He was on the phone pacing in the dorms at Rodeo Bible Camp. I could tell it was a pretty serious conversation he was having on the phone. I grabbed a couple more thing and headed to the door when he hit his knees and started crying. I could barely make out his words through the sobs. Walking over to him, I knelt down and put my hand on his boot. Doctors had just found tumors in his Dad’s bladder and were rushing him into surgery. I felt like I had stepped into the middle of a story that was going terribly wrong.
I had missed the beginning of the rodeo. I had been at a camp the week before and it ended Saturday morning. Tricia and I sped toward the arena and arrived in plenty of time for the bulls. There was a different feeling at the rodeo. I walked towards the trailer of one of the stock contractors and found his wife standing outside talking with another woman. She was telling her about the accident that had happened the night before as they were running calves through. The horse accident resulted in a broken pelvis and a world turned on its head for this family for the next 8 months or so. I walked into a story that had gone terribly bad.
The message came across my phone between clinic times at camp. He fights bulls at the PRCA level and was up north in Minnesota when he texted to chat. I finished up what I was doing and called him back. We chatted for a while about rodeo, travel, and life on the road. Every time I talk to him I get a little jealous of him. But then he told me about how he was struggling with traveling this year. His wife, who had traveled everywhere with him for the last 2 summers, ever since they were married, has developed a back problem. This started a problem with the insurance company, doctors, and others. She just wants to travel with him, he just wants her there, but her back wont let her. As I spoke with him, there was no jealousy present this time, but a feeling that I had stepped into a story gone wrong.
Stories go wrong all the time…its called conflict. Conflict is great for TV ratings and DVD Sales, but horrible in day-to-day life. There is no escaping it however, because everyone of us was born into a story gone terribly wrong.
Genesis starts off the story of God’s interaction with man like this “In the beginning God…” [berisith ‘Elohim]. At the very first, before all else, was God. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit existed as a community, three persons in one being having the same desires and will. God wasn’t dependent on anyone or anything, but the love and community was so perfect, that God decided to create something to share it with. So…”In the beginning God created…” He took to building, creating, molding, forging. Jesus was there as God “spoke” [d-b-r] the Universe into existence (John 1.1-3). The Holy Spirit loves creating and played His active role in creation.
In this process, everything was created. All the matter and energy that ever was came out of God’s creativity in the beginning. At the end of all this process after 5 days of creating, on the 6th day, God makes man and woman to look like Him and to show Him off (Genesis 1.26-28). God had started this whole creation process with Man in mind. With all of the rest of creation God declared it good, but with this new piece of handiwork, God declared it “very good”.
The story of humanity has changed quite a bit since God declared us very good. The “very good” has become very seldom as we deal with cancer, divorce, neglect, abuse, death, sickness, deceit, greed, and toil. “Very good” is not a word we would use to describe the world we live in. The second everyone of us was born, we stepped into a story gone very wrong.
But know that the story began very good. We have a good God who created us to live in his presence forever. We may have walked into a story gone bad, but it wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Farriers have to be some of the toughest guys I know. I have always admired their work and often been tempted (when frustrated at my day job) to pick up a hammer, file, and knife, and try my hand at shoeing. I wouldn’t last a day. But the ability to pick up a foot, trim it down, and fit a shoe is on my bucket list. I am fascinated by the way a shoer can shape and fit steel with pressure applied between a hammer and an anvil. The shoe is forged and hardened, shaped and leveled for the purpose of protecting and supporting something unimaginably larger than itself. One pound supporting 1300, forged and pounded to fit, support, and strengthen.
In the last few posts I have been trying to figure out what made the Macedonian Church worth bragging about. The churches that we know about in the region of Macedon were places of substantial persecution, and know one knew persecution like Paul. His list in 2 Corinthians 11 is pretty impressive. Its important at this point to note Paul’s first time in chains in prison came in Philippi (Acts 16.23). He had come because of an invitation to help the churches in Macedon delivered by a man in a vision (Acts 16.6-10).
