Tag Archives: Happiness

7 (More) Happy Books

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Once again, this list doesn’t include much fiction, but I did throw in a collection of poetry and some devotionals to make up for it! If you’re looking for something outside the realm of nonfiction, I made a few recommendations on the previous installment. For now, bask in these seven happy books!

1.  Stuff Christians Like by Jon Acuff — OK, maybe the novelty has worn off, but this book is still pretty fun. Plus, it has pictures!

2.  The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis — DELIGHTFUL! Maybe you think a book about demons couldn’t possibly be happy? Wronggggg! Not only is it clever, it’s also incredibly relevant — a great way to prepare yourself for spiritual warfare before it happens.

3.  Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung — The book with a never-ending subtitle. (Google it.) The premise is so FREEING. It’s based on a famous quote by Saint Augustine: “Love God and do what you want.” Motivation for anyone at a spiritual standstill.

4.  Pleasures Evermore by Sam Storms — This guy is John Piper’s theological doppelgänger when it comes to defending “Christian hedonism.” Worshipping God means ENJOYING him, and Storms shows us how to do that. You might also want to check out his uplifting book, One Thing (endorsed by Piper, of course).

5.  The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer — I read this after studying a similar book, The Attributes of God by A.W. Pink. (Who knew there were so many A.W.’s in the world? Not to mention the root beer!) Short, accessible chapters that explore various traits of God — his love, holiness, wisdom, sovereignty, immutability, etc. This book inspires worship!

6.  Same-Sex Attraction and the Church by Ed Shaw — I can’t help but include this book, which I recently reviewed here. My heart was bursting with joy and hope just thinking about how single people (and the whole Church) will benefit from it. Shaw reminds me that celibacy is, indeed, the HAPPY ALTERNATIVE to marriage!

7.  The Ordering of Love by Madeleine L’Engle — Thanks to Madeleine, I’m always thinking in iambic pentameter. This collection of poems — sonnets included — was partly responsible for my decision to major in creative writing. I can’t say I’m in love with L’Engle’s wonky theology (God rest her soul), but I’ll always love her writing. Maybe someday I’ll get around to reading A Wrinkle in Time

BONUS BOOKS! When it comes to daily devotionals, you’ve gotta check out these gems:

•   Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon
•   New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp
•   The Songs of Jesus by Tim Keller

7 (More) Happy Songs

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1.  “In Tenderness” by Citizens. They took an old clunky hymn in 6/8 and made it one of my favorite songs on the planet. The words alone are enough to send my spirit soaring, but combined with those four simple chords? DYING.

2.  “Clair de Lune.” Just listen to it. No, FEEL IT. Movie directors don’t even hire composers for their most poignant scenes; they use this song (think Atonement and Oceans Eleven). Debussy’s masterpiece is the soundtrack to our lives. Now, if only I could play it.

3.  “We Shall Always Be With the Lord” by Ellie Holcomb. Buy the whole album. In fact, buy her whole catalogue! Simple, gorgeous, uplifting, and so many songs pulled straight from Scripture. But this song gets me every time. Tears streaming. Heart bursting. True happiness right here.

4.  “Oh! Great is Our God!” by The Sing Team. You can hear the joy in their voices. It’s like family worship. And the title says it all.

5.  “Sunshine” by Joy Williams. After her stint on Christian radio, but before she was half of The Civil Wars, she was an indie solo artist with two delightful EPs. This song, along with a runner-up called “You’re My Favorite,” feels like a blend of 60s pop and a children’s TV theme song.

6.  “Hello” by KB. No, not Adele’s unhappy tune. This one’s a rap-sung collaboration that makes me want to do two things: 1) SANG and 2) PREACH. A “morning after” song that reminds us that God’s mercies are new every day.

7.  “U Will Know” by BMU. Mmmmm, this song is YUMMY. A little-known gem from the 90s, recorded by the most soulful voices of that era. With their powers combined, they are “Black Men United.” I get one taste of that guitar intro and I’m instantly hooked — and instantly happy!

Need seven more? I got you.

Through The Lens Of Celibacy

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I’m going on 33 years of singleness. It’s nothing to boast about and nothing to brood over — it’s just a fact. But when you’ve been doing the “eunuch” thing your whole life, you do start to notice how your perspective differs from other Christians, not to mention the world. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the ways celibacy has shaped me, and how I’ve come to view life through that particular lens.

I see family through the lens of celibacy.

