A Story of Suffering

We Christians don’t talk enough about suffering. Suffering is a fact of life, even for Christians, and we need to be ready for it.
The cross gives us objective grounds for trusting in God’s sovereignty and love, regardless of our circumstances. And our experience of God’s faithfulness over time strengthens our confidence and trust. And since we can see God’s faithfulness in others’ experiences as well, when we’re thinking through how to intellectually deal with and experientially face suffering, it can be helpful to listen to Christians who have been there before us.

Consider the testimony of Trisha Dyvig.

2010 was a year of many tears for me. Tears of joy and tears of great sorrow.
It began in June when my husband and I found out we were pregnant. We have two beautiful boys that we adopted as babies, but this was my first pregnancy. To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement.
Then our world came crashing down on us in September. I went in for my 18-week ultrasound and was devastated when I was told that my water had leaked at some point, that no fluid was left around the baby, and delivery was imminent. My first thought was just total disbelief. And then pure agony. What was God doing?
For the next seven weeks, I defied all odds and didn’t deliver. Then, on October 27th, at exactly 25 weeks pregnant, I was admitted to the hospital for what we hoped would be a nine-week stay. But shortly after I was admitted, the monitors showed I was having contractions and I was rushed back for an emergency C-section. That afternoon we welcomed our precious baby girl, Eliza Grace, into the world. Weighing in at only 1½ pounds and 13 inches long, she was incredibly tiny but perfectly formed. God in His great mercy had allowed me to sustain my pregnancy to the point that I got to meet my daughter and see how He had fearfully and wonderfully made her.
The NICU staff fought hard for her, but after an hour of being worked on, we were told she was not going to live. They unhooked her tiny body from all the tubes and wires and placed my baby on my chest. And that is where she spent the next three hours, until she quietly passed from my arms into the arms of her Heavenly Father.
Eliza’s short life impacted me dramatically. I have been a Christian since I was young, but I’ve never really been challenged in my faith—until I was standing at the grave of my baby girl. At that moment, I had a choice to make. To turn to the One who gave and took away, or turn away from Him. And I chose to cling desperately to my Father. I got into the Word with a new fervency. It was no longer just words on a page, but truth and life.
As I sought to learn more about God through His Word, one thought kept popping up over and over—this isn’t how it is supposed to be. But I came to conclude that nothing in this world is. Too often as a Christian I get into the habit of thinking I deserve good days and easy paths. But that isn’t what God has promised me. As I read the Word, I saw numerous times how faithful Christians suffered and the ultimate suffering of Christ on the cross. Suffering and pain are part of this fallen world. But those of us who trust in Christ can have great hope that God is using our pain to draw us closer to Him. I’ve taken great comfort from 1 Peter 1:6–7, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” God is using this tough time in my life to bring me to Him and shape me into who He wants me to be. It hurts, but I trust that it is for my good and His glory.
My time in the Word has also been opening my eyes to how I can glorify God through my grief. And I can’t do it if I’m not trusting God with His plans for my life. He wants me to “trust in the Lord with all my heart, and lean not on my own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). To trust even though I don’t always understand why He has chosen certain paths for me to walk. To trust that “in ALL things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). I bring Him glory when I stop relying on myself and fully rely on the One who made me.
I’m sad that my story didn’t end with the “happily ever after” that I was hoping for. It’s hard to think about all the things that might have been if Eliza would have lived. But the good news about my story and Eliza’s story is that it isn’t done. Instead it is “to be continued.” For my time here on earth is just a dot on the timeline of eternity that I will have to spend with my daughter and my Lord.
So whatever your stress may be, whether it is something big like grief or just the little day-to-day things that weigh you down, bring it to the Lord. Seek Him through His Word. He wants you to trust His plan for you. And, to quote my sons’ Jesus Storybook Bible, to remember that God loves you with a never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.
Christianity is honest about suffering, and it’s solid enough to bear the weight of your suffering because Jesus is solid enough.

Why Suicide Rates May Rise as Christianity Wanes

by J. Warner Wallace

The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have renewed a national conversation about suicide and it’s causes. As a homicide detective, I saw an increase in our local suicide rate first-hand over a fifteen year period, and a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms nationally what I observed locally: suicide rates in the United States have risen nearly 30% since 1999.
While many researchers have studied the connection between mental illness and suicide, it’s important to note that more than half the people who commit suicide are not identified as mentally ill. So, what else might be contributing to the rise we are observing?
It may not be a coincidence that during this period of increasing suicide rates, the influence of Christianity has been declining in America. Fewer Americans claim to be Christians than ever before, and fewer yet know much about what Christianity teaches. As the impact of Christianity decreases in America, I believe our suicide rate may continue to increase. Why? Because the primary goal for most of us in a post-Christian nation is happiness rather than holiness; success rather than significance.
Temporal success and happiness are often illusive, and even when they are within our reach, they’re no guarantee against depression and suicide. The more temporary our goals, the more fleeting our sense of satisfaction and purpose. Conversely, when our sense of value, self-esteem and joy is grounded in something that transcends our immediate circumstances, we are far more likely to survive hardship and find lasting satisfaction.
When we seek holiness over happiness, we willingly embrace opportunities to refine and develop a Godly character, even when times get tough. We understand the relationship between suffering, endurance, character and hope (Romans 5:3-5), and we find contentment in our current situation, despite our weaknesses, the insults we endure, or the hardships we may experience (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
When we seek significance over success, we willingly surrender our personal desires for a greater cause and Godly purpose, even when we could be selfish. We recognize that our lives are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), we embrace the overarching purpose for which we were created (Romans 8:28), and we strive to bring joy to others, even when we could focus on ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
The Christian scriptures describe a God who is more concerned with our character than our comfort. Those who have embraced this truth are typically less likely to commit suicide. Studies continue to find that religious people in America are “more engaged with their extended families, more likely to volunteer, more involved in their communities and generally happier with the way things are going in their lives.”
Religious believers are also less likely to attempt suicide. One study found that “religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts and more first-degree relatives who committed suicide than subjects who endorsed a religious affiliation.” Another study discovered that women who attended “religious services once per week or more (were) associated with an approximately 5-fold lower rate of suicide compared with (those who) never attend(ed) religious services.” In addition, another survey found that “countries that are more religious tend to have lower suicide rates.”
There is an established relationship religious belief and suicide. As belief increases, suicide efforts decrease. Christianity (the dominant religious belief in America) provides a framework for pursuing significance and a strategy for navigating hardships. That’s why suicide rates are likely to increase if Christianity – and the very practical benefits it provides – continues to wane.
This article first appeared on TownHall.com

