Five Contextual Agreements for 2018

Beginning the year is always an interesting time in the blogging world. Christian leaders make their predictions on the church, changes, and challenges for the coming year. Three of the best lists I have seen thus far are Carey Nieuwhof’s, Thom Ranier’s and Chuck Lawless’s. Rather than create my own, I have decided to list five which directly connect to my context and what I am wrestling with as a church planter. Here they go in no particular order:

One: Carey’s number one disruptive trend is “A move beyond church in the box.” Chuck Lawless predicts, “Life-on-life, genuine community will ground people in a church.”

I combine these two together because I believe they go hand in hand. Especially in the Portland area, people crave authenticity and accessibility. As Nieuwhof articulates, gone are days when “you sat down Thursday night at 8 to watch your favorite show, because you didn’t want to miss it.” Yet, churches still function on a set time and schedule which is not on-demand. I will address this later, but the on-demand culture does not mean the physical space will cease to exist; instead, the culture enhances it.

“Bottom line? Churches who only think Sunday and who only think building will continue to shrink. In 2018, if coming to Christ means coming to your church in a set location and a set hour, you need a new strategy” says Carey.

How will people engage with the local church? A life-on-life genuine community will attract and connect people to a local church. These life-on-life relationships are on demand and can be engaged with a quick text, Facetime, Facebook message, etc. Conversation can happen in an instant, followed by a genuine embodiment of the characteristics of Christ. Hence, spiritual formation and discipleship will become essential for the local church to thrive moving forward.

In fact, one of my current projects is a series of conversation points followed by basic resources for anyone to employ in an on-the-go world.

Two: The Team is Eclipsing the Solo Leader. I am a church planter and my greatest desire is to have 1-2 other spiritually mature couples to move to Vancouver and co-lead with me and my wife. While The Village Church is not the first to function with three lead pastors, they are the church which has the most viable track record and visible presence. These other lead pastors would help oversee and champion mobilization and spiritual formation. These pastors would help expand the good already in the community. These other pastors would help free me up for what I do well, and I, in turn, will enable them to lead out of their strengths. “The leader who can do everything well is being eclipsed by the team that can do everything well.” To reach, teach, equip and send a diverse group of people will require a diverse and well-rounded team.

Three: Thom Ranier notes, “The e-book has not proved to be nearly as popular as we thought it would be. Many blog writers are reporting declines in readership. But audio books are rising in popularity. Listeners are moving to podcasts so they can learn while they jog, drive, and exercise. Outside of preaching podcasts, churches have many other opportunities to reach and disciple people through audio ministries.” The Village Church does this through their ‘Knowing Faith’ podcast which takes complex theological issues and makes them accessible in order to equip the everyday Christian.

In Vancouver, people are increasingly working odd hours and 50 hour-plus weeks via two jobs. Therefore, having a small group on Tuesday evenings is ceasing to be an option (think point #1). Spiritual formation will occur as they walk to work, ride their bike, or on the MAX (public transit). As Lawless notes, while this will increase, the subsequent results will be less evangelism. The life-on-life portion of discipleship is so crucial, evangelism must be modeled so that discipleship leads to evangelism. I have stated before how both are the wings of a disciple-making airplane.
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Four: One of the options to maintain a viable presence in the community is a trend which Ranier highlights: “Churches moving into retail spaces.” Anecdotally I have seen greater success for church plants who have rented a storefront. The brick and mortar can be used throughout the week, can be multi-purpose, and don’t require extensive set-up for services on Sunday. In addition, the presence enables a return to the parish model (see point five). Where we are specifically looking to plant, there is an abundance of affordable retail space. I envision a ministry center which can double as a worship space. I envision a place that is filled with worship and ministry seven days a week. A place of resource for the needy. A place of growth for the spiritually hungry. A place which champions and models unity. A place of worship for the gathered church. A place of sending for the scattering during the week. A hub for life and ministry in the community, in the neighborhood, and in the home.

