The Good News of Great Joy

Ultimate

I want you to see what is ultimate, true, and good in your life. And before you jump to conclusions, let me just say – it’s not you. Ultimately, what is most important in your life is not your home or health, your family or finances. These things are certainly important, but the universe will go on if these things don’t. What is ultimate is God Himself. And while much could be said about God, what must be said is that He is completely satisfied in Himself, filled with life, as a communion of three persons, a unity of three – or Trinity. The Trinity is not a complex math problem or philosophical conundrum; it simply means that the Father loves the Son in the Spirit.[1] And because God, as Trinity, is complete in Himself, He needs nothing to make Himself happier or more satisfied or more complete; He always is full of life and full of love.

The Father’s love for the Son is so full in fact, that it overflowed to create all things after the likeness of His Son – so that the whole world would be filled with the beauty of the Son! Each aspect of creation perfectly reflects the Son’s resplendence in its own unique way. In this way, the Father was showcasing what He admires most, His Son! The world would be filled with perfect reflections of the Son, the very image of God, and the Son would be magnified throughout the world as His excellencies shine forth to the ends of the earth through all things. The Father intended all of creation to be a gift to the Son, expressing His deep delight in the Son and displaying in great detail the intricate beauty inherent in the Son through creation.[2]

And, when He created all things, we can know that His actions were completely altruistic – or completely unselfish – because there is nothing that creation could have offered Him that He didn’t already have. He simply desired everyone to see and everything to show how good it was to love the Son.

And the Bible says the Son acted with the Father in creation, working inseparably with the Father and the Spirit. His creative work was fueled by love, because He knew that in creation the great love of the Father would be displayed for all to see, and everyone would know how great it was to be loved by the Father. And the pinnacle of creation was man and woman, Adam and Eve. They were designed to be God’s representatives on earth to carry out this divine mandate of establishing His garden paradise as the beautiful showroom where the full display of His love would be evident for all to see. Adam and Eve were meant to extend this paradise to the ends of the earth so the whole world would be filled with the image of God as they bore fruit and multiplied and cultivated the earth in light of this divine mandate; and in turn, all would experience the magnitude of His love.

This is what is ultimate, that we would find our life in the divine life of God, participating in the very life and love of the Trinity.

And this is the way the story of time began.

Adam, having received His command, was placed in the garden to begin his good work. Upon successful completion of his mission, he as mankind’s representative would usher all of humanity into an eternal age of knowing and enjoying God as their source and foundation for eternal bliss and happiness, like we were meant to.

If he failed, though, and disobeyed the High King’s command, the punishment was exile – separation from Him who is the source of all things good, true, and beautiful, which would result in death – not only for Him, but for all His posterity and descendants after Him. As they say, “As goes the king, so goes the people.” And if our experience tells us anything about reality, we know which path our representative took (the same one we would have!).

True

In a cosmic rebellion, Adam and Eve committed treason against God as High King. Refusing to enjoy eternal communion with God as their source of all things good and happy, they took their happiness into their own hands. They failed to realize though, that the happiness they sought was unattainable apart from Him. God designed humans in such a way that all that our heart most truly desires can only be satisfied through communion with Him. Fullness of life can only be found in Him; and now, Adam and Eve had detached all of mankind from the only source of life.

This reminds me of learning to drive stick shift on the bush roads of Madagascar. Our vehicle was designed to be operated in a specific way; only then would its purpose truly flourish. No matter how hard I tried to shift the stick to the next gear, the subsequent grinding noise told me that I was only damaging the vehicle (and frustrating the stew out of myself!). My failure to operate the vehicle the way it was designed had twin effects: an internal dissatisfaction and a path toward destruction for the vehicle (which I can unfortunately attest).

The same is true of our lives. God designed our lives to be lived in a specific way – namely, in communion with Him – and only in this way will we experience human flourishing. All other paths lead to a lack of fulfillment, dissatisfaction, and ultimately the destruction of death.

Adam and Eve failed to realize that their mistake not only plunged them into separation from God, but, as the representatives for all mankind, they plunged the entire human race into separation. If we probe our hearts enough, we intuitively know that we are cut from the same cloth as Adam and Eve, constantly seeking to base our happiness and source of life on things much lesser than communion with God.

And since God is holy, sinners cannot dwell in His presence and live. Just as a bright light extinguishes all the darkness in a room, God would effectively extinguish, so to speak, all sinners if brought into His presence.

To say it another way, the severity of our punishment for sin is in direct proportion to the value of the One sinned against.

For example, say I keyed a car. My action of scratching a brand-new BMW at the car dealer would invoke a greater punishment than the same action against a beater at the junk yard. In a much more infinite way, then, the slightest sin against the One who is most holy and infinitely valuable would rightly invoke an equally infinite punishment. The punishment fits the crime.

So infinite is our punishment in fact, that our finite selves can’t hope to pay it back to God for our redemption. Our problem is God-sized; and a God-sized problem requires a God-sized solution.

This is where the good news comes in.

Good

The good news is Jesus Christ Himself. Out of no obligation in Himself or to us, God sent Jesus Christ into this world to save sinners. Up to this point, mankind had only seen one representative – the first man, Adam. But now the King Himself was coming into the world to renew all things and establish His Kingdom as He intended in the beginning. God was coming into the world to give us a new and better representative, One who wouldn’t fail us and could restore us to the communion with God we were designed for.

This was the God-man, Jesus Christ. As truly God, born of a virgin, He possessed the infinite value we needed for a hope of redemption; and as truly man, He could identify with us and suffer and die for us. Only He could pay the infinite price we owed!

Jesus Christ came into this world so that – in His life, death, resurrection, and ascension – we could be made one with God again. He was restoring us to the life and happiness we experienced with Him in the garden, and continuing His original plan for this world to be filled with the glory of God.

The saying remains true with this new representative, “As goes the King, so goes the people.” But rather than coming under this new representative by birth, as with Adam, we become His people by faith. And through faith in this representative, we are redeemed. All that is true of Jesus becomes true of us. His perfect life and status of righteousness becomes ours. His death on the cross and its payment for sin becomes ours. His resurrection from the dead and inherent power for a new life becomes ours. His ascension to heaven and presence before God becomes ours. Again, all that is true of Jesus becomes true of us by faith. And all that was true of me; namely my sin and debt and shame, were taken by Christ, paid for, and jettisoned from my life.

Just like a marriage between a prince and a pauper, He takes my debt and shame and gives me His status as a child, access to His bank accounts, and brings me into His home.

And He does all of this by the gift of faith and repentance.

Response

Rather than merely an intellectual exercise as some may claim or a matter of willpower, faith is seeing and savoring all the excellencies of God in Christ and resigning yourself completely from all other pursuits for worth, value, and purpose. When you see this for the first time, you begin to realize, “He is all my heart has been longing for.” And rather than trying to continue on in life with your old operating system bent on performing or pretending your way toward an exhausted emptiness, you simply collapse into faith in Jesus and allow Him to be for you all your heart most deeply desires and needs.

This experience of saving faith is so formative that the Bible speaks of it as a new birth. In other words, when this happens for you and you see these things to be not only true, but true for you (and good!), you respond, “my life as I know it is over.” In a very real sense, your old life dies.

And you begin to realize, that “far from this being a sad state of affairs, this turns out to be the best news you’ve ever heard. Nobody can blame a corpse, especially not the corpse itself. Once dead, we are free from the blame speakers and guilt spreaders forever and fire from the messes we’ve made of our own lives. And in this state, God raised the dead, not on the condition of reform, but by sheer grace.”[3]

These phrases the Bible uses – new birth, life from death, sight to the blind – all describe the reality that everything from now on will be different as we live life in light of this glorious, good news.

And now, with this new faith, we follow this man Jesus Christ in all of life. Our new operating principle for life is called faith as a disciple (or apprentice) of Jesus. In other words, a disciple of Jesus is someone who is learning to submit all of life under the leadership of Jesus.[4]

And so, faith is not merely a one-moment decision that impacts eternity, but it’s a life of trust – a moment-by-moment turning to God in trust in our normal, everyday experiences.

The reality is – if you try to build your joy on anything less than Jesus, you will never experience the happiness you desire. But if you reject building your joy on anything less than Him, which the Bible calls idolatry, and instead yield to Him, you will then find the joy you were after in the first place in abundance.

This is the good news of the gospel.

As I’ve heard Tim Keller say before, ultimately, “the gospel is this – that I am more sinful than I ever dared imagine, but more loved and accepted in Christ than I ever dared hope.”[5]

And if you’ve never believed that before, I want to invite you to rest in Jesus who by virtue of His atoning death, is able to forgive and save all those who put their trust in Him. If you haven’t done that, your representative is still Adam – the first man – and your future is an eternal separation from the source of life and all things good.

You need Jesus. And He offers Himself to you. And if you would receive Him today by trusting in Him, you are promised all the benefits of His death secured for His people, and life forever with Him.

In possessing Christ through faith, you possess all things – a new family, a new identity, a new life, a new status, a new power, and so much more. Christ is all your heart most deeply desires, so come to Him by faith and find Him to satisfy every longing you could possibly have.

[1] Inspired from Glen Scrivener’s 3-2-1 Gospel Presentation

[2] Inspired from Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity

[3] Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word

[4] Jeff Vanderstelt, on several occasions

[5] Tim Keller, on several occasions



Surgeons of the Soul

One day when we lived in New York City, I was in a hurry to get from one meeting to the next. The first step to getting there was to descend to the lobby from the twenty-eighth floor of the building where my first meeting took place. I was joined on the elevator by a mother and her young daughter, who smiled at me and said, “Watch this!” Then, with a mischievous look on her face she proceeded to press every single button on the elevator wall like Buddy the Elf.

Needless to say, I was late to my next meeting. Thirty-five minutes late, to be exact. But even worse than being late was when the girl’s mother looked at me, after her little cherub punched the buttons that would cause the elevator to stop at every floor between us and the lobby, one by one—and said to me, “Isn’t she just the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?”

Everything in me wanted to say, “Truthfully, ma’am, right now your daughter is the furthest thing from that.” Instead, I held my tongue and offered a weak, disingenuous smile.

Several years later, I am still mystified by the mother’s response to her daughter’s act. Why didn’t the mother stop the little girl from pushing all those buttons? Why didn’t she treat it as an opportunity to teach her child about self-control, sensitivity to others, and the value of time? Furthermore, why didn’t I—though a stranger to both of them—do the mother a small kindness by responding honestly, “Well, since you asked, I wonder if you might think differently about her actions if you knew that as a result, I’m now going to be very late to an important meeting.”

I passed up this opportunity to help a young mother parent her (possibly spoiled) daughter in a healthier way in the same way we all pass up such opportunities on a regular basis: We don’t see them as opportunities. Truth be told, most of us don’t value this kind of redemptive truth-telling because we are cowardly. The drive to be liked compels us to not rock the boat, even when rocking the boat can potentially keep the boat from sinking.

I wonder if this is why so many Christians don’t regularly tell others about the good news of the gospel. We have such good news in our possession of grace, truth, beauty, and everlasting Paradise offered to all who anchor their trust in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Is it because we don’t think it will be received as good news? Are we afraid it will offend someone and rock the boat? Consider, however, the following words from atheist, illusionist, and comedian, Penn Jillette:

“I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward… How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” [1]

If an outspoken atheist would take issue with the lack of courage that prevents many Christians from speaking the truth about God and about life, how much more should those of us who are Christians take issue with the same? And yet, this isn’t always the case.

While none of us wants to run around telling other people what’s wrong with them, it is a mistake to think that never offering critique—especially a humble one—is a loving thing. In fact, sometimes love requires that we stand up and in humble boldness speak hard words to those whom we love. I believe this is what David and Paul both meant—at least in part—when they said that believers should be angry, but sin not (Psalm 4:4; Ephesians 4:26).

Anger toward sin in particular, though a negative emotion, should be motivated by positive love for those caught in it—similar to a surgeon who uses a scalpel on a patient with cancer. The surgeon will cut into the patient not because she is against the patient, but because she is for him. Passionate for his restoration to health and longevity, she is against—even angry toward—the cancer that could cut his life short.

