in church ministry. The problem of staffing in businesses we observe is also echoed in non-profits and churches. I don’t have extensive qualitative data to prove my assumption. However, in early 2022, Christianity Today published an article about volunteer shortages. In it they share findings from Gallup. The research found that 35 percent of Americans reported volunteering for a religious organization last year, down from 38 percent in 2020 and 44 percent in 2017. In the qualitative sense, I know what I see and hear of the shortage in my church. I also have gleaned similar findings from talking with other pastors in my region. The shortage itself is felt in the week-to-week church activities and the quarterly/annual programs of the church. It seems that those who feel it most are the paid and volunteer church leaders that are responsible for recruiting, training, and coordinating volunteers. In this article, I would like to share some reasons for this volunteer shortage and few ways to cope with the struggle.
There seems to be a relationship between a post-covid world and the volunteer shortage in the local church. I don’t know all the reasons for this, but I think that one thing to consider is that those who were serving in the local church are not attending the same church or any church for that matter. It could also be that many just realized that they were too busy before Covid and now they enjoy a less complex existence by cutting out church. Covid allowed many to reconsider their options and church was lower on the priority list. After all, they can just watch it when they want and wherever they want. Finally, I would say that many just don’t see the importance of serving regularly a stress worth bearing. The problem from it is unnecessary. There are other reasons and many more opinions that could be shared.
Here are a few limited suggestions to combat the shortage and cope with the struggle. First, consider that maybe, as a church, you are doing too much. Many churches are smaller, in every way, than they were before Covid. Many pastors, with encouragement from church members, want to get back to a new normal, which was the way it used to be before Covid. Unfortunately, many try to launch too fast and too much at once. The result is an overwhelmed volunteer base and a haggard staff. Covid pruned back much of the churches programs and events. Consider that some of these do not need to come back at all. Also, perhaps some need to be smaller, more manageable, and focused on relational discipleship. The old saying, quality over quantity, is very applicable in this case. This can also reshape the way resources are stewarded in the church budget.
Second, pastors should consider temporarily and intentionally serving or leading an area of the church that needs help in a hands on way. In the past year, I was blessed to lead a team of youth and children’s ministry leaders in my church. I taught some, organized, planned, and in the end turned it back over to a new Family Pastor. In these days, when church is leaner and volunteers are fewer, pastors may need to step out and temporarily lead in an area of the church. He can do so for the purpose of developing leaders and handing off ministry at the proper time to qualified people.
Third, more than ever before, there is a need for a healthy team leadership approach to church. In todays complex times, it is important for a leader to deal with this complexity by embracing a plurality of leadership. The church is designed to work best with a plurality of Elders and Deacons. Each has differing roles, but are essential to the health of the body of Christ. The reassessment of church vision/mission, the refinement of its programs/events, and the intentional redeployment of resources is best accomplished through a collection of wise counsel. Leaders who go it alone will suffer, along with the churches they lead.
Fourth, consider how you motivate volunteers to serve in the local church. Are they motivated for love of Jesus? Are they driven to help others for the sake of Christ? Do they feel a part of an ongoing mission to make disciples? Is there Gospel community within the volunteers? These are all helpful questions to answer as you consider recruiting in the future. People want to belong to something that is bigger than themselves. They desire to be a part of a community that is doing the same. We are wired for this kind of glory and belonging.
Theological Triage and Local Church Cooperation (Part I)
In 1627, German Lutheran Theologian, Rupertus Meldenius, penned a tract on Christian Unity, in which he writes, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” These words provide a framework for how believers can respond to one another when we disagree. Meldinius’s words are a distant echo from the Scriptures, which call believers to maintain unity and not quarrel over opinions. The temptation is to believe that all doctrines are of equal weight and significance; however, doctrinal distinctions can be understood as one engages in the practice of triage.
The origin of the word, triage, is French and means “to sort.” More specifically, it can be understood as the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors. Triage then, is the sorting of patients (as in an emergency room) according to the urgency of their need for care. When applied to theology in the local church, it addresses what we should prioritize in gospel ministry. In his article, “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity, Al Mohler links the idea of medical triage to theological triage. He writes, “The same discipline that brings order to the hectic arena of the Emergency Room can also offer great assistance to Christians defending truth in the present age…A discipline of theological triage would require Christians to determine a scale of theological urgency that would correspond to the medical world’s framework for medical priority.”
The importance of developing a framework to filter theological issues is essential. At least four categories help us understand theological triage. And, as we consider each doctrinal issue, we must decide which category fit is best.
