All for Joy

By Ken Childress

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” Hebrews 12:1-2 (BSB).

Many Christians have the perception that God’s rescue mission for the human race was a reluctant venture. We blew it, so He resorted to plan B, at enormous expense, and did what He had to do to save us. His Son suffered excruciating agony to bring us into His Kingdom. He died for lowly, undeserving sinners like us because He had to.

But He didn’t have to, and it wasn’t a chore. It was a sacrifice, to be sure, but it wasn’t a reluctant one. Though the night in Gethsemane was tearful and painful – no one wants to suffer unspeakable pain, after all – the Cross was a willing choice. Jesus didn’t save unworthy sinners because He was obligated to do so. He did it for the joy set before Him.

Think of the great lengths a man deeply in love would go in order to win his beloved’s heart. Whatever price he had to pay, however long he had to wait, whatever obstacles he had to overcome would not seem like a sacrifice. Why? Because of the inestimable worth of the prize. Love goes to any length to be fulfilled. The cost is irrelevant. Only the fulfillment matters.

That’s how Scripture describes the rescue mission Jesus went on to redeem humanity. It was and still is like a bridegroom seeking a bride. No cost is too high, no sacrifice too great, no wait too long. The joy in the end will be worth it.

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This is the role model we are told to fix our eyes on. Because of His great love, Jesus became the author and perfecter of our faith. Just as He endured every obstacle and hindrance because of the joy set before Him, so can we. When we realize our ultimate destination, no cost seems too great. Whatever we face in life today, we can keep going because the goal is worth more than anything we will ever have to endure.

Hebrews 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the JOY set before Him endured the cross.”

God called us to run a race, to soar like eagles on the wind of His Spirit, to overcome the entanglements and weights that would conspire to hold us back. Our burdens are no match for our God my friends. Faith sees the reality of that truth and allows us to keep running our race to the end.

The Winning Formula

By Scott Armstrong

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)

In the church we make knowing God’s will seem so easy.  There are formulas we can follow!  For example, James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (1:5).  There’s the Wisdom Formula: we lack it, we ask for it—Boom, we get it!  So why is it hardly ever so simple?

As a youth pastor and now a missionary, I have seen many teens through the years who have struggled with knowing God’s will for their lives.  Who am I supposed to marry? Where am I supposed to go to college? What does God want me to do today, right now?

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Romans 12:1-2 is a well-known passage that contains another formula for knowing God’s will.  It promises that we will “be able to test and approve what God’s will is” if we just follow the aforementioned instructions.  We must offer ourselves as “living sacrifices.”  A sacrifice has no rights; it is surrendered completely on an altar.  Even a living sacrifice has to be surrendered entirely.  Then the instructions say, we must not be conformed to the world around us, but be transformed.  There has to be a genuine change in our lifestyles and even mindsets—something that is visually different from the surrounding culture.

Although many of us are tired of quick and easy formulas, I believe the key to knowing God’s will is wrapped up in these instructions.  We will know God’s will if we surrender everything to him.

Of the hundreds of teens I have seen struggling to know God’s will for their lives, do you know which ones have seemed to understand God’s will more than the others? The ones who have been sold out to God, 100%.  The ones who have longed to not just know his will, but to know God himself more and more each day.  The sacrificed ones.  Those who are not conformed to the world around them.  Those who have been transformed.

Do you want to know God’s will?

Are you a living sacrifice yet?

True Family

By Scott Armstrong

“He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’ For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50).

Teaching, preaching, healing.  Matthew does a good job recording the purpose of Jesus’ time on earth (see 9:35-38).  In Matthew 12, after traveling around a lot, proclaiming many controversial things, and receiving death threats, Jesus withdraws from the hubbub of the crowds (12:15).  Or so he thinks.  Many needy people follow him and Jesus continues to heal, cast out demons, and respond to his critics.  The day is getting hot, the teacher is getting tired.

Jesus needs to recharge his batteries.  So what better way to do that than by spending time relaxing with family? He probably has not seen his mother and brothers in many months.  Imagine his joy, then, when someone tells him that his family is waiting outside and wants to talk with him.  They had surprised him!  Surely he would end his sermon, disperse the crowd, and greet them with open arms!

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But that isn’t what happens at all.  In fact, his response seems a bit harsh.  He seems to say, “Who cares about them? They aren’t my true family.  You are.”  And then chapter 13 says that same day Jesus continues his ministry as if nothing had ever happened.

We need to be careful here.  The point of this passage is not that we need to abandon our families in order to serve God.  The key is found in Jesus’ response (v.50).  Whoever does God’s will is truly part of Christ’s family.  There is something that supersedes even blood relationship here.

My wife and I are missionaries living in Dominican Republic.  Our parents are in the US.  We miss them.  We value our relationship with them almost more than anything.  I say “almost” because there came a point years ago when it became clear to us that God’s will for our lives was to serve him far away from home and family.

That’s never easy.  But we have no regrets!  Following God’s will has brought us closer to Him and closer to our family as well in many ways.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that following God’s will and being part of Jesus’ family is not worth every sacrifice you make!

My wife and I are missionaries living in Guatemala.  At this very moment, I am writing these words from my parents’ home in the United States.  It has been good to relax and be with family.  I miss them.  I value my relationship with them almost more than anything.  I say “almost” because there came a point years ago when it became clear to us that God’s will for our lives was to serve him far away from home and family.

That’s never easy.  But we have no regrets!  Following God’s will has brought us closer to Him and closer to our family as well in many ways.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that following God’s will and being part of Jesus’ family is not worth every sacrifice you make!

Living and Dying Unashamed

By Scott Armstrong

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith”” (Romans 1:16-17).

I still remember the service.  Darrell Scott, the father of Rachel Scott, was talking about his daughter. Rachel was the first one who was killed at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado the morning of April 20, 1999. Two young gunmen asked her if she believed in God and she answered yes as she stared into the barrel of a gun. The next instant she was gone.

The story of Rachel’s death was moving.  Yet, the thing that riveted the multitude of teens and adults in attendance for that service was not the details of her death.  Rather, we were awestruck by her life.  Darrell told us of her daily spending time in devotions.  We learned that she prayed nearly every day that she would be used by God in her school and community.  She reached out to the unpopular kids at school, even befriending and praying for one of her assassins weeks before her death.  The way she died was moving.  But the way Rachel Scott lived her life was what really inspired all of us.

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In the weeks after hearing Darrell Scott share the testimony of his teenage daughter, I was reminded of many scriptures.  One of them we read just now.  The first phrase echoes in my mind, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.”  Why is living unashamed so important? Because one life unashamed of the gospel is so powerful it can actually convince others to believe in Christ and be saved!  Verse 16 tells us so and Rachel Scott’s life proves it is true.  The gospel working in her life was (and still is) powerful enough to change other’s lives!

“I am not ashamed of the gospel.”  Can you honestly say that from the depth of your heart? How do you act at school, at home, with your family and friends and even enemies? Are you living your life unashamed? Is the power of the gospel evident in your life? In the next few minutes, renew your commitment to God by praying and seeking his face.  Whatever has happened in the past, tell him that you want to live your life for him, unashamed of the gospel.  Thank him for doing the same for you.