Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
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.
Today I began a new endeavor which I plan to practice fairly regularly and that is making video posts as part of my blog. I am calling it my Fight for Joy! video blog, for the lack of a better name and description. I hope you enjoy and learn from this first post. If you follow me on Facebook they will also be posted there, probably before they are posted here. The text is 2 Corinthians 4:7-18.
“O God, who is like you? You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again” (Psalm 71:19b-21). Four months into my forty-fifth year and I find myself reflecting back over the course of my life. My conclusion: sometimes life sucks but God is good.
It is not unusual for one to arrive at such a conclusion. Those who think life is a bed of roses are either delusional or lying. Those who think this is your best life now are simply lost and on their way to eternal separation from God as the only way this can be your best life now is to be on your way to hell. So why my blunt yet true assessment? Like the psalmist, I have experienced times of trouble and the goodness of God in the midst of such times of trouble.
The aforementioned passage—Psalm 71:19b-21—has become a passage for my present circumstances. For more than ten years I have enjoyed a ministry unlike no other—ministering to, and sharing Christ with, Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Civilian Contractors, and their families. I thought I would continue in this ministry until I had to retire but God had other plans. Through the unfortunate and misguided actions of others God has sovereignly altered the course of my life. I now find myself in a period of transition. My Air Force ministry will conclude soon. I have no idea what the future holds but I do know who holds the future. Thankfully, He has it all under control and He will sovereignly reveal His will for me in due time.
So, as believers, what should be our response when we conclude life sucks? We should remember that God offers divine help in times of trouble. Psalm 71 is a psalm of experience. In other words, the psalmist doesn’t sugarcoat his experience—life is hard; life has been hard; life will be hard. The key, for the psalmist, is trust and praise in the sovereign God of life itself. He begins, “O God, who is like you?” This is a rhetorical question. The answer is obvious—no one. When life is hard, remember, there is no one like the God we serve. God is good!
“But wait,” you say. “The psalmist says it is God who has made him see troubles.” That is true. The Bible often recognizes the fact troubles and trials are sent by God. God, after all, is sovereign and we live and move in His providence. What are some of the life troubles you have experienced? Abuse? Loss? Sickness? Unemployment? Aging? Just fill in the blank—there seems to be no limit to the troubles and trials life can send our way. Even in the trials, however, God is good.
God’s goodness is seen in the fact these troubles are always sent with a purpose—to make us more like Jesus. James writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). “Perfect and complete” simply means spiritually mature. To see God as the one who sends calamity is a call to understand suffering from the vantage point of faith in God and confidence in His sovereignty—He is making us more like Jesus.
I can say, “God is good,” only when I understand troubles and trials are designed by God for this purpose. Paul concludes, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom.
5:2b-4). As believers, we will suffer. Sometimes we will conclude life sucks. Even so, our confidence remains in God and by faith we can still declare God is good! And because He is good we know that ultimately, He will deliver us, either in this life or the life to come. Suffering, after all, lasts no longer than a lifetime. Job is a good example of one who was delivered after a time of intense suffering. Such is not always the case in this life, however, as some are ultimately delivered through the suffering—when they see Jesus face-to-face—think Stephen, the first martyr. “O God, who is like you? You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again…”
“Give heed to me and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and am surely distracted” (Psalm 55:2). Charles Stanley wrote, “If necessary, God will move heaven and earth to show us His will.” This statement has been an encouragement to me over the years as I have sought to know and do God’s will. This is because in my fallen human condition I am not always able to immediately discern God’s will in a given situation. What a joy it is to know that God will do whatever it takes to reveal His will to those who really want to know and do it.
There is another method I believe God sometimes uses to keep us on track—a restless spirit. This idea may seem contradictory to the promise of peace to those who are in God’s will. There is no contradiction. Sometimes God will stir up a restlessness in our spirit in order to cause us to seek after Him in earnest prayer. I find myself in such a situation even as I pen this article. I am thankful to know that a restless spirit is not necessarily a sign of God’s displeasure but an indication He is up to something.
I am in the process of transitioning from Active Duty back to the civilian world. For more than ten years I have served alongside and ministered to Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and the Coast Guard. I never imagined I would be transitioning at this point in my life but obviously God has other plans. Like anyone in such a situation I have been sending out resumes and job applications. I am fond of saying I have spread my net far and wide and now I am waiting for the right fish to jump in it at the right time.
Lately, however, I have begun to feel restless in my spirit. I believe this to be a godly restlessness—an indication God is about to reveal to me His will concerning the next chapter in my life. I believe it is also probable that in my net casting I have not necessarily considered all the possibilities and perhaps God is about to lead in a much different direction than what I have been willing to consider. I have been praying God would show His will to my wife and me. I believe, as the Psalmist, “God has heard; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19).
