“Autopsy of a Deceased Church” by Thom Rainer

I was their church consultant in 2003. The church’s peak attendance was 750 in 1975. By the time I got there the attendance had fallen to an average of 83. The large sanctuary seemed to swallow the relatively small crowd on Sunday morning.

The reality was that most of the members did not want me there. They were not about to pay a consultant to tell them what was wrong with their church. Only when a benevolent member offered to foot my entire bill did the congregation grudgingly agree to retain me.

I worked with the church for three weeks. The problems were obvious; the solutions were difficult.

On my last day, the benefactor walked me to my rental car. “What do you think, Thom?” he asked. He could see the uncertainty in my expression, so he clarified. “How long can our church survive?” I paused for a moment, and then offered the bad news. “I believe the church will close its doors in five years.”

I was wrong. The church closed just a few weeks ago. Like many dying churches, it held on to life tenaciously. This church lasted ten years after my terminal diagnosis.

My friend from the church called to tell me the news. I took no pleasure in discovering that not only was my diagnosis correct, I had mostly gotten right all the signs of the impending death of the church. Together my friend and I reviewed the past ten years. I think we were able to piece together a fairly accurate autopsy. Here are eleven things I learned.

  1. The church refused to look like the community. The community began a transition toward a lower socioeconomic class thirty years ago, but the church members had no desire to reach the new residents. The congregation thus became an island of middle-class members in a sea of lower-class residents.
  2. The church had no community-focused ministries.  This part of the autopsy may seem to be stating the obvious, but I wanted to be certain. My friend affirmed my suspicions. There was no attempt to reach the community.
  3. Members became more focused on memorials. Do not hear my statement as a criticism of memorials. Indeed, I recently funded a memorial in memory of my late grandson. The memorials at the church were chairs, tables, rooms, and other places where a neat plaque could be placed. The point is that the memorials became an obsession at the church. More and more emphasis was placed on the past.
  4. The percentage of the budget for members’ needs kept increasing. At the church’s death, the percentage was over 98 percent.
  5. There were no evangelistic emphases. When a church loses its passion to reach the lost, the congregation begins to die.
  6. The members had more and more arguments about what they wanted. As the church continued to decline toward death, the inward focus of the members turned caustic. Arguments were more frequent; business meetings became more acrimonious.
  7. With few exceptions, pastoral tenure grew shorter and shorter. The church had seven pastors in its final ten years. The last three pastors were bi-vocational. All of the seven pastors left discouraged.
  8. The church rarely prayed together. In its last eight years, the only time of corporate prayer was a three-minute period in the Sunday worship service. Prayers were always limited to members, their friends and families, and their physical needs.
  9. The church had no clarity as to why it existed. There was no vision, no mission, and no purpose.
  10. The members idolized another era. All of the active members were over the age of 67 the last six years of the church. And they all remembered fondly, to the point of idolatry, was the era of the 1970s. They saw their future to be returning to the past.
  11. The facilities continued to deteriorate. It wasn’t really a financial issue. Instead, the members failed to see the continuous deterioration of the church building. Simple stated, they no longer had “outsider eyes.”

Though this story is bleak and discouraging, we must learn from such examples. As many as 100,000 churches in America could be dying. Their time is short, perhaps less than ten years.

What do you think of the autopsy on this church? What can we do to reverse these trends?

Source: Thomrainer.com

“Real Leaders Apologize” by Thom Rainer

heart of a servant leaderFor some leaders, apologies seem to come reluctantly if they come at all. Perhaps a mea culpa seems like an indication of weakness. Perhaps the leader’s ego is too fragile to admit that he or she is wrong. Perhaps some leaders really don’t believe they are ever wrong.

There are certain facts upon which most of us can agree. First, all people make mistakes, including leaders. Second, some of those mistakes will rise to the level of needing an apology. Third, a sincere apology is usually received well.

