A Loving Life: A Book (and a Life) that Small-Town Pastors Need

This article originally appeared at Small Town Summits Articles. I serve as the Content Manager for Small Town Summits Articles.

There are books, both in the Bible and on your shelf, that can sometimes take you by surprise. They are books that God uses to shake you up, to comfort you, to strengthen you, or to show you blind spots in your life or ministry. The book of Ruth and a book about Ruth, A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships by Paul E. Miller, both did that for me recently.

The book of Ruth has left our church, and me, changed. A Loving Life left me in tears as I read the last page, something that hadn’t happened to me in a long time.

I had planned to preach the book of Ruth for Advent this year, and about a month before I would begin preaching it, I was at a Small Town Summits Leadership Retreat. One of our co-founders, David Pinckney, recommended A Loving Life, a study of Ruth, and said that it was one of the best marriage books he had ever read that isn’t really a marriage book. Since I love studying the topic of marriage and was going to be preaching the book of Ruth soon, I ordered it that week. A month later, I ordered it for our Elders and Deacons to read and encouraged their wives to read it as well, and ordered another copy for our church library. It’s that good.

There was something about studying the book of Ruth at this season in our church’s life that was just exactly what we needed. Church members were encouraged to see God working in ordinary lives in a small town through ordinary means of kindness and hard work. There was a freshness to the gospel as we saw how God prepared the line of King David and ultimately the line of King Jesus to come through Ruth and Boaz. We marveled at the patience and mercy of God in bitter Naomi’s life as she thought she had returned to Bethlehem empty, but then experienced the fullness of God’s grace by the end of the book. And we were challenged and inspired by Ruth’s kindness and chesed love as she reflected the covenant steadfast love of Yahweh over and over and over again throughout the book.

A Loving Life helped me to process the book of Ruth in bite-size chapters that explain a small portion of the text, with robust application and illustration for today. Here are three reasons that the biblical lessons from A Loving Life are especially relevant to small-town pastors. 

Reminders that God Works Through the Small and the Ordinary

God’s providence is all over the book of Ruth and because of this, all over A Loving Life. It is impossible to read these books and feel that God is distant or uninvolved in small places and ordinary lives. Bethlehem was not Jerusalem—yet this is where this great drama that ultimately leans towards God’s plan of redemption in Christ takes place. Ruth went to work gleaning in a field to provide for her and Naomi while Naomi grieved—and through that ordinary act of work God provided food, a husband, a baby to continue the family line, and a place for Ruth and Boaz in the kingly line of Christ!

Small-town pastors need to often be reminded that God works through the small and the ordinary. We need to hear what Miller writes: “To love is to limit…Ironically, the experience of love, of narrowing your life, broadens and deepens your life….Love always involved a narrowing of the life, a selecting of imperfection. So God’s love for us lands. It landed in Bethlehem sometime in the fall or winter of 5/6 BC as a little Jewish boy. God’s love is so specific it boggles the mind.”[1]

Reminders that God Works To Humble Us and Then Exalt Us

In one of the most significant chapters in the book, “The Gospel Shape of Love,” Miller explains how God often brings resurrection through death to ourselves. He explains how we are not trapped in a pagan view of the world, a cycle of life and death. Rather, because of the gospel our lives literally move through a “J-curve” of life, death, and then resurrection.

This is not only about eternity, because many times this is how God works in our lives as followers of Jesus today. We are called to die to our dreams and desires to live for what God has called us to. For small-town pastors, this often means humbling ourselves to be content with a small, hidden place of service, knowing that God sees and knows and cares. When we don’t work to exalt ourselves but to exalt Jesus where he has sovereignly placed us to serve him, we are in exactly the place he wants us to be. As Miller describes this spiritual principle: “As we go downward into death, we are active: active in seeking humility, in taking the lower place, in mindless, hidden serving. This is the journey Jesus took…We can do death. But we can’t do resurrection. We can’t demand resurrection—we wait for it.”[2] In dying to ourselves, in exalting Jesus, he lifts us up, giving us contentment today, occasional vistas of his work through us today, and ultimately invaluable eternal reward in heaven.

Reminders that God Works Through People Committed to Love

Over and over again, we see Ruth absolutely committed to loving others, and in particular her mother-in-law Naomi, whose God she now serves wholeheartedly. By studying the life of Ruth, we are challenged to love others more like how God calls us to—whether that is through loving your spouse, your children, a widow, a foster child, that difficult church member, or the person in your small town who hates the presence of your church in the community. The kind of love Ruth displays again and again is a quiet pointer to the love of her greatest descendant, “…the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20b)

A Loving Life is one of those rare books that I felt I could have just dipped in highlighter. I hope that you will read it and be challenged and encouraged and changed. I hope that you will share it with your leaders so that you can all grow into excelling still more at living lives of love. I’ll let the very end of Miller’s book leave you with the last word:

Everything Ruth does—from walking through the gates ignored and unthanked to giving her newborn son to Naomi—is a function of her love for Naomi…You simply can’t beat love. You can’t out-humble it. You can’t suppress it, because you are always free to love no matter how someone treats you. If others are putting nails through your hands, you can forgive them. If someone is shouting curses at you, you can silently receive them. Love is irrepressible.

Faith and hope will one day pass away, but not love. Love is forever.[3]

[1] A Loving Life, p. 74.

[2] A Loving Life, p. 71.

[3] A Loving Life, p. 156.

To My Friends Who Are No Longer Friends With Jesus

This article was featured at For The Church and shared as part of The Gospel Coalition’s “Around the Web” articles.

To my friends who are no longer friends with Jesus: I want you to know that if I am aware of you walking away from Jesus, I have prayed for you and even cried for you. A couple of years ago I was reading The Last Battle from C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia” to our kids. I came across a passage that took my breath away and filled my eyes with tears. Tirian, the last king of Narnia, is meeting the former kings and queens of Narnia:

‘Sir,’ said Tirian, when he had greeted all these. ‘If I have read the chronicle aright, there should be another. Has not your Majesty two sisters? Where is Queen Susan?’

‘My sister Susan,’ answered Peter shortly and gravely, ‘is no longer a friend of Narnia.’

‘Yes,’ said Eustace, ‘and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says, ‘What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.’