The first category is regarded as a primary category for first rank theological issues. These are doctrines essential to the Gospel. They are worth fighting for because, if they are mishandled, the integrity of the Gospel could be compromised. Many consider doctrine in this category to be a fault line between belief and error. They mark a definite line between orthodox and non-orthodox beliefs. Some doctrines that are considered first rank: Substitutionary atonement, Trinity, the deity of Christ, the humanity of Christ, the authority of Scripture, and justification by faith. These first-rank doctrines must be defended and maintained to establish clarity of the Gospel. cooperation with other believers and fellowship with other local churches.
The second category is reserved for secondary theological matters. Gavin Ortlund describes these as “doctrines that are urgent for the health and practice of the church, such that Christians commonly divide denominationally over them…” Secondary doctrines may cause some believers to affiliate with one denomination over another. Some examples of secondary doctrine could be church governance, the role of women in ministry, modes of baptism, or communion approaches. Application of secondary matters does lead to each local church worshipping differently, though cooperation between believers is vital at this level. Churches can still do many things together, even though they engage in secondary church matters differently. For example, churches can participate in area-wide revivals with those who hold to the same primary doctrines, but they may have a hard time with a joint class on baptism or church membership.
The third category is tertiary doctrines. These are matters two times removed from what is essential to the integrity of the Gospel. They are lesser in significance than the secondary issues of theological agreement, though they are not unimportant. For example, the authority of the Scriptures is an essential or first-rank issue, and we must defend the inerrancy of Scripture at all costs. However, our eschatological (End Times) views are tertiary—we recognize the Second Coming as a primary issue; but the details surrounding this fall into the third category. In other words, believers can disagree on views of the tribulation and millennium and still go to the same church and remain in close fellowship with one another.
The last category is adiaphora, which means, “things indifferent.” These theological matters are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Scriptures. An example of a fourth-rank issue is the musical instrumentation in a worship service. These may be relevant and intellectually stimulating but not theologically significant. These categories can act as filters to the framework of theological triage. Not every hill is a hill to die on, but some are worth the struggle.
Resources on Theological Triage and the Local Church
i. When Should Doctrine Divide?” By Gavin Ortlund
ii. “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity” By Al Mohler
iii. In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity” By Mark Ross
i. Finding the Right Hills to Die on by Gavin Ortlund
ii. Uncommon Ground by Tim Keller and John Inazu
 Gavin Ortlund, Finding the Right Hills to Die On (The Gospel Coalition) (pp. 12-14). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
 Gavin Ortlund. Finding the Right Hills to Die On (The Gospel Coalition) (pp. 19-20). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
The Burden of Pines and Pastors
The snow and ice fell on a row of heavy-laden pines which border my property and a busy road next to my home. The beauty is portrait quality in high definition, and I cannot look away. My mind wanders to distant memories of building snow forts with my sister and rolling snowmen with my children. The ice and snow-draped trees are breathtaking in the morning light. How can something so beautiful be so dangerous and life-taking? Subconsciously, I push away the thoughts that death and great damage are caused by snow and ice every year, when I notice a large pine branch dangling dangerously over the gazebo in my yard. I make it a mental task for the day to go out and shake the snow from threatening my evergreens.
The time comes to head out and shake loose the snow and ice from the branches above the gazebo. I grab a shovel and broom and head out to relieve the tree of its burden and prevent a roof cave in from a snapped branch. As I begin to work on the branches, I notice how quickly the branches rise after the weight of ice and snow is removed. I notice other heavy branches ready to snap under the burden of snow and removed the weight. Feeling good about my work, I retire inside for a hot cup of coffee. Later, as I begin to prepare for Valley Shepherds Podcast, I am reminded of the long row of weary pines, now upright and unburdened. I think about how these pines are much like pastors and church members in the Shenandoah Valley.
For the past year, we have been heavy-laden by many weighty issues. There truly is a long row of weary people ready to snap under the pressure. The burdens of Covid-19, political gridlock, economic instability, and familial strain due to virtual schooling and erratic church worship schedules have negatively impacted people across the generational spectrum. What is the answer to all this weight and pressure? We must strive to share their burdens and lighten the load for pastors and churches in the Valley!
Several months ago, Pastor Will Soto and I launched a ministry, Valley Shepherds, to help local church pastors, church leaders, and church members maintain Gospel resilience in the face of such hostilities and difficulties. It is a ministry with both online and in-person resources. Online we offer the Valley Shepherds Podcast to encourage pastors and church leaders; and we our website is filled with encouraging articles, Bible study guides, and other resources to equip the saints for effective Gospel ministry. We are hosting quarterly, in-person gatherings to encourage area pastors to persevere in their calling. We also participate in many one-on-one meetings to listen and help shepherds in the Valley lead their flocks well.
The task is immense, but it is possible in the Lord’s strength; and co-laboring with the greater community of faith, we can encourage pastors and church leaders in the Shenandoah Valley to remain buoyant in the Lord and His Gospel work. Want to get involved? Here are three ways you can help:
1. Pray regularly for area pastors and church leaders and their families.
2. Serve local pastors by volunteering to help during Valley Shepherds in-person gatherings. We serve a meal and provide books and other resources to encourage and assist them in fulfilling their calling.
