Happiness: fill in the blank

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  -James 1:2-4

Fill in the blank.

“If I could just be like ___________________, I would be happy.”

Maybe you think of an actor or actress, a musician, a businessperson, a doctor, a writer, a humanitarian, a great leader, or (if you’re a nerd like me) a pastor/theologian like Luther, Bonhoeffer, or Keller.

When we consider the people we admire, it’s usually through the lens of pop media or a history book, and neither of these could ever tell the whole story. I don’t know about you, but there is always some comfort found when I finally realize that one of my heroes is just as flawed and human as me. It’s not that I get pleasure from others weaknesses, but this “real” picture of them gives me hope that I might have a chance at making a similar impact on the world for the Kingdom of God.

The reality is that no matter whose name I fill in the blank, the above statement will simply not… be… true. Becoming like one of my heroes (or envies) will not make me happy, and the same holds true for you.

James, the brother of Jesus, alludes to why this is the case.

He says that God allows or causes trials to come into our lives that we may learn perseverance. But perseverance is not the end game. God’s ultimate goal in growing our “faith muscles” (see “Count Trials as Joy” post) is that we may reach PERFECTION.

What?! Perfection?! James couldn’t possibly mean what he said.

Well… he does, and he means even more. The word for perfection here means completeness, wholeness, or fulfilling the purpose which you’ve been given. For James, perfection is all about pressing on to become that which God is making you in Christ Jesus (think Phil. 3:12-14).

And that’s why there’s only one name that can be filled in the blank above to make the statement true: Jesus.

“If I could just be like Jesus, I would be happy.”

If I could be like Jesus, I would be complete, whole, and happy. And this truth is the reason that God is faithful to allow all of our idols and all of our heroes to fall short. It is one of the reasons he allows us to suffer in this broken world: that our affections may turn to another place, a redeemed New Creation wherein we are fully made into the image of Christ.

This is both God’s predestined plan (Rom. 8:29) and perfect will (1 Thes. 4:3) for the believer’s life.

And this is another great reason to rejoice in trials. God is promising to use them to make us more like Jesus, which is the best thing that could ever happen to us!

Also, it only makes sense that He would use the method of suffering, since our Messiah also completed/fulfilled/made perfect His work through suffering.

Let’s rejoice in trials today, knowing that as we persevere in faith, God is forming us into the image of Christ… for our ultimate happiness.

Ask for wisdom

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”   -James 1:5-8, ESV

Promises from God are a powerful and encouraging thing. When the Bible tells us in 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us, we cling to that promise as to life itself. When Romans 5:1 promises the believer that she now has peace with God, she rests in the confidence that the hostility between her and her Maker has now ended.

So when James tell us in James 1:5-8 that if we ask (in faith) for wisdom we will receive it, we should immediately feel both a compulsion and a boldness to make this request often. I would say that the prayer, “God, give me wisdom,” is one of the most consistent prayers I pray (second only to “God, please help me!”) because of the great promise found in these verses.

Proverbs 9:10 tells us that wisdom begins with a holy fear of God. In the Bible true believers are marked by this fear. Therefore wisdom and faith are closely connected. First Corinthians 1:30 affirms the same when it tells us that Christ Himself is our wisdom. Christ’s example, teaching, and gospel are the embodiment of wisdom, and insomuch as we abide in Christ (Jn. 15) by faith, we too will walk in wisdom. 

Proverbs 9:11 explains that wisdom preserves life, and Proverbs 4:5 says, “‘Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget,…Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you.”

Therefore when God promises wisdom to those who ask, He is promising life. He also revealing His desire for us to live and prosper (in the biblical, not materialist, sense of that word). God wants us to be wise, to live, and to flourish!

One reason we so often neglect to ask for wisdom is because of our distorted view of our Heavenly Father. We may have allowed broken circumstances to taint our view of Him. We may have allowed dysfunctional  relationships to do the same; but we must understand that the most true and clear picture of who God is comes not from our experiences but from His Word about Himself. So if He tells us in James 1 that He wants us to have wisdom along with all the benefits that it brings, to shy away from this because of our apprehensions is both disobedience and a lack of faith.

As N.T. Wright states in commenting on this passage: “How easy it is for us to imagine that God is stingy and mean. We project on to the maker of all things the fearful, petty or even spiteful character we meet so often in real life, sometimes even when we look in the mirrorLearning who God really is and what he’s truly like – and reminding ourselves of it regularly – is the key to it all.”

Our God is good, just, and loving, and He wants us to ask for wisdom.

Count your trials as joy

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”   -James 1:2-4 (ESV)

When we encounter any kind of difficulty that is naturally part of the fallenness and brokenness of this world, James tells us that the emotion and mind-set which should well up inside of us is JOY.

