Because Christ Has Come (A Conversation About Christmas)

Several of the most beneficial conversations that I have ever had took place with the same person. I was thinking back to one of them recently, and because it relates to the coming Christmas season, I wanted to share it with you too.

When I was 18, I enrolled in college at Columbia International University in South Carolina. That year, my freshman year, I was introduced to my academic adviser. Her name is Dr. Cooper, and even though I only had one class with her as a professor, she would end up teaching me more than most people I’ve ever met. Most of you know this, but in September of 2013 I became very sick and had to withdraw from CIU. The particular conversation I’m thinking of happened right before I withdrew from school.

I walked into Dr. Cooper’s office one day in early September to tell her that I was going home to have some tests done, and that I would be missing some class. She asked me to sit and tell her what was going on, so I did. She told me that she would take care of my assignments, and then she said this to me:

“You know, Mitch, in the big picture this will pass quickly. It’s a unique season, and the Lord will teach you through it. Besides, the good news is that your identity isn’t found in your health. It’s found in Jesus. You know why you don’t have to worry, right?

I knew where she was headed, but I wanted to hear her answer, so I replied “Yes. Why?”

She simply smiled at me and said “Because Christ has come.”

It was a truth that struck me then, and it still astounds me now. As the Christmas season approaches, that fact is in the public eye, knowingly or not. Jesus has in fact come for us! And that’s exactly what we celebrate. Since that conversation took place, I’ve had some time to think upon it. The fact of the matter is that our entire identity hinges on this truth. Have you ever thought about that? The implications that this statement has are massive for the Christian. All of the things that Bible says about our identity are founded in the fact that Christ has come for us:

You are saved from your sins because Christ has come. (Matthew 1:21)

You are a child of God because Christ has come. (Ephesians 1:5; 1 John 3:1-2)

You are accepted because Christ has come. (Galatians 3:27-28)

You are chosen because Christ has come. (1 Peter 2:9)

You are made new because Christ has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

You are forgiven because Christ has come. (Ephesians 1:7)

You are loved because Christ has come. (Romans 5:8)

You have life because Christ has come. (John 6:35)

With the incredible event of Christmas approaching, let’s think on these truths. I’m reminded of a verse from my favorite Christmas hymn:

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Our Savior has come to save us, and that is truly a reason to celebrate. Merry Christmas to you, friend.

Grace and Peace,

Mitch

2013: The Glory of God in the Trials

First of all, an apology is in order. When I began this blog I had all intentions to write for it regularly, and since starting it in October, I have written a grand total of three posts. However, some of you are still following along, and for that I am grateful! My New Year’s Resolution is to write here much more regularly, so here’s to hoping that happens.

I thought it would be fitting to begin the new year with a post about last year. Some of you will relate to my year, and some of you will not. However, I can assure you that they were similar some regard. My year, as many of you know, is not one of the fondest to me. In fact, if I were to judge it solely on the events of my life in 2013, it would probably be one of the worst I’ve ever had. On the other hand, parts of 2013 were wonderful. And many of you recall 2013 as a great year. I hope that’s the case for you! In any case, these things were true about 2013: God is still reigning. God is still sovereign. God is still drawing people to Himself, and is therefore still bringing glory to Himself.

Isn’t that great news? In any case, whether moments of trial or moments of treasure, our God is still a God that will get glory. I am writing this post with my hometown in mind. My small hometown in Georgia has been through a fairly consistent stream of heartache recently. From the deaths of people that we loved dearly to accidents of various kinds, my hometown has certainly seen trial. In fact, if you are reading this as a citizen of LaGrange, GA, you have probably been through your fair share of hard times in the past year. If you are reading this and have lost a loved one or have experienced some other kind of tragedy, please bear with me. I’m getting there.

Broader scope. Whether your year was phenomenal or terrible, you have inevitably experienced some sort of trial in the past year, or possibly early in this year. Here’s my point here. In good times and bad, we serve a glorious, glorious God. And for the believer, it is a glory that we are called to hope in. In fact, Paul, in his letter to the Romans, addresses suffering and this “hope in the glory of God” in the same thought! Romans 5 says this:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For quite some time this has been one of my favorite passages of Scripture. Isn’t it so interesting that Paul connects suffering to hope? Not only that, but he says we can rejoice in both our hope and our suffering. It’s so different than our thinking isn’t it? In the midst of our suffering and trials, we get this promise of the glory of God. Something that we have seen in part, but not yet in full. But we will see it in full. And that’s what gives us hope.

