I recently had a conversation with a man who lives and attends church in a larger city. He told me that he could never pastor a church in a small town like I do (the picture above is our "downtown"). Small towns, in his opinion, are far more difficult than large cities. I then began mentally making a list of the benefits of living and pastoring in a small town, and I came up with several. Not long after that conversation, I ran across an article written by the pastor of a Calvary Chapel in a small town in Oregon and found many of his words encouraging.
“Not long ago, I was at a Calvary Chapel conference in Idaho where many of the attendees hailed from small towns. The guest speaker captured our attention when he said that he, too, was ministering in a small town and understood the challenges we faced. However, when he described his “small” town and began to express how difficult it was to limit your grocery shopping to a Walmart or hold your late-night meetings at an Applebee’s, the listeners began making eye contact with each other and soon a chuckle broke out in the room. The speaker knew something was up.
“What’s wrong? What did I say?” he asked.
One pastor’s wife exclaimed, “We don’t have an Applebee’s!”
“Or a Wal-Mart!” another shouted.
Another from the audience asked the speaker, “How big is your town?”
“30, 000,” the speaker replied.
The room roared in laughter! The speaker was surprised to find that his audience lived mostly in towns with four-digit populations and smaller. Applebee’s? Try Apple Peddler. Walmart? Think Stewart’s Marketeria. If you know what a marketeria is, then you can say you are from a small town.
I am now moving toward my sixth year as the pastor of Calvary Chapel of Crook County. That’s right, of Crook County – all of it. Most Calvary Chapels I know claim a town as their focal point, (but when you don’t have a lot to work with you’ve got to dream big and aim high). I’m not the founding pastor of this church, so I didn’t come up with the name. However, if memory serves correctly the pioneer of this fellowship saw not only the town of Prineville, Oregon (population 9,200) as a harvest field for the Kingdom of God, but also the surrounding region of farmers, ranchers and rednecks.
A unique blessing of living in a small town is that everybody knows everybody and everybody calls you “friend,” (not just on Facebook). Take a drive through town and you will see a dozen people you know going about their daily tasks. It really is a wonderful thing and contributes to a “life on life” method of discipleship, which helps build close friendships and community. At the same time, small town life is a challenge when somebody is disgruntled with you or the church, (everybody is going to hear about it), and God gives you an awkward opportunity to love that person when you cross paths in town.
Small-town living also presents many opportunities to serve the community and to develop relationships outside the walls of the church. As I coached my son’s sports teams, the Lord has provided incredible avenues of friendship and ministry to the lost. Almost the whole town comes out to the sports events, and they get to witness the love you have for the kids and the parents.
Don’t let times of ministerial barrenness or doubt get you down. Remember, Elijah believed he was the last man standing, when behind the scenes God had prepared 700 faithful men. When Elijah slipped into the depths of despair and feelings of failure, God was compassionate but then told him to get up because there was work to do!
I can testify that God is in the business of using the puny and pitiful to accomplish powerful things for His purposes! Being a small town does not mean that God has small ministry plans for you. We are currently in the process of seeing God work in an outstanding way concerning local discipleship and world missions among the unreached people of the Himalayas, but it hasn’t come without the consistent, heartfelt laboring of prayer. Press into dreaming the dreams of God for your community through regular times of prayer and fasting (both individually and as a church). These times at our church have been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined! If your desire is to be about the business of making disciples for His glory, a work is happening, so don’t grow weary and don’t lose heart. A harvest is coming!”
Because we live in a small town we have a much greater opportunity to minister to people at a deeper level. May we never rationalize that we “are who we are”, spiritually speaking, because of where we live. “This is the best we can be” is simply a false sentiment if we are striving to be a disciple-making community. The opportunity is, in many ways, even greater in a small town. All that is required is people being willing to actually serve others around them, even when it may be awkward or uncomfortable, for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the first aspects of the Gospel of Christ that you hear about is, “Jesus saves!” Many churches have an altar call every week and provide people the opportunity to “get saved”. But Jesus is SO much more than just our Savior, as incomparable as that aspect of Christ is. Whereas salvation is the moment when our new life begins, sanctification is the lifelong journey of pursuing God and being transformed into His image.
