The Joy of Glory

Discovering endless joy in the boundless glory of God…

Month: October, 2013

We Rejoice in our Sufferings (Part 1)

On Sunday, I found myself grasping for words as I stood before my congregation trying to hold out one of the great paradoxes of the Christian life, namely, that our suffering is filled with joy.  We are a people who are always “sorrowful, yet rejoicing.”

My words seemed to fall flat, or at least short of this incredible, indescribable reality. So here I am, trying again to explain the unexplainable. I want to take a couple of blogs (who knows how many) to dive deep into how and why we are a people who rejoice in suffering.

Romans 5:3 says, “…we rejoice in our sufferings…”

How?…and…Why?

Before we can talk about how and why we find joy amidst suffering we must talk about what joy/rejoicing is.  What is joy…true, biblical joy?

joy_sand-1Joy is easy and difficult to define. It is easy because we all have a sense of what joy is through our own experience. We know what we mean when we use the word “joy.” But, it is hard to actually express that known meaning with words because our experiences of joy are wordless movements of the soul. Joy is something that happens within our hearts more so than our heads.

As soon as we attempt to describe joy…we feel as though we are doing a disservice to what our heart has felt and known. It is like trying to describe a sunset…even the most beautiful words cannot replace the experience of the eyes beholding the final moments of a day’s end.

Due to this difficulty, many people try to define joy by saying what it is not. In my experience, this typically leads to contrasting joy with happiness…usually by saying something like this: “Happiness is an emotion based on external circumstances, but joy is a reality based on eternal truth.”

I get what is being said and I do not totally disagree, but I do think pitting joy against happiness is problematic because they are both felt and often they are felt together to the point that they really cannot be distinguished.

Again, I get what is being expressed by this sentiment, primarily, that there is a flimsy-surface-level-self-centered-happiness that depends on things going my way. I don’t want anyone to confuse that with biblical joy! But, I also don’t want anyone to confuse that with biblical happiness!

The Greek word makarios is most commonly translated as “blessed,” but it just as accurately means “happy.” Reread the beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12 to get a biblical description of happiness.

My point is simply this, I don’t want to pit joy against happiness in such a way that people think joy has nothing to do with happiness. Nothing could be further from the truth…joy has to do with real-true-deep-eternal happiness!

So what is biblical joy? If it cannot really be defined in words, but only experienced…how shall we get at its meaning? Perhaps pointing at biblical pictures/experiences of joy is the best place to begin. There are many, but I will simply go straight to my favorite…

Matthew 13:44, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

Jesus is showing us what the kingdom of heaven/God is like. So what is it like? His answer…supreme joy!

In this story, Jesus makes no bones about the fact that joy is stirred up within us by things outside of us. Whether that is possessions, people, experiences, or whatever…certain things move our heart and soul toward this thing we call joy! And in this passage, we encounter a man that finds a treasure… a treasure that is so joy producing, he is willing to sell everything… everything else that has ever brought him any sense of joy… he sells it all so that he may own this treasure.  This treasure is worth more than all of his previous possessions put together, and the joy it produces is more than if you added together all the joy he’d previously experienced.

Jesus reveals to us that joy and value/worth are connected. Things our heart values produce joy…and the more something is worth to us, the more joy it produces.  When your heart finds something beautiful, glorious, amazing…the response of the heart to perceiving such things is to feel what we call joy!

And Jesus’ words in Matthew 13 beckon the eyes of our heart to see that nothing is of more value than God himself! Therefore, nothing produces joy like God! He is the buried treasure that we are willing to sacrifice everything to possess! When our hearts behold the beauty, the wonder, the majesty, the supreme value of God, they swell with the indescribable response of ultimate joy!

Much like the man in Jesus parable who joyfully gives up everything because he has found a superior source of joy…so too the Christian is willing to suffer the loss of anything for superior joy in God.

Herein, we begin to glimpse how joy amidst suffering might be possible in the life of the believer… because the source of our joy is God who is supremely worthy!  Suffering cannot remove God as the source of our joy! Nor can suffering subtract from the value of God and make him less enjoyable.  If anything suffering highlights the value of God! In Matthew 13, does not the man’s willingness to sell all he has highlight the superior value of the treasure he discovered and his superior joy in it?