Friends if you are reading this and are currently suffering, I would like to share this quote from the great preacher Charles H. Spurgeon with you:

“Does a man know any gospel truth aright till he knows it by experience? Is not this the reason why God’s servants are made to pass through so many trials, that they may really learn many truths not otherwise to be apprehended? Do we learn much in sunny weather? Do we not profit most in stormy times? Have you not found it so — that your sick-bed — your bereavement — your depression of spirit, has instructed you in many matters which tranquility and delight have never whispered to you? I suppose we ought: to learn as much by joy as by sorrow, and I hope that many of my Lord’s better servants do so; but, alas! others of us do not; affliction has to be called in to whip the lesson into us.”

The Lord teaches us in the trials. Perhaps He’s trying to teach you something even now. When I recall 2013, I know that it was a hard year, but it was also one of the most formative years in my faith. Perhaps it was one of yours too! God used my suffering to teach me about how the believer should behave in hard times. He taught me about how good He is, no matter what the circumstance. And most importantly, He continues to teach me about His glory. What an awesome God we serve!

If you are reading this as a follower of Jesus, please know that the God who saved you delights in you even in times that are difficult. May the God of the trials use those trials to teach you even more about how great He is. And remember, all of your affliction is brief and momentary.

If you are reading this and you are not a follower of Jesus, please know that there is a God who delights in you, and desires for you to come to Him. If you have questions about that please don’t hesitate to ask me.

Our God is the God of the good times and the bad. Praise be to the One True God, who glorifies Himself even more in the hard places.

Grace and Peace,

Mitch

 

 

 

For the Love of the Church

This is a post that I have been wanting to do based on a theme that I have picked up on among young evangelicals. Since I myself am a young evangelical, it’s a theme that I’ve seen in my own life and in the lives of my peers. Though I’ve seen it most in evangelical 20-somethings, I think this is something that is relevant to Christian of all ages. I am talking about the love of the Church.

It’s a pretty well known fact that many Christian teens walk away from the Church in their college years. Most studies would say that about 60-70% of youth will walk about from their faith, and of those numbers about half will eventually return. That should mess with you. There are quite a few factors that I think contribute to this movement, and a lack of love for the Church is certainly one (among many others). In fact, in conversations that I’ve had, many 20-somethings have become bitter towards, even in cases where that person grew up in the Church. It is impossible to nail down one reason that people begin to harbor bitterness toward the Church, because there simply isn’t one. However, it all does seem to begin with one reason: there is a lack of love for the Church. So what do we do? Is there a solution? Put simply, faithful preaching of the Gospel is the solution. As the Church we have a commission to go out and share Jesus with those who don’t know him, and who don’t love him. However, notice that at the beginning of this post, I mentioned that this was a theme among young evangelicals. As in Christ followers. As in Church members. Is that true? Could there in fact be a lack of love for the Church within the Church itself?

Hear me out here. I’m not talking about Christians who don’t want to get up and go to a church service on Sunday mornings. What I mean is that so often I have conversations with people that conclude with “see, that’s what’s wrong with the Church.” “People” here most definitely includes myself. Have you ever found yourself doing this? I definitely have. The question is, is that a bad thing? Yes and no. Here’s what I mean: constructive criticism is healthy and good for the Church. We need to be growing and challenging each other! That’s a good thing. The issue arises when our criticisms do not come from a place of love.

Check out what Paul writes in his epistle to the Colossians. At the time, the Church at Colossae was in a mess, and facing a whole lot of false teaching. This is his instruction to them:

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another,forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

That last verse is wonderful: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Everything that we do should be done in the name of Jesus. So, when criticisms arise, let’s make sure that it’s glorifying. Is that possible? Of course! Often it’s even necessary (for example, Jesus cleansing the temple, Paul criticizing the Galatians. many others). My point is this: we need to let our love for the Church drive our criticisms of the Church.

This is not an accusation. It’s a challenge that God has given his people. Let’s teach and admonish one another in wisdom, and let’s be thankful to God for each other. And let’s absolutely call each other on our sin. But let’s do it because of our love for Jesus and his people. If at any point we’re coming from a place of pride, anger, selfish ambition, whatever, let’s check our hearts with Scripture. Let’s love the Church like Christ does.

Grace,

Mitch

Not So Sad Suffering

I mentioned in my first post that I am currently out of school this semester due to a medical withdrawal. Some of you reading this will know this story, but others of you will not, and for those of you who do know, consider this an update. I want to begin with this: this is not a sad story. At the beginning, it will seem that way, but please read this to the end and allow me to explain.

Here’s the situation. In August, I drove back up to Columbia, SC where I attend college at Columbia International University. I love my school, and I was excited about this semester for several different reasons: starting a field ed teaching Bible to 5th graders, getting back to my prison ministry, etc. Most of all though, I was excited about being an RA on a freshman men’s hall. Residence life means ministry at CIU, and I was excited to have the opportunity to work with an awesome team and to minister to a bunch of new freshman guys. I had gotten my floor chart that summer and me and my team had been praying for these men for months. In mid August, these guys moved onto the hall and they were awesome. I loved getting to hang out with them, and they were seriously encouraging to me in my ministry. In just a few short weeks, we were already seeing growth. School was going well, and I was just starting to get settled into new classes. Early September is when things got weird.