Part of being a Christian is expanding the definition of “family” to include our brothers and sisters in Christ — our spiritual family. I imagine celibate people think about this more often than those who are married with children. We’ve learned — we’re constantly reminded — there’s more to family than genetics. As someone who’s not planning to procreate, “starting a family” means something very different to me; it means making every effort to embrace people as family who don’t share my genes, my last name, or my home. Loving them like flesh and blood, learning what it means to be adopted by God. Celibacy confirms what I already believed about the Church: whether or not I ever get married or have kids, I’ll never be without a family.

I see friendship through the lens of celibacy.

For many single people, friendship is a gateway to romance or marriage. But celibacy has taught me to value friendship for what it is, and not what it can become. I don’t feel burdened by the fear (or thrill) of friendship turning into “something more,” because I’m focused on celibacy as the end goal. I see friendship itself as something to pursue, enjoy, cultivate, and commit to. As a single person, I’m not previously engaged (no pun intended) with duties to spouse or children, so I have more time and energy to devote to friendship. Celibacy has shaped my theology of friendship, and I hope it’s also made me a better friend.

I see marriage through the lens of celibacy.

Having only observed marriage from the outside, I’ve managed to find ways that singleness is like marriage, which helps me identify with married people. But celibacy does remove me from some of the practical aspects of marriage — things that are hard to grasp as a mere spectator. This can be a problem. For example, if a married friend turns down my invitation to dinner because he wants to spend time with his wife and kids, I can have a hard time accepting that — not intellectually, but emotionally. I realize his family is a priority, but it’s hard to reconcile that with the idea of spiritual family in Christ. (I’m family, too!) This is one area where my head and my heart need to work it out, and I admit there’s still a lot of room to grow and mature.

I see singleness through the lens of celibacy.

Christian singleness looks and feels a lot different from its worldly counterpart. Outside church walls, singleness is often disassociated from celibacy and rarely considered GOOD. But I’m learning to uphold singleness as a gift from God. The Apostle Paul was single and hoped others would embrace that same “gift” (1 Corinthians 7:7). And, of course, Jesus led the single life, too — for about as long as I have! He encouraged those who were able to remain single to gladly “receive” it (Matthew 19:11-12). Because Paul and Jesus were pro-singleness, and because God himself is pro-happiness, I know it’s possible to be happy without also having sex. That’s why I’m so convinced that singleness is the HAPPY ALTERNATIVE to marriage!

7 (More) Happy Movies

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1.  Lost in Austen — This miniseries is an absolute treasure. Pride and Prejudice plus time travel? Yes, please! If I’m ever at home sick, I’m watching this. It’s medicine for my soul.

2.  Signs — OK, maybe it’s not the happiest movie ever (it was marketed as a horror) but it’s happy for Calvinists like me. The spiritual themes are just so… predestined. And the score is AMAZING!

3.  Henry Poole is Here — Another movie that could be considered “magic realism,” my favorite genre. It’s about how neighbors become family when an apparition of the Virgin Mary appears in a water stain. The Mexican-Irishman in me loves a splash of Catholic.

4.  Sister Act 2 — Back in the day, kids made fun of me for loving this movie, but it’s kind of a cult classic now. So there, suckas! I was SO ahead of my time. Oh, and don’t act like you haven’t sung along to “Oh Happy Day” and tried to hit that high note: “When Jesus waaaaaaaaaashed my sins away!”

5.  Beauty and the Beast — On film or stage, Disney doesn’t come any closer to perfection. I’m primarily attracted to men, but seriously, Belle is a certified hottie! And that opening sequence is GENIUS.

6.  School of Rock — Love me some Jack Black. Everything he says and does is HILARIOUS to me. Plus, the cute little cussing kids just melt my heart.

7.  Troop Beverly Hills — There’s a touch of nostalgia here, as this aired pretty much every night on TV when I was a kid. But there’s so much fun and humor, too! Not to mention that catchy song, “It’s Cookie Time,” which makes you want to dance and gorge on Girl Scout cookies at the same time!

Oh, and for my first seven happy movies click here.

Happiness And Joy: What’s The Difference?

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Christians have given happiness a bum rap. You’ve probably heard something like this from the pulpit: “Happiness is a temporary emotion based on circumstances, but joy is an ongoing contentment based on our relationship with God.”

Sounds nice, but is it true?

As someone with a master’s degree in English, I appreciate nuance, and I’d usually agree with making such thoughtful distinctions. I once heard a poet say “a stone is not a rock.” A stone is something the river glides over and makes smooth — something you hold in your hand, or skip across the water. But a rock is something that stands tall against crashing waves; it’s what you build on and break things against. I’ve always stood by these distinctions: a stone is a stone, and a rock is a rock.

