An Open Letter of Hope for the Hopeless Believer


I remember the first time I met Rachel Cantrell. She hobbled on crutches into the Village Deli in Wake Forest, NC, for an interview for a position at the YMCA where I was working as the Director of Middle School Programs.

I don’t always remember the first time I meet someone, especially when the first time is a job interview, but since that spring day in 2007, God has knit our hearts together for mutual edification, accountability, encouragement, friendship, and partnership in what we’ve come to call “messy ministry.”

While there are no easy ministry jobs, we do jobs that even ‘ministry people’ tend to shy away from. Rachel serves as a crisis counselor for a suicide hotline and I serve with a ministry for people dealing with a variety of issues concerning sexual brokenness. Not exactly ministry work people that are clamoring to hear about.

Neither of us intended to be in these lines of ministry; but God knew His plans for us and equipped us for it long before we knew what He had for us.

For six weeks in the Fall of 2008, Rachel and I spent 12 hours walking through Ephesians together, two hours a week in a coffee shop. Those 12 hours taught me about life-on-life discipleship and community, and it has shaped how I do messy ministry to this day. Ministry is about stepping into the mess with the person and being willing to get dirty with them so that they can see they are not alone, that they have hope, that there is a way out. Those six weeks modeled messy ministry (which is, really, just biblical discipleship) for me, and have been the model I use to teach others how to disciple people through the messes we all encounter in this life. 

In recent months, both of our areas of ministry, mental health and sexuality, have been forced to the forefront of our society’s collective consciousness. From mass shootings to the political fervor surrounding the same-sex marriage debate, we’ve talked and processed through a lot of our “messy ministry” recently.

The church has done a poor job addressing depression and hopelessness in the believer, often prescribing a “here’s a verse, read it and pray more” approach to mental illness.

Or we go to the other extreme, focusing only on the mental health, outsourcing the hurting individual to a psychological professional to treat a disease.

Both extremes neglect the intertwined complexities of the human being, created in the image of God. Issues of depression and identity and hopelessness and despair are not “either/or” concerning the physical and the spiritual. They are “both/and issues”, and the whole person must be considered when wholeness is the goal.

The following is a letter Rachel recently wrote to believers who are facing the despair of hopelessness. We have both been praying for the right time for God to use this letter to minister, both to those contemplating suicide, and to those who are involved in the messy ministry of walking alongside believers who courageously submit their depression and their impulses of self-harm to the hope of Christ on a daily basis.

With the tragic news today of the suicide of Rick and Kay Warren’s son Matthew, the complex issues of depression and suicide will be discussed widely in the coming days in both the evangelical and secular worlds because of the high profile involvement the Warrens have in multiple areas of ministry and social awareness.

We are all praying peace and comfort for the entire Warren family, but pray also that even now, what the enemy surely meant for evil, God will use for good by providing opportunity for these issues to be addressed openly, in grace-filled and loving ways.

Dearest Believer:

Perhaps you feel even less than a believer today, feeling as if you have lost all hope in God, in people, in this life.  I am writing to you today to help you find hope again.  I am certainly not the answer, nor do I hold all of the answers to the sometimes debilitating and horrific circumstances one encounters or experiences in this life.  

You, yourself, can attest to these circumstances, can’t you?  They are overwhelming, consuming, and leave you feeling hopeless and helpless.  Sometimes you can’t breathe, and sometimes your body aches with physical pain because the emotional pain is too much to bear.  Some days you feel that your body or your mind may just explode, and you think, maybe that would help people understand.  

But most days, you feel isolated, alone, and afraid.  You are certain that no one knows your pain, and those who may know certainly have no real understanding of all that you are feeling and all that you have been through; and you have no words to even begin to explain what is happening inside of you.  It feels like words don’t exist to explain such pain, pain so deep that ending your own life feels like it must be the best decision.  

You tell yourself often that you should not feel this way.  You punish yourself for even entertaining the idea of suicide, because you are, after all, a believer who should have great hope in a great God.  But hope left a long time ago, and was replaced with sorrow, fear, and depression.  

