Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
And For the record, the Fight for Joy! Journal is my personal spiritual journal that I don't journal in all that often but when I do it's usually worth sharing. I'm going to start doing that here from time to time. My prayer is God will use it to further sanctify and bless you.
DISCLAIMER: Although I am sharing from my journal I am also adding some textual notes, Greek word studies, and other helps to further magnify and clarify what God's Word says and how we might apply it to our lives in sanctification (the process of becoming more like Jesus)--see Romans 8:28, "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love [Him]."
From 10/2/2014: God conceived The Law, revealed The Law, interprets The Law, and applies The Law, and through the sacrifice of His Son, ALL the demands of The Law have been met for those who trust in Him.
Paul wrote, "He who did not spare His own Son (same verb used for the offering of Isaac in Genesis 22:16) but delivered (gave) Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely (graciously) give us all things" (Romans 8:32). If there is a greatest verse in all the Bible, this is it. There is much to ponder and meditate upon here. There is much to consider. In the Greek there is an intensive particle (ge) which magnifies God's deed of not sparing His own Son but delivering Him over for us ("us," of course being all those who, by God's gracious choice, "are beloved of God, called as saints" (Romans 1:6). They are those who, because they are are "in Christ," are not condemened (Romans 8:1).
So, God has given us the greatest gift of all--His Son, whom He "did not spare, but delivered Him over for us all." Delivered speaks of God's active participation in the judicial condemnation of Christ. Luke writes, "This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death" (Acts 2:23). Jesus--the God-Man--was "delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God."
By delivering His own Son "over for us all," is an example of a Jewish argument from the greater to the lesser. Here it is from God to us. The supreme gift of God's Son guarantees the subsequent gift of everything else we need for our full and final glory. Furthermore, the gift of "His own son," according to the late A.T. Robertson, "is the promise and the pledge of the all things for good of verse 28. Christ is all and carries all with Him."
This is heavy, or to put it another way, weighty. It is much to take in, to absorb, to ponder, to meditate upon. "With Christ," and because He has been "delivered over for us all," Paul writes, God will now "also with Him freely give us all things." Paul often uses this phrase (freely give us) to denote forgiveness and may mean that here. If this is true, and I have no reason to doubt this is Paul's meaning here, then every sin a believer commits has been forgiven--every single one--past, present, and future.
And it's not just our sins that have been forgiven. We have also been "freely [given] all things." This is similar language to what we find in Ephesians, where Paul writes, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing" (Ephesians 1:3). God has freely given us all things--every spiritual blessing--everything we need for forgiveness of sins, the life He calls us to live here and now, and future grace--all that God promises to be for us in Jesus Christ from this time forth and forevermore! It is whatever is necessary to complete the purpose He had in choosing you and me.
APPLICATION: I believe that in order to begin to apply these truths we must think about what God's Word says here. This is called biblical meditaiton. Allow the words of Romans 8:32 (and the supporting passages) to sink into your thinking and into your heart. As you do, sanctification and transformation will occur. Here are some practical suggestions for meditating on this passage. Think about these things:
1. God delivered His own Son over to death for you. He died a judicial death in your place.
2. God has through His act of delivering His own Son over for you, now freely given you all things--every spiritual blessing--everything you need for sanctification and transformation--your so called Christian life. Here's another way of thinking about that: Jesus Christ is your life! (Read the whole book of Colossians for more of God's Word on that!).
3. God has, through His supreme gift, guaranteed the subsequent gift of everything else you need for your full and final glory. In other words, the Gospel will bring you all the way to glory. There is no such thing as a defective salvation. You have been saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved. You've got God's Word on that!
4. Because of the supreme gift of His Son, God is going to provide you with and do everything necessary to complete the purpose He had in choosing you. So make your life's goals to Treasure Christ, Live the Word, Make Disciples, and Finish Well!
5. Finally, think about this...Because of the pledge of His Son, God promises to fulfill all things for good in your life (Romans 8:28).
"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!
