GOD & HURRICANES

GOD & HURRICANES

Carl F. H. Henry, a well-known theologian of the 20th century who was respected for the profundity of his work and revered for his intellectual brilliance, wrote: “I think we are now living in the very decade when God may thunder his awesome “paradidomai” (“I abandon, or I give [them] up,” Romans 1:24) over America’s professed greatness … Our nation has all but tripped the worst ratings on God’s Richter scale of fully deserved moral judgement.”[1]

Henry said that in November of 1980. Almost four decades have passed. Things have gotten worse and better at the same time. Should we be thinking about hurricanes and other natural disasters as the judgment of God, or is something else going on?

No one on this planet knows when judgment will come or where it will fall, not even Jesus (See Matthew 24:36-39).

On the other hand, natural disasters provide opportunity for God’s people to excel themselves in showing mercy by serving those in need. As Mr. Rogers said, “When bad things happen, look for the helpers.” Thousands of Southern Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, and other faith groups like Samaritan’s Purse, which our church supports, coordinate their relief efforts through National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) and stay in disaster-stricken areas long after the storm has passed. In 2017, NVOAD’s CEO, Greg Foster, reported that “80% of all disaster recovery happens because of non-profits, and the majority of them are faith-based.” That’s where God is working.[2]

The only natural – disaster – type judgments recorded in scripture occurred after they were specifically prophesied by one of God’s servants as such. Think of Noah and the Flood, Moses and the ten plagues, and Sodom and Gomorrah. Calling a natural disaster the judgment of God after the fact is theological Monday-morning-quarterbacking.

God is able and sometimes does use the natural elements to execute his judgment, but his habit is to tell us beforehand. Short of that, we should understand all natural disasters as the result of the fall and the curse.

Every natural disaster is an opportunity for us to consider our mortality, our impending personal interview with the judge of the universe. The book of Hebrews explains that, “It is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment.” Jesus said that on the Day of Judgment we will give an account for every careless word we speak (Matt.12:36). Hurricanes are an opportunity for humility and reflection, as are other near-death experiences.

The best news that anyone can ever hear is that judgment has already happened, and they missed it.

Scripture says all of us carry enough sin to be swallowed up by God’s ultimate judgment. But it also says that all of us can, if we are willing, take refuge in the cross of Christ. He absorbed the energy of God’s judgment for our sin (Romans 3:22-26).

Hurricanes and other natural disasters are to be expected on planet earth after the fall and cannot always be avoided, but they can be prepared for. So too with the judgment of God: It cannot be avoided, but it can be prepared for by taking refuge in Christ.

[1] Citation: Carl F.H. Henry, The Christian Century (Nov. 5, 1980). Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 8.

[2] https://dailycaller.com/2017/09/10/christians-provide-more-aid-to-hurricane-victims-than-fema/

ALL ABOUT THE TEAM

ALL ABOUT THE TEAM

When Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley began talking to Billy Graham about writing a book on his leadership secrets the first thing he referred to was “The Team”. Think back on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and it’s always referred to that way. To his dying day, Billy gave credit to God and the team that committed to work with him saying: “It seems to me that the Lord took several inexperienced young men and used them in ways they had never dreamed.”

Myra and Shelley’s book, The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, chronicles twenty-one leadership principles that emerged from his life and ministry. None is more important than teamwork. Cliff Barrows, Billy’s chief platform partner for over sixty years, said that Billy showed, “he is a friend of the team. He always spoke of the team and team activities as ‘ours,’ not as ‘me and mine.’ ”

Given Billy’s familiarity with Scripture it is no surprise. Jesus sent his men out in pairs. The Apostle Paul never traveled without a team. We see it in the Old Testament as well, especially in Nehemiah.

Nehemiah chapter three is a detailed account of the reconstruction of the wall of Jerusalem and the names of the workers that rebuilt each section. Most likely this account formed part of a report to King Artaxerxes as all such nationally sponsored projects would have required. Many preachers and commentators overlook Nehemiah three. Chuck Swindoll in his book on Nehemiah, “Hand Me Another Brick,” skips it entirely. Others write it off as, “a meaningless list of names and assignments.”

But the truth is Nehemiah’s third chapter is a message on the triumph of teamwork.

