Author Archives: zacharrel

About zacharrel

Pastor at FBC Gustine, husband and Daddy.

Five Years Without You

Five years seems like yesterday. Five years seems like an eternity ago. The language of loss never seems sufficient to the reality. There is no way to truly communicate the grief of a heart that has lost one so close. That phone call five years ago that pierced my sleep to announce that my Mom had passed from this world still rings in my heart each and every day.

 

We say things like, “she is gone”, but that isn’t really the full truth. Her body may no longer be with us, her voice may no longer give me encouragement, her laugh may no longer lead us to laugh with her, but she is not truly gone.

Everyday Glimpses

Mom, I see you in the way Evahlyn laughs with abandon and causes the whole room to laugh with her. I feel your love in the way so many have taken up your encouragement of God’s work in my life. I see your smile when Jameson smiles.

 

You are not truly gone because I remember the life you lived. I remember the way you loved us so well, the way you knew how to give the perfect gift for each occasion, and the example you left of what it means to be a good parent. I remember the way you loved across boundaries and the importance of kindness you showed in every interaction you had.

Memories Point Us To Our Hope

God gives us these memories to point us toward the hope we have in Him. We look back in order to look forward to the day we will see each other again in Christ. These memories give me something to hold on to until the day we worship together at the throne of Jesus for all of eternity.

 

I hate the fact that you aren’t here physically to see these babies grow up. I hate that they will never know you this side of eternity. I hate that for five years we have missed you.

 

But, I don’t grieve as one who has no hope. I believe you are among the great cloud of witnesses. I believe you know these babies better than even I do. I believe you smile at their personalities and laugh at the way they keep us on our toes. I believe you are still here in so many ways I cannot understand and I believe that all of this pales in comparison to the eternity that awaits, the eternity you are already experiencing.

 

We miss you. We love you. We will not forget you. We cannot wait to see you.

 

Prayer

Father,

You know how hard this day is each year. I don’t understand why Mom is not here. I don’t understand why my kids won’t know their Grams this side of heaven, but I trust your goodness and your love.

 

Help us to keep her memory alive. Help us to love as she loved, to be kind as she was kind, to honor the legacy she left for us to follow.

 

Restore to us the joy of your salvation. Remind us of the truth of your promises.

 

So many have experienced so much more loss. Give them your peace. Point all of our hearts to Jesus.

 

Fill us with the hope of the Gospel. The hope we have in Jesus that death is not the end of life. The hope we have in Jesus that redemption and restoration are coming. The hope we have in Jesus that sustains us when grief seems too much.

 

You are with us, always. Remind us of this truth over and over again.

 

In Jesus name,

 

Amen

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Another Day

Morning

Before the sun even rises I lay in bed and the burdens and the joys of this calling fill my heart and mind. I swing my legs over the side of the bed and pray a quick prayer. “This is your day, Lord. Give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand.”

I walk into the kitchen. The mundane must be accomplished. The dog needs to eat. The bottle for the baby needs to be filled. The trash needs to be set out for the trash man to pick up. As the coffee drips and the aroma fills the house the day begins to form in my mind.

I need to finish my sermon for Sunday morning. I haven’t figured out what to do with that verse, the one everyone always argues about. How am I going to make it clear while respecting the way others see it differently? I probably need to look back over Sunday night’s sermon that I finished yesterday. What was that I needed to pray for from that late night text? I need to meet with that couple. I need to visit the dear old saint just home from the hospital. I need to make that hard phone call. I need to…

The baby is awake. His cry interrupts my train of thought. From the moment he shatters the quiet of the morning the pace quickens. I get him up and give him his morning bottle. His cry awakes his four year old sister and the quiet the house enjoyed a few minutes before won’t come back until bedtime. What a joy! My wife is the last to rise and she begins breakfast.

The table is filled with laughter and details of the day ahead for them. The dishes are washed, the coffee refilled, and I step out into the brutal heat of this Texas summer to make the short walk to the small church office where the rest of my morning will be spent with books thrown all over the room and walks around the office where I will argue with myself over the turn of phrase in the middle of the second point of my sermon.

The burden of preaching faithfully, preaching to thirsty souls who need the grace of God never quite lifts from the heart of a pastor. My heart is weighed down knowing my own need and a wave of fear. I preach because I am called, but, also, if I am totally honest, because deep down I have a need to be loved and accepted. I hate the presence of this fear, but it seems to always be there.

My morning ends as I check my phone, see the texts and missed calls, and decide it is time to walk home for lunch.

The hour I am at home for lunch is a nice break. The conversation with my wife is the first conversation I have had since breakfast. Her listening ear and her soft heart are a respite from the loneliness of the empty church. We eat and I play with my babies. It goes by way too fast.

