Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27a). As followers of Jesus Christ we are to live lives that are consistent with what we say we believe, teach, and preach.
For me, life is about Treasuring Christ, Living the Word, Making Disciples, and Finishing Well. I am no where close to perfect when it comes to living a life that encompasses these four goals but I do, by God's grace, strive to meet them.
I came pretty close to finishing recently. I'm not too sure it would have been well but by God's gracious provision I have been granted an extension of life. Only God knows how long this extension will be. The Bible reminds us God is behind it all. Whether we're talking midlife surprises at 39 or open heart surgery at 45, His providence neither gets it wrong nor lets us go, ever.
So what happened? I recently had open heart triple bypass surgery--at 45. I spent a total of 11 days in the hospital with five of those days in ICU. For a little over a month I had been having chest discomfort and pain. My cardiologist finally decided a heart cathertization was in order. The cathertization revealed multiple blockages with the so called "Widow Maker" having a 99% blockage. I was only a few slices of bacon away from a major event followed by sudden death.
I was admitted to ICU, put on various intraveneous drugs meant to keep me alive until they could perform the surgery. I spent those two days between the cathertization and the open heart surgery thinking about the fact I was hanging--very literally--by a thread between time and eternity. I knew I could die at any moment yet strangely enough was at perfect peace. I give God all the glory!
By God's grace I'm still here. The Bible teaches us God is sovereign over our lives so much so that He has already determined the number of our days. Job writes, "You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer" (Job 14:5).
Paul said something similar in his letter to the Philippian believers. "[It is my] earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death" (Philippians 1:20). He recognized God's sovereignty over his life. He, therefore, stived to exalt Christ in life and in death.
My recent hospital stay brought this verse powerfully home. I have had to reassess my life and seriously consider whether or not this verse is my prayer also. It all ties into finishing well. "Whatever happens," Paul writes, "conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27). Whatever happens. In other words, if you live, conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. If you die, let it be said of you, "He conducted himslef in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ."
I must admit, there was a part of me that wanted to, as Paul wrote, "To depart and be with Christ" (Philippians 1:23). In fact, the first couple of days following my surgery when the pain was almost unbearable, I prayed to die. It is clear to me now, however, that it is God's will that I "remain on in the flesh" (Philippians 1:24). I believe this was out of necessity for my own sanctification, my ministry to my family as spiritual leader, and the gospel itself which I will continue to proclaim until that time when I do see Jesus face-to-face.
Anway, I learned a lot through this ordeal and God used it to reveal some things about myself that still need sanctifying. Perhaps I will share more at a later time. But for now, I'll leave you with this. During the 3 days I spent in ICU before my heart surgery, strung out on blood thinner and nitroglycerin keeping me alive, I thought I may die at any moment. After all, as I mentioned above, my life was hanging by a thread between time and eternity and only needed 1% to completely block off the Widow Maker. Sometimes I would look around the room to make sure no one else was in there with me...you know, no one from the unseen world.
Sometimes I would think about what it was going to be like to see Jesus face-to-face for the very first time. Then I'd pray for my boy and his mama. This went on until they put me to sleep Monday afternoon but I never told anyone...until now. "Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:50-58). Where is your hope?
"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:7-11). That is one long passage but, man, does it say a lot. The bottomline is simply this: Paul wants to know Jesus in order that he may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Some people drift through life while others make and pursue various goals. What about you? Are you drifting or pursuing? And, if you are pursuing, what is it that you pursue? Some pursue things and riches while other pursue gym bodies and fleeting beauty. The possible pursuits are limitless it seems. For Christians, however, our pursuit is to be singular--to know Jesus and to be found in Him. Paul puts it this way: "...that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him."