The work can be traced on a map of Jerusalem by the naming of the gates in the text. It begins with the Sheep Gate (vs.1) and goes counter clockwise to the Fish Gate (vs. 3), then the Jeshanah Gate (vs. 6), the Valley Gate (vs.13) and so on back to the Sheep Gate.

Nehemiah is giving credit to his “team”. In fact, go down the list of workers and you will find a man named Nehemiah, but it isn’t the governor. He leaves himself out of the list which is unusual for ancient leaders. Instead, each man, each family, each craft or guild or district (goldsmiths, bakers, merchants, guards, temple workers, etc.) had a place on the wall-building team. Everyone had a part to play.

As governor Nehemiah didn’t have to do it that way. He could have taxed the whole territory and paid professionals to build the wall or pressed one group of skilled people into slavery to do it. But he knew the whole community, working with the right motivation under the direction of skilled supervisors, could do it much better and quicker and without the rancor created by doing it the other way.

The old saying is true, leaders can accomplish remarkable things if they don’t care who gets the credit. Are you part of a team yet?

WHAT’S ON YOUR BOOKSHELF?

WHAT’S ON YOUR BOOKSHELF?

Think for a moment about your Bible. Perhaps you have a favorite, but most American Christians have multiple versions.  I’ve had an NIV Study Bible on my desk for over twenty years, an essential resource for my work. I carry a personal Bible in my briefcase, well-marked from years of prayer and preaching. And I have multiple versions on my smartphone via the YouVersion app.

Do the same with your favorite Christian writers. Many of us can point to a few key authors or books that strengthened our faith. Chuck Swindoll, Charles Colson, J. I. Packer, John R. W. Stott, and Haddon Robinson not only line my shelves but shaped my soul. Then there are the tools like concordances, Bible dictionaries, and commentaries that help us understand God’s Word in its historical and cultural contexts.

We don’t just have libraries, we have great treasuries of wisdom and knowledge on our shelves.

Now, imagine you’d never had a single one. Imagine being a new believer and the only resource you have is a 100-year-old edition of the King James Version that is difficult to understand and doesn’t even have a concordance in the back.

Imagine being a new believer and not even having that.

Now you know what it is like to be a follower of Christ in most of the non-English speaking world. That is why I visited Nepal and India last week, to find out how important Bible translation and the development of companion resources really is in the rest of the world.

In short, it is enormously important.

I met some fascinating people as well. Consider: Last year it became illegal to proselytize in Nepal. If you are caught with a Bible on your person, or talking to someone about your faith, you face a fine roughly equivalent to a year’s wages and imprisonment for five years.

Yet I worshiped with 1500 Nepalese Christians who are willing to take that risk. Why? They know the power of the gospel first hand, to heal, to deliver from demonic oppression, and to set them free from slavery to dark spiritualities. Their goal is to finish planting a strong, well-led church in every village in the Himalayas in the next decade!

I also worshiped with and preached to over 700 Indian pastors and church planters, some who traveled for days by bus and on foot, who are committed–in spite of official government opposition–to planting churches all over India. They want every people group in that hugely diverse country to know Jesus and experience the peace he brings.

If they even own a Bible, these brothers and sisters and millions–yes millions–like them have at best a 100-year-old Hindi translation from the King James. It’s hard for monolingual Americans to comprehend how this separates them from the Word. Hindi is the national language of India, but there are 11 other major language groups in the country and dozens of derivative dialects from each major group. Imagine trying to read the Word of God in Spanish with the equivalent of your High School Spanish level learning.

Yeah, it’s like that.

What’s on your bookshelf? Are you digging into those riches, or letting them gather dust? And what would you be willing to do to help your brothers and sisters in Christ in the global south share in that great treasury?

WALK IN THE SPIRIT: What Does Freedom From Sin Mean?

“Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16.

From time to time people ask questions that remind me how deep the discouragement and how hard the battle with sinful impulses can be. One of those came from a friend last week who asked: “What is freedom from the chains of sin?  Freedom to never sin?  Freedom from the worst consequences of sin?  I’ve been pouring over Romans 6 (don’t have to sin), 7 (it’s not me that sins but sin in my flesh), 8 (there is no condemnation),” but he had reached no conclusions.

He is right, of course, about Romans 6, 7, and 8. We are free from slavery to sin and free from the eternal consequences of it, but as long as we live in these fallen bodies we will continue to struggle with the impulse to sin which is why the ministry of the Holy Spirit is so crucial.

