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Showing posts with label Joy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joy. Show all posts

Monday, November 9, 2020

The Ten Plagues of Egypt, Plague 8 - Locusts

The Ancient Egyptian Board Game Senet
The Ancient Egyptian Board Game "Senet"
My wife and I were watching a documentary on ancient Egypt the other day. They were excavating an Egyptian tomb and they discovered artifacts of an ancient Egyptian board game called Senet.  How cool is that?  The ancients played board games!  you can still buy and play the Senet board game they played today.

One of the marks of a successful culture (at least by worldly standards) is the ability to enjoy entertainment.  You have enough surplus time and resources to stop working just to survive and just enjoy life.  In America, we take our entertainment for granted because we are in one of the most prosperous nations in the world.  Do you realize that 99% of the people in our world today will never visit Disney World.  90% will never take a vacation to the beach or even go to an amusement park.  These are luxuries most Americans can do because we can afford them while most people in the world are too busy just struggling to survive.

God wants people to be able to enjoy life.  He said, "Remember to observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy…” (Exodus 20:8) And, “On that day no one in your household may do any work…” (Ex. 20:10) “For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested.” (Ex. 20:11) God didn't want HIs people to have to work all the time and never have time to rest and enjoy life.

The Pharisees in Jesus' day turned the Sabbath commands into a legalistic regulations that were a terrible burden for people.  They were no fun at all.  They were always upset with Jesus because he didn't follow the Sabbath commands the way they thought he should.  Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)  The commandment to rest on the Sabbath is one of the great gifts God gave humanity. We need to time rest. And God wants us to enjoy life. 

The ancient Egyptians were a very powerful and prosperous empire.  They had time and wealth to enjoy board games, theater, sporting events, and other entertainment.  Unfortunately, they did not appreciate God for blessing them with the resources to enjoy life.  In stead, they worshiped idols.  And through 10 plagues, God punished them for their idolatry.

When I was a child, I heard that strange sound in the trees in late summer.  It sounded like a whinning buzzing that started soft and grew louder and louder  and then was echoed in another section of trees.  I asked my mom what it was and she said they were locusts.  It wasn't until I was older that I learned they weren't locust, but cicadas.  Cicadas are not locusts but are related.  In fact, cicadas, crickets, katydids, grasshoppers, and locusts are all cousins. 

I went to a Cub Scout camp once with my dad and they had us play a game.  In the morning, the challenged us all to find a critter to bring to a critter race that evening. My dad and I found a frog.  I thought we had the race in the bag that evening with our speedy little frog when we gathered around a big circle they had drawn on the ground that evening.  We all placed our critters in the center of the circle and began yelling for our critters to go.  The first one outside of the circle would be the winner.  All the critters started moving and I thought my frog might win.  But then a lone grasshopper leaped into the air and spread it's wings and flew off into the woods never to be seen again.  In one move, the grasshopper won the race.

Locusts are the swarming phase of certain kinds of grasshoppers. Grasshoppers usually live alone, but under certain circumstances they multiply radically and become social.  They join together and create huge swarms.  

According to National Geographic, a dessert locust swarm can cover 460 square miles and pack between 40-80 million locusts into less than a square mile (18-36 billion locusts in a swarm).

To put it in perspective, a typical swarm of dessert locusts could completely cover Whitfield County in Georgia where I live and nearly half of neighboring Murray County all at once.  A typical swarm of locusts can eat 423 million pounds of vegetation per day!  And the Scripture tells us the swarm that plagued Egypt was the worst “in the history of Egypt”.  

Unconditional Surrender
It's no wonder Pharaoh and his officials want relief.  They've already endured 7 plagues and their empire is in ruins.  So Pharaoh starts bargaining with Moses.  "You can go worship your Lord in the wilderness, but who is going?"  Moses says, "We are all going--men, women, children, and even the animals."  And Pharaoh says, "No.  Only the men can go!"

