There Will Be Pain

If you are not prepared to see setbacks, you are not prepared to see the Christian life.  

If, however, you are simply not prepared to withstand setbacks, then you actually have one of the ingredients necessary for the Christian life:  Broken, incapable humanity.   

One thing you must not be able to do if you are to be a Christian is survive on your own.  There are no Clint Eastwoods among this species.  None of us have a rugged, mysterious self-determination.  We are His, and He has rescued us from what we would have drowned in.  

You must know that this life He makes for us, this thing we call Christianity, is thoroughly laced with pains, because He uses pains to grow us.  Not all of them are agonizing; some of them are like the surprisingly pleasurable muscle pain the day after a good workout.  But some are agonizing.  Some are like a car wreck you only just barely survived from.  If you are a Christian and have never thought anything like, “Please, Father, I’m not sure how much more I can take, please be tender with me tomorrow,” then I can tell you you almost certainly will.  And it will be a blessing, though it probably won’t feel like one.  The moments I think I can’t slog on anymore, not one more step, are the moments I feel least like someone who is trying to be a Christian and most like someone who needs to be a Christian.   If I can do some word play, the moments of intense pain and doubt are the ones when I feel least like a Christian and most like a Christian.  

One of God’s prophets, an anointed and faithful minister of the Word of God named Jeremiah, wrote this through the moving of the Holy Spirit:

Cursed be the day on which I was born!  The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed!  Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, ‘A son is born to you,’ making him very glad.  Let that man be like the cities that the Lord overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great.  Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame? 

Jeremiah 20:14-18

Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?

If you do not want to see setbacks or pain, do not begin the Christian life.  It is threaded with them.  But it’s important to know first that it is threaded with them the way a tapestry is interwoven with grays and blacks an browns in order to highlight the brilliant yellows and the bright azure.  The pain is designed, in other words.  It is a part of the story being told.  It is purposed.  It is not an end unto itself.  

I have been a part of churches dying, I have seen family members die, I have had bills I could not seemingly pay.  My wife and I have had our cars break down, health scares in our little ones, and we have been wounded by Christians very close to our hearts.  We have seen Satan assault the church and our family, people reject the love of Christ, beloved families torn apart by selfishness or sexual sin, and been sapped of all our earthly strength.  But we have never been abandoned.   I have always had the Spirit of Christ to strengthen me, the promises of Christ to give me hope, and the love of Christ to remind me of who God says I am.  

Be prepared to see setbacks and feel pain and stumble in your own clumsy, self-centered, shortsighted way, Christian brother or sister.  It is a part of the life we have chosen and that chose us.  And if you are considering Christ for the first time, count the cost.  Because there is a cost.  

But take heart.   If you trust in Jesus Christ, you will never have to stand merely on your own two feet.  Despite all the pain, all the isolation, all the falls, you will never be a man wholly unto yourself. 

You will never be abandoned. 

This God always finishes what He starts.  

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge — even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you — so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

1 Corinthians 1:4-9


I Know, Brother and Sister

If you’ve ever been at a crossroads where you felt like the choices were to let yourself drown or to dig in and cling to Christ and just be a Christian, I know how you feel.  

I know what it feels like to be dead certain that if you keep going in the way that God commends, if you keep trying to live the Christian life, you’re going to have the snot beat out of you.  Life is going to just grind you to bits.  I know.  

And I know what it’s like to think there’s just no way you can keep going.  You just can’t.  The depression, the anxiety, the fear, the self-hatred, the anger that hollows you out and eats away at the relationships that should be most important to you; these things have all made just being awake unbearable.  They’ve turned you into something you never expected:  A tired, tired believer.  

Here’s my Friday evening, Dunkin’ Donuts fueled blog version of an outstretched hand to you:  Cling to Him and don’t let go.  Grab Jesus, and drop everything else as you do.  Drop your hopes for being a great employee, the mirage sketch you had in your head of a perfect family life, your impossibly high standards for yourself and for others; let them all go and grab Jesus Christ with both hands.  

I know how searing, life-changing pain feels.  But I’m telling you from the deepest parts of my soul:  You really can trust this man.  He will be here for you.  

That’s it.  No cliches; I’m going to go carve pumpkins with my wife and kids now and I don’t have time to try and be pithy.  But I mean this from my heart:  Trust Jesus.  

I can’t promise you what’s coming down your pike.  But here’s what I can promise you:  He will not abandon you.  

He Doesn’t Control Some Things

That’s right.  He controls all things.  

Is a trumpet blown in a city,and the people are not afraid?  Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it? 

Amos 3:6

Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?  Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?  Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins? 

Lamentations 3:37-39

For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

Acts 4:27-28

And this is very, very Good News.  

The greatest comfort I can give a child of God, and I can only give it to a child of God (meaning someone who has been adopted by God through faith in Jesus Christ), is that God is in total, absolute control of your pain.   And the reason why that’s comforting for the Christian is that God promises to work all things together for the good of His elect.  

This is a God whose hand predestined the worst sin in history for His people’s rescue.  

