the secret to happiness

What would it take for you to be happy? I mean life-is-good, smile-on-your-face happy. What would it take? Most often our response comes out of wherever we are for the moment. Whatever our aspirations are. Our goals. Whatever we’re struggling with. Whatever we’re worried about. Whatever brass ring that’s just out of reach. Whatever dark cloud looms overhead.

For some it’s money. There’s a pawn shop in Garland, Tx that has a sign that reads, “Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it sure pays the bills.” For others it’s status or accomplishment or house or possession. And I don’t want to diminish the things that often concern us. Maybe it’s the house that sits on a hill that you’re striving for. Or maybe, it’s simply the house you’re living in that’s falling apart that you’d repair if you could afford it. Maybe you have a dream car in mind. Or maybe, you’d just like to not have to pray that the car you have will start every morning. For many the answer is relational. And this is the most difficult one of all. The perfect marriage. The perfect relationship. How many marriages have fallen apart because one or both have come to the conclusion: “I’m just not happy any more.” How many relationships are on the verge right now of breaking up because of the sadness and apathy of one or both in the marriage?

How many times have you said: “When I finally get this job, then I’ll be happy.” “When I finally finish this degree, then I’ll be happy.” “When I pay off this loan, then I’ll be happy.” “When I….  If I….”

Have you found that contentment is illusive? What does it mean to be content anyway?

We seek happiness, and I know that some would argue that happiness and contentment are two different realizations, but I can’t help but think that if we could come to the point in life that we were content, we’d then be happy.

Perhaps no Psalm is more loved and more quoted than Psalm 23. It brings comfort and solace because it draws us into the arms of a Father who is so very welcoming and so very sufficient. In verse 5 David pens, “…my cup overflows.” In Scripture one’s “cup” is one’s lot in life. There is abundance in his life attributed only to God. It’s not a situational concept. It’s an internal one. An emotional one. A state-of-being. The blessings of living near the Father. A Father who lavishes His love upon us. His grace upon us. His goodness. His strength. He saves us, and then, renews us. What a description of abundance and belonging. “My cup overflows.” “It is overfilled.” “Filled to overflowing.” Because I belong to God!

The Apostle Paul writes, “I have learned the secret of being content…” (Philippians 4:12).

The secret?  Jesus!

Glory to God!

Jason

giving up our rights

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“Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).

“He must become greater, I must become less,” John the Baptist (John 3:30).

“Paul, a servant of God….” (Titus 1:1).

Humility is elusive, because just when you think you’ve got it… you don’t!

For some humility is a gift.  It comes extremely naturally.  To very few humility is second nature (my maternal grandmother was like this).  However, for most, humility is a daily choice that runs contrary to our nature.  A decision that is willfully made.  Day after day.  Moment by moment.  To humble ourselves and be ever so willing to become obedient to death, even death on a cross (connect Philippians 2:8 with Luke 9:23) whether that cross is physical or metaphorical.  To give up our rights and die to ourselves so that Christ might be lifted up and exalted through us.

When someone is being questioned in regard to a crime by a governmental official they will first be advised of their rights before any questioning begins.  The Miranda warning reads, “You have the right to remain silent.  Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law.  You have the right to have an attorney present prior to and during any questioning.  If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint one to you.  Should you choose to begin answering questions, you have the right to terminate the interview at any time.  Do you understand you’re rights?”  When the answer comes back, “Yes,” the next question asked is, “Will you voluntarily waive your rights and answer some questions?”

In Christ, humility demands that we give up our rights.  We give up our rights to be first.  We give up our rights to be center stage.  We give up our rights to be heard.  To be proven right.  To be exalted.  In order that He might be first.  Center stage.  Heard.  Proven right.  And exalted.  The cross of Jesus requires that we give up our rights, take up our cross daily, and follow Him.  That we would willfully empty ourselves of self.  And that in turn, we would be filled by Him.

I wonder how this God-ordained approach might impact some of the struggling relationships that exist today? In particular, relationships that are struggling with God….

