What Feels Like Suffering Is Your Salvation

There are many reasons we drift.




And pain. If you’ve had kids, you know that one way babies deal with pain is by drifting off to sleep. Sometimes, we deal with pain and suffering the same way.

The author of Hebrews knows that. That’s why, when he’s addressing “those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb 1:14), he pauses mid-sermon to warn us, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Heb 2:1). 

It’s sad, but often we turn our brains off when we hear the word salvation: “Oh yeah, salvation. The cross, Jesus, etc. etc. I know it all by heart. Wake me up when you get to something that’s actually going to help me in my struggles, in my suffering, in my daily life.”

But we cannot drift away, because the preacher has something intensely practical to tell us: What feels like suffering is actually salvation. Suffering–being brought low spiritually, physically, emotionally, in every way–is the means by which God saves us.

What feels like suffering is actually salvation.”

How can this be?

Our salvation is wrapped up in the fate of one particular man: Jesus Christ.

When your star quarterback goes down after a hard tackle, everyone holds their breath–because the fate of the team hangs in the balance. And, when you see him lifted up from the turf, waving to the fans and running to the sideline, you breathe a sigh of relief. Why? Because the captain is up, and the team’s fate is secure.

When it comes to what he suffered, Christ our Captain went down–hard (Heb 2:10). Crucified. Buried in the ground. And the whole cosmos held its breath. The fate of the universe, the fate of those who were to inherit salvation–our fate–hung on our Captain. But he got back up. God raised him up forever.

What is important to realize is that this suffering was not a detour in the plan of salvation. The preacher tells us in Hebrews 2:9, “Jesus, the son of man, was crowned with glory and honor because of his suffering.” Suffering made Jesus our glorious King. This is what was foretold hundreds of years before in Psalm 8. The king who would rule over every created thing, to whom God had planned to subject the entire universe, would wear a crown of suffering.

On that dark Friday, what the Roman soldiers meant as humiliation, God meant as exaltation. When they put a crown of thorns on his head, when they put a robe on his shoulders and a staff in his hand, when they bowed down and mocked him in salute, when they beat him, whipped him, stripped him, nailed him to a cross and suspended his dying body between heaven and earth, they meant to lay him low.

But that moment of intense humiliation and suffering was his coronation ceremony.

We do not look away from the cross. The head of Christ beams with glory and honor because of his suffering. The truth is posted above him for all who have eyes to see: King of the Jews. He did not become king after the suffering of death–but because of it. He was made for a short while a little lower than the angels because the cross was where he collected his crown (Heb 2:9).

Brothers and sisters, the same is true for us. God has foreordained before the foundation of the world that you and I should rule the cosmos with Christ. We are “those who are to inherit salvation.” But for a little while, we have to stoop below the angels. For a little while, we have to endure suffering.


Because we have to stoop to pick up our crown.

“For a little while.” It’s not forever. When we come through the other side, when we emerge from the grave, we will be crowned with Christ because of our suffering–not despite it. Paul tells us in Romans 8:17—“[We are] fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

I don’t know what temptations you are facing today. Tempted to apathy. Tempted to doubt. Tempted to despair. Tempted to take matters into your own hands. Tempted to give up. Tempted to drift away.

Brothers and sisters, do not let suffering cause you to drift away. Christ is proof. However you may feel today, know this much is true: What feels like suffering is actually your salvation.

If you’d like to hear the whole sermon click here.

(photo credit)

‘Work’ by Daniel Doriani (A Free Discipleship Resource!)

“The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables . . .”

—Dorothy Sayers

What is good work? How do I find my calling? Can work be more than a paycheck? How can I enact reform in my workplace? How can my job be a place where I love my neighbor and serve the Lord? How do I work for a sinful boss?

Daniel M. Doriani’s Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation (2019) answers all of these questions and more. This book has been transformational for my own understanding of work, and I am happy to provide a free downloadable study guide for you to teach this material in a 13 week setting–whether in a small group, personal study, discipleship class, or Sunday School.

Below you will find PDFs of individual lessons and whole study for download. These study materials are not meant to replace Doriani’s book, but to serve as a help in teaching the material to others. It is filled with practical questions to generate discussion, opportunities to search the Scriptures, and helpful summaries of Doriani’s points. They can serve both as a teaching guide and as handouts for the class.

The study guides are formatted to be printed back/front for each week and folded in the middle like a bulletin.

Individual Lessons:

Full Study:

Why Expository Preaching, Again?

This Sunday our church dove back into 2 Samuel, picking up right where we’d left off in November. The return gave us a good opportunity to revisit a foundational question: Why expository preaching?

