THE HOLY HEART ASSOCIATION – JOY
Over these Sundays of late spring and now early summer, we are exploring what it means to become card-carrying members of the Holy Heart Association…that is, to embrace the virtues of the heart from a biblical vantage point. We are discussing such virtues as courage, faith, direction, character, discernment, simplicity, righteousness and commitment. Yes, we are moving beyond the American Heart Association to become full-fledged members of the Holy Heart Association!
Here are 10 things you might want to ponder:
- If the #2 pencil is the most popular, why is it still #2?
- Why are you in a movie but on TV?
- What was the best thing before sliced bread?
- Why do we drive on parkways but park on driveways?
- Why do fat chance and slim chance mean the same thing?
- At a movie theater, which arm rest is yours?
- When does it stop being partly cloudy and start being partly sunny?
- When French people cuss to they say pardon my English?
- Why do people say heads up when you should duck?
And lastly, and most pertinent to this morning’s message…
How do we attain joy in a sneering, jeering, totally unendearing world?
Listen to the wise words of Solomon in Proverbs 17:22:
A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones!
Solomon, and countless physicians today, will tell you that attitude and health are inseparable. What you are in your heart has a direct bearing on your wellbeing. A joyful heart is indeed good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones…literally meaning it sucks the marrow out of the bones.
What are the unhealthy attitudes and practices that lead to a crushed spirit, drying up the bones?
BRITTLE BONES ARE DEGENERATED BY…
Now your teacher probably told you it takes more muscles to front than to smile. That’s not true. It actually takes fewer. However, to frown does require much greater effort and energy. So why exhaust yourself?
Well, some people love to wallow in negativity. They look for the bad in everything, and they usually find it.
My Uncle John and Aunt Virginia had a small farm down near Altavista, VA. It was always fascinating, as a kid, to wander around exploring stuff on that farm…from the horses, cattle, chickens and hogs…to the cool harvesting equipment… to something called a “still” cooking mash in the barn.
One day I came across a strange tree with some odd-looking fruit. Uncle John said it was persimmons, but told me not to bite into one. Said they weren’t ripe. Being hard-headed, I did. And suddenly my mouth and my entire face became contorted and my mouth completely inverted! It was the sourest thing I had ever tasted! He laughed at me.
And my Uncle John would probably laugh at many folk in church today…folk who wear that perpetual frown of consternation, looking like they’ve been sucking on green persimmons.
Brittle bones, evidence of a crushed spirit, are degenerated by frowning. And also by…
We live in a culture today where folk are no longer content to keep up with the proverbial Joneses. No, we are hellbent on surpassing them!
We are insecure and unsatisfied. Therefore we invest ourselves in trying to prove we are somebody in our neighbor’s sight. We jealous of what they have, and then we burn ourselves out trying to attain it, seeking to live up to an imaginary and superficial standard, that we might win their approval.
We somehow become deluded into believing what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours ought to be mine also. And such an endless, mindless attitude will eventually crush the spirit. As will…
And by associating, I mean frequenting the company of toxic people.
Now we all know persons who have “buzz kill” tattooed to their foreheads. They enjoy percolating negativity and poisoning everyone else’s coffee with it as well.
And we willfully find ourselves befriending such toxic people, joining in and enjoying the hayride down into the gutter—gossiping, hating, tearing down. My daddy used to call it becoming herdbound.
We become whom we associate with. The snarkiness, the cynicism rubs off on us. We begin to only see the bad in everything. And the Christ in us is no longer recognizable.
Some of us are messed up because we are hanging around messed-up people. We’re angry because we’re hanging around angry people. We’re bitter because we’re hanging around bitter people. We’re critical because we’re hanging around critical people.
Yes, a crushed spirit is caused by associating with toxic people.
Brittle bones are also degenerated by…
Did you ever notice that some of the most miserable people are so righteous they can never admit they’re wrong? It’s always someone else’s fault.
The spiritual diagnosis for it is plank eye. You know what plank eye is, don’t you? Remember what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount?
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
– Matthew 7:3-5
Brittle bones, evidenced by a crushed spirit, are degenerated by blaming. And let’s add one final one to the list…
How did the famous preacher of the early 20th century, Harry Emerson Fosdick, once put it? “Persons wrapped up in themselves make very small packages.”
But that’s precisely the M.O. of many individuals today. That’s the society we live in. For many, life is one big selfie with everyone else cropped out of the picture. You simply look out for number one and no one else, selfishly grabbing, hoarding, hoodoing, mooching – with no thought for anyone or anything else.
Solomon preached, A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones!
Yes, there are certain unhealthy attitudes and practices that lead to a crushed spirit, sucking the very life out of our proverbial bones. But thankfully, there are also certain attitudes and practices that foster an enduring state of joy.
JOYFUL HEARTS ARE CULTIVATED BY…
Did you ever hear the story of Dr. Norman Cousins, who for a number of years was on the medical staff at the UCLA School of Medicine? Back in the 1960’s, Dr. Cousins was diagnosed with having a strange, rare kind of disease that destroys the connective tissue of the body. The doctors gave him the battery of expensive tests and said, “Sorry, there is really nothing we can do. It is degenerative and you are going to die.”
Dr. Cousins said, “Well, I didn’t want to just give up.” So he set himself on a regimen of exercise, high doses of Vitamin C, and then he added an unusual thing. He rented a projector and played Marx Brothers and Three Stooges movies and all the cartoons he could find. For hours each day, he would take his Vitamin C and watch the Marx Brothers and Three Stooges and would laugh his head off. What he discovered was that ten minutes of hearty laughter gave him a whole hour free from pain. So he would watch those movies over and over and over again. He discovered, as he did this, that he began to get better.