Glory to God!

Jason

the birthday girl

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Today is my absolute favorite day of the year!  Tiersa’s birthday!  It’s an event.  We build up to it for days.  Everyone’s involved.  The kids do their thing.  We collaborate.  We plan.  We strategize.  Dinner.  Presents.  Cake.  It’s a concerted, group effort.  And it’s a blast!

When it comes to “my part”, I’ve learned that slow dancing  by candlelight to “All I Want is You” by U2 is what makes her heart smile.  🙂

God is good!  He is faithful!  And today has been a fantastic day with the birthday girl!

Tiersa,

I love that you love.  I love that you love me.  I love that you love us.  I love that you love our children.  I love that you love our family.  I love that you love God.  I love that you love others.  I love that you love our history.  I love that you love our present.  I love that you love our future.  I love that you love with your whole heart.  I love that you hold nothing back.  I love that out of 7 billion people on the planet God knew the one I wanted and needed.  I love that you love, Love.  And I love you!

“You are beautiful my Love, as Tirzah….” – Song of Solomon 6:4

Love you Love!

too easily derailed

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Imagine as Christ’s church our having to meet in secret because of persecution. We tend to trivialize the notion in our Western worldview but the reality is that much of the church of both the past and present was/is forced to gather together in secrecy for the valid fear of oppression and persecution (either by government or society and culture). The first century church and Christians today in Muslim and Communist countries have much in common.

Beneath the city of Rome lies hundreds of miles of “catacombs.” The catacombs are underground burial places where Christians often met for worship and fellowship. For the almost three hundred years after Christ, Christians sought asylum in this underground maze of tunnels beneath Rome seeking to worship God in community with one another and as they were in constant fear of Roman violence.

In these underground tunnels a common inscription has been repeatedly found. Many recognize the symbol as the Jesus or Christian fish (the Greek word ichthus means “fish”) but it served as an early acrostic, which stood for: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Savior.” (I avoid acrostics at all costs in preaching – but this one I have to let slide….) What we have as magnets on the back of our luxury SUV’s complete with seat warmers, originally served as a ray of hope in caverns of darkness (physically and spiritually) for the early church.

I wonder about our investment of the Christian life. If in our ease of worship and ease of faith we aren’t crippled in our commitment. Not that I’m praying for persecution. But in times of oppression in the church’s history valiant faith has abounded. Why? Because it forced our hand whether we were in with both feet or not.

Here’s my question: Are we? Are we all in? Are we completely, totally, whole-heartedly invested (heart, soul, and self) into the Christian life?

Luke records these words of our Savior: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to” (Luke 13:24).

We’re tempted to think that Jesus is talking about “them.”

I think it’s about us….

Steadfastness. Dedication. Investment. An investment of self. An investment of life.

We are too often too easily derailed.

We tend to take lightly the things we have not wholly invested in. The things we’re not completely committed to. Arenas in which no sacrifice has been required. The same is especially true of faith. For this reason Christ calls us to make every effort.

Glory to God!

Jason

you’re blessed when…

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I say it often, and truly believe, if we would live the Sermon on the Mount our world would be turned upside down.  That you and I would be altogether incapable of external religiosity because of the inward attention the spiritual kingdom is given in these words of our Savior.  When our “righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees” in heart-filled adoration rather than pious observation it is then and only then that the words of His message come to life.

How do you understand the Beatitudes (the Blessings) with which Jesus begins the Sermon (Matthew 5:3-12)?  How would you write them in your own words in such a way as to impact you right where you are in life and in such a way that is current and relevant to the world in which you find yourself a part?

I love the way Eugene Peterson does this very thing, paraphrasing in The Message:

  • You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and His rule.
  • You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you.  Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
  • You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less.  That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
  • You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.  He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
  • You’re blessed when you care.  At the moment of being “care-full,” you find yourselves cared for.
  • You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
  • You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
  • You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.  The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
  • Not only that – count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me.  What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.  You can be glad when that happens – give a cheer, even! – for though they don’t like it, I do!  And all heaven applauds.  And know that you are in good company.  My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

When we internalize the message of Christ and realize that He is speaking to us (and not just “them”), it is then that things begin to change for us.  It is then that He changes us.