3. Give to the ministry of Valley Shepherds. It is possible to give online to support this ministry through Wayne Hills Baptist Church Website. Click on the “Give” tab, select “PushPay”, and scroll down to “Valley Shepherds” to support us.
Pastoral Resilience: Enduring for the Sake of the Gospel
One of the strands woven into leaders’ character in the community of faith throughout millennia is resilience. In both the Old and New Testament and in the chronicles of extra-biblical history, this one single strand of character is irreducible. In the world of the 21st century Pastor, it is relevant and necessary. In a recent 2017 Barna Group survey of 14,000 pastors, resilience emerges as the single most important trait needed to survive and thrive in pastoral ministry. Many questions arise about a definition of resilience as applied to Christian leadership. The need for biblical and historical examples are essential to gaining a fuller understanding of resilience and its implication for pastoral ministry.
The best place to begin understanding resilience is the Scriptures. The purpose of endurance revealed in the Scriptures is clearly expressed by the Apostle Paul. Consider Romans 15:4-6:
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In his book, The Resilient Pastor: Ten Principles for Developing Pastoral Resilience, Mark A. Searby shares the biblical perspective on resilience. He writes, “The biblical term for resilience is ‘perseverance’ or ‘patient endurance’. The active sense refers to ‘steady persistence in well-doing,’ and the passive sense to ‘patient endurance under difficulty.’ Webster defines resilience as “the ability to withstand hardship or adversity especially the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity (a marathon runner’s endurance).
Resilience, as applied to church leadership, is essential. Martin Manser combines leadership and resilience and defines it as “The ability to persevere in a task or calling. The Christian is called to endure in the face of trial or opposition, and his endurance brings spiritual rewards.” The examples below will demonstrate an enduring perception of discerning and obeying God’s call as a lifelong endeavor.
One of the first examples of resilience is Noah. In Genesis 6, the world is dark with only a pinprick of light from Noah and his family (see Genesis 6:8). In the following verses, God challenges Noah to build an ark made of gopher wood (v.9-17) and forges a covenant with him and his family. Noah, being a righteous man, responds quickly, and though such an undertaking was remarkable, given the depravity around him, his commitment to finish the project was astounding. For the next 50-75 years, Noah and his sons labored in building the Ark, and we are also told that his actions and words were a kind of sermon (see 2 Peter 2:5). The author of Hebrews best summarizes the resilient faith and obedience of Noah. Consider Hebrew 11:7: “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this, he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” His decision led to his family’s saving, and he inherited eternal righteousness by His faith in God.
In the New Testament, the perfect example of resilience is the Lord Jesus Christ. At the beginning of His ministry, we are told that Jesus knew the will of God and the work He was to accomplish (John 4:34). Jesus was faithful not to lose one of the disciples entrusted Him, despite Judas’ betrayal (John 6:39, 10:27-29, 18:9), and His faithfulness extended into His death on the cross at the end of His earthly ministry. Just before His arrest, Jesus acknowledges His faithfulness, saying, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (see John 17:4). As Jesus hung dying on the cross, He uttered his last words, which indicate his resilience even to the end. Consider John 19:28-30:
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
Jesus’ primary concern was to do the will of His Father for the sake of the past, present, and future covenant community of faith. Jesus is the only one who was perfectly resilient and yet without sin through His sufferings.
In church history we encounter a lesser-known Anabaptist Reformer who was a man of resilience, Baltasar Hubmeier (1480-1528). A German Roman Catholic who converted to Protestantism, he was an educated man who was the only Anabaptist to earn a doctorate from the University of Friedberg in 1512. In 1525 he was arrested for preaching on credobaptism (Believers Baptism) when it was forbidden to do so by the Roman Catholic Church. Upon his release from prison, he traveled to Nikolsburg in Moravia to repent of his shame and experience personal revival. While there, a city-wide revival broke out, and in a short time, thousands responded to the gospel and were baptized. Hubmeier penned many books in a short time and is best known for On Heretics and Those Who Burn Them. This work would foreshadow the end of his life. In 1527 he was re-arrested and taken to Vienna, where again he was required to recant.. However, he refused and was subsequently burned at the stake on March 10, 1528. On March 13, just three days after his death, Hubmeier’s wife of two years, was thrown into the Danube River with a stone tied around her neck, where within minutes she drowned.
