Answer Me This – Concerning Joy

I have challenged myself to expand my vocabulary by studying the words on the GRE list. To accomplish this goal I enlisted the help from the  GRE Vocabulary app by The Economist. Today was the first day opening the application and the first word on this list is Jocularity which is a noun defined as “the state or quality of being fond of or characterized by joking. Its synonyms are playfulness and humorousness. I am rarely able to ignore the rabbit trails that arise in my mind and my thoughts tend to travel down the paths they take me. 

Today was no exception. As I tried to assimilate the new word into my thoughts I began to think about the concept of joy in the Christian life considering it is important enough to be our source of strength when anchored in the Lord. I immediately began to ponder this from many different angels as question after question arose in my mind. What does this joy of the lord look like? How should it be reflected in one’s life? Should professing Christians necessarily be jovial, jolly, or playful, or have a good sense of humor? This is the impression one gets when listing to preachers who proclaim God desires all have lives of health, wealth, and prosperity. I tend to lean away from this understanding overall, but I want to extend an opportunity for all of my fellow believers to give voice to this topic. 

Answer me this: How important is joy in the life of a believer, and how is the expression of it typically characterized?

Is Self-Help Christian?

After going through these three years of study and reading the scripture, I have decided to purge my library of the Christian-self-help books acquired over the years. Many think the point of scripture is to aid us in being the best version of ourselves or attain great success by accessing God’s blessings. This twisted understanding has allowed for a very profitable industry of Bible-based self-helps. Because of this, the church has unwittingly become imitators of the world rather than reflections of God (See Ephesians 5:1).

The entirety of scripture attests to the fact that humanity has got it wrong in asserting its independence from God – trying to be as god’s – rather than recognizing its deprave state and turning to him. No right teacher of scripture would teach people to turn inward for their own sufficiency. They would teach them to seek God through his word and rely on his spirit so that their lives can be transformed into what they behold therein.

The word of God is the first-essential source of truth for every believer. It is holy because it is the revelation of God’s heart to redeem all of mankind to himself. There is no other source of truth containing the power to transform hearts and change minds towards the purpose of God.

After going through these three years of study and reading the scripture, I understand my good is never seen as “good” in the eyes of God. Only God is good. Therefore,  I do not want to be the best version of myself or live my best life. I want to have the heart of God and to reflect his goodness. This is attained through the revelation of Jesus as the propitiation for my sin, which has, through his shed blood, made me presentable to the most-holy God. Only through Christ can my life be changed, and I live as God has ordained.  I encourage you to read Ephesians 4:17 – 6:20, which expounds on what the God-centered life looks like. Hint – it has nothing to do with the self-help success-based message taught in the Christian community.

God is Other

The first portion of my answer to what I have learned is the fact that God is. But that answer only opens up for so many more questions in the mind of a logical thinker who was taught early in grade school to ask the questions of who, what, where, when, and how. These questions are extremely difficult, especially considering our pluralistic society who pushes against any concrete answers in order to allow flexibility of existence between the many closely held beliefs.

In fact I posed the question of who God is on my social platforms and had very few people willing to answer even though almost all of my friends are professing believers. Have we become afraid to believe in any absolutes about God? Is that why we play skirt around the answer with the easily palatable definitions of His character like – God is love. That answer just feels good and fits within almost any system of belief. It is true that God is love, but the definition of love must be defined within the scope of our understanding of God himself.

Our definition of God must take into consideration the fact that God is other than us. We are only able to describe his characteristics based on the nature in which he has revealed himself to humanity. This interaction with God is described in the scriptures beginning with the scriptures. The first portion of scripture, known as the Old Testament, include the Torah (‘Teaching’, also known as the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (‘Prophets’) and Ketuvim (‘Writings’)—hence TaNaKh provide the basis of this understanding. The second portion of scripture, known as the New Testament includes the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the Acts of the Apostles, the fourteen epistles of Paul, the seven catholic epistles, and the Book of Revelation. All scriptures work together to give a full picture of who God has shown himself to be for humanity.

Our first encounter with God in scripture, found in Genesis 1:1, is his existing. Before  the heavens and earth had any separate form – Before time, measured by the rising and setting of the sun – Before there was any life in the form of vegetation, animal, or human being – God was.  If God was before any of these things were brought into existence we can ascertain that he is completely other than these things which scripture tells us that he created.

Some confuse scripture and say that because he made us in his likeliness and image we then have his nature and are able to be little gods. Not so. Can a reflection claim full rights as the being it displays. Can it fully manifest and have its own authority outside of that being? Of course not. We are to be reflections of God, but we are not full manifestations of all God is. Our existence is reliant on the one who we are reflecting; this is what people have an innate yearning know know something greater – to seek out a divine being. But that divine being is not found within the human self, neither is it found in any of his other creations. It is found in the God who exists outside of time and our earthly spacial understanding and whose nature can be learned of by careful study of the scripture.

What Have You Learned?

A few months ago I interviewed my pastor for one of my final courses towards my undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies. As we walked to the door exiting his office, he asked me, “well, what have you learned”. This for me was not a question I could address at the end of a conversation.  I could not, at that moment, articulate the many things flowing through my disorganized thoughts, so I politely gave my goodbyes without addressing the question. My non-response was not intentional, but an automated reaction we introverts sometimes take when our minds are fiercely occupied in thought. I have mulled over this question as I progressed through the final three courses of my degree, and as I round the final stretch of my last class I find myself finally able to put words to the thoughts which have arranged themselves in my mind.

