Finding Outrageous Joy!

A few weeks ago I posted an article by Paul Tripp, “Don’t Confuse Knowledge and Success with Maturity.” It was a reminder that mental assent is not a true measure of our spiritual growth. In our efforts to grow in Christ we can find prideful joy in what we have learned and begin to think we are maturing in Christ. This mindset can lead to more learning and less serving.

Head knowledge is nothing if it is not put into action. Knowledge, wisdom, and understanding are all gifts from God; however, these gifts have been imparted to us in order to give them away to others. As empty vessels, God fills us with spiritual gifts, then He desires to empty us into the lives of others that they too might be filled and then emptied. In Matthew 28.18-20 this is called the Great Commission—our assignment to go make disciples.

Making disciples, growing in wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and serving others only happens after our salvation. Once we placed our faith in the finished work of Christ we begin our spiritual journey “until we all attain to  the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a  mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the  fullness of Christ” (Eph 4.13). This should be the burning passion of every Christian—growing into the “fullness of Christ.”

With our hearts set aflame with the consuming passion of glorifying Christ we find a life of great joy and fulfillment. However, just as our joy cannot come from mental assent, we cannot allow our joy to be rooted in ministry success. It is easy to find joy when everything you touch turns to gold for the kingdom. Joy comes easy when your Bible study group or church is growing rapidly. Joy isn’t hard to find when God is graciously using your testimony to lead numbers of people to Christ. Nevertheless, these successes should not determine our joy. They should lead us to a heart thankful to God for His Holy Spirit working through us, but they cannot be the reason for our joy.

In Tony Reinke’s post, “Why Rooting Joy in Ministry Success is disastrous,” we get a clear picture of where our true joy is to be found.

Reinke writes:

Is there a greater thrill than to know someone’s life has been permanently transformed because you reached out to them?

It is sweet to know your sister was saved through your series of conversations, or that you helped to disciple a struggling couple whose marriage was headed toward an inevitable divorce, or that you preached a sermon that God was kind enough to use in someone’s spiritual awakening.

Each of those things are treasured experiences — but none of them are intended to sustain our joy.

Jesus’ chose 72 of his followers and sent them out in his name. And they found incredible success in healing the sick and in watching demonically sabotaged lives get radically and immediately repaired. The experience must have been intoxicatingly fun.

But ministry success wasn’t the most stunning thing, and Jesus warned his followers of that when they returned. He told them to look beyond the fruit and see an eternal foundation: “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

Written in heaven. That’s what he wanted them to see and us to see. Our highest joy is to know that our names are written in heaven. Knowing we are heirs to the bliss of God’s eternal presence is the foundation for our greatest joys.

And knowing that means:

  • Pastoring is not the most important fact about the pastor.
  • Missions is not the most important fact about the missionary.
  • The spiritual gift is not the most important fact about the Christian.

In the Slump

But Jesus’ words apply to ministry “sag” just as much as they apply to revival.

By unplugging the disciples’ joy from their ministry effectiveness, Jesus likewise protects them (and us) from depression during seasons of seeming fruitlessness. Seasons of what appears to be effectiveness and ineffectiveness come and go. Seasons of revival are replaced by seasons of stagnation.

Perhaps we can include all of the fluctuations of life. Marriage, parenting, work, school — all areas of life where we are called by God to bear fruit. Our joy is not rooted in our successes, and it’s not extinguished by our failures. Our joy is rooted in the unalterable fact that in Christ our names are written on heaven’s roll-call.

Paul reminded his ministry associates of this point (Philippians 4:3). And I need that reminder every morning. Because whether ministry is flourishing or not, we need to remind ourselves, and remind each other, that our names are written in heaven. And it is in heaven, in the presence of God forever, where our joy is rooted. May God protect us now, in the bustle of life and the wins and losses in ministry, from losing the sweetness of that truth.

Our joy should be rooted and grounded in our salvation. We are saved from sin, death, the grave, and hell. We stand fully justified before God. We have received the imputed righteousness of Christ. Our joy is found in this, “For God so  loved the world, that He  gave His only begotten Son, that whoever  believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3.16). When our joy is rooted and grounded in the fact of our salvation then we will live life with an outrageous joy!