Hopelessness is defined as having no expectation of good or success.  Your hopelessness feels deeper than this, doesn’t it?  You feel, as a believer, more like the third explanation of hopelessness in the vast list of definitions: “incapable of redemption or improvement.”  Incapable of redemption, that’s what you tell yourself, right?  How could God possibly redeem or rescue you from this, from what was, from what is, from what could be? Does He even know how you feel?  Does He understand?  

Surely He could not, and He must only be angry at your sinful heart and all of its considerations of suicide.  Suicide is so stigmatic, isn’t it?  People say you’ll go to Hell because surely it’s the unpardonable sin.  Suicide is horrible.  It ruins lives, destroys relationships, and leaves quite a wake in lives left behind.  

But it seems right to you.  It makes the hurt go away, the problems stop, and it quiets your ever-so loud world.  Suicide is, in itself, the end.  It will be the last decision you will ever make.  It will be the final say in all of the lies, the voices, the pain.  And it screams loudly, doesn’t it?  Perhaps there are plans for how you intend to take your life.  Perhaps there are just thoughts, painful thoughts of ways to go about silencing this life.  Maybe you have tried before, unsuccessfully, and as a result, today, you know that you cannot make that mistake again.  Today, the choice is to live or to die.

Please let me help you make the choice to live.  I cannot make this choice for you, and I do not, and will not, feel responsible if you choose death; but I would love just a few moments, to share some words of life with you; one last chance to attempt to instill some real and lasting hope.  In this offer of hope, you will hear truths that you know clearly.  Let me ask you, while you read them this time, acknowledge them.  This is very different than just knowing them.  Let them confront and comfort your broken heart, your hot soul, and your chaotic mind.  This letter holds no magic pill, no magic words, and no hope within itself.  It will not heal you.  Hope is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Healing is found in His words, redemption is found in His cross, and life is found in His resurrection.  

“Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe.  Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.”  These are words we have all sung, and these are words that we know well.  Read them again.  “Sin had left a crimson stain…..”  Be it your own sins committed against our holy God, or perhaps sins committed against you by others (which also are sins committed against our holy God); they run deep, don’t they?  

You cannot atone for them.  You, alone, cannot rid yourself of them.  You cannot even stop thinking about them.  Chaos reigns in your  mind, day in and day out.  Sin is literally a crimson stain, a stain that you cannot clean from your soul.  Maybe it is blatant sin: alcoholism, the abuse of drugs, self-injury, promiscuity, pride.  Or maybe it is sin committed against you: physical abuse, sexual abuse, rape, betrayal, verbal abuse, bullying.  

How could you possibly atone for all of these things?  What inside of you is enough to clean such a stain from your soul?  The answer is nothing.  Nothing inside of you is enough.  But Jesus, Jesus is enough.  He took the weight that you feel, and more.  He bore that weight, that pain, that heartache, that sorrow, that trauma, that anxiety, that fear, that shame, that guilt, and He died.  

He was punished so that you don’t have to be punished.  He died, so that you don’t have to. 
He died.  

He willingly took the nails, nails driven deep into his hands and feet so that you don’t have to put that blade to your wrist.  He willingly hung and suffocated, so that you don’t have to do this to yourself.  He willingly was pierced for our transgressions, leaving his heart bleeding out, so that your broken heart could be healed.  

He died so that you could live.

It wasn’t suicide.  

It was sacrifice.

Sacrifice to buy you and me back from the grip of sin, death, and hell.  He knows the pain you feel.  He has felt it.  He felt it and understood that it needed to be put to death, and that you, a mere broken soul, certainly could not bear the weight of it all. The Scripture tells us that He was “sorrowful, even to death“ (Matthew 26:38). Be encouraged that He conquered such sin at the cross.  He put it to death so that you don’t have to.  This certainly does not mean that it ceases to exist.  You know this best.  

However, He conquered such sin, meaning he stripped it of its power over your life.  He conquered this sin, and He conquered death in His resurrection.  He rose in victory, giving us victory over sin in this life (1 Corinthians 15: 56-57).   You know these truths as the Gospel.  You trusted these truths, this God, this Savior to save your very soul from Hell.  Why not trust these same truths to save your life, yet again?  

