In Christ We Conquer the World

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

 

“For your sake, we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

(Romans 8:35-37)

 

Life is hard. People die, our bodies break down, hurricanes ravage our homes, friends betray us, and nations war against one another. It is just how it is. Suffering is a part of human existence ever since The Fall, and it will be until Jesus returns to make all things new.

 

There are two possible responses to suffering: crush or be crushed. The normal response is to be crushed by suffering, to lament over your misfortune and shake your fist at the heavens. When we are crushed by our suffering, we are defined by it. We form our identity around that which hurts us, and so we call ourselves cancer survivors, recovering addicts, or victims. We inhale the suffering and allow it to enter our hearts. When we allow ourselves to be crushed by suffering, we allow a wedge to be driven between us and God.

 

It need not be this way.

 

Christians suffer at least as much as non-believers. Becoming a Christian does not in any way guarantee you’ll live your best life now. So yeah, we’ll suffer. And when we do, because of our inheritance in Christ and because of the Spirit living within us, we can crush the suffering.

 

Now if I were you I’d be rolling my eyes right now. To crush our suffering sounds great, but it’s not realistic. So let me clarify before we move on. To crush our suffering does not mean we don’t feel it. It doesn’t mean that chemo doesn’t make you feel like each day is a new death or that losing a child doesn’t cause a heavyweight of despair. No, suffering is suffering and it’s rough.

 

The reason Christians can crush suffering is because suffering doesn’t get the last say. There is a hope we cling to because of what Jesus has done that puts pain into perspective. We are saved, redeemed, and adopted. An eternal inheritance awaits us on the other side of suffering. This short and sometimes painful life is merely the prelude to our story, and thus our suffering, when put in perspective, is rather small.

 

Further, our suffering can be seen as an unexpected gift. You see, when we live comfy and easy lives, we are blind to reality. The reality of this world is that evil exists, we’re sinful, and bad stuff happens. When bad stuff happens, our eyes are open to reality and even though it might be dark, in these hard times are when the light is most apparent. Turn on a lamp in a bright room and you get more brightness, but turn on a lamp in a pitch black room and it’ll make you shield your eyes. God shows up big in these hard times, and though there is much pain, the presence of the Lord is totally worth it.

 

We must understand God’s heart in our suffering. He does not send arbitrary hardships to see how we’ll react. He does not deal with a heavy hand. No, because those in Christ are adopted sons and daughters if we are in the midst of suffering we are still within the loving arms of our Father. He means well for us and, as Paul explains in Romans 8:28, all things work together for the good of those who love God. Our sufferings are redemptive, and because of God’s mysterious power, the very things which should destroy us can become vehicles for blessing.

 

Position Over Performance

We are a performance-obsessed culture. Everything is measured, and everyone measures themselves against other people. Be it social media, sports, or the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses competition of status symbols, we are on a treadmill of competition.

And we are buckling under the pressure.

Depression rates are up. Suicide rates, including, tragically, youth suicide, are on the rise. I know of two young men in particular – stand out baseball players – who had mental breakdowns from parental pressure.

It’s not just non-believers, either. The pressure to perform is rife in the church. We play all the same games as those outside the church, but we just use different language for it. We use prayer requests to gossip about others so we’ll feel better. We still struggle with consumerism and cliques.

The problem is that we’ve prioritized performance over position. Allow me to explain.

Performance is based upon our actions, talents, and chance. We can only control one of these three variables: our actions. Our talents can be cultivated, but you aren’t going to make an Olympic sprinter out of me if I’m not gifted for it. (And I’m not.) So when we obsess over our performance, we obsess over our actions. Do, do, do. Do more. Achieve, achieve, achieve. Do more. It’s a maniacal approach that borders on insanity.

Position, however, is identity-based. And we can do very little about our position as well – except we can accept it. As a Christian, I can accept the fact that I am completely depraved and by nature a rebel against God’s designs. I can accept the fact that I seek to perform to glorify myself and to gather up fame for myself. And, praise God, I can accept the fact that this is why Jesus had to come – to shed his blood for me and to give me a new heart. That’s position.

