Joy vs. Happiness

Happiness is rooted in circumstances.  Joy, on the other hand, is rooted in biblical truth – regardless of our circumstances.

This is precisely why, incarcerated for his faith, Paul, while still languishing in prison, could write, Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

Make no mistake: the type of joy Paul writes of here is not a paper-thin, over-the-top, emotional celebration.

Biblical joy runs deep.  Deeper than our most acute pain.

Germany.  Christmas, 1942…

During the Christmas season of 1942, the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote the statement below while under severe persecution for his Christian faith. Two and a half years after this quote was penned, Bonhoeffer was executed by Hitler’s Secret Service.  He was 39:

“The joy of God goes through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye but finds life precisely within it.” Dietrich Bonheoffer (Christmas, 1942)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick


The Question No Christian Wants to be Forced to Answer

We’d love nothing more than to have our son, Jordan Watts, back. But, I remember something Jordan said in a video that was played at his Memorial Service: “If God were to take all my fingers away I would love him just the same.” (Jordan was an artist and his hands were his life.)

Jordan’s love for Christ has forced me to come to terms with my own faith. The question I’ve been forced to answer is: “If God were to take my son away would I love Him just the same?” My answer: I do. I love You, Lord. Help me when I’m weak, angry, exhausted, and lost. I trust You. You have Jordan. I know this to be true. I love you.

What about you? Can you say, “If God took away (fill in the blank) I would love Him just the same.”? Standing next to ten fresh graves, Job said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (1:21)

These are the hard, messy questions of Christianity. It’s what Bonhoeffer described as “costly grace.” Anyone can sing the songs, and preach the sermons when life is good. But, what about when life is so painful you can hardly breath?

Thank God for the cross and the empty tomb – through which “we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16) “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)  nick

Called to…..Suffer?

Take [with me] your share of the hardships and suffering [which you are called to endure] as a good (first-class) soldier of Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 2:3; Amplified)

Dr. Erwin Lutzer has been pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago since 1980. After listening to a sermon of his the other day on Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), I was reminded of a rarely-preached, unpopular biblical truth: as believers/followers of Jesus Christ, we are called not only to love God, love people, share our faith & study God’s Word – we are called to suffer.

In his sermon, Dr. Lutzer stated, “In 2 Corinthians, Paul’s answer to the False Prophets was, in essence, ‘If you want to know if I’m authentic look at the way in which I suffer.” Lutzer added, “During WWII, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, ‘The time is coming when the gospel in Germany can no longer be preached by word. It can only be preached by suffering.”

Let Bonhoeffer’s statement soak in for a minute.

Consider this: several of Paul’s letters were written while suffering in a prison cell. It was only when John was exiled on Patmos that the Revelation was given to him. A.W. Tozer’s famous quote stopped me in my tracks when I first read it: “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has first hurt him deeply.” This is nothing new. Job said, “…when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” And Psalm 119:71 continues, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn Your decrees.”

This biblical truth is prevalent throughout Christian hymnody as well – it was after losing much of his family that Horatio Spafford wrote the beloved hymn, “It is Well with my Soul.”

We read Isaiah 53:10, “It was the Lord’s will to crush (His Son) and cause Him to suffer,” and wonder, “What could God possibly be thinking?!” But, then we read the words of Hebrews where the author wrote, “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the Author of their salvation perfect through suffering.”

Finally, we understand that, for a Christ-follower, suffering is a means to an end. It’s a path we must take. Why? Because Jesus walked the same path. He went first. And, “to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Costly Grace

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”


That statement opens the introduction to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic work, “The Cost of Discipleship.” For Bonhoeffer, the “cost” of being a disciple of Jesus Christ was fatal – at least in earthly terms. On April 9, 1945, he was executed by Hitler’s Secret Service Black Guard.

Bonhoeffer believed in an all-or-nothing approach to his faith in Christ. There was room neither for negotiation with the enemy, nor compromise. He had a degree of faith found more in the book of Acts than in the typical North American, modern church culture which he described as “cheap grace” i.e. “grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

On the other hand, his life, far more than his words, exemplified “costly grace.” “Such grace,” wrote Bonhoeffer, “is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

Like Isaiah, when God called Bonheoffer’s name, Bonhoeffer replied, “Here am I. Send me.” That sort of conviction reminds me of an actual phone conversation i read about recently. An individual who wanted to travel the world and tell people about the good news of Jesus Christ called a mission organization that helps Christians fulfill the “assignment” they believe God has given them. Here’s the transcript:

JS: “Hello, God is calling me to the nations, what can I do to help?”
Mission Board: “Well, have you thought about where God is calling you to go?”
JS: “I don’t know, I figured you would tell me…”
Mission Board: “No, we let you chose.”
JS: “Well, then send me as close to Hell as possible without catching on fire.”

Whether our “mission field” is the other side of our globe or right in our home neighborhood, may God stir up in us the same passion present in Bonhoeffer, and the individual making that phone call. May satan be trembling with terror that we would give God freedom to move in this very way.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick