Joy

The Limits of Outrage

Republished, with permission, from Voice magazine, Sep/Oct 2013.

Recently I read a blog post written by a conservative political columnist and radio host for whom I have mixed feelings. Even though I find that I agree with many of his political views, I find his tone and style of politics not to be my particular style. Still, he’s a gifted writer and this time he shared something I think Christians need to hear. His point is that while he cares about politics and advocates for his point of view, outrage is not all there is to life.

This columnist wrote:

I’m sorry, but I can’t live my life constantly fixated on the political outrage of the day and I can’t be outraged about every…thing under the sun. I go out with friends and talk about stuff other than politics, I play with my kids, I love my wife, I cook gumbo and make fantastic ice cream, I watch a bit of TV, don’t read as much as I should, I go to church, and I try to focus on the good in a world filled with sin and bad and evil.*

There is such an important message here for Christians. A message for me, particularly. While it is good and right to be outraged at injustice in the world, we can’t live on outrage. While it is good and right to roll up our sleeves and make a difference in the world by our lives and our actions, we can’t live on activism. You see, the narrative of the Scriptures is not just about what’s right and what’s wrong in the world and in our own hearts. The grand story is that there is good news available.

God didn’t ignore the evil that the Fall produced by sin. He spoke by the entrance of His Son, Jesus, into the world (Hebrews 1:2). When Jesus cried those anguished three words on the cross, “It is finished,” it signaled the beginning of the end. The power of sin and death, which so strangles the human soul, which ravages the planet, which obscures the glory and grandeur of our great God—this has been defeated, and like a helium balloon, is dying a slow death. Evil, my friends, is not winning.

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The Neglected Power of Christian Joy

(First appeared at SI in May of 2011.)

Paul lists three great virtues, “faith, hope and love” in 1 Corinthians 13:13, yet he informs us that “love” is the greatest of the three. Two books of the Bible are devoted to the virtue of wisdom: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. How can anyone underestimate the importance of wisdom in light of this? But the fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23) and the armor of God (Eph. 6:14-18) are two more examples of “virtue lists” found in God’s Word—and there are many more.

With all these virtue lists floating around, we can end up dizzy. What do I pursue: love, faith, holiness, graciousness, zeal, knowledge, joy, peace, goodness, gentleness, or self-control? The answer is “yes.” These attributes are complementary, but they can be examined individually. After examining them, we need to integrate them into the whole package of who we are. In a sense, being a balanced Christian means being a complete Christian; we attain balance by including all these virtues and excluding none. None of us attains this perfect balance; indeed, we probably cannot even agree as to what that perfect balance should be.

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Christmas Simcha - Even in Bleak Times

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is one of my favorite Christmas carols. In Scripture, God not only permits us to be merry, He encourages it. Sadly, when Christians focus on some truths while ignoring others, joy and merriment often suffer.

It is true that Christmas is a man-derived holiday. Although the birth of Jesus was divinely enacted, celebrating that birth is nowhere commanded in Scripture. But neither is it forbidden.

It is also true that the Paul’s command to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) is not primarily about merriment, yet His command to focus on the good things of this life (Philippians 4:8) implies enjoying more than the spiritual.

Proverbs 15:15 tells us that, if our hearts are cheerful, life is like a party: “All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.”

Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

The Hebrew word for gladness or joy is simcha (pronounced with a hard ch, as in Bach). The word came to be used for a celebration, as Wikipedia states:

Jews often use simcha in its capacity as a Hebrew and Yiddish noun meaning festive occasion. The reason for it is that any celebration is a happy occasion. The term is used for any happy occasion, such as a wedding, Bar Mitzvah, Brit Milah [circumcision] or engagement.

Christmas and New Year’s are times of celebration, and during this season we need to enjoy each simcha that comes our way. But that is not always easy. Sometimes the “Ghosts of Christmas Past” get in our way.

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Finding Happiness in Difficult Times

We’re a week or so into February, so today’s article has a bit of romance for Valentine’s Day and much application (finding happiness in life) for the other days of the year. I came across this true account from Reader’s Digest:

My cell phone quit as I tried to let my wife know that I was caught in freeway gridlock and would be late for our anniversary dinner. I wrote a message on my laptop asking other motorists to call her, printed it on a portable inkjet and taped it to my rear windshield.

When I finally arrived home, my wife gave me the longest kiss ever. “I really think you love me,” she said. “At least 70 people called and told me so.”

