March 2006


Reading this morning in Acts (of the Holy Spirit), I stumbled upon something I’d never seen before. After Paul is persecuting the church, Jesus confronts him, regenerates him, and then encourages the church through him. Now there are about a thousand things people have said about Paul’s conversion, and this is not an addition on the subject.

What caught my attention today was this little summary statement from Luke a little farther in the chapter. Paul is now ministering, he’s met up with Barnabas, and then Luke says in Acts 9:31:

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.(ESV)

Wow! Wondering about how the church is to operate? I think Luke gave us a pretty good direction here. Fear of the Lord, and comfort in the Holy Spirit. As I was thinking about it, what sweet fellowship we share, what glorious doctrine we exult in, what tender mercies are administered in the body when we walk in this way! The heavy-handed co-opting of one part of the church for another is laid waste here with this beautiful reliance on God.

May this be our prayer for Christ’s body!

Someone once said to me, “Don’t ever ask God for patience, or he will give you something to be patient about!” I did not like the sound of that, and after some thinking, I replied something like, “I think that argument comes straight from the Pit. You see, Paul prayed for the Christian church at Colossae that they would have, ‘PATIENCE and endurance with joy…’ And if the apostle of the early church prayed for it for those he loved, how much more should we pray for it for ourselves and others. Furthermore, patience is a fruit of the Spirit, and to say not to ask God for it because he might make you exercise it would be like saying, ‘Don’t ask God for joy, or he might give you something to be joyful about,’ or ‘Don’t ask God for peace or he might give you something to be peaceful about.'”
And that is where tonight comes in. As I was trying to avert my attention from an indignation- one of the strongest I have had- that would not go away, I mumbled, “God help me.” The next thought I had was a prayer I had made. But first, let me provide a little more background on the reason for my anger- I have been dealing with someone who treats those around him like they are animals, blames other people constantly and instantly for any problem, scarcely if ever concedes any error (it is always the fault of some other ‘crazy’ person), and is possibly the meanest person I have ever met. All of this is becoming very tiresome to me. Today after receiving a substantial amount more of this than I thought just or right, I fumed inside, but my mouth stayed closed.
Now, let me return to my prayer, “God help me.” Scarcely had I closed my mouth before I remembered a recent prayer- that this person might be able to see the love God had for him. I started to see, more and more experientially and to my humiliation, that God took all of that- the anger, fury, false accusations- from me and one hundred times more, and still offered me the free gift of salvation! I could never earn that, and deserved anything but by my conduct. My temper subsided and I started to consider this situation with eternity in view. This person seems to have the authority now, but really, he has no authority God has not permitted him to have. In the end, he and I will have to account for all our deeds, but I now have Jesus to take the punishment that I deserve while he has no one to take his anger except the people now.
In praying for God to help me see the love he had towards someone else, God showed me a portion of the love that he has for me. I do not regret this prayer or denounce it, but I was caught off guard by its answer (or partial answer).
I saw another picture too- in the abating of this man’s anger, he tapped me on the shoulder, said, “don’t worry about it,” and then left.
How often have I done that to God when I have sinned, simply wanted to change the subject, “don’t worry about it,” and move on with everything the same and better than before? Brothers (and sisters if you are reading) this is what half-hearted repentance is to God! It makes God more distant because we treat the God we love and serve with a cavalier attitude and don’t see the wickedness of our sin or come to grips with why we were wrong.
Let us learn to pray and learn to love and learn to repent.

A debtor until the last,
Larry

The BBC reports:

A new form of Turkish Islam is emerging here, one which is pro-business and pro-free market, and it’s being called Islamic Calvinism.

I was a little bewildered and my hopes rose as I thought of Biblicism spreading to the lost in Turkey. Is there a harvesting of muslims to Christ in the public arena? Sadly no, these are not people from muslim backgrounds who have seen the glory of Christ in God’s soveriengty in salvation. These are Turkish industrialists who happen to be “pious” muslims. Equating the term ‘Calvinist’ with industrial exeberance instead of the godward worldview, a mayor in Turkey has (understandably) recieved some media attention. Keying off the “protestant work ethic,” he has misused this term.

Perhaps business should be used for the Kingdom, it seems that the sons of the world might be more shrewd than the sons of light.

I am challenged to pray for real Calvinists in Turkey. Industrial advancement is certainly within the scope of “man’s” potential. Creating God-besotted people in a godless land…nothing is impossible with God.

A number of objections have come up to my using of the terms joy and happiness and my saying that we should seek our happiness in God. I have been wrestling with these, and if they cannot answer the objections, then I want to scrap them and to follow God in truth.

