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?
I've been preaching through Peter's first letter for the past several weeks. I will be wrapping up chapter one this Sunday with a look at 1 Peter 1:13-25. The title of the message is "That Day Matters Right Now." By "That Day," I am actually referring to two separate days--the day you came to faith in Jesus and the day you see Jesus. Both days matter right now and Peter makes it a point, as he begins this section, to look back to the blessings of redemption and forward to the--you guessed it--blessings of redemption. He writes, "Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:13).
By using the word, "therefore," Peter is pointing his readers back to what he just said in the previous 12 verses. In so doing, he is pointing us to that day number one--the day you came to faith in Jesus and all the blessings of redemption you came into at that time. What are some of these blessings of redemption that became ours the day we said yes to Jesus' free offer of forgiveness? Here are a few.
1. You were chosen (v.1)
2. You were caused to be born again (v.3)
3. You received an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance (v.4)
4. Your inheritance is reserved and protected in heaven (vv.4-5)
5. You have a proven faith (v.7)
6. You are obtaining, by faith, the salvation of your soul (v.8)
7. You are a partaker of the majesty and mystery of salvation (vv.10-12)
I'm sure I missed a few but you get the gist. The fact you came to faith in Jesus in the past affects the present. The present, however, is not the only thing it affects. It also affects your future--that day when you see Jesus. And that day also affects right now. Peter captures this in verse 13 when he writes, "Prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." Here the focus is on that day in the future when you see Jesus face-to-face. Taken together, that day matters right now. The fact I have been saved and I will one day see Jesus ought to affect how I live my life now, especially in the midst of suffering.
In the rest of the chapter, Peter gives us five marks of the redeemed. They are,
1. Alertness (v.13)
2. Obedience (v.14)
3. Holiness (vv.15-16)
4. Fear (vv.17-21)
5. Affection (vv.23-25)
These five marks ought to be identifiable in the life of one who names the name of Jesus. How are you doing? Can you point to these marks as ever increasing evidence you truly belong to Jesus? Let me take a few moments to unpack the marks in order that we might fully understand what Peter is writing.
First of all, by Alertness, I mean Godly Thinking. This is where the battle for these marks really beings--in the mind. Paul reminds us in Romans 12 of the importance and necessity of renewing our minds through the Word of God. Peter pretty much says the same thing when he writes, "Prepare your minds for action." In so doing we are to "keep sober in spirit," and "fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." So, don't get fuzzy minded but keep your mind thinking on Jesus. Think on heavenly things (see Colossians 3:1-4).
Secondly, Peter calls us to a life of Obedience. In so doing he encourages us not to "be conformed to the former lusts." These former lusts were ours in our spiritual ignorance, according to Peter. But now, in Christ, we have the mind of Christ (see Philippians 2:5-11). Since we have the mind of Christ we ought to think like Jesus. We do this by staying alert and renewing our minds through the Word of God. Again, the battle for these marks begins and ends in the mind.
Thirdly, Peter tells us we are to pursue a life of holiness because of the fact we are identified with Jesus. He writes, "Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior" (1 Peter 1:15). God's calling upon our lives is one of continual and ongoing separation from the world. It is an ongoing battle to put sin to death. I am to be in practice who I am in position. I have been made holy through the life and death of Jesus. Since that's who I am in Christ my practice should reflect that, "Because it is written, YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY" (1 Peter 1:16).
A fourth mark of redemption is Fear, by which I mean a reverent fear. He says we are to "conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth" (1 Peter 1:17). "During the time of your stay on earth" ought to clue each one of us into the fact this life is not all there is and there is a day of reckoning coming. Since we will all one day stand before Christ we ought to conduct ourselves in fear--a godly fear that leads me to renew my mind, live obediently, and strive for holiness.
A final mark Peter mentions is Affection. In the last few verses of chapter one Peter writes about a brotherly affection we ought to have for one another. This affection is one of choice--we choose to love one another just as God in Christ has and does love us. He writes, "Fervently love one another from the heart" (1 Peter 1:22). By "fervently," he means a love that is stretched to the limits. Only those who belong to Christ have the capacity to love like this. This kind of affection meets others at their point of need.
