Struggling for Joy

AaronGospel, Life, Questions, UncategorizedLeave a Comment

The more Christians I meet and interact with the more and more I see how many Christians truly struggle to find joy in their lives.  Even as I examine my own life, I feel that I have this constant battle going on to be joyful.  In fact it seems that I find myself just as often battling against discouragement as I am filled with joy.  Why is this?  Why do so many Christians struggle to be filled with joy?  The heart of the answer to our question lies with one of two things–either sin or unbelief.

To start, let’s look at sin.  In our culture and in our society sin is not a word that we typically like to talk about.  Instead of labeling something as sin we try to pawn it off as a bad decision or perhaps bad judgement.  This type of thinking is not helpful.  Rather, we should call sin for what it is and flee from it and forsake it.  We need to see sin as evil, as an offense against God, and as a robber of joy.   We need to see both the admittance and the turning away from sin not as a personal weakness; rather, as one of the great gifts God has given us.  God loves us enough to offer forgiveness when we turn from sin–what a blessing!  As you look at your joyless life quite possibly there is habitual sin that is stealing your joy.

Second, unbelief also is a great thief of joy.  Unfortunately for sinful mankind we are always questioning God and his Word.  I think we question him the most when things are not going the way we would like them to go.  We struggle to believe that God is good, and that he indeed is working all things for our good.  We doubt his goodness and doubt he will keep his Word to us.  Before too long we are swimming in a sea of self pity with no joy.

One of the truths about the Christian faith is that we are in a true spiritual battle. In every sense we have to fight for the joy God has promised his people.  We have to fight against the lures of sin that steal our joy and we have to fight to purpose in our hearts that God is for us and not against us.  We have to purpose in our hearts that God is always true to his Word.  We need to continue to preach the gospel to ourselves, that because of what Jesus did on the cross we are forgiven and wholly and completely loved by God the Father.  We need to intentionally put ourselves in positions and places where we can do things that honor God and produce joy for ourselves.  Read your Bible, pray in faith, serve others, share the gospel, practice the various spiritual disciplines with the hopes of not only bringing glory to God but also joy to yourself.

To go along with actively engaging in this battle I urge you to surround yourself with other brothers and sisters in Christ.  The letter of Hebrews tells us to “not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:25).  In your time of need lean on God and on his people.  Call on your brothers and sisters in Christ to pray and encourage you.  Do not let your own pride and self pity cause you to isolate yourself–that is one of the worst things you can do in this battle.

Finally, if you find yourself in a season of joylessness here are two books that I would recommend you to read.  First, is the book “When I Don’t Desire God, How to Fight for Joy” by John Piper and the other is “Spiritual Depression, Its Causes and Cures” by Martin Lloyd Jones.  I have found both of these books helpful and filled with many Scriptural truths to help fight the good fight of faith.

May God’s grace be found sufficient for you as you strive to live a joy-filled life to the glory of God!

American Dream or Heavenly Nightmare

AaronGospel, Life, UncategorizedLeave a Comment

Everywhere you live there are challenges to the Christian faith.  If you are a Christian living in China or the Middle East there is the challenge of staying true to the faith under persecution.  If you are a Christian living in a remote village in Africa there is the challenge of finding fellowship.  If you are a Christian living in America there is the challenge of the American Dream.

Recently I have been trying to examine my Christian walk to see in what areas I am weak.  As I look at my life, without question, my biggest downfall is trying to follow after  “success”.  Perhaps the greatest of all values in America is that of success.  We strive for nice cars, big houses, important jobs, and so on because they give off the image of success that we so desperately seek.  Far too much of our time, energy, and thoughts are devoted to either becoming successful or dwelling on the fact that we are not successful.  In the end we feel trapped.  We never have enough; we are never satisfied.

This type of thinking is far different from what we read in the Scriptures.  Our culture values pride while the Scripture speaks of humility; our culture values being first while the Scripture speaks of being last.  In America we strive to be self-sufficient, whereas the Bible tells us to rely completely on God.  Perhaps there is not a culture that has its values more contrary to the Bible than ours.

I cannot remember where I heard it or who said it but this is a paraphrase of his question–If you had all material things but did not have Christ would you be satisfied?  Could you find enough joy in a car, an i phone, or a successful career that it would not bother you at all that God was not a part of your life?  On the flip side if you had nothing–no place to live, no earthly success, no earthly possessions–but you had Christ, would that satisfy you?

If we are honest these are hard questions to answer but are questions that we must ask ourselves.  As you live your life, are you so radically and passionately in love with the Savior that if the Lord gave or if the Lord took away you could sincerely say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord”?

I encourage you to take stock in your life and search to see where your heart is.  Are you spending more time asking God to bless you with more goods or a better job rather than asking God to show you ways how you can bless others?  Are you not satisfied with where you are in life?  Do you struggle to be content with what you either have or do not have?  Do you have to have the latest and greatest gadget?  If you can answer yes to these questions, you have been sucked into this American Dream. I urge you to escape now before it becomes a heavenly nightmare.

May your focus, time, energy, effort, money, talent, life all be used with a heavenly/eternal mindset.  May your love for Christ and the gospel be your greatest motivation to live for eternity and not get bogged down by the rotting treasures of this life.   Why, you ask?  Because Jesus is so worth it and in the end only he can satisfy!

God’s Great Gift of Marriage

AaronGospel, Life, UncategorizedLeave a Comment

This past weekend my family and I celebrated my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary.  This is truly an amazing feat that most of us will never attain.  It was fun for us all to listen as they told stories of their wedding day so many years back.  What a blessing!  It is such a shame that in our culture marriage has fallen on such hard times.  On average every other marriage will end in divorce.  The courts continue to redefine what marriage is or what it is not.  Cohabiting has become celebrated as something preferred and better than marriage.  Things have gotten so bad for marriage that a few months back I was watching several golf experts on television saying that the best thing for Tiger Woods would be if he got a divorce!

Like most things in life, the Scriptures have a much different outlook on marriage than popular culture. Indeed the Scriptures look at marriage as one of the greatest gifts God has given to mankind and should be both celebrated as well as protected.  As we live in this society that devalues marriage and sees no true need for it, here are a few points of what Scripture teaches us.

1.  Marriage is the tool God has given mankind for procreation.  In Genesis 1 Scripture tells us that mankind is created in the image of God, thus being different from all of creation.   One of the responsibilities God gave to Adam and Eve was to be fruitful and multiply.  Similarly after the flood God told Noah and his family that they too were to be fruitful and multiply.  Thus this image of God found in man was to spread throughout the globe.  It is in the bounds of marriage that man and woman are to come together and receive the blessing of children and fulfill the mandate to multiply.

2.  Marriage is the tool God has given mankind for fellowship.  In Genesis 2 after Adam named all of the animals he realized that he was one of a kind.  God had compassion on Adam and after taking one of Adam’s ribs he formed Eve to be Adam’s perfect helpmate.  Adam and Eve were to enjoy each in perfect fellowship as they cared for the Garden of Eden.  In fact, this marriage bond was to be so tight that through marriage Adam and Eve were to be as one flesh.

3.  Marriage is the tool God has given mankind as the great picture of the gospel.  In a wedding there is a bride and her groom.  The groom is there to be the loving head of the family by providing much care and concern for his bride.  This picture is what the apostle Paul uses to describe the loving relationship between Jesus Christ and his bride, the church.  The gospel is the good news that Jesus loves his people and died on the cross in their place, so that their sins could be atoned for; the gospel is the good news that Jesus will someday return and take his bride into a perfect eternity in the presence of God.

When we look to a marriage we should be reminded of the great love that Jesus has for his people.  As great as it was to celebrate 60 years with my grandparents how much greater will it be to celebrate eternity with all of the redeemed, because of what Christ has done?  Praise be to God for marriage and praise be to God that in his grace he would send Jesus for the church!

Nothing but the Blood

AaronGospel, Life, Theology, UncategorizedLeave a Comment

One of my favorite hymns is the song “Nothing but the Blood”.  In the opening verse the hymn asks the question, “what can wash away my sin?”, then gives the answer “nothing but the blood of Jesus”.  As Christians all around the world take time to both reflect upon and celebrate Easter, I am saddened by how many claim Christ yet really do not understand the purpose of the cross.  Many have some kind of understanding of forgiveness of sin but do not know how it applies to them.

To understand the cross is to understand substitution.  One of the key themes throughout the Bible is substitution.   In the garden after Adam and Eve sinned, God provided for them garments of an animal skin to wear.  Because of their sin an animal died so they could live.   On mount Moriah, Abraham placed his son Isaac on the altar as a test of obedience toward God.  Right before Abraham was to sacrifice his son, God provided a ram to be sacrificed in place of Isaac, as a substitute.

When the children of Israel were in bondage in Egypt, God sent the final of 10 plagues into the land, which was the death of every firstborn.   It was only those whose doorposts had lamb’s blood over them who were spared this final plague.  Because the lamb died, the firstborn lived.

As God gave the law to Moses it was told that there is no atonement for sin without a sacrifice of life (Lev 17).  Thus as we read through the law, and especially the book of Leviticus, we see over and over again that when a human sinned, an animal died so to the human could live.

