Smile, God Loves You!
“I have come that My joy may be in you.”
“Watch the birds. They go where there is food.”
North Carolina Senior Citizen
While I’m no George Barna or Gallup or denominational research geek or anybody like them who does a bunch of surveys and then writes and sells books to tell us why churches are dying off so rapidly in America, most kids can tell you why in one word.
Dying churches are boring.
If excitement and enthusiasm were dynamite, their clergy wouldn’t have enough to blow their noses.
Dougie Watson provided a big clue long ago when he opened his hymnbook for the closing hymn and then gasped to his mom Lila, “Just my luck! Six verses!”
An unchurched guy who just moved into the community called me after a deacon visited him in one of the rare occasions when a church got a beat on Welcome Wagon and invited a newcomer to church: “If you want people to come to your church, don’t send that woman to visit anybody else. I don’t know anybody who wants what she’s got. She makes Christianity look like a bad case of constipation.”
Before going any further, let’s make something as clear as possible.
Any form of government can work well if good people are running it.
Isms depend more on whom than how.
Just as any ecclesiastical polity can work if the people in it are following Jesus by the book, any liturgy can work as long as the people leading it can say with the apostle, “It is no longer I who live but it is Jesus living in me!”
That makes all of the difference in particular churches, denominations, liturgies, litanies, rubrics, rituals, ceremonies, rites, and all of the other ecclesiastical trappings.
It’s never about form or style.
It’s about the content and substance.
Where’s the beef?
I made a mistake.
It is about style and form in dying churches.
When the unchurched look at too many of the churched, they must wonder if that’s what believing in Jesus does to people.
I’ve looked at the DNC and GOP and often wondered if being a Democrat means you’ve gotta be a total heathen who makes Presbyterians look like the guardians of American values and Biblical morality or being a Republican makes Pharisees blush.
When people who don’t know Jesus look at how people who say they know Jesus behave, I think they’re turned off a lot more than turned on to Jesus.
While people who really know Jesus and act like it/Him more than less will tell those people who don’t know Jesus that nobody should blame Jesus for some so-called “Christians” who need a lot more of Him in their lives, guilt by association is true even when false.
Jesus is great!
He wants the best for us and would just die for us!
He is totally trustworthy, always loving, merciful, forgiving, and guaranteeing life after life by grace through faith.
He keeps us from drowning in life’s floods by holding fast to Him.
Over and over and over again, He says people who trust Him lose fear of anyone and anything and live triumphantly/victoriously amid the meanness, madness, misery, and miscreance of this meantime.
People who get that/Him, are irrepressibly and, more often than not, filled with a joy and happiness and sense of well-being that cannot be suppressed, repressed, daunted, diminished, dissipated, or detoured by people who don’t, won’t, and look like life without Him in head, heart, and gut.
He said it: “I have come that my joy may be in you.”
But like too many of today’s churches who create God in their image in so many ways contradicting Biblical faith and morality, just looking at some people who say they know Him but obviously don’t would cause someone unfamiliar with Jesus and what He can do for anyone by grace through faith to conclude Jesus came to make people miserable, cranky, contentious, contemptuous, irregular, irascible, irreconcilable, and victims of a bad case of…
I say really because that’s what lots of pulpiteers and pewsitters look like to people who have no desire to get what they got.
Jesus came to make us happy, whole, healthy, joyful, and eternally secure.
His red letters in the New Testament are a guide to being happy, whole, healthy, joyful, and eternally secure.
Indeed, He began the most famous sermon of all time by saying, “How happy are people who…live like I tell them to live.”
He never said, “Come, follow Me, and I’ll make you miserable,…
No, He said, “Come, follow Me, and you’ll be happy and whole and healthy and joyful and eternally secure…and you’ll be an example for others of how to get there…and your deportment will be contagious and people will want to know why you’re so strong and calm and sane in the midst of everyone and everything bringing them down…and then you can tell them all about Me and that I can do for them what I have done for you.”
Let’s be even more specific.
The word for joy that Jesus used in John is χαρα.
It is an experience of total well-being with all of those positive traits that we’ve already mentioned that just happen when anybody invites Jesus into the head, heart, and gut as Lord and Savior and takes the time to increase intimacy with Him through worship, prayer, sacrament, Bible reading/study/meditation, faithful fellowships, and other Biblical disciplines.
