I’m learning to be… a Philippians 4 kind of guy.

This past Sunday, I taught two of the most quotable verses in the Bible:

Philippians 4:10 —  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:19 — And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Really, be honest. How many times have you quoted one or both of those  scriptures to convince someone else (or yourself) that things will get better, that you can do absolutely anything you put your mind to, that your “increase” is just around the corner?

Continue reading “I’m learning to be… a Philippians 4 kind of guy.”

The Leaves that Leave Us Smitten

Part of my devotional life recently has been to go back to the writings of the historical church–not as a replacement for scriptural devotion, but as a subtle effort to break through the facade that our modern culture has painted into and over what we believe it means to be a Christian. In hindsight, I think the genesis of this has been in teaching through the Bible over the past six years, and especially through the four gospels the past three.

When going earnestly to scripture for what scripture says–and with a decision to break it out of the box of our cultural interpretations, allowing it to speak from its own motives and cultural setting–I think one incapable of ‘not’ noting the vast chasm between what scripture (Jesus) says, and what we bend it to mean, thus allowing us our lukewarm, milquetoast, disconnected ‘discipleship’ of our Lord and Savior.

Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, God in flesh.

Continue reading “The Leaves that Leave Us Smitten”

The hands and feet are connected to the heart

I’m reading a great book by Jared C Wilson called ‘The Pastor’s Justification’. Crossway gave me an electronic copy to review. This is not that review. It’s just a few thoughts as I read it. It’s a dissection of 1 Peter and Peter’s instructions to church leadership on how and why they do what they do. It really is a liberating and instructive read. I look forward to writing the review.

Chapter 1 covers, in part: “Do it without compulsion”, i.e. do it because you get to, not because you have to.

In describing the need to do everything for Jesus, and combat the fatigues, depression, desperation, etc inherent in the work of a pastor, he describes his Monday mornings. Well, first he describes his week, and I can empathize. His whole week drives toward Sunday. It’s spent basically on call 24×7, tending to church needs, peoples’ needs, family needs, and all of it driving toward Sunday morning. He describes the responsibility carried throughout the week to receive and develop the word Jesus has for His church that week–not a feeling of production, but of responsibility. He describes the spiritual and emotional toll that Sundays usually take. The spiritual and emotional tax of relaying God’s word, then making himself available to all of the congregational needs–large and small–before going home and basically collapsing.

That’s why pastors usually take Mondays off. They’re spent.

But he has a wonderful reason for not taking Monday off. He takes his weakness to Jesus that his ministry may be empowered by Jesus. And he never loses the awe, privilege and humility in the fact that he gets to serve Jesus’ flock.

Our omnipresent Savior is waiting for me in the office on Monday
morning. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will
give you rest,” he says (Matt. 11:28). I am plum tuckered on Monday
morning. I face ample temptation to wallow. But Jesus promises rest. I may be a shell of a pastor at this time each week, but God is no less
God. His might is no less mighty. His gospel is no less power. His reach
is no less infinite. His grace is no less everlasting. His lovingkindness
is no less enduring.

 

My first thoughts on Monday mornings are to my fatigue and all I must
do, but I must push them into thoughts of Christ, of all he is and all
he has done. There lies the vision that compels my will.

 

Then I want to think of the flock God has loaned out to me not as
items on a task list but as people made in the image of God, precious
and broken and beautiful and sinful, like me. I want to see them as
people, not problems. I want to see them not as obstacles in the way
of some vague missional purpose but as the missional purpose itself.
The minute I begin seeing God’s people as problems to be solved (or
avoided) is the minute I’ve denied the heart of Christ. [emphasis mine]

OK church. You translate that from pastor-perspective to daily walk. How do you view people? Do your actions show it? You can’t be the hands and feet of Christ until you have His heart.

Are there people that you dread? Then see them as the mission, and not an obstacle.

Here’s spit in your eye.

In Mark 8:22-26 there’s this odd little story of Jesus healing a blind man. Now, the fact that He healed a blind man is not odd. Old Testament prophecy predicted that that’s what the Messiah would do–that and more! The blind would see; the lame would walk. The broken would be restored. That’s what the Messiah would do.

What’s more, in His ministry up until this time, we’ve seen all kinds of healings and miracles.

There’s nothing strange or abnormal about restoration through Jesus Christ. It’s just the way Jesus did it that seems strange to me–that and the the Blind man’s response.

Jesus was ministering in Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man for Jesus to heal. Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Once alone and away from the crowds, Jesus spit in his eye.