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2). It was C.S. Lewis who said, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?” The Bible teaches God’s approval comes by way of faith (Hebrews 11:1-2). In fact, the Bible makes it crystal clear that our faith, when perfected, is more valuable than anything we could ever imagine (1 Peter 1:7). Perhaps this is why the writer of Hebrews goes to great lengths to underscore the importance of living by faith. He teaches us about the nature of faith, the honor associated with it, and its way of seeing things. The entire eleventh chapter reveals the honor associated with faith through the lives of Old Testament saints. In the next chapter the writer describes living by faith in athletic terms—running a race. In so doing, he encourages those of us who name the name of Christ to run the race of life by faith, just like the Old Testament saints described in the preceding chapter.
"Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places" (Habakkuk 3:17-19). Like this passage, Dennis Jernigan’s lyrics to "You are My All in All," capture the essence of what it means to treasure Christ above all. "You are my strength when I am weak, You are the treasure that I seek, You are my all in all. I’m seeking You like a precious jewel, Lord, to give up I’d be a fool. You are my all in all… Taking my cross, my sin, my shame, raising again I praise Your name; You are my all in all. When I fall down You pick me up, when I run dry you fill my cup; You are my all in all…" Sadly, many today treasure anything and everything rather than Christ. Equally as sad is the number of so called ministers who stand in pulpits across this land and preach a blasphemous message of health, wealth, and prosperity, rather than the greatest treasure of all—Jesus Christ. Jernigan says it well—I’d be a fool to seek anything other than Christ. Indeed, He is the treasure that I seek and pray you seek as well.
The prophet Habakkuk gives us one of many reasons found within Scripture to treasure Christ above all. He concludes his short book (only 3 chapters) with an "If everything goes south I will still trust in the Lord" scenario. This is a far cry from much of what we hear coming out of Christendom today. Much of what is being taught today says God wants you to be rich. He wants you to feel good about yourself. He wants you to live a life of ease, comfort, and pleasure. He wants you to own expensive cars, big houses, and maybe even a yacht and airplane. The problem with such thinking is twofold. First of all, it simply is not true. Secondly, when one treasures such temporal things and the bottom does drop out, their faith (if they even had any to start with) will spiral out of control, leaving them bitter and disillusioned. But when Christ is my treasure, "Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines…, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation." Habakkuk’s point is this—Treasure Christ above all! If everything collapses and I lose it all, I will still rejoice in and desire Christ. This is true hope and security. Such is not based on temporal blessings—stuff—but on the Lord Himself. This is the essence of treasuring Christ. Indeed, He is My all in All! If my focus is living by faith in the crucified, risen, ascended, and soon returning Lord—treasuring Christ above all—then I can say, "The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places." My faith in the Lord will enable me to endure difficulty, suffering, and even loss—tremendous pain and loss at that.
"I’m seeking You like a precious jewel, Lord, to give up I’d be a fool." I see a lot of fools these days and I’m not talking about "fools for Christ’s sake" (1 Cor. 4:10). I’m talking about those who seek earthly treasures over Christ. What treasure do you seek? Paul wrote, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil. 3:8). Do you consider all things loss, your sin included, for the sake of knowing and treasuring Christ? Is Christ more important to you than life itself? "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). The Psalmist wrote, "Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise you" (Ps. 63:3). What’s the point of all this? It is simple, really. Jesus is the goal. He is the prize. He is the treasure that we seek. Sadly however, many seek after that which will not satisfy. My heart grieves for those who follow after false prophets, false religious systems, and pseudo-Christianity thinking such things will bring them joy and guarantee eternal life. Furthermore, my heart breaks over those whom I know and care about who are seeking happiness by embracing sin rather than Christ. Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:34). If you treasure things your heart will be in things. If you treasure sin, your heart will be consumed with sin. If you treasure wealth, your heart will long for more and more. But if you treasure Christ, your heart will be satisfied with nothing less than Christ and Christ alone. Treasuring Christ guarantees satisfaction here and an eternal joy that simply cannot be described this side of heaven—"But just as it is written, things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who [treasure] Him" (1 Cor. 2:9). "You are the treasure that I seek, You are my all in all…to give up I’d be a fool."
