Phil Bratcher is a craftsman. As a master electrician and carpenter, he’s skilled at solving complex problems and using his hands to shape raw materials. Which made him a great crystal meth cook.
Pastors are not quitters. Or at least, they don’t plan to be. Yet about 250 pastors leave their pulpits a month.
Most pastors don’t plan on quitting, but they also don’t plan not to. Unless pastors are built to last, they might find themselves burned out and beleaguered long before they planned on stepping down.
An aging and soon-to-be executed Apostle Paul once wrote to Timothy, his young protégé, to paint a picture of a pastor that’s built to last:
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. — 2 Tim. 2:3-6
Paul challenges the young pastor to endure for the sake of the gospel. Paul knew that Timothy was going to face great resistance to much of what he had been commissioned to do. He knew Timothy would suffer for proclaiming his faith and telling people that Jesus was the only way to heaven.
So Paul gives Timothy three illustrations to help flesh out the kind of endurance he’s talking about. Paul paints pastors using the analogies of the dedicated soldier, the disciplined athlete, and the hardworking farmer. Each of these illustrations tells us something about what it takes to be the kind of pastor that’s built to last.
God’s wrath is the most unpopular of his attributes, and understandably so. But if we stare at the gospel long enough, even God’s wrath seems beautiful.
Psalm 75:6-8 says,
For not from the east or from the west
and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
but it is God who executes judgment,
putting down one and lifting up another.
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup
with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it,
and all the wicked of the earth
shall drain it down to the dregs.
That’s intense. And it should be. After all, the psalm is referring to the holy God of the universe who cannot tolerate sin, lest he ceases to be God. In that God’s hand, there is a cup of wrath from which the wicked will one day drink.
That sounds like terrible news until you turn right in your Bible and read this in the gospel of John:
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic.
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:23, 28-30)
Jesus thirsted on the cross; not just for water for his body, which I’m sure he did, but for the love of his Father.
The Father, whom he had known and loved and enjoyed for all of eternity up to that point, had always replied with grace.
But not this time.
Instead of grace, Jesus tasted justice. Just like the soldiers who shoved the sour wine to Jesus’ cotton-dry mouth, the Father thrust forward his foaming cup of wrath to the lips of his Son—but he didn’t make Jesus drink it.
Earlier, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus knew he would be presented with this cup. And it nearly killed him.
Knowing this moment would come, he fell to his knees in the garden and twice cried out in agony to his father: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me” (Mark 14:36; Matthew 26:39-42). His sweat turned to blood at the terror of that foaming cup.
Yet, knowing full well the horrors to come, Jesus said, “Yet not what I will, but what you will,” and set his face towards Jerusalem, a Lamb going to the slaughter.
As his Father’s hand shoved forward the well-mixed cup of wrath, Jesus grabbed it, drained it down to the dregs, and said, “It is finished.”
After uttering those final words, Jesus gave up the ghost and was buried in a borrowed tomb for three days, and darkness descended on the land.
But on Sunday morning, the Son’s light flooded the earth as he raised himself from the dead, declaring that his life was not and never would be finished.
The beauty of God’s wrath is that we can escape it! Jesus drank the cup of wrath so that we wouldn’t have to.
Psalm 75 ends with these words:
But I will declare it forever;
I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.
All the horns of the wicked I will cut off,
but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up. (Psalm 75:9-10)
The wrath our sin deserves has been satisfied by Jesus for those who believe that he is the risen Son of God who was crucified, died, buried, and raised to life according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).
Those who believe receive Jesus’ righteousness and are lifted up as sons and daughters of the living God for all eternity.
I will declare it forever.
I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.
When I was younger, my eyes were always on the horizon. I wanted to go somewhere else, be someone else, and live a different life.
Now that I’m in my thirties, my aspirations have flipped. I don’t want to go anywhere else, be anyone else (at least, on my better days), or live a different life.
