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Anything that hinders the pursuit of constant and unconditional happiness—outdated electronics, jobs, marriages— instantly becomes disposable.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)


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)

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel :: Advent’s Hope

“Caesar is Lord,” the people would shout as his chariot traversed the streets. Rome’s elite culture—philosophy to viaducts, engineering to economics—was unsurpassed, and almost universally recognized as the hope of the world. It was stunning when the empire fell into decline.

In the end, Caesar proved not only unable to save his kingdom, but even himself. The fall of Rome plunged civilization into what historians have long-called the Dark Ages. For hundreds of years battles raged endlessly, pestilence and plague spread freely, and chaos seemed to gain the upper hand all too regularly.

The period isn’t significantly brighter in church history. Scripture was largely inaccessible, starving the Church of sound doctrine and increasing the growth of folk religion, superstition, and far worse. (The devastating interpretations of Scripture that lead to the crusades were brewing during this time.)

“O come, Thou Wisdom, from on high, and order all things far and nigh,” wrote an anonymous monk sometime before 800 C.E. The words to “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” cry out from the depths of the Dark Ages—longing for God’s presence, Emmanuel, to rescue humankind.

In some ways the unknown author behind this song is an outlier to his or her world; the lyrics demonstrate intimate knowledge of Scripture in a time of illiteracy. In other ways the lyricist was shaped firmly by the Dark Ages—depravity writ large—and its revelations of humanity’s limits. Even had there been a vision for restoration present, no one on earth would have been sufficient to breathe it to life.

O come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace.

“Jesus is Lord,” is a revolutionary claim. It upends not only global empires, but whatever we would enthrone on our own hearts to save us from the insufficiency of our world.

In Advent we await the coming of the all-sufficient King; he is the wisdom we yearn for and the power we need. He is God, and his presence brings healing to our world and restoration to our hearts.

Listen: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel by Francesca Battistelli (4:20)

Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 29 (Listen – 5:50)
2 Peter 3 (Listen – 3:21)

Why We Celebrate Advent :: Advent’s Hope

As a commercial event, Christmas seems to come too soon each year. In the church calendar—observed by Christians around the world for centuries—Christmas morning marks the beginning of the season, and our hearts now rest in the season of Advent. To put that in the language of modern music, celebrating “Joy to the World” before we cry “O Come O Come Emmanuel” misses the hope of Advent.

“The ancient theologians of the Church, such as Origen and Clement of Alexandria, look upon the Christian life as one continual festival,” observes Ida von Hahn-Hahn. “Because the night of sin has been overcome by redemption, because reconciliation with God has brought peace and true joy to the soul, and because from this joy no one is excluded who does not voluntarily separate himself from God.”

Hahn-Hahn, a German countess who wrote a series of books on church history in the late 19th century, highlights the importance of Advent throughout history in preparing the souls of the faithful for Christmas:
Particular times were set apart as festivals, which, like faithful messengers of religion, returned every year, unceasingly announcing the work of redemption, and by their attractive festivity enkindling man, and preparing his soul for the everlasting feast of heaven.

The fast of the four weeks of Advent, to prepare the sinful world for the merciful coming of the Lord… is not to be fulfilled by a trifling and superficial joy, but by the supernatural rejoicing of a heart entirely resting in God, and a life wholly consecrated to Him. Zeal for sanctification should extend over all the aims and objects of life.
Our goal in this season isn’t to usurp materialism only to restore an idyllic image of Christmas-past. Advent is a season where we seek the renewal of our souls in Christ as we prepare for Christmas-present—longing for Christmas-future: the great second Advent where the broken are restored, the dead are revived, and the hope of the gospel brings forth the restoration of all things. So in this season we joyfully, and longingly, sing together, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.”

Today’s Reading
1 Chronicles 28 (Listen – 4:45)
2 Peter 2 (Listen – 3:52)