From Suffering to Hope

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5: 2-5

As I was reading Romans, it reminded me of something I heard at the Become Conference from a guest speaker named Josh Lane. Josh spoke on suffering and brought up some of the provocative ideas presented in Romans 5. He outlined a timeline for suffering.

I wrote it in my journal simply as this:

Suffering → Endurance → Character → Hope

Josh went on to ask us where we saw ourselves on this timeline. In that time, I realized that I was no longer in the stage of suffering that I had found myself in this time last year. At that time, I was wrestling with guilt and shame and became overwhelmingly hungry for growth and a tangible awareness of God’s voice. In that time, God graciously spoke loudly to me and I felt that he continually pulled me, as C.S. Lewis describes in the Chronicles of Narnia, “further up and further in.” It was a truth I had already been experiencing, but as Josh spoke, the language of the Scriptures unveiled to me that shame no longer had any hold over me. Josh remarked on the incredible nature of this suffering timeline ending in hope. He said, “Suffering usually takes our hope but in God’s kingdom hope is gained at the end of suffering. Hope does not end in shame but in glory.” I knew this to be true for me and what God had done in my life. He is continually transforming my character for his glory and life is full of excitement, adventure and plot twists as he works. He never shies away from our ugliness and brokenness but eternally calls us deeper. He took a guilty, shame-ridden prodigal, and renamed him as a chosen son for his Kingdom. God be praised for his masterful artistry, amazing grace, and un-tameable love and pursuit.


He is faithful when we are faithless

“For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and stream on the dry ground. I will pour my Spirit upon you offspring and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams.” Isaiah 44:3-4

I have lived my life centered around the philosophy that nothing in this life is given. Hard work and dedication—that’s the way to make it. But, day by day I strive to achieve the very thing that pulls me away from the One who gave me life in the first place. My desire to be self-sufficient becomes a declaration that I don’t need God.

And this declaration often begins to seep into my faith. I start to believe that I’m saved because of my own doings. And slowly this self-righteousness turns to apathy, because after all, “I’m good.” I start to question why I ever needed God in the first place. This apathy turns to cynicism until I find myself so far removed from God that I dare to question, “God, where are You?”

In Isaiah 43, a depiction of Israel’s unfaithfulness is again described as they chase the desires of their own wicked hearts and persist in their own ways. They continue to find themselves in places of darkness and sorrow crying out this very same question, “God where are You?”

And time and time again, we see God’s faithful and unchanging response. He cries out His promises of redemption, of salvation, of new life overflowing. Prophecies of Jesus are proclaimed. God is faithful to save! How can this be?

That is the beautiful mystery and true meaning of God’s grace. It is given to us, and could never be earned. It is only through the sacrifice of Jesus that He clothes us in righteousness. I could never work hard enough to earn His grace. My own doings will never be enough. Only through His blood will I be given life once more.

Yes, God is faithful even when I am faithless. God is good. God is sufficient. Through Him, we are forgiven, we are renamed, we are loved.



The God at work in deliverance and sorrow

“Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.” (Is. 38:17)


Is God working in the good times or the bad times? Of course, we know that “for those who love God all things work together for good” but do we really live that way? My prayers often focus so much more on some future good I want to see God do for me. I want God to heal, to restore, and to deliver. These are good things. We should pray for them! But, how often do we ask God to use our sickness, our hurts, and the scariest moments of our lives to move in us and show himself through us.


As we have been reading in our CBR journal, I am struck by the life of Hezekiah. The rest of the Bible reveals that Hezekiah was a good and politically successful king. However, in Isaiah, the picture is very different. It isn’t different because the details are changed. It’s different because Isaiah zooms in on the adversity in Hezekiah’s life. It shows him with his back to the wall and odds against him. It shows him struggling with a sickness and “at the point of death.” (Is. 38:1) However, it is in these dark moments that Hezekiah triumphs. It isn’t because he is so great or faithful but because he clings desperately to a God who delivers and saves. In the story, God hears his prayer and heals him from his sickness.


Hezekiah recognizes though that God was not just at work in the healing but in the “bitterness” of his sickness also. How could this be? It was in his moment of desperate need that Hezekiah learned to cry out, “My eyes are weary with looking upward. O Lord, I am oppressed; be my pledge of safety.” (Is. 38:14) Hezekiah was forced to trust God because he had no other options and this he says was for his “welfare”. It was good for him to experience this. So often, it is only when what is before our eyes fails to save us that we truly begin to look up and see the God that can.


