Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Live in Joy - VIII

After a few years, David decided they needed to upgrade the tent. Rather than a tent, they were going to make a building. So, he began to collect material for the upgrade.

And David shared his vision with the people. They people got excited. They gave to the project.

And the people were joyful. They were joyful because they agreed with the project, they were able to help with the project and they realized they had a heart to help with the project. They gave willingly, generously and wholeheartedly. 

Joy was the result of being united in working to complete a valuable and worthwhile mission. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Live in Joy - VII

After David completed setting up the tent and the box, he held a celebration. He and the people would be able to connect with God more easily and more frequently.

(Although, God is everywhere and near everyone who calls on him, Israel had gotten used to the tent and the box being the focal point of the connection with God. It was a mental construct they had gotten attached to, and may have moved toward a fuller communion with God, if history had been different. However, many may have met with God unconstrained by religious rules.)

As part of the celebration, David wrote a song and formed a band to sing it. In the song, David describes the trees exulting in joy, because God will judge the earth! 

Judgement and joy are not usually associated together. We usually associate fear or dread with judgment. We would only be joyful in judgment if we expected the forces of judgment to be like the cavalry. The cavalry is a symbol in american movies of rescue, restoration and victory. And that's how Israel viewed judgment. There was a lot wrong with the world. Evil was rampant. People were oppressed. manipulated, taken advantage of, abused, and just not treated very nicely. But God was coming. He was going to set everything right. Bad people were not going to hurt anyone anymore. Good people were going to be recognized. All the flaws, inequalities and problems in the world were going to be set right.

Punishment is part of the equation in judgment. those waiting earnestly for God's coming rejoice because they are confident of their relationship with God. Their focus is the good coming into the world because of God's judgment.

NOTE: Part of the joy in the judgment of sin is the realization that the presence of God will not be limited. The mission of Satan and his demonic army is to diminish God's glory and to make people miserable. People experience joy when they fulfill their design ... including fellowship with God. With the removal of evil, people can experience God's presence with greater intensity, more continuously and more purely.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Live in Joy - VI

I have been considering the nature of joy, the creation of joy recently, because of a book I am re-reading. The book explores the nature of the relationship between God and man.

The writer begins one chapter with a short recollection of a woman telling him that the enemy seeks to attack him through his joy.

The writer continues with how he chose in the past to deal with disappointments, troubles and sorrows in his life. And how glorious, wonderful days lifted him to exultation ... but they were short-lived.

We tend to equate joy with happiness. Happiness is usually defined as a feeling of contentment or satisfaction. We spiritualize joy by separating it from circumstance. We say happiness is derived from favorable circumstances; and joy is derived from a favorable inward state: our relationship with the creator. Because joy is anchored in an unchanging fact (God's love and grace toward us) it should stand in an unchanging state.

As we have seen so far in our brief trip of discovery, joy is created by our relationship with God. The closer, more real, our relationship becomes, the more joy we should experience. But it is also created by our response to God. And it is created by how close we walk in agreement with his purposes. It should be a basic motivation to these things.

Maybe we should not connect joy to a state of contentment? Maybe we should connect it to what people today call "passion" -- an enthusiasm or intense, motivating emotion? Something that provokes a powerful heart focus that enables us to lean into adversity.

We all know stories of people endure considerable pain, opposition, animosity and persecution to achieve some high goal. It is difficult to conceive of an internal state that motivates the Paul's, Ghandi's and M. L. King's of the world. Would duty, an internal certainty of the cause or a high altruism be sufficient to motivate perseverance to this kind of suffering? Or is it joy? Or is it something else?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Live in Joy - V

When Israel wandered in the desert and made the special tent to serve as a temple and to meet God in, they also made a special box. Israel saved different items in the box that served as mementos, souvenirs, of different things God did for Israel. When Israel looked to the tent and the box, they were reminded of what it means for God to be present in their midst.

There were rules about the proper care and transport of the box. Following the rules kept the box safe from damage, but it also served to remind Israel what was a proper attitude and lifestyle to maintain in relation to God.

David tried to honor God by restoring the tent, and putting it and the box in a better place. But they did not follow the rules when moving the box. They had become lax, without proper seriousness in their relationship with God. They ignored fundamental truths. And disaster happened.

It made David stop, take a step back and investigate. The people refocused their hearts and attitudes concerning their relationship with God. They did not assume they knew the best way to relate with God.

There was a renewal in heart, mind and attitude. There was a renewal in knowing what was important to God and seeking to practice it. These renewals of heart and practice refreshed Israel’s relationship with God. Which made God’s presence more real and brought joy to the people.

God has given followers of Jesus rules to obey and live by. These rules have much freedom in practice, so they can be easily applied in a multitude of social and cultural environments. But, they have the same function as the rules given to Israel. They give people a correct focus on their relationship with God. They give people a proper way to relate and respond to God and to people. And when all these things are in balance, there is joy in the relationships and in living.

NOTE: Many people respond negatively to the word “rule” when thinking in relationship to God, especially in relationship to Jesus. They think of needing to follow rules to have a right relationship with God. I am thinking of rules or laws that define what is true about something. “Gravity” is a rule or a law about the universe. It requires a person to behave in a certain way. These are the same.

NOTE: I just finished a chapter in Neil Cole’s book Ordinary Hero. In the book, Neil describes “Inhaling” and “Exhaling” as spiritual rules. I will not pursue a detailed discussion of them, but inhaling and exhaling are fundamental spiritual practices that lead to personal transformation. I bring them up here to compare this “breathing” with Israel’s practices. Israel knew the proper way to carry the box. Disaster did not need to happen. Because the box had not moved for a long time, Israel was not familiar with that part of God’s rules. One reason Neil uses this breathing metaphor is to describe a “right now” aspect of these practices. Breathing is not very profitable if it is not done regularly and “right now”. It is the “right now” aspect of following these rules of relationship that reinforces their reality and renews God’s nearness. It becomes a part of joy.

