How can I get Joy back in my life?

How can I get Joy back in my life?

When one is cooped up in an apartment interacting with friends and family members via FaceTime and Zoom life feels very different. The happiness that comes from personal touch, freedom of movement, and worshipping with others can be drained away. Often, as happiness wanes, so too does joy. But it doesn’t have to happen that way.

Consider this, happiness is an emotion. Circumstances, like the current coronavirus crisis, can have a profound effect on one’s happiness. Joy, on the other hand, is an attitude or belief. Happiness is often dependent on external circumstances, while Joy comes from within. The greatest joy springs from a relationship with the God of the universe, and that relationship is secured by what Jesus did on the cross. When one accepts the sacrifice that Jesus made for each of us, repents of their self-centeredness and asks Jesus to be lord of their lives, one begins to know joy that surpasses any measure of happiness that one might experience.

In his letter to the church at Philipi, Paul, an apostle who at the time was under house arrest in the capital city of Rome, wrote about joy—what it is, where it comes from, and how to get it. His circumstances were deplorable. Instead of a two or three-month stay at home order, he was well into a five-year stay-at-home order, with soldiers posted to make sure he obeyed.  Yet he could write:

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14)

His joy sprung from his relationship with God and the assurance he had of spending eternity free from his physical pain and bondage. He wrote:

I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:18-24)

Paul’s focus was away from his circumstances and onto Jesus Christ, his Savior and Lord. That focus led him to joy and will lead you to joy. Reading your Bible daily, and setting quiet time to pray is the best way to reclaim joy in your life.

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How do I decide what to do with my life?

How do I decide what to do with my life?

In times of uncertainty, knowing which step to take next can be challenging. It can particularly difficult for graduates who are not graduating because of the COVID-19 virus; for students not sure if they should return to college in the fall; for those whose jobs have been eliminated; for church, civic and business leaders struggling with decisions about when and how to reopen.

Christians, in particular, wrestle with the notion that God has a plan for their lives and the day-to-day reality that those plans seem to be in disarray. Following the example of Jesus is the best way to navigate through the uncertainty. Jesus had a mission and everything he did was focused on that mission to take the punishment for sin of all people, past, present and future, onto himself at the cross. He died so that those who accept what he did for them would become “clean” before God and know for certain that they would live forever with him. (John 5:19-24)

So determining your mission in life is an important first step in deciding what you should do with your uncertain future. That will take some work. Jesus was in regular communion with God, his father, to ensure he was “staying on course.” For you and me, regular communion with God through prayer and Bible reading will help you align your thoughts with his. That will help bring clarity to your mission in life.

In addition, as you meditate on God’s word, and learn to hear from him in prayer, your anxiety will diminish, and you will more clearly see a path before you. Ask God what he wants for your life and you may discover a future different from the one you had envisioned. Interruptions to education or a career opens new horizons.

Paul, the Apostle, went from being a persecutor of Christians (Acts 8:3) to the leading evangelist, church planter and pastor in the history of Christianity. It happened because he had an encounter with Jesus (Acts 9) and used his education, his speaking and writing skills, and his Roman citizenship to carry the message of Jesus throughout the Roman world.

As with Paul, once you align your thoughts with those of Jesus, you will find that the path forward will come into focus.

Why did Jesus have to die?

Why did Jesus have to die?

He didn’t have to die. However, he loved you and me so much that he chose to die in our place so that we would not have to suffer the punishment for our sins.  

The concept of a blood sacrifice as atonement for sin goes back to the time that man rebelled against God and the perfect creation he made for human beings. This sacrifice was codified by God when he set apart the Israelites and provided them with guidelines for living. That law included a system of sacrifices to atone for different sins. Among the sacrifices were those of animals without blemish, signifying perfection. (Leviticus 22:20) These sacrifices had to be repeated over and over since people kept sinning against God. Through the death of Jesus, God provided a once-for-all way, for the sins of men and women to be atoned.

In the New Testament, we read that John the Baptist recognized Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) This is a reference to the perfect, sacrificial lamb that was called for in the Old Testament law.

Another John, the disciple of Jesus, who wrote an eyewitness account of the three years he spent with Jesus, explained the ultimate sacrifice that was made by Jesus, the Messiah. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)  This made Jesus the ultimate sacrifice —satisfying for all time the requirements of God’s justice.

The apostle Paul wrote that “Christ died for our sins, according to Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3) because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This simple statement of fact reminds us that our personal sin, our rebellion from God, has us heading to judgement and eternal separation from God.

However, we do not have to suffer throughout all eternity.  

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16

The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross shows the depths of God’s love for us. (Romans 5:6-8) But it is through his resurrection that we can see God’s triumph over death. When we acknowledge that we are sinners deserving of death and accept the gift of Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf, we can be set free of the condemnation of sin and begin a journey that will culminate in everlasting life in the presence of God.

I’m afraid of the virus, is that normal?

I’m afraid of the virus, is that normal?

Yes. Fear is part of the fallen human condition. When we are confronted with something that may alter our future, we become fearful. With the 24-hour news cycle reminding us of ever-increasing numbers of cases of COVID-19, blasting out stories of deaths and body bags, and reminding us of our dire financial straits, fear is inevitable. As the disease enters our communities and we hear of a friend or neighbor that has taken ill or died, we wonder if “I’m next.”

We’re also asking how this event will change the lives of our loved ones. And we’re probably wondering why God has let this happen. Contemplating these questions leads to anxiety and fear.

Fortunately, God knows us better than we know ourselves and wants us to turn our focus from our personal situation and our inward focus to an upward focus on Him and an outward focus on others.

