Is It Possible to Be Happy in Christ Despite Suffering?

Sharing today from Randy Alcorn’s Eternal Perspectives Ministries (EPM) blog.

Is It Possible to Be Happy in Christ Despite Suffering?

By Randy Alcorn

God never guarantees that the Christian life will be smooth or easy. In fact, he promises the opposite: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12, NKJV). We’re not to be surprised when we face great difficulties (see 1 Peter 4:12).

All the psalms of lament, the book of Lamentations, and many other Scripture passages reveal the importance of realism and sorrow in the Christian life. No treatment of joy and happiness should deny or minimize such texts.

Indeed, a truly biblical worldview and an authentic doctrine of joy and happiness fully recognize and embrace the realities of suffering in this present age.

The happiness described in Scripture is all the richer because it doesn’t involve denial or pretense and can be experienced amid severe difficulty. Christ-followers don’t preach the flimsy kind of happiness that’s built on wishful thinking. Instead, our basis for happiness remains true—and sometimes becomes clearer—in suffering.

Rejoicing Is Rooted in Our God, Not Our Circumstances

Rejoicing always in the Lord (see Philippians 4:4) may seem unrealistic at times. But we must remember that this rejoicing is centered not in a passing circumstance but in a constant reality—God Himself, and His Son, Jesus, who died for us and rose again.

On the one hand, we might suppose that Scripture doesn’t command us to rejoice in our nation’s condition, our culture’s trajectory, our spouse’s attitude, our child’s struggle, our church’s conflicts, our job loss, or our poor health. On the other hand, we’re told to “always [give] thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20, NIV). Likewise, Scripture tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV).

I don’t think this means that we are to rejoice in evil, per se, since God hates evil (Zechariah 8:17Proverbs 6:16-19) and commands us to hate it (Psalm 97:10Proverbs 8:13Romans 12:9). I do think it means that we should believe Romans 8:28, which tells us God will work all things together for our good, including evil things that happen to us.

Believing this frees us to thank God in the middle of difficult and even evil circumstances, knowing that in His sovereign grace, He is accomplishing great, eternal purposes in us through these things.

We’re told to rejoice in the Lord and to “consider it all joy” when we face hardship (James 1:2, NASB). Choosing to rejoice, by rehearsing reasons to be happy and grateful while suffering, affirms trust in God. We walk by faith, believing in what God has done, is doing, and will do to bring a good end to all that troubles us.

This response requires faith that God lovingly superintends our challenges. Viewing our sufferings as random or obsessing over someone else’s bad choices that caused our sufferings robs us of happiness. A weak, small, or faulty view of God always poisons the well of our contentment.

The more we grow in our understanding of God’s attributes, the happier we become.

We Have a Sovereign and Loving God

The deeper our knowledge of God’s character, the deeper our reservoir of strength, perspective, and happiness in hard times. Who is this God we are to trust? What is He really like?

As we have dealt with her cancer over the past two years, Nanci and I have spent time meditating on the attributes of God, rereading and listening to audiobooks such as The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer and Knowing God by J. I. Packer and Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. Our hearts are lifted in praise as we contemplate His holiness, grace, justice, mercy, and every facet of His being revealed to us in Scripture.

Scripture teaches that we have a God who loves us and is sovereign over the universe, including all evil. We can’t be happy, and remain happy, without believing in the sovereignty of a loving God. The beauty of the Christian worldview is that while we’re encouraged to take initiative and control what’s within our power, we also know that the enormous part of life we can’t control is under God’s governance.

Scripture tells us, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). It assures us, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). And since God is eternally wise and good and happy, and we’re not, we’re far better off with Him, not us, in control.

Read the rest here.

To Those Hurting This Christmas

I have shared this one here before during the Christmas season but it is such a good piece that I have decided to share this as a Christmas post each year.

To Those Hurting This Christmas

by John Knight

I know some of you are praying you’ll make it through Christmas—just make it through—not anticipating anything good will come from gathering with extended family and friends. It has become a cliche—right next to the article on what second-graders are excited about for Christmas is the article on the rise in depression during this last month of the year.

You know the sadness is real. While you change the diaper of a teenager, or administer complicated medications, or prevent your non-verbal ten-year-old from hurting himself again, or explain yet again the complicated life of your five-year-old without a diagnosis for her disability, your nieces and nephews and young friends are playing and running and eating, happily talking about the toys they want or travel they’re excited about or things they are doing in school. They easily do things your child will never do, no matter how many therapies or medications or prayers are offered.

