How To Find Joy - A Call To Rejoice Always

I have a good friend whose brother was driving home late one night. His brother ran a stop light and was broadsided by another car. He died. The family, as families often do at death, gathered together. As a pastor who has done funerals, grief is always hard when death is sudden. It's harder when it is the sudden death of a young person. When the family gathered together, my friend was wondering whether his faith would survive this experience. How do you believe in a God who allows or causes (depending on your theology) a young man to die suddenly and unexpectedly through a collision at an intersection? As they were gathered around in the middle of the night, mourning, the father did something strange - profound if you will. He put on a worship CD, turned the stereo up real loud, placed his hands on the speakers, and started singing praises to God. Just to rejoice in the midst of the sorrow. Rejoicing always.

In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul wrote:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:4-9 ESV).

 Even during the worst situations, we need to follow Paul's instruction. "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." The path to joy isn't about creating an environment where everything good happens all the time. The path to joy is a battle of perspective. God has done so much. There is so much that is good that we experience. Yet we like being pathetic and we like to wallow in the little bit of bad that's in our lives. Now, you may be saying what I'm going through isn't just a little bit of bad. It's a big bit of bad.

Paul can relate to a big bit of bad. Persecution. Imprisonment. Being stoned (with stones). Going blind. Big, bad troubles. Paul was not a foreigner to big, bad troubles. So his teaching to us to rejoice always comes from a man who knew full well what it is to live through difficult circumstances. If it wasn't difficult, he wouldn't need to teach it. I can't guarantee you much. But one of the things that I can guarantee is that bad things will happen in your life. Big, terrible, tragic things. Like the death of your loved one. Your death. Crises of another sort. Bad things. Great, big, terrible, bad things will happen in your life.

Which makes it even stranger when we go to frivolous things to find a pseudo-joy. The world successfully brainwashes us into the belief that joy is found in the next gadget, the next pleasure, the next this or that. The next website. The next show. The next book. These are all lies. Lies we often buy into. Joy is not found in those things. Happiness is. Sometimes a very fleeting, temporary, destructive happiness.

We may not be happy always, but our state of happiness does not correlate to whether we are right with God or now. We can cry and still be right with God. We can be heartbroken and still be with God. Joy is beyond the momentary feelings of happiness, and we need to learn to rejoice always.

Happiness has the same root word as happening - "happ". We don't have control over our happenings. But we can control whether we will rejoice in all circumstances.

It is easy for us to act like strong Christians when things are good. When we find a great home for a great price. It's easy to act joyful.  When have a new healthy baby. It's easy to be joyful. When you receive an unexpected gift. It's easy to be joyful. Those are all things I have experienced. And I am grateful for them, but the world doesn't need Christians that are just happy when things are good. That's confusing happiness with joy. The world needs Christians who are joyful all the time. When things don't go our way. When friends or family die. When money doesn't quite stretch far enough. When illness  strikes. When things aren't easy.

There is one lie that I think destroys our joy more than anything. A prevalent lie in the church in America. A lie that is spreading. A lie that we, as American Christians, are quick to buy into. We think that God will always make everything good for us. We think that He is our Santa Claus in the sky. That if we are faithful and believe, then we will only experience great presents from our heavenly Father. This is a lie. A lie of the most damaging sorts. And when we buy into this lie, we struggle when things aren't good for us. John Piper shared the following...

This week, I couldn't help but watch the news. We have no shortage of stories that scare us. Stories that make me fear that one day I may not be able to speak my mind without possible repercussions. Then I remembered what I had already written here in this article, what I had already shared with you here today: "The path to joy is a battle of perspective."

I don't want bad things to happen in America, but the news right now seems a little overwhelming in regards to a scary future for America. The NSA spying on us, and the person who informed us about it now being prosecuted as a spy. The IRS targeting people it politically disagrees with. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade treaty that is being written in private, even classified from the eyes of our Congressmen, that makes NAFTA look insignificant. It all frustrates me. It worries me for the America my children will have to live in. But then the word of God pulls me back in.

Paul also wrote the church in Philippi, "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20 ESV).

Our citizenship is in heaven. This doesn't mean that we don't work for the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the hurting people that surround us. This isn't an idea whose purpose is to give us an off switch where we can say, "This world is crap, and we don't have to do anything about it." Just the opposite is intended. We need  to bring about justice, righteousness, and mercy. This idea should spur our passion because we believe in a better reality and bringing about that reality from the home of our true citizenship into this one. So when we struggle, fear, and worry about our future, we need to reset our thinking. This place is not our home. Our citizenship is beyond our current, temporal reality. We can find comfort in those truths and find motivation to carry on.