In a similar way, there is an appropriate and necessary anger that must be nurtured in our hearts toward the sin in ourselves and others. As we channel our anger in this way—as we correct and rebuke one another not as with a sword to destroy, but as with a scalpel to heal—we become channels of God’s love toward one another. Yes, love and anger go together. Both are necessary for the redemptive exchange that must take place between flawed sinners when one or both is “caught” in transgression (Galatians 6:1-2). Consider these words from Rebecca Manly Pippert:

“We tend to be taken aback by the thought that God could be angry… We take pride in our tolerance of the excesses of others. So what is God’s problem… But love detests what destroys the beloved. Real love stands against the deception, the lie, the sin that destroys… ‘the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor…’ Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference… To be truly good one has to be outraged by evil.”[2]

Over the years, as a pastor I have had to preach hard words against the sin and foolishness to which we are all susceptible. As one who is called to preach the word of God “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) and to use God-breathed Scripture to “teach, correct, rebuke, and train” my flock in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17), confronting sin is not an optional endeavor.

In my role as pastor—and also in my life as a Christian—over the years I have also had to arrange private meetings, and in some more serious and ongoing cases, group interventions, to challenge behaviors that dishonor God, that damage community, and that disorient those who are caught in transgression.

These uncomfortable occasions have challenged sins like gossip, slander, divisiveness, aggression, sexual immorality, marital unfaithfulness, financial impropriety, greed, narcissism, and more. In some of these conversations, God has worked to bring about repentance in those I have confronted. In other conversations, the other person responded in kind—opening my eyes to things that I, too, have needed to repent of. And sadly, other conversations have led to strained or even broken relationships.

I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that the “faithful wounds” God sometimes calls us to inflict on one another as mutual “surgeons of the soul”—always as with a healing scalpel and never as with an injurious sword—can sometimes create further relational strain.

And yet, because God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours, we must hold out hope that God remains at work. We must also remember that it is an unspeakable privilege to participate with God in one another’s redemption stories, for “he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at scottsauls.com



My Only Comfort

My back hurts almost all the time now. It starts when I wake up. I turn on my left side to stop the alarm from waking my wife and notice the slight twinge of discomfort. If I am not careful, laying there on my pillow with my head tilted the wrong way will prepare me for a day of nagging ache.

I suppose this is part of what it means to grow old. Pain comes more quickly—if it ever really leaves. Like the birds of morning and the crickets of night, the noise of pain exists in an ever-present state, sitting in the background of everything else going on. The difference, of course, is no one considers the pain beautiful. No one stops to listen to the pain. What’s the point? It only makes it stronger.

When I finally put that first foot on the floor and rouse myself from the warmth and comfort of the bed, the pain moves to my heels. When I sit down with my coffee to read in my leather chair, the back pain returns. It is dulled only by the thoughts racing through my brain of the upcoming day. The meetings, the problems, the conversations, the projects, all of it sitting on my shoulders. I am Atlas without the strength to bear it.

However, even a bad day for me is a better day by far than most in the world both now and before. I am, after all, starting my day in a warm bed and with hot coffee. I drive a nice car to a well-paying job with enough challenges for a lifetime. I am surrounded by people who require only my attention and effort. I go home to a big family with a good dinner. Seven months out of twelve, Major League Baseball is in season. It is not a bad life. Not by a long shot.

But the pain is still there. Life is good, but it is not easy.

The right attitude would help, I’m sure. Gratitude would make a world of difference, I know. I get there sometimes. I force myself into it. But it doesn’t remove the ache. It doesn’t solve the problems. Seeing the good side doesn’t make the bad side less real. It doesn’t shine it up enough to camouflage it from the rest of life. Even the best days have some bad in them. Even the biggest laughs hurt if you go on long enough. I am grateful for all the varied gifts each day prepares and delivers. I am not depressed—at least, I don’t think I am. I still know well the feeling of hope and joy. But the sun sets on the best of days. All things are full of good, yes, but also of weariness. Life goes on. We age, we hurt, we die, and nothing will stop that progression.

I have no doubt what I have said so far is true. We all feel it. If you don’t yet, it’s probably because you’re not old enough. Give it time. This world reveals itself for the broken thing it is.

Is there any wisdom in what I am saying? That is the real question. Do I see things as they are and live within those boundaries, or am I merely complaining about things that I have no reason to?

The Preacher of Ecclesiastes is my only hope in answering that question. As far as I know, I have not said anything he did not say. In fact, I have held back. I have not (yet, anyway) proclaimed it all meaningless (Eccl. 12:8). I have not (yet, anyway) made much of the vanity of it all. God knows deeper than I ever will the truth of the matter.

Perhaps you have felt the way I do right now. Where do we go then, when the days are an endless cycle of discomfort, and we look ahead only to greater pain in the future? Our best days, we sense in some way or another, may be behind us. I will never move the way I did in my youth. A good night’s sleep is something I’d gladly pay for if I could, but I can’t. A great restaurant will eventually disappoint. A sunrise in all its beauty only reminds me of the day ahead full of toil and trouble. What is the point of it all? When it ends up in the coffin, what can life amount to?

The answer is difficult to find. Hope in an increasingly hopeless world is shrouded in mystery. But it is there. It is real. It is available. It is a gift—and that is the thing we must all remember. Hope is not something we can muster up from within. Our greatest hopes are never enough for the bigness of our hearts. Life will always let us down. We must look beyond ourselves, this world, and all we see and touch and smell and hear and taste. The hope that props up the world is not visible to our earthly eyes. No wonder it’s hard to see.

Our only comfort in life is that we may belong to another. If we are our own, our demise is a welcome thing. Finally, the trouble is ended. The pain will stop. But if we are not our own, our problems lie in the hands of someone else. We have an end to which we are headed. There is a solution to all our problems. There is one who cares even when we struggle to anymore. There is one who makes it all matter, who gives it all deep meaning.

The Heidelberg Catechism is ultimately right. What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

My faithful Savior. Though everything else ultimately will, Jesus will not let me down. I am his, and he doesn’t fail.



One-to-One Bible Reading in Missions

I first read David Helm’s book One to One Bible Reading: a Simple Guide for Every Christian, when I was preparing to serve in East Asia. I believe the approach to discipleship that Helm promotes in the book lends to missionary work. I think that there are a few ways that O2O is uniquely suited to the cross-cultural mission context.