If we prioritize our performance, we will try to make something of ourselves at the expense of knowing who we already are. If we prioritize position, we start with knowing who we are and from there proceed to perform to the best of our ability to God’s glory. But at the end of the day, if we know our position our performance does not affect our joy. It is our position that shines light into our souls.

So consider your position. Consider who you are and who you aren’t. You are a sinner in need of God’s grace. And consider how that grace is offered in Christ. Drink of that grace, and return to it and over and over again, whether you perform well or terribly.

Position over performance.

God or Money: Choose One

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24)

We treat money like time. We want more of it, but when we have it we are desperate to spend it. We want to stockpile it, but it flows through our hands like sand. It is our security, a warm blanket on a cold night – but it has holes or it’s too small to cover us.

It feels good to have money, but the satisfaction never nourishes our souls. Like a sugar rush, the pleasure of having a fat wallet is indeed satisfying, but it is fleeting. Spend it or keep it, but its satisfaction expires quickly as we yearn for more.

Could it be we have misplaced our desire? Could it be that we don’t actually long for money but for something else? Will we ever find it?

The greedy man who chases money will not find God, because he isn’t looking for him. He won’t find money either, because there is no such thing as enough. So he will toil and toil, but he will never be happy on a deep level. He will live with the unscratched itch of joy not realized and he will run himself into the ground.

Jesus makes it clear that this whole money thing is binary. That is, it’s an either/or proposition. Choose God or choose money, but you cannot choose both. And there’s an obvious reason that God and money are mutually exclusive: the pursuit of God is a completely different journey than the pursuit of money. You can’t drive to Canada and Mexico at the same time, as they’re in opposite directions.

It’s not quite that simple, though. There’s this wonderful dynamic that Jesus weaves into the story of our lives. When we submit our lives – and yes, our desire for money – to God, we will find contentment. We will begin to taste thankfulness for God’s provision and thus we will begin to see money in a new way. We will begin to see that we’re beggars with overflowing cups and we’ll begin to trust that God will be by our corner again tomorrow with new coins so we can eat.

The pursuit of God breeds humility, and humility helps us to realize we are owed nothing. Thus, as we pursue God we will find the money we do have – however much it is or isn’t – to be an undeserved gift. So while you may have very little money, you will have a full heart and you’ll be satisfied with the money you have.

God’s provision doesn’t always taste like a steak dinner, by the way. Sometimes it’s stale and a day old and rather than explode on our palates, it might just disintegrate into dust. But it fills our bellies and keeps us going. You may not have as much money as you want, and it’s possible that God will reward your hard work with more. But you must also realize he may not – and he will still be good.

God does not love the rich more than the poor, and as much as this offends our western capitalistic worldview, there is Biblical evidence that he cares more for the poor than the rich. Why is that? It doesn’t seem to make sense, does it?

It’s all about the heart.

God really doesn’t love the poor more than the rich. But he loves a contrite and humble spirit. He honors the humble and lifts the lowly. The danger of getting rich is that we lose sight of our lowliness. So it’s not that being rich is bad or that rich people shouldn’t be rich – it’s just that being rich is quite dangerous to our spiritual health. We might forget who we really are.

Allow me to end with some words from one of the richest men ever to walk the earth. He had everything money can buy. His name was Solomon, and he wrote:

Remove far from me falsehood and lying;

give me neither poverty nor riches;

feed me with the food that is needful for me,

lest I be full and deny you

and say, “Who is the Lord?”

or lest I be poor and steal

and profane the name of my God.

(Proverbs 30:9)

Pursue God and you’ll have everything you need. Hold out your cup, fellow beggar. He’ll be by this corner again today.

Why You Must Understand Your Depravity

Did you know that public executions were once entertainment?

