Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us”(Hebrews 6:19-20). Life is full of difficulty and suffering. This is true for believers and unbelievers alike. No one is exempt. Everyone, both young and old, has been or will be affected by the fallen world in which we live. Abuse, sickness, emotional and spiritual distress, loss, depression, death—all this and more are the things humanity must deal with as they pass through this thing called life. It can all be summed up in one word—suffering—and none of us, if we are honest, really cares too much for it. But as believers, we need not worry or become overwhelmed. We can always say, “Even so, it is well with my soul.” The writer of Hebrews describes this “even so” as hope. “This hope,” he writes, “we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us.” This hope is a living hope, embodied in Christ Himself. He is right now, this very moment, in the Father’s presence in the heavenly Holy of Holies on our behalf. This hope is a hope for the fulfillment of God’s salvation promises—eternal life with Christ—and is the “anchor of the soul” that keeps you and me secure during times of difficulty and suffering. I am a living testimony to this awesome truth!
I have always been drawn to Scriptures about suffering. It has always intrigued me how God takes something so seemingly painful and awful and uses it for the good of His people and His own glory (see Rom. 8:18-39). Perhaps this is because simple logic would lead one to conclude suffering could never possibly have a good outcome. But for the Christian, this simply is not so. We are told suffering results in the “testing of your faith [which] produces endurance” (James 1:3). Not only that, the Bible says this “endurance” results in our being made “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4). Wait a minute! How can suffering, which almost always results in pain and loss, oftentimes tremendous pain and loss at that, result in our being made “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”? It simply does not make any sense! The key is our understanding what is meant by the words “perfect and complete.” He doesn’t mean sinless perfection here, but spiritual maturity. The testing of our faith drives us to a deeper relationship with and greater trust in God and His Word. In other words, we grow in our relationship with God thus growing in our faith. It is no wonder Paul writes, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake” (Col. 1:24). He was motivated to endure suffering because it not only resulted in a deeper communion with Christ and spiritual growth, it also benefited other believers (see 2 Cor. 1:3-11). Suffering also calls us to an eternal hope. It helps us get our eyes off this world and onto eternal matters instead. This is what the writer of Hebrews meant when he referred to “hope…as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast.” You and I as believers can endure whatever suffering life may bring our way because of our heavenly hope.
I seldom share this but most folks have no idea my wife and I have suffered tremendous pain and loss. Our children are with the Lord. But we can both testify to the truth of God’s Word—we have grown closer to God and one other. He has and continues to strengthen our faith. He has caused us to long, not for this world, but for our eternal home with Christ (and our children). We truly have a heavenly hope that serves “as an anchor of the soul.” Like the patriarchs of old, we know that we will, if the Lord tarries, one day “die in faith, without receiving the promises” (Heb. 11:13). But we have “seen them [and therefore] desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:13-16). We firmly believe that God’s approval comes through our faith and that God has “provided something better for us” (Heb. 11:39-40). Are you a follower of Jesus Christ? Are you experiencing suffering? Do not be discouraged. You have something the rest of the world doesn’t have or understand—a heavenly hope that serves “as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast.” Therefore, “continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I was made a minister” (Col. 1:23). And remember, you can always say, “Even so, it is well with my soul.” No amount of suffering can ever take that away from you!
“Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:11-14). Current events in our world point to the very real possibility that Jesus Christ will return for His Church at any moment. This truth is so spectacularly clear that I am amazed that most Christians have failed to take notice. This indicates a bigger problem—the Church is asleep! It is no wonder, as many churches, both mainline and conservative, have bought into Satan’s lie that the Church has replaced Israel and prophecy, as it relates to the end times, should not be taken literally, but rather spiritualized. However, the God of the Bible does not have a speech impediment. His Word is to be taken literally. Even if something within Scripture is symbolic, there is always a literal meaning behind the symbolism. So, the problem really is one of unbelief. Many in the Church today simply do not believe God when it comes to matters concerning the end of the age. A tragic result is that many in the Church are asleep—ignorant of the times in which we live and the things that are coming upon this world. They may as well be sleep walking!
