The Pastor from Gehenna

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In my early years as a pastor, I had a ?me against them? mentality.

My job was to whip the saints into obedience against their will. Since they really didn?t want to serve God, I had to guilt or pressure them into it. I’d say things like, ?Come on, let?s worship God like we really mean it.? How self-righteous I was.

I actually required our members to hand in ?Accountability Forms? to incite them to do their devotions. A few years ago, a woman from our church was cleaning her attic and found one of her forms. One entry said, ?Didn?t have devotions today. Too exhausted after having my baby.? Arghhhh – I was the pastor from Gahenna. Incredibly, she?s still in our church.

Mercifully, God used Ezekiel 36:26-27 to change my perspective forever.

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

This was revolutionary, and changed my whole view of God?s people. Now, by God?s grace, I have the following presuppositions about believers:

They love Jesus.
They want to obey him and walk in his ways.
They want to worship.
They want to become like Christ.
They don?t love sin or want to sin.
They want to change.

Why do I have this confidence? Because if someone has been born again, God has given them a new heart. He?s placed his Spirit in them who moves them to love and obey him.

Like me, they battle indwelling sin and temptation. Like me, they fail. But at their core, they have new hearts that love Jesus.

This makes a huge difference in the way I serve God?s people.

I no longer try to whip them into obedience, but seek to lift up their eyes to see Jesus, who redeemed them, is for them, and loves them unceasingly. I want to remind them that Jesus will complete the good work he began in them. I exhort them to obey God because his Spirit’s working in them. And by God’s grace I’m patient with slow progress (both theirs and mine), knowing God has given us hearts that love him.

Photo by AKMA

Mark Altrogge

I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.