Articles & Announcements


The Problem of Pain

How can there be a good, loving, compassionate God, a God who is both omniscient and omnipotent, if he often holds back his hand from delivering those in need?

Grappling with this question can be lonely. This isn’t a popular topic to bring up at parties. Even in small groups, getting into this question can be uncomfortable, especially when there are no clear answers to prevent suffering from occurring.

When I bring up my questions related to the problem of pain, people frequently shut down the conversation by either referring me to a Bible verse; giving me a platitude like, “God will work it all out in the end, just trust him”; telling me to listen to a sermon; referring me to a book on the topic; or telling me that I need to talk to a pastor or counselor.

I end up walking away feeling more alone, but I don’t think I’m the only person who struggles with these questions. The death of a loved one, the loss of a cherished relationship, a sudden and unexpected tragic turn of events, or a slow demise of one’s hopes and dreams—deep pain can happen to anyone at any time without notice. Job had these questions and was very familiar with the same kinds of “comforts” his friends offered. David, one of God’s favorites, expressed his angst towards God in the Psalms. So I’m not alone! And I want to find others who will join me in exploring and struggling over how to respond to suffering.

I’ve found Philip Yancey’s thoughtful and honest book Where Is God When It Hurts? to be a great place to start thinking through questions like

  • How can viewing pain from an eternal perspective change how we respond to it?
  • How do we develop a much longer view of God’s goodness?
  • How do we hold out hope for God’s deliverance in the land of the living (Psalm 27.14), while knowing that the ultimate deliverance will not occur until his Kingdom comes in full?
  • How do we walk alongside each other compassionately as we grapple with suffering?
  • What is the difference between empathy and sympathy/pity?

If you’re in the midst of grappling with these questions, if you’ve gone through them and come out the other side or if you know someone who is beset by them now, please join me for a weekly or biweekly discussion of Yancey’s book. As we struggle together and learn from each other, we will be able to find a firmer foundation in our faith—as eternity becomes more real and relevant to us, we can be free to live in and be thankful for the here and now.

Learn more about the Where Is God When It Hurts? discussion group.

How Does God View Diversity?

Topics: , | Tags: , , , , | Posted on: 06.19.2014

Every Thursday in June, we’re sharing reflections from some of the Grace DC members who participated in our March panel on cultural intelligence. This week, an anonymous Grace DC member shares how they first became interested in the subject of cultural intelligence:

My interest in this topic began with the question, “How does God, our Father, view diversity in culture, race and ethnicity? Why is it part of his plan for us to be different in these ways? What does the answer to that question say about how we are to humbly engage the people of our city?”

Our society’s conversations about race, ethnicity and culture are important, but I don’t want to stop where our society stops. My hope is that Christ’s Spirit will show our church how our cultures reflect him—ultimately equipping us to love one another better.

Local Partners

Helping Families (On a Shoestring Budget): My Time With Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center

Needs Met

A CHPC client family.

When I joined the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center’s Board of Directors in 2012, I expected to contribute some time to a good cause: If I believe expectant mothers should carry their babies to term, I have a responsibility to help make that choice feasible for them. The Pregnancy Center does this by counseling expectant mothers and fathers, providing them with crucial supplies and connecting them with a support system.

I didn’t expect to also learn an ongoing, powerful lesson about God’s provision for the needs of his children—yet that’s what happened.

The Pregnancy Center serves thousands of clients every year on a shoestring budget, less than the salary of a single typical mid-career lawyer at a big DC firm. And while resources are tight, many clients’ situations are overwhelming. Many are pregnant teenagers whose mothers have threatened to kick them out of the house if they don’t get an abortion. Nearly all of the clients are poor, disadvantaged and unmarried.

GDT Volunteer

A Grace Downtown volunteer.

When I started spending time with the Pregnancy Center team, I first noticed constant prayer—and I noticed that these prayers were more often prayers of thanks than prayers of angst. The chance to minister to a new client, a supporter’s donation of a used baby stroller, an opportunity to set up a parenting class at an additional local high school—the Pregnancy Center team enthusiastically thanks God for all these things, all the time.

The Pregnancy Center team’s prayerfulness and thankfulness show that they know God loves them, loves the clients, loves the work. Their confidence in God’s love buoys them, powers the organization, and shows up in energetic service.

Meanwhile their prayers keep getting answered in improbable ways. One month, giving might increase unexpectedly. The next, a stranger might walk in and offer to pay for new carpeting. Or a former client might stop by to share news of her healthy, happy family. All these things have happened.