There is so much going on today that indicates two things. First of all, God is setting the stage for the final fulfillment of all end times prophecy. Secondly, the return of Christ for His Church is very near. Consider the many things in play today that indicate the brevity of the hour. Israel is back in the land—the key to end times prophecy (Ezek. 36-37). The rise of the European super-state and Mediterranean Union is laying the foundation for the rise of a modern form of the ancient Roman Empire (Dan. 2, 7). The current worldwide economic troubles, as well as terrorism, have the nations of the world marching lock-step towards globalism (Dan. 2, 7; Rev. 17). The desire of the Palestinians to take God’s Covenant Land as their own, as well as, the whole Middle East Peace Process has key world leaders working day and night to forge a solution—a solution that seems to allude all who busy themselves with it (Ezek. 35; Dan. 9; Zech. 12). The rise of an Iranian led, Russian equipped coalition that will come against Israel in the near future is quickly taking shape (Ezek. 38, 39). In fact, there is so much going on concerning Iran right now that one can hardly keep up. It seems the whole thing is rushing quickly towards war. Could it be that the prophesied War of Gog and Magog (see Ezek. 38, 39) is on the near horizon? If so, what does this say about the nearness of Christ’s return for His Church? If war breaks out in the Middle East, as I suspect it soon will, the world as we know it will change. The world economy may very well collapse as oil surges to hundreds of dollars a barrel. Add to that the very real possibility of a nuclear exchange in the Middle East and the world will beg for a leader to put things in order—to guarantee peace between Israel and her enemies, thus protecting world access to oil. “And he will make a firm covenant with the many for [seven years]” (Dan. 9:27). Such a leader is coming. He will arise out of Western Europe. The Bible refers to this individual as “the beast” (Rev. 13), and the more commonly known title of Antichrist (1 John 2). He most likely is alive and well on planet Earth today. The hour is indeed late. It is time for the Church to wake up!
When Paul says to “awaken from sleep,” he means to awaken from spiritual apathy and lethargy, or to put it another way, unresponsiveness to the things of God. When we consider the nearness of Christ’s return for His Church and the judgments upon this world that will follow, we must wake up, lay aside and forsake our sins, live a life that is pleasing to God, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (the ongoing spiritual process of sanctification), and be about our Father’s business. Sadly, many in the Church are content to keep sleeping—oblivious to the hour in which we live and the nearness of Christ’s return and judgment. Furthermore, many are content to continue in their blindness and sin rather than repent and believe the true Gospel. They are content to mock God, either by word or deed saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:4). It escapes their notice that God has directly intervened in human history in the past and He will do so again in the near future. Therefore, we must wake up and be firmly anchored in the Lord, as time is quickly running out, “for now salvation is nearer to us than when we [first] believed” (Rom. 13:11).
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’”(Romans 1:16-17). We live in an age of remarkable theological and biblical confusion. It amazes me the number of professing Christians I meet who cannot articulate the Gospel as presented in the Scriptures. It seems everyone has an opinion as to how one comes to be in a right relationship with God. Sadly, a majority of these folks have missed the mark when it comes to believing the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Notice I used the words, “true Gospel.” That is because it is imperative that one believes the true Gospel of Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Anything less will result in eternal separation from God. I write often on the true Gospel and the exclusivity of the true Gospel. This is because, like Paul, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.” I understand and believe that it and it alone “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” So the question remains: Are you sure that you believe the true Gospel of Jesus Christ? I ask that question in the present tense because “believe,” when used of salvation, almost always occurs in the present tense, meaning that faith is not simply a one-time event, but an ongoing condition.