 

Afternoon

I argued with my four year old about her nap. How can I call others to show grace when I am so awful at showing her the same? I am frustrated. I am disappointed in myself.

The afternoon is filled with meetings, phone calls, and texts.

It wasn’t planned this way. These interruptions, these divine moments, seem to make up a lot of what pastoral ministry turns out to be and that is a good thing.

Prayer sustains me through these encounters. Prayer for the couple struggling in their marriage, struggling to communicate and love one another in a way that keeps their promises. Prayer for many of our people who have received bad news from the doctor, have had surgery and are trying to recover, are walking through a valley of suffering and the unknown. I don’t have the answers and I don’t need them. I just have to be here and pray.

There is a knock at the door to my office. Another burden to help with, another person to pray for. What a joy to be trusted with their hearts and their honesty. Ministry is made up of these relationships and they consume this afternoon.

It is time to go home. My wife has given herself to our kids all day. She is tired. She needs a moment of quiet. She needs a helping hand. One more call to make. One more text I need to respond to. One more sentence to type and then revise on this sermon.

My day in the office is done. But, ministry goes home with me.

 

Evening

Supper is cooking on the stove. My four-year-old daughter is captivated by her favorite cartoon and the baby is crying. I pick him up and his smile makes the long day worth it. We sit on the couch and watch the same episode for what seems like the hundredth time with his sister.

We all gather around the table to eat. The baby in his high chair is reaching for more food. The four year old doesn’t like green beans. Can she just eat goldfish?

The table is cleared and the dishes are washed. The gravel of the church parking lot is crushed beneath the tires of my daughter’s bike as I remember I need to call and check on a few people, let them know their church is with them and praying for them.

It is bath time now and in between washing their hair and trying to avoid getting soaked I turn back to that sermon I need to finish. How can I make that truth clear? How can I point them to Jesus? My phone vibrates on the bathroom counter. Another text. Another prayer request. Lord, I need your help. You have called me and you will uphold me. I cannot do this without you.

Bedtime is my favorite time. There are hugs, books to be read, prayers to be made together, and time for me to speak blessings into their ears. This is my most important ministry.

Goodnight, sweet girl. Goodnight, baby boy.

We finally get to sit down and talk and read our novels. I love the way she challenges me out of my comfort zone. I love the way she loves our kids. I love her.

The bottles are cleaned and ready for him in the morning. The coffee is ready to be turned on when I wake up. It is quiet again as the lights turn out.

As I lay there in the bed where I started this day my mind and my heart are filled with joy and with the burden of this calling. My eyes are heavy. “Thank you for your faithfulness. Thank you for another day.”

Advice On Ministry For My Younger Self

One of my favorite podcasts is The Calling produced by Christianity Today. Every episode the host, Richard Clark, ends the interview with one question, “if you could go back in a time machine and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?”

 

I have been thinking about this question lately.

 

I could go back four or five years ago before we had children and tell myself to get some more sleep. I could go back to my teenage years and tell myself to be better at building and keeping friendships. But, the place in my past I think I would go back to would be the period of my life where I was graduating from college and about to begin vocational ministry.

 

There are two lessons I have learned after twelve years I would want to tell myself entering into pastoral ministry.

Be Content Where God Plants You

First, you most likely will never pastor a mega-church and that is ok. The truth is 90% of all churches have 200 or less in attendance weekly. Pastoring a small church does not mean you are failing or missing out on the work of God in the world. Success in ministry is not about preaching to a big crowd. It is about being faithful with those God entrusts to you whether that be 2 or 2,000.

 

There is a danger in seeing ministry in small contexts as stepping-stones to something bigger. The quicker you realize God has called you here in this season for this moment and no longer look for greener grass in a bigger yard the more joy you will find in ministry and the better pastor you will be.

 

We need more pastors coming out of college and seminary willing to give their lives to the small places no one will ever hear about. Most of us will never be invited to speak at a pastors conference or asked to write a book on church growth, but we can be faithful to the place and the people God calls us. Our seminaries should do all they can to prepare their students to minister in these small churches and to instill in them a love for the small church.

 

It is one of the great joys of my life to pastor a small church. I know the people in the pews. I know their families. I know their struggles and their suffering. I know their faith in the midst of these trials and I know the joy they find in Jesus. I never dreamed I would spend nine years pastoring a church in a town of 450 people, but I thank God everyday He called me to this church and this community.

 

If I am honest when I graduated college a big part of me hoped to be famous. I would go back and tell myself to just seek to be faithful.

 

Be Content With Who God Has Gifted You To Be

The second piece of advice I would want to give myself is to be who God had called me to be. God has gifted me in a way He has not gifted anyone else.

 

I would read books, listen to sermons, and attend conferences and try to imitate the gifting of others.

