Revering God’s Name – A Reprise


Anne Elisabeth Stengl's rescue dogSome years ago I saw a Facebook ad: “Hit ‘Like’ if you love Jesus.”

Is it wrong or sinful or a bad testimony to join the over 9,000 people who hit “Like”? I’m not ready to go that far, but the first thing I thought when I saw that was, How cheap.

It’s like taking the most valuable human relationship you can imagine and saying, “Show how much you love your spouse or your kids by hitting ‘Like.’ ” Does hitting “Like” really show how much you love them?

It reminds me of an era gone by when there were bumper stickers saying, “Honk if you love Jesus.” Really? Honking or Liking shows you love Jesus?

Honk if you want that driver to wake up and realize the light turned green; honk if a dog is sitting in the road and won’t move, honk if another driver doesn’t see you and starts to swerve into you, but honk if you love Jesus?

Hit “Like” if your friend posts a cute picture of her new puppy, hit “Like” if a commenter says something you agree with, hit “Like” if someone cheers for your same sports team, but hit “Like” if you love Jesus?

These kinds of soundbite responses are typical of our culture, but I’m troubled when we reduce our relationship to our Savior and Lord to a one-second button push or, in the olden days, a tap on the horn.

I’m wondering if such a costless and near anonymous declaration isn’t also meaningless, and maybe worse. When we put Jesus on a par with the thousands of other things people can “Like” on Facebook, aren’t we actually demeaning Him?

Scripture says, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness of Deity to dwell in [Christ]” (Colossians 1:19). Yet we’re saying, treat Him the way you treat your favorite actress or singer or politician. Or your friend’s real estate business or restaurant or antique shop.

Clearly, not everyone treats God this way–because some never had any reverence for Him and others believe Him to be high and Holy and beyond a gimmicky “Like” button. Sadly, I don’t see the former group taking much notice of God because a group of people are hitting the “Like” button to say they love Jesus.

If we truly love Him, we’ll obey His commandments. That’s what He said. And His commandments were two-fold: love God and love your neighbor.

If we truly revere God and His name, we’d do an act of kindness for our neighbor–something significant that cost us in time or in money. We wouldn’t honk as we drove off for the day, shouting out the window, I just wanted you to know I love you. We wouldn’t flash a “Like” sign when we spotted them walking to their front door.

Those are cheap expressions that might make us feel warm and fuzzy for a few seconds, but they in no way lift up God’s name or show Him as the one we worship as Creator and King.

How can we expect a world in need of our Savior to give Him a second thought when we treat Him in such a cavalier, perfunctory way? How could anyone believe we have a genuine relationship with someone we treat with such disrespect? How can they believe He is God when we so clearly don’t treat Him as a person who is worthy of our highest praise, not our quick hit of the “Like” button.

David said in Psalm 18

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock
And exalted be the God of my salvation.

Declaring God’s greatness and His attributes and His work to rescue us, deliver us, enlarge our steps, and set us on our high places is far removed, in my view, from hitting the “Like” button.

Of course we’re not all poets like King David was, but we can sing out the praises he wrote, and we can scratch out our own praises in our poor prose, we can certainly cry out our thanks to God in prayer.

And we can “Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects” (Col. 1:10a).

Hitting the “Like” button . . . may we think better of God than that.

This post first appeared here in October 2013.

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Published in: on January 11, 2018 at 5:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Main Thing Should Be The Main Thing


Some time ago, a speaker gave an introduction to his sermon by pointing to Jesus’s statement identifying the two most important commandments. I don’t remember which gospel he preached from, but Matthew says it this way:

And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (22:37-40)

The preacher then went on to speak about loving our neighbor and what that entails. Which is fine, but I remember thinking, What about the FIRST commandment? Why does it seem like more and more of our sermons are about the second, about our horizontal relationships, and less about the one that is the main thing, our vertical relationship with God.

Before he became our pastor, Darin McWatters spoke at my church as one of the guest, and he provided, what I think, are some keys to obeying this “love God” part of the instruction.