Maybe a Star Wars illustration will help us think about it.

At the end of act one in the first movie, Luke, Han, and Leah are trying to regain the Millennium Falcon, fighting their way through. On the opposite side of the hangar, Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi are in a duel to the death.

Darth Vader is overpowering and gloating. “Now I am the Master!”

“Only a master of evil,” says the old Jedi.

Then Obi Wan says: “If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

That scene illustrates two metaphors for the Christian life: First, it is about power, but not the kind of power most people imagine, and second, the power we seek comes to us in a counter-intuitive way; to live, to have real power, we must die.

Our lives before the Spirit comes are full of darkness (Titus 3:4-7). A dark life is a life that tries to get its own way all the time; to have its own power. It follows dark impulses. Paul defines that darkness in Galatians 5:19-21.

Hear it in Eugene Peterson’s brilliant paraphrase from THE MESSAGE:

“… repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.”

It is the worst of human behavior. And Paul is talking about Christians! When we live according to our ‘old man’ or ‘flesh’ or ‘sinful nature’ as it is variously translated we are capable of all such things. We look no different than the world.

But don’t get discouraged. Paul chooses his words very carefully. The original tense of the verb translated “those who live like this” (v.21) means “habitually practice”.

If your life is marked by this kind of behavior, day after day, week after week, year after year, you are kidding yourself about your salvation. The Spirit doesn’t reside in you.

But a life lived in the power of the Spirit is not like that at all.  It’s a life where the light grows stronger and stronger each day.  It’s outlined in Galatians 5: 22-23.

Here it is again in Peterson’s paraphrase.

“He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”

How does all this come about?

God wants our lives to be full of His light, full of his power.  But it doesn’t happen automatically.  Like a Jedi Knight we have a part to play, we must learn how to, “Walk in the Spirit so that we won’t fulfill the desires of the flesh.” Otherwise we will fall back into the habits of darkness.

To walk in the Spirit, we must learn the difference between Spirit and Flesh, how the two operate in us. I’m doing some ministry traveling for the next two weeks and won’t be sure of my internet connection, but if I’m able I’ll write more about the differences between the two and how to walk in the Spirit next week.

I’M NOT GAY and you probably aren’t either

I’M NOT GAY  and you probably aren’t either

Perhaps you find yourself among the many young men of our day who wonder whether you might be gay. Conventional wisdom points you in that direction. Some things you are feeling and experiencing seem to confirm that hypothesis. But you are also experiencing a good deal of confusion and anxiety over it. I’m telling my story today to offer you a different paradigm, a different way to think about yourself, in hopes that it will encourage you to embrace the creature God designed you to be. I believe that in embracing that design you will find fulfillment and joy in your life and peace in your soul.

If you have no confusion, if you have no anxiety, and if you find the perspective I’m offering offensive, then you should probably stop reading here. But if you are wondering, please read on.

My teen aged friends used to take bets on whether I was gay. The reasons seemed clear to them. I was not terribly aggressive or competitive. I enjoyed playing team sports, but I was never very good at it. For me it was more about camaraderie than competition.  I was and continue to be, unlike most men, a very verbal, expressive, emotive, empathetic and relational type of fellow. I am comfortable expressing what I feel and talking about where those feelings come from. I am easily wounded by harshness, and hate. I avoid conflict, preferring to smooth things over rather than engage in confrontation. I have a high emotional IQ and operate, like many women, with a decidedly developed sense of intuition.

That, however, wasn’t all that my friends had in mind as they gambled over my orientation. Some of my earliest memories revolve around music and dance. I sang, tenor not bass, and acted in musicals and plays from elementary school through college. I LOVED the stage. My dream was to grow up and take over where Fred Astaire left off.

None of those traits seemed to fit the accepted masculine mold of the time which was and still is to some extent, athletic, competitive, emotionally reserved, and “concrete / rational” in perspective rather than intuitive. You may also have noticed that “real men,” (a dubious phrase if ever there was one) are good at math, engineering, construction and carpentry. They enjoy hunting, fishing pick-up trucks and hot rods. They don’t like to read, unless maybe it’s Field & Stream or Car & Driver, they never write, and they would rather do things than talk about what they feel any day of the week. Heck, many of them are so divorced from their emotions they don’t even know what they feel.