Five: “The rise of the neighborhood church.” The parish model is on a comeback. Because people like their craft or customized “fill-in-the-blank” (i.e coffee, beer) they will increasingly expect this in their church. Further, pastors will be forced to lead wellness for their whole community. They are not just the pastor of the people who attend the church on a Sunday service. They are also the pastor of a select community. A church will gain credibility in our skeptical world when it seeks the good of the whole community. This can only be done when they understand the narrative of the neighborhood and highlight how the story of God brings wellness. It will be increasingly difficult for pastors to know the narrative of multiple neighborhoods. Therefore, multiplication of churches will happen when a group of people lives in another neighborhood. In order for this to be effective, team leadership must be modeled and championed.

These five create a perfect storm for a revival of old models and methods blended with the technological advancement of the twenty-first century. Regardless of theory and prediction, would you join me in praying for the advancement of God’s kingdom during 2018?

A Value: Story over Sin

We all like a good story. A good story simulates our souls and evokes our emotions. I went and saw The Last Jedi. People have such divided opinions on the movie because of how they are connected to the largest Star Wars metanarrative.

I will indict myself in this next number, but in America 490 billion dollars are spent watching movies and being entertained watching stories.  The average American spends 5 hours and 4 minutes daily watching tv, which increases when you have a streaming service. That kind of money and time into being entertained by stories either that we can relate to or that we can escape from (watch something non-sensical). We have been hard-wired by our Creator to be drawn into stories in a real way—we kind of need them. Think about it: before movies, there were plays, campfires, dinner tables, cave walls. We were created in a story and for a story.

The problem of our consumption of stories is that stories shape us and disciple us. They give us a worldview, a way of seeing the world around us. According to Matt Chandler and Tim Keller, in our American context, there are five false narratives which we consume that conflict with the narrative to which we as Christians submit.

  • Consumerism: the good life means that you have the kind of stuff that people would look to you and see – the meaning of life is getting more stuff. More will make you happy
  • Secularism: all there is what you can see and verify. The happier you will be is once you realize there is no supernaturalism.
  • Nationalism: success and supremacy of our own nation from political purity would make our world a better place.
  • Progressivism: just keep making forward progress that we will move our way toward utopia.
  • Cynicism: nothing can be trusted, everyone is in it for their own gain, nothing is beautiful, doubt anything good or beautiful. The only trusted source is self.

Trying to live life under one of these false narratives is like continuously picking up rocks. You have to keep picking up rocks. Eventually, the rocks you pick up crush you. In the world, real people, your neighbor, your co-workers are being crushed by these narratives.

We are drinking these narratives in with every movie, idea. Because we all consume something, we will stumble back into one of these narratives. When we act on and adopt these narratives we are lead to sin. Ultimately, each of these narratives entices us to believe the lie that we are at the center of the story.

Christians are not immune to the pervasiveness of these lies. When we reflect on our life we can often see God as one of the characters in our story. We look for him when we need him and expect him to be grateful when we serve him. He is a lovely piece of our story, but we still think of it as our story. But it is not our story. It is God’s story as creator and rescuer. We exist to expand the goodness of His story throughout the world.

The story God as told in the Bible is the only true narrative. Our disbelief in who God is and how he acts leads us into sin–defining right and wrong according to our perspective instead of God’s. God’s story shapes everything.

Christians have one true story really well so that we can spot the false narratives. This involves the ones we believe first, those that the culture spews second, and those others believe third. Before we can move past this point, we have to know how God’s story intersects our individual stories.

There is a murderer turned missionary named Paul in the Bible who started a church in the ancient city of Ephesus. While in prison, He writes back to the church as he awaits trial in Rome for sharing the story of Jesus and it’s implications.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously lived according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air,the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus,so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do. – Ephesians 2:1-10

For believers, you and I have this story in common. We have a shared story. I do not know about you, but the first time I was made alive was in the second row of a youth conference where God took me from death to life. It is the place where my self-created identity failed and God said, “Mine.”

“Dead in trespasses and sins” and the consequences of destructive actions explain where we come from and what’s wrong with the world. Into the brokenness, God sends the Son to save.