 

Finally, about five or six years ago I realized God had called me to be the pastor to my church and He wanted to use my gifts and the ways He has wired me to love His church. I don’t have to fit into this box or try to be someone I’m not. God wants to use me. He has gifted me. He has called me and equipped me to pastor these people in this place.

 

I had to quit listening to podcast sermons. I didn’t want to preach with someone else’s voice. God wanted to use my voice.

 

There is unbelievable freedom in not trying to be like your favorite celebrity pastor. If God had wanted them to lead your people He would have called them. But, He has called you. Be yourself. Learn from others, but don’t try to copy their gifts or their ministry. God wants to use you with your gifts, your personality, and your voice. Find freedom in being who God has called you to be.

 

I can’t go back in a time machine and tell myself these lessons I have learned. But, I am thankful to have learned them, even if it has taken me twelve years. Maybe, some of you are getting ready to go out and lead local churches. Learn from my experiences.

 

Be who God calls you to be in the place God calls you to plant your life. Churches are not meant to be rungs on a ladder. They are the body of Christ. Love the local church no matter the size and use the gifts God gives you to build her up.

A Message To Small Church Pastors: Your Ministry Matters!

Small church pastors I want you to know you matter. Your ministry matters. Your church matters. We don’t hear this affirmation much in our church world where it seems bigness is next to godliness. Ministry success to many is defined by how many people attend your church and how big your “platform” can be. We know our value is not found in our numbers or our social media presence, but the truth is when all we see celebrated is the “success” of others it is easy to be discouraged. Sometimes those of us in the trenches of small church ministry need to be reminded of our value to the kingdom of God.

I was reading in the Gospel of Luke this morning and came to chapter 17. In verses 20 and 21 Jesus says this, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look here it is!’ or “There!’ for behold the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

These verses encouraged me in my own small church ministry. Sometimes, the work God is doing in us and through us and around us is unknown and unseen. Recognition for our ministry may never come and that is ok. We don’t need the glory because the Kingdom of God is in our midst. The Kingdom of God is in our churches, in our neighborhood, and in our communities. The Kingdom of God is here. Our ministry is to help others recognize and join this Kingdom. No matter the size of the crowd God is there and He is using the prayers of His people, the preaching of His Word, the songs of praise to form His church and to awaken hearts to the Kingdom of God in their midst.

We can trust God is working because the Kingdom of God is in the midst of us. Jesus has come, the Kingdom of God is at hand, and we can minister in the hope and joy of this truth.

We may not be able to brag on social media about our numbers last Sunday and we may have gone weeks or months without filling our baptismal waters, but we can know God is using us for His glory. Our call is to be faithful. That can sound cliché but it is true.

Keep going. Keep preaching. Keep praying. Remain faithful to the call of God on your life and know you matter. You matter to your church. You matter to God and you matter in His Kingdom. He is using you in ways that cannot be observed, in ways the world will never see, and in ways you may never know.

God’s Faithfulness In Our Obscurity

Luke 2:52 says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” This verse is the bridge between the early life of Jesus and His appearance on the scene for His three years of ministry around age 30. We have no record in the Bible of what happened in Jesus’ life between the ages of 12 and 30 other than this verse. Jesus grew in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man.

 

Through these eighteen years of obscurity God was preparing Jesus to fulfill His purpose and plan to save the world. Jesus had to be prepared for His calling and the way God prepared Him is to leave Him in Nazareth as a carpenter’s son, as a brother, as a friend. What we know of Jesus is from just a fraction of His life. Most of what Jesus did and said and lived we have no record of and this is good news for us.

 

We are normal, obscure people and in our obscurity God is growing us in wisdom, stature, and favor. We don’t have to be up front or famous to know the favor of God. We grow in the favor of God when we pull back, when we allow Him to grow us, mature us, teach us, and prepare us. God works in us where we are. For eighteen years we have no record of Jesus and His life and for many of us we will live eighty years and no one will keep a record of our lives. God will use those years to grow us in His wisdom and show us His favor.

 

Be content where God has placed you. In your obscurity God is working. He is preparing you for your calling and your purpose and that purpose may never be public ministry or where you will be noticed. It may be faithfulness as a teacher, as a plumber, as a construction worker, as an insurance agent. The world may never know your name, but God does. He loves you right where you are and even when we are in the backwoods of Nazareth God is increasing us in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man.

Competing Voices

When we read the first chapters of the book of Genesis we are confronted with what I believe is one of our most basic temptations. Whose voice will we listen to? We know the story of Genesis 3 and the Fall. Eve is tempted in the Garden by the voice of the serpent. “Did God really say?” “You will not surely die.” Satan twists and questions the word of God and the question for Eve and Adam becomes whose voice will you listen to? They choose the voice of the tempter. The voice of their own selfish desires. This is a loss of faith in the goodness of God and the sufficiency of His commands for our joy. They choose the voice glorifying them instead of God.