Paul talks definitively about this in Romans 12:1-2. He writes to the church in Rome, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual act of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The work of sanctification begins the moment we give our lives to the Lord. Unlike salvation, which is a one-time experience, the work of sanctification is a continual and ongoing process whereby we give ourselves to the Lord and His Holy Spirit accomplishes His transforming work and purposes in our lives.
What is the difference in being saved by Christ and being sanctified by Christ? When you are saved, you experience deliverance from the penalty of sin. When you are being sanctified, you experience deliverance from the power of sin. When you are saved, you experience freedom from death. When you are being sanctified, you experience freedom to truly live. When you are saved, you experience the release from the guilt of the past. When you are being sanctified, you experience being equipped to deal with temptations in the present and future. When you are saved, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to you. When you are being sanctified, Christ’s righteous is manifest in you. When you are saved, Jesus begins to live in you. When you are being sanctified, Jesus is constantly living through you.
The clearest evidence of sanctification is perhaps the expression of the fruits of the Spirit we find in Galatians 5. Does your life evidence joy, or peace? If you struggle with these issues, then yield those areas of your life to the Lord, your sanctifier, and ask Him to minister in those areas. Are you patient with others, and gentle and kind in your dealings with them? If not, then maybe it's time to ask the difficult question of just how much of your life have you given to Christ? Do you have areas of your life where you lack self-control? Give those areas to Him and ask Him to help you learn to surrender them to Him that those same areas might be used to glorify Him.
This is one gauge of where we are with the Lord in our process of sanctification. As you yield your life and body to the Lord, which is your spiritual act of worship, pray that the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in your life would increase. The Lord is always seeking to transform us and all we have to do is yield ourselves to Him.
On December 5th, Ronnie Smith was shot and killed in Benghazi, Libya while going for a morning jog. In response, his wife Anita wrote this shocking letter:
My husband and best friend Ronnie Smith loved the Libyan people. For more than a year, Ronnie served as a chemistry teacher in a school in Benghazi, and he would gladly have given more years to Libya if unknown gunmen had not cut his life short on December 5, 2013.
Ronnie and I came to Libya because we saw the suffering of the Libyan people, but we also saw your hope, and we wanted to partner with you to build a better future. Libya was very different from what we had experienced before, but we were excited to learn about Libyan culture. Ronnie grew to love you and your way of life, as did I. Ronnie really was “Libya’s best friend.”
Friends and family from home were concerned about our safety, as were some of you. We talked about this more times than I can count. But we stayed because we believed the Libyan people were worth the risk. Even knowing what I know now, I have no doubt that we would both make the same decision all over again.
Ronnie loved you all so much, especially his students. He loved to joke with you, tell stories about you, help you with your lives and challenge you to be all that you could be. He did his best to live out his faith humbly and respectfully within a community of people with a different faith.
To his attackers: I love you and I forgive you.
How could I not? For Jesus taught us to “Love our enemies” — not to kill them or seek revenge. Jesus sacrificed His life out of love for the very people who killed him, as well as for us today. His death and resurrection opened the door for us to walk on the straight path to God in peace and forgiveness. Because of what Jesus did, Ronnie is with Jesus in paradise now. Jesus did not come only to take us to paradise when we die, but also to bring peace and healing on this earth. Ronnie loved you because God loves you. Ronnie loved you because God loved him — not because Ronnie was so great, but because God is so great.
To the Libyan people: I always expected that God would give us a heart to love you, but I never expected you to love us so much. We came to bless you, but you have blessed us much more. Thank you. Thank you for your support and love for Ronnie and our son Hosea and me. Since Ronnie’s death my love for you has increased in ways that I never imagined. I feel closer to you now than ever before.