When we find ourselves with a godly restlessness, what ought we to do to insure we are ready to hear from God? First of all, I believe we must surrender to His will. In other words, I must be bound to do God’s will. The measure of such a life is one of faith. The author of Hebrews wrote, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (11:6). Knowing all the details beforehand, therefore, is irrelevant. Believing God, however, is relevant. I must believe God’s will is best and that He has my good and His glory in mind.
Secondly, having bound myself to doing God’s will, I must be determined to finish well. In so doing, I must understand and accept the fact that God will often use difficulty and suffering to accomplish His plan and purpose in my life. It would have been wonderful if the writer of Hebrews, in chapter 11, had stopped penning that great chapter in the first half of verse 35. He writes, “And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephtha, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions…put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection” (11:32-35a).
Yes, that would have been wonderful but he does not stop there. He continues, “and others were tortured, not accepting their release…and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword…men of whom the world was not worthy” (11:35b-38). Suffering is God’s prerogative and is to be expected. Dropping out is not an option, as the author notes: “And all these, having gained approval through their faith…” (11:39a).
Finally, if I am going to insure I am ready to hear from and obey God during times of restlessness I must understand and believe it will be worth it all. I oftentimes remind myself it will be worth it all after all—in other words, the difficulty and suffering here will have been worth it all when I see Jesus face-to-face. I must, therefore, finish the race while keeping my eyes firmly planted on Jesus knowing that unimaginable joy awaits me there for my obedience here. The author of Hebrews encourages us to, “Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (12:3). Jesus obeyed God because of the joy that awaited Him. We, too, obey God because of the joy that awaits us.
In his first letter to the believers in Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (5:16-18). Remember, discovering God’s will is not a complicated process. If the ongoing practice of my life is one of ceaseless prayer accompanied by rejoicing and thanksgiving and my heart is being transformed by the renewing of my mind through God’s Word (see Romans 12:1-2), God will reveal His will to me at the proper time. Many times, the proper time is preceded by a restless spirit—a godly restlessness.
So, as you prayerfully seek to know God’s will for your life in any given circumstance, remember, come through Christ, separated from all known sin. Believe God! Make sure you are praying in God’s will. If you are not sure just keep doing the same thing God told you to do until He tells you to do something else, and be persistent in your praying. In other words, do not give up simply because you believe God should have already answered. Also, do not allow yourself to become distracted wondering if your prayers are not being prayed just right. Romans chapter 8 reminds us the Holy Spirit fixes our prayers on the way up to the God the Father.
Are you experiencing a restlessness in your spirit? Are you determined to know and do God’s will? Rest assured, as Charles Stanley writes, “If necessary, God will move heaven and earth to show us His will.” Remember the promises of Holy Scripture. Obey God not matter what, and you too, will be a person, “of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38a).
For those unaware, my family and I spent three years living, ministering, and enjoying ourselves in Alaska. The summers were short and mild; the winters long and dark. I think we broke every winter snow weather record over the course of our sojourn there.
Alaska returned to the forefront of my thinking recently as I read a Baptist Press article about the Alaska Baptist Convention's Director of Evangelism being seriously injured in a gas leak explosion. You can read about it here. Please pray for Jimmy as he recovers in a Seattle hospital. The Alaska Baptist Convention posts regular updates on their webpage.
Thinking about Alaska also reminded me the work of missions is not complete. The Great Commission (Matthew 29:18-20) compels us onward even to the ends of the earth. And believe me, with a state more than twice the size of Texas with vast territory and only a few roads (most towns and villages are only accessible by air; some by boat, too), Alaska is quite literally the ends of the earth.
Here's a fact known by few. There are over 100 villages in Alaska with absolutely no evangelical witness. Having grown up in a small town in Mississippi with multiple evangelical churches I cannot begin to comprehend a place in the United States in such dire need of just one evangelical church. Please pray for Alaska villages and peoples, that God would raise up church planters, missionaries, and other Christian workers to reach this last frontier.
"See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled" (Hebrews 12:15). The root of bitterness is underground; it is easy to hide and camouflage. Seldom do you find anyone who will admit that they are a bitter person. They will either deny it or disguise it. Have you ever had to deal with bitterness in your own heart. I know I have and the scary thing is just when I think I've conquered it, it rears its ugly head. Bitterness typically takes root when someone has wronged you. I have found myself repeatedly having to deal with bitterness towards an individual whose poor leadership and misguided reasonings negatively effected me.
