joy full

A lot about life in North Africa, if you’re not careful, can rob your joy.  The heat.  Heat rash.  Tiredness.  Travels.  Knocks at the gate at 5:00am.  Feeling used for services (ice, car rides, cell phone charging).  Reverse proselytizing.  Language barrier.  Bluntness.  Daily chores.  Sickness.  Lack of communication from the outside world.  Feeling fellowship starved.  Faith parched.

Have you been there?  Maybe you don’t live in Africa, but some joy robbers are universal.  Maybe you could add more to that list.  Maybe your list is more serious.  Stress of parenting.  Strain on marriage.  Conflict with co-workers.  Serious health concerns.  Failure to overcome a sinful habit.  What is your joy robber?  You know what it is?  We often look for joy in all the wrong places.

C.S. Lewis said,

“All that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”  (Mere Christianity)

Just look around.  We are joy junkies.  Lewis continues,

“we know happiness is out there, but like a drunk man, we stumble in the street, knowing we have a home, but we can’t seem to find it.” (Surprised by Joy)

If there is one truth you need to grasp it is this, joy—true joy—is not conditional on circumstance, but centered and anchored in Christ.  Jesus didn’t just come into the world to bring the good news. He is the good news.  He’s good news for your joy.  Joy is not a circumstance it is a Person.  And your joy is at home in Jesus.

In a timely moment, just after teaching on the promise of sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus says to his disciples “you will see me no longer” and “I am going to the Father.” (16:16-18)  It might seem like Jesus threw them a curve ball, if you did not know the context.  Jesus was leaving and didn’t say when he was coming back.  He wasn’t going to the Seven-Eleven to pick up a Slurpee and coming back in a jiffy.  He was going and no man knew the hour he’d return.  Nonetheless, it was a puzzling and polarizing moment.  These guys left their jobs to follow Jesus.  Talk about a joy robbing moment.  Knowing they had questions (seeing it on their faces), Jesus cuts straight to the heart (vs.19-20).

Promise: Jesus turns sorrow to joy (v.20-21)

Jesus was moments away from the cross (v.20).  While the cross could be viewed as the world’s greatest joy crushing moment it was indeed the world’s greatest joy crowning moment.  The disciples would weep but the world would throw a party.  Every play on the field makes someone happy, whether the home team or the enemy.  Yet the cross is where Jesus fought for your joy.  The cross is where the Man of Sorrows purchased your joy.  You don’t find true joy at the cross, it finds you.  So rich and powerful is the joy of Christ that it cuts through any sorrow and pain.

Survey 100 people on what thing in life causes the most pain and the number one answer on the board (particularly for the ladies) will be childbirth.  Men would might add kidney stones for consolation.  I wouldn’t know how either feels.  However, survey the Scriptures and I see that the world’s greatest pain or sorrow is walking through pain and sorrow without Christ.  That hurts.  That kills.  Yet on the flip side walking through sorrow, pain, heartache, disappointment, failed expectations with Christ—though it doesn’t erase the feeling of sorrow—can cause one to forget it.

Jesus agrees with the ladies.  He illustrates (v.21).  A woman in labor has excruciating pain for “a little while”, but the moment she hears her baby cry and that warm life is brought to her side, she quickly forgets her labor pain.  That is one of the world’s greatest paradoxes.  Likewise, it is the a spiritual paradox that sorrow can turn to joy no matter the circumstance.

What pain or sorrow are you walking through right now?  The promise: it will only be for “a little while.”  It will pass.  It will change.  There will be a day when we have no more questions about how much longer you will have to endure.  Sorrow will turn to joy.

Promise: No one can rob joy from you (v.22)

There are a myriad of things that can rob your joy.  Yet the truth is that joy—centered and anchored in Christ—no man, no power, no circumstance can rob from you.

No man can’t rob what he can’t touch.  The joy of Jesus untouchable.  No man can take what is given to you by God.  His joy is forever.  No string attached.  No circumstance thwarting.  Your joy is safest and most secure in Christ.  Promise.

Even in the darkest night, when the thief comes to steal your last ounce of joy, the anchor seems to be losing it’s grip, and your center is tempted to drift.  Jesus say, “My child, I have already fought for your joy.  I have won.  The thief albeit strong is no match for me.  Come rest in me.  Come draw near.  You are safe with me.  I haven’t left you alone.  I am always with you.  My Spirit is with you.”

Principle to Apply: Ask Jesus to make your joy full (vs.23-24)

When Jesus died fellowship with him was removed, but “a little while” later he resurrected and fellowship with him was restored.  Jesus’ greatest desire for you is that you would enjoy him forever.  That you would draw near to Christ now.  That you would call upon his name so that your “joy may be full.”  Get this, you have full license to come before Jesus anytime with your request and the result will be joy overflowing the riverbanks.  Prayer is our pathway to joy in Jesus.  Prayerlessness leads to joylessness.

When you come to Jesus he promises full joy.  Even in Chad, he can fill your joy.  There is a lot about Chad that can renew or refresh your joy:  You see front line answers to prayer.  You experience astounding provisions.  You experience unknown protection.  You have the privilege of telling lost people (swimming in pain and sorrow) about the good news.  And all the while, Jesus is with you, always.

The great Christian paradox is that joy is possible in the midst of un-joyful circumstance because joy is not conditional on circumstance, but centered and anchored in Christ.  Your joy is most at home in Jesus.  Come home, today.  To the place of inescapable and inexpressible joy.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24–25)

What about Christ brings you joy?  
How does Jesus make your joy full?  What do you need to ask in Jesus name today?

70 Portraits of Jesus in John’s Gospel

John—the beloved disciple of Jesus—writes so that people may believe that Jesus is the Son of God (20:31). John is a Jesus lover. And Jesus loves John too. This mutual love is seen in the way that John writes about Jesus. It’s as if he paints beautiful and endearing portraits of Jesus each able to stand alone for us to marvel at.

As John reflects on Jesus, you are meant to also. Think of yourself at an art gallery. Stand back. Take it in. Get swept up into the scene. Think long and lovingly upon each portrait as John paints it. Jesus will marvel you. He will leave an impression upon you. Each time you look at Jesus you will walk away in awe.

Click Here to Download the “70 Portraits of Jesus in John’s Gospel” Study Guide




understanding your calling FAQ

I have heard many Christians say, “My work is not fulfilling,” “I feel lost in the meaningless of the mundane,” “I feel like I’ve have failed God because I’m not doing enough for Him,” “I feel called to _____, but I feel like I’ve have missed my calling.” If this is you, you may be suffering from confusion and over-complication of the Christian calling. What does the Bible say about your calling? Let’s look at Jesus’ idea of calling as seen in His closest companion John.

WHAT IS A CALLING? [John 1:35-51]

In order for there to be a calling there must be a Caller. If there is no Caller, there are no callings—only work. When Jesus commands His disciples to follow Him, He is the Caller calling followers to a lifetime of worship and service. He is calling them to be a worshiper of One [primary call], and be a servant of all [secondary call] spreading the fame of Christ. Your calling is to follow Christ so decisively that everything you are, everything you do, and everywhere you go, and with everything you have worship God and serve His church spreading the name of Christ. Calling is the foundation of Christian existence itself. Calling in the Bible is a metaphor for living as a follower, worshiper, and server.

Whether you are a teacher with the TSC, a plumber in Pittsburgh, a mother on Monroe Street, a businessman, secretary, missionary, or pastor; your call is the same—worship God and serve the name of Christ through His church. Calling is not just for those in full-time Christian service, and everyone else is part-time or not even clocked in yet. The clergy-laity distinction was created by Roman Catholic Church, and a bad hangover for the modern evangelical church.

Martin Luther said, “God and the angels smile when a man changes a diaper.” William Tyndale wrote, “if your desire is to please God, pouring water, washing dishes, cobbling shoes, and preaching the Word is all one.” Bishop Thomas Becon wrote, “Our Saviour Christ was a carpenter. His apostles fishermen. St. Paul was a tentmaker.” Everyday ordinary work without a calling is simply work. Everyday ordinary work with a deep and devoted sense of calling is an extraordinary opportunity to live as a worshiper God and servant of the cause of Christ!

Christ gives your work meaning, not that you are working for Him [secondary], but that you are satisfied in Him [primary]. You are not called because God needs your help [Acts 17:24-25], or you need to payback God [2 Corinthians 9:8], or you need to do something for God [John 12:25-26]. You are not primarily called to something or to go somewhere, but are called to Someone.