A CHPC family after completing a parenting class.

A CHPC family after completing a parenting class.

I tend to base my own decisions and actions on whether I feel powerful—not on confidence that God loves me and purposes to bless me “exceedingly abundantly” beyond what I could ask or think (Ephesians 3.20). The Pregnancy Center team’s prayerfulness and thankfulness have challenged that.

God provides for his children—never in the ways we’d expect, always “exceedingly abundantly” better than our expectations, and always with perfect love and perfect knowledge. Knowing this truth means we can relax, celebrate, and work without desperation.

» Pray for CHPC’s mothers, fathers and children; for CHPC’s funding and resources; and especially for continued confidence in God’s love.

Grace Downtown is participating in the Pregnancy Center’s annual Baby Bottle Fundraiser. Learn more about how to participate.


How Does Cultural Intelligence Inform Our Mission as a Church?

Every Thursday in June, we’re sharing reflections from some of the Grace DC members who participated in our March panel on cultural intelligence. This week, Kenny and Tianna Gibbs share why cultural intelligence is important to them as members of a Grace DC congregation:

If we are going to be effective in living up to our callings as a church—being “in and for the city,” “in/of/for our neighborhoods,” and having “unity in diversity”—we have to aim to be a culturally intelligent congregation. We cannot love people well if we are not aware of, and sensitive to, where people are coming from. This is the case whether they are from similar or different cultures.

As Christians, we have “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism” (Eph 4.5), yet too often our lines of race, ethnicity, and class divide us. As the church, we are called to redeem, not reinforce, the divisions of our city. Cultural intelligence, is key to God’s redemptive work.


Why Be Part of a Diverse Church?

Every Thursday in June, we’re sharing reflections from some of the Grace DC members who participated in our March panel on cultural intelligence. This week, Kelly shares why being part of a church that is paying attention to cultural and cross-cultural issues is important to her:

The great commission calls us to make disciples of all nations and that is why a diverse church is important to me. As we seek to spread the Gospel, Jesus said that one way people will know we belong to him is by our love for one another. In a world where people often divide by race, class, political views, or education, it is noticeable when people cross these divisions in the name of Jesus.

I’ve seen the power of this in my own life. My hometown is pretty starkly segregated. Aside from a few areas, you just don’t see white people. Ever. A few years ago a black pastor and a white pastor decided to plant a church together and I had an opportunity to hear them speak about their experience. They explained that people from the neighborhood were so startled to see white people mulling around on Sunday mornings, that they would come inside the church just to see what on earth was going on in there. Through coming into the church, many people came to know Christ.

This is the power of having a community that looks different from the divided world around us—it can help draw people to the gospel. So while there are other reasons why cultural intelligence is important to me, spreading the gospel is the main one!


Making Decisions and Trusting God

Grace Downtown member Josh Wade shares what he has learned about “calling” through making the decision to go to graduate school.

In college I majored in both Economics and Religious Studies. Advisors, parents and friends all asked the same question: What are you going to do with that? I picked my strange majors because I had come to believe that my “calling” was to help build communities that contribute to the peace and well-being of the world around them—what the Bible calls shalom.

However, I have some reservations about the way that the idea of “calling” can be used. When we talk about calling, there is at least a possibility of focusing on overly idealistic notions rather than on what God has revealed about his will, which includes such calls as to know and follow Jesus and to love our neighbor. Nevertheless, there is certainly truth in the notion that we are created in unique ways, and it makes sense to seek to work in light of how we have been created.

As college came to a close, I was still considering various ways that I might pursue this calling to build shalom in a specific job. I had looked at a lot of different types of grad school—seminaries, PhDs in Economics and law school! I decided to come to DC and work as an economic consultant. This job allowed me to work with both economists and lawyers, and to see what those careers looked like. Through my job, I learned that I was good at legal thinking and research, but didn’t want to spend my life deep in econometric modeling.

At the same time, my experience and relationships at Grace Downtown allowed me to see more what full-time ministry would look like. I learned that I was passionate about the church’s role in addressing injustice in the world, but thought that I wanted more ‘hands-on’ interaction with injustice than I would be afforded as a traditional pastor.

Through this process I came to believe that law school was the best intersection of my abilities and God’s desires for the world. I saw something unique about practicing law that resonated with the person God has made me to be, and this excited me. I applied to law school and was accepted. After getting in, I lined up an internship with International Justice Mission for this coming summer where I will be focused on supporting churches around the world as they work for justice in their individual contexts. I look forward to seeing how God will use these passions and skills He has cultivated in me for the good of his kingdom.

