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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Some Advice for the Heartbroken

Let me be transparent: Heartbreak sucks.  When people leave you, whether due to conflict, differences, or death; the aftermath can be total disaster.  As a Christian and a pastor, I have felt heart break. Gut-wrenching, soul-crushing, flat-on-my-face-begging-God-to-please-end-my-life heart break (that is a lot of dashes). I have also set across the table from people who have experienced great trial and pain.  

What can we say?  What encouragement can we give?  So often our answers are correct (read your Bible, pray, etc..)  These answers are right in so many ways.  A part of abiding with Jesus through the means of the Word and prayer I would not be alive today.  But, is that really all there is?  So often it seems we offer these things as a magic pill, when they are less like a drug and more like physical therapy.  Overtime they shape, they mold- and not without pain.  Alongside the Word of God and prayer, what can we do (or advice) hurting hearts to do?  

Here are three things that have helped me.  But, I want to again emphasize that healing from any sort of pain is a process.  True heartbreak will (rarely) pass away over night.  These three suggestions will not make the lonely nights disappear tomorrow.  These suggestions will not bring satisfaction to your soul.  These are things only Jesus can do.  But, these suggestions are natural means that, alongside the Word of God and prayer, will bring healing.

1. Cry.  A lot.
Jesus wept.  The ink of the Psalmist's paper was drenched with tears.  Psalm 42:3 says, "My tears have been my food day and night."

Emotions are not the enemy of healing.  In fact, built up emotion is truly a dangerous thing.  God created us with emotions- to react properly to the things around us. 

Heartbreak hurts.  We should weep.  Our command is not, "Tell the weeping to suck it up!" but to "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).  Weeping well was something Jesus did, and it is something we must learn to do.  

In fact, someone who is unafraid to show emotion is very unlike Jesus.  What makes Jesus sanctified is that He knew how to experience emotion without sinning.  He could grieve, laugh, cry, be angry, and celebrate without sin.  This sort of emotional self-control is a sure sign that the Spirit of God is at work in our emotion (Galatians 5:22-23).  Sanctified emotions produce fruits of the Spirit, sinful emotions produce works of the flesh (Galatians 5:22-23).

To have sanctified emotions we must, therefore, experience these emotions.  God is using good and bad times to conform us more into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:28-30).  He is after our good- our conformity to Jesus in this life and the next.

We cannot learn to weep well until we weep deeply.

Cry.  Encourage others to cry.  Cry with others.

2. Remember, but don't recline.  
The Scriptures give examples of the faithful setting up memorials (Joshua 4).  While these examples were often of victories, many of these reminders were of victories that at the time seemed to be defeats.  Consider Noah, looking at the rainbow.  Consider the disciples taking the last supper with Jesus.

Our lives are filled with such memorials.  There are places and things that will always bring back memories for us.

Go eat at the places that were dear to you.  Go walk at that park with all the memories.  Go to the last place you saw them.  Visit their grave.

I can remember where I would sit with my uncle before he died.  I remembered the spot in the lunch room where I would set with old high school friends.  I remembered where I first told a girl I loved her and where I had my first kiss.

Now, this may not happen right away.  Going back to some of these places will be painful, but climbing this hill will help bring solace in an unimaginable way.  Take time to go there and remember, alongside what happened, where God was during it.  The good and the bad.  The Psalmist remembered his past times of worship in the midst of his suffering, "
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival."

(This verse is also a reminder of the importance of the local church to those who are suffering, but that is for another post).

It's alright to sit in these places and remember, but it is not okay to never get up.  Or to put it another way:

But, don't let remembrance turn into reclining.  

Sitting in old chairs can be an enjoyable experience, but once you recline, you'll never be able to get up and press on.  Much like the post Thanksgiving dinner crash, it makes the joy of a past meal turn into regret.  Don't recline into regret, recall for remedy. All memorials were given to a people meant to move on.  Noah was to repopulate.  The disciples would be given a mission.  As we remember, we are healed and God enables us to move forward.

Hearts remedy through remembrance.