Live in Joy - IV

When Israel became a nation, there was a period of time when they did not follow God. And God chastised them as he said he would. Israel developed their own answer. They needed to become a nation like every other nation around them. They needed a similar government. They needed a king.

So, they crowned a king, and the Bible takes quite a bit of space to draw a contrast between the first king (Saul) and the second (David).

Saul was at first glance the ideal king. He was tall, handsome, tough and intelligent. He was experienced. However, he may have followed God, but he did it badly. He was indecisive, petty, self-interested and self-indulgent.

David may have been handsome, but the first impression stopped there. He was normal-sized and inexperienced. He had a normal, lowly job. His family was not important in his community. It was in his character that he stood out. He did follow God. He was decisive, magnanimous and pursued the good.

There are examples if how David pursued long range goals, with discipline, and consistency. The both failed. Saul made excuses; David was honest. Saul pursued David, to take his life to advance his political agenda. When Saul was providentially given into David’s hands, even though he had pursued David for months, David chose mercy. Saul’s leadership led Israel into disaster. When David became king, he led Israel into triumph.

After Saul died, the people began to quickly move toward David. Scripture describes at some length how Israel, common people and the influential, gravitated toward him. And it was written that “there was joy in Israel.”

Joy is in part a focus of the heart.. There is not much joy in the world today, because there is not much hope. People are heart-focused on the bad things. They have no expectation for good. Israel saw in David the foundation of a positive future. They had a mission and a purpose. This mission gave Israel a focus to rally around and be united in. Purpose, unity and positive expectations bring joy.

The family of God has a purpose and a mission. This purpose gives something for them to focus and unite on. This purpose becomes the basis for positive transformation in people, communities and the world. In Jesus, like David, we have a foundation for joy.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Live in Joy - III

God told Israel that the whole nation should appear before him several time each year. These times were to celebrate special commemorations of who god was, and what God did for Israel.

One of these was at harvest time. Israel was supposed to give a portion of what was produced to God. As they gathered together, collecting the offerings, they were supposed to realize the huge work of provision God has blessed the nation with. The realization should produce joy.

Again, the heart is focused on God ... and a particular part of his nature. God is amazingly generous. He provides for each of his children's needs ... and often for their wants.

It is tempting for us to focus on the stuff itself. Joy will not last that way, because the stuff will not last. We need to look beyond the stuff to the giver.

Live in Joy - II

At one point, in the history of Israel, the whole nation was homeless. They wandered in the desert, looking for a home. While they wandered, they made a portable temple. They made a special tent to meet God in. When Israel moved, they packed the tent up. And when they stopped, they set up the tent in the middle of where they camped.

When they completed building the tent, they held a special ceremony commemorating it. And at the climax of the ceremony, God's glory was revealed to the people. And the people shouted with joy and bowed before the Lord.

In Scripture, God has revealed himself in various ways, and it has elicited various responses. One response has been joy. A natural outcome of God's presence appears to be joy.

A Carmelite monk name Lawrence left as his legacy a series of letters and interviews where he describes his habit of focusing his heart and mind on God. The purpose was a perpetual communion with God. (Not physically possible of course. But this was Lawrence's aim.)

With his mind, he spoke prayers and worshiped. With his heart, he focused on God's nearness. the greater success he had, the more joy he experienced.

On key to joy is the focus of heart. While it appears to require a fair amount of discipline, it can be practiced anywhere, at any time. Lawrence practiced it while cutting up carrots in the abbey kitchen. It is limited only by a person's desire to commune with God and experience his joy.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Live in Joy

Man was designed to live in relationship with, and to be a picture of God. Obviously, man, even if he was morally perfect, could not be an exact picture of God. The fact that no man is morally perfect blurs the picture that much more.

There is a passage in Scripture that says what the results of any action, stance, opinion or decisions that arises from our relationship with God should be like. It does not describe specific events, but rather motives, attitudes or spirits that complete the picture of God in man.

For example, the first item on the list is “love.” People may hate me for what I do, but if God and his Spirit are moving in around and through me, each decision I make should be motivated by love, breathed out in love and acted on love.

Love is somewhat easy to understand. There are actions in love. There are attitudes, motives and perspectives that we can define. Others are more difficult. “joy” is also on the list. Joy seems more like a reaction to stimuli than a choice or an action. Love has a posture someone could proactively choose. A person just finds themselves in joy. It seems to erupt from within.

Are there attitudes we can adopt that lead to joy, like attitudes that can lead us to love?

Monday, October 08, 2012

Heart Transformation

What seperates Christianity from every other religion is -- God entering the heart of a person and changing him from the inside out.

It is God's love, grace and presence that pushes a person to great transformation, great sacrifice and great works.

It is God's purpose to create a family of disciples.  Disciples are people who connect with God through his love, grace and presence. That love, grace and presence are injected into the heart DNA of the person. That injection produces transformation -- and the family expresses God to the world. It is God's love and grace shown in his family that convinces people to change allegiance and join God's family.

There is a place in Scripture where the writer says he hates those who hate God; he counts them as enemies.

But Jesus says we should love our enemies. So, in sort of an upside down logic, Jesus says we should love those who hate God. We should love those who hate him.


We are designed for relationship. Relationship with God. Relationship with people. True and good relationship is available for everyone.

At first, relationship is blocked, because fo sin. So, Jesus appeared and died to remove the blockage. But people;s hearts are still broken. So, God works toward heart healing and heart transformation. It is as we go through these processes that relationship gets established.