So as we come back to the question of why did Jesus die on the cross?  The answer is substitution.  Just as throughout the Old Testament we see sin and we see the death of an animal to in a sense atone of that sin, at the cross we should see our sin and Jesus dying so we do not have to die spiritually.  Each of the substitutionary deaths we see in the Old Testament we pointers to a greater substitutionary death that was fulfilled at the cross.

The death that Jesus died was a death to end all deaths.  For those who would turn to Jesus and by faith put their trust in him, he would become their great substitute.  It is only through Jesus, the true Lamb of God, that we truly can have forgiveness of sin.  It was at the cross that all of our sin became Jesus’ sin and all of Jesus’ righteousness became our righteousness.  This is the greatest of all news!  Instead of leaving us dead in our sin, the perfect Son of God came and substituted his life that I might live.

The final verse of “Nothing but the Blood” speaks of the blood of Christ and says “this is all my hope and peace”.   Would you cry out to God today and put your hope and peace in the sacrificial/ substitutionary blood of Jesus?

I encourage and plead with you if you have never trusted in the finished work of Jesus on the cross to let these words wash over you :

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?

And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.  Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”  Isaiah 53:3-12

This Easter let us rejoice that through the death of Christ we can truly live!

How Can I Be Faithful?

AaronLife, UncategorizedLeave a Comment

Perhaps one of the greatest goals in my life is to hear the words “well done, good and faithful servant” as I meet God in eternity.  This goal is my great motivation but also my great downfall.  While I do not doubt that God has saved me from my sin, it is amazingly hard for me to ever feel confident that I am living a faithful life.  Too often I feel like a second-rate Christian who is wasting my life and my talents.

As I talk with other believers I often find that I am not alone.  I have friends who truly love God yet are often in tears because they feel that they are not the devoted follower of Jesus as they hope to be.  So how do we know if we are being faithful?  How can we have a greater assurance that our lives are not a waste?  Here are some tips, although admittedly, I often struggle to follow my own advice.

1. Rest in the gospel–Any time we as Christians have serious struggles or doubts it is because we are not grabbing hold of the gospel as tightly as we should.  Spend time mediating on the fact that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  What an amazing truth.  This has to be our grounding for all that we do. In fact, all other points that follow this first point are an off shoot of not resting in or being grounded in the gospel.

2. Search our hearts for sin–At times we struggle or doubt because there is real sin present which is hindering us from being faithful.  If you find sin in your life, repent and move forward.  While sin is a serious offense not to be taken lightly, God’s forgiveness trumps our sin. When we do not allow ourselves to embrace God’s forgiveness we are stuck and can not be all that God has called us to be.

3.  Have an open hand–There is some truth to the old cliche that we entered this life with nothing and we leave with nothing.  Whatever God has blessed you with in this life, offer it back to him.  Has he blessed you financially?  Then be a generous giver.  Has he blessed you with great people skills?  Then use that to point people to the cross.  Has he given you musical talent?  Then use it to the glory of God.  The tighter we hold on to gifts and possessions, the less faithful we will be.  Rather than tightly hold on I urge you to radically use what God has given you.

4.  Stop comparing yourself to others–If you are like me you have favorite Christian preachers or authors or leaders.  It is so easy to try to measure yourself up to them.  You see your friend who is gifted in evangelism and because evangelism comes harder for you, you begin to doubt.  Or you see a friend who is gifted in hospitality and you are weak in that area, you get down in the dumps.  Thankfully God created each of us with different gifts, different abilities, and different passions.  Let people with different gifts be a blessing to you and not a discouragement (read Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12).

5.  Find out what your gifts and passions are–I think  the biggest reason Christians become discouraged is because they are uncertain of what their gifts are; or if they do know where they are gifted, they do not know how their gifting fits into their passions.  I do tend to believe that many of the passions we have are God-given passions.  Once we see how our gifts and our passions line up, we use them unto the Lord.  The most joy-filled Christians I know are those who are serving God with their gifts in areas where they are passionate.

6.  Be focused on love rather than duty–Make serving the Lord your greatest joy and not a means of acceptance by him.  One of the most amazing truths for a Christian is that there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less.  God has a radical and passionate love for his children that never wavers.  Let God’s love for you be the motivation for you to serve him.  In other words serve God because you are accepted–not to be accepted.  Do not have the mindset that you “have to” do this or that; rather, have it be “I get to” do whatever he has put before you to do.

I do hope and pray these tips help you be all that God has called you be. Ultimately let us glory in the truth that despite our lack of faithfulness, God continues remains faithful to us.  Praise be to God for his faithfulness!