3. Forgive.  Them and yourself.
Here it is.  One of the hurtles of God's remedy to a broken heart.  Forgiveness.  I know what you're thinking, "You don't know what they did to me!"  I may not, but I know what Jesus did for you and that is all I need to know.

Jesus forgave the worst in you.  Extend the same to others.  The beautiful thing about Jesus' forgiveness is that He provides full reconciliation, without restraint, to all those who turn to Him.  Sadly, this side of Heaven, our forgiveness will never look like that.

You may not be able to have what you once had.  That isn't biblical forgiveness anyhow.  What you once had is just that- what once was.  Forgiveness is a present action that is forward facing.  As far as it depends on you, seek peace (Romans 12:18).  You don't need what was, you need a present peace.

Peter's restoration meant taking a new role (John 21:15-19) and sometimes ours will as well.  They may not trust you again, and you don't have to trust them again.  but, you cannot forsake peace.

Restoration is not about setting a relationship back, restoration is about making a relationship right.

Don't forget that this also means forgiving yourself.  Forgive yourself for things said (or unsaid), things done (or not done).  Those things are dead with Jesus and new life is an ever-present reality.  Resurrection from the dead is in many ways a lifetime project.

Jesus has raised us with Him, and yet we are growing into all that we will be (1 John 3:1-3).  We are being raised more and more from our deadness- and forgiveness is a massive piece of that.

Forgiveness is about peace to move forward, not the ability to go back.

Alongside abiding with Jesus, God uses ordinary things to shape us and heal us.  Tears, memorials, forgiveness: these are ways God, through suffering, conforms us more into the image of His Son.

We can go forward knowing that God has promised to complete this mission (Phil. 1:6).  Even in our pain, we can worship alongside the words of Jude:  
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. - Jude 24-25

Friday, February 24, 2017

How do we Glorify God in "Whatever We Do"?

Check out more great images like this at the
1 Corinthians 10:31 has become a mantra for many, "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."  But, we seem to consider this as a reason to take Jesus onto the end of what we do.  But, what if this verse is calling for more?  Paul, in the context of this verse is calling us to consider how Christians are to think about Christian liberty and "gray areas" in all of life.  God never calls us to tack Him onto the end of our life- He wants everything.
So, what does it mean to give glory to God?  I offer this definition, "To glorify God is to delight in God and His rule over all things."  Three observations from this definition.  First, glory is far more than simply recognition, but it starts there.  We do not just recognize glory, we treasure it.
Second, to glorify God involves treasuring God Himself.  More than simply what He does, all glory involves delight in a Giver.  A person.  Glory involves delighting not just in what God does, but who God is.
Third, but, to delight in God as a person also means to delight in His way. Jesus is King, and He reigns and rules- to love the King is to love His rule and His way.  How can we truly love someone and yet rebel and stand against all they do?  God's person and God's rule and reign over all things cannot be separated.  To glorify God is to delight in God and His way.