The sending of Jesus did not happen because God was putting together a team of super people. We were not saved because our parents were good disciple-makers. We were not saved because God looked at our unique skill-set and said: “Oh I could use some of that in my kingdom.” We were not saved because we used to do bad things and now we don’t. We were saved because God is gracious and kind and in His mercy he saved us.

This common story transcends all of our differences Which is why the church can come together being politically, socio- economically, racially different. So you have where we come from, what went wrong, how God has fixed it, and our purpose in life all in 10 verses. This is our story and this story is incompatible with the five false narratives. You cannot embrace our story and embrace these other narratives. There is no group hugging these narratives together.

What do you do to help you reorient yourself to the one true story?

Likely, you attend Sunday worship services and at most, you spend 2-3 hours weekly to reorient you to the grand narrative. Now compare that time allotment to the 5 hours and 4 minutes you spend daily consuming false narratives (feel free to lump in social media for you non-tv watchers).

We cannot just reorient ourselves to God story when we gather, but the story has to be evident when we scatter. We have to be so caught up in God’s story that we choose story over sin. When we filter every area of life through the gospel we put God’s story over sin.

The gospel is: God himself has come to rescue and renew all creation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Every area means every area…the good and the bad. We can apply the gospel to all areas of life. Here are a few worldview examples…

Our story compels us to be generous, while consumerism says hoard or get your own. Our story is that everything that has been given to us is by the grace of God and should be held loosely at our fingertips eager to give it away and be generous to others.

Our story drives us to see the beauty and goodness in God’s world, while cynicism says there is no real good. Our story is that God has been kind to us even when we did not deserve it and were even not kind in return. Therefore, we should strive to cultivate beauty, justice, and trust just as our God did for us.

Our story acknowledges that we cannot solve our own problems, while progressivism says we will eventually find a manmade solution. Our story is that God provides the solution to sin and brokenness in Jesus Christ through his selfless love. One day He will bring full restoration and right all wrongs. Therefore, we can serve and love self-sacrificially with no strings attached.

Our story sends us to hear other’s stories and testify about the one true story before we condemn anyone for their sin. Jesus does not expect us to become the saviors and behavior modify people out of sin. We are invited to live in response to the story of the savior. God’s story overcomes our sin.

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A Growing Heart Gives Thanks

A few weeks ago I attempted to get back into the lifting mode. I have been going to 24-hour fitness a few days a week to play basketball, but since my college football career ended I have not done any serious lifting. After a few games of pick-up, I pull off my basketball shoes and put on some others and head into the workout area. Jim and I were going to bench. As I and a couple guys walk that way, I notice something. Everyone seems to have on headphones. I am not a music person, so as I observe the room I wonder why people listen to music. Being curious, I ask Jim, why he listened to music when he worked out. His response was profound. “I use music for motivation. Everyone needs motivation.”

We all need motivation. We all use something for motivation. What do you do for motivation? Where do you go for motivation? Or better, what is your motivation?

God desires to grow our heart. If we are honest, this world is tough on our heart. Rather than experience a growing heart, it is easy to experience a shrinking heart with increasing skepticism, pessimism. For something like a workout, music is appropriate. For life, we need something more lasting.

TheBranch.GrowingHeart.Kyle.008For Christians, our driving motivation is something called the gospel. I love how the Three Circles Method encapsulates the message of the gospel.

Brokenness – We live in this world and it is characterized by brokenness. We do not have to look very hard to see this. It seems like every week the news gets worse. Sex scandals, violent shootings, that’s just on a national level. For you, it might be financial troubles, crazy kids, loss of a loved one. Even if you are someone who thinks life is pretty good, chances are you have a growing skepticism and concern of the world at large. Mentally you go somewhere, or practically you do something to maintain your motivation to keep going.

God’s Design – The world we live in was not God’s original design. The way that we have gotten ourselves into brokenness is something the Bible calls sin. All sin really is, is defining good and evil according to what we think is best, or better, that we can do anything better than God. Turning away from God’s Design and pursuing our own way.

