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Archive for January, 2017

Joy 4(b)

January 25th, 2017
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In this series on joy I mentioned the theologian Jurgen Moltmann. In the recent symposium on Joy at Yale he changed his question he asked in 1971:

In this essay on God’s joy and human flourishing I am not asking: How can I sing
the Lord’s song in an alien land?, but: How can I sing the Lord’s song in his presence,
figuratively speaking: in the warmth of God’s shining face?

I am presupposing the contrast of 1971, because globally seen it is not diminishing, but now I want to explore the positive dimensions of the ‘great joy’ in the ‘broad place’ of God, who is nearer to us than we believe and is enlarging our life more than we think.

Joy is the power to live, to love, to have creative initiative. Joy awakens all our senses, energizing mind and body. How do we experience this power in the presence of the ‘living God’?

Life is very challenging. We only have to read Ecclesiastes to see that it can be hard to feel that God is very near and that he is enlarging our life more than we think.

It can be difficult to have a joyous faith in the midst of the evil days that can hit people with a jolt in a nursing home. And until one is there nothing really prepares us for it. Psychological studies have confirmed that we lose satisfaction with life the older we live. The SMH wrote:

In a paper for the latest Australian Economic Review, they study data on self reported life satisfaction from Australia’s longest running longitudinal survey, the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia, which has followed the same sample of individuals for 15 years now.
Participants are asked: “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life?” and instructed to provide an answer between 0, indicating “totally dissatisfied” and 10, “totally satisfied”.

On this data set, life satisfaction peaks at 8.5 at aged 15 – the youngest age of respondents in the survey – and declines sharply during a person’s early to mid 20s to a score of about 7.9 – where it remains until they reach the end of their working lives.
At age 65, there is a slight blip in happiness in anticipation of retirement, but this declines sharply again to a score of about 6.4 by a person’s early 90s.

According to Wooden and Li: “The loss in life satisfaction that is associated with moving from age 65 to 90 years is about three times the loss of life satisfaction that is associated with the onset of a severe disability or long-term health condition.”

A reading below six out 10 on life satisfaction is the level where people are deemed at risk of depression, according to happiness researcher at Deakin University, Robert Cummins. (Full article please click here)

Perhaps we should be more aware of these realities and express appreciation for people especially as they grow older.

But what about the person who knows God? Do we struggle with the same problem?

The Psalmists could express this so well:

Psalm 42:1

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    ‘Where is your God?’
4 These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

The Psalmist is feeling a long way from God – almost like an exile.

5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Saviour and my God.
6 My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon – from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

This captures the struggle going on. He is a long way from Jerusalem. A dark sense of chaos in his life. And yet:

8 By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me –
    a prayer to the God of my life.

He is not an unbeliever. He remembers who God is.

9 I say to God my Rock,
    ‘Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?’
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    ‘Where is your God?’
11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?

What is happening to me? People even question their faith or conversion when they struggle like this –called over the years “ the dark nights of the soul.”

You hear the struggle. It was great when I used to go to the house of God, under the protection of the Mighty One, with shouts of joy and praise,
    among the festive throng.

But now I seem to have been forsaken: Why have you forgotten me?

And yet the psalmist declares

Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Saviour and my God.

How do we say this in the midst of such inner conflict?

Read more…

Message for the Day

Joy 4 (a)

January 23rd, 2017
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To watch An Experiment in Gratitude | The Science of Happiness please click here.

A culture of thankfulness is a very positive one. But happiness can be very up and down and we can depend too much on what we or other people do or say.

We want happiness to grow in to something much deeper – what the Bible calls joy.

Joe Tkach last year wrote on this subject. Here are some points.

Depending on the translation, the Bible uses the words happy and happiness about 30 times, while joy and rejoice appear more than 300 times. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word śāmâ (translated rejoice, joy and glad) is used to cover a wide range of human experiences: sex, marriage, the birth of children, harvest, victory and drinking wine.

So there is an overlap with joy and happiness. There is joy in the good things associated with human life if we see them in a thankful way.

In the New Testament, the Greek word chara is used primarily for expressing joy in the redemptive works of God, the coming of his Son and the resurrection of Jesus. As we read the New Testament, we see the word joy is more than an emotion; it is a characteristic of a Christian, part of the fruit produced by the inner working of the Holy Spirit.

Scripture also teaches us that true joy is not affected by surrounding circumstances including pain, agony and loss. Joy can be the result of suffering for Christ’s sake. Jesus himself experienced great joy in facing the terrible suffering and shame of crucifixion.

Many of us have felt true joy knowing the reality of eternity, even as we’ve had to say good-bye to a loved one. This is true because there is an unbreakable relationship between love and joy. We see this in Jesus’ words as he summarized his teachings to his disciples:

John15:11-12

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” .

As we grow in God’s love, so does our joy grow. In fact, all the fruit of the Holy Spirit grows in us as we grow in love.

Notice “as I have loved you.” This love and thus joy is not something we create but receive. It is is received by knowing who God is revealed in Jesus Christ.

Paul helps us understand the difference between happiness and joy in his letter to the church in Philippi, which he wrote while imprisoned in Rome. In that letter he used the words joy, rejoice and joyful 16 times. I’ve visited many jails and prisons and you don’t typically find happy people there. Yet Paul found joy while chained in prison, not knowing if he would live or die. Due to his faith in Christ, he was content—through eyes of faith Paul saw his circumstances in an entirely different light than most people would. Note what he wrote:

Philippians 1:12-14

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

These powerful words came from an inner joy that Paul experienced despite his circumstances. He knew who he was in Christ, and who Christ was in him. He wrote:

Philippians 4:11-13

I am not saying this because I am in need. I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

We see here that at the centre of Paul’s world was Jesus Christ. Nothing was seen separately from Jesus.

We can summarize the distinction between happiness and joy in many ways. Here are three:

Happiness is temporary—often momentary or the result of short-term contentment. Joy is eternal and spiritual, keying off of who God is and what he has done, is doing and will yet do.

Because happiness is dependent on many factors, it is fleeting and doesn’t deepen or mature. Joy matures as we grow in relationship with God and with each other.

Happiness comes from temporal external events, observations and actions. Joy lies within you and comes from the work of the Holy Spirit.

Because God created us for fellowship with himself, nothing else can satisfy our souls and bring us lasting joy. Through faith, Jesus lives in us and we in him. Because we no longer live for ourselves, we are able to rejoice in all kinds of circumstances—even suffering, through which we join with Jesus who suffered on our behalf. Despite his great suffering in prison, Paul wrote this: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

 As humans, we often go hours or even days without giving much thought to God’s glory, love and holiness. But I’m sure that once we see Christ in his full glory, we will thump our heads and say, “How could I have paid so much attention to other things?”

We do not yet see Christ as clearly as we would like; we live in the slums, so to speak, and find it hard to imagine places we have never been. We are too busy trying to survive the slum to dwell on the glories of God.

One of the most discouraging things to dwell on is ourselves. But one of the most encouraging things to dwell upon is ourselves.
The joy of eternity enables us to see the miseries of this life as opportunities to receive grace and know and trust God more deeply. We learn to appreciate the joys of eternity even more after we have struggled with the shackles of sin and the difficulties in this life.

We will appreciate glorified bodies even more after we experience the pains of our physical bodies. I believe that is why Karl Barth said this: “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” We can be grateful that the joy set before Jesus, which enabled him to endure the cross, has also been set before us.

How is joy expressed?

Ephesians 5:20

always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Message for the Day