Yesterday Thom Rainer published a blog titled Six Reasons Your Pastor Is About to Quit. As a preacher, the title caught my attention. Thom Rainer has been gathering statistics and has consulted with churches for decades and is one of the most respected statisticians on church trends. In the article, Thom says, “The vast majority of pastors with whom our team communicates are saying they are considering quitting their churches. It’s a trend I have not seen in my lifetime.” This ought to make us pay close attention. This is happening right now, at unprecedented rates.
As I read the reasons why these ministers are considering quitting, it became abundantly clear that their churches are incredibly on edge, worried, and angry. The assumption from church members is that their preachers are sitting around enjoying a vacation while the rest of the country suffers. Additionally, churches are dividing over what rules to follow to keep members physically safe. Ironically, while they divide over how to keep physically safe, there is a rapid spiritual decline. Christians are shouting, pointing fingers, and acting ugly. This is in stark contrast of what the Bible clearly teaches.
Romans 12 is one of my favorite chapters in the New Testament. I spent two years preaching themes from Romans 12. Paul is blunt and uses clear directives: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9 ESV). Compare that to the way many Christians are attacking one another. Romans 12 is pregnant with references to how we should position ourselves towards one another: “Outdo one another in showing honor, contribute to the needs of the saints, live in harmony with one another, never be wise in your own sight, do what is honorable in the sight of others, live peaceably with all, never avenge yourselves” (Romans 12:13-19).
Now is the best time for Christians to turn this around. We can either complain about the evil and problems, or we can do something about it. For Paul, there is no question what he is asking of the Roman church: “Do not be overcome evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
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When Jesus sent out the Twelve, he “gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:1, 2 ESV). This was no small feat for a group of fishermen, tax collectors, and otherwise ordinary people. Jesus could have sent them out to do just about anything, but he specifically sent them to heal diseases, cast out demons, and proclaim the kingdom of God.
Their mission to do this was Jesus’ mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18, 19). Jesus’ charge to his disciples did not arrive out of a vacuum. Rather, it was rooted in his own mission.
Like Jesus himself, he called his disciples to leave everything and rely completely upon God. They were commanded to not take anything extra with them. They were to rely on the goodwill of people. In doing so, they completely put their faith in God. God provides. God is the great healer. God calls his people to help other people, to feed, heal, and free others. This is why the crowds were always pressing in against Jesus. They were desperate for someone to heal them.
Jesus is no different today. There will always be oppression, hunger, and disease. And it’s up to us to care for one another. This is exactly in step with who Jesus is. His mission is our mission.
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When Paul and the other prisoners were shipwrecked on the island of Malta, the islanders showed unusual kindness to them. They built a fire, welcomed them, and entertained them. Luke says that “they also honored us greatly, and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed” (Acts 28:10 ESV).
A few things about this story are intriguing. After a horrifying ship wreck, the prisoners managed to make it to the island unharmed. There were guards, so the islanders had to have known that this big group of stranded people were prisoners. But they treated them with unusual kindness. And that kindness was reciprocated.
These were pagan people who first thought Paul was a god then later thought he was a god. Paul healed a man named Publius’ father, who lay sick. Then the rest of the people on the island who were sick came and were healed.
So often Christians have a misconception that unbelievers are evil, corrupt, immoral, and so on. But this is a good reminder that there are a lot of kind people out there and that, as Christians, we should treat them with kindness like we should with each other. God blessed the Christians, prisoners, and islanders for those days that they spent on the island. We need to remember that God is the same today. He blesses our conversations and relationships with everyone. We should do good to everyone.
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