As believers and church leaders, we are reminded of those who demonstrated imperfect resilience; however, they ran with endurance and finished the race set before them. Consider Hebrews 12:1-2:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Here, we are given a glimpse of what it takes to run our unique race of faith—a determination to lay aside that which steals our focus from Christ and His calling on our lives. Furthermore, it takes a commitment to censure sin as it rises within us. Our confidence rests in Jesus, the “perfecter of our faith”—He endured perfectly what we could not to give us what we, apart from Him, could never gain. Our resilience, then, is built upon Him and focused upon His finished work. It is comforting to know that it is possible to say along with the great cloud of witnesses that we, like Paul, have “finished the race” and “kept the faith” at the end of our earthly lives. It is also excellent that there is a reward waiting on the other side of glory (see 2 Tim. 4:7-8).
Resources on Resilient Leadership
Resilient Church Leaders by Ed Stetzer (Four Part Series)
Leadership Resilience: Handling Stress, Uncertainty, and Setbacks by Center for Creative Leadership
Mind the Gap: The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Tod Bolsinger
Rethinking Leadership by Brad Brisco
“What Western Christianity desperately needs at the moment is adaptive leadership:
people who can help the church transition to a different, nimbler mode of church.
Such leaders don’t necessarily have to be highly creative innovators themselves, but
they must be people who can move the church into adaptive modes — people who
can create the conditions for change and innovation.”
The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky
Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change by Tod Bolsinger
Leadership for a Time of Pandemic: Practicing Resilience by Tod Bolsinger
Resilient Pastor: Ten Principles for Developing Pastoral Resilience by Mark Searby
“God provides the necessary resources for the development of resiliency. Becoming a
resilient pastor is not accomplished by one’s own strength, skills, and wisdom. It is
developed through a process of relying upon the work of the Holy Spirit as He molds
us into the image of Jesus Christ, the greatest servant leader of all time (2 Cor 4:7–12).
The resilient pastor depends upon the assurance that he or she is redeemed through
the blood of Christ, transformed by the presence of Christ, and nourished by the Word
of Christ. This work does not take place only in isolation, but also in community with
others who are experiencing the same transforming process. It is a journey not
traveled alone, but with saints past and present. We learn from the examples of those
who have gone before us and we learn from the shared wisdom of current mentors
and travelers whom God uses in our shaping process.”
Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving by Bob Burns
 Barna Group. The State of Pastors: How Today’s Faith Leaders are Navigating Life and Leadership in an Age of Complexity. Ventura: Barna Publishing, 2017.
 Mark A. Searby, The Resilient Pastor: Ten Principles for Developing Pastoral Resilience (Eugene: Resource Publication, 2015), 10.
 nc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).
 Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: Martin Manser, 2009).
 Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, Church History 694, History of Baptist Notes. Lecture 6, Pg. 4.
 R. Gouldbourne, “Hubmaier, Balthasar (1481–1528),” ed. Martin Davie et al., New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic (London; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press; InterVarsity Press, 2016), 428.
 Nathan P. Feldmeth, Pocket Dictionary of Church History: Over 300 Terms Clearly and Concisely Defined, The IVP Pocket Reference Series (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 75–76.
Fullness of Joy: Meditating on Psalm 16:11
Have you ever had a moment, Pastor, when you are reading a passage, perhaps during your daily Bible reading time, and you know for certain you have read that exact passage dozens of times before, but for some reason, this time, you notice things with such a fresh look that it is almost as if you have never read it before? I had one of those moments last week when reading Psalm 16, and I am so thankful to the Lord.
Psalm 16, a Psalm of David, begins with an acknowledgment of the Lord’s goodness. In fact, most of the Psalm is just that—a praise hymn to God, proclaiming Him to be our mighty refuge, our strong counselor, and our firm foundation. Perhaps it is because the Psalm sounds familiar—it reads like so many of David’s Psalms—that I have never spent a long time studying or meditating upon it. Last week, however, verse 11 caught my attention and gripped my soul. It reads:
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
You make known to me the path of life:
As I read it, I caught myself nodding at that line, agreeing to its truthfulness. Back to basics—God is good, and He leads me in the way everlasting. This is a wonderful truth that is universally held and celebrated by all Christians. Despite its beauty, it was not the line that caught my attention!
In your presence there is fullness of joy:
That’s the one, right there, almost as if David wrote that one line in all caps, so I could not just race through it. It was as though this segment was speaking audibly to me, ensuring I could miss it. It was as if God said, “Mark, pay attention to this line. This is the reason you are in Psalm 16 today. This is what you must understand.” I could not then, and I cannot now, get over the weighty truth expressed in that verse. Here is one way to say it: “If I am in God’s presence, then I must be filled with His joy.” Here is another way to say it: “If I am not filled with His joy, then I must not be in God’s presence.” Wow! Even now, that truth hits me like a ton of bricks.
For nearly my entire ministry, I have proclaimed that one of the greatest transformations I experienced upon becoming a Christian is the realization of genuine peace and joy. It is true—in my 22 years as a follower of Jesus Christ, I have enjoyed a peace that truly does surpass all understanding and a joy in my heart that holds firm, even when the circumstances around me swirl well out of my control.
