A Generous Association

Pastor Bruce McLaurin  First Baptist Church of South Euclid

Pastor Bruce McLaurin

First Baptist Church of South Euclid

Dear Cleveland Hope Churches and Church Plants,

Just as member giving sustains the ministry of your church, Cleveland Hope’s capacity to resource pastors, planters, and the churches they lead for greater gospel impact is sustained by the gifts of our member churches and church plants. As your 2019 Executive Leadership Team seeks to discern and trust God’s direction in Kingdom work, we would like to address the need to give to our local evangelistic efforts by asking What does the Bible say about giving?

Often this crucial question is skewed by distractions like an over-focus on money, misuse and/or abuse of church funds, and other questions like: Why give to my local association when my return seems minimal? How do I give from my lack of funds? and How do I know the money is being used in the best manner? God’s word offers principles that can bless our churches and plants as we depend on His providence. Here are a few:

  1. Giving shows God is Lord of all parts of our life. Paul says, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). God meets our needs when we acknowledge our lack and His lordship. Christ can do more with two fish and five loaves than we can do with personal inventory.

  2. Sowing and reaping is an immutable truth of God’s providence. “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38). As we open our hands to give, God opens heaven’s windows exponentially.

  3. Giving puts us in the “blessed place.” “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Giving to the local association not only says you believe we can do more together than we can apart, it links your church or church plant to the protective benefits of having local, like-minded partners as well as to the funnel of associational blessing, both to the giving and—yes at times—to the receiving end of that funnel.

  4. Giving should not be by constraint but liberal and cheerful. In 2 Cor. 9:7-8 Paul declares, “Every man according as he purposes in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” Giving begins as a heart issue. Do we trust God is not shorter than His word? If so, that trust ought to bring a joy and expectancy to His vineyard workers.

  5. The Macedonian model is a practical paradigm. “In a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency to receive the gift and the fellowship of ministering to the saints” (2 Cor 8:1-4). The Macedonian churches gave cheerfully and liberally from their lack, but more importantly from the grace of God given to them.    

  6. Christ Jesus is the perfect paradigm. Paul further admonishes the Corinthian churches with these salient words: “I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others.  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:8-9).  As we empty, God fills!

Beloved, our calling is bigger than one local church or our association. We are living in “harvest-is-plentiful” times. Will we trust in the Lord with all our heart, or will we lean on our own understanding? It is our prayer that we become a more cheerful, generous association of churches, rightly fitted for this great calling of our Lord to labor for His kingdom.                        

Understanding

“Your testimonies are righteous forever;

give me understanding that I may live.”

article-house-foundation.jpg

Psalm 119:144

I’m sure our California friends could tell much better stories, but for this midwesterner, it was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever felt. A couple of weeks ago northeast Ohio experienced a 4.0 earthquake. My family and I were driving very near the reported epicenter at the time, but, given the mild nature of the quake and the suspension of our car, we didn’t feel it but only heard about it later on social media. The 5.0 quake I’m talking about happened a decade or so ago. Things shifted back and forth on my desk and wall for about two seconds, and it was over before I realized what had happened. I was sitting in a sturdy chair when that tremor hit, but had I been standing or walking, the effects to my equilibrium would’ve no doubt been greater, and I might’ve even taken a tumble.

Yesterday my Bible reading plan took me to Psalm 119:121-144. The last verse in those two stanzas says, “Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.” When I say to my kids, “Do you ‘understand’?” I’m not asking if they have a firm footing on the floor of our house; I want to know if they mentally grasp the meaning and importance of what I’ve just told them. ‘Understanding’ in our vernacular has to do with the mind and comprehension. But when I read v. 144 yesterday, for some reason that word struck me in a much more literal way: I imagined myself standing not on solid ground but on a tree limb too small for my weight, a swinging bridge over a gorge on a windy day, or trying to walk during an earthquake.

The psalmist cries out in desperation for an under-standing built on the firm testimonies of the Lord. Why? He says, “that I may live [and presumably not die!]” But why is this his concern? Because, as he says in v. 143, “Trouble and anguish have found me out.”

