This is all in latest order, or you can click these Hyperlinks to get directly to an article.
(This presentation explains how the Bible was first assembled and was then translated into English.)
This is all in latest order, or you can click these Hyperlinks to get directly to an article.
(This presentation explains how the Bible was first assembled and was then translated into English.)
Exodus "Out of"
Deuteronomy "Second Law"
Joshua "Yahweh is salvation"
Samuel "God has heard"
Hosea "To Save"
Joel "Yahweh is God"
Micah "Who is like Yahweh?"
Isaiah "Yahweh is Salvation"
Zephaniah "He Whom God Has Hidden (Protected)"
Habakkuk "To Embrace"
Jeremiah "Yahweh has lifted up"
Nahum "To Comfort"
Obadiah "Servant of Yahweh"
Daniel "God is my Judge"
Ezekiel "God Strengthens"
Zechariah "Yahweh Remembers"
Malachi "God's Messenger"
Ezra "Help (from God)"
Nehemiah "Comforted by Yahweh"
Making an Eternal Impact
I will not be taking anything with me into the grave. Neither will you. The question then is what do we wish to leave behind? My goal is to leave this world knowing that my life had a profound and lasting good influence on other people. This is one of the things that the Lord calls every Christian to do. All of us Christians know that our main mission is to make sure that we share the Gospel of Jesus with everyone who will listen. We also have a mission to be ambassadors of Jesus to this world. It is therefore on us to make our lives count. Sometimes we’re not exactly sure how to pursue this goal. Come with me while I show you how to make this work.
Being an effective Christian means that we are growing in the spiritual attributes of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. We do not cause the growth in ourselves, God causes the growth. Our part is to avail ourselves of the very tools which God tells us to use. Christians grow best when we are consistent in our study of the Bible, when we are constant in prayer and when we share the love of God with other people.
The key to making an eternal impact is to step away from the business of life for a few moments and go somewhere quiet. Close your eyes and watch the color movie in your head. What does your impact look like? What kind of people are you going to reach? What skills and gifts will you use? Do you communicate best through writing, through speaking, through art, through sports? There is a primary method by which you are gifted and called to reach people.
As you watch the movie in your head look for the things that will produce joy in your life. We all have plenty of trouble. I live in a house that I hate. I hate it because the realtor who sold it to us tried to cause a divorce between me and my wife. The house is an inanimate object. It is not a logical or moral problem that I hate where I live. It is a spiritual problem. If I choose to keep myself busy doing positive things and helping other people the pain disappears. The point is that we all have things in our lives which cause pain. The pain can distract us from doing what God has called us to do.
I do not wish to belittle anyone else’s pain. You may say “Gee, your example of the house is so minor.” Maybe to you, but to me it is huge. Yet I have suffered far worse things which do not distract me at all. Each of us reacts to trials and tribulations differently. This is why we need to be in fellowship, prayer and community with other Christians. We will never make the size of impact that we should make if we allow ourselves to be distracted.
Once we have seen the things which cause us to rejoice the next thing to do is to schedule those things into our lives. Staying joyful requires that we have the discipline to create a schedule and stick to it. Make time to do the things which are fun for you. This will produce in you a happier heart and a face which smiles more often.
Finding Your Area of Impact
Now that we have identified the things which cause you joy, let’s ask the question. What ministry is no one else building? Where do your sources of joy intersect with other people? If you love travel and meeting new people, you may enjoy doing missions trips. If you love deep theological studies your area of impact could be the arena of public debate. There are approximately five billion people on the planet. This means there are at least five billion opportunities to share the love of God. All the famous preachers, pastors and evangelists can’t even begin to make a dent in that number. Reaching the world for Jesus necessitates that every Christian be involved. There’s a reason why God tells us that every Christian is of equal value. We are all of one body, and no part is more important than any other part. Jesus gave us the command to reach the whole world with His Gospel. We can only do that as a worldwide family of Christians.
What ministry is nobody building? Where is the intersection of your joy with the interests of other people? These are the questions. Pray on them. Meditate on them. Lift them up to God. He will receive your prayers as sweet incense rising up to His throne room in heaven. He will respond in love. Opportunities to make an eternal impact are all around you.
Some specific applications
I will give two examples of how to make an eternal impact. The first is being welcoming and accepting of agnostics and other doubters. People who are simply not convinced of the truth of the Gospel are not hostile to us. They are just not convinced. It can take years to reach such a person. By continuing to be joyful, even in adversity, you show your contact what it means to live by faith. Eventually the steady trickle of living water which flows from you by the Holy Spirit will eat away at the bedrock foundation of their doubt. There is nothing that impact eternity more than when we bring an unsaved soul to the feet of Jesus.
The second example is the more difficult. For reasons which I do not understand many Christians in my city prefer to discourage other believers rather than to encourage them. This is especially prevalent among the professional pastors. There is a certain element who feel that their churches are their personal kingdoms. Approach your pastor with your idea and with a reasonable plan. If you get the cold shoulder don’t bother them any further. Just go find someplace where you can make your ministry happen. You can always contact me through www.Amos413.com I will be happy to walk with you and to help you make an eternal impact.
How to Create Gifted Underachievers – A (Tongue-in-Cheek) Guide for Pastors
Dear pastors, it has come to my attention that my personal experiences with many of you are not unique. I frequently hear from people who have quit their churches because they were so underutilized. It goes like this – God gives one or more spiritual gifts to each Christian. If you refuse to let people use their gifts they will leave your church or worse, they will become gifted underachievers. These are the folks who stay but you’ll only let them do the very minor things in your church. This stunts their growth and makes them begin to doubt their faith.
Are these words hard on your ears? Good. Because maybe you’ve not heard this until now. If your church is more than a few dozen people, you most certainly have some Christians who are not using their gifts. This is a tragedy. It is occurring because you are somehow not seeing the very resources which God has brought into your congregation.
Develop eyes to see. I have heard so many of you say things like “Who knows that person? Are they well known? Can they draw a crowd?” I say to you – are you running a church or a Sunday morning show? Which is it? Why are you focusing on the external features of your people? Look at their hearts. You may believe that you are indeed looking at their hearts, but do your spoken words reflect this fact? If I had a dollar for every time I have heard a pastor say negative things about their church I would be a wealthy man. Your people have invested their time, money and emotions into following the Lord, so make sure you have the right attitude about helping them grow.
The Descent into Doubt
It works like this – Joe is a Christian. He comes to your church and wants to join and help out. He thinks he knows what are his gifts so he tells you. Then you immediately put up the roadblocks. You tell Joe that he has to sit at your feet for a period of six months. During this time you offer him no responsibilities. Now Joe knows that God has not called him to just sit and do nothing. You, Pastor, have created a hostile environment for Joe. Meanwhile you are perfectly thrilled to have famous preachers, and your personal buddies, to come and speak at your church. What you have in effect said is that you do not trust God to bring experienced Christians into your church unless they come in a way that you expect. This is extremely disheartening to Joe. You are not leading Joe to doubt the faith, you are driving him to so do. You are taking a Christian, a person with spiritual gifts, and you are turning him into a gifted underachiever.
A Better Way
At my previous church we had a better way of handling things. Whenever a person asked to try using their gifts, we created an opportunity for them. A trusted and experienced Christian was assigned to walk alongside the person and provide support and guidance. We often experienced the “freedom to fail”. If someone tried using their gifts and the results were not great, there was no recrimination. There was a good and loving analysis of what could be done better the next time. Many of you are so afraid of something not going right that you won’t let people try using their gifts. Don’t be afraid. If God has gifted a Christian to do something them help them try out their gift.
When I was in seminary most of my classmates were in their late 30s to early 40s, as was I. At that point in life we had accumulated enough battle scars to deepen our trust in God. Most of the churches which recruited from the seminary were looking for guys who were in their early to mid 20s. This mismatch led to a large number of us becoming church planters. Sadly most of these church planters bought into a ridiculous heresy. The heresy was that you should avoid accepting experienced Christians into your church plant. I never believed this lie. God brings people. He brings some to challenge and grow you. He brings some to help you. Only time shows which is which. You cannot reliably predict who is going to be helpful. Over a reasonably large number of people you will be incorrect at least half the time.
Seriously guys, if you want your congregation to grow don’t set up silly externally-focused barriers to entry. Don’t tell me that you would never let me preach. Instead put me in your pulpit on a weeknight, or have me speak to your small group. Test my gift. Don’t prejudge me. And don’t pre-convict any of our fellow Christians. Let people use their gifts. Guide them without trying to control every detail. Do not make the mistake of thinking that God will only bring the people you expect in the way that you expect at the time you expect.
One More Thing
Pastors, I appeal to your desire to reach the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How many people are you currently reaching? Are you willing to rethink your attitude and approach to bringing experienced Christians into your church? There is a lot of skill and talent out there which is not being used by the churches. Will you set aside your pre-judgments and let God bring experienced bond-servants into your world? Will you let the Lord God of Hosts supply reinforcements for your portion of the fight against the forces of sin and darkness? Or will you continue to be the kind of pastor who sets disheartening and soul-drowning blockades which prevent Christians from fully participating in your church? Will you make gifted achievers by propelling others? Or will you continue to be a producer of gifted underachievers?
Christians and Politics – The General Idea
As the old joke goes - poli is a prefix meaning ‘many’ and ticks are bloodsucking insects’. The joke is funny because of the truth inherent in any given political system. When a class of citizens can make decisions to which they themselves are immune, you have a political class who drain the lifeblood from people who work. The famous philosopher once said “All the really smart criminals are in Congress.” So what should a Christian do in regard to politics? Vote for Liberals? Vote for Conservatives? Don’t vote at all? Is there even supposed to be a connection between the government and the Bible? These are important questions and the answers make all the difference to the direction and spiritual status of the country.
Yes, God most certainly cares about the government. The original form of human government was a system of judges, who were called by the Lord to serve the Hebrew nation. These judges made decisions based on what they knew to be true. The religious aspect of God’s people was handled by the descendants of Levi. God called the Levites to be the priests. The other tribes gave offerings to support the priests. The Levites did not govern over the people, they were the spiritual guides to help people understand and connect with the Lord God.
Human beings were very unhappy with God’s system so they demanded human kings. God gave them what they demanded, with the warning that this was a bad system which would have horrible results for the people. From that day until now, no human system of government has been as good for people as God’s original system of judges.
The Lord says that He establishes the governments and the rulers, and that He sets their times and places. We know from many examples in the Bible that whether the people of Israel were ruled by a good king or a bad king was directly related to whether or not they were following God. The Lord sometimes brought in foreign kings to rule over Israel, during times when Israel needed extra correction. All this was designed to help the Hebrews return to the Lord their God. The Bible says the goal was always reconciliation and restoration. Bad rulers were used in much the same way that a surgeon uses a knife – to remove the cancer (evildoers) and save the patient (Israel).
The Bible does not specifically mention the names of modern nations such as the USA or Russia. When we talk about the place of politics in the life of Christians, we can only apply biblical principles to make sure that we are not repeating the mistakes made by ancient Israel.
The core principle is given in Psalm 33:12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. Christians should never support politicians who throw God out of public life. Public officials who say that Christian students should not be allowed to pray together or that the Ten Commandments must not be displayed on public buildings are in fact rejecting God. These officials should not receive votes from Christians.
What about ‘tolerance’? Some Christians have been led to believe that being a Christian means going along with every evil that comes down the road. We are told to accept and bless same-sex marriages for example. The Bible specifically says that men having sex with men, and women having sex with women is ‘an abomination to the Lord’. The behavior is sinful. No Christian bless this behavior. It is one thing to say that people have a legal right to their sins. It is another thing to say that Christians must bless the sin. This is where we are as a nation. If you do not openly bless the sin, you are condemned as ‘intolerant’. Sadly some very famous pastors have bought into the lie. They say we must go along with the ‘new Christianity’. They are rushing their congregations headlong into error.
The key to not being fooled is to study the Bible for yourself and discuss it with other people. Do not make the mistake of relying on any one preacher or teacher to tell you what the Bible says. Learn it for yourself, and then the preaching bolsters and encourages the growth of your faith. When it comes to the media (TV, websites, social media, movies), you will very rarely hear the whole truth about any given topic. Most media in the USA and Europe are owned and run by people with non-godly political agendas. There are of course some exceptions. The key to knowing the difference is to study the Bible so that you can tell when the media is lying to you.
A sad example of Christians believing the media are those who say they love God, who say they follow Jesus, and yet they are huge fans of anti-God policies. Why do some self-proclaimed Christians think they can support anti-God politicians and obey Jesus at the same time? You simply cannot follow two masters. You either follow the God of the Bible or you follow something else. It is the same with politicians. If a person follows Jesus, and they try to implement laws which conform to biblical principles, then we should support them. We need to be realistic about this also, no human being except for Jesus is perfect. No politician is going to get it right on every issue. Our vote should go to the best choice available at the time of the election.
The Sabbath, what is it? How does it work? Why does it matter?
There is never enough time. I work hard at managing investments, I cook, I am the main caregiver for our kids I maintain the house and cars. My wife works a job which demands her attention ten hours a day and another one to two hours every night from home. With all that going on we still need to reserve time to exercise. Then the church asks for our presence in main service and small group. There are multiple requests every week for us to participate in separate men’s and women’s ministries and also do service projects. Whether we have been in a big church or a small church, the story is the same. Whether I have been in a full-time engineering job, or worked as a pastor, the story is the same. There are more demands and requests for our time than we can possibly meet. This is why it is essential to prioritize our time. And the best way to schedule our priorities correctly is to start by making time for the Sabbath. Let me show you why….
The Sabbath is a weekly day of rest. Once a week we need to set aside time for our minds and bodies to relax. Through the centuries since the first human beings came into existence many traditions have arisen regarding the ‘proper’ use of the Sabbath. On one extreme is the practice of never doing anything at all, not even turning on a light switch. On the other extreme is the habit of treating the Sabbath like just another day. These extremes are still widely practiced today, to the detriment of their adherents. If we want to live happier lives it is essential to understand and apply the biblical teachings regarding the day of rest.
The first recorded day of rest was the seventh day from creation. God worked six days creating the world and He rested on the seventh day. Did God need to rest, or was He setting an example for us? A case can be made for either view but these cases depend on a great deal of conjecture. What we know for sure is that God did rest on the seventh day.
The first time we see God telling human beings to rest once a week is in the twentieth chapter of Exodus. The scene occurs after the Hebrews have been led out of Egypt by Moses. Now Moses is on the mountain and God gives him the Ten Commandments. Here it is; “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God;” The term ‘holy’ means ‘set apart for God’.
God further clarifies the practical application of the commandment. “In it [the Sabbath] you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant, your cattle or your visitor who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Yes, we are supposed to have one a day a week for rest. But which day? Monday? Sunday? Saturday? Does it even matter?
Jewish tradition says the Sabbath begins just before sundown on Friday and ends Saturday evening when the first three stars appear in the sky. Christian tradition says the Sabbath is from sunrise Sunday to sunrise Monday. Many of us have or do work at jobs where the day of rest depends on our work schedules for that week. Others of us are expected to be available seven days a week. The intent of the commandment is not for us to stress about which particular day we take off each week, but to make sure that that we do take a day off. We may well ask if the Sabbath is so important then why do the priests and ministers get paid to work on Sunday? The answer is that for most of them their Sabbath day is either Friday or Monday.
Is it really up to each individual to choose their own Sabbath day? Jesus Christ clarified this question in
In Ezekiel 20:12 God says “I gave them my Sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” The Sabbath is more than just a tool for recharging our soul, mind and body. It is also a sign that we are the people of God. Setting aside one day a week for our Lord causes us to be reminded that He is the One who is bringing us into heaven. The word ‘sanctification’ signifies that we are being cleaned up prior to our entry into haven. This is a lifelong process that does not end until we draw our last breath. Every person requires sanctification because none of us are perfect. Only Christians are receiving sanctification because we are the only people who are following Jesus as our Lord and Savior. The reader may have an objection to this last statement, but answer this question? Does eternal salvation come from within yourself? If so, why are you aging instead of remaining perpetually young? If eternal salvation comes from outside yourself, is the source the God of the Bible? The Bible says yes. What evidence do you have to say no?
We are in the process of being sanctified. Observing the Sabbath is one of the ways we demonstrate our faith in the Lord. We are commanded to do it, it only helps us and on top of that, it feels good to be refreshed.
Jesus was asked a question by the Pharisees. Keep in mind that the Pharisees were of the tradition that nothing was to be done on the Sabbath. Not healing the sick, not working in the fields, not working in your home or business, not preparing food. This was a case where tradition went beyond the intent of the commandment and became a burden rather than an encouragement. Jesus was walking with His apostles one Sabbath day. The apostles were picking the heads off some stalks of grain and eating them. The Pharisees asked about this apparent violation of the commandment. The passage is Mark 2:23-28. [The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look why are your apostles doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” Jesus said to them “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”]
Some Christians have taken this passage to mean that they never need to respect or observe the Sabbath. This interpretation is not supported by the passage. Jesus was not saying that the commandment was eliminated. He was saying that the Pharisees had an incomplete understanding of how to obey the commandment. The Sabbath was not created to be a negative (Don’t do this…). It was created to be a positive (Do this and be renewed and refreshed and demonstrate by your actions that you follow the one true and living God.). When we obey the commandment we actually provide inspiration and encouragement to others.
What does it make sense to do on the Sabbath? If the primary use of the day is prayer, praise and good works, great! Do it and be refreshed by the renewing of your mind. There’s still time to enjoy your hobbies. However, if your primary use of the day is “I need to catch up on everything from last week”, you will never catch up.
This is the God who created the universe. Always loving. Always practical. Always perfect in His judgment. This is the God who calls us to observe the Sabbath. He knows that some people need to work on Sundays. We cannot close the hospitals. We cannot abandon our military and police posts. This is why He gives us the freedom to set our own Sabbath day. Make sure that you do set one. You need the rest. You need the recharge. Observe the commandment and set aside a weekly Sabbath day for the Lord.
Maintaining Joy in Every Situation, Part II
Maintaining joy in every situation is like exercising a muscle. Consistent and proper preparation gives better results. The better the results we see, the more we want to keep doing it. What are the results of maintaining joy? Peace, patience, confidence in God and love. If you want these features to be part of who you are then practice the discipline of having joy in every situation. It is far better than any alternative way of life.
In Part I of this series we discussed the fact that love is central to maintaining joy. We saw that love is not enough by itself. This is because love must have an object, a purpose, a direction and a goal. If we maintain God as the primary object of our love, then we are on the right track to maintaining joy in every situation. In this part of the series we look at two specific examples of how we lose our joy, and how we can get it back.
Male/Female relationships. Everyone wants joy in their personal relationships. The Bible gives us the tools to make this happen. How many of us are truly committed to living the biblical model for male/female relationships? It is not the world’s way of doing things. To hear the world’s message through television and other media is to hear a false promise. To listen to and to try to live out the world’s message is to live a lie.
The biblical model for men and women is that men are to treat all women of the same or younger age as if they were our own sisters. We are to treat all older women like we would treat our own mothers. Respect for women will lead a man to treat women properly. Women who wish to respected will respect men as their brothers or fathers, depending upon the relative age of the man. Notice that there is nothing in the biblical model which calls for or blesses abuse, discourtesy or putting yourself above another person.
The relationship between husband and wife is unique. God says that man and wife become one flesh. The human marriage is supposed to be an earthly reflection of the bond between God and the believers in heaven. Men are called to love their wives. Women are called to respect and follow their husbands. If a wife decides she is the boss, then she brings a joy-killing attitude into the marriage. If the husband does not love and respect his wife, then he robs their union of joy. Maintaining joy in marriage is a subject unto itself, which will be covered in another part of this series.
There are many ways to view the topic of male/female relationships. No matter what we may think or discuss, we must never abandon biblical accuracy for cultural acceptance. In these times it is popular for some preachers to say that there is no difference between men and women. Some churches take this idea to the extreme of installing women senior pastors and they call this a good thing. The Bible is extremely clear. God created a natural order of things. We should not be offended by this fact – we should celebrate our differences. God did make men and women different from one another. Although we have some differences in functions, neither male nor female is of more value to the Lord. Men and women are equally valuable to Him. God did establish an order in the home and in the church.
One of the reasons why we are sometimes robbed of joy in male/female relationships is that we ignore God’s order and create our own hierarchy. If we want to maintain joy in the church and in the home it is essential that we not violate Scripture. It is not good for a woman to be in a position of spiritual authority over a man in a Christian relationship. The Bible gives us many reasons why this is the case. This is a truth which is sometimes difficult for Christians to accept. Remember that God’s ways are higher and better than our ways. We are best off when we follow His directives. Churches which choose to violate this principle go astray from the Gospel because they let social and cultural thoughts override their obedience to God. Every time this happens the church moves further away from the Lord.
A personal example I will share with you is this – I have learned as much about how to live a God-honoring life from my Christian sisters as I have from my Christian brothers. The principle of “equal value but different functions” has been borne out in my walk with the Lord, as it has for Christians since the resurrection of Jesus. I encourage all my sisters and brothers to learn from one another. Men and women are designed to complement one another in ways that make the whole body of believers stronger than the sum of the parts. That is where our focus should remain – on the things that make our witness to the world true and accurate to the Gospel.
Men and women are called to certain functions while some other functions are denied them. Christian men and women are directed by the Lord to treat one another with respect and to do all things in holy platonic love. Everyone should use their skills and talents, but we must use them in ways which do not violate Scripture. It is not about following social and cultural conventions it is about correctly interpreting and applying the Scriptures.
Jesus warned us that a little bit of evil works its way through the fellowship just like a little bit of leaven works its way through a whole loaf of bread. We all want God to bless our male/female relationships. Are we willing to ignore the world’s message and adhere to God’s message? Is it worthwhile to us to walk the narrow path of proper God-honoring behavior? The answer is yes.
When a pastor tells you the wrong thing. This is the second topic for this session. There are far too many examples of lying pastors, false shepherds and manipulative ‘prophets’. It hurts when we trust the clergy to tell us the truth and instead they hurt us. Wounds can run deep and may be painful for many years until another Christian helps us heal. So how can we maintain joy when a professional pastor lies to us?
There are three aspects to setting things right. The first step is to recover the biblical truth. The second aspect is to release the pain. The third step is to use the experience to help others in some way. This may seem counterintuitive but it does work.
1. Recovering the biblical truth means taking whatever the pastor said and examining it by the light of Scripture. Make sure that you do not just believe the pastor was right, or that they had the correct interpretation of the Bible. Check their words. Examine the passages where the topic is discussed. Many times when false teachers hurt people it is because the pastor himself is a white-washed tomb, clean and pretty on the outside but full of decay on the inside.
There are three components to recovering biblical truth. First, pray to God for clarity as you study the Bible. He will help you. Second, look up every passage which deals with your specific situation. Read all those passages and their surrounding context. Take notes as you read. Then compare what you see to what the pastor said to you. Do you see any points where there is a mismatch?
2. Releasing the pain. This takes time. Ingest this fact – how much time it takes is within your control. God tells us to lean on Him, cry to Him and to ask Him for peace in our hearts and minds. Sometimes when a minister has lied we are too hurt to trust God. Maybe we pray and then if the pain is still there we lose confidence in the Lord. Once you realize that what the minister said was in fact not true, and you know from you study of the Bible the reason it is not true, then it much easier to trust God. Two very effective ways to release the pain are to give it God in your prayers, and then go help other people.
3. Using your pain to help others. This is what Jesus did on the cross. He went through unimaginable emotional and physical pain in order to bring us to God. The Lord Jesus bought our salvation with His blood. Now salvation is available to anyone who accepts Him as Lord and Savior. All Christians are covered by His sacrifice. He went through the pain in order to help us.
We can apply the same principle in our lives. One great way to recover from being lied to by the pastor is to go use your pain. Find a charity or ministry where you get to help people whose pain is worse than yours. There are many ministries dedicated to helping people. God says in the Bible that He makes everything that happens work for the overall good of the entire body of believers. The psychic and emotional injuries we receive from being deceived by false teachers can be turned around and used to help other people. But you have to go help people in person, hear their stories and walk alongside them. Then the pace of your own healing accelerates.
Conclusion Maintaining joy is a perpetual challenge. If we take up the dual responsibility of treating others well while also doing the right things to heal from our wounds we will become more joyful. Join me for Part III of this series.
Maintaining Joy in Every Situation, Part I
by Mike Sackmary
The Bible is no empty word for us but it is our very life. God says in the Bible that He set eternity in the hearts of men. This means that each of us, whether we are Christian or not, have a desire to believe that there is something better and beyond this present life. After living through various circumstances and experiences, we may choose to believe that there is no afterlife, but that thought is rooted in some past cause. It is not a thought which occurs to us naturally. What does occur to us naturally is that there is an afterlife. This is a seed which God planted in our hearts.
The key to maintaining joy in every situation is to keep our focus on the true afterlife. God promises that every person who accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior will be with Him in paradise forever. Some opponents of Christianity have raised various objections to this truth. The most common objections have been answered in my paper ‘The Resurrection of Jesus Christ’. For purposes of this article we will proceed with the understanding that every human being has to make the choice between becoming a Christian and going to heaven, or rejecting God and going to eternal torment.
There is a cost required of every Christian who wishes to live an effective, God-pleasing and joyful life. The cost is that we must be willing to submit our stubborn selves under the Lordship of Jesus. This means we study the Bible, we participate in a local church, we give of our resources and we chase our mission of preaching the Gospel and making disciples. A joyful Christian life is rooted in the concrete foundation of the love we have for the Lord.
Love is not enough by itself. This is because love must have an object, a purpose, a direction and a goal. The object of our love is the Lord. He created the heavens and the earth. He gave human beings a free will, which Adam the first human decided to use to rebel against God. Sometimes we may be tempted to blame God because bad things happen. We should remember that without the ability to make bad decisions we would not be free beings. With the ability to make decisions comes the responsibility to make good decisions and the accountability to suffer the results of bad decisions.
The purpose of our love for God is to prepare us, over the course of our lives, for our entry into heaven. Yes the Creator of the entire universe cares that much about you. We are born with a tendency to sin. Once we reach the age of awareness we begin to lie, steal and break many of God’s commandments. We sin. We all sin. The only person who never sinned was Jesus. He is one-of-a-kind, being 100% human and 100% God at the same time. This brings us to the mystery of the Triune God. The Lord describes Himself as existing as one God in three persons (Father, Jesus the Son, Holy Spirit). God never explains exactly how this works, which is why we call it a unique method of existence. Think about the reality that this is the God who not only loves you, but who gives you the capacity to love.
I must confess to a rather unmanly trait. I love my cat. Spock has been with me for nineteen years. That is longer than some marriages. Why do I love my cat? I did not create him. I certainly do not get any work out of him. I love him because he is a lot of fun and he is always waiting to greet me when I come home. But where does my capacity to love come from?
Our capacity to love comes from God Himself. He is the author, creator and prime source of love. In the Bible the word love is used as both a verb and a noun. The love we are given from God is a verb. He loves us continually and forever. Thus the first step to maintaining joy is to ingest and feed upon this concept. God’s love is continual and eternal. Let that course through your bones for a while until you are soaked from the inside out in the radiance of His all-consuming love for His children. But do not be fooled, God says that only those who are Christians (and all the Old Testament believers who died before the Resurrection of Jesus) are His children. Non-Christians are not called the children of God until they become Christians. The purpose of our love is to keep us motivated and excited about living our lives in a way that shines the light of God into this world, while God prepares us for our entry into paradise.
The direction of our love is upward and outward. Upward in worship to God. Outward toward our fellow humans. As Christians we want to use our unique personalities to show God’s love for other people. By sharing the good, by doing random acts of kindness, by being there to listen and not try to ’fix’ everything, by standing up for the helpless and defending the weak we spread the good of God around the globe.
The temporary goal of our love for God is to win souls for the kingdom. No one becomes a genuine Christian solely because of logical argument or emotional appeals. The unsaved become Christians by one method, they respond with a ‘yes God’ when they hear the Gospel. The Gospel only comes to a person by the preaching of the Word of God. No one method is used for this preaching. It is done one-to-one, it is done in big churches, it is done in the open air on the street, it is done in prisons, it is done when a Christian is about to be murdered by terrorists, it is done when a student shares the Gospel with an atheist teacher. Preaching the Gospel happens in more ways and places than any one of us can even count. One of the most wide-reaching methods is expositional preaching from the pulpit of a church.
