Can Non-Christians Have Joy?

In 1971, the group Three Dog Night released a song that was the #1 song on the charts for 6 weeks in a row.  Here are some of the words to the song:

Jeremiah was a bull frog; was a good friend of mine.  I never understood a single word he said, but I helped him drink his wine.   And he always had some mighty fine wine.  Joy to the world; all the boys and girls, now.  Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea; joy to you and me.

It seems to me that this song contains a very misguided view of true joy and where it originates.  In the New Testament, the word “joy” is the word χαρά [khar•ah].  Throughout the Bible, joy is almost always associated with salvation.

In Luke 2:10, the angel told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy….”  What was that great joy?  “Today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”  (Luke 2:11, NASB).  David linked joy and salvation when he prayed, “Restore to me the joy of my salvation” (Psalm 51:12, NASB).

I contend that only Christians can experience Biblical joy because only Christians have experienced salvation.  Non-Christians can certainly experience happiness in life, but happiness can come and go.  Joy is constant — it does not depend on circumstances.  I like to say it this way:

Happiness depends on happenings; Joy depends on Jesus!

If we’re going to choose a song about joy, I think the Isaac Watts version of “Joy to the World” is much better than the Three Dog Night version.  Here are the words:

 Joy to the world,  the Lord is come!  Let earth receive her King.  Let every heart prepare Him room.  And heav’n and nature sing.  And heav’n and nature sing.  And heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

What do you think?  Can non-Christians have joy in their lives?

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4 Steps to Forgiving Those I Hate

How can we forgive people we hate? How can we show grace to those we can’t stomach? The honest truth is that we can’t! In our own strength, we are unable to forgive those who have hurt us deeply, but with God’s help, it is possible.

4 Steps to Forgiving Those I Hate

1. Turn our hurts over to God. We should remind ourselves that nothing happens that God does not allow. As a result we should acknowledge our hurts and ask God to help us with them. He may choose to teach us through them and shape us into the person He wants us to be. God never wastes a hurt!

God never wastes a hurt!

2. Ask God to transform our hate to love. In time, God will change our hearts to match His heart if we allow Him to do so. We should pray and ask God to start the process of healing and forgiveness in our hearts.

3. Read what God’s Word says about forgiveness. The Bible is replete with verses on this topic. Reading what God says is a major part of how He moves us towards a heart of forgiveness. Here are a couple of passages on the topic:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV) 

“He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:  Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.'”  Luke 11:2-4 (NIV) 

4. Remember that we sinned against God. God forgave us when we didn’t deserve it, so we should forgive others when they don’t deserve it. We are never more like God than when we grant forgiveness to undeserving people.

Don’t spend the rest of your life without rest in your life!

If you’re struggling with hard feelings toward someone . . . if you’re mad, hurt, bitter, or all the above rolled into one, then let it go! Forgive! Do it for their sake! Do it for your sake! Do it for the Lord! Don’t spend the rest of your life without rest in your life. Unforgiveness can slow down or even sidetrack your spiritual growth.

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5 Things I Hated Doing as a Pastor

In my previous two posts I wrote about 6 Things I Hated Hearing as a Pastor followed by 7 Things I Loved Hearing as a Pastor. In today’s post I want to explore 5 Things I Hated DOING as a Pastor. Keep in mind that I loved being a pastor and I loved most the tasks that came along with the position, but I didn’t love everything.

5 Things I Hated Doing as a Pastor

1. Preaching on difficult topics. I preached on marriage, divorce, homosexuality, fornication, adultery, abortion, tithing, racism, prejudice, laziness, gossip, and numerous other difficult subjects, but I didn’t love doing it. As a pastor, I preferred to preach about Jesus and the encouraging passages that abound, but I knew that I was accountable to God to preach the whole Bible even when the topics were not popular or culturally acceptable.

…even when the topics were not popular or culturally acceptable.”