This time, salvation is not needed to rescue you from Hell; no, that has already been accomplished.  Today, salvation is needed to rescue you from yourself, from the temptation to bring harm to yourself.  Think about it.  You believed that you could have done NOTHING to make yourself right with God, and thus, Christ died to make reconciliation between God and man possible. You believe that.  You needed a rescue, a rescue from separation from God, a rescue from death itself, a rescue from your own self, because you could not rescue yourself and come near to God. Today, there is One who can rescue you because you cannot rescue yourself.  You feel so far gone, and you desperately need a rescue from yourself, from your sin, from sins committed against you, and from this wild, messed up, crazy world.  

Oh friend, cry out to the same Jesus that rescued you from yourself at the moment of your conversion.  Just as you cried out to Him to save you, perhaps so many years ago, cry out to Him again!

Your belief of the Gospel was not a one time event.  We, as believers, must preach the Gospel to ourselves daily.  We need to remind ourselves of the saving power of our God.  We must be reminded often of our redemption, our help, our promise of a future, and of life everlasting, free from sin. Believe the Gospel, breathe it in, acknowledge the Truth.  He will come and save you.  Proverbs 18:10 says, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”  

Please acknowledge this wisdom.  Run to the Lord, stop running from Him.  You cannot do this life by yourself, it is too hard, too painful.  He is a refuge that you have sought safety in before, and yet now, you are attempting to leave the safety of this refuge.  He is a strong tower amidst the storm.  

Consider this analogy: You are in a small boat out in the Gulf, and there is a large tropical storm sweeping across the waters, soon to capsize your boat, leaving you to drown in the storm.  Waves are sweeping over your head, you are struggling to stay afloat, not to mention stay alive.  You are trying to cover your face, but you are unable to keep from choking on so much water.  You are certain that death is near.

And then you see a light, a lighthouse, a refuge from the insanity.  You steer your boat in that direction, begging God to help you get there, determined that you will make it if you can just get there.  Finally, after much struggle and effort, you arrive, climb the ladder to the top and race in the door, just as waves sweep over the entrance.  You are safe.  You turn and watch the storm all around, waves crashing into the tower, but it is not shaken, for it is stronger than the storm.  The storm doesn’t stop, but you are safe in this tower.  Would you consider leaving this refuge in the middle of the storm? You’ve finally found safety, and the consideration to leave such safety, to only return to fear, and impending death seems absurd, doesn’t it?  

Are you following me?  

Jesus has rescued you from the insanity that is this life.  No, this doesn’t mean that your world ceases to be insane, it just means that you are kept safe amidst the insanity.  He is the tower, the refuge, and yet, here you are, considering leaving such a refuge.  You are considering taking matters into your own hands by ending your life because you have stepped away from the refuge.  

You are back out in the storm, and you are drowning.  

He is calling you to return.  

The still small voice that we call the Holy Spirit; you feel it, don’t you?  That is what has kept you alive thus far.  That is our God, fighting for you and for your very life (Exodus 14:14).  

Do you feel it?  Something won’t let you give in.  

That something is our God and His great love for you.  

He has great plans for you (Jeremiah 29:11).  

He has gone before you in this battle, so that you do not have to be afraid (Deuteronomy 31:8).  

The road will be hard, and you will struggle, but you are not, nor will you ever, be alone.  You will grieve as you think and process your own sin, and the sins committed against you.  

You need to grieve.  

Remember our brother Jeremiah?  Oh how he grieved over the sin of his people.  He grieved and he lamented.  Just read the book of Lamentations.  “He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord’” (Lamentations3:16-18).  

These are Jeremiah’s words.  Can you relate?  Grieve my friend, but grieve with hope in a great God who will rescue you.  

Even Jeremiah recalled his hope: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:21-24).  

He is faithful.  He is still here, even in the midst of your wandering, in the midst of your wondering, in the midst of such pain.  

The choice to live is, in itself, an act of worship to your God.  

Choosing life is an act of worship.  You may have to choose each moment of each day, but choose to honor your God.  Choose to worship the One who made you, who knows you, who sustains you.  Deuteronomy 30:19 says, “…I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.”  

