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May Newsletter: Happiness

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Joy not happiness!

I saw an interesting sign the other day, it said: Money can’t make you happy.  But, money can buy you a cow, a cow can give milk, you can make ice cream with milk.  Ice Cream can make you happy!

Just like everyone else’s, Jane’s and my life can be full of all kinds of stress and pressure that has to be dealt with.   I’m unaware of anyone’s life that’s completely isolated from trouble of some kind.   However, because of the Gospel of Christ, many of my newsletters seem to have a positive bent.  It’s just such Good News.  I can’t find anything to be sad or discouraged about when thinking about Him.  I hope this letter might explain our Gospel optimism a bit further.

Jane often makes the following expression when talking about the rehab after her paralysis a few years ago: ‘I’ll be happy just to get out of this wheelchair and use a walker.  I’ll be happy if I could just use a cane instead of this walker.  I would be happy if I could just hold on to the wall and walk down the hall and lay this cane down.’  Happy kept moving on her.  Actually, happy, it seems, is always out in front, just out of our reach.  It wasn’t until she began to walk again, drive again, that it dawned on her that happiness could be so fleeting.  Subsequently, she’s now much more comfortable contrasting happiness with Joy.  They’re not the same. There are times we’re happy, but three days later we’re yearning for something to make us happy again.  (I’m kind of like that after getting an Amazon package.)  However, there’re times we can be very unhappy and yet full of Joy at that very same time.  Joy is created by His Spirit and completely separate from what might make us happy.  We often confuse happiness with pleasure, but pleasure is at best an illusion, a shadow of God’s Joy, but not the real thing.  A person can live his whole life seeking after pleasure and never find satisfaction.  Jane and I have discovered you can’t find Joy in a momentary emotion.  People are the kind of creatures that, by our very nature, even being happy for a moment, would still find some excuse to be unhappy almost immediately.  I think the reason for that is we all have a deep (God given) yearning for His true Happiness, something that our little collection of ‘happy things’ can’t give.

People that are full of Joy, in some sense of that word, are happy everywhere; owning a beautiful home or simply renting a little flat.  They can be satisfied with a big bank account and not so big bank accounts; some whether they’re as healthy as a horse and some that might be sick as a dog.  The difference is that people full of Joy have discovered a fountain of happiness which is situated in their own heart.   As long as we haven’t found that fountain, what Jesus called a river of living water, nothing will give us a long-lasting happiness.  The Greek word Joy is closely associated with gladness, or to be pleased.  It’s not a gladness that celebrates any particular moment or event; it’s a gladness that simply stays in thanksgiving no matter the moment.  Scripture tells us to be full of thanks in all things (1Thes. 5:18, Eph. 5:20).   We can’t do that by our own design and effort.  That kind of Joy comes from knowing who you are in Christ and Who He is in you.  Fact: the Spirit of God truly has been established deep inside our hearts.  Fact: if recognized, our inner person shouldn’t always be responding to what’s going on outside our heart.  Because of Christ living in us, our inside is strong, stable, convinced and not moved away from truths of the Gospel.  This Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit and is part of the package delivered by the presence of God in us. (Gal. 5:22)

There’s a mystery the New Testament writers referred to quite often.  The secret for gladness is hidden behind a veil– that veil, the discovery of spiritual knowledge.  Spiritual knowledge is nothing but this:  a constant longing in the heart of man to have and know something of his beginning, his purpose.  It’s an inner longing to experience something of what it was like, what was true of Adam and Eve, before the fall.  That fall messed up our peace, it disturbed our understanding of our relationship with a God that prefers to be called Father.  It’s possible that kind of Joy can elude us all our lives.  We can wander aimlessly from ‘happy’ to ‘happy’, all the while being ignorant of the thing that matters most: acceptance and adoption into God’s Life.   That’s the true source of Joy. God already knows who we are and why we’re here.  Our struggle is not with Him, but that we haven’t discovered it for ourselves.

Recently, my 13 year old grandson said something Jane and I had to pause and think about.  It was something he could not have been taught by our family because none of us are wise enough to have suggested it to him.  The subject strangely was the sadness of people that separate themselves from God and choose to be eternally separated.  His comment was:  (I paraphrase) how sad it was that those people would live their lives, make that choice, and because of choosing that separation, ‘they’ll never know who they were supposed to be’.   That exactly describes the Joy of this letter.  To always be looking for something then dying without ever finding it is very, very sad for sure.  But that’s the whole of the Gospel.   Jesus came to give us a path to Joy.  He made it possible to find Joy in this life and in the Life hereafter.