As all of this was being ordered, God has been teaching me to trust in him. It has been very easy for me to consider my other hypothetical options and to wonder if I made the right decisions. However, God, frequently through my Grace Downtown family, has been leading me into a restful trust of him. I’ve been reminded that God’s primary will for me is to know and love him. I’ve been reminded that God’s sovereignty extends over my decisions (even my bad ones!), and he will use them to his glory. And I’ve been reminded that he loves me, not for what I do or the decisions I make, but because of who he is. It is in this truth that I’ve been able to rest.

Throughout this story, regardless of my motivations, God has been faithful and sought me, and I have found life in him. This is comforting. In a world and culture where we hope to find so much satisfaction through our careers, it is great to know that whether I have a “successful” career or not, I can be satisfied in Jesus.

For more on calling, vocation and how they apply to you, register for “What Is Vocation?” on June 9.

Local Partners

An Update on AGAP

In mid-2013, I began getting involved with the Anacostia Gracious Arts Program (AGAP), a Grace Downtown partner providing after-school arts education and arts-oriented field trips to students in Washington, DC. This week, I went to First Rock Baptist Church in Anacostia, where two dozen AGAP students from one of AGAP’s after-school locations just put on an end-of-semester performance for their friends and family. There were young musicians, dancers and actors showing off what they’ve learned, and young visual artists putting their work on display. The younger kids were adorable and the older kids were surprisingly talented, so I of course had a blast.

AGAPStudentsIt was a great way to close out my first year of involvement with AGAP. A year ago, I had heard a lot about what AGAP had the potential to do, and after a year with them I am more excited about that potential than ever. But I’ve also been caught off guard by how great AGAP already is.

The kids and teens who put on last night’s performance worked their butts off, and they planned and executed the whole thing themselves. They were excited to do it.

I was inspired by the way they loved and supported one of the regular volunteers who has a developmental disability. One of AGAP’s teachers is expecting a child, and it was hard not to get caught up in the students’ excitement at the idea of being part of this baby’s life. And hearing the honest and grateful prayers the students offered up during the evening was nothing short of touching.

After that evening, I’m not just excited about what AGAP can do for these students—I’m excited for how AGAP can create opportunities for these awesome people to leave their mark on our city.

AGAP is embarking on some exciting programs in the coming months—including offering after-school programs in more locations, bringing in accomplished local artists to write new curriculum and hiring a new staff member to help these students become more engaged in DC’s broader artistic and cultural life. Would you consider supporting AGAP through prayer?

Thank you for your support. We are proud to partner with Grace Downtown in renewing our city socially, culturally and spiritually.

Class Recording

Listen to “The Bible and Sexuality” Part Two: Redemption, Consummation

We all understand our lives in light of stories. The Bible offers us a four-chapter story for understanding what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection mean to our lives today. In part one of The Bible and Sexuality, we covered how the first two chapters of that story inform the way we understand and practice sex. In part two, we look at the way the final two chapters—redemption and consummation—change what we expect of sex and revolutionize what we learn from it.


“God Doesn’t Hand Out Grace In A Lifetime Supply…”

Following our recent seminar on The Bible and Sexuality, I wanted to share an extended quote on sex and celibacy from a recent article in First Things magazine:

“If the thought of enduring your marriage or lack of marriage for the rest of your life is daunting, it is because God doesn’t hand out grace in a lifetime supply. He provides it one day at a time. If you feel like God has not given you the capacity to love your spouse for a lifetime, that’s because he hasn’t. But he has given you exactly what you need to be loving today. Furthermore, God has not given celibates the grace to bear a lifetime of solitude. But he will give you what you need to make it through this day.

“As C. S. Lewis wrote in a letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, ‘[I]t is seldom the present and the actual that is intolerable. Remember one is given the strength to bear what happens to one, but not the 100 and 1 different things that might happen.’

“Jesus sought daily strength from his Father. He expected it would be provided as he needed it. That timely help is what God has promised to us:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4.15–16)

“God will give us what we need, but he will not give it to us until we need it. He didn’t give the Israelites enough food to last through forty years in the wilderness; he gave them manna one day at a time. None of us has a lifelong stockpile of grace, but we can look forward to God’s faithfulness over a lifetime, offered to us one day at a time.”

~Betsy Child, “Marriage and Celibacy: Lifelong Grace One Day at a Time,” First Things

You can listen to part one of The Bible and Sexuality now. Part two will be online later this week.