The reason I got a lump in my throat and then looked at my wife Melanie and saw that wewere both tearing up is because we were thinking of you, friends. Walking away from Jesus is not child’s play. At the end of The Last Battle, it is revealed that there has been a crash and the kings and queens are in heaven. They are safe, eternally. Susan is not. But there is still time. 

It seemed that you used to be friends with Jesus. You sang to him, you read his Word, you prayed to him, you talked about him with me.

Only God, and maybe you, know if that faith was genuine. But I do know this: the Jesus you used to confess with your lips is the same Jesus who can save you today. It doesn’t matter if it has been years or months of walking away from him, Jesus died and rose again not to make it possible for us to earn our way back to God, but to bring us to God. He will still do that for you if you will come to him.

You are not the first disciples of Jesus to deny Jesus. Do you remember Peter, one of Jesus’s closest disciples and friends? He denied Jesus three times, when Jesus most needed someone to come alongside of him and stand up for him. 

Decades later Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:8-9, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” It has never been easy to be a Christian. What stood true two thousand years ago stands true today: there is a great enemy of your soul.

Peter knew that Satan is active in the world today, and he didn’t just think of the devil like a roaring lion. It’s like Peter was remembering how he had felt that enemy breathing down his neck on the night that he denied Jesus.

But there is someone else described like a lion in the Bible, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Jesus is the One who was promised to come and save us. He came and represented God to us as holy and righteous and yet as willing and ready and able to forgive for when we have failed him.

Precious Words of Promise

Some of the most precious words in the Bible are at the end of the Gospel of Mark. After Jesus has risen from the dead, the angel tells the women at the tomb, “…go, tell his disciples and Peter…” (Mark 16:7)

The other disciples had failed too. They had also said they would follow Jesus all of the way. But only one of them, John, stood at the cross at the end. God made sure they all received the message of Jesus’s resurrection— “Go tell the disciples…” But he also put this nugget of grace on the angel’s lips: “…AND Peter.” Peter was a disciple. But God was already moving towards Peter specifically in his specific sin, preparing his heart for restoration.

I don’t know what God has been doing in your lives recently. But reading this article is a start. There is some reason you clicked on it. 

When Peter denied Jesus, Jesus looked at him. If you sense the Lord looking at you right now, you have two choices. 

You can try to run from the gaze of Jesus just like Adam and Eve tried to run from the eyes of God. Or you can run to the gaze of Jesus and see that there is forgiveness and acceptance and restoration in his eyes. 

This is what Peter experienced when the resurrected Jesus came to them later, when Peter had gone back to fishing. When Jesus appeared on the shore, Peter didn’t hold back. Peter couldn’t wait to be near Jesus again. He couldn’t wait for the boat to get to the shore. Peter jumped into the water to go towards Jesus.

He didn’t walk on the water this time; he simply threw himself into the water to get to Jesus. That may be what repentance looks like for you, what coming back to God looks like for you. Just throwing yourself towards Jesus. 

If you do that, I know that Jesus will be waiting for you. Jesus himself promised it and sealed it with his redeeming blood: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37

Friends, if you come back to Jesus, he will welcome you home as his friends, now and for eternity. I hope to see you there.

This Easter, Become Conversant With the World’s Largest, Most Diverse Religion

This article originally appeared in our local paper, “The Manchester Journal.”

Easter is here again, and with it comes global celebrations of Jesus’s resurrection. It may be shocking to find out that Christianity is the world’s largest, most diverse religion today. But it should be equally shocking to imagine that probably the majority of residents in our well-educated town have never read one of the four Gospels that lays out what Christianity believes, including the resurrection of Jesus. A 2017 Lifeway survey found that over half of Americans have read none or little of the Bible.

In her book Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions For the World’s Largest Religion, New Englander Rebecca McLaughlin explains the global diversity present in Christianity today: “But, ironically, our habit of equating Christianity with Western culture is itself an act of Western bias…if you care about diversity, don’t dismiss Christianity: it is the most diverse, multiethnic, and multicultural movement in all of history.” (45) She goes on to explain that around the globe, the people most likely to be Christians are women of color. Projections by sociologists don’t see this changing anytime soon. McLaughlin elucidates: “…by 2060, the latest projections suggest, Christianity will still be the largest global belief system, having increased slightly, from 31 percent to 32 percent of the world’s population.” (12)

But what is the basis of what so many Christians from so many backgrounds around the world believe? Citizens of today’s world should be conversant with a faith that pervades so much of society. The Bible calls the basis of what Christians believe “the gospel,” while “The Gospels” are the four foundation documents of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The term “gospel” can be translated “good news.”

The good news about Jesus is that he died on the cross to atone for the sins of all who will believe in him. He suffered and died publicly on the cross as the punishment for the sins of all who believe in him, so they will never have to pay for those sins themselves. The Gospel of John famously makes this good news clear: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) 

The Bible teaches that our sin separates us from God, but that Jesus is the bridge that brings us back to God. We can have forgiveness of sins today, and forever in heaven with God precisely because Jesus died, but also rose again. As the resurrected Jesus himself proclaims: “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:18) Jesus literally claims to have the key that can close the door to death for you, and give you eternal life. 

This is why Christians celebrate Easter. We believe that Jesus didn’t stay dead. The story of Easter is that Jesus rose from the dead again. Those who believe that this really happened call themselves Christians. In identifying that their lives are united with Christ and in calling him “Lord,” they are identifying themselves with him in his death and resurrection.

No one really finds this easy to believe. His disciple, Thomas, who had been with him for three years, did not believe when the other disciples said they had met Jesus who was alive again. When Jesus appeared to Thomas and challenged him to put his fingers in the nail marks, and his hand in his pierced side, Thomas fell down at Jesus’s feet and confessed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) Christians around the world, Christians of all ethnic backgrounds, Christians in our own community, are people who have said to Jesus after they have believed that he is their savior, risen from the dead: “My Lord and my God!”

So, what do you know about Christianity? Have you ever read one of the four Gospels that lays out the foundation of the world’s largest, most diverse religion? I challenge you this Easter to become conversant with Christianity by reading the Gospel of John. But beware. Within its pages, you will hear Jesus say this: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40) Jesus is not content for us to simply come to learn about him. He also wants us to know him today. As Christians around the world will be celebrating this Easter, he didn’t stay in that tomb. He is alive today. That is not only worth celebrating, it means that all that he said is true.

A Sabbatical For a Small-Town Pastor? The Why & the How

This article was featured at Small Town Summits Articles. Tim is the Content Manager for Small Town Summits Articles.