Now, there's an important principle you need to understand.  You cannot bargain with God for your salvation.  Jesus came to make a way for you to be saved from sin and death, but you are only saved through surrender; and you must surrender, unconditionally.  You can't say, "Lord, I will give you this part of my life, but I'm gonna keep that part of my life for myself."  No.  That will never do.  You must give God your whole life.  Philippians 2:9-11 says, "One day, God elevated him [Jesus] to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." 

The Idol of Pleasure
Egypt was an empire with thousands of idols and false gods.  But YHWH (pronounced Yahweh), the God of the Hebrews, our God, the only true and living God, sent 10 plagues on Egypt to expose the impotence of all Egypt’s false gods so that all nations and generations would know that there is only one God—the Lord. 

We have idols today too—even in our modern world.  God designed people to worship.  Trying not to worship is like trying not to breathe.  People just can't do it.  Even if someone doesn't believe in God they will still worship something.  They will worship money or power or their country or their leaders or people they admire.  They may even worship themselves.  One of the idols we worship is pleasure and entertainment. 

Now as I said before, God wants us to have time to rest and enjoy life and have pleasure.  He commanded us to rest on the Sabbath.  This was originally not some stiff religious regulation; it was God telling His children, “You got to take some time to stop and smell the roses!” 

Work can become and idol, but so can the pursuit of pleasure.  Many in our time bow down to the idol of Hedonism.  Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure and sensual self-indulgence.   

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life.  God wants us to enjoy life.  But any time we take something that’s good and treat it like a godtreating it as more important to you than God, letting it absorb your heart and imagination more than God, and expecting it to give you what only God can give—we are worshiping an idol.  And idols always fail us and hurt us. 

We all want to be happy and enjoy life.  Ironically, the one thing that guarantees you will not be happy and enjoy life is if you spend all your time in the pursuit of pleasure.  You may find some fabricated, false sense of happiness.  Others may even look at you from the outside and envy your “happiness”, but that’s only because they can’t see how unhappy you are on the inside.  With hedonism, all your “happiness” is as empty and false as the impotent idols of Egypt. 

In contrast to hedonism, the two most effective ways to find the greatest real pleasure in life are to 1) be thankful, and 2) help others. 

First of all, be thankful.
Being grateful is not just the polite thing to do.  When we give thanks, it actually increases our capacity to enjoy our blessings.  You see, when we are unhappy, we often think the solution is to get more things or more experiences that will make us happy.  However, that is rarely the real solution.  Most often after we get the things or experiences we wanted, the satisfaction they give goes away so quickly and all we can think about is the next thing or experience we have to have. 

The solution is to learn to be truly thankful for what we have.  Our thankfulness magnifies the pleasure we receive from the things and experiences.  Amy Harris issued a challenge in her Youth Moment last week—to name one thing for which you are thankful each day.  That is a great habit—especially this month.  But don’t stop in November.  Be thankful every day.  Get a journal and each day write down some of the things for which ayou are thankful.  Another idea is to get a jar and some slips of paper and each day write down some things for which you are grateful and put them in the jar.  Form time to time--especially when you may be feeling down--take out your journal and read from your gratitude list.  Or dump out the slips of paper from your "gratitude jar" and read them.  You will find it cheers you up and brings your new joy. (My family does a gratitude jar all year long and we read the slips together on New Years Day after dinner.)

Second, help others.
Another great way to experience true and lasting pleasure—a pleasure that soaks down deep into your soul—is to help others.  Nothing brings joy like helping someone.  As Christmas draws nearer, we remember the old cliché--it is better to give than receive.  It's a cliché, but it's true.

Scientific studies show that helping others boosts happiness.[i] It increases life satisfaction, provides a sense of meaning, increases feelings of competence, improves our mood and reduced stress. It can help to take our minds off our own troubles too.[ii]

Don’t look at helping others as a burden you have to bear.  Carrying a heavy load doesn’t sound like fun and it won't bring you much joy either.  So help others with a cheerful heart.  It’s not some religious duty you must fulfill in order for God to love you.  God already loves you!  Think about just how much He loves you.  Now, turn around and help somebody else and you may find it is the most fun you’ve ever had. 