This is the picture of ultimate biblical joy, namely, that joy is the response of the heart to seeing glory (value, beauty, majesty) and there is nothing more glorious/joy producing than God. When you posses God, you posses supreme joy. This is the starting point for understanding joy amidst suffering.

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Letter #21: For His Glory!

Dear Jonathan,

This is my final “seminary” letter. I’m sure our conversations will continue for years to come, at least I hope they will, but after tomorrow you will be a seminary graduate…finally!

As you receive your diploma and walk away from the halls of academia, I wanted to leave you with one final reminder of the purpose behind it all. Over the past three years you have studied, lost sleep, spent time away from family, cried, laughed, made friends, been frustrated, disillusioned, elated, and yes…you have even bled (literally from what I hear)…what has been the point of it all?

ForHisGloryThe point has and always will be God’s glory!

You have not studied for yourself, but so that you might be equipped to make known to people the glory, the majesty, the beauty, the greatness, and the goodness of God! You have been searching the heights and depths of the love and grace of God in order to take others on a tour and show them the sights!

You have seen God’s glory in order to show it to others.

All of your education has been in service of the church. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1:24, you are to be working with people for their joy…and their joy is in Jesus! Do not lord your education over people, but use it humbly to point them toward the endless beauties of Jesus so that their joy may abound more and more.

I encourage you to hang your diploma somewhere no one will see it/notice it but you…perhaps in your closet. Why? So that it never serves as a means of boasting before others, but always as a humbling reminder to you of Luke 12:48, “…to whom much was given, of him much will be required…”

Jonathan, you have been given much. Seminary is such a gift…don’t waste it or destroy it with something as petty as pride!  Use it for the glory of God and the good of the Church! Help those who know Christ to further drink from him, the everlasting fountain. And, call out to those who are dying of thirst in the desert of this world. Sound the gospel call for them to come and drink from Jesus so that they may live evermore.

Everything you have done in seminary has been to the praise of God’s glorious grace! It has all been for the purpose of being equipped to point the world to true, everlasting joy in him!

The point has and always will be God’s glory!

Grace and Peace,

J

*To know/understand the premise behind these letters please click here.

Letter #20: Your Education is not Over!

Dear Jonathan,

Graduation is just around the corner…literally a few weeks away! Congratulations again on making it to this point! Now, don’t fail your finals and blow the whole thing! I’m just kidding. I have to mess with you a little now that you are about to be a “Master of Divinity.”

We have had so many good conversations over the past few years and written a number of letters back and forth. I hope they have been helpful and ministered to your heart, even if only a little. So what is there left to talk about? Why am I writing you this close to graduation? What else could I possibly have to say? Well…there is at least this one thing…

Free-Arizona-Continuing-Education-for-Realtors-285x280Your education is not over!

Sorry to drop that bomb on you right as you approach the finish line, but I am trying to be a little preemptive here. What do I mean? Well, let’s just say that it is not uncommon for seminary graduates to “quit” reading and studying due to post-school burnout.

Typically, language skills are the first thing to go. All that hard work, hours, blood, sweat, and tears that you put into Greek and Hebrew…all I can say is use it or lose it brother! Honestly, that goes for all fields of study into which you have taken the plunge.

You must keep reading, writing, and thinking deeply or you will lose all the skills you have gained. Listen, it is very easy to enter ministry and become caught up in a million different things, let your studies take the back seat, and simply be a surface level teacher. You don’t want that!

You want to be able to speak to your people out of deeply dug wells, from which you draw up the purest water of the Word to help sustain their thirsty souls. You want to show them how they can mine the treasures of God’s Word themselves. You can only do that if you are doing it yourself.

Now, I’m not telling you to be an ivory tower theologian. You should never sit in an office all day, every day, surrounded by books, and disconnected from the people you serve. No. Discipline yourself to make a schedule that keeps you connected to their lives and connected to Christ through the Word. It is possible.

Jonathan, graduation is nearly here, but don’t let that be the last time you crack a book or mediate on Scripture. You have worked hard to develop the tools you need to study the Word for the glory of God and the good of the church. So do that!

Your education is not over!

Grace and Peace,

J

*To know/understand the premise behind these letters please click here.

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