But pitting happiness against joy? I’m not feeling it.

Only in church settings do we perpetuate the myth that happiness and joy are different. In his excellent book Happiness, which I review here, Randy Alcorn writes, “an ungrounded, dangerous separation of joy from happiness has infiltrated the Christian community.” Until very recently, he says, happiness had a place right alongside joy in the Christian faith. From Church Fathers to Puritans, Christian writers have used “happiness” and “joy” in the same way the dictionary does, and in the same way we do in everyday conversation: synonymously. Even the Bible itself makes no distinction. In a chapter devoted to this very topic, Alcorn gives a couple dozen examples of where Scripture uses forms of “happiness” and “joy” side by side — pairings that occur more than 100 times in various translations!

Even so, church folks continue to say happiness and joy are different emotions and experiences. I think there are two reasons for this “great divorce.”

1.  They want to make a clear distinction between worldly pleasures and godly pleasures. So they attach “happiness” to worldly pleasures, which are shallow and fleeting, and “joy” to godly pleasures. As a result, well-meaning Christians say things like, “We’re not supposed to be happy; we’re supposed to have joy!” Although the intentions behind it are good, this false dichotomy has consequences for both believers and unbelievers.

For believers, we begin to fear happiness. Instead, we search for joy — something we’ve been told isn’t an emotion and therefore (not surprisingly) doesn’t FEEL joyful. We start to believe God doesn’t want us to be happy, which simply isn’t the case. The Bible is filled with commands to be happy. Dare we tell Christians NOT to pursue the very thing God desires of us?

For unbelievers, the separation of happiness and joy can be a roadblock to believing the gospel. Imagine telling someone, “Jesus can’t give you happiness, but he can give you joy.” That makes no sense to me, much less to an unbeliever. (I imagine it makes no sense to God either!) Happiness is the ONE THING every person is searching for, and Jesus is the ONE PERSON who can offer it. Why on earth would it not be part of our message?

2.  They know God calls us to rejoice in suffering — to “consider it all joy” when we face various trials — and they try to describe this tension using terms that the Church has deemed appropriate. So, for example, when a loved one dies someone might say, “I’m grieving, but I still have joy in Christ.” That’s because they’ve been told joy isn’t an emotion, it’s something more like peace or hope. But we could just as easily say, “I’m grieving, but I still have happiness in Christ.” Does that change the meaning? For me, the paradox of Christians being called to rejoice in suffering isn’t a good enough reason to redefine happiness and joy — as though they’re not what the Bible says they are, and what we, deep down, know they are: one and the same.

If Christians continue to believe there’s a difference between happiness and joy, we’ll lose out on both. We need to reclaim happiness — not just the word, but also the experience — as a vital part of the Christian faith.

Home Is Where We’re Happy

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I’ve got a robust imagination when it comes to envisioning Heaven. Ask my friends: they’ve heard all my crazy theories about our future home — from how old we’ll look to what kind of dinosaurs we’ll ride. Looking forward to Heaven is one of my favorite pastimes, and a not-so-secret way to be happy in Christ.

Jesus told his disciples he was going to prepare a place for them. Maybe with his own hands! He was a carpenter, right? I’ve heard some people say he was a stonemason. Either way, he’s qualified. He made the universe, too, so I have no doubts about this house:

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and I will take you to myself, that where I am there you may be also. (John 14:2-3)

How could we not wonder about this house? Did he design it room by room? Did he consider our tastes? That’s what a good designer does, after all, and Jesus is the best. Did he build the frame, hang the molding, lay the carpet? Does he keep the light on in the hallway?

I love to imagine!

Rooms with beds as real as the one I’m sitting on right now, as I type. Rooms where we feast, hold hands around the table. Rooms where we meet at the piano, sing, and try to write music that hasn’t already been written. Rooms where we gather by the fireplace and talk into the early morning hours, maybe about some of the stupid things we did. The foolish things we believed.

This is the stuff of happiness.

Where does your imagination take you? Will you live close to me? To Jonah? To Nicodemus? Are pets allowed? And if so, will my room be big enough for a stegosaurus? Maybe the walls will be made of paper, like in Japan. Or maybe they’re stucco, coated with bright colors, like in Mexico. Some might be lined with logs, like a cabin in the Rockies. I think there will be hints of every culture throughout the house to reflect the diversity in which God delights. Especially if it’s going to be a house for those “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9).

This house isn’t a symbol. It exists in time and space — made from matter. It’s where we’ll live with the saints and God himself, when Heaven and Earth become one — the thrill of the new, fused with the familiarity of the old. Even better than Eden. I can’t imagine, and yet I still try.