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

The Bible has a lot to say about fear. We read of great men of God who became fearful. And, we saw how God turned fear into Joy. When David was being pursued by men who wanted to kill him, he cried out to God. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you,” he wrote in Psalm 56:3. From the many Psalms David wrote we see a man who was regularly afraid but knew that God was there for him, no matter the outcome.

The apostle Paul encountered many life-threatening situations and shared what he discovered with others. In his letter to the Church in the Greek City of Philippi he wrote: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Paul knew that we all fear, but he wanted people to understand that fear did not have to control us. He reminded his disciple, Timothy: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

In 1 John 4:18, Jesus’ disciple, John, reminded readers “that perfect love drives out fear.” Here for what is translated as “perfect” John used the Greek word, teleios, a word that means complete, finished or fully grown. He is reminding Christians that when we refocus on God’s love, a love so great that He was willing to sacrifice his own son, that we might know peace in this life and a fear-free eternity with him. It’s a journey, not a destination.

As you meditate on scripture, sing songs of joy and hope, and seek ways to help those around you who are fearful and suffering, you will find your fears receding into God’s love. In a 100-year-old gospel hymn, we are reminded that “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through; My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” COVID-19 is part of this world, not the next. It may make you sick. It may result in your financial ruin, and it might even cause your death. But don’t let fear paralyze you. Don’t be afraid to tell others of your fears and even seek professional help if necessary. But right now, stop and direct your thoughts to God. Tell him your fears, ask for his help and listen quietly for the Holy Spirit to begin guiding your thoughts.    

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How tolerant should a Christian be of other viewpoints?

How tolerant should a Christian be of other viewpoints?

Understanding what you mean by tolerance is an important first step in answering this question. Tolerance once meant a free and open discussion in search of the truth. Modern science is based on searching for the truth. Tolerance used to be a respectful discourse open to “all points of view”.

Today, however, the word has taken on a new meaning. Many in Western culture today view tolerance as accepting any and all viewpoints as being equally valid so long as those viewpoints comport with their worldviews. They no longer view truth as absolute and reject scientific reality. As a result, they are no longer tolerant of traditional systems that provide guidelines for moral living and governing

For example, many today deny God’s truth, as found in the Bible, a gold standard for morality and reason that has guided mankind for thousands of years. The result is the moral decline of society. That decline includes, but is not limited to, lying, fraud, failure to protect the sanctity of life, immorality, infidelity, disrespect for authority, selfishness, greed, and much more. Secular tolerance has become a new god where people offend no one and stand for nothing. The only thing they don’t tolerate is Christian and biblical truths. This new notion of tolerance is leading to chaos and loss of freedoms.

Interestingly, Jesus, God’s son, entered the world during a time when many of the so-called faith leaders showed no tolerance for those who did not strictly subscribe to their way of doing things. That intolerance was couched in religious terms so as to suggest that one group of people, the elite, had it right and everyone else needed to live by their standards — their version of truth.

In his Sermon on the Mount, and throughout his ministry, Jesus demonstrated by words and deeds, that he would not be tolerant of the beliefs or behavior of others who had a warped view of God’s teaching. He turned the system upside down by restoring a right-reading of scripture and calling people to give up their sinful ways. He went so far as to go to the cross to die in the place of you and me so that our wrongdoings could be paid for and we could become Children of God.

This truth has had a profound impact on world over the last two thousand years. Yes indeed! If Christianity is not the truth, then the Christian faith does not matter. History suggests strongly that Christian faith and the truth do matter. Western civilization is rooted in the Christian experience and worldview. When Christian truths are replaced by the god of tolerance, America, as we have known it — it’s virtues, values and freedoms will no longer exist. Jesus said,  “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32) Yes, Truth matters! Our democracy and our freedoms depend upon it. Never be afraid to defend the truth that makes you free.

So. does that mean that Christians should not be tolerant of other viewpoints? No. But Christians should not mistake tolerance as acceptance. When other viewpoints go against the expressed teachings of God, Christians should challenge them. For example, God’s clear teaching on marriage, sexuality, the sanctity of life, divorce, the role of the government, murder, lying, and stealing represent truth on which a Christian should stake out a position when confronted by others who demand acceptance of their positions under the guise of tolerance.

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Why did God let Job suffer?

Why did God let Job suffer?

The book of Job is probably the oldest book in the Bible and is considered by scholars to be the oldest piece of literature to survive into the present. Some say it is an allegory, but many Biblical scholars note that Job is spoken of in the Ezekiel as a real person like Noah and Daniel, and in the book of James, Job is cited as an example of patience, suggesting a real rather than a fictional character. That’s important, because if Job was a real person, then then the gravity of your question increases significantly.

Job is about how a man’s trust in God is greater than Satan’s ability to tempt him to give it up. God allows Job to endure hardship and loss. And that hardship and loss is well beyond that which most of would endure, but he does not allow Satan to take Job’s life.  

What we observe is life not being fair. Job’s story is an object lesson for all of us.  Life isn’t fair, but God is just. He gives us all equal amounts of grace and mercy to allow us to grow through the circumstances that this unfair life causes us to go through. For Job those circumstances were terrible. Nonetheless, God’s grace and mercy shine through when Job does not turn his back on God. God restores Job’s health and his riches—not because Job was good, but because God is merciful.

Matthew reminds us that God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45) God loves all of His creation equally and is not a “respecter of persons.” He knows that we may make bad decisions and suffer as a result. He also knows that we may suffer through no fault of our own. While Satan reigns on earth, evil and death will infect it. However, God’s desire is for every one of us to be saved and live with Him forever at peace, secure in his love for us.

Jesus comforts us through his words:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

The circumstances of this world can get us down sometimes, but take heart and anticipate Christ’s return!

Illustration by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984.), under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0