Yes. You read that right.

Jesus spit in his eye.

Gross. I don’t want to offend anyone out there by calling Jesus’ spit gross, but gross. If I had been that blind man–not knowing much about this man who was leading me around in the dark–and I’d felt his breath close to my face, followed by warm wet dripping down it, I would have thought: “Did he just do what I think he did?”

Now, true… When He told me to open my eyes and asked if I could see anything, and I opened my eyes and saw people for the first time in a long time–even if they were blurry–all would have been forgiven. And when he laid His hands on my eyes and asked again–and I had 20/20–I would have worshiped at His feet.

But then, having gone home and bypassed the village like Jesus instructed, and perhaps having heard of other recounts of this great, powerful, compassionate man, I would have asked a few questions. If I’d heard of Jesus healing the Roman official’s servant with just a word from afar, I would have wondered why He needed to spit in my eyes. If I had heard of Him delivering the Canaanite woman’s child from demon possession from afar, with just a word, I would have asked why He needed to lay his hands on me the second time. If I had heard of Him raising a dead girl immediately, with just a command, I would have asked why it took a second try on my eyes.

I’m an inquiring mind. I would have had the same questions I have now, reading the account two thousand years later.

But, being this formerly blind man, contemplating these questions after the fact, I think I would have then imagined the first thing I’d seen clearly after years of darkness. His eyes. Those eyes searching me intently with all of the power and compassion that fuels the universe.

And I think the questions would have melted away into oblivion.

Why did He spit in my eyes? I don’t know and really don’t care anymore. I’ve been touched by God Himself! Why did it take two tries? Beats me; does it matter? I see now, and I’ve seen God in the process!

Last week, in preparing to teach this section, I left it with more questions than answers. I’m OK with that. I really am, because the questions gave me perhaps the greatest answer. What, how, when, where, why? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’ve been touched by God. All that matters is ‘Who”.

When God allows something gross into my life I have all the questions about it, but the one simple answer is always there. What does it matter? I’ve been touched by God. Things look blurry and I can’t see clearly? It’s OK. I’ll see clearly in His good time, and He’ll be there peering into my soul when it happens. Taking longer than I expected? That’s OK too. It’s just that much longer that I’m helplessly in His presence being personally ministered to by…

All of the power and compassion that fuels the universe.

Psalm 8:4 — what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

But you do, God. You do. That’s all the answer I need.

The misfits, the Kingdom, and God’s glory…

One of my favorite scriptural passages is 1 Corinthians 1:26-28. As someone who has never considered myself as particular strong, or smart, or creative, that verse ministers to me. As someone who never saw myself as ‘pastor material’, and having received that call, it ministers to me on new levels.

I’ve learned that if I am to boast in anything, it is in my weakness, because in my weakness God is glorified (2 Corinthians 12:9). I’ve learned by experience that God chooses to use the weak because when He does radical things through weak and ignoble vessels, He gets the glory.

I was reading in 1 Samuel today and something occurred to my pastor’s heart. How often are we short-changing ourselves and the kingdom of God by not recognizing the scriptural references above? Where we are so free to apply the above God-logic to ourselves, are we so free to apply it to others that we view as weird misfits?

How many see a fellow Christian that is a little strange, downcast, odd, weird, disenfranchised, and we give them a wide berth? When we pick people on our spiritual basketball teams, they’re not only the last to be picked, but they aren’t picked at all? How many are excluded and made to feel as outsiders because they are different, and we somehow designate them as unimportant, with little or no potential?

Oh… Yah… I mentioned 1 Samuel, didn’t I?

1 Samuel 22:1-2

David was fleeing Saul and went into hiding because Saul wanted to kill him. Saul actually saw David as too profitable for the kingdom. Saul wanted to kill David because he was successful and Saul didn’t want competition. This is a separate blog post altogether, fellow pastors! (But worthy of mention here. Our job is to raise people up, equipping them for ministry. If you are threatened by those you lead, get on your face before God!)

But notice verse two. Who rallied around David? The desperate. The indebted. The discontented.

The weirdoes. The ‘failures’. The forgotten and cast-offs.

They rallied around David. And they were the men who would overcome Saul with him. They are the people that God used to eventually seat David on the throne. In 1 Chronicles, when David’s “mighty men of valor” are listed, I’m sure many of these misfits are listed among them. Where Saul saw unprofitable weirdoes, David either recognized or created mighty men of valor.

That’s a powerful thought.