I pray that you would choose life.  

I pray that you would humbly surrender your life, your dreams, your hopes, or lack there of, to our good God.  

I pray that you would beg the Spirit for another moment of strength to choose life.  

I pray that you would consider the Gospel and its application to your life, today.  

I pray that you would acknowledge that “there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  

I pray that you would remember that you are precious and priceless to your Creator (Psalm 139).  

I pray that you would remember that you are precious and priceless to the body of Christ (Romans 12:3-8).  

I pray that you would remember that you have all that you need to live this life, in Christ Jesus (2 Peter 1:3).  

And I pray that you remember that you can do this life, because you have been given much grace to do so ( 2 Corinthians 9:8).

Choose life today, my friend.  Confide in a brother or sister in Christ.  Ask them to remind you of the Gospel.  Ask them to walk with you in these days, in this season.  

One day, our God will make all things new.  The pain will cease, sin will be no more.  But until that day, let’s walk together.  For you see, He is making all of us new, even now.  Let us walk together in newness of life.  We can do this life together, because He has gone before us, felt the pain, and made a way.  

I love you my friend.

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A Cry For Justice: Domestic Abuse and the Church


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A blog site addressing domestic abuse and the response of the church has picked up my series of posts about boundaries and healthy relationships.

If you have experienced domestic abuse of any form (physical, emotional, sexual, or psychological), you will find a safe haven of support there.

If you work in the church, I would encourage you to check out their posts and learn more about domestic abuse and how we can be a voice of support for women who are suffering in silence.

As always, there are points on which I would engage them in further discussion concerning the strength of their arguments against those with whom they disagree, but I appreciate and support their courage for talking about an issue that has been kept covered up in the church for much too long.

The church should be a safe haven for the hurting, and place to seek the Christ who cleans our wounds and heals our messy hearts. The ultimate goal of A Cry for Justice is to both offer support for those facing abuse and equipping for those in ministry to provide support in the church for them.

Check out their work and join the conversation!

Weary Grief and Desolate Healing


He [Herod] sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. ~Matthew 14:10-14

If you ever want to see the combination of Jesus’ deity and humanity, it is in this account.

His cousin, his partner in ministry, no doubt one of his dearest friends, had been beheaded. The voice that made straight the way in the wilderness had been silenced by a drunk, prideful man. It makes sense that Jesus would want to withdraw, be alone and grieve.

Yet, in the midst of his human grief, His divine compassion overruled and He healed their sick and eventually fed the 5,000.

The last couple of years I have experienced some things that made me want to withdraw and go to a desolate place, and I have looked at this passage several times to try to understand how Jesus dealt with hurt and exhaustion and grief in ministry.

But to really see that Jesus was dealing with more than just the loss of His cousin in this passage, take a moment and put this event in the context of the previous chapters in Matthew.

In Chapter 12, while Jesus was healing and teaching, he was repeatedly challenged and attacked by the Pharisees. He was helping people, and the “religious people” were working against him. I counsel people who deal with sexual brokenness, so I’ve been attacked by people who claim to speak for God. It’s painful, and it’s exhausting.

In Chapter 13, Jesus had been teaching some pretty intense things to his disciples. And they didn’t get it. Seven times he puts a parable before them in an attempt to explain the Kingdom of Heaven to them and, more times than not, He has to explain His explanation to them. And at the end of it all, they never got it. As a teacher, I know how frustrating and exhausting it can be to try to find a way to make something “click” with your students and nothing seems to work.

After all of this, He went home, to Nazareth. Surely, in His hometown, He would find rest and love and acceptance. Instead, it says his hometown folks were “astonished” and “offended” by His presence and teaching. Their unbelief literally drained him of his power and He could do no works in their presence.

This is the state of Jesus’ heart and mind when his disciples bring him the news about John. He experiences loss. In the last two years, I’ve witnessed and experienced loss. Literal, physical loss in the death of a student and, most recently, in the death of a dear friend and encourager in the ministry. I’ve watched families grieve loved ones and loss of homes after two series of devastating tornadoes. I’ve experienced the loss of relationships that have been near and dear to my heart that, from my current perspective, seem irreconcilably broken.