2. Visiting new parents in the hospital. I didn’t really hate visiting new parents, but it always felt a little awkward. I felt better visiting when the mother and the father were both present or when my wife could join me. As their pastor, I wanted to let them know that we celebrated with them on the birth of their child, but at the same time, I wanted to respect their need for privacy. As a man, I was certain that I didn’t understand everything that the new mother was going through physically and emotionally, so I wanted to give her space for rest and healing.

3. Addressing church conflict. When I faced conflict during my early years of ministry I simply prayed and hoped that it would go away. As the pastor, I began to realize that I had to lean into conflict and work towards reconciliation, but it was something that I always dreaded.

…I began to realize that I had to lean into conflict…”

4. Asking for help. In the perfect church world, all the church members would jump in and volunteer when needed. Since that rarely happened, I often had to personally ask people for help.

5. Administering church discipline. The Bible clearly teaches that there are times when church discipline is required. The purpose of discipline is to help the offender discover his sin and his need for repentance. Even when church discipline was appropriate and best, it was always very difficult.

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6 Things I Hated Hearing as a Pastor

I recently read Dr. Thom Rainer’s excellent post entitled Six Traits of a Church DisrupterHis post made me think of things that I’ve heard from church members during my years serving as a pastor. Keep in mind, that I’ve been blessed to hear great encouragement and much-needed, Godly advice through the years, but these are things that I always hated to hear as a pastor.

6 Things I Hated Hearing as a Pastor

1. People are saying. This usually mean’t that the person talking to me had a personal concern about something. As I matured as a pastor I began to ask “what people?” “Who exactly?” “Please ask them to come and talk with me because I would be happy to talk to them in person about his matter.”

…what people? Who exactly?”

2. You should have told me about this. It’s true that communication is extremely important and there were times that I didn’t communicate well, but usually this phrase came from someone who simply wanted to control decisions. Although we went through all the proper church channels in making the decision, they were upset that their opinion was not sought.

3. You should preach on ___________. Church members should feel the freedom to offer sermon topics to their pastor. Personally, I’ve been overly defensive at times in this area. It wasn’t the suggestion itself, but the motive and spirit behind the suggestion that really got under my skin.

…really got under my skin.”

4. If you’re in the area. “If you’re in the area, go by and see my uncle that I haven’t spoken to in 25 years.” This type of request always made me feel guilty. Usually they were referring to someone who lived hours away. I made a few of these visits through the years, but they often felt very awkward. The person making the “suggestion” was actually the one who needed to go see their uncle instead of asking me to do so.

5. No one came and saw me in the hospital. I know that I failed to make some hospital visits through the years, but this statement usually came from someone who never let the church know that they were in the hospital. With the new privacy laws surrounding one’s medical records, a church has NO WAY of knowing unless someone tells them.

6. That will never work. Sometimes this phrase is accompanied with “our last pastor tried that and it didn’t work.” The fact that the last pastor also felt led to try the same thing is evidence that God is leading in that direction. Very likely the timing just wasn’t right when the last pastor tried it. This phrase usually comes from individuals who do not like change.

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6 Truths about the Holy Spirit

After serving as a pastor in Southern Baptist churches over the last quarter of a century, I find that the average Southern Baptist is largely unfamiliar with the person and work of the Holy Spirit. As a result, let’s consider six foundational truths about the Holy Spirit:

6 Foundational Truths about the Holy Spirit

  1. The Holy Spirit is God. The Holy Spirit was there in the beginning. He was part of the Trinity as everything was created. Genesis says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2).
  2. The Holy Spirit is a person. Throughout the Bible, the Holy Spirit is referred to as “He or Him.” In John 14:16-17, Jesus said, “….I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
  3. The Holy Spirit plays a key role in salvation. (John 16:8-11)
  4. The Holy Spirit dwells in each believer. Jesus said, “….the Spirit of truth….he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). Paul asked, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
  5. The Holy Spirit is given to us as a deposit. What a glorious truth! The Holy Spirit is God’s down payment indicating that He is good for the rest! Hallelujah! “Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 5:5).
  6. The Holy Spirit produces fruit in the believer. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

