I think joy is commonly misunderstood. Joy and happiness are two different realities. In my experience most of us cannot explain how these two are different. I can have happiness without joy and joy without happiness.

Happiness is an emotion. I am happy when… and you fill in the blank. I can also say I am not happy when this or that happens. It is based on something happening to me. And mostly it is out of my control. Say for example, when a friend calls I am happy and when he doesn’t I am sad.

Joy is a state of being. It includes the arc of human emotions. Joy is enjoying a constant sense of well-being. It allows us to feel what is appropriate to feel. It is teaches us to understand our feelings as prophetic gifts. Joy has nothing to prove or manipulate and allows us to be humble.

With this constant sense of well-being, established on the rock of Christ, I can feel what I feel without having to say, “You shouldn’t feel like that. Don’t be sad or angry because emotions like that open you up to the icky messy thing of pain. It’s safer if you just toss that under the rug.”

Joy allows us to live in the present moments of life. With joy I no longer need to excuse my past or live in an idealistic delusion of the future.

And despair is joy’s opposite.

Jesus had this thing down. Joy empowered him to use the gamut of his emotions with transforming love. Joy for Jesus said, “It will be ok, you are in the Father’s hands, don’t worry.” Let’s look to him and learn. That is if you believe in that sort of thing.

-Influenced by Dallas Willard and Henri Nouwen

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Take my yoke. When two pull the plow the burden is light. It’s much better this way. Many hands make light work. I am the head, you are the body, and so we are one flesh. This is not about not carrying burdens for there is work to be done. The earth needs plowing for it to come alive. So help me plow it. Share the burden with me.

You my church are the hands and feet of this whole thing. You my church are the workers who by the power of my spirit bring life to what is dead, light to darkness, blessing to curse. Do not like a fool sitting on your inheritance. Use it and work it out. Partner with me and the burden will become light. The burden of all things made new!

All of us live in the dark. Fight and kick. Reach and grab. Thrash around. Run away. Hide. Cover up. Don’t let them know. Convince yourself. Deny and lie. Have faith. Don’t doubt. Pretend and presume. Don’t believe it they say.

I say I don’t believe it, and yet I act like I do. I don’t care what people think, yet I act like I do when I go to the party. I care about the poor and oppressed, and yet when I know there are neighbors lacking I instead fill my own belly. Many Christians say they believe in Hell as a place where God’s wrath is poured out on the unrighteous (or people who look different than they do) and yet they pass by people every day they assume will not make the cut.

Christians say they believe Jesus is the Son of God and where does that get them? Christians talk about their belief in the Bible as inerrant and perfect and incapable of being wrong. And where exactly does that help them land? Christians say they believe in the power of the Spirit, but do they really think they can become like Jesus. We Christians say we are forgiven and do we act like it? We talk about the beauty of God’s grace as the way into transformation, but do we believe it enough to trust Jesus with ourselves and others.

What effect are our beliefs having? Maybe you and I do not know what we really believe. Belief is readiness to act like the thing I believe is true. If I believe love is the only way to save the world do I in turn act like it’s true and love my neighbor? Or do I push and pull and grab and kick to get the good outcome I want for them? Love does not insist on its own way. Its patient and kind, not arrogant or rude. How often are we assuming we love someone when we really just love ourselves?

Perhaps if we relax a while and sit still for a moment we might realize the darkness of our lives has a lot to teach us. There is nothing to learn for those who deny their wounds. As much as we try we cannot live up to the ideal created by perfectionist thinking. Perfectionism is dangerous because it lives in denial, a denial of darkness and a denial of reality, which quickly turns to despair, pity, and self sabotage. Honesty and humility are the way into presence of God. God is there with you, just turn your head. There he is the light of the world, smiling, embracing, and lifting and accepting. If you say you believe Jesus loves us all, broken or not, do you really believe it?

Sometimes I have a hard time believing it. Maybe you do too.

Trinity or the divine rule of three is a less a rule and more a relational unity built into the very fabric of reality. Reality is not static or motionless or fixed, but caught up in the divine dance of God himself. Trinity is beautifully dynamic and creative and is not satisfied by opposition but unity. And the unity is not found in the sameness, but is bound up in the love and diversity of a relationship.

