Thursday’s Column: Carl’s Corner
Joy is something we’re supposed to have when we go through trials (Jas. 1.3). It’s χαρά, which means, “to experience gladness.” It describes a forward-thinking mentality that says, “Right now isn’t great, but I can learn from this and grow.” Our joy comes from anticipating the ultimate growth we experience from conquering trials! And if those trials take my life, that joy is in anticipation of heaven.
Joy is something experienced in heaven and in the presence of angels when someone repents (Luke 15.7, 10). It is compared to the excitement one feels when regaining something valuable that had been lost. Joy is more than just contentment; it contains also an element of excitement.
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22). It is contrasted with outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, etc. A part of living the Christian life, denying our primal desires, and not being boastful is having joy. Sometimes we find ourselves focusing on what we give up to live faithful lives, but we forget that Christianity provides for, encourages, and promotes excitement and joy!
So what are we supposed to be excited for? Paul even had joy in the face of suffering (Phil. 2.17). Joy and happiness are not necessarily the same thing. We can have joy or gladness or excitement concerning the life that waits for a Christian while living in the sometimes harsh realities of a fallen world.
In this life, Christians can have joy because of a profound sense of purpose, having meaning in a confusing world, healing after tragedy, and something to always look forward to.
It may not be our first response to be excited about hard times, but if we develop a mindset that looks to the rewards and positives of difficulty (growth, endurance, empathy, perspective, heaven), we will have joy and excitement.
The book of Jonah is a unique book in the Old Testament. Unlike other prophetic books, God chooses to focus on the prophet himself rather than the message being preached by him. While many lessons can be pulled from this four chapter book, there’s one in particular that we can all benefit from hearing from time to time. That lesson is that in order for true change to occur in our lives there must be a genuine transformation of the heart.
The book begins with God’s call to Jonah to preach to the wicked people of Nineveh and then closes with God’s response to Jonah’s anger at the penitent hearts of the Ninevites. Between these two divine speeches you read about the prophet’s incredible experience in the belly of a great fish. Many artist’s have painted pictures of Jonah desperately trying to keep his head above the waves while a terrifying monster breeches the surface with its mouth wide open preparing to swallow him. While this may be the image that comes to mind, Jonah gives us an interesting detail in his prayer. He recalls how the waters closed over him and he eventually reaches the sea floor where he is helplessly tangled in the weeds. While the murky waters cloud his vision his fate seemed very clear. Jonah admits that he called out to the Lord provoked by his great distress and this mental plea was a desperate attempt to preserve his life. God answers this cry by sending him a slippery savior. Jonah, while known to be a little on the dramatic side, will later recall how it was in the moment when his life was fainting away that he “remembered the Lord.” God saved a blatantly rebellious man who in no way deserved that salvation but He also allowed Jonah to reach great depths and come face to face with his own spiritual reality. Jonah was a long way from God, but not geographically.
Before Jonah became soaked by the stormy seas, he was soaked in a sin problem that had taken root in his heart. God allowed Jonah to physically experience rock bottom so that he could acknowledge some spiritual issues that distanced him from God. While Jonah may have desired to run from God, he came to the conclusion that being away from God was not the relief he thought it would be.
As traumatic as this event was, Jonah seems to emerge from the belly of the fish with lingering spiritual issues. Though he preaches to the city of Nineveh, there is still anger and hatred dominating his heart. The last chapter gives us a glimpse of this as he directs this anger towards the very God that saved him. In order for true change to occur, there must be a genuine change of heart. While low points can help us examine our heart health for a moment, relentless determination to live life differently is the key to success. A hopeful reminder for anyone who may find themselves in the depths of sin, there is no place too dark where God is not able to hear your prayers.
These are some of the last words written by one of the greatest men who ever lived. He wrote them while in prison, waiting to die for his faith. He has just spoken of people he trusted who had deserted him. He is lacking even the bare essentials. A man, knowing how difficult his life was, had done additional great harm to him. No wonder he would open this window into his suffering soul and let us all look inside. Despite all this, he was not bitter.
