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As I read the Bible, I am constantly reminded of how divergent it is from my own perspective on life.

For example, in James 1, Jesus’s brother (and self-described servant) opens his letter by saying, “Consider it all joy, my brothers…” Sounds good, right? I care about joy in my life. James, you have my attention.

He continues, “…when you meet trials of various kinds…” (James 1:2, ESV).

You know what I like to count as joy? Things that bring me joy, like kissing my wife, playing with my kids, succeeding at my job. I feel joyful with a mouthful of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food. Need I say that to survey my life’s troubles and consider them joy is unnatural to me?

Maybe Jesus makes a bit more sense. Ok, Jesus, how would you suggest that I succeed in life? “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35, ESV). I haven’t seen that slogan on a mug.

God calls us to an altogether unnatural perspective on all things- success, love, prosperity, whatever you may think. Paul states it clearly in his letter to the Colossians when he says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2). For Paul, the normal call of a Christian was to rethink what was “natural” or “normal.” What the world might consider success, God considers failure. What the world considers loss, God calls us to consider gain.

Thankfully, Paul explains that this reversal isn’t some morbid demand on God’s part to live in opposites-land. He prefaces his command to think heavenward with the truth that “[we] have been raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1). Our idea of what is natural changes because we have changed. I am no longer a slave to sin, a citizen of this world, an enemy of God experiencing the most good that I can here and now. I am “raised with Christ.” I am a slave to Christ. I am redeemed from the power of sin. And I have a hope that lives beyond the dirt that will one day cover my dead body.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4, ESV).

God calls me to see beyond what the world considers the end of perspectives- death. He calls me to see the glorious perfection that he purchased with the blood of his Son and that I experience now in part and will experience fully after death. He calls me to live to that end. And in doing so, what was once “natural” becomes “unnatural” and what trials, suffering, and hardship I once considered the cruel inevitabilities of this world, I now consider tools in the hand of a master craftsman.

Though he may not change the circumstance, he does change my perspective.

Two Pillars for When It Seems Life Will Crush You

In my Christian walk, I’ve known that life can be hard. However, for the most part, this truth has been somewhat of a “Christian theory” that I’ve been taught to be true. I’ve been blessed to live and have means to live. I’ve been blessed with an amazing wife who loves me unconditionally, and largely despite me. And we have been entrusted with three small people whose weight of joy I could have never understood until I met them.

But it is true that life can be hard. And although difficulty and suffering are sometimes brought on by our own sin or foolishness, sometimes God allows suffering that is not a result of any direct action on our part.

In John 9, Jesus and his disciples encounter a man born blind. For the disciples, the world is a cut and dry place. You sin, and you bear the consequences. You live righteously and you get the appropriate blessings here and now. And so when they see the blind man, they ask Jesus a question that for them was simply logical: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).

This particular story has never really ranked very high on my list of “inspiring stories of the Bible.” I think that is because in my life, I had never really asked the question myself, “why is this suffering in my life?” But anyone who has experienced pain or tragedy at some point does end up asking the question, “why?” “Was it me?” “Did I walk outside God’s will?” “Was it because I didn’t read my Bible enough or pray enough?” “Was it because my upbringing didn’t please God?”

“Could someone have done something differently?”

I think it’s a safe assumption that the parents of this blind man had wrestled with the question, “why God?” And I can only imagine how many times the man himself asked, “why?”

Jesus responds to his disciples, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).

Jesus’s response is a shocking and yet wonderful truth. Shocking because he places God in the seat of responsibility. The “so that” phrase in verse 3 implies that there was purpose. In other words, this blind man wasn’t born blind, and then God decided, “well, since he’s blind, I’ll use it to my glory.” No, God, in his wise sovereignty allowed suffering to mark this man.

If sovereignty were God’s only clear attribute, I don’t think it would bring much solace or hope in suffering. But God did not just allow suffering because he was sovereign. He allowed it so that God’s glorious redemptive power might be shown to the blind man and his parents, to the disciples, and everyone who heard of the account.

In the following verses, Jesus heals the man. He reverses the cause of suffering. He redeems the man and removes the mark of shame that defined this man’s life. Jesus demonstrated that God is good.