Peter wraps up this section and this chapter with a reference to the power of the Word of God to regenerate sinners and renew minds. This ties everything back to the first mark--Alertness--and the fact our ability to develop these marks of redemption begins and ends in the mind. Let us, therefore, commit to right and renewed thinking through the power of the living Word!
Matthew and Sarah are a young married couple who moved here from Mobile. They bought out a lawn care business and had recently purchased a new mower and paid off what they owed on the trailer. Their trailer and mower was recently stolen from their home. This was their livelihood. This is how they put food on the table for their family and now it is gone.
Matthew and Sarah would never ask anyone for help. That's why I believe God has raised me up--to ask on their behalf. Let's step up to the plate--both family and friends; aquaintances and strangers--and help them start over.
The Bible reminds us, "Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). Let's fufllill the law of Christ together. This includes praying for and giving to help Matthew and Sarah. It also includes praying for the individuals responsible for steeling their business assets that God would bring them to repentance.
Thank you for your prayers and thank you for your gifts!
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What about a dying church says that our God is great and His Gospel is powerful? This question came to Mark Clifton, national director of replanting at the North American Mission Board, as he stood in front of a declining church in Kansas City.
The short answer is nothing about a dying church says our God is great and His Gospel is powerful. Thankfully, there is movement in Southern Baptist circles today to do something about that.
I recently spent two days in Atlanta at the North American Mission Board's first every ReplantLab -- a conference that brought pastors, church planters, Directors of Missions, and other SBC leaders, ministers, and workers to talk about one thing--Replanting dying churches. The following Baptist Press article further explains the Replanting concept:
I am praying about my roll in this whole Replanting movement. I will be transitioning out of the Air Force in the coming months and am eager to see what God has planned for me. I know He is up to something but right now He is more interested in me knowing Him than knowing what's next. So, as I continue to seek Him, I pray He will soon reveal His will to me. Pray with me!
Pictured L to R: Me, Henry Blackaby and his son, Richard
John Owen said, "Be killing sin or it will be killing you." The daily work of the Christian is to put to death remaining sin. This is sometimes a difficult concept for the Christian to understand and put into practice. The following post is from John Piper's Desiring God website. The original post appears here.
George in Cologne, Germany writes in: “Pastor John, if a Christian is born anew, and has died to sin, why is sin in the heart so decisive? The same for the flesh? Why must it be killed everyday? My status in Christ, and my daily work, this mortification, seems (and feels!) so contradictory!”
Yes, it does. I totally resonate. Let’s try to do two things in answer to George’s question. First, let’s show from the New Testament what actually happens in the new birth, especially as it relates to a Christian’s ongoing sinning. And then, second, let’s see if we can answer, at least partly: Why does God do it this way? Because that is really the heart of his question. But in order to get to that, I think we need to start with, What happens in the new creation or the new birth?
So, my answer to this first question is: What God creates in the new birth is not a sinless Christian. What he creates is an embattled, not-yet perfect, Spirit-empowered, persevering, Christ-treasuring, sin-hating, new being — a new creation in Christ. And don’t miss those words “embattled” and “sin-hating.” The new creation in Christ is a fighter. Paul said at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7). And he tells Timothy, “Fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12) — and he means the fight for holiness and the fight for faith: the good fight of faith. So, notice these four paradoxical pairs of verses to see how the event of new birth relates to this ongoing battle:
“What God creates in the new birth is not a sinless Christian, but a sin fighter.”
1) Here is the first pair: 1 John 3:9, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning.” Then, 1 John 1:8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” So, new birth creates a DNA, as it were, in this person — a divine-like DNA that cannot be content with ongoing sinning though, in this life, if we say we have no sin, we have a misunderstanding of how it is working. So, that is the first pair.
2) Here is the second pair: Romans 6:6, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” Wow. What an event. And then Romans 6:11–12, “So you also must consider [or reckon] yourselves dead to sin.” Well, why? If you are dead, you are dead. No. “Reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign.” This is an imperative. Get about the business of killing sin, reckoning yourself to be dead to sin, and bringing yourself under the reign of Christ, not the reign of your mortal body. So, the indicative statement, “you have died” (see also Romans 7:4) and the imperative statement, “consider yourself dead and live in the power of it” (2 Corinthians 13:4), that is the second pair.
3) Here is a third pair: Colossians 3:3, “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Then Colossians 3:5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” So, the death that we died makes a fighter against what we have died to: “put to death.”