He is weary. And He wants to be alone. And so He withdraws to a desolate place.

I have been weary. I want to be alone, to withdraw to a desolate place.

But the needs follow Him.

And I feel like they follow me.

Don’t they always?

I think this is why those of us in ministry have such a hard time getting away and really resting in the Father. In the backs of our minds, we know there are always needs.

In my case, this is where the similarities with Jesus end. Same circumstances, different reactions.

When I am weary and I need to withdraw to be with the Father, I tell myself to get it together.

I keep my nose to the grindstone. And instead of having compassion on those who have needs, I begin to resent them. So now I am weary, frustrated, exhausted, hurt, grieving, and bitter.

What a servant.

I have read this passage so many times in the last three years and I’ve thought, “See, Jesus was tired, but He pressed through and He kept serving. Servants set aside their needs and help others.”

Oh, how the enemy deceived me with a sweet piece of Scripture, taken out of context and twisted to fit my prideful little Messiah complex.

Read the story in context with me. After Jesus feeds the 5,000, this is what comes next:

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone… ~Mt 14:22-23

Immediately.

And notice that it doesn’t say “immediately the people realized how spent Jesus was, so they departed to let Him rest.”

He made them leave. He made His disciples leave first. Those with whom He worked.

Probably because they wanted Him to keep working.

Then He dismissed the people.

Then He went alone to be with the Father.

This is the lesson that the Father has been so patiently trying to teach me the last couple of years.

1. There are always going to be needs to meet.
2. As long as we say yes, people will continue to ask you to meet them.
3. If Jesus was weary, hurt and grieved to the point of withdrawing, why should I think I would be any different?
4. Only when we withdraw and allow the Father to heal us are we able to see His miracles in our lives. He cannot use a servant incapable of working.

Where do I see that fourth lesson? Check out what happens after Jesus spends that day alone with the Father.

And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” ~Mt 14:25-33

While it was undoubtedly cool to see their buddy Peter walking on water, and I can’t imagine what it was like to see the wind obey Jesus, I have to think that it was the culmination of all they had seen the previous few days that led to their declaration of Him being the Son of God.

To see Him respond with genuine human emotion to confusion, rejection, grief, and unceasing demands.

To watch Him display divine power in multiple miracles.

To witness His sovereign wisdom in saying “no” for a time in order to go be with the Father.

And then to see Him come to them, in a time of need, and begin serving again.

That is the example of our Savior.

That is an example that I have failed to see so often, and God has very recently and very literally reminded me that rest is necessary; for our hearts, our bodies, our minds.

And just like God did in the Old Testament, when He gave the land the 70 years of sabbath the Israelites had taken from it, when we don’t take that rest as He commands, He will often give it to us in humbling ways.

Learning to rest.

Learning to withdraw to desolate places.

Learning that it’s ok to take the time to grieve and to heal, just like Jesus did.

That’s what the Father is teaching me right now.

What is He teaching you?

Missing the Trees for the Forest


24 And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?'” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” ~The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 5

It’s easy to miss the trees for the forest.

I know that saying is usually expressed the other way around, but when you are serving people, sometimes it’s easy to be overwhelmed with the great need surrounding us.

Overwhelmed by the number of people who seem to enjoy their lives of destructive self-indulgence.

Overwhelmed by lifelong victims of the sins of others.

Overwhelmed by the pain and need of the sick and the dying, whether it is spiritual or physical.

It is so easy to become overwhelmed, in fact, that we can become apathetic toward the individuals who are genuinely seeking truth and healing and wholeness. When the forest is dark and fearful and consuming, it’s easy to miss the beautiful trees that are found interspersed with the scariness.

I love this account of Jesus and this woman, because it reminds me that Jesus saw both the forest and the trees. Jesus was in the midst of the crowd, not up on a balcony watching as they passed. He knew their hearts and intentions and was not wearied and overwhelmed by the masses seeking to be entertained and amazed.

He was right in the center of consumeristic religion.