But that’s not just the case for an ancient Israelite king; that’s New Testament ministry, isn’t it? Smooth sailing on calm seas of congregational cooperation, quiet walks in the gentle breeze of refreshing Christian fellowship: everyone content, everybody getting along with one another, serving willingly, seeing and meeting needs selflessly, no gossip, no grudges, no grabbing for power or position, no sickness, no deaths or funerals, no marital crises, no moral failures… Yeah, unfortunately that’s the exception and not the rule in local church life and ministry, am I right? The rule tends much more towards trouble and anguish—ongoing trouble in at least a low-grade form but often punctuated with spikes of leader and/or congregational anguish.

Church troubles and anguish can have a destabilizing effect on the souls of leaders and members alike. (This newsflash brought to you by yours truly, Dr. O.B. Vious!) And that’s not even to mention the non-church troubles and anguish we face in our extended families, our neighbors’ lives, in our communities, our nation and the world. All told, life in a fallen world is an exercise in trying to navigate the shaky and often shifting ground beneath our feet, metaphorically speaking. The social norms and cultural morals of one day will likely be different the next. Through death, disharmony, departures, etc., the church we love and fall asleep praying for tonight may not be the same church we wake up serving tomorrow morning. And then—not metaphorically speaking—there are actual earthquakes, big ones, bad ones that wreck houses and crush children under piles of debris. Yep, solid ground of any sort is a figment in a post-Genesis 3 reality—that is, unless God himself should provide some.

Good news: He has; He does!

Our good God has given us testimonies, spoken and written assurances of His presence, His goodness, His patience, His expectations, and His plan going forward—a whole Bible rich with a firmness the world promises but can’t provide is ours. Here is stability for the wavering soul. Here is an anchor point for tossed and drifting vessels. Here is a handle hold for the sinking one. Let’s bear in mind, v. 144 doesn’t do away with v. 143. However, v. 144’s testimonies do mean v. 143’s troubles and anguish don’t have to be all-defining for us. You may not believe this (I don’t know if the creators of the M’Cheyne One-Year reading plan on the Bible app intended it or not) but another reading yesterday was Matthew 7, where Jesus famously closes the Sermon on the Mount with that powerful illustration of the wise and foolish builders:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

If, by faith and discipline, God’s testimonies are that upon which we choose to stand, we will live! And of course we know “live” means more than mere physical life or survival. Though “liv[ing]” in this sense does not preclude troubles and/or anguish, it does mean we can have a vital, meaningful, divinely used & useful earthly existence as well as a glorious, eternal heavenly existence. The builders in Jesus’ story don’t differ in circumstance but in stance. One builds/stands on rock, the other on sand. In a calm quiet world the two builders’ houses could stand side-by-side. The builder with the rock foundation could go sit comfortably and confidently visit in the home of the one with the sand foundation and vice-versa. But let the winds kick up, let the rains pound down and the waters rise, and it’s a whole different story.

This isn’t a safe, sound, or secure world. It’s not solid; it’s not sturdy; it’s not stable. The Church is in this world and circum-stanced by thrashing troubles and anguish of every conceivable kind. What will be our stance? As leaders of local churches we have to set an example of appropriate foundation building. Will the winds and rains that pound the outside of the church and sometimes penetrate our fellowships through open windows and doors be to our ruin as the house of God? Not if we anchor our hope, our life, in His sure testimonies. Not if hearing and DOING Jesus’ words is our obsession!

O Lord, give me and all the pastors and planters of Cleveland Hope a firm under-standing of Your testimonies that we may be Your witnesses and do Your work in this windy and wobbly world!

Favor

FAVOR.jpg

“Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

-Deuteronomy 9:4-5

Some mornings I don’t read the Bible; I listen to it. Call it cheating if you want, but sometimes what my tired eyes miss from the page, my ears catch. I tapped play on my phone’s Bible app and stepped into the shower to Deuteronomy 9 today.