He does no evil, but neither is He perplexed or surprised by any evil.  And He will work all things together for His good purposes.  

From the other side of Christ’s return, there will not be one moment of history, from Eden’s tree to Calvary’s Cross to Hitler’s Holocaust to Hell’s shut doors, where Satan will be able to say, “Well, at least He didn’t get to work that one out for His purposes.”  When all is said and done, God’s glory and beauty and His people’s good will be pulled from every page of history, even the bloody and awful and scary ones.  And the greatest proof of that is Christ’s bloody and awful Cross.  

Some of you who are born again and in chaos or agony need to internalize this.  

What is frustrating to the unbelieving heart is peace to believing one:  There is no sovereign but God.  

I am telling you to pray to the God who will roll up the sky like a blanket, who set the Milky Way spinning as though it were a top, who fashioned all our souls from His own creative heart.  This is not a God who will win at the last second on a Hail Mary.  I am here to tell you there is a King in the Heavens.  A King.  God is not a powerful figure with good intentions who can only do so much.  This is the King of all creation, and He is taking audiences with all who will call upon Him in faith.  

There is nothing that befalls us that is not ordained by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

Keep all your gods, America.  I have met the only One who can save a man like me.  

This God is in control.


A PSA On Suffering

If you want do your heart a favor, prepare it now for where it should run when sorrow comes.  Because if you live past the age of 40, it is going to come.  

There’s a radio PSA I hear every once in a while that uses humor to make the point that families should have plans about where to go in the event of an emergency situation.  A dad asks each of his kids where the meeting point is and what they’re supposed to do, and each kid fires back a different and increasingly ridiculous answer.  The father then praises everyone for sticking to “the plan.”  Point taken, Ad Council.  I should have a plan for where my kids should go in case there’s a tsunami.  Got it.  

But after I’m done telling them to go the basement if and when they ever hear sirens, I’m going to sit for a second and give my heart a talking to about where it is to go when I am diagnosed with terminal cancer, or I lose a family member, or we go broke.  

Because this side of the return of Jesus is laced with all kinds of shadows for all kinds of people.  Pain is not restricted to those who self-inflict it.  

Good, God-believing people wrote into the book of Psalms (as they were moved by the Holy Spirit) their tears to God.  For instance, Psalm 123 (in its entirety):

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.

The Psalms are threaded through and through with this sort of thing.  So is Lamentations.  And Ecclesiastes.  And Job.  The sorrows of people who love God and trust in Him, and whose hope in the middle of pain and sadness is Him and Him alone. 

The Christian is going to suffer in this life.  Maybe not always, and maybe less than a brother or sister nearby him, but he will suffer and struggle.  At some point, God’s hand will bring about some affliction for him.  

At some point God will allow something awful to happen to me.

I want to plan now for where I’ll run to.  

I don’t want to make a good thing an idol on that day.  I don’t want to just work a bunch of hours to drown out my pain, or go for a hundred hikes all over tri-state parks while praying little and worshiping less.  I don’t want to (merely) cook or write or play games.  

I want to prepare myself now to run to my Father on that day.  

The promises of God in the person and Gospel of Jesus Christ are the purest hope for a Christian who just found out he has brain cancer.  They are what sustained Paul awaiting his execution, what gave Peter and John boldness to proclaim the Good News though they were threatened with death by the authorities in Jerusalem, and what sent our Savior to the Cross on our behalf.  

The promise of rescue and eternal life for all who trust in Jesus.  

When I’m told terrible news or drowning in terrible thoughts, I want to flee to the certain promise of God that when I die I will be with King Jesus.  That when He returns, my body will be resurrected, shed of all its rust and bruises and glistening like clear dew under a new sun.  

Sure, I might write and take a hike and learn to cook a new dish, too.  But the only thing that’ll slow my heart in the middle of the night, the background music that’ll make the worst of my sufferings less terrifying, is the promise of God in Christ.  

After all, if Christ isn’t resurrected, then I of all men should be most pitied when that terminal diagnosis comes.  

But praise be to God that lying is one thing this Father can’t do. 


Wronger and Dumber than We Think


In the book of Job, the God of the universe proves Himself right and everyone else in the book wrong.

Job has been given pain by God, even though he had an apparently Godly heart (certainly by the end he does) and did Godly things. So he complains about it.

Then his four friends give some on-the-surface-true counsel (“Sin causes pain, Job, and God is fair”) that is really just self-serving and arrogant (“Poor Job; that would never happen to me”).

And at the end of this thick, poetic dialogue filled with grief, disbelief, and Job’s friends’ pride, God speaks up and reminds them all that He made Earth, ostriches, snow, the balls of burning hydrogen we call “stars,” and the human heart. And that they didn’t.

“Get ready to answer me like a man; when I question you, you will inform Me. Where were you when I established the Earth? Tell me, if you have understanding?” 38:3-4

“Have you ever in your life commanded the morning or assigned the dawn its place?” 38:12

“Can you send out lightning bolts, and they go? Do they report to you: ‘Here we are?’ Who put wisdom in the heart or gave the mind understanding?” 38:35-36

The bad news is that we have no defense. We are sinful. We have rebelled. We complain when we shouldn’t and we are prideful without reason.