Glory to God!

Jason

weeds and wheat

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Jesus tells the story of a man who plants a field of wheat. But while everyone is sleeping an enemy comes along and plants weeds all throughout the wheat and then slips away in the night. As the first green shoots begin to appear the two look the same. But as the grain begins to form the workers soon realize the field is also inundated with weeds.

The farmer immediately recognizes what has occurred and that an enemy has planted the weeds right along side of his wheat. The farmhands are quick to ask if they should pull the weeds out from among the wheat but the owner knows what damage it would cause. “Let them both grow until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn’” (Matthew 13:30).

And Jesus says, “This is the Kingdom.” “The Kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field….”

He explains the One who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man, and those who belong to Him belong to the Kingdom. And the one who sowed the bad seed is the evil one. “The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels” (Matthew 13:39).

But here’s my question: Where do we fit in to all of this? If this is a portrait of the Kingdom – What’s our role?

To be wheat!

Right?

Do we uproot? Do we tear down? No! How much damage would that cause? How much damage has it already caused? No, our calling is to be wheat, in a field that is full of both weeds and wheat. To be wheat, and to show the field what wheat looks like.

And the amazing thing about the message of Christ is that the Gospel provides the way that a weed can become wheat. A complete metamorphosis. A change of state. A change of being.

In reality (if I’m not taking this parable too far) when it comes to being a part of the Kingdom of God, the Gospel should confront us of our own weediness (it’s not a real word but I like it!). The Gospel by design compels us to reckon our own weedy nature. Without the Good News of Jesus it is impossible to become or to be wheat.

The Gospel is designed in such a way that the message itself should and must compel us, and convict us, and radically alter our worldview so much so that we seek to live like the wheat we are called to be, in a world that so desperately needs to see what wheat looks like. The message of Jesus allows for the opportunity for weeds to become wheat!

Glory to God!

Jason

2016 “must reads”

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In recent years, as the end of December approaches and the year winds down, I enjoy thinking back over the previous twelve months and considering influential works along the way. Sometimes I intentionally read for sermons and classes and lectures. At other times I choose to read what I read because of the current book I’m working on. However this year, I’ve read a lot just for me. Yes, the knowledge gained finds its way into other areas. But for most of my reading in 2016, much has been simply for the enjoyment and the betterment of my walk with the Lord.

Here are a few I’d recommend if you’re looking for the same:

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learning_to_walk_in_the_dark-330How did darkness become a synonym for everything wicked, sinister, or wrong?

Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Learning to Walk in the Dark” is a wonderfully enlightening book (pun intended). Taylor is increasingly uncomfortable with our tendency to associate all that is good with lightness and all that is evil and dangerous with darkness. She asks, “Doesn’t God work in the nighttime as well?”

In “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” Taylor asks us to put aside our fears and anxieties and to explore all that God has to teach us “in the dark.”

Through darkness we find courage, we understand the world in new ways, and we feel God’s presence around us, guiding us through things seen and unseen. Often, it is while we are in the dark that we grow the most.

She writes, “Darkness is shorthand for anything that scares me…. I have learned things in the dark that I could have never learned in the light.”

Her book “An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith” is another you ought to consider as well.

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31ishk-jxpl-_ux250_This year I decided to invest in rereading Eugene Peterson’s five book series “Conversations in Spiritual Theology” which includes:

“Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology” (2005)

“Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading” (2006)

“The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way” (2007)

“Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers” (2008)

and “Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ” (2010)

I first read each in the series as they we’re initially released into the wild. But they’ve set on my shelf for years. What a blessing to reread this series again!

No need for a seminary education. Simply devour the contents of each of these volumes.

Also, if you’ve not watched Eugene Peterson’s conversation with U2’s Bono (as if there’s another) via Fuller Theological Seminary you ought to check it out. Two of my favorite people.