The true Gospel of Jesus Christ is exclusive. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). This is an astounding statement. John MacArthur, speaking of this says, “Both the narrow gate and the wide gate are assumed to provide entrance to God’s kingdom. Two ways are offered to people. The narrow gate is by faith, only through Christ, constricted and precise. It represents true salvation in God’s way that leads to life eternal. The wide gate includes all religions of works and self-righteousness, with no single way, but it leads to hell, not heaven.” This is why the true Gospel is unique, distinct, and exclusive. The reality of this Gospel is that “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” This is why Paul was “eager to preach the gospel” (Romans 1:15). And it is why I write so often on this subject—so many are confused and deceived when it comes to matters of salvation. What a tragedy it must be for a person to live his or her entire life convinced that they are on their way to heaven because of the church they attend, the confirmation certificate they hold, the Communion they partake of, the money they give, or the so called good works they perform. I tremble when I consider the utter darkness that many are in as a result of their enslavement to any number of the false religious systems we find in the world today. Oh, that those of us who truly believe would be “eager to preach the gospel.”
The Gospel, which means “good news,” refers to the good news about Jesus Christ. In the technical sense, it is “the power of God to salvation to all who believe.” But how does the Gospel save? Or to put it another way, what does it mean to believe? The Gospel does not announce that everyone will be saved because of what Jesus has done. That would be Universalism. The Gospel is only effective for those who believe it. The Bible mentions no other condition for eternal salvation other than believing the Gospel. The New Testament teaches, in more than 160 instances, that eternal life comes as a result of faith alone in Christ alone. But what precisely must one believe about the Gospel in order to be saved? The key is the content, not quality of faith. It is not believing in and of itself that saves. It is believing the right thing! Believing that Jesus is the Son of God, died on a cross, rose again, is a member of the Trinity, and saves, does not necessarily result in salvation. I must understand the Gospel and the truth about Christ. This is known as knowledge. This would include the historic facts about the person and work of Christ (see Romans 10:14-17). Secondly, I must be convinced that these historic facts (knowledge) about Christ are true. I must believe that Jesus is able to do what He said he could do – forgive sins and guarantee eternal life! This is known as assent to Christ and might be described as the emotional element (see Romans 6:17). Finally, I must whole-heartedly commit myself to Jesus Christ. This is known as commitment or volition (see Romans 4:3). So, to put it another way, I must believe I am a sinner in need of a Savior. I must believe that Jesus Christ alone paid the debt of my sin by His death and resurrection. I must trust Him alone to forgive my sin and give me the free gift of eternal life. And finally, my life must give evidence that I have been saved, as genuine faith will always produce authentic obedience. In other words, I must forsake my sin. Are you sure of your salvation? “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we are saved” (Acts 4:12).
“Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence—As fire kindles the brushwood, as fire causes water to boil—To make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence! When You did awesome things which we did not expect, You came down; the mountains quaked at Your presence. For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, nor has the eye seen a God besides You, who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him” (Isaiah 64:1-4). The Scriptures are replete with examples of God acting in behalf of His people. In the Old Testament, we find Him intervening time and time again in behalf of His chosen people—the Jews. In the New Testament, we find Him acting in behalf of a new race of people—the Church. As I read the accounts of God acting in behalf of His people, the one thing that always strikes me is the experience of God’s presence as He acts. For His people, the experience is always one of awe and protection. For the enemies of His people, the experience is always one of dread.In Isaiah 64:1-4, we find God’s chosen people—the Jews—pleading with the Lord to demonstrate His power as He did in the earlier days of Israel’s history. Their plea is in response to their own assessment of themselves in the last verse of chapter 63: “We have become like those over whom You have never ruled, like those who were not called by Your name.” So they plea for the Lord to “rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence.”
