Tuesday, August 11, 2009
We all want to be happy (duh!). One of God's little reminders about the importance and the art of happiness came to me in the form of something we all talk about: the weather. In the months leading up to the Sadler's Alaska Challenge handcycling race, one of the things I was anticipating was a break from the summer heat in Tucson. Extended weather reports of between 55-65 degrees was sounding very good to me. When we actually arrived we were met by rain, and the first five days of racing was cold and wet. The weather became a source of frustration. Then, I returned home to my Tucson where I was met with triple-digit, 100 degree plus temperatures. So, again we had something to complain about. All of this reminded me of a simple, basic truth: happiness is a choice. Most people are generally as happy as they choose to be. My determination was whether it was hot or cold, wet or dry, God and life is good and I'm going to be happy! It also led me to some other important considerations about the subject of happiness that you might find helpful; unless, of course, you want to be miserable and are not interested at all in happiness!

Lesson #1: Nothing that comes from the outside can satisfy the soul inside. Real happiness is "heart-based." Much of God's lament for His creatures is because we're always looking for happiness in all the wrong places. Listen to (Jer.2:13) "For my people have done two evil things: They have forsaken me — the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!" (NLT) Most of this world's happiness revolves around having the right circumstances, an abundance of material possessions, and our fickle and unpredictable emotions. All of which turn out to be very poor foundations for experiencing true or lasting happiness. God reiterated this through the prophet Isaiah (Isa.55:1,2) "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance." (NASB) True happiness depends on the character within not externals. The Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote,

If happiness hath not her seat
And center in the breast
We may be wise, or rich, or great
But never can be blest.

Lesson #2: God Himself is the Source of true happiness. It might come as a bit of a shock to some people, but God is a happy God! (1Tim.1:11) says "According to the glorious gospel of the blessed (happy) God which was committed to my trust." (NKJV) Because of this fact, happiness is a measure of our relationship with God and our satisfaction in Him. David wrote and sang (Ps.16:11) "You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore." (NKJV) This is why John Piper said, "God is most glorified (in us) when we are the most satisfied in Him." One of the most eloquent testimonies to this comes from Malcolm Muggeridge who said, "I may, I suppose regard myself as a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets -- that's fame. I can fairly easily earn enough for admission to the higher slopes of the Internal Revenue -- that's success. Furnished with money and a little fame, I may partake of trendy diversions -- that's pleasure. It might happen that my writing will make a serious impact on our time -- that's fulfillment. Yet I say to you -- and I beg you to believe me -- multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing -- less than nothing, measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers."

Lesson #3: Happiness is serious business. The greatest formula for happiness every invented was spoken by Jesus Christ in His famous Sermon on the Mount which began with an astounding series of principles of happiness known as "The Beatitudes." What is so significant is that happinesss is clearly one of the matters of first importance to the Lord and those who follow Him. In the language of heaven, the word He uses for true happiness is translated, "blessed." Some versions of the New Testament say, "O the happiness of....." It means to be approved by God. It carries the sense of His smile or approval of you, and is a word of love and affection. "Blessedness is deep, lasting, spiritual, and accessible, not circumstantial, tangible, emotional. Blessedness is serious business. Blessedness doesn't come from this world, but from the next. It is not from human resources, but divine." If you were to give a survey with the fill-in-the-blank question, "Happiness is ______" you would get a myriad of answers of the things people feel are the essentials to and for happiness. Jesus, however, tells us that true happiness is based on character and spiritual maturity. It has to do with who you are. In the end, happiness is serious business (not fluff) and in this context becomes a worthy goal.

Lesson #4: Happiness has transcendent roots and is the fruit of practice. One of the great curses of human nature is we are seldom satisfied and always prone to complain. The comprehensive and unqualified command that defies our thankless and complaining nature is (Phil.4:4) "Rejoice in the Lord always, and I again I say, rejoice." Paul is not writing this from the Cafe Roma as he sips expresso. He is writing from a Roman prison cell unsure of whether he woud live or die, and twice he commands, "rejoice in the Lord." There is a supernatural dimension here that is not based on circumstances and has no loopholes. He says, "always" which translated means always! This is not just talking about a smiley face but it is the fruit of a relationship with the Lord. He exhorts, "rejoice in the Lord." This capacity only comes from what the Lord has done in the past, what He's doing now, and the hope of what He will do in the future Just so that we wouldn't forget he repeats the command saying "again I say rejoice."

So, beloved, happiness is a mindset that we must learn, practice and master. It is not just a fortunate state of mind that we drift into...it is a choice, a mindset. Blaise Pascal wrote,
"All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every person, even of those who hang themselves." You owe it to yourself and to others around you to......BE HAPPY!
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
I don't want to beat a dead horse, but I want to revisit the saga or circus that was Michael Jackson. It seemed like in the wake of his death everything about his life was amplified! You would have thought that one of the great personages in history had died given the amount of network media attention, the 20,000 who filled the Staples Center, and the millions around the world who watched this on TV. Many of the same people who had vilified him when he was alive ("Wacko Jacko") were eulogizing him in his death. You've got to admit that much of it was way over the top as he was eulogized in word and song by an all-star list of musicians, athletes, and other celebrities. While Michael Jackson was a great musical talent and entertainer, many made him out to have almost "Savior-like" qualities and impact. At best, Michael Jackson was a troubled and tormented soul.

