The Radically Normal Christian:
Part V: Is God Your Only Joy?
October 16, 2011
SCRIPTURE READING: NEHEMIAH 8:10-12
IS GOD ENOUGH?
A while back, I mentioned a sermon that said you should be ALARMED for your SPIRITUAL STATE if you find yourself...
...coveting any PLEASURE more than your PRAYER times,
...enjoying a BOOK more than your BIBLE,
...reading the NEWSPAPERS for RELAXATION more than the Bible or some spiritual book,
...reverencing any HOUSE more than the HOUSE of GOD,
...SATISFIED with any TABLE more than the Lord’s Table,
...LOVING any PERSON more than that of the Holy Spirit,
...or delighted with any PROSPECT more than that of the RETURN of JESUS.1
This pastor is not particularly notable, except that I have heard many sermons that echo the same thought.
Similarly, in FRANCIS CHAN’S “Crazy Love”
...my wife’s grandma Clara offered a real-life example of a person consumed with Jesus. I once attended a play with my wife and some of her relatives, including Grandma Clara. During intermission, I leaned over and asked what she thought of the play. She said, “Oh honey, I really don’t want to be here right now.” When I asked her why, she replied, “I just don’t know if this is where I want to be when Christ returns. I’d rather be helping someone or on my knees praying. I don’t want Him to return and find me sitting in a theater.
I was shocked by her answer. Yes, we are called to “keep watch” (Matt 24:42), but it is strange to see someone who takes that command, and so many others, seriously. In fact it is more than strange – it’s convicting. (p. 142)
Q Yes, it is CONVICTING, but SHOULD it be?
* Of course, you know by now that I do NOT BELIEVE these three anecdotes to be Biblical examples of MATURE CHRISTIAN faith.
I think that all of these people are probably SINCERE, and they are not unbiblical, but these are not examples of a HIGHER WAY. That is what I want to strive against, that these are in anyway a higher calling. DIFFERENT, not HIGHER.
GOD SHOULDN’T BE YOUR ONLY HAPPINESS
As many of you know, I am preaching this series in conjunction with a BOOK I am writing. My WORKING SUBTITLE is “God shouldn’t be your only happiness,” because he doesn’t want to be.
* The Biblical example is God FILLING this world with JOYS and HAPPINESS that he DELIGHTS in us DELIGHTING IN.
Psalm 104:14-15 14 He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate-- bringing forth food from the earth: 15 wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.
This isn’t an ISOLATED example; Scripture is BRIMMING with examples of God wanting us to delight in the things of earth.
My book projected started out focusing much more on spiritual joys, but that was changed when I did an EXTENSIVE WORD STUDY on words like “joy” and “delight” in Scripture.
I found about 750 such references in the Bible and then went through them one by one and noted who was experiencing the joy, did the Bible approve or disapprove of it, and was the joy caused by earthly or spiritual things.
Q What do you think the SPREAD was of OT to NT joy references?
* Three-fourths of references to joy were in the OT, and the OT is about three-fourths of the Bible – joy is EVENLY SPREAD!
I looked specifically at all the times joy “done” by anyone other than God and is either COMMANDED or APPROVED of.
Q What do you think the break down was between “EARTHLY” and “SPIRITUAL” joys?
This is where it gets INTERESTING:
In the OT, about 45% of approved joys were purely EARTHLY, 40% spiritual, and the remaining 15% mixed spiritual and earthly. In the NT however only 5% were earthly and 95% were spiritual.2
Remember what I said about the OT and the NT WORKING TOGETHER, that the OT focuses on earthly, temporal realities and the NT on heavenly, spiritual realities?3
The NT DOESN’T REPLACE the OT. It’s not as if God though that earthly joys were good in the OT, but changed his mind between the testaments. Instead, the writers of the NT could FOCUS on the SPIRITUAL because the OT covered the earthly.
HAVING FUN WITH, BUT WITHOUT, GOD
The long and the short of this is that God wants us to find our JOY in HIM, in spiritual and eternal things, but also in EARTHLY and temporal THINGS.
I love playing with my DAUGHTERS, being with them is one my deepest delights. But how would I feel if I bought them a SPECIAL GIFT but they refused to open it because they feel like they should be with me instead of playing with a toy.
* It’s UNBIBLICAL to be UNBALANCED in either direction, Stoic (towards spiritual joys) or Indulgent (toward earthly ones).
God wants us to enjoy many pleasures SOMETIMES MORE than PRAYER. It can be perfectly godly to enjoy a MEAL more than COMMUNION. And I don’t mind in the least if JESUS were to COME BACK and find me enjoying this EARTHLY life he has blessed me with.
As you may have also guessed, I am NOT going to LEAVE it THERE. While some of you may THINK that we should FOLLOW that RADICAL approach, I doubt any of us really do. You probably just feel GUILTY when you read books like “Crazy Love.”
* HALF of my GOAL for this message for you to feel LESS GUILTY about enjoying this life.