Or maybe the disability in your family member means you can’t gather with other loved ones, and the heartache is almost more than you can stand.

Jesus knows.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15, italics added)

More than that, he endured and is victorious!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2, italics added)

And there are some of you who can’t see it. There is still hope!

From Pastor John’s book, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy,

It is utterly crucial that in our darkness we affirm the wise, strong hand of God to hold us, even when we have no strength to hold him. This is the way Paul thought of his own strivings. He said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). The key thing to see in this verse is that all Paul’s efforts to grasp the fullness of joy in Christ are secured by Christ’s grasp of him. Never forget that your security rests on Christ’s faithfulness first.

Our faith rises and falls. It has degrees. But our security does not rise and fall. It has no degrees. We must persevere in faith. That’s true. But there are times when our faith is the size of a mustard seed and barely visible. In fact, the darkest experience for the child of God is when his faith sinks out of his own sight. Not out of God’s sight, but his. Yes, it is possible to be so overwhelmed with darkness that you do not know if you are a Christian — and yet still be one. (216, italics added)

Jesus understands. Jesus is victorious. Jesus is the answer. May you find him, and in finding him, find hope and peace in these hard days.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)


John Knight is Director of Development at Desiring God. He is married to Dianne and together they parent their four children: Paul, Hannah, Daniel, and Johnny. Paul lives with multiple disabilities including blindness, autism, cognitive impairments and a seizure disorder. John blogs on issues of disability, the Bible, and the church at The Works of God.

Merry Christmas 2019!

Welcome to my annual Christmas post. From my house to yours, I wish you a very merry and blessed Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior!
He alone is the Reason for the Christmas season and our ultimate JOY!

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields,
keeping watch over their flock by night.

And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them,
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were greatly afraid.

Then the angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid, for behold,
I bring you good tidings of great joy
which will be to all people.

For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior,
who is Christ the Lord.

And this will be the sign to you:
You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths,
lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel
a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

—Luke 2:8-14

The song “A Christmas Alleluia” is by Chris Tomlin featuring Lauren Daigle and Leslie Jordan. Close your eyes as you listen to this wonderful song of praise and worship to our Savior.

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible,
to God who alone is wise,
be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. 

—1 Timothy 1:17 (NKJV)

After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,
“Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power
belong to the Lord our God!

For true and righteous are His judgments,
because He has judged the great harlot
who corrupted the earth with her fornication;
and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her.”

Again they said, “Alleluia! Her smoke rises up forever and ever!”

—Revelation 19:1-3 (NKJV)

If for whatever reason you cannot view this video, you can read the complete lyrics here.

Christmas Hope

Christmas Hope

By Pat Knight

When Jesus was born over two thousand years ago, the Jews were a conquered people ruled by the Roman Empire under King Herod the Great. He was a ruthless, jealous madman, a schemer who took advantage of the Roman political climate to claim his way to the top position. Herod launched ambitious building endeavors and capital improvements, creating an unjust burden on the Jewish citizens, extracting thirty-five percent of their annual income.

The Wise Men stopped in the capital city, Jerusalem, to seek information about the newborn King of the Jews after following His supernatural star for many months. They were looking for the exact time and place of His birth. After King Herod gathered the Sadducees to study the Old Testament prophecy, he informed the Magi to look in Bethlehem. Then Herod the Great secretly commanded the Wise Men to present him with a report as soon as they located the new King.

The Wise Men reached Joseph and Mary with the Christ child at their home in Egypt, where an angel had directed them to relocate after Jesus’ birth.  As the Magi prepared to return home through Jerusalem to report their findings to King Herod, they were visited by God’s angel. He delivered the holy message for them to take another route home, avoiding King Herod altogether. Soon, the king suspected he had been tricked by the Wise Men. In his fury he gave orders to kill all boys in Bethlehem and its vicinities two years old and under, in accordance with the earlier visit from the Magi.

Herod’s ordered killings initiated great sorrow and fear when soldiers stormed every house searching for little victims. The soldier’s orders were non-negotiable. What a heartbreaking massacre, a mass killing to ameliorate one man’s pride. Brutal Herod the Great had already killed several of his family members. Herod was deranged. He didn’t hesitate to kill anyone to advance his personal agenda, his means of abolishing those who stood in his way. Herod didn’t handle competition in a healthy way. He kept order with the secret police and firm tyrannical rule.