A response of bitterness, however, is never right when someone has done something wrong to you. As believers we must look beyond the seen to the unseen. God is sovereignly working in all of our circumstances to bring about His purpose for us. This, of course, includes the less than desirable circumstances we may experience.
So, what are we to do? Paul writes, "In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Adrian Rogers wrote, "If someone has wronged you, cut it down and forget it. By the grace of God, bury that hurt in the grave of God's forgetfulness." The expectation for believers is that we be thankful and forgive.
But what if that root of bitterness tries to rear its ugly head from time to time. Well, reaffirm your gratitude to God and your forgiveness of the one who wronged you. Then take a lesson from 1 Samuel 15 and the story of Agag--hack that root to pieces; kill it! You will discover that your life is more joyful when you uproot & kill your bitterness.
“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). No one can possibly fail to see the lawlessness that pervades our society today. On Tuesday, the nation watched as FBI Director James Comey laid out the case against Hillary Clinton for her total disregard for Federal Law and common sense over her handling of classified information. I don’t know about you but I sat in stunned disbelief as he announced there would be no recommendation for an indictment. As one who holds a TOP SECRET National Security Clearance, I am sure I would already be in jail had I been found to have mishandled only a fraction of the classified information Mrs. Clinton and her staff mishandled. One thing is for sure, there is no longer such a thing as the rule of law. Lawlessness is now firmly entrenched in our society and world.
Jesus foretold this lawlessness in Matthew as one of the signs leading up to His return to this world. I do not believe He is referring to lawlessness in a purely civil sense. I am sure He has in mind lawlessness as it relates to God’s law, as well. Consider how far we have come as a society in just a few short years. That which the Bible clearly calls evil society now calls good. Religious freedom, something not necessarily promised to us in Scripture, is now a thing of the past. Anyone who disagrees or takes a stand on purely religious conviction is shunned, ostracized, and destroyed. To me, it is like a giant whirlpool sucking everything and everyone towards the center of the vortex. I witnessed one such whirlpool as I sailed from Alaska to Washington a few years ago. As the outgoing tide increased in velocity it caused the waters of the intercostal waterway to begin to rotate until it looked something like the picture above. I am thankful the ferryboat captain chose to steer clear of this whirling vortex rather than sail through it. Such a picture is an excellent illustration of how lawlessness works. Society moves further and further away from God and morality at a faster and ever tightening pace.
Lawlessness, according to Scripture, will abound in the last days. Lawlessness, properly understood, is a life of disobedience to the law of God—a deliberate trampling upon His law. It is mankind’s contempt for God and his decision to do as he pleases. The Psalmist writes, “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying ‘Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!’” (Psalm 2:2-3). Such is the irony of man’s rebellion—devising, conspiring, and scheming against God and His ways. The Bible, however, reveals God’s response to such foolishness. “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury, saying, “But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain” (Psalm 2:4-6).
I can almost hear the Lord saying, “Scorn My law all you want to but there is a payday coming and it is coming very soon for My Son will soon return and establish His Kingdom which He will rule with a rod of iron and destroy all those who do evil.” Perhaps this is why the Psalmist writes a few verses later, “Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!” (Psalm 2:12) I do not know about you but as the tide of lawlessness rolls over the world and the rotating vortex of destruction sucks in anything and everything it can, I am taking refuge in Jesus. I would encourage you to do the same. The world is on a collision course to meet the God of the universe face-to-face. It will not be pretty. John writes, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds… And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15). How will you fare when you meet God face-to-face? Will you perish in the way, as the Psalmist writes, or will you join Christ upon Zion—His holy mountain?
Switchbacks along the way... Today's verse is Hebrews 12:1-2: "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."
Yesterday I wrote that I am ready to see Jesus face to face. That is still true today but unless He calls me home today I know that the pathway to heaven will continue to involve challenges along the way. I call these switchbacks. In hiking terms, a switchback is a trail up a steep hill or mountain that is like a zig-zag pattern instead of a straight trail. Wouldn't it be nice if we could go straight to the Celestial City rather than zig-zag our way there through life's trials and sufferings?
The pathway to heaven, along with its switchbacks (trials and sufferings) is more easily navigated if we "lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us." Among those things to be laid aside are fear that shrinks back in the face of suffering, discouragement leading to doubt, and selfishness that seeks immediate gratification. We must also maintain our confidence and endurance as shared yesterday, a confidence in God's future grace that enables us to endure life's hardships to the end, all the while, keeping our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus through worship, daily Bible reading, on-going prayer, and fellowship with the saints.
Live the Word.
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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