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Volume 12, Issue 3: Stauron

Zen Happy Days

Gary Hagen

Joy is the serious business of Heaven.
- C.S. Lewis

Jesus said his disciples would be fishers of men. And a curious lot of anglers we are too. We launch our boats out onto the seas of our city streets, and post revival flyers on channel buoys as we row. Finally, we hold lighted signs on the bow of the ship announcing "Fish Fry Tonite" and expect the fish to come jumping out of the water into our Coleman coolers! Why doesnít this work better? Well, lots of reasons. But one is that we have lost our ability to hold conversations with our neighbors, citizens of popular culture. And so we have no bait, no hook, and no pole. But no matter. We just keep whistling for those fish to leap at our command like so many trained dolphins "Heeey Charlie Tuna, here boy!"

But when Jesus preached salvation to the woman at the well in Samaria, he used the "housework" of drawing water as an icebreaker. Conversational bait, if you will. On Mars Hill, Paul declared the gospel to Greek philosophers. In doing so, he referred to their poets and pointed out the holes in their religion. But in order to do that, he had to first be somewhat conversant in Greek literature and know something about their idol gospel.
One of the dubitable keepers of our culture is the ubiquitous suburban bookstore. These moderators of the oxymoronic Great pop-Conversation, like their Greek forefathers, offer all the latest "literary" chat. Of course, this chat is not carried on with one voice either. Rather, it is like dropping into a new-millennium party, with conversational buzz running in a hundred directions. But one theme recurs time and again with regularity. And it is not confined just to bookstores. You can find it on college campuses, Saturday morning cartoons, the late show, or at so called nature-science stores. The way of Zen is ancient, but Zen continues to infiltrate many aspects of Western pop culture.
Now Psalm One begins with an unusual Hebrew word that occurs only in the plural form, and is usually translated as "blessed." Spurgeon noted that it is debatable whether the original word was an adjective or verb, but he suggested that it is to be regarded as an acclamation of multiplied happiness to Godís justified elect.
The pervasive obsession in our culture with happiness is one point to which Zen now appeals. In pop culture, this pursuit of happiness is often confused with a pursuit of pleasure, something that mankind has been getting wrong ever since the Garden of Eden when Eve cast her gaze on pleasant, but forbidden fruit. But pleasure is no guarantor of happiness, and adversity not always an obstacle. Some savvy sinners finally wake up to this fact, and so go off in search of an alternative. Often they find an Eastern monk.
Perhaps the most prominent apostle of the Buddhist gospel today is the exiled Tibetan theocrat, Tenzin Gyatso (aka Dalai Lama XIV). His Illuminating the Path 2000 tour across the US has placed him on TV talk shows, arranged speaking schedules in major cities, and obtained the sponsorship of an upscale suburban bookstore chain. The displays promote his dozen or so books including The Art of Happiness, which has been popular enough with your fishy neighbors to remain on the NY Times Bestseller List for the past year.
Like many thinkers whose thoughts run the landscape without the map of scripture, there is often just enough truth in the fallacy to almost make it sound deceptively right at points. In the Zen gospel, happiness and salvation are attained by inner discipline: combating negative states of mind and cultivating positive states. It boils down to pulling oneself up by oneís own bootstraps: manís own works. This clearly contradicts the biblical gospel of grace by faith in Christ alone. Nonetheless, other authors write goofy books such as Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit. Often this happens because the Church today preaches a truncated, gnostic gospel. We need to re-read passages like Isaiah 55 and John 10:10.
Our sovereign God does appoint sorrow at times. We donít always know just why. Job lost all, yet did not lose faith in his Lord. Paul and Barnabas were persecuted and expelled from Antioch, yet they were filled with joy (Acts 13:52). Habakkuk (3:17Ė18) rejoiced in the God of his salvation despite economic collapse and poverty. Where does such joy come from?
It is God who does this, not man. The saints receive true joy as a gift through faith (Ps. 4:7; 5:11). By Godís grace, for Christís sake, His "wells of salvation" supply not only forgiveness, but also joy (Is. 12:2Ė3).
Psalm One depicts blessing, great happinesses, for the man who abides in Godís word (vv. 1Ė3). Christ shows that we abide in Him by abiding in and obeying His words (Jn.15:7,10), and he told us this so that our joy would be full (v.11). Joy is given, not by following counsel from apostles of an ungodly gospel (Ps. 1:1), but by our Savior, the Counselor (Isa. 9:6), to His redeemed.
Scripture teaches that we find not only righteousness, but peace and "joy unspeakable and full of glory" in Christ, because He is our salvation (Rom. 14:17 cf. 1 Peter 1:8Ė9). But donít tell the fish.

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