We think we’re desensitized today, but imagine what those scenes were like. In some cases, the execution was by hanging. Others by decapitation. Sometimes the executioner botched the killing and was himself killed by the crowd. Some were hours long, where the victim was kept alive to be the object of torture for the amusement of the crowd.

You might think the crowds that showed up were an angry mob, and sure – some of them were. But in certain places and times, public executions were like, say, going to watch the horses run. People would bring food and drink and get all dressed up. Move over, you’re blocking my view. That kind of thing.

Oh yeah, but those were ancient people, right? Different times, right? The picture attached to this post is from 1936 in Kentucky.

Would you go to an execution if all of your friends were going? Maybe not the first one. But what if it became customary in your town, state, and country? Would you go then? Would you watch someone die?

We like to think we’re good people. That we make some bad choices, but our bad choices aren’t really us. But they are. And we need to know it.

ORDINARY MEN

In 1942, a group of middle-aged men were drafted into the German military. These guys weren’t warriors, they were truck drivers and salesmen. These were, as described by Christopher Browning in his book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, rather ordinary men.

Slowly but surely, they became icy-veined executioners.

At first many of the men couldn’t handle the mass killings. They’d run away or get fall down drunk. But as time went on, the men in Reserve Police Battalion 101 got used to routinely taking large groups of Jewish men, women, and children into the woods and shooting them as they lay face down in the grass.

What makes ordinary men become killers?

OUR HEARTS

We have a heart problem. Jeremiah 17:9 says:

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?

When Jesus taught us to pray, he taught us to pray that God would “lead us not into temptation”. In other words, God please protect our choices, our motives, and our desires. Protect us from temptation by Satan and protect us from ourselves. He himself had been tempted by Satan, and though Jesus did not have a depraved heart, it was still hard for Jesus. He understood that we sinful and weak-minded people would be not only more susceptible to temptation, but also to committing evil on our own.

Lead us not into temptation.

We have to understand this. I know it’s not fun. And I’m not even done yet. But we must understand that we are capable of doing just about anything given the right situation. We must understand we are not the good guys.

We must understand what Jesus saves us from and what he continually prevents. Are we demons? No, of course not. But we are a lot darker than we think we are – or we at least have the capacity to do horrible things. And we’ve done horrible things. We’ve lied, cheated, and stolen. We need redemption and forgiveness. Badly.

MOB MENTALITY

The reason I started with public executions is because it reveals what happens when we don’t check ourselves, when we don’t look at ourselves with skepticism. That’s how mobs happen. That’s how genocides happen. That’s how slavery happens.

That’s how sin happens.

When we look for evil only outside of ourselves, we will find it – but we will miss the terrors within. If we don’t question our motives, we might go along with mobs. We might be ideologues instead of independent thinkers. We might dehumanize other people.

We will miss the most dangerous person in our lives: us.

If the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 had questioned themselves as they were lacing up their boots, they might have woken up. They might have considered the humanity of their victims and the insanity of the Nazi regime. Things could have been different for them.

REBIRTH REQUIRED

Okay, let’s be real here. Christians do not have a monopoly on goodness. Just because someone says they’re a Christian, it doesn’t mean they’re good.

There were tons of Christian slave owners. How about the Salem Witch trials? What about The Crusades?

I hope this turns your stomach like it turns mine.

Mere behavior modification isn’t enough. That’s like those people who think it’s a good idea to keep a pet tiger. The tiger one day gets hungry and does what the tiger does and eats its owner like a gazelle. Our sin is much too dangerous to gamify it or white knuckle it.

We need complete transformation. We need rebirth.

FUMBLING FOR LIGHT

We have a great capacity for sin and darkness. All of us. But what will make us better – what will make us Christ-like – is to get up close to the light.

Life is complicated and we are complicated. We do things we don’t want to do and don’t do what we should do. Other people hurt us. It’s like we’re walking through an unknown house in the dark. Bump, trip, fall.

We need to find the light switch.

Darkness cannot dwell with light. Light wins. Sin cannot dwell with Jesus. Jesus wins.