He spoke from John 3, a passage about John the Baptist and his answer to his disciples who were upset that Jesus seemed to be stealing away their followers. John showed four particular reactions: dependence on God, deflection of attention aimed at him, dedication as a friend of the bridegroom, and a willingness to decrease in importance so that Jesus would increase.

I think all four of these are aspects of loving God.

A couple points stood out to me, but one in particular seems to put the two commands Jesus related in their proper order. People actually need Jesus more than they need us. In other words, if we love them well, we will first want them to meet Jesus. We can still paint their house or hand out sandwiches—all kinds of things that our neighbors need—but our eyes need to be focused on what they need first and foremost.

Which kind of leads to the next point. Drawing people to US is a mistake. If we have a big following, so what? The goal should be to draw people to Christ

Third, like the friend of the bridegroom, we need to remember that we, the Church, don’t exist for our own sake. We are there as servants to attend to the One who ought to be the center of attention. Our desire should be for the advancement of the good name of Christ, not the comfort of His people.

And finally, our culture loves fame, craves the spotlight, and it’s easy for us (me included) to assume that the more famous a Christian becomes, the more attention God will receive. So, our thinking becomes, we must increase so He may increase.

Sadly some congregations fall into false teaching, and they’re formula then becomes, He must increase so that we may increase.

But John didn’t say either of those. He said, I must decrease so that He may increase. Which pretty much rules out “marketing” the gospel. No one wants to buy from you if you say, I don’t have it, but I know who does. It’s not the kind of sales pitch that makes the top ten.

But it’s where God wants us to be. We are, after all, here so we can give Him glory, so we can put Him center stage, so we can turn the spotlights on Him.

I know some people think that’s selfish of Him for “hogging” the attention. But shouldn’t the star get star treatment? Shouldn’t the gold medal winner get the most press coverage? Shouldn’t the King receive the acclaim as head of state? How much more does God deserve our praise?

Published in: on January 9, 2018 at 5:45 pm  Comments (1)  
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Salvation And The Christian Writer


Not everyone is a writer, but I suspect these thoughts, first shared in September 2010, apply to people of other professions as well.

Before I precede, however, I want to point out the unique nature of today’s date. It’s 1/8/18. Cool, don’t you think?

And now on to the topic at hand.

As I was talking with a writer friend a number of years ago, it dawned on me that what I believe about salvation shapes my attitude toward fiction.

By way of background, there has been from time to time, a group of writers who plea for Christians to free their art from any “utilitarian” purpose, such as preaching the gospel.

I’ve been on the fence to a great extent because I do want Christians to write fiction that stands the test of time, and that’s usually a work that bears some kind of mark as “art.” However, I believe wholeheartedly in the idea that a “utilitarian” theme is necessary for fiction to be great art—if the writer doesn’t say something meaningful, then why would that story be around tomorrow, let alone fifty years from now?

But here’s the intersection between that point and my realization about salvation. If a Christian has certain views about salvation—a “God’s sovereign so I have no part in salvation” view or a broad understanding of who is saved (from some form of universalism to a belief that the sincere or the “good” or the consistent are saved)—he may feel little or no urgency to carry the message of Christ to the dying world. (Of course, a third option might be a “let them burn” lack of concern for the lost, but then I’d wonder about the genuineness of that person’s profession of faith).

Am I saying that every piece of fiction a Christian writes should have the gospel message embedded? No, I don’t think I can make any determination what other writers should write. Let’s just say I understand the divide better.

Some writers, myself included, look at fiction as our opportunity to reach thousands of readers, some who may have yet to hear the message of forgiveness in Christ through his redemptive work at the cross. These writers feel an urgency to get this message out to as many people as possible. The world, as we see it, has one and only one hope—Christ Jesus—and here we sit, holding this vital information. How can we watch people stream by our doors day after day and do nothing?

A writer with a different persuasion has no such sense of urgency. Fiction, instead, may be an exploration of spirituality, a personal journey of discovery regarding spiritual matters.

The difference in purpose makes perfect sense based on the difference in theology.

Ironic that some people don’t realize the importance of understanding our own belief system. I recently read a blog post about how dreary it is to read about such topics as original sin (hmmm—wonder if the writer had a particular blog in mind. 😉 ) when what we should be doing is getting out from behind our computers and living like Christians.

I certainly agree that we should live like Christians. I simply think that includes my moments behind the computer.

What fiction writers understand is the need to know our characters at the level of their beliefs—that’s what makes their actions properly motivated. Real life is the same way. Our beliefs inform our actions. How critical that we know what we believe about something so eternal-life giving as salvation.

Published in: on January 8, 2018 at 4:46 pm  Comments (1)  
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Worry And Mrs. Job


I tend to be hard on Job’s wife. I mean, who takes a vow “for better or worse,” then when the worst happens, says, “Just give up. Deny God and end your life.” It’s a brutal response to someone who has lost everything. But I tend to forget: Mrs. Job had lost everything, too.

Scripture gives us the impression that, though many of the Jewish patriarchs practiced polygamy, she was Job’s only wife. Hence, the seven sons and three daughters who died where her seven sons and three daughters, too. We can postulate as well that when Job was stripped of his wealth, Mrs. Job was also plunged into poverty along with him.

It really ought not to be surprising, then, that Mrs. Job looked at the sudden destruction of all that had given her security and happiness, and fell into despair. What was she to do? Her husband was so sick he could do nothing but sit in the ashes and scrape his skin with a bit of a ceramic pot.

What did that mean for her future? Her children were gone, so there was no one she could count on to provide for her day after day or care for her into her old age. She was bereft of all that had given her stability.

In her mind, apparently, God had done this to her husband. Interesting, I think, that she didn’t curse Job, as if he was at fault. She had to have known that he was a man of integrity who revered God and turned away from evil. So the fault was God’s, she figured.

But what does all this have to do with worry? At its heart, worry is nothing more than fear of the future. What if X happens or Z doesn’t materialize? How will we make it if A turns into B? Mrs. Job was faced with the biggest questions of her life: how was she going to survive now that she was poor; how was she going to care for a sick husband; how was she going to live another day with a God who had turned against her?

But that was the critical issue. Had God turned against her? Some might argue that no, she just got caught up in the backwash of God’s dealing with Job and Satan. But that idea minimizes God’s omniscience, sovereignty, and lovingkindness for each person He created. Did He forget that what happened to Job would have repercussions on Mrs. Job? Unlikely.

So did God turn a blind eye to her? Not in the least. She and Job, I suspect, were much more of a package deal than we realize. Not until after Mrs. Job counseled her husband to curse God and die did he begin to rue the day of his birth (Job 3:1). True, his initial response to her was one of the great testimonies of faith:

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:10)

But a week later he was questioning why he’d ever been born:

“Why did I not die at birth,
Come forth from the womb and expire?
Why did the knees receive me,
And why the breasts, that I should suck?” (Job 3:11-12)

Would he have reached that dark place of doubt without his wife’s suggestion? Impossible to know. But it seems clear they both came to a point where they were not looking at God and saying, in spite of their horrific circumstances, Blessed be the name of the Lord.

But that’s precisely where we all need to be, no matter what we have or what we’ve lost. God’s kingdom and righteousness are to be our focus, according to Matt. 6:33.

We aren’t to be seeking how to replace the 500 donkeys or to scrape up an army to go after the Chaldeans who stole the camels or campaign for storm-proof housing to spare our children—at least we aren’t to be seeking these things first. In reality, seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness might ultimately lead to a restoration of what we’ve lost. It did for Job. But first, he needed to see God as He is.

“I know that You can do all things,
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, now, and I will speak;
I will ask You, and You instruct me.’
I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;
But now my eye sees You;
Therefore I retract,
And I repent in dust and ashes
.” (Job 42:2-6, emphasis mine)

I submit, the only worry-free zone is the space in which we are clinging to God rather than to our thousands of sheep, oxen, camels, and donkeys . . . or even to our children or our husband or our health. God calls us to make Him our focus, and one way or another, He’ll see us through, as He did Mrs. Job, to the other side of the dark valley in which we’re walking.

Apart from some slight editing, this article first appeared here in January 2014.

Published in: on December 28, 2017 at 5:10 pm  Comments (1)  
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So What’s Next?


Our consumer culture tells us to keep moving forward, keep looking for what’s around the bend. But maybe that’s human nature.

I remember when I was a kid, I could hardly wait to read like my big brother and sister could. Then I could hardly wait to go to all day school and be in the school programs like they were. Some years later I could hardly wait to have homework like they did. Then I could hardly wait to become a teenager. When I finally reached that oh-so-important landmark, I could hardly wait to get my driver’s license, to go to college, to get my own car, to vote.

In other words, there always seemed to be something up ahead, something to anticipate. I don’t think I’m alone, though the particulars may vary. Certainly the consumer culture has capitalized on this tendency.

Just this Christmas, my nephew reported that the day before, a certain store had already put out their Valentines Day gift “suggestions.” OK, we’re pretty used to Christmas going up before Halloween and certainly before Thanksgiving, but Valentines before Christmas?

But that’s the nature of the financial beast we live with. Its appetite is voracious.

Which only makes our natural tendencies toward a lack of contentment grow worse. We would have been satisfied with our old phone if the new one hadn’t come out. We were perfectly happy with the car we were driving until we saw the bells and whistles installed in the new model.

And suddenly, the Christmas that we had longed for, looked forward to, worked hard to prepare for, suddenly seems a little tattered, worn around the edges. Valentines Day is coming, though. That will be something cool and special and exciting to look anticipate.

The sports world embraces the same mentality. Prior to the Super Bowl, all the promotion is geared toward the Big Game. Nothing is more of an event in the US. But before the game is over, whatever network is airing it, will be running commercials for the next big sporting event they are covering—the college basketball tournament or some golf extravaganza or the next NASCAR event or something.

I’ve decided this looking forward isn’t really a bad thing. After all, we should want to grow up.

We probably all have heard of or know some immature mama’s boy who’s been spoiled and simply stopped growing up. He might be in his late twenties, early thirties and still he has no desire to find a career, commit to a marriage relationship, take on the responsibility of providing and caring for his own family. No, it’s comfortable and easy to simply stay at home and have the doting parent come through with nurture and support.

Generally we think of such an arrangement as unhealthy. Why? Because an adult is supposed to grow up and take an adult role. If a teenager still crawls instead of walking and will only accept a baby bottle, not solid food, we’d all see the immaturity right away. We’d want to see that child grow and mature, not stagnate in a babyish state.

So desiring the next step of growth is actually a good thing, a God-given, innate drive that is healthy.

But like other drives, this one can go too far and become ruinous pretty quickly.

The drive to get a job becomes the drive to move up the corporate ladder, no matter what the cost. The drive to provide for your family becomes the drive to acquire more and more wealth, no matter whose needs you ignore. The drive for a fit body becomes anorexia. And so on.

The bottom line is, we need balance. God put us on a path he described as narrow. There’s not a lot of drifting left and right when you walk a narrow path.

So too with contentment and growth. We should desire change. As Christians the change we should most desire is to be made in the likeness of Christ. So we ought not stand pat or play with the hand we’ve been dealt.

Up to a point.

We should want our life and not someone else’s. We should be content to be a mechanic or nurse or lawyer. Not everyone is going to own a car dealership. If everyone became a doctor, who would do the nursing? Not all lawyers should become judges. But there’s nothing to keep us from becoming the best at what we do.

In reality, the heart of the matter is the heart. We can approach whatever circumstance we’re in, even being the patient, not the caregiver, with a heart attitude to serve like Christ would. That should be our “next,” far beyond the next special day or the next special event or the next special achievement. After all, none of those things are eternal. The “next” that we want should be the thing that lasts.

Who Do We Follow? (Reprise)


I remember the name of the William Morris Chevrolet dealership because the owner does radio spots on the local Christian station. But instead of using his advertisement time to talk about his cars or service or low prices, he gives a devotional, usually something he’s learned from his personal experience.

In the latest one, he said he was writing about following the Word, but accidentally wrote world instead. Then he realized. In reality we do follow one or the other–the Word or the world.

Good insight. More true probably than we even realize.

For instance, the world adopts tolerance as its highest value and suddenly Christians begin to talk about loving homosexuals and those in the inner city and prisoners and unwed mothers.

But doesn’t Scripture admonition God’s children to care for orphans and widows, the poor and the stranger? Didn’t Christ tell us to love our neighbor, our brother, and even our enemy? So why do we rush after the trends of the world when the Bible had it right all along?

If we would faithfully read, preach, obey the Word, we would be showing the world how to live rather than toddling along behind.

There are so many current issues to which Christians are reacting–feminism, homosexuality, welfare, immigration, socialism. For some, “reacting” means resisting and for others, it means imitating–the Christian version of feminism, the Christian version of welfare.

Rather than letting the world pull us here and there, the Church should turn to God’s Word and see what His principles are that we ought to apply.

The same is true for theological issues. Atheists say a god so violent as to command the extermination of a whole race of people is too abhorrent to believe in, so a group of professing Christians band together and re-image God as a kinder, gentler Jesus.

Western culture says Christians are hateful hypocrites, and Christians dutifully follow with Church-bashing books.

The easy answer would seem to be to withdraw from the influence of the world.

The problem is, however, that God gave Christians the task of proclaiming “the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9b). This proclaiming necessitates our involvement with the world. So how do we do it in a way that the world will hear?

Once upon a time there were Rescue Missions and tent meetings and evangelistic crusades and street preachers and door to door evangelism. But somewhere along the line our western culture became too sophisticated for all those. The preaching had to be slick and professional. No one except the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons wanted to go door to door any more. Government welfare and an increase in credit-induced affluence made inner city missions a bit passe.

Essentially the Church followed the world into comfort and ease, rather than taking up our cross daily and following Christ to connect with our culture and proclaim His excellencies.

Not that the old methods needed to be calcified into unbending tradition. But neither should we abandon the principles upon which the old methods were founded.

Jesus told His disciples before sending them off on a short term mission that they were to be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. And so should we.

We can’t afford to continue making the same mistakes. We need to follow God’s Word, not the world.

And yet it is the world we need to engage.

We mustn’t bury our heads and stay locked away from the world. We tried that because we wanted to keep our children safe, and the world without Godly moral guidelines has become a place where those children, when they are grown, may well face persecution for their faith.

Unless God brings revival.

But will He if we don’t ask Him to? Will He if we continue padding along behind the world, adopting their business models to run our churches, listening to their psychologists to learn how to discipline our children, studying their economists to figure out how to handle our money? As if the Bible doesn’t speak to these issues.

As I think about this, it makes sense that we would follow the world more than we follow the Word, simply because we spend so much more time in the culture than we do with God. And in a sense, we should.

God purposefully left us in the world rather than taking us out, to be with Him. He has a job for us to do here–that proclamation bit He assigned to us.

But what we struggle with, it seems, is allowing our time with God in His Word to inform our actions and attitudes when we are in the world. Instead, the reverse is becoming true–our time in the world is informing our attitudes toward the Word.

William Morris Chevrolet stands out in my mind because their owner decided to do something different. Perhaps that’s the lesson the Church needs to learn. To reach the world, maybe we should be radically, Biblically different rather than walking along behind, adopting the culture’s way of doing things. Maybe in our difference, we can proclaim God’s excellencies and so catch their attention.

This article originally appeared here in June 2012.

Seasons Of Contentment-A Reprise


This post originally appeared here in July 2012,

In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote that he’d learned to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself.

