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Afflicted, But Not Crushed

Afflicted, But Not Crushed

I am weak and weary. In the last two months, we almost had a house fire, sickness, grief on both sides of extended family, weird medical issues, multiple unexpected bills, no AC during the May heatwave…I think that’s the complete list! The last two months have been rough. Well, the last 13 months have been rough. Okay, actually the last two years and three months have been rough.

I know I’m not alone in feeling that it’s been a tough season. This is a theme for many of us. Since COVID turned the world upside down, anything else on top of that feels heavier. Then there’s the awful turmoil in the world, the shootings, the accidents, and the unending heartaches that remind us that our world is broken.

We will have troubles in this world, and Jesus himself reminds us of that truth in John 16:33. As followers of Christ we are not promised protection from loss, death, or crushed dreams. We will feel sadness and grief. We will feel the weight of the unknowns. We look forward to heaven when everything sad will come untrue and pray with great desire “Come, Lord Jesus.”

But what about today when the weight of it all is so very heavy?

2 Corinthians 4:7-10 offers beautiful hope for us when we feel like we have nothing left. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

There are many pieces of good news here! Let’s break it down:

1) The treasure is Jesus and his power, not me or my abilities. Imagine a clay jar with a little candle inside. Put the lid on, and that light is dimmed. Now imagine there is a crack in that clay jar. Even when you put the lid on, the light shines brightly through that crack. That is me … an imperfect, broken clay jar. It is his power that does anything good in me and through me, not because of anything I do. When I am at my weakest, his power shines through the broken vessel that I am.

2) We are afflicted, perplexed (oh my goodness, yes), persecuted, struck down … but NOT crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, or destroyed. Wow! I am so much more hopeful when I live in the tension that we will have hardships, but it won’t take all from us. What is our all? Well, that leads to another point in this little passage.

3) We carry with us the death of Jesus, SO THAT the life of Jesus may also be manifested in us! Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is our hope in life and death. Every day we can live as free sons and daughters because of what he did for us, and absolutely no one can take that away. And WE are doing this together! As a family of believers, we come alongside and cheer one another on to live for Christ. We support one another when life is joyous and when life is rough. We are the body of Christ and we carry these burdens together (Galatians 6:2).

How do we get rooted (and stay rooted) in Christ? First, we cling to Jesus. Read the Bible (ask a pastor or community group leader how to do this!) and pray daily. Second, say yes to being part of a community of believers. Do this by committing to going to church weekly and get into a Bible study or community group. No one is meant to follow Christ alone!

My last suggestion is one that I learned from my sweet Grandpa. Pray that the Lord would give you a verse or a song in your heart each day. Especially in moments when we are weak we need to repeat truths to ourselves. Pray back the Scripture to the Lord or sing the song to him. Proclaim it! Some excellent verses to start with are Psalm 62:5-6, 1 Corinthians 15:58, and Romans 8:28-29, and, of course, 2 Corinthians 4:7-10. Keep the verse close by writing it on an index card and keep it in your back pocket throughout the day. And some favorite hymns are “I Need Thee Every Hour,” “My Jesus, I Love Thee,” and “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.”

This world will try to take our joy and our hope, and it will if we are not rooted in Christ and allow him to be our only hope. So, my dear brothers and sisters, let’s give our weak and tired selves to the One who offers life, and allow his light to shine through. Without him we will be crushed. With him, we have hope!

Are You Actually Good, God?

Are You Actually Good, God?

Guest Author: Ashtyn Fair

I never expected to openly talk about our story until we were on the other side. I had hoped it would never even be our story in the first place. I remember being seven months into our journey and thinking “Surely we won’t hit a year.” I remember being a year in and thinking, “Surely we won’t hit two years.” Now I sit here at two years, and Taylor and I are still longing for God to give us our first child. And still I think, “Surely God will do it this year.”

What about you? What has your path to parenthood felt like? From experience, I’d assume it’s felt isolating, that it’s full of emotional ups and downs, confusion, and even despair. Your grief feels complex and unexplainable to those around you. Your joy is complicated as you hear another friend is pregnant with her second while you’re waiting for your first — you’re happy for her and sad for you and maybe even bombarded with shame because you’re not as happy as you want to be. 