I recently had the experience of living through a magnitude 6.4 earthquake. Everything under and around me was shaking. It was a truly amazing experience; one that I was glad quickly came to an end. It’s no wonder that such events strike fear in many who experience them. And perhaps this is why Israel pleaded for God to act in such a way in their behalf—that they might experience the awe and protection of His presence and that their enemies would experience the dread of His presence. In Psalm 18, David prayed for God to deliver him from the hand of his enemies. David records, “Then the earth shook and quaked; and the foundations of the mountains were trembling and were shaken, because He was angry” (18:7). God responded on David’s behalf in such a way that he was able to write, “He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me…He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me” (Psalm 18:16, 19). God’s sheer power was displayed so dramatically that David experienced the protection of God’s presence while his enemies experienced utter dread and destruction. The manifestations of God’s presence are unique. According to Isaiah 64:4, no one has witnessed the likes of His awesome works on behalf of His own people: “For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, nor has the eye seen a God besides You, who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.” We serve a mighty and awesome God who has promised to be with us and protect us, no matter what—even if such protection involves bringing us safely home to be with Him. In other words, He protects us against our enemies in both life and death. Death, after all, is our greatest enemy. But we need not fear. Christ has already triumphed over the grave!
Whether one is speaking of God’s chosen people—the Jews—or His new race of people—the Church—God acts in behalf of both. Our generation has witnessed Him acting in behalf of the Jews as He has begun bringing them from the four corners of the earth back into their covenant land. He has thwarted every attempt of Israel’s enemies to destroy the Jewish state, striking dread in them when necessary. This in and of itself is overwhelming evidence that the Messiah—the Lord Jesus Christ—will one day soon reign gloriously on David’s throne and over His Kingdom. Furthermore, the evidence is clear that He will one day soon rescue His new race of people—the Church—from His wrath that He is about to pour out on an unbelieving and rebellious world—an event that will surely strike dread in the hearts of those left behind. So the question you must answer is, “Am I ready?” Christ will return for His Church at any moment. That moment may very well be today. If you have not previously done so, receive God’s free gift of forgiveness and eternal life before it is too late. "For thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land’” (Haggai 2:6).
“In the first year of Darius…ruler over the Babylonian kingdom-in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years” (Daniel 9:1-2). Is the Bible really God’s word? After all, there are numerous books in existence today that claim to be the word of God. Therefore, what’s so unique about the Bible? Why has it been the all-time best seller in all of history? The answer is simple—because it is exactly what it claims to be—the word of the Living God. It is the word of God to the exclusion of all other writings that claim to be such. These excluded writings would include the Book of Mormon, the Koran, the Hindu Vedras, the writings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the sayings of Confucius or Buddha, just to name a few. One of the primary reasons we know all these other writings are not God’s word is because they cannot prove themselves to be such. The Bible on the other hand has authenticated itself to be of divine inspiration—the very word of God. It has done this through its prophecies. Prophecy makes up at least one-third of the Bible. No other book that forms the basis of a religion contains prophecy. So whereas it would take a foolish, misguided and blind faith to believe in all these other writings, one’s faith in the Bible as God’s word is rooted in sound, historical fact.
There are many prophecies in the Bible. One scholar has indicated there are over one thousand prophecies in the Bible about half of which have already been literally fulfilled. Some of these prophecies are Messianic in nature—they speak of the person and work of Jesus Christ. There are more than 300 of these Messianic prophecies about His First Coming. Some of them appear more than once so if we gather them together, counting them only once we end up with 108 prophecies that are separate and unique. All 108 were fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ—a mathematical impossibility when one considers the probability of one person fulfilling them all. One of these prophecies tells us Jesus will be born in “Bethlehem Ephrathah” (Micah 5:2). That prophecy was given more than 700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Often overlooked is the precision of this prophecy. It does not simply tell us Jesus will be born in Bethlehem. It says, “Bethlehem Ephrathah.” When Micah wrote this prophecy there were two Bethlehems in Israel—one in the north near the Sea of Galilee, and the other in the south near Jerusalem, in the area known as Ephrathah. How’s that for prophetic accuracy and precision?