The answer to the question is multi-faceted and would take more than one conversation to address, but I will begin by ending this conversation with the simple statement ‘I learned that God is’. Maybe we can meet here next week to discuss further.

– Spiritual Solutions Needed –

Given all of the recent tragedies in our communities and throughout the world, we find ourselves asking, what can be done to make things better. In doing so, we have come up with various methods for solving the problems of senseless violence, racial divisions, social inequality and so many other topics that serve to throw humanity off balance.

Many consider legislative changes to tighten the reigns of people’s moral ambiguity. Others on the opposite side of the scale want to take matters into their own hands in order to affect change. Governments declare war in attempts to bring peace. People scratch each other while trying to claim their identity. Neither option will make much of a difference in the long term because morality cannot be legislated, and vigilante justice only brings about more heartache and belittling another person only lessons one’s own value.

After all of our efforts, we find the climate of violence, injustice, unrest, and sense of not belonging only heightening. Nothing done has been able to mitigate the symptoms long term. We are left searching our repositories of understanding for solutions to bring about effective long-term change. Therein, lies the problem with our methods.

There are no physical methods that can replace the spiritual solutions needed to resolve the chaos in which we find ourselves emersed.

There are no physical methods that can replace the spiritual solutions needed to resolve the chaos in which we find ourselves emersed. All attempts by our own understanding fall short of providing lasting change. People can assert their wills for change only for a limited time, unless and until that change is on the spiritual level, it will not take hold and become permanent. Just look at the example of a person who needs to lose weight and has not yet taken that trough on at the core of their being. Such a person will be on yo-yo diets, in and out of practice, giving themselves excuses as to why they cannot maintain the commitment to do what must be done. Their mind, will, and emotions (soul), as well as their bodies, cannot fully commit until the spirit man has also grabbed hold of the identity of being a healthy person. At that point, the person can and will align their soul and body to the task of becoming that which the spirit has identified, through whatever means necessary. This can be applied to our world.

Until the citizens of our communities, cities, and nations become aware of their God-Identity and the loving justice required to live as His representatives, the violence and tragic circumstances will persist. The attempts at bringing peace without the core understanding of what peace looks like as a representative of God will continue to fall short. As long as there is a lack of love for the other and a lack of true justice there will be room for injustice and hatred to reign. Developing an understanding of the responsibility of those who represent God to bring about change through compassion and justice will remove the excuses for apathy and catapult us into action to be the change. We have a moral imperative to provide spiritual solutions for the lost and dying world.

Spirit – Soul – Body

One of the first professions taught me as an early Christian is, “I am a spirit, I have a soul, and I live in a physical body.”  This mantra has lived in the recesses of my mind for over 30 years now, and I still struggle with taking full advantage of the trinitarian state of being given to me by God.

Like many others, I have a tendency to focus on either one aspect or another without fully integrating the whole. When concerned with things of the spirit, I may block out the desires of my flesh or put aside some other desire I may have. When focuses on developing my mental and emotional wellbeing I sometimes do not spend as much time learning something new concerning scriptural truths. When making time to get my physical body in shape, I forget the necessity of maintaining my spirit and mind along the way.

The idea of separating the natural from the spiritual realm has infiltrated our personal lives to the point of separating those things which should function as a whole into compartments. We consider our spiritual lives to be separate from the rest of ourselves. In failing to use the spiritual strengths to undergird and uphold the rest of our being we put ourselves at risk for mental and emotional fatigue, and eventually, our bodies bear the burden of our functioning outside of design.

Over the past several months I have been practicing an integrated life where I center myself around the spiritual truths I hold dear and allow that portion of my being to radiate out into the rest of my life. This changes my outlook on and responses to situations that I face, both negative and positive. I find that I am less stressed out taking this approach to life. I am spending less time worrying about what tomorrow brings and more time enjoying today’s gifts. I am beginning to have time to focus on my health to turn around many of the harmful byproducts of the unhealthy fragmented lifestyle I was living.

I now know that to truly be successful one must operate from a stance of unity within. Only by being whole (spirit – soul – body) can we function at full capacity. This way of living is what brings God glory in our lives as we show forth what it means to live the good life God desires for us.

Community Is Necessary

The necessity of community has been on my mind and the topic of conversations for the past couple weeks. Despite all the technological advancements gauged at connecting us, our society has become increasingly isolated. The sense of needing to be independent of community pervades every area of life.

I was confronted with my independent spirit after having severed two tendons in my primary hand rendering me completely dependant on others to meet my most basic needs. I had to take incompletes in my college courses, and will most likely have to sit out the next semester, being that my recovery period is estimated at 12 weeks. My family is running the household and I struggle to get through a full day while trying to back off of pain medications so I can think clearly.

I was never one to ask for help, even when I needed it. Partially because I feared no one would help, and partially because I wanted to appear to have my stuff together. Life is teaching me to ask for and be accepting of assistance from the community of people God has placed around me; that my vulnerability is not a weakness, but rather an opportunity for others to step up and do their part.

(FYI – It took way too long to write this post)

Merry Christmas

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14  Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, Good will towards men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

(Luke 2:1-20 CPB)