Finally, and this is by no means an exhaustive list, my friends were betting on some of my behaviors and associations. When I was in high school certain behaviors were considered indicative of homosexuality. They seem silly now, but I’m not making this up. Does he cross one leg over the other like a girl? Or hang an ankle on a knee like a guy? Does he like to wear colorful clothes that match? Or T-shirts and jeans? Does he file his nails with his fingers spread like a guy or curled toward him like a girl? All those things were considered indicators of gayness and I was guilty on all counts.

But perhaps most important were my buddies. One of my best friends in High School was one year ahead of me and struggling with his sexual identity. I didn’t know it at the time. I just knew that he was my friend. He helped me get my first job and gave me a ride to it before I could drive. When he and two other friends went to a six-week, college credit, summer drama school in Alabama I went along and hung out with him and the director of the play we were producing. The other guys hung out with the technical team leader and his crew. I was still unaware that my older friend and the director, a high-school music and drama teacher from Dothan, Alabama, were practicing homosexuals. I just knew that they would smoke pot and get drunk with me and I thought that was cool. They were my friends.

I had more gay friends over the following years although I was often unaware of their lifestyle. What I was aware of is that I had more in common with these friends than other men. I enjoyed their company because we enjoyed many of the same things, music, the arts, and reading etc. When, after high school, I finally learned of my friend’s secret life I was deeply upset by it and lashed out at him in anger. I couldn’t have explained then why I was so upset. But looking back on it thirty years later I realize that I felt a deep sense of betrayal, and not a little bit of fear. For reasons I’ll cover later I was a deeply insecure young man. If my good friend was gay, what did that really say about me?

If you are like me, you are probably wondering two things: Where did those similarities come from? How come you didn’t turn out to be gay? The answers lie in two words: Nature and nurture.

Nature covers much of it. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then I’m on some planet between the two whose orbit is closer to Venus. The encouraging thing I’ve discovered is that I’m not alone. Many men, more than you might imagine, share the traits I’ve outlined above, often attributed to women. And many women share traits more associated with men. My guess is the ratio is something like 30/70, or, three in ten women have personalities and gifting traditionally associated with men. Ditto for men with traits associated with women. That doesn’t make us gay. It does mean however that we will often feel out of the loop, disconnected from most of our sex. If we take our cues from the culture, which is increasingly pro-gay, we may conclude quite erroneously that we are gay too.

One other aspect of our nature plays a major part in this drama, the power of which cannot be overstated: sex. The chemicals released in the brain during sex: dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin, serotonin, and testosterone have a supercharging effect on human emotional and psychological bonding. We might say that we “imprint” on the other person – be they male or female, photographed or in the flesh – in the sex act. I call it crossing the shame/ecstasy threshold. Once we overcome our inhibitions (shame) and experience our first sexual act (ecstasy), even if we were coerced or manipulated into it as a child by an adult or other child, or even if it was acting out as part of the consumption of pornography, we are forever shaped by it. The supercharging power of the chemicals released will drive us to seek that experience again.

I was exposed to heterosexual pornography at a very early age. I followed a heterosexual path into adulthood. Had I been exposed to homosexual pornography at that age the outcome might have been very different.

Nurture covers the rest of it. Copious research indicates that children need healthy emotional connections with both of their parents. That connection includes three important elements: respect, identification, and affirmation. The child needs to respect both his mother and his father; identify with the parent of the same sex; and be affirmed in that identity by that parent. They gain their understanding of who they are and how they will get along in the world based on the models they see at home and the affirmation they receive. Failing a healthy connection with one parent, they will seek it in the other parent. By that I mean that sons who cannot connect with their fathers will get their emotional needs met and learn to orient themselves to their world through their mothers. It is possible for a mother to take her son too much into her world where, bit by bit, he loses his identity as a man. It is possible for a father to take his daughter too much into his world, where bit by bit, she loses her identity as a woman. Or a boy might identify more with his mother because she is a stronger personality than the father. Or a daughter might identify more with her father because her mother wilts under the father’s overbearing personality. There are many variations on this theme, but the bottom line is that the balance and harmony of male and female in the home is lost and the sexual identity of the child easily confused.