Elsi meeting Avett for the first time.
On Wednesday, I drove Lindsay and Avett to the doctor in Defiance. We were halfway there when I asked, "Did you bring the paperwork that we need the doctor to fill out?" Because with a homebirth, we have extra paperwork that we need our doctor to fill out and mail in to the health department. Paperwork that a hospital usually takes care of behind the scenes.

Lindsay told me that she forgot. I became immediately frustrated. Here we were, more than halfway to Defiance without the paperwork that we needed our doctor to fill out. We could turn around and be a half hour late for our appointment or we could continue driving without the paperwork needed. Neither option was good. We decided, since we were close to the doctor and didn't want to be late for our appointment, that we would just finish the trip. I would drop her off then run back to town to get the paperwork. A wasted hour driving. Unnecessary wear and tear on our car. I calculated the cost. AHHHHH! Anyway, I was working on this piece that morning before leaving for the doctor, and this story that I am going to share with you right now helped me through the situation.

Another pastor shares the story.

"One day my wife, Cindy, refueled our car at a filling station in a Texas town. Instead of driving up to the self-service pump, she accidentally pulled up to full-service. She didn’t realize the luxury service cost an extra fifty cents per gallon until she paid for the gas. Later she told me how the station had hiked the prices on full-service.
That extra fifty cents per gallon surely has to be a violation of some federal law, I thought. I quickly calculated that the extra seven dollars she spent on full-service would have taken our vehicle 128.33 miles farther down the road if she had bought self-service gas. The “full-service gas station robbery” had me fuming for several hours.

As I was mulling over this terrible injustice, God showed me what I had done. I had sold my joy for seven dollars! I never realized how cheaply I would surrender something so valuable. Just as Esau exchanged his birthright for a bowl of soup, I exchanged my joy for seven dollars’ worth of gas.

At what price are you willing to sell your joy? (I Once Was Blind But Now I Squint, 40-41)

So back to my story about our trip to the doctor and Lindsay forgetting the paperwork. I said to myself that I would not let having to drive for an extra hour ruin my day. My joy isn't worth giving up for an hour. And it worked. Strangely, it worked. And Lindsay says that it made her life better too when I decided to have joy rather than fume about the situation.

And then, as I drove back to Defiance after having dropped her off and picked up the paperwork, I began to think about all of the things that we give up our joy for. I get overly frustrated with life when our money doesn't stretch far enough. I have been upset when Lindsay buys something that I don't think we can afford. I've been upset when I found out I had cancer. I've been upset when our twins died. I've been upset when my mower won't start (Now I have a new electric mower and haven't had that problem). I've been upset when my wife didn't get a job she applied for. When another kid has hurt my kid. I've been upset over so many things. Things that weren't worth selling my joy for.

I'm sure you have had similar situations. Things we think are worth being upset over, yet it doesn't benefit us when we allow ourselves to fume. Fuming just takes away our joy. Which brings me back to the wisdom of Paul in teaching us to rejoice...always. We can have joy in every situation. It doesn't mean the lies of the prosperity gospel. It doesn't mean that we will always get what we want. It means that when we don't get what we want, we will choose to be content.

Joy. It's a choice. And I want to choose joy. Joy in Jesus. Because He is the source of our contentment. True joy.  

Kay Warren, the wife of Pastor Rick Warren, describes joy:

Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.

Do you remember when your mother used to say, "Don't eat candy before meals?" Why did she say that? Because she knew it would ruin your next meal. The trouble with eating candy is that it gives you a sugar buzz, and then you don't feel hungry. Candy masks the fact that your body needs proteins and vitamins. The sugar buzz from candy masks your hunger for the real nutrients that you need.
Things like sex, power, money, and success—as well as favorable circumstances—act like spiritual sugar. Christians who have these spiritual candies may say, "Sure, I believe in God and I know I'm going to heaven," but they're actually basing their day-to-day joy on favorable circumstances. When the circumstances change, it drives us to God, because when the sugar disappears, when the candy gets taken away, we're forced to pursue the feast that our souls really crave. We'll hunger for the spiritual nutrients we really need.

Joy isn't found at the end of the rainbow of fame and money. Or even in the good things like family, friends, your job, or even in the smile of a newborn baby. That's happiness. Those things can pass. Tragically pass. Joy isn't found in your child getting a hit, winning a game, reading a good book, watching a good show, or taking a good vacation. Again, those things are happiness. Don't confuse joy and happiness. Happiness, although appreciated, is fleeting. There is only one source of unfleeting joy.

