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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7 Facts about the Heavenly Body

Have you ever wondered what our bodies will be like in Heaven? Will I still be a runner? If so, will I be faster and able to run as far as I desire without becoming tired?  Will we need to exercise? Will we need to eat and what food will be available? Here are a number of Scripture passages that shed light on this interesting subject.

7 Interesting Facts about the Heavenly Body

  1. Our heavenly body will be recognizable.  (1 Corinthians 13:12; Matthew 17:1-3)
  2. Our heavenly body will be like Christ’s body.  (1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 15:39)
  3. Our heavenly body will permit eating.  (Luke 24:40-43)
  4. Our heavenly body will be unlimited by time, gravity, and space.  (Luke 24:31; John 20:19, 26)
  5. Our heavenly body will be an eternal body.  (2 Corinthians 5:1-5; 1 Corinthians 15:42)
  6. Our heavenly body will be a glorified body.  (Romans 8:18; 1 Corinthians 14:42-43)
  7. Our heavenly body will be a spiritual body.  (1 Corinthians 15:44)

The Bible does not tell us everything about the Christian’s future body, but it does give us quite a bit of information. I’ve heard other questions as well. Will there be animals in Heaven?  Will we know everyone and not need introductions?  Will we be married in Heaven?  Will we be aware of loved ones and friends who did not make it to Heaven?

Through Him (Jesus) we can experience forgiveness and cleansing.

I hope you are prepared for Heaven.  Jesus loves you and wants you to spend eternity with Him.  He came to this earth and died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, although He Himself never sinned.  Through Him we can experience forgiveness and cleansing.  Confess to Him that you have sinned.  Invite Him to come into your heart and to forgive you of your sins.  Commit to follow Him as the Lord of your life. Find a local Biblical church and become involved. You will grow and God will be pleased!

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Best Bible Reading Plans

What is the most important spiritual discipline? What is the one thing that is paramount when it comes to maturing as a follower of Christ? I believe the Bible is the key. I’m not saying that it is the only thing that is important, but I am saying that it is most important!

Many Christians have followed Christ for decades, yet have never read the Bible in its entirety. There are several printed plans, web-based plans, and Bible apps that make it easier than ever.

4 Types of Bible Reading Plans

1. Printed plans. There are numerous ways to print off a Bible reading plan online. One of the best sites is the The Navigators. They utilize the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading plans which are some of my favorites.

2. One-Year-Bible. This Bible is designed for those who want to read through the Bible in a calendar year.

3. Online plans. Dozens (probably hundreds) of sites exist online that are dedicated to reading the Bible through in a year. Some will even email you each day with the assigned reading. Here are three good ones:  Christianity.com, BibleGateway.com, and BacktotheBible.org.

4. Bible apps. I utilize several great Bible apps for Bible reading and study. They all have Bible reading plans that are very helpful. My favorite Bible apps include: You Version, ESV, and Logos.

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3 Keys to Following God

One of my favorite books of the Bible is the Gospel of Mark. I like his “just the facts” approach to the Gospel story. I had a little laugh recently while reading the following passage:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”  Mark 1:35-38 (NIV)

Doesn’t it seem odd to you that Jesus left as soon as the crowds began to gather? Typically, most leaders are hoping to draw a big crowd, but Jesus did something quite unusual at that point. When His ratings spiked–He took a hike! When the numbers were high–he said goodbye. When the crowds grew–he bid them adieu.

Doesn’t that strike you as being unusual? Why did Jesus do that? What can we learn from this story? Here are three keys to following God as a true believer.

3 Keys to Following God

1. God’s plan is rarely like our plan. He knows best, so we should trust Him and follow Him. He often leads us to do the unexpected…..the unpredictable…..the unthinkable!

2. We should never allow others to shape us by their expectations. I am a people-pleaser and the opinions of others matter greatly to me. But, I know that I should seek to live for an audience of one. Although we want to be good examples to those around us, ultimately, we should simply try to please God.

3. We should never exchange good for God. Some things are good to do, but they are not the things God has led us to do–they are good, but they are not God. The challenge is to live in such a way that we can discern the difference.

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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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7 Things I Loved Hearing as a Pastor

In last week’s post, I talked about 6 Things I Hated Hearing As a Pastor. Fortunately in the churches I served as Senior Pastor, I heard far more words of encouragement than words of discouragement. Here are a few of the things I loved hearing most as a pastor.

7 Things I Loved Hearing as a Pastor

1. Pastor. I loved being called “pastor.” I’ve had no higher calling or greater privilege in my career than serving as a pastor of a local church. When someone said “Pastor Steve” or “Pastor Rice,” it always warmed my heart and made me grateful to God.

I loved being called “pastor.”

2. Pastor, I’m praying for you. You’ve heard the saying “I need the prayers and you need the practice.” I don’t know if the person who offered to pray for me needed to practice, but I knew that I needed their prayers. What a privilege that they would take time to pray for me!

3. Pray for me pastor. It was always humbling when members of the church or community asked me to pray for them. They trusted that my prayers would make a difference in their lives–what a blessing this was!

4. Thank you pastor. Words of gratitude were always welcome. I did not serve as a pastor in order to receive the praises of men and women, but since I’m human, it felt great to be appreciated.

…since I’m human, it felt great to be appreciated.

5. Pastor, I’ll be glad to help. Some individuals were always ready to jump in and help, always ready to say yes. They were always willing to give of their time, finances, talents, and gifts.

6. Pastor, tell me how to become a Christian. The “Good News” never got old. Possibly the highest privilege of a pastor was being present when a person placed their faith in Jesus Christ. Heaven was present and eternity was changed!

7. Pastor, help me know how to read the Bible. The Bible is the most important key to spiritual growth. Through our reading and study of the Bible, we hear the Word of the Lord. I always found great joy in helping church members know more about God’s Word.

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