It is a father’s job to help his sons orient themselves and find their footing in the larger world. But like many of my homosexual friends I had a dysfunctional relationship with my father. My dad loved his sons. But it was difficult for him to express it. (It will come as no surprise that he did not have a good relationship with his dad either). I desperately wanted his approval, but it was difficult for him to give. (Dad said I was “pretty” and threatened to put a bow in my curly brown hair). My father also had a real problem with anger. He often lost his temper and occasionally beat my brothers and me far out of proportion to our offenses. This alienated us from him. Identification was lost. Still, I think those incidents could have been overcome had he been able to establish a healthy emotional bond with his sons. He was getting there when his life was cut short in an accident.

Why did that not lead me into the homosexual world when so many in my situation have gone that way? Teenage heterosexual experience, as mentioned above, is certainly part of it. A powerful, life altering encounter with Christ at age 20, where I submitted my will to his and promised to obey him no matter the cost was crucial as well. The rest I attribute to a specific answer to prayer.

I lost my Dad when I was sixteen. That loss launched me into a period of great emotional insecurity. Over the course of the twenty years following God provided a series of healthy, responsible, godly, and mature men with whom I could identify and bond, who modeled healthy manhood for me, and who affirmed me. They gave me what I needed to become the man I am today.

If you’ve read this far then please stick with me a little while longer because I want to affirm you.

If you feel different from most of the boys and young men around you, if you seem to be attracted to other young men instead of young women, if you are wondering what the matter with you might be, you are not alone, and you are not gay. Even if your first sexual experiences have been homosexual and you feel that powerful chemically based pull toward that life, you are not bound to it. You can be free. Jesus Christ can set you free and can give you the strength that you need to change. He can empower you to resist the urges that you feel and bring the chemicals raging within you back under control. He can reshape your mind so that you can begin to see his world and his creation from his point of view. He can help you become the man that you were meant to be.

I stand ready to help you. There are other men in churches all over America who will do the same. I urge you, give your life to Christ and take the first steps to becoming the man you were made to be.

FINDING PEACE IN ANXIOUS AMERICA

FINDING PEACE IN ANXIOUS AMERICA

I was approaching agoraphobia—the inability to be in a crowd—and didn’t know it, but then, I didn’t know much of anything about anxiety disorders in 1980. All I knew was that I had trouble sleeping, I was constantly worried, I felt terribly alone, incessantly churning down inside. I had been a confident, risk-taking teen, but by age twenty all that was gone. I was so uncertain of myself that I stayed in my car between classes at the junior college and drove straight home after lunch to spend the rest of the day alone and miserable. The only way I could describe it was that it felt like I was free-falling, with no bottom in sight and no rope to stop me.

If any of that sounds familiar, then you may be among the thirty-odd percent of Americans who, according to the National Institutes of Health, have an anxiety disorder. It’s even worse among college students, 62% of whom reported “overwhelming anxiety” in 2016 according to The New York Times.[1]

The search for peace is driving unprecedented sales of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications, over 15.2 billion dollars and rising in 2015.[2] The medications have helped many people. And the more we learn about the brain the better. But finding peace is about more than balanced brain chemistry. It’s about inner harmony. Bottom-line: if our souls are out of balance the medications will only mask problems, problems that, if resolved, might preclude the need for medications.

It behooves us to ask then, what exactly is peace?

Peace means wholeness. Shalom—fullness of life—is the old Hebrew word. Harmony, which comes from the Greek Ireinei (pronounced I-Ray-nye), “at one again,” is another. When I have inner peace I am at one, I am whole. My mind and heart are in harmony and every part of me is in agreement. Inner peace has little to do with external circumstances and everything to do with how my mind and heart respond to those circumstances. One thing is certain: I cannot have peace with others if I do not have peace within.

We chase peace in many ways.

Fame is one, the search for which is exacerbated by social media. Teens especially are vulnerable. When we are well-known (translation: many “friends” and “followers”) and well liked, the center of attention, we have peace. But the peace of fame is fleeting. It leaves us empty and anxious when the spotlight turns, as it inevitably will, to someone else.

Perfection is another. Pursuing perfection makes us feel an inch taller than everyone else. Ben Franklin had thirteen rules of virtue but found he could never keep them all at once. Eventually we hit the wall, the end of our ability to achieve whatever goal we set be it athletic, musical, moral or financial. When that happens, peace is replaced by frustration, another word for anxiety.

Finally, some pursue peace through conformity to a sub-culture: We’re Goths or Gays, Progressives or MAGA’s, Baptists or Brethren. Conformity is sturdy, reliable. The boundaries are clear and so are the “ins” and the “outs.” But conformity offers peace only to insiders. It erects barriers to outsiders. In the end, conformity is the peace of prison. Life stops at the gates.