Even so, I must also be honest about this—while 2020 has not taken my joy, it has been tempered. I have been more aggravated and less patient, more frustrated and less encouraged, than in any other time in my Christian walk. I experienced small bouts of mild depression, something I have not ever had to deal with in my life, even in the days before I knew Jesus.
While my joy never completely left me, would I say that I remained in the “fullness of joy” during this pandemic? Honestly, no. But what is the fullness of joy? The Greek word for fullness is “pleroma”, meaning filled up with or complete. Joy is “chara”, meaning gladness or inner delight. Put together then, I am to be filled up with an inner gladness that is complete in its scope. And if I am not? Well, that is where God’s presence comes in.
The Scriptures clearly teach that there is no where a believer can go that is outside of God’s presence (see Psalm 139). God is omnipresent, of course; but He also takes up residence in the soul of the Christian (see Romans 8 and Ephesians 1). In that sense, I am never out of God’s presence. The possibility remains, however, that there can be times when I am unable to sense that presence. This is never God’s fault, of course. That disconnection from the felt presence of God occurs when I am too invested in the things of this world, or too undisciplined to spend time in God’s Word, or too selfish to love people in a way that exalts Jesus. When I lie or lust or cheat or steal, I have blocked myself from the blessings of God’s presence. When I harbor resentment or discontentment, I do the same. And when I worry about the virus or the election or any other thing that is almost completely out of my hands, I cannot enjoy the blessing of all blessings that is a result of being in God’s presence- the fullness of His joy.
God really spoke to me this week from that one simple line of Scripture. Not only did He speak to me about my own frequent lack of the fullness of joy, but He also called me to challenge others about theirs. As an under-shepherd, I must tend to His flock, and part of that tending is to help them find their joy in the Lord. The occasions for this type of ministry and counseling have been many over the last twelve months; I suspect that will continue. When we are more aware of our tendencies to stray from His beautiful presence, we are more likely to re-enter it. When we do that, we are more likely to rest in the fullness of His joy, which is promised to us and which is a real witness to the unbelieving world around us.
As I said, I am thankful for those moments when God takes a single verse, or just a few words from a single verse, and exposes our weakness through it. I am also thankful that after exposing that weakness, He is faithful to restore me and to lift me back up through His strength. I want to be in His presence so I can enjoy the fullness of His joy- don’t you?
Unity in Christ (Part 1): The View from 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln addressed 1,000 delegates in the statehouse of Springfield, Illinois. Later that day he was selected as their candidate for U.S. Senate. He infused his acceptance speech with an opportunity to address a pressing matter in the U.S. A portion of his speech is as follows:
“Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention. If we could first know where we are,
and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it. We
are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and
confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that
policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my
opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed. “A house
divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure,
permanently half slave and half free.”
This latter phrase and meaning were familiar to Lincoln’s audience as a statement by Jesus recorded in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke). For example, in Matt. 22:25, after casting a demon out of a man, Jesus was accused by the Pharisees of being demon-possessed himself. Jesus responded, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” Lincoln lived in a divided country until the end of his life. Likewise, in I Cor. 1:1-9, the Apostle Paul was facing a church experiencing division. Not long after the founding of the Church of Corinth in AD 51, the church faced divisions only a few years later. Paul sought to unify them and address their division in his letters to the Corinthians. Overall, he reminds them that their basis of unity is in Jesus Christ.
Paul started the church in Corinth in AD 51. He left from there to minister in Ephesus for some three years. During this short stint of time, the church began to experience intense division due to quarreling. Their church founder reminded them through his letters that the unity and spiritual growth of a local church are dependent upon the priority it gives to Jesus as Lord and Savior. A consistent lack of unity and spiritual growth in a local church reflects misplaced priorities and deficiently loyalty to Christ.
The basis of unity for the church of Corinth, and any local church, is expressed in at least two ways in this passage.
First, Paul reminds the Corinthians that the cleansing redemption of Jesus Christ is the foundation of unity in the church. In the first three verses of chapter one, Paul affirms his apostleship and reminds the believers that Jesus is the one who cleansed them of their sins and set them apart together. Furthermore, it is Jesus who imparted grace that gave them peace within their souls. For this reason, the church is to be the most outstanding picture of unity in the world because of the magnificent transforming grace God has offered to them through Jesus. Peace should be the outworking of a soul changed by God through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Second, Paul reminds them that those who receive the grace gift of Jesus Christ are given gifts of the Spirit. As they embrace these gifts and exercise them among the believers, they will develop a sound gospel testimony. Another result is that they will experience collective confidence that God is at work in them. This section of Scripture ends with a proclamation that “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.” (Vs.9). Paul declares that the person, work, and message of Jesus is the central point of unity for the church. Paul makes sure this point is made as he refers to Jesus 10 times in the first 10 verses of I Corinthians 1. There can be no substitute for unity in the local church beyond Christ.