But he didn’t miss the one who was genuinely seeking the healing of the Great Physician.

And he didn’t send her away. He didn’t get angry about her touching him. He wasn’t concerned that stopping for her might throw off his schedule. He healed her.

He didn’t just let the power seep from his body and keep walking. The work wasn’t as important to him as the relationship. He not only healed her, he connected with her.

There is so much that grabs my heart and challenges my spirit in this account. But that last point convicts me more than anything else. As women, we can become so focused on the work that we overlook the relationships. We become like Martha in the kitchen when the Lord said that it was Mary who chose the better thing by sitting as his feet in fellowship.

As this year draws to a close, I have spent much time reflecting on the cost of investing more in the work than in the relationships. It takes a toll; on the heart, on the mind, on the body, on relationships. Focusing too much on the work eventually harms the work itself.

For 2012, it is my goal to seek first His kingdom, to minister to the trees, and let Him add the forest as He sees fit.

The Rape of Christ


We are only prepared to receive and comprehend the grace of God when we have understood His infinite holiness and our incredible sinfulness. ~James MacDonald

I have been attempting for months to help someone understand just what the big deal is about our sin, and sexual sin in particular. I was struggling to bring to light just how badly our sin breaks the heart of God, and 1 Corinthians 6:5-20 is the passage I ended up returning to several times.

This passage gives us a clear explanation of the connection found in mind, body and soul specifically; each is intricately involved in the health and welfare of the other. Sins actively committed in our body impact our souls and minds; thoughts lead to actions which lead to spiritual disconnect from the Father. Spiritual brokenness can cause mental and physical side effects like depression, anger, apathy, even physical pain.

So, according to this passage, our physical actions impact us mentally and spiritually as well. We use our bodies and train our minds to respond a certain way, leading to addictive behavior. Most people today watch enough Dr. Phil to understand the mind/body connection.

But what about the spiritual aspect of sin? How does that impact us? How does our sin impact our relationship with the Triune God? According to this passage, our sin effects Christ intimately and directly. He tells us that, at the time of salvation, we become joined in one Spirit with Christ. He is a part of us, we are a part of Him. This is why the marriage relationship is a picture of our relationship with Christ; separate beings, joined together to become one while still remaining unique beings. One of the greatest mysteries of how we as spiritual beings function.

Follow this logic for a moment; as believers, we are joined to Jesus, being one in Spirit. He is with us and a part of us, present and actively involved in all that we think, say and do. That’s a pretty convicting thought.

But Paul then immediately uses an extreme illustration to make his point; he asks who in his right mind would ask Jesus to sleep with a prostitute? The answer to that rhetorical question is, “No one!” Jesus was tempted in every way, yet without sin. Jesus doesn’t want to engage in illicit sexual activity; his one goal is to glorify His Father in Heaven in mind, body and spirit.

So, following Paul’s graphic illustration, what are we doing when, as believers, we force Jesus, with whom we are joined in one Spirit, to join us in immoral sexual behavior? We are essentially raping Jesus. We are forcing him to participate in sexual activity He wholeheartedly desires to avoid because it brings no glory to the Father in Heaven.

Some statics claim that by the end of college (or age 22) as many as 20% of all women have been at least convinced to participate in a sex act she would otherwise have avoided. Ask any woman who’s been in that situation, and she will tell you how it made her feel. Dirty. Shameful. Used. Broken. Brokenhearted.

Sometimes it’s difficult as believers to understand how our sin breaks the heart of God. In following Paul’s logic in this passage, it should be abundantly clear; to engage in immoral sexual activity is to force Jesus to engage in sexual activity against His will. Our selfish momentary pleasure is equal to the rape of Christ.

Looking at it from that point of view, how do you think our sin breaks the heart of God? How would your heart break knowing that a loved one had been raped, abused, molested? How did you feel if it’s happened to you? What steps do you take to protect yourself from being in a situation in which those things could happen? How do you teach and train the young boys and girls in your life to avoid those situations? Shouldn’t we do the same for Christ?

If we are one in Spirit with Him, shouldn’t we live our lives in such a way that we do everything within our power to keep Him from being involved in activities He desperately wants to avoid?