Way To Go Bubba!

In recent years we have heard a lot of athletes talking about their faith in Christ. Last week after winning the Masters golf tournament Bubba Watson gave the following interview with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association:

Bubba Watson, first-time winner of a Masters Tournament who earned his green jacket on Easter Sunday, recently spoke about tweeting for God, the PGA Bible study he took part in and his newly adopted son.

Watson, 33, spoke with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association after winning the 2012 Masters Tournament on Sunday. The golfer who tearfully thanked his “Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” after the big win, said he utilises his Twitter account to spread his Christian faith.

Watson describes himself on his Twitter page as “Christian. Husband. Daddy. Pro Golfer”. The Christian golfer said he has lost at least 100 followers for tweeting biblical messages.

When Watson receives negative backlash for his biblical tweets, he responds with messages like “I will pray for u and ur family.” The golfer also quoted one of his favorite Christian rappers, Lecrae, saying he would like his followers to see God through him.

“Lecrae said it the best,” Watson told the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. “He doesn’t want to be a celebrity. He doesn’t want to be a superstar. He just wants to be the middle man for you to see God through him.”

Watson maintained his Christian principles during the golf tournament by engaging in an hour-long Bible study with fellow golfers each week. He described the importance of being able to connect with both God and his peers.

“For me it’s a way to get back connected with the Bible and with God and Jesus. Now you know other people you can talk to, ask questions to, tell them what you’re thinking, tell them what’s going on in your life,” Watson said. “Getting more in the Word and realising that golf is just an avenue for Jesus to use me to reach as many people as I can.”

Watson, who recently adopted a one-month-old baby boy named Caleb with his former WNBA playing wife Angie Ball, also described his first church experience. According to Watson, twin girls from his neighbourhood convinced him to attend.

“The girls asked me to go to church,” Watson said. “And after a few times going I realised this is what I wanted to do. This is truth here. And I gave myself to the Lord.”

After he began dating Ball, the couple decided to live for Christ. Watson decided to get baptised with his wife in 2004 as a student at the University of Georgia.

“We wanted to be Christ followers,” Watson said. “We wanted to do the right thing. We started turning to the Lord for our decisions.”

The professional golfer, who said he has never taken a lesson, said he was grateful for the people around him and the opportunity to live his life for Christ.

“I’ve really got a good team around me trying to help me succeed,” Watson said. “Not just in golf, but off the golf course, to be a light for Jesus.”

Here Comes the Groom!

I have performed many weddings over my eighteen years in ministry. Just before the wedding starts I always tell the groom, “Be sure to watch as the doors open and you see your bride for the first time. It will be a memory you will never forget.” They usually nod out of respect not understanding exactly why I gave them that simple piece of advice. But then it happens, the doors open and standing there before them is their bride. The grooms eyes widen, his smile grows, and then a mental picture is taken that he will always remember. The long-awaited day of receiving his bride has arrived, and now they get to spend the rest of their lives together.

Jason Johnson writes in his post, “Easter and the Great Wedding to Come,” some of the truths from Scripture about the coming of The Groom for His bride—the church. One day Jesus will return for His bride, and their will be a great wedding on that day. It is a future day which should bring great anticipation, expectation, and preparation.

Johnson writes:

Throughout Scripture the marriage relationship is used as a picture of God’s relationship with his people. The bride and groom imagery highlights not only the covenantal love of God for his people but also their position within that relationship as the beneficiaries of his redemptive pursuit. A common theme woven within the thread of Scripture, from the Old to the New Testament, is God’s unwavering, unalterable, unceasing pursuit of his people into the consecrating and cleansing relationship of eternal marriage.

This is why the hallmark of all God’s grievances against his people is spiritual adultery, a heinous infidelity on the part of his people as they pursue lesser lovers and stray outside the conditions of the covenantal relationship (Jeremiah 13:27; Mark 8:38). God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:3-5; Deuteronomy 6:14-15), not because he lacks in companionship but because he longs for the exclusive affections of his people, as a groom does for his bride.