Brokenness eventually leads us to death and destruction. Ultimately, separation from God.

God doesn’t want us to be in brokenness so he gives us a way through the brokenness. That way is Jesus. Jesus comes and enters into our brokenness. The death that we deserve for brokenness, Jesus takes our place and dies on the cross after living a perfect life. Then, Jesus rose from the dead making a way out of brokenness.

People try many things to get out of brokenness: religion, success, relationships with other people, education, abusing substances to escape. None of these things extract us from the circumstances of life.

The only way through is to turn from our sin and to believe that Jesus lived, died, and rose for us. We can then begin to experience God’s design in our life as we get to know Jesus. We are then sent back into brokenness to make Jesus known and help others pursue God’s Design. One day, the hope of eternity is how God will eliminate the brokenness and we will live fully in a restored world.

God wants us to experience His design and therefore grow our heart. In the midst of life, God’s desire is for us to be motivated by the future hope we have through Jesus and live in the present as if it is already here.

We see this when circumstances are far from ideal in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. The backstory for this book is found in the book of Acts. It is where Paul and his coworker Silas went to the Ancient Greek city of Thessalonica. After one month of telling the good news about King Jesus, a large number of Jewish and Greek people gave their allegiance to Jesus and became the first church community there. But trouble was brewing. Paul’s announcement of the risen Jesus as the true Lord of the world led to suspicion. As the hearts of the people changed, their actions began to reflect attitudes of gratitude and joy and action peace and love, which were subversive to the culture.

The Christians in Thessalonica were eventually accused of defying Caesar, the Roman Emperor, and they said there is another king named Jesus–they were merely following His example. The persecution actually became so intense that they had to flee the city. This was painful for them because they loved the people there so much.

This letter is Paul’s attempt to reconnect with the Christians in Thessalonica after he got a report from Timothy that they were doing more than okay, that they were flourishing despite this intense persecution. Paul writes the letter with two movements. The first is a celebration of their faithfulness to Jesus. Then, he challenges them to keep growing as followers of Jesus.

The Thessalonians lived in a culture where all of life was permeated by institutions and practices which honored the Greek and Roman gods. Transferring your allegiance from the gods of the age to the Creator God through King Jesus this came at a cost: isolation from your neighbors, hostility from your family.

But for the Thessalonians, the overwhelming love Jesus who died for them and the hope of His return made it all worth it. Everything they did was motivated by hope in the coming kingdom of Jesus, a full return to God’s Design.

As Paul concluded his letter, he encourages the Thessalonians to live out the will of God.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray constantly, 18 give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

One of the oft-said phrases when taking Xavier on a bike ride is “Look up. Look ahead. See where you are going.” Inevitably he becomes distracted, nervous, too confident, and ends up getting stuck in the grass, or getting stuck on the curb.

When we do not look up, look ahead, and see where we are going we will likely wreck.

Playing basketball on a regular basis, I am always amazed at how many guys dribble with their heads down, especially when they are pretty good players. When their head is down, their eyes are down. Because they are not looking up they miss obstacles, players trapping, and opportunities, players making good cuts.

When we do not look up, look ahead, and see where we are going we miss obstacles and opportunities.

I remember teaching my sisters how to drive. Initially, they would always look right at the front of the car, or even at the car in the next lane over. My words echo what I say to Xavier as he rides his bike–look ahead. Your eyes take you where you want to go. Good eye discipline keeps you in your lane and allows you to anticipate by making adjustments when other cars break, or you need to make a lane change.

When we do not look up, look ahead, and see where we are going we are ill prepared to travel the road ahead.

When Paul encourages the Thessalonians to give thanks [to God] in everything (or all circumstances). We are directly challenged. The qualifiers Paul adds to basic thankfulness conveys the importance of thanking God within all circumstances of life, even the difficult ones. In Thessalonica, these circumstances include suffering. It is important to notice, however, that Paul reminds the Thessalonians to give thanks in everything, not for everything.

