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.

Published in: on November 1, 2017 at 4:30 pm  Comments (4)  
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Me-ism


Olympia_roller_coasterI was talking with a friend yesterday about the radical changes in society here in the US. We started looking at history to see if we could figure out how the earthshaking changes occurred. OK, first she related to me a discussion in a Bible study centered around Ephesians 5:16: “making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” The question came up from a Millennial, what does it mean “the days are evil”?

Well, that’s a question I think is self-explanatory. I mean, I just heard a statistic that said 90 people a day die in the US from gunshot wounds. Well, I went to verify this if possible. It’s a stat apparently Secretary Hillary Clinton has used in speeches against gun violence. On a web site that lists the numbers of deaths annually, the total they give for 2015 is 12,942 people killed “in a gun homicide, unintentional shooting, or murder/suicide” (The Trace). A little math reveals that’s more than 35 deaths a day.

Oh, so 35 isn’t 90, meaning it’s not so bad? The days aren’t really evil then? Well, 35 people would be like killing everyone (and a few visitors) in one of my classes during my teaching days. Every day! I think that’s pretty evil.

And that doesn’t begin to address the numbers of assaults, the muggings, the lies, the adulteries, the rapes, the abuse, the drunken stupors, the addiction overdoses, the robberies, the prostitution, the bribery, the corruption, the hate, the pornography, the abortions, the cursing, the betrayal. I find the evil to be overwhelming.

I mean, listen to an average news show and see what horrific things are happening in the world. The days are evil.

But this young Millennial had to ask, What does it mean, “The days are evil.”

So my friend and I began to discuss where in society is the breakdown that made this intelligent, well-educated Millennial ask for a definition of evil days. I mean, with atheism on the rise and church attendance on the decline, with terrorism seemingly unchecked, and presidential candidates who are potentially going to be indited for crimes or who have advocated for illegal action in their debates, I find it astounding that anyone would not immediately grasp the concept of “evil days.”

Thus the conclusion: something in our society has broken.

What, and when?

I suggested first, the dynamics of the home are not what they once were. During World War II and the Korean War, then the Viet Nam War, young men were not in the home, so any number of young wives were left to parent alone or to change roles from the one caring for the home to one providing financial necessities.

I didn’t mention this, but divorce also became easier to obtain and the stigma of divorce was removed. Hence, single parent homes began to increase. In short, a generation was not parented well, and they, in turn did a bad job of parenting their children who are now Millennials.

Parenting styles also changed. One difference was the determination that spanking was an inappropriate form of punishment. But there was also a surge of what my friend called “helicopter parents” who constantly hovered. I’ll add that homes became more child-centric than ever.

Our discussion ended before we reached any conclusion, but as I look at the changes in our society, I see two threads: parents who neglected their children, so they ended up growing up like weeds, and pampered children who grew up thinking the world owed them whatever their hearts desired.

Both extremes produced children who are part of the Me-ism of today. The first decided that no one else was going to watch out for them, so they had to watch out for themselves. The latter saw that everyone was taking care of them (coaches awarding participation trophies, teachers giving do-over tests, or changing their standardized test results, more recently, safe zones on university campuses where students won’t hear anything that offends them, and the like), so they expected the world to continue to center around them.

I’ll add another element. Our society has moved from one that believed in hard work and success to one that believes in happiness and safety. Our highest priority now seems to be happiness, and safety is needed to make happiness possible.

Consequently, entertainment occupies much of our time and attention. We want to have music on always. Unless we’re watching TV or the movie of our downloading choice. We read about the stars and watch “news” shows about the stars and talk about the stars. We are obsessed with the lives of people who act. Or sing. Why? Because they entertain us. And entertainment is key to happiness.

I think Me-ism is responsible for our view of truth and the push for tolerance. After all, if the most important value is each person’s individual happiness, then whatever the person wants must be good. If you want to believe in an after life, then that’s fine because it works for you. But if someone else says there is nothing beyond the grave, that’s fine too because they can be happy here and now. Because, you see, all views have to be tolerated so that everyone can be happy.

Enter Jesus saying that He is The way, The truth, The life, and no one can come to God the Father except through Him. He shatters the underpinnings of Me-ism. He shakes us from the lethargy of escape to entertainment and tells us to be on the alert. Peter explains that our enemy, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Paul says to Christians

But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:4-6)

In short, we simply don’t have time to be caught up in Me-ism, no matter what our culture is about. Like the first church which broke from their Jewish friends, neighbors, family, and community, Christians need to break from the culture of Me-ism and hold to the standards of the Bible. Because, yes, the days are evil, but our Redeemer is coming back to set things right.

The Real Secret To Happiness


For the most part, people want to be happy. In fact the US Constitution says the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right given by God. Nevertheless, happiness seems elusive.

Some say happiness is appreciating what you have, others that is is to stop caring about anything. Some say happiness is surrounding yourself with family and friends, and some economist theorizes that embracing the rat race–not escaping it–makes us happier.

I heard this from my former pastor some time ago.