For this blind man, life was hard. For him, there was no amount of Bible reading or praying or evangelizing that would change the fact that his life was marked by suffering. And God had intended it to be that way. Because God had planned that when this man’s life appeared hopeless and beyond repair, God would step in and bring redemption that only God could bring. Later, Jesus would walk to the hill of his execution, according to the sovereign plan of God. God would pour out his white-hot, holy anger against our sins onto his only Son. And Jesus would experience the incredible suffering that exists in a fallen world in rebellion against its maker. All in order to show God’s goodness.

Life is hard. And oftentimes it is hard due to no direct fault of our own. And through tears and crying out, we ask God, “why?” “Why is it this way?” And God is waiting to show us the power of his rule over all creation, and the pure goodness of his heart.

God is sovereign. And God is good. These are the pillars that hold my world up.

The Gospel is More Than Facts

The gospel is more than a set of facts ordered together to provide a person with an equation for divine reconciliation. It is true that in Christianity’s core message, salvation is offered. But sometimes that message gets boiled down to a few facts that you must believe in order to avoid an unpleasant afterlife and instead be ushered into paradise.

There have been many times in my life that I’ve treated divine truth that way- as a rubric for spiritual stability or a starting line to a path of religious rightness. But the gospel message is so much more encompassing than a rubric and farther reaching than a mere beginning.

I’ve found it helpful to remember that God revealed himself and his plan of salvation predominantly in narrative, in story-form. And at the center of that revelation wasn’t a set of important principles, but a hero. Unlike a list of facts, a good story compels us to more than mental assent; it beckons us to believe, to act, to change. And a compelling hero tempts us not only to believe that but also to believe in.

And so to hear that God demands obedience is one thing. But to understand that God has invited us into a story in which he takes our lives and transforms them through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, that doesn’t only transform behavior. It transforms motivation.

Four Traits of a Good Leader

Many of the things I learn about leadership have come from either my failures as a leader, or conversely, the good examples of those leaders who inspire me to follow. This list is no different. I am no leadership expert; I have just seen things that have characterized leaders I would follow. Here are a few:

  1. A good leader takes responsibility. It’s probably pretty obvious that a leader ought to take responsibility. It’s also evident to anyone who has paid attention to the world that many leaders do not. A good leader will take responsibility for everything that he or she leads. It’s an easy trait to have when things are going well. It’s a sign of honest authenticity when things aren’t.
  2. A good leader takes ownership. Ownership is the father of responsibility. A good leader considers that which he leads as his. Like a father looks to his children as his own, regardless of their gifts or the lack thereof, a good leader looks to his responsibilities as his. It is his task to cultivate and grow the gardens that are his.
  3. A good leader knows how to critique without being a jerk. Perhaps there is a more John Maxwellian-way of saying that, but anyone who has had bad leadership has experienced the emotional payload that “jerk-critique” conveys. I’m not saying critique isn’t necessary. But being a jerk isn’t.
  4. A good leader knows how to redirect good people with bad ideas. Bad ideas aren’t even always bad within and of themselves. But a good leader has a clear vision of what must be accomplished, and those things that will either help or hinder the mission. But more than a clear vision, a good leader can guide followers toward the same lane without damaging the follower or the lane.

While there are a plethora of skills that could be listed here (I mean…Google leadership traits), these are some of the most potent. Like tools in the hands of a master craftsman, with these characteristics a good leaders builds powerfully.

Good Communication is Better Than Strategic Genius

Given two teams, one with great strategists and one with mediocre strategists that can communicate effectively, the mediocre will always win*.

Ok. That’s a grand assertion for which I have no statistics. And maybe some hyperbole crept in. But as I’ve worked on various teams, one thing that has consistently been either the conduit of success or the minefield of utter destruction is communication.

If a team cannot communicate, execution is going to be challenging at best. Emails get lost. Plans get miscommunicated and therefore mis-executed. And some poor kid is sent home without any cake. No body likes to be the only one without cake. If all of this is true (and you know I think it is), then just as important as a good plan is a good plan of communicating. And while there are various means of communication (email, text, twitter, carrier pigeon), all I’m claiming is that a shared consistency is important. Good communication is better than bad communication on the fanciest new medium.

Good ideas are important. Good strategies are important. But without good communication, ideas and strategies remain scribbles on a napkin.

*Yes, I know this was a bit of a silly hypothetical situation. Given that a team is comprised of “great strategists,” one would expect that a primary strategy in use is good communication. PSA over.