OSAGE BEACH – He’s the pastor of one of the fastest-growing church plants in the nation. But Joshua Hedger said it was a tornado that taught him the value of grace.
Hedger, pastor of Freshwater Church in Bolivar, delivered the annual sermon at the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) on Nov. 1. He acknowledged that at 30 years of age, he felt a bit intimidated to address the convention.
Basing his sermon on Luke 7, Hedger preached about grace and contrasted Simon the Pharisee with the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil. He asked messengers which one they identified with the most.
“As ministers, pastors and lay leaders in the church, we often tend to fall toward the Pharisee,” he said. “Here’s the problem with being in ministry, here’s what happens: I know I’m a lot better person than a lot of people in my church. Hopefully you’re surrounded by people who do behave worse than you. Hopefully you’re not the one behaving the worst in your church. Hopefully you have people in your church who are raw enough in sin and you know where they’re standing.”
That knowledge makes it easy to forget that the same grace that saves from sin is the same grace that sustains a believer and sustains their ministry, Hedger said.
“It’s not your teaching that saves,” he said. “Your words have never changed a heart. God does that. It is God’s grace that sustains people when they’re hurting.”
The Bible tells of ministers who saw great revivals, Hedger said, and
also of those who were ridiculed, persecuted and martyred.
“For those of us in churches where we’re struggling, we’ve been hurt and its painful to go back, where the convention is the highlight of the year because we get to get away for three days, be encouraged,” Hedger said. “God has faithful servants all throughout Scripture who preached to see very little happen, but they were faithful to God.”
He concluded the sermon by recounting the day of the Joplin tornado when he and his wife attended high school graduation, then went to his father-in-law’s house for a party. When the sirens went off, they got in the crawl space under the house. He held his wife as the house tore apart over their heads and Hedger feared they would not survive.
“I put my head in the mud and my prayers turned from ‘keep us safe’ to ‘thank you for your grace.’ When it’s time to see my Savior, all I have is grace. And by His grace we were spared.”
SUSAN MIRES/contributing writer