Abundant Life

Abundant Life

Photo by Jonathan Portillo (Pexels).

By Shannon Vowell –

Spring pushing white and lavender and pink into dazzling prominence as the gray and brown disappear. Easter joy writ large on the landscape.

Alongside the greening, something new in my neighborhood, a winter-is-over ritual: Regiments of middle-school boys – hoodie-clad, bicycle-mounted, wielding iPhones and skateboards – are climbing up onto roofs.

Several were on the roof of the elementary school last week. Others have scaled fences to perch on backyard sheds. The online bulletin board is abuzz with worries and irritations about these boys and their exploits; the adult population not sure how to put a stop to these antics which are as fleeting and hard to anticipate as they are dangerous.

I have a soft spot for boys at the age and stage of these roof climbers. Look past the foul-mouthed bravura and there is something exquisitely poignant about their gangly, coltish limbs and downy cheeks. Boys on the brink of physical manhood are desperate to prove themselves brave and big and strong – and when big and strong are still out of reach, brave becomes the ultimate badge of honor.

Hence, roof climbing.

On a cloud-streaked afternoon, one of the boys managed to scale the gazebo in the park – a structure with multiple metal levels, whose top eaves are easily 25 feet high. He stood on the highest part of that roof – and then jumped! As high as he could! Skinny arms stretching into the somber sky!

I watched from my kitchen window with my heart in my mouth as his flimsy form silhouetted for a moment against late afternoon sunlight. For a split second, he was flying – Peter Pan or Icarus – all his boy-energy and aspiration physicalized in wild, ferocious defiance of gravity. It was piercingly beautiful, ballerina-grace and cheetah-speed compressed into a scruffy package and hurled into space.

Of course, it was also incredibly stupid and potentially fatal. But that roof-climber was safely down and escaping on his bike before I or any of the other adult witnesses could tell him so (or get his mom’s number to tattle on him).

I was profoundly relieved that he hadn’t fallen and broken himself on the concrete. I was also profoundly affected by the picture he had made, flung into thin air like that, daring the laws of physics to crack him like an egg. That gauntlet is thrown at death spotlighted life – in all its recklessness and risk and glory. It made me wonder: when was the last time I felt completely alive?

For me, like for so many across the world, the last year has felt like an extended, immersive study of “life in survival mode.”

The pandemic has recast basic questions of everyday. Minimizing risk has taken precedence over things like preference or pleasure. Contact-free procurement of groceries. Being compliant with mask-wearing, physical distancing, and frequent sanitization of hands and surfaces. Avoiding crowds; staying “within your bubble.”

Such preoccupations are laudable from the perspective of doing one’s part to help contain a deadly virus. They (hopefully) minimize risk to self and family; they (hopefully) protect others from one’s own germs.

But somewhere along the way, in setting aside preference and pleasure for the greater good, I seem to have set aside purpose, too. Why is it we are all being so careful / trying so hard to stay alive? What is it we are sacrificing so much to preserve? I need reminding…

The plain fact of it is that making “safety” the whole point of living obscures something fundamental: avoiding death is not really living.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” Jesus told his disciples. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Matthew 16:24-26).

Jesus is in no way advocating carelessness with one’s health or with the health of one’s neighbor (see the parable of the Good)

Samaritan for details on just how seriously we are supposed to take our neighbor’s health and safety)! But Jesus is insisting that we see the goal – the purpose – the meaning of life as following Him. Any other goal, even gaining the whole world, falls short.

Jesus could have been talking about Covid 19 when he described the intent of the evil one: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” Consider what the virus has stolen from the world in terms of joy, freedom, productivity, connection – the list goes on. Consider the toll of the killing: several million lives worldwide. And destruction? Who can measure the cost of what has been destroyed in terms of livelihoods and semesters of school and rites of passage, gone forever?

But the contrast between that evil intent and Jesus’s purpose is stark: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Instead of stealing, killing, and destroying – Jesus gives abundant life.