If we know our depravity, we know our need for salvation. We understand the magnitude of grace. If we think God’s grace is a religious conversion or a really smart life change, we completely miss the point. And the truth. And we’re doing nothing to address our need for help and forgiveness.

The opposite of depravity isn’t morality. Let me repeat: the opposite of depravity isn’t morality. We aren’t talking about “being a good boy” and keeping your mouth clean.

The opposite of depravity is love.

Love is light, and Jesus is the source. Love is not mitigation of depravity, it’s an overwhelm of goodness. It’s cosmic offense.

As the Spirit moves in our hearts, he inclines us toward love and compassion. We grow in our capacity for humanity and shrink in our capacity for depravity. We grow in our capacity for – and inclination toward – love.

Darkness doesn’t scare our King. He went into the belly of darkness and rose victorious. He was the victim of a public execution – the most horrible kind – and through his death we are given life. We are given love. And grace invades our souls like a heavenly disease, we will start to show symptoms of love, kindness, and humanity.

Know your darkness, and look to the Light.

Live Your Life

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. (1 Cor. 7:17)

Joseph Stalin once said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” Stalin, who was responsible for ordering millions of deaths as the leader of the Soviet Union, understood a fundamental reality of human nature: there is a limit to our comprehension, empathy, and energy.

Imagine God’s perspective of the world and everyone in it. He knows our thoughts, motives, actions, and yes – our futures. Time is no factor to the Lord. He comprehends your pain as well as he comprehends the growth cycle of a blade of grass no human eye will ever see. And he is actively engaged in everything. So, in short, he sees all and governs all.

On the other hand, we are severely limited. We are shaped by our biases from our upbringing and cultural environment. We live within the constraints of time and the laws of nature. In short, we see little and govern little.

YOUR PEOPLE

If God is sovereign and he cares about your life in particular, that means every interaction you have with another person is a divine appointment. When you meet your neighbor at the curb taking out the trash, the God of the universe cares about what happens. When you put your kids down at bedtime, he cares about your prayers over them.

We cannot be everywhere at once. We cannot serve the needy everywhere at once. But we can serve those whom God has called us to serve. For some, that means selling everything and moving to Burma. For others, that means staying put and spreading the love of Christ where God has planted you.

You have a people. Want to know who your people are? Look around you. They are your people. They are the ones who need truth, love, and friendship. You are planted among a people group with great intention by the Lord himself. God makes no mistakes.

YOUR PLACE

You also have a place. You have a neighborhood, a city, a state, and a country. Your people live within the community of your place. God calls us to invest in our place, to pray for it, and to cultivate it. Our well-being is at stake, as well as the well-being of others.

Jeremiah 17:9 says:

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

You have been put in your place. I have been put in mine. Our communities are mission fields full of broken and needy people like us. As we bear one another’s burdens and seek good for our fellow man, we operate as instruments in God’s hand.

The sun will not catch your grass on fire – that is, unless you put a magnifying glass to it. If you magnify the energy of the sun and aim it at one particular area of your yard, it’ll start to smoke and eventually it’ll catch fire. In the same way, as we concentrate our efforts on serving the place to which we’re called (again, could be Burma or Birmingham), we will affect change which could ignite a movement.

YOUR IMPACT

Thus far I have been vague on purpose as to what I mean by “serving others” or “affecting change”. What do I mean by this?

The highest act of service addresses the greatest need with the best solution.

You and I – and all of our people that live in our place – are in desperate need. We are, all of us, broken and sinful people. We hurt others and we are all hurt by others. We have committed treason against God by creating countless faux objects of worship. We are sick with our sin and we need healing.

More than that, we are eternally sick. We are eternal beings. We will live forever. Our problem is not merely our behavior, it’s our identity. It’s stamped on our hearts in black ink. It’s a forever problem.

If I truly love you, I will seek to help you with your biggest problem. And your biggest problem is not that you’ve had a bad day (though that matters), but rather that your heart is sick and in need of salvation. Your greatest need is to be saved, renewed, and reborn. Me too. Jesus meets that need, and thus I must share him with you as best I know how.