I must confess I have stumbled into the trap of pursuing worldly things. Thankfully, God has not left me to myself. He always has a way to bring me back to the reality of who I am in Christ. Over the years I have developed some goals for my own life--a mission statement, so to speak. It's what I aim for and although I break it out into four areas or goals, they can ultimately be summed up in the phrase, "So that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him." I aim for these four things: (1) I want to treasure Christ; (2) I want to live the Word (sometimes I refer to this one as proclaim the Word); (3) I want to make disciples (followers of Jesus); (4) I want to finish well.
I made the above image a couple years ago to try and capture these goals. Sometimes I explain the last goal (to finish well) as the strategic focus of my life. If I finish well, then naturally, I will have treasured Christ, lived the Word, and made disciples. At the end of his life Paul was able to say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7). The ongoing prayer of my heart is that I, too, will be able to say with Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." By God's grace--and only by His grace--I will finish well.
All this got me to thinking recently what it takes to finish well. I came up with the following list of characteristics of one who fights the good fight, finishes the course, and keeps the faith. It is in no way exhaustive. You may think of additional characteristics. But these are good ones with which to start. And, these all assume one is a believer and surrendered to God and sold out for Jesus. To finish well, therefore, a person must...
1. Be a visionary. The writer of Proverbs wrote, "Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law" (Proverbs 29:18). Vision, especially a vision to finish well, restrains a person in such a way to keep on target.
2. Be willing to suffer. It amazes me the number of so called believers I encounter who think any suffering is a sign of weak faith. The Christian life is not an easy one. If our leader (Christ) suffered, we can expect the same thing. Peter wrote, "Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose" (1 Peter 4:1). Earlier, in 1 Peter 3:17, he indicates suffering is often God's will for the believer. The primary reason for suffering, I believe, is to make us more like Christ. Suffering also serves the same purpose as vision--to keep us on target.
3. Not get bogged down by past successes and failures. Paul said, "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ" (Philippians 3:7). A few verses later he writes, "...forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead" (Philippians 3:13). It is good to celebrate victories but we should not camp out there. Furthermore, the devil will try to bog us down by pointing out past sins and failures. We must forget those, too. If God has forgiven us in Christ Jesus then we must move on. Otherwise, we'll fail to stay on target.
4. Be patient. In our fast-food world we want what we want and we want it now! James said, "Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains" (James 5:7). A farmer doesn't go out and dig up his recently planted crop to see why it's not growing. He continues to "farm" while patiently waiting for the harvest. Likewise, a believer who wants to finish well is going to be patient. Sanctification (the process of becoming more like Jesus) is an often slow, tedious, and sometimes painful process. But if we're patient we'll eventually reap the reward of said patience--we'll finish well!
5. Be willing to persevere no matter what. The Bible mentions perseverance or endurance multiple times. In other words, God doesn't want us to give up. Consider Revelation 14:12, which reads, "This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus." Finishing well calls for endurance. When you stumble, get back up and keep on persevering. When you fail miserably, get back up and keep pressing on. Run the race set before you until you cross the finish line. And how will you know you've crossed the finish line? You'll see Jesus face-to-face and He'll say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Matthew 25:23).
Again, this is not an exhaustive list. Perhaps you know of more. Feel free to share via the comments section below. Comments will remain open for 60 days following the date of this posting. My prayer for me and my prayer for you is that we'd run the race and finish well, having treasured Christ, lived the Word, and made disciples along the way!
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4) I must admit, the title of this article reflects the way I felt last Monday. It’s amazing the difference a week can make. Last Monday, I was ready to throw in the proverbial towel. Life was hitting me from all directions—family responsibilities, work responsibilities, trying to rear my boy to love Jesus, and personal health challenges. The “good fight of faith,” aka the “Fight for Joy,” just wasn’t in me. I definitely needed an extra measure of God’s sufficient grace.
We all encounter problems, or what the Bible calls trials or tribulation. Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation.” (John 16:33) In other words, Jesus was testifying to the fact that in this life we will encounter much difficulty.
“Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43). I’ve written a lot on the subject of suffering. Perhaps this is because suffering is one of the few things all of us have in common. I am certainly no stranger to it and I suspect you aren’t either. And, if you’re like me, I doubt you enjoy or look forward to another opportunity to suffer!
In the midst of suffering we’re told by Jesus and the biblical authors not to worry. When it comes to our daily needs Jesus reminds us not to worry about tomorrow. Why? Because, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”—King James speak for, “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34).
A dear friend who is now with Jesus—Jack Kinsella—wrote, “All that is well and good and we understand it on the spiritual level. But somehow, sometimes that doesn’t seem to be enough. Sometimes, the weight of this old world and where it is going is crushingly heavy. Sometimes you just want to throw your hands up in despair and cry out, ‘I’m losing faith in everything. What’s the point?’”
That’s a good question—“What’s the point?” I mean, really, what IS the point of suffering? Even if we try and write suffering off ultimately as a result of sin and the fall of man we still, if we are honest, have to admit we struggle over the question of why? Or, to stick with our aforementioned question: What’s the point?
"But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these" (2 Timothy 3:1-5). The world was stunned last week at the news out of Ft. Hood that a lone gunman fired several rounds, killing at least 13, and wounding many more. The very next day, a similar news story was reported out of Orlando when a gunman entered his former workplace, firing several rounds, killing one and wounding several others. Add these two events to past events of a similar nature and a clear message begins to emerge. We are living in the last days—the very last of the last days—just prior to the return of Christ for His Church.
Paul wrote to Timothy, "But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come." Why did the Holy Spirit inspire the Apostle to write these words? I’m sure the days in which Paul and Timothy lived could be described as difficult. After all, many were being persecuted and martyred for their faith. So what sets today’s "difficult times" apart from those of the first century? For the answer to that question, we need only look to the Greek word behind the English word, difficult. It is the Greek word, chalepos, meaning hard to bear, troublesome, dangerous, harsh, fierce, and savage. It occurs only one other time in the New Testament. "When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way" (Matt. 8:28). The words translated "so extremely violent" is the same Greek word, chalepos, used in 2 Timothy 3:1. But Paul doesn’t have bad times in view here so much as he has evil people. In other words, he has the wicked, evil, and depraved ways of men in mind. And it all ties into men being "lovers of self." All the other sins he lists in this passage grow out of the sin of misplaced self-love. Furthermore, such savage, dangerous and evil men will increase in frequency and severity as the return of Christ draws near. Amazingly, many of these people will hold "to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power." In other words, many of them will be religious, as was the case with the Ft. Hood shooter. A few verses later he writes they are, "Always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 3:7). In his first letter to Timothy, Paul uses this same phrase to describe those who are being saved (see 1 Tim. 2:4). Paul’s message is clear—these difficult times will only grow worse. But it’s not the times so much as it is the people—evil people growing more evil by the day!
Our confused brethren who believe things are simply going to get better and better prior to Christ’s return would do well to read and believe these verses. Clearly, it’s only going to get worse. The rest of Paul’s second letter to Timothy underscores the fact that faithful believers will increasingly become targets of persecution and suffering at the hands of evil persons and a Christ-rejecting world (see 2 Tim. 3:12). All of this Paul indicates will increase until Jesus returns. Therefore, it is extremely crucial that as believers, we understand and embrace our hope—our future hope. Paul writes, "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen" (2 Tim. 4:18). Regardless of what happens. Regardless of the ever increasing evil and wicked days in which we live. Regardless of the very evil people who will only grow more evil. God’s Word promises us that God will bring each of us who believes "safely to His heavenly kingdom." In other words, we are eternally secure in Him no matter what! Evil men may grow more evil. They may even succeed in persecuting and ultimately killing those of us who believe. But God will "bring [us] safely to His heavenly kingdom." In Luke 12:4, Jesus says, "I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do." If evil men succeed in killing me, that’s really all they can do. They cannot kill my soul as it belongs to the Lord and He has promised to bring me "safely to His heavenly kingdom." Therefore we need not fear! God is in control despite the ever increasing "difficult times" in which we live. And when necessary, the Holy Spirit will help you die. So keep on believing and praying for the soon return of Jesus Christ for His Church! "If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you" (1 Peter 4:14).