Now that we’ve seen a brief survey of the purpose, goal, direction and object of our love let us see how we can turn these concepts into useful every day practices which will allow us to maintain joy.
Bad situations. This category of challenges includes anything that happens which was not caused by ourselves or by other people. These are occurrences such as flooded houses, tornadoes, cancer and so forth. The most dangerous aspect of dealing with this type of problem is to assume that we are being punished. Certainly there are passages in the Old Testament where God purposely causes these types of scenarios. But every time He does so, there is also an explanation as to why He does it and a corresponding opportunity for people to repent and get relief from the Lord.
The key to maintaining joy in bad situations is to first ask God if there is any unconfessed sin in our life. If He brings anything to mind confess and repent immediately. Beyond asking that question, be glad for what went right. You are still breathing. You did not lose everything. And God certainly has placed Christians in your path who would love to help you. Use that resource, let God’s children walk alongside you.
Bad people. This is a real sore point. Maybe I should skip this topic….or not. The trick here is to ‘hate the sin and love the sinner’. If we make the mistake of judging the person then we fall into extremely negative thinking. This is accompanied by hatred, anger, more hatred, stress, ongoing hatred. You get the idea that that person needs to have their (insert your own word here) removed. Then we start thinking that the bad person needs to die. It is easy for our minds to become clouded to the point where we think of ourselves as righteous judges instead of recognizing the reality that God is the only Righteous Judge.
How to maintain clarity of thought and cleanness of heart? First, if the bad person’s actions were illegal, then press charges. Let the law enforcement professionals deal with the crime. If the actions were immoral or unethical then decide if it is worth your time and energy to sue them. Be aware the Jesus advised us to not sue other Christians but to do our best to work it out directly with them. By getting the question of crime and lawsuits settled, you prepare your mind for the next step.
To achieve clarity of thought and cleanness of heart, step back from passing judgment on the person. It is not reasonable to assume the motives of another. What we are called to judge is the action. We can and should say ‘that was wrong and it hurt’. We can and should vent our anger and pain to the Lord. We can and should cry out to our Christian friends and let them pray for us. Pain is overcome by love and love comes from God through other Christians.
God judges sin. He will deal with the bad person on His terms and in His timing. Dwelling upon the evil person will only cause us more pain. It keeps our wounds bleeding and prevents us from enjoying life. Take the right path, Maintain joy by letting your brothers and sisters love you and go do good works for others. Get rid of your anger by bringing out your love for God.
One word about forgiveness. The Bible never says that we are to forgive those who do not ask for our forgiveness. Sometimes misguided Christians might say “Oh just forgive that person.” This does not work. What does work is to say “Here God, you have my pain and give me something good to go do for others.”
The reality might seem upside-down to us, but here it is – God promised that every Christian would have some suffering in this life, and that everything works together for the good of those who love Christ. My form of suffering may be different than yours, but together we help one another maintain joy because we know that God has a greater purpose for letting us suffer. This is a reality which many anti-Christians cannot accept. The one whose mind is rooted in self-love says “What the heck?” The one whose mind is rooted in Christian love says “This stinks, and I have no idea why it happened, but I know that I can trust God with my soul, so I can also trust Him with this mess." Choose joy over anger.
Self-generated problems. Ouch. Maintaining joy is quite difficult in these situations. Our tendency is to blame others, and even to blame God. A homosexual catches a disease and says “God made me this way.” A man cheats on his wife and says “God made that other woman so beautiful and so available.” A pastor copies a sermon from someone else and says “I don’t have time to prepare sermons.” Whatever your personal problems are, check to see if they are self-generated. The great thing about these types of problems is that the behavior does not have to be repeated. Begin to attain joy by creating a commitment card. On the card you write down in present tense a statement that negates the undesired behavior. “I am celibate.” “I am faithful.” “I seek the Lord’s message for every sermon.” Keep that card in your wallet and look at it whenever you pay for something. Then think about the price Jesus paid for your soul.
Maintaining joy in every situation is like exercising a muscle. The more we do it, the better results we see. The better results we see the more we want to keep doing it. What are the results? Peace, patience, joy, love. If you want these features to be part of who you are, then practice the discipline of having joy in every situation. It is far better than any alternative way of life.
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