“Jesus saved me.”
“God is with you.”
“You must be born again.”
“God loves you.”
“Jesus died on the cross for your sins.”
These sentences contain massive truths. When we read them, they leave us simultaneously giving an affirmative “yes!” (or maybe just a nod) – while wishing, somehow, for someone to say it in a different way. Not because we think that particular truth is lame or going out-of-style, but actually because of the opposite. We want to see these truths for what they really are. We know each truth is glorious and pregnant with gospel-centered implications for our lives. But its massiveness is getting seemingly downsized; its clarity, clouded… by familiarity.
C.S. Lewis wrote about this idea, saying that the familiarity of many Christian truths often robs them of their “real potency.” This is why Lewis wrote fantasy stories – because he wanted to cast common ideas of Christianity in an unfamiliar light, thus sneaking past, what he called, the “watchful dragons” of the mind.
These same watchful dragons often paralyze us from seeing glorious, gospel-soaked truths about Jesus Christ. But sometimes God, in His sovereign kindness, grants us with blind-raising moments, allowing us to gaze into His character with a fresh light. Sometimes God sneaks past even the most watchful of dragons, bringing to our hearts and minds a fresh platter of the savory truth of Himself.
This happened to me – one evening a few weeks ago.
I had heard about the doctrine of union with Christ for years. I could have pointed you to John 15 to talk about how we are one with Christ. I could have likely even told you that Jesus wraps us up within Himself – so much so that when God sees us, He sees the perfect obedience of Christ. But that night something changed.
I often lift up to God a sleepy prayer, as I open the Scriptures in the morning: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). Friends, he hears our sleepy prayers.
One excerpt I read that night was by Michael Reeves. As he puts it, Christ looks at His Church and says, “All that I am I give to you. All that I have I share with you. And so gives to her the status of royalty and all that is his. And she turns to him and says: All that I am I give to you. All that I have I share with you. And so the poor sinner shares with King Jesus all her sin, all her death, all her damnation.”
ALL that He is! For ALL that we are! How incredible that the God of the universe would unite Himself with a wretch like me – a union through which everything Christ has done is given to me. And the Father looks at me now – right now, and sees all that Christ has done as credited to me. I’m no longer His enemy, but the apple of his eye, because I’m in Christ!
This truth went from commonplace to captivating, from familiar to fascinating. Old truth felt like new truth. That night I wasn’t reaching for coffee, but reaching for words. Words to describe to newfound beauty of my Jesus.
Below are a few words I wrote that night.
My, my, my, what can I say,
My protons got rearranged today,
I’m grasping for words, and gasping for air,
How kind of Him to answer my prayer
That He would open my eyes to behold Christ more,
And more and more and more and more,
He has raised the blinds for me to see,
The amazing truth – in He is me.
These two words now so clearly summarize,
My comfort, my confidence, my position, my prize.
IN CHRIST! Wow! The joy is hard to contain,
That in Him, future realities are true today.
A personal relationship, is what they always said,
I guess the repetition made me dead,
To the matchless, marvelous, mystery,
The simple truth – in He is me
But at last! This simple truth, I’m coming to know,
Holy Spirit – 1, watchful dragons – 0,
It seems that all I can do now is sing!
About this new facet in the diamond of our beautiful king,
How can it be, that Christ with me,
United together since eternity,
Literally giddy as I read,
The glorious truth – in He is me.
My prayer for us, Church, is that God would so kindly grace us with 10,000 blind-raising moments in our lives, pulling back the curtain of familiarity and showing us more and more of His beauty found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And Christian, I pray that you would see, too –
that in He is you.
Matt Neidig is a first-year pastoral resident at Emmaus from Round Rock, TX. He graduated from Baylor University and is pursuing his MDiv at Midwestern Seminary, hoping to pastor a local church in the future.
If a man were to come to me today and tell me he was being called to be a church planter, I would want him to affirm that. First, I’d ask him to share with me the story of his salvation and church planting call. Second, I’d ask who in his life affirms that call, particularly giving consideration to his wife’s thoughts. Third, I’d investigate his life and ministerial experiences along with his theological and pastoral training. Fourth, I’d encourage him to begin a church planter assessment process with a recommended denomination or organization.
The problem is that I did not follow this pattern of recommendation myself. Sure, I can articulate my salvation and a call to plant a church. I can give a list of people, including my wife, who affirm those callings. I even had a pretty solid resume of ministerial, life, and training experience. But I never went through assessment, and I’m two years into our second church plant.