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. (Phil. 4:12)

He follows that statement with the verse that is perhaps taken out of context more than any other: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Paul’s clear meaning was that he could go hungry because of Him who strengthened him. Or he could be filled because of Him who strengthened him. In other words, the two extremes were no different in his way of looking at things.

I can extrapolate from what Paul said and conclude that both ends of the spectrum needed strength to get through. “Being filled” was not without its difficulties.

What I find interesting is that Paul didn’t seem concerned about escaping from either end. He didn’t look at the being filled end as more desirable and the going hungry part as something to avoid. Granted, he was grateful when the Philippian church sent gifts for his needs, but he made a point of saying he wasn’t seeking the gift so much as the reward he knew their generosity would bring them.

It’s an interesting perspective, one I don’t see often in ministries that are supported by giving. I wonder what would happen if para-church organization started asking for prayer instead of money, and if they asked for those prayers to center on the effectiveness of their work, not on the funds they thought they needed.

But that’s actually an aside.

As I thought about contentment, I realized that there are other things that can cause me to be discontented besides the state of my finances.

Today, for example, I had the first page of my first book in The Lore of Efrathah posted on an agent blog with the question, Would you keep reading? Let’s say the feedback wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

In many respects I feel like I’m going through a poverty of positive feedback. I won’t bore you with details, but it dawned on me as I was thinking about what to write today, that God doesn’t condition our contentment: I can be content if I’m poor but not if people say they don’t like fantasy.

I don’t think that’s the way it works. Paul said earlier in his letter that believers are to do all things without grumbling or disputing. Really? All things?

I think verse thirteen has to be in play–I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Not, I can fly because God strengthens me, or even, I can be a NY Times best-selling author because God strengthens me. Rather, I can be content because God strengthens me.

If I’m experiencing a season of poverty, God can strengthen me so I will be content. If I’m experiencing a season of little positive feedback, God can strengthen me so I will be content.

And on the other end of the scale, if I am experiencing a season of wealth, God can strengthen me so that I won’t worry, become greedy, hoard, or be irresponsible, being content instead. If I am experiencing a season of favorable feedback, God can strengthen me so that I won’t steal His glory, being content instead.

Well, how about that? It looks like any season is actually the season of contentment.

Published in: on November 20, 2017 at 4:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Joy And Rejoicing-A Reprise


Christmas_shoppers_in_Leeds_in_December_2009Complaints. Angst. Cynicism. Malaise. Western society seems bent toward dissatisfaction. I blame this in part on our consumerism. We are constantly being told we need something other than what we have which instills a sense of disgruntlement. At the same time, however, we’re aware that wherever we turn, someone is trying to sell us something or scam us, spam us, or hack us, so we have our guards up.

Ironic. Perhaps no people on earth have more material goods than those of us in western societies. And yet, as one pastor said recently, we are a covetous people.

Instead of enjoying what we have, we plot and plan how to get more, even as we worry and work in order to keep what we’ve got. We spend hundreds of dollars purchasing warranties and insurance–health, auto, home, renter, life, dental. There are specific kinds of insurance, too–flood, fire, earthquake, theft, comprehension, accident, collision.

Protect, protect, protect. We have passwords to keep people out of our computers and mobile devices and social media sites. We have security alarms in our homes and cars and places of business. We have cameras and automatic light systems and safes and security doors and gated communities and security guards.

I’m not saying any of those things is wrong, but quite frankly, I don’t know how anyone keeps up. And I understand why so many people seem unhappy.

In the midst of all the frenzy connected with getting and keeping, magnified during the weeks known as “the shopping season,” the US has tucked into the last week of November a day we call Thanksgiving.

After cooking and cleaning and gathering together in our family groups, we eat our feasts, then go through the appropriate motions of being thankful to whomever for whatever before we rush off to the next hurried and hectic day of shopping.

A friend recently wrote a blog post that indited Christians for not being joyful, not laughing, not making merry. I don’t think it’s a problem with Christians as much as it is with people living in western societies. Oh, sure, there’s laughter in places where the people have had too much to drink or are making sport of others.