And so is our relationship to one another. Relationship in the Church cannot be thought of outside the divine law of three. There can be no fellowship apart from the third. Two can become one only in relation to the third, which is Jesus the Christ himself. When I sit across the table sipping steaming coffee with a brother, I know I am not bound to the other but to Christ. Christ is the great mediator between man and God and between myself and my brother or sister in Christ. There is nothing to own or possess or grab when Christ is between us. Together we participate in the communion of Christ.

When two or more are gathered in my name, there I am with them. There is the Church. There is the body of Christ, between and in us all. Christ is the one who makes it all possible.

 

-Inspired by the thoughts and teachings of Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault 

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To Pilate Jesus answered…

“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36 ESV)

A new way, not the way of old, is and has been craftily creeping in for sometime now. It is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Perhaps the thing is like a monster under the bead or in the closet, waiting for us to fall into an innocent and deep sleep. Maybe it’s like a blurry picture that says it tells the whole story, taken in the darkness of a new moon. How has it crept in under the door of thought?

Have you ever watched a late night infomercial and after some time looked at the clock and realized an hour had passed? Were you drawn in, convinced you absolutely needed this revolutionary product. Surely and with conviction and not to mention with a money back guarantee, this product will change your life. Right? Some of us give in and pick up the phone with a credit card in hand; others of us wake up and realize we either do not need the thing really. Maybe what I am trying to say is in some ways similar.

Jesus is not something to be sold. He is not something to be consumed or bought. The king of the world is not a cheap trick. Salvation is not a transaction. The cross is not a barcode to scan at the checkout counter. Capitalism and the free market cannot represent what the kingdom of God is like. Judicial systems do not give us the complete picture of how God relates to us and what actually happens on the cross.

Entering the kingdom of God does not look like busyness, earning money at the expense of others, doing more, controlling, manipulating, or using power to oppress others. It does not look like possessing more things. It does not look like media, politics, or commercials. The kingdom of God is not a trend. The kingdom of God is the reality breaking into our present world and kingdoms, not by force or violence or the sword, but by and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

Don’t miss the point; the kingdom of God (his rule and reign, his sphere of influence, where his will is done) does not look like the kingdoms of this world. But remember, and this is important, the kingdom of God Jesus teaches about is not a place. It is not “heaven” as far as is popularly understood. When Jesus says the kingdom is not of this world he is not saying it is in a different place other than earth.

Rather he is saying the kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of the world. It is something else entirely. So we do not go to the kingdom of God/kingdom of heaven when we die. To think that is to miss the whole point! To enter the kingdom of God is to come under his rule, here and now! It is to come under a rule of love, sacrifice, forgiveness and mercy, not a rule of coercion, military strength, violence, and manipulation.

It is to live like Jesus if he were I now and not in some disembodied place after I die. Entering the kingdom of heaven happens now on this side of death! What good news! We belong to the Lord in death as we do in life! Entering the kingdom of God is entering everlasting life!

Let me ask you, yeah you who are reading this, I am asking myself too…

What do your beliefs do for you?

Think about what you “believe.”

For you, what does it mean to believe something?

Can you believe an idea and actually do something else?

Does your believing have any influence in the day to day of your life?

Is your belief set so that you can escape the fire of hell and damnation?

Now that your sins are taken care of, does that make you feel better about yourself? Is your gospel about making you feel better after you sin?

Are you now cozy and comfortable reclining on your sofa of ignorance and entertainment as you are entertained eating the elephant out of the room?

You laugh, but at what? Is your meaningless life funny to you? What is really going on here? Do we know what we are doing?

My life is good, you might say, so all is good in the world. Is that true?

God wants to prosper me right? He wants to give me stuff, stuff at the expense of others. Wait a minute.

I take and take and take. Then I say, thanks God for this stuff. You have surely blessed me. Hold on a second.

My prayer is but a laundry list, a grocery list, a honey-do list, and a chore list.

When I get what I want, the job, the car, the spouse, the car, the wardrobe, it must be because I am a good little boy. It must be because I deserve it.

How disillusioned I am. How easy it is to believe my lies. How painless it is to justify how I live.

Do our beliefs merely allow us to separate ourselves from responsibility?

Or do our beliefs set us free, free to live an abundant life?

Is your belief about not dying?

Or is your belief about living a complete life, of beauty, of wholeness, of fullness, of richness?

Do they catapult you into the workplace, into the family home, onto the field, to be an agent of justice, peace, and reconciliation?