In Genesis 29, Jacob initiates what will be one of the great romances of all time; no cell phone message could compare to it. Although this romance had a happy ending (he did marry his beloved Rachel), Jacob’s life was complex, stressful, and messy. Despite great hardships, his life was rich and filled with happiness. How can this paradox be? The answer is no surprise: God.

Jacob had been scared, lonely, probably overcome with guilt, and walking into the unknown. He had stolen both the family birthright and Isaac’s blessing from his brother Esau; Esau was so angry with Jacob for his low-down scheming that he planned to kill him. To preserve his life, Jacob hurriedly exited Canaan and headed toward relatives in Haran (what we now call Iraq).

All alone and away from home, Jacob faced an uncertain-looking future. But then he experienced God at Bethel, and his mentality was transformed. Life might be unstable, but God was faithfully at his side—no matter what.

The lesson applies to us: If we are in the lowlands—but learn to be emboldened by experiencing God—we can find courage to pursue better times as we hold God’s hand.

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Embrace Joy, Embrace Suffering

Republished with permission from Baptist Bulletin Jan/Feb 2012. All rights reserved.

Joy Brace earned her name early in life, having inherited her mother’s sparkling eyes and easy laugh, and having somehow channeled a good deal of her father’s personality, especially his serenity during the difficult times of life. Her birth certificate reads, “Florilla Joyce Crawford,” but she was Joy from the beginning.

Joy was diagnosed with a brain tumor in August, allowing her four months with her family and friends before her death on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011. More than a thousand people attended her funeral service, held at Faith Baptist Bible College, Ankeny, Iowa. Many testified how she spent the last months of her life spreading joy.

Students at Grandview Park Baptist School—where Joy began teaching after her marriage—had organized a fund-raising event on Thanksgiving weekend, “Embrace Joy,” featuring a preseason basketball game against Iowa Christian Academy. Joy continued to work at the school as a substitute teacher until the time of her death. Proceeds from the event were given to the Brace family. Both sides of the family were invited to a thanksgiving dinner at the church. Then at halftime, Joy sat in a chair on the edge of the basketball court, testifying of God’s goodness in her life. That weekend she had already experienced the first of several seizures, but she would not pass up a final opportunity to testify of God’s goodness in her own life.

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The Neglected Power of Christian Joy

We are into the thick of the baseball season; teams compete in their divisions. Some will meet expectations, some will exceed them, while others will disappoint. We are used to competition in sports, business, and even regarding military preparedness.

We rarely think of virtues as competing with one another; instead, we prefer to think of them as complementing one another. Paul lists the three great virtues, “faith, hope and love” in 1 Corinthians 13:13, yet he informs us that “love” is the greatest of the three. This does not mean that faith, hope, and love are mutually exclusive. They work together.

Two books of the Bible are devoted to the virtue of wisdom: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. How can anyone underestimate the importance of wisdom in light of this? The fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23) and the armor of God (Eph. 6:14-18) are two more examples of the many “virtue lists” found in God’s Word.

With all these virtue lists floating around, we can end up dizzy. What do I pursue: love, faith, holiness, graciousness, zeal, knowledge, joy, peace, goodness, gentleness, or self-control? The answer is “yes.” These attributes are complementary, but they can be examined individually. After examining them, we need to integrate them into the whole package of who we are. In a sense, being a balanced Christian means being a complete Christian; we attain balance by including all these virtues and excluding none. None of us attains this perfect balance; indeed, we probably cannot even agree as to what that perfect balance should be.

1312 reads

The Pursuit of Joy

The author of this essay is no longer involved at SI, but it’s too good to let gather digital dust. First appeared at SharperIron on May 2, 2005. The original post and discussion are available here.

I was surprised the other day by a non-Christian’s complaint that a certain group of Christians was “eternally happy.” Christians often talk about how the unsaved will see their joy and want to have that same joy. This young man, however, saw something forced —something less than genuine— in the happiness of some Christians, as though they were unwilling even to acknowledge the existence of things like sorrow, anger, or fear. He commented that the human experience of joy could only be meaningful if we have experienced its opposite, and the Christians he knew seemed never to be touched by suffering. Though we can’t always be responsible for others’ misinterpretations of our actions, these comments made me start thinking more carefully about joy. Is it our duty to keep a smile plastered on our faces no matter what is going on in our lives or others’? Is that what real Christian joy looks like? What is biblical joy and how do we get it?

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