The process of pursuing a family is a physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally taxing experience. Your marriage may feel added tension as you both experience stress while also, you know, trying to make a baby — a real recipe for not a lot of fun. You may harbor anger toward your body for not doing what you think it ought to be able to do. You long for community that can meet you deeply in your darkest season, but instead feel remarkably more alone. You desire to exhaust every option no matter how extreme with the belief that if you just tried hard enough you could control the outcome. You’re asking God questions like “Why?” and “How long?” — and voiced or not, what you are really asking is “Are you actually good, God? Can I trust you?”

I’m so incredibly sorry if you’ve experienced this or are currently walking through it. My heart breaks with you. I want you to know your extreme weariness and tired eyes are seen by God as He sits next to you in the middle of this journey. Pay attention — the Spirit of God is found here in our suffering.

When suffering falls heavy on your shoulders where do you place the weight? Do you tell yourself to pull it together as you strap the heavy load more tightly onto your back? Or do you find yourself at the feet of Jesus with legs shaking underneath you as you drop the backpack of shame, anger, and despair before Him, feeling your body relax as He takes the burden. Do you actually ask for the easy yoke that Jesus offers? Or do you find yourself bearing the weight all on your own, gritting your teeth, and hanging onto as much control as possible?

I urge you to seriously reflect on which road you most readily choose, for it will be pivotal in your life and in your spiritual formation.

Scripture tells us that walking through suffering with God produces perseverance, good fruit, and hope. Meaning these very things are absent when we choose to side-eye God and keep Him at an arm’s length while we carry suffering around on our own. I’ve had plenty of those side-eye moments over the last two years. They come when the enemy tempts me to believe that God can’t actually be good. They come when I see the seventh pregnancy announcement that week and believe the lie that God has forgotten me. They come when I’m tired of feeling all the feelings and wanting to simply shut down and check out.

Maybe you’re in that place right now. You’re tired and weary, questioning His goodness, His presence with you, questioning if He sees you, if He even cares…so you’ve looked away. You probably wouldn’t say you’re “angry” at God or even “frustrated” — that’s not what “good Christians” feel, right? Maybe you’d just say you feel indifferent or distant from Him.

But I’m going to ask you in the middle of your sadness and frustration to look up at Him. Make eye contact again. Do you see Him?
This God in front of you knows every unsaid word in your heart and does not shame you.
This God you see was there when you found out you weren’t pregnant again.
This God looks at you and knows your questions and anger.
This God longs for you to talk to Him about it.
This God you see is a Miracle-worker.
This God you see renounces all shame the enemy has tried to use to tie you up.
This God, with the kindest of eyes, says “I see your pain. I weep with you. I am here with you.”

I have learned and experienced profound hope and joy throughout these trying circumstances. I do indeed know and believe that God is good, that He is near, and that Jesus is truly our only hope. I have discovered that relinquishing control of my plans (and really, every corner of my life) to a trusting and loving God produces freedom, an unexplainable joy, and peace. 

Hope, joy, and peace can only be found when we bring our complaints to God. That may seem backward and even unChristian, but a life with Jesus that is not honest will lack wholeness. It will lack transformation. Bringing our lament and pain to God with honesty is how we come to know personally that Jesus is near to us through His Holy Spirit.

The more we experience our good Father with us at our darkest, the deeper we discover who He is and what He’s like. And that will lead to a new joy, new peace, and new hope. Read through a few psalms and you’ll discover that lament often ends in praise.

There is a profound and mysterious way that Jesus meets us in the middle of our pain. Praise God!
But first we must be honest with Him about it.

Today, take a few minutes and journal or type out how you’re feeling about your situation. Ask God to help you connect with Him and with yourself. And be honest. I pray that He would meet you in a tangible way that comforts you and leaves you with peace.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:28-31 (NIV)

Learning to Trust (and Love) the Bible

Learning to Trust (and Love) the Bible

My relationship with the Bible has always been one of intense love…and at times almost crippling doubt. And it all began for me with a fairly lukewarm prayer.

Jesus, I’m going to try to take you seriously for a while. As best I can remember, these are the words I prayed down in the basement of my childhood home when I was 18 years old. It wasn’t a very poetic prayer, and it even seems a bit half-hearted, but it was enough. That night Jesus grabbed onto this reluctant convert and nothing for me has been the same since.

That moment set me on a path–a lifelong quest–to learn how to trust and love the Bible.