Herod’s oppressive, bullying, totalitarian rule isn’t so unlike the style of anarchy we are witnessing by leaders in our current society. As we listen to news broadcasts, we are informed that cities are collapsing world-wide. We gasp in horror when acts of terror are committed within our borders. As in King Herod’s day, heinous acts are rationalized to promote personal power and greed. There are just as many merciless, ruthless madmen holding high government positions  today as there were in Herod the Great’s day (37 BC to 4 AD). There is little interest in discussion or tolerance. Oppressive governments first squash, then annihilate dissenters.

Over the centuries, the Israelites had grown weary of waiting for the promised Messiah. As Roman tyranny grew more suffocating, the Jews were anticipating a political Savior, one who would  finally release the nation of Israel from servitude, particularly from fear of dictators like Herod the Great. But the angels announced a Savior who would accomplish so much more—delivering them from sin and death, a miracle that compelled the angels to sing, “‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests’” (Luke 2:14). We are still claiming this victory today.

We cannot ignore the nefarious worldwide activity prevailing all around us. In contrast, Jesus personifies gifts of peace, joy, love, and grace. As we focus on Jesus’ power and authority during this Christmas season, the negativism of this world recedes in our minds; our priorities re-adjust on the blessed hope that changes our perspective.

The cacophony of current event chatter heard from around the world bombards us with discouragement. God assures us that hope is alive and well. Hope is confident expectation in God and His future plans. As humans we cannot manufacture hope by our own efforts. Hope is centered in God, personally demonstrated to us by the death of Christ on the cross. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Do not allow foreboding fear to overshadow you this Christmas. Instead, renew your hope, gratitude, and love in the Babe of Bethlehem, who matured into our personal Savior. He will lavish believers with love and grace, encouraging you during this hopeful season. God keeps His promises; He never disappoints.

Our Messiah is more creative, powerful, and authoritative than all fear-mongering terrorists combined. Jesus is the very definition of hope, the Prince of Peace, able to rest our fearful spirits with His calming, trustworthy promises. He admonishes you to come to Him for soothing peace of mind. Centuries ago, in the midst of heavy-handed government, the shepherds and Wise Men found cause to rejoice at Jesus’ birth. May we do the same this Christmas.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy” (Psalm 96:11-12).

What Was the Christmas Star?

Today I’m sharing from Answers In Genesis.

What Was the Christmas Star?

by Dr. Jason Lisle

What was the star? And how did it lead the magi to the Lord? There have been many speculations.

The apostle Matthew records that the birth of Jesus was accompanied by an extraordinary celestial event: a star that led the magi1 (the “wise men”) to Jesus. This star “went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was” (Matthew 2:9). What was this star? And how did it lead the magi to the Lord? There have been many speculations.

Common Explanations

The star mentioned in Matthew is not necessarily what we normally think of as a star. That is, it was not necessarily an enormous mass of hydrogen and helium gas powered by nuclear fusion. The Greek word translated star is aster (αστηρ), which is where we get the word astronomy. In the biblical conception of the word, a star is any luminous point of light in our night sky. This would certainly include our modern definition of a star, but it would also include the planets, supernovae, comets, or anything else that resembles a point of light. But which of these explanations best describes the Christmas star?

A supernova (an exploding star) fits the popular Christmas card conception of the star. When a star in our galaxy explodes, it shines very brightly for several months. These beautiful events are quite rare and outshine all the other stars in the galaxy. It seems fitting that such a spectacular event would announce the birth of the King of kings—the God-man who would outshine all others. However, a supernova does not fit the biblical text. The Christmas star must not have been so obvious, for it went unnoticed by Israel’s King Herod (Matthew 2:7). He had to ask the magi when the star had appeared, but everyone would have seen a bright supernova.

Nor could the Christmas star have been a bright comet. Like a supernova, everyone would have noticed a comet. Comets were often considered to be omens of change in the ancient world. Herod would not have needed to ask the magi when a comet had appeared. Moreover, neither a comet nor a supernova moves in such a way as to come and stand over a location on earth as the Christmas star did (Matthew 2:9). Perhaps the Christmas star was something more subtle: a sign that would amaze the magi but would not be noticed by Herod.