Once the spiritual knowledge of the Love of God comes, people can see there’s something that will make them really happy and give them their heart’s desire. I have a note tucked away in one of my books and I don’t remember where it came from but it goes like this:  ‘Though there are many things in life which I need for the moment, and for which I shall certainly work, yet there is only that one thing, around which life centers, one thing that will satisfy me:  … the attainment of God.   Such a one has found the key to all happiness, and has found that all the things he needs will be reached because he has the key to all.’

The Kingdom of God is righteousness (from God), Peace (from God) and Joy (from God).  All are found in His manifestation on earth: the Holy Spirit of God. (Rom. 14:17)   Jesus endured the cross for the Joy set before him. (Heb. 12:2)  I might paraphrase that scripture like this:  Look at Christ, look at Him intently, perceive and understand that He carried our pain, misfortune, hardship, our afflictions, and though despising the anger of mankind and its injustice, yet He endured that because of the Joy set before Him, because of the salvation of believers made possible by the world’s punishment placed on the Son of God.

Is it realistic to think that we can be full of Joy in harsh, tough situations?  I believe we can.  Jane and I have experienced that and have seen that in others.   Peace is the spiritual blessing of knowing the Father’s character and nature and incorporating that into our hearts.  It’s not what we think with our logical brains or even what others have said about Him, but knowing Him because of an encounter with Him.  That personal knowing Him pushes away fear, discouragement, and anger.  In difficult times we’re not challenged to guess the whys because we know Who.  Why did we ever need the Gospel of John to tell us about a Comforter if we would never need one? (John 16:7)   And why a Comforter unless in the heart of God it was intended for us to be Comforted?  Sometimes I overhear Jane’s phone calls.  The essence of what I usually hear her saying is: In this world you will run smack dab into trouble, that’s guaranteed for all of us, but be of good cheer.  That cheer is best described from a Greek word that means to be of good courage.  That courage is based on His courage and having been that victorious for us.  For Jesus has overcome the world, and in Him, so have we.

Yes, ice cream can make us happy, but for how long?  Things can do that momentarily, but day-in day-out we’ll need more than that to become stable and be ‘the same in little and in much’.  The Good News of this Gospel is just that– Good News.  It’s not necessary to balance God’s Good News statement with a ‘but’ following it.  It’s always good news and it’s Good News in all situations.   Truly, the Good News applies in all our situations.  Jesus has sent His Spirit to encourage us that no matter what we find ourselves having to face, take courage and let the Comforter comfort.  He sent the Spirit to be a Helper to us, to rescue us when we need rescued and to ‘in-Joy’ the Life available in Christ.  He did this so that, right now, in the middle of the calamity and the world’s pressure, we can still be full of Gladness.  Not just the emoji type but the deep in our heart type. 

We Are Messengers w/JJ Weeks

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April Newsletter Salvation

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While I was a student I worked at one of the early chain department stores.  I was responsible for the shoe/men’s wear department.  Neighboring those was the sewing department which was overseen by Ruth Dunn.  When Ruth wasn’t there I covered for her.  She taught me an important thing to keep the ladies happy– always tear the material, never scissor cut the material.  The customers wanted me to snip and rip.  At first, that was uncomfortable for me.  It seemed to be the least caring way to separate the material. But as I learned quickly, it was the right way to do it.  Doing it that way, the cloth always tore along the true thread line and in sewing that seemed to be important to ladies that knew what they were doing.  So in reality, what felt uncomfortable at first turned out to be a good thing in the end.

 

‘I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat of peace on earth good will to men…
And in despair I bowed my head, There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men …’

 

That’s a song we play each Christmas and a song that catches my attention each time we play it.  The song is Dianne Michelle’s and it’s a bit different than much of the music we rotate at Christmas. I always listen to that lyric because of the contrast between Peace on earth and ‘there is no peace on earth I said, for hate is strong and mocks the song…’  Truly, as Christians our words of Peace and the reality of the world in which we live don’t seem to echo the voice of the angels heard at Christ’s birth.

 

It reminds me of the contrast between our stance and our experience, the world lost and the world saved.  This month’s letter tweaks our thinking a bit about our Salvation and that reality in which we find ourselves.  The tweak is: our Salvation is not just eternal but practical.  Or, put another way, Salvation is not just about Heaven, not just about the future, but equally, about Life in this broken world now.  Our teaching and preaching shouldn’t only be about avoiding torment but also about what can make us more comfortable and functional in this broken world.  With this Salvation, we enter into His Life (that’s a life mixed with ours and His) experienced now and in the future.  This Salvation can empower us for whatever the world throws at us now.  The Gospel of Christ doesn’t simply place us at a train station waiting on an arrival for our final trip, but engages us in the daily Life that Christ has prepared for us both here and in our future.  This Salvation is the vehicle that delivers us to Freedom right here, right now, in the middle of this world’s crisis and stress.