Jesus adopts the imagery of bride and groom as it pertains to his present application of the New Covenant and his future consummation of salvation through the great, eternal marriage with the church. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), Jesus allegorizes himself as the bridegroom and urges his disciples to stay alert, because they do not know the day or the hour he will return and take them to the eternal wedding celebration, i.e., the kingdom. He again refers to himself as the bridegroom while instructing his disciples on the proper purpose and function of fasting (Mark 2:18-20). As the bridegroom he will return to take his bride home, yet in the meantime, while he is present with them, fasting and longing for his return is not necessary.

Anticipation, Expectation, Preparation

The central focus of the wedding imagery in Scripture is anticipation, expectation, and preparation. It closely mirrors the traditional order of a first-century wedding, which involved a father arranging a bride for his son and paying the predetermined “bride price” on her behalf. The son would then return to his father’s house to make arrangements while the bride consecrated herself in eager anticipation for his final return for her. The terms of the relationship were sealed with ceremonial sharing of a glass of wine before the two parted ways and entered a time of anticipation and preparation leading up to the final wedding feast.

In strikingly similar fashion, God the Father has sent Jesus the Son to secure his bride, the church. The terms of the covenantal relationship between God and his people have been outlined in the gospel, and a great price has been paid by the Father to secure the relationship, namely, through the sacrifice of the Son on the Cross (1 Corinthians 6:20). The night before he would go to the Cross, Jesus shared a cup with his disciples as a means of symbolically sealing their new covenantal relationship. He instructed them to partake of this cup after his departure in remembrance of the price he paid for them and in anticipation of his future and final return for them.

Upon departure he will go to his Father’s house to prepare a place but will return one day to bring his bride home with him forever (John 14:2-3). The day and the hour of his return are unknown by all but the Father (Matthew 24:26). The bride of Christ, the church, eagerly waits and makes herself ready, setting herself apart for him and him alone, purifying herself for the day when he will return for her forever (1 Peter 1:13-16). He will come, and when he does the eternal wedding feast will commence (Revelation 19:7-8).

The recognition of the death and resurrection of Jesus at Easter is not an isolated act of God but a pinnacle point in the ongoing bride-groom narrative running throughout the current of Scripture. It’s the celebration of God acquiring a bride for his Son through the ultimate price of death paid on the Cross. It’s the height of God’s radical, redemptive pursuit of a sinful and broken people to secure them as his beautifully treasured Bride.

Wonder of the Gospel

Easter is the joyous celebration of the wonder of the gospel—that God has gone to great lengths to secure us for his Son. We are forever bound to Jesus by his death that purchased us and his resurrection that secured us into a future inheritance that is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4-5).

So we live in this present day as those who are consecrated to our future Groom—holy, set apart, uniquely and distinctively his. We live today with an eager sense of anticipation for the return of our Groom on a tomorrow yet to come. We live today as those who are valued not by the standards of this world but by the infinite price our Savior was willing to pay for us on the Cross. We are invaluably his, and he is ours.

We anticipate, we expect, and we prepare. Our Groom is coming back to take us home.

The Neglected Resurrection

Easter is a time when we celebrate the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is easy for us to focus on Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross; however, without the resurrection we have no hope for the forgiveness of sin or eternal life with God. Matthew Barrett shares with us what is gained through Christ’s resurrection in his article “The Neglected Resurrection.”

Barrett writes:

Too often in our churches the resurrection of Christ is a doctrine of secondary importance. It is neglected and forgotten until Easter comes around each year. The same disregard for the resurrection is seen in how we share the gospel. Christians tend to share the gospel as if Jesus died on the cross and that is the end of the story. We make a zip line from the crucifixion to “repent and believe,” contrary to the example Peter sets for us in Acts 2:22-24 and 4:26. The cross is central to our salvation, but what God accomplished there is incomplete unless the tomb is empty on Sunday morning. Therefore, the resurrection of Christ is vital “for us and our salvation” (to borrow from the Nicene Creed). But how exactly?