A Conjunction?

This leads us to the theory that the Christmas star was a conjunction of planets. A conjunction is when a planet passes closely by a star or by another planet. Such an event would have been very meaningful to the magi, who were knowledgeable of ancient astronomy, but would likely have gone unnoticed by others. There were several interesting conjunctions around the time of Christ’s birth. Two of these were triple conjunctions; this is when a planet passes a star (or another planet), then backs up, passes it again, then reverses direction and passes the star/planet a third time. Such events are quite rare.

Nonetheless, there was a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn beginning in the year 7 B.C. Also, there was a triple conjunction of Jupiter and the bright star Regulus beginning in the year 3 B.C. Of course, we do not know the exact year of Christ’s birth, but both of these events are close to the estimated time. Advocates of such conjunction theories point out that the planets and stars involved had important religious significance in the ancient world. Jupiter was often considered the king of the gods, and Regulus was considered the “king star.” Did such a conjunction announce the birth of the King of kings? However, the Bible describes the Christmas star as a single star—not aconjunction of two or more stars. Neither of the above conjunctions was close enough to appear as a single star.

But there was one (and only one) extraordinary conjunction around the time of Christ’s birth that could be called a “star.” In the year 2 B.C., Jupiter and Venus moved so close to each other that they briefly appeared to merge into a single bright star. Such an event is extremely rare and may have been perceived as highly significant to the magi. Although this event would have been really spectacular, it does not fully match the description of the Christmas star. A careful reading of the biblical text indicates that the magi saw the star on at least two occasions: when they arrived at Jerusalem (Matthew 2:2) and after meeting with Herod (Matthew 2:9). But the merging of Jupiter and Venus happened only once—on the evening of June 17.

Although each of the above events is truly spectacular and may have been fitting to announce the birth of the King of kings, none of them seems to fully satisfy the details of the straightforward reading of Matthew 2. None of the above speculations fully explain how the star “went ahead of ” the magi nor how it “stood over where the child was.” Indeed, no known natural phenomenon would be able to stand over Bethlehem since all natural stars continually move due to the rotation of the earth.2 They appear to rise in the east and set in the west, or circle around the celestial poles. However, the Bible does not say that this star was a natural phenomenon.

Read the rest here.

Jesus, Savior of the World

Sharing today from Decision Magazine

Jesus, Savior of the World

By Charles H. Spurgeon

Our thoughts turn to the first use of the name, when the Child who was yet to be born was named Jesus. The person to whom that name was first revealed was Joseph: a carpenter, a humble man, a working man, unknown and undistinguished except by the justice of his character.

It is not, therefore, a title to be monopolized by princes, sages, priests, warriors or men of wealth. It is a name to be made a household word among common people! He is the people’s Christ.

The name of Jesus was sweet from the start because of the words that accompanied it, for they were meant to remove perplexity from Joseph’s mind: “Fear not.” Truly, no name can banish fear like the name of Jesus! It is the beginning of hope and the end of despair! Let the sinner hear of the Savior, and he forgets to die! He hopes to live! He rises out of the deadly lethargy of his hopelessness and, looking upward, he sees a reconciled God and no longer fears.

At the time when the name was given, His full person had not been seen by mortal eyes, for He lay as yet concealed. But soon He came forth, having been born of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. A matchless man, He bears our nature but not our corruption! He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, but in His flesh there is no sin! This Holy One is the Son of God, and yet He is the Son of man!

The name of Jesus is a name divinely ordered and expounded. According to the text, the angel brought a message from the Lord and said, “You shall call His name Jesus.” It is a name that—like He who bears it—has come down from Heaven. Our Lord has other names of office and relationship, but this is His own personal name.

And it is the Father who has thus named Him.

The name is the highest, brightest and noblest of names. It is the glory of our Lord to be a Savior. To the best that was ever born of woman, God has given the best name that any son of man could bear. Jesus is the most appropriate name that our Lord could receive.

The Father knew Him perfectly, and He named Him Jesus. We may be sure, then, that our Lord is, most of all, a Savior, and He is best described by that term. God, the Father, who knows Him best, sees this to be His grand characteristic: that He is a Savior and is therefore best represented by the name Jesus.