Another amazing prophecy—one I believe to be amazing beyond compare and the greatest of all prophecies—can be found in Daniel 9 where Daniel wrote that the Messiah would present Himself publically as the Messiah of Israel on a certain day. This certain day would fall 173,880 days after a certain decree was issued to “restore and rebuild Jerusalem” (Daniel 9:25). This decree was issued by Artaxerxes on March 5, 445 B.C. 173,880 days later, on April 6, 32 A.D., Jesus entered Jerusalem as the Messiah of Israel (Luke 19:28-44). There are many other prophecies found in the Bible that verify the Bible is indeed the word of God. These include prophecies about the regatherinng of the Jewish people from the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:11-12) which began in the 20th Century and continues to this day; the re-establishment of the nation of Israel (Isaiah 66:7-8; Ezekiel 37:21-22) which occurred on May 14, 1948; all the nations of the world coming together against Israel over the issue of the control of Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:1-3) which is occurring before our very eyes on the evening news! All these prophecies the Bible says would take place in the last days, right before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
As a Christian, I find the fulfillment of these prophecies very exciting and encouraging. When most people, many of whom claim to followers of Christ, are expressing fear over the things that are coming upon the world today, I am encouraged. I am encouraged because things are happening just as the Bible predicted—proof positive that the Bible, and only the Bible, is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant word of God. All geo-political trends and events in nature indicate that Jesus will return for His Church at any moment. So for believers, we need not fear. We should be ready for His soon return while telling others how to be saved. For unbelievers, the situation is grim. God’s judgment will soon fall upon this world and all those who have rejected Christ will find themselves in a predicament that could have been avoided—in fact it can be avoided—by placing your faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
“Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:5-9). If there is one subject most of us try to avoid, it is death. It seems most people would rather talk about anything else but life’s final mystery. Even Christians are guilty of avoiding the subject until its reality hits home. The truth of the matter is death is real. It seems I have been reminded of this over and over recently—from military death notifications, to news of friends entering their eternal reward, to news stories of total strangers meeting life’s final enemy. Although it is a mystery, it is also a reality—a reality we should not try to avoid—but consider with a sobering awe in light of what Scripture teaches. For the unbeliever (those who are not true followers of Jesus Christ), the Bible is crystal clear—eternal misery. However, for the believer, death means eternal joy. Furthermore, a proper view of death helps put everything else into perspective, for death could happen at any moment for any one of us.
First of all, death forces us to think about whether or not our faith is genuine. Do we have true biblical faith? Do we truly believe Jesus is our only hope of eternal life and that such faith prepares us to face death? Or is our faith better explained as feelings and experiences? Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26). He then asked, “Do you believe this?” Do we believe that death takes us immediately into the presence of the Lord and eternal joy that we cannot even begin to fathom this side of heaven? Death forces us to think about whether or not our faith is genuine.
Secondly, death causes us to truly consider the brevity of life and the endlessness of eternity. Whether one lives eight years or eighty years (or any age before, between or after), life is indeed short. James tells us, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (4:14). Oftentimes, we fail to understand that life, which is described as a “vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away,” vanishes into an endless eternity. Everyone who has ever lived is alive now or will ever live, will spend eternity somewhere. That eternity will be one of two places—with Jesus and everything that is good or separated from Jesus and everything that is good. As followers of Christ, we know where and with Whom we will spend eternity. The only thing we don’t know is when we will face death. It could happen at any moment. We are all one heart beat and one breath away from eternity. Therefore, the prospect of death at any moment motivates us to live for Jesus everyday.
Another thing death causes us to do is to keep Jesus at the center of our lives. According to John Piper, it forces us to consider whether we are more in love with this world than we are in love with Jesus Himself. Does the thought of death cause us more pain because of what we may lose on this earth than it gives us joy at seeing Jesus face to face and being with Him forever? This is what Paul meant by, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). One thing God has taught me over the years is that life can be lived to the fullest because of my faith in Christ. I am free to do what He calls me to do no matter how hard or dangerous such may be. However, no matter how full and rich this life might be, it is nothing compared to what is in store for me when I see Jesus. Like Paul, I’ve come to understand this world is not my home. I have a “desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Phil. 1:23). And if death is the bridge to that “very much better” eternal life, then like Paul, I don’t care how God brings it to pass, but long for that moment when I see Jesus. I believe this is the one point where most Christians fall all over themselves. We hear it in such statements as, “I want to go to heaven but I’m in no hurry to get there,” or “I want to see Jesus but there’s a lot on this earth I want to see too.” If we truly understood the glorious truth that “In Your presence is fullness of joy [and] pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11), we would all pray for God to hasten the day when we see Him face to face.
