Maranatha and Mission: Hearing the Gentle Whisper to Stay on Mission

This article originally appeared on The Exchange with Ed Stetzer. You can find it here.

Over the course of the last year, I have been training for triathlons. When I have a long training session or I’m in a race, there are two moments where I feel like giving up. First, I think about quitting when I experience a shortness of breath due to the physical activity. Second, there are times I want to throw in the towel when I feel the physical pain in my legs, calves, and shins.

In those moments, when my mind and body are telling me to stop, I hear this faint whisper: “Keep going; just put one foot in front of the other; you got this.” In other words, this faint whisper—in the sea of physical pain and emotional stress—exhorts me to stay on mission.

Maranatha moments, for me, are filled with the physical pain and emotional stress of life. All I want to do is cry out to Jesus…please come! And while he is more than likely not going to come back physically at that moment to make all things new and to right every wrong, I do believe he answers that cry and prayer in another way. He sends the Spirit to fill us as he lovingly whispers, “I’m here with you, I will never leave you nor forsake you; stay focused and stay on mission.”

It is the Spirit of God that brings comfort and peace in Maranatha moments. Not only does he bring peace and comfort, but he reminds, refocuses, and refreshes us to stay on mission.

What I’ve found in my own life, and what I suggest to you, is that Maranatha moments can serve as a catalyst for mission.

Here’s how.

First, Maranatha moments remind us that this world is not our home; we are sojourners between this broken and dark world and a world fully mended by the blood of Jesus and effusively lit by the glory of our King.

As John writes towards the very end of Revelation,

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more, grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. Then the one seated on the throne said, Look, I am making everything new. (John 21:4–5)

While Maranatha moments might give us pause in this world, they do not paralyze us from courageously and boldly moving forward towards the next in the power of the Spirit.

Second, Maranatha moments refocus us, as believers, on the primary mission to share and show the good news of Jesus.

It seems that much of Christianity today—particularly in the West, and specifically in North America—revolves around squabbles of secondary and tertiary importance. My observation in contemporary evangelicalism is that we occupy our time by vehemently debating matters such as the role of the church in American politics and the role of the church in culture.

While these issues are important—and there is a time and place to have such discussions—the time, energy, and sometimes visceral, prideful, and declarative tone eclipse the primary issue of making Jesus known. It comes across as if we are trying to make our stance known.

Some believers reason that the role of the church in American politics is more critical and crucial than ever. Believing such, Christians will exert their energy calling out the other side in militaristic language. They’ll go after brothers and sisters who are on different sides of political policies. [Note that I said policies, not doctrine. For while one may hold a particular doctrine, that doesn’t mean he or she will necessarily hold to the same policy.] Some will even opine that a fight for conservatism is a fight for Christianity in America.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t engage in the political realm; what I am saying is that Maranatha moments should refocus us to engage in our primary calling of making Jesus known through both word and deed. As we beg and cry out for Jesus to come, we are reminded that it isn’t about an elephant or a donkey, but the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Another issue that tends to eclipse the primary call of mission is engagement with and in culture. This is close to the previous point, but still unique by itself.

Here’s the million-dollar question: How are we called as Christians to engage a pluralistic, pagan land—even one that was founded in part by Judeo-Christian principles?

In reality, it’s only been in recent times where the church in America has had to wrestle with answering it. And because many Christians—both in leadership and followership—have not seriously wrestled with the theological and missiological understanding and application with such a question, we find ourselves reacting to the cultural typhoon we call secularism, pluralism, and rugged individualism.

As a result, we may find ourselves sounding like a clanging gong, expressing our position and point without doing so in love or humility.

Maranatha moments re-attune our hearts on the primary mission of making Jesus known instead of on transforming the world into our preference. We are reminded when we pray “Come, Lord Jesus” that he is bringing a new city adorned as a bride prepared for her husband.

Therefore, we don’t have the primary call and pressure of transforming this world. We can work, serve, and love the culture faithfully as we faithfully share and show Jesus’ love.

