Archive for Joy

Sep
23

Reframing the Narrative

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Paul not only found joy in his relationships, Philippians 1:20-30 also informs us that Paul was able to find joy through the acceptance of his circumstances. He was in prison. He wasn’t in denial of this adversity. Rather, he chose to reframe the physical realm into the spiritual realm. How did he do that, and what can we learn?

The first thing Paul offered was a humble view of reality. (Philippians 1:19-20) He maintained confidence that he would be delivered, although he was not certain what form that deliverance would take. Would deliverance mean that he would be released from prison? Or would he be executed? He acknowledged the reality of death, and his only desire was that if execution was in his future that he would not recant his faith.

Second, Paul possessed a clear priority. (Philippians 1:21) He never lost sight of Christ as his ultimate goal and priority in living. The word “gain is a financial term, meaning dividend. He understood that whatever happened to him, his investment would pay a rich reward!

Next, Paul’s attitude was positive. He was able to view his challenge as a “win-win.” (Philippians 1:22-26) The word “desire” is used 31 times in the New Testament and is usually associated with strong, sexual lust. Paul’s positive outlook saw the benefits of heaven, and on the other hand the benefit of others faith and growth should he be released. Interestingly enough, he’s good either way.

Finally, Paul maintained a healthy self identity. (Philippians 1:27-30) He could have worn the label “inmate,” but instead chose a healthy self identity. He was and continued to be a child of God, and would never accept anything less. He was not focused on who he was, but on whose he was.

What is the narrative you’ve chosen about your adversity? Like Paul, let joy reframe the narrative until the unseen becomes as clear as what is seen.

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Aug
07

Joy Through Acceptance

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Viktor Frankl knew the reality of suffering and deprivation as a prisoner of war in World War 2. His experience in Nazi prison camps enabled him to see life at its worst. Some individuals survived the horrors of those camps, while many did not. Frankl wanted to know why. After studying his fellow prisoners, Frankl concluded, “Everything can be taken from men but one thing…the last of all human freedoms…the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

In the first century, there were very few buildings dedicated solely to the purpose of incarceration. Often, prison cells were a part of a larger building that was used for other purposes. The most unpleasant of these would have a limited number of cells below ground, with a central cell used for the most dangerous prisoners. Dangerous criminals would have been whipped and then locked in stocks in the inner most cell. In other instances, people could be placed under house arrest, where a guard would be posted in regular living quarters. During his ministry, Paul experienced both extremes of Roman imprisonment. Imprisonment was not a punishment for a crimes. A person was only imprisoned to be held while awaiting trial.

Even in this circumstance, Paul could see the good contained within his adversity. In Philippians 1:12-14, he wrote, “that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the good news. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ.” Paul maintained that his imprisonment is to Christ, not Rome. He was jailed for proclaiming an illegal religion that contradicted Ceasar’s insistence of lordship. The palace guard was an elite company of soldiers comprised of 10,000 men. They were the emperor’s special task force that was highly trained. In all likelihood, Paul was chained to one of those guards, wrist to wrist, 24 hours a day. He was the positive in his adversity because he seized the opportunity to advance (literally, “cut through”) the gospel.

Not only did Paul have a unique opportunity to share the gospel with influential men, his attitude was contagious, as other believers became emboldened. Like King David, we see that giant killers raise up giant killers.

Paul was not only able to see the good in his circumstance, he could celebrate the good within his circumstance. He wrote, “so I rejoice, and I will continue to rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18) Paul had a big picture focus. He didn’t allow the imperfections of others to cause him to lose his joy.

Finally, Paul remained hopeful within his adversity. In verse 19, he wrote, “For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.” He knew that there was something good on the other side of his imprisonment. That good could be his release from prison. But because of his faith, the good could also mean that if he was not released from jail he would be released to life eternal in heaven.

Like Paul, we need to remember the life of Jesus. On the other side of the cross lies a garden of resurrection. That truth does not just apply to Jesus and Paul. That truth is our reality as well.

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Aug
05

Joy in Connections

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I never get tired of seeing those television news clips or viral videos of deployed soldiers returning home to surprise their families. These gotcha moments occur anywhere from school classrooms to professional sports stadiums. Those stories make me happy, and always bring a smile to my face. But what if it was my son or daughter returning home? That’s one difference between happiness and joy…a connection.

The Book of Philippians is, in part, an epistle that is about joy. In Paul’s letter we find several ways that he experienced and expressed joy. The first eleven verses of chapter one describes his joy in the relationships he had formed with the people of that faith community.