God calls us to love our people and our place with his good news, his gospel. He does not call us to save people, but rather to share his love with those around us. He does the saving. We are broadcasters of his headlines, what he’s done and what he’s doing. We tell of his glory and strength and compassion. We imitate his kindness and care. We show up for people in need.

Consider your people and your place. Who could use an encouraging word? A hot meal? Who might need to hear about the love of Christ which surpasses all understanding? You cannot change the whole world, but, with God’s help, you can change yours.

Your Work Matters

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. (2 Cor. 5:20)

A recent Gallup poll found that 70% of Americans are disengaged at work. The cost of worker disengagement is hard to measure, but it’s estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars – about the size of the GDP of many countries.

The problem with worker disengagement for Christians is more than an economic problem, however. It is a theological problem and it is a heart problem. Going to work every day disengaged and miserable affects your relationship with your family, friends, community, and even God.

It also affects your influence. Here’s what I mean. Say you’re a plumber. You are one of these disengaged workers, so you show up more or less on time. Your mind is elsewhere. Your colleagues are an annoyance, and clients are a frustration. When problems arise, you are short-tempered because you don’t want to be there. And yet your coworkers see your Bible on your dashboard. What are they to make of this? Christians are lazy? Christians hate work? Christians are hypocrites?

I’m not here to guilt you into getting engaged at work. This is not a matter of will, it is a matter of understanding. If you reframe your understanding of work, it will literally change your life.

As a Christian, there are two things you must know about work:

1. Work is a gift. Immediately after God made Adam and Eve, he put them to work caring for his creation. He gave them dominion – leadership authority – over plants and animals. That’s work. Now remember The Garden is a place of complete harmony between God, man, and creation. Work was part of God’s perfect plan, and since the beginning we have been called to work for God’s glory and our flourishing. Regardless of whether your job is taking care of kids, fixing cars, or selling insurance it is a gift from God.

2. Work is ministry. There is something sacred about vocational ministry, and thus we must hold our full-time ministers in high regard. But we often forget vocational ministers are not tasked with the doing, but rather the equipping. They are, per Ephesians 4:12, to equip the rest of us so we can live as ambassadors for Christ to those God has placed in our lives. That means our family, friends, and yes – coworkers. There is no such thing as secular vocation to a Christ follower. Work is an opportunity to minister to broken and hurting people who, like us, need Jesus.

Friend, it is no accident that you work where you work with the people you work with. God has placed you there as His ambassador to bring order into chaos and peace into turmoil. He has called you there to live as light in the darkness and to spread the love of his rescuing gospel.

The 3 Benefits of Christian Creativity

For many years I hid my creativity. In high school, I loved to write. But when I grew up I found myself in a white collar corporate job, and I assumed people like me didn’t do creative things. People like me were too busy to draw, paint, dance, sing, or write. We had important stuff to attend to, like meetings and emails and…well, meetings and emails.

One cold morning while driving to the office God threw open a door and gently shoved me through it. It is hard to adequately explain the experience, but I felt a stirring in my soul to start writing. I prayed about it, sought counsel, and thought about it. After testing my motivation a bit, I decided this hunger to write was of God. So I began writing – which I had always loved to do – and eventually published my first book. That’s what it took for me, a prompting from God to get started.

I hope this post will be your prompting.

A lot of us think we aren’t creative. We have thus kept ourselves away from creative endeavors because of our self-image. Or maybe we’re self-conscious and don’t think anyone would care about our paintings or music or handmade furniture. In both cases, we’re wrong. We need to rewire our thinking.

We are made in the image of the supreme Creator. God created ex nihilo (“out of nothing”), which was the most creative act imaginable. While we build with secondhand materials: ideas, wood, paint, sounds, etc. – God created with no prior existing materials or even ideas. His brilliant mind thought everything up out of thin air, and thus the cosmos was made. Wouldn’t it be natural that we’d inherit a hint of his creative brilliance?

