13 Dec

How Long, O Lord? – Joy

This week we continue the season of Advent by lighting the 3rd candle, the pink candle of peace.  Our 2011 Advent theme is “How Long, O Lord?” and each week we’ll be looking at a passage of Scripture that focuses on the Second Coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Our text this week comes from Philippians 4:4-7:

  • Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This week we light the Candle of Joy.  God through Paul calls followers of Jesus in this passage to have joy continuously—Rejoice in the Lord always.  There are so many reasons for believers to have joy and rejoice, but one of the reasons that Paul gives us here is that the Lord is near.  In one sense, this means that Jesus Christ is nearby.  But there’s another sense here that Jesus is not far from returning.  Jesus is near to coming again.

The entire thrust of the New Testament is that we are living in the last days and must stand ready for Jesus to return.  We have no clue how many days are left, but we do know that they are coming to an end and that Jesus will soon return any day now.  Jesus Himself tells us so in Revelation 22:7, “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.”

You might be thinking, “Well, Lord, what are you waiting for?  Come on!”  But, Peter reminds us 2 Peter 3:8-9 why Jesus has not returned yet:

  • But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Jesus has not forgotten about us.  He simply is patiently waiting for more people to be saved.  Our waiting is others’ salvation.

As we light the Candle of Peace, if there is one reading this meditation who has never trusted Jesus as their Savior and Lord, we pray that you see this today that the Lord is being patient and giving you another opportunity to be saved.  Be saved today because the Lord is near, knowing that His patience will run eventually run out, and then it will be everlastingly too late.

And to those who have trusted Jesus, as you wait for Jesus to come again, may rejoicing be what comes out of your heart and your mouth so that the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus until He arrives.

27 Sep

Frustrate the Devil

How would you like to ruin the devil’s day?  Want to see him with shoulders drooped, face all scrunched up in a frown of disappointment, and sitting on a bench pouting?  That sounds awesome, doesn’t it?  Okay then, here’s the game plan:  rejoice in your suffering.

No seriously.  God has ordained suffering for your life to bring about much good, but the devil wants to take what was meant for your good and destroy you.  He wants to discourage you, infuriate you at God, and push you to doubt God.  But, you can totally foil his plan be rejoicing in your suffering.

Whether you realize it or not, suffering is a privilege from God.  The early church considered it a privilege to suffer for the name of Christ.  Acts 5:41 tells us that after the apostles took a beating for preaching the gospel, they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. Furthermore, Paul tells us that suffering has been granted along with salvation for all who believe on Jesus (Philippians 1:29).  So, salvation and suffering are both gracious blessings from God.  Suffering is actually a cause for joy!

To the natural mind, the combination of suffering and joy sounds like the makings of a psychological diagnosis.  But, to the biblically informed mind, it’s nothing more than understanding God’s will for our life.  It’s not that we’re to take pleasure in the pain.  Rather, we take pleasure in the product the pain produces.  With that mindset in view, let’s look at six reasons the Bible gives for rejoicing in your suffering so that you can frustrate the devil.

1)  Suffering gives a contemporary visible witness that Jesus is worth joyfully enduring the most awful things for.
In Colossians 1:24, Paul says, Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. When he says that he’s “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, I believe he’s talking about an ongoing visible example to us.  Jesus Christ is not before our eyes suffering.  In fact, He’s sitting at the right hand of the Father right now in heaven.  But Paul was before the eyes of his contemporaries.  He was an ongoing visible example to them.  In fact, he even wrote this letter to the Colossians while in prison for preaching the gospel.

In 1 Corinthians 15:32, we learn that he had to fight wild best while in Ephesus.  In 2 Corinthians 11:21-27, he gives us an even more extensive list of his afflictions:  much hard work, imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death, five times received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes, three times beaten with rods, once stoned, three times shipwrecked spending a night and a day in the deep, dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from his countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren, and many sleepless nights in hunger and thirst and in cold and exposure.

Paul was much afflicted!  Everybody in Paul’s day could look at him and his willingness to endure such hardships with rejoicing and had to make a choice.  They could either call Paul insane or call Jesus awesome.  That’s the choice our contemporaries should have to make concerning us too.  Either we are crazy, or Jesus is awesome.  God desires for you to rejoice in your sufferings so that people will come to the second conclusion:  Jesus is awesome!  They’ll look at your suffering and your rejoicing and come to the conclusion that Jesus is worth enduring joyfully the most awful things for.  Who knows who will be saved or encouraged through our suffering.

Is making much of Jesus reason for rejoicing?  Absolutely!  Then rejoice in your suffering and frustrate the devil.