Why do we preach chapter by chapter, verse by verse, through every word of books like 2 Samuel or Acts or 1 and 2 Thessalonians? Why are we committed to that style of preaching at CSBC? Four quick reasons:

1. Because God’s people are hungry.

Do you remember the story where Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness? Matthew tells us, after that time “Jesus was hungry” (Mt. 4:2). Satan came to tempt Jesus in that moment of hunger, and this is how Jesus responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4). What we are hungry for is a food this world cannot provide. You and I are hungry for “every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Not a word. Not some words. Not the words you like. Every word.

But what normal Christian is going to wake up in the morning and say, “You know what? I’m hungry for some 2 Samuel today.” Not gonna happen. Maybe a light appetite for something from the Sermon on the Mount or an inclination to read Philippians 4:13 for the thirty-millionth time, or maybe a quick bite of whatever the verse of the day is on your phone. But certainly nothing off the beaten path.

Expository preaching is like when you have never had Thai food before, and your friend is like, “Listen, you are gonna love it–you just have to give it a try! Come with me, and I’ll show you what to order.” And reluctantly you go, and you’re like, “Wow. Thai food is amazing. I would have never thought.” Later that week, you find yourself actually hungry for Pad Thai and Chicken Satay and Curry, and Friday night you say something you’ve never said before, “You know, let’s get take out from that Thai place again.”

That’s what expository preaching does. The preacher is supposed to take you to all these exotic places–parts of the Bible Christians never read–Zechariah, Nehemiah, 2 Samuel, Titus, Leviticus, and show you what to order. Once you’ve tasted it, you’re like, “Wow. This isn’t so scary. In fact, this is amazing.” And now all the sudden you’ve got this new hunger. You’re discouraged on a Friday evening, and you find yourself saying, “You know what, I could go for some 2 Samuel.”

2. Because it’s my job.

Paul commands Timothy: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). In his second letter, he reiterates the point: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). It is the pastor’s job to know how to take a fork and knife to the Scriptures and cut it up into bite-sized pieces for the people of God.

Jesus commissions Peter with this solemn responsibility: “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). If you are a pastor, your job is to lead the sheep to pasture.

3. Because the Word saves.

Paul holds up preaching as a particular medium through which God saves: “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). But if the preacher enters the pulpit with a few funny one-liners, an inspirational story or two, and a closing nugget of wisdom—does that preaching have the power to save? Paul continues, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified . . .” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23).

The Scriptures are where we find Christ crucified. This is why James encourages us to “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).

4. Because the Word is a rock.

Can you imagine coming to church after the week we’ve had, after the unthinkable has happened—deranged Americans stormed our nation’s capitol with the intent to overthrow an election by force, some claiming to want to assassinate certain lawmakers and elected officials? Imagine experiencing such ground-shaking uncertainty during the week, sitting trembling in the pew, to find your pastor only has a few warm-and-fuzzy personal tales to comfort you?

No. We need a rock. We need an unshakeable foundation. We need something that never changes. We need to look into heaven and see a King who sits on a throne that will never be threatened by insurrectionists. We need to behold a Lord whose throne will never be occupied by some arrogant anarchist posing for a pic.

Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt. 7:24). This Jesus does not need our help to stay in power. Why would we worship him if he did? He does not depend on us. We depend on him—for life, breath, existence itself.

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

(photo credit)

An “Explosive” Sermon Opener for Mt. 2:1-12

I’ve been preaching a Christmas sermon series based on Athanasius’s seminal work On the Incarnation, and this morning’s opening illustration was too good to pass up. For context, I’m preaching on Matthew 2:1-12 (the story of the wise men), but I’ve been in the habit of setting up the sermon with some fun tidbits from the life of Athanasius. Here it is from the manuscript:

Sometimes the signs of God are subtle, a soft whisper in the wind. Sometimes they are bright and obvious, like a star rising in the eastern sky (Matt 2:2). The sign of God can grip you when you least expect it, an explosion that leaves you forever changed.

We’ve been learning about Athanasius this Christmas and his valiant battle for the truth against his opponent Arius—the heretic who famously quipped about Jesus Christ, “There was a time when he was not.” Arius believed Jesus was a created being, and Athanasius kept telling the church—indeed, the Emperor Constantine himself!—but no one seemed to take him seriously.

Eventually, Arius was summoned to give his confession before the Emperor. Athanasius writes, “Arius drew up a document with great artfulness, and like the devil, concealed his impious assertions beneath the simple words of Scripture.” As the story goes, after Arius confessed what he believed about Jesus, Constantine replied, “Are you telling the truth? If you are lying, the Lord will punish you.”