I was reminded of this passage when I heard of the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A gunman entered a small, rural Southern Baptist church and opened fire, killing over 25 people according to reports. This horrific event has stirred up another round of cultural debate over gun laws, showing that our society is not only sharply divided but willfully politicized. Blood has not even cooled on the ground before pundits issue their pronouncements. Lost in much of the commentary was the fact that Devin Kelley was apparently denied a gun license by the state of Texas. Evil, it seems, will overcome almost any barrier. I appreciate how Owen Strachan’s response to such evil.

We know this from the Word of God: evil has an expiration date. Jesus is going to return. He is going to judge the quick and the dead. Those in Christ will be privy to experiencing God’s design in full. Those apart from Christ will get their hearts longing with life eternal apart from GOD.

Our secular age speaks much of justice, in truth. But secular justice has no Christ. Specifically, it has no Christ-centered hope of eternity. It tells us that things are getting better, that we are making “progress,” that we can solve the world’s problems. We have to. We have to get it right, now! Though we can surely make gains in our society, we cannot heal our world. Only Christ can. Only Christ will. 

The Christian approach is decidedly different when it comes to the pain and suffering of this world. Since the believer trusts in a sovereign God who can turn any situation to their good and who can make someone more than triumphant in any adversity or other circumstance. Thus, our heart grows. We can love, forgive, be selfless because the death of the body is not the death of the soul.

Thanksgiving to God is to be given in adversity and prosperity, for no matter what happens all things work together for the believer’s good. To be thankful is a fruit of grace and is in contrast to the constant grumblings and ingratitude of a godless world. Look around. Our world is filled with blame and complain. The quick politicization of every tragedy will surely provide enough example. If all you have to live for is this life, then, of course, you get upset when something happens to mess all of that up.

Gratitude is subversive to the attitude of our day.  Gratitude is a sign of God’s Design. A Christian can be thankful because they have their eyes on eternity.

 

What motivates us to go forward is being thankful for the hope of eternity we are heading toward. Keep your eyes on eternity. Look where you are going.

How To Stay In The Conversation (Part 3)

images.jpegI stumbled across this show on CBS called Bull. I probably have binged a little too hard on it, but the show has been fascinating. The lead actor plays a psychologist who is an expert in trial science. The premise of the show is how every case has facts and every jury (every day people) hear these facts differently. So, Dr. Bull and his team weave the objective facts of the case with a creative narrative together to win legal cases. In most episodes, Dr. Bull chooses to work for the innocent party. The defendant will likely be found guilty aside from his help because the jury has already subconsciously found the defendant guilty prior to any case being heard. Sometimes this subconscious verdict is based on the media, sometimes on how the defendant is dressed or appears, or even the jury’s own self-projection from their life experiences. Dr. Bull and his team choose to present a case and narrative together which highlights the facts the jurors will actually hear.

Throughout the episodes, the narratives usually get quite creative. However, what has never been argued: 1) the objective and verifiable facts, 2) our experiences color how we see and interpret these facts, and 3) there are always more facts to be discovered.

The natural question in today’s world: Can we ever be objective about the facts?

In my optimism, I believe we can get objective facts, but what to do about those facts and how we interpret them will always be highly subjective.

The initial blog post asked: How do you stand firm in a Kingdom worldview while remaining humble and teachable in posture?

My answer: Resilient communication.

So far, I have shared the first two steps (saturation & care). The third step is FACT.

I define FACT as information without bias. Bull provides a colorful depiction of how difficult it is to present the facts without spin. It is inherent in our nature to filter everything we hear through our own lens.

In our culture where truth is “relevant” or “subjective,” FACT seems like an elusive word. The term Fake News has been tossed around. CNN recently ran an ad campaign about defining facts (to which some of you may find ironic). In most cases, everything has a spin. Most facts are articulated from personal perspective and experience, which come in layers and vary widely. Give the NY Post’s quiz on how Facebook defines hate speech a try to see how subjective statements can be. What is the core truth beneath these layers?