Think of Saul’s failure here. And think of David’s great victory in surrounding himself with these men, pouring into them, leading them, investing in them. Saul removed from the kingdom. David credited it.

I encourage you not to look at people with human eyes. See them with spiritual eyes. Love people as Christ loves you. Accept them as Christ accepts you. Invest in them as you have been invested. Lead them. Even train them. Recognize what others miss, whether it be hidden skills or just potential. Have David’s eyes and Paul’s heart (1 Corinthians 3:9-10).

Do this. Every Christian that reads this post–do this. One day, you will find yourself surrounded by great people of valor. And God will be greatly blessed and glorified through it.

 

PS: For future reference, what’s the plural of weirdo? I trusted autocorrect in this post, but will need to know in the future as I write about the church. 🙂

New Year — Old Man

So, it’s a new year. 2015.

Praise God for a wonderful year with my beautiful and amazing wife, my kids (OK, they’re all old enough to hate being called that, but I’m a dad, sue me…), each of whom I am so proud of, and all of whom I love more than words can describe. Praise God for all of the wonderful family I have at Calvary Chapel Ooltewah. I don’t deserve to have you in my life, much less have the privilege of serving you, serving with you, and leading you.

Praise God for the coming year. I can’t imagine what God has for me, our family and the church. I can’t wait to see. As far as the church, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God has an exciting new season for us. (The building we’ve leased for 4 years has sold to a new, amazing, very Godly owner. But nonetheless, we’ll need to find a new place to meet by April of this year.) I’m not sure what God has in store, but He owns the church. Jesus leads it. And He doesn’t do things for no purpose. So, I am excited to see what He has for us.

In any event, for whatever reason, I awoke this morning thinking as much about last year as the coming year. I had several questions on my mind that I want to consider balanced between my own ‘old man’ nature and God’s gracious heart that loves that me wherever I am.

  1. Did I give my everything for Jesus?
  2. Did I give my everything for Judy (that beautiful, amazing, supportive, loving wife I mentioned a moment ago)?
  3. Did I give my everything for my kids?
  4. Did I give my everything for Calvary Chapel Ooltewah?
  5. Did I give my everything for my day-job?

That’s a lot of ‘everything’ isn’t it? Now, I’m not a math teacher, I just teach one on Sunday mornings (love you, Toni-sis!), but I know enough to realize that none of us have 500% to give. Maybe some motivational speakers will tell you that you do, but they’re bad at math too.

So I guess my questions revolve around the idea of whether I gave my all to others or held back for my own comfort, entertainment, laziness, whatever… Did I go to the mat or throw in the towel? Did I run the race to win, or flail my arms?

The answer to all five of the questions above is– ‘no’. No I did not give it my all. I still have many of the same character flaws that I started 2014 with. I have failed everyone in some way, whether they know it or not. I have had my lazy moments, my scared moments, my weak moments. I have procrastinated, given partial effort, lacked faith, lacked empathy, lacked resolve, lacked courage…

But here’s the cool thing. God has used the introspection today to swallow me in His love and grace. He has gently caressed me. He has whispered that that’s why it all has to be about Him, what He thinks, what He does… And He’s used that introspection to give me a renewed zeal, renewed vision for how I may pour myself out–ways I can be with and for others, ways I can develop in Him, ways to serve Him, my family and my church.

There is an excitement in introspection sometimes–if we do it with Jesus. He’ll shine a light into our heart. The old man retreats, and the shadows get smaller.

I can’t wait for the new year. My hopes for that year are varied. Among the hopes is this:

When I awaken on January 1, 2016, I’ll ask the same questions. I’ll undoubtedly receive the same answers. But I’ll have spent more time on the mat, more time running, and less time flailing my arms. The old man will have another foot in the grave, and I will be closer to what Jesus calls me to be.

Happy New Year. I hope to serve you better. I hope to serve and represent Jesus better. I hope we both do it together.

 

AJ

 

 

 

 

 

Without faith…

I am convinced of something… If you are going to claim to be a follower of Jesus, God will not allow you to live in your comfort zone. He just won’t do it. We should stop trying right now, just get over it, and continue along our spiritual journey.

Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith, it is impossible to please God because (a) we’re called to come near to Him and (b) to draw near to Him we must first believe that He exists and (c) He rewards those who seek Him. The rest of the chapter basically recounts OT examples of what it cost people to do this.

Think about this for a second. We are called to draw near to God. That would be easier for me if He showed up and began splitting cows as proof of His covenant, like He did for Abraham. It would be easier if He was explicit in His direction and promises like He was then–telling me where to go and what (personally) was awaiting me.

