20160520

Perpetual Glee :: Weekend Reading List

“There are expectations that if you achieve some given thing, you’re going to be happy. But it turns out that’s not true.” —  Raj Raghunathan

American culture weaponizes the human desire for happiness. Our founding documents give each citizen the legal right to engage in the “pursuit of happiness.” Our economic environment focuses this pursuit on the accumulation of material items and experiences—wooing all citizens into perpetual consumption, since there is no such thing as a content consumer. Even our dialogue around relationships comes back to one simple question, “are you happy?”

Anything that hinders the pursuit of constant and unconditional happiness—outdated electronics, jobs, marriages— instantly becomes disposable. And though we have more economic prosperity, comfort, connection, and freedom than any other people in the history of the world, we are profoundly unhappy.

In his book If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? marketing professor Raj Raghunathan explores research behind happiness, discontentment, and living a fulfilled life. Joe Pinkster from the The Atlantic summarizes:

There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.

But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.

How we pursue happiness reveals what we truly believe about the world. Sometimes this is obvious: the god of the materialist is his appetite—his liturgy, consumption. Other times we have to look deeper.

A recent article from Quartz proclaims: “The key to happiness at work isn’t money–it’s autonomy.” This is a worldview statement. What will make us happy? More? No, that’s far too bourgeois. We are happy when we can stand on our own two feet—with no authority above and no conflicting responsibilities or relationships alongside. We are happy when we are the god of our own world.

Scripture rebukes this self idolatry—but it doesn’t lead people away from the pursuit of happiness. It’s only through God’s grace that we are free to experience the full depth of worldly happiness without being consumed by it.

What we discover in the security, comfort, and freedom of Christ’s loving embrace is the reality that, in Viktor Frankl’s words, “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 21 (Listen – 2:32)
2 Peter 2 (Listen – 3:52)

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 22 (Listen – 3:53) 2 Peter 3 (Listen – 3:21)
Isaiah 23 (Listen – 2:50) 1 John 1 (Listen – 1:28)

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20160519

Choosing Heaven :: Throwback Thursday

By Jonathan Edwards

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. — 2 Peter 1.5–7

What is it which chiefly makes you desire to go to heaven when you die? Indeed some have no great desire to go to heaven. They do not care to go to hell; but if they could be safe from that, they would not much concern themselves about heaven.

If it is not so with you, but you find that you have a desire after heaven, then inquire what it is for. Is the main reason, that you may be with God, have communion with him, and be conformed to him? Is it that you may see God, and enjoy him there?

Whatever changes as a godly man passes through this life, he is happy; because God, who is unchangeable, is his chosen portion. Though he is meet with temporal losses, and is deprived of many, or even all, of his temporal enjoyments; it is God, whom he prefers before all, who still remains, and cannot be lost.

While he stays in this changeable, troublesome world, he is happy; because his chosen portion, on which he builds as his main foundation for happiness, is above the world, and above all changes. And when he goes into another world, still he is happy, because that portion yet remains. Whatever he be deprived of, he cannot be deprived of his chief portion; his inheritance remains sure to him.

Those earthly enjoyments, on which men chiefly set their hearts, are often most fading. But how great is the happiness of those who have chosen the Fountain of all good, who prefer him before all things in heaven or on earth, and who can never be deprived of him to all eternity!

If you might go to heaven in whatever course you please, would you prefer to all other options the way of strict walk with God? Those who prefer God choose him—not only in the end, but in the way. They had rather be with God than with any other, not only when they come to the end of their journey; but also while they are in their pilgrimage. They choose the way of walking with God, though it be a way of labour, and care, and self-denial.

*Abridged and language updated

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 19-20 (Listen – 3:47)
2 Peter 1 (Listen – 3:06)

20160518

Suffering for Faith

By Søren Kierkegaard

After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. — 1 Peter 5.10

You still have perhaps forty years to live, perhaps only ten, perhaps only a day. You can fill up this time with becoming just like the others: nice, amiable people, above all with whatever counts in having advantages in life, with whatever gains you pleasure.

Let us assume that you succeed in making this kind of life for yourself, and then you die.

You desire, of course, to be saved. But have you ever pondered this–I wonder if it is really true what the gushing preachers assure us, that “in eternity there is sheer joy and happiness.” Do you believe that “every suffering and pain is forgotten”? I do not.

The New Testament makes the very specific exception of one suffering: having suffered for the truth. Or do you believe that Christ’s suffering, and for that matter, anyone else’s who suffered for the truth, is forgotten in eternity?

The intensity of suffering is greatest when you have the power to free yourself from it. I must use my energy to force myself out into the suffering and then use it to endure the suffering.