But wait a minute. You might be a step ahead of me. Aren’t some attributes of God communicable (shared with us humans) and some noncommunicable (not shared with us)? Yes, that is true. God alone is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omnipresent (all-present). But there are many attributes of God which are shared with humanity. One such attribute is creativity – and there’s several reasons why.

2 Corinthians 5:20 says we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We are his flag-bearers and his messengers. We show the world what God is like and we are entrusted with the saving power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are heralders of his glory.

When Christ-followers pursue creativity, they bring a threefold blessing to God and God’s people:

  1. The creative act glorifies God. A beautiful song is a transcendent, worshipful experience. An excellent meal is a soulful event which should stimulate worship of God. Our creativity magnifies the God from which we come.
  1. By exploring our creativity, we explore our giftings. I have tried to learn the guitar and sing, but I sing like a wounded rhino. I feel more comfortable writing, and I believe writing is in sync with how God made me. I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t tried both singing and writing. Once we know our giftings, we can use and enjoy them for kingdom purposes.
  1. Creativity serves others. A good book will change your life. Movies can inspire and educate. Regardless of the medium, good creative works serve those who interact with them. As we pursue our creativity, we can aim our talents toward others to bless them.

You are creative. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old. It doesn’t matter who you’ve been thus far in your life or what you do for a living. You are creative. You may have to try a bunch of different things to figure out where you’re gifted or where you’re most stirred spiritually, but you have God-given creativity in your soul.

The first step is to start. Try something new. Play. Pray for God’s leading. And then run hard like a kid in a field. Pursue your dormant creativity for the glory of God and the good of others.

What’s Really Behind New Year’s Resolutions?

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5 ESV)

New Year’s resolutions are a kind of a joke, and we all know it. But many of us will give it a go. We may stick to them for a few days or even a few weeks, but soon the gyms will be roomy again and waistlines will return to their former size. By mid-year, resolutions will fade into oblivion.

New Year’s resolutions are actually more than they seem. On the surface, it appears we just want to make some positive life changes: lose a few pounds, quit smoking, spend less time on social media. These are all good things, but the desire for making positive changes each January is rooted in our desire to create a perfect world.

We want to make heaven come to earth by making our lives heavenly. But even if we were to stick to our resolutions, our lives would not be perfect. Would our lives be slightly better? Sure. But we cannot bring heaven down to earth.

The longing for heaven, however, is not misguided. It is a legitimate longing. If our longing for heaven is a longing for the love, acceptance, and pure bliss associated with spending time in God’s presence, we are very right to long for it.

The truth of the matter is, 2018 will probably not be the year your dreams come true. There will be tragedy and triumph. You will laugh and cry. And maybe 2018 will be, on balance, a wonderful year for you. I hope it is. But look past the turning of the year and into eternity to see what your soul really craves.

If you are a Christ follower, one day Jesus will satisfy your longing for heaven. Because he has purchased our eternal acceptance into the family of God, we will enter his presence and dwell with him forever. So while we may struggle here on earth, Jesus has opened a door to our forever home where all things will be new.

Grace In Pain

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)

Suffering is shocking like getting t-boned by a truck. You cruise along in life and then BAM! – everything turns upside down in a painful blur.

Your child is diagnosed with cancer.

Your grandpa passes away.

You get fired.

You are betrayed.

Our bodies naturally try to find balance. It’s called homeostasis. When faced with external changes, the body tries to upregulate or downregulate temperature and normalize the environment inside us so we can continue living.

Our souls do the same thing.

We want to calm the waters within. That’s why some people drink after work or eat a gallon of Blue Bell or play video games or watch endless tv. We think these distractions will calm the internal storm, but it never works. The thunder still rolls.

We are made for another world, and it isn’t this one. We long for heaven because it’s our true home. That’s why when things break – and sometimes by our own doing – we are bewildered. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

This world works a certain way – namely, by God’s design. I know this is counterintuitive, but suffering produces hope after the smoke clears. Suffering brings reality to the surface, and this is why people on their death beds speak with eerie clarity.

