Faith Grows Step by Step

Daniel and Sarah (1)

I am so thankful for how God used the progressive nature of last year’s trial to grow Sarah’s and my faith step by step. I’m grateful for those days when we had to fight for our faith in desperation and pain. That time illuminated then just as it continues to do now for me the stark contrast between the temporal and eternal. Each experience drove us in dependence to our knees, molded our characters, and made plain the reality of the firm knowledge this world isn’t our home. Gratitude for pain in the moment is hard and we struggled with that last year. As I look back though, I rejoice in what God wrought in both of our lives through Sarah’s trials.

Friends, you don’t have to face quite the same circumstances to reap the benefits of the Holy Spirit’s conviction though! Perhaps visualize yourself in similar circumstances as us last year and ask God to show you what ought to be changed. And when trials do come, be thankful for these gifts, what one of my favorite authors Vaneetha Rendall Risner called “gifts wrapped in black but gifts nonetheless,” because of how they can refine your faith and bring glory to God (James 1).

Sarah wrote the following in her journal one year ago today and these words now preach truth to all the rest of us still walking through our earthly journey.

“This weekend I found myself facing many life – impacting obsessions and concerns that I had refused to acknowledge – and/or I was just wilfullly ignoring that these sin-issues were a significant hindrance to my walk with my Heavenly Father….I have been continually consumed with my own needs/wants/selfish desires – much more than being consumed with what is most important to my Heavenly Father: simply trusting in, and obeying Him alone! In Christ alone my hope is found.

Even though we most often think we want to know what the future is going to hold … truly, it is trials like these that remind me how wise our Heavenly Father is, in *not* revealing what’s to come. Because I could never have been able to take in the knowledge of what these last few weeks would hold, all at once. He is so wise, gracious, loving, and perfect – He knows exactly how to care for each one of His children, and to lead us along the path He has prepared for us.” – Sarah Kopp

Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Daniel and Sarah - Hospital

One year ago today Sarah and I were sitting in the ER trying to process the news that she was in serious danger from a crisis health situation we had no idea was brewing. I can still hear the surgeon’s words “you both need to understand how serious this is.” My ears heard what he said and my brain thought it comprehended it, but I had no idea just how deep and long the valley of the shadow of death would end up being. Yet, the Lord was and is my faithful Shepherd.

As I continue to reflect back on everything that happened last year I recognize ever more clearly God’s mercy and grace. Had we known everything that was yet to happen we would not have been able to face it. Thankfully for us, God’s grace is sufficient for one day at a time and as James 4:13-15 reminds us of our limited perspective of time anyways. How much better it is to rest in new mercies each morning! At the same time too, each successive challenge and trial prepared us for one yet to come. I’ve written before about that especially in regard to our three miscarriages. Sarah wrote last year “God is the author of life” and I know that Sarah is now more alive in heaven than she ever was on earth. Going through trials can tempt us to have an egocentric perspective where it becomes all about us and “why me.” We should strive instead to have a theocentric perspective and recognize that our sovereign, all-loving God is at work for His glory and our good. Our trouble comes so often when we only think of what is “good” from our perspective, not from the eternal and omniscient perspective of God.

As finite humans we often struggle to understand an infinite God and His workings. Add in our feeble emotions and we can quickly lose perspective of what is right and true. This is where we have to consciously preach truth to ourselves from God’s Word.

Our heart says God must not love us to let us go through trials. God’s Word says in Eph. 2:4 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,”. Our heart says God must not be in control. Jesus said in John 9:3 about the man born blind “that the works of God might be displayed in Him” explicitly meaning every sickness and disability is under His control. Our heart says God doesn’t really care about me and my circumstances. Jesus says in Matthews 10 that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without His knowledge and “you are of more value than many sparrows.” Our heart says God doesn’t understand my pain. Romans 8:32 says “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

Our heart says “why?” God’s Word replies to “what ultimate end” in James 1:2-4 “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.”

I could go on and on, but this is how I remind myself what is true when my heart and emotions struggle to remember. Whether we realize it or not we are always meditating on something. Much of the time it’s what might be called “self-talk” and much of the self-help world today tries to just tell you how to think positively to impact this. Christians don’t have to conjure up anything on our own because we have the “living and active Word of God.” This is how Ephesians 5 talks about the “washing of water of the Word” when our minds are so saturated with truth that there is little ability for lies and error to take root.

It’s been said before that either you’re in a trial or you’re getting ready to go into one. I encourage you to likewise consciously preach truth unto yourself. Only the words of God have the power to transform you and your circumstances.

“Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” – Psalm 119:49-50

Shining Brightly for God’s Glory

Last night as I was driving home, I saw a unique and eerily beautiful sight as I looked north into the foothills just outside of town. In the inky darkness of the mostly moonless and cloudy night I could see the soft glow of white lights at the ski resort. Normally at such a far distance I should not have been able to see the lights as I came up the valley, but this evening a thick, low cloud deck hovered only a short distance above the hills provided a perfect reflective backdrop to magnify the ski slope lights as well as elevating their brightness higher into the night sky and casting those reflections to the great distance from which I first saw them.

