the grace of God that wounds

I was a good kid. I made high A’s all through school and the extent of my rebellion to my parents was how low I would grow my sideburns. I led worship at my church throughout high school, and then again with our student ministry in college, and I would often speak/preach when given an opportunity. I learned how to be socially adept and maintain friendships with many people, so that my friends would jokingly use terms like “social butterfly” and “friend whore” to describe me. And I had a relationship with Jesus that seemed earnest, and I knew that I needed Jesus.

But I didn’t really need Jesus.

I knew that God sent Jesus to save sinners like me, and I knew I was a sinner, but I really didn’t think I was that much of a sinner. I didn’t do that many sinful things. I knew about the grace of God, but grace seemed more to me like good things I deserved because I was good. I was a good kid! Why wouldn’t Jesus save me? Grace was just for those few times I slipped up and looked at pornography or lied to my parents about being in my dorm when I was really at my friends’ place.

I knew that the gospel was good news, but honestly, the bad news didn’t seem that bad, at least for me. School was going great, my parents bragged about me, my church family loved me, my friendships were great, and I did all the things a good Christian leader was supposed to do.

But then I felt God calling me to vocational ministry, and I switched my life about. And in fear of the consequences, I wasn’t so forthright about it. My parents and extended family eventually found out and didn’t take this so well, because it had seemed clear that God was actually calling me to be a doctor or some other prestigious vocation.

There were many tears shed and hurtful words shared. We went from talking almost daily to me talking to my mom maybe once a week. I hardly talked to my dad at all. My grandparents didn’t know what to say to me except to look at me in sadness and my church family just didn’t talk about it. School seemed to take a turn for the worse. I ended up hurting close friends, and I was hurt by close friends. I was in a relationship that ended suddenly, and for the first time, it wasn’t amicable. I was hurting and cowering in the darkest shadows of my life, and I didn’t know who to reach out to. I tried to portray cool confidence and trust in God, but I was floundering. I was confused and depressed and heartbroken and angry and anxious. There were even several times where I thought that the best way to deal with it all was by ending everything. And several times where I almost did.

And all this brought me to a place of deep introspection and crying out to the God I claimed to love and serve.

Slowly, layer by layer, relationship by relationship, God began showing me things I had never seen before. I realized that I was selfish and hurtful and greedy and arrogant and sexually immoral and wicked — all without having to do any specific actions. That was just how my mind and heart was bent! God showed me how silly it was that I prided myself in my “humility” and self-deference. He humbled me by unveiling the fact that I was capable of causing so much destructive damage in my relationships with people. He exposed a heart that sought comfort in temporal things rather than on eternal things. He revealed that self-approval was the idol I worshiped at, and my identity wasn’t really found in Christ, but ultimately in how people perceived me.

It felt like life was beating me up, but when I thought upon the sovereignty of God, it dawned on me that my world wasn’t rocked upside-down by chance, but by the grace of God. He had brought me to this place! And it was one of the greatest displays of love I had encountered personally. It was a gift of the grace of God. 

In love, he had brought me to that point to show me my brokenness. I had always been broken, I just refused to see it. In love, he had wounded me so that he could reveal his goodness. So that he could reveal his love in binding me up. He had knocked my legs out from under me, so that I could be on my knees before him. He bruised me to show me why the Son of God was bruised. To show me why the gospel was such good news.

The depravity of man (the fallen nature we’ve all inherited ever since our ancestor Adam felt like rejecting God was a good idea) began to be a real thing I knew not only in theory, but in experience. Sin wasn’t just things I did, but the posture of my heart. As I began to see myself for who I am, I began to see why I so desperately needed Jesus! I was a mess, and no amount of self-help would ultimately fix my heart. I turned to the only One I knew to turn to.

I was spiritually dead, and Christ came into my dead-ness and caused me to be un-dead, to have life, and new life in him! He had saved me from sin, from death, from myself. And by the grace of God, he has healed my brokenness — and my relationships.

I am thankful for the grace of God displayed in the perfect life, sin-absorbing death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that this same Jesus is coming again! It is the gospel that changes everything!