We treat ourselves and trust ourselves as gods, believing our own opinions or desires are worthwhile bibles to believe and follow.

Our father Adam and our mother Eve ate from a tree in disobedience, thinking they were smarter than Satan and smarter than God. They thought they knew better than God what would bring true joy and meaning.

And so no, we humans have no case. No defense. Our sins are real and our pride is awful. He is right and we are wrong.

“Would you really challenge my justice? Would you declare Me guilty to justify yourself?” 40:8

He is holy and good and right. We are rebellious and dumb and wicked.

We can pretend or claim we’re not, and that God is wrong in the Bible and in Christ, declaring Him guilty and justifying ourselves. We can walk around with terminal cancer claiming that the diagnosis was wrong and the doctor was just being melodramatic and a buzzkill. Or perhaps in a more appropriate metaphor, sit on death row and play our harmonicas and tell other inmates the judge was too harsh, and that our crimes weren’t really all that bad.

We can do that. We can impotently, meaninglessly try to justify ourselves.


We can freely have “God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” (from Romans 3).

We can pretend we’re not clueless and hopeless and dead in our sins and trespasses, or we can be justified for real by grace through faith, like the New Testament says.

Pretend and die, or repent and live.

Job made his choice, after hearing God from the whirlwind:

“Then Job replied to the Lord: I know that You can do anything and no plan of Yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this who conceals My counsel with ignorance?’ Surely I spoke about things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak. When I question you, you will inform Me.’ I had heard rumors about You, but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I take back my words and repent in dust and ashes.”

We’re rebelliously wrong, and He is wonderfully, gloriously right.


How Salvation is Hard


What you’re being saved to is very painful, requires a death to self, will involve persecution, and will mean tremendous sacrifice.

Fact: The price for salvation was paid by Jesus Christ.

Fact: The joy of peace with God is far, far, impossibly greater than what you have to give up after being saved by God in Christ.

Fact: You have to give up a lot.

Now, we don’t give things up in order to get or earn salvation. Peace with God, being forgiven of our sins and made right with Him, is a gift.  Eternal life is not of ourselves, but by grace through faith.

So we don’t sacrifice and work to get salvation. We sacrifice and work and suffer because of salvation.


Well, we are willing to go through it because He is so much better. He is worth the pain. He is worth giving up the sins we wrongfully enjoy. And He is worth giving up a non-sinful thing we love, if and when the moment comes.

We love Him more.

And we must suffer and sacrifice, like Jesus said we would (He said they’d persecute the students as much as the Teacher, and that we’d have a cross to carry like Him) because we live in a world that resists and rebels against God. We live and work and drive around and pay taxes in a world that quite often loves what God hates and that despises (or at the very least is confused by) what God loves. It’s a world that crucified Jesus. A world that, as Jesus said, killed God’s message bearers, His prophets. A world that, as His New Testament tells us, hates the light because it’s evil deeds will be shown.

We have to suffer because we preach repentance to a world that doesn’t think it has anything to repent of and forgiveness to a world that doesn’t think it needs to be forgiven.

And certainly doesn’t enjoy forgiving.

We worship and live for God (a God who demands the whole heart) in a world that loves to worship TV and self and money and fame and security and celebrity and power. We serve a real and jealous God in a world that sells countless idols for next to nothing.

Paul was killed, probably beheaded, for the Faith.

Peter, too.

Stephen was stoned to death for preaching the Gospel.

James was killed by the sword for proclaiming Jesus.

John was exiled to a lonely island for Christ.

We love and worship and pray and serve and minister in hostile territory. We were given grace and a mission in a field that hasn’t yet been reaped. We are called to missionary sacrifice because there is conflict, and there is conflict because there is sin.

Someday the world will be smoothed over, and King Jesus will administer justice from a breathtakingly gorgeous new creation. But for now our saved souls and minds and bones have a chance to bring His grace to still-dead sinners.

There are still rough places that He will allow us to carry His Gospel and our crosses to, places He will use us to smooth.

Some of those places are even inside of us.

Some of the pain and friction of the saved, renewed person’s life are the pain and friction of being made holier. Of repenting of sins we still commit. Of being changed to look more and more like ours Savior. Some of the meaningful and painful struggles we endure as Christians are not simply for the sake of a still-lost world but also against a still-imperfect self.

There are sufferings coming, pains that He will let us endure for the lost and for our own benefit and for His Namesake. And there are rewards coming, wreaths He will let us earn by grace in our eternity with Him.

Someday every tear will be wiped away, but here in this life we still have a chance to shed meaningful ones.

Not in order to attain salvation, but because we have been changed by it.

We don’t carry our own crosses because His didn’t get the job done, but because since it did, we now want to be like Him:  loving, sacrificial, and all about the Father’s business.