Suffering is not senseless, it is purifying.

We should not celebrate our pain and suffering, but we must deal with suffering – all of us. The way to do this is rather simple: expect it and rely upon the Lord for deliverance when it comes. Deliverance does not mean anyone will get well or the marriage will mend. Deliverance through suffering means – in this context – that God will walk through the fire with us and provide his grace. We will learn from suffering. We will become wiser. And if our suffering ultimately kills us, if we are in Christ, it will lead us home to the arms of Jesus. Because of the work of Jesus on the cross, we’re rather indestructible, eternally speaking.

Do not be surprised, friends.

The Work of the Ministry is YOUR Job

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…(Ephesians 4:11-12)

Do not ask your pastor to do your job for you.

We’ve got it twisted in our consumeristic society. We expect to go to church, be fed truth, and go home. Thanks for the message, pastor. Thanks for the worship, worship leaders. You did your job well this morning, the crucial task of the ministry.

But we forget it’s now our turn to do ministry.

We’ve elevated our expectations of vocational ministers to the great neglect of our own responsibility. We outsource the responsibility for heralding the rescue of the gospel to those who get paid to do it, but that’s not their job. Their job is to equip us, to love us, and to shepherd us so we can do the work of the ministry. It isn’t that vocational ministers don’t also do the work of the ministry – of course they do. I’ve seen The Door’s staff sweated wet from serving others and if you go to any of the area coffee shops, I bet you’ll see one of them meeting with someone. They are to serve their neighbors and coworkers just like the rest of us – but they can’t do the work of the ministry solo.

What we too often expect from pastors is akin to expecting a political leader to pick up a rifle and go win a battle by himself. It would be like asking Winston Churchill, after one of his rousing speeches during World War II, to then go take out the Nazis. That’s ridiculous.

Some of us are called to sell our belongings and move overseas on mission, but the large majority of us are called to live Spirit-drenched lives where God has planted us. We are all missionaries. We are called to serve the poor among us, build up the body of the church, and perhaps most importantly, to offer the eternity-altering gospel to others. We do not do the converting – God does that – but we can saturate the soil of a human heart by lovingly presenting the truth of what Jesus has accomplished for us. We can only give that which we’ve been given, so it is necessary that we immerse ourselves in God’s word and surround ourselves with good preaching and teaching.

If you have placed your faith in Jesus and have experienced his saving grace, you are in the ministry. It doesn’t matter who signs your paycheck. Per Ephesians 2:10, God has prepared good works for you before you were born. You need only to walk in them faithfully, capable and ready. And the next time you see one of your pastors, thank them for equipping you to do what God has called you to do.

What’s In a Church Building?

The Door Church started in a small retail space generously offered by Metrocrest Community Church. As we struggled (and sweated – man it was hot!) through our first services, God began to gather people. Our next space was a shared space situation at Sae Sarm Methodist, where our generous Korean brothers and sisters offered their home so that TDC could meet.

TDC’s growth cannot be attributed to a marketing plan or the talent of any person. God has drawn people to himself and given us a place to meet at each stage.

Last July, we hosted our first service in a brand-new building on the hill between Coppell and Lewisville. It is a beautiful building, well-designed and comfortable.

Throughout the history of the church, church buildings have looked all sorts of ways. There are beautiful cathedrals, which are literal works of art. There are modern churches which look like concert venues and there are old country churches clad in white painted wood. Some prefer big, beautiful church buildings and others believe cheap church buildings are the way to go. I’m not here to debate which style of building is best, but I’d like for us to consider what a church building actually is and is not – and what it will eventually become.

     1. A church building is a forward operating base. In war, a forward-operating base (an FOB) is an operational facility located on or near the battlefield. It is a place where warriors fuel up, rest up, and get fixed up. Church buildings are like FOBs. They are a place to rest in God’s grace, feed on his word, and bear one another’s burden.