Upon arriving in the leading city of the district (Acts 16.12), Paul found immediate success in ministry. Lydia, a prominant business woman from Thyatira, came to faith soon after their arrival (Acts 16.13-15). Then Paul messed with someone’s businesz. After healing a slave girl of a spirit, taking away her masters way of making money, a riot ensued. The leaders of the colony had Paul and Silas beaten and thrown in prison (Acts 16.23). After their miraculous escape there they moved on to Thessalonica where they were saved from a mob set on hurting them by escaping under the cover of darkness (Acts 17.1-9). They were followed to Berea by some of those rabble rousers from Thessalonica but the Bereans were still of good character.
So Paul’s introduction to Macedonia was a lot like his introductions elsewhere. Paul seemed to find trouble most places he went. But Paul brags on the Macedonian church:
“Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 cor 8.2)
The church in Macedonia didn’t have it very easy. They faced sever persecution from the outside and laziness (both theologically and practically) on the inside. Suffering just as those believers in Judea, the members of the church of Macedonia faced persecution at the hands of their own countrymen (1 Thes. 2.14). It was difficult to be a Christian in Macedonia and the danger didn’t stop on sunday morning, The danger of laziness theologically faced them from inside the church. Paul reminds them to stand firm and hold onto the teachings that Paul, Silas and Timothy had given them (2 Thes. 12.15). It wasn’t just their teachings but their lives that showed truth that was being challenged (1 Thes. 2.8). The Church was forgetting this example in their teachings and in their lives. Laziness had crept into the church.
So what was Paul’s advice to a persecuted church? What was he praising them for so far? In a word: Endure. He reminds them that, just because he was persecuted in his first trip there, it couldn’t be considered a failure (1 Thes. 2.1-2). In the same way, the church must endure. When beatings and floggings, and even death arises, endure. When the church becomes lazy, undirected, and faces false teaching, endure. When the people of the church aren’t acting like the body of Christ, pulling their own weight, endure. Stand firm Church in all things and serve God. The church of Macedonia was being pounded, shaped, hardend by the persecution in the region. In the same way a farrier molds and beats a shoe into a shape to be used and to support, the Macedonian Church was serving their purpose through the process of being forged in their faith. That is what Paul was bragging about.
On the road to Gardner Rodeo Bible Camp to teach the college students and fight some of High Stakes Rodeo’s bulls for the week. Brought along the Christian Atheist for some reading mayerial to help me answer the question: “what does a life lived in step with Christ really look like?”. I am not a dancer and its pretty clear when you see me two step. Sadly my walk with Christ often resembles the spastic, off beat movements that you see me demonstrate on the dance floor. If I am following the lead of Jesus, where should my priorities lie? What are the things he placed an emphasis on? I am on a two-steppin mission.
I have never been around a group of people who can subsist for so long on so little as Cowboys. They can make do in any situation with the fewest tools and the least amount of supplies. There is a certain amount of resiliency and resourcefulness that drives the cowboy mentality. I was helping in the roping chute at the Christian Youth Rodeo in North Topeka recently, when the barrier setup broke. The rubber stopper on the barrier was pulled through the eyelet and drug down the arena with the calf. Upon retrieval, it was noticed that the stopper wasn’t going to work. One of our judges, with the help of some of the dads, began to remedy the situation. The first thing needed was balin’ wire. It has been said that no toolbox is complete without “balin’ wire, WD-40, and Duct tape.” If it moves and shouldn’t use the duct tape or balin’ wire. If it doesn’t move and should, use the WD-40. The foundation of every cowboy fix-er-upper’s process usually involves one of these three items. With wire in hand, our judge, pulled out the exact size wrench for the job. (I can’t even do that changing my oil with 2 wrenches in the toolbox.) He carries around a half-inch wrench in his back pocket because “that fits everything I own”. Simple words. A minute in a half later, the barrier was fixed and the rodeo resumed with a wire tied barrier. I was there this week, barrier still on and working. At our next rodeo there, in mid-July, that balin’ wire supported barrier will still be working. It will probably stay through the PRCA rodeo and on into next year because most cowboys understand the idea of “good-enough.” It works, it’s sufficient, and it does the job…its “good-enough.”
When I would run fence with my grandpa, I used to always tell him that when I grew up and had a ranch, my fence was going to be good-looking. Grandpa’s was rusted out, held up by old hedge posts with non-matching T posts (gasp). It was often fixed with pliers and wire (there it is again) and seldom was there not one loose wire. But it was good enough too keep cows in and good enough for Grandpa. He also drove an old-old-ford truck well past the time when he could afford a new one because his truck was good enough. But the three speed on the column, 25 years old truck with a ton of miles, still wasn’t to be trusted in my hands. He was the one who first introduced me to the phrase “good enough”.
I struggle with “good enough”. The understanding that what I have was enough to get me through yesterday, will be enough for tomorrow, and will get me through today. In scripture the word is “contentment”: a word that I struggle with. The feeling of joy and satisfaction based upon the promises and activity of God within my life and those around me, is something that escapes me often. I could list off 50 blessings in the life of a friend, but overlook the ones in mine. I can see great things in the lives of my friends, observe their facebook pictures and status’, and feel emptiness in my gut, knowing that I don’t have the things they do. Contentment is something that God desires for us.
When it comes to life and circumstances, Paul understood “good enough”. As I worked through 2 Corinthians and noticed that Paul took a detour [2 Cor.8.1-8] and bragged about the Macedonian Church (the Church at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea), I wanted to find out what made that Church so special that Paul would brag about it. I’m convinced that contentment is one of the qualities. I sat down to figure out contentment and thought it would be easier to communicate what it wasn’t. It isn’t worry, jealousy, envy or greed. I is a far cry from gluttony and anxiousness. But if its not all this…then what is it?
Contentment is “good enough”. The problem is that “enough” is a moving target. “Enough” is a very fluid term. With the economy the way it is, the job market, the instability of this world, enough is a scary thought. Paul, in the last part of Philippians, gives his recipe for “good enough”.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. [Phil. 4.12-13]
It was the strength Christ, given to Paul through his relationship with Him, that gave Paul strength through all of the trials of 2 Cor. 11.16-33. Earlier in Philippians 4, Paul commanded the church at Philippi to not “be anxious about anything” [Phil 4.6]. If I was Paul, there are a lot of things that would worry me, but his relationship with the Lord, through prayer and petition, rid his thinking of anxious thoughts. He gave the church some things to think about later on in the chapter [verses 8-9], but what his prayer life did give him was peace. The peace of God, which surpasses understanding, protected his heart and mind. [Phil 4.7] In the ancient world, the heart and the mind were synonymous. The heart was the place where thoughts, will, and emotions were set in place.
Contentment then, according to Paul, is a thought process that reveals itself through our lives. To be content we must first and foremost engage in an intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father and allow him to give us peace. A peace which silences the shouts of this world, gives tranquility to tumultuous wills and desires, and provides focus to the identity that God has bestowed in contradistinction to the identity we look for in others. The peace of God overrides these things as it goes beyond our own thinking. Our thinking often tells us we need more and better. The peace of God tells us we have all we need in him and that is “good enough”.
On the road for another rodeo bible camp this week. Im Fighting bulls all week and preaching Friday night. It is exciting to be out doing ministry and meeting people who are experiencing the freedom and love of Christ for the first time. As you can see I brought a good book along for the down time at camp. Looking forward to digging into a book that isnt devotional reading but just about cowboy stuff. Hopefully I can figure out this contentment stuff and write a little more this week.
See ya later this week.