Because people are not all-knowing we must learn to ask good questions about the potential narrative being sold to us. Therefore, when staying in the conversation we should present what we think we know humbly and sincerely. Direct information with no judgment is a must. Statements without sentiment should be shared to find common ground from which a relationship can be built.

I would argue whatever facts we do present should be loosely at our fingertips, ready and willing to hear new information. When new information is discovered, we should show grace. Further, avoid leading or suggestive questions. In a conversation which you are trying to listen and learn, you must be careful not to skew the potential response. Suggesting a prepackaged answer will likely create barriers, rather than take them down. We tend to share our views of the facts or our interpretations of them to win, persuade, or achieve some hidden objective.

If the goal is to stay in the conversation, then we must learn to present information without bias. Here are some examples of FACT:

  • Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during the national anthem to raise awareness about the police brutality against black men, women, and teenagers.
  • Marijuana affects the parts of the brain that control emotions, memory, and judgment.
  • The Bible is God’s special revelation of himself.

These three sentences could be stated very differently.

  • Colin Kaepernick is desecrating the American flag.
  • Marijuana causes negative damage to a person’s body and image.
  • It is wrong to believe in both evolution and the what the Bible says.

These are probably exaggerated and not the best examples. However, when we are in the heat of conversation, we need to be aware of which statements are facts and which sentiments are our feelings toward what has happened.

As a Christian, we need not fear Christianity in the marketplace of worldviews. I believe a Christian worldview is unparalleled to any other worldview. The narrative of God himself coming to rescue and renewal all creation through the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ is the ultimate narrative. Any other narrative which competes for supremacy will inadequately deal with the brokenness of life.

As you talk with your neighbors, co-workers, friends, family, and others online, do you espouse a worldview consistent with Christ, or bias and barriers?

Find the facts. Listen and learn. Stay in the conversation.

Making Jesus Known

Yesterday I had the privilege to preach at The Branch again. View the sermon here. I will have a few more opportunities before the end of the year. We continued our series “Jesus is_______.” The idea from the series comes from Judah Smith’s book Jesus Is______. However, the burden for the series arises out of the mission of The Branch Church. Many people in the Pacific Northwest are uninformed, misinformed, or under-informed about who Jesus is. Therefore, the Branch has a singular mission which affects everything it does. Dave and Lori Vigna have done a wonderful job of keeping this mission front and center.

Know Jesus. Make Him Known.

We need to have an accurate depiction of Jesus. The Jesus we imagine will be the Jesus we follow. The type of Jesus we imagine or characterize a lot about how we feel and then subsequently act in light of our belief about who Jesus is.

How do you picture Jesus? Jesus uses various titles to describe himself in the Gospels, one of the most referred to titles is the “Son of Man.” It is a way in which Jesus testifies that He is the long-awaited Messiah. How would you complete the following sentence: ‘The Son of Man came…’?

There are three ways that the New Testament completes that sentence; while the first two are well known (and might have come to your mind), the third is usually surprising:

  • The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
  • The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).
  • The Son of Man came eating and drinking (Luke 7:34).

While the first two oft-quoted verses tell us about Jesus’ purpose in coming–to serve, to give his life as a ransom, to seek and save the lost–the third describes his method. If you flipped through the pages of the Bible and made some basic observations, there are a couple things I think you will notice about Jesus: 1) He is always being invited to parties. 2) He is always at a feast or eating a meal with someone. 3) Complete strangers are coming up to him, both to make audacious requests and to simply be near him.  4) Jesus was always with people. 5) He was always celebrating—at parties, at festivals, at holidays even with the cross coming at the end of his life.

Unknown-1I am convinced some of us have a false view of Jesus. We think of Jesus as some stern old guy looking at everyone in disapproval.  We think Jesus and fun are fundamentally opposed, that God is a cosmic party pooper. Nothing could be further from the truth. That is a better picture of the Pharisees. Those far from God hated the Pharisees, but they absolutely loved Jesus. God invented happiness. He came up with the concept of humor. He created our ability to have fun. He built a beautiful world and gave us five senses to enjoy it.