This summer, I had more focused time than I’ve ever had with my wife and kids. We made memories we will never forget and built into our relationships. I rested more than I have in years. I went for prayer walks just because I wanted to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation and to spend some extra alone time with the Lord. I studied for a writing project without interruption and made progress on a book idea that I could not have made if it were not for the focused time. I never felt guilty or like I was behind on ministry responsibilities for 10 weeks. I refocused on my identity as a child of God rather than as a pastor. This was possible because my church gave me a sabbatical, and it is not only possible as a small-town pastor, but beneficial.

How It Helped
I want to first convince you that especially if you have been at a church for seven years or more, a sabbatical will be good for you and your church. Then we will look at some “nuts and bolts” of how to plan a sabbatical that will be a time of intentional rest, refreshment, and reset for you and your family, as well as your church.

Improved Health

At the start of sabbatical our family had the opportunity to go to Florida due to the kindness of our church family and of a couple in our church who owns a home in Florida. It was there that I began to realize how badly I had needed the sabbatical but also that I needed to change patterns when I returned. Multiple times in the first two weeks, when we were getting ready to go do something fun I began to have symptoms of severe anxiety. This went away with rest, showing me how tired I was. I did my best the entire sabbatical to get a full night’s sleep and at the end of the 10 weeks I had a noticeable difference in even having conversations with people—being more alert and able to focus more on them.

I also began to run again, something I used to enjoy and had not regularly done in over a decade. Post-sabbatical, I feel stronger and more efficient at work due to these health changes. While I’m still struggling to manage my schedule and get enough sleep, I now know what it feels like to be healthier. I’m working towards that and I’m still making time to run. What could God do for your physical and emotional health during a sabbatical?

Reset in Ministry & In My Personal Walk With God

I had a church member tell me just the other day that since sabbatical, there has been something different—in a good way—about me as a pastor. What we think we put our finger on is that in just over two months of being away from our church and ministry responsibilities, I was able to dig deeper into my identity as a child of God rather than first as a pastor. This has given me confidence as a leader, an area that I needed to grow in. I feel more freedom to lead because my roots are deeper in caring more about what God thinks about me and my leadership than what others may think.

Most years I attend other churches on Sundays during vacation two or three times. Visiting other churches Sunday after Sunday was deeply refreshing to me. I took sermon notes every time simply for my own soul’s growth, not for my next sermon or teaching opportunity. I also wrote down a few take-aways from every church we visited so that I could bring back helpful ideas to incorporate into our own church. After sabbatical I heard from many church members that one of the best things for them was to realize that even though they missed me and my family, that they could still be the church without me. If a sabbatical helps your church to focus on the fact that you are not Jesus, your sabbatical could be just as spiritually important for them as it is for you.

Family Relationship Investment

An entire article could be written on what this special time did for the relationships between my wife and me, and our kids. The three main sabbatical goals we had expressed to the church from the beginning were relationships, rest, and writing. Relationships were the most important. As you know, ministry has a way of stretching us and ministry in a small town often requires wearing more hats. We went into sabbatical with gratitude, realizing that our son leaves our home in four short years and trying to be intentional about time with him. By God’s grace, my wife and I planned for some time away and also as a couple at home both while the kids were at camp and with trusted friends for a few days so that we could focus on our marriage. Time with your family is never wasted time. It is good to work hard in ministry and with excellence for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31), but it is also good to rest and play together (Genesis 2:1-3). When was the last time you had weeks where you hardly spoke about church and ministry other than in prayer? For us it had been way too long, and sabbatical gave us the space to do that. It was also good for our church to know that we were intentionally focusing on our marriage and parenting.

Writing or Study Project

Many pastors plan time for a writing or study project during sabbatical. I found this to be special time that made a genuine difference in my book idea. I made progress that was the fruit of having consecutive days to concentrate and see how concepts and Scriptures tie together. My only caution would be to plan this time in carefully, and no more than a week per month off. You and your wife know your situation better than anyone else, but I had a pastor friend who recommended two weeks of writing time during my two months off and I wish I had listened to him rather than planning for three. The important thing is to plan for a project that is life-giving and not an assignment you have to turn into your church when you return. They will be excited to know what you’re working on during this time, but set expectations so that they realize it is time for God to feed your soul whether that is through reading, writing, or a combination.

How We Planned It

Discussion with leadership

In my situation, the church had offered a sabbatical after five years but the timing (2020) was not right. So I discussed it with them and we agreed that 10 weeks was about the right amount of time given that I took a sabbatical after seven years and given the church’s schedule, staffing, and ability to bring in other speakers. We discussed logistics and problem-solved beginning about 18 months out and found this gave us enough time to plan well.

Communication With Congregation

Another elder, rather than me, communicated with the congregation about the sabbatical a little over one year out. We found that having another leader be the point person for the sabbatical gave him the chance to explain why a sabbatical was needed for me and how it would work, while also giving the congregation an opportunity to share excitement as well as concerns that could be addressed. I did help in the communication by writing a PDF that explained what the focus of our sabbatical would be and what our current plan was for the church, but he e-mailed it out for me so that I could still communicate with the congregation about sabbatical but with his help and support in discussing it with the congregation.

Intentional Budgeting and Church Life Planning

Part of those discussions first with leadership and then with the congregation included intentional budgeting. We budgeted to bring in enough pulpit supply that we could have half sermons from our own staff (if you don’t have another pastor on staff, elders and other leaders could preach as their gifts and desire allow even if it’s only a couple of times), and half sermons from pastor friends and ministry leaders. We planned to give the special speakers a gas/food stipend and to put them in a local Inn, in addition to an honorarium, so that we could bring speakers from further away who could still be rested and ready to serve our congregation well. We also planned the sabbatical during a time that many regular church ministries were already taking a pause for the summer.

Intentional Planning With Your Wife

If you are married, the most important one to plan sabbatical with is your wife. Listen to her. Hear her heart and value her thoughts and desires as you plan. Talk through every aspect of it, even well before sabbatical discussions with leadership. Talk and pray about what your goals and needs are, and how you can intentionally plan for maximum good effect on your marriage and your kids. We found our plans changing over time because I was turned down for a sabbatical grant but then on their own initiative and without our knowledge our church took an offering so we could do things we could not have done otherwise with my pastor salary. It was fun and marriage-building to dream and pray together about what God could do in our lives during the sabbatical. Because of this planning, it was even a joy to work on house projects together that had been left on the back burner too long due to our normal ministry schedule. 


