Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
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.
Like the robin, daffodils are a harbinger of spring. They begin blooming in late winter and create anticipation for the pretty spring flowers following. We planted our place in Appalachia with daffodils nearly 30 years ago. Today, we get few flowers in places where we planted them. We do have healthy-looking, green blades but no blooms. By their nature, a single daffodil bulb becomes an entire colony of bulbs within a few years because it reproduces by dividing at the bulb. Once so many bulbs are packed into a small space, the plant cannot receive enough moisture or nutrients to produce the desired flower. So, on the one hand, it’s great because just a few daffodil bulbs can yield an entire daffodil garden in a few years. On the other hand, to keep daffodils flowering one must periodically dig up these new bulbs and space them out so conditions remain conducive to their overall health.
When we think about Jesus’ parable of the sower, we likely think of the various soils presented therein. We pray we find the good soil as we go to plant the seed but realize since few are finding the strait gate and narrow way (Matthew 7.13-14), most of our seed falls on the other three poor soils. Of those poor soils, Jesus highlighted a group in whom the seed never produces fruit since they become choked by thorns (Luke 8.14). These thorny-soiled hearts didn’t recognize how detrimental their thorns were since they took the form of the cares and riches of the world. In like manner, we don’t see the problems posed by a bunch of healthy-looking, green blades where our daffodils ought to be. We keep hoping they will put on blooms, bringing us the testimony of God’s wondrous creation. Yet, conditions underground won’t allow for that.
Might I suggest those possessing thorny-soiled hearts can have a similar problem as the daffodil? It may be they don’t just wither and die (i.e. fall away). It may be they are sitting on the pew, where we planted them, looking as if they hold promise, but never producing blooms. Why? It may be their fruit is being crowded out by conditions at their root. We see no prickly thorns gathered around them. Yet, there are cares and concerns on the inside choking out God’s Word all the same. It is confounding since they may even greet us with a smile on their faces while being inwardly consumed by such things as anxiety. If we do nothing, though, the results will be the same as if it were thorns.
It may be we need to lift these unproductive Christians to help them settle in a better environment conducive to their growth. We need to help them remove all the things choking their heart. We need to nurture them. Though we’re more considerate of the newborn in Christ, the overcrowding of the heart is a challenge potentially taking place even in the one who obeyed the Gospel years ago. Be your brother and sister’s keeper (Galatians 6.1; James 5.19-20). If you see a pretty green blade that never flowers, dig a little deeper. If one’s heart is being crowded out, help him find the space to bloom (Hebrews 3.13).
Last week we looked at how the world is desperate for guidance. They look in every direction for someone or something to tell them what to do. Most of the time they look to themselves for guidance and that leaves many things unsolved. Psalm 119 tells us what our guide should be. God’s word is what tells us how to live, how to act, and how to react in every situation. The world is desperate not only for guidance, but also for purpose (2 Pt. 1:3-8).
As Christians we can confidently say that we have purpose. There’s a reason to everything we do; but what about the world? Why do they wake up every day? For most, they wake up to go to work, to make money, serve self, and go to sleep.
To illustrate this, imagine going to the store without a grocery list. Without a list you end up forgetting most of the stuff you needed in the first place. You come back home and realize you forgot the milk. Without a purpose in life humans are lost. We go day to day knowing that there’s something we’re missing, but we don’t know what it is.
In 2 Peter 1, Peter is writing to them to encourage these Christians to confirm their Christianity. To be confident in their calling. Starting in verse 3 he says this,
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Because of God, we have a purpose in life. We have become partakers in eternal life. Because of this we must live a certain way. We have a goal. Peter gives us a list to build on: virtue, knowledge, self control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. If we are seeking for a purpose to life, work on this list and the end result is a knowledge of Christ that leads to eternal life.
We have escaped the corruption of the world, and now we have purpose. Peter was one who struggled with his purpose at first, he was unsure of Christ’s plan when he was on earth, and he didn’t even want to be associated with Christ after he was lead away to be crucified. He denied Christ, but after this we see his commitment and purpose in the book of Acts. His purpose is exactly like ours, he went around proclaiming Jesus and baptizing in His name. Not sure what your purpose is? Just look at how Peter lived his life, how he was committed to serving God.
