Happiness And Holiness – Reprise


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So says a portion of the Declaration of Independence adopted on July 4, 1776. Sadly, those lines too often have become twisted and confused.

Twisted because the right to pursue happiness is understood by many to be the right to demand happiness. It is my right, therefore, to have whatever I believe I need to make me happy.

Confused because God has been evoked. The assumption clearly is that God wants us to be happy.

I had a dear friend look me in the eye once and tell me she would not obey Scripture because she believed God wanted her to be happy, and doing what the Bible said, would make her unhappy.

I’m pretty sure she’s not alone.

Does God want His people to be happy? There are lots of things that He promised and gave that are recorded in Scripture, and certainly those things would seem to have made the recipients happy. The woman whose dead son Elisha brought back to life was undoubtedly happy. When David didn’t kill all the people in Nabal’s household, I imagine Abigail was quite happy. When Peter and John cured the lame man, his leaping about and praising God makes me think he was pretty happy.

In addition, God promised Abraham that He would bless him and multiply his descendants. He promised Solomon He would give him wisdom and riches and long life. He promised Gideon that he would give him victory in battle.

God’s generosity and faithfulness do generate happiness. But the truth is, by focusing on happiness, we are settling.

It’s a little like the psych test I just read about. Apparently one study had the examiner bring in kindergartners one at a time, show them a trick-or-treat-size candy bar and tell them they could have it, but if they waited until the examiner came back, then they could have a large size candy bar. Seventy-five percent of the kids opted for the one bite they could have right then and there.

You might be wondering if this is where I’ll bring in holiness—if we’re only willing to live holy lives instead of worrying about happiness, then some day in heaven we’ll have the whole enchilada.

No, actually that’s not it. Holiness is the whole enchilada. Holiness is a result of right relationship with God—not something we can achieve on our own.

By being in right relationship with God, the things of God become the things we desire. It’s the truth of Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

If I delight in the Lord, many people think, then God has to give me what I want. What those thinking along those lines don’t realize is that true delighting in the Lord realigns our desires.

No longer did Paul want to successfully hunt down Christians and throw them in jail. What had once given him satisfaction and a sense of success was something he abhorred after his desires were realigned.

Did God keep His promise and give Paul the desires of his heart? Absolutely—the new desires of his heart.

Holiness, I suggest, will become our new desire as we align our hearts with God, as we learn to delight in Him.

I don’t think that’s an easy thing to do if we’re caught up in the pursuit of happiness, however, and probably impossible if we’re caught up in the demand for happiness.

This post originally appeared here in July 2011.

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Published in: on November 1, 2017 at 4:30 pm  Comments (4)  
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Clearing Up July 4th Confusion


Here in the US we celebrated July 4th this week. That’s our Independence Day. It’s a little off according to historical facts, but nevertheless, it’s the day we observe.

Except, it’s actually become somewhat confused with two other days we set aside each year—Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day. The first was originally designated as Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I, which was why November 11 was originally chosen. It was renamed Veterans Day in 1954 and became a day to honor those Americans who served or were serving in the military.

The second, Memorial Day, is set aside in May to pay tribute to the members of the military who died serving their country and actually came into being some time after the Civil War.

So we honor service members in November and those who sacrificed their lives for their country in May. What then are we celebrating on Independence Day?

In reality, this holiday grew out of thankfulness that we have a country. It celebrates the declaration of independence from the British empire, though the Continental Congress actually voted for independence two days earlier. The formal signing of the document that grew from that vote became the day we acknowledge as the birth of the US.

So in reality, our celebrations should center on our foundation, not on the Constitution, which wouldn’t be written for another decade or more, not on our flag which hadn’t been created yet, not on our military because it was non-existent at the time.

What we had was a Continental Congress and a Declaration of Independence. And that’s quite enough to celebrate.

Here’s how it begins:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,— That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

I can’t help but wonder if we as a nation still hold these truths to be self-evident.

Happy Fourth Of July


Fourth_of_July_Fireworks_at_Washington_DC_-_1Today is Independence Day here in the US, the commemoration of the Declaration of Independence, though we generally associate the day with the War of Independence. Consequently, the most obvious activity connected with our celebration is firing off fireworks or attending fireworks shows.

From time to time, however, it’s a good idea to think a bit more about the document that was behind the establishment of the USA. After all, this short treatise claims rights for all men, “inalienable rights,” no less. Here’s how it begins:

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

So happy Fourth Of July, to you all, everywhere.