Let's reread Paul's passage to the church in Phillipi:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:4-9 ESV).

We want joy. But focusing on joy is not how we get joy. Here are four tips from Paul from the section above on how to get joy.

Joy is like a cake. If you're missing ingredients, you don't have cake. No flour, no cake. No sugar, no cake. No egg, no cake. Oh, you may be able to make a fake substitute. But that's not cake. Don't fool yourself. The same is true with joy. If you're missing the ingredients to joy, you don't have joy.

Paul points out four things that bring joy/peace.

Be Gracious. "Let your reasonableness be known to everyone," Paul wrote. "Reasonableness." What is reasonableness?  The original word (epieik├ęs) means "sense of [being] truly fair by relaxing overly strict standards." It's gentleness. It's the idea of mercy and grace. It's giving people the benefit of the doubt. Being more gracious than fair. Being more loving than just.

Do you see others the way God sees them? People will fail you. They will disappoint you. But even with all their faults, they're still beautiful. Just like God views you with all of your faults. Joy is found in viewing others the way God views them, even when they fail you. Especially when they fail you. Being gracious in all situations.

Be prayerful. Paul wrote, "In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Are you keeping in mind that God is in control? Are you more worried about yourself more than you are about His will and Him receiving glory?

It's easy to panic in a situation. It's easy to worry that maybe God doesn't want the same thing that we want. But it doesn't do us any good to be anxious. Give it up to God. Express your desire to Him. "Supplication" means "heart-felt petition, arising out of deep personal need." It's more than just checking off our prayer list. It's expressing our deep-felt desires. But after the prayer is said, we trust in Him for the future outcome. Joy is never found in worry. Joy is found in expressing our desires to the Lord and trusting in Him.

Be Positive. Paul said, "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." 
Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who was imprisoned for helping Jews escape the Nazis during World War II. In her book, The Hiding Place, she writes about an incident that taught her the principle of choosing a positive outlook in all situations.

Corrie and her sister, Betsy, were imprisoned at Ravensbruck Camp. As a prisoner she faced horrible living conditions and found herself very bothered by the intense fleas in her barracks. She wrote: 
“The barracks were extremely crowded and infested with fleas. One morning they read, in their tattered Bible, from 1 Thessalonians the reminder to rejoice in all things. Betsy said, 'Corrie, we've got to give thanks for this barracks and even for these fleas.' Corrie replied, 'No way am I going to thank God for fleas.'"
But Betsy was persuasive, and they did thank God even for the fleas.

During the months that followed, they found that their barrack was left relatively unsupervised, and they could have a Bible study, talk openly, pray together, and not worry about being interrupted or experiencing something even worse from the guards. Their barrack was their only place of refuge. Several months later, they learned that the reason the guards never entered their barracks was because of those blasted fleas.

"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  Put on the attitude of Jesus. Joy is found in having a positive attitude, even with the fleas.

Be Practicing or Practice These Things. "What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." Joy is found in actually living the right life. Not just knowing it.

Peace is a byproduct. A byproduct of our right relationship with Jesus. Joy leads to peace. Joy is found through being gracious to others, being prayerful, thinking positively, and living the life Jesus wants you to live.

Elton Trueblood, one of my favorite Christian writers of the 20th century, said, "I don't trust the theology of any person who doesn't laugh."

The other week, I was asked by an atheist why I became a Christian.

Much to the displeasure of the atheist, I became a Christian, not because of intellectual arguments, but because I fell in love with the view of the world that some Christians shared with me through their words and living it. I went to college and fell in with the wrong crowd, a group of Christians. This group of Christians was filled with joy and seemed to have a different dream of the world. Now I believe that their different dream for the world is the way that God wants this world. I want that world. I want the world that Jesus teaches us to strive toward. I want His kingdom to come here on earth as it is in heaven. It may sound crazy, especially to an atheist, but encountering Christians filled with joy and living in hope is what brought me to Jesus. A group of joyful Christians who were living differently in the world.

I may have logically went backward, starting at a different place. I started at the point of action and experience and wanted the thoughts that brought about that action and experience. My logic went, "These people are living the life I want. This is the life I want. I want what they have. What brings people to this life? What beliefs? What actions? What habits?" This led me to Jesus and the church. Maybe if I would have found a sacrificially loving group of atheists, my life would be different. But I didn't. And I still haven't.

Discussions with atheists always come back to a scientific argument. They want to argue creation or the reliability of Scripture or something else. Those discussions have their place, but that isn't what changes lives.