Finally, death causes us to constantly examine our priorities in life. Sometimes I think it would do us all good to spend about five minutes a day in a cemetery. Death puts it all in perspective. Are you living your life with biblical priorities in mind? Do you long to be present with the Lord even if it means being absent from the body (don’t worry; this world will get along just fine without you)? In the meantime, are you committed to living by faith until the Lord returns for His Church or calls you home? “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor. 5:9).
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. You are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31, NIV). I saw a flock of sparrows today. They were in the middle of the road, scurrying about, each vying for a share in whatever food they had eyed. I slowed down, giving each an opportunity to fly away, before I drove my earth destroyer SUV through their dining facility. Sparrows—of their species, they are probably the most numerous—not to mention the most insignificant. “Yet,” Jesus said, “not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of [our heavenly] Father.”
I confess to you that most of the time I simply do not understand the ways of God. I have a list of questions to ask Him when I finally get to heaven. I added another question to that list this week. This week—it began with worship on Sunday morning. I preached on my favorite subject—the soon return of our Lord. Monday—it was a mountain top experience, having had the opportunity to minister to one of the airmen on base. Wednesday was pretty uneventful. But then came Thursday. I received an urgent call that no chaplain would ever want to receive. A military member’s five year old son had been critically injured in a freak accident and was being airlifted to the nearest children’s hospital. Long story short—it was not good. The doctors offered little hope. Five years old, and his little life was quickly coming to an end. The parents were in anguish and I was not faring much better. Why did this have happen? What good could God possibly bring out of this? After all, aren’t there plenty of old people God could call home? Even I would have been willing to go in his place. Why this child, who had just celebrated his fifth birthday the day before? This was certainly a faith-shaking event for everyone it affected.
On Friday, I woke up, still questioning God’s wisdom. “I can’t take this,” I thought to myself. Maybe I should just turn in my cross, go live in a monastery and wait for Jesus to return. Surely that would shield me from any further dealings with pain and suffering. Meditating on such verses as Romans 8:18, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us,” or 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For momentary, light affliction is producing in us an eternal weight of glory,” did not seem to offer much comfort. I talked to my chaplain supervisor for over an hour. That conversation helped process some of the pain, but it did not help me make any sense out of this tragedy. The why questions continued—until I saw that flock of sparrows—“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” This is the Word of the Lord!
We are not exempt from pain and suffering in this life. Tragedy and death knows no age. Yet, we must remember, God is sovereign. Not even the insignificant sparrow falls to the ground apart from His perfect knowledge—and somehow, life goes on. Somehow, this sovereign God begins to work these kinds of tragedies into His overall plan. Indeed, the suffering and pain of our present reality will pale when the glory of eternity is finally revealed. How can this be? Because the God we serve—Who controls even the sparrows departure—controls the events and circumstances of our lives. He knows and understands our pain. He feels our suffering. And He promises us no pain is without purpose. He is in control. Nothing catches Him by surprise. The Holy Trinity has never met in emergency session. He has it all under control. We just have trust Him, even when we cannot see our way clearly enough to make sense out of life. We must trust Him and His infinite wisdom. I saw a flock of sparrows today.