It would be easier if He was the voice from a burning bush–if He was pillars of fire and smoke–like He was for Moses. Something physical that I could follow with my eyes, or maybe even with my nose. Someone I could meet on the mountain and have conversations with.

But no. That’s not for you and I most of the time. Most of the time, we’re just told to draw near to Him. We’re told to just believe that He exists and He’ll reward us if we seek Him.

I’m making some choices right now that will require faith. The stakes are going up and I’m feeling it. I don’t want to move when He hasn’t said to, nor do I want to stand still when He’s calling me to take a step. Moving may be wrong. Inaction may be wrong. I see no fire and I smell no smoke.

I just have my faith and a pursuit of God.

I’m outside of my comfort zone.

But I also praise God for that verse up top there. I praise God that I have access and privilege to draw near Him. I take comfort in the promise that He will reward me for my efforts. Note that… For my efforts. He rewards those who seek Him. It doesn’t get explicit and say that He rewards those who find His perfect will and walk perfectly within it.

He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

I’ll do that. I’ll earnestly seek Him and His will. I’ll follow His will as closely as I can interpret it. And I will take faith in the fact that He’ll reward my efforts. He’s big enough to tell me what He wants if I’ll listen, and powerful enough to reward/cover even my mistakes if they’re honest mistakes.

Out of your comfort zone right now?

Believe Him. Seek Him. Follow Him. Then trust Him and not yourself. Walk confidently evenly while you’re seeking Him.

A Kingdom Harvest…

I taught the first half of Matthew 13 this week and loved the Word time in preparation. God seems to always filter a sermon through me before He unleashes it on the world. In other words, my toes get stepped on first; I am encouraged first; I am challenged first; I am humbled first…

One key theme in Christ’s Kingdom talk resonated with me much this past week. Sunday, I gave the theme mention but not what it deserves. (To give all of the Word all that it deserves every Sunday, we’d probably cover a verse a week, I guess.) So I wanted to give more spotlight to this Kingdom Key.

In Matthew 13, when Jesus explained the Parable of the Seed/Soil, He explained the soils.

There is trampled soil (a person’s heart) that is too pressed down and busy for the seed (Word of God) to penetrate. So the seed doesn’t penetrate and no germination happens. The birds (evil one) steal the seed and the soil remains dead.

There is rocky soil. This is a heart will little depth and rock close beneath the surface. Puny roots develop, so when the heat of the sun (problems) comes along, the plant which sprang up quickly, quickly dries and dies out. There was growth, but no fruit.

There is soil with brambles and briers. The seed takes root, but is soon crowded out and smothered by parasitic competition. The briers and brambles represent the cares of the world–anxieties and materialism. The plant may come to a semblance of maturity, but it is killed off by competition and never bears fruit.

Then there is the good soil. It is deep and soft. The seed germinates with life. It grows deep roots that nourish it through droughts and it escapes the competition of thorns. Because it is nourished, it grows tall and strong. In its season, it bears fruit to bountiful harvest. It’s a beautiful picture of the Christian. The seed dies and gives life to a new plant. That plant is rooted and immovable. It is connected to the life-giving nourishment of Christ and flows with living water. Through spiritual photosynthesis, that living water is transformed into a harvest of fruit that blesses the vineyard owner.

The running theme of the Kingdom of God is ‘bear much fruit’. We get caught up in the process and think that the process is a means to itself. Be planted in the word… Soften your heart… Endure the heat of trials… Resist the call of worldly pleasures and treasures… ‘Be mature…’

All of this is wonderful, and we shan’t minimize the importance of holiness, maturity, steadfastness and right priorities. But that’s all a part of the process. Even when James tells us to let troubles have their way with us that we may be perfected… I think even he knew he was just describing the process and not the end result.

In the Kingdom economy, it always comes back to harvest. It always comes back to bearing much fruit. It always comes back to God producing something in us to be shared.

Are you reading your Word and planting the seed deep? Praise God! But it’s merely a part of the spiritual process. Is it bearing fruit? Are you plugged into Jesus and rooted in Him? Praise God! Are you bearing fruit? Are you enduring problems? Praise God! Is it bearing fruit? Are you resisting the idolatry of materialism? Praise God! Is it bearing fruit?