Our first plant was a success. Sure, there are dozens of things I would have changed about how I planted it and what we did. My journals are full of those lists. But it was a great success. We saw hundreds of people saved, we grew well, we planted two other Missouri churches from it (both still growing and thriving), and we planted many international churches in India and West Africa. Four years into that plant we followed a strong and undeniable call to move to Kansas City and plant another church. Along with this calling came a position at Midwestern Seminary to help train and equip church planters. We are now two years into this second church plant and are seeing nearly 200 in worship each week, dozens of lives completely flipped upside-down by the gospel, men trained to be pastors through our residency, and a third year ahead of us that our pastors believe is going to be unbelievable through God’s grace.
Still, I had never been assessed as a church planter. Why would I at this point? What would an assessment team tell me two years in to my second “successful” church plant? If by some chance they said, “Sorry, we don’t think you are called to be a church planter,” would I just quit my church? Of course not. So why go through assessment now?
The answer is simple: to learn. This is why I began the process of a church planting assessment in the fall of 2016. I wanted to learn. I can’t lie, monetary benefits of being a North American Mission Board (NAMB) church plant are extremely beneficial as well, but I also began another assessment process (A29) that doesn’t offer any financial benefit. Why? Because I want to learn.
There is something freeing when you humble yourself and place yourself before a group of people to say, “We see this area that needs worked on.” In December 2016 I completed my NAMB Church Planting Assessment. There were aspects about the whole process, especially the pre-assessment paper work, that were incredibly mundane to me, considering the experience of planting that I already had. However, it was also one of the best experiences I’ve ever walked through. My wife and I left the assessment weekend feeling challenged, encouraged, and loved. We left that weekend with glaring deficiencies being pointed out to us by the Spirit and by others that we need to prayerfully address. We left that weekend with hopes and dreams planted in our hearts and bursting forth in life that we had not yet imagined. We left that weekend being strengthened in our marriage, in our calling (specifically to Kansas City and Emmaus Church), and in our giftings. It was a great experience.
Perhaps you are not someone who is considering church planting. Perhaps you aren’t even someone who is considering pastoral ministry of any kind. You may be called to be a school teacher, a postal worker, a stay at home mom, or work in real-estate. How does this apply to you? Keep learning. Humble yourself, place yourself under those who are wiser, more experienced, and even simply a peer, and give them permission to teach you, to point out areas that need strengthened, and to encourage you in areas you are flourishing. Be a humble, lifelong learner.
If you are someone who is considering pastoral ministry, or specifically church planting, my advice would be the same, humble yourself. Place yourself under the elders of a gospel-loving church to examine you, teach you, and walk with you. Seek their affirmation of our calling. Then, depending upon your desired ministerial setting, consider education and assessment of some sorts for further development.
I am praying for you as we each seek to be lifelong, humble learners.
Joshua Hedger is the Pastor of Preaching & Vision at Emmaus Church. He is married to Tish, and they have an adopted teen daughter and a biological toddler son. Joshua has served in several other ministry roles including Director of Church Planting at Midwestern Seminary, planting another church, a youth pastor and as a missionary in West Africa.
Listen to the sermon from last Sunday on iTunes or on our website.
As I passed by each store, I saw white teeth smiling at me in frozen cheer from every window advertisement and I felt tired. I felt like I didn’t have it me. My heart and the world felt wretched and desperate with sin, and I could feel myself recoil from the happy product of Christmas.
In the Holy Spirit’s compassion and faithfulness, I heard a voice whisper, “Christmas is for you. Christmas is for the weary. The hope of Christmas is for the wretched and the desperate.”
The Bible tells us that Zechariah had doubted the Lord’s promises and was struck temporarily mute as a result. When the Lord restored his voice he broke out into prophesy about his son, John, the one who would prepare the way for the one who was bringing salvation.
“. . . because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Christ the Redeemer was born to save the wretched and the desperate, the thief and the liar.
His birth dawned like a sunrise over a darkened world. He is the sunrise that pierced the darkness of the shadow of death.
This is Christmas. Do not let your doubt or weariness temporarily mute your worship.
Christmas is for you, weary Christian.
It’s for the parts of us that still feel the chill of the shadow of death.