But joy? Where do you go to see people with joy oozing from their expressions?

Well, certainly it ought to be the Church. Joy is a product of contentment, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t require happy circumstances, and it doesn’t need to be greased with a pint of the bubbly.

Rejoicing is the same. James says the poor man is to rejoice in his humble circumstances. Peter says the believer is to rejoice to the degree that we share the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13).

It’s already abundantly clear that lots of stuff doesn’t lead to joy and rejoicing. Sure, sitting down with a group of friends or finding the perfect present at a bargain price or cheering for a team that wins all might make us happy for a time, but joy lasts and rejoicing doesn’t need an occasion.

At least not a new occasion. We already have received the good news of great joy which is for all people. And that’s reason for rejoicing for all time.

This article originally appeared here November 2013.

Published in: on November 17, 2017 at 4:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Peace Of Christ


The peace of Christ is more significant than I once thought. For one thing it is unique to Christians, which of course makes it hard to explain to those who don’t believe in God. They undoubtedly think Christians are making something up or imagining it or tapping into that “religious” part of the brain.

Actually the peace of Christ is a real thing. That’s why a member of my church who endured an illness that caused chronic pain can write the following:

In the midst of God’s response to my pain, my identity as His child is confirmed. Who am I in this pain? I am a son of the Father! One of the deepest and most influential of relationships (a father to a son) is witnessed to and I am reminded in my soul that I am not alone, abandoned, and neglected in my pain, but I am a privileged son being trained by a loving Father. It this presence of the Father that keeps me leaning forward as I endure through storms. (James Hampson, First Evangelical Free Church devotional, Ears to Hear, 11/16/17)

Do Christians always walk in light of our relationship with Christ? No, most of us will admit we don’t. We want to, but the reality is, times of doubt and disappointment and even despair can cloud our vision. In those times it’s a great help to hear from other believers who have persevered, or to read something in Scripture that reminds us we’re not alone or that God is indeed faithful to His promises.

Interestingly, the peace of Christ is most important during the storms of life. When everything is going smoothly, we aren’t as aware of a need for the peace of Christ. We aren’t thinking, “I have this great job, and I get along so well with my co-workers and my boss. How stressful! I can’t stop thinking about work!” Or it’s unlikely that we’re ringing our hands when our children receive academic awards in school, make the basketball team, bring their friends over to the house so we can meet them, ask for a new Bible to replace the one that’s starting to look beat up. Such children are hardly the cause of sleepless nights.

In other words, the circumstances that are themselves peaceful, don’t require anything special. Who wouldn’t be satisfied with a fulfilling job that pays well and gives you lots of respect from your peers? That situation does not “require” the peace of God to get through it.

What requires the peace of Christ are the circumstances that would normally leave us depleted and clenching our fists. In those circumstances, when we’re scrambling for ways to cope, the peace of Christ can be the life preserver that keeps us from drowning.

Paul said in one of his letters, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts . . .” I conclude from that statement that the peace of Christ isn’t something imposed from outside, but it’s something I can choose to govern my life.

However, Paul also said in Galatians that peace is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. Of course he also told Christians not to quench the Spirit. So even though the peace of Christ is kind of supernatural, it’s still something we can choose.

In other words, “the peace that surpasses comprehension” is available to believers—from God, for us.

But how? Paul again:

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.

The first thing is prayer. When we turn our needs over to God, we can trust Him to take care of them in His time and for His purposes and how He chooses. He is a good father and will not give us a scorpion if we ask for a plate of fish.

The second thing is to give God thanks, which acknowledges His involvement in our circumstances even when we can’t see them. I’ve been reminded from Scripture that so often God is at work even when we can’t see what He’s doing.

An account in the Bible tells of a siege against a certain city in Israel, causing a severe famine. All looked hopeless, but a man of God went to the king and told him that the next day food would be so plentiful, the prices of things that weren’t even currently available would be so low anyone could afford them. One of the king’s officials mocked the idea. What he didn’t know was what God was doing in the enemy camp—causing them to flee and to leave all their rations behind.