Paul commands us to do this in "whatever we do."  Including eating and drinking.  How do we glorify God in the mundane things of life?  Here are three foundations...
1) Thankfulness for God’s work.  First, we must recognize that thankfulness is in the context surrounding this verse (1 Corinthians 10:30).  But we should also consider 1 Timothy 4:3, For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.  A lack of thankfulness is, at it’s root, rebellion against God.  See Paul’s words in Romans 1:21, “ For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
A lack of thankfulness was not only rebellion against God, but what we gave thanks has direct effects on our thinking and our hearts.  Thanksgiving changes us.  A proper thankfulness for God’s work changes our hearts and our minds, not toward rebellion, but toward glory.  Thanksgiving leads to greater delight.
2) Mindfulness of God’s way.  Giving glory to God involves not simply thanksgiving, but also mindfulness of God’s way.  We can be thankful for food, and still be a glutton.  Thankfulness alone can still be thankfulness for the wrong thing.  We must be thankful both for God’s work, but also God’s way.  1 Timothy 4 again is helpful.  We are to give thanksgiving “with the word of God and prayer.”   We do it with the means by which God directs us toward His way.
It is important to note that Paul is calling us to consider God’s way when he writes just a few verses later, “be an imitator of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).  The infamous question has always been, “What would Jesus do?”  But, I believe the best question is “What did Jesus do?” and let that inform our next step.
3) Wonder at God’s world.  Thankfulness for God’s work and mindful for God’s ways, leads us to wonder at God’s world.  We are Christian often minimize the voice of God in creation, called “general revelation.”  While general revelation is loud, but not specific, revelation of God’s existence to the world (Psalm 19:1-2, Romans 1:18-20), special revelation, the specific divine revelation of God in the Scripture, is a hearing-aid that allows us to hear God in creation is a deeper in more profound way.  We can gaze and wonder and enjoy God’s creation is a way the rest of the world can’t.  We can enjoy these gifts in a greater way because we know the Giver.
Consider this analogy.  This proves this well.  Have you ever seen anyone receive gifts and notes from a secret admirer who was satisfied without knowing who they were?  Why?  Because lovingly given gifts prompt us to recognize the giver.  How much the loving gifts of our Creator, who has written us a note in the Scripture, and He has called us to know Him through the person and work of Jesus Christ!  How much more can we enjoy His gifts when the Giver is no longer secret?
May we, in all we do, give glory to God in whatever we do!

We will be speaking more about this, this Sunday at Garden Green Baptist Church

Friday, February 17, 2017

How to Tell the Difference between Righteous Indignation and Sinful Anger: 3 Questions to Ask

As I have been preparing to preach on Matthew 5:21-26, the enemy has been at war with me.  I have seen temptations and opportunities toward anger this week more than I have before.  How easy it is, in our self-centered culture, to find us focused on ourselves instead of the world around us.  Sure, they ran us late, they cut us off, they hurt us; but we are not to act like the rest of the world.  As a people saved from the anger of God through the death of Christ, we must understand mercy and grace toward others.  This is a reality I have forgotten this week, I have repented and asked the Lord to empower me going forward.  I hope you will do the same.

In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus is teaching the people about the true meaning of God’s law- it more than external obedience, it is about the heart.  Sinful anger is just as serious as murder.  But, doesn’t we see Jesus himself getting angry?  Consider the words of Paul, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26).

Not only we are we encouraged to make sure we settle our anger quickly, but we are told that there is a way to be angry that is not sin.  In fact, we see Jesus had a righteous indignation.  But, how can we tell if our anger is sinful or righteous?  I submit we can start by asking three questions.

Question 1: Is my anger opposed to the fruits of the Spirit and does it produce the works of the flesh?
This question alone provides a fantastic grid for examining our anger.  Paul writes in Galatians 5:19-22,

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 

If our anger leads us to produce the works of the flesh, it is sinful anger.  If our anger leads us to squelch the fruits of the Spirit, it is sinful anger.  Anger must not muzzle goodness, gentleness, self-control, or peace in our lives.  In other words, when we look to Carrie Underwood as a solution to our cheating boyfriend, we are not looking to Jesus as the model for our anger.  Righteous anger may not always feel good, but it is the pursuit of what is good.

Question 2: Does my anger lead to wanting and doing what is truly best for others, or does it lead me to seek to destroy others?
Notice what Jesus says is a mark of sinful anger in Matthew 5. 

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. – Matthew 5:22 

Jesus is saying that murder is more than simply intentionally taking the life of a human being.  .  Sinful anger is the desire to damage or destroy another, even there reputation.  Notice he emphasizes what is said with our mouths above what is done with our hands.  Out of an abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  To be straight forward: Intentional damage of another’s character is no different than intentional taking of their life.  Do we desire the destruction of others or do we want for our neighbors what we want for ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40)?

Question 3: Does my anger lead to seek peace and reconciliation or division and strife?
Consider Jesus’ words again in Matthew 5.