WHO IS CALLED? [John 3:16-36; 5:19-35]

Every genuine follower of God has been called from Adam and Eve to Moses to David to John the Baptist to Paul the Apostle to Fred the follower living in a flat in Philadelphia. To Noah God said, “make yourself an ark of cypress wood…” (Genesis 6-7, and he had not even seen rain before). To Abraham, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12, and he had no clue where God was calling him to go). To Esther (via Mordecai), “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4). To Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1, and he was on a short-term mission).

The list could go on and on of people who were called by God. The New Testaments most frequent one-word description of a Christian is that he is called [2 Thessalonians 2:13-17]. These folks in the Bible are people just like you and me—ordinary people, wanting to trust the extraordinary God of the Universe, but not always under the most comfortable and clear circumstance. However, a common thread runs through each calling: proclaim the salvation of God through worship and service to the ends of the earth.


Jesus said so, and Jesus did so. Jesus’ calling was to worship God and service His name [i.e. wash feet]. He lived as the example towards that calling, even to the enemy who would eventually betray Him [i.e. Judas].

IS MY CALL SPECIFIC? [John 21:15-19]

The biblical call is specifically general: be a follower of Christ devoted to worship God and serve the name of Christ. It’s easy to swallow the fact that God has a macro-specific call, but you can quickly complicate and confuse the call by forcing a micro-specific call. God’s macro-specific and micro-specific plan for your life is to stay close to Jesus, worship Him [“if you love Me”], and serve Him [“if you love Me, feed His sheep”].

What about God’s calling Paul to go specifically to Macedonia [Acts 16:8]? Notice this “course correction” was given in the context of Paul’s active service in God’s mission. Then Holy Spirit tells the church at Antioch to set apart Barnabas and Saul for a church planting mission [Acts 13:1-3], but both men were already active in preaching and serving.


1) Seek wisdom in God’s Word. [Psalm 1:1-3; 119:105; Luke 24:32] You first learn how to hear from God by following His written word. If you can’t follow what He’s written in His word, chances are, you are ignoring the Holy Spirit.

2) Seek wisdom through prayer. Matthew 9:38 says, “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to throw out laborers into His harvest.” The point is to pray. “If anyone of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God who gives generously without reproach, and it will be given him.” [James 1:5]

3) Seek wisdom in your church (4-fold ministry). Ephesians 4:11-12 says, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors/teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” When you sit in a service like this, you’re hearing wisdom from God. He speaks through your pastors and spiritual leaders. Seeking wisdom and guidance from spiritual authorities is wise.

4) Live out loud the gospel. Most people find their world is a small zip code on this grand planet where a particular people group live who needs the gospel. Surrender all you are and have to the gospel of Christ [Luke 14:26-27, 33]. Don Alban Sr. [my ol’ missions prof],says, “Every follower of Christ is an immediate missionary for Christ.”

5) Use your spiritual gifts in conjunction with your church [1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; 1 Peter 4:11-12]. Work through the organism that God uses in this world today. Worship and service is funneled through Christ’s church. If you are worshiping and serving God through your church you can reproduce the same anywhere.


Sarah and I have believe we would be honoring Christ either by remaining on staff at BGBC just as much as we would spreading Christ’s fame among the unreached peoples of Arab North Africa [or any other nation]. We also believe we can be an extension of the ministry of our church in a land where there is no gospel influence. There are literally hundreds of unreached people groups around the world.

So why would we be burdened for a small region in North Africa among a small unnamed and unreached people group? Simply, God has called us to worship Him and spread His fame among those who are not. Our calling is about lifting Christ high, being Christ-like, and through His church serving the name of Christ to the ends of the earth.


Growing up I wanted to be an artist. My dad was great at painting and drawing, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I majored art throughout high school with colorful ambitions and continue to doodle unto this day. I am no Vincent Van Gogh, Michelangelo, or Matisse, but I could draw more than stick figures. What did you want to be when growing up? Did you ever want to be a branch? I suppose not. Although, Jesus says that we need to be branches.