How is this possible? How can difficulty and pain bring joy?

For certain James is not a sadist. His point is not that the struggle itself is a source of joy. Rather, he explains that the believer can rejoice in the midst of trial because he understands that something bigger is going on.

God is allowing his faith to be tested.


According to James, this testing produces something in the believer that would have not otherwise been.

One look at my physique and you realize that I’m no body-builder, but I do enjoy starting my day with a good workout. When I look around the gym and see guys with arms bigger than my head, I can’t help but wonder how many hours they’ve spent to build those muscles. Day in and day out, they had to be faithful to get up early, drive to the gym, warm up their muscles properly, eat and drink the right things, push their muscles to the point of pain and then push them some more.

It is only at the point of great resistance that tiny tears occur in the muscles and they are ultimately built up. The pain of doing one more push up, one more bench press, one more squat, is the very pain that builds new muscle.

I think this is what James is trying to get at. It’s not that Christians seek out suffering or enjoy it, it’s that we understand that our God allows it for His glory and our good.

The Apostle Paul says it this way in the famous Romans 8:28: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” 

This is not simply a trite, warm, and fuzzy statement to put on a Hallmark card. This is the unshakable truth of the sovereignty of our God.

Our fleshly man needs to suffer. We need to be let down by the promises of this world and disappointed by the desires of our flesh. God is gracious enough to allow this in our lives. He’s gracious enough to dash our hopes in this temporal life and in its fleeting pleasures.

I’ve come to believe that there is, in fact, very little that God teaches the believer apart from suffering, for it is only in taking up our cross and following Him daily that we are able to be conformed to His image (Lk. 9:23). It is only in giving up our lives that we are able to find them (Mt. 10:39).

God is taking the fallenness and brokenness of this world and redeeming it by working all of our circumstances and suffering together for His glory and our good. This grows our “faith muscles.” It causes us to lean on Him and trust in Him more. Then He proves Himself faithful in the midst of the trail, and we can’t help but rejoice!

The change in James

It’s high time I started writing again. Invert Student Ministries has just completed a school-year-long series through the book of James, so I’d like to share some of the highlights from our year. Enjoy!

“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…” -Js. 1:1

How did James go from not believing in Jesus (Jn. 7:5) to calling him Lord in this verse, to becoming an authoritative voice at the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), to (according to church history) dying for the name of his half-brother?

In the words of Tim Keller, “How hard would it be for me to convince you that your brother had been raised from the dead and was God” (paraphrase)? The truth is that James was either part of a movement of mass hysteria and delusion involving hundreds of people, or… he had actually seen his brother die and rise from the dead.

James’ encounter with the risen Christ brought him new birth (see Jn. 3), and this new birth set him on the path to becoming the bold witness and leader we see in Scripture.

The truth is that unless we have the same new birth as James, we will not be able to read and understand and obey the words of his letter. James gives many challenging and encouraging thoughts in his book, but to attempt to follow them without the internal change that he experienced will only leave a person frustrated because of failure or self-righteous because of some level of external conformity.

So if you’ve not experience this internal change, the change that makes it possible for you to live obediently to Christ, I encourage you to seek it out! A great place to start is by reading through the Gospel of John. Ephesians 2:1-10 is also a good, short explanation of the gospel.

The gospel is the truth that God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ, lived a sinless life, died on the cross on our behalf to take away our sin, and rose from the dead to bring us new life. If you want to talk more about this, let me know. I’d be glad to answer any questions that you may have!

The gospel and gender roles in leadership

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…This is a profound mystery, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church”  -Eph. 5:22-32 ESV

I hope our next President of the United States is a woman. Plain and simple, I think it’s about time that we crossed that milestone as a nation. Of course, more than that, I hope we elect the most well-qualified and wisest candidate. I just hope it’s a lady.

So I need to start out by saying that I have no bias against women in leadership.

But what should a Christian do with the fact that the Bible teaches that men are to be the heads of their households and the local church? 

I’ve wrestled with this question for years. I’ve tried to balance the cultural aspects of passages like 1 Timothy 3, Ephesians 5, and 1 Corinthians 14 with my belief in biblical inerrancy, but I’ve never been able to shake the fact that I believe Paul really does want men to be the leaders in both the home and the church.

Is this because men are always the most qualified? I don’t think so.

Is it because they are more naturally gifted leaders? Probably wrong again.

Was Paul’s teaching given simply to accommodate the male-dominated societies of first century Palestine and Rome? I believe there is good reason to reject this notion as well.