Israel is poised on the brink of Canaan, the Promised Land, their new home. They are to go in and take the land for themselves. The only problem: the land isn’t empty! Israel is being sent into a land already populated by many and massive (numerically and physically) peoples. Nevertheless, they are to cross the Jordan and take the land. Why? Because God said to do it. How? Because God was going before them to subdue and destroy those peoples.

Now, were I an Israelite on that day waking up, stretching, eyeing the fair and pleasant land across the river, I’d be feeling pretty good. For one, I didn’t die in the wilderness like all those disobedient older-generation Israelites. Two, God has promised to give me and my countrymen the victory.

Let me ask you something: Do you feel God’s favor upon you as a born-again follower of Jesus? As we go along the narrow way of faith and see the effects of progressive sanctification, it can be easy to switch the order of things. It can be easy, that is, to presume God’s favor is somehow a result of our having been born again, a result of our trusting in Jesus for forgiveness, of our seeking to grow as His disciple, of our sanctification, of our service to others in the church, etc., rather than the true reality, namely that God’s favor results IN all of those blessings…and many more.

When you don’t feel God’s favor, to what do you attribute it—disobedience? failure? insufficiency of some sort? We certainly are disobedient; we fail and are insufficient in countless ways all the time—yes, even as Christians. However, God’s favor or lack of favor is a separate issue from our behavior, as Deuteronomy 9 indicates. It’s not a separate issue from all behavior; it’s just a separate issue from OUR behavior. God favored Israel, but not because they were good and the Canaanites were bad. He favored Israel because…well…He just favored them, He picked them; He loved them; He wanted them for Himself. And the victory, the assurance, the fulfillment, the protection and provision promised to Israel all flowed out of God’s choice, not Israel’s conduct, out of God’s heart, not as a result of Israel’s merit.

What possible relevance can this Old Testament message have for New Testament people? Tons! Though we have the Holy Spirit writing God’s laws on our hearts rather than upon external stone tablets, our flesh still has all the capacity for disobedience that Israel’s did. God would’ve been justified in wiping Israel out entirely and starting all over with Moses. From earth’s perspective it looks like Moses changed God’s mind and stayed God’s hand of destruction toward the wayward sons of Jacob. But, in reality, while God was certainly displeased by their folly and idolatry, rather than reversing God’s heart towards His people, Moses’ pleading reveals God’s deeper heart for His people—it reveals His underlying favor.

God didn’t have to provide a Moses who would plead for mercy, much less a Jesus who would bleed for it. But He did! Why? Because He loves us. And because He loves the testimony about Him and the glory that accrues to Him among the nations for being a loving, merciful God towards rebels. He will not settle only for the glory of being just in the face of rebellion but claims for Himself the greater glory of being the Justifier of sinners by means of a mediator whom He Himself supplies, a mediation foreshadowed by Moses and fulfilled in Christ.

It’s Friday. Many of you are in some phase of sermon preparation for the coming Lord’s Day gathering of His people. Your church members are wrapping up busy work weeks, stressful weeks, sick, tired, happy weeks, and so are you. Using your voice to deliver God’s words this Sunday to His people is an unspeakably great privilege. It’s a privilege Satan (and your flesh) will work to convince you is either something you deserve because of faithfulness or don’t deserve because of failures. I’m not suggesting that faithfulness and failures don’t matter. What I’m suggesting is that they don’t matter most. What matters most is you and I joining and helping lead God’s people toward and into His promised land with a humble apprehension of His favor demonstrated to us by and on the basis of His means, and not ours.

Write that sermon. Pray for those saints. Pour yourself out before this God. Gird up your faithful yet failing, failing yet faithful self to move upon Canaan because God the infinitely faithful and unfailing One has chosen you in Christ, promised it to you in Christ, and will give you and the rest of His people all good things in and by Christ. March on Canaan, brothers! Preach the word, shepherd the saints, reach out to the lost; slay the “Canaanites” of greater Cleveland as you once were slain: with the sword of the gospel. Join Him in plundering hell and populating heaven. God has favored you; He goes before you. How do you know? He bestows the very faith Satan wants you to think you mustered up on your own, and He forgives the very failures Satan says will be your ruin, and God does both by His means: His Spirit and His Son.