On the eve of the Sunday when he was to be fully restored, Arius was passing through the market when he was suddenly struck with . . . an intestinal issue. He ran to the nearest public restroom. Time passed. More time passed. After a polite knock, a further rapping on the door, hollers of, “Arius, sir! Are you okay in there?” and no response, they burst opened the door. And there he was: Dead on the toilet from a case of explosive . . . well, you get the picture. Athanasius swears he was blown clear through the middle. For years to come, whenever people used those public restrooms they warned their friends, “Don’t use that one! The Lord struck Arius dead on that seat!”

Like I said, the sign of God can grip you when you least expect it, an explosion that leaves you forever changed. Thankfully, in today’s passage, three pagan wise men are gripped not by an explosive digestive disorder . . . but by an explosion in the sky. Turn with me to Matthew 2:1-12.

To read more about the legend of Arius’s demise, click here and here.

(photo credit)

Struggling for Thankfulness This Year?

This year has been a strange one, and I wonder as you reflect back on all the hardship of 2020 whether you are struggling to find reasons to give thanks.

Traditionally, Christmas is the holiday that gets all the songs and carols and hymns. November 1st, radios start dusting off the ol’ yuletide catalog. But biblically speaking, songs are the natural outpouring of thanksgiving (Colossians 3:15-16). Perhaps a song might put us more in the thanksgiving spirit.

The Lord Is My God.

In 2 Samuel 22, David surveys his life, his heart swells with thankfulness, and he speaks to the Lord the words of this song:

“The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, 

my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,

my shield, and the horn of my salvation,

my stronghold and my refuge,

my savior; you save me from violence.”

2 Samuel 22:3-4

Twelve times in these two verses David sings, “my.” The Lord is my God. Perhaps the reason you are struggling and feel thankless is because you cannot in your heart sing these words: “The Lord is my God.”

When David sings about his God, he compares him to a place of safety, rescue, refuge. When disaster struck this year, where did I seek refuge? In my God? Or in something else?

David reminds us that God is not ours on our terms: “My Savior; you save me” (22:3). We cry out to our God from a place of helplessness and need. Last night, my 7 month-old Peter was laying in bed next to me, and he reached over and grabbed my finger with his whole hand. That’s the way we possess God. My means, “I belong to him.”

I Called Upon the Lord.

As David continues to reflect, he remembers being surrounded by trouble, enemies, and menacing circumstances on all sides:

“I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,

and I am saved from my enemies…

In my distress I called upon the LORD;

to my God I called.”

2 SAmuel 22:4,7

Such a simple thing–“I called upon the Lord.” But how often don’t we? We don’t call. We don’t pray. We don’t cry for help.


Some of us don’t call on the Lord because we don’t think it’s that big of a deal. We think we can handle it. We don’t want to bother God with it.

But if it feels oppressive, if it feels life-threatening, if it feels like its choking you at every minute, if it sucking the life out of you, if you feel like you are drowning, why are you treating it like it’s no big deal? John Gill writes, “A time of distress is a time for prayer; and sometimes the end God has in suffering [us] to be in distress is to bring them to the throne of his grace…”

Others of us call, we just don’t call upon the Lord. We think that a boyfriend will save us, a spouse will be our salvation, a job will rescue us from our distress, a bailout will be our refuge, some new toy will save us from our sadness, a new church will deliver us from our depression.

Listen to David’s song: “I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised...” It’s his greatness, his worth, his majesty, his power that draws our cry.

If you were being attacked and you had to choose either a Chihuahua or a Rottweiler to come to your defense, which one are you going to cry out for?

Why are you crying out to your co-workers or your phone or your social media followers? Can any of them do anything about your distress? Cry out to the God who dwells in ineffable might, unassailable power, impenetrable victory, untarnished splendor, and terrifying power.

When I was in grade-school, my family lived in south Florida. At the beach one day, my dad was out surfing and I was watching from the shallows. I was distracted and a strong swimmer, so I didn’t notice how every wave was slowly drawing me further down the beach away from my dad, and further out to sea. Suddenly, I couldn’t touch, and a strong undertoe started tugging me under. I remember a sense of panic settling in like, I’m not gonna make it.

I start hollering, “Dad!” Every time I come up for breath. “Dad!” “Dad!” But it’s loud and he’s hundreds of yards away. And I’m giving up hope. Suddenly, a lifeguard grabs me from behind, and next thing I know, I’m laying in the sand.