For 7 years now I have shown up to rodeos in a red dodge Dakota. With 190,000 miles, it could use a little work. All the major parts of the truck still work, yet with each trip I find more “subtleties” that go along with ownership of said Dakota. For example, the transmission works fine, as long as you don’t want to go backward. Somewhere in the 130,000 miles I have put on it, reverse bid the truck to go one without it. The most recent unique quality that has arisen is the electric windows. Either the window lock is stuck on, or the power panel is out on the passenger side. Don’t get me started on the tailgate, the passenger seat, the gauges, or the radio. Each character flaw and issue makes me want a new truck more and more. Not even new, just working and reliable. I watch my friends drive their new dually’s, their newer diesels, and feel a twinge of jealousy. I watch with envy as they can roll down both windows and back up. But my jealousy doesn’t stop there…
When I began fighting bulls, I told myself that I wanted it to be a ministry. I wanted to fight jr. rodeos and high school rodeos and do ministry alongside rodeo. But if this was truly the case, why then am I getting to do the very thing I set out to do yet feel jealous of guys getting URA, NFPB, or PRCA shows. I just got done doing a Christian rodeo school, will spend the summer at Rodeo Bible camps, and lead a small group of guys through Wild at Heart after rodeos during the summer. I am doing exactly what I asked God to let me do when I first started yet somehow it just isn’t enough now.
I struggle with jealousy. The “I want what you got” mentality can overtake us sometimes. As I said in an earlier post, I have recently tried to understand what Biblical contentment looks like. I am certain, jealousy is not part of it.
I hate what jealousy does to me. It is a cancer, a poison that rots me (Prov. 14.30). It kills from within (Job 5.2), strangling contentment and ultimately life. It pushes me closer to every other evil desire (James 3.16). It is a gateway sin. Jealousy gives bloom to theft, lust, arrogance and pride, idolatry, and others. Looking at others, wanting what they have, diminishes and undermines God’s role in our lives. Jealousy never says enough, leaving me to desire things I don’t need and can’t afford, ultimately making idols out of things.
I hate what jealousy does to those around me. Nothing ruins friendships, families, and teams faster than jealousy. It tore apart sisters in Genesis 30, when Rachel was jealous of Leah. It tore apart Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 37. It tore apart the Church at Corinth when Paul wrote to them: “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?”
But most importantly, I hate jealousy says about me. In the previous verse, found in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul points out the root of the jealousy that divided the church at Corinth. The root of their jealousy is the same as mine: worldliness and immaturity; the worldliness that says that I must possess as much as I can and more than anyone else; the immaturity that says God’s gifts to others are somehow better than those He has given me. Jealousy reveals how far from Jesus way I often stray and how far from a transformed mind I possess.
Jealousy was at the root of the very first sin. You may not remember that first conversation between Eve and the Serpent. Satan says to Eve: “God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3.5) Translation: “God’s got it good, don’t you want it good too?” Eve wanted to be like God. Was she jealous of His position, power, knowledge, and authority? Yes. Jealousy was at the root of that sin, like it is so many of mine.
Combating jealousy is simple in theory and hard in application. Jealousy stems from an inadequate view of God. When we change our thinking about God, we change our actions. Theologians would say it this way: orthodoxy changes orthopraxy. Right thinking leads to right living. When we believe that God is powerful to act in our lives, interested enough to do so, and good enough to provide good things, suddenly the possessions, gifts, abilities, and talents of others, are not desirable to us, for we have our own stuff to be thankful for. When we are able to see the blessings and gifts in our lives, we are able to celebrate without envy and jealousy those in the lives of others. This puts us on the verge of contentment.
My truck runs, I love the rodeo family and associations that I am apart of. I love the people I have been blessed to get to know through my career and have got to see towns, cities, and states that I certainly would never visit without rodeo. God has blessed me greatly and every thought of jealousy that I posses is a slap to His gracious face.