God Sends You Back to School

I taught biblical studies for six years at Bethel College before becoming pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in 1980. In virtually every class, students brought up the issue of the sovereignty of God. The question was unavoidable, no matter what the class was about.
If you’re embarking on a new year of study, I hope this question — this reality of God’s utter sovereignty — will follow you all the way through your studies in every class. It is an all-comprehending, all-influencing, Bible-pervading reality.
James 4:13–17 shows just how relevant the meaning of the sovereignty of God is for the life of students who are beginning an academic year of rigorous study.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
James has just confronted men and women who are spiritual adulteresses (James 4:1–10). They claim that God is the love of their lives, their husband, but they keep a prostitute on the side for what really satisfies them. This prostitute is called “the world” (James 4:4). James sees this as a form of pride and says in verse 6, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” and in verse 10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
“God is absolutely sovereign over all the causes of life and death, and over everything everyone does.”
Then in verses 11 and 12, he deals with another form of pride, namely, standing in judgment over your neighbor and over the very law of God, and he says in verse 12, “But who are you to judge your neighbor?” In other words, again it is arrogance that is behind this sin of self-exalting judgment.
Then after James 4:13–17, he excoriates the rich landowners (James 5:1–6) who hold back the wages of their workers (verse 4) and even murder the weak who offer them no resistance (verse 6). In other words, their wealth has gone to their heads and made them feel above the law like petty tyrants.
Now in James 4:13–17 we have another form of arrogance. Alongside the arrogance that extorts money from a naïve divine husband to pay for a prostitute, and arrogance that stands in judgment over the law of God, and arrogance that exploits the poor, there is now in 4:13–17 the arrogance that lives in the dreamworld of ordinary life that denies the sovereignty of God. You can see the point in James 4:16: “As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” Indeed, as verse 17 shows, since you know what’s true about your life as a mist, and God’s governance of the world, your God-ignoring presumption is sin.
So, what does this sin, this arrogance and boasting, look like? It looks pretty ordinary, pretty common, pretty innocent — pretty much like 98 percent of the people in the world. Verse 13: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit.’”
“Today or tomorrow” — We’ll decide on this one, or that one. When we go is our choice.
“Today or tomorrow we will go” — Or stay. Our choice. This or that, stay or go.
“Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town” — This town or that one. We’ll choose.
“And spend a year” — Or two. Or six months. Our choice. This duration, that duration. We’ll decide.
“We’ll spend a year there” — Or move around from town to town. Different business strategies. This kind or that kind. We’ll choose.
“We’ll spend a year there and trade” — Or take some time off. We’ll decide how much we work. This amount or that.
“We’ll spend a year there and trade and make a profit” — We know how to turn a profit. This much or that much. We’ll make it happen.
What’s the problem here? Verse 13 seems like a pretty ordinary way of talking. Doesn’t everybody talk like this? Here is James’s response, first in verse 14: “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” The first thing James does is focus on the fact that they are utterly ignorant about everything they just asserted. “You do not know what tomorrow will bring.”
You don’t know when you will leave for such and such a town.
And if you leave, you don’t know if you will get there.
And if you get there, you don’t know if you will spend a year or a minute.
And if you spend a year, you don’t know if you will trade, or be flat on your back paralyzed from a fall.
And if you do trade, you don’t know if you will make a profit or fail completely.
“You do not know what tomorrow will bring.”
And then James zeros in on one of the reasons they don’t know what tomorrow may bring. “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (verse 14). They are as tenuous and as temporary as the vapor that comes out of your mouth on a cold morning. They can’t control it. And they can’t make it stay. It’s not in their power, and before they can try to shape it or guide it, it’s gone.
So behind the words of verse 13 (“Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”), there is an operating belief that life is controllable and durable, and future action is predictable. James says: all three of those beliefs are false. Life is a vapor. Tomorrow is unknown. And you don’t have decisive control over anything.
Is James saying, then, that the world and all this human action is simply random, the product of blind materialistic processes — call it fate or chance? No. He’s not. Verse 15 takes us to the heart of what he believes and what is missing from the minds and mouths of these ordinary folks.
Verse 15: “Instead [that is, instead of what you said in verse 13] you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” “If the Lord wills, we will live.” So what is your life — this fragile, ephemeral vapor? It is as solid, and unshakable, and durable as God wills it to be. If he wills it, your heart keeps on beating. If he wills it, your heart stops. You do not live one second beyond the time God wills for you to live. And you do not die one second before God’s will for you to die.
Make sure you see this in verse 15: “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live.’” This profound, conscious awareness of our absolute dependence on the sovereign will of God was not part of the mindset of those who spoke in verse 13. And it is not part of the mindset of most of the people in the world. Is it part of your mindset? I hope so.
Then James reveals the absolute sovereignty of God not only over how long we live, but in everything we do. Verse 15: “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” If the Lord wills, we will do this, or that.