There is in fact something unique about Christian marriage and about the church that require these particular (even if peculiar in our culture) gender roles. The gospel. Christian marriage is a picture of the spiritual union between Christ and His Bride, the church, and in turn a picture of the gospel.

No biblically faithful Christian would ever argue that anyone other than Christ Himself is the Head of the church. There is no egalitarianism in the Christ-church union. The church submits to Christ as her head without ever thinking to herself, “I only wish I had a more important role.” Christ died for her! What else could He do to prove her great worth?!

Not only that, but Christ gave His life as an act of selfless, sacrificial love, the same love that a husband is to have for his wife. There was no thought of insisting on His own way as Jesus was accused falsely, beaten brutally, and mocked bitterly. The witness of the gospel is that the Head of the church consistently suffered loss for the sake of what was eternally best for His Bride. There was not a single shred of oppressive dominance in His love.

Now we could argue for gender-based roles in marriage and the church from other angles, but I believe that this angle helps explain things the most clearly.

In this respect, the roles of husband and wife in Christian marriage and the structure of leadership in the church act very much like baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are all visual pictures of the truths of the gospel.

So if the most qualified candidate for president in 2016 is a lady, I’ll be the first in line to vote for her; but in marriage and in the leadership of the church, I still believe wholeheartedly in the model laid out for us in the New Testament.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Spend time with sinners. Show them mercy.

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” -1 Cor. 6:11 ESV

On more than one occasion in my life, I’ve held to assumptions about certain “types” of people; and then, after actually spending time with them, my assumptions were radically altered, and my view toward their “type” was necessarily changed. As an inerrantist, conservative, evangelical Christian, I believe that the Bible never changes, but after studying church history a bit, it is obvious that some Christians’ “application” of the Bible has been found wanting. Just before the verse I quoted above, the Apostle Paul has given one of his lists of those whose sinful ways will condemn them at the final Judgment, and then he takes the time to remind the Corinthians that some of them too were once in this state. But Christ and His gospel washed them!

Perhaps it is, at the moment, too much for me to ask some of my fellow believers to spend time with those of this world who are enslaved to self-destructive patterns – to take the light into the dark places and be the agent by which such men an women are washed, justified, and sanctified. I understand and honestly struggle with this at times as well. Yet I would humbly and strongly urge you to at least spend time with those whom you call “brother” or “sister,” those whom you would claim are washed, but who still struggle with the painful and addictive effects of sin.

For me, it has only taken sitting with a Christian still struggling with alcoholism once. For me, it has only taken one time of talking to a drug addict just after they’ve fallen again. For me, it has only taken listening to a 40+ year old man talk about the fact that he’s only ever been attracted to those of his same sex – listening to his choice to be lonely but chaste because he has been washed, while understanding that God may not free him from this struggle until he is free from his flesh and this world.

Some say we should redefine the Bible’s definition of sin. Others say we should condemn all those who struggle in ways that are foreign to us. Neither are helpful or loving.

Why? Because sin is not just a choice, it is not only rebellion. It is also not just brokenness, not only a cause for pity. Those who would embrace only the former will become hypocrites, and those who cling to the latter will never really help anyone – their pity is powerless because it ignores God’s holy standard. But if we understand that sin as both rebellion against God and an innate brokenness, we will be presented with an opportunity to be used by God to bring comfort and heart-change.

In all of this, I’m simply asking believers to not only mimic the message of Jesus and the apostles, but also emulate their methods. Sit down with the woman at the well, and since you don’t have inexhaustible knowledge about her (as Jesus did)… just listen. Go into the house of Zacchaeus and Mary Magdalene, or, if you are not willing or able at the moment, at least reserve judgment until you do. This is not only prudent but essential, for James give us another warning that Christians dare not ignore: “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (Js. 2:12-13 NASB). We show mercy because we have been shown mercy in the gospel, and we show mercy because we are continually being shown mercy as we are both broken and rebellious each day.

Yes, God forbid that we redefine His holy standard, and God forbid that we be found on Judgment Day lacking in mercy after the Son of God left Heaven to suffer crucifixion that we may be washed, justified, sanctified, and (Praise His Name!) shown mercy.

In Christ,

Praise Him through the storm

Last year (2012) in Moldova I felt the Lord lead me to share some specifics from my personal testimony that are less then easy for me to recount. After doing this I felt foolish, questioning God’s leading and even questioning God. The next day I was a little encouraged to hear that my testimony had impacted a particular student at camp. I’ll call this student Joe. I came to find out that this student’s father had taken his own life just one week prior to camp, and what I shared apparently helped him in this time of grief. So I left Moldova still discouraged but hoping somehow that God might use the ministry I had done there in spite of my weaknesses.

