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Pursuit of HappinessIn my last two posts, I reflected a bit upon the prominence that Scripture gives to joy in the Christian life, as well as the nature and character of this joy that we are commanded to have. We learned from Scripture that joy is not merely a decision of our will, but an affection of our heart. We also learned that joy is a gift and fruit of the Spirit of God, something we can’t just work up in ourselves. But we also saw clearly that it is our “bounden duty,” as Spurgeon said, to pursue our joy.

How is that possible? How are we supposed to obey the command to rejoice in the Lord always if true Christian joy is a gift of God?

I love the way the Scottish Puritan Henry Scougal answers this question. He says,

“All the art and industry of man cannot form the smallest herb, or make a stalk of corn to grow in the field; it is the energy of nature, and the influences of heaven, which produce this effect; it is God ‘who causeth the grass to grow, and the herb for the service of man’ (Ps 104:14); and yet nobody will say that the labours of the [farmer] are useless or unnecessary….” (The Life of God in the Soul of Man, 78–79).

You see, man can’t make grass grow. We can’t make the land sprout fruit and vegetables. Those are blessings that come to us as the gift of God. But God has ordained that the earth yield its produce by means of the farmer’s labors. In the same way, we can’t fabricate or manufacture joy by seeking to manipulate our feelings, or by whipping ourselves up into an emotional frenzy. Spirit-wrought, God-exalting joy is a gift that He gives. But God has ordained that we bear this fruit of the Spirit through means. And so when Paul commands us to, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he is commanding us to make diligent use of the means the Spirit employs in working genuine joy in us.

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One online encyclopedia (yes, I am a Wikiholic) describes a flash mob as:

a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression…”

The dubious honor of inventing flash mobbing belongs to Bill Wasik, the senior editor of Harper’s. He claimed the idea appealed to him as an oddball social experiment, as well as holding the promise of potential notoriety for him being credited with starting the next big thing. Ironically, it kinda worked.

heart flash mobOn June 17, 2003 Wasik employed nascent social media networking to arrange for about 150 people to meet at four staging areas in Manhattan bars. There they received their mission, and proceeded to converge on a specific locale, namely a particular rug in the furnishing department on the ninth floor of Macy’s.

The atmosphere was electric as this bevy of strangers suppressed knowing smiles and did their best to maintain a poker face as they each answered the repeated question of the sales assistants. Whenever they were asked what they needed or if they could be helped, each of the flash mobbers simply explained that they were all part of a commune that occupied a bare warehouse, and that they were collectively deciding on a “love rug” that they all liked.

And then, as suddenly as the mob had convened, it dissipated like a colony of startled ants disgorged from the department store and vanished into the anonymity of New York City’s sidewalks.

What is the point of all that effort and co-ordination, you may be excused for predictably asking. The answer is: nothing. And that’s the point.

The term “flash mob” was added to the 11th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, whose definition included the distinctive of this crowding as being “unusual and pointless” as opposed to purposeful public gatherings, like protests.

There is another spontaneous crowd formation in history that seemed pointless to some observers, but in reality was the most meaningful public gathering in human history.

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Rejoice in the Lord Always 2Last week I shared some passages about the centrality that joy has in the Christian life. Today, I’d like to think more about the nature of joy so that we know precisely what it is we are to pursue in our walk with Christ.

Joy is a Duty

First, we must recognize that we are commanded to rejoice. Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil 4:4; cf. 1 Thess 5:16). He is not making a request, nor merely offering a suggestion as if to say, “If you’d really like to make progress in your Christian life, if you really want to be a mature Christian, you might consider diligently pursuing your joy in God.” No! He’s speaking to all the Christians at the church of Philippi (1:1), and by extension to all Christians today. He is informing us of our duty. It is a present imperative, and so even if he didn’t include the word “always,” the original language would still have the force of: “Be continually rejoicing.”

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Warren Buffett, nicknamed the Oracle of Omaha, is known as the world’s greatest investor. In 1950, at age 20, he had saved $9,400 (about $100k in today’s money). He set out to invest it, applying his long-term, value-based, focussed portfolio philosophy, which his author Robert Hagstrom termed “The Warren Buffett Way.”  Buffett increased his net worth to $62 billion, making him the richest person in the world. Nipping at his heels for that enviable title was the young Microsoft mogul, Bill Gates.Bill Gates and Buffet

The two richest men in the world were friends, with a friendly rivalry about their wealth. They were not competing to see who could have the most money. Instead, paradoxically, their rivalry was a race to give away money to worthy causes. Together the Buffett Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation were donating hundreds of millions and billions of dollars to a long list of charities, including the global eradication of polio, child vaccination efforts, HIV research, and neglected tropical diseases such as leprosy.

But on July 25, 1996 the rivalry came to an abrupt and unpredictable end.

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Joy - DefinitionThere are few topics that are more worthy of the Christian’s study and attention than the topic of Christian joy and rejoicing. Gordon Fee hits the nail on the head when he writes, “Joy…lies at the heart of the Christian experience of the gospel; it is the fruit of the Spirit in any truly Christian life, serving as primary evidence of the Spirit’s presence” (The Epistle to the Philippians, 81). He goes onto say that, “Unmitigated, untrammeled joy is . . . the distinctive mark of the believer in Christ Jesus” (ibid., 404). The great British expositor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, wrote that, “Nothing was more characteristic of the first Christians than this element of joy” (Life of Peace, 143). Elsewhere he said, “The greatest need of the hour is a revived and joyful church” (Spiritual Depression, 5). And perhaps the great Puritan Richard Baxter said it best when he said, “Delighting in God, and in his word and ways, is the flower and life of true religion” (The Cure of Melancholy, 257).

This teaching absolutely permeates the entire New Testament and is everywhere confirmed by it. Take in this staggering emphasis on the centrality of joy in the Christian life as revealed in Scripture.

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Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is a collection of entertaining stories narrated by Medieval pilgrims to pass the time on their journey. One storyteller who spins a yarn for his ambulant audience is the Pardoner. He is a priest whose job it s to dole out penance and grant pardon to the penitent for their sins. As it turns out, this empathetic Pardoner is himself intimately acquainted with the very debauchery he so liberally pardons. His findings are encapsulated in the Latin dictum: Radix malorum est cupiditas (literally, “the root of evil is greed”).Money on the brain

The plot of the Pardoner’s Tale concerns three men who blame Death for all the pain and suffering in the world. (Bear in mind that the Pardoner’s opinion is that greed is to blame, not death).

The three friends vow to find Death and kill him once for all. On their quest they meet a old, poor man, who tells the determined young hunters where to locate Death. He promises that they will find Death waiting for them under the old oak tree. They bravely head out to said tree.

When they arrive at the designated oak, what they find astonishes them: a huge stash of gold coins. The gold is enough to make all three of them rich for the rest of their lives, if split equally. But, naturally, they all covet more than their rightful share, and they each begin to ponder ways of acquiring a larger slice of the pie.

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