The Best Part of Pain

When I heard our 13 year old daughter, Grace, read the rough draft of this yesterday, I realized how much she’s grown during our family’s 8 months in Africa:


The Best Part of Pain

So, I know what you’re thinking about the title, but please hear me out.

You may think the best part about pain is when it’s over, right? I used to think that too, but I’ve come to learn the best part of pain is when you’re right in the middle of it, because that’s when all your faces are gone and the real, true you is there. It’s one of the most frightening things ever, but it’s truly the best and most beautiful part, because it’s when you’re in so much pain you start to wonder if it’s really worth it. And when you see who you truly are–how strong, how mean and cruel, how insecure–you finally get to the point where you can no longer do it by yourself, and yet you’re all alone in your room because you’ve hurt everyone you love and don’t know why you don’t stop. It’s only then you get down on your knees and ask for help and strength to get through this.

After you do that you just cry until you fall asleep, and hope in the morning it will be like a movie, right? When all of a sudden everything goes perfect because the main character (you) found God or peace, and everyone loves them again. But I’m going to tell you something.  Ready for this–your life is not a movie. Every time something goes wrong it will not be “all better” by the end of the episode. You will NOT know your true love when you see them for the first time. In this world, everything is NOT ever going to be all ok, or anything else TV or movies tell you. So, because of that, when you wake up everything will NOT be perfect again. Everyone will NOT have forgiven you without you ever asking.  Your soul mate will NOT give you breakfast in bed. You’ll wake up and want to feel different with your pain all gone, but instead you’ll find the only thing different about today is you know you are not—and NEVER will be again–all alone. You survived the night. As soon as you realize that, a smile creeps on to your face. You prepare to face the world. You don’t want to, but you know you have to. So, you get ready, say a little prayer and start the day.

That’s the best part of pain–when you move from all alone and too much pain for one person to someone who is still in a lot of pain, but knows they are not alone. You’ll get through this and this pain will go away one day and you will move forward.


Surviving–and Thriving– in an African Village

  • Moving to Liberia, West Africa with my family for nine months in early September was easily the biggest leap of faith of my life–until this past week when I spent five days and four nights in the Liberian village of Gbenequellah(ben-uh-kway-luh). Sure, I’d visited one or more villages in three of my four previous visits to Liberia, but I’d never before spent the night in one, much less four nights.

Well, more than just survive the experience, I found it to serve as a greenhouse for my spiritual life.

For starters, I was consciously aware of my faith being expanded on the five hour drive to the village, especially during one particular stretch on the horribly bumpy, dirt mining road between Gbarnga and Gbenequellah. As we approached what looked to me like the “Valley of the Mud,” Jerome, our driver, knew he needed to pull over as 2-3 vehicles were stuck in the same general vicinity on the road. On seeing how bad the road was, my initial thought was, ‘How are we ever going to get through this?’ O ye of little faith!

After assessing the challenge before us, Jerome said he felt with our Land Cruiser we could make it. And we did, but not before we helped pull a car out of the muddy mess.

Upon arriving in Gbenequellah we pulled up to the humble abode where we’d be spending the week. I was shown my bed, covered with a necessary mosquito net, given a can of mosquito spray to be used nightly, and gifted with my own personal porta potty, preventing the need for middle of the night runs to my host’s outhouse, which required a key any way.

Once we started settling in, I renewed old acquaintances and met some new friends. Before the week was done, though, despite language barriers(everyone else either spoke Kpelle or Liberian English), we all felt closer to God and to each other.

Contributing to our deepening connection more than anything else was nighttime and morning devotions together. As 8-12 of us, men and women, gathered in the front entryway of Rev. Amos Flomo’s home, we went around the circle sharing what we were thankful for, prayer concerns and a verse of Scripture. It was awesome! Though they have so little materially, my Liberian brothers and sisters expressed profound gratefulness to God for their life, salvation, and frequently for my visit to their village. I couldn’t help contrast this with Anerica, where we have so much, but are nowhere near as grateful.

Additionally, most times during the week I was given the privilege of closing out the time with a devotional reading and Scripture. I used several of the devotions from Brennan Manning’s “19 Mercies Spiritual Retreat,” found in the back of more recent editions of his book, “Ragamuffin Gospel.”

A main reason for my trip to the village was a chance to take part in a new Bible school, known as the Bible Institute for Church Ministries(BICM). Don Riley of the Bong County Bible Institute did a great job continuing his teaching through the book of Romans the first two days, and I kicked off my Old Testament survey course at the end of the week. It was wonderful being showered in God’s word alongside students so hungry and eager to learn.

Twice during the week we also headed out in the evening to some nearby villages to dedicate some new water wells and preach the gospel. Again, these roads(?) proved highly challenging and faith building. Most encouraging was Timothy who came forward the first night to repent from his backsliding.

All in all, I’m very fondly remembering my first week in an African village as one where I not only survived, but was strengthened, encouraged, and better equipped to spiritually thrive.

First Thing Prayer–“the Prayer God Promises to Answer.”

In his terrific new book, “A Different Kind of Happiness: Discovering the Joy that Comes from Sacrificial Love,”  Dr. Larry Crabb offers what he calls a “First thing prayer.”  Crabb says “First thing prayer is the prayer God promises to answer”:

“Whatever the cost, make me a little Christ. Father, may Your Spirit open the eyes of my heart to see your beauty so that I’m left with no greater desire while I live in this world than to reveal Your Son’s love to others by how I relate.”