A truck driver stopped at a diner for lunch. Three bikers, covered with tats and piercings and dressed in studded leather, watched him take a seat at the counter. When the trucker’s food came, the bikers left their table and sauntered up to the counter.

One grabbed up the trucker’s burger. “Just the way I like it,” he said, and took a big bite.

The second scooped up the trucker’s fries. “I need a little something to snack on,” he said.

The trucker glared at the two men downing his food but said nothing.

The third man swooped up the trucker’s cola. “I’m a tad thursty,” he said, and gulped down half the drink.

Slowly the truck driver rose. He motioned to the waitress for his check, followed her to the register, and paid.

As he walked from the diner, the bikers howled with laughter as they finished off his lunch. “Not much of a man, is he,” the first one said to the waitress.

“I don’t know about being much of a man, but he’s not much of a truck driver, that’s for sure. He just ran over three bikes.”

Some people think happiness lies in good old revenge. Part of me likes payback, too. It makes me feel justice has been served, and I like that.

Unless I’m the one due justice. The times I mess up, the last thing I want is justice. When it’s me waiting for the sentence to fall, I want one thing–forgiveness.

Believe it or not, forgiveness is the secret to happiness, and not just receiving forgiveness but giving it out as well.

As I’ve written here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in the past, we all stand in need of forgiveness–hence the adage, Nobody’s perfect.

We can rationalize our sins as quirks or foibles or character flaws. We can promise we’ll do better, we’ll make things right some day, we’ll compensate with acts of kindness and generosity. We’ll try harder. And we hope it’s enough–that the people in our lives won’t get sick of us or tired of waiting for us to get our act together.

But honestly, we give up on ourselves from time to time. So we hide out–in work or sex or a bottle. Of course that puts us in need of more forgiveness, and the burden becomes heavier.

God has provided the forgiveness we need.

The reality is, God knew all this, loved us while we were in the midst of the mess we were making, and gave His Son Jesus to pay for every lawbreaking, rebellious thought, attitude, or action in our lives. Nothing for you to do, God says. Jesus took care of your debt. You just confess your sins, and He is faithful and righteous to forgive them all (1 John 1:9).

So that’s the magic word: forgiveness.

When we receive forgiveness, we have the impetus to go out and forgive others.

Rather than living with debilitating bitterness and desires for revenge, we can be as free from the wrong others do as if we sat in their trial and saw the judge hand down a just sentence against them.

Why? Because God said He would repay.

If they confess their sin, then Jesus’s blood will be their payment. If they cling to their rebellion, they will face ultimate judgment.

My holding a grudge? I’m the only loser. My repaying evil for evil? I’m the loser.

Look at Christians who survived horrible things and forgave those who caused them–Corrie ten Boom, Elisabeth Elliot, Gracia Burnham, Kent Whitaker (author of Murder by Family, see “The Compelling Quality of Love”). Their lives of joy and service speak volumes. They reaped ten-fold, and counting, the benefits of their forgiveness.

Who wants to be happy? Pretty much everyone. The real secret to happiness is accepting God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and then forgiving those who are just as imperfect as we are.

This post first appeared here in July 2012.

Published in: on November 13, 2015 at 4:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Real Secret To Happiness


For the most part, people want to be happy. In fact the US Constitution says the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right given by God. Nevertheless, happiness seems elusive.

Some say happiness is appreciating what you have, others that is is to stop caring about anything. Some say happiness is surrounding yourself with family and friends, and some economist theorizes that embracing the rat race–not escaping it–makes us happier.

I heard this from my pastor not long ago.

A truck driver stopped at a diner for lunch. Three bikers, covered with tats and piercings and dressed in studded leather, watched him take a seat at the counter. When the trucker’s food came, the bikers left their table and sauntered up to the counter.

One grabbed up the trucker’s burger. “Just the way I like it,” he said, and took a big bite.

The second scooped up the trucker’s fries. “I need a little something to snack on,” he said.

The trucker glared at the two men downing his food but said nothing.

The third man swooped up the trucker’s cola. “I’m a tad thursty,” he said, and gulped down half the drink.

Slowly the truck driver rose. He motioned to the waitress for his check, followed her to the register, and paid.

As he walked from the diner, the bikers howled with laughter as they finished off his lunch. “Not much of a man, is he,” the first one said to the waitress.

“I don’t know about being much of a man, but he’s not much of a truck driver, that’s for sure. He just ran over three bikes.”

Some people think happiness lies in good old revenge. Part of me likes payback, too. It makes me feel justice has been served, and I like that.

Unless I’m the one due justice. The times I mess up, the last thing I want is justice. When it’s me waiting for the sentence to fall, I want one thing–forgiveness.

Believe it or not, forgiveness is the secret to happiness, and not just receiving forgiveness but giving it out as well.

As I’ve written here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in the past, we all stand in need of forgiveness–hence the adage, Nobody’s perfect.

We can rationalize our sins as quirks or foibles or character flaws. We can promise we’ll do better, we’ll make things right some day, we’ll compensate with acts of kindness and generosity. We’ll try harder. And we hope it’s enough–that the people in our lives won’t get sick of us or tired of waiting for us to get our act together.