“Today or tomorrow” — God decides whether you leave today or tomorrow.
“Today or tomorrow we will go” — Or not. And God decides.
“Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town” — This one or that one. God decides.
“And spend a year” — Or two, or none. God decides.
“We’ll spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— Maybe there. Maybe somewhere else. Maybe trade. Maybe lie paralyzed from a fall. Maybe turn a profit. Maybe fail. At every turn. God will decide.
So we ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that,” because God is absolutely sovereign over all the causes of life and death, and over everything everyone does. Not to live with this conviction and this mindset, James says, is arrogant. Verse 16: “As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
As you go back to school this fall, I encourage you to press into this reality of God’s utter sovereignty with all your heart and all your mind. Believing that God decides ultimately whether you live, and whether you do this or that, is as practical as your plans for tomorrow, this semester, and the rest of your life.
And to help you embrace God’s sovereignty, I want to give you four glimpses of how relevant this is for your life as you begin an academic year of rigorous study.
As you launch into the new academic year, you will need the gospel every day. You will need continual reassurance that your sins are forgiven for Jesus’s sake, and that God is for you and not against you because of Christ. You are not destined for wrath, but for everlasting joy, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In other words, you will need deep and ever-renewed confidence that the crucifixion of Jesus under Pontius Pilate was not a random fluke, but the sovereign plan and work of Almighty God to save your soul. And that is exactly what Luke reports in Acts 4:27–28.
Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
In other words, God planned and predestined — he was in absolute sovereign control of — everything that Pilate and Herod and the Jews and the soldiers did to bring about the death of Jesus. Therefore, we ought to say, “Since the Lord willed, they lived and did this or that.” The death of my Jesus was not random. It was a sovereign plan to save your soul. You will need that this year. Your survival and your joy will depend on the gospel, which depends on the sovereignty of God.
You will be called on this year at some point to love someone — some family member, some classmate, some unbeliever — and the love will be costly. It will require sacrifice. Time. Inconvenience. Effort. Money. Risk of reputation, or your very life. And it may be for someone you don’t even like, and who has treated you badly.
Over and over in the New Testament, especially in 1 Peter, we are told to do good to people who have not been good to us — to love people even if it requires suffering. How are we to do this? Peter’s answer — and he says it twice — is that we must remember God’s sovereignty over our suffering as we do good. Whatever suffering love may require, we accept as the sovereign will of our faithful Creator.
Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:19)
It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:17)
Suffering will come, especially for those committed to doing good — to loving their enemies. But take heart because God is sovereign over your suffering. No suffering befalls you apart from the will of God. He is your Father (1 Peter 1:17) and your Maker (1 Peter 4:19). He is faithful. This school year, entrust your soul to a sovereign, faithful Creator in doing good.
As you enter this year of studies, things are going to happen that make you afraid. Some of those fears may be small, like looking foolish in class. Others may be huge — a malignant tumor, a city blown to pieces with racial hatred, being kidnapped by terrorists.
In all of this, Jesus calls you not to shrink back into security, but to step forward in fearless witness. How does he support and motivate that?
“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. . . . Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. . . . Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28–29, 31)
The absolute sovereignty of God apart from which no bird falls dead to the forest floor is the foundation of your fearlessness. You are precious to him, and he is sovereign over you. Whatever happens in the world, whatever happens in your family, fear not.
One of the implications of being a student is that you are planning something. Your plan may not be clear, but you did not come to study so that you could waste the rest of your life. You have come because you believe that these studies will make you more fruitful. And as your plan for a life of fruitfulness takes shape, which would you rather say, “If I’m lucky, I will live and do this or that. By chance, I may live and do this or that. As fate may have it, I will live and do this or that”? Or would you rather say, “If the Lord wills, I will live and do this or that” (James 4:15)?
Luck and chance and fate are nothing. They are not a foundation for any plans. They can do nothing because they are nothing. They are simply words that describe emptiness and meaninglessness. But when you make a plan and say, “I plan to do this, not that, if the Lord wills,” you build your life on an unshakable foundation: the sovereign will of God.
The wise man says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21). It is right to plan. Little of enduring value is accomplished without a plan. But the Christian plan, the humble plan, always includes, “If the Lord wills.” That’s part of the plan.
If you rest in the wise and good sovereignty of God in all your plans, you will be a confident person and a peaceful person. You will know that whatever details of your plans don’t happen, God’s will happens. And that was part of your plan. In fact, that was the most important part of any of your plans.
As you continue in your studies, may God make you joyful in his gospel, sacrificial in your love, fearless in your witness, and confident and peaceful in your planning, because you love his sovereignty, and say, “If the Lord wills, I will live and do this or that.”