Baxter Black, in mocking the stereotypical cowboy mentality, pokes fun in saying: “The cowboy side of his brain keeps sayin’,’I’ve got all my money in long-term CD’s but I’d like something a little less risky…I think I’ll buy a racehorse.’” Traditionally, Dave Ramsey hasn’t had a lot of jurisdiction within the cowboy world. I envy the guys who need nothing more than 3 cans of chew and entry fees for the weekend. When injured, its always minor, and fear never enters their mind. They have never heard of insurance, rodeo on their savings accounts, and will survive on hotdogs for three weeks straight in order to stretch out a paycheck over a few more rodeos. I am jealous because they are content and care free.
I was never meant to be a cowboy. I worry too much. What’s this horse gonna do under me? If I get hurt who’s gonna drive my truck home? If someone drives my truck home and wrecks it, am I covered? What if Penny-dog is hurt in the accident? How much will a doggie wheel chair cost? It isn’t easy living inside my brain! Over the last few days, I put a tiny mark on my hand every time I worried about something. I thought my pen would run out and now my left hand is a faded blue color! Worry is a serious part of my life and it keeps me from contentment. I started studying contentment a few days ago with the intent of writing about it, but I realized that it would be easier to start with what it isn’t. Contentment and worry are not pasture mates.
In the Old Testament world, the Hebrew writers of Scripture didn’t have a good word to denote worry. They struggled to communicate the idea of a person dwelling on something that was problematic. The dwelt on Scripture, promise, prayer. The word da’ag, used 5 times in the OT, conveys the idea of being anxious, and can be translated as worry. The root word [d-‘-g] shows the restlessness of the heart when confronting a situation [Jeremiah 49.23] which speaks to the nature of worry, but doesn’t communicate the true nature of it. The most literal attempt at conveying the idea of worry in Hebrew is actually a combination of words.
It makes sense when you think about it really. If you had to define worry, what words would you use? You have to mention the negativity of it. Worry always sees the negative side. You would have to speak to the future of it. No one worries about something that has already happened. They may worry about the future response to it, but never about the past event. Finally, you would have to mention the repetition of it. Thinking about something becomes worry when it plays over and over and over. Negative thoughts about the future on repeat could very well be the definition of worry. The Hebrew definition comes in at this point.
The Hebrews would use a combination of words to describe the action of worry. The combination of sim + leb is translated “place upon the heart”. Worry in the Hebrew scriptures begins with an idea “placed upon the heart”. Have you ever laid in bed at night and felt like an elephant was standing on your chest? Civilizations in the Ancient Near East viewed the heart as the center of being, where the mind, will, thoughts, understanding, and emotions were. So whatever was placed upon the heart, was to encompassed who you were. The final part of worry in Hebrew, was “the idea” that was put on the heart. If something positive was placed on the heart then you were dwelling, or meditating on good things. But if it was negative, then it was worry. If you “placed your enemies upon your heart” then you are consumed with them, obsessed with them.
Satan placed Job on his heart and God called him on it (Job 1.8; 2.3). Satan was worried. David placed the report of the death of his sons on his heart (2 Sam 13.33) but Jonadab set him straight. David was worried. Saul lost his fathers donkeys (1 Samuel 9.3, 20) and he placed them upon his heart. He worried about them.
I don’t know about you, but the things that find their way to my heart are not upright. They are not the things of God. Finances, not faith, is placed upon my heart. My reputation, not my relationship with God, is usually set upon my heart. My standing in this world, who reports to me, who thinks I’m great? How I’m viewed, not scripture, is put on my heart. I worry about these things. I don’t really know why, but I know the more I worry, the easier it is. But Daniel gives us hope. Daniel placed it on his heart to not defile himself with the food of Babylon (Dan 1.8). He was concentrating, meditating, and placing good things on his heart. The Psalmist in Psalm 119 meditates on God’s precepts (119.15); His decrees (119.23); His wonders (119.27); and His promises (119.148). The author of Psalm 119 might be on to something, and like the Cowboy, they refuse to let worry dominate his life. Cowboys look on the upside, see the positive, and “they ride never worried bout the fall…”
“What gives you the most joy? I think some of us feel guilty even saying those words out loud. As if perhaps it’s a selfish thing to think, ‘what gives me joy?’ As if perhaps joy is acceptable for rare moments on the weekends or glimpses of sunsets on vacation, but has no real purpose in the real world.” (Acuff, Start, 108)
It wasn’t always this way. God exists as three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, called the Godhead. Within the Godhead, they existed in perfect community, love, and joy! Joy is at the very heart of God, Himself. It was an out flowing of community, love, and joy from the Trinity that man was created. Joy is central to God’s purpose for mankind, just as it was central to his creation. So why then is Acuff spot-on in his analysis of human joy? Why does joy scare us? shame us? guilt us?