Published in: on July 4, 2014 at 5:50 pm  Comments Off on Happy Fourth Of July  
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Happiness And Holiness


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So says a portion of the Declaration of Independence adopted on July 4, 7776. Sadly, those lines too often have become twisted and confused.

Twisted because the right to pursue happiness is understood by many to be the right to demand happiness. It is my right, therefore, to have whatever I believe I need to make me happy.

Confused because God has been evoked. The assumption clearly is that God wants us to be happy.

I had a dear friend look me in the eye once and tell me she would not obey Scripture because she believed God wanted her to be happy, and doing what the Bible said, would make her unhappy.

I’m pretty sure she’s not alone.

Does God want His people to be happy? There are lots of things that He promised and gave that are recorded in Scripture, and certainly those things would seem to have made the recipients happy. The woman whose dead son Elisha brought back to life was undoubtedly happy. When David didn’t kill all the people in Nabal’s household, I imagine Abigail was quite happy. When Peter and John cured the lame man, his leaping about and praising God makes me think he was pretty happy.

In addition, God promised Abraham that He would bless him and multiply his descendants. He promised Solomon He would give him wisdom and riches and long life. He promised Gideon that he would give him victory in battle.

God’s generosity and faithfulness do generate happiness. But the truth is, by focusing on happiness, we are settling.

It’s a little like the psych test I just read about. Apparently one study had the examiner bring in kindergartners one at a time, show them a trick-or-treat-size candy bar and tell them they could have it, but if they waited until the examiner came back, then they could have a large size candy bar. Seventy-five percent of the kids opted for the one bite they could have right then and there.

You might be wondering if this is where I’ll bring in holiness — if we’re only willing to live holy lives instead of worrying about happiness, then some day in heaven we’ll have the whole enchilada.

No, actually that’s not it. Holiness is the whole enchilada. Holiness is a result of right relationship with God — not something we can achieve on our own.

By being in right relationship with God, the things of God become the things we desire. It’s the truth of Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

If I delight in the Lord, many people think, then God has to give me what I want. What those thinking along those lines don’t realize is that true delighting in the Lord realigns our desires.

No longer did Paul want to successfully hunt down Christians and throw them in jail. What had once given him satisfaction and a sense of success was something he abhorred after his desires were realigned.

Did God keep His promise and give Paul the desires of his heart? Absolutely — the new desires of his heart.

Holiness, I suggest, will become our new desire as we align our hearts with God, as we learn to delight in Him.

I don’t think that’s an easy thing to do if we’re caught up in the pursuit of happiness, however, and probably impossible if we’re caught up in the demand for happiness.

Published in: on July 7, 2011 at 5:57 pm  Comments (3)  
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Our Just Deserts


“You deserve a break today,” the old MacDonalds ad declared. And interestingly, the idea of “you deserve” seems to have taken hold in the advertising world. At least among advertisers on Christian radio.

I hear it all the time (and I only have the radio on for a half hour a day). You deserve better than what your insurance company will give you, so contact such and such a lawyer. You deserve a fair adjustment to your mortgage, so contact such and such a firm. You deserve to be happy so contact such and such a counseling agency.

I suspect that “you deserve to be happy” line is at the root of most of this thinking. And it’s straight from the US Declaration of Independence, isn’t it? Here’s the line, recorded in the second section of the document:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So I notice a couple problems. While the founding fathers of the soon-to-be United States mentioned the “pursuit of happiness,” today’s popular understanding seems to interpret this as achieved happiness. Plus, those drafting the Declaration referred to “rights.” Are “rights” the same as “deserts”?

According to my on-line dictionary, the noun form of this word (when not referring to arid land 😉 ) means “a person’s worthiness or entitlement to reward or punishment.”

So the idea we are deserving … of fair treatment or of equity or of happiness would seem to carry with it the idea that something about us makes these good things our due. We must either have done something to earn them or we must be something to earn them.

Clearly, in the ads I’ve been listening to, the implication is the latter. You’ve been in an accident, but your insurance company only wants you to see one of their doctors because they are dedicated to paying out as little money as possible. But you deserve more.

My question: What about being in an accident entitles anyone to more?

But apart from the logic, I look at what the Bible says about what we deserve, and I get a completely different picture.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

So what I deserve is death. What God gives me as a free gift is eternal life in Christ. Where is entitlement in any of that?

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Published in: on July 27, 2009 at 9:10 am  Comments (9)  
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