“No unbelief made [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

Romans 4:20-25

Size Matters

download-1.jpg

Noah. Abraham. Gideon’s 300. David. Elijah. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego. Esther…

Take a moment to ponder these characters and the situations they faced. What do they have in common? Are they (and dozens of other similar biblical examples) not proof of how God scoffs at the world’s “strength-in-numbers” / “bigger-is-better” / “more-is-more” mentality? Sure, God used large Israelite armies at times to defeat cities & enemies. He used an outwardly unmatched physical specimen like Samson to open up a can of you-know-what on some Philistines. But over all, it would seem God prefers to demonstrate His power through small, outwardly unimpressive individuals and groups.

This past Sunday night, I, Deborah, and our three kids drove to Bedford Heights with three others from Bridge Church to Hope Together where we joined pastor Dallas Lauderdale and six others from Trinity Christian (our host church) for a time of prayer. I’m ashamed to admit my initial disappointment at the small turnout. “Fifteen people, really? Doesn’t our association believe in coming together to pray?” I thought. Even though I didn’t voice that frustration as the meeting got underway, I felt it.

We sang a couple of songs, prayed for pastors & families, lifted up our churches currently without pastors, and we prayed for Cleveland’s outgoing and incoming summer mission teams.

“Ding!”

In the middle of all of that, I received a text from Julie Calloway. It included just three words (really only two): “Pray please pray!”

Most of you know Jeff and Julie Calloway, but in case you don’t, together they served with the North American Mission Board for 8 years until last October helping train, deploy, and encourage church planters & wives across Cleveland. Before that, Jeff pastored two northeast Ohio churches, including a brand new plant where I now preach and where he serves as an elder. Long story short, Jeff has been very sick for many months and went in for colon surgery two Thursdays ago. What was supposed to be one surgery became two, and what originally was to be about a three-night stay turned into two weeks. On Sunday night Jeff’s pain level reached 10/10 and Julie’s emotional and physical energy reserves hit 0. It was a dark and desperate hour. “Pray please pray!” Through tears and with broken words I read Julie’s text to the small prayer huddle and after sending her a quick reply, “On our knees at Trinity for Jeff,” I invited everyone to kneel. Dallas took over; the rest of us groaned in agreement as he pleaded with the Lord. I couldn’t form words.

What began as a moment of secret and selfish frustration on my part became a moment that, Lord willing, I’ll never forget. Black & white, young & old, urban & rural—none of those distinctions mattered. What mattered was God’s people interceding for God’s people by the power of God’s Spirit. What mattered was not how many or how few had gathered, but THAT, in precisely the moment of one dear couple’s deepest need and darkest hour, God had saints in position to call down His healing mercy. While the winds and rains of that stormy Sunday evening thrashed across greater Cleveland, a small, unimpressive group prayed and hoped together for the comforting touch of Him who calms storms with a word. And that group was answered!

Julie’s Monday morning update indicated one of the most restful nights of the entire ordeal for both she and Jeff. Heart rate slowed. Pain level dropped to 3 or 4. A banana popsicle was shared for breakfast between sweethearts. I got to be in the room Tuesday when the nasal feeding tube was removed. Jeff’s first words—after a bit of gagging—were “Thank you, Jesus!” Today (Friday) is Jeff’s second full day at home.

God did it all. He’s doing it all. Surgeons, nurses, machines and medicines—sure, they’re all part of how He’s doing it all, but so was a small, tactically-placed team of supplicators. How humbling to be an instrument, a participant in God’s program of mercy! And I know Jeff and Julie see themselves in the same way—as instruments of mercy. On one level, Jeff’s extended hospital stay was unexpected and frustrating. On a more important level it was also instrumental. Jeff’s daughter Sarah shared with me how a nurse told her one day, “I know what you and your family are all about. You’re different." And do you know what Jeff’s surgeon said upon his discharge? “Jeff, I’m gonna miss you. I’ve never met anyone like you before.”