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroys, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Matthew chapters five through seven contain Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. Right in the middle of this sermon we find these words: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This is the big question from the Sermon on the Mount: Where is my heart? This is an important question, one that we should all ponder with grave seriousness. This is especially true considering the times in which we live and the events of the past few weeks.
The Bible teaches that the heart is the control center for life. The writer of Proverbs says that a person’s life is really a reflection of his or her heart. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” What a graphic picture—everything in life flows from the heart. Therefore, the heart must be guarded lest it be distracted by the cares of this world. So, where is your heart? The Bible gives us a fairly simple formula for discerning the location of the heart. That formula can be summed up in the statement: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). This is the Word of the Lord!
I am afraid, that with the recent economic struggles and downturns, many believers are discovering their heart is on Wall Street rather than “seated with Christ in the heavenly places” (Eph. 2:6). But how does one discern the location of the heart? One way is by looking at your checkbook. The other is by gauging your reaction to recent economic events. By looking at your checkbook I mean do you make a consistent practice of giving God the first-fruits from your finances—that is, are you more concerned for the work of the Lord than you are with wealth? By gauging your reaction to recent economic events I mean is your reaction to all these things one of confident assurance in the sovereignty and provision of God or are you worried sick about how much money you may be losing or how you are going to pay your bills, and house and feed your family—things about which Jesus said, “the Gentiles eagerly seek” (Matt. 6:32a). By using the word Gentiles, Jesus was speaking about those who do not know nor belong to God. But for those of us who are His children, He says this: “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matt. 6:32b). His point is simple: just trust Him! That’s what it’s all about anyway—trusting God (see Heb. 11). I have watched my portfolio lose quite a bit of money over the past few weeks. But my confidence in God has remained at an all time high. Why? Because my treasure in not on Wall Street. My treasure is in heaven. And it is my prayer that your treasure will be there as well. The prosperity preachers would have us believe it’s all about wealth. However, God would have us believe it’s all about treasuring Christ rather than treasuring wealth: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
“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).
“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!
“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do no be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17).
The Bible has a lot to say about time. We are told to make the most of time – to be careful how we spend our time. We are admonished not to waste time. The unbeliever is warned today is the day of salvation – now is the time to be saved. Why all this emphasis on time? The reason is because God knows time is only for a moment but eternity is forever. We are told to use our time wisely because we do not know how much time we have: “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). The truth is simple – God has allotted to each one a certain number of days, a certain length of time. The Bible says, “And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:16). This is the Word of the Lord!
Because time is so precious we are told to be careful how we use it. We are warned not to use it unwisely but to make the most of it. We are not to foolishly squander it but we are to seek to glorify God in how we use the time He has granted us. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus Christ is the “author and finisher of our lives” (12:2). However, as long as we insist on spending our time as we see fit, He cannot fulfill His will for us. As long as we insist on cutting our own paths, He cannot lead us into His paths of goodness and righteousness. As long as we insist on holding the reigns of our lives, He cannot be our Lord. As long as we insist on doing things our way, according to our own desires, He cannot bring about His desires or guide us into His wholeness, usefulness, and blessings. Therefore, we must “be careful how [we] walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of [our] time.”
Charles Beaty and his wife were living the American dream. The insurance agency they owned was beginning to take off. They had the first of their four children. They bought their first house. His wife began talking to him about missions. She thought they should look into offering themselves for service. His response was, “that sounds good honey, but we won’t be going until our kids are graduated from high school, and we have them out of the house and we’ve finished that mission.” However, after attending a weeklong conference on missions that was filled with the need to reach the unreached peoples of the world, everything began to come together. A year and six months later, they were in France learning French, preparing to go to North Africa to a people group that was restricted.
Most of us think we have forever, that there is another day, another year, another 10 years. This is what Charles Beaty thought. It is troubling that many want to wait until things are “just right” before they will consider God’s will for their lives. However, thankfully Charles did not. He went to North Africa at 31. Three years later, on October 2, 2001, he died in his sleep after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 34. Only eternity will tell what God was able to do through him in the three short years he had to make a difference for the kingdom. How much time do you have left on this earth? Only God knows. Therefore, “make the most of your time.”
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