We can partner, in a spirit of common grace, with the culture working towards its flourishing. We can commit ourselves to a local faith community that seeks to embody and enact the coming Kingdom of God in our midst—thereby serving as a preview of the new city to come.

Third, Maranatha moments refresh our lives to give us the breath to breathe into others.

Maranatha moments arise when we are spent, exhausted, hurt, or in pain. Maranatha moments come when we are depleted and feel hopeless and helpless. The weight of life has become too much. However, while we are vociferously crying out “Maranatha!” because the struggle of life is too real, the Spirit is gently reminding us about mission because the need of the world is too great.

Here’s what we all know: Everyone has Maranatha moments. That doesn’t mean everyone is crying out for Jesus to come. Those who don’t know Jesus may be crying out for relief. They may be crying out, “Enough! Make it stop.”

They may be yelling curses to God. Maybe they are dealing with loss.

Maybe they are battling depression. Maybe they are struggling with an illness. Maybe they are in a crisis of identity.

Whatever it may be, our Maranatha moments can be leveraged to refresh our lives so that we can be aware of the needs around us that we might breath gospel life into their weary souls.

In closing, this is the tension we believers live with on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis. We are pelted constantly with the darkness and horrors of life in a fallen world. Such onslaughts leave us wailing, demanding, and even beating our chests, calling on Jesus to come quickly.

But on the other hand—amidst the train horn of brokenness, rawness, and vulnerability, Jesus sends his Spirit who speaks with a a still small voice, whispering, “Stay on mission.” Don’t lose sight of your planted purpose on planet earth—to demonstrate good news living and to declare the good news life.

As Peter quipped, “The Lord…is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Therefore, while we wait, we work. While we somberly mourn, we stay on mission.

Maranatha Moments in a World Filled with Tragedy

This article originally appeared on The Exchange with Ed Stetzer. You can find that original article here.

Years ago, I remember a Chris Rice song that resonated with my soul. It was called “Hallelujahs.” It described scenarios of life, like experiencing a purple sky to close the day, wading in the surf to see dolphins play, and tasting the salt while watching the dancing waves. At the end of the refrain, these words would echo throughout the song, “And my soul wells up with hallelujahs.”

Yes, there are certainly times throughout life where my soul wells up with hallelujahs—with “Praise the Lord!” However, I have also experienced my fair share of instances where my soul wells up with Maranathas!

Have you ever found yourself crying out, “Maranatha?” Maranatha is an Aramaic word used in 1 Corinthians 16:22 that can mean, “Our Lord, Come!” or “Come, Lord Jesus!” Interestingly, as Trevin Wax notes, this second interpretation wasn’t widely used until the last couple of centuries. In fact, as he notes, throughout the ages, Maranatha has been mainly used as a declaration, “Our Lord has come.”

Both are appropriate, but one version finds itself on the minds and lips of people when faced with life’s pains and sufferings. This week has been one of those weeks where “Maranatha” has been uttered from the lips of many, including myself.

I found myself crying out “Maranatha!” as I scrolled through the feeds that marked the 18th anniversary of 9/11—the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The devastation caused by those acts of terrorism almost 20 years ago will be forever stitched in our minds: planes flying into towers, people jumping from buildings, dust filling the city air, lifeless bodies under piled rubble, and grieving families and friends who in a twinkling of an eye lost husband, wife, parent, or child.

In addition to the anniversary of 9/11, the evangelical world experienced the loss of a prominent young church leader and mental health advocate who died by suicide—Jarrid Wilson, a man who loved Jesus and people, and who had dedicated his life to helping those in need. Jarrid preached messages, wrote books, and faithfully ministered to a broken world, only to find himself losing the battle (but not losing the war).

Having heard the news while driving, I had to wait until I stopped to see it for myself. As I sat and scrolled through the feeds, my heart was broken and grieving over what I read. There were so many comments that expressed heartbreak, grief, sadness, and lament.

The most jarring comment was a twitter post from Jarrid himself the day of his passing. As somewhat of a last, parting words of this life, he posted,

Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that.

My response is a resounding, AMEN!