Our Regeneration Is Grounded in the Resurrection of Christ

Have you ever read the resurrection narratives and said, “Praise God! Because Christ has risen I am born again!” I know I haven’t. But if we truly understand the implications of Christ’s resurrection for our salvation, the new birth would be the first place to turn. Scripture teaches that our new birth—God’s supernatural, monergistic act whereby the Spirit makes us a new creature in Christ, replacing our heart of stone with a heart of flesh—is only possible because Jesus is risen.

Consider two passages. According to Peter, God has “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3). The same God who raised Christ from the grave has also raised us from spiritual death to spiritual life. And the apostle Paul says that while we were dead in our trespasses and sins, God, being rich in mercy, “made us alive together with Christ” and “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:5-6; cf. Col 3:1).

Because God has raised Christ from the dead, he can make us alive together with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s resurrection life is the very basis and means by which we are born again.

Our Justification Is Grounded in the Resurrection of Christ

Those who believe in the God who raised Christ from the dead are counted righteous. As Paul says in Romans 4:23-25, like Abraham we are counted righteous, for we believe in him “who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” By raising Jesus from the dead, God approved the work of Christ on the cross for our sins. God declared his Son’s work complete! The penalty for our sin has been paid, and no guilt remains. As Wayne Grudem explains:

When the Father in essence said to Christ, “All the penalty for sins has been paid and I find you not guilty but righteous in my sight,” he was thereby making the declaration that would also apply to us once we trusted in Christ for salvation. In this way Christ’s resurrection also gave final proof that he had earned our justification (Systematic Theology).

Jonathan Edwards also states the matter precisely:

For if Christ were not risen, it would be evidence that God was not yet satisfied for [our] sins. Now the resurrection is God declaring his satisfaction; he thereby declared that it was enough; Christ was thereby released from his work; Christ, as he was Mediator, is thereby justified (Miscellanies, Vol. 13, 227).

In other words, if God did not raise Christ from the dead, he would essentially be saying, “I am not satisfied with your atoning work on behalf of sinners.” If this were the case, we would still be dead in our sins, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17. And if we are still dead in our sins then we stand guilty before a holy God, unjustified and condemned. It is hard to improve upon the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

If it is not a fact that Christ literally rose from the grave, then you are still guilty before God. Your punishment has not been borne, yours sins have not been dealt with, you are yet in your sins. It matters that much: without the Resurrection you have no standing at all (The Assurance of Our Salvation, 492).

Our Sanctification Is Grounded in the Resurrection of Christ

In Romans 6, Paul explains that we can “walk in newness of life” because Christ was raised from the dead. We are not to continue in sin, for how, as Paul asked, “can we who died to sin still live in it?” We have been baptized into the death of Christ so that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4). But Paul is not finished. He has much more to say about the resurrection and our sanctification.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:5-12).

Paul’s last two sentences are especially powerful. As Christians, we are united to Christ. Christ died to sin, and so also must we consider ourselves dead to sin. But Christ also came back to life. The life he lives he lives to God. Therefore, as those who are in Christ, we are alive to God. No longer are we to walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Our old, unbelieving, sinful, condemned self has been crucified with Christ. And now that we are new creatures, we are no longer enslaved to sin, but by the power of the Spirit are able to walk in this newness of life.

None of this, however, is possible if Christ remains in the tomb. His resurrection is our victory over the reign of sin. Only because he has risen do we have the assurance, the confidence, and the ability to now walk in godliness. In this light, therefore, Paul’s admonition is all the more convicting:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Col 3:1-4).

The Climax of Redemptive History

Richard Gaffin once wrote that not only is the resurrection of Christ the pivotal factor in Paul’s soteriology, the “climax of the redemptive history of Christ,” but it is also that “from which the individual believer’s experience of redemption derives in its specific and distinguishing character and in all aspects of its inexhaustible fullness” (Resurrection and Redemption, 135). 

