Today is the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I vividly remember watching the news in unbelief of what was happening and feeling the palatable fear and anger in the air. As I have skimmed through social media today, I have seen many posts on 9/11 ranging from political posts to tributes to the heroic actions of those who risked their lives to rescue ordinary people like you and me. Throughout the posts, videos, articles, and reflections though, something interesting has emerged. An emphasis this year seems to focus on the fact that there are now people for whom 9/11 is history like World War 2 and not something they experienced. I have read stories of adults who didn't know what had happened until much later because they were young when the attacks happened. There are those who are in high school now who have not known life in America when we were not at war and were not alive when the impetus for that war occurred. I have read posts from parents who lived through that terrible day and are asking the question "how do I talk to my kids about this"? While there are many answers out there, I would like to offer up a suggestion for Christians when it comes to the topic of talking about 9/11. Redeem it.
Yesterday as I was doing a task at church and listening to a podcast of an interview with a pastor of a church with 1200 members about his new book that was recently published and I began to get a little down. Here I am, scraping carpet glue off of a concrete floor because a pipe burst some months before and little had been done to get the nursery back in order. Instead it was moved to a temporary location in the church, and seemed almost in danger of it becoming permanent. If I didn’t step in and do something, my fear was that would be exactly what would happen. So I am, scraping up glue and listening to a pastor who has 1200 members, getting down and a bit angry. It didn’t take long before all I could think about was all the things wrong with the church. I was in a sinful, self-pitying state of mind.
As I kneeled on my hands and knees covered in goo and sweat, my mind began recalling a conversation Jesus had with his disciples. It came as a result of Jesus speaking to the rich young ruler. Of course, everyone is shocked that Jesus did not jump at the chance of having this well-resourced man in his throng. They were shocked the young man went away sorrowful; Jesus seemed just fine. Jesus had asked him to give everything away and follow him, but he refused. This sparked a question in Peter’s mind (whether it was a desperate one or an excited one we don’t know, but I think it was a desperate one).
“Then Peter said in reply, ‘See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have,'" (Matthew 19:27, ESV)
That’s the question I was really asking. Maybe you’ve asked it too. What about us!? It’s those moments of weakness in ministry where we get focused on ourselves and not Jesus and not the flock. What about us!?
It’s as if we have assumed that the Chief Shepherd has forgotten about his under-shepherd. But he is not like us. He has not turned his eye away. His answer is the same to us as it was to Peter. Yes, we have made sacrifices. Yes, we have done things that no one told us we would have to do. Things that were never on the job description and that go beyond the ministry of the Word and prayer. But Christ is not blind to those things. They are not insignificant.
Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first,” (Matthew 19:28-30, ESV).
Your ministry is hard. It’s difficult. Sometimes (most times?), it’s lonely. But it is necessary. It is worthwhile. It is rewarding, sometimes in this lifetime, but most definitely in the next. In those moments of despair, it is easy to say no to prayer and to roll your eyes at Scripture, but if we keep saying no and continue to ignore the truth but live in the lies that our hearts have deceived us with, we risk not only our spiritual health, but the spiritual health of our flocks. For we are “keeping watch over [their] souls, as those who will have to give an account,” (Hebrews 13:17, ESV). It is difficult to keep watch over their souls while allowing ours to languish in self-pity. May we continuously seek the Lord in prayer and in his Word. Let us so engulf ourselves in the truth that the lies get drowned out.
Chris is a pastor at Highland View Baptist Church in St. Charles, Mo. You can find him on Twitter (@c_doyle_hughes) or on his website (www.cdoylehughes.com).
I am not a normal dad. Normal dads don't read Jonathan Edwards to their children the day they are born as they sit with them in the hospital. I guess that is one of the down sides of having a pastor as your dad, but from the time our children were born, I have read to them. And not just children's books, I have read adult books to them. I have read through most of the Chronicles of Narnia (among other things) with our oldest and the reason for this is simple. Studies have shown that reading to our children from a young age helps their development. They speak better and understand better through exposure to language. They begin to appreciate reading from a young age which, if it sticks and reading is a joy, results in a love of reading and exponentially increases their ability to learn and understand the world around them throughout their lives.
In many ways, I write this knowing full-well that I do not live up to what I am about to write, though I will say that I am seeking to do better. I do believe that we will never be perfect this side of heaven, but we are being sanctified, so I ask of you (as believing men) and expect of myself: progress, not perfection.
If anyone has suffered for his faith and faithfulness, it was Paul. Who can forget the list that he gave to the Corinthians? “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger of rivers, danger form robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure,” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27, ESV). Most of us will never experience these moments in ministry (and those are just the ones we know of for sure as legend tells us how he died at the hands of Nero).
Paul describes the church in various ways, but there are two main ways in which he describes the church: the body of Christ and the bride of Christ. Both of these descriptions have at least one thing in common: their need to stay connected. Thus, the church is connected to Christ and to each other. Which is what James 5:13-20 is all about: staying connected. We must stay connected with God, with elders, and with each other. It is foolish to think that we, as Christians, can survive without each other. We need each other. Not in some trite way or as some cliché, but in a survival way. We must be connected.
I have been pastoring for 18 years (with about a year’s stint that I was without a church) and in that time have pastored four churches. My first pastorate was in a small town and I was asked to leave because in this very segregated southern town, I wanted to evangelize to those who had more melanin than the people in the congregation. After that my family and I moved up to Indiana, just outside Chicago, and pastored a church, where—once again—I was asked to resign. This time for doctrinal reasons. I had come as an almost Calvinist and settled the issue while there (while one gentleman kept calling me a heretic), became an amillennialist, and then a complementarian. That was too much doctrinal difference, and in my hubris youth, I did not see it. Both of those experiences, however, were very painful for me and my wife. There was much weeping over those two experiences.
I’ve been writing small group curriculum for my church for the last 18 months. The curriculum aligns with and supplements our current sermon series. Because our pastor is (thankfully) committed to preaching expositionally through various passages and books of the Bible, we don’t pick and choose what passages are comfortable and easy to address, we deal with whatever issue, topic, or difficulty the Scripture brings us. Because of this, there have been times where I’ve had to write on subjects that I’ve felt I had no room to speak into. Many of the studies I’ve written have been the overflow a hypocritical and broken heart.
I recently saw a twitter post by Matt Smehurst, a writer for the Gospel Coalition, stating that Satan doesn’t tempt us by asking us to believe in him, but rather to put full belief in ourselves. I read it not as Matt asking us all to hate ourselves (which would be unbiblical), but rather reminding us that our ultimate trust has to be put in God and his Word, rather than in ourselves. I filed it away as a good sermon illustration and moved on.
So I was very surprised a few days later when I saw another writer I follow on social media, who is not a Christian, forward a screen capture of Matt’s original statement with the comment, “Satan sounds like a pretty great guy,” attached.
It is often expected for the pastor to visit his congregation, especially if that congregation is relatively small. He is expected to go, chit chat, give advice, pray with, etc. with most or all members of his church throughout the year. Whether or not this is a fair expectation depends on the size of the church and other demands on the pastor. But I quickly want to deal with a different type of pastor visit. While many are worried about making sure the pastor visits, very few if any are worried about who’s visiting the pastor.