Where You Are

When I was younger, my eyes were always on the horizon. I wanted to go somewhere else, be someone else, and live a different life.

Now that I’m in my thirties, my aspirations have flipped. I don’t want to go anywhere else, be anyone else (at least, on my better days), or live a different life.

I live in the same area I grew up in, and love it. I run or walk one of two routes every morning, and get anxious if I can’t. I work from home, and though it’s nice to get out and, you know, see people every now and then, I find it immensely comforting.

Instead of running from my roots, I feel like planting them.

This sentiment is not new to me. It’s reflected well in two Disney movies (I have 3 girls, so an increasing number of my reference points are Disney princess-themed, sorry!): Moana and The Beauty and the Beast.

Consider these lyrics sung by Belle in the opening number of The Beauty and the Beast:

Little town It’s a quiet village
Ev’ry day
Like the one before
Little town
Full of little people

There goes the baker with his tray, like always
The same old bread and rolls to sell
Ev’ry morning just the same
Since the morning that we came
To this poor provincial town

There must be more than this provincial life!

I used to identify so much with Belle. My world felt too small, too routine. There must be more than this suburban life, I thought. Surely I was made for more.

Or consider the updated take on the same idea from Moana, where her father and others try to convince her that their home is all they need:

Moana, make way, make way
Moana, it’s time you knew
The village of Motonui is all you need
The dancers are practicing
They dance to an ancient song

Who needs a new song?
This old one’s all we need

There comes a day
When you’re gonna look around
And realize happiness is where you are

Certainly, I would be one of the young listeners rolling my eyes at this point, had the movie been released in my childhood. But instead of feeling my eyes rolling, I feel my head nodding.

I listen to some new music, but not much. For the most part, the old songs—the ones I internalized in high school and college when I had the time to do so—are all I need. At some point, my eyes opened and I realized that happiness was (or rather, could be) found right where I was.

I suspect some of this nostalgia has to do with my aging, but more than my age, I find my faith informs my feelings on rootedness.

I’m a Southern Baptist by confession, and so my focus is squarely on fulfilling the Great Commission. I pray often that God would send my family wherever he wants us, whether that’s across the street or around the world. And I mean that prayer.

But regardless of whether a Christian stays or goes, they are called to belong where they are—to contribute to the flourishing of the place they find themselves in.

When God’s people found themselves exiled in Babylon because of their disobedience, God told them to put down roots in their new home:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:5-7)

Israel is to contribute to Babylon’s flourishing because, by doing so, they would flourish, too.

And notice that God said, “the city where I have sent you.” We are where we are because God has put us there. Yes, he may send us elsewhere at some point, but wherever he has us, we should be praying for the good of the place and the people in it. And we should be making it a better place while we’re there.

So yes, I live in the same place I was born. I married my high school sweetheart. I live most of my life within five square miles. And I couldn’t be happier.

For however long it lasts, I’ll enjoy the life God has given me in the place he has me. I’m singing along with Moana and her village,

So here I’ll stay
My home, my people beside me
And when I think of tomorrow
There we are

A Mom to Prisoners: 72-Year-Old Makes a Difference in Texas Prisons

At 72 years old, Dorothy Henry has become a mother to hundreds. She travels to prisons around Texas as a Prison Fellowship® volunteer, sharing the Gospel through her testimony. Her nurturing heart and simple faith remind many of their mother or grandmother.

Dorothy has never been incarcerated, but she’s been in plenty of prisons. Her son, John, was incarcerated three times on drug-related offenses.

“John was a good kid,” she says. “He didn’t get mixed up with the wrong crowd—he just chose it himself.”

John spent 11 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. His second sentence started in 1996, and for the next 10 years, Dorothy spent many days and nights on her knees in prayer.

Read the rest of my article at Prison Fellowship’s blog

She Wanted a Better Life for Her Children, But Was Stealing Worth the Separation?

Pregnant, 15, and the oldest of six kids in a crowded Detroit home, Charnell Scott could feel the weight of the world pressing down on her shoulders. When her baby girl became the seventh child in the household, a sense of duty and pride kept Charnell going—but it also kept her from asking for assistance. When things got tight, she started stealing clothes and food to help her family survive.

It wasn’t long before she got caught. Charnell was 18 the first time she went to jail.

Read the rest of my article at Prison Fellowship’s blog.

How Should the Church Use Technology?

Most of us don’t think twice about adopting technology in our lives and churches. But should we? That’s the kind of question this article asked. These are important questions, and ones we should be asking more often.

I wrote the comment below in response to that article:

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit, too. No technology is neutral. Each technology is imbued with its own set of values (your cell phone, for instance, values constant connection and interruptibility). So yes, the medium matters a great deal.