While You are Waiting on God

“For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!” Isaiah 64:4 (Application Study Bible). “Blessed are all who wait for him!” Isaiah 30:18
Jesus loved Martha and Mary and their brother, Lazarus. They were His dearest friends. When Lazarus became gravely ill, his sisters sent an urgent message to Jesus: “Lord, the one you love is sick” (John 11:3). They were certain that Jesus would come quickly.
But Jesus didn’t rush to their side. Even though He knew the gravity of the situation, He stayed where He was two more days (John 11:5,6). Meanwhile, Lazarus’ condition worsened. Overcome with worry, the sisters fretted, “What’s keeping Him? We told Him it was urgent.”
Their brother Lazarus died.
Imagine the pain! Coupled with the grief of losing a dear brother was the feeling of betrayal. In their deepest need, Jesus had not come. When Jesus finally came, the sisters both said, “It’s too late.”
Can you relate? Despite your earnest prayers, you’ve waited weeks, months and even years for things to change. God seems very far away. You cry out with the psalmist,
“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:1,2)
“Some prayers are followed by silence because they are wrong, others because they are bigger than we understand,”
writes Oswald Chambers. God is silent because He wants to give us a bigger revelation of Himself than we’ve ever had before.
That’s what Jesus’ delay was all about. Instead of healing Lazarus, Jesus raised him from the dead. Jesus revealed to them that He Himself is the resurrection and the life.
Are there times in your life when you feel like giving up on prayer? Nothing seems to be happening. It’s as though God isn’t listening or caring. But God’s delays are not denials. He is listening and He does care. He wants to show Himself to you in a new way.
I pray that you will be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience and joyfully give thanks to the Father—even before the answer comes.
”Father, I thank you that you are working even though I can’t see it at this time. I want to trust you with this. I give it to you now.”
By Helen Lescheid

Telling Secrets in Silence

From Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets:
“What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought. I suspect that there is nothing more crucial to true spiritual comfort, as the huge monk in cloth of gold put it, than being able from time to time to stop that chatter, including the chatter of spoken prayer. If we choose to seek the silence of the holy place, or to open ourselves to its seeking, I think there is no surer way than by keeping silent. God knows I am no good at it, but I keep trying, and once or twice I have been lucky, graced.”

On April 2, 2013, my world went silent. I got the call at 6:30 that morning from an official at the American Institute in Taiwan, telling me that my oldest daughter, Anna, age 19, had been killed in a freak scooter accident. The silence enveloped me. While life as I had known it continued on around me, I felt cut off from it, as if I was receiving information from a long way off. My prayers, which I had uttered for the 20-plus years since I had been a Christian, in thanksgiving, praise, and supplication—most recently asking for protection for my daughter—stopped. I could not pray into the void that had taken my daughter.
When I told friends I could not pray, one of them volunteered to come each week and pray with me—for me—and that she would do so for as long as I needed her to. She came faithfully every week for a year and a half. She was my voice in the silence. She and other friends who continued to stand with us were, I knew, God’s presence with us.
After that first year, I wish I could say that life got easier, but instead things were difficult in a different way. The veil between Anna and our life was no longer as thin, and it seemed to me that God went silent. The signs of Anna’s presence became fewer. I explained to my surviving daughters that we needed to stay here but that Anna needed to move on. I turned to the story of Jacob wrestling all night, silently, with God. I wrestled with anger, with despair, and at times with hope—because at least I felt I was in touch with this silent God, hanging on until God might bless me.
I began to pray again in fits and starts; I started reading passages that resonated. “O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me” (Ps. 43). Four years after Anna’s death, I sensed that I could stop wrestling with God, hearing for a moment out of the silence, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).
I find now that I am not wrestling with God. I often feel as though I am wandering in a wilderness. The silence still surrounds me as I try to make my way. I find that I need a conscious reminder of God’s presence. Unfortunately, we have not been able to go back to church, and this has been another loss. I cannot find the stillness that I crave in the Sunday morning service instead. I often seek out silent places where I can pray and listen: “Be still, and know that I am God!” (Ps. 46).
Ellen Nugent Harris
Bellingham, Washington

Before You Cast a Stone

Before judging individuals for their sin, we should try to understand the forces of evil influencing them.

The spiritual forces of evil are a reality in our world. Many atrocities attest to this truth, from slavery and genocide to mass incarceration and the separation of families. As part of our journey of faith, many of us seek an answer to a very old theological question: Where does evil come from? Some theologians have concluded that evil was created by humans’ free will: through the first humans’ willful disobedience of God’s sole commandment, sin entered into the world. Consequently, sin has power over the individual as long as the individual, through the gift of free will, chooses to do evil over good.
This is why, in most Christian traditions, when people commit sin they are treated as autonomous individuals fully conscious and responsible for their own thoughts, motivations, and actions—people who have willfully decided to disobey God. It is left to individuals to try to exert their free will and resist the devil’s temptations. Often the individual is accused of having weak faith, of not being strong enough to resist the power of sin.
However, as New Testament scholar Susan Grove Eastman points out in Paul and the Person, “the self is never on its own but always socially and cosmically constructed in relationship to external realities that operate internally as well.” Con­sequently, sin is not “a decision made by self-determining individuals, but rather a socially mediated power greater than human beings yet operative through human thoughts, words, and deeds.”
Therefore, as this week’s reading from Ephesians says, “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” So before judging individuals for their sinful behavior, we should try to understand the “spiritual forces of evil” that might be influencing them. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve do not make the decision to eat the prohibited fruit by themselves—the serpent influences Eve, and Eve then influences Adam. Evil exists even before they eat the fruit—and human beings are vulnerable to the influence of others.
Rodolfo is a young man from Tenancingo, a small town in Mexico known as a breeding ground for sex traffickers. In the documentary Pimp City, he gives an interview from prison, where he is serving a sentence for sex trafficking. Rodolfo became a pimp when he was 15 years old. The interviewer asks him, “When is the first time you heard that a man can make money by selling the body of a woman?”
“It is a family business,” Rodolfo answers. “Since the boys are ten or 11 years old, they say that they want to be like their fathers, pimps. . . . So, practically, you will end up doing what you know in Tenancingo. That’s what you would do, only what you know.”
According to the film, in Tenancingo the whole family is involved in the sex-trafficking business: grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, everyone. In this town, it is very common to see men prostitute their wives, daughters, sisters, nieces, and any other woman they can seduce and control. Kids see from a very young age that women are merchandise men can buy and sell as they will. As Rodolfo says, they do what they know.
People learn sinful behaviors from somebody or something. Once someone has been affected by this evil force, they can pass it on to other people, consciously or unconsciously. In Rodolfo’s case, his will was influenced by the evil he witnessed and experienced in his own home and town. How can we say that Rodolfo, by his free will, chose to be a pimp if his actions were influenced by the actions of his father, family members, and friends? Under such an influence, nobody’s will is actually free.
The good news for Christians is that the One who has given his flesh and blood for our salvation, the bread that came down from heaven (John 6:56), has an even more powerful influence over us. We have been influenced by sinful behavior, which has been passed from generation to generation. However, we have also been influenced by the love and obedience of the Son of God. And just as we participate in Adam and Eve’s sin, through the gift of grace we can also participate in God, in Christ.
But there are many people who, like Rodolfo, have experienced and witnessed only evil and suffering. So those who are in Christ, those who have eaten Jesus’ flesh and drunk his blood, have the responsibility to share this heavenly bread with them, so that they too can “abide in Christ, and Christ in them,” finding refuge from the forces of evil that seek to separate us from the source of love and goodness. Just as sin has propagated among humanity through human beings, so the abundance of grace has propagated among humanity through Christ—and through those who are willing to share it with others.