The Bible is Proven to be True, Relevant, and Applicable Across all Cultures

Throughout the time I have served in different cross-cultural contexts, I have learned that language is not the only difference between a cross-cultural missionary and the people among whom they live and serve. Missionaries are required to learn an entirely new way of living due to the unique culture and values of the people. A missionary serving cross-culturally experiences a variety of differences in values, thought-processes, struggles, temptations and worldviews in their new culture. Whether for good or bad, the majority of discipleship material is written from a western perspective. The applications a businessman in Boston, Massachusetts draws from particular texts of Scripture may be vastly different from those drawn from a herdsman living in the steppes of Mongolia or a hunter in the jungles of Brazil reading the same biblical text. However, the Bible speaks truthfully across all cultures in the world throughout all time because it is the very word of God. By using the Bible as the central resource in discipleship, a missionary can be confident that the material they are using is true, relevant, and applicable in the life of the person they are discipling.

O2O Bible Reading Prevents Culture Transfer

One of the dangers of a missionary crossing cultures is the temptation to bring their cultures values and teach them as Biblical truths. To be fair, there are many things that America values that should be transferred into another culture. These include things like hospitality, work-ethic, and discipline. However, these things should be brought into another culture not because they are American, but rather because they are Biblical (ie 1 Peter 4:9, Colossians 3:23-24, 1 Corinthians 9:27). There are many things that American culture values that are not necessarily biblical. Things like individualism, punctuality, and dating prior to marriage. These things are not bad, but should not be taught as Biblical truth in a context that does not value these things. By keeping the Bible at the center of discipleship a missionary can protect themself from teaching their particular culture as Biblical truth.

O2O Bible Reading Gives a Missionary Confidence When Opposing a Cultural Values

The Bible often does confront cultural values. A missionary friend of mine was explaining to me the difficulties of serving in a primarily hindu culture. The biggest difficulty they had was opposing and overcoming the hindu “caste” system. What made things more difficult was that other missionaries around them were against opposing this cultural value and rather focused their ministry on reaching one particular caste. This missionary stated that it was very tempting to do the same. Why try to overcome this barrier when it would be easier to focus on the Brahmin caste and avoid opposing their worldview by teaching that Brahmins needed to accept those of the lower castes? However, my friend also understood that the teaching of the Bible opposed the caste system (ie James 2:1-13), and this knowledge gave him the courage and confidence to stand against it as well.

O2O Bible Reading Promotes Indigenous Churches

The goal of a cross-cultural missionary is (or should be) to plant or to come alongside indigenous churches. An indigenous church is one that is self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating. O2O Bible Reading lends itself to promoting indigenous churches in all three of these ways.

Self-Supporting – A self-supporting church is one that is able to rely only on its own financial resources to provide for its needs. Because O2O Bible Reading does not require anything other than a Bible for discipleship, it frees a church from any financial need for discipleship resources.

Self-Governing – a self-governing church is one whose elders and deacons are local, national believers who are biblically qualified to be in that role. A self-governing church is able to recognize and appoint those in the congregation who are biblically qualified to lead it. A congregation with a culture of O2O Bible Reading will be able to evaluate believers who are qualified within the church and appoint them as leaders and to equip them to govern the church biblically.

Self-Propagating – A self-propagating church is one that is able to make disciples and to plant other healthy churches from within its own congregation. A church rooted in O2O Bible Reading will equip its people to make and grow disciples and to plant healthy churches through the reading of God’s Word together.

While other discipleship methods can be helpful, O2O Bible Reading is particularly and uniquely suited for discipleship and church planting in a cross-cultural context.



Thoughts on Studying Revelation

Thoughts about studying the book of Revelation are often accompanied by feelings of fear and trepidation. Many immediately think of how they have seen the text abused by sensationalistic preachers who purport to be able to identify every symbol and image with a current event, place, or person.

I was converted to faith in Christ in 1989 and spent the early 90’s as a baby Christian. My first sermonic introduction to the book of Revelation involved being told that the locusts were symbols of U.S.S.R. helicopters, Mikhail Gorbachev was the antichrist, and super market scanners were going to secretly give us the mark of the beast.

I remember reading Revelation and failing to see any of those things in the book but I figured the problem must have been with my limited understanding. But I also noticed that there were others Christians who totally rejected the notion Revelation was about helicopters, Gorbachev, and supermarket scanners, but they offered no constructive explanations of what the symbols meant. Their approach to the sensationalism was to denounce it and then proceed to ignore the book of Revelation altogether.

Neither of those pathways is the least bit helpful.

The book of Revelation is meant to vividly appeal to the reader or hearer’s imagination but one’s imagination is to be constrained by what the text actually says and means. Simply ignoring the book is also tragic, especially in light of the book’s own promise: Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3). Below are some quick thoughts on preaching Revelation.

Revelation Helps Clarify Jesus and his Kingdom—Not Confuse

The point of the book is to reveal, not hide or obscure.

The message of Revelation makes Jesus and his kingdom more clear here-and-now. The book has a down-to-earth, this-worldly focus to help suffering believers persevere. It helps to see the triune God’s control over the future through the eschatological triumph of Christ to remind readers and hearer’s that things are not only as they seem in the present. The first words of the book provide the promise that the book contains, “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” The Greek word apokalypsis (“revelation”) means something unveiled, revealed, or made known. In the New testament, it also carries the idea of supernatural revelation of divine truths incapable of being discovered by men on their own. Revelation unveils with more clarity and greater specificity the glorious triumph of the Lamb, our Lord, Savior, and King—Jesus Christ.

Revelation’s Purpose is Practical—Not Speculative

I have had people tell me that they do not study the book of Revelation because they focus on more practical parts of the Bible. They leave the book of Revelation to the scholars. We would do well to remember that the book of Revelation is addressed to seven actual churches in Asia Minor (Revelation 1:11), and written to be read aloud in those churches. The believers in the seven churches of Asia Minor were facing great difficulty and persecution. John received his vision that he recorded while banished to the Isle of Patmos as a political prisoner for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. It appeared that the small churches in Asia minor would soon be swept away by Roman power under the tyrannical and cruel reign of Domitian. John makes it clear that any believer may hear and profit from it (Revelation 1:3).

John did not send this book to the churches in order to satisfy their speculative curiosity about the future, but to encourage them while going through intense persecution. As they heard and embraced Revelation, its message, would give all of them hope.