I once heard a pastor encouraging younger pastors to plan in regular sabbatical times even if they are only every seven years or so. He explained that after several sabbaticals at his current church and long ministry there, somebody said to him, “It must be nice.” He knows that he works hard, and that he is fulfilling the ministry God has for him, and that a sabbatical is good for him, his family, and his church. So with some of that confidence in God that can come with sabbatical time, he simply smiled and replied to his church member, “It is nice.” Fellow small-town pastor, if you are overdue for a sabbatical, I hope that you will be saying the same thing soon.

Why Should Christians Care About the Definition of Marriage? Understanding Important Bible Passages

This article first appeared at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

I still remember the first time I heard a Christian question why it was bad for the government to change the legal definition of marriage. I was an associate pastor in Washington state, and in 2012 the state voted to allow legal same-sex marriage, three years before Obergefell legalized it nationwide. As people were discussing how they felt about changing a definition that had held firm for all of human history prior, a member of my church shared that she didn’t understand why most Christians were against the state changing the definition of marriage. She expressed that she did understand that Christians should personally be opposed to same-sex marriage given the Bible’s clear teaching on marriage, but she did not see any compelling reason that we should care about what the government allows or defines as marriage.

A decade later, there are many reasons we could clearly point to, ways that same-sex marriage has changed our culture. To name a few: legal battles for conscience protections for small businesses, many religious adoption agencies closing down as they were forced to change their firmly held religious beliefs or stop helping children, the cascade of gender dysphoria that is especially hitting our teens and young adults, and gender and sexuality options that are now being taught openly in our public schools, even to elementary students. But as clear as some of those reasons are for concern, as the Senate now moves toward repealing the 1996 “Defense of Marriage Act,” is there a theological reason that Christians should care about the definition of marriage in our broader culture? To put it another way, is there a “gospel reason” that Christians cannot support the legal definition change of marriage?

A theology of marriage 

Jesus was asked difficult theological questions about marriage by his disciples. While the issue his followers asked about in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 may have been directly about divorce, the answer Jesus gave continues to echo down to us today, answering questions about why Christians should care about the definition of marriage. Just in the first phrase of his reply, Jesus shows why marriage is only truly between a man and a woman: “He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female’” (Matt. 19:4) Jesus takes the disciples—and us—way back. He pulls them back to the Garden of Eden when humanity, and marriage, were first created. 

The Lord clearly lays out that God created Adam as a male and Eve as a female, which will become significant the deeper we dig into why God created humans and marriage the way that he did. Jesus also reminds us that God is the Creator, which means that he not only knows what is best for human flourishing, but also that we do not get to make up our own definition for institutions that God has created such as marriage. If we do so, it will have disastrous consequences as we try to “un-god” God, and “god” ourselves with the powers of creation. Because God created it, marriage was never ours to change.

Next, Jesus explains more about why marriage is deeper and more significant than we often give it credit for, by quoting Genesis again and then adding his own divine thoughts. He explains: “’Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ . . . So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:5-6). As Jesus explains the significance of marriage here, he gives us huge clues as to why same-sex marriage is not just a bad idea, but is not really marriage. When Jesus talks about marriage in terms of “man” and “wife,” he is not simply speaking to a different culture and time as if in the future, more progressive ideas could erase the way God originally created marriage. He brings the disciples back to creation to show them that the way we understand marriage must go back to when God first created it. Jesus shows us that there is profound significance in a husband and wife becoming “one flesh.” 

There is beauty, function, meaning, and even gospel pointers in marriage between a husband and wife. A man and woman in marriage are different and yet equal, separate and yet joined together as one. This cannot be done between a husband and husband or wife and wife. Not only do they not fit together in the same way physically, but in taking away the God-created differences between man and woman and replacing them with sameness, homosexual marriage also takes away the “one flesh” union that Jesus speaks of here. It is only in the differences of male and female (Matt. 19:4) that there can be the union of marriage (Matt. 19:5-6). Remember, Jesus started answering the disciples’ questions about marriage by asking, “Have you not read?” If Jesus were answering us today as we asked him about same-sex marriage, there is no doubt that he would say something along the lines of, “Have you not read?”, referring to either Genesis or the Gospels, and then, “What therefore God has not joined together, let not man join together.”

But I believe there is at least one more passage Jesus would bring us to with our same-sex marriage questions today. In Ephesians 5, we learn—astoundingly—that God’s design for marriage points to the gospel. As a common grace for both believers and unbelievers, God created marriage from the beginning of time to be something embedded in culture that would point to the love of Jesus for his bride. This is often hard for us to grasp because we don’t mirror this as clearly as we should. But in the union between a man and a wife, there is a pointer to the union of Jesus with his people. The marriage covenant points to the New Covenant. 

Near the end of the longest New Testament passage on marriage Paul explains, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32) Every marriage between a man and a woman points in some way to Jesus and the gospel, for those who have eyes to see it, even if only in the fact that there is a deep union. The only question is, how clear and well-focused or how tarnished is that picture? But same-sex marriage does not create that picture of the gospel at all. God never intended it to, and it can’t, because it is in our very differences that we find union.


Given the cultural winds, the ideology that leads to the celebration of same-sex marriage and other gender identity issues will continue to gain ground in hearts and minds. But for Christians, while we love those involved in homosexuality as people made in the image of God, we cannot celebrate or endorse same-sex marriage, and we should encourage our legislators to do the same—for the good of families and our wider society.

Because God embedded marriage into culture as a quiet pointer to the covenant love of Jesus for his bride, Christians have more work to do in sharing our faith and discipling our kids and young believers. We have to now build a broader foundation, including the fact that God has clearly defined marriage and that it is not best for our societies or gospel witness when we tamper with it. Yet, in this context, while we have more urgent opportunities to disciple others in how God created marriage, Christian marriages can grow. We can repent of and grow in any ways that we have not pointed to Jesus in our marriages like we should. As confusion grows in what marriage actually is, Christians have an opportunity to shine brighter through living in their marriages as better representatives of Jesus—which starts in our homes and in our churches. While our broader culture becomes less clear about marriage, may we continue to proclaim that the covenant of marriage as God has designed points to the New Covenant of the gospel. And as the basic accepted definition of marriage changes, may we say with our joyful covenant-keeping what is being unsaid all around us.