One Wednesday, I had just gotten out of a Greek class. I was feeling tired and a little bit dizzy, so I went back to my dorm and laid on a friend’s couch. Pretty soon, I had passed out on the floor. I went to an urgent care that evening and was sent home later. Fast forward, I passed out again, and I ended up having to come back home to have some tests run. I came back home, and I eventually ended up in the hospital to be tested for meningitis. That was a pretty scary time for me because I had never heard of a type of meningitis that wasn’t fatal, and I was really unsure of what was going to happen to me. By God’s grace, it was not bacterial, and therefore it was only a virus. Whether it was meningitis or not, we knew it was a virus, and I would get over it. For about a week I was home, resting and getting better. As I was getting ready to go back to school, I was still feeling very tired, so I went back to my doctor for a follow up. I got my blood tested for what felt like the thousandth time, this time for mono and Lyme’s disease. To be honest, I really thought that my fatigue was just natural from my recovery, and that I would get back to school, start feeling better, and finish my semester. So I went back. The night I got back, I found out that I had both mono and Lyme’s disease, and it became very apparent to me that I was not nearly as well as I thought I was.

In the grand scheme of things, the things that I am sick with are not a big deal. Nothing that I have is life threatening, nor will it be in the future, The hard part was making a decision to leave school. After a few days back, I knew that I was not going to be able to continue at school this semester. I knew pretty soon after I got back, but I didn’t admit that to myself until later. I was disappointed and angry, and most of all, I didn’t understand. After making the decision, I had lots and lots of hard conversations with people that I love, the most difficult being the conversation with the guys on my hall, It really pained me to have to tell them that I wouldn’t be on the hall as their RA this semester. Not to mention the fact that missing a semester of school would really throw a kink into plans I had for the future. All the plans I had for graduation and a career and marriage didn’t seem so secure anymore. So the question was this: why? Why was I suffering? What was the point? This brings us to the reason that this is not a sad story.

Isn’t God’s desire for me to be happy? If God loves us. why would he allow us to suffer? This is important. Scripture does not tell us that Christians are immune to suffering. In fact, it says quite the opposite. Scripture tells us that as Christians we will most surely suffer, and get this, it’s a good thing. There are so many passages that I’d like to unpack, but for the sake of keeping this post readable, I will unpack just one. Check out 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

I absolutely love this passage, and it has been beyond encouraging to me in this season. I love how Paul describes the affliction (light and momentary) compared to the weight of glory (eternal and beyond all comparison). Friends, our suffering is not in vain. It is refining us for something that is so much bigger than ourselves. As Paul writes here, the things that we see here will end, but the things that we do not yet see will last forever. Our suffering is so brief in the scope of eternity! Isn’t it such good news that one day, the Father will wipe away the tears of the Christian, and death will be no more (Revelation 21:4)? It’s true! The trials that we go through now are building up towards an eternal weight, that will never fade away. Our suffering has an end. The life of the Christian does not.

The story has a happy ending friends. If you are a follower of Jesus, your suffering is for a reason, and the reason is so, so good. Dwell on the teachings of the Scriptures. It is so clear that the Lord uses our suffering for our good, and more importantly, His glory. What would the non-believer say if they saw the Church suffering biblically? We have an opportunity to show the world the grace of God in Christ through the trials in our life. Let’s pray that when people see us suffer, they would ultimately see the grace of God in our own lives.

Presently, I still don’t know why the Lord has me at home this semester. And that’s okay. What I do know is that the Lord has a plan, and His plan is good. If nothing else, the Lord is teaching me how to suffer well. Please pray that God would be glorified in my situation. Perhaps as you read this, you are suffering as well. Please be encouraged by the fact that if you are a follower of Jesus, you are not suffering in vain. If you are reading this and you are not a follower of Christ, please contact me. When we submit our lives to Jesus, our suffering is momentary and good.

In conclusion, I need to make a clarification. Our suffering will not be easy. It is much easier said than done to say “Hey, let’s suffer biblically and it’ll all be okay, alright guys?” Of course it’s not easy. But another great aspect of the Church is that we do not suffer alone. The body of Christ is intended to be a buffer for the suffering Christian. Together, because we have a great High Priest, we can bring our trials before the throne of God. Thank you, Lord.

Thank you for reading! Please contact me if you’d like to discuss this further!

Also, I wanted to post this sermon that John Piper preached at the Legacy Conference earlier this year. It’s so good, and has been very helpful to me.