My first job I ever had was when I was 13 years old. I built fences for a member at the Bear Valley Church of Christ. And talk about having no idea what you’re doing. For the longest time I’d show up every morning and have to ask how to do everything. I didn’t know how to mix concrete, how deep a fence post hole had to be dug, how to install gate hinges. I was clueless. For the average person, this is how they feel without Christ. They’re unsure, they have no purpose. Our job is to show them what life is about. This life is about getting ready for the next that is to come. Without this, we have nothing.
The world is desperate for purpose, so let’s show them the Truth.
Growing up, I heard my dad preach a sermon comparing different type of shoes to various people’s religious attitudes. You can imagine the application of such shoe types as the slipper, the loafer, the work boot, the Sunday shoe, the combat boot, etc. It was a clever illustration to encourage everyone to live a faithful Christian life and avoid a mentality that hurts the church.
Do you have a favorite kind of shoe? I’d venture to guess that you even have a favorite pair or couple of pairs of shoes. Usually, you’ll find me either in a pair of cowboy boots or in a pair of running shoes. What goes into why you favor a pair of shoes? Quality? Style? Comfort?
To make a spiritual point by referring to footwear is more ancient than my dad’s efforts to do so. No less than the apostle Paul referred to “having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15). Indirectly, Isaiah and Paul give attention to this very idea by complimenting the “beautiful feet” of those who bring good news of good things (Isa. 52:7; Rom. 10:15).
You would think, to borrow dad’s analogy, that some “shoes,” figuratively, shouldn’t be adorned as part of our Christian armor. Flip-flops aren’t good (Jas. 1:8). Neither are skate shoes (Rom. 12:11; Col. 3:23). Camouflage boots can be a liability (Rom. 12:2). It would seem counterproductive for a preacher or teacher to favor tap dancing shoes (2 Tim. 4:3), since our responsibility is to stand firm (Eph. 6:11,13,14).
Staying with the analogy, some shoes are excellent if used according to their design. Running shoes are essential to running the Christian race (1 Cor. 9:24,26; Heb. 12:1), but not to run in vain (Gal. 2:2; Phil. 2:16), run with sinners to sin (1 Pet. 4:4), or run after false teachers (Luke 17:23). Work boots can be misused in prioritizing occupation and career over the kingdom, but when used in the exercise of our talents and resources to grow the kingdom they are worn well (Mat. 5:16; 9:37-38).
You get the idea, and you can no doubt add to the analogy with your own ideas. But, spiritually, what is your favorite pair of shoes? John the Baptist suggests that Jesus, like most all others of His day, wore sandals (Mark 1:7). John felt unworthy to even untie them. Yet, Peter, later on, would say “follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). Jesus’ shoes carried Him to Samaria to minister to the woman at the well. They presumably walked on water. They took Him to Lazarus’ tomb. He doubtless wore them as He ascended the mountain to preach the greatest sermon ever delivered. Was He permitted to wear them as He carried His cross to Calvary?
We aren’t qualified and worthy to be in His shoes, but, as the song suggests, we must be “trying to walk in the steps of the Savior.” Another hymn avers, “Where He leads me, I will follow.” Our favorite shoes should be the ones revealing the footsteps of Jesus. We follow Him and anyone can follow us (1 Cor. 11:1). They will help us walk in good works (Eph. 2:10), in a worthy manner (Eph. 4:1), in love (Eph. 5:2), and carefully (Eph. 5:15).
This past May, I began my twenty-second year of running. In that time, I’ve logged thousands of miles. At 49, I am happy to say that my knees are doing fine but time may change that. One of the risks of running, to listen to some, is wearing out places like knees and hips. But, I’m hoping I’m prolonging my life and helping vital organs through exercise.
Spiritually, I put my “knees” to the test, too. The challenge to protect my knees is a daily struggle that I confess I am still working on. I do not want to wear those knees out through:
So, then, how should I wear out those knees?
Paul says we’re running a race that we must win (1 Cor. 9:24-27). I’m going to need healthy knees to do that. That may mean wearing them out in ways like those just mentioned while avoiding behaviors like those mentioned before them. At times, spiritually, I’ve needed not knee replacement but a replacement of what I do with those knees. May I never forget to brace those knees with the resources God has given to me!