Every Good Parent Will Have Regrets

What would I tell my younger self about parenting?
Being invited to write on that question is akin to being offered free dental work. The gesture, though appreciated, involves drilling and often some pain. But even as I heard the drill cranking up, several themes came to my mind which seem helpful to share.
1. Parenting will not mainly expose your strengths, but reveal your weaknesses.

Many parents see childrearing as a platform to display their faithfulness and wisdom, even God’s validation of their parenting choices. That’s certainly what I imagined signing up for. I figured parenting, as a brand, was taking a serious hit and could use some fresh blood — some innovative determination from the next generation. In my mind, parenting was a golden opportunity to portray my strengths.
Or so I thought.
Wow, was I deluded. Parenting exposed every spiritual weakness within my soul, my marriage, and my family; it even created some new ones. Parenting acquainted me with desperation, teased me with fear, and awakened me to countless dark nights of the soul.
I didn’t realize that a child’s “seeming” lack of progress was the place where parents truly encounter God. We pray, “God, fix them!” Then God whispers back, “Yes, Dave, they’re on my list. But first let’s talk about you.” Parenting didn’t exhibit my strengths; it exposed my limitations. It revealed the dozens of places where I trusted in myself and my leadership rather than in God. Ultimately, it laid me low and revealed my self-trust. But that weakness drove me to Jesus where, in my desperation, I was able to see he had plans for my kids and power for me (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Parents, consider this: Weakness is so important to God that he’ll take the highest earthly experience — the things that elate us (2 Corinthians 12:7) like marriage and parenting — and use them to impose the kind of weakness that delivers his power.
As your kids grow, their preferences morph, their styles change, and their predilections reverse. Part of growing up is deciding what you don’t like or believe so you can run towards what you do. It’s natural and good, but sometimes it was disorienting for me as a dad.
When one of my kids developed a conviction, it seemed like a referendum on my parenting. It wasn’t always easy to find my ground — to know where to stand. The uncertainty resulted in unexpected pressure within me, and this pressure inevitably ricocheted back on my kids.
My problem was not my kids; it was my faith. Unbelief centers faith in the wrong places — it moves us from God’s grace to our activity. We x-ray our kids, looking for the smallest signs of positive changes. We fret over every questionable choice rather than prayerfully trust God’s promises. This makes us circumstance-centered rather than God-centered. When we find ourselves stuck here, Abraham’s example can help us.
While waiting for Isaac to be born, Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20–21). For years this passage utterly captivated me. Abraham believed God long before his circumstances changed. His cultivated habit was to give glory to God even when the parenting situation was barren.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “It is a heroic faith that believes Christ in the face of a thousand contradictions.” I’ve wondered whether he was thinking about raising kids. Faith is essential when our kids’ growth is slow or perhaps indiscernible. Faith keeps planting when the soul’s orchard looks completely barren.
Abraham’s response was to grow strong in faith because “he gave glory to God.” Abraham’s faith was not sparked by circumstances. He believed God’s promises. For twenty-five years, Abraham’s circumstances didn’t change, but tucked somewhere in that trial, his faith did.
3. Enjoying your kids shapes their perception of your parenting as much as anything you say.

This wasn’t clear to me early on. I assumed we had most of the major responsibility areas covered, but we weren’t always enjoying the journey. I’ll never forget the feeling in the pit of my stomach when one of my boys once registered surprise when I said I really loved hanging out with him. My enjoyment didn’t always square with his experience. Not a good moment for Dad.
Ever since, when I’ve had a chance to encourage a younger pastor about loving his children well, I will often tell him to design his time, his life, and his vacations so that his kids would grow up thinking, Dad always enjoyed me. Delight in your kids just the way the Father did when he said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
4. Some Christians can painfully over-scrutinize parents’ and children’s choices.

