Each month Elise and I send a prayer letter/update to a special group of people who have partnered with us financially in the ministry in the effort of seeing the gospel spread to every student on our campus. As I was writing this month's letter, I realized that there were portions of it that I really wanted to share here on the blog. Below are those portions - please know how much Elise and I love you and appreciate your tenderness, care, and prayers. There are many times we'd feel lost if it weren't for you and what God does through you...
...The first thing I wanted to share is that Elise and I are OK. I know that there have been some people who have been worried lately, especially by our blog posts. I want you to know that part of the plan for the blog is for us to be completely transparent with anyone who cares to read it – even in dark moments. This is really intentional on our part, because we want people to know that it's OK to be a Christian and for life to be awful – it's possible to lose all your faith in life while keeping all your faith in Jesus. Many of our days, thoughts, and emotions are dark, hopeless, and confusing (and as one person recently pointed out to me, Elise and I aren't suffering perfectly - no one ever has or will since Jesus). But what we want is for people to know that it is OK to not be OK - you can be a Christian and still be adrift in the darkness. It doesn't make you a bad Christian, doesn't mean God loves you any less, doesn't mean that you're a bad or weak person, or that you don't believe deeply enough, or that you need to have more faith. The truth of the matter is that some people are called to suffer in this life (which is one of the many dramatic lessons of Hebrews 11 - some people are called to glorify God with the life they live, while others are called to glorify Him with the death they die).
One of the simple truths of being a Christian is that God demands we be perfect, but He doesn't expect us to be perfect, because He knows we're not perfect, which is why He gave and gave up His perfect Son. The apostle Peter backslid into sin by capitulating to Jewish dietary law, and had to be called out on it in front of everyone by Paul (Galatians 2:11). John the Baptist, the greatest mere man to ever live (Jesus declared John "the greatest of those born of women" in Matthew 11:11) – anyway, that John the Baptist spent his last days rotting in prison, and finally had his head cut off and served to a dancing girl on a silver platter. And before he met his end, he sent a messenger to Jesus, his cousin, whose coming he'd spent years proclaiming, asking "Are you the Messiah, or do we wait for another?"
Have you ever thought about the implications of John's question? The simple truth of it is that John's life had degenerated into a horrible mess, that mess didn't fit his picture of what life was supposed to look like, and in a weak moment he doubted the divinity and power of Christ. Because after all, if cousin Jesus is in fact the conquering, reclaiming Messiah foretold by the entire Old Testament, then what the heck am I doing in a prison cell??
Now here's why I bring it up: Whatever measure Jesus was using for "greatness", he declared John the greatest of our species. And if the greatest mere man to ever live doubted Christ during a storm in life, and if God intentionally had that doubting recorded in His holy book, then I think it's safe to say that there's a place in Jesus' kingdom for those who are adrift in darkness and can't find the way out.
By the grace of God, neither Elise nor I have ever doubted Jesus for a second. But we have spent much time in the valley of despair – and that's OK. It's OK with God, and it needs to be OK with His children as well. Check out Psalm 23 – nowhere does it promise that God won't lead us into "the valley of the shadow of death" – it does, however, promise us that He will "be with us" in it. Elise and I want you to know He can and will use this season (or new reality) in our lives just like He did our old season when we were experiencing victory. I feel total freedom to share even our dark moments on the blog, simply because I feel totally free in the Gospel to be what I am. We're light-years from being perfect, we need God to be working on us constantly to make us holier and less sinful and more in love with Him – but it's OK to ask God to meet you where you're at. And in the meantime, He's using our defeat for His victory.
Here's an example of what I mean: One of the countless emails we've received in the wake of our blog posts was from a young woman in college who has suffered from clinical depression for years and has recently been thinking about killing herself. A friend referred her to one of the blog posts, and God used it to call her into an awareness of His love – she wrote us saying that what God said to her through that post has forever changed her life, she's no longer suicidal, and Christ is now her treasure. If that were the only good that came of the entirety of what God has planned for Elise and I to go through, we would do it in a heartbeat. It's an honor that Jesus would use our stupid little post in such a way, and it's an honor to be connected to that young woman's life...
... I'm running out of space to write, but I want to share one more story of victory that came about even in this season of defeat: The other day, Matt B. (one of my disciples) came to our apartment to visit. Matt is an original "Monday Thinger" - do you remember that? "The Monday Thing" was the group that Elise and I put together last year to explore matters of faith and spirituality with non-Christians. Anyway, last spring, The Monday Thing played a part in Matt coming to know Jesus, and on spring break last year he actually took the plunge and placed his faith in Christ. I love him so dearly, and it's been wonderful to watch his faith grow by leaps and bounds the past year. When he showed up here last week, he informed me that it was the one-year anniversary of his becoming a Christian.
In one year, Elise and I and you and all the rest of the team have gotten to watch Matt go from being in a very dark and very Christ-less place to being a man whose faith is incredibly deep and mature, and only becoming more so. And oh by the way, do you want to know why he was sitting in my living room during spring break, instead of down at Panama City Beach with the rest of the Cru movement? He didn't have the money to go to Florida, because he's currently raising support, because he applied and was accepted to Cru's East Asia Summer Project for this coming summer. One year after becoming a Christian, Matt's giving up spring break so he can spend six weeks sharing the gospel 24/7 in a country where Christianity is so repressed I can't even tell you which one it is. Can you believe that?
Matt is yet another story that could only be possible through Jesus.
Life can be (and is) torture, but it's also mercy. And awe. And love. And those are realities that are OK to experience at the same time.