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.  Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.  – Matthew 5:23-26

Notice, Jesus takes the application of His teachings into the temple, among the people of God.  Forgive and reconcile- even before sacrifice.  Reconciliation is more important than sacrifice because reconciliation was the goal of sacrifice (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).  Reconcile soon and quickly with your brother or sister.  The punishment for sin is great, but also peace is better.  Peace should be our motivator.  Jesus is a reconciler and we are to do the same. 

May our anger be righteous that we might see the blessing Jesus promised

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
– Matthew 5:9

Saturday, January 14, 2017

5 Reasons Young People Should Connect with Church Revitalization

“The young people are the problem!”  “Once we get young people in here- like back in the good ole days- then our church will be able to do ministry.”  These represent the diametrically opposed views of young people in churches-especially among churches in need of revitalization.  One of the common ways this manifests itself is in a war of worship songs.  A classic hymn says, “Wherever He leads, I’ll go.”  Many have taken that song and taken a different spin, “If they are gonna lead, I’ll go!”  These often cause divisions in churches.

Among these “distracted” churches, young people are seen as a hindrance or as Saviors.  Both are unhealthy.  Regardless, there are many reasons for young people, who are often wanting to connect with the “cool, hip” churches should pour out their lives into distracted churches.

1) You have more of an opportunity to use your gifts.

God has gifted every one of us, and we should consider those gifts as a stewardship (1 Peter 4:10-11).  In my experience, in many larger churches (notice, size is the measurement, not health) you can have many gifts people, but only the “most” gifted get to participate.  There is little room for a believer wanting to grow in leadership to teach because- to be frank- there is little freedom to fail.  While you may be able to have a gifted teacher lead a small group or Sunday School class, there are still limits on the amount of classes and the amount of teachers that can be used.  You can only use so many on the worship team.  Also, these venues are often still not fit for the less experienced believers.

Smaller, distracted churches offer a better avenue for believers to use their gifts.  First, from my experience, there are literally a hundred ways to serve.  There is room to fill in the youth, in the music, and so on.  In fact, a staple of distracted churches is that there is little desire on the part of the members to create new ministries.  A sure sign of a distracted church is a desire to control, not a desire to create.  Creation of new ministries, whether it be music or youth or discipleship classes, provide a context for less experienced believers to steward their gifts. 

Less experience is often mistaken for less gifted (no such thing!), and younger believers can get lost in the crowd.  When there is less people and more need, this is less of a problem.

2) You can grow in your experience and giftedness.

Sure, some of these believers you send out to create and work to equip will blow it- good.  We all blow it.  No one learns without blowing it.  The gospel is for people who have blown it.

 So, we should give believers, especially those with a desire to be involved, freedom to create.  As they create, the job of the pastor is to shepherd through control and crafting.  Be careful giving the keys to the new youth group to a youth, but don’t be afraid to sit in the passenger and let them try out the experience.  As they go, you can help them cast vision and craft the ministry- this provides the opportunity and context for discipleship and leadership development.

Young believers, you can benefit from the church revitalization process as much as the church you help serve.

3) You need wise godly council (and you may learn that “old people” are not that bad).

One of the many benefits of the church revitalization process is that generation gaps tend to be less cut and dry in smaller churches.  When the college student, the retiree, and the pastor’s high school daughter all share a pew together- bonding is bound to happen.    Circles of friends have to be more diverse because more diversity (in one sense) sits in the pews. 

One of the benefits of this is that natural connections can form.  Another is that both parties will see the benefit of the other.  In fact, the various generations may see that they need each other.  The zeal of one and the wisdom of the other complement one another.  Pastors must make it clear that every person in the church is dependent on the other.  Lastly, we must make sure not to view young believers as the “future” of the church.  They are the “present” of the church.  They need to be involved.  They need discipleship for now, not for later.  Older believers, mentor the next generation.  

Next generation, seek and submit to mentorship from others.  You may find it shocking, but you’ll realize that you need each other.

4) You will learn that the church is not about you and your preferences- and that is a glorious thing.

