I am serving during my first year as full-time pastor at Granite Hills Baptist Church in Reno, NV (ghbcreno.org) by the grace, kindness, and sovereign humor of God. God has brought me and my family to a church that is filled with His Spirit, with love for one another, and with wonderful opportunities to share the Gospel in a very spiritually dark and dead community. There is a wise senior pastor, a secretary, me (associate pastor), and several lay leaders. This past week, the senior pastor was on vacation which left me as the only pastor. God has grown me by leaps and bounds just this week by putting me in the middle of situations that were simply beyond anything I could handle without His Spirit and His word which points to hope in Christ.
First, I had the privilege of preaching on Patriotic Sunday, which truly was a blessing. Like many young and inexperienced preachers I had far too much material and instead of preaching for 30 minutes, preached for about 50 minutes. This would not have been too big of a blunder except that at Granite Hills we have a potluck lunch after the service on Patriotic Sunday. Our poor congregation had to smell hamburgers and hot-dogs while listening to me go on and on! However, many were kind to me as I preached on true freedom from sin and wrath through Jesus, claiming I preached directly to them.
Later I spoke with a couple, first the husband and then the wife, who were struggling in their marriage. Here was a couple far older than me with real struggles. What could I, a 31-year-old man offer them? On my own, I probably would only have given them bad advice, but as I listened to them speak, I quickly prayed, "God help me to speak your words." He answered. God has put verses on my heart before, and this was no exception. Both were focusing on how the other had mistreated them, and therefore treating each other as they felt they deserved. The husband was treating the wife like she was a bad wife. The wife was treating her husband like he was a bad husband. We read Matthew 7:12, "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." Both claimed to be believers so I challenged, "What would it be like if God treated us the way we deserved?" Terrible! God treats us as if we are his precious children when we are naturally enemies because of sin. So, if God loves us while we are terribly sinful, what are the implications of this verse for marriage? Husband, treat your wife like she is the best wife in the world. Wife, treat your husband as if he is absolutely amazing. That's how we want to be treated, not as we deserve. I am still praying for this struggling couple.
During the middle of the week, I received a call from the secretary telling me that I needed to head to the hospital because one of our senior member's had passed out. As I drove from the church towards the hospital I called my wife and asked her to pray. When I pulled into the parking lot, the secretary called me back with devastating news - the church member had passed away. I got out of my car and prayed, asking God to give me words now for a widow and for family friends. I felt so inadequate for such a trying emotional time for these people. God was kind because as I wandered aimlessly through the hospital (why do hospitals feel like mazes?) another church member found me and we went together to the family room where the man's widow was seated with another couple from the church. What blessing! God prompted the hearts of four other people to come and help practice the ministry of presence with this widow. The man's wife shared what had happened, ending with how he had passed away. Then, we reminisced happily about her husband. She shared that God had given them a wonderful last family trip and had brought reconciliation between her husband and his children. Then, I asked whether she had any favorite passages in the Bible. Together, we read, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile," (Jer 29:11-14). How comforting are God's words to Israel before He sent them into exile. He would bring them back! Next, we talked about heaven, and what it will be like living with God face to face. We wondered about what we might eat at the wedding feast of the lamb. The nurses probably thought us odd because between sharing stories about her husband and thinking about eternity, we laughed a lot. What kindness of God to let us experience the love of Christian brothers and sisters at a time of grieving and loss. Christians, we grieve, but not without hope!
The week is coming to a close as I work to prepare sermons and lessons for tomorrow. God has shown me how vital He is, how necessary is His Word, and how much we need the hope and love of Christ. Without Jesus, the chief cornerstone, we are not ready for when the rains come, the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against us. We will collapse like a house on a shifty foundation (Matt 7:24-27). God, may you be the real foundation of my life and the life of every pastor and Christian. May we not take for granted times of prayer and reading your word. Instead, please help me to cling to you, Jesus, as the Savior and Lord of all, and by your grace, of me.
"But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God," (1 Cor 1:23-24).