“God’s Love Letters to You”, Day Three: Leviticus: Solving Your Worst Problem

In Dr. Larry Crabb’s “God’s Love Letters to You: A 40-Day Devotional Experience,” Day Three is “Leviticus: Solving Your Worst Problem”:

“Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.”–Hebrews 2:11

“God says: You want Me to solve your problems, but you don’t know what your worst problem is, the one responsible for all the others. You don’t yet realize that distance from Me is the most lethal problem you have.

You assume we’re doing just fine together, while you run off, trying to make life work for you, and you expect Me to cooperate. When you read Leviticus, notice that I never solve anyone’s secondary problems. In all those verses about skin infection, for example, I never prescribed ointment or simply cured the disease, which I easily could have done. I simply told people they couldn’t enter My presence with an oozing sore. The issue was worship and intimacy with Me, not health, wealth, or personal comfort.

So many people miss that. They identify their needs and then view Me as a God who wants them satisfied and happy before I deal with their unholiness. But because I love them–and you–I’ve made a way for you to revolve your life around Me as your first thing. Everything else–your marriage, your checkbook, your self-esteem, your career–is a second thing. When the first thing(namely, Me) is in first place in your life, every second thing will be taken care of.

You’ve got a long way to go before that’s true in your life, but I have a plan to get you there, to make you holy.”


*If you didn’t feel the need to “spiritualize” or worry about what others think, how would you define what your worst problem is?

*What are some of the second things in your life that you long for God to address?

*The second things of our lives often take priority over what God says matters most. How would you describe, after reading these words, what’s God’s deepest commitment is in our lives?


“God, I would settle for far less than Your commitment to make me holy as You are. Too often my commitment is to use You to make my life comfortable. Forgive me. In Jesus’ name, amen.”


“God’s Love Letters to You”: Day 2, Exodus

From Dr. Larry Crabb’s, “God’s Love Letters to You: A 40-Day Devotional Experience,” Day 2, “Exodus: Consider the Lengths I go to, just to be with you”:

“Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.”–Exodus 25:8 NKJV

God says: I can and I will detach you from everything that numbs your sacred hunger for me and makes you feel hungrier for something other than Me.

You will never on this earth depend fully enough on My power to live exactly as you want to live. When you see how particular I am about all the rules you should obey but never do, let the weight of My holiness draw you into the delights of My love. I still want to be with you.

Don’t ever forget: I do have a plan, a plan to make you deliriously happy in the circle of My love. As you read Exodus 25-40, where I record all those architectural details about the tabernacle, realize the lengths I’m willing to go to be with you. Imagine me, the God of the universe, clothed in splendor and arrayed in glory, living in, by My standards, a simple tent set up in a barren wilderness. Sure, it was fancy, but compare it to what you imagine heaven to be. But that’s where I lived, just to be near people like you.

As you consider all the laws I gave that you never kept, and as you see My willingness to go camping to be with My people, know this: I will do whatever it takes to fully restore My family and to be with them forever.

God’s Love Letters to You–Day One: Genesis, “I have a plan. Trust Me.”

Each weekday morning at 5:45 on WWIB and I lead us in our morning prayer focus and devotion. Today we kicked off the first of 40 days reading from Dr. Larry Crabb’s devotional, “God’s Love Letters to You,” drawn from his longer book, “66 Love Letters: A Conversation with God that Invites You into His Story.” Beginning today and throughout the next eight weeks I intend to share each day’s reading right here:

Day One: Genesis

“I have a plan: Trust Me”

“Then Joseph said to his brothers, “…God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…God will surely come to your aid.”–Genesis 50:24, 25

God says: I want you to realize that I never underestimated how thoroughly you’d mess up your life or how painfully you would struggle and suffer, and I don’t want you to underestimate your failures or struggles either. They’re all part of the story I’m telling.

But neither have I underestimated My determination or ability to enter both the mess you’ve made and the pain you feel, then turn everything around. I can, and I will, make everything good again. Never, ever underestimate Me. I have a plan, a very good one, and it will move ahead to completion. Guaranteed! Trust Me. Why? Because I love you even when you’re messing up badly. I love you in the middle of your pain even though I don’t relieve it as quickly as you wish. I am worthy of your trust, no matter what happens in your life. I have a good plan, and nothing will stop Me from carrying it to completion.

You must live now in the tension between anguish and hope.


New Hampshire Predictions

After correctly predicting the order of the top six in the GOP and the Dems in Iowa last Monday, here’s my prognostication for how things will turn out tonight in New Hampshire:


Bernie Sanders–54%

Hillary Clinton–41%


Donald Trump–30%

Marco Rubio–15%…Even after Saturday night’s much-discussed debate performance he was still drawing the second biggest crowds among GOP candidates. His supporters still find much to like about him even after the media scrutiny and criticism he’s faced for how he handled his fracas with Christie.

John Kasich–14%…Over 100 town halls and an ability to embody Granite state Republicanism will help.

Jeb Bush–13%…Not all he was hoping for, but a good enough performance to fight on in South Carolina where he’s praying having older brother George W. campaign for him will provide the much-needed boost.

Ted Cruz–12%…South Carolina and all those March 1st S.E.C. primaries matter much more to him.

Chris Christie–5%…Say “Good night” Chris! Marco won’t miss you!

Carly Fiorina–4%…Not bad considering ABC didn’t even include her in Saturday night’s debate. She’s committed to continuing on. Will she be allowed in future debates? She should be.

Ben Carson–3%…He’ll keep going.

3 Questions Evangelicals Should Ask About Donald Trump

On Thursday’s “Front Page” we spent the hour talking with John Stemberger about his column, “3 Questions Evangelicals Should Ask About Donald Trump.”Stemberger is an attorney and conservative leader based out of Orlando, Florida. He is a former political director of the Republican Party of Florida. For the past 10 years, Stemberger has served as president and general counsel of Florida Family Action.