IMG_5412 (2)After arriving at camp this year, I was pleased to find that Joe had been placed on my team! Joe follows Jesus, he is an older student, and he was a huge help to me throughout the week. However, on Wednesday morning I noticed that Joe was not himself. During the entire Bible study he had his head buried in his Bible, specifically the Psalms. So after our team Bible study was over, I pulled him aside and asked him what was wrong. It had been one year since his father’s death, and he was broken. Many in the camp grieved with him that day. We held our brother, and we cried together. We prayed, and we asked for comfort from the Lord. His grace was abundant, and Joe returned to his normal energetic self the next day.

The rest of the week was amazing. We saw the Holy Spirit draw many to salvation. God moved mightily among his people. Friday night came, and with it our last worship service. All week long we had been singing a song written by Martin Smith entitled, “God’s Great Dance Floor.” It’s a party song, and we were in a party kind of mood! Everyone was dancing and clapping and singing at the top of their lungs. It was a special moment that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.

But then Linda (on the American team) cried out, “Something’s wrong with Joe!” Several of us rushed over to check on him. His eyes were open, and he was sitting up, but he could barely communicate with us. Someone said that he had a heart problem, and we began to worry. Then he passed out.

I don’t know that I’ve felt the full weight of a mostly grown man who was seemingly lifeless before, but I do know that I never want to again. We laid him on the ground, and Linda checked for a pulse. Initially none was found, but we quickly realized that his heart was still beating and he was still breathing. But he was not conscious. One of the Moldovan leaders splashed some water on his face and tried to wake him. Another leader pulled his car up to the site, and six people picked Joe up and placed him in the vehicle. An ambulance had been called and would meet the car half way. Joe started regaining consciousness after being placed in the car, but as they drove off, we all worried about his condition. The whole camp was shocked. Many wept. How could this joyful night and life-changing week end in the darkness of such uncertainty?

And then, God’s people began to pray. We prayed through tears. We asked for healing. We exclaimed our trust in the only One who holds our lives in His hands. What else could we do? Then we began to think that perhaps the Enemy may have a part in this trouble. Who are we to know if he was or wasn’t the source, but a unified thought began to enter our minds. We must return to praising God. After weeping for a moment, praying for a while, and placing our trust in our Father, we were compelled to return to the same praise that we had been offering Him less than a half hour earlier. Only this time the mood was obviously quite different. Instead of dancing with our feet, we raised our hands as a child longing to picked up. “How great is our God, sing with me, how great is our God.” Instead of shouts of praise, there was, at first, a humble yet focused determination in our voices. “Blessed be Your Name, on the road marked with suffering, though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be Your Name.” We got word that the ambulance had met the car Joe was in and that he seemed to be doing better. He was awake and talking but would still be taken to the hospital for testing. “Lord I need you, every hour I need you. My one defense, my righteousness, oh God, how I need You.” At this point the Moldovan worship team came up and did a couple of songs. The mood was changing. What was moments ago an intentional yet difficult decision to praise God in spite of our circumstances gradually returned to a free and joyful expression. Even the clapping started up again. Voices became louder and louder. And though the language was Romanian, there was a heart-felt adoration that transcended human dialect.

Then they asked me to sing another song in English:

You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger.
Your name is great, and Your hear is kind.
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing.
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul.
Worship His Holy Name. 
Sing like never before, O my soul. 
I’ll worship Your Holy Name.

One more Romanian song was sung, and we dismissed. As I walked back to my cabin, I had the overwhelming thought that perhaps I had just been a part of the most significant worship service I would ever experience this side of Heaven. Whether or not this is true or even if such a comparison is possible doesn’t really matter. Heaven had touched earth in the midst of suffering. God’s Spirit had led God’s people to praise Him in the middle of a storm that could have very easily diminished the impact of a week beautifully orchestrated by God. Darkness had fallen. But the light of Christ shone in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it. The enemy had struck his blow, but Christ had won.

The next morning the students and leaders loaded into buses and headed into town. Camp was over, and it was time to return home. As the buses pulled up to the church, there was Joe, standing outside waiting for everyone to arrive. The hospital could find nothing wrong with him, and so they released him. He had stayed the night at church, and now he was reunited with his spiritual family, the ones who had worried about him and the ones who had prayed diligently for him.

I wish I could have been there to see that scene. I wish I could have hugged Joe one more time and thanked God together with him for the happy ending to this story, but I was on another bus headed toward home.  As I peered out the window that morning and looked across the rolling hills of Moldova, I realized that my faith had grown. Without even knowing it, God had carefully painted another sanctifying stroke on the canvas of my life. Our verses for the week were Ephesians 2:8-10. Verse 10 reads: “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus,” and oh how masterful an artist He is!