Revelation is the Bible’s Story—Not Alarmist Entertainment

The book of Revelation presents itself as the culmination of the biblical story and the climax of prophetic revelation. There are Old Testament references and allusions in almost every single verse of the book of Revelation. We are not meant to read Revelation apart from understanding its Old Testament connectedness. To understand the amazing imagery in the book of Revelation we are not left to our own mental ingenuity, we must be familiar with the rich imagery throughout biblical prophetic literature. The unity of the book of Revelation with the biblical narrative is also seen in the fact that the conclusion of Revelation echoes the imagery and language of the very beginning of the Bible, but now in light of Christ’s consummation of the kingdom (Gen 1-2, Rev 21-22). Put simply, Revelation does not tell us a weird fantasy story to entertain, it tells us the Bible’s story to strengthen and empower us.

Revelation is Christ-Intoxicated—Not Headline-Intoxicated

The message of the book of Revelation is the movement from gruesome warfare to victory in Jesus Christ. Revelation is permeated by multi-ethnic worship that ultimately centers on the victory of the Lamb who was slain, risen, and now reigns forevermore. He is the one, and the only one, in the throne room who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals (Revelation 4:1-6:17). Likewise, he is the one who sets up his kingdom and opens the scrolls of judgment (Revelation 19:11-20:15). His enemies will be defeated and destroyed, as martyrs will be vindicated, and he will inaugurate a consummated Kingdom, a new heavens and new earth (Revelation 5:9-10, 12, 13, 7:10-12, 11:15-18, 15:3-4, 16:5-7, 19:1-7). Revelation is centered with the promise: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). Revelation weans us off of the lie that what we see around us is all there is to see as if the daily headlines define reality. If we get drunk on the headlines we will be spiritually sluggish and impaired. We must be intoxicated with Christ and his kingdom in the here-and-now, while always longing, “Come Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:21).

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at davidprince.com


The Gospel That Rewrites Us

Although I was familiar with the word “gospel” growing up, I didn’t know what it meant. Despite sitting through countless Sunday morning services, the gospel itself was never fully articulated in context.

It makes sense that many people, even those who grew up in church, might have a muddied idea of the word. In our culture, there’s a wide array of meanings that are often attributed. It can be a music genre, a slang term for conveying something as important, or it can represent a generalized idea of religion.

“Gospel” is actually the translation of a Greek word meaning “good news.” But, there obviously needs to be context for it to be understood. If “gospel” means good news, what makes it good news?

You’ve probably heard a thirty second summary of the gospel message. However, without any backstory, it’s not easy to connect with. The gospel is the story of a Savior redeeming humanity by dying on our behalf — but if we don’t see a personal need for being saved from our sin, we’ll never see what makes any of it necessary. It’s like if you walked in on the third act of a movie, but missed the first 50 minutes. You aren’t going to care what happens if you don’t know why anything is happening. The pacing can feel disorienting, character motivations can be unclear, and you might not even be sure who the protagonist is.

For us to know why the gospel matters, we need to know why we need to be redeemed. Jesus can’t be a great Savior unless there is something terrible for us to be saved from, and something great for us to be saved for.

There are times when it seems obvious that the world is broken and needs redemption, but it isn’t often we feel something is wrong in ourselves. Even though we can name a long list of corrupt politicians and movie executives who clearly need redemption, we don’t think we do. At least, not to the extent that Jesus seems to think we do. Our default setting tells us we don’t need forgiveness in the way that is demonstrated by Jesus dying a brutal death on a cross.

But when we underestimate how much our actions matter and we excuse our sin as not really being a big deal, we sell ourselves short. We defend our actions, saying we aren’t hurting anyone, that we’re only committing victimless crimes. Or we remind ourselves how others have the same issues as us, and some people are even worse, so we aren’t that bad in comparison.

The reality is, our sin goes beyond our actions, because how we act is just a reflection of how we think. It might not always look like we’re clearly in direct opposition to God, but we tend to live in neglect of him. Apathy toward God is the human condition that we need to be rescued from.

Instead of choosing to follow him, we buy into the idea of writing our own journey, of following our heart— but nobody mentioned our heart isn’t always the best guide. Sometimes what we want leads to self-destruction.

This is the story of the Bible: that we’ve chosen our own way over God’s way, and we’ve created a distance between us and him because of it.

It’s the same story as when Adam and Eve decided to give into what they wanted over contentment with God and everything he had already given them. When they ate the fruit, Adam and Eve were told they would have the kind of knowledge and authority that only God has. They were told they would be like him, but in a sense, they already were like him. They had been made “in his image,” meaning God had created them as a smaller scale reflection of himself. They were “complete,” they were perfect as they were.

But they sacrificed their relationship with God to be independent from him in hope of becoming their own gods. It not only cost them the reality-encompassing peace they had— it cost them their identity. They separated themselves from God. They abandoned him, choosing not to be his children anymore.

In pursuing a life without God like Adam and Eve did, we’ve grown more attached to sin than to him. We’ve made ourselves numb. We’ve become accustomed to indifference and we’ve sidelined our Creator. God’s image in us has been shattered because we’ve chosen everything else over him.

“It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half- hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
― C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

The good news is, even though we can hardly comprehend our need to be redeemed, God came to us as a man, Jesus, to save us from the sin that had detached us from him.

Jesus lived for God— and not just the default desires that we live for, like appetite or success or thrill or popularity. He never gave into the temptation we give into on a daily basis. He didn’t have moments where he slipped into apathy and forgot the Joy that had been set before him. He lived out God’s will for humanity, knowing what he would eventually have to do.

Jesus was the Messiah, a promised Savior from an ancient prophecy, and God had said it was through him that he would redeem his people from their sin. Except, no one had any idea how this would happen. After Jesus was betrayed by his own followers, he was handed over to government officials to be executed as a rebel in the most humiliating way possible for that time. Innocent and alone, Jesus suffered a torturous death he didn’t deserve so we wouldn’t have to pay for the sin we’ve committed against God.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34

When Jesus died on the cross, the life he lived was transferred to us, and the judgment our sin deserved was transferred to him.

At the time, nobody had figured it out that this was how God was delivering his people from their sin to be reunited with him. After Jesus was buried, it was presumed by many that he wasn’t God. He died, and God doesn’t die. People thought he was just another one of the many frauds who claimed to be the Messiah.