 

Genesis 16 shows us another example of this temptation. Sarai and Abram are tired of waiting on the promise of God. Reality does not line up with their perception of the promise of God to give them a son. Sarai takes matters into her own hands. She tells Abram to take Hagar as his wife and to have a son by her. She tries to fulfill God’s promise in her own way. Verse 2 ends with the author telling us “And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” Abram heard the promise of God. Time had passed and now Abram has a choice to either listen to the voice and promise of God and wait on Him or to listen to the voice of Sarai, the voice of urgency. He chooses the urgent.

 

We all have a choice on which voice we will choose to listen to each and everyday. Will we trust God’s promises and His word even when they are slow by our standards or will we give in to the voice of the urgent, of the moment and choose our own way, our own will, our own timing? Will we trust God’s word as good and His commands as joy or will we seek our own desires and way above all? As we start a new year let us resolve together to listen and trust the voice and promises of God. The urgent many times is in opposition to faith. The temptation is to give in to the urgent and to give in to our own glory. Give us ears to hear Lord. May we know the voice of the Lord and may we hear and respond to Him trusting His voice and His will.

To BGCT and SBTC Leaders

An Open Letter To Texas Baptist Denominational Leaders:

 

As a pastor I receive both of our state conventions publications including The Baptist Standard*(The Baptist Standard is not technically a publication of the BGCT) and the SBTC Texan. The magazines and papers you create and the websites you run are all informative and helpful for knowing the landscape of our denomination in our state. I want to start by stating my appreciation for all you do. But, I want to challenge you a little bit.

 

A few weeks ago I was reading one of these publications and there was a great story about a church experiencing unbelievable growth and a profile of the pastor leading this growth. There are stories like this in every publication. I understand the reasons. I understand they show us the amazing work of the grace of God in every corner of our state. I understand you want to highlight where God is working and those He is working through. I rejoice with the revival many are seeing. I rejoice God is doing amazing things. I rejoice lives are being changed and I long for this work in my church and in my community. But, the hard truth is I haven’t seen this kind of revival. This summer marked my seven-year anniversary at a small country church. It is the greatest church to pastor. The people are kind and generous and serious about their faith. They love their community and are seeking to be faithful to the Gospel in every sphere of their lives. We are small and to the world probably insignificant, but we are precious in the sight of God. I hope this does not come off as sour grapes, but I want to be honest.

 

As I was reading of this church in this small town exploding in growth discouragement overtook me. Why hasn’t that happened here? What am I doing wrong? Does the church need someone else to be a church like this one? Am I not good enough? Now, I realize this has much more to do with my own views of myself, the struggles I have with my own gifting, but I don’t think I am alone. Many of us struggle with feeling like we don’t matter, like our work doesn’t matter. We feel unappreciated by a church culture that values worldly success as much as the surrounding culture. The truth is most of the churches in both of your conventions are small, are struggling, and are praying and working to be faithful.

 

You are not trying to make small church pastors feel inferior, I know this without a doubt, but it is happening for this small church pastor. My suggestion is not for you to quit running such stories. Please keep them coming to remind us God can work anywhere and at any time. My suggestion for you is to do many more stories of places where it is hard week in and week out, year in and year out. Highlight not only the pastors who are seeing amazing growth, but also those who are faithful even when numerical growth is not present. Show us pastors who are faithfully preaching the word and have done so for years without recognition and without fanfare. Point us to pastors who love their people even when it has been the same people in the same pews for many years.

 

Small churches in small places need pastors too. Struggling churches need pastors too. There is an epidemic of pastors seeing and using churches as stepping-stones to a more successful place. We shouldn’t be surprised. When all we see are stories of amazing numerical growth we think either something is wrong with us or with our church and most of the time we choose the church. We then feel like our only option is to leave to a place we believe can give us the growth and recognition we deserve. This is selfish, but it is ingrained in us from books, conferences, publications, and a celebrity culture to rival pop culture.

 

Pastors, including this one, need to be taught contentment, faithfulness, and stability. We need to see the value in staying for a long time in the same place. We are praying for God to save the lost, to mend the broken, and to restore the fallen as much as every other pastor. We are not jealous or resentful when God works in other places and through other people. The truth is we rejoice at the work of God in the church down the street or the next town over. The kingdom of God is so much bigger than our one church. But, there are times when it is discouraging and lonely to not see your numbers grow, to not baptize someone in a given year. When the value of a ministry and a church is simply measured by numbers something is wrong. We want to be faithful and I know you want to help us be faithful. One of the ways you can help is to let us know we are not alone. There are many of us struggling faithfully in the work of the ministry. Remind us of this truth.

 

Thank you for all you do. Continue the good work of pointing us to the work of God in our great state.

 

Sincerely,

A small church pastor.