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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While God’s foundation is righteousness and justice, he longs for people to repent. In God’s compassion he offers a way for our sins to be removed. God doesn’t wish harm on people who sin, but neither will he tolerate continual unrepentant sin. Isaiah preached during a time of great unrest. The people were wicked. They were oppressive. Poverty was rampant and disease was common.
As we noted last week, Isaiah preached hope into the hearts of the few righteous people. God longs for people to come back to him. God calls us to love and bless our neighbors. In Isaiah 55, Isaiah speaks of God’s compassion for those who turn back to him. “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7 ESV).
This is great news for people who are still alive. It’s not too late to turn back to God. In his compassion, he extends pardon because of his mercy. It’s perfectly fine to warn people who do not repent. And it’s also good to share God’s compassion with those who turn back to God. This is not about people turning to God for their own sake, but for the blessing of others. Our wold can and should be a kinder place. It should be a place of peace where people feel safe to walk the streets.
As Isaiah says, “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12).
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Wisdom comes from God. If it didn’t our wisdom would come from what we believe to be right in our own eyes. But wisdom from above produces good works, is gentle, patient, and honest. James 3:13 says, “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in meekness of wisdom.”
The opposite of this is jealousy, selfishness, and dishonesty. James continues, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:14, 15). James says that these earthly passions lead to disorder and every vile practice.
Instead, James calls his listeners to seek Godly wisdom. James tells them that a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. This is the kind of wisdom that we all need to seek.
There is so much discord in churches all over the world because of jealousy, selfishness, and dishonesty. If there is ongoing inner turmoil, rest assured that decisions are not being guided by Godly wisdom. Peace and righteousness are true markers of wisdom from above.
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