Here are some miscellaneous notes I have gathered as I have observed apologies or lack of apologies by leaders:

  • Many apologies begin with “If I have offended anyone . . .” That is a non-apology apology. Leaders need not apologize if they don’t know whom they have offended. It’s a cop-out apology.
  • A good apology states the nature of the offense: “I was wrong when I said you are a jerk.” The apology does not sidestep the issue, but confronts it head-on.
  • One of the roles of good leaders is to build strong relationships. All leaders mess up relationally at times. The organization needs leaders who are willing to apologize not only to heal a relationship, but for the health of the organization.
  • Apologies defuse antagonism in the organization. Antagonism can seriously harm the health of the organization.
  • Apologies should be a part of a leader’s life on both a professional and personal level. It takes both humility and integrity to admit fault and to apologize for it. But most recipients of our apologies are grateful beyond measure that we are willing to do so, whether they or a co-worker, a spouse, or a friend.

Allow me to speak directly on this matter to fellow Christians. I recently spoke with a young man I befriended on a trip. He is not a Christian, but he is a seeker in the true sense of the word. He also seems to be very smart and informed. “Thom,” he began, “I read a lot of interactions among Christians online. I really am interested in learning from them.” He paused for a moment, and continued, “Why is it that you Christians fight so much? Why are you so antagonistic toward each other?”

My purpose in providing that true story is not to tell you how I responded. My greater purpose is to remind ourselves that the world is watching. We will certainly make mistakes and say things we regret. But we can always apologize. If we are wrong, we should always apologize.

Real leaders apologize.

Real Christian leaders apologize.

Source: Dr. Thom Rainer, President and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources

Every Pastor’s Job Description

Pastors Job DescriptionI absolutely love being a pastor and getting to studying God’s Word in preparation to share it with my church family each Sunday. There is a satisfaction beyond description from seeing someone move from casual attender, to consistent attender, to serving, to leading, and finally becoming a disciple-maker. Watching members grow in their faith and service often brings me to tears. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy and long to be around my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I once heard a wise statement about being a great pastor, “If you’re going to be a shepherd, you have to smell like the sheep.” A shepherd lived with, protected, fed, and led the sheep. They knew him, trusted him, and followed him without reservation. The pastor’s first responsibility is to be a shepherd to the people. Shepherding should be a task the pastor loves. If a pastor doesn’t like being with the people then you have to ask why is he a pastor to begin with.

This morning I read a great post by John MacArthur on “Every Pastor’s Job Description.” It was refreshing to hear such a great leader of a mega-church describe a pastor’s greatest responsibility.

MacArthur writes:

Many of my favorite people are pastors. I grew up the son of a pastor and the grandson of a pastor. And after more than four decades of my own pastoral ministry, and many years of training young men for their own, I think I have a good understanding of a pastor’s heart—both his joys and his struggles.

These days, my heart aches for pastors.

It aches because today their job is as difficult as it has ever been. We live in an anti-authority culture—one that has lost all respect for people in positions of authority and influence. The modern mindset is to tear down everybody and everything. It’s a destructive culture, driven by fierce pride and runaway self-esteem. It seems very few pastors are run out of their churches over bad sermons or ineffective ministry—usually, they’re run out by a person or a group contending for power and authority.

That difficulty is compounded by the intimidation of massive media ministries and celebrity preachers on TV, the Internet, and in flat-screen churches all over the country. Pastors today are told they need to embody an entrepreneurial spirit—that they need to grow their churches the way you would grow a business. They hear a lot about needing to impact the culture and engage the community, and they get all kinds of pragmatic advice on how to accomplish that. They’re told they need to reach beyond the church and revolutionize society. In fact, it seems much of the modern pastor’s work is supposed to take place outside the church.

That’s a discouraging, disheartening message for men who love the church and have given their lives in service to God’s people. It’s also unbiblical. Pastors have one job. They’re not called to be cultural evangelists, entrepreneurs, or revolutionaries. They’re called to faithfully feed the flock of God. They’re called to be shepherds.

Consider the apostle Peter’s instruction to church leaders in 1 Peter 5:1-2.

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness.

The solemn duty of every pastor is to feed God’s sheep. And as a pastor, the day you let your eyes move beyond the people sitting in your church is the day you’ve lost your purpose.

The focus of pastoral ministry is not the people outside the church, and it’s not drawing unbelievers to the church. The focus is on the people inside the church—the flock the Lord has sovereignly drawn together and entrusted into the care of a shepherd. The pastor has been set apart, as the apostle Paul put it, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13).

Pastors are not called to the culture, and we’re not called to the unconverted. We have been mandated to feed our flocks so they can grow spiritually. We’re called to serve the redeemed people of God as an agent of sanctification and protection. The measure of a man’s effectiveness in ministry is not the number of people in his congregation every week—it’s the Christlikeness of his congregation.