But on the third day after his death, Jesus returned to life, showing us that the mission has been accomplished. He is God. It was through dying for his enemies that he was restoring our relationship to himself. Sin has been defeated, and even death couldn’t hold back the Author of Life.

Now, we can know God as only Jesus deserved to know him: as Father. Through the cross, Jesus gave us back the identity we gave up.

Instead of abandoning us like we did to him, God has loved us anyway. That’s why the gospel is a message of grace. It’s the story of God replacing our self-made narrative for the life that Jesus lived. It’s the story of God rewriting our lives by giving us something we could never earn apart from him. We’re saved from our sin, but what that really means is, we’re saved from ourselves. We’re lifted out of an alternate reality which we have curated on our own terms, and brought back into actual life as defined by its Creator.

By trusting Jesus and his sacrifice for us, we can know God personally and be forgiven of everything we’ve done against him. We can receive and embrace the story in context, looking to Jesus at the center.

Now, when God sees us, he sees us restored to the image that we shattered.



The Rural Church Dilemma

Some time ago I drove to several small towns in rural Arkansas with my 89 year old father and my siblings, tracking the steps of the ministry of both my dad and his father. The experience was memorable. We visited small towns that even Arkansans might not recognize today: Cotter, Caledonia, Hagersville, Greenwood, LaVaca—twelve in all. These were the places where my father, and his father, labored for Christ eighty and ninety years ago.

Much has changed in the landscape of rural America in those eighty plus years. For one thing, most farms have been eaten up by large conglomerates, dramatically reducing population. The size of families has dropped and the area Walmart has made ghost towns of the typical downtown areas. Families long ago moved out of these rural places for the big cities in order to find work, and what young people you may find will almost certainly not stay where there is no action. With these demographic alterations, the country church has been reduced to only a shadow of what it once was.

But this does not mean the country church is not there. There are yellow brick buildings with mud stains around their base that still exist as the gathering place for those few faithful (and often reserved) older citizens and, in several cases, a family or two or even more containing younger people.

The “county seat” town churches are doing better, but even they feel the changes. Some have become regional churches for the surrounding areas. In fact, there are some notable exceptions to the general rule that rural churches are failing. In one Arkansas town that you have likely never heard of, there were 900 attending the largest church on Sunday mornings. The more remote rural churches have yielded their younger families over to these active centers which often carry on vibrant ministries. Regionalization is definitely a trend. We could call it the “Walmartization” of the rural church.

I’ve been there in my own ministry, pastoring in historic Washington, Arkansas as my first assignment. Thirty-five years ago, this town consisted of about 400 occupants, half black and half white. It has now lost much of that population and has turned into a state park (it was the old Civil War capitol of Arkansas). I never knew what quiet was until I pastored in that town. I used a “privy” behind the café and I waited out the lonely nights in a “Jim Walter” home provided by the church. It grew up to about 60 in attendance while I was there, but stayed mostly around 40. The grade school moved to Hope just after I was there, and things went down further. There is not as much going on now as far as church life is concerned, since the town has become a state park site. We said, even at that time, that the church was “just past Hope.” In more recent days, I’ve been back to that town and have reminisced about the good days of early ministry there, learning from kind people.

In addition to that, I’ve preached in so many rural churches that I could not even begin to recount them all. My ministry of 40 years of preaching has landed me in both city and rural churches, some huge, others in towns so sleepy that the grass grows unmolested on the two-lane highway—and deacons wear overalls. Though I’ve loved all of the experiences I’ve been privileged to have, I have to admit that it is often easier to visit than to stay in such a church. And I’ve scratched my head with the pastor wondering how the church could find vitality.

What happens when the young seminarian or college ministerial student takes his first churches in these areas? And what should the committed rural pastor think about his church’s future?

Some Thoughts for Rural Pastors

Here are some thoughts for rural pastors. You are the experts, not me. But these thoughts might stimulate something in a church that is not going to be known, outside of a miracle, for its numerical growth. In fact, you may wonder sometimes if God knows you are there.

Remember that you are entirely unaware of the impact of your ministry. For instance, you may teach older adults without much visible impact. But one of them, perhaps a grandparent of an unconverted child, may receive stimulus from your ministry that makes her a true witness to her grandchild. Her witness, prompted by your stimulus and instruction, may be the very thing God uses to bring that child to Him. She may not even be aware of her impact. In fact, it may not come to bear until after she has passed on. The grandchild, in time, may one day marry a believer and raise up children who also become believers in another part of America. Do you really know what that will mean in terms of eternity? Do you know what it means in terms of generations of believers? What if, three generations down the line, one of the Christians in this line is instrumental in the evangelization of an unreached tribal group? Did you see that when you taught that grandparent on a sleepy Sunday morning? Likely not.

Don’t forget that Jesus said, “I will build my church.” The time you taught that grandparent might be far more instrumental in the building of the universal church than ten years of ministry in some large city church with all its innovations and activities. You cannot know how God will work for sure, yet you can be confident that it would be a total surprise to you how significant your labors are. Therefore, “sow in hope.”

Be happy to know that you may not be able to change much but lives. I mean by this that the structure of things, the hackneyed songs, the unrefined style of your meetings, the organizational plan, the leadership set, may not be within your power to alter. I don’t say you should not try. But, at the end of the day, the real purpose of your being there is to change lives, not to make things look good.

I found, through years of ministry, that you will often not know your impact until you are gone. I recently received a letter from someone at that Old Washington, Arkansas church who was affected by my novice ministry in ways I did not dream. She was then a child visiting without her parents, and I had paid real attention to her. She continued to come, though almost always hidden in the shadows. My attention to her resulted in her eventual conversion and a life of serving God for which she was extremely thankful. Her brother, who died as a youth, had also been converted. She had been seen as not just a visiting girl, but as a soul important to God. The importance of that attempt at caring was completely unknown to me until I received that letter.

The focus, then, should be on people. So, keep your aim right. For instance, you may start a book club with any of your people who care to participate. Let’s say that you provide readable, accessible books, that have marvelous truths to be understood. You set reachable goals and meet every week, or every other week in your home, just to chat informally about what is learned. You drink coffee and just enjoy learning something. No pressure. Over time, this one idea may build some mighty believers. It’s not a great program that somebody will write up, but it focuses on people and the changes that God can bring.