But only half. The OTHER HALF is to PUSH, to INVITE, to PROD normal Christians towards becoming RADICALLY NORMAL. I don’t want a CHURCH full of STOIC, HYPER-SPIRITUAL RADICALS, nor one filled with INDULGENT, CARNAL NORMALS.
RADICAL OR NORMAL?
To SUM UP what I have said so far: It is radical to abandon earthly pleasures for the sake of eternal joy.
Q What then is the NORMAL way people live in our culture (and I specifically mean our CULTURE, it is different in others)?
It is normal to PURSUE INSTANT GRATIFICATION at the expense of LONG-TERM happiness and ETERNAL JOY.
* THIS WEEK we can only FOCUS on LONG-TERM HAPPINESS, next week it will be eternal joy.
MAKING OUR KIDS HAPPY
Let’s talk about long term HAPPINESS vs. instant GRATIFICATION:
Q All of us who are parents want our CHILDREN to grow up to be HAPPY – but what do we MEAN by HAPPY?
Do we mean that they are always in a GOOD MOOD and that they are NEVER UPSET and have EVERYTHING they WANT?
Or do we want them to learn to be HEALTHY, THRIVING, PRODUCTIVE members of society who know how to GROW through HARDSHIPS and DISAPPOINTMENTS?
* The FIRST option is all about the SHORT-TERM gratification and the OTHER about LONG TERM happiness.
As parents our INSTINCT is to PROTECT them from all sorrow, heartache and disappointment. But we know that hurts them in the long run.
* TRAVELOCITY commercial.
I’m reading “The LOST VIRTUE of Happiness,” about choosing long-term happiness over short-term. He tells this story:
When my daughter’s eighth-grade team was being creamed in a soccer game, the coach said at halftime, “Girls, don’t worry about the score. The reason we play soccer is to have fun; so let’s try to have a blast during the second half and go home happy whatever the final result.” ... He was mindlessly parroting the cultural mantra that pleasurable satisfaction is the goal of life. The reasons my wife and I wanted our daughter to play soccer were to learn how to win and to lose, to cooperate with others, to sacrifice for a long-term goal, which requires delaying instant gratification, and-well, you get the picture. (The Lost Virtue of Happiness, p. 16)
KILLING OURSELVES WITH FUN
But LIVING for IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION is what our CULTURE does:
I remembering reading about a YOUNG LADY whose lifestyle was practically KILLING HER – hard partying all weekend, one-night stands, spending money she didn’t have, going deeper into debt.
She went to a counselor because she was out of control and becoming more and more miserable. When the counselor suggested that she maybe ease up a bit, she looked genuinely confused, and asked, “You mean I don’t HAVE to do EVERYTHING I WANT to do?”
* She was living what she’d been TAUGHT – that the PURPOSE of this LIFE is to have FUN now but ended up MISERABLE.
This isn’t just a MODERN problem:
Genesis 25:29-34 29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) 31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” 33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.
If you can WALK in and say you are starving to death, you’re NOT! And it’s not like there wasn’t food around. Drink some GOAT’S MILK or something!
The real issue was that he WANTED it and wanted it NOW! And this is way TOO FAMILIAR. How many of you have paid way TOO MUCH for something because you didn’t want to WAIT?
* Like Esau, we’ll SACRIFICE FUTURE GOOD for a PRESENT PLEASURE.
SELF-EVAL: LOUSY TRADES
Q Think through YOUR LIFE: When was the last time you SACRIFICED long-term happiness for the sake short-term gratification?
Are you still PAYING off a VACATION you took five years ago?
Are you still WORKING OFF those extra helpings of DESSERT?
Have you done long-term DAMAGE to a RELATIONSHIP because you just had to make that cutting remark?
Have ENDED a RELATIONSHIP with a friend or family member because it was just TOO HARD to work through the pain?
If you are LISTENING ONLINE, maybe it was hitting SNOOZE too many times this morning!
All of these decisions seemed like a really GOOD IDEA at the time, when we were only thinking of the IMMEDIATE PAY off.
* The SAD IRONY is that almost every SIN we commit is for the sake of SHORT-TERM HAPPINESS we end up with LONG-TERM MISERY.
10 MINUTES, HOURS, MONTHS, AND YEARS
This is the FIRST PART of being radically normal: Choosing LONG-TERM happiness over immediate gratification.
Q HOW do we do that?
I once heard a speaker (Suzy Welch) give really good questions to ask when making a decision:
1. What will the CONSEQUENCES be in 10 MINUTES?
2. 10 HOURS?
3. 10 MONTHS?
4. 10 YEARS?
Constantly keep these questions in front of you.
Q Let me ask you, will your friends, family, and neighbors consider this RACIAL or NORMAL?
It is NORMAL in that it lines up with what our friends and neighbors want – to be HAPPY. It is radical in that you are ACTUALLY DOING it.
As you live this way, your non-Christian friends won’t look at you as if you’ve grown a third eye. They will be IMPRESSED.
* This appeals to a COMMON DESIRE between Christians and non-Christian, to be happy, which is a deeply BIBLICAL DESIRE.
Don’t ever buy into the NONSENSE that JOY is a BAD thing. It kills me that many people think CHRISTIANITY is about being MISERABLE, inside and outside of the church.