Source: Every Pastor’s Job Description

Insecurity–The Church Killer

challenged church, the_t_nvJesus said, “…everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more” (Luke 12.48b). Those who find themselves in a position of leadership have been given a great responsibility. We are to lead those entrusted to us toward attaining “the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4.13).

Our calling requires us to keep our heart and mind focused on Christ’s leadership. Being a leader is never easy; however, when we are rightly focused the burden of leadership seems light. Dealing with those who are argumentative, stubborn, or people who just don’t like us can be difficult. Yet, they are not the greatest hinderance to leadership success. When we allow our insecurities to start controlling us we put ourselves and the church we lead in dire circumstances.

In Ronnie Floyd’s post “Pastors and Church Leaders: Will Your Insecurity Problem Hurt Your Church” we are given a few signs of insecurity, the solution for each, as well as the ultimate reason for not being insecure.

Floyd writes:

One of the major challenges that prevent many churches from being focused on their mission can be summarized in one word: insecurity. It eliminates opportunities for evangelism, planting churches, ministry expansion, and making disciples because it creates conflict in the church. I have even seen insecurity ruin ministries.

A Testimony: I will never forget talking with a leader who served with his Pastor for decades in one of the strongest ministries in America. I asked him about the challenges of adjusting from leading church staff leaders from people in the world. He remarked, “I have found that ministers are the most insecure people I have ever met in my life.”

Since insecurity can hurt ministers, churches, and ministries, we need to consider ways to overcome this problem. Here are some helpful tips for identifying the signs of and solutions to insecurity.

Signs of Insecurity

  • Competitiveness – One of the biggest problems insecurity carries with it is overt competition. Churches try to “out-do” one another. Pastors find themselves competing with other pastors. This competitiveness results occurs because of insecurity and further results in jealousy and a critical spirit.
    • Solution: Remember that as a Christ-follower your only competition is the world, the flesh, and the devil; not other pastors or churches. Remember who you are in Christ and abide in this spiritual reality.
  • Combativeness – I have seen many pastors or other church leaders ruin their ministry by the incessant need to have their way all the time. God has not called ministers to always “be right”, but to “be godly.” In my book, “Ten Things Every Minister Needs to Know” I talk about this issue in detail. I am convinced we can do the right thing in the wrong way. We need to operate with the Spirit of Christ at all times.
    • Solution: Recognize that not every hill is worth dying on. Sometimes the best, most Christ-like way is to humble yourself and see that the best idea is not always your own. Listen to others. Learn from others. Learn from your own mistakes. Do not let a word, a sentence, or a spirit take away from your main message. Your goal is always be like Christ, not to always be right in the eyes of others or even in your own eyes. 
  • Complaining – Some of the whiniest people I know are ministers. It also happens that pastors are some of the most insecure people I know. The two often go together. Complaining is a serious obstacle for many ministers of the Gospel. How can we expect others to be attracted to our message and our leadership if we are complainers? This does not magnetize people to the message but it distracts them from the message.
    • Solution: Return to the reason you are in ministry. Church leadership roles are often very hard. When all the bad stuff starts coming your way instead of complaining about it keep your heart in the Word of God and keep your eyes on Jesus and the lost-ness of the world. Most of all, return to your call from God to go into the ministry . . . this is why you are doing what you are doing.

What We Do Not Have Time For

We don’t have time to play games and be insecure. We are not competing against the pastor across town. We are not competing against a church across America. While every church is called to make disciples of all the nations, we have to carry out this commission in the different contexts God has called us to serve. We are not entitled to getting everything our way because we’re in a church leadership role.

Insecure Pastors and Churches

Insecure pastors create insecure churches. Insecure churches are ineffective churches. Competitiveness, combativeness, and complaining do not have a place in the church of Jesus Christ, especially in the life of a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So let’s set aside the competitiveness, combativeness, and complaining and focus on taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world and making disciples of all nations.

Why There Is No Need To Be Insecure

Our Lord’s command to go and make disciples is prefaced by the statement, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” and is followed by “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:18, 20). Because we live in and with the authority of the Great Commission there is no need for insecurity. This is why there is no need to be insecure . . . The Lord is with you always!

