The Unsurpassed Joy of Jesus

The Bible overflows with the joy of God.

Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. (Hebrews 1:8-9)

Jesus has more joy than any other being.  Surely that points to the fact of His joy.  Psalm 16 strengthens this conclusion.

I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

I am not saying anything profound when I say that if Jesus were moody or gloomy or sullen rather than full of joy, there could not be pleasures forevermore at His right hand.[1] We could never expect to have more joy than our creator – and heaven could only be as happy as God is.

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The Unspeakable Joy of God

But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.

Hebrews 1:8-9

Consider for a moment the unspeakable joy of God. Hebrews 1:8-9 tells us that “God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.”  The text is speaking of Jesus.  God the Father anointed God the Son with the oil of gladness above “thy fellows” – that is, above His fellow men.  God the Father was not anointing Jesus with something that He Himself did not possess.  Nor did this anointing produce in Jesus an amount of joy that exceeded what was already possessed of the Father.  So, we can concluded that Jesus had more joy than any man, and that God has an incomprehensible amount of joy.  Jesus is the happiest man who ever lived, and God is a very happy God.

We should pause to consider this for several reasons: knowing this about God can help us understand our own joy a little more, it can help us enjoy God more and rejoice in Him more in worship, and it can give us a richer, more personal, and more genuine experience of His joy.

It is appropriate that we should do this at Christmas time – because Christmas should be a time of overflowing joy for the Christian.  My son was commenting on the number of people he has encountered who absolutely hate Christmas – the trees, the lights, the carols, the traditions, the family gatherings – especially the family gatherings.  I think for many, the Christmas season shines a spotlight on their miseries and reminds them of their disappointments and their heartaches and pain. They prefer not to stir that bad soup, and Christmas insists on stirring it.

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Good Tidings of Great Joy

For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy…

The angel called the fact that Jesus Christ was born “good tidings of great joy.”  The announcement marked the moment when God inserted Himself into our world, became one of us in order to save us.  The glory of Christmas is the glory of God becoming man – the Creator becoming what He had created – in order to rescue His fallen creation from death and hell.

The joy of Christmas is the joy of God and sinners reconciled.

Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the new-born King; peace on earth, and mercy mild—God and sinners reconciled!” Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies; with th’ angelic hosts proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!” Hark the herald angels sing, “Glory to the new-born King!”

God the Son entered our world as a man so that He could fight the devil as a man.  As God, He could defeat the devil quite easily, and nobody would find that impressive.  So, Jesus made Himself weak like us – weaker and lower than the devil – so that He could set Himself at the greatest possible disadvantage when He did battle with Satan. 

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Joy or Happiness?

For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy…

Did you know that in the Bible we find some form of the words “joy,” “happy,” “delight,” “glad” or “gladness,” and “rejoice” more than 700 times? And if we add in the word “singing” or “sang” or “song,” we approach 1,000 references.  We can safely argue that joy is an important theme in the Bible.

One night in the fields near Bethlehem, an angel announced good tidings of great joy, because Jesus was born that night. And he added that these good tidings of great joy “shall be to all people.”

Conventional wisdom distinguishes joy from happiness.  According to modern theologians, happiness is temporal while joy is lasting.

“Happiness depends on circumstances, while joy depends on God alone.”

“Happiness is what the world has; joy is what Christians have.”

These are commonplace opinions of the difference between joy and happiness.  But is this true?  What is joy?  Is joy limited to Christmas celebrations, or should it permeate our Christian lives?  Is joy something distinct from happiness, or are they 2 sides of the same coin?

You might be surprised to note that the Bible makes no formal distinction between joy and happiness.  Joy is characteristic of the Christian life, and happiness is a product of faithful Christian living.  Consider this: the Bible never treats “happiness” as a non-Christian emotion. 

Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the LORD.

Psalm 144:15
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Christmas Joy

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

Some people resemble a little black raincloud – they never miss a chance to fuss at something.  For some Christians, this is a special talent: we are never happier than when we are miserable.  And for some odd reason, Christmas tends to draw out our inner Scrooge and turn him loose on the world. 

Sadly, getting way too uptight about things has become a favorite Christian pastime, a part of the ethos of piety.  I say “sadly” because I don’t believe God intended this for His people.  True, in many ways we are like just Lot, vexing our righteous souls.  But that doesn’t make “vexing” a fruit of the Spirit.  I don’t think God is more pleased with sour-faced self-righteousness.