* I saw this COMIC this week: Herman.
Even the most SACRIFICIAL VERSES in the Bible appeal to joy and life as the motive:
Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Luke 9:24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.
Mark 10:28-30 Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!” 29 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-- and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.
This is something I deeply agree with JOHN PIPER on; my only contention with him is that he focuses on “the age to come.”
REFLECTIONS OF JOY
So it is normal in our culture to pursue instant gratification at the expense of long-term happiness and eternal joy.
Q What is RADICALLY NORMAL?
It is radically normal to see all HAPPINESS as a REFLECTION of GOD, and thus to ENJOY the HAPPINESS of this earth even as SEEKING GOD as our highest joy.
This is more PHILOSOPHICAL, which means that it has more to offer in the long run (even THINKING can be divided into INSTANT GRATIFICATION and long term good!)
If God is the SOURCE of all that it GOOD, then all JOY must come from him. Every happiness and every joy must have come from heaven, because it could not have come FROM HELL.
* Even the guys getting PLASTERED in a BAR, but having fun, are reflecting God in some remote, tarnished manner.
Q Why is this important? At least TWO REASONS:
1. UNDERSTANDING SPIRITUAL JOY
First, far from DISTRACTING you from SPIRITUAL JOY, earthly joy can help you UNDERSTAND it and LONG for it more.
I mentioned last week that I was honored to officiate TERESA and CALEB’S WEDDING. I spent the rehearsal getting to know Caleb’s pastor with my limited Spanish and Phil’s translating.
There at the RECEPTION, I was struck how the Bible describes heaven as “the WEDDING FEAST of the LAMB,” and how every tongue, tribe, and nation will be there, and realized that the reception was meant to be slight reflection of heaven.
I thought of two other weddings that I enjoyed: DAVE and ELIZABETH’S with the celebration of redemption, not to mention the great drinks. And a friend out in DC, with an amazing community aspect to it.
If I want to think of the JOY of HEAVEN and the joy that is in God, I think of these THREE WEDDINGS. Together they give me a taste of heaven. Spiritual joy is certainly NOT LESS than these.
2. UNIFIED LIFE
I want to give you the gift of a UNIFIED LIFE. When I did my word study, I was struck by this passage:
Leviticus 23:39-40 39 So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the LORD for seven days; the first day is a day of rest, and the eighth day also is a day of rest. 40 On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.
The wording is very specific: Rejoice BEFORE the Lord, in his presence.
This was their HARVEST FESTIVAL. It was supposed to be a huge party: They are supposed to live in TENTS, eat lots of FOOD and drink lots of WINE, and have a GREAT TIME, in his presences.
Harvest festival are a part of EVERY CULTURE (that what HALLOWEEN began as) and could get pretty wild. God doesn’t say “be SOMBER and have a PRAYER MEETING,” but have a great time.
* But do it in MY PRESENCE, without all of the SORROW and PAIN that comes from PAGAN, SINFUL PARTIES.
GOD IS A FOOTBALL FAN
You are not being SPIRITUAL when you enjoy WORSHIP but CARNAL when you are enjoying a FOOTBALL GAME. There is something unified in them, they are both ENJOYMENT of something God MADE.
* One is not HIGHER in the sense that the MORE MATURE you are the MORE you will ENJOY it and less you’ll enjoy the other.
Here is the BIG point: God is not MORE AT HOME in SPIRITUAL joy than earthly joy. Don’t have TWO BOXES in your life – God-fun and real-fun. There is no DIVIDING LINE between the two.
Certainly certain things are MORE APPROPRIATE at certain times than others, but I don’t want us to BRACKET off the SPIRITUAL joys lest we NOT INVITE GOD to the earthly time.
* My goal is that you be able to FLOW EASILY between having any FUN and breathing a quick “thank you” PRAYER.
Of course that assumes that your FUN and joy are not tainted by SIN and REBELLION, which is NOT a SAFE ASSUMPTION, but we will have to handle that topic in a LATER SERMON.
SELF-EVAL: ENJOYING JOY
Earlier I asked you to evaluate how much you valued instant gratification over long-term joy. Now I want you to EVALUATE your VIEW of EARTHLY JOY:
Q Are you COMPLETELY COMFORTABLE with EARTHLY JOY or do you WORRY that it isn’t spiritual enough?
Q Can you have FUN “BEFORE GOD”?
Q Are you able to see EARTHLY JOY as APPETIZER for HEAVEN?
Of course you may be TOO COMFORTABLE with EARTHLY joy, and it is SPIRITUAL JOY that you need to focus on, which is why I put “listen to NEXT WEEK’S SERMON” on the COMMUNICATION CARD!
* But for now, I want you to LITERALLY have FUN in GOD’S PRESENCE.
* PPT: Please text Janna; service is almost over: 333-4505
Q & A
2 Read more about the study or see a copy of it at http://bit.ly/rnxjoystudy
3 “The Radically Normal Christian II: Work, Ministry, and the OT”: http://bit.ly/tgmv171