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Archive for the ‘Rejoicing in Life’ Category

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Each week I have the privilege of praying for scores of individuals from our large congregation who send in their prayer requests, so I’m very aware of the range of difficulties that they face regarding sickness, financial worries, bereavement, unemployment, business setbacks, broken relationships, and more.

Among the prayers that I bring to God on their behalf is that each person will experience peace and joy in the midst of their difficulties.

Peace? Joy? In the midst of difficulties?

Yes!

The apostle Paul—who had more than his share of trials and tribulations, including numerous attempts on his life by enemies—experienced peace and joy in the midst of good and bad times, and he reminds us that:

* Faith in Jesus Christ brings peace:

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” (Romans 5:1)

This is not peace in the sense of the absence of conflicts and difficulties in our lives, but God’s peace of mind and heart, of confident assurance in any and all situations. It’s a peace that fills our beings when we accept Jesus Christ as our savior and lord, for, in that moment, God forgives our sins and reconciles us to himself throughout this life and for all eternity.

* Faith in Jesus Christ brings joy, even in suffering:

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation.” (Romans 5:3, 4)

It’s a joy that Jesus bestows on believers who earnestly seek him, a joy that comes from a consistent relationship with him in which he fills them with his joy, for even as he said to his disciples, he says to all his believers today:

I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 14:9-11)

So, as we face the difficult periods and circumstances that each of us will inevitably encounter in our lives, may we not fear—no matter how frightening or hopeless things might seem—but may we put our trust in the risen Christ and experience his peace and his joy as we “run with endurance the race that God has set before us…keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.” (Hebrews 12:1b, 2)

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All Bible quotes are from the New Living Translation.

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I recently watched with fascination as Nik Wallenda walked across a high wire 1,500 feet above the Grand Canyon floor without a safety harness. And as he inched his way across the empty span of nearly five football fields, he constantly thanked and praised Jesus.

Nik, a Christian, is a seventh generation member of the Wallenda family of high-wire performers, and began walking the wire at age four.

But could you or I accomplish such a feat? After all, have we not believed or quoted Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”? (King James Version, KJV)

When the Apostle Paul penned those words to the Philippians, did he mean that Jesus Christ would grant us superhuman abilities to accomplish anything we imagine?

Could we use that verse to affirm our way to earthly riches, as proponents of the “prosperity” gospel try to do?

Many believers quote Philippians 4:13 and try to apply it to their lives without fully understanding the context in which the Apostle Paul wrote it.

He was imprisoned in Rome and was writing to Christians at the church in Philippi to encourage them to be joyful and contented in every circumstance because of their faith in Jesus Christ, even when things went badly for them. He also wrote to thank them for their financial gift to him in prison, and added:

“Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need. But even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.” (Phil.4: 11-14, New Living Translation, NLT)

The “everything” or “all things” refers specifically to Paul’s ability to be contented and joyful in all circumstances that life threw at him. Because he relied on Christ to strengthen him and supply his needs, he could be thankful and joyful:

• Whether in times of plenty or times of great need, in feast or famine
• Whether preaching the Good News in prison or on the outside (Phil. 1: 3-7; 12-14)
• Whether living and suffering for Christ or dying for him (Phil. 1: 20-24; 27-30)

His was a joyful acceptance of Christ’s will and provision for him in every aspect of life.

And that should be our attitude in our journey with Christ—finding in his will equal contentment and joy whether in wealth or poverty, sickness or health, fame or obscurity, failure or success, marriage or singleness.

Can we do all things? Only those things that are within Christ’s will and plan for us, in which case he will give us the strength and resources to do them. He does not give us superhuman abilities to accomplish anything we want if they do not serve his purpose or are not in his best interest for us.

The Apostle James warns about self-confidence and rushing ahead with our own plans and desires without regard for God’s will:

“Look here, you people who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you will be boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16, NLT)

Solomon expressed this succinctly when he wrote in Proverbs 17:9, “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” (NLT)

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 8.01.04 PMOn Sunday, June 23, 2013 I saw Philippians 4:13 and Proverbs 17:9 lived out over the Grand Canyon as Nik’s years of training and planning proved successful when the Lord guided his steps safely across that high-wire.

Nik became the first human to tightrope across the Grand Canyon, and a worldwide television audience of millions saw and heard him thank and praise Jesus Christ.

Can I accomplish that same feat? As of now, no, because so far it doesn’t seem to be in God’s plan, training, or mission for me. And I am certainly okay with that.

 

 

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Nick Vujicic is a living example of 2 Corinthians 12:9—in which the Apostle Paul pleads with God three times to take away an infirmity, a “thorn in the flesh,” only to be told by God, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (New international Version, NIV)

Paul finally accepts his infirmity and says, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (NIV)

Nick’s obvious weaknesses are his lack of arms and legs from birth—a fact that could have caused some parents to abort him when he was still a fetus or reject him and hide him away in some institution as a useless, unproductive freak of nature.

But as in the life of the Apostle Paul, God is using this young man with half a body and is empowering him in a mighty way to storm the gates of hell and win many souls for Christ as seen in this video of a church service in San Diego, California, at which Nick preached.