Be energized by the concept that your church could become the most loving church in the world. I find this compelling. There will be many things your church may not be. It may not be the most educated church or the most innovative church, or the most evangelistic church,  but it can be the most loving church. There is nothing to stop that from happening except your lack of determination and/or the will of the people. Love, after all, is the sign of maturity as a church. Now, if you are seeing this, you will find ways to encourage love.

Putting love first will mean that you will work out ways for people to be in your home, and in the home of the other church members. You will think of ways to get people to really know the insides of each other. Sheep need help to overcome their reserved nature. They will need to be commended for acts of love, just as Paul often did. You will need to set the pace and demonstrate a passionate love for the people. Dream about this. And, my experience is (and the Bible’s teaching is) that this is a powerful way to witness. The love of the people of God for each other is, as Francis Schaeffer said, “the final apologetic.”

Well, there is more, but these three should serve to encourage you. I know you need it. When it is all said and done, we are going to be thrilled at the way God has used the out-of-the-way places, the forgotten places, to do some of His most significant things.

I love the rural church and hope you do. Some of you will serve all your life in them. God bless you for your perseverance and courage.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at ccwtoday.org



Lead Where You Are

Editor’s Note: This post is excerpted with permission from Turnaround by Jason K. Allen. Copyright 2022, B&H Publishing. The book is available wherever Christian books are sold.

The most important leadership role you will ever have is the one you’re in right now. Or, to put it more succinctly, lead where you are.

By most any definition, I was a young man in a hurry. There is just something about being in your twenties that predestines restlessness. My mentor, Pastor Steve Lawson, sensed my restlessness and counseled me: “Jason, the most important job you will ever have is the one you have right now.” His words registered on my heart before they landed in my ear. I still remember where we stood, by his administrative assistant’s desk, when he spoke those words to me.

His instinct was right. I needed to hear his admonition. Not only did I need it, but in some ways I wanted it. I sensed that my unsettledness was unhealthy. I purposed that day, due to both the apparent spiritual principle and the obvious practical benefits, to live by those words. I encourage you to do the same.

Leadership isn’t just in your future. It’s in your present. Scripture teaches that we are not guaranteed tomorrow, and even the most assured plans should come with a deo volente—if the Lord wills.

Along those lines, do not romanticize your future or daydream about how to seize it. Give your best energies to the position you currently hold. In leadership you are called to a stewardship of the present. And, in a very real sense, you will never have a greater stewardship than the one you have right now. We must work to maintain this mentality. Our self-help, self-improvement generation teaches us to strive for, to even connive for, our own betterment. But that is not the way of the faithful leader.

As an example, some have noted my father’s generation viewed work like an escalator. You get on at a lower floor, remain faithful in your position and to your employer over the long haul, and, as the decades pass, you will ride the escalator up to higher floors.

My generation views employment more like a jungle gym, hopping from place to place, always scouring the horizon for self-advancement and never missing an opportunity for self-promotion. The leader’s strategy for career advancement ought not resemble American Ninja Warrior.

Thus, to lead in the future, make sure you lead in the present. Do not spend your time refining your personal leadership philosophy; go with what you know now. Pursue faithfulness in leadership, not success. The world does not need more hypothetical leaders; it needs more actual ones.

In fact, Jesus commended such faithfulness, promising, “The one who is faithful in a very little thing is also faithful in much; and the one who is unrighteous in a very little thing is also unrighteous in much” (Luke 16:10). Vocationally, your today is more important than your tomorrow. The fastest way to a higher office is to excel in the one you occupy now.

Generally, those who serve most faithfully—who prove themselves indispensable to their organization’s health—will not be overlooked. Such faithfulness is a rare trait, and employers work to retain such individuals. Indispensable employees usually do not have to fear pink slips and rarely must ask for pay raises.

I can assure you, if you faithfully lead where you are, it is unlikely you will be overlooked by man. And I can promise you, with the words of Christ in mind, you will not be overlooked by God.



The Need for Confession in a “Copy” and “Edit” Age

These days, there’s a filter for almost anything. People can “edit” and “crop” their entire lives. Simply click the image, select from the endless options of filters that enhance the desired effect, and presto—the world is given the snapshot version of “me” that I want it to have. Unfortunately, the Christian life does not work that way. It was never intended to. God, in His infinite wisdom, has made transparency and confession a necessary component of spiritual health. If we are to grow in Christ, then we must allow someone, or a few someones, to see beyond the cropped and edited version of ourselves.

Given how much confusion surrounds the practice of confession, it’s essential to clarify what is meant by confessing sin. In hearing the term, those who come from a Roman Catholic background may think of the formal sacrament of penance (or the sacrament of reconciliation), in which a person regularly seeks out a priest so that their sins will be absolved. While protestants rightly protest the need to confess sins to or receive absolution from a formal priest, we must not be too hasty in dismissing the sacredness of confession. In confessing sins to one another, we engage in a spiritual endeavor, a holy campaign, against our insurrection. We are declaring war on our own rebellion. We need not go to any priest. Any Christian brother or sister who loves and speaks the gospel will do. And while we need not treat it like a sacramental ritual, we should let it become a sacred lifestyle. By confession, I mean a holy habitus in which a Christian deliberately exposes and confronts their own sin whenever it manifests itself so that others may restore them in the joy of the gospel.

One of the primary dangers of sin is not simply that it exists but that by its existence, it seeks to cripple a joyful relationship with the triune God. According to the Puritans, redemption not only seeks the eradication of evil (ademptio mali) but also the enjoyment of good (adeptio boni).[1] Sin rebuilds the malice that God has broken down and breaks down the good that God built. Sin is, in its very essence, a joy thief that is opposed to God’s good purposes.

Sin’s antithetical nature toward our good God is why confession is so important. Confession is much more than an embarrassing admission of failure, as people have often treated it. Quite the contrary, it is a desperate pursuit of restored joy in the Lord. Without confession, such restoration is impossible.