Are you coming to maturity? I’ll give you the end-all, be-all test for that. Are you bearing fruit? If not, you only look mature. You have some stones to dig out of the soil of your heart. The plant in stony ground sprang up quickly and gladly. It looked mature and healthy. But its roots were poor and it never came to the part that matters…

Bearing fruit. It’s all about bearing fruit. It’s all about what God is producing in you.

I think of the day that Jesus was walking with His disciples and saw the fig tree. It was the season for harvest, but the tree was bare. Apparently, by all other visible standards, it looked healthy–but Jesus saw the bare branches and basically said: “What use is this?”

Perhaps we should give ourselves the same test. Perhaps we should worry about the process but not stop short at perceived maturity. Perhaps we should be bold enough to judge maturity by bearing fruit.

Am I bearing fruit? Maybe not, ‘Am I laden with fruit and the branches are drooping?’ Maybe you’re early in the process and you can take great joy in the first fig of the season! Perhaps you can let that first fig make you hungry for drooping branches! Thank God for the production and ask Him for more fruit on your branches.

Am I bearing fruit? Perhaps you’re well into the process and you still see no fruit. Start digging for rocks and clean out the soil. Plant the Word deep in your heart. Cut away the cares of the World. Ask God for direction while thanking Him for His grace. Dedicate your life to the process–but with the sole purpose of seeking fruit for His Kingdom.

In the Kingdom economy, God loves fruit. So we should love fruit too. He is a God of grace, so I’m convinced that you’re not earning anything from Him with it. He’s not buying your fruit, He’s producing it through the blood of His beloved Son and the power of His Spirit.

He just loves fruit. So we should too.

Jesus, the radical…

Of all the things I wish I could minister to the youth of the world today about Jesus–in addition, of course, to the fact that He was and is God in flesh, their savior–I’d like to tell them that Jesus was a radical. He came to turn society upside-down and change it for the better.

The Millennials are known for many things, but they’re known most as a generation committed to change. They’re a generation that is primed to change the world for the better. They’re a generation that sees wrongs and takes actions to right those wrongs. It’s a generation of radicals, in many ways.

I believe the church needs to tap into that by showing Christ for who He actually was and is. For some reason, our generation and those before us have been content to portray parts of Jesus, while ignoring and suppressing other parts. We’ve created a Jesus that we were comfortable with–a faith that matched our American dream–thereby putting Jesus in a box. We’ve ‘tamed’ Jesus. Thus, we’ve robbed Him of His power, His ministry on Earth, and in large part His plans for the church.

When the younger generations think of Jesus, they think of what they see in the modern pulpit. Jesus has become either a stuffy, grumpy, unhappy pastor who preaches for the sole purpose of emptying wallets into the church coffers. Or He has become a smiling, slick, snake-oil salesman that tells you His greatest concern is your happiness (oh, and by the way, give me your money so you can have a watch like mine). Or He has become a moralist whose greatest concern is that you act right. Or He becomes… Well, you get the picture.

I’m teaching through the gospels chronologically right now. And yes, Jesus talks about good stewardship. He talks about ethics. He talks about joy and fears and anxiety–all of the things that pertain to living everyday life. But do you know what?

He talks about all of those things within the greater context of living everyday life in the Kingdom of God.

Think about that for a second… The Kingdom of God! Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion or update an old one. He came to take over the world. He came to announce His right and intent to reclaim what is His. He came to point out how messed up the world is under its old government, and show what it would look like under His rightful rule.

He said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12)

He said, ” But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:28-30)

(In other words, He came in power to overthrow the strongholds of His enemy, and the enemy can’t stand against Him. He will overpower the spiritual forces that have no right to rule, abuse and oppress God’s creation. He came to bring a new Kingdom, to overcome the old guard, His power proves it, and you’d better pick your side–there’s no middle ground.)

I’ll say it again. He came to take over the world–to turn it upside down. He came as an agent of change, gave us the blueprint and our marching orders, left us the Spirit to empower us to those orders, then promised to come back and take possession of what we are called to take in His name. He left us to do battle with the spiritual forces that are squatting on His rightful turf–to announce His lovely and loving leadership as contrast to the burdensome, oppressive rule of religion, sin and death. He left us to live His Kingdom ethics as a contrast to the messed up, selfish, destructive values of wicked generations. He called us to sell out completely to His cause and prioritize our entire life–all of our time, treasures and talents–to that cause.

Jesus is a radical and He’s called us to be as well.