Four Compelling Reasons I Am Pro-Life

This article was featured in Challies’ June 27th “A La Carte” and an edit of the article was published at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

The overturning of Roe v Wade after 63 million pre-born babies have been killed in our nation is birthing new dialogue. We are not only discussing it with our children, we are explaining to them why we are pro-life. It is simply a matter of time before a relative or neighbor or co-worker brings up the topic of abortion with you or you see an opportunity to talk about why you are pro-life. While much more could be said, these four reasons I am pro-life are reasons that I want to be on the tip of my tongue and that I hope will be on yours, also.

A 4D ultrasound of a baby in the womb.

1. Because the Bible tells me so.

A few years ago, I made a list of fifteen sections of Scripture especially relevant to the pro-life cause to help me be better attuned with God’s heart on this subject before I would speak out against it: Genesis 1:27Exodus 1:16–224:1121:22–25Job 10:11–1231:15Psalm 14:422:9–10127:3–5139:13–16Isaiah 45:9–1149:15Jeremiah 1:5Luke 1:41–44Galatians 1:15. I found myself in tears as the weight and impact of Scripture built conviction, holy anger at Satan who deceives so strongly, love for the unborn and mothers who are in difficult situations, and grace in my heart towards those who have had or been involved in an abortion.

God could not be more clear: “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.” (Psalms 139:13-14) Let’s go deep in the Scriptures before we go wide in sharing our beliefs. Let’s have God’s Word feed our minds and hearts, move our hands and feet, and open our mouths to speak for the unborn (Proverbs 31:8).

2. Because science tells me so.

The Mississippi law that challenged Roe at the Supreme Court banned abortion at 15 weeks gestation. What is a pre-born baby doing at 15 weeks? Taste buds are being formed and nerves are connecting them to the brain. The baby’s legs are growing longer than her arms now. She can move all of her joints and limbs, and in fact she moves constantly. At 15 weeks, eyelids, eyebrows, eyelashes, nails, hair, and well-defined fingers and toes have already been formed.1 As I write this, people are rioting around our country because an unlegislated “right” to kill a baby was ruled unconstitutional–a baby who has been sucking his thumb for 3 weeks, and who can yawn, stretch, and make faces.

All pro-life people need to have these realities handy, and all pro-choice people need to read these undisputed facts of science and ask themselves honestly why they believe it is ok to purposefully kill a human being at any stage of gestation. Some may wave off prenatal science with the idea that pro-life people use it the same way some use creation science and don’t believe in the “Big Bang.” But all truth-seekers must admit that these facts are in a different category, out of the realm of scientific theory and into the realm of thumb-sucking actuality. I am pro-life because even if the Bible did not indisputably tell me so, the plain undisputed facts of science also tell me so.

3. Because logic tells me so.

It is not only the Bible and science that make me pro-life, it is also logic. What happens in most situations when a baby is not aborted? A baby is born! Why should pro-choice people call a party for a wanted baby a “baby shower” in one breath and yet call another baby of the same gestation a “fetus” in a conversation about an unwanted baby? This is not logical, nor honest.

Logic tells me that if there are laws making it illegal to kill pre-born bald eagles , there should be laws making it illegal to kill pre-born humans (destroying or even disturbing a bald eagle’s egg is currently punishable by a $5,000-$250,000 fine and up to 1-2 years in prison2). Why does a human “fetus” have fewer federal legal protections than certain animal eggs?

Logic tells me that if over 100 babies a day are saved from abortion in one state under a Heartbeat Act3, that there are 36,500 citizens in that one state who will be alive one year from now who would not have been alive if that law had not been in effect. Logic reminds me that wiping out that many fellow humans is like wiping out a small city, and saving that many is like saving the entire population of a small city from death.

4. Because human flourishing and love tell me so.

Pro-choice arguments are based on fear and convenience, not truth and hope. For over fifty years, young women in our country have often been shamelessly counseled that their only viable option is to abort their child rather than consider adoption or raising their child. Young fathers have been told they don’t have any responsibility. There has been no accounting for the fact that this has caused the well-documented association between abortion and higher rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, traumatic symptoms, sleep disorders, and other negative outcomes.4

It is true that having a baby changes everything, but it is also true that aborting a baby changes everything. Being pro-life means that I am pro-human flourishing.

In Vermont, where I live, the people will vote on a state constitutional amendment this fall that would make us the first state to have abortion as a right that “shall not be denied or infringed.” Yet we are one of the states in the U.S. that is most struggling with an aging population and not enough young tax payers.5 Nationally, the shortage in the Social Security system would have been more than replaced by the children who were aborted over the past five decades.6 From economics to the joy of being a mother or father, I am pro-life because I know it is best for human flourishing.

Yet, there is one more reason I am pro-life: love. It is out of love for the unborn that I continue to speak up, and research, and support foster parents, and encourage pregnancy resource centers, and love women and men who are going through difficult situations.

There are multiple compelling reasons to be pro-life. With life on the line, don’t be afraid to speak up about your reasons.

1. https://www.babycenter.com/pregnancy/week-by-week/15-weeks-pregnant#baby-development
2. https://www.eagles.org/what-we-do/educate/learn-about-eagles/bald-eagle-laws-that-protect/
3. https://texasrighttolife.com/100-babies-saved-per-day-by-texas-heartbeat-act-new-data-confirms/
4. https://wng.org/roundups/the-reality-of-abortion-regret-1617224395
5. https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/money/2016/07/21/vermont-aging-faster-than-rest-united-states/87263398/
6. https://eppc.org/publication/how-abortion-has-weakened-social-security/ A significant quote: “If the other factors projected by the Social Security actuaries remained constant, the choosing of life over abortion by the boomers would have kept the Social Security system in balance indefinitely–with a large cumulative surplus–without either raising payroll tax rates from current levels or cutting promised benefits.”

To the Person Who Tried to Steal Jesus

On Saturday, December 18th, as my wife and I tidied up a few things for the next day’s worship, my kids came running into the church sanctuary: “Baby Jesus was stolen!”

“Really? One week before Christmas?” Sure enough, it was even worse than we thought. We know it was not bad wind or a curious dog because not only is the baby Jesus missing out of the large Nativity scene on our church’s front lawn, but also the manger, a lamb, and one of the two signs advertising our Christmas Eve Service.