But no matter what it looks like, no matter how he designs and decorates it, and even if I don’t know for sure whether we’ll be able to teleport, or fly, or walk through walls, I know the most important thing: Jesus will be there. “That where I am there you may be also.” For that reason, the house will feel like home — and home is where we’re happy.

Tell Me Jesus Is Worth It

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About a year ago, a friend took me out for coffee and asked what he could do to help me when I’m struggling with faith, sexuality, or singleness. It was one of those moments you hope for — a friend who not only prays for you but also asks, “What more can I do?”

I fumbled over a few words (between gulps of white mocha) but couldn’t quite articulate what it is I really need during times of struggle. I’m not sure anyone had ever asked so directly, so genuinely. Whatever the reason, I was a bumbling mess in that moment, so I reached out to him a couple days later with a follow-up text:

“You asked how you can be a better support to me. Of course you already are, but I’ve been thinking about it more. Because I didn’t answer very well the first time. I think the best thing people can do is to remind me that Jesus is worth it. Tell me out loud, ‘Jesus is worth it.’ Because we so often forget — at least, I do. But the catch is, people have to really believe that themselves for it to be any real encouragement to me. Does that make sense? We don’t persevere in the faith because we like Christian values, or because we want to please our family, or even because we want to go to heaven. But because, in the end, we get to know and love and BE WITH Jesus! If he’s not worth it (or, more accurately, if we don’t remember that he’s worth it), then we have every reason to give up. So… That’s one way. Hugs and coffee dates and [your wife’s] amazing lasagna are a few of the other ways.”

My friend took his question — and my answer — seriously. I know because, since then, he often texts me with that precious reminder: Jesus is worth it. The phrase has even inspired its own hashtag. He’s always quick to respond with encouragement when I tell him, “It’s a #JIWI kind of night.”

As a single person committed to celibacy, but living in a world where sex reigns supreme, there are days when my mission to be happy in Christ comes to a screeching halt. I have fears about the future. Setbacks when I’m striving for holiness. Doubts about how long I can put up a good fight when the odds feel stacked against me.

During those times, I need someone to sit beside me — maybe even hold my hand — and tell me the old redemption story. Tell me about the God who became a man, walked among us, and built his kingdom. Tell me the truth about his death and resurrection, which I reenacted through baptism when I was a boy. Tell me he loves me, forgives me, walks with me, and is working all things for my good. Tell me you’re my brother or sister and you’re persevering with me, because that’s what saints do. Tell me Jesus is coming back and he’s making all things new — even now, as we sit here hand in hand.

On those nights when I lose focus and can’t seem to find joy in Christ, tell me what I already know: tell me Jesus is worth it.

7 Happy Books

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Besides Happiness, which I review here, I’ve got a handful of happy books for you! Anyone looking for lots of fiction will be disappointed. That stuff’s alright (and there are two on this list), but what REALLY makes me happy is Christian non-fiction. Here are just some of the books that make my happiness levels skyrocket.

1.  Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl by N.D. Wilson — This collection of creative essays reads like a poem, strung together with the theme of wonder. Wilson has a knack for seeing eternity in the ordinary, and a gift for awakening the spiritual senses of his readers, causing us to marvel right alongside him.

2.  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith — I read it before it was cool and before it was a movie. (You might also consider My Favorite Fangs, a tale of the Von Trapp family vampires!)

3.  A Case for Amillennialism by Kim Riddlebarger — This one’s a bit scholarly, but it helped change my end-times perspective. This was the beginning of a long, slow process of becoming an optimist (which I’m still working on). Meditating more on Christ’s current rule and reign certainly helps!

4.  Heaven by Randy Alcorn — My friends know I’m a little obsessed with the new earth. Our future home is always on my mind. Heaven matters in evangelism and everyday life, and here we have 500 glorious pages that stir my imagination and help me keep an eternal perspective.

5.  Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright — Another book about Heaven and how the resurrection changes everything!

6.  The Search for God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield — “A biography of the beer that changed the world.” I love how Arthur Guinness’ devotion to Christ influenced his entire life, family, and company. Cheers!

7.  The Reformers vs. The Prosperity Gospel by Sean O’Brien. Sean is a good friend of mine who makes me edit all his books. (And I make him pay me with food and hugs.) This is the story of what happens when a 3D printer mishap brings Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli to life just days before a televangelist comes to town. Lots of laughs for the “young, restless, reformed” crowd.

Happy reading!