Do the stores stock their shelves for Christmas long before Thanksgiving?  I’m not sure why I should be bothered by this.  For at least 2 months out of every year, the world acknowledges that something important happened on a cold winter night in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.  Calling it a “Winter Festival” doesn’t change that fact. When the world turns “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays” they only expose their illiteracy.  “Holiday” is a variation of “Holy Day,” and holiness is hardly a secular value.  

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He Crowned the Year with His Goodness

The year 2020 will join the ranks of those years that will “live in infamy.” Like 1929, 1941, and 2001, the events of 2020 will long be remembered.

As we approached the start of the year, I anticipated many “eye-roller” moments.  In fact, I joked that I would be giving my wife a kiss every time I saw one of those “2020 vision” signs.  I figured that theme would be like low-hanging fruit for pastors searching for motivational themes for the year. 

Little did we know what kind of 2020 vision God had for us.

While this year has been filled with frustrations, disappointments, disgusts, tensions, strifes, and a rising sense that we have crossed the point of no return, yet God has crowned this year with His goodness in ways that we have not often seen.  I hope I can encourage you to recognize the vivid display of God’s goodness, set as it has been against the backdrop of a terrible year. 

Photo by Sasha Prasastika on Pexels.com

This year, we have been reminded that God is faithful.

For a time this year, I woke up every morning, turned on the radio, and listened for what changed overnight, what new measures or directives we had to deal with.  During that time, I especially felt just how changeable our transient our world is.  Yet, day-by-day as I opened the Bible and spent time in prayer, God was there reminding me that he has it all under control, that no matter how out-of-hand the situation might seem to us, it all fits within His plan for us. 

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That Awkward Republican Posture

If thieves break into your house and steal your valuables while you are away, that’s one thing; if they back up a moving truck in the middle of the day and start loading up your furniture while you are home, that’s quite another.  In the first case, you can be excused if they get away with it.  In the second, we have to ask Clint Eastwood’s question, “You gonna do something, or just stand there and bleed?”

Some lies are so bald-faced, so audacious, that for a moment, we can’t believe it would be told. It catches us off guard. We think that it must be true because nobody would push such a blatant lie. The Presidential election of 2020 amounts to the Democrats saying, “yeah, we cheated: what are you going to do about it?”

But to make our case, we should consider the options in the aftermath of this election.  Assuming Biden won the election, he either won legitimately, or he cheated.  If he cheated, he either gets away with it, or he doesn’t.  These are our only options. 

Let’s dig in a little more.  If Biden won legitimately, then his victory should stand up to scrutiny, and he should want it to.  He has enough of a lead that a recount will put to bed any accusations of cheating.  And since he wants to be the President of all Americans, he should want to set our minds at ease that this election hasn’t been the biggest hoax in history. 

Consider something else here: if Biden’s win is legit, that makes him the most popular presidential candidate in history.  Let that sink in.  He trounced Obama’s popularity.  Joe Biden.  Gaffer-in-chief.  The man who didn’t campaign.  Who stayed home.  Who couldn’t draw a crowd of flies if he was honey. That Joe Biden.  We are being asked to believe that Joe Biden is the most popular presidential candidate in history. 

Yeah, I didn’t think so. 

If Biden cheated (and I think he did – and not just a little), he either gets away with it or he doesn’t.  And this is what we are up against.  Because, if Biden gets away with it, then that signals the end of our Republic.  We become a third-world country, and no honest candidate ever wins another Presidential election.  The Democrats become the ruling party, and the Republicans get the consolation prize in Congress – maybe. 

But of course, if Biden doesn’t get away with it, Antifa will burn down our cities, and we will likely have the start of a Civil War. Don’t tell me that hasn’t played a role in the massive leap of the stock market. Wall Street generally prefers the non-rioting option.       

Trump has been howling about this sort of cheating since Mitt Romney lost to Obama in 2012. Predictably, the media brands Trump a conspiracy nutjob for his trouble. Which is enough to convince the average American that Trump has been on to something for a while now. In Romney’s case, it was the fact that 59 voting districts in Philadelphia – representing over 19,000 votes in all – voted unanimously for Obama. Not a single vote for any other candidate. When I read PolitiFact’s explanation for this anomaly, I have to smile: “fact-checkers” found only a handful of registered Republicans in those districts, and none of them even knew they were registered as Republicans. Coincident.

Of course, that is possible.  Those few didn’t know the difference between “R” and “D,” and they liked the shape of the R – especially that nifty little tale.  But far more likely, they knew what would happen to them if they admitted to being a Republican.  Saddam Hussein usually received 99% of the vote in Iraq’s “free and fair” elections.  And who wouldn’t vote for him, when the other option is a dirt nap?  Philadelphians might have had a premonition about the consequences of a vote for anyone else but Barak when they were ushered into the polling location by thugs armed with assault rifles.  This isn’t rocket science. 