While I’ve benefitted enormously from online resources like sermons and classes, I think we’ve got to do a better job of determining what should be online and what shouldn’t. For instance, a midday theology class that only 20 people can attend is a great resource to put online and allow more people to access it. But a worship service that includes communion and prayer requires presence (physical, mental, and spiritual) and would make less sense to put online.

Every technological advance requires a tradeoff, usually in the form of personal interaction or interaction with the elements of nature. The thing is, we were made to experience those things. The problem is less that we have technological advances and more that we don’t consider the tradeoffs, then adjust our lives accordingly.

Video preaching loses a personal connection to the speaker (regardless of gifting). That connection is worth something. This is especially significant to consider given the rise of VR and the soon-to-be normal VR worship experience (see http://churchonlineplatform.com/vr and https://live.life.church/?experimental=vr). If we take away all the friction of meeting together, a lot of us are going to be fine with that. The problem is, friction forms us. The friction of meeting in the flesh and having to look someone in the eye is what we were made for.

None of what I wrote above means I’m necessarily against the things mentioned, only that we should be thinking about the implications instead of passively accepting every technological advance.

What I’m most concerned about is the point I made about friction forming us. We call it spiritual formation for a reason—it requires forming our hearts, minds, and souls. Specifically, forming them into the image of Christ.

We were made for face-to-face, in the flesh interactions. These kinds of relationships leave us the most vulnerable, but it is precisely for this reason that they are so critical to spiritual formation. The greater the friction of meeting with other people, the greater the opportunity for sanctification (or being conformed into the image of Christ).

Our digital relationships and advances remove much of this friction. At the same time, tools like smartphones and social media can supplement and even complement in-person relationships, but they should never fully replace them. When we do so, we will remove some of the friction and vulnerability required to relate to others, but we also lose something of what it means to be human.

How to Find Hope in Suffering

You can’t think of anything to be thankful for. Your life feels like it’s not going anywhere. The walls seem to be crumbling around you. You wouldn’t say you’re depressed, but you’re pretty close. You feel numb to what’s going on around you.

To make things worse, you have this wracking sense of guilt because you think your faith requires you to be happy. You think your inability to handle suffering means you’re somehow inadequate.

I recently went through a season of anxiety and grief. There were days when I wanted nothing more than to stay in bed and hide from the responsibilities of life; days when I could hardly pay attention to my kids, listen to my wife, or complete the smallest of tasks. I felt like I was standing still, watching the world go on around you.

I got so tired of feeling this way that I searched the Bible for what God had to say about my state. Before long, he led me to (what was for me) an undiscovered gem in the middle of what seems like the most depressing book in all the Bible—Lamentations.

Finding hope in Lamentations

Most scholars think Lamentations was written by the prophet Jeremiah as the city of Jerusalem was being sacked by King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army. Lamentations captures the crushing moments when Jeremiah’s beloved city is being invaded, his people are being slaughtered and carried off into exile, and the temple was destroyed. The walls were, quite literally, crumbling around him.

In the midst of this scene, Jeremiah writes,

17 my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations 3:17-24 ESV

There are four truths in this passage that show us how to find hope in suffering.

1. Right knowledge of God leads to hope in God

Jeremiah starts out with some pretty dark language. He said, “my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is.” He has no peace in his life. At the deepest levels of who is in, in his soul, he has no peace—only anxiety and desperation. Which is why he has forgotten what happiness is. He simply can’t seem to find happiness with all the chaos going on around him.

He feels like he has lost hope in God’s promises. He has lost hope that God knows what he’s doing, that he’s just and righteous and good. He’s lost hope that God will one day turn his mourning into joy.

But verse 21 marks a turning point. Jeremiah turns from his disbelief in what’s happening around him, and instead reminds himself of what he knows about God: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” Despite what he said before, he’s choosing to think something different. That “something different” is calling to mind what he knows to be true about God. And when he does that, he recovers his hope.

Pay attention to the order: first, Jeremiah reminds himself of what he knows to be true about God, then he recovers his hope.

So often, we want an action plan to follow, something to help us feel like we’re making progress. But the first step to finding hope in times of suffering isn’t an external action—it’s an internal one. Jeremiah stops his mental spiraling and forces himself to remember what he knows to be true about God.

The key to hoping in God in the midst of suffering is calling to mind the right knowledge of the Lord. And by “right,” I mean knowledge of the Lord that he has revealed to us, which we find in the Bible. When we call to mind the things about God which are actually true, then we find ourselves able to cling to hope when everything is falling apart around us. Right knowledge of God leads to hope in God.

2. God’s faithfulness encourages ours

After setting his sights on the right knowledge of God, Jeremiah starts listing off aspects of God’s character: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Jeremiah is reminding himself that God’s love is fixed and unwavering, not fair weather or half-hearted. When you’re in a dark pit of anxiety or depression, the knowledge that God’s love is fixed on you, that it’s not dependent on what you do or who you are, will drive you to hope in his deliverance.