But it is the irony of his words and parting action that wells up in my soul a Maranatha! I get how the weight of this world and the struggle with illness and disease can crush the drive to live. And therefore, I couldn’t help but cry out “Maranatha!” over and over. Lord Jesus, come! Lord Jesus, come!

Have you been there? Are you there? If so, it is perfectly acceptable for there to be dry moments and seasons where no Hallelujahs flow from our tongues. It is alright if we somberly sit and utter groanings of Maranatha. This makes me think of Romans 8:22–23, where Paul writes,

For we know that the whole of creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

We live in a world filled with compounding brokenness, hurt, pain, and suffering. It’s not like we face one experience of hurt and pain; Oh no, we face a life filled with such. Sexual brokenness, divorce, betrayal, abuse, violence, discrimination, racism, poverty, abandonment, addiction, illness, disease, and more—not to mention death. We are victims of multiple counts of pain and suffering.

In short, the fallen world, the opportunistic enemy, and the fleshly nature of sin lay claim to many a victim—everyone included; yes, even pastors.

As believers, we believe Jesus is in the process of making all things new. But there are times where our hopeful knowing gives way to our groanings of “Hurry up!” In those times, the struggle with life is just too real. We are simply too overwhelmed with the ugliness and darkness of life, and therefore we cry out—maybe with more of a tonal demand—”Maranatha!”

While we groan, we wait. Will Jesus answer our prayer? Will he, at that moment, physically come and make all things new? In all likelihood, possibly not. But one day he will.

In the meantime, what do we do?

When nothing but Maranatha comes from our lips, where should our minds and hearts go?

Let me share a couple of thoughts.

First, we can attune our minds to the empathetic yet finished work of Jesus. 

The eternal God made flesh entered into the fray of humanity, bore the cross for our sins as he absorbed the wrath of God on our behalf. In clothing himself in humanity, Jesus experienced life, and thus pain, in a fallen world. He experienced betrayal, disease, poverty, abuse, violence, hatred, and even deaths of loved ones.

By taking upon himself the sin of humanity, he entered and endured the greatest of all pains—the wrath of God—and thus, separation from the Father. So, when it comes to our Maranatha moments, we can rest assured that Jesus knows and understands where we are. His empathetic and yet finished work becomes the fuel for the courage to face another day.

Second, we can attune our hearts to focus on the hope of glory. 

One of my favorite passages on this is 2 Corinthians 4:17–18, where Paul writes, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.”

Regarding this passage, John Piper says,

Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there, but all of it is totally meaningful. . . . Every millisecond of your pain—from fallen nature or fallen man—every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that suffering.

In short, Jesus is in the process of making all things new, and somehow, in some way, even though we cannot see it, God is in the Maranatha moments preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

God is in the Maranatha moments preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

In closing, depravity casts a long and dark shadow. When that shadow hits our lives, Maranatha may be the only word welling up in our soul. And that is perfectly ok.

But as you sit in your Maranatha moments, let the Spirit speak hope and peace that Jesus is indeed in the process of making all things new. As a result, you can also whisper to your soul, as the old hymn writer Horatio Spafford quipped, “It is well with my soul.”

Kiss of Death

I’m a Star Wars fan. I’ve seen all the Star Wars multiple times. No, better yet, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen each episode. In fact, if I’m doing some work—whether reading or writing—I’ll put on one of the episodes in the background. 

My favorite moment in recent episodes comes in Episode VII, The Force Awakens, when Han Solo and Chewbacca enter the narrative. Oh, talk about nostalgia! As we catch up with Han, we learn that he and Leia were married and had a son, Ben Solo. But the dark side twisted Ben’s mind and he became known as Kylo Ren. 

As you could imagine, Han is devasted by his son’s choice and seeks to “save” Kylo Ren by convincing him to turn from the dark side. If you’ve seen the movie, it is a very dramatic scene in which Han aims to penetrate the heart of his son. Just when you think that Han had persuaded him, Kylo Ren thrusts his red light-saber into the heart of Han. Their eyes lock one last time, and then Han falls off the ledge into the dark abyss. 