Our culture twists and distorts so many things. Intimacy trafficked for sex. Influence exchanged for celebrity. Compassion confused as pity. Joy is often misappropriated in this culture as happiness. Sadly, most, if given the option, would choose happiness over joy. It was never meant to be this way. In Genesis 1-2, God created this world that was good. When humanity was added in and stirred well it was very good. God created man in His image for paradise and partnership, to rule and reign, to serve and multiply. When the sin of Genesis 3 happens (which Paul reminds us that we had a share in) everything about the Genesis 2 world was turned upside down. Since joy was central to God’s plan for humanity, everything that about it became tainted as well.
You have heard the lies as I have: “God only uses miserable, suffering people for great things!”; “Desiring joy is selfish”; “Happiness is easier to find”; “Joy is something you don’t deserve”. These are the lies that come from our sin nature…the nature we weren’t created to have. I believe Acuff is correct because we buy into the lies the world tries to sell us. I believe he is right because we often forget our true identity. We were created in the image of a joyful God, whose plan for us was joy.
Joy is something that must be manufactured, practiced, learned. But we cannot do these things if we are convinced that we are undeserving of it, shamed for desiring it, or guilted because we have it. Forget the lies, the shame, and the embarrassment that the world tries to sell you, and be the joyful creation you were always meant to be!
I went to bed last night unhappy with my last effort explaining joy. I racked my brain for the last 24 hours trying to figure out why joy so often escapes my life and is seldom at the forefront of my thoughts and attitude. Where as happiness is fleeting, joy is a constant. Joy refuses to be dictated by circumstances. Where does that consistency come from? Something is unmovable only when it is attached to something else that is unmovable. Tie a horse to a trailer or a fence and an hour later there they remain. If you tie them to something that is unanchored, then you’re chasing your pony down the highway. Paul’s joy was tied directly to the Father. God, who is unchanging (James 1.17), whose mood is constant, whose nature remains the same, is the unmovable anchor that Paul’s joy and the joy of the Macedonian Church is attached too.
Joy can only be constant when the source and anchor is constant. When we attempt to find joy in money, security, relationships, etc. we ultimately get let down by these things. Only when our joy is tethered to that which is unmoved, can we be filled with joy that transcends circumstances. So what needs to change for me, is my trust in the unchanging nature and character of God, the Father, and his activity in my life. Only then will joy become central to my life.
Joy is a three-letter word. Around mid-July, on ranches, farms, and arenas, 4 letter words are far more common. Rarely has that three-letter word come to mind in haylofts, stacking alfalfa bales when the mercury in the thermometer is boiling. Or when your good heading horse decides one day that the roping box is the last place it wants to be. When your dog pretends to go deaf in the middle of chores or when the lead cow doubles back just as she enters the gate taking the herd with her. It doesn’t come up when the baler, which you affectionately refer to as “el diablo”, is broke down yet again or the trailer blows another tire. For certain, that three-letter word wasn’t found on my lips today as barbed wire was taking off strips of my flesh and then a chunk of my tire. It wasn’t found this weekend as my cell phone went missing due to my own stupidity and my i watched a box of fencing staples glisten in the sun as my dog knocked them off the bed of my truck. These were minor things compared to other joy stealers. When the diagnosis of cancer comes, or the layoff that was rumored becomes a reality; when the stack of bills keeps getting higher or your kid hits the rebellious phase; when loneliness takes over and despair becomes entrenched. These things make joy nearly impossible.