Size matters, but not the size of the group. Size matters, but not the size of the gathering. Size matters, but not the size of the need or problem. The only size that matters is the size of our God. When we see Him rightly, everything else is dwarfed.

Are you disheartened that your problems seem big and your resources small? If so, your biggest problem isn’t on the outside; it’s on the inside. Your frustration isn’t due to dwindling dollars in the offering plate or having too few in the pew. Frustration follows a faulty focus and a faulty footing—what are we standing on: human ideas of success, or a human-divine Savior?

“His oath, His covenant, His love
         Support me in the whelming flood

When all around my soul gives way
         He then is all my hope and stay

On Christ the solid rock I stand
         All other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

We all want to see the kingdom of God built, but for that to happen on a global level, things often have to get more granular at the local level. If our gatherings get too big, temptation to find strength in numbers may rise. If our resources are too plentiful, we might start to trust them like a fool who trusts in a desert stream after a rain storm. They could dry up overnight! Better to look to the One who gives the rain than to the rain itself!

download-1.jpg
USS-Carl-Vinson-1800.jpg

How precious to our Lord are small but precious lives, small but focused groups and gatherings stripped of outer appearances of power and offered as small but useful instruments in His merciful plan. How precious to our Lord are small churches! Oh, and by the way, with all due respect to the larger churches of our association, Cleveland Hope—and the Southern Baptist Convention for that matter—doesn’t have any big churches. You see, compared to the unnumbered multitude of the redeemed of all the earth that will one day gather before the Lamb, every local church is itty bitty! Even if you pastor a church of 1 million members, if the total number of redeemed of the earth was 1 billion (a hopefully very low estimate), your million-member church would only be 1/10 of 1% (one one-thousandth) of that number. Big from our vantage point, but not from God’s! From earth’s orbit an aircraft carrier and a canoe make about the same size splash when dropped into the middle of the Pacific Ocean! Let’s look to be available to God, not admirable to men. Let’s focus on Him and be His ready warriors smashing pitchers, blowing horns and waving torches with all our might as we trust Him to put our enemies to flight and establish His name in the earth.

I send you into the weekend, into your service to the body of Christ—whether outwardly small or large, highly- or hardly-resourced in physical terms, strong or weak before human eyes—with these words from the psalmist:

“The king is not saved by a mighty army;
         A warrior is not delivered by great strength.

A horse is a false hope for victory;
         Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.

Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him,
         On those who hope for His lovingkindness,

To deliver their soul from death
         And to keep them alive in famine.

Our soul waits for the LORD;
         He is our help and our shield.

For our heart rejoices in Him,
         Because we trust in His holy name.

Let Your lovingkindness, O LORD, be upon us,
         According as we have hoped in You.”

(Psalm 33:16-22)

When People Leave (Part 5)

bar-soap-23850382.jpg

So far in the four parts of this “When People Leave” series we’ve touched on a number of factors and assumptions involved in church departures. It’s never cut and dried, nor is it ever one-sided; in other words, it’s never any one person’s or party’s fault—not even Satan‘s—when individuals leave our churches! As pastors keenly aware of our leadership deficiencies and personality defects we often  assume “It’s My Fault” out of self-pity. Then, turning defensive, our pride and self-protective instincts might lead us to point the finger of blame at the departing ones enumerating all the reasons why It’s Their Fault: “They’re the ones whose expectations are too high; they’re the ones whose commitment is too low, etc.” Further analysis can then swing the pointed finger church-ward noting all the known imperfections within the congregation resulting in an “It’s the Church’s Fault” assumption.

These highly emotion-based reactions and assumptions can quickly follow an announcement of departure, only then to be rehashed and revisited over a period of weeks, months, or even years as we come to grips with the fact that those we’ve loved, served, and who have supported us for a season are not coming back. Slowly we realize there’s some truth to each of the first three assumptions: we are imperfect leaders of imperfect Christians who together make up imperfect churches. And on top of that, we have a spiritual enemy always ready to seize upon our own, our church members’, and our congregation’s imperfections with lies, wounds, suspicions, and other tactical distractions from our mission of making and multiplying disciples.