BETRAYAL! We cringe every time we see it. Not only do we cringe, but our hearts skip a beat when we see it. It doesn’t matter if it is fictional or real. 

Probably the greatest reason why we cringe at betrayal is because we’ve experienced it at some level—whether intentionally or unintentionally. Maybe it was from a parent who deserted you, a family member who abused you, a sibling who stole from you, a spouse who cheated on you, a friend who lied about you, a boss who terminated you, a believer who wronged you, or a church that abandoned you.  

I’ve experienced betrayal multiple times, even within the context of church. Regardless of where it comes from, betrayal is never easy to accept and digest. Betrayal is like a kiss of death—especially since the hurtful and painful blow comes from someone who has been relationally and lovingly close. 

While most of us have experienced a kiss of death, there is one who experienced the greatest kiss of death—the greatest act of betrayal—in the history of the world. His name was Jesus. Jesus’ experienced the kiss of death by a close associate, Judas, for 30 pieces of silver. And when leading the guards to the place where Jesus was, Judas approached Jesus, embraced Him, and gave Him a kiss. And the rest is history. Jesus is then arrested, beaten, tried, and crucified. 

Whether you are a follow of Jesus or not, such a betrayal is hard to comprehend. Why would Judas do such a thing? Why would he turn his back on someone so good? So loving? So kind? So humble? So miraculous? Did he really despise Jesus that much? Did he really need money that bad? 

While we could focus on the “why” all day long, I believe that it is more helpful to focus on the outcome. In other words, rather than zooming in on Judas as to why he betrayed Jesus, I think it’s more beneficial to concentrate on how Jesus responded and what ultimately transpired days later in the life of Jesus.   

When we look at Judas’ betrayal in the totality of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection, we come away with this main principle: 

The kiss of death brought the breath of life.

In other words, Judas’ betrayal eventually brought about the death of Jesus, but Jesus’ death and resurrection would bring about life for the world. 

For the remainder of this post, I want to look at this principle from four different angles so that we can feel its gravitas.  

Angle 1: Judas’ Betrayal is Part of a Larger Story

Guess who wasn’t surprised by Judas’ betrayal? Jesus. During the Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus divulged that one of the twelve would betray Him—knowing it would be Judas. In addition, some scholars believe that the Old Testament forecasts that the Messiah would be betrayed. In short, Jesus knew that the pathway to the cross went through the town of betrayal. 

Just because Jesus knew that the pathway of obedience involved betrayal doesn’t lessen the pain of being wounded by a close associate. However, while the pain is real, the perspective is essential. Jesus understood betrayal as part of a larger story that God was writing. Therefore, He could trust the Father who was the author of humanity’s story. Judas’ action didn’t get by the pen of God, it was actually going to be used for the purposes of God. 

Remember: Betrayal isn’t the story of your life, it’s part of the story that God is writing for your life. 

Angle 2: What Judas Meant for Bad, God Used for Good

This angle is very similar to the angle taught by Joseph in Genesis 50 when he graciously expressed to his brothers, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” (Gen 50:20). Likewise, Judas meant to harm Jesus by handing him over to the authorities in an effort to pad his pockets with silver. However, what he meant for evil in ending a life, God planned to use for eternity to provide the means of [eternal] life. 

Because of Judas’ betrayal, Jesus was arrested, beaten, and nailed to the cross. But Jesus’ pain wasn’t wasted—the pain of both the betrayal and the execution. In fact, His pain became the world’s provision. Never underestimate the plan, purposes, and power of God of how He can use the pain you experience from a betrayal.  

Remember: The pain caused by your betrayal—however demented and evil it was— can become someone else’s provision. 

Angle 3: The Outcome of the Betrayal Doesn’t have to Define One’s Identity 

Think about the outcome of Judas’ betrayal on Jesus. Because of Judas’ betrayal, Jesus was arrested and condemned as a sinner and criminal. But that is not who Jesus was. Jesus wasn’t a sinner and a criminal. Jesus was the Son of God, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Jesus knew who He was and what He had been called to do on planet earth. Nothing that Judas did—no matter where it landed Him—could taint Jesus identity.