I could not help but immediately think of the verse in Matthew 5:14 where Jesus says “You are the light of the world” and then further describes His disciples as “a city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” As I thought of the past year’s events, I was struck by a parallel where Sarah and I had been shining our light in our Christian walk in very much an “ordinary way.” We did not have a large circle of ministry at the time still settling into a new city and dealing with the increasing limitations of Sarah’s health. Yet, we sought to be faithful in the witness and testimony we did have. Then as Sarah’s health crisis began in earnest and increased in intensity, God gave us a broader and broader opportunity to reflect that light. Just as the unique atmospheric conditions on this night dramatically and effectively reflected the lights of the ski slopes last night, so too had God brought about a unique circumstance in our lives to more brightly shine for His glory and reflect to a wide audience in a way beyond our normal circumstances. Thankful for every blessing He gives and the way He reminds me so faithfully along the way.

Immersing Yourself in Scripture

Immersing Yourself in Scripture

In this new year as many of you consider ways to immerse yourself in Scripture, I’ll share a way that Sarah and I used to keep it literally before us as we rose up in the morning and laid down at night by posting verses on our bathroom mirror. We would choose passages meaningful to us with what we were struggling with or seeking to challenge our spiritual walk in a particular area. The picture here shows what I have been reminding myself of every morning and evening the past 4 months – what a joy it is to delight in His statutes and not forget His Word! (Psalm 119:16)

We live in the day of Bible apps on our phones, access to thousands upon thousands of great messages through SermonAudio and podcasts, almost unlimited exposure to uplifting Christian music, and technology that enables us to encourage each other in so many ways, stay in touch with missionaries, and journal through written, video, or voice format. Never before in the history of the world have we had access to as much Biblical literature and study materials! Yet, with all this privilege and blessing I have to ask myself and urge you to do the same – how much am I taking advantage of these things for eternal purposes, or am I just expending my time on lesser pursuits?

As one who has seen so recently and personally the fragility and temporal nature of this world, I encourage you to remind yourself daily of the importance of God’s Word – nothing else we do each day has more eternal purpose!

Meditations on the Brevity of Life

My life is transitory…I need an eternal perspective:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” – James 4:13-15

Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! – Psalm 39:5

Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not. – Job 14:1-2

The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. – Psalm 90:10

Wedding Anniversary Reflections

Daniel and Sarah Wedding Vows

Today would have marked five years of blessed marriage to Sarah, but she is now in eternity as the bride of Christ! I spent most of today in devotions, meditation, and reflection on my marriage with Sarah, and I have so much to be grateful for as I recall the joys and trials alike. I have innumerable cherished memories as I recall the depths of love we shared. She was a daily gift from God to me. Her life and death have left an indelible impact on me, so I pray that this continuing dose of searing eternal reality will forever stay with me to spur me on for what God has next.

I am eternally grateful for the way that Sarah built me up in Christ. Her sweet spirit, gentle encouragements, soft suggestions, and fervent prayers on my behalf were grounded in a selfless love and authentic respect. When I felt weak, her faith in me made me strong. When I failed her, her kindness forgave and overlooked it. Every one of my accomplishments was enabled by her girding me up every step of the way. In countless ways her impact lives on!

One of the many beautiful crafts that Sarah made was a framed picture of our marriage vows. As I spent time reading over them again today and thinking over their meaning on both the earthly and heavenly realms, I was struck by the simplicity of how only thirty-four straightforward words convey an eternal weight of meaning. I was talking recently with a friend who also lost his wife, and he remarked how we truly don’t fully know the depth of what those marriage vows meant. Indeed, when Sarah and I recited these vows on that day, we never could have known everything that would transpire turning what we hoped would be a lifetime of living them out into only five years together. What we did do at our wedding though was to promise them in faith knowing that God’s grace would sustain us to keep them. I’ve written before of God’s faithfulness in helping to grow and strengthen that faith through many trials, and by His infinite and boundless grace we lived out our vows for as long as we both lived. In a day in which marriage vows are often so lightly esteemed, may Christians’ lives and marriages reflect what Jesus said in Mark 10:9, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

For those that are married, may I offer some reflections. Treasure your spouse. Outdo one another in showing love. Selflessly sacrifice yourself to serve your spouse. Yet, also remember they are but a gift from God for this brief “mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 1:14) Live with eternity in mind. Husbands, lovingly shepherd your wife’s heart that you may both set your “mind on things above.” (Col. 3:2) Wives, build up your husbands in love and respect to be that man.

For those not married, live out these same principles to those God has put in your life. If your desire is to be married, be intentional now about developing those characteristics in your life. Be intentional to “make the best use of the time” (Eph. 5:16), for when marriage comes your sin and selfishness now have a double impact on you and your spouse.

“Being married in the moment of death is both a bitter and sweet providence. Sweet because at the precipice of eternity the air is crystal-clear, and you see more plainly than ever the precious things that really matter about your imperfect lover. But being married at death is also bitter, because the suffering is doubled as one watches the other die …. The shadow of covenant-keeping between husband and wife gives way to the reality of covenant-keeping between Christ and His glorified Church. Nothing is lost. The music of every pleasure is transposed into an infinitely higher key.” – John Piper in “This Momentary Marriage”

“Marriage is more than your love for each other …. In your love you see only the heaven of your happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal — it is a status, and office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the King, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer