I’m at the point in my motherhood journey where the cutesy stuff just isn’t cutting it anymore. My kids are in high school and middle school now and that naive, innocent phase, as much as it stings my heart, is over. The world expands more and more each passing year and there’s not a darn thing I can do to slow it down. We spend a huge chunk of their lives shielding them from all the bad stuff, and then suddenly have to make an uncomfortable shift: teach them about all the things before the world does. To say I feel like I’m in a battle for souls is not an understatement.
There’s the natural teen stuff we all had to deal with like friendships and dating, but now we have all kinds of bonus issues like easy-access internet pornography, social media nonsense, and vaping. The quick, 5 minutes with Jesus stuff isn’t cutting it anymore. My kids are at Christian schools and the things they are having to deal with keeps me awake many a night. Even the ‘good’ kids are slip-sliding away into all kinds of gray areas that leave me questioning everything. They are inundated with Biblical truth and walking off into a totally different direction.
My son’s high school had their first suicide last week. I can’t even breathe when I think about it. Kids who he grew up with and have known for years are taking paths that I know they weren’t raised to take. So I cry out to God for an explanation and an answer… what can I do to keep this from happening? I’m a doer. If I can read it to them, type it out, teach it, put it on a notecard, I’m on it. My struggle is that I think if I can just convey the right information to them, they’ll want to choose God.
Today, the Lord just kind of flattened this right out of me… in a good way. I pulled out an old prayer I wrote for them a few years ago and read it out loud. Jesus is their Savior, not me.
This is irrationally hard for me to admit. My marching orders come from Jesus. I can’t control my way to Godly teenagers, but I can guide them and pray for them. Here’s just a bit of what I prayed for my kids today:
Give them wisdom to not be unequally yoked in their relationships. Send them friends that will build them up.
May rebellion never get a foothold in their lives. Give them a healthy understanding of boundaries and may ungodly things be unattractive to them.
Show them it’s ok to be different. May they live supernaturally, not strategically.
May they desire holiness over being popular or relevant.
May they dwell on the the good things they have and not their weaknesses.
May forgiveness, confession and compassion be a part of their daily lives as they learn to receive and give mercy.
Give them a vision, a big picture to live for that goes beyond what they can see now. Assure them that momentary troubles are not permanent and that You have good plans for them.
I’m learning that the time to pray is when I least feel like praying. That’s ok. This is an offensive war we are in. Letting the days slip by without giving them the tools they need is my greatest fear. We can’t be ignorant of what is happening to our loved ones or think they are immune from the enemy’s attacks. None of us are. But thanks be to God that He has them in the palm of His hand and we can remove ourselves from the drivers seat.
Perhaps this is what our teens need most: parents with a single-minded determination to follow him. We will not do so perfectly, but our own stumbling progress toward discipleship puts us on the same road as our teens — and what a joy it is to be traveling toward Christ together.
Traveling the road together is a huge privilege. Scary as can be at times, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Don’t sit by while the world has it’s way with your kids or anyone close to you… know God’s word and pray it. Shout it out loud. Let the heavens know to whom you belong.
Psalm 22:1- My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?
It seems to me that our Christian culture has made it a sin to despair, to question God, to be just downright sad. However, the Bible is filled with mighty men of God who struggled with God, who questioned God, sought their own way, or just had down days. I don’t feel like Christianity should promote despair, but I also don’t think that it should try to make it seem like everything is awesome, every day of the week. This is an unrealistic goal which can cause us to be frustrated when we cannot achieve it, or to ignore these thoughts and push them away without dealing with them directly.
Now before we continue, I am not talking in this post about clinical depression that needs treatment from a licensed clinical psychiatrist, which I am not. Depression is a real struggle for many and I will not claim to have all the answers to it.
Let’s look in the Bible where men of God questioned God and their circumstances:
• John the Baptist was in prison and questioned if Jesus was the Messiah even after proclaiming it at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 11:2-3)
• Habakkuk 1:2- O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
• Moses was frustrated with God and the Israelites many times. In Numbers 11:11 he said to the Lord, “Why are you treating me, your servant, so harshly? Have mercy on me! What did I do to deserve the burden of all these people?
• Many of David’s psalms were filled with sadness and discouragement including Psalm 22
• In Psalms 73, Asaph questioned God about the prosperity of the wicked
• After the defeat of the prophets of Baal, Elijah suffered from despair, even wishing to die. In 1 Kings 19:4 he said “I have had enough Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”
• Jonah rebelled against God, but after the successful saving of Nineveh, Jonah became bitter telling God “Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:3
Now it’s easy as Christians to quote the Bible where it says “the joy of the Lord is our strength” and “rejoice in the Lord always”. I’m not saying that these are not good goals, but as fallible humans we need to understand that we will have good and bad days, we will have strong faith mixed with weak faith, we will question God and we will be without any doubt. There are high and low points in our “climb up the mountain” as Christians. Just read Pilgrim’s Progress…
Martin Luther, the great reformer, struggled with doubt. It’s one of the key drivers of him questioning the church at the time to lead the reformation. At one point his doubt led to such great a depression that he wrote, “For more than a week I was close to the gates of death and hell. I trembled in all my members. Christ was wholly lost. I was shaken by desperation and blasphemy of God.”
What is our end goal when we despair? If we question God or have sadness what do we do? We do not live in that state, we use it to propel us forward and out of it. We seek help, read the Bible, pray to God, and ultimately stand firm in our faith in who God is. It is important to not go through this alone, we need to find fellow believers we can be accountable with and who we can call up when we are struggling.
Feel free to read my previous post on “Wrestling with God.” God is a big God and He can handle our doubts, worries, anxieties, fears, and sadness. If we give them over to God, He can handle them where we, in our own strength, cannot. Once we rest in God’s sovereignty, we can realize that we do not have all the answers, and that is ok.
Back to Psalm 73, it is my favorite Psalm. The first half is the authors frustration’s with the wicked, but by the end it brings him to a place of confidence in God and His ultimate plan. How he may not understand everything fully, but his ultimate trust is in God.
23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
27 Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.
May the same be said of us, that we can use our dark times to help illuminate God and His power, that we can rest in the fact that He has everything under control. Our doubts and fears are not sinful in and of themselves, we should not feel unworthy for having them. But after we push through, get everything out in the open, and fall back on God’s sovereignty, we can get back to pursuing God. We can then truly claim that “The Joy of the Lord is my Strength” (Nehemiah 8:10)
Discerning Reflection: What do I do when I am sad, when I question God? Do I pray and turn to Him or do I turn away from Him? Do I feel shame for having those thoughts? How can I quickly turn around from these thoughts and who do I need to be accountable with to help me?
Prayer: Lord help me seek after you in the good and the bad times, help me understand that I will have high and low points and to not despair but to trust that you have everything under control.
This weekend, history will be made as the Unplanned movie will open in more than 1,100 theaters across the nation. And you can expect the backlash to be intense. And I mean very intense. The foundations of the pro-abortion movement, in particular, those of Planned Parenthood, will be challenged. Evil will be exposed and hope will be exalted.
By all means, make your plans to flood the theaters this weekend, not just for your own benefit, but to help send a message to the movie industry that this movie needs to be seen. That means it needs to be widely available.
If you’re not familiar with the background to Unplanned, it tells the real-life story of former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson, who is now a pro-life champion.
Earlier this week, on my radio show, I spoke with Ashley Bratcher, the Christian actor who plays Abby in the movie. She explained what it took for her to become Abby Johnson, and as you’ll see, she did it with excellence.
I was able to watch an advance release of Unplanned in the privacy of my home, but I was caught off guard by one pivotal scene.
To be clear, I’ve been involved in the pro-life movement in varying degrees for many years. And I’ve often shared the horrifically-graphic, deeply-moving images of aborted babies.
Back in the early 1990’s, the day before participating in an Operation Rescue event in Washington, DC, we had an all-day prayer meeting at my house.
During our prayer time, I passed around one of those graphic pictures – the mangled body of a late-term aborted baby. And as each person saw the picture, each began to weep. “What have we done?” cried out one of my friends.
You could say, then, that I was emotionally prepared for whatever was coming in Unplanned. Except I wasn’t.
I had about 45-minutes free before going to teach a night class at our ministry school on a Tuesday night, so I told Nancy (we’ve been married for 43 years) that I was going to start watching the movie in my study while having my dinner salad.
You see, I thought the movie would proceed chronologically with Abby’s life and so, it would be awhile before any disturbing images might appear. That meant I could sit at my desk, have dinner, and watch the first part of the movie.
Without giving anything away, let’s just say that an important scene in the movie occurred earlier than I expected. (For those concerned about bringing children to Unplanned, first, there are far more graphic images of aborted babies found online than anything seen in the movie. Second, if your kids are old enough to have an intelligent discussion with you about abortion, they are old enough to see the movie.)
As the scene unfolded – it is something witnessed at Planned Parenthood clinics every day of the week and it was scientifically fair and honest – I was completely overcome, sobbing uncontrollably. Yet there was nothing manipulative or contrived about the scene in the least. Just the simple reality of an abortion. And I lost it.
For the next 15 minutes I tried to compose myself, shutting the movie off and distracting my mind (after first pouring my heart out to the Lord in prayer). Then, when I thought I was ready, I went to talk to Nancy, who hadn’t heard me tell her I was about to watch Unplanned.
I managed to get out the words, “I have to compose myself,” before completely losing it, sobbing and unable to speak.
As you can imagine, this totally scared Nancy, who thought someone close to us had just died. (What would you think if your spouse came walking into your room and was sobbing so intensely he or she couldn’t talk?)
When I finally did speak, I barely got out the words, “That movie,” before explaining the rest.
Then, a few minutes later, when I shared with my students about recent, aggressive, pro-abortion developments, one of the students asked if we could stop and pray.
We did, and the class never happened, as we spent the better part of the next 2 ½ hours in prayer, often weeping and wailing for the lives of the unborn.
Honestly, I am amazed that Pure Flix was able to get Unplanned into so many theaters, knowing how hotly opposed this movie will be.
In fact, I have learned that the number rose from 900 to 1,100 theaters (at last report) due to popular, advance demand. I also heard that one theater cancelled the showing but had to reinstate it after a local outcry.
Not everyone will be affected the way I was. But I’m confident that all who see this movie with an open heart and mind will be positively and deeply impacted for the cause of life.
Make your plans to be there this weekend. Perhaps this will be a turning point in the history of the modern, pro-life movement.
WHICH MOMENT OF JESUS’ LAST WEEK ON EARTH SPEAKS TO YOU THE MOST?
Mark 15:16-19 carefully details the mockery that Christ endured at the hands of a battalion of about 500 Roman soldiers inside the Praetorium. After He was falsely accused of leading an insurrection, the soldiers taunted Jesus by putting a twisted crown of thorns upon His head, wrapping a purple robe on His bloody body, placing a fake scepter in His trembling hands, and saluting Him with sadistic glee. Through enduring these various forms of abuse, Jesus as our high priest took upon Himself the shame of innocent victims living in a fallen world. Victims of verbal, emotional, sexual, and physical abuse need to know Christ as not only a guilt-bearing Savior but also a shame-bearing Savior—one who identifies, empathizes, and heals.
—Mika Edmondson, pastor of New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids, Michigan and author of The Power of Unearned Suffering: The Roots and Implications of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Theodicy
Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane—“Not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39)—is one I think about often, as it reveals much about the nature of prayer. When we pray, we are not asking God to magically do things we want, but rather we enter God’s presence and ask that our hearts and minds be transformed. We’re tempted to see problems in the world as out there, in other people; it’s much harder to recognize the darkness, greed, hate, lust, and anger in our own heart. In prayer, we follow Jesus in asking for our own transformation—not to make us better people, but to make ourselves available to embody God’s love and compassion in the world.
—C. Christopher Smith, editor of The Englewood Review of Books and author of How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church
After all Jesus went through His last week on earth, He could have said “OK, Father, I’m done with them.” But that’s not who Jesus is. I find it moving that He took the time to come back to the disciples a second time after His resurrection—and in particular that He decided to give Thomas a chance to touch His wounds and believe. He could have been “done” with Thomas, but He proved Himself again. He did that so there would be a record of it for people like me. I appreciate that about Jesus. He knows us, and He loves us still. His love is never done.
—TaRanda Greene, member of Cana’s Voice and solo vocal artist. Her latest album is The Healing.
I can’t imagine being at the table with Jesus in the upper room. After He took the cup and bread, giving thanks, He said six words I can’t shake: “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). I kind of think of communion now as part of a progressive dinner party that began in the upper room and ends in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. We attend the same meal those disciples did; we’re just down the street a little. Believers who come after us attend the same meal, but it’s held at another house. The body and the blood is timeless, and believers get to be there for the finale in heaven. We remember every time, but He remembers as well. It’s His covenant with us, and I can’t wait to find place settings with my name and yours at the ultimate Easter banquet.
—Sarah Harmeyer, speaker and founder of Neighbor’s Table
Could the reason be that it is what HE wanted us to strive for, fight for and wanted it to be our most favorite blessing?
I mean it is just so fascinating that EVERYTHING we love and want and desire is exactly what GOD has promised us and has even died for that we would have it.
Fascinating and demonstrating.
Showing us proof that we are HIS people, made by HIM, designed in HIS image and also according to HIS ideas about us – we are seeking and yearning for love, for a happy marriage, for a family, good health and happiness – at least if we are in our right mind, which is also a desire we all have and a blessing HE gives us – and what a “conincidence”:
these are the blessings GOD promised to HIS people.
Of course it is not a coincidence.
We are HIS creation.
If the devil had made us, we would be happy and deeply fulfilled every time we destroy or kill or violate others.
Whereas he fooled many people into believing that this is what they are supposed to be doing and what makes them happy, ALL of them know deep within themselves that it is NOT THE TRUTH, that they are not on the right path, that they are rebelling, disobeying and that they WILL be punished for this one day.
This is called a conscience and everybody has it, is born with it, it is given to us by birth.
Regardless where we are born and which circumstances we are born into, we have a natural and instinctive knowing about right and wrong and about justice and goodness.
Many people do not act according to it and do their best to unlearn it over the course of their lives, but when you look at children, they know what a lie is and they do feel guilty when they tell a lie – at least until they learn something else, most likely by their role models which would be us, their parents, their relatives, their teachers…
What I am getting at is that victory is important to everybody and GOD has intended us to seek it, to fight for it and to desire it.
BECAUSE it is what we can have when we are HIS.
And only when we are HIS people can we have victory.
Only through HIM.
We cannot win by not following the principles and rules GOD has layed out for us and we cannot win without HIM.
It is simply not possible.
When we try to do it our way and without GOD, our victory will ALWAYS and only be temporary and superficial and when we even fall for the snare of the enemy, who is telling us that the power is within us and that we can do whatever we want, then, we may seem to be victorious and even seem to have won in this life, but we will never be winners for eternity!
The stronger our egos and will and soul is, the harder it can be to win.
Because then, we are prone to believe that we are the doers, the soldiers, the fighters, that through our power the battle is won.
GOD has many examples in HIS WORD to prove this wrong.
I would like to take a look at the story in 2 Chronicles 20 with you to demonstrate what I mean.
This chapter has been very helpful for me to learn about HOW we can attain victory over the enemy.
It contains divine instructions when you analyze it – and last night, at a late night prayer and spiritual warfare meeting with my beloved sisters, all highly skilled and experienced prayer warriors (they all have many more years of praying and fighting and serving THE LORD under their belt than I do!), we looked at this chapter once again together and it was our basis for the breakthroughs we achieved right there and then, the victories of last night for HIS kingdom.
So the situation was that King Jehosaphat was threatened by 2 tribes, the Ammonites and the Moabites, who outnumbered his people greatly and he was afraid and the first thing he did was to seek THE LORD and proclaim a fast throughout all Judah.
Very important and ESSENTIAL first move!
If you want to win the battle, you MUST ask GOD first about it and also, you need to become receptive for what HE is going to tell you and you need to show HIM that you are submitting yourself (and if you are a leader, also your people) into HIS hands and this is an accepted and proven means of doing so, FASTING.
Here is GOD’s promise for those who fast and pray and for success of this endeavour, and that it will work every time!
2 CHRONICLES 7: 14-15 14 IF MY PEOPLE, WHICH ARE CALLED BY MY NAME, SHALL HUMBLE THEMSELVES, AND PRAY, AND SEEK MY FACE, AND TURN FROM THEIR WICKED WAYS; THEN WILL I HEAR FROM HEAVEN, AND WILL FORGIVE THEIR SIN, AND WILL HEAL THEIR LAND. 15 NOW MINE EYES SHALL BE OPEN, AND MINE EARS ATTEND UNTO THE PRAYER THAT IS MADE IN THIS PLACE.
Verse 15 emphasizes that if this is done in a place, a church building for instance, or your home, it also will sanctify the place and will improve the anointing of this place and will make it more likely that GOD will hear other prayers made there as well in the future!
What a promise!
An instruction for success, for victory and for answered prayer!
I really wonder why so many people don’t do this, me personally, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of fasting and what it has brought me spiritually, I would not have had any breakthrough without fasting I suppose, or let me put it that way, when I discovered fasting for MY FATHER, that’s when HE really started to accept me, to communicate with me, to guide me, to heal me, to deliver me and to give me more and more opportunities to serve HIM.
Ok, so far, so good.
So they started out right.
The next thing is what Jehosaphat did next:
He gathered them all together and they sought the face of THE LORD and were asking for a word of knowledge or a word of wisdom or for a prophecy.
That’s exactly what we need to do as well!
Sometimes, GOD will speak to us personally in a matter that only concerns us.
Sometimes when we don’t hear from HIM and/ or when it is a matter for many, for a group, a congregation for instance or in the story of the bible, for a tribe, the tribe of Judah, it takes a gathering, seeking GOD together, fasting together, praying together, crying out to GOD together for help.
Even the sequence and the order of a successful prayer is given in this story!
Wouldn’t you love to have your prayers answered?
There are certain things a prayer needs to contain in order to get GOD’s attention and approval.
Let’s take a look at verses 6-13 of this chapter:
2 CHRONICLES 20: 6-13: 6 AND SAID, O LORD GOD OF OUR FATHERS, ART NOT THOU GOD IN HEAVEN? AND RULEST NOT THOU OVER ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE HEATHEN? AND IN THINE HAND IS THERE NOT POWER AND MIGHT, SO THAT NONE IS ABLE TO WITHSTAND THEE? 7 ART NOT THOU OUR GOD, WHO DIDST DRIVE OUT THE INHABITANTS OF THIS LAND BEFORE THY PEOPLE ISRAEL, AND GAVEST IT TO THE SEED OF ABRAHAM THY FRIEND FOR EVER? 8 AND THEY DWELT THEREIN, AND HAVE BUILT THEE A SANCTUARY THEREIN FOR THY NAME, SAYING, 9 IF, WHEN EVIL COMETH UPON US, AS THE SWORD, JUDGMENT, OR PESTILENCE, OR FAMINE, WE STAND BEFORE THIS HOUSE, AND IN THY PRESENCE, (FOR THY NAME IS IN THIS HOUSE,) AND CRY UNTO THEE IN OUR AFFLICTION, THEN THOU WILT HEAR AND HELP. 10 AND NOW, BEHOLD, THE CHILDREN OF AMMON AND MOAB AND MOUNT SEIR, WHOM THOU WOULDEST NOT LET ISRAEL INVADE, WHEN THEY CAME OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT, BUT THEY TURNED FROM THEM, AND DESTROYED THEM NOT; 11 BEHOLD, I SAY, HOW THEY REWARD US, TO COME TO CAST US OUT OF THY POSSESSION, WHICH THOU HAST GIVEN US TO INHERIT. 12 O OUR GOD, WILT THOU NOT JUDGE THEM? FOR WE HAVE NO MIGHT AGAINST THIS GREAT COMPANY THAT COMETH AGAINST US; NEITHER KNOW WE WHAT TO DO: BUT OUR EYES ARE UPON THEE. 13 AND ALL JUDAH STOOD BEFORE THE LORD, WITH THEIR LITTLE ONES, THEIR WIVES, AND THEIR CHILDREN.
So he started with addressing GOD properly, exalting HIM, acknowledging HIS power and might and then reminds HIM of what HE has done in the past and the promises HE made to HIS people. Also, he reminds GOD of what they had done for HIM and how they had walked in HIM and served HIM.
Then he comes to the center of his prayer, the petition and asks that GOD would defend them.
The end of the prayer is also important, because it says everybody, the entire tribe, including children and wives, stood before HIM and waited on HIM.
This is what will lead to answered prayer and to hearing from GOD.
And they did.
Not through Jehosaphat, but THE LORD spoke through Jahaziel (and Jehosaphat was wise enough to know that THE LORD can speak through anyone!) and told them that HE would fight the battle.
When GOD tells us that, it means it is a done deal.
What it doesn’t mean though is that there will be no more required of us in order to secure, receive and own our victory, but it means that GOD has decided that we WILL be victorious.
What HE will ALWAYS expect from us next (and what they did in the story!) is to give thanks, to worship HIM and to listen for and follow the further instructions.
So what they did – and all they did! – was appoint singers and PRAISED HIM!
And their enemies all died.
Not only that, GOD let them have such a great spoil that they were not able to carry all of the treasures with them.
That’s not only the victory, but also a great increase on top!
We need to remember though that they could have lost the victory GOD had blessed them with, had they not been obedient to HIS instructions and had they not stayed in close contact and in submission to HIM.
I think that’s what happens to us a lot in our daily lives – at least do I remember this from my own past.
I recall situations when THE LORD had given me a victory and I was so glad about it that I forgot to stay close to HIM until the victory was complete and for instance broke my fast or didn’t pray as intensely and often anymore or focused on the next thing – in a way, I can say that I left my humility, because of the “winner mindset” that I went into.
Not a godly winner – mindset, not one that would give GOD all the glory, but one that would let ME appear great and victorious, I may have boasted about it – not necessarily before others, but before myself – and would have believed too much that it was me or my powers or my endurance or my cleverness who got me the victory – instead of what it truly was, instead of seeing the only reason for it: GOD.
Pride can let us loose our victory.
Another thing they also did is they kept praising HIM and also spreading the story of HIS glory and how HE gave them the victory.
GOD wants us to be witnesses, wants us to give HIM thanks, wants us to testify – HE wants HIS goodness to be used in order to bring more souls to HIM, wants us to tell others about HIM and about what HE can do – to share the stories of the miracles GOD did for us will ensure that HE gets the glory, that HE stays pleased with us and that we are still obeying and operating under HIS favour.
Because in the end of the chapter it is also demonstrated that Jehosaphat through an allegiance with Ahaziah, a wicked and ungodly king – lost THE LORD’s favour and GOD destroyed his ships.
I recommend that you read the entire chapter if and when you need a victory from OUR FATHER
And I will write a separate post about what came out for me from following these principles and which victories THE LORD has granted me recently.
I wouldn’t be surprised – if you looked back on a victory GOD has granted you in the past, if you would discover that you had followed these principles layed out in 2 Chronicles 20.
Can you remember?
Will you share some of your success stories with us?
I hope and pray that this will inspire, bless and heal you and that THE LORD will bless you abundantly in all areas of your life, that HE will keep you, shine HIS face upon you and give you peace. In JESUS’ name I pray. AMEN.
But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by a few great things.
If you want your life to count, if you want the ripple effect of the pebbles you drop to become waves that reach the ends of the earth and roll on for centuries and into eternity, you don’t have to have a high IQ or EQ; you don’t have to have to have good looks or riches; you don’t have to come from a fine family or a fine school. You have to know a few great, majestic, unchanging, obvious, simple, glorious things, and be set on fire by them.
But I know that not everybody in this crowd wants your life to make a difference. There are hundreds of you — you don’t care whether you make a lasting difference for something great, you just want people to like you. If people would just like you, you’d be satisfied. Or if you could just have good job with a good wife and a couple good kids and a nice car and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and quick and easy death and no hell — if you could have that (minus God) — you’d be satisfied. That is a tragedy in the making.
“Don’t coast through life without a passion. Make your life count for something great and for eternity.”
Three weeks ago we got word at our church that Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards had both been killed in Cameroon. Ruby was over eighty. Single all her life, she poured it out for one great thing: to make Jesus Christ known among the unreached, the poor, and the sick. Laura was a widow, a medical doctor, pushing eighty years old, and serving at Ruby’s side in Cameroon.
The brakes failed, the car went over the cliff, and they were both killed instantly. And I asked my people: Was that a tragedy? Two lives, driven by one great vision, spent in unheralded service to the perishing poor for the glory of Jesus Christ — two decades after almost all their American counterparts have retired to throw their lives away on trifles in Florida or New Mexico. No. That is not a tragedy. That is a glory.
I tell you what a tragedy is. I’ll read to you from Reader’s Digest (Feb. 2000, 98) what a tragedy is: “Bob and Penny . . . took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.”
The American Dream: come to the end of your life — your one and only life — and let the last great work before you give an account to your Creator be, “I collected shells. See my shells.” That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. And I get forty minutes to plead with you: don’t buy it.
Don’t waste your life. It is so short and so precious. I grew up in a home where my father spent himself as an evangelist to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost. He had one consuming vision: preach the gospel. There was a plaque in our kitchen for all my growing up years. Now it hangs in our living room. I have looked at it almost daily for about 48 years. It says, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
I am here at One Day in a sense as a father. I am 54 years old. I have four sons and one daughter: Karsten is 27, Benjamin is 24, Abraham is twenty, Barnabas is seventeen. Talitha is four. Few things, if any, fill me with more longing these months and years than the longing that my grown sons not waste their lives on fatal success.
The Plea of a Loving Father
So I look out on you as sons and daughters and I plead with you as a father — perhaps the father you never had. Or the father who never had a vision for you like I have for you, and God has for you. Or the father who has a vision for you, but its all about money and status. I look out on you as sons and daughters and I plead with you: Want your lives to count for something great and for eternity. Want this. Don’t coast through life without a passion.
One of the reasons I have loved the vision of Passion 98 and Passion 99 and One Day is that the 268 declaration is so clearly what my life is about. The declaration is based on Isaiah 26:8: “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.” Here is not just a body but a soul. Here is not just a soul, but a soul with a passion and a desire. Here is not just a desire for being liked or for softball and shells, here is a desire for something infinitely great, and infinitely beautiful, and infinitely valuable and infinitely satisfying — the name and the glory of God — “Your name and your renown are the desire of our souls.”
“Don’t waste your life. It is so short and so precious.”
This is what I live to know and long to experience. The mission statement of my life and the church I serve: “We exist — I exist — to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.”
You don’t have to say it like I say it. You don’t have to say it like Louie Giglio says it (or like Beth Moore says it or like Voddie Baucham says it).
Finding and Sharing Your Passion
But whatever you do, find your passion and find your way to say it and live for it and die for it. And you will make a difference that lasts. You will be like the apostle Paul. Nobody had a more single-minded vision for his life than Paul did. He could say it in different ways.
I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)
One thing mattered: Finish my course, run my race.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7–8)
How shall I help you? How can I be used of God in this moment at One Day to waken in you a single passion for a single great reality that will unleash you and will set you free from small dreams and send you to the ends of the earth?
A Key Scripture Text
The answer I think the Lord gave me was: take them to one verse of Scripture that is as close to the center as you can get and show them why Paul says there what he says. The verse is Galatians 6:14:
May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
“I exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.”
Or to state it positively: only boast in the cross of Jesus Christ. It is a single idea. A single goal. A single passion. Only boast in the cross. The word can be translated “exult in” or “rejoice in.” Only exult in the cross of Christ. Only rejoice in the cross of Christ. Paul says let this be your single passion, your single boast and joy and exultation. In this great moment called one day let the one thing that you love, the one thing that you cherish, the one thing that you rejoice in and exult over be the cross of Jesus Christ. This is shocking for two reasons.
One is that it’s like saying: Only boast in the electric chair. Only exult in the gas chamber. Only rejoice in the lethal injection. Let your one boast and one joy and one exultation be the lynching rope. “May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” No manner of execution that has ever been devised was more cruel and agonizing than to be nailed to a cross. It was horrible. You would not have been able to watch it — not without screaming and pulling at your hair and tearing your clothes. Let this be the one passion of your life.
That is one thing that is shocking about Paul’s words. The other is that he says this is to be the only boast of your life. The only joy. The only exultation. “May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
What does he mean by this? Really? No other boast? No other exultation? No other joy except the cross of Jesus — the death of Jesus?
But Doesn’t Paul Boast In Other Things?
What about the places where Paul himself uses the same word for “boast” or “exult” for other things? For example:
We exult in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:2)
We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that they produce patience and approvedness and hope. (Romans 5:3)
So, if Paul can boast and exult in all these things, what does Paul mean — that he would not “boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”?
But what does that mean? Is that just double-talk? You exult in one thing and just say that you are exulting in another thing? No. There is a very profound reason for saying this — that all exultation, all rejoicing, all boasting in anything should be a rejoicing in the cross of Jesus Christ.
He means that, for the Christian, all other boasting should also be a boasting in the cross. All exultation in anything else should be exultation in the cross. If you exult in the hope of glory you, should be exulting in the cross of Christ. If you exult in tribulation because tribulation works hope, you should be exulting in the cross of Christ. If you exult in your weaknesses, or in the people of God, you should be exulting in the cross of Christ.
Why Boasting Only in the Cross Is Central
Why is this the case? For this reason: for redeemed sinners, every good thing — indeed every bad thing that God turns for good — was obtained for us by the cross of Christ. Apart from the death of Christ, sinners get nothing but judgment. Apart from the cross of Christ, there is only condemnation. Therefore everything that you enjoy in Christ — as a Christian, as a person who trusts Christ — is owing to the death of Christ. And all your rejoicing in all things should, therefore, be a rejoicing in the cross where all your blessings were purchased for you at the cost of the death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
One of the reasons we are not as Christ-centered and cross-saturated as we should be is that we have not realized that everything — everything good and everything bad that God turns for the good of his redeemed children was purchased by the death of Christ for us. We simply take life and breath and health and friends and everything for granted. We think it is ours by right. But the fact is that it is not ours by right. We are doubly undeserving of it.
We are creatures and our Creator was not bound or obligated to give us anything — not life or health and anything. He gives, he takes, and he does us no injustice.
And besides being creatures with no claim on our Creator, we are sinners. We have fallen short of his glory. We have ignored him and disobeyed him and failed to love him and trust him. The wrath of his justice is kindled against us. All we deserve from him is judgment. Therefore every breath we take, every time our heart beats, every day that the sun rises, every moment we see with our eyes or hear with our ears or speak with our mouths or walk with our legs is free and undeserved gift to sinners who deserve only judgment.
And who bought these gifts for us? Jesus Christ. And how did he purchase them? By his blood.
Why God Gives Us Gifts
Every blessing in life is designed to magnify the cross of Christ, or to say it another way, every good thing in life is meant to magnify Christ and him crucified. So, for example, we totaled our 1991 Dodge Spirit last week, but nobody was hurt. And in that safety I exult. I glory in that. But why was nobody hurt? That was a gift to me and my family that none of us deserves. We are sinners and by nature children of wrath, apart from Christ. So how did we come to have such a gift for our good? Answer: Christ died for our sins on the cross, and took away the wrath of God from us, and secured for us, even though we don’t deserve it, God’s omnipotent grace that works everything together for our good. So when I exult in our safety, I am exulting in the cross of Christ.
“Find your passion and find your way to say it and live for it and die for it. ”
And the insurance paid us $2,800 for the car and Noël took that money and went to Iowa and bought a ’92 Chevy Lumina and drove it home in the snow. And now we have a car again. And I exult in the amazing grace of so much bounty. Just like that. You wreck your car. You come out unhurt. Insurance pays up. You get another one. And move on almost as if nothing happened. And in thanks, I bow my head and exult in the untold mercies even of these little material things. Where do all these mercies come from?
If you are a saved sinner, a believer in Jesus, they come through the cross. Apart from the cross, there is only judgment — patience and mercy for a season, but then, if spurned, all that mercy only serves to intensify judgment. Therefore every gift is a blood-bought gift. And all boasting — all exultation — is boasting in the cross. Woe to me if I exult in any blessing unless my exulting is an exulting in the cross of Christ.
Another way to say this is that the design of the cross is the glory of Christ. The aim of God in the cross is that Christ would be honored. When Paul says in Galatians 6:14, “May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he is saying that God’s will is that the cross be always magnified — that Christ crucified always be our boast and exultation and our joy and our praise — that Christ get glory and thanks and honor for every good thing in our lives — and every bad thing that God causes to turn for good.
Education for Exultation
But now here’s a question: If that is the aim of God in the death of Christ — namely, that “Christ crucified” be honored and glorified for all things, then how is Christ to get the glory he deserves? The answer is that children and youth and adults have to be taught that these things are so. Or to say it another way: the source of exultation in the cross of Christ is education about the cross of Christ.
That’s my job: to get glory for Jesus by teaching you these things. And then your job is to get more glory for Jesus by acting on them and teaching them to more people. Education about Jesus is for exultation in Jesus. And if we want there to be no exultation except in the cross, then we must pursue education about the cross — and under the cross.
“All your blessings were purchased for you at the cost of the death of the Son of God.”
Or maybe we should say, “on the cross.” Education on the cross will lead to exultation of the cross. What do I mean? Look at the rest of verse 14: “May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Boasting in the cross happens when you are on the cross. Is that not what verse 14 says? The world has been crucified to me, and I have been crucified to the world. The world is dead to me, and I am dead to the world. Why? Because I have been crucified. We learn to boast in the cross and exult in the cross when we are on the cross.
When You Were Crucified With Christ
Now what does that mean? When did that happen? When were you crucified? The answer is in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.” When Christ died, we died. The glorious meaning of the death of Christ is that when he died, all his own died in him. That death, that he died for us all, becomes our death when we are united to Christ by faith.
But you say, “Aren’t I alive? I feel alive.” Well, here is a need for education. We must learn what happened to us. We must be taught these things. That is why Galatians 2:20 and 6:14 are in the Bible. God is teaching us what happened to us, so that we can know ourselves and know his way of working with us and exult in him and in his Son and in the cross as we ought.
So we read Galatians 2:20 again to see that. Yes, we are dead and yes, we are alive. “I have been crucified with Christ [so I am dead, and he goes on]; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me [why? Because I died, that is, my old rebellious, unbelieving self died, and he goes on]; and the life which I now live in the flesh [so, yes, I am alive, but it isn’t the same “I” as the “I” who died] I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.” In other words the “I” who lives is the new “I” of faith. The new creation lives. The believer lives. The old self died on the cross with Jesus.
And if you ask, “What’s the key for linking up with this reality? How can this be mine? The answer is implied in the words about faith in Galatians 2:20. “The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God.” That is the link. God links you to his Son by faith. And when he does there is a union with the Son of God so that his death becomes your death and his life becomes your life.
Now take all that over to Galatians 6:14, “May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Don’t boast in anything except in the cross.
Becoming Radically Centered on Christ’s Cross
And how can I become that radically cross-centered — so that all my exultation is traced back to the cross? Answer: realize that when Christ died on the cross, you died; and when you trusted him, that death took effect in your life. Paul says it’s your death to the world and the world’s death to you.
Meaning: when you put your trust in Christ, your bondage to the world is broken, and the overpowering lure of the world is broken. You are a corpse to the world, and the world is a corpse to you. Or to put it positively, according to verse 15, you are a “new creation.” The old you is dead. A new you is alive. And the new you is the you of faith. And what faith exults in is not the world, but Christ, and especially, Christ crucified.
This is how you become so cross-centered that you say with Paul, “I will not boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The world is no longer my treasure. It’s not the source of my life and my satisfaction and my joy. Christ is.
But what about safety in the car accident? What about the insurance payment? Didn’t you say you were happy about that? Isn’t that the world? So are you dead to the world?
I could be. I hope so. Because being dead to the world doesn’t mean going out of the world. And it doesn’t mean not feeling things about the world — some negative and some positive (1 John 2:15; 1 Timothy 4:3). It means that every legitimate pleasure in the world becomes a blood-bought evidence of Christ’s love, and an occasion of boasting in the cross. We are dead to insurance payments when the money is not what satisfies, but Christ crucified, the Giver, satisfies. When our hearts run back along the beam of blessing to the source in the cross, then the worldliness of the blessing is dead, and Christ crucified is everything.
That is the goal of education for exultation — in the cross. Oh, may God grant us to dream and plan and work and give and teach and live for the glory of Christ and him crucified!
One day, about a decade ago, a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic director saw something at her own clinic—and it made her instantly pro-life.
Her name is Abby Johnson, and she was the director of the Bryan, Texas Planned Parenthood clinic, which was affiliated with the greater Houston area Planned Parenthood—one of the largest markets for America’s largest abortion-provider. In 2008, Abby had been voted as Planned Parenthood’s Employee of the Year. She was on a fast-track for further promotion within Planned Parenthood.
I interviewed Abby Johnson on the radio a few years ago. She told me about something that happened that made her question how good Planned Parenthood really was:
“I had been instructed to increase the abortion quota at our facility, which was strange to me because I really got involved with Planned Parenthood, believing that abortion was something we were trying to eradicate, [to] make unnecessary through various education programs.”
I said, “Safe, legal, and rare?” She said, “Sure, that’s what we said to the media, and that’s what I believed.” She naively thought abortion (as a last resort) was helpful to women.
Abby said in a television interview for D. James Kennedy Ministries (DJKM):
“Planned Parenthood says that they offer options counseling, but that’s not true….they don’t really know how to effectively counsel on anything but abortion. I was great at selling abortion. I was a very, very good salesperson. I could sell an abortion to anybody. It’s so easy when you get a woman into your office, and she is vulnerable and she’s unsure.”
But on September 26, 2009, at the request of a visiting doctor who insisted on sonogram-assisted abortions, Abby ran the sonogram machine and saw from a different perspective what her life’s work (up to that time) was really all about.
In her book, The Walls Are Talking (with Kristin Detrow, 2016), Abby writes:
“As I stood watching, a thirteen-week-old unborn child struggled and lost its life within its mother’s womb, finally crumpling and disappearing into the cannula, a hollow plastic tube attached to the suction machine by a flexible hose.”
She described it this way in the DJKM television interview:
“I was just in shock. I couldn’t believe what I was watching. And the baby was actually making some progress. It was moving further and further away from the instrument, so much so the doctor had to reposition the cannula. And he finally got everything in place, and he asked the technician to turn on the suction, and she did.”
“In just, a few moments, I saw the child’s body begin to go through that tube.
For those few moments I was watching this child fight hard for its life. It didn’t have a chance. We had all those instruments and all that technology, and that little baby didn’t have a fighting change, and it did fight.”
“I walked out of the room that day just realizing, ‘I’ve got to make a change. Never again. I’m never going to participate in this again.’”
Today, Abby’s story can be seen on the big screen. Unplanned, based on her best-selling book of the same title (with Cindy Lambert, 2010), opened this past weekend and was a surprise hit. It came in number five at the box office, which is quite an accomplishment for an independent pro-life movie that virtually all of Hollywood does not want you to see. I saw it on its opening weekend and highly recommend it.
Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, told me:
“The depiction of abortion in Unplanned is something that every pro-life person should see—and every pro-choice person.”
Today, one of Abby Johnson’s central goals is to assist abortion clinic workers who want to leave the abortion industry. Her organization, And Then There Were None, is directly geared toward this.
In an online video for that outreach, Abby says, “Our vision statement for And Then There Were None is ‘No abortion clinic workers, no abortion clinics, no abortions’—it starts with the workers. We see ourselves as being part of a pro-love movement…we want to love these workers out of the clinics. We want to love them to a path of healing, and we want to love them…into a relationship with Jesus Christ.” So far, they have been able to help 500 people leave the abortion clinics.
In her book, The Walls Are Talking, Abby says she relates to Mary Magdalene:
“I have also done my fair share of sinning. And I have also been forgiven much more than I deserve. I abused and betrayed women in the worst possible way. I convinced them to kill their children….It was Christ who changed me.”
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, make your plans to go see Unplanned.
Jerry Newcombe, D.Min., is an on-air host/senior producer for D. James Kennedy Ministries. He has written/co-written 31 books, e.g., The Unstoppable Jesus Christ, American Amnesia: Is American Paying the Price for Forgetting God?,What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (w/ D. James Kennedy) & the bestseller, George Washington’s Sacred Fire (w/ Peter Lillback) djkm.org @newcombejerry www.jerrynewcombe.com
The disease has been spreading across the country with the latest outbreak being found in the San Antonio Airport area. The symptoms include HIGHsteria over false impressions and false reports of certain beliefs attributed to Chick-fil-a owners and workers.
In today’s society there is a noisy group that has lost or never learned the art of debate, instead they bully those who disagree with them. For some unknown illogical reason the noisy group mistakenly believes noise, assaults, and violence will change someone’s point of view, this is known as Chick-fil-A Derangement Syndrome.
If the Founding Fathers had Chick-fil-A Derangement Syndrome we would not have our Constitution and we would be subjects of the Queen. If the Founding Fathers had Chick-fil-A Derangement Syndrome there would not have been a War of 1812. If the Founding Fathers had Chick-fil-A Derangement Syndrome members of the military could commandeer any housing it wished without recourse by or compensation to the property owner. If the Founding Fathers had Chick-fil-A Derangement Syndrome police would not need a warrant to search your property. If the Founding Fathers had Chick-fil-A Derangement Syndrome cruel and unusual punishment would be legal. If the Founding Fathers had Chick-fil-A Derangement Syndrome there would be no civil rights acts or equal rights.
Chick-fil-A Derangement Syndrome was on display in the Decline and Fall of the SPLC Empire (One Conservative Group Fought Back).
Chick-fil-A Derangement Syndrome was on display in the Jussie Smollett case.
Chick-fil-A Derangement Syndrome was on display after the Pennsylvania State Rep opened the House in Prayer: “At The Name of Jesus Every Knee Will Bow”
I think you get the idea.
Chick-fil-A Derangement Syndrome is not helpful to enjoying our Rights “endowed by [our] Creator … certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
It is good to keep Chick-fil-A.
It is time to eradicate the Chick-fil-A Derangement Syndrome.
It is time to practice the age old art of debate where we discuss a question by considering opposing arguments.
Here is one example of a popular debate format called “traditional” in an academic debate setting:
Stock Issues Case:
• Demonstrate that there are serious problems with the status quo
• Show that these problems are inherent to the system
• Present a specific plan (implementing the resolution)
• Show that this plan will help solve the problems without creating serious new ones
Longtime readers may remember I served on a Charter Commission for a town. The voter registration for the town was 3 to 1 Democrat. The Charter Commission make up was five Democrats and four Republicans The membership age range was from the early twenties to late sixties. The GOP Party town chairman and Democrat Party town vice chair were members of the Commission. All members ran town wide. The Chairman of the Charter Commission sold caskets, the rest of us worked in various fields.
The Charter Commission was authorized by voters and the membership was elected at the same election. We had one year to work together to write a Charter which is akin to a Constitution. The charter needed to resolve conflicts in town laws, bylaws and state laws as they affected the town specifically, as well as provide for town boards and commissions structure and function.
The Charter Commission held weekly open meeting and several public hearings where sections of the proposed new charter were debated by the voters and commission members.
One year after the Charter was authorized and the members elected the finished product of the printed new proposed town charter was in hands of every voter to be voted up or down as a whole. The voters approved and accepted the new charter by a comfortable margin.
The point is we volunteered to serve one year on the town Charter Commission to write from scratch the document which outlined the operation of the town and we succeeded. We succeeded because we worked together, debated, and came to agreement in full view of the public and press.
The Charter Commission is but one example of how this country of ours became great. We can do it again.
Let’s keep Chick-fil-A.
Let’s eradicate the Chick-fil-A Derangement Syndrome.
The Constitution is the GREATEST political document ever written
But students at @ASU are being taught the Constitution is racist due to the sins of some of our founders. This is all part of the left’s anti-America agenda at our schools & universities. It MUST be stopped
In the first message, I said that Christian Hedonism is a life devoted to experiencing Christ himself as our supreme treasure with as much satisfaction as possible in this life and the next. And I argued that such a life is essential — necessary — for the human heart to glorify Christ as he deserves. Because Christ is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
The entire emphasis in that message was on vertical Christian Hedonism, not horizontal Christian Hedonism. That is, the focus was on the fact that experiencing joy in Christ is key to glorifying him (vertically) as we ought. The focus was not on the fact that experiencing joy in Christ is the key to loving people as we ought. I call that horizontal Christian Hedonism.
So, putting the two together, I would say that Christian Hedonism — a life devoted to maximizing our joy in Christ — is the key to glorifying God the way we should, and the key to loving people the way we should. Experiencing joy in Christ as our supreme treasure is essential for true worship and for true virtue. If you cultivate a way of life that ignores or opposes the pursuit of joy in Christ as your supreme treasure, you will not worship him or love people as you ought.
Seven Decades of Joy
Now, the reason I bring up horizontal Christian Hedonism in this message is that it relates so closely to the topic that I was assigned, namely, “Reflections on the Fight for Joy Throughout Seven Decades.” I don’t have time to talk about all seven decades. The third decade was the all-important decade of discovery. That’s the decade (my twenties) when the sprouts of Christian Hedonism sprang up in my mind and heart. And for the last fifty years, I have been trying to see and savor and show the supremacy of God in Christ. Everything I have written relates to this quest, more or less.
So, instead of trying to walk you through the developments of all those years, what I think will be most helpful, and manageable, is to bring you into some clarifying discoveries about horizontal Christian Hedonism, and the way it relates to my fight for joy, and the way it relates to the gospel, and to gospel-centered preaching in our day.
Two Levels of Love
So, let’s begin by stating the relationship between the joy of vertical Christian Hedonism and the biblical command that we love each other and love our enemies. The way I usually describe it is like this: genuine love for people — Christ-exalting love for people — is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. Or, sometimes, I get more precise and I say: Christ-exalting love for people is the effort to expand our joy in Christ by including others in it.
“Experiencing joy in Christ as our supreme treasure is essential for true worship.”
The difference between those two definitions of horizontal love is that, while both of them are rooted in the new-birth miracle of experiencing joy in Christ as our supreme treasure, one of them is stated more passively as the overflow of that joy that meets the needs of others, and the other is stated more actively as the effort to increase that joy by including others in it, which would also involve meeting their needs.
If that second definition of love is true, is biblical, namely, that love involves active effort to do the things that help people share my joy, so that my joy increases in their joy — if that is what love involves — then my fight for joy happens at two significantly different levels.
The first level is the foundational experience of fighting for joy in Christ — the fight to see him as he really is, and savor the greatness and beauty and worth of Christ, so that I treasure Christ above all, so that there is, in fact, a joy in me that can now overflow, or be extended to others.
That’s the first level of the fight for joy. I call it an ongoing fight, because even though that foundational experience of seeing and savoring Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit — a miracle of new birth — nevertheless that experience is not static. It must be preserved. Sustained. Intensified decade after decade. It is a fight to the end. That preservation and intensification is the first level of the fight for joy.
The second level of fighting for joy is the conscious effort (battle!) to do the practical acts of love which the Bible says will, in fact, increase our joy in Christ. Now at this point, things have gotten muddy in recent years.
There is, even in the gospel-centered movement — which I am happy to be a part of — significant confusion about how to respond to the hundreds of New Testament commandments that we should do certain things, and not do certain things, as we seek to increase our joy in Christ by loving people. Commandments like:
Outdo one another in showing honor.
Do not be slothful in zeal.
Be patient in tribulation.
Be constant in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the saints.
Bless those who persecute you.
Live in harmony with one another.
Repay no one evil for evil.
Never avenge yourselves.
Put away falsehood.
Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
Let the thief no longer steal.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths.
Put away all bitterness and wrath.
Be kind to one another.
Sexual immorality must not even be named among you.
Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking.
Don’t get drunk with wine.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord.
How do these commandments (from Romans and Ephesians, and hundreds more) relate to the gospel? How do they relate to love? How do they relate to joy? And commandments is what they are called, not suggestions or guidelines.
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments [entolas]. (1 John 2:3)
Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. (1 John 3:24)
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. (1 John 5:2)
Neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God [entolōn]. (1 Corinthians 7:19)
Are We Asking the Wrong Question?
So mainly, what I want to do this message is take you into my struggle, my fight for joy, at this second level — the fight, or the effort, to increase my joy in Christ through doing the acts of obedience to God’s commandments, which the New Testament calls me to do.
And I can see some gospel-centered people cringing as they hear me describe the fight for increased joy in Christ as a fight for obedience to commandments. To them, the only proper strategy for fighting for joy is to send people back to rehearse the gospel — that through Christ’s death and resurrection, we are loved, accepted, and forgiven, but that we should never say, “Pursue obedience to the apostolic commandments in order to find fullest joy in Christ.” That sounds too much like legalism — like you are earning something from God by your obedience.
So, is that even a right way to pose the question about how to fight for joy? Isn’t striving just the opposite of resting in the gospel so that love can be a fruit of the Spirit, not a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:22)? Isn’t that obvious, Piper, that you are posing the question all wrong? Isn’t it obvious that joy is a gift that precedes and enables acts of love, not the other way around, as if doing good deeds produced joy? If that were true, then how could those good deeds be a fruit of the Spirit? Isn’t it obvious that you’re setting this up all wrong?
No, it’s not obvious. As you will see. That’s where we are going.
Intensify Your God-Given Joy
So, there are two levels at which I fight for joy, and I want to talk mainly about the second one. But let me throw some light just briefly on the first level and establish it as something I’m not calling into question by the second one.
Blinded by the Darkness
The first level is the fight to preserve, sustain, and intensify the initial, God-given joy in Christ that comes with the new birth and with our first faith in the justifying work of Christ. Before we were born again, we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:5). Our experience of that deadness was that we were blind to the all-satisfying brightness and beauty of Christ in the gospel.
The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)
Then the Spirit blew where he willed and a miracle happened in our souls (John 3:8). We were made alive (Ephesians 2:5). God opened the eyes of our hearts to see Christ for who he really is (Ephesians 1:17–18).
God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Made Alive in the Light
What we could not see as bright and beautiful and satisfying to our souls, we now see. This is the treasure that we have found and will not trade for anything (Matthew 13:44). That’s what Paul calls it in the next verse: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
“Christ-exalting love for people is the effort to expand our joy in Christ by including others in it.”
This treasure — the all-satisfying greatness and beauty and worth of Christ — is now our heart’s satisfaction. This is the foundational joy that overflows in love to meet the needs of others, as Paul describes it in 2 Corinthians 8:1–2.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia [so, things start with an outpouring of God’s grace. This is the ultimate source of God-exalting human joy], for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
There it is: abundance of joy, by grace, overflowing in generosity. The joy is not in the removal of poverty. It is not in the removal of affliction. It is in the God of grace seen in Jesus. Our sins are forgiven. Our guilt is removed. God is no longer against us, but one hundred percent for us.
Everything will work for our good. He will keep us for himself forever. Leap for joy! This is what the grace of God in Christ does — before we have kept any commandment, except receive Christ for who he is. In the midst of affliction and poverty they experienced an “abundance of joy.”
And that joy overflowed in generosity to the poor. This foundational joy in Christ severs the nerve of greed. It severs the nerve of fear. It severs the nerve of insecurity. It severs the nerve of pride that needs applause. It is a mighty power! And it is rightly described not as pulled up with a bucket of obedience, but as gushing up like a spring. It overflowed in a wealth of generosity. And so, I define love in this text as the overflow of joy that meets the needs of others. And it is rightly called a fruit of the Holy Spirit, not a work of the flesh.
That is the way I have most often spoken of horizontal Christian Hedonism and how joy in Christ relates to loving people. And I don’t take any of it back. And the fight for joy at this level is the fight to preserve and sustain and intensify that “abundance of joy” mainly by fixing our eyes on Jesus again and again in his word, and reminding ourselves of the greatness of our inheritance that he purchased with his blood, and praying that God would open our eyes to see the wonders of Christ and his work.
That foundational fight for joy in Christ is never-ending to the last conscious moment of life — “I have fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7). Next stop: heaven. No more fight.
Striving Against Sin — and for Joy
Now the question is, are we only going to revel in that constellation of glorious truths, and sing that song for the rest of our lives? Or are we going to revel in the whole counsel of God revealed in his infallible word, and be open to more glory? Are we going to stay on continual quest for all that the Bible has to reveal for our joy, or are we going to be content with the magnificence we have seen?
I don’t say that smugly. Discovering the joys of level one is like discovering an endless range of mountains in the Himalayas that you had never seen. And it really is endless. There are wonders and glories to be seen in the foundations of joy in the work of Christ that we will never exhaust. But my plea is that you not let your ever-so-proper ecstasy over the joys of this range of joy-awakening mountains keep you from seeing another range of joy-awakening mountains, from which you may see even greater wonders than the first range.
We don’t have a lot of time, but let me at least point you to the mountains I am referring to. This is the second level of our fight for joy: namely, the conscious effort — even striving — not to do sinful acts that grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), wound the conscience (1 Corinthians 8:12), displease God (1 Thessalonians 4:1), and diminish joy (Acts 20:35); but to do acts of love which in fact bring us more joy in Christ himself — indeed bring us safely home to glory.
Can I Obey My Way to Joy?
If it is true that the sinning of a Christian diminishes joy in Christ, and Christian acts of love increase joy in Christ, then the fight for joy is the fight to kill sin and pursue obedience to the commands of love. So the question is this: Does the New Testament teach that there is not only joy in Christ before and underneath obedience causing an overflow that we call love — joy as the rootproducing the fruit of love — but also that there is more joy in Christ himself in and after acts of love because we obeyed?
In other words, does the New Testament teach that we should approach acts of love motivated not just by joy in Christ that we already have because of the gospel, but also motivated by the expanded joy in Christ that we could have if we killed a particular sin, or did a particular act of love?
Enjoy the Narrow Path
Here’s my answer, and then we will look at texts from the New Testament. Yes, there is more joy in Christ in and after acts of love than we had experienced before that obedience. Yes, there is expanded joy in Christ himself that comes from killing sin in our lives (Romans 8:13), and from walking in obedience to the law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2).
And the reason for this is that when Christ shed the blood of the new covenant (Luke 22:20) he secured, at infinite cost, not only the forgiveness of our sins (Jeremiah 31:34), but also God’s writing of the law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). He secured infallibly for all the elect the new covenant promise “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27).
And he did this not by giving us his Spirit and removing all commandments from the New Testament and replacing them with the Holy Spirit. He did it by giving us hundreds of commandments that describe the narrow path of love that leads to life, and then giving us his Spirit so that we would love these commandments, and they would not be burdensome (1 John 5:3), but his yoke would be easy (Matthew 11:30), indeed, more joyful than if there were no commandments at all.
Approved Through Testing
Look with me at several texts that show us why it is that there is more joy in Christ in and through obedience than there was before. Start with Romans 5:2–5:
We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
First, there is rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God (verse 2). That is a gift from the very first breath of the Christian life. To be born again, to be justified is to have the hope of the glory of God. That joy is first and foundational.
Then Paul says we also rejoice in suffering in the Christian life. This is a subsequent joy. And the explanation of why we rejoice in suffering is all-important. There are three steps in Paul’s explanation.
Because suffering produces patience — patient endurance (hupomenēn), endurance without bitterness or rebellion.
This endurance through suffering with patience and without bitterness produces “character” (dokimē) — the quality of passing a test and being found true, approved, real.
That sense of passing the test of suffering and being found real produces hope. It reinforces the hope of glory.
So where does the added joy in suffering come from? It comes from seeing the keeping power of Christ preserve and confirm that we are real. We lived through a test of our faith and we passed. In real, undeniable experience of pain, we went from patient endurance, to approvedness, to hope.
Happiness in Holiness
And this he says is why we are experiencing this added joy. This is a joy that comes from tasting — in real experience — the power of the blood-bought grace of God killing the sin of impatience and bitterness, and creating the obedience of patience and trust. This is a joy that is more than the joy of seeing Christ justify us. This is the added joy of seeing Christ sanctify us.
“God opened the eyes of our hearts to see Christ for who he really is.”
This is not only the joy of tasting the sweetness of the blood-bought sovereign imputation of Christ’s obedience, but also the joy of tasting the sweetness of the blood-bought sovereign creation of our obedience.
Christ intends to be enjoyed and thus magnified not only in his justifying work, but also in his sanctifying work. Not only by imputing his obedience, but by empowering ours. The imputation of his obedience is the foundation of our acceptance, and the empowering of our obedience is the confirmation of our acceptance — and oh, the sweetness of these repeated confirmations of his presence. This is more joy.
A New Dimension of Contentment
Or consider 2 Corinthians 12:9–10 where Paul argues in the same way with an even clearer focus on the centrality of Christ in the joy of our obedient sufferings. Christ said to Paul as he submitted to his thorn in the flesh:
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
Then Paul says, “therefore” — that is, because I can see your grace and your power in action in my life — “I will boast all the more gladly.” This is an added joy, an expanded joy — there was already joy in the grace and power of Christ to justify and forgive, but now there is more of Christ to see, moregrace, more power.
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (episkēnoō ep eme).
Oh, how precious are such tastes of the power of Jesus touching us, tenting with us, living in us.
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content [a new dimension of contentment, a new joy] with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Worthy to Suffer
Here’s a glimpse of this joy in the lives of Peter and the apostles. They were commanded in Acts 5 not to teach in the name of Jesus.
They responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). For this obedience they were beaten and released. Then Acts 5:41 says,
Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.
This is a new joy — an added joy, an expanded joy in Christ. Who are we that Christ would set his favor on us as suitable objects of such a privilege — to be shamed for the name of Christ? To share with him in his sufferings. To know him in terrible and wonderful ways.
Give to Receive
One more illustration that does not relate to suffering. Jesus is quoted in Acts 20:35. Paul says to the Ephesian elders,
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed [makarion] to give than to receive.”
So, the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8:2 were so “blessed” — so joyful — in the grace of God that they “overflowed in a wealth of generosity.” Joy preceded and enabled giving. But now we learn that is not the whole story of motivation for generosity. Paul says, not only is there blessedness beforegiving that overflows, but there is more blessedness in and after giving. “It is more blessed to give.”
This is why I defined love in two ways from 2 Corinthians 8:2. Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. And: Love is the effort to expand our joy in Christ by including others in it.
Two Weaknesses in Gospel Preaching
What all of this shows is that there is a twofold weakness in some gospel preaching today.
1. Forgiveness Without Obedience
First, there is a preaching that almost never highlights the truth that Christ died not only to secure our forgiveness but to secure our sin-killing obedience to the commandments of the New Testament.
[Christ] bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. (1 Peter 2:24).