Younger believers learn through church revitalization that churches do not exist to serve every preference, but they exist for the increase of the kingdom of God.  A short but profound point is found here: The church you attend will have a direct effect on how you view the church.  It is not about us- we need to know that.  We need to recognize that the Christian life is one about sacrifice.  Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Can we consider our churches faithful if we never have to crucify our desires?  Since when was “denying ourselves” a comfortable experience?  What does this say to younger believers about the purpose with the church?

5) You need to be revitalized too.

Revitalization is simply refocusing.  Friends, young believers, while you may think the problem in the church is the older generation (and vice versa) we all need to be refocused.  We all need what Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  While our distractions may be different, we all need to be focused on what matters- obedience to God.  We need each other- may we never forget that.

Younger believers, is God calling you to leave behind the comforts and coffee shops of larger “hipper” churches and to pour your life out helping to refocus the distracted church down the street?  

The experience may not be the most comfortable, but the gospel is not a call to be comfortable.  Ask God to lead you.  Ask God to empower you.  Take up your cross and follow him.  Whether you realize it or not, the generations before you have tons of teach you.  They have sacrificed a ton for you to reap the benefits.  May one thing we model the attitude found in one of those “old people songs”…”Wherever you lead, I’ll go.”

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Some Reflections on Church Revitalization

From here
“I don’t want to serve in a dying church.”  My jaw dropped as I heard a pastor friend retell this story.  He recounted the story of how someone had decided to stop filling in as the music leader at a small country church.  They played a role on the music team of their much larger home church, and didn’t see a point in serving as a music leader at a much smaller country church 15 minutes down the road. 

As a pastor of a church that is far more similar to the latter than the former, I was dumbfounded.  Stories like this are not unfounded.  There a massive misunderstanding, especially among younger believers, about “dying” churches.  The Bible speaks a different word over these churches.

First, the title “dying” next to any church is a denial of the gospel.  Yes, while I know what they mean, if there are believers in any church than it is by definition a “living” church.  Ephesians 2:5 says, even when we were dead in our trespasses, [Christ] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”  No church is a dying church because every church contains people made alive by the gospel.

Now, certainly we need to be put a title on the type of church we are talking about.  Often times by “dying” many are meaning to say “declining.”  Certainly spiritual life and numerical decline are different.  Also, there are studies that show that the majority of churches are in decline, not able to grow at a pace equivalent to the surrounding area.  Decline is not just something that affects the tiny country church, it’s just has a faster effect on them.  

Also, the term “unhealthy” could be used.  Often times there are churches are overrun with unbiblical traditions, whether with their membership, leadership, or practices.  Certainly these traditions could be having a negative effect.  While "unhealthy" is a better term than "dying", and gets more to the point than "declining", it doesn’t address everything that can be happening to a church.  I know many churches who are healthy in terms of their membership and leadership, but are far from impacting their community.

I propse that the term “distracted” better displays the reality of what is taking place in most churches.  Yes, they are in decline.  Yes, they are unhealthy.  But, ultimately this is due to distractions.  This could be doctrinal distractions (liberalism), or practical distractions (traditionalism) or a mixture of the two.  Ultimately, all distraction in a church is a distraction of affection.  Jesus speaks to a church in this same situation in Revelation 2:4, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” 

The goal of church revitalization is to restir affections toward Jesus and toward His Word.  Once a church is more in love with Jesus than with prior commitments (doctrinal or practical) then transformation can begin.  Jesus speaks in John 15 of this reality, I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  To see the fruits of transformation in the life of our people, they abide in Jesus, and they cannot do this without their affections resting on Him.

How do we do this?  Here are 5 reflections...

First, we need faithful preaching.  Pastor, I know it is tiring, but continue to preach faithfully.  Exalt Jesus.  Lift Him up.  They need to see the one they are to love as lovely.

Second, evaluate where the churches affections rest.  What “golden calf” do they have?  What areas of church life will be a battle to see transformation in?  When those are evaluated, make immediate changes in areas that can be changed without a battle (for us, this was leadership and membership).  Once those changes are made, and the benefits are seen, you will be in a better position to see future transformation.