For Paul, the foundation of all connected relationships began with his relationship with Christ. Christ influenced all of his relationships regardless of their roles or functions. Because of his relationship with Christ, Paul had deep gratitude for these men and women. They were not burdens–they were blessings, and expressed that gratitude in the language of prayer.

Paul’s use of the word fellowship in this passage is not a reference to Sunday-after-church-potlucks. True Christian fellowship (koinonia) happens when people partner together for a common cause. So these relationships fostered shared mission and ministry among the people

Not only was Paul thankful, his heart was filled with love. In addition to sharing the common bond of mission and ministry, they share the common bond of adversity. They did not recoil from Paul’s challenges to live lives of service.

Beyond their fellowship and shared adversity, Paul was also able to celebrate their authenticity. As they grew together in the Lord while in the midst of obstacles, their character became more and more sincere.

These three characteristics of connected relationships–a common cause, a common adversity, and sincerity in the face of struggle, produced fruitfulness in their lives. God was working in this congregation so that he could work through this congregation. This truth brought great joy to Paul.

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Jul
25

Discovering Joy

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“Joy is the serious business of heaven.” — C.S. Lewis

I find the concept of joy to be elusive. Not just for me, but for people in our Christian communities. Part of the reason is that we have made joy synonymous with happiness. While that comparison may work in secular culture, it does not work in Scripture. Happiness, which is rooted in “happenings,” is based on external factors and forces. For example, if someone gives me a gift, I become happy. But that happiness is fleeting, not unlike the child on Christmas morning that soon turns his attention from the new toy to the box that packaged it.

Joy is internal. And because it is internal, it is insulated from external factors and forces that rage against one’s life. Jesus was a man of complete and continuous joy, and maintained that joy despite a wide variety of disappointments and frustrations.

So how do we comprehend joy? I liken joy to the tree described in Psalm 1:1-2: “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”

If joy is likened to a tree, that tree is rooted in righteousness. It is planted with intent by God’s design and desire. Its not an accident. It’s fertile, meaning it has the possibility to reach its potential. And it’s designed to bear fruit.

The tree is designed to withstand all seasons of life. There are season of growth, fruit bearing, rest and lament. Each season is necessary to the process of joy. Think about what a 200 year old oak tree has withstood. It stands, having weathered all kinds of challenges. While the tree is weathered, it does not wither. Leaves fall from the tree in autumn, but leaves that wither are a sign of death.

Like those massive trees, you have been designed to prosper, meaning that you have the potential to thrive and increase your capacity. Every new tree will strive to survive. But in time, the tree begins to thrive. As the tree thrives they develop the capacity to prevail. And the capacity to prevail when the pressures of life come allow us to anticipate and even expect those pressures and face them victoriously.

Don’t let your demand and entitlement for happiness diminish your pursuit of joy. Joy is within your reach. You just need to grow your root system deeper.

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Sep
23

Laughter

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On Wednesday nights I’m leading a group in a study of the Fruit of the Spirit. Last night we spent some time talking about the second fruit mentioned in Paul’s listing found in Galatians 5:22-23: the fruit of JOY! As a part of the study I produced a quiz on laughter, based largely on the findings of Professor and neuroscientist Robert Provine. Some of the surprising findings of Provine include…
> People are more likely to laugh in groups than when they are alone,
> The person talking laughs 46% more than the person listening (does this mean I’m not as funny as I think I am??),
> Four times more laughter is triggered by bland phrases than formal jokes,
> Women laugh more than men, and
> Only 1 in 5 espisodes of laughter results from direct or intentional attempts at humor.
Poking around the internet via Google I also saw an amazing report that stated that babies laugh as early as 17 days old. But the one that troubled me most was the statistic that claimed that the average child laughs 200 times per day, compared with the average adult who laughs 15 times a day. I’m not about to claim that the last stat is bolstered in some heavily endowed scientific research, but when I think about it, its probably spot on.

As we age, life does get a bit serious. I just had lunch with my wife who works as a Kindergarten teacher in a nearby public school. As I arrived at her room, the class was preparing for lunch and reccess. Somewhere after that will come a “nap.” As I left I thought to myself that I wished someone would make me nap every afternoon for 30 minutes. But I digress.

The point is this. God has created us with the capacity to laugh. Though neuroscience cannot conclusively identify the location of laughter in our brains, it does exist from the get-go. We have been given this wonderful gift, but somehow our laughter has become rooted in circumstances and life events rather than from some contented place deep within our character. When we are not content within and are merely responding to external circumstances, the only place we’ll find laughter is in our manufactured worlds of entertainment and comedy. God has created us to laugh and to experience joy, and joy is an inside job.
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