In John 9, Jesus passed by a man who was blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1–2). Jesus’s followers interpreted the blind son’s suffering with the same diagnostic grid we often use for unbelieving, wayward, or rebellious children within the church. We think these kids reveal parental weakness.
At its worst, this becomes a form of gospel-determinism — a God-absent belief that the behavior and spiritual future of the kids is based exclusively upon the parent’s faithful leadership. If a teen is struggling, parents are just reaping what has been sown.
The flip side of that coin is equally dangerous. It assumes that if our kids are doing well, it’s because of our impressive parenting. Thank God for Christ’s response to the disciples’ question about who was to blame: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).
Christians can be uniquely vulnerable to this way of thinking. I wish I’d known that as a young parent. It would have helped me to set more reasonable expectations for the church, and also to serve parents who are burdened by guilt with more compassion, intercession, and long-suffering. Knowing this need would have helped me understand that a gospel culture is less concerned with code-breaking or undiscovered sin, but rather stands in faith, anticipating Christ’s internal work behind the external, more observable, conditions.
Once, a man told me about a parenting event titled “No Regrets.” I assumed it was an event organized by parents of newborns. The parent with no regrets, after all, probably needs to think a little deeper. If you have no regrets in parenting, just ask your kids.
But the gospel goes there — to that flaw-drenched and condemning place. Jesus chooses as his vessels those who are hounded by regrets and through them displays his glory. Peter denied Christ three times and fled from Christ in the Savior’s moment of greatest need. It’s difficult to imagine, even post-forgiveness and calling (John 21:15–19), that Peter didn’t walk the road of regret as a disciple and as a friend. If we’re going to make sense of the gospel, we must see ourselves in Peter’s failure. Parents who don’t make any mistakes don’t need the good news. As Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
We must own our regrets. But it’s also necessary to see that Christ offers us something far better than merely escaping regret. In the cross, God reminds us that our stumbles are never big enough to interrupt his plan for our lives. For Peter, and for all of us, there’s hope beyond regret. Because our glorious Substitute died and rose again, “No regrets” is scribbled over with “No record.”
Do you see how this might change the way we think about our families? We can live and lead with hope today — not because we will always get it all right, but because we follow a Savior who did. From that cradle of security, we can admit our failure, regrets, and weakness. And from that humble posture, we can lift our eyes to the reality, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).

10 Things the Woman Married to Your Pastor Wants You to Know

Lucas and Mia were a natural fit for the small but growing church in Tribeca. Everyone knew them for their vibrant personalities. Lucas demonstrated leadership finesse. Mia had an exceptional ability to winsomely engage cynics and intellectuals. The couple nurtured a growing network among New York City’s business elite.
Within 24 months of their arrival the church was thriving. But Lucas and Mia were not. Eight months later Lucas announced they were leaving. They vacated their apartment in five days.
Why do couples like this leave the ministry? Of the many rumors that swirl around a pastor’s resignation, we don’t often consider the hardship that ministry places on the pastor’s wife and on their marriage. We easily acknowledge that the happiness of both marriage partners affects marital health. Yet we’ve been slow to correlate how the well-being of a pastor’s spouse affects the long-term vitality of the church.
Women married to pastors face unique challenges. Keeping the following in mind (along with a commitment to regularly pray for her and her marriage) could affect your church more than you realize.
1. She’s Her Own Person
She’s not an appendage of the pastor. She may even have differing political, social, and biblical views than her spouse. But she’s in a position where sharing those views could negatively affect her husband’s job.
Allow her to be who she is. You might be surprised and delighted to discover how different she may be from what you assumed.
2. She Has a Calling
It might not be what you expect, and she may still be figuring it out. Many women consider their husband’s call to a specific pastoral position as a joint calling for both of them. Others do not. And some women married to pastors are hoping someone, anyone, will tell them what their ministry should be, in hopes of not disappointing others.
Confused? So are we. After years of serving in pastoral ministry, some women confess a sense of loss, of not even knowing themselves. They were too busy serving where needed. On the other hand, others may be minimally involved in church ministry with a calling focused outside the church.
3. She May Struggle Financially
In one of our local Parakaleo groups, we were discussing financial hardships and laughing over the ingenious ways we’ve stretched a dollar. I asked how many had ever been on food stamps because of ministry salaries. Half the women raised their hands. I was reminded of how delicate the financial situation is for many women in ministry.
4. She Shares Her Husband with the Whole Church
Depending on the size of the church and whether there are other competent staff members, pastors can be on call 24/7. Family dinners, holidays, and vacations are often interrupted by crisis situations. While some of this disruption can result from unhealthy boundaries in the pastoral home, ministry constantly involves crises.
When you meet a pastor’s wife who seems unusually wise, is her own person, and can speak truth in kindness, you are in the presence of a woman who has come through fire.