The Bible explains where our anxiety comes from. We are fragmented, incomplete creatures, created whole in the image of God but broken at the fall. We are jigsaw puzzles with missing pieces, un-synchronized and incomplete without relationship with Him who made us.

The Bible also offers the path to peace: Jesus. “For he himself is our peace,” wrote Paul, “who made the two one.” Jesus is our peace because of two things: His personal wholeness, he is shalom personified, and his work of redemption. He restored our broken relationship with God.

Jesus is the only unfragmented person who ever lived. He is complete, lacking nothing. “In him the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form.”[3]

Jesus restored, synchronized and harmonized, our relationship with God. “We have peace with God through” him.[4] He filled up what was lacking in us by “making us complete” in himself.[5] He unifies our minds in peace, overcoming our mental fragmentation by the control of his Spirit.[6]

In March of 1980 I gave my life to Christ, asking him to take control, and experienced the “peace that passes understanding.” The falling stopped, and my feet were finally on solid ground. I have had many ups and downs since then, but the rock beneath my feet has never moved. Aren’t you ready to do the same?

[1] https://www.eab.com/daily-briefing/2017/10/18/why-extreme-anxiety-is-at-an-all-time-high-among-american-students

[2] https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/anxiety-disorders-and-depression-treatment-market

[3] Colossians 2:9

[4] Romans 5:1

[5] Colossians 2:10

[6] Romans 8:6 & 9.

CORN-HOLE VICTORIES AND PARTYING WITH GOD

CORN-HOLE VICTORIES AND PARTYING WITH GOD

Thunk! “YES!” I fist pumped. Thunk! “Just one more!” I said to my partner, did my wind up, and tossed. Thunk! “We won! We won!” I shouted, threw my hands up and did a victory dance. It was a classic come from behind victory. I could hear Jim Nance intoning, “It was a cornhole tournament unlike any other.”

Everybody at the church picnic turned and looked at their nutty pastor and smiled.

Hey, don’t laugh. At my age, sporting victories are few and far between. I celebrate them whenever I get the chance. In fact, I celebrate—a word with roots deep in worship of God—any time I can think of an excuse to do so, and so should you.

“Joy is the serious business of heaven,” wrote C.S. Lewis. Joy is what heaven is about. It is the driving energy of life. Without it we wither. Partying with God is essential to a happy life.

Have you considered how much joy there is in the Bible? The New Testament begins with it and is filled with it. Do a concordance search on “joy” or “rejoicing” and you’ll be amazed. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Jesus said, “Unless you become like a little child you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Children do joy automatically.

G. K. Chesterton explained, “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”[1]

God has an immense capacity for simple joy that we have lost and need to regain. The ability to party with God, the spiritual discipline of celebration, is a crucial step in reclaiming our joy. It is crucial because joyless Christians help no one.

Put yourself in the position of someone looking for answers in life. You’re looking around at the people you know, the people you see in the hair salon, the other moms at the baseball field. You’re watching them because you know they go to a church that says there is more to this life. Yet you don’t see any joy. You see crabbiness. You see selfishness. You see someone who can find the fly in every ice cream cone of life. Are you going to be interested in her spirituality?

Somebody out there in the spiritual world wants you to find all the faults in others and all the sadness you can swallow, but it isn’t Jesus Christ. Francis de Sales wrote, “The evil one is pleased with sadness and melancholy because he himself is sad and melancholy and will be so for all eternity. Hence he desires that everyone should be like himself.”[2] Misery loves company.

Joy is an absolute necessity for healthy spiritual life. Without it we shrivel and become vulnerable, more vulnerable to temptation than ever. Fulfillment, contentment, and dare I say it, pleasure, are essential elements for a strong soul. When we fail to find these good things God wants us to have, and then celebrate the goodness, sin seems better than what He has to offer. Temptation’s power is multiplied in an unhappy soul.

So, I urge you, learn the spiritual discipline of celebration. Learn to take each good thing out of each good day, even the corn-hole victories of life, and revel in the goodness of God.

[1] G. K. Chesterton, quoted by John Ortberg in The Life You’ve Always Wanted, p. 61

[2] Francis de Sales. Quoted by Ortberg in The Life You’ve Always Wanted. P. 64.