4) And the last pair is 1 Peter 1:23, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” Then, the second half of the pair is 1 Peter 2:1–2, “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.”
So, what I infer from those four pairs of verses is that what the new birth, the new creation brings into being is an embattled, not-yet perfect, Spirit-empowered, persevering, Christ-treasuring, sin-hating, new being in Christ. The outcome is guaranteed, but the battle is real.
“Christians are embattled, not-yet perfect, Spirit-empowered, persevering, Christ-treasuring, sin-hating, new beings.”
And so, the last question is: Why does God do it this way? He has the power to snap his finger and make us sinless. And we know that he does because he is going to do that in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:51–52) — at the resurrection or in the moment of death — and we won’t be made into robots when he does it. He will make us sinless without in any way making us less human or less free. We will never ever sin again in heaven. Why doesn’t he do it now? That is the question.
I think there is at least one clear macro answer to that question and some less clear micro answers to that question that flow from the macro. The macro answer is: God does it this way because he intends for the process of sanctification to maximize the praise of his glory, especially the praise of the glory of his grace. And I say that because of numerous places where this is the express intended outcome of sanctification, like Philippians 1:11, where the outcome is supposed to be that we are “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” So, he is going to bring about a fullness of fruits of righteousness because he means to be praised. That is the design in why he does it the way he does it. Or, 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 where the outcome of our sanctification is “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“One day God will make us sinless without in any way making us less human or less free.”
So, whether we can see at the micro level why this is the case, it is clear at the macro level God has chosen to sanctify us through this painful, slow, progressive, embattled way because it glorifies Christ and the grace of God more than if he snapped his finger and made us perfect and sinless at the point of new birth. Now, are there any micro, sub-reasons that we can see that might explain why that is the case? And I will just mention three:
1) Through this slow, painful, embattled process, we are reminded — John Piper is reminded — every day how dreadfully depraved and sinful and helpless I am and would be if left to myself. And so, God intends for me to know this, to feel this by my constant need for warfare to overcome my bent to sinning.
“God reminds us every day through sanctification how depraved we are and how gracious Christ is.”
2) Flowing from that reminder, we are made — John Piper is made — to feel the wonder of God’s patience and grace in holding on to me and returning to me again and again and reviving me and fighting for me and bringing me safely to glory — at least for 70 years now. It is no wonder that the book of Jude closes with a stunning doxology to God’s persevering, keeping power in the embattled Christian life: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority” (Jude 24–25).
Isn’t that amazing? What is he giving glory to God for? He is giving glory and majesty and dominion and authority to God for one simple reason: God patiently keeps working with us until the end. That is just astonishing to me, and I don’t think I would feel that nearly to the level that I do without God doing it the way he is doing it.
3) And the last thing, the third thing I would say is that since true holiness is the reflex of seeing the superior beauty and value of Christ, the nature of the daily battle keeps this reality in front of me so that Christ and his beauty and his value remain central in my life. So, it becomes clear that Satan is defeated not by the mere finger-snapping, raw power of God, but by the supreme beauty of Jesus Christ that I have to get clear every day from Scripture so that I am more attracted to Jesus than to unholiness.
So, I think the main thing that I would say to George is that, whatever the reasons are that God has chosen to sanctify us in this slow, painful, embattled way, this choice of his is because he gets greater glory when we fight the battle every day with the weapons he has appointed and the way he has ordained. So let’s get on with the good fight.
"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!
In my latest video blog installment I discuss the so called Prosperity Gospel, which is really no gospel at all. Colossians 2:6-10; 1 Timothy 6:11-12.
Today's video blog is in honor of my 24th wedding anniversary and focuses on the mystery of a Christian marriage as discussed by Paul in Ephesians 5:32.
For this video blog my son, Christian, joins me as we share some thoughts on Proverbs 22:6. He may be only 5 years old but I'm trying my best to teach him the ways of God. I pray God's grace supersedes my "best." Most of what he has learned is currently head knowledge but my prayer is that it would become heart knowledge as he grows older.
Continuing my thought from my previous video blog about the Gospel, this installment answers the question, "Why the Gospel?" The text is Romans 1:14-23.
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)
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Striving to glorify God by becoming more like Jesus.
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