I think the Romney collapse motivated Trump to enter the fray himself. Pennsylvania was a key state in that election, just as it is now. And Romney decided to be the bigger man and concede the election. That has become the Republican way: we get to be the bigger man for a moment while we concede; after that, the Democrats get to be the bigger man for the next four years.

Meanwhile, We have this growing suspicion that the “R” in Republican no longer stands for a core set of principles, but rather for a posture – “Rolled over.”  The Republican party has been domesticated for about 30 years now – give or take a couple of months.  The elephants are tamed, and now they do tricks.  We all smile politely and applaud while they run through their routines.

Republicans do what Republicans do

And so long as this is what we do, the circus will continue.  But our Democratic counterparts are deadly serious about this business.  They know where the real power lies.  Republicans can have the Congress if they want.  That can be our consolation prize.  Because the President has the power of the bureaucracy.  And our country is now run by unelected government agencies. 

President Trump made an unforgivable mistake – in my opinion, the biggest of his Presidency. When he became President, he did not adequately clear out the State Department and the Justice Department. Obama did. Democratic Presidents routinely do. Republicans don’t. “R” for “Rolled.” 

And on that one, Trump rolled.  Too bad.  As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.  So, here we are with a scandal of all scandals, and very little we can do about it.

If Biden gets away with this, one is left to wonder what can be done in the future.  Democrats have been working on this particular election for many years.  Don’t think they will quit cheating in the future.  Why should they?

This is why I urge you if you care about liberty at all, to stand firm. We don’t have to capitulate. We aren’t required to concede, especially while there is so much suspicion surrounding this election. Our elected representatives draw strength from those who stand behind them. If we collapse now, they will surely collapse. Trump needs to know that you stand with him, that you are willing to absorb the media’s scorn to see this thing through. Please don’t forget that we waited 37 days for the Gore v. Bush election to be settled. Throughout that time, Democrats fought for their man. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Republicans started begging Trump to capitulate almost from the start.

One meaningful way that we can stand with Trump is by supporting him financially.  Whether he needs the money or not, I cannot say.  A donation to his defense fund sends a message loud and clear: “keep fighting.”

Haiku for the UnWoke

We had a fun little haiku contest in our Rhetoric class, aiming to poke some fun at Woke professional sports, COVID-craziness, and the comedy that is 2020 in America. All while sharpening our poetic skills (in our best PC-defying voices). Here are some samples – my favorites from the class.

Feel free to jump in with your own in the comments section, if you are so inclined. Or nominate your favorite. Gratis.

NBA players
Virtue signals on their back:
Nobody watching.
Equal rights for all!
Down with the majority!
What equality!
Black lives matter, sport.
Hong Kong folks should conform;
So says Lebron James.
Bought seats to a game, 
Not a BLM rally; 
Should get a refund.
Chuckle dunderpates,
Your days will soon be over 
And no one will care.
Good-by basketball, 
Your pure young days are over; 
Now you’re CNN.
Sports once interested me, 
Until all the players started taking a knee. 
Let’s play duck-duck-goose.
Peaceful protesters 
Burning cars and murdering; 
We should salute them.
Oh beautiful for 
The spacious fields on which we 
Can no longer play.
snowflake Memes & GIFs - Imgflip

A Plea to Christians Who Won’t Vote for Trump

Dear Friend,

In the weeks leading up to the Presidential election of 2016, I found myself increasingly troubled with the choice of available candidates. In fact, I railed, fairly regularly, against both candidates. I saw it as a particular judgment of God that we had to choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Honestly, I thought of it as David’s choice between seven years of famine, three months of fleeing before their enemies, and three days of pestilence. Did I want to vote for arsenic or cyanide? I saw Donald Trump as ungodly, uncouth, unscrupulous, unproven, and unreliable.

I held onto a quote from Douglas Wilson in the months leading up to the election, in which he expressed my exact sentiment:

But if Trump is somehow elected, he will let down those who put him there. He has all the sturdiness of a chocolate eclair. He has the core values of a wet napkin on the counter. He has the reliability of a lost carnival balloon. He has the gravitas of Miss Piggy.