Holy Communion
Jesus gave us a special meal to remind us how much God loves us.  The last meal Jesus shared with His disciples--what Christians call Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist.  At the meal, Jesus took bread and gave it to his disciples and said, "This is my body, which is given for you." After the meal, he took a cup of wine and said, "Drink from this all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  And as often as you do this, do it in remembrance of me."  That meal symbolized the way Jesus would die on the cross for our sins. And every time we celebrate Holy Communion, it does three things that can help us experience true joy in this life and for all eternity.

First, it reminds us how God helped us. Jesus left the glorious perfection of Heaven to come down to our broken world. Doesn't feel good to know God loved you so much He gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life?

Second, Holy Communion offers us the opportunity to be truly thankful.  Holy Communion is sometimes called "The Great Thanksgiving," for in it we give thanks for what Christ has done.  This is not just being polite.  It is an act that increases our capacity to experience joy as we the depth of God's love that prompted Him to leave the glory of Heaven for our sakes.

Third, Holy Communion is a sacred ceremony, that God uses to empower us to help others just like Christ helped us. His Spirit fills us and enables us to love people like God loves them.  And we can help people.  And helping people brings us joy.

So, I pray today you will stop trying to find joy through hedonism--a relentless pursuit of pleasure.  Instead, turn to God and find true and lasting joy as you learn to be thankful and seek to help others the way God helped you through Jesus Christ.

[i] [1] Post, S. G. (2005). Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It's Good to Be Good. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 12(2), 66-77.

[ii] Midlarsky, E. (1991). Helping as coping. Prosocial Behavior: Review of Personality and Social Psychology, 12, 238-264

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Joy

Galatians 5:22-23
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit of God living inside them.  The Apostle Paul says the Spirit produces the fruit--Christian virtues--of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  For the next several weeks, I will examine one virtu each week.  I challenge you to learn all nine. I know you can.  Most people memorize the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, and that's 31 words.  Surely we can memorize nine Christian virtues.  Here's a song that might help you remember.  Today, lets look at the second virtue Paul lists: joy. 

So What is Joy Anyway?
Some people say that joy is different from happiness.  They say happiness is just an emotion and temporary, whereas joy is somehow deeper and more lasting.  However, the Bible never makes that distinction.  The Greek word for joy in the New Testament is “chara”.  It means cheerfulness, calm delight, gladness, great joy and happiness.  In fact, many places in the Bible use the words joy and happiness interchangeably or link them together.  For instance, in Esther 8:16 (NIV) when the Jews experienced a stunning reversal of fortunes from something very grave and desperate to something glorious, it says, "For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor."  Joy and happiness are linked.   In Jeremiah 31:13, (HCSB), God says, "I  will turn their mourning into joy, give them consolation, and bring happiness out of grief." Proverbs 23:25 (NLT) says, "Give your father and mother joy! May she who gave you birth be happy."  The Bible doesn't distinguish between joy and happiness.  They are just synonyms. 

I've discovered we all really need to know more about joy.  Let's take a deep look at today so we can better understand and seek it in our lives.  I also invite you to come to my church for a study about joy that will start on September 19th.  It's a 6-session study by John Piper.  It will be on Wednesday nights at 6:45.  I invite you all to come.  However, if you aren't able to come, you can watch the videos by clicking here.  I really like John Piper’s definition for joy:  “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.”

What Makes Christian Joy Special?
Joy/happiness is a feeling, an emotion.  We don’t produce joy/happiness ourselves.  Someone or something causes the emotion to well up within us.  That may be why some make the unnecessary distinction between joy and happiness.  They try to say happiness is caused by worldly things and that joy is caused by God.  I used to make that distinction, but I don’t think it’s really helpful anymore.  Joy and happiness is the same thing.  It’s  the source of your joy and happiness that determines whether it is eternal or will fade away like green grass in a summer drought.

Christian Joy comes from the Holy Spirit.  It is an eternal well of living water that bubbles up from inside.  It is not turned bitter by the tragedies and sorrows of this life. There are many other things in this world beside the Holy Spirit that can make you happy/joyful.  Some are very deep and meaningful—like the birth of a child.  Others can be quite trivial—like when your favorite football team wins a game.  However, if your happiness/joy is based solely on fleeting, earthly things, it is in great danger.  For earthly things pass away.  Football teams lose.  Studies show fan depression is a real thing; it can even affect entire cities.  When the Atlanta Falcon tragically lost the Superbowl after almost winning in 2017, it seemed like the whole southeastern United States was in a depression fro days afterwards.  Fan depression even leads some to thoughts of suicide.  Significantly more serious tragedies like the death of a child can smash your joy/happiness to pieces.  Joy that is tied to such vulnerable, earthly things is as fragile as a snowflake in August.

Yet, the source of the joy of the Lord—the fruit of the Spirit—isn’t earthly.  It comes from the eternal Holy Spirit of God.  And as long as your faith is in Jesus, the Spirit lives in you.  Your “Spirit Joy” is not destroyed when the world comes crashing down.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  Holy Spirit Joy/Happiness is as eternal as God Himself.  That is why the Apostle Paul could write such joyful letters like Philippians even while he was locked in a dungeon for preaching the Gospel.  He said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)

There is a kind of joy that comes from feasting and friends and the things of this world. However, it is temporary joy.  The Holy Spirit invites us to stop expecting our greatest joy to come from people and things that can’t give us ultimate and lasting joy.  Real Joy, Christian Joy, is found through faith in Christ and is produced in your heart by the Holy Spirit.  It is eternal and it never fades away no matter what happens to you.

Now, sometimes you can see the Beauty of Christ in your kids, in your spouse, in your friends, even in the material things of this world.  And when you do—when you see the beauty of Christ in these things—you may derive real joy from the Holy Spirit through them.  And you won’t have to fear the loss of your joy if you lose the things, because you will never lose the Holy Spirit, who is eternal.  And at the end of it all—for those who trust Christ as their Lord and Savior to the end—we will see the beauty of Christ perfectly in all things and for all eternity.  That is why we will praise Him without end.  However, be careful not to confuse seeing the beauty of Christ in things for the things themselves.

Creating a Garden Where JOY Can Grow
The Fruit of the Spirit is produced by the Holy Spirit, not produced by you.  No matter how hard you concentrate or strain your spiritual muscles, you can’t produce these spiritual fruits—and that includes joy.  You can’t make a garden grow.  Only God can make a garden grow.  However, there are some things you can do to help a garden grow.  You can till up the soil to make it soft and receptive, fertilize the soil, plant seeds, water the garden, pull up any weeds that grow, protect your garden from pests, etc.

How can you tend the garden of your heart so the Holy Spirit can grow Joy within you?  Just like with any garden, you’ve got to tend it.  You've got to soften your heart and make it receptive, fertilize your heart through prayer and worship, ask God to plant seeds of joy within you, water your garden everyday by reading God’s Word, and protect your garden from weeds and other pests.

I'm not a very good gardener.  I lack the patience and attentiveness needed to really nurture a fruitful garden.  The first time I tried to grow a garden, I planted some tomato plants.  I was so happy to see those first green tomatoes coming in.  Now, I love a juicy tomato sandwich in the summer!  Everyday, I watched my tomatoes getting ready to pick.  But every time, just before they were ripe enough to pick, some animal (a squirrel or rabbit or something) would sneak in and take two or three bites out of the fruit!  It was so frustrating!  No tomato sandwiches for me!

Get Rid of Spiritual Pests
If you want spirit-filled Joy/Happiness in your heart, you’ve got to protect your spiritual garden from the pests that want to sneak in and steal your joy!  Consider some of the pest that threaten your spiritual garden:

Fear – We fear of what others think about us.  We fear we might miss out on something good if we devote our life to Christ.  We are often afraid we won't measure up and God or others will reject us.  We're afraid of not being loved.  We fear losing something or someone we care about.  Fear is a pest that will sneak in and destroy your garden of joy.  Thankfully, faith is a powerful pesticide against pesky fear.  Jesus said, "Do not worry..." (Matthew 6:25)  Trust God.  Put your faith in Jesus Christ.  Know that he's got your back and if he's for you, nothing can succeed against you.  Don't worry about what people think about you.  Know that the God of the universe thinks you were worth dying for.  Spray your garden with faith and watch the pests flee!