I know firsthand how betrayal can lead to an unpleasant outcome and the unpleasant emotions that go with it. Whether the betrayal led to abuse, abandonment, embarrassment, termination, etc., it’s easy to believe that you are a loser, something is wrong with you, you aren’t good enough, or that you are damaged goods. In other words, it’s easy to define yourself by the outcome of the betrayal. However, may we never forget that the outcome doesn’t have to define who we are but is an opportunity to declare whose we are. 

Remember: Your identity is in Jesus. 

Angle 4: Betrayal Doesn’t have to End with Harboring Bitterness but with Releasing Forgiveness

The last angle really is a culmination of the previous angles. Since Jesus understood Judas’ action was part of a larger story in which he (Judas) wasn’t the author; since Jesus knew that God would work good from Judas’ bad; since Jesus’ identity was in the Father not any outcome Judas’ actions brought about; Jesus could then release forgiveness rather than harbor bitterness. 

From the cross Jesus uttered the words, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Scholars debate the direct object of Jesus’ forgiveness who had ignorantly participated in His crucifixion. Without delving into the debate, it is certainly an option that Judas was part of the ignorant who participated in Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution. If so, Jesus paved the way for Judas’ to receive forgiveness. However, Judas never received the forgiveness Jesus offered since he was so stricken with grief and depression that he committed suicide. Nevertheless, Jesus wasn’t consumed with vengeance, wrath, bitterness, anger, and hostility towards those who wronged—nor betrayed—Him. He lavished upon such with love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. 

Remember: Bitterness is a cancer that eats at your heart, whereas forgiveness releases healing. 

In closing, everyone at some point in his or her life has experienced the act of betrayal. Depending on the nature of the betrayal—the who and what—will determine the severity of the hurt and pain. The closer the betrayer is to the wounded and the more damage inflicted by them—like Kylo Ren killing his father Han Solo—will make the act of betrayal feel more like a kiss of death. However, as we have briefly seen in and through Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, the kiss of death can bring about the breath of life. 

If you are dealing with a betrayal, no matter how painful it is, regardless of the outcome of the betrayal, Jesus can work in and through you to bring about life—not only for you but for those God places in your path.

Mother’s Day: Hurt, Hover, Honor

Mother’s Day seems to be a roller coaster or a basketball holiday—where some people are emotionally up while others are down.

For many, it’s a day reminding them of great loss, including mothers that have lost children. For others, it’s a day reminding them of their misfortune of having a deadbeat mom; or conjuring up the pain of being estranged from their mom. And still there are others who are reminded of the complications that prevent them from biologically experiencing the joy of motherhood.

Such emotional lows remind us that we live in a fallen broken world that has been damaged by sin. As a result, a day that is meant for joy and honor, because of sin, is wrought with hurt, pain, suffering, frustration, and loss. The reality is that there’s nothing that I can write or express that will take away the hurt, the pain, or the sorrow that you may feel. But what I can do is point to the all sufficient grace of God, and say that wherever you are, whatever the situation, and whatever the pain, God will meet you there, love you there, and be ever present with you giving you grace, peace, and comfort as you live in the here and now.

I love what Paul says in Romans 8, which has helped me through times of pain, suffering, and loss, “And we know that for those that love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). Christianity is the only faith that teaches that God is able to bring about good—to work good—in our life even in the midst of hurt and heartache. In addition, I love what John Piper asserts regarding God’s work amidst our pain, hurt, suffering, and loss. He exclaims that God is working a peculiar glory. Just as God brought good to the world (not to mention was glorified) through the suffering and death of His Son, so too can God work mightily through your pain and suffering to bring about good, not only in your life but in the lives of those God has placed around you.

While there are certainly those who find Mother’s Day difficult, there are those who see Mother’s Day as a blessing whereby they can celebrate and honor their mothers.

In the second verse of Scripture, Genesis 1:2, we read, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” The imagery of the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters is like a mother bird hovering over her eggs to awaken them and bring them to life. While Genesis 1:2 has nothing to do with mothers, it certainly uses imagery befitting of mothers. Aren’t mothers the ones who hover over their children in protection, provision, and presence, in an effort to allow them to grow to maturity and flourish in the world?