Grace,

Mitch

On Three Reasons for Writing a Blog

My name is Mitch. If you’re reading this, you most likely already know that. I’ve always wanted to do this (start a blog, I mean) but I’ve always thought that I didn’t have time, or that I wouldn’t be able to keep it up. However, if you know me well you probably know that this semester I have taken a medical withdrawal from school (that story will come later, in a later post), which, for now at least, gives me ample time to read and write and interact with you via this blog. That being said, almost every blog that I have ever read has begun with a post about why the person blogging wants to blog, what they’ll be writing about, etc. So, in keeping with tradition, I will do just that.

There are a few different reasons for my writing this blog, but I will do my best to keep this inaugural post brief so that I don’t lose you immediately. So, without further ado, here are my top three reasons for writing this blog.

1.    I really enjoy writing. This reason comes with an explanation. When I was in high school, I almost always dreaded writing assignments and essays. When I graduated high school, I went to a gap year program called IMPACT 360 (you can visit their website here, and you should because they’re awesome) and it was there that I started to develop a love for writing. Why? I didn’t quite know the answer to that question until recently, but I think I do now. It’s because as I got into studying things that I’m passionate about and things that I enjoy, I started to love thinking through them by writing. I’d tell you what I’m passionate about, but that would totally ruin points 2 and 3, so I won’t do that just yet. I will however, give you an example.

When I was sixteen, I had to write a book report on a book called Ethan Frome. I like novels a lot. I enjoy reading fiction. That being said, I absolutely hated Ethan Frome. I don’t remember what my book report on Ethan Frome said, but I’m sure it was absolutely dreadful. To be fair, Ethan Frome might be a fine novel, and maybe I just didn’t appreciate it as a sixteen year old kid. Either way, my report on it was not good, because I wasn’t passionate about it. On the other hand, earlier this year I wrote a paper for a course called “History of the Christian Church.” I wrote that essay on John Calvin’s ecclesiology (or, doctrine of the Church). Because the Church is something that I am passionate about (spoiler alert, that’s point 3), that piece of writing was better than my report on Ethan Frome. I enjoyed writing it, my professor enjoyed reading it, and it was a far better situation than the one I mentioned previously.

C.S. Lewis wrote something awesome on the subject, and he wrote it far more eloquently than I can. Lewis is the author of a ton of great stuff, but some of his most highly regarded works are children’s fiction (namely, The Chronicles of Narnia series). I recently read this essay (one of his more well known ones) on why these works appeal so much to both children and adults. You should really read it, but in short, it gets at the point that we write best when we’re writing about things that we enjoy, or would enjoy reading. That doesn’t even begin to do the essay justice though, so give it a read if you have time. I also wanted to include it because it inspired the title of this post, and I would not want to rip off a great. So there you have it, point one.

2.    I love to learn and teach the Bible. When I had to withdraw from school this semester, one of the greatest sources of disappointment came from the fact that I would not be in my Bible classes, nor would I be teaching the Bible to anyone. I feel at home in teaching and preaching, and going months without being able to do that was a really terrible thought to me. When I’m at school in Columbia, SC, I have the privilege of preaching on Wednesday nights at Kirkland Correctional Institution. I have learned more from the men there than I have from almost anyone else, and you will hear more and more about them in later posts. Because the Lord has given me a heart for that place, I was naturally grieved by the thought that I would not be able to be there for a while. So far, point number two sounds like a sob story so I will get to the good news. The good news is this: our learning of the Bible is not confined to a classroom, or even a church building. Nor is teaching it! One of the most wonderful things about the Church is that the Lord uses the body to build one another up. God uses His people to encourage His people. I am constantly encouraged by those who are passionate about God and his Word, and my prayer is that He would use this blog to encourage you. As I study the Scriptures, I want to be able to discuss those with you. So, as I post things of that nature, please, interact with it. Let’s get after the Word together.

3.    I love the Church. The Lord has given me a passion for this. This blog is not about my writing, or my desires. It’s about Christ’s desire for the Church to come together. We see it all throughout the Gospels. In Matthew 6, Jesus prays “Our Father” and he continues to pray in that fashion (give us today our daily bread, etc.). Perhaps one of my favorite verses about church unity comes from another one of Christ’s prayers, specifically the one known as “the High Priestly prayer” in John 17. Jesus prays that the Church would come together as one. Look at John 17:20-22. Jesus has just prayed that the believers of that time would be sanctified by the truth as they go into the world. Now, he turns his attention to future believers (which is where you and I come in!):

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.”

The fact of the matter is that Christ has a deep desire for the Church to be one. Isn’t it amazing that in this prayer so many years ago, Christ actually prayed for you and me? That you and I, as part of the same body would come together as one? Jesus desires for us to come together and contend for the Gospel. By his grace, and only by his grace, we can do so.

Thank you for reading. Please, continue to do so. Interact with the things that I write. Feel free to contact me through the contact information in the “Contact” page. Through our faith in Jesus, and a true love for the Gospel, we can truly be the undivided Church, as it was designed.

Grace,

Mitchell Aldridge