I couldn’t agree more. If we miss the importance of Christ’s resurrection for our salvation, then we have, as Sinclair Ferguson observes, misunderstood the gospel, severing our salvation from the lordship of Christ (Resurrection and Redemption, 6). How unthinkable this must be for the Christian who, as Calvin explains, believes that “our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ” (Institutes II.16.19).

Why Do You Seek The Living Among the Dead?

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” And they remembered His words, and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest” (Luke 24.1-9 NASB).

The Grace by which I Stand

I found this article by Tullian Tchividjian on Churchleaders.com.  As Christians we will find living the Christian life is easier if we rest in the finished work of Jesus rather than trying to live up to our own man-made lists.

The litmus test that I use for myself is that if people walk away from my sermons thinking more about what they need to do than what Jesus has already done, I’ve failed to preach the Gospel.  The Gospel is the good news that Jesus has done for me what I could never do for myself.  And a lot of preaching these days is “do more, try harder,” like you said.  It’s behavior modification.  We come to church expecting God to give us a to-do list or the preacher to give us a to-do list.  As long as we are given a to-do list, we maintain some measure of control over our lives.  Just tell me what to do.

This message of radical grace, that “it is finished,” is difficult for the human heart, the sinful heart to grasp because we’re so afraid of control being wrestled out of our hands.  So we come to church saying, “Pastor, my marriage is in trouble…my children are going off the deep end…my business is failing…I’m coming to you as the expert to tell me what to do to fix my own life…”  And as a result, our lives get worse, not better, because we’re taking matters into our own hands.

So my job at the end of every sermon—and this is the grid by which I preach—I preach God’s law, and then I preach God’s Gospel.  Both are good.  The law diagnoses my need and shows me that my best is never good enough.  So I’m always trying to help our people realize that they’re a lot worse than they realize and they’re a lot more incapable than they think they are.  But the good news is that God is more than capable, that He’s already done everything we need for Him to do.  He’s already secured in Christ everything we long for.  So my job at the end of every sermon is to, in some way, shape, or form, encourage our people by saying, “Cheer up.  You’re a lot worse off than you think you are, but God’s grace is infinitely larger than you could have ever hoped or imagined.  It is finished.”

And what I’ve discovered is that the people who lean on “it is finished” most are the ones who end up being the most free and whose lives change the most.  It’s the people who constantly demand to-do lists and then preachers who capitulate to that demand and give them to-do lists, those are the people who get worse.  I’ve realized, and I’m only 39 years old, but I’ve realized the more I try to get better, the worse I get.  I’m just realizing I am a narcissist.  I think way too much about how I’m doing, if I’m doing it right, have I confessed every sin.  In other words, I’m thinking much more about me and what I need to do than Jesus and what He’s already done.  And as a result, I’m not getting better.  I’m getting worse.

I’ve come to the realization that when I stop obsessing over my need to improve, that is improvement.  When I stop obsessing narcissistically over my need to get better, that is what the Bible means by getting better.  That’s why Paul was able to say at the end of his life, “I’m the worst guy that I know, and the work of grace in my life is that I’m free to tell you that.”  I think the whole notion of what it means to progress in the Christian life has been radically misunderstood.  Progress in the Christian life is not “I’m getter better and better and better…”  Progress in the Christian life is, “I’m growing in my realization of just how bad I am and growing in my appreciation of just how much Jesus has done for me.”

Be Careful Who You Follow!

As Christians today we need to be very careful of the people we follow in regard to Biblical teaching.  There are so many television and radio preachers today that are teaching bad theology.  There are those who are extremely popular regardless where they stand on key Biblical issues.  Then there are those like Dr. Albert Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, who has a special way of clarifying even the most difficult subject.  His love for Christ, communicating the truth of Scripture, as well as fulfilling the great commission is evident in everything he says or writes.

Below is an article by Dr. Mohler in regard to Joel Osteen’s statement about Christianity and Mormonism.  I would encourage you to read this and share it with others.  These are trying times and we cannot allow ourselves to follow those who teach a strange Gospel.

“Does Joel Osteen Not Know, or Does He Not Care?” by Albert Mohler