“I AM the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser…Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the Vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” [John 15:1-11]

In His last major sermon to His followers before his death, Jesus walks them through a common backdrop to make an important point. I could see Jesus walking with His disciples into a neighboring vineyard pointing to the vine and branches and picking off a bunch of luscious grapes. He then compares Himself to the Vine and His Father to the Gardener. He compares you and I to branches. From the context there are two different kinds of branches [15:2]. First, there are branches that do not bear fruit. God as the gardener takes these branches and cuts them off because they are useless.

Why doesn’t the first branch bear fruit? The unfruitful branch is not abiding in Christ—the Vine [cf. Those who do not let Jesus be King will not enter His kingdom]. This is a simple divine illustration of salvation. I cannot bear fruit unless I am abiding in Christ. If I do not abide in Christ I am useless and fruitless as a pile of dead kindling [15:6].

Second, there are branches that do bear fruit but He prunes so that they bear more fruit. This is common for gardeners because they desire to get the most out of their crops. If you abide in Christ you will bear fruit. We still have remnants of sucker branches that continue to need pruning to make room for bountiful fruit.

Jesus says He is the “True Vine.” He is no fake. He is not an impostor. He does not give less than He promises. He is the real deal. He is the life-giving Vine. Those who follow Christ look like Christ. Some look for other vines: drugs, alcohol, cutting, sex, porn, success, money, knowledge, friends or themselves. Whatever vine you seek is the fruit you will bear. Since all other vines are false vines these vines fail. Jesus is the only True Vine.

What does it mean to abide in Christ?

Abiding in Christ appears eleven times in this passage and it also appears throughout the Bible [cf. 1 John 2:6]. If a word appears like this as often as it does, it is probably important. The phrase abiding in Christ [μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί; 15:4] is an aorist active imperative. In other words, “You are to keep on being in Me.” Abiding is not something you get; it is something you are. I am an American: by birth, citizenship and passport. I didn’t just get to be an American I am one. As a follower of Christ we are already have a passport to the kingdom; adopted as citizens of heaven. Abiding is not only what you do it is what you become [BE*]. I abide in Christ because I know I will be with Him one day, and by abiding in Him I can be like Him today.

The better question to ask is: what does it mean to be in Christ? Remember Jesus refers to Himself as being the vine and you being the branches. Jesus then says that if His word abides in me then I am abiding in Him. Therefore, when I lovingly obeying Christ’s commands I am abiding in Christ as He obeyed His Father’s [the Gardener] commands and abides in His love [cf. 14:15, 23].

Be* has been marked with an asterisk not because it is on steroids, but because the work to abide in Christ and bear fruit is Christ’s work. Christ does both the saving and sanctifying work. In other words, my faith to come to Christ comes from Christ, and the fruit of become more like Christ comes from Christ. That is a mystifying work of God’s unconditional love. This love is demonstrated in Jesus words, “The branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in Me…whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” [15:4-5]

Growing up my grandfather had a red delicious apple tree. Let’s say the apple tree didn’t produce much fruit. It just produced dry, wrinkled, brown and mushy apples. Let’s say he decided to fix the tree. So he grabs the tree trimmers, a staple gun, stepladder, and a box of granny smith apples he bought from the store. He cuts off the bad apples and puts on the new store bought ones. Did he fix the tree? Stapling apples will not help because those apples will rot too. Cosmetic changes never satisfy. Are you stapling? Are you faking the fruit? Is Christ your True Vine?

Stapling false fruit is exhausting and tedious. Fruit bearing is not do this and you will be this; rather it is be in Christ and you will live [do things] like Christ. Being in Christ is what I am because I am grafted into the Vine. I am to be a branch that is abiding in the life-giving, fruit bearing doing of Christ. Christ’s doing [sacrificial death] comes before my being [saving faith], and my being [saving faith] comes before doing [sacrificial living].

What does the fruit look like?

We look like Christ—the Vine [cf. Galatians 5:22-23]. When we bear fruit we are glorifying God who has done the fruit bearing work within us through His Son Christ [15:8; cf. Mt.5:16; Phil. 1:11].

In summary, here is how Christ says to bear much fruit: You have to stop being the Vine. You need to let Jesus be the Vine. You need to BE the branch and allow God to bear the fruit as you become like Him. Are you willing to be a branch? As I grow up I want to be a branch that bears much fruit.