2)  Suffering brings us into closer union with Christ
Paul tells us 1 Corinthians 11:1 to be imitators of him as he imitates Christ.  Christ rejoiced in His suffering (Heb 12:2), and Paul imitated that (Col 1:24).  So, we come into closer union with Christ when we suffer.  Christians are called to take suffering patiently, “because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).  Paul’s goal in Philippians 3:10 was to share [Christ’s] sufferings, being conformed to His death.  This goal should be our as well.  Furthermore, our suffering is connected with sharing in Christ’s glory when he returns: …if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him (Romans 8:17).

Is closesness with Jesus reason for rejoicing?  Absolutely!  Then rejoice in your suffering and frustrate the devil.

3)  Suffering assures the believer that he belongs to Christ
Jesus said, If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, “A slave is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you… (John 15:18-20).  So, your suffering for Jesus proves that you belong to Jesus.

Is assurance of your salvation reason for rejoicing?  Absolutely!  Then rejoice in your suffering and frustrate the devil.

4)  Suffering deepens our dependence on and hunger for God
Why do you think the gospel spreads so much more rapidly in Third World countries?  I think it’s because they don’t have all the junk that we have to pacify or satisfy them.  Many Americans aren’t impressed with the rewards God puts before us because they’re pleased enough in this life, but that’s why events of suffering and loss through calamity are so important.  They shake us out business as usual so that we’ll turn from temporal joy and be prepared for eternal joy.  It’s in these moments that we realize that all we have is Christ, and Christ really is enough.  God uses seasons of tragedy and loss to drive men to the cross of Christ for salvation and then to greater depths of dependence upon the Lord.

The Scripture bears this out:

  • Romans 5:1-5, Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:7, But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;
  • 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong

Is a deeper dependence on and hunger for God reason for rejoicing?  Absolutely!  Then rejoice in your suffering and frustrate the devil.

5.  Suffering makes us into Christ’s likeness
Comfort and goodwill are nice, but there’s something that God desires so much more for our lives, namely that we would be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.  God does this in many ways, but one of the ways He does this is through suffering.

Notice two of several passages that bear this truth:

  • 1 Peter 4:12-13, Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.
  • Romans 8:28-29, And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;

God loves us enough to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ.  Suffering is simply one of the tools in the Potter’s hand.

Is becoming more like Jesus reason for rejoicing?  Absolutely!  Then rejoice in your suffering and frustrate the devil.

6.  Suffering can discipline in God’s children, making us more holy.
For those that are God’s children, suffering can be used to discipline us.  The following texts point this truth out:

  • Jeremiah 19:15, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Behold, I am about to bring on this city and all its towns the entire calamity that I have declared against it, because they have stiffened their necks so as not to heed My words.”
  • Hebrews 12:7, It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
  • Revelation 3:19, Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent

Is becoming more holy through God’s loving hand of discipline reason for rejoicing?  Absolutely!  Then rejoice in your suffering and frustrate the devil.

Christian, suffer well by rejoicing in your suffering because of what God is going to do through your suffering, and in doing so, you will definitely ruin the devil’s day!

01 Mar

Joy: the Fuel for Godliness

What motivates you to be a man or woman of God?  What keeps you going on, even on the difficult and trying days?  What’s the fuel for your godliness?

There’s an amazing passage in Nehemiah 8 were Ezra, Nehemiah, and all the recently returned exiles of Israel gathered together in the newly restored Jerusalem.  The leaders opened the book of the Law and began to read it.  Many had forgotten the Hebrew language while in Babylon.  Therefore, they also translated the Law as they read it so that everybody would have understanding.

That’s when the Word of God began to do what the Word of God does:  expose and convict sinners.  The people began to weep upon hearing the Law.  They began to see how far they and their families had drifted away from God while in exile.  Heavy conviction and grief fell on them.

But, the leadership in the wisdom of God knew that conviction and grief would not carry them very far to godliness.  It never has.  It still doesn’t.  That spiritual fuel runs out quickly.  So, they offered a different route to godliness.  They said to the people, This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.  Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength (Nehemiah 8:9-10)

That’s it!  There’s the fuel that will sustain us to ever-increasing godliness!  Joy.  The joy of the Lord.  Joy in the Lord.  That’s where true strength toward godliness and holy living comes from.  The joy of the Lord is your strength!