I live in the same area I grew up in, and love it. I run or walk one of two routes every morning, and get anxious if I can’t. I work from home, and though it’s nice to get out and, you know, see people every now and then, I find it immensely comforting.
Instead of running from my roots, I feel like planting them.
This sentiment is not new to me. It’s reflected well in two Disney movies (I have 3 girls, so an increasing number of my reference points are Disney princess-themed, sorry!): Moana and The Beauty and the Beast.
Consider these lyrics sung by Belle in the opening number of The Beauty and the Beast:
Little town It’s a quiet village
Like the one before
Full of little people
There goes the baker with his tray, like always
The same old bread and rolls to sell
Ev’ry morning just the same
Since the morning that we came
To this poor provincial town
There must be more than this provincial life!
I used to identify so much with Belle. My world felt too small, too routine. There must be more than this suburban life, I thought. Surely I was made for more.
Or consider the updated take on the same idea from Moana, where her father and others try to convince her that their home is all they need:
Moana, make way, make way
Moana, it’s time you knew
The village of Motonui is all you need
The dancers are practicing
They dance to an ancient song
Who needs a new song?
This old one’s all we need
There comes a day
When you’re gonna look around
And realize happiness is where you are
Certainly, I would be one of the young listeners rolling my eyes at this point, had the movie been released in my childhood. But instead of feeling my eyes rolling, I feel my head nodding.
I listen to some new music, but not much. For the most part, the old songs—the ones I internalized in high school and college when I had the time to do so—are all I need. At some point, my eyes opened and I realized that happiness was (or rather, could be) found right where I was.
I suspect some of this nostalgia has to do with my aging, but more than my age, I find my faith informs my feelings on rootedness.
I’m a Southern Baptist by confession, and so my focus is squarely on fulfilling the Great Commission. I pray often that God would send my family wherever he wants us, whether that’s across the street or around the world. And I mean that prayer.
But regardless of whether a Christian stays or goes, they are called to belong where they are—to contribute to the flourishing of the place they find themselves in.
When God’s people found themselves exiled in Babylon because of their disobedience, God told them to put down roots in their new home:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:5-7)
Israel is to contribute to Babylon’s flourishing because, by doing so, they would flourish, too.
And notice that God said, “the city where I have sent you.” We are where we are because God has put us there. Yes, he may send us elsewhere at some point, but wherever he has us, we should be praying for the good of the place and the people in it. And we should be making it a better place while we’re there.
So yes, I live in the same place I was born. I married my high school sweetheart. I live most of my life within five square miles. And I couldn’t be happier.
For however long it lasts, I’ll enjoy the life God has given me in the place he has me. I’m singing along with Moana and her village,
So here I’ll stay
My home, my people beside me
And when I think of tomorrow
There we are
Their stricken faces said it all. The men and women of the U.S. Olympic 400-meter relay teams were disqualified and in disbelief.
The U.S. had owned the 400 relay in years past. Now, in 2008, the teams hadn’t even qualified.
In just a thirty-minute span, both teams’ hopes were dashed at the fumbling of the third and final baton handoff. When you’re running a relay, the handoff is critical. Runners take extra care to ensure a smooth handoff because when they drop the baton, they don’t finish the race.
Christians have an even more important handoff to make: passing the gospel on to the next generation. Paul, arguably the most skilled believer aside from Christ to ever hand off the gospel, once instructed his young protégé Timothy in how to pass it on well, saying, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
Paul is challenging Timothy to pass on what he has heard to faithful men and women who also are able to pass it on. What has Timothy heard from Paul? The gospel. The truth of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
By this time in their relationship, Timothy would have seen Paul testify to this gospel hundreds of times. He also would have seen Paul pass it on hundreds of times. Paul understood the gospel does the next generation no good if it never receives it. The gospel is like a relay race; we’re either fumbling the handoff or ensuring it’s passed on with care.
In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul summarizes his most critical advice for passing on the gospel in three principles.