We believe that the Bible’s message about Jesus is true, so he is alive in heaven today and will return again. He is our king and we bow our hearts before the real Jesus just as the wise men and shepherds bowed down to him when he first came. So you can steal a figure, but you can’t steal the real Jesus.

As we shared about the loss on our church’s Facebook page, hoping somebody might find the figures thrown somewhere in town, it became obvious that this was a discouragement to more than our church family. The Nativity scene was a labor of love from a team of people from our church, attempting to share with our community the humble story of God coming down to live with us and redeem us.

So I want to say a few things to the person who tried to steal Jesus from us:

You can’t steal Jesus. We know that the figure was only a representation of what happened that first Christmas night. The Bible tells us that the real Jesus was not only born, God become flesh, but that he grew up and became a man who lived a perfect life, then died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins and later rose from the dead. We believe that the Bible’s message about Jesus is true, so he is alive in heaven today and will return again. He is our king and we bow our hearts before the real Jesus just as the wise men and shepherds bowed down to him when he first came. So you can steal a figure, but you can’t steal the real Jesus.

You can’t steal our joy. It made my children and others sad to think of the figure of Jesus being the one stolen. But sadness can mingle with true joy, and this doesn’t take away our joy. Our joy is not dependent on traditions or circumstances. The manger scene can sit empty or we can look around at the difficulty in our country right now or even grieve losses like death or divorce and still have joy because our joy is dependent on knowing God through his son, Jesus Christ. The night before Jesus went to the cross he taught his scared disciples a truth we continue to hold onto: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22) The sorrow of the crucifixion was eclipsed by the joy of the resurrection. The sorrow of disease and sin in our world will one day be eclipsed by the joy of heaven. Giving invincible joy is one reason Jesus came.

You can’t take away the meaning of the Christmas story. The sign taken had the word “HOPE” in large letters above a representation of a nativity scene. The reason we believe that the coming of Christ brings us hope today is because of what the angel told Joseph, the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:23) Many today wonder where God is as they look at the sin in the world around them and the effects of sin on a world God had originally made perfect. But God isn’t aloof. He actually entered our world and wasn’t born in a palace, but found his first cradle in a feeding trough, a manger. This brings us hope today–that God cares, that God has come, that he is active today, that he loves us today, and that his promises in the Bible are true. The meaning of the original Christmas story is that God came to earth as a human. He didn’t come as we would have expected. His first worshipers were a poor young couple, foreign kings, and stinky shepherds. But he came in a way that shows his care for those who are discouraged and marginalized and down-and-out. This gives us a hope that can’t be stolen.

You are loved. Whether or not you return the figures or even can at this point, I want to tell you that you are loved. We have been praying for you, and not with hatred. We have been praying that a heart that would hate Jesus this much or not be aware of what the Christmas story represents would be a heart that would be broken in order to be healed with the unconditional love of the Jesus you tried to steal. Jesus interacted with thieves. There was one on either side of him on the cross. One mocked him, but the other believed in him. And Jesus told him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) He has that kind of power, to forgive sins and give eternal life. Jesus didn’t come for people who had it all put together, but for people who realize they are sinners and need God himself to enter our world to rescue us. That is how deep his love is, a love we can receive if we will come to him.

You can’t steal the real Jesus. But through this, we are praying that he might steal your heart.

How Does Knowing Jesus Change How I Think About Sex?

An edited spin-off of this article was featured at The Gospel Coalition, entitled, “Embrace a Countercultural Vision of Sex.”

Knowing Jesus really does change everything. Not only does it mean that I know that I have a relationship with God, that my sins are forgiven, and that I will be in Heaven forever after I die–but knowing Jesus changes all of life now.

Knowing Jesus changes how I think about work, finances, friendship, parenting, marriage, and yes–also sex. You might even be able to say, “especially sex.”

For example, knowing Jesus changes how I think about work being for God’s glory, but some of the biblical principles that change how I work are also principles that are often still looked upon highly in society–working hard, for example, or providing for my family.

But the ways that knowing Jesus changes how I think about sex are not something that our culture usually agrees with–or even comes close to understanding. I think as believers, we have to be ok with that to a certain degree. After all, without knowing Jesus we would surely think about sex very differently than we do. Here are three ways that knowing Jesus radically changes how you and I think about sex.

“God knew what he was doing when he created sex and the parameters that would ultimately bring us joy and human flourishing.”

  1. Knowing Jesus shows me that sex is for only within biblical marriage.
    When I was in High School and heard the “locker room talk” from other guys around me, it was obvious that there was a huge difference in the way that the world generally thought about sex, and the way that followers of Jesus are called to think about sex. But I had no idea then the complexities that the current “sexual revolution” was bringing to the way that people would think about sex just two decades later. In my first week of Spanish class, I learned words like “food” and “homework.” In my son’s first week of Spanish class, he learned the word “bisexual” (yes, it is spelled the same in Spanish and English). Yet all societal changes aside, whether in the 90s or 2020s or the 60s or the time of the Roman Empire, knowing Jesus shows me that sex is for only within biblical marriage.

    No matter how much our cultural tides may come and go, God’s design for sex continues to be obeyed only within the committed monogamous covenant relationship of marriage between a man and a woman.

    The Apostle Paul saw this understanding of sex as so basic to knowing Jesus, he wrote an entire paragraph about it to the young church in Thessalonica: “…For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:2-8)

    God knew what he was doing when he created sex and the parameters that would ultimately bring us joy and human flourishing. He knew that sex is powerful like fire, and that it can bring great destruction like when a house burns down, or great warmth and joy like when a fire stays within a fireplace on a snowy night.

    It takes faith to really believe this today. But it doesn’t take a lot of analysis of the consequences of sexual sin to realize that the Creator knew exactly what he was doing when he loved us enough to give us the gift of sex, and loved us enough to give us the parameters for sex.

  2. Knowing Jesus shows me that my sexuality is a power to be used for my spouse’s benefit.
    Everybody knows that sex is powerful. Advertisers leverage this. Abusers take advantage of this. All sorts of people experiment with this. Christians, however, in obedience to God’s commands, use this power to benefit their spouse (1 Corinthians 7:1-5).