I’d grown up in church. My dad was a pastor during my formative years. I knew the Bible pretty well, and if we were doing a Bible trivia night, I could dominate. But it wasn’t until that lukewarm prayer that I began to hear God’s voice through its ancient pages. I could see God’s love for me. I could see myself in His words. A life and a love and a joy calling out to me from its pages.

Weird, right? As a senior in high school, unsure of my future, lonely and depressed, God found me and He used His Book to do it.

I couldn’t get enough.
Almost instantly, I couldn’t get enough of this Book. It was like food and I hadn’t eaten for years. I’d read it in the morning before school and at night before bed. Sermons (at Christ Community no less, vintage Pastor Tom) came alive. I began discussing it with friends and a few months later even began leading a Bible study with my peers. 

I wanted to know it and understand it and trust it and obey it and build my life on it. I wanted to know the One who’d made me and there He was on these dusty pages.

But then doubt settled in.
I don’t know if you know this about the Bible, but it is a hard book. Once you start reading (more than just the inspiring soundbite), questions surface. Brutal, sometimes seemingly unanswerable questions. And then, of course, doubt.

The next fall I headed off to Bible college (I told you, I fell hard for this book!), yet the more I studied and read, the more questions I had. In fact, the greatest season of doubt in my life (so far) happened while in Bible college and then seminary. Could I really build my life on a Book so old, so often confusing, so very difficult at times, with so little certainty?

Can we really trust (and love) the Bible?
Well, no surprise, I’m going to say yes. Let me go ahead and name my bias. Big shocker that a pastor says we should trust the Bible. But it has never been easy for me. Doubts still surface. Regularly. As I said, my relationship with the Bible has been one of intense love…and at times almost crippling doubt. To some extent, that remains true today (though thankfully less debilitating).

I know that there is nothing I could say to instantly make you trust and love the Bible. Faith is still required. But I want to share with you why I believe. Or perhaps more importantly, why I keep believing. Why do I keep returning to this beautiful, difficult, mysterious, ancient Book? Here are the three most important reasons for me personally: the person of Jesus, the character of God, and the testimony of its pages.

But first, a few warnings.
This is not meant to be exhaustive and it should be noted that everything here has been the subject of countless blogs and books. There are people smarter than me if you want to dig deeper. I also want to acknowledge that my reasons can easily be questioned. I don’t have any unassailable arguments and some of what I’m going to say is clearly circular in its reasoning. (Trust the Bible because the Bible tells you to trust the Bible–it’s great logic, I know.) 

Here’s the deal. If you don’t want to trust the Bible, there is nothing I can say to convince you. Faith is still required.

That is exactly right. My goal is not to convince those who don’t want to believe but to encourage those who do.

The Bible is a difficult book. It’s ok to admit that. Yet being difficult to understand isn’t the same as being untrustworthy. There is a lot I still don’t understand about the Scriptures, and a few things I just don’t like. But I keep coming back for these three reasons.

  1. The Person of Jesus

Everything in my faith comes down to the person of Jesus. Everything! I answer each of my doubts with this: did Jesus rise from the dead or not? If He didn’t, I’m out. But if He did, everything changes! If Jesus actually rose from the dead that is the most important truth the world has ever known, making Jesus the most important person. You see, one day I’d like to rise from the dead as well. So if He did, I want to hang on every word He said and all He did. 

There is good historical evidence (not just the Bible tells me so) supporting the validity of the resurrection. While much could be said, until someone more compellingly answers the following questions, I will continue to believe Jesus did come out of the grave alive. 

Questions like:

  • Why was the tomb empty and why couldn’t anyone find the body?
  • What about all the eyewitnesses who saw Him alive?
  • If it was a legend, why would the inventors make women (who couldn’t even testify in court in that time period) the first eyewitnesses? And why would you make all the men doubting cowards?
  • How do you explain the transformation of the eyewitness, from doubting cowards in hiding to literal martyrs for their faith that Jesus was alive?
  • Where did the church (and this crazy movement of His followers) come from, in the midst of so much oppression?

If Jesus rose from the dead, then it doesn’t matter if you like what He said or not or whether or not you find Him personally compelling. If He rose from the dead, He wins, and I’m listening.

Jesus believed the Old Testament.
And Jesus believed the Old Testament. I struggle with the Old Testament. I love the stories and poetry, but I find it much harder than the New Testament. Not only did Jesus believe it, He loves it! He quotes it and makes references to it constantly. You can’t even really understand Jesus without understanding the Old Testament.