Daily, I pray for the authority of the Great Commission to operate within and through my life as a leader. Knowing that the One who has all authority is with us, we can face anything in life and ministry.

If you suffer from various forms of insecurity, I would encourage you to pick up Timothy Keller’s book “The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy.”

Improving Your Leadership

heart of a servant leaderAny leader who really cares about accomplishing great things will examine their methods to make sure they are still effective. There are particular behaviors which should be found in every leader. These behaviors help insure that a leader will continue progressing from good to great. As we discipline ourselves in the practice of self-examination we will be setting an example for those we lead. Eventually they will follow our example and begin progressing from good to great. However, leaders who do not apply or practice these behavior will set themselves on a downward spiral until they become nothing but a bad leader.

This morning I read “From Bad to Good” by Sam Rainer. Sam lists a few of the behaviors that help leaders keep moving forward and prevent their leadership skills from deteriorating.

Rainer writes:

Leadership literature is chock-full of ways in which an average leader can become great. We all believe we’re good. Greatness is just a book, a conference, or a degree away. Indeed, I believe run-of-the-mill leaders can become better with training. A desire to learn, self-awareness, and a solid work ethic go a long way.

Some leaders, however, are just bad. They don’t lead well. Poor decisions are normative.

I believe most pastors want to lead their congregations in a way honoring to God. I believe most pastors care about their flocks. And God uses different types of leaders in different contexts. A rural setting, for example, requires a different type of leader than an urban setting. One is not superior over the other simply because of contextual expertise. But not all leaders—or shepherds for that matter—are great. And some pastors are poor examples of leadership, even if they really do care.

Years of practice entrench bad habits.

At some point, enough imbedded weaknesses transform an otherwise mediocre leader into a bad leader. Sometimes bad leadership is caused by context or position. The church leader is a poor match for the church, ministry focus, or setting. What makes a good senior pastor does not make a good middle school pastor. What makes a good worship pastor does not make a good children’s pastor. While environment and position influence bad leadership, not every case of poor leadership can be blamed on a mismatch. Some leaders are just outliers on the wrong side of the bell curve.

There are two types of bad leaders: the inept and the unethical.

Prominent malicious leaders tend to make the news. Unfortunately, scandals and scoundrels abound. But another category of bad leaders involves those who do not intentionally lead people astray. They are not malicious, just incapable. I’ve written previously on what makes a pastor a bad boss. These leaders desire to make ethical decisions, but they are oblivious as to how their decisions affect others. They shoot from the hip and trigger collateral damage.

The focus of this post is improving the ineffective rather than redeeming the unethical. What are some ways in which bad leaders can become better? A recent study sheds light on behaviors helping a leader transition from bad to good.

  • They shared their knowledge. One of the main drivers of poor leadership is poor interpersonal skills. Many people get promoted because of their expertise in a specific area, but leadership is more than technical knowledge. Bad leaders are stingy with knowledge. Bad pastors can guard theological and methodological black boxes. Good leaders use their knowledge to develop others.
  • They raised the bar of expectations. Expecting little of your church or staff is usually a reflection of low personal expectations. Raise the bar of personal expectations and improvements are bound to occur in the people around you.
  • They shifted from a discouraging posture to an encouraging posture. Bad church leaders become better when they stop focusing on why something can’t be done and rather focus on how something can be done.
  • They worked at becoming proactive change agents instead of reactive change agents. If all you do is put out fires, then you’re not seeing the forest for the trees. Little flare-ups always exist. Bad leaders reactively move from one to the next. Good leaders proactively discern the dangerous fires with the potential to affect everyone.
  • They began to encourage cooperation rather than competition. Bad leaders divide people, creating opposing camps. Bad pastors use theological nuances as a wedge. Bad church leaders pit style preferences of one group against another. Good church leaders are bridge builders, demonstrating how different people can cooperate rather than compete.

Bad church leaders fail in many areas, but average leaders have weaknesses in specific areas.

Good, bad, or ugly—we can all improve our leadership. And the best pastors recognize continual improvement is the only option for leadership. While only a work of God can redeem unethical pastors, I believe every incompetent pastor can become a good leader. Bad leaders are not locked into poor decisions. Greatness is a noble goal, but good is an achievable step.

Sam S. Rainer is the senior pastor of Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN, and president of Rainer Research. He blogs regularly at SamRainer.wordpress.com.