Third, set your focus on the long-term.  I know I am one who cares far more about the short-term comforts of life (this is a reality I am repenting over as we speak).  But, Abraham set his eyes on his heavenly home (Hebrews 11:17).  His eyes were to the long-term, which was how he endured through the short-term discomforts.  In fact, every single biblical figure lived this way, why should the pastor be any different?

Fourth, pastor, get friends.  You may feel alone, but you are not alone.  Form networks and fellowships with other pastor's in your area.  You need brothers to cry with, to pray with, to bounce advice off of.  Especially if you are without a plurality of leaders, get friends!  Spurgeon said “Friendship is one of the sweetest joys of life. Many might have failed beneath the bitterness of their trial had they not found a friend.” 

Fifth, be willing to confront the golden calf.  I will write more about this in a future post

Church revitalization is not easy, but it is necessary.  We must give ourselves toward transformation.  This will require humility and unity- we need people of all ages!  In a future post, I implore young people to plug into church revitalization and address other issues that I have seen in the past two years of working with church revitalization.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Albert Mohler Quote

“I fear that there are many evangelicals today who believe that God spoke but doubt whether He speaks.  They know and talk about the fact that God spoke in the Old Testament but think that now that He no longer does so and that they must therefore invent new ways to convince people to love Him.  But if you call yourself a preacher of God’s Word, and you think that all of God’s speaking was in the past, then resign.  I say that with deadly seriousness.  If you do not believe that God now speaks from His Word-the Bible-then what are you doing every Sunday morning?  If you are not confident that God speaks as you rightly read and explain the Word of God, then you should quit.

But if you do believe that- if you truly believe that God speaks through His Word- then why would you substitute anything else in the place of the expository preaching of the Bible?” – Albert Mohler, “He is Not Silent” pg. 57-58

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Birthday Reflection: A Year of Restoration and 5 Recognitions

God will destroy us for our good.

It may sound counter intuitive to us, but love is always willing to wound.  A year ago I was wounded.  I was drowning in a sea of despair and barely skimming the surface.  I was gasping for breath.  Sure, I put on the face.  I attended all the social events.  I would even stand and preach the Word of God.  I would do everything I would normally do- but I was not the same.

In the course of the month I had lost everything I held dear: dear friends, a growing ministry, a girl I thought I was spending the rest of my life with, my health was in a bad place.  I felt betrayed as all of them left.  To this day it doesn’t even seem real.  How does everything you love and pour two years of your life into just turn and walk away?  It began a year of spiral downward that echoed the words of David in Psalm 13, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (13:1-2).  People of faith suffer real pain.  I asked the Lord every day for a year, “Why?”  I could hear nothing, whether due to my stupidity or His gracious silence.

In my pride I was pretended there was not a problem.  I viewed vulnerability as an enemy, forgetting that confession has always been the pathway to freedom (Psalm 32:5).  The victory I’d preached from the pulpit felt like a distant memory.  “Who am I fooling? Lord, I’m not cut out for this.  I’m throwing in the towel.”  I would try to form cohesive words in prayer as I sobbed.  I was asking for the Lord to not just take me out of ministry, but I often asked him to take me out of this life.

Look how David continues in Psalm 13,

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken
– Psalm 13:3-4

I need an answer, but little did I know He was not finished with me yet.

No matter how much I desired to let go of everything I knew, He was not letting go of me.  Jeremiah was put in stocks by the priests and he declared, “O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.  I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me” (Jeremiah 20:7).  But, in the midst of it, Jeremiah would also declare, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot…Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers” (20:9, 13).

The good news has never been about how hard we hold onto God, but how hard God is holding onto us.  Jesus words in John 6 were warm sweet promises to me.  He had given me to the Father and I would not perish.  He has drawn me and He would raise me.  The will of the Father was that all who believed would be raised on the last day.  Jesus’ death absorbed all of God’s wrath toward me.  This suffering was not His wrath, it was for my good.  He was not inflicting me with Hell, but loving His child all the way Home.  We was keeping me, and sometimes keeping us involved taking things away.