I personally believe that the greatest evidence that we are truly believers is the fruit of Spirit. If we have the Spirit as a deposit then we are, without a doubt, a true Christian. If we are genuine Christians who are in fellowship with God, then we will bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

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5 Keys to Being Like Jesus

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:6-7 (NIV)

As believers, our ultimate goal is to become like Christ. He is the bulls-eye. He is the mark. He is the goal! Here are 5 keys I see in this passage to becoming more like Jesus.

5 Keys to Being Like Jesus

1.  Turn over the steering wheel. God doesn’t want to be co-pilot; He wants to be pilot. The Apostle Paul said, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord….” (Vs. 6). When I ride with someone else, I find myself wanting to grab the wheel, hit the brake, or stomp the accelerator. Similarly, I sometimes do that in my Christian walk, but Jesus deserves to be Lord in my life as well as yours. I must continually turn the wheel of my life over to Him.

2.  Dig in with Christ. There were a number of false teachers in Colossae, so Paul emphasized the need to be “rooted and built up in Him” (Vs. 7). One way to be rooted is to dig into God’s Word. Common sense tells us that we can’t watch television 5 hours a day, then read the Bible 5 minutes a day, and expect to grow spiritually!

3.  Build our lives in Jesus. Paul said that we are “built up in Him” (Vs. 7). Construction takes time. Some building projects take longer than others. The same is true in our Christlikeness. Discipleship is a lifelong, exciting journey.

Discipleship is a lifelong, exciting journey.

4.  Pump up with teaching. Several years ago two famous Saturday Night Live characters regularly said, “we are here to pump you up!” Paul told the Colossian believers they were “strengthened in the faith as [they] were taught” (Vs. 7). Paul connects the teaching of the Word of God with spiritual strength. We should “pump up” regularly with good Biblical teaching.

5.  Spill thankfulness everywhere you go. Paul concludes verse 7 by reminding us that we should be “overflowing with thankfulness.” I remember a couple of times a waitress accidently filled my glass so full that it overflowed. As mature believers, we should intentionally be so full of thankfulness that we overflow for others to see. I believe that genuine thankfulness is a mark of spiritual maturity.

The Lord Jesus is our model and we often fall short. But, always remember that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6, NIV).

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5 Mistakes During Conflict

We are increasingly seeing conflict in society in general and in our local churches specifically. In their book entitled Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care, Tara Klena Barthel and David V. Edling did a great job defining conflict and uncovering what the Bible says we should do when conflict arises. In the first chapter, they shared five mistakes that most people make when conflict happens. These mistakes are the beginning of a tragic downward spiral.

5 Mistakes People Make During Conflict

1. We think OUR evaluation of the situation is always right. I’ve made this mistake and you have as well. It’s easy and natural to do, but it’s not best to do. In order to resolve conflict, we must be open to listen to the “other side” and be willing to consider that we are not totally right on the issue.

2. We treat people differently than God treats US. God treats us with love and grace. He forgives us when we don’t deserve it. During conflict, we often treat the other person with contempt and disrespect which leads us to disdain their perspective.

3. We assume that God is on OUR side. Although we may accept that those on the other side of the conflict are believers, we believe that we uniquely have God’s attention, care, and blessing more than our opponents do.

4. We become DEFENSIVE. As soon as we become defensive, we become closed and narrow. We believe that God takes our side on the issue and condemns those on the other side of the conflict in the same way that we do.

5. We are marked by PRIDE and selfishness. These characteristics are not from the Lord. Instead, Christ wants us to be marked by humility and love which leads toward reconciliation.

Conflict is a normal part of life. No one is exempt! But, as believers, God calls us to respond differently than the world and to DO OUR BEST to resolve the conflict.

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Romans 12:18 (NKJV)

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