God’s Christmas Gift

God’s Christmas Gift

 By Pat Knight

I had just settled into a pew prior to the church service, when my husband tapped me on the shoulder. As he whispered, “Something’s happened to my mother,” I heard panic in his voice. Her crumpled form lay on the cold floor of the church vestry. My hand over my mother-in-law’s chest detected the last heartbeat as someone else attempted to palpate her carotid pulse. There was no time to think, but simply to respond. Our knowledge of life saving, practiced and stored for future use, must be activated into quick and decisive maneuvers. The ambulance arrived and whisked Della off to the hospital. I was stunned. It was Christmas Eve and my mother-in-law had just suffered a cardiac arrest in church. In a few short minutes the serenity of the day had given way to utter chaos.

Further testing revealed our loved one had not suffered a heart attack, but worse—a ruptured brain aneurysm. The weakened wall of an artery had burst, causing a stroke in a vital area of her brain. She was transferred via ambulance to a larger medical center as a blizzard raged on Christmas morning. My husband and his sister followed the ambulance while I remained at home to create a little Christmas spirit for our young son and his four older cousins.

Exhaustion enveloped after the holiday dinner I prepared for eleven people was barely nibbled by five excited children. Aimlessly, I slumped into a chair while the teens supervised the young children outside playing in the snow. I could no longer focus on the events of the past twenty-four hours. Instead, my mind wandered to Bethlehem. On a cold, still night in the sheepfold, I was a weather-worn shepherd, frightened by the sudden appearance of an angel. Then the sky spontaneously opened to reveal a vast army of heaven’s angels, singing the jubilant praises of a birth announcement. ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:14)

In the midst of the adversity the Holy Family experienced on that first Christmas day, God assured them, and us, of the greatest gift of all time—His Son. I was rejuvenated by the stunning reminder that it was Christmas day and that I, too, had reason to rejoice.

Among the uncertainty and confusion, God lavished me with His marvelous gift of peace. The affirmation that the Lord was in control was very real. Knowing that His plan for the birth of His Son was perfect to the last detail, just as it had been prophesied for centuries, how could I doubt that God’s plan would be any less perfect for the life of my mother-in-law?

The physicians gave us no encouragement that our loved one would live. In fact, when we inquired about her future homecoming, they simply stared at us in disbelief that our focus was on her recovery. For weeks her life hung in the balance between life and death. She endured brain surgery, drug reactions, and paralysis. How should I pray? Seeing my husband’s mother in her fatal condition, I could hardly ask that she live. Yet, I didn’t want her to die. I realized that I must commit her life totally to God. Hesitantly at first, I prayed, “Thy will be done. How difficult it was to let go! But, eventually my ineffectual hold on her transformed to urgent, trusting prayer that God’s will alone take precedent.

In the town where we lived, news traveled fast. People congratulated me for my heroic actions in saving a life. I bristled against the distinction. “Oh, no,” I clarified, “God saved her. I was only one of many people involved in His plan.” But my explanation didn’t discourage the next well-meaning person from assigning hero status. It was futile to attempt to dissuade public opinion, but my heart and mind rebelled against the perceived distinction. It had never been my desire to participate in such a pivotal event.

Previously, I had wondered if I would be able to perform CPR on a family member.  Although the steps to the resuscitation process emerged naturally, my emotional reaction was overwhelming. One night at work, my nurse manager asked how I was handling the family crisis. I was shocked to hear the words I blurted out: “I can’t shake the terrible guilt I feel for participating in her revival, only to see her remain in a vegetative state these past few weeks.” 

My manager responded, “Oh, I thought you believed in the One who died to remove all guilt.” What spiritual introspection and unrest that one comment elicited! I then realized how significantly my faith had been stymied by personal guilt. How could I possibly pray with conviction, believing in God’s compassion, power, and authority, if my heart was filled with self-incrimination? I proceeded to ask His forgiveness and press onward, requesting God’s help to develop a confident, obedient faith walk.

The quintessential question remains as to God’s purpose for afflictions and hardships in a Christian’s life. Though we will likely never know all of the answers until heaven, the crisis produced an unexpected personal consequence: I grew substantially in my faith walk and prayer life as a result of my mother-in-law’s turbulent illness and prolonged recovery.

God eventually performed a healing miracle in our loved one’s life. She lived for another seventeen years following her recovery, pleasantly astonishing her neurosurgeon and caregivers. Never did our family celebrate another Christmas without boundless joy and gratitude for the spectacular miracles God delights to perform in His children’s lives.