Do your beliefs automatically cause you to love others, not as parts and pieces, as labels and stereotypes, but as beautiful creatures whom God intends to make into radiant beings of his perfect love?

Are your beliefs congruent with the life and ministry and teachings of Jesus?

Who is Jesus?

Or does it even matter to you who he is?

Think about this, a quote from the song ‘Four Word Letter (Part 2)’ by Mewithoutyou…

We hunger, though all we eat brings us little relief

We don’t quite know what else to do

We have all our beliefs

But we don’t want our beliefs

God of peace

We want you

Burn it all down, as Aaron Weiss (the songwriter) says, “why not be utterly changed into fire?”

Jesus will build you up. Have faith. He can handle your questions. He is the great I AM, the alpha, the omega, the beginning and end. Let us all worship him for who he is, not for who we would like him to be. Seek him and you will find him.Amen.

In a mere moment my life was shattered. Who is this god I worship? Holy and pure, righteous and just, is he upset with me? Do I make him happy or disappointed? Is my life good enough to please his holier than though posture, for he judges the world with wrath right? Is it his voice telling me I am not good enough, that I need to do better? What does he say or do to me when my arrows miss the mark? Is he the voice that says repent or go to hell?

Whose face do I see in the mirror? When I see myself standing there, how do I interpret the reflection? Is it shame, disappointment, frustration, anger, rage, the cold shoulder, judgment and even worse condemnation? Am I worthy of standing in the presence of such a god, who with his look manipulates and controls me to do whatever it is he wants? In the presence of this god I feel crushed, chained, and burdened. In his presence I understand myself as a cadet crushed and chained by the power of the system.

This god makes me feel terrible and awful as he shows off his skills to the crowd. This god feels like the parent or boss who yells and screams saying, “I can’t believe you did that! You fool! Don’t you know better? You idiot.” Or maybe it feels like the cold shoulder of disapproval, or even the silent treatment. This god says, “You better shape up or else!” Pressure. Punishment, urgency and hurry are his techniques to get the desired outcomes. “If only you could be good,” he says, “I could do something with you.”

This god likes it better when I am afraid of him. He takes pleasure as I squirm and sweat, trying to be a better person. I walk on eggshells around such a god, hoping I don’t do something to piss him off. He is only on my side when I am doing as he wishes. He cheers me on and shows his love, but only when I score the goal, or make the pass, or keep the ball on the field. His attention is conditional, his affection determined by my performance, and his love contingent on outcomes. Perhaps this is not the true God, the one who formed me in my mother’s womb, the one who knows me by name, and can count the number of hairs on my head. Maybe this god is not God; maybe I have created a god in my own image.

In a moment, my eyes were opened as I saw for the first time the beauty of love. It was like waking after a long dark sleep to a rising sun full of warmth. It was like coming out of a piercing winter of a perpetual absence. It was like digging a pit too deep to climb out and suddenly a finding the hand of a friend to pull me out. You might say it was like carrying a load and suddenly, in a moment, there was no load to carry at all. Perhaps it was like life itself breathed a breath of life power into my soul. The rain fell on dry land.

His rod and his staff, they comforted me. He led me to eat and drink. He led me into the valley of shadow and death, and there he said, “Fear not, I am with you.” He prepared a table for me in the presence of my enemies, in the presence of all the lies and perversions of who he is, there he anoints my head with oil and fills my cup till it overflows. Surely his goodness and mercy will follow me, everyday, in every moment. I can rest assured I will dwell in his house forever.

In this moment I speak of, I heard a different voice, a voice that speaks in the silence. A voice that says, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” I said, “But you don’t know me, you don’t understand what I have done, or what I am capable of doing. Obviously you can’t love me. I am unlovable. I am unworthy. I could do better. The voice again said, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” “No it can’t be! I said. “I deserve more punishment. I am not ready. I am still I!” The voice told me again, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

He tells me that I am before I do. Don’t worry, he says. He really does want what is best for me. He is gentle and kind, tender and strong. He is capable of handling my sin. He says, “Ok you missed the mark. I’ll take care of that. Your job is to let it go. Let it out and move forward in becoming the kind of person I can trust to carry out my will, the redemption of the world. Go and be forgiven, and be empowered to live in a response to the reality of such great and unforeseen forgiveness.

Jesus may your love be enough because you said it is so. Amen.

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