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41domrv4ifl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Two books that I believe could be read together in regard to an ongoing Calvinism/Reformed and Arminian/Free Will conversation are “Young, Restless, and Reformed” by Collin Hansen and “Young, Restless, and No Longer Reformed” by Austin Fischer.

Both are written independently from one other. Neither collaborates with the other. But if you’re like me you have friends who are fall into one theology or another, or are somewhere in between. Seeking to understand where another is coming from, especially with those whom we differ, is far too often not our course of action. Shame on us!

Whether Reformed or Arminian, Hyper-Calvinist or absolutely Remonstrant to the core, faith should have nothing to fear from criticism.

(“For Calvinism” by Michael Horton and “Against Calvinism” by Roger Olson are two others that I’d recommend along these lines. See previous post.

Whereas Hansen and Fischer write their volumes completely independent of one another. Horton and Olson are friends and colleagues who not only love and respect one another, they write the forwards for one another’s book!)

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2751848_2936074_1477624764Tiersa ordered me an autographed copy of Brandon Hatmaker’s “A Mile Wide: Trading a Shallow Religion for a Deeper Faith.”

The call is transformation from an anemic spiritual life based upon a limited understanding of God, into a faith of true depth, intimacy, and power.

Hatmaker explores eight essentials of Christianity: the Gospel, identity, Scripture, discipleship, Kingdom, mission, community, and justice. Along the way he introduces practical applications that tap into the richer life Christ has promised, individually and as a community.

He writes: “God wants more than simply to save us: He’s also determined to transform us, restore us, and use us to reveal the coming of His kingdom right here, right now.”

“Barefoot Church” is another book of his from a couple of years ago that I really enjoyed as well.

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MartinI’ve found both when it comes to scholarly work, and in regard to the practice of spiritual disciplines, I’ve learned a lot from Jesuits. From Ignatius (the original Jesuit) to Pope Francis – humility, simplicity, and obedience are qualities that draw me to the Society of Jesus.

“Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints” by James Martin SJ is a journey of fidelity and commitment to the Kingdom.

In this short book, Martin builds upon the discovery of the “true self” that Merton, Mother Theresa, Nouwen and many others have sought to live out and unveil.

As Merton describes, “The shedding of the grave clothes.”

Who we are in Christ.

Our identity and purpose.

Only when we lose ourselves do we find our true self.

Seems like our Lord said something along those lines….

I’ve read only a few books from James Martin SJ’s pen.

Peterson, Wright, and Keller – Merton, Nouwen and Rohr – Lewis and Tozer – Willard and Foster –  those are some of my “go-to’s.”

Martin may soon be on the list.

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There you have it.

The 2016 “must reads.”

Most years I’ll post the top five.

This year there are a few more than that for your consideration.

Glory to God!

Jason

this is my Gospel

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“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.  This is my Gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal.  But God’s Word is not chained.  Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:8-10).

I wonder if we have this very same perspective, or if we are too far removed (in both time and even belief) from the early church?  Are these our priorities?  Are these words as central to us as they were to the first century apostolic mission?

As the Apostle writes to his protégé Timothy, the sword that will fulfill his destiny can practically be heard as it is sharpened in the background (Paul, of course, is soon beheaded for his faith).  And so as with much of what we see from Paul’s pen, there is a great sense of urgency in what he seeks to communicate in this final letter to his dear friend.

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.  This is my Gospel.”

“This is my Gospel.”  Now that’s a significant statement!  Is it not?

The word Gospel is utilized 96 times in the New Testament.  All but 20 are found in Paul’s letters.  76 times the Apostle Paul pens the word.  “Euangelion.”  “Good News.”  “Gospel.”  And each and every time he does, his intention is the same.  For there is no other Gospel that is Gospel.

This is my Gospel: “Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.”

How do we, how do you, understand the word “Gospel?”

How do we define it?

Is “our Gospel” more?

Is it less?

If it is, then “our gospel” is not “the Gospel.”

Glory to God!

Jason