This is a powerful and moving demonstration of the miracles and life-changing events that can happen when we allow God to use us, despite our human weaknesses, shortcomings, and failures.

I encourage you to watch the video to the end. You will be inspired and blessed.

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The years have seemingly flown by quickly, and I now find myself as part of the “sandwich generation”—those of us who are caught between aging parents and in-laws on one hand, and children and grandchildren on the other.

In recent years, my wife and I have experienced the loss of our fathers in their late eighties and nineties, and have seen the rapid decline in the health of our mothers to Alzheimer’s or old age.

And we have been involved with the lives, hopes, and careers of our children and the births and lives of our four grandchildren.

As I approach age sixty-eight, I am mindful of Psalm 90:10, “Seventy years are given to us! Some may even reach eighty,” (New Living Translation, NLT) so I’m committed to living full out in the service of Jesus Christ in the remaining time, however short or long that might be.

But it is Ecclesiastes chapter 12 that captures this “sandwich generation” stage of life, with an urgent call to young people to:

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them….”
(Eccl. 12:1, New International Version, NIV)

Or as the NLT version paraphrases that same verse:

Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and no longer enjoy living.

Verses 2 to 7 then describe the ravages of old age that drain life of any enjoyment. But, depending on the translations we use, two different pictures emerge.

The NIV, New King James Version (NKJV), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and the New English Bible (NEB) describe old age by using the metaphor of a once-busy and prosperous mansion that has passed its prime and is now dilapidated and creeping towards collapse. It’s a house where:

  •  household servants grow old and are unable to work
  •  the keepers of the house, former strong men, are now stooped and tremble as they shuffle around
  •  servants, once numerous, are too few to finish the hard menial work of grinding corn
  •  the lady of the house, with failing eyesight, must now content herself by gazing out of her window at the declining activities of her home
  •  the gates to the street, once open for bustling business and social activities, are  closed
  •  silence prevails
  •  the former life of vitality is dead

However, other translations such as the Good News Bible (GNB) and the NLT use different parts of the human body to interpret verses 2-7. For example, the NLT, in urging the youth not to wait till they are old to serve their Creator, adds:

It will be too late then to remember him, when the light of the sun and moon and stars is dim to your old eyes, and there is no silver lining left among the clouds. Your limbs will tremble with age, and your strong legs will grow weak. Your teeth will be too few to do their work, and you will be blind, too. And when your teeth are gone, keep your lips tightly closed when you eat! Even the chirping of birds will wake you up. But you yourself will be deaf and tuneless, with a quavering voice. You’ll be afraid of heights and of falling, white haired and withered, dragging along without any sexual desire. You will be standing at death’s door. And as you near your everlasting home, the mourners will walk along the streets.

Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.

I wish that my mother had taken seriously that advice, for she waited until last year when she was in her eighties to commit her life to Jesus Christ. But by then she was losing her memory to Alzheimer’s, and her health has since declined rapidly to where she does not recognize loved ones, her body is racked with arthritis, she stumbles frequently and has to walk with a frame, she’s incontinent, and she sinks towards dementia.

As a latecomer to the Kingdom of God, my mother is assured her place in heaven through the sacrifice, grace, and love of Jesus Christ. But, oh, how much of the abundant life, peace, and deep-seated joy she has missed over the decades of her life because she chose to live independently from God!

How different her life would have been if she had followed her Creator in her youth and had allowed Jesus Christ to be the center of her life, her marriage, and the rearing of her children!

In light of our human tendency to drift from God in our attempt to live on our own terms, here is the advice that Ecclesiastes offers to us—both old and young:

To those of us in mid-life and older, Ecclesiastes reminds us:

Light is sweet; it’s wonderful to see the sun! When people live to be very old, let them rejoice in every day of life. But let them also remember that the dark days will be many.  (11:7 to 8, NLT)

Rejoice! Enjoy the sweetness of life! Give thanks for every morning that we wake up to the light and warmth of one more day, for we know how fragile life can be, since so many of our peers have not made it this far!

Rejoice—and give thanks that despite the difficulties of life that we might have experienced, and despite the knowledge that we might yet encounter even darker days ahead, we are not without hope if we align with our Creator who gives us an eternal perspective from which to view our future, and we know that “nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Jesus Christ.” (Romans 8:39, NLT)

And to the youth, Ecclesiastes says:

…it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do. So banish grief and pain, but remember that youth, with a whole life before it, still faces the threat of meaninglessness. (11:9 to 10, NLT)

This is not a green light for you who are young to live irresponsibly, but it is an encouragement to live fully and productively according to the gifts of mind, body, strength, and spirit with which God has blessed you. What you do matters to God, to whom you will eventually have to account for how you lived. May it not be said of you, “youth was wasted on the young!”

So, to all of us, young and old, let us remember our Creator and rejoice in the gift of life that he grants us each day, for on that great resurrection morning, we will give an account of how we lived. May each of us then hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant…Let’s celebrate together!” (Matthew 25:21, NLT)

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