All too often we confuse joy and happiness. Happiness is the good feeling you get because things are happening right because of circumstances where as joy is the good feeling you get despite of the circumstances. Happiness comes and goes, but joy is constant. I am ashamed to say that joy is not something that I exude a lot of, nor is it something that I see a lot of in Churches. Apparently, there are a lot of people like me who fill the pews every Sunday with their hearts devoid of joy. This was not the case with the Macedonian churches.
Paul brags about the churches of Macedonia in the middle of his 2nd letter to the Corinthians. Paul, in trying to pick out what makes the Macedonian Church so special, highlights among other things, their “overflowing joy.” Where does contagious joy come from? How does joy become someone else’s bragging point? It goes hand in hand with another one of Paul’s points in 2 Corinthians. Not only were the churches praised for their joy and their generosity, but the severe trial they were under. Paul is seeing firsthand the severe persecution in Macedonia because he is writing 2 Corinthians from there (Acts 20.2; 2 Cor. 1.16, 23). He sees the trials and the persecutions, the threats from outside the church and the fear from within (2 Cor. 7.5). He brags about their perseverance under these trials at other times. (2 Thes. 1.4) Their joy was being tested everyday.
Just imagine the situation: rumors running around Philippi and Thessalonica about who the authorities were questioning now; wondering whether someone was just late for worship or whether they found themselves in chains; a simple knock at the door during prayer or dinner sending chills throughout the room. It was real life in Macedonia. People were imprisoned, beaten, or even dying, in Macedonia. Paul was well acquainted with their suffering even to the point of sharing in it (Phil 1.29-30). Yet their joy despite the circumstances would forever make its impact on Paul and find its place in scripture.
How did they do it? In spite of the every watching eye of the Roman authorities, the suffering at the hands of those opposed, the suffering in poverty, the fear, and the trials, how did they maintain their joy? I believe it has to do with the word joy. In the original greek, the word for joy is chara. This word is a cognate of the word charis, meaning grace. The Macedonian church understood joy because they understood what grace was. They knew that death was the punishment for sin, yet they were still alive…that is grace. When there is starvation and death surrounding them, yet the are still being provided for by God…that is grace. What is the only appropriate response to life where there should be death…joy. That is what the church at Macedonia understood and what I fail to understand often.
I am joy impaired. I struggle to put off a joyful vibe. When its too hot, too cold, too windy, too rainy, too expensive, too lengthy, too poorly constructed, or too difficult, my mood suffers. When I am hungry, thirsty, tired, exhausted, stressed, over-committed, underfunded, weak, or just apathetic, my mood suffers. My attitude is a slave to my circumstances, the exact opposite of joy. Joy is free, unbound, and liberated from the confines of circumstances. Joy transcends situation and condition. Joy sets the temperature in the room, it dictates the feel and refuses to acclimate itself to its environment. Joy is a direct reflection of my proximity to the Holy Spirit (1 Thes. 1.6) and a response to the grace given to me by God through Christ. John Ortberg, in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted, says: “Joy is at the center of God’s plan for humanity and the center of who He is as a community!” (61) I need to have more joy!
Joy is cultivated by reacquainting ourselves with the grace that God has given us; reconnecting with the Holy Spirit that animates us; and by learning to embrace and utilize the gifts that God has blessed us with. The life we have in Christ, the breath in our lungs, the community we share, and our relationship with Him are all things that give root to our joy. Eternal perspective is what kept the church at Thessalonica and Philippi joyful, make it a point today to embrace the view from a heavenly perspective and watch your joy increase. As for me, I have a lot of work to do that involves me using a lot more three letter words.