Then, Jeremiah says God’s mercies never come to an end; that in fact, they’re new every morning. It is by his mercy that you’re breathing. It is by his mercy that you have a house, a job, clothes, food, and friends or family. It is by his mercy that the world keeps spinning and the sun doesn’t burn us up. No matter how terrible today is, God’s mercies start anew with the rising of the sun each day.

Next, Jeremiah reminds himself that God’s faithfulness is great. When we think deeply on God’s faithfulness to keep his promises—to never stop loving us, to redeem us no matter what we’ve done—it has the power to drive us to our knees in thanksgiving.

One of the great hymns of all time, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” comes from this line. It’s chorus cries out,

“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

All that we need, God has provided. Not all we want, but all we need.

Knowing that God’s love is never ceasing, that his mercies never come to an end, and that his faithfulness is great drove Jeremiah to declare, “The Lord is my portion”—that he is enough. He is all Jeremiah needs, all he wants, and with God alone he will be satisfied.

Since God is all he needs and since God is faithful to him, Jeremiah says, “therefore I will hope in him.” God’s faithfulness encouraged Jeremiah’s faithfulness, and it encourages ours as well.

3. Hope is developed through waiting

If you’re going through a season of suffering or some kind of trial, the last thing you want to do is wait. You want deliverance now. You want the suffering to stop and things to get better.

That’s exactly how I felt until I read these words from Jeremiah:

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear
the yoke in his youth.

28 Let him sit alone in silence
when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust—
there may yet be hope;
30 let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,
and let him be filled with insults.

Lamentations 3:25-30 ESV

As soon as I read those words, I knew I had been going about my waiting wrong. I was complaining to my wife. I was moody all the time. I was hard to get along with.

That’s such a contrast to what Jeremiah says. First, he says that the Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the person who seeks him; that it is good for us to quietly endure the suffering we experience because it is through that endurance that God develops hope in us.

That doesn’t mean you can’t talk about your suffering with God (that’s what Jeremiah is doing here), and it doesn’t mean you don’t talk about it with your spouse or trusted friends or advisors. It means you don’t take the disposition of complaining and whining. It means you’re not woe-is-me about everything going on in your life.

But while we can’t control the emotions we feel, we can control our response to those emotions. We can choose to be miserable, or we can choose to find joy. We can choose to be frustrated with God and stop trusting that he knows what he’s doing, or we can choose look to God and trust his plans. We can choose to live in despair, or we can choose to live with hope.

4. Hope is grounded in eternity

Jeremiah chose to hope in God, and to do so quietly and patiently. Then he wrote these words:

31 For the Lord will not
cast off forever,
32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
33 for he does not afflict from his heart
or grieve the children of men.

Lamentations 3:31-33 ESV

Though we are grieved today, that grief will not last forever because he is a compassionate God, and great is his faithfulness. He has set his sights on loving you, and his love is abundant. God does not set his sights on harming you, but loving you.

You may be in a time of great distress, but God wants to forge in you a hope that can’t be taken by anything life can throw at you. He wants to develop on you a hope outside this world.

He will not leave us to suffer forever, though he may for a while longer. Jeremiah wasn’t delivered right away. In fact, it got worse for him. He was put into a pit, put into stocks, then he was taken against his will to a foreign country. Tradition has it that he was stoned to death by his fellow countrymen who were tired of hearing his pronouncements of judgment.

So was Jeremiah’s hope misplaced? Was he a fool to find hope in the midst of suffering that never let up?

No, because Jeremiah’s hope was grounded in eternity. He knew that this life is not all there is. He knew he would one day enjoy eternity with God, free from all the trials and suffering he faced while on earth. This is critical to understand if you’re going to find hope in your suffering.

Ultimately, our hope in Christ is grounded in knowing we’ll spend eternity with Christ. Our hope cannot be rooted in anything of this world. Everything in this world can and will be taken from us, so nothing in this world is capable of bringing us hope.

Whatever you’re suffering through right now is difficult. It may be hard. It may be stressful. It may be debilitating. But if your hope is simply in your situation changing, then you will never find peace.

Jeremiah found peace because he knew his hope was in something outside the control of everything in this world. No man, no empire, no disease, no sickness could take it from him. That’s why he said, “he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” And the fullest expression of that compassion is found in the sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The fact that Jesus lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, was resurrected from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of God is proof that God is overflowing with steadfast love and compassion. And he has poured it out on you and me.

May the right knowledge of God lead you to hope in God. May his faithfulness encourage yours. May hope be developed in your waiting. And may that hope be grounded in eternity.