    Listen to the attitude that God says we are to have in all situations, including in the bedroom: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to this interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant.” (Philippians 2:3-7a)

    Applying Philippians 2 to your physical intimacy as a couple, would your spouse say:
    a) That you in bed, in humility count your spouse as more significant than yourself?
    b) That you in bed look not only to your own interests, but also to your spouse’s interests?
    c) That you in bed are a servant?

    Knowing Jesus means that Christians are called to a radically different sexual ethic than what the world constantly proclaims. Rather than using sex to take, we are to use sex to give. It is a power that God has entrusted to each husband or wife to use for the benefit of his or her spouse.

    This desire to please and serve the other through the gift of sex is one of a myriad of ways to apply Paul’s instructions to husbands to “love their wives as their own bodies.” (Ephesians 5:28) In other words, a married man and woman are to pursue their “one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31) union so much that they are thinking of ways they may leverage their sexuality to please their spouse.

    This means they will not be afraid to talk about sex with each other in a time, place, and manner that will help each other to become better lovers. One way this can be done is by asking, “What is something I could do for you in bed that would be a blessing to you?” Then listen, don’t assume. You may not often think of talking about sex with your spouse and then learning and growing through that as a way to glorify God, but it is.

    During sex, there is a powerful hormone called oxytocin that is released. Studies have shown that oxytocin is the “bonding chemical.” This is part of God’s good design.

    But as potent and important as this is, there is a spiritual bonding component of sex that goes even deeper. Right after God brought Eve to Adam, the Holy Spirit explains, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Yes, being one flesh is about more than sex, but it is not less than sex. In the very next verse we read, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25)

    God designed sex partly to bond you together–even chemically and spiritually–with your spouse in a deeper way than any other human relationship.

    You have a stewardship in your sexual relationship with your spouse. You probably don’t often think of standing before God and giving an account for looking out for the interests of your spouse in bed. But God says it matters, and that this kind of attitude and these kinds of actions glorify him (1 Corinthians 7:3).

  3. Knowing Jesus shows me that my sexuality is to be enjoyed as a good gift from a good God.
    I am so glad God created a world in which there is sex.

And I am so glad that God created me to enjoy sex with my wife, with God’s blessing and God’s joy.

Too often, we as Christians are uncomfortable saying things like this. But God is not uncomfortable saying these things. In the section of the Bible that we call wisdom literature, God says this: “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.” (Proverbs 5:18-20)

When God talks about sex within marriage, he doesn’t blush–he blesses.

Here is his blessing over the marriage bed: “Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!” (Song of Solomon 5:1b)

Imagine if you invented something so fantastic that you knew it would greatly encourage and bless the lives of those who used it according to your instructions. But because some people used it wrongly, even those who followed your directions and enjoyed it immensely refused to talk about it.

God invented something that would bond people who are in a covenant together, which also could bring new life into the world, all while giving you pleasure you can hardly imagine exists. We dishonor him when we are afraid to talk about enjoying this invention, or afraid to enjoy it at all. All of the glory for sex belongs to God! So give him glory for the gift of sex, with your spouse.

There is a spiritual aspect of sex that we too often ignore, at our own peril, because it amplifies our enjoyment of God’s good “wedding gift,” a gift that is intended by the Giver to keep on giving. The concept that is often used in the Bible to explain our covenant relationship with Christ is “union.” The only human relationship that was specifically designed to point to this union with Christ is the marriage relationship (Ephesians 5:28-32). And the marriage covenant celebration of sex not only points a husband and wife to their one-flesh union, but for the one who has eyes to see it, it also points to the union we enjoy with Christ. Even the bliss we can experience in sex points ahead to the bliss of the marriage supper of the Lamb.

For some of you reading this, you want to honor God with your sexuality. But you wonder if your past, or the current state of your marriage, disqualifies you from ever enjoying sex as a good gift from a good God. As I once heard Sam Allberry say, “Messes are Jesus’s specialty. You can’t over-mess him.” As Paul the Apostle said, “…but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…” (Romans 5:20b)

That “pit” your marriage is in right now? Jesus’s power and transforming love will meet you and your spouse right there if you look for him. His arm is not short to save–your soul, or your marriage. He makes all things new. And that includes your sex life.

The Lord Does Not Despise the Day of Small Things

This article originally appeared at Small Town Summits Articles. I serve as the Content Manager for STS Articles.

“Oh, that’s good that you’ll be in a small church for your first Lead Pastorate,” the well-meaning former church member commented. “It will be a great opportunity before God expands your ministry.” In the context of our conversation, the idea was that a small church would be a place of growth until God called me on to bigger and better things. They weren’t trying to be rude or demeaning, but the insinuation was that a small church in a small town was a good place for a pastor in his mid-thirties, so that God could use him in a bigger place when he was older and wiser and could handle more responsibility.

My friend did not seem to know that being a pastor of a small church means that you have to wear more hats and be more of a “Renaissance man” than you usually have to be in a larger church. I was going from an Associate Pastor role with five full-time or part-time support staff members who partly helped my ministry through administration, copying, scheduling or helping with e-mails, to being the only staff member. My first week in the new church office, my first week preparing and copying the bulletin on my own, my first week sending out the Children’s Church volunteer e-mail and checking the church post office box, my respect grew exponentially for all of the small-town pastors who have to broaden their skills and manage their schedules to handle a more diverse set of responsibilities. No matter how much you delegate, the rubber-meets-the-road reality of being a small-town pastor will sometimes mean that the joke I once heard is true: “Happy ‘Small-Church Pastor Day.’ Here’s a plunger.” 

Most days I don’t mind this reality, and today I am helped in some of those responsibilities by volunteers or part-time staff. But other days I need God’s help to see that not only does God not want me to despise the day of small things, but he does not despise it either.

This glorious reality became fresh to me again in a recent Men’s Bible Study through the minor prophets. We were studying Zechariah and we came to chapter 4. I was floored by this verse: “For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice…(Zechariah 4:10a)

Zechariah was a prophet to the nation of Israel during a difficult time. About 50,000 Israelites had returned from exile in Babylon to rebuild the country that had fallen into ruin for 70 years. But opposition from enemies and apathy from within God’s own people had caused the work to be abandoned for 16 years. When the foundation of the temple had been completed, the young men who had never seen it in its former glory rejoiced greatly, but the older men who remembered its prior greatness wept out loud. Now, years later, the faithful were hopeless, having seen God start to work but wondering if they would ever see the completion. And many of God’s chosen people were there in person but just didn’t seem to care in spirit.