Objection #1: You are confounding joy and happiness… You see in the Psalms, when David is utterly in the pits, he has a hope that God will deliver him.
Answer: I would return first that I think this objector is confounding joy and hope. Joy first of all, is defined as great happiness or something that makes someone rejoice. Hope on the other hand is defined as wanting or expecting something to happen.
Hope is akin to a confidence or a trust in somebody or something. We see David describe his assurance and his trust in God, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my HOPE is in him” (Psalm 62:5 ESV).
Secondly, we see in the Psalms that when David is in the pits, he pleads for joy. After taking another man’s wife, and then sending him off to be murdered, David is stricken by godly sorrow. David pleads with God, “Let me hear JOY and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice…Restore to me the JOY of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:8,11 ESV).
Another place I find even more compelling in how David speaks directly of God delivering him from the pit. “O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit” (Psalm 30:3). Then he speaks of a pit-like experience two verses later, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but JOY comes with the morning” (vs 5). What is implied here is that joy is as much a change in countenance and mood from weeping as the light of a new day is from the blackness of the prior night. David does not describe being in joy WHILE he was in the pit, but speaks gladly of the God who delivered him from the pit. He tells how God turned his morning into dancing, and loosed his sackcloth (a garment worn for fasting, grief, penitence and extreme desperation) and clothed him with gladness (Psalm 30:11).

Objection #2: For one, happiness is circumstantial, while joy is not. When things are good, you may be happy, but when everything is bad, you may be joyful.
Answer: To answer the second objection, I would state that joy is also circumstantial. What?!!
Yes, read on. Why do the early Christians (Hebrews 11) REJOICE at the plundering of their property? For the very reason that God is bringing to mind the circumstance that they have better possession in heaven. If this CIRCUMSTANCE, namely that they had a better and abiding possession somewhere else were not there, it would be better for them to, “Eat and drink, for tomorrow [they] die” (I Cor 15:32 ESV). God has stamped them with a joy that can never be taken away. God glorifies his name by bringing praise, rejoicing, etc. to his name during impossible circumstances.
Isaiah foretold good news of great HAPPINESS (Isaiah 52:7 NASB).
Why do the disciples REJOICE (be full of joy) and jump for joy that they were counted worthy to suffer for the gospel? “They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).
Why does Jesus tell his disciples during Luke when they are persecuted to “Rejoice and JUMP for JOY on that day”?
Of course, like the Christian’s happiness, the Christian’s joy is also circumstantial. It is hinged on the presence and abiding love of God. It is hinged on God’s approval and abiding influence in their lives. And if God puts his seal of approval (irrevocable) on a man or woman, then they cannot but have this seal uncovered and stared at in the midst of various trials. Then if the circumstance of God’s seal and Holy Spirit is present, then they may overcome all other circumstances. But this is not in spite of circumstances, but because of one very unique and special one that is greater than all of the others! That seal cannot be washed off or pried off or torn off by anything. Like the King issuing the edict in Esther could not revoke his seal, so God cannot revoke the seal of his Holy Spirit that he places on his people.
What then, brothers, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35)? To paraphrase Paul, I wonder if it would be acceptable to ask, what then brothers can separate us from the Joy of God in Christ Jesus? Can plague, sickness, suffering, sorrow, death, demons, enemies, malicious talk, hatred, family disputes, or anything else? No, because we worship a God whose power and goodness are greater than all of these and shows us that we are not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with Good (Romans 12:19-21). And digressing for a moment, I think this could apply to the remaining fruit of the Spirit, “What can separate us from the peace of God… What can separate us from the kindness of God… What can separate us from the patience of God? (Gal 5:22-23)”

Objection #3: The world has happiness, but only Christians have joy. Furthermore, the joy that Christians experience is a choice, NOT an emotion.
Answer: To answer the third objection, I will say that Jesus himself speaks of the world having joy. In his last hours with his disciples, Jesus tells them another parable to illustrate a spiritual truth that will soon be real to them. He uses the story of a woman going into labor, and then proceeds by saying that she will have sorrow knowing her hour has come. So too will the disciples have sorrow. But it does not end there. The woman will have JOY when she finds a baby born into the world. This is not a special joy that will only be for Christian mothers, but for mothers in general. The distinction between this woman’s joy and the disciple’s is that hers is temporal, while theirs will be eternal. The deep seated joy, rooted in the soil of the Holy Spirit, will not be dug up. There are things that God created that are good and cause many to take joy in them (babies, marriages, feasts, graduations, alms to the poor, etc.), but they are derivative and people of the world end up drinking trickles of the run-off instead of from the main basin of the fountain of joy.

And finally, I will come to my point of agreement with my objectors. The object of our happiness and of our joy being in anything less than God alone will be infinitely unsatisfying.

As I have time and understanding, I would like to talk later of some of the objections I have had. For example, if God created us for joy, then how come some of those closest to and most obedient to God cursed the day of their birth (Job and Jeremiah for example) and pleaded to God for death?
Stay tuned!