So when an atheist asks why we should assume God if they believe physics and evolution can explain the world without Him. I would say that it is because the God I believe in teaches us to love our neighbors, love our enemies, and live sacrificially for others. Following God brings joy. I find that beautiful. For an atheist, it may be irrational. For me, it may just be irrational beauty. And those things can't be discovered through evolution and physics.

Now, here is the dilemma. You may be feeling guilty for being mopey. For not being as filled with joy as you should be. And then you think, "I'm going to stop being mopey and start being joyful." Well, first, don't beat yourself up so much. That's bad for your joy. Remember, when the wet blanket of joy sucking despair or depression begins to overwhelm to say, "Stop it. I choose Jesus. I choose joy."

Remember to view yourself the way that God views you. And remember that joy is not something that we can just wish into existence. It's not found by us just listening to motivational speakers and willing it into our lives. It's a byproduct. It's found by being gracious to others, through trusting God in all situations, and putting on Jesus. Grow more into Jesus, and you will find that you are inhabited by the Holy Spirit that brings joy as one of its fruits.

Choose joy. Choose Jesus.

Non-Violence In A Violent World

People who claim to be non-violent come in all sorts of varieties. Some take non-violence so far as to stop eating meat. That would be a complete separation of an individual from violence of any kind. I don't go that far. I just took Isaac to the butcher shop where we saw cows hanging and how they butcher them for us to eat to show him that having the life we live off of is costly.

As I wrestle with thoughts of loving my enemy and my stance on the issue, I know that I have yet to be in a situation where my own views have been tested. I am probably not as strong as I plan to be and teach that one should be. 

If I were to describe my stance on nonviolence, it would be to not have angry thoughts toward any other person and to never infict harm on another human being no matter what the circumstances.

When expressing my stance on nonviolence, I often get asked how my view on nonviolence relates to playing violent video games (along with the ridiculous question of what I would do if I found my wife being raped). When it comes to entertainment, I do not have a problem with violence.

I am less violent than most and more violent than a few if we were to lay it out on a line with complete nonviolence on one end and total violence on the other. The key is to focus on love and not on nonviolence. We can get caught up in a legalistic test of fellowship if I judge people based upon their view of violence. Having a legalistic approach to the issue does not further the gospel one bit. We should ask what we can do to be loving in all situations rather than ask what we can do to be nonviolent? I believe if we focus on love, it would encompass nonviolence.

My friend Shannon wrote a reply on my blog years back in regards to this subject. He might not still stand by it, but I like it with a few tweaks.
It has nothing to do with whether the actor is sinning, but whether I am sinning. You could have a lady taking a shower in a movie (last time I checked, God is not against showers), she may not be sinning, but I sure would be if I were to watch it.

Or from the other side, I could watch lots of sins and not have it be a sin for me. I could watch people, steal, gossip, brag, etc...

That's the deal. For most of us, most violent films do not cause us to want to be violent. Whereas, for most of us, most sexual films do cause us to think sexually.
I would argue that if the woman was showering naked in front of a man that was not her husband in order to tantalize him or to just make money, that would be a sin. That is where I would diverge from Shannon's post on the subject. A woman showering is not wrong. A woman showering in such a way that she is doing it knowing that a man who is not her husband would be watching her is wrong.

Another friend, Troy, brought up to me whether we are condoning sin by watching football or boxing. The debate would all come down to whether football or boxing is a sin.

As for violence in a movie, nobody is committing a sin in making it and nobody is committing a sin in watching it unless they have a lust for violence from watching it. The violence is all fake.

I did take my kids to a hockey game the other night and was very uncomfortable with the glamorized fighting. A fight broke out on the ice and everyone started cheering. It all seemed strange to me. It was much worse to me than boxing because boxing is a sport of discipline where the boxers have to refrain from being angry. At the hockey game, these guys appeared to be very angry at one another and wanted to hurt each other. I told my kids that people should not act that way. Maybe we should have left.

In the end, we need to always try to be like Jesus. If someone is being faithful to their understanding of Jesus and are more violent than me, I should not hold their stance on violence as a test of fellowship despite my belief that nonviolence is an outgrowth of a heart of love. In the end, we all need to work on being more loving than we are.

We cannot feel that we have arrived at a life of love because we refrain from doing something. A life of love is a life of action, not a life of restraint. Restraint might help us be more loving, but it is not the goal. Being Christlike is the goal; that makes love a natural outcome. Christ's love should be overflowing from us. In that happening, everyone around us should see Him through that love. If not, we have work to do. I know I do.

This was an edited post of a piece I wrote a while back at Chi Rho Live.