Can Pain Ever Be Good?


Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 1 Peter 4:12-16

While I was at the Exodus Freedom Conference last month, I attended a workshop for ministry leaders led by Jeff Buchanan. The workshop was entitled Moving Forward into a Culture of Discipleship, and Jeff’s purpose was to equip ministry leaders in the work of growing grace-saturated disciples of Christ within both our ministries and the Church at large. Part of what he taught has particularly stuck with me the last couple of weeks and I wanted to share a few points that I have been able to put into immediate practice both in ministry and in my own life.

Jeff stressed the fact that, as believers, we must learn about and embrace a theology of suffering. So many today seek a life of comfort and ease and happiness. Televangelists preach a prosperity gospel that is anything but biblical. Some teach that if we do God’s will, then God will bless us with material prosperity and physical well-being. I find that thought interesting considering that even the Son of Man had no place to lay His head. If Jesus was homeless and suffered horrendously on our behalf, the idea of comfort and ease should be foreign to his followers as well.

But what do we do with the equally true concepts that God loves us and desires what’s best for us but also allows suffering and tremendous pain in our lives? To 21st Century Americans, pain and hardship do not equal good. All pain is bad pain and personal happiness is the ultimate goal. The passage at the beginning of this post flies in the face of American entitlement and once again shows that, sometimes, pursuing the American Dream requires us to pursue the exact opposite of the Christian life.

Peter addresses two types of suffering in 1 Peter 4: suffering brought upon ourselves by our own poor decisions, and suffering on behalf of Christ and his Gospel. How do we know the difference? There can be two types of physical pain: destructive pain like the pain that is caused by illness and injury, and growth pain caused by exercise and rehabilitation. Pain caused by illness or injury can be destructive for the rest of your life if you do not also experience the temporary pain of physical rehabilitation. Growth pain usually alleviates destructive pain, at least partially if not completely.

In this workshop, Jeff included two very helpful bullet pointed lists that help us determine what pain is good, growth oriented pain, and what pain is destructive in our lives.

The Pain in your Life is Growth Pain if you are:
• Becoming more vulnerable in your relationships with God and with other people
• Humbly recognizing your own character flaws and are allowing God to correct them
• Taking relational risks; stepping out, learning to trust, revealing your true self to people
• Relearning healthy and godly relational skills and boundaries
• Dealing with the emotional wounds and trauma of your past
• Overcoming passivity and learning how to stand up for Truth and righteousness
• Overcoming destructive patterns that you have become dependent upon and are learning to depend on God
• Dealing with grief and loss in an expressive and productive way.

The Pain in Your Life is Destructive Pain if you are:
• Refusing to face character issues
• Choosing wrong relationships and unsafe people
• Repeating destructive patterns and not assuming responsibility
• Harboring unforgiveness
• Living with a false perception or romanticized ideals
• Living in a state of self-pity

So what causes pain in your life? Are you suffering because of the sinful choices of others and your suffering is beyond your control? Are you suffering because you stood up for what is right and are now experiencing persecution for it? Or are you suffering because of your own choices? There is good news for each situation!

If you are suffering due to the sins of others, God is clear in Scripture that He is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18) and deals justly with the sinner (Romans 12:19). If you are suffering on behalf of Christ, Scripture tells us to take joy in sharing in his suffering because we will also share in His glory! And if you are suffering because of your own foolish choices, there is repentance and forgiveness in the cross and the time spent in destructive pain can be redeemed through growth pain.

Whatever kind of suffering you may be currently experiencing, don’t waste it! Allow God to use it for your good and his glory. Cling to him. Grow in your faith. Share what you’ve learned with others. Be a testimony of his grace to a suffering world. When you suffer for the right reasons, don’t deny the pain, but make sure you acknowledge the accompanying grace and peace and joy of Christ. If you’ve lived your life in destructive pain and are now experience growth pain, don’t give up on the healing process. See the difference in the two types of pain and take comfort in the fact that this season of growth pain will prevent you from experiencing a lifetime of destructive pain. Keep your eternal perspective.