He just happens when conversion to/in/through/for Him goes from religion about Him to an increasingly personal relationship with Him.
And as that conversion goes increasingly from religion to relationship, all of the beliefs and behaviors and emotions that are at His best in our lives become increasingly obvious like, as the apostle listed, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control.
Paul refers to those things/traits that everyone wants and needs as evidence/proof/fruit of an increasingly personal relationship with Jesus rather than a superficial, boring, unsatisfactory, and unattractive religion about Him.
“So,” as the emperor said to Mozart, “there it is.”
If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, make Jesus the Lord and Savior of your life and get closer to Him every day.
Almost sounds like a song.
No wonder Christians like to sing so much!
Let me put it another way.
Our joy and happiness and all of the other good stuff that God wants for us doesn’t depend upon the circumstances of our lives because, as Jesus said, it rains on everybody’s parade.
Everybody gets wet.
But people who take His hand and hold on to Him don’t drown.
It’s our relationship with Jesus not the circumstances of our lives that make the difference.
Too many people without Jesus drown.
People with Jesus have an existential and eternal life preserver.
David Ring comes to mind.
He has overcome terrible circumstances in his life; but he has overcome them because of his personal relationship with Jesus.
But let’s hear about it in his words about what Jesus can do when things are going badly for us.
Ring writes in Just As I Am, “Why do we get down in the dumps? Because we have our eyes on our circumstances. Let me tell you, get your eyes off your circumstances and put them on God…Every time you get down in the dumps, it’s because you have your eyes on your circumstances…”
He continues, “People come up to me and say, ‘Brother Dave, I feel sorry for you’…People think cerebral palsy is a handicap, but I have to beg their pardon. If I had my eyes on my circumstances, then it would be a handicap…We live down in the dumps because we’re looking at our circumstances…If I looked at my shaky body or my limitations, you’d better believe I would be down in the dumps…Thank God I don’t look at my cerebral palsy. I look at what God does in my life…”
Then he exclaims, “Joy comes when you get your chip off your shoulder. Joy comes when you get your feelings off your sleeve. Joy comes when you quit feeling sorry for yourself…”
In short, joy comes when you turn your eyes upon Jesus!
And then Ring challenges, “Look at me, people. Look at me! I still walk with a limp. I still talk funny. But, ‘Oh, the joy that floods my soul, because Jesus touched me and made me whole’…”
He concludes, “I don’t have a daddy. I don’t have a momma. I don’t even have a healthy body. But let me tell you what I do have. I have the grace of God, and the Bible says that ‘God’s grace is sufficient for you and for me.’”
I’ve always been chastened when Ring says this, “I have cerebral palsy. What’s your problem?”
He is saying he has risen above his circumstances and found joy in Jesus.
That’s the difference.
He is the difference.
What’s my problem?
Not enough Jesus!
What’s the answer to my problems?
Christians know lots of people – I was one of them! – who can’t stand people who say, “Smile, God loves you!”
That’s because they have a cold to tepid religion about Jesus.
They need a hot relationship with Him!
I think of the woman who always complained about me saying, “I’m psyched!”
She was one of the crankiest and cold and nasty and mean people that I’ve ever met.
I thought of her when this came to me while reading my Bonhoeffer books in April 2017 after first reading them in January 1973; and if anybody knows what it means to rise above terrible circumstances by an increasingly personal relationship with Jesus, it was him.
Anyway, this is what came to me.
Anyone tight with Jesus can say this: “It must be really annoying for me to be so happy while you’re so miserable. Wouldn’t you like to know who makes the difference?”
So if I ever get the chance to be with that woman again – Hope not in a selfish way but hope so as a follower of Jesus as you know if you know Him! – I’m going to say, “Smile, God loves you!”
If she does, I’ll praise the Lord!
If not, I’ll ask her if she’d like to be…happy, joyful, and all of His best.
It’s the only Christian thing to do.
I’ll smile because of Jesus on her.
Blessings and Love!
Shatter the sound of silence!
Wake up! Look up! Stand up! Speak up! Act up for Jesus!
Salt! Shine! Leavenate!
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