The point of division will be made more evident in the next portion of Scripture (I Cor. 1:10-18). Divisions spring up in a local church like weeds in a summer garden, but the solution is the same: press into Christ. The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians of what was the basis of unity before he addressed their divisions.
Hope in a Knowable God: Truths from Isaiah 55:8-9
In my preaching and teaching, I probably quote Isaiah 55:8-9 as much as any other passage of Scripture:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
What a comforting truth–God is not like us! He does not worry, does not get unjustly angry, does not ever act selfishly. He does not mess up, give up, or act up. And though we do not always understand what He does, we know that He has reasons for doing those things we struggle to understand. He never does anything without a purpose, but He does not always reveal those purposes to us; and, even if He did, we would likely struggle to fathom them.
We know that all bad things, harmful things, and evil things are the result of sin and the resulting brokenness of this fallen world. Even so, we do not know the specific reasons why God allows the Coronavirus (or any other disease), natural disasters, or freak accidents—at least not definitively or entirely. To say, “Well, God is doing this,” or, “God is doing that,” is a dangerous exercise in futility because the best we can do is speculate about what God might be doing at this exact time in the exact way He does it. Even so, there are some biblical principles that are true and can be applied to any scenario at any time. So, while we do not have a complete answer, we can rest in the truths of God’s character.
1. We know that God is in control of all things and that His will is always done.
The Bible states, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3) and, “Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 136:5). In talking about molding the hearts of man in Romans 9, God says He will show mercy to whomever He wills and will harden the heart of whomever He wills. He then asks who are we, as the creation, to question what He, the Creator, does? Some people struggle to understand how God’s will is always done when seeing the state of the world, but those two things are not at odds with one another. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains, “Anyone who has ever been in authority knows how a thing can be in accordance with your will in one way and not in another.” He then gives example of a mother who tells her children that they must clean their rooms every night (her will), only to find each morning that they have failed to do so (against her will). Though she would rather the children be neat and tidy, she chooses to allow them to do as they please, anyway. In this instance, the mother’s will is ultimately done (her will that the children choose freely for themselves) even though at the same time the children act against her will (that they keep their rooms clean).
2. We know God is always good.
The Bible states, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17) and, “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). Furthermore, all of God’s purposes are for good—consider Paul’s exhortation to the Romans, “…we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). In other words, what God sovereignly allows is always good, or always works for good, according to His purposes. This is a reason for great hope for those who love Him and have been called and chosen for His glory.
3. We look back at Isaiah 55:8-9 and conclude that God does all things as part of His will and according to His goodness.
God is sovereign and always good, and because His ways and thoughts are above ours, we can conclude that He does things all the time or allows things all the time that are beyond us to understand, but are still part of His will and in accordance with His goodness. Might He be allowing some of His children to get sick to cause them to trust Him more deeply? He might be. At the same time, might He be judging some who arrogantly rebel against Him in sinful disobedience? Again, He might be. Might He be giving the church an open door for evangelism during a national crisis? Of course, He might be. Do we KNOW He is doing each of these things? No, but we do know that whatever He is doing is for a perfect purpose, and we can trust Him as He does it. Perhaps the most important question we can ask ourselves is, “do we trust Him, even when we don’t understand Him?” I do not mean, do we trust Him to always change the circumstances to our favor, but do we trust Him to be perfectly good, even when our circumstances stay the same? If we do, then we can have peace, joy, and contentment regardless of what is unfolding around us. If we do not trust Him, our lives will be characterized by bitterness, confusion, and uncertainty.
My prayer for all of us today comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)
Good News in a Bad World: The Daily Hope of the Gospel
My Pastor’s Gospel transformation story makes me laugh.
I asked KJ Washington, Lead Pastor at New Valley Church (Waynesboro, VA), his story of how the Gospel transformed him. I’m paraphrasing here, but he essentially told me he was in high school sharing the Gospel with someone else when the proverbial light bulb went off for him. I’ve never heard a testimony like that, but it reminds me of a saying that’s been around the church for a while.
“Preach the Gospel to yourself every day.”
If there was ever a time the Church needed to heed that advice, it is now. And, if we are honest, 2020 has been a difficult year, with no shortage of bad news. Maybe now, more than ever, it is important to remind ourselves that we have Good News:
There is a Triune God who has always existed and created all things good. He made humankind the crown jewel of all His creation. He enacted a rescue plan when humankind chose to rebel. And, at just the right time, He sent His Son into the world.