Isn’t this the type of portrait the author of Proverbs 31 paints? Read the following verses from Proverbs 31:

  • “She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.” Proverbs 31:14-15
  • “She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet.” Proverbs 31:21
  • “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” Proverbs 31: 25-26
  • “She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” Proverbs 31:27-28

The mother whose children rises and calls her blessed is a mother who “hovered” over her children—who cared for, provided for, protected, counseled, and played with her children.

Such actions of motherhood serve to bring life, maturity, and flourishing to their children.

I know that I can say today—beyond a shadow of a doubt—that God has greatly used the “hovering” of my mother to bring me to the place I am today. Her care, wisdom, love, support, protection, provision, and presence has been a chisel used by a sovereign God to craft me into the man, husband, father, and pastor I am today. For me I have no reservation about rising up today and calling my mom blessed! She is a rare and priceless jewel that has brought great value to and in my life!

Happy Mother’s Day to My Mom

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Just as God has greatly used my mom to shape me, I know that He is also using my wife to shape our children into the people He intends for them to become. The way she loves, cares for, provides, dwells, plays, and supports our children are second to none. I know that our children have a mother for the ages because I see the heart, passion, intensity, wisdom, and maturity with which she mothers. She definitely “hovers” in a way that enhances their lives and provides opportunities for them to flourish in this world. My children simply are better children as a result of their mother!

Happy Mother’s Day to My Lovely Wife

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I also would be remiss if I didn’t recognize two other amazing women who have served me (and my children) in a motherly capacity: my grandmother and my mother-in-law.

My grandmother is one of the most amazing women in the entire world. When I think of my grandma, Mother Teresa comes to mind. I don’t know if there is ever a time in her life where she is not giving. I think she wakes up every morning thinking about someone she can give something to. Over the last 33 years of my life I have greatly benefited from the generosity of my grandmother—whether it was the cinnamon toast and oatmeal she made me when I was sick or the financial and emotional support she (and my granddad) gave me while going through college and seminary.

My mother-in-law I think created a new cereal that she eats every morning called, Jesus Flakes, since she lives every second with the posture that Jesus is Grrrrrreat! (I know that was kind of cheesy J). Nevertheless, I’m grateful for her passion for Jesus. It’s a passion that not only has challenged me and my walk, but has greatly influenced my wife for God’s glory and her family’s good.

Happy Mother’s Day to My Grandmother

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Happy Mother’s Day to My Mother-in-Law

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In short, three words came to my mind this Mother’s Day: hurt, hover, and honor. Thus, today I pray for those whose hearts hurt, and pray that God’s grace will be sufficient and that He will comfort them with the peace that surpasses all understanding. Today, I praise God for the way my mom “hovered” over me and the way my wife “hovers” over our children. And today, I honor my mom, my wife, my grandma, and my mother-in-law and rise up and call them blessed for they have been a treasured blessing to not only me, but also to Caleb, Ellie, and Luke.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers! You are greatly loved and cherished, and today we honor you!

By Our Wounds: The Gracious Breaking from God

Regardless of whether one is a Christian or not, pain, suffering, and trials are a part of life. Whether it is the loss of a loved one, a tragic event, the betrayal of a friend, the loss of a job, a strained marriage, a contested divorce, taken care of your loved one ravaged by cancer, the constant rejection in finding a job, debilitating health, the busyness and stress of life, friction between you and your child, having more bills than money, an onslaught of losses, a deep desire that hasn’t become a reality, being told to wait for something you desperately want, being lonely, being misunderstood, or making a costly mistake—pain, suffering, and trials are very much a reality of life. In short, life is full of wounds.