I hear people speaking with hate, anger and blame over Ronnie’s death, but that’s not what Ronnie would want. Ronnie would want his death to be an opportunity for us to show one another love and forgiveness, because that’s what God has shown us.
I want all of you — all of the people of Libya — to know I am praying for the peace and prosperity of Libya. May Ronnie’s blood, shed on Libyan soil, encourage peace and reconciliation between the Libyan people and God.
– Anita Smith
This is a powerful story of forgiveness which is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit working through us. This story moves us because we understand the difficulty of forgiveness in the midst of such awful circumstances. The strength it would take to forgive such a person is awe-inspiring to us.
But, imagine how much more impact this story would possess if Anita Smith not only forgave her husband’s killer, but adopted him as her son. This type of love and forgiveness goes beyond all human comprehension! Our natural reaction screams "Revenge!" when we read of these instances. We immediately cry out for justice for the innocent, which of course means death for the guilty. What type of person would forgive the murderer of their love?
In Ephesians 1:3-6, we read these powerful words:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”
You see, God not only forgave you of your sin, but He also adopted you as His child. This is a truth so deep that I think it may exceed the scope of human comprehension. How deep the Father’s love for us! How vast beyond all measure – that He would give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure. You, once His enemy, were adopted as a child according to the kind intention of His will which He freely bestowed on you in Christ.
Take some time this week and reflect upon the love of God toward you, and remember that this love is also bestowed on others. Just as Christ forgave, so should we forgive. Such is the love of Christ for us that He would send His only Son to die so that we, His enemies, could be adopted as children. Amazing.
When I was in high school I watched the movie “The Hurricane”, which is a biopic about the life of Rubin Carter. Carter was a middleweight boxer who was sentenced to multiple life sentences for being convicted in a triple-homicide case in 1966. During the course of the trial, Carter claimed to be innocent. Even after being in prison for a number of years, and being denied an appeal, Carter persisted in his claim of innocence. While in prison, Carter wrote a book, The Sixteenth Round, in which he continues to claim innocence. Carter would spend nineteen years in prison before he was vindicated in 1985. Nineteen years worth of claims were proven true in one single act.
In Matthew 28, we see the ultimate vindication for Jesus Christ. Here was a man who spent His entire life clearly claiming to be God; claiming to be the Jewish Messiah prophesied about throughout the Old Testament. He made claims such as existing before Abraham (John 8:58), the ability to forgive sin (Mark 2:5), and being the fulfillment of law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17). Ultimately, it was these claims of divinity that lead to His crucifixion. However, gloriously here in chapter twenty-eight we see in His resurrection the ultimate vindication. This is why Jesus can say to His disciples as He sends them out, “I am with you always, even to the ends of the age.”
It is intriguing to think of the changes that took place in the lives of some of the disciples as a result of the resurrection. James, the brother of Jesus, went from not believing at all (he probably thought his brother was a lunatic!) to devoting his life to following Christ. Peter insisted that he be crucified upside down because he was not worthy to be crucified in the same manner as His Lord. John was boiled alive in oil…and LIVED to continue to preach the gospel! Paul, who was killing Christians, went on to become the most famous missionary in history after being confronted by the risen Lord. In fact, Paul felt so strongly about the resurrection and the vindication that it brought Christ that he wrote in 1 Corinthians that without the Resurrection that preaching is useless, faith is useless, and that we are all pitiful liars!
So, I ask: how does the resurrection impact your life? The claims of Christ are completely vindicated in His resurrection. He IS alive, He IS the fulfillment of the Scriptures, He CAN forgive sin, and He IS with us to the ends of the age. For every human being who evaluates Scripture and the life of Christ, and who accepts His Lordship, this MUST have a demonstrable impact on their life. Spend some time with the resurrected Lord this week and reflect upon who He is, what He has done, and let it impact you to follow Him and carry out His commands.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.