This week I headed to Huntsville for the FEB Central Pastor’s Conference. Fellowship with other like-minded pastors from whom I have much to learn was a big part of the three days that I spent there. A seminar on the Bible & Homosexuality by my former theology professor was a huge help in addressing some of the latest challenges to the Bible’s teachings on gender. And talking through the pastoral implications with others who have already been confronted by them was important. I was amazed again at the reports of church planters in our region and took time to meet with several of them and find out more about their work. In addition to the many English-speaking church plants, it was clear that God is working to build His church among Filipino immigrants and Arabic-speaking refugees – this was so encouraging. Speaking with FEB Central’s former Regional Director helped me to understand how boards, pastors, and staff can work together most effectively. Most importantly, times of prayer and Bible teaching were very refreshing and helpful to me personally.

Suffering was a common thread in many of the messages. One spoke of how to deal with disappointment in our relationship with God. His ten-year-old son was hit by a car while delivering newspapers, and having faced such a loss he knew the limitation of superficial platitudes. He could relate to Asaph’s words in Psalm 73:

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked… Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.  - Psalms 73:2-3, 13

He talked about how our disappointment is often exasperated when we compare ourselves with others and stop communicating with God (v.22). But ultimately our disappointment finds its comfort in God’s presence as we cling to His promises (vv. 16-17), experience His presence (vv. 23-24) and consider the hope that He calls us to (vv. 25-26).

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  - Psalms 73:25-26

Another pastor shared some of the pain and depression that often accompanies the attacks of pastoral ministry. He shared that its not just the suffering that can bring us down but the sense that our suffering has no meaning. He spoke from 2 Corinthians 4 and encouraged us to anticipate God’s purposes in our suffering and talked about how suffering strengthens us (v.16), is related to our reward (v.17), and often confirms the reality of our message. “Woe to the minister who is only about living and never dying.”

For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  - 2 Corinthians 4:11

The final message was from Isaiah 49. Verse 13 begins with a joyous call to praise. But it’s written to exiles in Babylon who struggled to sing songs in the midst of their pain and disgrace (Psalm 137:3-4). Far from singing praise to God they complained in v.14, “The Lord has forsaken me.” The speaker shared of his experience of this pain when his wife went into a coma and he learned to pray with new honesty and frankly brought his raw emotion before God in prayer. It was in the midst of that communion with God in prayer that God assured him of His love and settled his heart with the conviction of God’s care and goodness. In vv.15-16, God holds out the most profound bond of love that can be known in human experience and declares it inadequate to express His love for His people.

Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.  - Isaiah 49:15-16

I hope that these words might encourage you as they did me. And I pray that I might help shepherd our congregation through times of pain and suffering even when I walk similar paths myself.

In awe of Him,