“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed they were strangers and exiles on earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16). Hebrews chapter 11 is a very stirring account of faithful Old Testament saints. It is known by many as, “Faith’s Hall of Fame,” and “Heroes of Faith.” Each person mentioned in this chapter demonstrates the value of living by faith. At the beginning of the chapter, the writer defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). Therefore these heroes of faith had an assurance and a conviction that sustained them as they walked with God. For some, this journey of faith was marked by great success, whereas for others, it was marked by great suffering and affliction. In either case, they all courageously followed God, regardless of the earthly outcome. In fact, the Bible says, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises” (Heb. 11:13). This seems especially odd, given the fact that many today are teaching that God wants us to have it all now. So who’s right? Maybe it’s all just wishful thinking?
The bottom line is this: either it is true or it is not true. Either it is all wishful thinking or there is a sure and settled heavenly hope. Newsflash—it is true! As followers of Christ, we have a sure and settled heavenly hope! Therefore, we can believe God. Our faith can be patient and endure sufferings, difficulties, hardships and even death. Why? Because God has something better—“Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and [it has] not entered into the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9). In other words, we haven’t seen anything yet! In fact, Paul wrote to the Roman believers and said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). Why? Because, “Momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Therefore, our faith can be patient and endure sufferings, difficulties, hardship and even death, because it’s all momentary, meaning it will last no longer than a lifetime. Paul says it’s not the temporal that is to be our focus—that is, those things we can see—but the things which are not seen, those which are eternal.
Are you a follower of Christ? If so, then you are going to suffer. Furthermore, if the Lord tarries, you will one day die without receiving the promises. But if you will look, just off in the distance, you will see them and welcome them. Remember as believers, we are all strangers and exiles on this earth. In other words, this world is not our home—“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). As the Bible says, we “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” The best is yet to come! Living in the light of eternity is not easy in this society. Very few people, even Christian people, do that. We cling to this life with a vengeance. We do everything we can to pack this life with all the good experiences, benefits and possessions that are conceivable. It’s a curse in some ways to live in a materialistic society. I’m always reminded of a story I read once about a well-known Bible teacher in this country who flew 35 hours into Kazakhstan to do a series of meetings with seventeen hundred pastors from central Asia, gathering together for their first ever pastors’ conference in the history of central Asia. He was to teach everything about the church, everything that God had planned for the church, six straight days of teaching these seventeen-hundred people. About the third or fourth day, the leaders came to him and said, “When do we get to the good part?” He admitted this was not what he wanted to hear—after three days of intense teaching they’re still waiting for something to be good? He said, “What do you mean the good part?” They said, “The part about heaven.” Wow! Here were a people who I believe understood hope! They understood this life is only temporary and the best is yet to come! And this was not wishful thinking, but a sure and settled hope!
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). I’m sitting here at Scott Air Force Base listening to The Cathedrals sing the awe inspiring song of hope: We Shall See Jesus. Songs like this serve to remind us of the hope we have as believers of something better to come. That something, of course, is eternity with Jesus. It will be an eternity without pain, without suffering, without sickness, without sin, and praise be to God, without death! With such an awesome future that awaits us as believers, why then do most believers fail to experience ongoing, deep abiding joy?
The pain and suffering of our lives encompasses a myriad of possibilities. Cancer. Calamity. Conflict. Sadness. Death. These are all normal aspects of our existence here. It is the things we must deal with on our way to heaven. God knows this, yet over and over again He admonishes us to have joy. This raises a legitimate question: Is it possible to experience biblical joy in the midst of pain, suffering and sadness? Numerous times throughout the scriptures we are commanded to rejoice. Even Paul, who wrote many of his letters from prison and whose own letters include an autobiographical description of his own pain and suffering, said over and over to rejoice. In Philippians 2:18, he wrote, “I urge you, rejoice.” In the next chapter he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord” (3:1). Yet again, in the next chapter (4:4) he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Obviously, this is the word of the Lord!