Is Your Church Happy?

i love my churchThis morning Thom Rainer posted “Nine Characteristics of Happy Churches.” It is a wonderful blessing to pastor a loving and happy church. When we gather together as a body of believers we should have fun. Worshipping, serving, singing, teaching, listening, caring, sharing, or any other “ing” you can come up with should be a joyous occasion.

The nine characteristics Thom Rainer listed below can be found in any church where all the people work together as one body.

  • The pastor was a strong leader, but not an autocratic leader. He was able to maintain that healthy balance of providing clarity of vision without imposing his will on every decision.
  • The pastor regularly demonstrated and affirmed love for the congregation. In both his actions and his words, the pastor communicated clearly that he loved the members of the church. And he loved them regardless of their apparent feelings toward him, though most of the members genuinely loved the pastor as well.
  • The pastor regularly demonstrated and affirmed love for the community where the church was located. Though he could not be omnipresent, the pastor made it a point to be involved in many of the affairs of the community. He genuinely loved people in the community and viewed the entire area as his mission field.
  • The ministry staff liked each other, and they worked well together. If there are tensions among the staff, they cannot be hidden from the congregation. But if the staff is unified and banter in fun with one another, the members feed off that joy and unity.
  • A high proportion of the membership was actively involved in ministry. When church members are doing the work of ministry, they have a sense of fulfillment and joy. When they aren’t, they often have extra time on their hands to be divisive.
  • Business meetings were brief and friendly. These meetings were rarely a time of infighting and complaining. To the contrary, most of the members were too busy doing ministry to be negative (see #5).
  • A high proportion of the members were in a small group or Sunday school class. Community grew in these small groups. People who are true members of a community tend to be happier people.
  • The pastor’s time in the Word was protected. It is easy for a pastor to yield his time in the Word for the tyranny of the urgent. Thus he becomes frustrated, as he has to rush to complete a sermon, or as he does not have sufficient time to do the sermon well. The members likewise become frustrated because they don’t feel like the pastor is feeding them. A happy church makes certain that the pastor has adequate time every week to be in the Word.
  • The pastor had a small informal or formal group to whom he was accountable. This group includes those members who clearly love the pastor. They offer both encouragement and accountability for him. The interchange between this group and the pastor is frank, transparent and, overall, healthy. And all communications take place on an unmistakable foundation of love.

How do these nine characteristics compare to your church? What would you add? Which of the nine “jumped out” at you the most?

Please leave a reply, I would love to hear your thoughts.

“Why Doesn’t God Do More to Restrain Evil and Suffering?” Part 2 by Randy Alcorn

If God is GoodSevere suffering seems unacceptable to us precisely because we are unaccustomed to it.

Susanna Wesley had nineteen children; nine of them died before they reached the age of two. Puritan Cotton Mather had fifteen children and outlived all but two. Ironically, the problem of evil and suffering seems worse to us who live in affluent cultures precisely because we face less of it than many people have throughout history.

I heard an exasperated woman at a restaurant table loudly proclaim that her Porsche had to be taken in for repairs and now she had to drive her Audi. In contrast I have met devout Christians in Africa and Southeast Asia who have endured famine, genocide, and persecution, yet smile genuinely as they affirm God’s goodness and grace.

C. S. Lewis wrote,

Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it is a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic. [1]

People who ask why God allowed their house to burn down likely never thanked God for not letting their house burn down the previous ten thousand days of their lives. Why does God get blame when it burns, but no credit when it doesn’t? Many pastors and church members have experienced church splits, feeling the agony of betrayal and disillusionment. But where were the prayers of gratitude back when the church was unified? Our suffering seems extreme in the present only because God has graciously minimized many of our past sufferings.

Dorothy Sayers wrote,

“Why doesn’t God smite this dictator dead?” is a question a little remote from us. Why, madam, did he not strike you dumb and imbecile before you uttered that baseless and unkind slander the day before yesterday? Or me, before I behaved with such a cruel lack of consideration to that well-meaning friend? And why sir, did he not cause your hand to rot off at the wrist before you signed your name to that dirty bit of financial trickery? You did not quite mean that? But why not? Your misdeeds and mine are none the less repellent because our opportunities for doing damage are less spectacular than those of some other people. Do you suggest that your doings and mine are too trivial for God to bother about? That cuts both ways; for in that case, it would make precious little difference to his creation if he wiped us both out tomorrow. [2]

Our birthright does not include pain-free living. Only those who understand that this world languishes under a curse will marvel at its beauties despite that curse. C. S. Lewis’s final article, published after his death, carried the title “We Have No Right to Happiness.” Believing that we do have such a right sets us up for bitterness.