God sent both Zechariah and Haggai to stir up his people. Part of their mission, like the mission of any faithful preacher today, was to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. God promised that what was started with the temple would be completed, even soon. What seemed impossible would happen because the Lord of all the earth would accomplish it: “Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.” (Zechariah 4:7-10)

What seemed impossible would happen because the Lord of hosts would accomplish it. Those who had despised the day of small things would rejoice. But here is the truth that you and I need to see, fellow small-town pastor or ministry leader: even though God promised that a day of rejoicing would come when the work on the temple would be accomplished, that temple was so much smaller than the temple during Solomon’s splendor. It would be a great work, but it would be a small work.

It would bring rejoicing even from those who had despised the small beginnings before, but it would still be small. And God was pleased with it.

God was saying in effect, “Don’t despise what I am pleased with.”

This call to both long for God to do great things and yet to be content with where God has our church and our work in our small places today can seem impossible sometimes. How can we both want revival more and yet need it less, as Small Town Summits co-founder Stephen Witmer calls us to?  

The secret is in Zechariah 4:6: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.”

Fellow laborers in small places, you have an even better word than Zechariah received because you are a minister of the New Covenant. You not only have the promise that God will accomplish his work in small places because of his Spirit’s work, you actually have the Holy Spirit living in you to bring you God’s power and strength and joy for each new day.

And if you have ever despised the day of small things, be still before the Lord and seek his heart for your small-place ministry. Hear him say to you, “Whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice.”

That rejoicing can begin today. God’s Spirit guarantees it.

Senior Adult, You Are Loved and Needed

This article was featured on The Gospel Coalition.

In our world that so often prizes and idolizes youth, it can be hard to sense that “Gray hair is a crown of glory” (Prov. 16:31). As I’ve talked over the years with those who are retired and beyond, I’ve noticed that many think they’ve lost their place in society and the church.

But God places no expiration date on serving him. There is no moment until our last breath that we aren’t to live our lives for his glory. Your church body needs you. We need the gifts and unique life experience of all generations. And there is something particularly helpful to your church family that points to God’s faithfulness when you continue to serve—even if the ways you serve may change across the years.

As Psalm 92:14–15 expresses it, “They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”

Sometimes you may not feel that your church wants you to serve. I will tell you, as a pastor in his early 40s, that you are loved and needed. We may not always be good at expressing this, but most of us want to grow in communicating our love for you and in helping you find ways to serve in the church body. What a blessing it has been to me when a senior has taken the initiative to ask me how to serve. Maybe it is time for you to take that initiative, or maybe you need encouragement to continue what you’re already doing.

Six Ways to Serve

I want to cheer you on with six ways you can serve your church. There are more, but I hope this will give you several ways to pray and consider. I hope they give you the boldness you may need to continue to serve God all your days.

1. Pray

The ways you can serve God through serving your church will change as you change across the years. You may need to change from serving in the music ministry to serving on the greeting team. You may find you don’t have the energy to teach the children’s class anymore, but you can still serve in the nursery.

But one thing that will never change is the gift of serving your church through prayer. I have often seen the gospel advance and then heard from a senior that she was praying. It doesn’t matter if you’re fresh out of retirement or homebound. You can make an eternal difference through prayer. Sometimes, contrary to all appearances, it’s a bent-over little old lady who makes the gates of hell tremble as Jesus uses her prayers to build his church.

2. Encourage and Love

Recently I listened with a smile and praised God as a lady in her 80s told me she was bringing soup to a man in our church who’s in a wheelchair and has been sick. Could you thank young moms for bringing their babies to church, as you remember how hard it was to attend church with a baby? Ladies, is there a single lady or a recent empty-nester you could call, asking her how you could pray for her? Men, is there a young man in the church you could talk to this Sunday about his job and family, asking how you could pray for him? Could you send a note to someone in the church body this week or visit someone in the hospital or someone who is lonely?

3. Be Present

Once I invited an elderly member of our congregation to come over for our coffee after the worship service. She held onto her walker in the foyer with both hands and said she would love to, but she has to go home immediately after worship because of her strength and health. That conversation has stuck with me. She hardly misses a Sunday, but her presence during the worship service is her sacrificial way to serve God and love others. Each Sunday I see her hugging someone in the congregation and shaking her head in agreement as I preach God’s Word. We need her. The day will come when we will need to go to her rather than her coming to us, but until then her ministry is to be present for one service a week. God sees that effort and is pleased. And he is using it to bless me and others.

4. Talk About God’s Faithfulness

“One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Ps. 145:4). We need to hear your stories of God’s provision, of him helping you through the loss of your child, of him saving the hard relative that you prayed for across years. We need to hear of your marriage struggles and triumphs, and of what God is teaching you right now through your cancer fight.

This may happen through a phone call or a note, through a comment in Bible study, or through a conversation after church. There are things God has taught you that only come through marinating in his Word for decades, experiencing some of the disappointments of life, and realizing that he is your greatest treasure and joy. Don’t hesitate to share with us what God has taught you. We need to hear it.

5. Look for Ways to Help

My grandmother, who is turning 90 this summer, goes into her church office weekly and folds the bulletin. This not only saves the office manager time, but my grandmother blesses her each week. (The office manager went out of her way to tell me this.) Our church has recently been helped by church members in their 70s who have used their knowledge of home repair and construction to do things from installing new light fixtures to overseeing a remodel on our sanctuary.

They’ve saved us thousands of dollars that we can devote to ministry and missions because they were willing to use daytime hours to help with a project when others were at work. Would you serve your church body by praying about how you could help, and then ask your pastor or ministry leaders if you could serve in specific ways?

6. Ask Us For Help

One of the ways that you can best serve us is sometimes in not meeting a need, but in allowing us to meet your need. I have found the body of Christ is resilient and responsive when needs are known, whether it is helping with meals during a sickness or giving a ride to the doctor or a Bible study, or helping with a needed home repair. One of the ways that seniors have blessed me the most as a pastor is by being open with me about what their needs are, giving others an opportunity to serve them. We are at our best when we look like the family of God that we are, and you can help us by letting us know if there’s a specific way we can serve you.

The enemy wants you to believe that you’re rejected and useless. But God speaks a better word over your life: “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you” (Isa. 46:4). Let’s believe this together.

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