Have you ever felt mistreated, even felt like people were actively against you? Or perhaps felt like people you count on abandoned or neglected you when you needed them? Maybe you have suffered for your faith. It is tempting to become bitter, even to lash out against the church and God. Paul is a great example of how to think when you feel unsupported and deserted by those you count on. After making that statement in 2 Timothy 4:16, he says some other things that can help us when we feel, at least in a small way, the way Paul felt.
If you’ve never felt unsupported and deserted, you probably will at some future time. The temptation will be great to let it become a spiritual problem for you. Why not remember Paul’s response when he was in his deepest valley? It’s the way up to the spiritual mountaintop.
I write this as someone who has spent his entire life in a preacher’s home. I grew up a preacher’s kid, whose dad was fired twice (once for baptizing a black woman and later for standing against the “New Hermeneutic”). I have been a full-time preacher for nearly thirty years myself. Now, my sons are devoting their lives full-time to preaching. To an extent, our family’s lives have revolved around preaching. Have there been hurts, disappointments, and occasions of mistreatment? Certainly. Of course, plumbers, lawyers, accountants, engineers, and builders will tell you the same. But, we work with Christians, who should know better? That’s true, but they are still humans constantly struggling with the battle of self.
My dad has always spoken of the value and blessing of the church, even when dealing with personal hurts. He loves the Lord and His church. As we grew up in the home, he taught us to have a high esteem for the precious bride of Christ. In college, I had one teacher who especially counseled us to look at the church–and the people who make it up–with hopeful, optimistic eyes. We generally find what we are looking for. If we are looking for injustices, offenses, and disappointments, we’ll see an endless supply of it whether we’re looking at elders, deacons, long-time members, or new or weak Christians. If we can view the foibles of others with patience, compassion, and empathy, we are likely to help each other grow and transform. We will definitely steer away from an “us versus them” mentality.
If you are in full-time ministry for any length of time, you will have some stories to tell. Some will be full of joy and excitement. Share these generously. They will encourage and edify. Some will be unbelievable, but not in a good way. Use wisdom and discretion about how, who and if you tell those. What are we hoping to accomplish by such sharing?
Preaching is not lucrative business. It’s not paradise on earth. It’s not easy and not everyone can (or should) do it. But, it’s the greatest work in the world! It constantly impacts eternity in seen and unseen ways, in a way that perhaps nothing else can match. There will be some lumps and bumps. Ask Paul (2 Cor. 11:23ff). But, listen to Paul, too. In prison, he wrote of rejoicing about preaching despite its various pitfalls (Phil. 1:14-24). Some seem bitter about how they have been treated in preaching, and I hope they can work through it. But, I love this life so much, and I just can’t share their bitterness!
You get to choose, just like Jesus did (Mark 2:14) and the Good Samaritan did (Luke 10:33). When you look, who or what do you see? May I encourage us all to…
The world tells us to see the things or in the ways represented on the right hand side of the comma. But the Word urges us to focus on the left hand side of it. Don’t let the world be your guide.
I met him 20 years ago, the man with the twinkling eyes
He and his wife opened their home to me, and I could recognize
Their love for Christ and Christians, and how well they’d harmonize
Those loves in all their actions, it was there in those twinkling eyes
He shepherded me for several years, the man with twinkling eyes
He had a tenderness so deep, he’d often maximize,
His laugh infectious, his insight savvy, so tough to criticize,
He loved Bear Valley with all of himself, this man with twinkling eyes
I visited many members here with the man with twinkling eyes
Spent hours in meetings and planning, trying God’s will to realize
He was youthful and spry for his age, his resources he’d optimize
A steward of stewards in every way, the man with twinkling eyes
A servant’s heart with savvy hands, the man with the twinkling eyes
Involved and willing, helpful and hopeful, we couldn’t help but idolize
When hearing and memory faded, you still could characterize
This man of God, through ups and downs, by those twinkling eyes
I saw him last week, he greeted me with joyful, twinkling eyes
So hard to believe this morning he gained his heavenly prize
While his long life is fresh in my memory, I’ll try hard to memorize
As kind a face and heart as I’ve seen, the man with the twinkling eyes
Some time ago, I wrote, “I passed by a skunk and a snake, fighting tooth and nail. I didn’t stop and pet either or take sides. I got out of there as fast as I could.” That was metaphorical rather than actual, though I’ve had encounters with each animal individually. My point had to do with some of the “fights” that regularly occur on social media about some of the most unnecessary causes.