I’m not saying stop praying for God to save and heal. Our God heals and saves. It’s who he is and we can and should cry out for him to redeem the evil in our lives and in our world. But, I think we need to have a wider view of what that redemption is. If we only see God’s work as getting out of the bad, we fail to see why he allowed us to be brought there in the first place. As an old preacher, Charles Spurgeon, once said, “I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the Rock of Ages.” May we learn to embrace and see God work in our deliverance and in our sorrow.



When your life doesn’t matter

What a difference a few years makes. A few years ago, I was on my way to college right out of high school, bright-eyed and idealistic about what I could do with my life. I had so much that I wanted to achieve and do that I couldn’t believe I would be able to pack it all in to four years. I may have never said it out loud, but I knew the world was going to notice me and I was going to make a difference.

        As college went on, although I did well the crushing realization began to hit that all that I thought I was going to achieve might not happen. Idealism came to bat with reality and it looked like reality won. Before I knew it, I was putting on my cap and gown at graduation wondering where all those goals and dreams had gone. And, in my darker moments, wondering why my life mattered at all.

        A funny thing began to happen though, God showed up. He began to teach me that I had been looking at this thing all wrong to begin with. My life, my achievements, my goals…those things don’t matter. And, strangely enough, that’s the point.

        In our Community Bible Reading this morning we came to Acts 20 and Paul is giving his final speech to the Ephesian elders, the individuals he had taught and mentored with tears for nearly two years. He tells the that he is going to face affliction and trials, maybe even the loss of his life. However, that doesn’t bother him one bit. He says, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24)

        Paul realized something that God has been teaching me over and over again this past year. My life is not my own. It doesn’t belong to me. I don’t have claim on it because it was bought with the blood of Christ. So, in one sense, my life doesn’t matter. But, in another real sense it matters infinitely. When you realize that your life is not your own you begin to wrestle with the greater calling to testify to the good news of God’s grace. As a Christian your job, the reason you are still here on this earth, is to tell the world that God has come to save us.

        The world may never know your name. You may not make speeches to thousands or become the next best thing. You may never achieve all you set out to. But, your life will have infinite value because you get to be a part of the divine mission of God to save lost people. When you begin to see your life isn’t yours…then it really starts to matter.


When the Spirit invades our religion

Religion gives life routine. On Sundays we go to church, at Christmas we sing carols, on Easter we dress up. All of these seasons can be beautiful reminders of what God has done, but this repetition from year to year can become stale, sometimes inconvenient, and even boring. The Jewish religion revolved around their calendar of feasts and festivals.

Acts 2 tells about one such occasion, the day of Pentecost. This festival required able-bodied men to make the journey to Jerusalem to offer their first fruits. This would likely be incredibly inconvenient. It would be hard to leave behind work and family to make a long journey to a city that was cramped and dirty. Furthermore, everyone there was from different places, probably creating some uncomfortable interactions.  As I read through this passage, I tried to imagine what it would be like to be one of those devout people Acts 2:5 described.

Coming in, I might have thought I knew what to expect, but I imagine I would be shocked by the scene that I found when I arrived. Gathered in the square, these devout men heard a sound like they had never heard before, like a rushing wind. Running to the source, they heard the disciples speaking the wonders of God. Furthermore, even though dozens of languages were represented, everyone could understand each other. If I experienced this, I might feel confused and even a little skeptical. And many were skeptical, saying that the disciples must be drunk. But, as Peter spoke, I think I would have been stopped dead in my tracks. Peter spoke of God’s ancient promises and proclaimed them a true, fulfilled, reality as the Holy Spirit would be poured out on all flesh. The scandal of this truth was that Jesus of Nazareth, who God’s people killed, was the Giver of this Holy Gift.
Could it be that this Holy Spirit, who spoke to prophets and kings, who performed miracles and wonders, could be poured out on an insignificant believer like me? Could we really have been so wrong about the Messiah of our faith? On that day, three thousand people believed and were baptized in Christ’s name. The day of Pentecost brought the fulfillment of a long expected prophecy and with it an unbelievable outpouring of God’s grace.

I think we often imagine ourselves as the disciples on that day. In reality though, we bear a greater resemblance to those religious people, stuck in their ways, devout and yet devoid of God’s spirit. It is my prayer for our church that we become a people who trust God’s promise for the Holy Spirit to work in us. May we not get distracted by routine religion, but be revived by the work of God in us. Just like He did that day in Jerusalem, may the Holy Spirit  invade our spaces, disrupt our routine religion, and renew our hearts.


Who can stop the Lord?

As I sat down to read my CBR passages today, our front door is slightly ajar allowing for a stream of light and warmth to flood into our living room. There are hummingbirds buzzing around audibly, and although it’s January it feels a bit like a summer afternoon.