     2. A church building is not a museum for saints; it is a hospital for sinners. We all need Jesus because we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The gathering of God’s people should lift the lowly and humble the proud, all underneath the proclaimed word of God as revealed in the Bible.

3. Church buildings will eventually become dirt. Build them however you want, they’ll end up as decomposed material someday. For that matter, the church members will, too. I know that’s morbid, but it’s true. We (and the buildings in which we gather) will return to dust someday. We must keep this in mind and allow this truth to grant us perspective.

The Door Church prayed for its new building and we are humbly grateful for God’s lavish response to this prayer. Our new building is a gorgeous forward operating base. We will rejoice and mourn there. We will worship there. But the building isn’t the point. It’s merely a good place to meet up and sit underneath the Gospel so we can leave and bring the greatest news in the history of the world with us.

A Theology of Suffering

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

Why, God? Why do you allow such suffering? Why did Emmy get leukemia? Why did my aunt drink and drug herself to death? Why do hot tears of pain run down our faces? God, I watch the news every once in a while and this world is just so broken. So many of us are hurting, Lord. I know you know this, Lord. But why do we have to suffer?

We want a reason for every suffering, because suffering feels wrong. It hurts and the pain feels unfair. We want to know why.

Suffering is indifferent, it seems. We suffer not according to a formula or an obvious cause-and-effect equation. We are blindsided by it. Suffering does not choose based upon social standing, race, or faith. Like Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men, suffering simply runs through victims. This randomness makes suffering harder because we don’t see it coming.

I think we’ve got suffering all wrong. I think many of us in the family of Christ have ignored the Word on the subject. The Bible is full of suffering, of plagues and judgment and persecution. God is not silent about suffering. When Christians are shocked by suffering it means their theology of suffering is weak. Walk with me, friend. Let’s reorient ourselves and reset our mindset on suffering. I want to point out three things to triangulate our thinking:

  • Suffering is not random. When Jesus endured the cross, it was not the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was ordained, foreknown. Jesus suffered on the cross in a specific way and if anyone else had suffered the way he did, it would not have had the same power. Similarly, you and I suffer with specificity. God does not hand out suffering like scorpion sandwiches to his hungry children, but there is no doubt our sovereign God allows each of us to go through hard times. He knows the number of hairs on our heads (literally), so he surely knows when our parents will die or when our friend will betray us or whatever other ills will befall us. He knows. You are not hurting for no reason.
  • Suffering has purpose. Ah, the good news. God uses suffering as a paintbrush. Suffering is not random and it is not for nothing. When we suffer, we see life in HD. Our priorities become clear and what truly matters is laid bare. Try to talk stock market fluctuations with the father of a sick child. He’ll look past you and barely hear your nonsense because he knows what matters: his daughter and her life and joy and making the best use of our time. Suffering clarifies, intensifies, refines, and tests. It makes strong bonds at broken parts. Paul explains the following equation:

Suffering > endurance > character > hope

Thus, ultimately, suffering produces hope. Wait, what? We are used to suffering bringing hopelessness, right? This is why we must reframe our thinking on the subject. Suffering brings hope.

  • Suffering brings us home. In the end, suffering brings us home. Not only does suffering ultimately bring us home to God in death, our suffering brings us home to God in life. We cling to him when we have nothing else. And this is a beautiful thing. I don’t know about you, but when I’ve gone through hard times God is so tender with me. The prayers of loved ones are like a symphony. Sunrises are personally commissioned and explode with orange and red and pink and a soft breeze. Scripture deposits into the marrow of my bones. During peachy times, I don’t see as clearly. God brings us home to him when we suffer.

Jesus suffered so that our suffering would not only matter, but that it would bring us home to him. His suffering paved a way for us to come with clean hands and a ticket to the throne. So when we hurt, we can limp to the feet of Jesus and let our tears run freely because we know that joy will come in the morning.

Suffer well, my friend. You are headed home.