He said things likeScripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), referring to the Old Testament. In His most famous sermon, considered to be a kind of summary of His main passions, He says: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:17-18).

He even referred to Himself as the center of the Old Testament Scriptures and the key to their understanding. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me… (John 5:39).

...beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself… Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead… (Luke 24:27, 45-46)

The one who defeated death believed, taught, loved, obeyed, and even revealed Himself as the focus and fulfillment of the Old Testament. I’m siding with the One who defeated death—every time.

Jesus commissioned the New Testament (sort of).
It also seems like He commissioned the writing of the New Testament through the work of the Apostles. The people who knew Jesus best were the ones who wrote these things down for us.

Jesus told them: I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:12–15).

It is reasonable to believe that Jesus wanted His Apostles to write these things down, and promised that His Spirit would guide them in it.

Jesus reveals the character of God.
Jesus also shows us who God is. Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9). And what does Jesus reveal to us about God the Father? 

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection show us that God wants to rescue. God wants to love and be loved. God wants a really big, beautiful, diverse family. God wants a relationship with His creation. Our God wants to be known. That doesn’t prove He gave us the Bible, but it does give us a motive. Jesus shows us that it is God’s heart to communicate with His people. 

Hebrews begins with these words, making a similar connection: Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… (1:1-2) The Apostle John does the same when He refers to Jesus as the Word of God (John 1).

If God so wants to be known that He would send His own Son, it’s at least plausible that He would find other ways to reveal Himself as well. I trust the Bible because I trust the person of Jesus.

  1. The Character of God

I also trust the Bible because I trust the character of God. Jesus shows us the character of God, but so do the Scriptures. You cannot read the Bible without the overwhelming sense that God wants us to know Him. The reason we exist is to know God and be known by Him. Here are just a few such scriptures:

Exodus 6:6-8: I am the Lord… I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians… I am the Lord. 

Psalm 46:10: Be still, and know that I am God. 

Proverbs 8:17: I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.

John 17:3: And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Jeremiah says it perhaps most beautifully. What is the most important thing any human can do? Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (9:23-24)

And what is God’s goal for humanity? I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

God wants to be known. This doesn’t mean the Bible is His Book but it does show us a deep motivation for self-revelation.


God cannot lie.
It’s also important to note here that God cannot lie. He wants to be known and, as God, He has the power and creativity to reveal Himself. But how can we trust Him? We can trust Him because He can only be truthful. He can only be faithful and honest. 

1 Samuel 15:29: The Glory of Israel [meaning God] will not lie.

Numbers 23:19: God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

If God is real and if He wants to be known, He will reveal Himself accurately and honestly. I trust the Bible because I trust the character of God. 

  1. The Testimony of Its Pages

I also trust the Bible because I trust the testimony of its pages. If the Bible is not God’s Word, it is perhaps the most arrogant, self-confident, full-of-itself book ever written.

If it is not God’s Word, it is not just a nice book with nice stories and nice morals. If it is not God’s Word, it is evil, because it claims to hold the very words of God, and to be the greatest, most important, most sacred book ever written. Trust it or trash it.

The claims it makes.
Listen to just a few of its claims:

2 Samuel 7:28: Now, O Lord God, You are God, and Your words are truth…

2 Samuel 22:31: This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true.

Psalms 12:6: The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.

Psalm 18:30: As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the Lord is tried…

Psalm 19:7: The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

Proverbs 30:5: Every word of God proves true.

2 Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 

2 Peter 1:19-21: And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 

Revelation 22:6: And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true”; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place.

The Story it tells.
The Story it tells also nudges me toward belief. I can’t tell you if its words are true, and perhaps I’m only speaking from my own experience, but the Story of Scripture has a ring of truth about it. Yes, it is easy to get lost in the details or all the individual stories, but when you see its grand narrative, many of our questions and longings find compelling answers. The grand Story can be summed up in four chapters: Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation.

Creation. The world had a beginning. It was made with purpose and significance, with humans made in the image of God. Regardless of what you believe about how or when God made the world, the fact that He made it answers so many questions. It compellingly explains why we live as if our lives matter, why beauty touches us so deeply, why love and relationships are so essential, and why, even now in the 21st Century, we just can’t seem to shake our longing for a Maker. The Bible shows us how we were created with these things in mind.