So what’s the secret? I believe the key is found in Romans 12:12: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, constant in prayer.” Here Paul tells us to do three things which I believe is at the very core of experiencing joy, even in the midst of pain, suffering and sadness. Notice he says, “Rejoice in hope.” Don’t miss this: Our joy is rooted in our hope! This hope is, as the writer of Hebrews says, “an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast” (6:19). In Colossians 1:27, Paul described it as, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Romans 8:18 ties it all together: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” We have the sure hope of glory. Therefore, we can have joy right now, even in the midst of suffering, because one day it will all fade into glory when Christ’s face we finally see. What a hope! Therefore, “Rejoice in hope.”
Secondly, he tells us to, “be patient in tribulation.” This is possible, if I understand the hope that is mine in Jesus Christ. Even the writer of Hebrews said this is, “a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered” (6:19-20). Finally, he tells us to be, “constant in prayer.” If I am to “rejoice in hope,” and “be patient in tribulation,” then I must be a person of prayer. I must give priority to my relationship with God, even when I do not like or understand what is going on in my life. I must be a person of deep and committed prayer. There is a mystery here. When I fight for joy, through rejoicing in hope, patiently enduring tribulation and constantly praying, God does what only God can do. He brings about the joy of the Lord through the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit in my life. To God be the glory!
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). This passage teaches us three principles that should be true of every follower of Jesus Christ. We are to rejoice evermore, always be in an attitude of prayer, and be ever thankful. This seems like a tall order, which is true. Equally true is what it is: The Word of the Lord!
Our rejoicing, praying and thanksgiving are not to be limited to unique and special occasions or even a special day. It is to be the ongoing pattern and practice of our lives. Rejoice always means to rejoice and keep on rejoicing. Pray without ceasing means to pray and keep on praying. To be thankful in everything means to be thankful in everything. And I mean in everything! “Impossible,” you say? You are right. Apart from Jesus Christ, having an ongoing attitude of rejoicing, praying and thanksgiving is impossible. But in Christ, all things are possible. Paul said, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Through Him, that is Christ, I can rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give thanks in everything…even in the midst of suffering and sadness.
The question then, is how do we do these things? The obvious answer is not in our own strength and energy. Notice Paul said it was “through Him” that he could do all these things. I believe the key is where our focus lies. The author of Hebrews says we are to “Fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (12:2). Therefore, when our focus is fixed on Jesus, we can rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks. We rejoice in three things: (1) The Lord, (2) the gospel, and (3) the spiritual growth of others, including our own spiritual growth. Philippians 3:1 tells us to rejoice in the Lord. Acts 13:48 teaches us to rejoice in the gospel, particularly as it spreads throughout the world. 3 John 4 admonishes us to rejoice as others grow spiritually. Likewise, we should rejoice in our own personal spiritual growth. A quick reading through Paul’s letters and we discover he was a man of prayer. In fact, we could say he prayed always. It wasn’t that he was constantly offering up words of prayer. The key was he was always in an attitude of prayer. He recognized he was ever in God’s presence so he always maintained an attitude of prayer. In the passage, “pray without ceasing,” the Greek word used is where we get our English word for hacking cough. Paul prayed thus for the Thessalonians and others. Finally, we are told, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It means in every circumstance. This is a tall order. But when we recognize that God is sovereign, that He orders the events of our lives and that He is in the process of making us more like Christ and perfecting our faith, “so that,” as James says, “you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4), thankfulness flows a little more easily. God wants to perfect our faith and teach us to trust Him. The only way He can do that is to take whatever measure of faith we have and stretch it. The only way He can do that is through testing it. Often times, the only way He can do that is through leading us into and through some very difficult and painful circumstances. Do I really and truly believe that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do? Well, the only place I discover the answer to these questions is in the midst of difficulty and suffering.
So then, regardless of our circumstances, no matter what the Lord in His wisdom sends our way, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Joyfully, full of hope (Romans 8:24-25), in the confidence of faith (Hebrews 11:1), we live, we breathe, we rejoice, we pray, we give thanks! When the trials of life come my way, I reflect on God’s Word and the song that reminds me, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus, life's trials will seem so small when we see Christ; One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase, so bravely run the race till we see Christ.”
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Striving to glorify God by becoming more like Jesus.
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