The common ground of these posts and articles are their extremely polarizing effect, drawing a multitude of allies and opponents. So often, they relate to matters that, of themselves, will not effect a single person’s eternity (though the poor stewardship of time, emphasis, tone, and attitude might imperil more than a few).
I have been tempted to weigh in on probably a thousand of these spats and civil wars, but I do not. It’s not that I do not have decided views on nearly all the debates. Instead, I try to project myself into the future. Will it expand my influence for Christ for good? What will my comment add to the spirit of brotherly love, magnanimity, unity, and church growth? Will I truly be helping struggling souls? Will it elevate the view of Jesus’ bride in the eyes of the lost, the weak, and the wayward?
After reflecting, the answer is always the same. I cannot answer that for my interjecting brethren. Nor am I one to avoid preaching or personally discussing matters because they may be unpopular or alienating. However, because social media is more impersonal and lacking in the interpersonal dynamics of face-to-face interaction, we run a much greater risk of being misunderstood.
Today, controversy can be created in real time. As a good friend of mine put it, “Everybody has a megaphone now.” What really requires courage is stepping out from behind a computer or phone and personally interacting with someone we disagree with in civil, loving discourse. It may not foster page views, mass reactions, and reams of online comments, but in the end it may reach more hearts and minds.
In our current culture, dividing people into camps against each other is incredibly easy. But is it wise? Is it right (Proverbs 6:19b)?
Recently, in an excellent lesson about gossip, the teacher recounted an incident I, and many others, could echo from the background of our own experience either in ministry or our personal lives. A mother asked her wayward daughter why she no longer was a member of the church. Her convicting reply, “The way that you always talked about the church, why would I be?” The way this daughter heard her parents talk about the church, she concluded the church was full of hypocrisy, flaws, and inadequacy. She was simply modeling what she heard them say throughout the years.
I’m thankful for the sound counsel we received well before we had children. We were advised never to speak ill of the church in front of our children, to run down elders, deacons, preachers, and other members. Knowing Kathy, she would have done this intuitively. For me, it was extremely helpful with my impetuous nature. Even whispered words in the front seat of the car, going home from church, will inevitably be heard by the little ears in the back seat (the same is true of the dinner table and other times the family is together). We may be blowing off steam, we may not have deep vendettas against the object of our criticism and complaint, and we may soon forget what we’ve said, but impressionable ears and hearts may internalize the words and materialize the message with their deeds and lives.
The attitude, relationship, and loyalty our children have toward the church is most shaped and determined, for good or ill, by our example as parents. What will help us speak well of the Lord’s church?
We may struggle to see our family harbor grudges and hard feelings against the church. Many factors may contribute to that, but we should begin with ourselves. What are we saying about the Lord’s bride? What is our attitude toward her? I cannot imagine that anything is more impactful than that, and that is probably the thing we can most control! May our family remember that our theme song, concerning the church, is, “I love Thy kingdom, Lord!” Surely this will influence how they feel about her, too.
Late in 2010, Jason Good was surveying timber in Meigs County, Ohio, when he came upon a bizarre sight. Three huge whitetail deer were dead, floating in a creek with their antlers locked. It was an 11-pointer, a 10-pointer, and an 8-pointer. The landowner, Brien Burke, figured that two of them were fighting when the third came in on the opposite side. Then all three were so tightly locked together that they could not pull loose (Field & Stream, Steven Hill, 12/5/10, online ed.). How sad that three beautiful, majestic creatures got themselves tangled up so much in a fight that they fell into a creek and drowned. Fighting brought these deer to a tragic end.
The same thing can happen in our human relationships. James writes, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (3:13-18).
Wise, understanding people prove such through gentle wisdom. The opposite have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in their hearts. James says that where this is, there is disorder and every evil thing. How often do we forfeit peace and gentleness due to a large dose of selfish ambition? We tangle with others and hurt them and often hurt ourselves. At its worst, we can inflict spiritual death. When that happens, we are in just as much trouble. What we need in our relationships with others is the wisdom from above, described in James 3:17. But we must sow peace to reap the fruit of it. Let’s be at peace with men and God!