Especially in high-risk areas, the pastor is often the first person called during suicide attempts, when someone is jailed, when a church member is in an abusive relationship, when a marriage is breaking up, and so forth. Even celebratory events such as weddings, sporting events, and baptisms still take time away from the pastor’s family. Pastoral couples are honored to be involved in their congregants’ lives in this way. Just be aware that their time is limited for good reason.
5. She Is Harmed by Gossip
Gossip is idle talk or rumors, especially about the personal or private affairs of others. Gossip doesn’t have to be malicious. A simple rule of thumb is to not tell other people’s stories. Let them be the purveyor of their own information. If you hear information from someone about another person, consider a kind way to stop the gossip chain: “You know, I bet Marjorie would want to tell that story herself.”
If it’s malicious gossip, take a hard stand: “Regardless of how bad this situation has become, I don’t want to participate in gossip. Will you go with me back to the person speaking about this and help me stop it?” While I can laugh about it now, at times I discovered through gossip at church things about myself that even I didn’t know.
6. She’s Living with Unrealistic Expectations from Others (and Herself)
Well, who isn’t? Whether it’s our moms, kids, boss, or difficult neighbors, we all experience the pressure of expectations. But consider if you were also living with the expectation of being at church every time the doors opened. What about being told how you should dress? How your children should act? What is appropriate to say or not to say? How you should spend your money? How many people you should invite to your home for dinner? You would be surprised how often women married to pastors are criticized for these things.
Many women married to pastors also work full-time, participate in several church ministries, meet with couples for premarital or pastoral counseling, and attend community functions. It’s already a full life. Your pastor’s wife often needs to be reminded that the only audience that finally matters is the audience of one—her heavenly Father.
7. She Probably Finds Friendships in the Church Tricky to Navigate
It’s virtually impossible for her to know if her church friendships exist because someone is drawn to her or because of her husband’s role. Many women discover, when their husband leaves a pastoral position, that people they thought were friends really weren’t. They assumed the Christmas cards, social invites, long conversations over coffee, or trips to the beach were due to friendships. It’s devastating to discover that, without his role, the friendship was never really there.
The same happens in the reverse. Congregants may think they were closer friends with the pastoral couple and discover a similar scenario when the pastor and family leave. It’s painful for all involved. Rich friendships can still be enjoyed, but it requires maturity and an understanding that some topics are off limits.
8. She’s Harmed by Criticism of Her Husband
Pastors have been told they don’t work hard enough, disciple enough, preach well enough, visit congregants enough, and so on. Everyone has his or her own job description of what a pastor should do. Almost no one realizes the impossibility of meeting these expectations. How many hours should a pastor work? Fifty? Eighty? There’s plenty to be done and usually no one stopping him except his wife. When he’s criticized for not doing enough, she can feel guilty for trying to help him maintain healthy boundaries.
Pastors often share with their wives a disgruntled leader’s comments or what was said in a contentious meeting. But she isn’t part of the conversation when a situation is solved, often doesn’t even know if it’s resolved, and is left without a safe space to process the situation.
And unlike spouses in many other professions, these are the same people with whom she worships. When you meet a pastor’s wife who seems unusually wise, is her own person, and can speak truth in kindness, you are in the presence of a woman who has come through fire. Learn all you can from her, even if it’s just through observation.
9. She Lives with Stress and Ambiguity
Ambiguity is endemic to ministry. For the pastoral family, the system is not clear. All members of the family participate either directly or indirectly in the church. There is some role expectation from the congregation, which must be fulfilled by the pastor, the wife, and even the children. This level of ambiguity causes high levels of stress for pastors’ wives. Consider showing her the same compassion you would extend to someone who has recently received hard news. Why? Because this has likely been her experience on any given day.
Unlike others experiencing sorrow, however, she probably is unable to share the event and its effect, or process it with others in the church. Hearing that a trusted staff member plans on resigning, that a key church leader is having an affair, that the church can’t pay its bills, that her husband’s job is in jeopardy, that her closest friend decided to no longer attend church, are the kinds of revelations women in ministry face on a regular basis.
Not all women married to pastors experience all of the above. Many enjoy a wonderful, caring church community. And most of the pastors’ wives I know enjoy working in tandem with their husbands to see God’s kingdom advance in their city.
Regardless of the differences, the item all women married to pastors has in common is number 10.
10. Her Righteousness Comes from Christ
She, like you and me, doesn’t get her righteousness from measuring up to the standards of others, from her church attendance, from knowing Scripture, or from how much money she does or doesn’t spend on her wardrobe. If she has trusted Christ for her salvation, in God’s courtroom the verdict has been given. Her flaws, mistakes, shame, and sin were placed on Jesus Christ. He took on himself what she deserved. And what’s more, God gave her Christ’s righteousness. Pastors’ wives have been given the verdict of righteous, beloved daughters.

‘Each Day Is Truly a Blessing,’ Says Mom of Baby Who Had Successful Heart-Lung Transplant

A Kansas City mom and dad who saw their 5-month-old son survive a rare lung-and-heart transplant say they hope their story encourages other families.
“Don’t give up,” the mom, Tiffany Palmer, told The Today Show.
The story began even before the baby – named “Jack” — was born. At 20 weeks of Tiffany’s pregnancy, an ultrasound revealed devastating news: Their unborn baby had a major heart defect that would kill him if nothing was done.
“We were just devastated, crushed, hopeless,” Tiffany told Today. “Instead of planning to bring home a new baby like we were hoping, we were feeling [as if] we had to plan a funeral.”
Desperate, Tiffany and her husband, Chuck, began searching for hospitals that might be able to help. Doctors at St. Louis Children’s Hospital provided hope. He was born on Jan. 16, sick and needing life support just to stay alive.
Almost immediately, they had to make a decision: Wait for a transplant – which could require a long wait – or withdraw life support, Today reported.
“His brain was perfect. His other organs were perfect. There was nothing else wrong with him but his heart and lungs,” Tiffany said. “We felt like withdrawing care would be inhumane.”
She added, “We knew it would be a very long tedious road and that Jack may not even survive to transplant.”
Pirooz Eghtesady, the hospital’s chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery, explained why Jack needed a double transplant.
“That blood can’t get out of the left side [of the heart] and it backs up to the lungs and causes damage,” Eghtesady told Today. “When the babies are born they are very sick.”
It had been more than a decade since a patient as young as Jack had undergone a heart and lung transplant. But a match was found, and the surgery was successful.
It didn’t take long for Tiffany to see a difference in Jack.

“The first thing I noticed was how pink he was,” she said. “His movements were better, he was growing and he was smiling all the time.”
Tiffany previously told The Kansas City Star how “each day is truly a blessing.”
The family went home Aug. 1. On Facebook, she said the fight for Jack’s health isn’t over.
“Transplant gave Jack life but it did not cure him,” she wrote. “We traded in one list of problems for another but at least these problems we can manage outside of an ICU and at home.”