Fall. But everything is broken. We hurt the people we love. We run from God. We choose self-destructive paths. We break the things we touch. And despite all our effort, we can’t fix it. Then add to that cancer, viruses, tornados, infertility, pain in childbirth, loneliness, depression, anxiety, terrorism, war, racism, trafficking, and eventually death. We know in our bones the world shouldn’t be this way. The Bible tells us why.

Redemption. Yet we long for things to be better, and we work to that end. We strive toward self-improvement and we long for it in the people we love. We celebrate stories of forgiveness and reconciliation, rescue and redemption. These things are hard-wired into us by a God who offers them to us, and we see them on display through the climax of this Story in His Son. The Bible explains these longings.

New Creation. One day things will finally and completely be made whole. We want utopia. We want to live forever. We want to be reunited with the people we’ve lost. We want to see God. All these longings find fulfillment in the Story of Scripture.

No, none of this proves the Bible is true or that this grand narrative is the narrative we’re living. Yet, it gives me just one more piece of confidence in believing. It tells a compelling Story.

The way it speaks.
And if you thought that last point was too subjective, you’ll hate this one.

The way this Book speaks to my heart reinforces its veracity. When I read it I can almost hear God’s voice. I feel comforted in my heartache, convicted of my sin, and exposed at my deepest level. I don’t just read this Book. It reads me! It knows me and speaks directly to me. I trust the Bible because I trust the testimony of its pages. 

So what now?
So what are we supposed to do with all this? I want to end with three action steps.

  1. Bring Him your doubts

First, bring God your doubts. I know I didn’t answer your questions and I realize there are fair reasons to doubt the Scriptures. Don’t sweep your doubts under the rug. Take your doubts seriously enough to look into them.

Sometimes people say things like “the Bible is full of contradictions” without actually looking at any supposed contradictions. Or sometimes we reject the Scriptures not because of any logical argument, but simply because we don’t like what it says. I don’t want to obey this so it must not be true. There are also times when we assume the Bible must be false simply because we haven’t taken the time to properly understand it in its cultural context.

Instead, take your doubts seriously enough to do some of the work to really understand. I discovered early on that many of my doubts had more to do with a lack of understanding or an unquestioning loyalty to my own cultural assumptions than with anything inherent in the text. Do the work. Bring Him your doubts.

  1. Trust that God knows better

Second, in all matters, trust that God knows better. Easier said than done I know, but if God has spoken, trust that He has spoken for our good. His Word is for your good. I love how the statement of faith for our denomination the Evangelical Free Church of America summarizes what we believe about the Scriptures. Pay close attention to how it ends.

We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.

Believed, obeyed, and trusted. Not just read or studied or proclaimed, as important as those things are.

Jesus said: Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24-27)

Trust these words. Obey them. Build your life upon them. They are for you from God. Trust that He knows better.

  1. Make this Book your food

And finally, eat this Book! Make it your food. It is strange to me how regularly the Bible refers to itself as a kind of food, sweeter than the best dessert and more satisfying than the richest feast. For Jesus while fasting even chose God’s Word over bread. He said, quoting the Old Testament: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).

 So eat up, Church! Read it regularly and systematically. Memorize it and meditate upon it. Learn to study it and dig deeply into it. Know it so that you can trust it, love it, obey it, and build your life upon it.

Where else can we go?
I love this Book and I want you to love it too. It has been twenty-three years since that half-hearted prayer in my parent’s basement. Twenty-three years and I still feel like I’m just barely at the beginning, still struggling, still doubting, but still growing.

Whenever I’m wrestling with my faith (which is more often than I care to admit) I often think of one of my favorite stories from the Gospels. Jesus was at the height of his popularity but then preached a really hard sermon. After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…” (John 6:66-69).

I often feel like Peter. For I am often burdened by doubt and unanswered questions, tempted, like the crowds, to walk away. But where would I go? Jesus has the words of eternal life! So here I am, learning to trust (and love) the Bible.

Quarantine Can Be a Time of Surrender

Quarantine Can Be a Time of Surrender

By Debbie Perry – Office Manager Leawood Campus

In this time of being told to stay at home and give up our social time with others, it can be easy to sink into despair and over analyze everything. Worry about everything. Feel like everything has been taken from you. Miss everything. Be angry about everything. And yet, we can do nothing about these things. Our isolation right now is in place to protect us. It is what is best for us. God will not waste any of it, we need only to surrender.