Jesus Christ, the second Adam, lived perfectly in our place. Jesus, the spotless lamb of God, died in our place. Three days later, He rose from the dead and left the tomb empty. He made a promise to reconcile all things to Himself; and because of His work, we will dwell eternally with Him in the new Heaven and Earth.
In 2020, a year of bad news, THIS is the Good News we need.
Because of social distancing regulations, I’m simply not around as many Christians as I would be in a normal week. Some means of grace I have cherished in the past – something like hanging out with a friend – are not as easy to access now. But I’m not self-isolated from the Gospel. I’ll share the following as a description, not a prescription. You may find a way that looks completely different for you. I’m just sharing what it looks like for me.
Our SPCA rescue pup, Cleo, is usually ready for her morning walk around 6:45 a.m. Her idea is to make it a squirrel hunt. My idea is to make is to make it a prayer walk, and it usually ends up being some hybrid of the two.
At the beginning of the walk, I’ll preach and proclaim the Gospel to myself, or I will play a song that does this for me. Below are five songs that help me start off the right way:
· Love Music by Timothy Brindle
· The Humility of Christ by Timothy Brindle
· The Daily Gospel by Timothy Brindle
· Liberation by Timothy Brindle
· It was Love by Ambassador
I’m really good at paraphrasing things incorrectly. One of the reformers was asked why he always preached the Gospel to His people, and his response was, “we leak.” It’s true. It is so easy to fill our buckets with the worries of the world that the Good News—the beautiful Gospel—leaks out. We can actively combat that, however, by reminding ourselves of these truths each day.
Light in the Dark: Encouragement from Psalm 139
“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
Psalm 139:23-24, ESV
Wow, what a wonderful, challenging, helpful passage of Scripture the Lord has given at the end of one our favorite Psalms! Most of us are familiar with the middle portion of Psalm 139, the part that speaks of how the Lord God “formed my inward parts” and “knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (v. 13) and how God knew every one of our days even before we were born. These verses are often used to support the argument against abortion, as they should be. But there is more to Psalm 139 that what we typically remember.
David begins with the statement, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me!” (v. 1), so when he ends the Psalm imploring the Lord to search and know him, he is not suggesting that God needs to find him or learn about him- God already knows all there is to know! Rather David is inviting the Lord to dig into his inner being and reveal to him any desire or thought that fails to honor Him. He is “giving permission” to God (as if God needs permission!) to wreck him, to rock him, to expose any area in his life that needs addressing. What a painful but much-needed prayer!
It is difficult to read this Psalm without considering the sins of David’s life, mainly his affair with Bathsheba and the sinful acts connected to it, but also the prideful census he took near the end of his life that cost 70,000 men their lives. David might have been a man after God’s own heart, but he was far from perfect. Even so, David understood that if he had any chance of living a life marked by obedience to God and purity of heart, it would depend upon God reminding him constantly of who both He was and who David was. That is exactly what God does when He searches us and knows us—He reveals more of Himself and His holiness and shows us in no uncertain terms the areas in our lives that are still greatly in need of transformation.
When God searched David’s heart and mind, what do you think He found? Lust? Hatred? Deceit? Pride? I think He did. I also think that David’s willingness to have God expose Him and show him the error of his ways kept him from an even spottier resume. We already know the things David was capable of—can you imagine what kinds of acts he might have committed had the Lord not loved him enough to continually bring to light the darkest areas of his life?
What about us? Do we give the God of the Universe permission to pull out our most wicked deeds and desires so that He might chip away at them and bring them under His authority—that we might sin against Him less often? It seems like Psalm 139:23-24 is a great prayer to offer the Lord each time we sit down to study His Word. It is good to implore God to expose us, to bring to our minds the areas we are in most desperate need of repentance.
Hebrews 4:12 reminds us that one purpose of the written Word of God is to discern our thoughts; another is to discern the intentions of our heart. The author of Hebrews must have read Psalm 139 (or been given Hebrews by the same Holy Spirit that gave David Psalm 139!) Clearly, God wants us to understand and apply it. If God did not reveal to us the blind spots in our daily walk with Him, we would remain unable to detect them ourselves and would walk only in the flesh, never pleasing the Spirit. Let us give thanksgiving to God that He doesn’t leave us to crawl around in the darkness of our ignorance, but lovingly shines His light into our hearts and minds so that we might know the grievous errors and sins that creep into our lives. Isn’t He a gracious God?
Saved, Secure, and Certain: 5 Truths from 1 Peter
Sunday night, our church finished a very timely study of 1 Peter. Please allow me to share with you five things Peter teaches us in the five chapters of this letter that was written to a group of persecuted Christians dispersed throughout Asia.
Your salvation is God’s work; therefore, it is secure.
“According to his (Christ’s) great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)
You were granted salvation solely because God wanted you to be saved, and that salvation is kept for you by God’s power- it can never be lost! This truth should comfort and encourage you when faced with an uncertain future- no matter what happens, nothing can take away that wonderful gift of salvation, and that gift is the most important thing about you.