Salvation isn’t a magic wand that makes our difficulties disappear.  Even the most sincere, fervent prayers sometimes don’t deliver exactly the outcomes we’ve prayed for. If we’re willing to admit it, you’ve experienced that in your own life, and you’ve probably known countless people that have experienced the same passion for God and simultaneously experienced stress and crisis in their lives. Yes, our Salvation does bring a promise of tomorrow, and just as importantly, a promise of Father, Son and Spirit being with us in our today.  This Salvation has the effect of moving us away from being focused so much on our purposes, into a new and broader focus of God’s purpose.  He does that from the inside, not necessarily from the outside.  God not only saved us from a wrong destination tomorrow, on a track away from Heaven, but also saved us to Peace, Joy and Wisdom in this world.  Saved us to relationship with Himself, our family, friends and others, rescuing us out of the isolation of the world and its self-centeredness.  With this Salvation God has moved ever closer to us, has moved from ‘out there’ to standing right inside us to meet this day’s circumstances.

This Salvation, applied to this present time, manifests itself as we follow Him.  According to Jesus, The Kingdom of God has come, is present now, not just in some future time.  It can, if permitted, rule in your Life now.  There’re no short cuts for that.  Instead, it’s found in encouraging others, in believing He is good, and trusting Him in bad and good times.  Following Him is more than a library full of books, videos and a collection of conference registrations.  It’s more than memorization of a favorite Scripture.  While those are all good things, they’re not simply what we turn to in times of trouble.  Following is inside us.  It must be more than images on our walls.  This Salvation is more real than what we see, what we feel.  When Jesus was on the cross he had stepped into a place that didn’t, at the time, depend on feeling God or seeing Him; it was a place where all he possessed of the Father was trusting in Him.  There’s a Truth more real than our imaginations, more than what we see or feel.  Following will not only get you through tough times but will change you along the way.  The contrast between Heavenly and earthly, between flesh and Spirit, the difference in foolishness and Wisdom comes in those moments and gives us a clear definition of what is True: He is Truth.
For sure, the world’s broken.  It’s always been broken, broken since the Garden of Eden incident.  If it were going to be changed into Paradise easily, it probably would have happened when the Son of God came the first time.  Rather, the world we have, the poverty, the sickness, the drugs, the hateful, the damaged, the confused, the unbelief, corruption, unfairness, the bullies, sadness, war, and many more did not and does not go away with this Salvation.  According to Christ, there’s a way to Live that creates Believers that are day by day walking in the middle of all that stuff.   Yet they’re successfully finding a Peace and a Joy that’s penetrating their lives.  Emotionally, we obviously are stunned occasionally into feeling the pressure of this place, but He has saved us and given us the ability to take a deep breath and respond with a Faith.  This Salvation is the rescue not simply from, but through trouble.

Tearing that cloth, in the long term, was exactly what needed to be done.  By tearing the cloth, patterns laid out straight on the material and the colors matched for the pockets and sleeves, well, they matched perfectly.  In the Wisdom of God, in the time between Christ’s tomb and now, the experiences of this world somehow play a purpose we don’t fully understand.  Certainly they make us uncomfortable much of the time.  I’m pretty sure that you, like me, get weary of the pressure of ‘in this world there will be tribulation.’  Those words of Jesus echo the actions of Adam and Eve, who had inherited a perfect world but left us with one of confusion and emptiness. Yet, just the same there’s a Peace that passes our understanding.  It’s not necessarily the peace that the world gives but one much more fulfilling.

 

There had to be a ‘heavenly Wisdom’ to why Jesus didn’t just roll everything up at his first coming but instead, settled on rolling it all up in His next. We know He had that kind of power, that it was possible for Him to have done that.  With just the words ‘I Am’ the Roman military of approximately 600 armed men, plus the temple police and the Jewish leaders and Judas fell to their knees in the garden where they had come looking for the Nazarene. (John 18:4-6)  Simply with Jesus’ words everything could have been changed in that moment.  Obviously, that’s not what he did– it’s not what was desired.  There must be a heavenly reason for what, to us, sometimes feels like the insurmountable.  There’s a reason to hope that even when this gets uncomfortable, just doing the right thing, the Jesus thing, is the only thing left to do.  The trouble stuff, it’s unavoidable; however, He’s overcome the world and He can Live that victory through us for whosoever will permit that to take place.

‘The Lord is my light and my salvation…the strength of my Life… I will not fear.’ (Psalm 27:1) was written about David’s now, not just his future.  Our salvation is simply hearing, believing and acting upon the Father saying: ‘I agape you and I will always be with you’.