The day came when Cousins went back to the doctors and they said, “We don’t know what happened, because this was an incurable disease; but as far as we know, you are completely cured.” He lived about another 20 years after that and wrote a book called Anatomy of an Illness, in which he made the point that your mental attitude, especially laughter, lightheartedness, cheerfulness has a great deal to do with one’s degree of recovery and wellness.
Yes, joyful hearts are cultivated by laughing instead of frowning.
Cheerleading instead of envying.
One of my closest childhood friends, Keith Davis, died last December of cancer. He was 59. And he was a cheerleader. Not in the sense of someone doing acrobatics in front of a raucous sporting event crowd.
No, growing up, Keith was not a great athlete. He sat the bench in every sport he played. Yet, this very humble and runt of a fellow who maybe weighed 100 lbs. soaking wet never felt sorry for himself. There was not an ounce of jealousy in his bones. He was always standing, shouting support for Gary, Pete, me and other friends on the baseball diamond, the football field, the basketball court.
Keith went on to serve as a warden in the Va. Department of Corrections for 36 years. Ex-offenders often told of how his tough encouragement helped them stay on the straight and narrow once released from prison. The same was true for the folks he shared his faith with as a Sunday School teacher at Main St. Baptist Church in Emporia.
You never saw Keith without a smile on his face. He had a joyful heart that came from cheerleading for others rather than envying their talents and good fortune.
Joyful hearts are also cultivated by..
Connecting with God and good, godly people rather than allowing ourselves to be dragged down through associating with toxic people.
Someone put it this way: between the optimist and the pessimist, the difference is droll; the optimist sees the doughnut, the pessimist sees the hole.
Getting back to my old friend Keith, he once said the key to someone breaking free from a lifetime of criminal behavior was finding a different group of peers to connect with. And that is true in all of life. We need to establish ongoing, deep, real relationships with God and God’s people. We need to surround ourselves with folk whom we can be transparent with, in whom we can find positive support. And we need to let go of the toxic people.
Joyful hearts need such connection…
And along with laughing, cheerleading and connecting, we also need to be about…
Forgiving instead of blaming.
It’s hard to hold on to seething resentment and spite without it eventually taking a heavy toll on your mind, body and spirit.
It’s like the little boy who was sitting on the park bench in obvious agony, tears rolling down his cheeks. A man walking by asked him what was wrong. The boy replied, “I’m sitting on a bumblebee.”
“Well, why don’t you get up?” the man asked. The boy replied, “Because I figure I’m hurting him more than he’s hurting me!”
My friends, our health can only improve when someone decides to get up off the park bench, and that someone ought to be you.
Dr. Redford Williams of the Duke University School of Medicine puts it this way: “There is a strong correlation between hostility and death rates. People who live angry, who hold on to unforgiveness, who do nothing but blame, have shorter life spans. In brief, grudgeholders are gravediggers, and the only graves they dig are their own.”
You might say, “Burch, that’s all well and good, but even if I manage to forgive someone, how could I possibly ever forget what they did to me?
All we can do is pray, Lord, help me! And He who has promised we can do all things through Him who strengthens us is there to empower us to do that which we cannot do on our own.
Corrie Ten Boom, that saintly Dutch Christian woman who offered safe haven for many Jews during the Holocaust of WWII, only to be arrested and suffered the brutalities of a concentration camp herself, once wrote about forgiveness. She told of not being able to forget a wrong that had been done to her. She had forgiven the individual, but she kept rehashing the incident in her mind. She couldn’t sleep. Finally Corrie cried out to God for help in putting the problem to rest.
She wrote, “God’s help came in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks. ‘Up in the church tower,’ he said, nodding out the window, ‘is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the custodian lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding, then dong. Slower and slower until there’s a final clang and it stops.'”
Corrie said the pastor continued, “‘I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive, we take our hand off the rope. But if we’ve been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn’t be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They’re just the soundings of the old bell slowing down.’
Corrie said, “And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversations, but the force–which was my willingness in the matter–had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at the last stopped altogether. Yes, we can trust God not only above our emotions, but also above our thoughts.”
Joyful hearts are cultivated by forgiving instead of blaming others… and also by….
Giving instead of always taking.
Paul proclaimed, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Why? Because generosity in sharing of our time, talents and resources invariably leads to an enduring, priceless joy. Giving people are happy, carefree people.
I love the account in Mark 2:1-12. Jesus is back in Capernaum. He’s teaching in the living room of someone’s house. A flash mob has gathered. The house is crammed with people. They are even standing 4-5 deep around the outside perimeter listening through the open windows.
Suddenly Jesus hears a scratching noise from above. He looks and gets dirt in his eyes. “What the…” And then a hole starts opening up in the thatched ceiling above! And before Jesus can say anything, a paraplegic man is lowered down on a mat tied to ropes from the roof above, all engineered by four of his friends.
Jesus is so astounded by their compassion in bringing their handicapped friend to him that he immediately heals the guy. And the entire house erupts in laughter and joy. These four fellows would let their friend down, yes, but they would not let him down. They carried him many miles and they hoisted him up on the roof and made darn well sure he would get the attention of the Master.
Is it all about me taking or is it about me giving? Would I go to the rooftop for someone? That’s where joy is found.
Yes, Solomon preached, A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones!
And at the end of the day, a joyful heart is the result of choice…
Making the choice to spend time
- Laughing instead of frowning
- Cheerleading instead of envying
- Connecting with God and good, godly people instead of associating with toxic people
- Forgiving instead of blaming
- Giving instead of taking
It’s not brain surgery, but it is heart surgery.
May God help us choose to make it so!