The struggle for joy is not confined to new converts or to the youth in the Lord, but seen all over Christendom. Recently I heard a president of a prestigious Christian college say at a yearly gathering that God did not create “you and me to be happy. It was to be a holy living worshipping body.” Are our happiness and our holiness mutually exclusive? Another pastor said recently, “Joy is NOT happiness… happiness comes from ‘happens’… etc.” I would like to deal with that argument later.

For now I would like to present a rationale, deductive argument to show the real emotional parts of joy. Let’s turn to the uses of the words and their definitions as well as some questions! What is the opposite of being happy or having happiness? Most likely, you would answer being sad or having sadness. What is a more extreme state of sadness? Many will rightly answer sorrow. Can you have sorrow without having sadness? I do not see how you can or can rationalize that from their definitions. Let us quickly view their definitions:
· Sad- Unhappy, feeling/showing unhappiness/ sadness / grief / etc.
· Sorrow- grief- feeling of DEEP sadness caused by loss or misfortune. Is sorrow an emotion?
Now the opposite of sadness is happiness and the opposite of sorrow, as we see many places, is JOY (John 16:21-22 for example). Now how can sorrow, sadness, and happiness all be emotional states while joy is not? More on this, God willing, to come soon! Hopefully, as I have time, I can wrestles with and address the intermingling of these emotions as well.

For the JOY of the LORD is our strength,

Larry

Last night as I returned from work, I watched the news and saw a very interesting story.
A man, Matt Dubay of Saginaw, MI, filed suit to cease paying child support.
The conclusions of Roe v Wade in 1973 are what caught my attention.
The director for the National Center Men, Mel Feit, appeared to justify this case. He argued that a woman had the choice, if she wanted, to be free from paying child support. If she wanted, she could legally terminate her pregnancy or simply drop it off in a hospital or somewhere else and be free from any financial obligation to the child. Therefore, the father who was not ready to be a father, should also be free from the financial obligations to a child he was not ready for.
The other arugment that was presented struck me as well. Mel argued that Dubay was simply responsible for forming a fetus (a mass of cells), which Lauren Wells chose to carry and allow to mature into a child.
In this particular case there is one child at stake. However, my hope is that logic and reason will preside in the courts that many other lives will redeemed as well. This has the potential, I believe, to bring before a more logical Supreme Court a more concrete definition (and hopefully a more responsible one) of when a life is formed and what the obligations of men and women are. I hope it brings before us what our obligations are regarding the gift of sex and what the constraints of that gift are (marriage). I hope it brings back a more real fear of transgressing God’s boundaries and being responsible to God but leaves the transgressors open to view and see and experience God’s love and mercy and forgiveness.
When I think of this sin and trangression, I am reminded of a God fearing man, said to be a man after God’s own heart, who fell himself to adultery and murder. He was stricken with a godly sorrow, and after pleading to be cleansed from his sin said, “Restore to me the JOY of your salvation… then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness” (Psalm 51:12-14 ESV).
Lead us in Your ways, O God, and teach us to fear and obey You, that we may impart your joy and love and cleansing power to those in need and without hope.

By His Grace,
Larry

What do Mr. Thimble, Long John Silver, and a marooned temptress swine have in common? You guessed it, Muppet Treasure Island. That was the latest film selection in my home. No, I don’t have kids that have begged for weeks to rent it, rather my wife and I were feeling a little kooky and picked it up.

Allow me to get straight to it, most of the film left me disappointed. It did however have some really strong characters, like the two sarcastic old guys (who were actually figureheads on the prow of the vessal), and as you might have guessed were my favorites. Also, the dramatically overplayed (yes I know it was a kids movie that purposely pulled every cliché for its due turn) Billy Bones was enjoyable with his drunken UK accent. The picture of complex hand puppets interacting with this salty old sailor drowning his fears in rum is frankly hilarious.

Some things I did not enjoy were the numerous hints to Ms. Piggy’s promiscuous past. Is there something wrong with me that I think it seems ill-placed to have a sock puppet drudging up her licentious history? Or am I worse for taking the token sexual references this seriously? Well, the jury is still out on me, but I don’t enjoy our culture’s introduction of these themes into children’s/family cinema.

Another contention for me was Long John Silver’s use of the Bible in a category of foolish superstition. Yes, I know I am talking about a movie full of hand puppets for children, but when the Bible is presented alongside ghosts with all manner of sea-faring folly, I again resent the influence of the post-Christian environs.

I am sure that one can do worse than Muppet Treasure Island, but hopefully, we can do a lot better. In the meantime, I hope I don’t have nightmares of sock puppets attacking me with head-shivering, rubber-limb-gyrating, open-mouth-exaggerated, partial-body-viewing, swashbuckling fury!

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