“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!
“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!
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…those who mourn…the gentle…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…the merciful…the pure in heart…the peacemakers…those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness…those who are insulted, persecuted, and falsely accused because of Christ…” (Matthew 5:3-7). One of the most popular books of late is one entitled, Your Best Life Now, by “Pastor” Joel Osteen. In this book, Osteen offers seven “keys” to improving your life everyday. It is written, he says, “to help you fulfill the potential for your life. This book will help you live your best life now.” He goes on to say, “The good news is that your dreams, goals, and aspirations do not have to stay on tomorrow’s to do list, rather, through applying seven steps you can begin to live at your full potential.” I have a better title in mind for this book: Your Most Self-Centered Life Now.
I will be the first to admit, my assessment of “Pastor” Osteen’s book does sound a bit harsh. But think about it. Here is a guy who suggests the way to experience your best life now is by enlarging your vision, developing a healthy self-image, discovering the power of your thoughts and words, letting go of the past, finding strength through adversity, living to give, and choosing to be happy. I cannot think of a better way to describe those who are traveling down the broad way which leads to destruction that Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel. Osteen’s seven “keys” go against everything Jesus taught in the Scriptures. If Jesus was writing a similar book, I’m sure it would be entitled, The Sermon on the Mount – The Key to Your Best Life Now and Forever. Notice I said, key. I believe the principles contained within that famous sermon are the singular key to experiencing your best life now and forever!
The world says enlarge your vision, develop a healthy self-image and discover the power of your thoughts and words. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Paul says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). He was also, "well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake" (2 Cor. 12:10). The world says let go of the past (unless it benefits you to hold on), find strength through adversity (prove to yourself that you are somebody), live to give (because it’ll make you feel good), and choose to be happy (don’t buy into this you are a sinner bit). But what does God’s word say? It certainly says to forget the past, particularly your successes (Phil. 3:6-8), which I am sure Osteen would encourage you to remember. It most definitely admonishes us to give, but not in order that we might feel good about ourselves, but so that we might be demonstrations of God’s gracious provision in our own lives (2 Cor. 9:6-8). Finally, rather than pursuing happiness, God’s word encourages us to, above all else, pursue Christ, even to the point of death. It’s an ironic thing indeed. When we choose death to self and pursuit of Christ, we find joy that goes deeper and farther than any choice of happiness could ever provide (Psalm 43:4; Phil. 2:17).
It may seem foolish to disagree theologically with a man who “pastors” the largest congregation in the country. Nevertheless, if you want to read a book in which discontentment is encouraged, one that shows God to be powerless apart from your positive-filled thoughts and words, where sin is minimized (this is my favorite) and renamed in every possible way, and one that gives only a passing mention to Jesus Christ, then Your Best Life Now is for you. However, if being blessed (Matt. 5:3-7) with Christ is your goal, if knowing Him through the pains and trials of life is something you desire above all else, if seeing Him exalted in your life as you follow His pattern of humility and self-denial, and if you believe a Christian’s greatest hunger and desire should be for righteousness (not for money, health or easy living), then you would do well to look elsewhere—the Bible is a good place to start! When we experience the struggles of life and we choose to deny self and believe and pursue Christ, He says, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (Matt. 5:12). In other words, it’s not your life now that is so much the focus, but your life in eternity.
“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!
You are welcome to leave comments and you don't have to necessarily agree with me. However, I expect a civil tone and charitable spirit. We can disagree with one another without being disagreeable. "Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt." (Colossians 4:6)
Striving to glorify God by becoming more like Jesus.
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