May Christmas be our sacred reminder of God’s tender mercy that sent his Son from on high to give light to all who sit in darkness. Christ has come and his mercies rise with the sun each day to guide our blistered feet into the way of peace.
May each day’s sunrise remind you of the coming day when,
“No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need not light, lamp, or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
And may it remind you of the coming day when,
“The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.
Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended.”
So don’t wander to the false fluorescents of our cultures happy Christmas product.
You are craving the Life that is the light of men.
Turn your face to the light that shines in the darkness, for the darkness has not overcome Him.
Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee
Lyrics Robert Robinson
Tish is one of the counselors at Emmaus Counseling. She is married to Joshua and they have 2 children. Having grown up in a broken family, with addict parents, and an unstable home-life, Tish has experienced pain both of her own decisions and from the decisions of others. She has experienced the life-giving wholeness that comes through a combination of hope in Jesus and high-quality clinical counseling. It is her desire to help others find wholeness as well.
I recently read “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and I think it may have become my favorite book on the topic of Christian community. In his book, Bonhoeffer says something that I haven’t been able to escape since I read it.
“Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself with belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker that the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure. And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.”
“Sometimes I need to borrow someone’s faith,” a friend recently told me, and honestly, that statement struck me and I was instantly drawn back to Bonhoeffer’s words.
I began to think, “What if we actually lived in community honestly and openly?” Yes, I realize we say that all time.
“Be transparent and vulnerable in community,” we say.
But, what if we actually did it? What if our Community Groups were a place to be completely known and completely loved? What if we viewed community as a gift of grace, meant to draw us closer to Jesus? I think even in trying to create a culture of “being real” with each other, our natural tendency is to hide. We’re calculated in what we’ll share in an attempt to not come across as completely undone. However, the gospel gives us grace enough to press into each and actually be undone.
Here’s reality: life is hard! Yet, God has so gifted us with a means to remind each other of the gospel in Christian community.
We’re needy people and we often forget the truths of the gospel. Life happens, I get it. A person you love, or maybe even you get a diagnosis that knocks your off your feet, or you struggle to connect with a lost family member or neighbor. You hate your job, or your kids drive you crazy. You’re drowning in sin and you just want someone to know, but you’re scared of being seen as a monster or even worse, a fraud. Your marriage is seriously hard work, or maybe you’re going through a break-up and you’re heartbroken. You’re struggling to make ends meet.
We often find ourselves in seasons of life that we hate. What if our Community Groups were a place to let those things be known, and be met with overwhelming grace? A place where our brother helps us remember the gospel? What if we started living as though we actually need each other? We need our brothers and sisters to be beacons of the gospel reminding our confused minds and frustrated hearts of the grace of Jesus. We need to be reminded that we have a good and steady savior who is for us and He is working all things together for His glory and our good. (Romans 8:28)
We’ve got to get over the idea that our brother’s struggles are a burden and inconvenience to us.
The more we see community as a gift that we do not deserve, the more precious we will see our time together. We’ll be quicker to bear our brother’s burdens. Let us be quick to point each other to the gospel. It’s a gift that we even have someone to share our lives with. It’s a gift that we can confess sin and met with grace and restoration. It’s a gift to be able to look at your brothers and sisters and with tear filled eyes say “I’m not okay” and have them love us well enough to shower us with the gospel. Let us remember that God uses gospel community as a real and tangible reminder of who He is. Through it we see the glory and goodness of our King.
Last summer, I wrote about my experience teaching in an inner-city alternative school. Now, as my first “full” year of teaching is coming to a close, I find myself looking ahead to next year and what I can do differently. My list is full of small housekeeping items, like filing papers weekly and keeping student files up to date. These are important things to do, and I will probably have tons of sticky notes placed around my room to remember it all next year.
Even though these housekeeping items are important, the most important thing I, and every teacher, need to remember in preparing for the next school year is that there is no such thing as a “perfect teacher.”
THE PERFECT TEACHER MYTH
What does a “perfect teacher” even look like? Everyone has their own idea, and most teachers find themselves falling into this unhealthy comparison. Living in a technology filled world, we have so many model classrooms and teachers right at our fingertips.
I find myself scrolling through Pinterest and Instagram trying to find that one creative activity for the upcoming week’s lesson plan. I longingly wish my classroom was as cool as the classroom down the hall. I watch movies and T.V. and find myself dreaming about having the impact on a student’s life like Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World or Hillary Swank’s character in Freedom Writers.