You might think, “Who are you to lecture me on how I should feel during this frustrating time?” and I agree that I have no authority, nor desire to lecture. I only want to share the experience of my recent nine month quarantine while fighting leukemia.

Last summer my youngest daughter got married in June, and three weeks later I was diagnosed with a very aggressive, rare form of leukemia. Within an hour of seeing a doctor for a first opinion, I was in a hospital bed at KU Medical Center being prepared for my first round of chemo the next morning. My husband and I were living a nightmare on a freight train that seemed to be running out of control. After fighting through many rounds of chemo and finally reaching remission after 28 days in a hospital bed, I was sent home and told my immune system was not strong enough to fight any exposure to illness.

I was on complete home quarantine with no visitors outside my immediate family, and no grandbabies allowed. I was devastated! It was a waiting game for stubborn white cell count numbers to rise. They didn’t. About five weeks later, I received a stem cell transplant and was admitted to the hospital for an additional 39 days. No visitors except for immediate family. Then it was back home to quarantine for the indefinite future while my white blood cells tried to recover.

I tell you this story of my journey not to make you feel sorry for me or hear of my illness. I tell you this story because I want to share the most amazing ways God used this time of quarantine to strengthen me and draw me to Himself. I could do absolutely nothing about my circumstances. I could have chosen to feel sorry for myself and bury myself in despair, but God held my face in His hands and spoke to me, “No, Child. You must yoke yourself and learn from Me since you have never experienced this before. You must lean into Me during this time and trust that I will rescue you from your uncertainty.” 

I had no other option but to surrender to God and allow Him to write my story as only He could. Only He knows how it ends and what my “new normal” will look like. I am not saying I never feel waves of fear, but I can tell you that every time I feel fear now, I say to God, “I surrender.” I can often feel Him loosen the grip fear had over me.

I still have no idea what the future holds, or how long my own personal quarantine might last, but in this time I would like to encourage you to surrender yourself to God. Trust that He will not waste this time. Draw near to Him. Allow Him to mold and shape you in this time to be more like Him. Share this with others so that they may also feel Him loosen the grip of fear and uncertainty, and rest on Him.

I hate cancer and what it has done to my life, but through it God has taught me a more complete surrender than I have ever known, and I know He is creating for me a “new normal” that is better than anything I can ask or imagine. Perhaps, even in quarantine, He is doing the same for you. 

How to Minimize Worry

How to Minimize Worry

When I was in high school, I got my driver’s license. Perhaps you did too. And when I got my license, there was one thing I heard again and again. Every time I’d get ready to leave the house, my mom would shout: “Call me when you get there,” which is the last thing any 16-year-old wants to hear from a parent.

“Call me when you get there,” she’d say as I was heading out.

“Call me when you get there,” she’d repeat as the door closed behind me.

“Call me when you get there.”

I’d get so mad whenever she said it. But no matter how much I protested, she didn’t stop. It was like a playlist on repeat.

So one evening, as I was walking towards the door, those familiar words followed after me. And I erupted.

I turned around and said, “Mom, you have GOT to stop saying that. It’s driving me crazy.” And I’ll never forget how she responded. She looked at me, knowing I was so mad, and said, Tyler, I’m sorry, but I’ll always be your momma.”

Her words were profound. “I’ll always be your momma…”

It was her way of saying, “Because of who I am, I can’t help but be concerned about you.” 

“Because I’m your momma, I’m compelled to tell you to call.”

“Because I’m your momma, I think about you when you leave.

Because of who I am, I have these concerns.”

And this is how it works, isn’t it?

Because of who we are, there are things that concern us.

Because we’re recent graduates, or because we live on our own. Because we’re in between jobs, or because we just got promoted. Because the test is coming up. Because the rent is almost due. Because we’ve reached a certain age, a certain income, or a certain low point in life.

Because of who we are, there are things that concern us. And that’s not always a bad thing. Some concerns are good concerns. They motivate us to plan for the future, or to cut back on our spending, or to eat like we know we should.

But there are times when our concerns become our worries. 

There are times when what concerns us comes to consume us. And when that happens, following Jesus tends to get placed on the back burner. Which is ironic because Jesus had a lot to say about worry.

In fact, one day Jesus told His followers: “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.”

Imagine how audacious this must have sounded to Jesus’s original audience.