Clearly, by “life” Jesus is talking about something more than just continuing to take in oxygen and occupy space on the planet. Jesus points to “life” as his life purpose while remaining clear that “staying alive” is not key to experiencing this life. Paul sums it up nicely: “To live is Christ; to die is gain” Philippians 1:21).

Statements Jesus makes elsewhere in Scripture give us a framework for understanding just how abundant the abundance he offers, is:

• “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty,” Jesus said to the woman at the well. “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).

• “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

• “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” Jesus said. “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

The “eternal life” Jesus offers is life that includes abundance in the here and now as well as fellowship with the Father forever after. So life in Christ, according to Jesus, is a both / and proposition – peace and purpose in the world; peace and purpose beyond the world. And that Life has already conquered death – which means to live into it is to be unafraid.

The roof climbers in my neighborhood have blessed me by reminding me – forcefully! – that there is more to life than avoiding death. While I am too old and heavy (and hopefully too wise) to launch myself from the top tier of the gazebo, perhaps I am wise enough to take the lesson to heart. Living into my own life with the unselfconscious abandon and exuberance of the roof climbers, even now, is the only logical response to the life I’ve been offered in Christ.

“Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,  for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8- 9).

Life abundant = indescribable and glorious joy + salvation. Let’s shout it from the rooftops!

Shannon Vowell writes and teaches about making disciples of Jesus Christ. She blogs at shannonvowell.com.

Abundant Life

A Journey in Discernment


Jenifer Jones

By Jennifer Jones –

I almost didn’t go on the “GreenLight” mission trip. I had already participated in a fair number of short-term mission trips and had already visited the country where the team would be going. I was concerned whether the experience would bring me closer to solving the puzzle of what to do with my life – where God was leading me.

At 10 years old, I felt a call to missions after hearing missionaries speak at my church. I felt certain that I would go to college to become a teacher, marry a pastor, and head overseas. This was what I thought you had to do to become a missionary.

Then, just before graduating high school, I felt God saying “no” to missions. I was confused and angry. Had I not heard God’s voice after all?  Why would he give me a desire to serve him overseas and not let me go?

I’ve always loved to write, so instead of going to school to become a teacher, I studied to become a journalist. After graduation, I got a job at a fantastic radio station. When it looked like there might be cuts at my workplace, I began looking for other options.

I felt God calling me to a year-long mission trip. “This is it!” I thought. “God is finally letting me go!” I figured I would fall in love with a country, feel the call to move there full-time, and I would be all set. That didn’t happen. But I realized I loved writing about what God was doing and my time as a journalist hadn’t been for nothing after all.

Once back in the United States, I began looking into organizations hiring missionary writers. Nothing felt quite right. A friend suggested I look into Asbury Theological Seminary, and I felt like it was what God wanted me to do. That’s where I was introduced to TMS Global and learned about its “GreenLight” missions trip – a short-term mentorship experience. My teammates and I spent three weeks learning from four cross-cultural

Workers (missionaries) and their children as they interacted with their community, their friends, their employees, and their family.

For parts of the experience, I questioned whether I was called to missions. For example, the needs of the people around us felt very overwhelming. I also questioned my skills. It didn’t always feel like I had much to contribute.

But on one of our last days, our hosts spent time noting positive things they had seen in myself and the other participants. These cross-cultural workers reminded me that just spending time with others could be a powerful contribution. They also affirmed my calling as a missions writer. Ultimately, I realized I did not feel a sense that I was meant to live full-time overseas, at least not right now.

Over the next couple of years, as I finished seminary, a mobilizer with TMS Global continued to work with me to further discern whether it was the right mission organization for me, and if so, what that might look like. She listened as I shared my hopes, goals, dreams, and desires. I could tell that she really cared about me, and not just about filling a spot in the organization. I wanted to tell missions stories. But I also wanted to live closer to my family. My new work at TMS Global incorporates multiple dreams that God had laid on my heart. It is a perfect fit for me.

The road to get where I am now has been long and winding, but I’m able to see how God has worked the various parts of my life and experiences together to prepare me for my current place. So much of my discernment process has been gradual. It has involved paying attention to my passions and talents, circumstances, life experiences, and wisdom from trusted sources. I’m grateful for the people who have guided me. I’m also thankful for experiences like the GreenLight trip that have helped me discern a place in God’s mission just right for me.