Jesus is Happy. Jesus smiles. Jesus laughed. Jesus made jokes. Even think about your own experiences. You enjoy a good party. You enjoy friends and laughter. A defining theological principle throughout Scripture is that people are made in the image of God. Therefore, I think God has the best sense of humor and ultimately Jesus was one of the happiest people in the purest sense.

In talking about Jesus, Hebrews 1:9 says, “he was anointed with the oil of gladness above his companions.”

Jesus Is Happy.

That may be a controversial statement for some. Before I go too much farther, let me make another statement. I believe God wants us to be happy.

But here is the thing, being happy, or better, happiness is a fickle thing. In our culture today, happiness has been co-opted in a myriad of ways. Happiness is not an absence of conflict, nor of ultimate comfort. Happiness is not found, rather it is grown.

The pursuit of happiness is like trying to grab smoke. Happiness is like a mirage that we think we see as real, but as soon as we get close it disappears. People attempt to find happiness in status, individual satisfaction, security, and even in the search for self. Happiness makes a great emotion but a terrible master.

The outward display of happiness comes and goes like seasons. I liken the emotion of happiness to a plant. Let’s face it, sometimes we just do not feel happy, nor should we be. God has given us plenty of other valid emotions. Happiness is the fruit or flower of a plant, while internal joy is the root. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, which comes and goes with the circumstances of our life. Joy is rooted internally planted by the seed of salvation.

Therefore, if we want the genuine outward display of happiness to be Christ-like, then we have to cultivate the deep roots of joy. We should not chase after happiness. We should chase after Jesus.

I love how excited Jesus gets when the 72 return in Luke 10:17-24, even though Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem, knowing he is heading there to die. I think it is one of Jesus’s happiest moments.

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you (I think Jesus is making fun of Satan). However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Joy is rooted in eternity. Happiness is a natural result of knowing God and of experiencing his love. We are created by God and for God and we are restless wanderers until we find ourselves in God. Which means, we are happiest when we are joining God in what He is doing.

Trevin Wax in This is Our Time addresses the idea of happiness in light of following Jesus. Many movies allure us into thinking happiness is found when we follow our hearts.

Following Jesus in an era when everyone is following their hearts is difficult, partly because we think we must choose between two options: be authentic and true to yourself, or conform to society’s constraints.

Christianity says, “No thanks” to both. In response to people who believe we should be “authentic” above all else. we say: You don’t know yourself well enough to grasp your deepest desires, and even if you did, your desires are often wrong. We need deliverance from many of our deepest instincts, not the celebration of them.

In response to people who believe we should keep the rules and conform, we say: Salvation does not come through a checklist of rules, as if by willpower we can manage our sin. The gospel frees us from the burden of the law.

Christianity says something different altogether, combining authenticity and conformity in a most creative way.

To be authentic, as a Christian, means I am to be true to the person Christ has named me, not the person I think I am inside. I am to live according to what God says I am–His redeemed child, a person remade in the image of Christ–and I now act in line with that identity. As a Christian, saved by grace through faith, I am not authentic when I sin. I’m sinning against my newfound identity. I am being inauthentic when I choose to disobey God, when I give in to temptation. I’m rejecting the identity God has spoken over me. Tru authenticity is not accepting my own self-expression but accepting the self-expression of God through Jesus Christ.

To be a conformist, as a Christian, means we are seeking to have our minds renewed and our lives transformed. We want to be conformed into the image of Christ. But this conformity means we look like rebels to the rest of the world. The true rebellion is in the heart of the Christian who follows Jesus by swimming upstream against the currents of the world. That means, when everyone else is following their hearts, we will follow Jesus.

The disciples joined Jesus on the journey of eternity. When our story is shaped by God’s story as believers we are to be marked with joy and exude happiness. We should be people of celebration, who really love life! Christians should be the most fun people to be around. We get to live forever!

Eternal life does not start at death; eternal life starts the moment of your conversion. People should look at the church and say “I don’t know if I believe what they believe, but man, they have a good time!”

Jesus was happy and we should be too.