I think our generations have put Him in a box because we’ve been uncomfortable with that very blatant fact. I think we’ve been uncomfortable with that fact because of its implications–because we haven’t wanted to be radical. Because we’ve been hesitant to sell out to that Kingdom. Because we’re really neither for Him nor against Him. We’ve been milquetoast, moderate, diluted, idolatrous, American Dreamers.

How could we ever expect another generation–one that is fed up and rebelling against such a soft, moderate, watered-down society–to accept such a Jesus, much less sell out to Him?

Church, choose your side. Become either for Him or against Him. Get radical or get off. Turn in your dual citizenry card. Show them the real Jesus or none at all.

The problem of pain… Is it really a problem?

There’s something spectacular for me in the writing process, and I can’t even describe the excitement I feel right now, in the current stage of my current project. (Maybe that doesn’t say much for me as a writer since I guess, as a writer, it’s my job to describe it to you.) I’ve been knee deep in plotting and structuring the novel. I’ve been planning high points and low points–the cliffs I’ll throw my characters off of and the injuries they’ll receive when they hit, the rugs I’ll pull out from under them, and the bruises they’ll receive from the hardwood contact. Tightly integrated with these plans for their lives is characterization and character arc. I need to know what to do to them because I need to know where they need to grow.

And that’s the point of any good story. That’s the whole plan. That’s why you read a story, which means it’s why we write them. You need weak, flawed people you can care about, put into conflict and danger of some type, so that you can see them grow and overcome. You want someone with whom to empathize. You want that someone to overcome all odds. And during the process, you want to see their journey create a more complete person.

Because at some core level, you need connection. You need to be assured that you can overcome–that your weaknesses will somehow become strengths. You need to be convinced that your journey means something–that you can change–that you can become a more complete person.

You may not know it, but you do.

So, again… The entire process of designing the plot of my current novel has been to create lives for these fictional characters that will change them. The major plot points are designed to expose their weaknesses, give them opportunities to fail, be strengthened in those weaknesses, and then to give further opportunity–to prove either their growth or failure to grow.

My need to connect and empathize, to be convinced that my journey means something, to be convinced that I can change and that I’m not destined to the stagnancy of the person I am now, to hope that I will be strengthened in my weaknesses and can someday pass the tests… That core level that I spoke of in you? Well in me, it convinces me that I am much more willing to experience it vicariously through others than in my own drama. It’s much safer to invest myself in others and be assured from afar, than to be thrown off a cliff and be tested myself. If I must experience it and gain those assurances, let it happen to someone else, and at best someone that I can be assured doesn’t even really exist. I can gain my catharsis, and no one ever really had to face death. Win, win.

Pain is bad.

Right?

I’m often questioned about my faith, and a common one is: “How can an all-powerful, all-loving God create a universe with pain in it?”

Well, the first answer is that this universe was created “good” (read: “perfect”), and we messed it up. We damaged it and ourselves.

My second answer comes from 1 Corinthians 13:13. After listing the gifts of the Spirit, Paul says that three remain, Faith, Hope and Love. And the greatest of these is love. Our perfectly good God designed this universe with the plan that His highest ideals for humanity would be faith, hope and love. And of these high ideals, the greatest is love. In other words, to be explicit, God’s grand design was a universe that loves–God to us, us to God and us to one another. That’s basically why He created the whole enchilada–that love and relationship may exist in His new creation.

You can’t have love without free will. You really can’t have free will without the danger of trespass. So, God designed the universe in the only way He could design it, and get the product He desired. He created us knowing we would fall (and knowing what that fall would cost Him, by the way.)

So, we find ourselves, damaged in a damaged world. We find ourselves incomplete, weak, broken.

Have you ever considered that, if God is the author of your life, perhaps He has had a great hand in plotting that story? Perhaps He sees you as a damaged, incomplete character that needs to grow–and He wants you to grow because He loves you. He wants you complete and healthy.

Perhaps He’s thrown you some plot twists that you wouldn’t have chosen. They may be suffering, but they are not wasted. They are meant to build you. They are meant to empower you during the next plot twist. They are meant to teach you and test you and drive you to Him (2 Corinthians 2). They are meant to be a life process that completes you. They are meant to be tests that break and recreate you. They are meant to be tests that either reveal where you need to grow, or prove where you have grown already.

Trust the author of your life. Know that He means you well. If you fall off a cliff, it’s either because you ran off of it (stop!), or were driven off it. The author still loves you. He’ll control your landing because He knows exactly what the ending is supposed to be.

You live in a damaged world. Yes. And your life is God’s process of redeeming you from it. Take great joy.

James 1:2-5