Voluntary suffering is suspect at three points. First, I must use my strength to compel myself to go forth into the suffering. Second, I must use my strength to bear it. And third, I must put up with the advice of relatives and sympathizers who insist that I go too far. Such is the way of Christian suffering.

Voluntary suffering provides the double collision which is the mark of everything essentially Christian: to become hated, cursed, detested, to have to suffer. No one ever thinks of persecuting someone because he is in poverty against his will, but no one is as hated as the one who voluntarily renounces that in which people naturally center their lives. Only one who is marked by the voluntary can be entrusted with Christ’s command.

Oh Lord, not only do you know our sorrow better than do we ourselves, but you feel it, too. You understand the burden, the heavy grief that we bear. You are our refuge and our strength, and there is none other.

*Abridged from Søren Kierkegaard’s writings, compiled in Provocations by Charles E. Moorein.

Isaiah 17-18 (Listen – 3:44)
1 Peter 5 (Listen – 2:11)

20160517

Love in Diversity

Love covers a multitude of sins. — 1 Peter 4.8

“One of the reasons why there are so many exhortations in the New Testament for Christians to love other Christians is because this is not an easy thing to do,” D.A. Carson explains. “The church itself is not made up of natural ‘friends.’ It is made up of natural enemies.” It is Christ himself who unites faithful Christians—in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words, “nothing more and nothing less.” Carson continues:

What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or any- thing else of that sort. Christians come together, not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In the light of this common allegiance, in the light of the fact that they have all been loved by Jesus himself, they commit themselves to doing what he says—and he commands them to love one another. In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.

Carson argues that unity is not intrinsically good. The first church was united around the work of Christ; the people in Babel were united around building glory for themselves. If you want to know what a community values most, look to what the members hold in common.

Churches formed around commitment to a political party—rejecting or ostracizing members of the other party—are confessing their idolatry. Churches which bind around economic status, hobbies, or ethnicity reveal their self-centeredness. Christian unity is an extension of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us, not a sign of our strength.

We are to love Christ more than our ideologies, but we are also to love him more than our desire to penalize or seek retribution from those who hurt us.

There is no Scriptural expectation that love will cover all sins between people. Abusive relationships, even marriages, are to be exited—with Scripture’s blessing—for the benefit of both parties. Short of this, love is expected to cover a multitude of sins. Why? Because living in a broken world exposes us to a multitude of grievances.

Ideological pettiness is the scourge of social media—and it’s bleeding into the real world a little more each day. Not-so for the faithful Christian. Carson concludes, “The reason why Christian love will stand out and bear witness to Jesus is that it is a display, for Jesus’ sake, of mutual love among social incompatibles.”

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 16 (Listen – 2:32)
1 Peter 4 (Listen – 2:50)

20160516

Christ Descended Into Hell

[Christ] went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison. — 1 Peter 3.19

Christ, “descended into hell,” confesses the Apostles’ Creed. Because the verse in 1 Peter 3 is opaque, along with the smattering of other references the New Testament offers (Acts, Ephesians, and again in 1 Peter), there has always been great debate as to what the authors of Scripture are trying to convey.

The importance, of course, is not about this particular phrase itself, but what it means that Christ “descended,” to use the words of Ephesians. “We ought not omit his descent into hell,” John Calvin argues in his theological opus, Institutes. Though Orthodox and Roman Catholic views hold that Christ’s descent occurred in burial, Calvin believes Christ descended in death:

The point that the Creed sets forth, what Christ suffered in the sight of men, and then appositely speaks of that invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he underwent in the sight of God in order that we might know not only that Christ’s body was given as the price of our redemption, but that he paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man.

Christ’s descent to hell—his separation from God—demonstrates that God’s love goes beyond emotionalism or mere platitudes. The event of God turning his back is so hellish it instantly ended Christ’s life: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Christ endured.

What we see in this picture of Christ is the depth of his obedience, the price of our sin, and the radiance of the Father’s grace. In speaking of the doctrine of Christ’s descent, The Gospel Coalition observes:

Two of the three ecumenical creeds affirm this doctrine, and the early church theologians all discuss Jesus’s descent to the dead and see great importance in it. We cannot simply throw out creedal language and ignore the history of doctrine.

Christ descended because of our sin. Moreover, he ascended because of God’s grace. If hell is separation, heaven is unity—it is where everything is exactly as God wills. Heaven is where what was lost to the clutches of evil is restored, where what was shattered by the brokenness of our world is renewed, and where everything that goes unfulfilled in this life ultimately blooms in the light of Christ.

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 15 (Listen – 1:34)
1 Peter 3 (Listen – 3:30)