Douglas Wilson, Blog and Mablog “Recklessness on the Trumpoline”

One month before the 2016 election, I preached this to my church:

Continue reading “A Plea to Christians Who Won’t Vote for Trump”

Trump Didn’t Win the Debate; He Owned It

I wanted to get my hot-take on the debate off my chest while the topic is still hot. I get it that many of my friends are turned off by Trump’s style and bluster, and I see that many think Trump lost the debate. I want to get this out before all the talking heads start breaking things down, and you suspect that I am parroting someone else. This is my immediate opinion of the debate.

5 key takeaways from Joe Biden and Donald Trump's 1st presidential debate -  ABC News
https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/key-takeaways-joe-biden-donald-trumps-1st-presidential/story?id=73304046

From my perspective, those who want to declare a “winner” or a “loser” of the debate miss the point. Trump doesn’t live by the conventions of the modern-day politician. Trump isn’t trying to be the second coming of the Bushes or even the second coming of Ronald Reagan. In 2016, I was a Ted Cruz guy. If Cruz had conducted himself like Trump in a debate, I would agree with you all that the debate was lost. But Trump isn’t trying to live up to our expectations for his conduct or for his debating skills. We want one of the debaters to be declared a “winner,” but I don’t think that is the goal for Trump at all.

I don’t think Trump is interested in winning the debate. 

He is interested in owning the debate. And he did precisely that, from wire-to-wire. Chris Wallace might have been the moderator, but Trump controlled the debate. And both Chris Wallace and Joe Biden were forced to play his game. Like it or not, Biden was merely the backdrop for an hour and a half of the Donald Trump Show. Chris Wallace was a prop, much like the media becomes a prop for Trump day after day after day. Why do you think Trump is so combative with the media? He protests – too much, by the way, to be serious – but he loves it. 

He loves mixing it up with them because it keeps our attention on him and allows him to get his message out. 

That, I think, is the point, and Trump did it again masterfully.

If there was a loser in last night’s debate, it was Chris Wallace. Wallace clearly lost his head. But all of his peppering Trump, playing tag-team with Biden, only served Trump’s purpose. It kept the focus on Trump and allowed Trump to dominate the conversation. At times, Wallace forgot that his job was to ensure equal time for the candidates. In his determination to force Trump’s hand, he gift-wrapped the time advantage for Trump. 

At one point in tonight’s debate, Trump talked about his big rallies, and Biden leaned into the mic with a snide remark about them lasting for an hour and a half. It made me snicker. It is yet another example of how Biden, like much of the political establishment, doesn’t get it. Conventional wisdom says, “keep it short, keep it simple.” But at Trump rallies, tens of thousands of people hang on to every word of his ninety-minute harangues. They eat it up and beg for more. I haven’t seen a politician who could captivate an audience for even half an hour. Trump triples that, and people just keep coming back for more.

I have to admit that I haven’t been so entertained by a debate in my lifetime as I am by the Trump debates. When Hillary was the backdrop, it was every bit as entertaining. 

In the days of Bush and Dole and Bush and McCain and Romney, I dutifully endured the debates, wishing the moderator would have mercy on us all and cut it off early. “I think we’ve covered the same three points a dozen different ways now, so we can let you all get back to something that interests you.” But watching a Trump debate, I’m sorry to see it end. It makes me laugh out loud. And that is the genius of the thing.

I’ll be candid: I am surprised that after five years of Trump (counting the year of his first campaign), we still want to measure him by political convention. Trump defies convention. That is the whole point and the reason he generates enthusiasm like few men in history.

Last week, my son and I spent some time with a pastor friend in Carson City, Nevada. We had a great time with a young and growing church there on the edge of Lake Tahoe. 

One afternoon, my son and I and the pastor’s son drove over to Virginia City. As we drove into town, we were shocked to see motorcycles lining both sides of the road – I would estimate a thousand motorcycles. People were waving Trump flags and Trump signs, and vehicles were slowly driving up and down the street with Trump flags streaming out the windows. Since Trump was holding a rally in Pennsylvania at that same time, I knew he wasn’t planning a visit to Virginia City. Otherwise, I would have been looking for him. The enthusiasm was incredible, and Trump wasn’t anywhere near. 

These were not my people, for sure. It was a rough and rowdy crowd. And they love Trump. I’ve seen similar displays in some pretty odd places around the country this year.

Whether Trump wins or not, I think we all have to admit that we aren’t looking at a politician. Trump is more pugilist than politician. And unlike any of his Republican predecessors, the man knows how to land a punch. Love him or hate him, admire him or despise him, agree or disagree, Trump plays for keeps. For Trump, the debate is a stage, and he is the star. And when the analysts break this one down, it will be all about Trump. On those terms, even if he loses, he wins. Because the discussion is all about him.