Sadly though, we in our sinfulness are motivated by the wrong things toward godliness.  Here are some common temptations:

  1. Being a man or woman of God to earn salvation (ie, putting forth your own godliness)
  2. Being a man or woman of God to get glory for yourself (ie, using godliness to grow your name)
  3. Being a man or woman of God to pay God back (ie, borrowing grace until you can get your godliness in order)
  4. Being a man or woman of God out of guilt (ie, trying to do godly things even though you don’t really want to)
  5. Being a man or woman of God to fulfill a duty (ie, grinning and bearing it to godliness)
  6. Being a man or woman of God to please others (ie, focusing mainly on others’ opinions of your godliness)

Friend, these will get you nowhere.  I take that back.  Some of these will get you somewhere, namely Hell.  The others will get you to spiritual meagerness and futility.  These are not God’s plan for your godliness.  The joy of the Lord is your strength.

So, be a man or woman of God out of joy.  Moses recognized the centrality of joy as to leading to godliness:

  • Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you (Deuteronomy 28:47-48).

David recognized it:

  • Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing (Psalm 100:2).
  • Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).
  • You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever (Psalm 16:11).

Jesus certainly knew this truth:

  • These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full (John 15:11).
  • 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 12:2).
  • Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master (Matthew 25:21).

Paul also knew that joy in the Lord leads to godliness:

  • Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm (2 Corinthians 1:24).
  • Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4).

Peter saw it too:

  • And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8)

The joy of the Lord is your strength!

Okay, so maybe you’re convinced now that joy should be our great motivation, but why should you have joy?  In other words, what is the source of your joy?  Where should our joy come from?  There are at least two places.

First, our joy springs forth from the reality of God himself.  He is the very personification of joy and desires to be in relationship with you.  In Him there’s joy unspeakable, pleasures unceasing.  As the old hymn says:

Who can cheer the heart like Jesus
By His presence all divine
True and tender, pure and precious
O, how blest to call Him mine

All that thrills my soul is Jesus
He is more than life to me
And the fairest of ten thousand
In my blessed Lord I see

His presence itself is joy.  We were made to be thrilled in God, and God has certainly not withheld himself from us.  Rather, God has sought us and made a way for us to enjoy Him forever.  He is the highest and the holiest—everything our souls truly desire.  Delight yourself in the Lord because the joy of the Lord is your strength!

Second, our joy comes from what God has done in our lives.  Look at what all He done for you , especially if you are a Christian:

  1. He has made you (Psalm 139:13).
  2. He is sustaining you (Psalm 54:4).
  3. He has saved you (1 Peter 1:3-5).
  4. He has adopted you (Ephesians 1:3-6).
  5. He has set His love on you, planned to completely sanctify you, effectually called you to salvation, justified you, and will glorify you (Romans 8:29-30).

There’s so much more that could be said, but isn’t that plenty enough reason for joy?  Oh yeah, more than enough!  He has dealt bountifully with you.

God has called you to be a man or woman of God, and you’re to pursue that calling out of joy and with joy.  May the joy of the Lord be your strength unto godliness!

14 Dec

The Songs of Christmas – Joy

shepherds_and_angelsThis week we continue the season of Advent by focusing on joy.  Our 2009 Advent theme is “The Songs of Christmas,” and each week we’ll be looking at a song from the gospel of Luke surrounding the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.  Our song this week comes from Luke 2:13-14.  This is the song the angels sang when they told the shepherds of the birth of Jesus, the Messiah Christ:

13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

This week we focus the joy of Christ.  This song the angels sang came on the heels of our Lord Jesus being born in a lowly stable.  Not too many hours before that evening, Mary—the mother of Jesus—and her fiancé Joseph had arrived in the city of Bethlehem.  They were worn out from their travel from the city of Nazareth, but they could not find a proper place to lie down and rest.  The local inn had no vacancy, so they offered the best they had—a stable.  It wasn’t the Hilton, but it would have to do because soon thereafter, Mary gave birth to the baby Jesus.  I’m sure the lackluster surroundings faded away in the flood of Mary’s joy over her new baby who would also be her Savior.

But Mary and Joseph’s joy was not enough because the birth of Jesus was good news for the entire world.  Therefore, God sent an Angel of the Lord to share the good news with some local shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks that night.  The angel told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).  And then it happened.  The single angel gave way to multitude of angels (who knows how many angels!), and they began to sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”  Oh, what a time for rejoicing!

Friend, the thought of the birth of Christ should still cause us to rejoice.  It’s through Jesus that we gain the joy of forgiveness of sin.  It’s through Jesus that we acquire the joy of new life here on this earth.  It’s through Jesus that we secure the joy of eternity with God the Father in the age to come.  It’s through Jesus that our joy is made complete.  May Jesus Christ be the focus and well-spring of our joy this season and every season!