I sat down and opened to Luke 23, and I instantly felt a wave of somberness pour over the pages. To my human judgment and perspective, this is not a warm and sunny summer day passage. It would feel more appropriate if it were raining. My mind is distracted, and I admittedly didn’t carve out hours of time to pause and reflect on God’s word. I felt a tinge of unpreparedness as I read from Luke. But God is teaching us, revealing Himself, and proclaiming truth even when we feel unprepared – because He’s good and gracious like that.

Who Can Stop the Lord, Almighty?

Since Sunday this phrase — this glorious, truth-filled question — has been stuck in my head. Drifting in and out on the tip of my tongue, I’ve been reflecting on God’s power and glory. This week DJ reflected on scripture-based truths in which we cling to as a new church community. We are to take God seriously. Grace changes us. God delights in us. God is gracious and glorious. We are here to further his Kingdom.

With these truths freshly scribbled on my notebook and the song lyrics above swimming around in my head, I find myself looking on at the scene of Jesus heading to the cross. Jesus carried out His Father’s will with obedience: with an obedience that is hard to fully grasp as man. His obedience to the cross could not be stopped.

The scriptures reveal that rulers and chief priests found that Jesus did nothing deserving of death (v. 15) yet God’s will was carried out. The criminal on the cross that hung beside Jesus admitted to being guilty himself but acknowledged that “this man has done nothing wrong (v.41) The centurion onlooker praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent” (v. 47). I don’t fully grasp this scene as many declared Jesus’ innocence. It didn’t fully make sense in the moment that the crowds persisted with bitterness that Jesus should be crucified. I take it all in and reflect on God’s purpose. His death was unstoppable. The Lord had a plan to fulfill the promise of his Grace through his Son.

Jesus carried out the will of His Father and even extended forgiveness and grace on the scene of his death. As the King laid down his own life, His Kingdom was still growing. Death could not hold Him back.

In war, in death, on the cross, in His prophecies: God is unstoppable. Isaiah 14:27 reminds us of his unstoppable and powerful ways. It reads, “For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” Who can shake or alter God’s plan? 

My prayer for us as a community is that we would cling to this truth: that Jesus lived a perfect life, yet sacrificed it for us in his unstoppable plan to die, resurrect, and leave His spirit here on earth for his Kingdom to flourish. On warm days and rainy ones. When we feel close to Him and when we feel far from his presence. When we carve out time to remember Him and when we forget. God’s plan to extend Grace to those who cry out to Him is unstoppable. His kingdom come, His will be done.


The God who meets us where we’re at.

I marvel at God’s providence even in the smallest things.

For years I have not been a consistent bible reader – far from it in truth. But, with the new year bringing resolutions and the CBR guide, I felt I had a reasonable shot at implementing a new rhythm in my life that had been severely lacking.

However, that by itself wouldn’t be enough to start a new practice in my life. I’ve neglected consistent Bible reading for so long that, just like any new year’s resolution, it’s unreasonable to think it would stick.

For me, the real challenge in reading the Bible and praying has always been focusing my mind on God alone. I don’t have a hard time putting aside distractions and finding a solitude of place, but I struggle to quiet my thoughts and find a solitude of mind — and without that solitude of mind, I can’t focus on God. I end up feeling overly self-conscious or thinking that I’m just doing some religious homework.


Prone to wander. Lord I feel it.


It’s in this reality that God has met me. And it’s in a simple, practical way.

The CBR has us read passages from the Old and New Testaments each day. And the simple fact that our New Testament reading has started in Luke has been most of the reason why I’ve slowly developed a Bible reading rhythm. That’s because as a church we’ve been plodding through Luke for over a year, and the simple process of re-reading Luke in the CBR has allowed me to instantly focus on God by recalling the messages from Sunday mornings.

One morning, we were reading in Luke 18, when Jesus talks with the rich young ruler. After the ruler tells Jesus he has obeyed the commandments, Jesus tells him to sell everything he has and give it to the poor. This causes the ruler to walk away sad because he was very rich.

In reading this section I remembered DJ just a few weeks ago preaching from this passage, and I recalled the idea, “You cannot serve God and money.”

Rereading this passage with the message in mind allowed me to quickly reach a focused state. It gave me a framework to think and pray through the text. I was able to  acknowledge my sinful posture of worshipping my own comfort instead of loving Jesus. In praying, it was made clear to me that I am in fact treasuring my own comfort and not treasuring Jesus.

Now, I know that God can meet me through Scripture all on his own, and that having a sermon to recall when reading the Bible can become a crutch. But God, in his kindness, is meeting me where I’m at now, calling me out of my shame of not reading his Word, and easing me into a necessary rhythm  — Now I’m just praying for confidence in that, because we’ve only got a few more days left in Luke.