The existence of pain, suffering, and trials come by way of others, ourselves, and even natural tragedies (natural disasters, sickness, diseaase death). But, irrespective of how the wake of pain, suffering, and trials arrive in our life, we are left trying to understand how to view, cope, and proceed healthily forward. This process of dealing with pain, suffering, and trials is where a Christian’s faith should make a difference. And notice that I stated, “should.” I would contend that our culture’s utopic and entitlement mentality seeps into our understanding of the world, which affects the way we view, cope, and move healthily forward in pain, suffering, and trials. Western culture strives for the perfect world, the perfect life, the perfect job, and the perfect body. Not only does our culture stress this message, it ups the ante by preaching that people are “owed” or entitled to such a life—that every person is entitled to a happy, care-free, struggle-free, and independent life. As a result, when pain, suffering, and trials appear in one’s life—whether it arrives at someone else’s hand, our hand, or mother nature—it disrupts the life they have been told they can have, the life they have been striving to obtain. Therefore, many have a tendency to enter survival and victim mode. In addition, they try to endure, manage, survive, and [even] fight against the wake of the pain, suffering, and trial. As a result, many usually end up defeated, discouraged, depressed, disengaged, disenfranchised, distrusting, and damaged. Some end up angry, bitter, and resentful of God, themselves, someone else, or just life in general. As a result, they tend to view their wounds as the unmerciful torment of life, or possibly the unmerciful torment from God [for the problem of pain and suffering is a major rebuttal by those who would try and disprove or discount God—his plan, his power, and his love].

But, what if there was another way to view, cope, and proceed healthily forward in our pain, suffering, and trials? What if there was a way that was more redemptive, joyful, enriching, and fulfilling? What if there was a way that turned our pain, suffering, and trial into a means to glorify God, to purify us, and a means to benefit others? You may ask, is there such a way? I believe so, for I believe the Bible teaches us about this way.

In short, I believe this is the modus operandi of God. God, in his magnificent power and as the climax of his mission, took the pain, suffering, trials, and brokenness of the world and placed them on Jesus. Jesus joyfully and obediently absorbed the pain, suffering, trial, and brokenness in order to glorify God and bring redemption to the world. Isaiah in describing the suffering servant, expresses,

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. . . . And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him… (Isa 53:5,10 ).

In addition, the author of Hebrews shares that Jesus endured the suffering of the cross joyfully (Heb 12:2). Furthermore, Peter pointedly expressed in 1 Peter 2:24, “By his (Jesus’) wounds you have been healed.” Scripture seems to teach that God’s greatest act of grace, mercy, and redemption came as a result of God experiencing the most intense pain, suffering, and trial. Thus, God’s will to redeem and restore a broken world was to work through pain, suffering, and trial.

So, what if we can begin to view and interpret our pain, suffering, and trials—regardless of how they come in our life—through this scriptural lens? What if we began seeing that God either allows or causes pain, suffering, and trials to come into our life for the manifestation of His glory, for the purification of our hearts, and for the good of others? What if we could see pain, suffering, and trial as God’s gracious breaking in our life where he uses our wounds to glorify himself, to make us more like Jesus, and to bring healing and restoration to others?

So, how is approaching pain, suffering, and trial in this way, in God’s way better? Let me briefly share four reasons why it is better.

First, viewing our pain, suffering, and trial through the scriptural lens provides us with a healthier perspective. Understanding that God allows or even causes pain, suffering, and trial for his glory, our purification, and others’ good is much better than, say, beating ourselves up, not forgiving ourselves, and thereby causing discouragement, depression, and low self-esteem. It is much better than becoming angry, bitter, resentful, revengeful, and feisty when pain, suffering, and trial come to us by way of another. In God’s way, we can love the one who caused us pain—even if we caused ourselves pain. Think about it, we caused great pain, suffering, and trail to God because of our sin, yet in our sin he demonstrated his love by sending Christ (Rom 5:8). In short, God can and wants to shine light in and through our darkest, most painful times. Embracing this perspective drives us to press into the Lord, rather than push away from him.