Giving thanks to God, even when the circumstances don’t seem to be changed, reinforces our trust in God’s plan and in His timetable and in the fact that He will give us only good. Not necessarily the thing that seems good to us as we look at the short term. But good. Really good. The very thing we need to make us more like Jesus Christ.

Which reminds me of something interesting I recently learned about writing fiction. One way to create a story, one instructor says, is to identify the lie your character believes. He builds upon the lie what he wants. So he might think that fame and fortune will make him happy, so what does he want? A job that requires him to work nights, to schmooze with the rich and famous. But what does he actually need to make him happy? A healthy relationship with his wife and kids. His pursuit of fame and fortune, for the sake of happiness, is actually robbing him of the very thing he truly needs to be happy.

Just as the writer knows this about his characters, God knows this about us.

Our giving Him thanks in the midst of tough times is really a statement of trust. God’s got it. He’s got us. He’ll work even these circumstances for the good of conforming us to the image of His Son. And in this knowledge, there is peace.

Jesus And Suffering


I’ve been thinking a lot about suffering of late because, as I mention earlier this week, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Joni Eareckson Tada’s diving accident that left her paralyzed. And, “coincidentally” a friend lent me a book that Joni wrote twenty years ago on the subject of suffering.

I checked out the book on Amazon the other day when I wrote about it for this blog, and I was stunned to find a one-star review. Stunned, I tell you! I think of Joni as the quintessential expert on the subject of suffering. I mean, fifty years a quadriplegic, but on top of that a cancer survivor and now one ravaged by the pain of a body suffering from its own immobility.

So, yes, I think Joni knows what she’s talking about when she addresses the subject of suffering.

But even what she has endured pales in comparison to what Jesus experienced.

His whole life was a kind of suffering because He “emptied Himself” when He took the likeness of Man (see Phil. 2). Scholars debate the meaning of that phrase, but one thing we can be sure of—it ain’t positive. He wasn’t enriched by the experience, He wasn’t having a picnic, He wasn’t going on vacation. In some way, the incarnation cost Him. From the beginning.

People will sometimes reference Christ’s humble surroundings at birth—the feeding trough, the stable, with the presumed accompanying smells and sounds. But I think that’s kind of missing the point. God was now a baby boy. He did all the normal things that babies do. He likely spit up, maybe sucked His thumb, slept a lot.

This is God we’re talking about—the One who sustains the universe with a word. But now His words were baby sounds. Now those are humble beginnings. And a type of suffering we can’t know.

Things never got easier for Jesus. He went from insignificant to misunderstood, rejected, betrayed, and denied. Oh, and then He was crucified.

Jesus knew all about suffering. He’s the one who shows us how God can use suffering.

I think of the Christians in Syria who are persecuted for their faith, and to the surprise of many in the West, more and more people are coming to Christ. Would they have done so it their lives were easy?

Think about the start of Christianity. After that initial response to Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, suffering set in. Persecution. Martyrdom. Exile. And things only got worse. Certain Roman Caesars set out to eliminate Christians from their empire. Their ways of killing them were horrific and painful.

Did all that suffering stop the movement of God in the hearts of people? Not at all. In truth, those who had nothing, whose very lives hung in a balance spoke out boldly and pressed themselves to the Father’s side. The only comfort and joy and peace came from Jesus, not their circumstances. And they simply couldn’t be silent.

Joni Eareckson Tada reminds me of that. Her joy and peace and contentment have little to do with her physical life. Oh, sure, things could be worse than they are. I mean she could be homeless and without the necessities of life.

Oh, wait, there are Christians like that, too, and they still exhibit the joy of the Lord. How can that be? It’s not an issue of mind over matter or us pulling ourselves up by our own positive thinking. It’s actually all about the reality of Jesus Christ—His supremacy and His sweetness.

John Piper explains in this 8-minute video entitled “What Is the Secret of Joy in Suffering?”