Unfortunately, comparisons like these cause us teachers – and specifically, us Christian teachers – to work like dogs at everything except what we are actually called to do: teach students, and share the light of the gospel of Christ with them.
OUR IMPERFECT REALITY
Becoming “the perfect teacher” is a task no one on earth will ever accomplish. The reality of the situation is that we are all imperfect sinners who will fail every single day.
Responding in anger when I hear my name called for the millionth time in an hour reminds me that I am a sinner. Giving up on a lesson and sticking my kids with busy work on their laptops after a failed Pinterest activity dumps shaving cream all over the floor reminds me that I am a sinner. When I am too busy to listen to my students’ stories, even though I am the only person in their lives that gives them the time of day, reminds me that I am a sinner.
The harder I strive for perfection, the more I am suffocated by the realization that I am not the perfect teacher, and I can never be the perfect teacher.
THE GOSPEL FOR THE TEACHER
Even though we are sinners, Christ died for us. He lived a sinless life, and died a sinner’s death on the cross so that we could be seen as righteous in the eyes of God (2 Cor. 5:21). His love for us is greater than our failures. (1 John 3:20) Just as we are called to salvation, He has also called us as teachers to teach. This calling on our lives gives us faith that through The Holy Spirit, we are equipped with the power and wisdom to overcome these sins and share Christ’s love with our students.
Christian teacher, I am saved and have been called by Christ to be a teacher, specifically an inner city teacher. Each day I have to be reminded of the gospel of Jesus. The gospel message does not stop with our salvation, because we are daily becoming more like Christ. The gospel tells us that, yes, we are saved, but The Holy Spirit is continually teaching us and forming us to be more like Jesus, who is the Greatest Teacher.
Rejoice, teacher, Jesus is better than our Pinterest catastrophes, our raised voices, and our selfishness. When you are feeling down after a day full of failed activities and angry responses, remember that you are not the perfect teacher. Some days you will feel inadequate, and that is ok. Rest in the fact that we are inadequate, but Christ is more than adequate. He is the only Perfect Teacher, and His love for us is so great that He gives us the power to overcome our sins and the confidence to share His love with our students.
HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO ME?
What does this look like for a Christian teacher on a daily basis? First and foremost, rest in the gospel. Remember that we have been justified of our sin, and that we have been united with Christ in salvation. This is the most important thing a teacher can do, and anything that we “do” to improve as teachers must be built on this reality.
But there are ways to daily live out this truth. I would recommend starting the morning by waking up early, getting some coffee, and digging into God’s Word. Spending time reading, meditating, and praying through scripture will prepare you for the long day ahead.
As you drive to school, pray for the day, and be specific with your prayers. For some, this may be a short drive, but for others this could be a long time spent pleading with Christ to use you to share His grace and love with your students. Talk with Him about the failures from the day before, and pray for the power to overcome those failures through Him.
When you walk into your classroom, pray for each student by name before you begin preparing for the day. You know your students struggles at home and at school. Pray for those specific needs. Ask Christ to let you be the tool he uses to shine His light on your students.
After your students enter the classroom, take time to talk with each child and hear those stories that they so desperately want to share with you. When meeting with them, let them know how proud you are of them, and remind them that you want them to be successful. They need to hear this, because they may not hear it anywhere else.
Share encouraging words to each child multiple times a day, even when it is hard. When you want to say something negative, replace it with a positive comment. They will remember the times that you could have been angry, and instead showed them love.
When you feel like yelling, close your eyes (but not for very long) and pray for patience.
These are not easy things to do, but remember that we are not teaching for our glory, we are teaching for Christ’s glory. We are not teaching to become teacher of the year; we are teaching to give Christ’s love to our students. If you win teacher of the year, Glory be to God. The Lord rewards those who are obedient to His calling.
Teachers, remember that we will not succeed without being completely dependent on the one who died for our sins. Cling to Him every moment of the day. Have confidence, and give your students what we all crave, Christ’s love.
This post was originally published on Tabitha’s own blog.
Tabitha Rainwater lives in Kansas City where she teaches elementary school in the inner city and serves as Director of Kids at her local church, Emmaus Church. She is married to her high school sweetheart Jake and has a Great Dane named Scotland. You can follow her on Twitter at @tabrainwater.