Second, dealing with our pain, suffering, and trial through the scriptural lens equips us for understanding one of the ways God is at work in us and in the world. In the grand narrative of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, you will not make it very far without encountering God working through some form of pain, suffering, or trial for his glory, his people’s good, and the world’s good. While the Fall (Adam and Eve’s sin) caused pain, suffering, brokenness and trial, God is on mission to reverse the effects of the Fall by absorbing the effects of the Fall. In other words, one of the ways God is working in the world to repair the world is by taking upon himself the pain, suffering, and brokenness of the world. This is magnificently displayed in the cross, where Jesus absorbs the sin—the pain, suffering, and brokenness—of the world in order to provide the way for the world to be healed.

While Jesus’ followers are not called to be the sacrifice for the sin of the world, they are called to share in Jesus’ sufferings. First Peter 2:24, the Scripture passage I referred earlier, is in the context of Christian suffering. Earlier in that passage, Peter notes, “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you might follow in his steps” (2:21). As believers, our healing has come from the wounds, the suffering of Christ. His suffering led to our saving. Peter also notes how Jesus’ suffering is an example that we should follow. Therefore, it would seem biblically and theologically (not to mention practically) logical that Jesus desires to use our pain, suffering, and wounds as a means by which he brings healing to others. This is why Jesus teaches (and models to) his followers to love their enemy, to go two miles instead of one, to minister to those who are hurting along the road, to not spit back when spit upon, to not hold grudges, to not seek revenge, to not draw the sword when wrongfully accused, not grieving as those who have no hope. By absorbing the pain, suffering, and trials of life after the likeness of our Savior and King, God does a work in us by continually conforming us into the image of Jesus and does a work through us in displaying his glory to the world as he uses us to demonstrate the good news of Jesus.

Third, coping with our pain, suffering, and trials through the scriptural lens prevents us from being paralyzed by the affects of our pain, suffering, and trials. We all know how pain, suffering, and trials can take their toil on a person. Maybe a mistake, a betrayal, a loss of a friend, or a bad experience leaves us paralyzed from making another attempt. Maybe our pain, suffering, and trial leaves us in a distrusting state—maybe we don’t want to trust people, or maybe even God. It could be that the loss of a loved one has us mad at God; or a bad church experience has left us disenfranchised with the church and we are afraid to try it again; or a bad marriage has left us skeptical about men or women. But, if we handle our pain, suffering, and trial through the lens of Scripture—understanding that God wants to work in and through our pain—we can become more prudent rather than paralyzed when it comes to moving forward. In short, if we are not careful—depending on how we cope with our pain, suffering, and trial—we can actually rob ourselves from future joy and victory by being paralyzed in our present pain and discouragement.

Fourth, moving healthily forward in our pain, suffering, and trials through the lens of Scripture instills in us a hopeful posture as we anticipate the future time when Christ fully restores our lives and creation. In other words, because we know that God— through Jesus’ suffering, sacrifice, and resurrection—has inaugurated his kingdom at Jesus’ first coming and has promised to consummate his kingdom at some point in the future at Jesus’ second coming, we understand that our pain, suffering, and trials here on earth are only temporary. We understand there is coming a day when “He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4).

In closing, viewing, coping, and moving healthily forward in our pain, suffering, and trials through the lens of Scripture is a much better way than say trying to survive, manage, and fight them, which can leave us with even more wounds. If you are in a season of pain, suffering, and trial, know that it is not by human accident but by divine appointment. Know that God wants to work in and through your pain for his glory— as he conforms you into the image of Jesus for the good and benefit of the world. In fact, I love what Gene Edwards, in A Tale of Three Kings, states, “God—want[s] very much to have—men and women who would live in pain. God want[s] a broken vessel.” God desires to take men and women to the school of pain and suffering to produce brokenness to get them to the most vulnerable point where he can take them and lift them high as a banner of his great grace for his great glory among the nations. However, very few desire to enroll, or once they enroll become brokenly bitter resenting the gracious breaking from God. But, what if we understood that our pain, suffering, and trial is the gracious breaking from God in our life, where he takes our wounds and glorifies himself by purifying us and conforming us more into the image of Jesus and by bringing healing to others. As Paul writes,

But we have this treasure (the gospel) in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies (2 Cor 4:7–10).

Talk about a different way to view, cope, and move healthily forward in our pain, suffering, and trial!