When Jesus spoke these words, food supplies were entirely dependent on how much it rained and whether or not a farmer could protect the crop from pests. A year of drought or a swarm of locusts could mean starvation. You couldn’t drive down the street to the grocery store. There was no safety net. If food ran out, it was over.

Nevertheless, Jesus instructed His disciples not to worry about what they were going to eat or about what they were going to drink or about what they were going to wear.

And here’s why:

Jesus mentions these specific necessities of life—food, water, and clothing—as a way of helping His followers understand that His solution for worry reaches all the way down to their most fundamental concerns. Jesus suggests that He knows a reason not to worry that will bring encouragement and comfort even when what’s most basic seems to be in jeopardy.

And then He makes His point.

“Look at the birds of the air. They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

“Consider the lilies of the field, how the grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

“If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you?”

Are you following His logic?

Jesus says, do not worry about your life because your Father in heaven cares about you. You’re valuable to Him. If He makes sure the birds are fed and the fields look gorgeous, don’t you think He’ll watch out for you?

Jesus says you don’t need to worry because you’re valuable to God.

This is not to say that God doesn’t care about the Earth He made or the creatures in it. Nor is it to say that we, as responsible stewards of His creation, shouldn’t feel responsible and care for the natural world.

But, it is to say that when God made all that there is—the land and sea, the sky, the birds and fish and animals—He loved everything He formed. In fact, the Genesis account says He called every element of creation “good.” But then, He topped off all of creation with the stamp of His own image. God made humans and called them “very good,” marking us as special and treasured in His created order.

So there stands Jesus, looking at crowds of people just like us—people who are tempted to worry. And Jesus says: Don‘t fret. You’re valuable to your Heavenly Father.

Jesus insists that the key to leaving worry behind is trusting God’s concern for us.

But that isn’t always easy. In fact, most days it feels downright impossible. What makes it so tough?

I can think of three primary ways our trust for God can break down:

First, we can doubt His infinite love for us.

Second, we can doubt His infinite wisdom as it relates to our needs.

Third, we can doubt His ability to act on our behalf.

How does your trust in God get derailed?

Do you doubt God’s infinite love?

Do you believe He doesn’t love you? That maybe He loves all people in a general sense but not you specifically? And not you completely—especially after what you’ve done and where you’ve been. Do you think He loves you a little, or maybe even a lot, but not infinitely? Not enough for you to give Him your complete trust. Is that you? Do you doubt God’s infinite love?

Or Do you doubt God’s infinite wisdom?

Do you question whether He truly knows what’s best for you? Do you wonder if He really knows what you really need? Or do you feel like He knows what’s best for humans broadly, but not what’s best for you right this moment? Do you think He needs a little more input into how to respond best to your situation? Do you doubt God’s infinite wisdom?

Or Do you doubt God’s ability to act?

Do you question His power? Do you feel like He would be doing more to change your circumstances if He could? Do you feel like His hands are tied behind His back? Do you doubt God’s ability to act?

These are three primary ways our trust for God can break down.

How does your trust in God get derailed?

It’s worth knowing the answer to that question. Because knowing precisely how our trust tends to erode can help us focus our trust-building efforts.

If you’re tired of worry ruling your life, and if you’ve realized where your trust in God frequently fails, here’s one final suggestion:

Spend the next week reading and rereading Matthew 6:25-34. Reflect on Jesus’ words.

Jesus says: You’re valuable to God, and God notices what you need.

He says: The God who created and sustains the world thinks you’re the best thing on the planet, and He’s got your best interests in mind.

Remind yourself of this truth again and again and again. And as it sinks in, see if it doesn’t loosen worry’s grip. In the end, it can’t be denied: Because of who we are, there are things that concern us. And those concerns can come to consume us.

But because of who God is—because He’s our loving Heavenly Father—there are things that concern Him.

Our flourishing, our growth, our wholeness, and our relationship with Him number chief among them. So let Him focus His energy on you and your future while you focus your energy and your attention on Him and His care.

I promise, it will change everything.

Taking A Closer Look at Hagar and Sarah

Good writers have many techniques. They know when to surprise their readers, when to confront their readers, and when to move their readersall to make their readers think.

In Galatians 4, Paul desires to demonstrate that life by the Spirit is superior to enslavement to the flesh. So, he uses an advanced rhetorical technique. A brilliant writer, who had been trained in the most prestigious of classrooms, Paul invites his first-century readers to explore the differences between these two ways of living through allegory.