Poor health – Joy is an emotion.  Emotions are biological and chemical and hormonal.  Emotions are affected greatly by your health.  So take care of yourself.  Eat right and exercise.  It will help cultivate a garden where joy can flourish.  A simple 30 minute walk everyday can make a world of difference in your attitude and receptivity to joy.  Everyone's health varies according to many factors that are out of our control.  However, we do have control over somethings.  Be as healthy as you can be and it will help joy grow more in your life.

Negativity – Negativity is one of the peskiest pests that can infiltrate your spiritual garden.  Chase negativity away by hanging around with people who are kind and positive.  Avoid people who criticize, blame, judge, and are driven by fear and negativity.  They will suck you dry.  Now there is always a certain amount of negativity in our lives, but we don't have to seek it out or go for a swim in cesspool of yuk!  Instead, focus on Christ and what he’s done for you and how much he loves you.  This is a powerful pesticide that drives away the negative thoughts that try to sneak in and steal your joy.

As we close, I invite you to meditate on the cross of Christ where the Savior of the world gave his life for you, because he loves you SO MUCH.  Spend some time thinking in the presence of the Holy Spirit about how Jesus left the perfection of Heaven to come down into the cesspool of our brokenness, reach out his loving hands to rescue us, and pull us up out of the mire to safety.  Let the truth of his love fertilize the soil of your heart and nurture the spiritual fruit of joy.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Best Cup of Coffee I Ever Had...

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell…

Philippians 4:12 - I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.
            If you know me very well, you would know I don’t really like the taste of coffee that much.  I usually try to cover it up with way too much sugar and creamer or, even better, I put in about a ¼ cup of flavored coffemate.  True coffee connoisseurs are often appalled by my coffee habits and snark, “Hey, would like some coffee with that sugar?”
Keeping all this in mind, you will be surprised to learn about the best coffee I ever enjoyed.  You might guess it was some expensive gourmet blend from Starbucks or a hand roast blend out of the mountains of El Salvador made with a French press.  You would be wrong.  In fact, the best cup of coffee I ever had was a cheap Kirkland brand “Breakfast Blend” from Costco made on my Keurig at home.  Even more surprising, it was completely black with no sugar or cream added!
What made this cup of coffee so unique, you ask?  It came at the end of a special week-long diet where I hadn’t had anything to drink except water—no milk, no coffee, no coke or tea, nothing but water.  So by the end of the week, my taste buds were thrilled to encounter anything besides H2O.  All the flavors and nuances of the coffee sprang to life in my mouth and danced on my tongue as I marveled at the simple wonder of coffee like never before.  I experience true joy in something I normally take for granted.
We humans are so prone to take things for granted.  It’s part of our fallen nature.  We lose gratitude and when we do, we are actually less fulfilled.  The trick to being satisfied in life is not having more and more.  In a counterintuitive way, more stuff tends to make us less fulfilled.  No.  The secret to being more fulfilled is learning to be satisfied and grateful with what we have already.
Fasting is a spiritual exercise that can strengthen our gratitude and contentment.  Fasting has traditionally meant going without food.  However, fasting could also be going without coffee or drinking only water or giving up something else like TV or Facebook or watching the news for a set time.  Such self-denial can accomplish some very helpful traits.  It could help you stop taking simple blessings for granted and be more grateful.  On the other hand, you might find you do not miss what you gave up at all; in which case, you might be better off without it. 
True joy and contentment in life is not about having more and more, better and better.  Joy and contentment most often come when you simplify and learn to truly appreciate the blessings you have already.  With intentional spiritual practice, you could learn what the Apostle Paul discovered:  “…the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.”  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…

Remember, God loves you and so do I!