 Confession means coming out of hiding. Augustine once wrote, “In failing to confess, Lord, I would only hide you from myself, not myself from You.” As it did with Adam, our hidden sin leaves us feeling afraid and shamefully exposed. A mere whisper of God’s approach sends us running for the trees. We hide. We deny and we even blame others. But redemption cannot happen until we come out of our hiding place. When God asked Adam, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9), it was not for God’s benefit but Adam’s. Being the omniscient being He is, God knew where Adam was. With His question, God “drew Adam from hiding rather than drove him from it.”[2] Confession answers the question, “Where am I?” It draws me out from behind the tree to acknowledge my sin and receive the good news of a serpent-crushing Savior who has and will overturn the evil I have committed.

Confession means leaving the dirty mudhole and coming back to the clean, refreshing waters of grace. In Jeremiah 2:13, God summarizes his people’s sins. They have (1) “forsaken me, the fountain of living waters” and (2) “hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Sin tempts us to believe that there is better, fresher water outside God. It, then, tells us to start digging. In the end, all we have is a leaky mudhole. In confession, we see the dirty, leaky mudhole for what it is and return to the only stream that can satiate our thirst.

Confession means celebrating the gospel. 1 John 1:8-9—perhaps the most often quoted text when it comes to confession—gives both a warning and a promise. First comes the warning, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” For John, whether or not a person has the truth indicates the state of a person’s relationship with the triune God (for example, see 1 John 2:4).[3] As seen throughout the biblical storyline, proximity to a holy God unveils a person’s sin and guilt. The classic example is Isaiah 6. When Isaiah faces a holy God, he confesses that he is a man of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5). Recognizing sin is an outcome of knowing God. A person might be absolutely sincere when he says, “I have no sins that I can see…no seriously, I can’t think of any weaknesses or vices.” Either this man is proof positive that perfection can be reached in this lifetime, or—more likely—he is looking at himself as man might look into a mirror in a dark room. It is only when the Lord comes in and turns on the light that the man can say, “Oh…now I see it.” Grace brings gracious exposure. Confession is a celebration that God is in our midst and, consequently, our sins have come into the light.

Following the warning comes a promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (v. 9). The word faithful (pistos) can mean reliable or trustworthy. In some cases, the word can describe someone who keeps a promise (Heb. 10:23). According to John, confession reveals God as both faithful and just. This claim is consistent with how God has revealed Himself throughout redemptive history. In Exodus 34:6-9, God declares that He is both just (by no means clearing the guilty) and gracious (forgiving iniquities).[4] It is a bit of paradox. How can God be at the same time both just in judging our sin and gracious in forgiving it? The cross solves the conundrum. There, God’s justice against sin is poured out on Jesus and the consequent result is forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Confession celebrates the gospel by declaring God’s justice and gracious faithfulness.

On the one hand, confession leads us to freely acknowledge that even in grace, God is still just. Sin is still sin and, therefore, it must be repented. On the other hand, by confessing, a person throws himself or herself upon the reliable mercy of God—a mercy given because Jesus has already paid for our sin on the cross (Colossian 2:14). In this way, confession makes us “living monuments and examples of His goodness and patience.”[5] By God’s own design, confession transforms a community into a gospel-centered community.


 

[1] Ralph Venning, The Sinfulness of Sin (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 71.

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, Preaching the Word (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 78.

[3] Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 68.

[4] See Exodus 34:6-9.

[5] Venning, The Sinfulness of Sin, 190.



More Than You Can Handle

One Sunday morning one of my fellow pastors shared in his sermon this lie many Christians believe: “God will never give you more than you can handle.” He argued that God actually consistently gives us more than we can handle to show us and remind us that our faith must be in Jesus, not ourselves.

I couldn’t agree more with him. The idea that God will not give us more than we can handle is a prideful belief if you think about it. The idea is about us and our capacity to bear trials, struggles, pain, or whatever else needs “handled”. It limits God as a distant figure setting up life and then leaving us to our own devices to solve the issues He gives us. Just this idea alone points to the absurdity of this view, but let’s get practical. What happens when you cannot handle what God has given you? What happens when life is too hard and when you’ve had too much? Are you a bad Christian? Is God a bad God? Certainly not.

God often gives more than we can handle, and He moves the most in these seasons of our life. For me, my greatest growth in faith came in a time that was too much to handle. When I was 17, I was nominal in my faith. I wanted to live for God in the future, but in the present, I wanted to play sports and make people like me. I was not headed in a good direction. But thank God, He gave me more than I could handle.

The fall of my senior year my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was the most difficult thing I could imagine. I constantly thought, “Why me and my family God?” I didn’t think things could get worse, until they did. The following spring, while my dad’s health was rapidly declining, my grandmother suffered a major heart attack, I had surgery on a broken foot, and my 10-year-old brother was on life support awaiting a heart transplant. Later in the summer, my father passed away and my younger brother, who by God’s grace was given a new heart, had extensive brain damage. I originally thought the cancer diagnosis alone was too much to handle, but it was only the beginning. I can honestly say that God gave me too much to handle. I hit rock bottom. And while it sounds crazy, I am thankful for it and would not change this season of my life if given the chance. In this season, God drew me to Himself more closely than I ever had been before.

In the darkest moment of my life, at rock bottom, when God had given me way more than I could handle, it was not my strength that got me through, but His. He was right there with me. I learned to lean on and depend on him more than ever. I had a peace I could never explain other than God was with me and while everything around me – my life, my family, and my future – were crashing down, He was not going anywhere. One verse I clung to in that season was James 1:2-4:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

This verse meant so much to me because it gave me hope that God was working in the worst moments of my life. It gave meaning to my suffering. It gave purpose to my plight.  It reminded me that God was not abandoning me but strengthening me. I can honestly say that it was because of this season in my life that I am a pastor today. I thank God that He gave me more than I could handle.

Do not believe the lie that God will not give you more than you can handle. You will be severely disappointed or worse, miss out on a closer walk with Him because you constantly run from anything difficult. God works in the moments that are too hard for us to handle. It is in these moments that we realize how desperate we are for Him and how helpless we are on our own. God will consistently give you more than you can handle. Here are a few verses to hold onto during those seasons of life:

  • 2 Corinthians 4:17: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
  • Romans 5:3-4: Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
  • Psalms 119:7: It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.
  • Hebrews 2:10: For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.
  • Philippians 3:10: that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

When life comes crumbling down, God does not. Run to him. Cling to Him. If you are struggling right now, know that God is working. You are not alone. He is with you. His church is with you. God will give us more than we can handle, but He will also see us through the other side with a stronger faith.