But honestly, we give up on ourselves from time to time. So we hide out–in work or sex or a bottle. Of course that puts us in need of more forgiveness, and the burden becomes heavier.

God has provided the forgiveness we need.

The reality is, God knew all this, loved us while we were in the midst of the mess we were making, and gave His Son Jesus to pay for every lawbreaking, rebellious thought, attitude, or action in our lives. Nothing for you to do, God says. Jesus took care of your debt. You just confess your sins, and He is faithful and righteous to forgive them all (1 John 1:9).

So that’s the magic word: forgiveness.

When we receive forgiveness, we have the impetus to go out and forgive others.

Rather than living with debilitating bitterness and desires for revenge, we can be as free from the wrong others do as if we sat in their trial and saw the judge hand down a just sentence against them.

Why? Because God said He would repay.

If they confess their sin, then Jesus’s blood will be their payment. If they cling to their rebellion, they will face ultimate judgment.

My holding a grudge? I’m the only loser. My repaying evil for evil? I’m the loser.

Look at Christians who survived horrible things and forgave those who caused them–Corrie ten Boom, Elisabeth Elliot, Gracia Burnham, Kent Whitaker (author of Murder by Family, see “The Compelling Quality of Love”). Their lives of joy and service speak volumes. They reaped ten-fold, and counting, the benefits of their forgiveness.

Who wants to be happy? Pretty much everyone. The real secret to happiness is accepting God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and then forgiving those who are just as imperfect as we are.

Published in: on July 24, 2012 at 6:02 pm  Comments (2)  
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When All You Have Is Now


Junior Seau had a smile that could light up a room even from the television screen. He was a hard-hitting, ferocious defensive lineman for the San Diego Chargers for twelve years before moving on to Miami and then New England. Successful, well-liked by fans and other players. Dearly loved by his family. And yesterday he was found dead, presumably the victim of a suicide.

The media is at a loss. He wasn’t doing drugs or out of money. In fact he was involved in the community, had his own foundation, was giving back to his school.

There was that little incident a few years ago when he was arrested for domestic violence and shortly thereafter drove his car off a cliff, but he said he fell asleep, so no red flag there! 🙄

In an effort to make sense of this tragedy, the media finally grasped the idea that maybe, just maybe head trauma was causing depression which could lead to suicide. The salient fact was the number of football players and hockey players (also a violent sport, we’re told) who have committed suicide within the last few years.

Interesting that no corroborative numbers were presented from the sport of boxing.

But here’s the point. The members of the media were grasping for an explanation. From their perspective, Mr. Seau had it all: fame, good looks, money, health, love, respect, usefulness. He was only 43, so hardly over the hill. He had all kinds of time to enjoy the life he’d worked so hard to create. It just doesn’t add up. Unless there was a medical reason for such a sad outcome.

Of course I’m no doctor and I didn’t know Junior Seau, so I’m not pretending that I have inside information or that I understand what went through his mind. I have no knowledge whatsoever about what was behind his death.

I do know that the media wouldn’t be at such a loss for influencing factors if they believed in something more than the good life. Did it never cross their minds that maybe, just maybe Mr. Seau had accomplished all his goals and found that he had nothing? Or perhaps he’d been living for football for so long that when it was gone, all the other things he tried to fit in its place left him empty?

Our Western culture doesn’t want to consider that the thing we idolize might actually fail to satisfy. So few people actually “make it,” so we hold those up as our role models: Oprah, Magic, Bill Gates. And when someone breaks into that elite group, we think surely they have attained happiness — the thing the rest of us are still pursuing.

I wonder if that might not be some of the fascination with celebrities — how does it look to have it all, how does it look to be in position to be happy?

Because the rest of us have Monday mornings and car payments, mortgages, laundry, and not enough time to work out. We have doctor bills and angry bosses and loud neighbors. The rich and famous — they can simply buy peace and quiet. Or party til the drop if they’d rather. Surely that’s the life. Isn’t it?

That’s sort of like saying life is good if you can eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the rest of your life. As much as I love chocolate, I still know that I would not be satisfied if my steady and exclusive diet was something so lacking in nutritional value.

But our culture doesn’t look at “the good life” in such terms. The sad thing is, ninety-nine percent of the world looks at those of us in the US as having the good life. We actually illustrate the fact that having cars and smart phones and laptops and iPods and flat screens and houses and twenty pairs of shoes and, and, and … doesn’t satisfy. If it did, we’d stop trying so hard to get the next gadget, the next goody. We’d be content and start living within our means. We’d be more generous and worry less about losing what we have.

But no. We want our now to be better than it is, because that’s all we’ve got. If we die young or die poor, then we haven’t made it.

Sadly, that philosophy misses the mark because this life is not all there is. It’s much easier to be content in want or in plenty, as Paul said he was, if you know you have eternal riches stored up for you in heaven. The good life here or the suffering life is really one and the same — training camp for the real dance.

Published in: on May 3, 2012 at 6:39 pm  Comments (8)  
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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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