Jenifer Jones is a writer who focuses on telling stories about the work God is doing in the world. She’s also a poet. Find her writing at www.jeniferjones.com. If you are interested in someone walking alongside you in your discernment experience, reach out to TMS Global today at go@tms-global.org.


Abundant Life

Dungeon Grace

B.J. Funk

By B.J. Funk –

Joseph was around seventeen when his cruel brothers sold him to a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt. These folks were all kin, descending from half brothers Isaac and Ishmael. So much for loving your relatives.

It took 30 days for Joseph and the caravan to arrive in Egypt, and most of that time, Joseph was on foot and likely chained.

Egypt at that time was a land of extremes. There were the very rich and the very poor. The captain of Pharaoh’s guard, Potiphar, bought Joseph.
Potiphar was very rich. He had a huge home, several stories tall, with beautiful balconies and gardens. The rich knew how to spend some money, and they shopped for lavish decorations and furniture! They would never be seen at my yard sale. Or yours.
Joseph joined the other servants, working on the first floor while the family enjoyed the upper floors. Joseph found favor in Potiphar’s eyes because everything he did was successful. So, Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his household and of everything he owned. Because of Joseph, the blessing of the Lord was on Potiphar’s house and on his fields. Potiphar trusted Joseph, which is a miracle in itself because Egyptians despised shepherds. It was an intriguing and amazing occurrence, and God’s hand was all over it. “The Lord was with Joseph, and he prospered.” (Genesis 39: 2)

Potiphar’s wife noticed the dark skin, curly haired, muscular Joseph, and she decided she wanted to be with him. What could it hurt? She was not subtle. “Lie with me,” she said.

Joseph refused. “How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). Potiphar’s wife looked puzzled. Wicked? He calls sex outside of marriage wicked? Wherever would he get an idea like that? And what’s this about sinning against God? Where did that come from? Who is this God anyway? She turned the whole scene around, blaming Joseph and bringing Potiphar’s fury. He put Joseph in the dungeon – and that’s where he met grace.

The story of Joseph is so covered with God that I can see him in every line, comma, and period! This is how God works when he is making a leader. He has to put him in the dungeon of life first. Keep him there. Teach him there. Break his pride. Stomp on his rebellious heart. Tear out jealousy, anger, resentment. Teach him to forgive, and wrap it all up with heavy doses of grace. Dungeon grace.

Joseph learned all of these lessons in his dungeon. Though painful and lonely, frightening and scary, Joseph came out of his dungeon a strong man, ready to be used of God. You cannot find any Lifetime, Netflix, or Hollywood movie better than the storyline of how God used a dungeon to make a man. It has drama, loneliness, fear, and survival woven into the storyline.

Growth and leadership happen to a person when God allows the dungeon to shape his heart. Make no mistake. If you want to move forward with God, a dungeon of some sort has to happen. You and I have to be willing to allow him to place us in as many dungeons as necessary until we come out refined, refreshed, redeemed, and ready to do His work. Fast forward to Romans and read what Paul said about troubles. He said suffering was the road to perseverance. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance” (Romans 5:3).

The dungeon was Joseph’s school and in daily classes of prison life, he learned a lot about himself, a lot about others, and a whole lot about forgiveness. He learned what was important in life and what was not. When Joseph was finally released from the dungeon, he was a different person. The spoiled teenager was replaced by a repentant man. The youth who saw only things that benefited him was now a leader who recognized how he could benefit others. When his brothers came to Egypt for grain because of a famine, he eventually said to them words of forgiveness and life. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

Your dungeon might be a difficult relationship, a financial strain, a rebellious child, or a nagging low self-image. Whatever, ask God to meet you there and to help you make it through. You will find that your dungeon will be the place of your deliverance. Embrace God’s gift – his gift of Dungeon Grace.   

B.J. Funk is Good News’ long-time devotional columnist and author of It’s A Good Day for Grace.