All of this made me question and ask myself what was really going on? It was so over the top that I realized it went much deeper than just our shallow, obsessive, celebrity culture. One of the Reverends who spoke at the funeral said,
"As long as we remember him, he will always be there to comfort us." Excuse me? This is absurd! I have been able to identify 3 things of real importance.

  1. A blatant display of idolatry. Did you know that idolatry is the most frequently discussed problem in Scripture? It's not just some ancient tendency of a pre-enlightened people, but it is the strong penchant in every human heart and a prevalent and pernicious sin. It is not an accident that the 1st commandment says (Ex.20:3) "you shall have no other gods before me." Idolatry is not just some obsolete practice of days gone by, it is the primary sin of the human race! It involves the worship of someone or something other than, different than, or less than the true and living God and Creator. Maybe a few of these quotes will further highlight this problem. Ken Sande said, "An idol is not simply a statue of wood, stone or metal. It is anything that we love and pursue in the place of God. An idol is something other than God that we set our hearts on, that motives us, that masters or rules us, or that we serve." Richard Keyes commented, "An idol is something within creation that is inflated to function as God." He also said, "All sorts of things are potential idols, depending only on our attitudes and actions towards them...Idolatry may not involve explicit denials of God's existence or character. It may well come in the form of an over-attachment to something that is, in itself, perfectly good...an idol can be a physical object, a property, a person, an activity, a role, an institution, a hope, an image, an idea, a pleasure, a hero----anything that can substitute for God." I believe that the most telling truth about us and idolatry comes from John Calvin. He said, "The human heart is a factory of idols. Everyone of us is, from his mother's womb, expert in inventing idols." This is what we saw on display at Michael Jackson's funeral: not just the grief or sadness over a departed loved one or even a great talent...but, full-on idolatry! I kept hearing references to Michael Jackson as "the King" or "the King of Pop." He might have to get in line for this title because before him I think Elvis Presley was known as "the king." The the NBA gives us Lebron James, better known as "King James." You have a television show and character called "The King of Queens" etc. The difference is I wonder if Michael Jackson came to believe this about himself, that he was "the king." He went so far to name his son, "Prince Michael" so you draw your own conclusions!

  2. A deep heart hunger for worship. What I saw in Michael Jackson's memorial at the Staples Center bordered on a worship service more than a funeral...and it wasn't worship for the real King, the Lord Jesus Christ. To me, it spoke to me and confirmed the fact that man was made to worship. He will worship someone or something. Someone has said, "So long as man remains, he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship." How true! Jesus spoke to the woman at the well and told her (Jn.4:23,24) "The time is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him."

  3. Who or what is truly worthy? Worship and worthy go together, since worship comes from a word meaning "worth-ship." All the saga surrounding Michael Jackson's death simply confirmed to me that I want to live my life knowing who and what is truly worthy (possesses intrinsic value, excellence etc.). This is the truth that reverberates throughout the Book of Revelation and the scenes around the throne of God. (Rev.5:11,12) gives us the picture of an innumerable multitude "saying with a loud voice: worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!" The hunger and desires of the human heart can only be quenched by the One who in Himself and all He accomplished for you and I, is worthy! If you don't think this is a major issue, than a little history lesson is in order. In the Roman Empire, one of the political (spiritual) demands was that every resident had to offer a pinch of incense on an altar once a year and declare that "Caesar is Lord." It was more of a matter of formality and governance in such a vast and diverse empire. But, early Christians saw things differently! They realized the spiritual overtones and refused to do so, because only Jesus Christ is Lord. It was a basic question of worthiness.

So just that there's no mistaking at all, the Psalms asks a repeated
question (Ps.24:8-10) "Who is the King of glory?" Everyone will have to answer this question correctly one day. The resounding answer is, "the Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle...the Lord of hosts, He is the king of glory." King Jesus is Who it's all about! (Phil.2:9-11) says, "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow...and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." This verse is one of many that was the inspiration for that great hymn of the church, "All Hail The Power of Jesus' Name." A fitting way to close is to give you a "taste" from this hymn (musicians and singers in the background!). "All hail the pow'r of Jesus' name! Let an-gels prostrate fall: Bring forth the roy-al di-a-dem, And crown Him Lord of all, Bring forth the roy-al di-a-dem, and crown Him Lord of all!" I'm sorry, but I've got to give you a little more, "Let ev-'ery kin-dred, ev-'ry tribe On this ter-res-trial ball, Hail Him who saves you by His grace, And crown Him Lord of all, Hail Him who saves you by His grace, And crown Him Lord of all!"

In our world of great and small, rich and poor, famous and unknown, there is only One who is worthy, and His name is
Jesus! My prayer is that you would have your own coronation ceremony in your own heart and life, and "crown Him Lord of all!"

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