The beauty and power of the cross of Christ is seen and enjoyed in the blood-bought experience of obedience to Christ’s commands. Experiencing this is a dimension of joy that can be had no other way. A Christian Hedonist won’t be satisfied without it.
2. Trust and Obey
Therefore, second, these preachers tend to shrink back from the apostolic intention of “the law of Christ” unfolded in hundreds of New Testament commands that define the path of love that leads to life (1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2). And instead of calling for obedience like the apostles do (1 Thessalonians 4:1), they only use the commandments to say, “You can’t do that. Christ did it for you. Trust in the imputation of his obedience. End of sermon. Celebrate grace.”
“Jesus secured, at infinite cost, not only the forgiveness of our sins, but also God’s writing of the law on our hearts.”
That’s a half-gospel based on a half-grace, offering a half-joy. By all means say, “You can’t obey these commands in your own strength. Christ obeyed them perfectly on your behalf. Trust in the imputation of that perfect obedience as the ground of your happy acceptance.” Yes!
And then look to the rest of what he purchased for you at the cost of his life. He purchased the Holy Spirit and gave him to you. He purchased the writing of the law on your heart so that you love his commandments. He purchased the sovereign promise, “I will . . . cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27).
This is the grand achievement of the blood of the new covenant. And the commandments of the New Testament are not given merely to expose our sin. They are given to show us the kind of life Christ died to create in his church. They are given to us so that by doing them by faith in Christ’s blood-bought power — gospel power! — we might have more joy as his power is perfected in our weakness — that we might have more joy in Christ himself.
Snapshot of the Fight
Let me close with a snapshot of what this second-level fight for joy looked like for me recently. A homeless couple was living in their car for weeks on the street outside our house. This situation caused me a deep struggle with how to be a Christian Hedonist — and how to fight for joy.
Do I struggle only for level-one joy — joy over my forgiveness and my acceptance with God, waiting for it to overflow within a spontaneous inclination to do more for this couple? Or do I look at the commandments to love my neighbor as I love myself, and to practice hospitality (the love of strangers), and do I then ponder the added joy that would come through practical, obedient helpfulness, and then make a specific effort to expand my joy by including them in it and seeing Christ’s sin-killing grace active in my obedience?
During those weeks, those two motives combined to move me to take the husband to connect them with Jericho Road for transitional housing, to help get their car fixed, to provide them with two nights in a hotel with special means over Christmas. To share the gospel with them and give them a Bible. But all to no avail. They turned down the housing and last week were there again in the bitter cold, fifty feet from our door living in their car.
It was six degrees outside. I had work to do. And this couple was probably touched with some measure of mental illness. At that point, my joy in Christ was not overflowing in some wise and caring next step. But I had the commandments, and I had a promise of greater joy through obedience (and I had a gracious wife).
I put on my coat and went and tapped on their window. “It’s really cold tonight. Would you want to come in and spend the night with us?” He talked it over with his wife, and turned and said, “No thanks.” I said, “There are places for you.” He said, “We’re still looking.” I said, “If you change your mind, knock on the door.”
As I came back into the house, there was sadness at these broken lives and this broken world. And there was a surge of joy. The crucified and risen Christ had conquered some of my selfishness and fear. His reality was near. He was precious. Joy went deeper. I hope you will join me in this fight for joy.
David’s first big battle was against a Philistine “terminator” named Goliath. Ironically, his last recorded battles were against four more Philistine giants. As you recall, David picked up five smooth stones on his way to fight Goliath. Why five stones? Was it merely extra ammunition in case he missed his first shot or two? Or was it, as some suggest, because Goliath had four super-sized siblings or sons? Grabbing five stones may have been an act of faith. Perhaps David thought:
“God will not only help me defeat this giant, but every giant I have to face!”
In case you haven’t noticed, life is a series of battles. You’re either in a battle, fresh out of a battle, or about to face another one! Wouldn’t it be nice if we only had to face ONE battle or just ONE giant? That’s not reality. News flash—just because you defeat one enemy, demon or temptation doesn’t mean the war is over. The enemy doesn’t give up and neither should we. Let’s make five observations about David’s final conflicts:
. David Kept Fighting.“When the Philistines were at war again with Israel, David and his servants with him went down and fought against the Philistines” (2 Sam. 21:15). This was late in David’s forty-year reign when he was around sixty years old. Notice David personally went down and fought (he was no armchair general). He wasn’t just living in the lap of luxury or being pampered in his cedar palace. No, he kept fighting. That’s what we must do—keep fighting the good fight of faith. There is no victory without a battle. Billy Sunday, the 20th century evangelist known for his bold rhetoric said, “Listen, I’m against sin. I’ll kick it as long as I’ve got a foot, I’ll fight it as long as I’ve got a fist, I’ll butt it as long as I’ve got a head, and I’ll bite it as long as I’ve got a tooth. And when I’m old, fistless, footless, and toothless, I’ll gum it till I go home to glory and it goes home to perdition.” As soldiers of the cross, we keep fighting realizing we are in a spiritual war between God and Satan, angels and demons, good and evil, right and wrong, truth and error. The good news is we’re on the winning side—“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31)
. David Nearly Fainted. 2 Samuel 21:15 (KJV) says, “And David waxed faint.” The Living Bible reads, “David became weak and exhausted.” We’d like to think we’re invincible, that we never get weary or worn out, but that’s not realistic. There will be times of great strength and triumph along with times of weakness and defeat. Here we have King David, a champion, a giant killer, a national hero of Israel, nearly passing out in total exhaustion on the battlefield. The old saying is true, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” When you are physically, emotionally and spiritually drained, remind yourself of Paul’s words, “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Gal. 6:9). Don’t lose heart, don’t give up or quit. David almost did, but he bounced back and won the battle.
. David was Saved by a Friend.“Then Ishbi-Benob, who was one of the sons of the giant . . . who was bearing a new sword, thought he could kill David. But Abishai . . . came to his aid, and struck the Philistine and killed him” (2 Sam. 21:16-17). Certainly, all of Goliath’s relatives had a vendetta against David (they wanted revenge). Goliath’s son, Ishbi-Benob, had David in a vulnerable position and was closing in for the kill. It was a close call, but Abishai, David’s nephew, saved his life and slew the giant instead. Abishai’s name means “possessor of all that is desirable.” He reminds me of another “friend” who has saved us from our enemy time and time again—Jesus. Some giants we may be able to slay on our own with God’s help (Goliath was a one-man job). To conquer other giants, we’ll need the help of spiritual friends—prayer partners, brothers or sisters in Christ to agree with us. There is power in agreement. With God on their side, one person can put 1,000 to flight, but two in unity can put 10,000 to flight (Dt. 32:30). That’s one reason Jesus sent His disciples out in pairs. God teams people together to help each other overcome. None of us are lone rangers (even the Lone Ranger had Tonto). We need a network of spiritual friends.
. David Knew His Source. When God delivered David from all his enemies, he wrote, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; the God of my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; my Savior, You save me from violence” (2 Sam. 22:2-3). As long as we are connected to our source, we will prevail. If you separate a fish from water, a plant from soil or a branch from a tree, they will die. The same will happen to us if we are detached from God, our spiritual source. Jesus made it clear, “I am the vine, you are the branches . . . for without Me ye can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). We must stay connected to our source to ensure victory.
. David and His Men Slew Five Giants: Goliath, Ishbi-benob (2 Sam. 21:16), Saph (2 Sam. 21:18), Lahmi, (Goliath’s brother—1 Chr. 20:5), and another unnamed giant (2 Sam. 21:20). Three of these behemoths were “born to the giant of Gath” (perhaps Goliath’s sons) and one was his brother, but all were killed by David and his men. The point is we will face multiple giants in our lifetimes, but the same God who helped David defeat Goliath, gave him victory over every giant he faced!
All the giants mentioned in the Bible were enemies of God’s people. Giants intimidate people with their abnormal strength and size. One Hebrew word for “giants” is nephil (plural nephilim) which means “a bully or tyrant,” a fitting description of demons. Goliath was a big bully—defying God and terrorizing Israel until David decapitated him. Likewise, Satan is a bully. He tries to intimidate us with fear, but he is a defeated foe. You may have a giant towering over you today (depression, doubt, debt, fear, sickness, addiction, temptation, etc.). Remember, the God who conquered Goliath whipped all of his overgrown kin too. Take courage, my friend, your giants are coming down in Jesus’ name!
Ben Godwin is the author of four books and pastors the Goodsprings Full Gospel Church. To read more articles, visit his website at bengodwin.org and take advantage of his 4-book bundle for $25.00.