Real joy -- holy hilarity -- is shaped by a disciplined focus of our hearts and minds and souls on things that are good, things that are beautiful, things that are filled with the joy of the Spirit of Christ.

Call it "the power of positive thinking" if you like Norman Vincent Peale.

Call it "possibility thinking" if you're a fan of Robert Schuller.

Call it "garbage in, garbage out" if you're a computer whiz.

Whatever you call it, the principle is the same. To experience joy we have to set our minds on things that are really good, things which express the greatness and goodness and joy of God.

I'm just like you ... I have days when I want to throw in the towel. I had one this week, when I wondered if we were really accomplishing anything around here at all. The phone calls were piling up, there wasn't much progress on the office renovations, the budget proposals seemed beyond our reach ... it was one of those days. Across town for another appointment, I met a member of one of the Disciple Bible Study groups. To tell you the truth, I had forgotten that she was in it. She told me how she loved the leadership, how much the people seemed to care about each other. Then her eyes lit up and she said, "And get this, I've finished studying the book of Genesis already!"

I came back to the office saying, "Harnish, keep your eyes on the good things that are happening around here. Set your minds on the places where people are discovering new life and new joy." Think on these things.

Then move to the Philippians 4:10.

"I rejoice greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it.

This letter is not a "Paul-yanna" denial of the real difficulty of the circumstances Paul faced. None of that. Paul is honest about the distress he faces. But in the midst of that difficulty, there came a gift from the folks in Philippi. This epistle is a "Thank you" note, just like the ones your Mama taught you to write when you receive a gift. It's a letter of thanks for the love, concern, support which come to Paul from Philippi.

Holy hilarity comes from sharing the love, friendship and encouragement of the Body of Christ.

Paul uses this word, hilarotes, in the Corinthian letter when he writes, "God loves a cheerful giver," literally, "God loves a hilarious giver." With the budget going to the Board tomorrow night and wheels cranking up for the Stewardship Crusade, I expected this to be a great place to talk about "hilarious giving." I could see myself warming up for a strong pitch on the joy of giving, but that will have to come later, because in this passage Paul is not talking about the joy of giving, but the joy which comes from receiving. Some Christians have a much harder time receiving than giving but holy hilarity comes from receiving the gift of friendship, laughter, care, encouragement from someone else.

As I said, this was a heavy week. But then Friday I received a surprising piece of mail from a leader in this church which was terribly funny and totally inappropriate for Sunday morning. It was a hoot. I laughed out loud. It was a great gift of joy and encouragement. Holy hilarity comes from sharing the gifts of love and friendship with each other.

Finally, Paul comes to this grand conclusion in Philippians 4:11.

"I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

The J. B. Phillips translation has great feeling for the emotion of Paul's letters. Listen to the way he translated that:

"I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances may be. I know now how to live when things are difficult and I know how to live when things are prosperous...I have learned the secret of facing plenty or poverty. I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me."

Paul said he had already learned all of that. I know that I'd like to. Wouldn't you? Wouldn't you like to experience the hilarity of the soul which thrives within us in any circumstances?

I thought this week about Psalms 51:1, where the psalmist prays, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation." I don't know a single healthy Christian who doesn't have days when they pray that prayer. Anyone who says they never feel like that is either lying to themselves or lying to you. We all need that prayer now and then. And, who knows? Perhaps some of us need it today.

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