You and I don’t cry out to the Lord because we don’t know what’s got ahold of us. We think sin is just a little thing. Just a little lie. Just a little stealing. Just a few careless words here and there. Just a little porn. David shows us the truth:

“”For the waves of death encompassed me,

the torrents of destruction assailed me;

the cords of Sheol entangled me;

the snares of death confronted me.”

2 Samuel 22:5-6

Sin is trying to drag us into an eternal Hell. Death has ahold of each of us, sending its tendrils out of the grave to latch onto us and drag us kicking and screaming to a watery grave. Do you realize what’s dragging you under? If you did, you’d be crying out, “MY GOD, MY GOD! SAVE ME!”

He Hears My Voice.

You may feel like this is the last time you are coming up for air before you sink forever. When you call upon the Lord, he will hear. He will hear, and he will come down, and he will find you:

“From his temple he heard my voice,

and my cry came to his ears.”

2 Samuel 22:7

This is how the infinite God bestows dignity upon us, his finite creatures: He listens to us. Say this to your soul with David and feel thanksgiving begin to rise: “He hears my voice.”

My voice matters to the Almighty God. Your voice matters to your Maker.

There is a stirring in heaven in response to my voice. And this is what the stirring of my God looks like:

“Then the earth reeled and rocked;

the foundations of the heavens trembled and quaked, because he was angry.

Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth;

glowing coals flamed forth from him. 

He bowed the heavens and came down;

thick darkness was under his feet. 

He rode on a cherub and flew;

he was seen on the wings of the wind. 

He made darkness around him his canopy,

thick clouds, a gathering of water. 

Out of the brightness before him coals of fire flamed forth. 

The LORD thundered from heaven,

and the Most High uttered his voice. 

And he sent out arrows and scattered them;

lightning, and routed them. 

Then the channels of the sea were seen;

the foundations of the world were laid bare, at the rebuke of the LORD,

at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.” 

2 Samuel 22:10-16

The response of God to our cry for help is an earthquake crossed with a forest-fire crossed with a thunderstorm crossed with a tornado crossed with a volcanic eruption crossed with a lightning storm crossed with a hurricane.

When he hears my voice, he bends the heavens and parts the sea. Wherever you are in this vast cosmos, whether on some far-flung planet or in the bottom of the ocean, if you call out to him, he will find you. His salvation will search you out.

This thanksgiving, in the midst of turmoil and distress, one thing should make our hearts sing: We have a God who hears us.

(photo credit)

Readers, Thanks for 1 M Views!

1 Million Views.

I’ve always though this would be a fun milestone, but it came and went without much fanfare.

I simply want to express my gratitude to all of you who have read and shared and appreciated my writing over the past several years.

I know 1M views is small potatoes on most platforms. A 12 year-old can rack up a million views doing a TikTok or opening toys on YouTube (I will never understand this phenomenon).

However, you all came to AFTER+MATH to read. And not to read recipes or hot-takes or cute photos, but to read serious theological and cultural reflection (well, serious most of the time!).

The days of viral blogposts are mostly over. These days, all of my best stuff I give to platforms with much wider audiences like Christianity Today, Desiring God, TGC, and Think Christian.

Most of my daily traffic comes from people just searching for the truth on Google. I hope and pray you all are finding something helpful, useful, or encouraging. To those of you here to steal and plagiarize my book reviews for college credit–I will find you. 😉

The best currency you can give a writer (besides actual currency!) is a share. Whether in the form of a recommendation on social media, sharing content on a podcast you run, or sharing their articles and books with friends, church members, or text groups, writers know you appreciate their words when you are willing to send them along to others.

When I first started this blog, the tagline came from Colossians 1:29. Eight years later, it’s never been more relevant:

“For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me.”

May the Lord grant me the energy to continue to make use of the feeble tools God has given me to toil for his Kingdom. Thanks again for reading!

Grace and peace,


Free E-Book: Pop Psalms

I’ve contributed the first chapter to Think Christian’s latest FREE E-BOOK: POP PSALMS. I’m writing about Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts”:

“No one could have predicted it: the summer of 2019 belonged to a rapping flautist.

The artist known as Lizzo enjoyed a record-breaking run atop the Billboard Hot 100 as her carefree, boldly embodied persona captured the attention of the world. Equal parts tears and self-confidence, Lizzo’s debut album Cuz I Love You is anchored by the smash hit “Truth Hurts,” an earworm that kick starts with this painful truism: “Why are men great until they gotta be great?”

Read the rest, where I explore connects to Psalm 44, Romans 8, and how we can sing psalms of lament with swagger. And read great chapters from other contributors like Claude Atcho, Aarik Danielsen, and Sarah Welch-Larson.

David by Michelangelo Florence Galleria dell’Accademia