Years ago, Wes Autrey sent me a copy of the “Idiot Report.” To this day, I still wonder why he thought of me as he read something with that title. I found all the entries hilarious, but one attributed to a Wichita probation officer was particularly funny. This august report said, “the stoplight on the corner buzzes when it’s safe to cross the street. I was crossing with one of my coworkers, who asked if I knew what the buzzer was for. I explained that it signals blind people when the light is red. Appalled, she responded, “What on earth are blind people doing driving?” Hopefully, you get where she missed the purpose of the corner buzzer. If not…
How many miss the point of Christianity? The decision to become a Christian is the best and most important decision this side of time. Living the Christian life is the best life to live. Worshipping the living God is a privilege that is awe-inspiring and of unsurpassed joy. Prayer is a lifeline without which none of us should feel equipped. Bible study with an eye toward applying its truths is vital to growing stronger and closer to God.
To go through life as a Christian filled with fear, sadness, anxiety, envy, anger, apathy or resentment really misses the point of what it means to be in Christ. That does not mean that we will automatically be immune from any of these feelings and attitudes. In fact, all of us will be confronted by them throughout life. But, if we spend a lifetime given in to these things, we have missed the point! Being in Christ means having the only true access to courage, happiness, trust, satisfaction, peace, zeal and acceptance that there is. We could go so many places in the New Testament which affirm this, but just look at Ephesians one. In Christ are the faithful saints (1:1), every spiritual blessing (1:3), election (1:4), grace (1:6), redemption (1:7), all-sufficiency (1:10), hope (1:12), the seal of the Holy Spirit (1:13), and strength (1:19-20). We have a forgotten past, a purposeful present, and a hopeful future in Christ!
The world’s values and thinking are backward (cf. Isa. 5:20). Do not fall prey to their convoluted way of thinking. We are Christians! We know why we are here and where we are going! That’s the point!
None of these are overly time-consuming. Pick as many as you can. If you cannot get to them all today, then pick up where you left off tomorrow. Grow your list. Use your imagination and creativity. Find yourself looking and acting more like Jesus! See yourself in Matthew 5:13-16.
By: A blessed fish
Let me tell you about the greatest fisherman I have ever known.
He has always found success at his favorite fishing hole. A special place where the inlet was fruitful, and many fish loved to be caught. His technique is simple. A welcoming lure. A handshake, a hug and a smile. Just to let you know you’re wanted.
He will always catch-n-release and the fish always feel better for the experience. Many wide eyed and spiritually young fish will enter the inlet, hoping that someone would catch them and show them the kind of love this great fisherman offers. He never judges a fish – their size, beauty, wealth or position. He only lets them know how glad he is to see them at the inlet.
His success is solely based on persistence, perseverance and patience. Three times a week you can always count on him being right there at the inlet. Waiting for the opportunity to hook’em and hold’em. He always makes every fish feel welcome and wanted.
He knows every fish by name. If he thinks a fish has drifted off down steam, he will go in search, armed with a tackle box full of Christian love and do his best to bring them back to the inlet. Not for him, but for their sake and for God’s sake.
He hooked this fish over 11 years ago. My wife led me to the inlet. But, he hooked me and let me know that I was welcome here. He helped save this soul for eternity.
I think he is getting tired now, but few may notice. So many years of fishing, but he is still there almost every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I think he wants to share his favorite inlet with others who share his passion. Man, woman, or child, he wants us to join him. We don’t have to wait. We don’t have to be assigned the duty. We just need to step into the water and follow his lead. There is plenty of room at the inlet. Let’s all join this fisherman at the Bear Valley inlet and make sure every fish that enters knows they are wanted and welcome.
The great fisherman’s name is Clint and this fish will always love him.
And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.
NEAL’S NOTE: This was submitted to me by someone who wants to remain anonymous. Truer, more fitting words could not be spoken about one of the most special people any of us have ever known. We’re very blessed to have Clint Stephens as a member at Bear Valley, one of the men who was at the time a shepherd when I was hired. Enjoy!