Monday, November 11, 2013

These Things Are Fun and Fun is Good

A big part of the human experience is our ability to experience joy.  Experiencing joy has been proven to increase blood oxygen levels, ease anxiety, boost the immune system, and trigger endorphins.  In the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, the word “joy” appears 155 times.  The word ‘joy’ and the word ‘happy’ are inter-changeable when it comes to translation of Scripture.  One of the Hebrew words that can be translated as ‘happy’ is ‘ashrie’ or ‘praiseworthy’ or ‘fortunate’.

Take a look at this photo and tell me you don’t feel some sense of joy.  In Buddhist teachings happiness forms one of the central themes and describes the ultimate freedom from suffering.

This is Pastor Trey Hall of Urban Village Church in Chicago.  He is skipping with his niece at the labyrinth at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago.  I don’t know the story behind it and I didn’t bother asking him because the image spoke volumes to me by itself.  I figured I didn’t need to ask the artist to define the drawing – I would simply allow the piece to speak to me, to reach out to my heart and write upon it what it may. Regardless of the actual event the photo brings a smile to my heart – it makes me feel joy.  I cannot help but to smile and not because I see a grown man skipping – that is the least most interesting thing about this photo.  What touches my heart, what speaks to my soul and what nourishes my spirit about this image is the existence of pure joy. 

Do you like to dance when no one is watching?  Do you like to sing in the shower because of the solitude it brings?  Have you ever skipped just for the fun of skipping?  I like to think that God is dancing with us.  That when we sing alone, God is quietly harmonizing alongside us.  And when we are skipping down the pathway, child-like regardless of our physical age – God is skipping with us. 

Aristotle, in the writings Nicomachean Ethics, states that the only true thing that humanity desires is happiness for its own sake.  We pursue money, fame and riches in order to acquire happiness but Aristotle says that true happiness is something we desire, we yearn for, for its stand-alone merits. 

The finding of joy-filled moments without the influence of power or wealth or status, seems to me to be a treasure worth saving.  There are many forces in this life fighting to remove joy from us and fill it with other contents such as exhaustion, depression, sadness, anger, and pity.  We spend so much of our energy, at times, trying to make joy happen.   It’s when we find a joy-moment completely void of any outside influence that we experience a taste of purity of the human spirit and therefore the God-spirit within all of us. 

I recently met with someone who told me that he believed he would not have joy until he suffered enough to appreciate it.  My heart wrinkled.  In his book, The Fault in Our Stars, writer John Green says this is “an old argument”.  He goes on to say that “…the existence of broccoli does not, in any way, affect the taste of chocolate.” Jon Krakauer states in his book, Into the Wild, that joy is everywhere and all around us, placed there by God.  “We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living”. 

Experiencing joy means pushing aside all that you expect of yourself and all that you think is expected of you and to dance like no one is watching – to sing in the shower loudly – and to skip down the path if just for a few steps.

 “If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good.”…Dr Seuss

Monday, November 4, 2013


A young boy was walking through the park. He had just gotten out of his Sunday school class, where his teacher had told the class that you never can tell when you’ll meet Jesus.

As he was walking through the park, he noticed an old woman sitting on a bench. She looked very lonely, so he sat down next to her. He said "Hi" and then offered her a piece of his candy bar, which he had been saving.

She accepted the piece of chocolate with a smile. They talked for a while about nothing in particular and then the boy offered her another piece, which she also gladly accepted.
They talked a little while longer and then the boy got up to leave.

As he began to walk away, he turned around, ran back to the bench and gave the woman a big hug. And, she gave him her very biggest smile.

When he arrived home, his mother saw a big smile on his face and asked, "What made you so happy today"?

The boy said, "I shared my chocolate bar with Jesus. And, guess what, Mom? She has a great smile".

Meanwhile, the old woman returned to her little apartment which she shared with her sister. The sister said "You’re all smiles today, what made you so happy"?

She said, "Well", "I was sitting in the park sharing a chocolate bar with Jesus. And, you know what? He looks a lot younger than I expected"!

Matthew 25:40 reminds us that Christ WILL separate those of us who help the afflicted and those of us who turn the other cheek.  Christ WILL separate those of us who feed the hungry, through whatever means, and those who have an ideal that everyone has the ability to feed themselves.  Christ WILL separate those of us who do whatever we can to give clothing to the one without, and those of us who believe they should just get a job and do it themselves.

If you won’t do anything, then at least be satisfied with the idea that some of your tax dollars are feeding those who are unable to acquire the resources to feed themselves and their children for today. 

Christ isn’t arguing about food stamps, welfare, and charity.  What a hot button topic today!   All I want to tell you is this:  what are WE doing to feed the hungry today? When was the last time WE gave to someone who went without?  You know that box in the hallway of the church that WE stick a few clothes in to every November?  How would WE like it if WE weren’t allowed to buy anything new except once a year?  That annual donation WE make to our local charity – how far do we think that is going and more importantly could WE survive off of that amount for a year?  What makes US so extra special and important in the kingdom of God that we now decide who gets charity and who doesn't?  Oh sure – there ARE people taking advantage of the situation but that’s not for our concern.  Our concern is to see someone who needs something and to respond in love. 

For EVERY time we do something to those who are less fortunate, the ‘least of these’ that Christ talks about; we do it as if that person were Christ.  Likewise, EVERY time we deny someone the basics of human life and dignity; food, water, clothing, shelter, health…we are denying Christ the same.

At a red light today I waited for what felt like 20 minutes go by.  During that time I watched a man on the road – holding a sign that simply said, “Hungry. Need help. God bless”.  Did I give him something to eat? Nope.  Now if I did something for everyone standing on the corner I would be empty – but isn’t that the idea?  Isn’t the idea to throw away our nets and follow Christ? 

"But where do you draw the line, pastor?"...there IS NO LINE.

"I can't help them all"....but have you even started?

"They just abuse the system"...lucky we have you to weed out the users and abusers.

"I have my family to feed"...So does Christ...through YOU.

"I give at Christmas, isn't that enough?"...Did you REALLY just ask that question?

I’m not there yet.  But I will pray for every single one I see – and I will pray that the Holy Spirit will disturb the calm waters of my heart a little bit more often and grant me the courage and strength to do something for ‘the least of these’.

Nothing brings me more happiness than trying to help the most vulnerable people in society. It is a goal and an essential part of my life - a kind of destiny. Whoever is in distress can call on me. I will come running wherever they are…Princess Diana