And yet once all the guilty ones, human and demonic, have been ascribed their portion of blame in the dismembering of our churches, I speak for myself at least when I say this: I’m not satisfied! I’m not satisfied because I know another person is involved. And by involved I mean invested – invested to an infinitely greater degree than all the sinner–saints who will ever call on Jesus’ name and all the fallen angels who will ever seek to divide his body on earth. But because this one is perfect I want to be clear that I am not attributing real blame nor using the “f”-word quite the same way when I say…

It’s God’s Fault.

By “fault” I mean responsibility, involvement, permission. No one has ever divided nor could ever divide Jesus’ bride and body without His permission. The question we must ask is of course why He would ever grant such permission.

In short, the answer boils down to one word: sanctification. I don’t need to tell you that sanctification and sanitization come from the same root word. Jesus is always cleaning up His bride, making her ready and beautiful for that great marriage supper to come. And yes, while our sins were all forgiven on the cross, they are still found in abundance, clinging to us, gunking up every aspect of our lives, even our church families. No matter how precise and edifying the preaching, no matter how attentive a pastor is to his flock’s spiritual health, no matter how eager the volunteers nor how smoothly the programming runs at any given church, sin is there collecting like dust in the corners. It’s why at bath time moms tell their kids to wash everywhere, especially in the cracks and creases where the different parts of our bodies come together. Well, in the body of Christ the cracks and crevices where different parts join are inter-human relationships between flawed people. Those relationships can sometimes be held together by unholy things under a mask of church unity: co-dependencies, idolizations, self-serving infatuations. The body-washing metaphor breaks down somewhat in that at times in order for Jesus to get at our most dingy parts, He actually has to separate pieces.

Separation works a couple of different ways in the process of sanctification. First, separation may need to happen between two or more true Christians. Again, on a level we can’t even see, something unholy has gotten trapped and held in place by a relationship. Like dirt under the skin, infection will eventually set in, and then the whole body will suffer. In due course, after the parting happens, the separate parts will eventually see what Jesus was doing. Better that Jesus separate parts of the same body temporarily that they might be further sanctified and reunited in a glorious eternity than letting sin fester and do greater damage to the whole.

Secondly, separation is part of how Jesus rids His body of false parts. The sheep will be separated from the goats. Yes, that will happen on Judgment Day. Likewise wheat and tares are sometimes permitted to grow up together right up to the harvest, then comes the threshing, the separating, the burning. On earth, the Church and all of Her millions of local expressions, will never be fully sanctified. Sometimes, members will leave and their attitudes and actions afterwards will reveal that they never were really part of the true church. They were there for entertainment, to socialize, to network, to self-promote, or in some cases to play at being religious while on a secret (and evil) mission to purposefully sow division.

It’s the church’s job to pray that Jesus would first root out sin by saving any among us who are not truly His disciples. We should also pray that He would sanctify the body by separating those who would do harm (by the way, it’s probably be best not to use names in these prayers—unless we’re willing to use our own too). But we should always pray with a view to the supreme wisdom of our Lord in sanctifying His bride in His way for His ultimate glory…and ours.

The Church—and every member of it—belongs to Jesus. None of us want or look forward to separations and departures of people from our churches, any more than my kids want or look forward to bathtime. But God—like any good earthly parent—is not going to let His children remain in a state of uncleanness. It’s not their favorite part of the day, but my kids know that getting baths, washing behind ears, under arms, between fingers and toes, and all the other places where their parts come together, is just part of being in my family. We cry when people leave our churches. Like soap in a cut, it hurts; but it also cleans!

May we labor with Jesus—not against Him—in continually uncovering and washing away sin with the Word and the discipline of confessing it to God and to each other. And may we seek His strength to shepherd His people well, even when the process of sanctification means people must leave.