Understanding Allegory

Allegory is a literary device that enables writers to use a story, poem, or word picture to make a broader point. Allegory relies on connections or associations. Writers who use allegory trust that their readers will understand that the story being told actually has a deeper meaning. They hope their readers will realize that the drama unfolding on the page actually articulates a broader truth.

Allegory sounds complex when you try to define it. But perhaps this example will make it easier to understand:

Think of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. A casual reader could argue that Lewis simply tells the story of a mystical world that was rescued by a talking lion. But those who are familiar with Lewis’ deep Christian faith, and those who are familiar with the story of the Bible, are able to recognize the connections and associations between Lewis’ fantasy world and the story of Scripture. They recognize that Narnia isn’t merely about kings and queens and spells and animals. They see that Aslan portrays Jesus, even as Edmund represents Judas.[1]

In the same way, in Galatians 4:23-31, Paul uses a story that his readers know well to help them understand a concept that remains difficult for them to grasp. Paul uses the story of Abraham and his two wives—Sarah and Hagar—to convince his readers that life defined by adherence to Old Testament law is not superior to the life that Christ offers through faith.

To understand the point that Paul is trying to make, it’s important that we remind ourselves of the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar.

Looking Back

Beginning in Genesis 11, we read that God called Abraham to marry Sarah and then promised Abraham that he would become the father of a great nation, through which all the world would be blessed. Abraham trusts God’s promise. But after some time passes, Abraham and Sarah remain childless. It seems as if God’s promise is in jeopardy.

So, Sarah concocts a plan. She suggests Abraham sleep with her slave, Hagar, saying “it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” Abraham consents to the plan, and soon Hagar bears a son named Ishmael.

However, when Abraham reaches his 99th birthday, God comes to Abraham and reaffirms His promise, declaring that Sarah will indeed bear Abraham a son. The elderly couple finds this news hard to believe. But in Genesis 21, it happens. Sarah gives birth to Isaac. God’s promise is fulfilled.

Paul’s Point  

This story would have been familiar to Paul’s first-century readers. In the same way that we know Dorothy traveled to Oz or that Simba reclaimed Pride Rock from his evil uncle, Paul’s first-century readers in Galatia would have been well aware of the contours of Abraham’s story.

This is why Paul uses it as an allegory in Galatians 4.

He wants his readers to associate the benefits of life by the Spirit according to God’s promise with Sarah, and the deficiencies of life according to the flesh with Hagar.

And so he writes, “Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free. His son by the slave woman was born according the flesh, but his son by the free woman was the result of a divine promise” (Gal 4:22-23).

Paul makes clear “these things are being taken figuratively” (Gal 4:24). He wants his readers to recognize that these two women and their sons are being used allegorically in his argument to represent the differences between God’s covenant with Moses on Mount Sinai (i.e., the covenant by which God’s people had to maintain the entirety of the Old Testament law) and the covenant made by God to Abraham (i.e., the covenant in which God promises Abraham that He will unilaterally act on Abraham’s behalf, blessing Him immensely and using him, in turn, to bless others).

Paul invites his audience to consider which way of life is better: Trusting in your own ability to keep a law that’s impossibly perfect? Or trusting a promise-keeping God, who did what He said He would do for Abraham?

Paul’s hope is that his readers will see that, like Isaac, they are children of God’s promise. They have been made part of God’s family through God’s unilateral work on their behalf. They no longer need to live as if they are slaves to rules and regulations that suggest they might earn God’s favor. They simply need to trust what God has done for them by faith.

Diving Deeper

Paul’s allegory in Galatians 4 has captured the attention of scholars and theologians for centuries. Much as been written about the contours and complexities of Paul’s writing in this chapter. Numerous articles and sermons exploring the topic are available online. In my opinion, however, no one explains this passage with more clarity than Charles Spurgeon, the renowned 19th-century Baptist preacher. If you’d like to read his comments on the text, click here.


[1] It is worth noting, however, that Lewis maintained his Narnia stories weren’t allegories but “supposals.” For Lewis, a story was only allegorical so long as its tangible characters represented an intangible idea. (The English professor had quite concrete definitions for literary devices.) Indeed, Lewis maintained that a character can allegorically represent sacrificial love as a concept, but a character cannot allegorically represent Jesus Christ (a real person). For more, see “Why Narnia Isn’t Allegorical.”