This week my family celebrated our first year anniversary at the Antioch Baptist Church in Greencastle, IN; a congregation which I am privileged to pastor. Our arrival in late August of 2006 came on the heels of a difficult and painful time in Antioch's life. As is all too common in churches (especially Baptist churches) this congregation had splintered; not once but twice. One church split is a difficult problem with which to cope; two splits just doubles the pain.
Hurt feelings. Bitterness. Anger. Resentment. Loss of hope. All of these and more are understandable reactions to problems that had festered for some time but finally were played out in the Spring and early summer of '06.
Notice that I wrote "reactions", because that is the best classification of the above. Reactions are not what this church, or any church, needs during difficult days. Instead, we must be resolved to respond.
Respond to hurt feelings with a desire for reconciliation and spirit willing to forgive and/or admit wrongdoing. Respond to bitterness by confessing and forsaking sin – Proverbs 28:13. Then seek to love the one at whom your bitterness was directed.
Respond to anger by ensuring that you are angry at only that which makes God angry – Proverbs 6:16-19; Revelation 2:6, 15; cf. Ephesians 4:26.
The response to resentment is much like the response to bitterness: confess and forsake that sin by abolishing it. Resentment has no place in the heart of the Christian. You should have zero tolerance for resentment.
Respond to a seemingly hopeless situation by understanding that Christians have the hope market monopolized. Of all people Christians have no excuse for feeling hopeless, because our God is our hope!
Job was feeling hopeless when he cried out: "Where is my hope?" – Job 17:25. He correctly answered his own question in Job 19:25: "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth." ABC's hope is not the pastor, the people, the numbers, the offerings, or an influx of fresh new people. Our Hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness!
How then may we have hope? Hope is found in patience
– Romans 5:1-5. Consider these three statements:
It is no accident that you are where you are.
It is no accident that you are where you are now. Psalm 31:15; 139; Ecclesiastes 7:10
It is no accident that you are where you are now experiencing what you are.
Never underestimate the impact of your decisions, not just on the moment but also on the days ahead. Every decision you make will turn around and make you.
In light of the above statements we must first understand that waiting on Christ is a common experience for followers. Jesus wants His followers to learn to trust His promises in the midst of difficult days.
Second, when you are not sure what to do, then do what you know is right to do. You may spend hours on your knees in prayer and still not receive clear instruction. That does not mean God has gone deaf, or that He is ignoring you. Just continue to do what you know is right. How do you know what the right thing to do is? It's written down for you in a book – the Bible.
Third, always live in view of this fact: Christ is on the throne! He is sovereign. He is in control, working all things to the good for His people and to the glory of His great name. If you cannot find hope in that you will never find real hope anywhere!
Hope is found in patience.
Hope is found in scripture – Psalm 119:43, 74, 81, 114, 147.
Hope is found in service – Romans 15:1-5; 12-13.
Ask yourself, whether or not you are a member of my congregation: Are you responding to the disappointments and setbacks, or are you simply reacting?
Where is your church compared to this time last year? Where are you in your spiritual walk compared to this time last year?
Where is your focus? Are you focused on hurt feelings, bitterness, anger, resentment, and loss of hope? How will focusing on those issues/people make anything better? Answer: it has zero chance of helping.
Instead of focusing on the negative, and how everything is screwed up, focus on following Jesus. Drop the nets of hurt feelings, bitterness, anger, resentment, and loss of hope, etc., and be an empty-handed, full-hearted, completely engaged follower of Jesus Christ.
Instead of harboring hurts and hatred, engage one another and this community with a meek, humble spirit, desiring to see people reconciled to God and to each other.
Instead of a love that says, "I love you for what you do for me, or how you make me feel." Love others with a love that says, "I'm placing your needs above my own".
Difficult days are part of the human experience. Respond to them as a follower of Jesus.