Now, a year after my earth shattering heartbreak, I resonate with the words of Joel 2:25, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.”  He has down a miraculous work in showing me more about friendship in ministry, giving me a great set of accountability partners, brought me into a new ministry, and brought me together with a helper who is beyond what I deserve.  My health is even far better!

Friends, restoration does not always mean you will be brought back where you were.  God’s exile out is often an exodus into something new.  I would love to say the story went back into a happily ever after, but the story isn’t over yet.  Chapters end so others begin.  Our happily ever happy happens later, not in this life.  But, even as our story unfolds, a few things have be reaffirmed to me even in the face of heart-wrenching despair.

1) Jesus is Lord.  He is Lord of salvation.  He is the Lord of life.  He promises that from beginning to end all His intentions will work toward His purpose.  He is gracious and is going to conform me into His image.  This is going to involve suffering.  God is passionately dedicated to blessing his people, but God blesses the bankrupt in spirit, but the banker (Matthew 5:3).  But in the gospel, suffering is a servant, not a serpent (Romans 8:28-39).  This truth has become even more precious to me.  John Piper says this, 

Outside of this promise of all-encompassing future grace there are straw houses of drugs and alcohol and numbing TV and dozens of futile diversions.  There are slat walls and tin roofs of fragile investment strategies and fleeting insurance coverage and trivial retirement plans.  There are cardboard fortifications of deadbolt locks and alarm systems and antiballistic missiles.  Outside are a thousand substitutes for Romans 8:28….The confidence that a sovereign God governs for your good all the pain and all the pleasure that you will ever experience is an incomparable refuge and security and hope and power in your life.”  - John Piper, Future Grace 122-123

      2) The doctrines of grace remain the only bed rock for deep suffering.  To know that my salvation is rooted in the sovereign election of God, the effectual calling of the Spirit, and the particular death of the Son is a firm foundation when you feel as if you don’t control anything.  Because, in honesty- we don’t.    The scandalous grace of God is the only answer for scandalous heartbreak.  Sure, our actions have consequences, but God is control of everything that occurs.  My salvation is never grounded in how I’m feeling from day to day, but in the work of the Triune God- and Him alone.  To the praise of His glorious grace (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14)

            3) Suffering is good for the stubborn.  The Lord has given me a much more vulnerable and pastoral heart through this suffering (something my stubbornness caused me to lack).  People hurt.  Life is far more complicated than I originally lived like it was.  God comforts us, so that we might comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:4).  This means that God will wound us, but never without a purpose.

         4) The church will let you down, but don’t give up on her.  Jesus didn’t.  In fact, nothing that Christians have ever done to me has ever been as bad as what Christians did to Him.  Jesus pursued a wandering bride.  He endured her spitting in His face, pushing Him away, but He still pursued her- even to death.  Most grooms wed their brides with a ring on their finger, but Jesus pursued His bride with two nails in His hands.  Don’t give up on the church, Jesus has not and will not.

      5) The mission of God is not about me.  His mission will be complete whether I am face down in the dirt, or whether I am out on the front lines.  God doesn’t need me.  He could raise us rocks to replace me (Matthew 3:9).  But, God has graciously invited us in and sent us out.  Why not give everything for the sake of the gospel?  It will involve this kind of heart-wrenching, soul-emptying, life-altering suffering I have described, but in the end those who mourn will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).  We will see His face (Revelation 21) and His mission will be accomplished.

In the end, God destroys us for our good.  He builds us up, or moves us away, or leaves us to taste mud with the pigs- all with the goal of building us up and bringing us back (Luke 15:11-32).  Life hurts.  God is good.  The gospel is true.  His mission is urgent.  He may take what is most precious to us to show us that He should be more precious than all of it.  Why should we delight in the gifts when the Giver is so much more satisfying?  In the end, God never answered David’s question.  God’s response in our suffering is not an explanation, but revelation.  God is giving us more of Himself.  In our midst of our questions, answers will not satisfy us, He will.  Even in the midst of devastation, may we find joy in Him more and more each day.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.
– Psalm 13:5-6