A coffee press and a set of icing tips are examples of gifts that keep on giving. So is Milton Vincent's 97-page book A Gospel Primer for Christians.
It's rare for me to remember how I happened to own any particular book. Books fly in and out of our house like the dusty Dubai air.
This book is different. I remember standing in Kevin and Katie Cawley's living room in Kansas City, and I noticed a thin, brown book on their coffee table. "A Gospel Primer for Christians. What's this about?" I inquired.
"It will change your life! Take it." Kevin likes to give grandiose endorsements for great books, BBQ, and Death Cab for Cutie songs. And I like free books.
I was not aware that in God's providence I would soon be clinging for dear life to the truths in that book.
Fiery Furnace? Nope, Just the Arabian Desert
My husband, Dave, and I stepped off the plane onto the sizzling tarmac in Dubai and walked into a season of some of the most severe trials in our lives---all designed and orchestrated by a loving God.
The thoughts about the gospel on page 31 strengthened my faith:
[T]he gospel is the one great permanent circumstance in which I live and move; and every hardship in my life is allowed by God only because it serves his gospel purposes in me. When I view my circumstances in this light, I realize that the gospel is not just one piece of good news that fits into my life somewhere among all the bad. I realize instead that the gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials.
We had packed up our lives and moved to the Arabian Peninsula to help start a church planting movement. This had been our dream for many years, but during our first 12 months in the desert we experienced a "rude" awakening.
God, in his mercy, was awakening us to the idea that ministry and life do not always go smoothly. I know some of you just read this and thought, Well, duh.
Sure, I had read the Bible and understood the passages about God's servants suffering. But I hadn't tasted those tears personally and yearned to see the horizon of heaven. I was under the impression that God "opens doors" for his servants to saunter through. Suffering was not a dominant theme in my Christian vocabulary.
A series of circumstances rocked our family and rendered us helpless, depressed, and in physical pain. My husband's health dramatically deteriorated. Our language learning was halted. Ministry doors seemed to be bolted shut indefinitely. The sweat of our brows accomplished little in terms of getting daily tasks done. Our hope felt suffocated. Our toddler also struggled in her adjustment.
God's Faithfulness Will Never Pass
I needed to learn in those early months on the field that sometimes God doesn't open doors. Sometimes God makes the walls fall down flat so everyone can see that he is the one who is doing the work. He is, after all, the God who raises the dead.
The gospel-centered exhortations in Vincent's book helped rip the roof off the proverbial house so that I could see the spiritual implications of suffering in my life. My heart filled with wonder that a holy God would love me, a sinner. What I needed to hear more than anything else was not simply, "This, too, shall pass," but, "God's faithfulness will never pass." Fixating on my circumstances and toying with the "if only game" only eroded my faith. Vincent taught me to begin my train of thought with the one great permanent circumstance in which I live---the gospel.
When the Holy Spirit applied God's Word to my heart, I saw that God in Christ has placed me smack dab in the middle of Romans 8:32 forever. In the midst of a spiritual asthma attack I can breathe easy. My trials bow to God's will and work his "gospel good" in my life for his glory.
The Gift of God = God
That page in A Gospel Primer for Christians changed my life. The gospel is not just the key to appreciating a host of theological -ations; it is also key to understanding personal suffering in light of eternity and God's design to bring himself glory.
The gospel is indeed the gift that directs me to the Giver who keeps on giving the best gift of all---himself.