Your identity is in Christ; therefore, it is certain.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
You might not always feel like you are the things listed in 1 Peter 2:9, but if God says it, then it must be true! In fact, if God says it, then it is certain. He didn’t save you and then abandon you; He saved you and then transformed you into a wonderful, new creation that has great purpose. He chose you to be His special child, at odds with the world, but accepted by God-wow! He assigned you position as both a priest and a king or queen- amazing! He cleaned you up and set you aside to do His work- awesome! He has adopted you and considers you just as much a chosen child of God as He considers those born into Abraham’s lineage- can you believe it??? Yes, you have received mercy from God, along with a new identity- get used to it!
Your call to suffer is God’s will; therefore, it is blessed.
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:14-17)
A study of the New Testament shows that suffering is one of the clear marks of the Christian. Yes, if you take seriously your call to follow Christ, it will cost you. While it might not always make sense to us that it could be God’s will for us to suffer, we trust in His goodness and know that He is doing something for our good and His glory, even when He allows us to suffer. And suffering for the name of Christ comes with its perks; it results in the blessings of God. Can you think of any kind of blessing that a man could offer that would be better than the blessings that God is able to give? I can’t. Those blessings don’t always come now, and they don’t always look like you thought they would (or should), but they are immeasurably precious. They are to be treasured above all else. When you consider how marvelous God’s blessings are, you can rejoice even in the sufferings.
Your passions are not the same; therefore, they please God.
“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1-2)
You used to live for yourself because you used to be selfish. The passions and desires of your old sin nature craved the things of this world that Jesus died for and put you at odds with your Creator. Now that you’ve been transformed, though, you crave different things. You now want to do what God wants you do. Not only that, but you are now empowered to do what He wants, something that wasn’t true of you before you were born again. You might still sin at times, but you no longer live for sin- it no longer rules you. Instead, God rules you as your Lord and helps you to live for Him.
Your future is with Christ; therefore, it is glorious.
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10-11)
It has already been established that your life in this world will be hard at times. This life isn’t everything though; in fact, it is a rather insignificant thing when weighted against an eternity with Christ. He has called you to be with Him forever, and forever with Him will be glorious. You will no longer be broken, because He will make you whole. Your faith will no longer waver, because by Him your faith will be made sight. You will no longer be weak, because He will make you strong. You will no longer stand on shaky ground, because He will plant your feet on His firm foundation. Yes, this life can be troubled and tiresome, but, thank God, your eternal future with Christ is glorious indeed.
Through Lenses and Lights to Hearts Afar
Here are some personal heart-felt thoughts about what it is like for me to Pastor and Preach in our current circumstances. I am so thankful for Wayne Hills Baptist Church and the grace you extend to me each week to lead and teach you.
It is 9:30 am—It is Sunday morning and I am preparing to speak to my church family and many more in less than an hour. The past weeks have changed the way I pastor the flock of God entrusted to me. The biblical calling to preach the Word, shepherd the flock, and equip the saints has not changed, but how I do these activities have changed. My circumstances are unprecedented, and I am still uncomfortable with the adjustments. I know that I am sharing the Word with hundreds each week. I know that my church is reaching more than those gathered in the chairs on a given Sunday. I know more people are hearing the gospel and are being called to respond to it. And yet, my head and my heart seem to disagree. My head knows I am still leading and shepherding them from afar. My heart aches for the gathering of the body for worship, prayer, and preaching.
It is 9:50 am—There are ten minutes left before I address the local body of believers that I call my church family. The worship team and AV team gather to commit the service to the Lord. They are such incredible people to work with each week. I shuffle my service notes and review my introduction to the sermon one last time. Then it is lights, camera, and action. I get the thumbs up from the AV leader, and there I stand in front of 300 chairs, two cameras, and oodles of bright lights. I miss my congregation, the greeting times, and the touch between an under-shepherd and his sheep.
It is 10:00 am—I do my best to welcome the congregation from afar and invite them to continue to serve, pray, and give to the vision and mission of Wayne Hills.
It is 11:15 am—The worship service is over. I preached a message that feels like it took twice as long to write and much less time to deliver. I am relieved to be finished with the message. I have preached the Word, shared the gospel, and called the church and others listening in to respond to the Word. I know God’s Word does not return void.
It is 11:00 pm—I am restless on my pillow when God’s still small voice impresses comfort and peace to me. I am reminded that God’s Word has gone out, and his Spirit is alive in the hearts of his people to unite them and empower them. He can work mightily through camera lenses to light hearts afar with the unifying power of the Gospel. I acknowledge that God is working in a new way to further his kingdom according to his Sovereign wisdom.
Pastor Jamie McClanahan
Wayne Hills Baptist Church