Michael Foust

Talking to Your Children About Transgender Issues

Bruce Jenner’s athletic world-record and 1976 Olympic gold medal in the decathlon competition propelled him to become one of the most famous athletes in the world. He was a hero and role model for many. He later became well known to younger generations after his marriage to Kris Kardashian and appearances on the reality television show, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”
With his tremendous athletic background, there was huge surprise when, in 2015, Jenner started appearing in public with long hair and nail polish. Tabloids reported he was undergoing plastic surgery. Finally, in a television interview with Diane Sawyer, Jenner announced his decision to “transition into a woman.” A cover photo published a few months later on Vanity Fair magazine was even more shocking, and a reality television show on his life aired on E!
In 2016, Jenner appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “Caitlyn,” wearing a sparkly jumpsuit and the Olympic gold medal won more than 40 years ago. But these days it’s not just Jenner pushing transgender ideology. The transgender agenda has become a huge concern, from the fracas over safety and privacy in North Carolina to the gender confusion taught or endorsed in some schools. Sadly, given the prominence of transgenderism in our culture, children are bound to be exposed to this complicated sexual issue at far too early an age.

Responding to Children
When confusing events like this are broadcast throughout the culture, Focus on the Family is asked a lot of questions. And we know parents get asked questions, too:
Daddy, why does that man want to be a lady?
Mom, what does “transgender” mean?
Can a boy turn into a girl?
Mommy, I’m a girl; but will I ever change into a boy?
Transgenderism includes a wide variety of identities and behaviors and may also be called “gender dysphoria,” “gender confusion” or “gender identity disorder.” It’s tough enough for adults to understand this subject. So when our children encounter this confusing issue, what do we say? Most importantly, how do we help them develop a biblical, Christian perspective on this issue?
We want to help you navigate this topic, so here are some useful guidelines and suggestions for addressing transgender issues with your children:

Keep It Simple
Relax. As a parent, you are the authority in your child’s life; but you don’t have to be an expert on every issue – including this one. And even the “experts” really don’t understand all the complexities of this issue. A few years ago, a gay identified psychiatrist was asked about gender confusion and responded, “The truth is we actually don’t know what it is. Is it a mental disorder or does the cause of gender dysphoria lie somewhere else?”1
So don’t think you have to understand everything about transgenderism or tell your children everything you know. Here are a few simple truths to communicate:
God made humans male and female.
Individuals are born either male or female.
Some people get hurt and confused, and they don’t like the way God made them.
As a result, some people wish they were the opposite sex.
Nobody can really change from one sex to the other.

Keep It a Dialogue
When children ask questions, use the occasion to connect with them. Find out what they are learning, where they learned it and what they are thinking. Ask questions, such as:
Where did you see that?
Where did you hear that word?
Why do you think God made both boys and girls?
What do you think “transgender” means?
Do you think a boy can really turn into a girl?
This isn’t an inquisition, but an opportunity to get to know your child better. So keep your tone conversational and friendly.
Older children and teens may have more questions, so we have a list of helpful resources at the end of this article. You might want to read some of these additional resources first, then read and discuss them with an older child.

Keep It Truthful
If you don’t know the answer to a child’s question, say so. Then tell your child you’ll look for an answer. Let’s say your son asks, “Why does he want to be a lady?” The real answer, if we’re honest, is “I don’t know.” None of us know all of the pain and false beliefs in the lives and hearts of persons who struggle with transgender issues.
Nevertheless, Scripture is clear about certain things, and those truths are what you can communicate to your children:
God made us in His image – male and female.
(Genesis 1:27, 5:2; Matthew 19:4; Mark 10:6. ESV)
Sin entered the world and spoiled everything, including how we see ourselves.
(Matthew 15:19; Romans 3:23, 5:12-13. ESV)
Some people get really hurt and confused as they grow up.
(Romans 1:19-31; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. ESV)
God loves us and sent us Son to save us.
(John 1:1-14, 29; 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 John 2:2. ESV)
God can bring healing and truth to those who are hurt.
(2 Chronicles 7:14; Romans 6:6; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 Peter 2:24. ESV)

God wants us to live in truth about how He created us and who we are. We know God is powerful to save and transform lives – including the gender-confused. Tell your children this truth.

Keep It Kind
God has a deep love for sexually and relationally broken men and women – including those struggling with gender identity issues. These struggles are complicated and touch on deep aspects of our sexuality and being. The topic can provoke some to laughter or mockery, so work to maintain God’s heart for the gender-confused. He loves them with an everlasting love – just as He loves each of us.
Your children will be watching you for cues about how to respond to gender confusion in individuals and in the culture. Pray for God’s heart and for the ability to convey this to your children. Tone and attitude are as important as your words:
God loves all of us.
God loves men who wish they were women, as well as women who think they are men.
We may disagree with someone’s beliefs and choices; however, we can still be kind and loving.
We can pray for those who are gender-confused.

Keep It Affirming
When children see a transgender person on the news or on the street, they may feel curious, alarmed, confused or afraid. So, when they ask questions about it, they’re not just asking for details about transgenderism. They’re also asking for comfort and affirmation. As a parent, you can respond positively:
I’m so glad God made you a girl!
I’m happy you’re my child and that you’re a boy.
What’s good about being a girl?
What’s good about being a boy?
Ask the Lord for wisdom and creativity for how best to affirm your sons in their masculinity and your daughters in their femininity.

Focus on the Family