Fallen beings could not survive in a perfectly just world where God punished evil immediately.

What if every time I gave a hundred dollars to feed the hungry, two hundred dollars appeared in my wallet? Or when I spoke a kind word to a weary supermarket checker, I received a Starbucks gift card?

Suppose that every time a man yelled at a child or looked at a woman lustfully, a painful shock jolted his frontal lobe? Or when he lied, he got an instant toothache or was struck dead by lightning?

If we think we want all evil judged now, we’re not thinking clearly.

Were such rewards and punishments built into our lives, the world would cer­tainly be more just—but at what cost? We would base our obedience on instant payoffs or the avoidance of instant pain, not on loving God. Our behavior might improve, but our hearts wouldn’t. Faith would fade, because faith means trusting God to eventually make right what is now wrong.

Do you believe the world would be a better place if people immediately paid the just penalty for every sin? In God’s sight, every evil is a capital crime (see Romans 6:23). The woman who tells a “little white lie,” the teenager who shoplifts, the greedy man, the gossiper, all would instantly die. D. A. Carson writes, “Do you really want nothing but totally effective, instantaneous justice? Then go to hell.” [3]

God restrains suffering through our limited life spans—people don’t endure eons, millennia, or centuries of suffering, but only decades, years, months, weeks, days, and hours.

Take the total number of years you believe human life has existed. Now, ask yourself what portion of that time any one human being has suffered.

Suppose God permitted evil and suffering, yet limited them to one ghastly year of human history. Would we consider that duration of evil and suffering acceptable? What about one month? If someone could prove that we would become greater and happier beings for all eternity as a result, would you think it right for God to allow ten seconds of intense suffering? Likely you would.

Once we make that admission, do you see where it puts us? If we could justify ten seconds, then why not ten hours, ten days, or ten years? And in eternity, as we look back, how much longer will ninety years seem than ninety minutes?

Who holds the record for suffering among all human beings alive today? As I write, the oldest person in the world is 114 years old. She hasn’t suffered her whole life. But suppose she suffered significantly for a century. Most people, obviously, will endure much less. Some suffer severely for five days, weeks, months, or years; some, perhaps, for fifty years. However, no one in this world suffers for 10,000, 1,000, or even 130 years.

To say God takes too long to bring final judgment on evil and suffering imposes an artificial timetable on someone time cannot contain. God’s Son entered time in his incarnation. Though he understands our impatience, he won’t yield to it—and one day we’ll be grateful that he didn’t.

God allows substantial evil and suffering because he values our sense of neediness and trust as we turn to him for his grace.

Each year before Christmas we look forward to our church choir singing “Send the Messiah.” The haunting lyrics and powerful presentation resonate within us:

The cry of generations echoes in the heart of heaven….

I need a Savior who will walk the earth down here with me…. Send the Messiah, I need his love to own me. [4]

God sent the Messiah once, but he will send him again to deliver us. Paul, likely within months of his death, said God will grant a special eternal reward “to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). What makes us long for our Lord? Isn’t much of it because of the evil and suffering we face in this life?

Thankfully, while the Messiah may not return to Earth as soon as we’d like, he promises, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). So while we long for and pray for God to send the Messiah to bring an end to this age of evil and suffering, we need not wait until then to enter his presence.

In light of the work done by Christ, our sympathetic high priest, we’re told, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Until God sends the Messiah to rescue this world, or he rescues us through our deaths, may we approach his throne confidently, seeking his fellowship, comfort, mercy, and grace in our time of need… today, this very hour.

This is an excerpt from If God is Good, by Randy Alcorn.

Sources

From: Eternal Perspective Ministries

[1] C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 52.

[2] Dorothy L. Sayers, “The Triumph of Easter,” in Creed or Chaos (London: Methuen, 1954).

[3] D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 161.

[4] Daniel Perrin, “Send the Messiah,” https://www.cedarpark.org/resources/media/ html.php?id=60.