But I’m also thankful for the gift of the grace of God that sometimes, He wounds us in love.

“Let me hear gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.” – Psalm 51:8
“Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down , and he will bind us up.” – Hosea 6:1
Image Credit: Courtney Celley 

suffering in the hands of a sovereign God

Pain and suffering are not things that are foreign to Christians. Indeed, sometimes it seems as if we have more of it.

Following Christ doesn’t mean life gets easier. Loved ones will still die. Disease will steal health. Life will not be kind. People will talk negatively about you. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words may break your spirit.

Following Jesus isn’t a ticket to health and wealth, but a surrendering of your life and taking up your cross, because that’s what Jesus did. We follow the leader who fell to the ground while carrying His instrument of torture. He was bruised and crushed and spit upon and reviled; the King of kings suffered to the very point of death on a cross. He, who could call angels to strike down His persecutors, who did not deserve to hang like a criminal, submitted Himself to suffering because He knew that the Father was still in charge. God still sat on His throne.

Following Jesus means that sometimes, we don’t get to come down from our cross.

This song reminds us that whether it be cancer or criticism, death or disability, our suffering is not just random bad luck or the universe out to get us. It does something in us. Our suffering has purpose in the hands of a sovereign God.

I come, God, I come
I return to the Lord
The one who’s broken
The one who’s torn me apart
You struck down to bind me up
You say You do it all in love
That I might know You in Your suffering

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need

For the stories behind the song, click here and here.

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” – Job 1:21

hurt and hope

I was never the reckless, perpetually bloody-nosed kid. I didn’t climb trees or jump off rooftops or get into fights. Well, fist-fights with people other than my little brother at least. Most of the time I had my nose stuck far into the pages of just about any book I could get my hands on. Well, if someone slammed the book shut, I suppose I would probably have a bloody nose.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I was a bit of a nerd. But I’ve also had my fair share of scraped  knees (with the scars to prove it!), torn ligaments (including my ACL), and a few trips to the ER.

Pain is one of those things that we just intrinsically push away from. We avoid it at all costs and go out of our ways to ensure that our suffering is at a minimum. But this is not some deep truth I’m unraveling; it’s common sense. No one likes to get hurt. No one likes bruises, sickness, a broken heart, or death. I would argue that even the self-inflicting sadists out there cringe at every painful blow. There is just something so disturbing and yucky about pain. It makes sense that we avoid it.

But maybe… Maybe pain and suffering is one of the gifts of the grace of God.

“What? Did he really just say that?”

Pain and suffering and sorrow remind us that something isn’t right. Surely this isn’t what we were made for! Is there joy and satisfaction in sickness or loss, heartbreak or death?

So then, what were we made for?

If you believe in the God of the Christian worldview, hopefully you understand that He made everything, and made it perfect. Sunshine and love, community and purpose, lollipops and unicorns. I’m still looking for the last two in Genesis, but I’m sure I’ll find it in the Hebrew. He made it all, and he made it good.

So what happened?

If you haven’t noticed from the last several millennia, we humans are a rebellious lot. Someone tells us not to do something and we want to do it. We’re not always the smartest. In Genesis, Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit and changed the course of how things should be. Now there’s pain in childbirth and work has become hateful. Creation which was meant to be subjugated under man strives constantly with man, man strives with man, and man ultimately dies.

And this is where pain steps in and does his work. Through it all, we’re inadvertently pointed to the fact that we were not created for pain and brokenness but for peace and wholeness. Something isn’t right and we know it. Pain and suffering and heartbreak cause us to long for the good news that it doesn’t have to be so. Living in hurt doesn’t have to be a reality!

There is a place of healing and shalom, of rightness and justice. Jesus came into a tumultuous world and brought the solution to the longing, anguish, and trouble the world groaned under. He was unjustly afflicted, scorned, and murdered. And in all this, He brought an everlasting Kingdom of peace, love, and life. Our pain cries out for this Kingdom. Through it, God reminds us that such a Kingdom exists, and we were meant for it.

Bring on the pain!