Surely My Life Is Worth More Than Nineteen Feet Of Stuff. Right?

stuff

According to the U-Haul website, a nineteen foot truck is sufficient to move a three bedroom house. After moving the contents of my three bedroom house, using a nineteen foot truck, I can only conclude that U-Haul based its estimate on a monastic family, which has taken a vow of poverty. We packed that truck as full as full could be, and I can say without any exaggeration, that we didn’t have a spare inch left. As I surveyed the truck, I thought to myself, My family has become the Beverly Hillbillies. The folks who are going to help us unload are going to think we’re hoarders!

As I surveyed the truck, I was also freshly reminded that life is about so much more than stuff.

Life is about forming wonderful memories with Jen, Charis, Ella, and Gwendolyn. About eating ice cream together on a hot summer night. About having tickle fights on the bed. About the girls singing “Let It Go” over and over and over. About Charis learning to ride a bike without training wheels. About Gwendolyn singing Aviici in her tiny, two year-old voice. About dance parties in the kitchen.

Life is about the blessing of having godly parents. Parents who regularly read the Bible. Parents who taught me that you can’t outgive God. Parents who regularly take my kids out to McDonalds for fries and chocolate milk. Parents who only want the best for you, even if the best means moving far away. Parents who drive twenty-one hours, from Pennsylvania to Florida, in order to help you move. Parents who still give their grown children money when things get tight.

Life is about enjoying the wonderful gifts God sprinkles throughout each day. An ice cold Coke on a blistering hot day. A soothing shower after a long run. The swish-plop sound of a fishing lure being cast out, then landing on the water. The smell of freshly ground gourmet coffee.

Most importantly, life is about loving Jesus. About filling every nook and cranny of my life with the wonderful light and love of Jesus Christ. About living in light of eternity. About pouring myself out in service to Jesus, knowing that it’s best to die empty. About devoting my limited talents and skills to the cause of making Jesus Christ known.

After taking stock of all that he had accumulated, and concluding that it was all vanity, Solomon came to a surprising conclusion. You would expect him to conclude that all of life is pointless, a futile game in which no one wins. But he doesn’t. Rather, Solomon concludes that the good life isn’t achieved by collecting things, but rather, by enjoying the simple, good pleasures that God himself provides.

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 ESV)

I spend so much time thinking about stuff. Getting new stuff, taking care of stuff I already own, and on and on. But when I see all my stuff jammed into a nineteen foot truck, I realize that life isn’t really about stuff. Life is about loving Jesus and loving people. I want to invest my life in those things.

It’s Not Enough To Win The Head, We Need To Win The Heart

We tend to think that if we can simply convice a person of the rightness or correctness of an idea, then they’ll bring their behavior in line with that idea. If we can convince our kids that purity is the right thing to do, then they’ll be pure. If we can convince people that homosexuality is wrong, then they’ll stay away from all homosexual activity. If we can persuade people that life begins at conception, then they’ll oppose abortion. If we can effectively make the case for a Creator, then people will believe in God.

So we write books and blog posts in which we clearly state our case, point by lucid point. We deluge Facebook with snarky status updates. We sign petitions and arrange protests. We write open letters to this person or that person. We call our senators, stating that we oppose this or that bill. We set up debates between Creationists and Evolutionists. We have purity balls and purity rings, which, in my opinion, are a bit on the creepy side.

And while all these things have their place, I think they ignore one, fundamental, massive truth: people are primary people of desire, not ideas. Our behavior is usually driven, first and foremost, by what we want, not what we think. A young man may have all the head knowledge in the world about purity, but when he’s alone with his girlfriend in his car, that knowledge is quickly overwhelmed by desire.

This means, then, that if we’re going to win people to Jesus, we need to aim for both the head and the heart. We need to change people ideas and their desires.

If I want my daughters to pursue purity, I need to convince them that purity is morally right, but I also need to show them that purity is a beautiful thing. I need to help my daughters see that following Jesus is and obeying Jesus really is the truly good life. I want them to taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8). I want them to know that Jesus offers fullness of joy and pleasures forever more (Ps. 16:11). To paraphrase John Piper, I want them to see that the pleasures offered by Jesus are superior to the pleasures offered by sexual sin.

If I want my friend to stop engaging in homosexual activity and to start pursuing sexual purity, I need to convince him that homosexuality is morally wrong, but I also need to show him that Jesus truly offers the good life. I need to show him that the kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field, or a pearl of priceless worth (Matt. 13:44-46).

I’m concerned that Christians are becoming more known for what we’re against than what we’re for. People know that we’re against gay marriage, against abortion, against the legalization of marijuana, against liberal politics, and against Hollywood. Do people know what we’re for? Do people know that we’re for the wonderful, satisfying, good life, which Jesus Christ offers? Do people know that we’re for the rest and peace and joy which Jesus offers? Do people know that we’re for the complete and total forgiveness which is found only in Jesus?

Let’s take a stand against things, when necessary. But let’s not make the mistake Westboro Baptist Church makes, of only proclaiming the things we’re against. Let’s also loudly proclaim the goodness and joy and gladness found in Jesus Christ. The reality is, joy is a much more effective evangelism tool than outrage.

NOTE: The idea that we are fundamentally creatures of desire first came to me through James K. A. Smith’s book, Desiring The Kingdom.

How To Serve The Lord In The Way That Pleases Him

Serve

You can tell a lot about a company or a company’s leader by observing its employees.

If the employees are cheerful and helpful, you think their company or  boss must be great to work for. If Christians are discontent, grumble and act down-in-the mouth like Eeyore, what does that say about our Master? If we’re doing the right thing but our heart isn’t in it, it says God isn’t a good master, that he doesn’t take care of us, satisfy us or make us glad, that we didn’t make a good decision by calling on his name.

God tells us in Ps 100:2:

Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!

When we sing to God we should do it with glad hearts. How does God feel if we say, OK, I’ll worship, because I have to, but I won’t like it. In Malachi, God rebuked the priests because of their lack of joy in serving him:

But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD. Malachi 1:13

The priests were doing their duty – they were offering the sacrifices – but they didn’t bring their best and rather than serving the Lord joyfully they said, “What a weariness this is.”

How often are we tempted to have the same attitude. When that difficult brother or sister needs for the hundredth time, when we must tend to our kooky children or care for a sick parent, when we must serve our spouse – we too can think “What a weariness this is.” I know because I have done this.

Yet Scripture calls us to do all things as unto the Lord:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. CO 3:23-24

Whether it’s working on a spreadsheet, shoveling manure, changing a diaper or doing the dishes, we are to work heartily as for the Lord – “you are serving the Lord Christ.” And we are to serve the Lord with gladness. God rebuked Israel for failure to serve him joyfully:

Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything….DT 28:47-48

We have every reason to serve the Lord with gladness – he saved us, washed our sins away, and made us joint-heirs with Christ! So what if we have to deal with a difficult brother, we’re saved! So what if our job is boring, nothing can separate us from God’s love! I’m not saying it’s easy to serve the Lord cheerfully. But if we will pray and ask for grace to serve him joyfully he’ll pour it out.

The gladness of servants speaks volumes about their Master. Let’s serve the Lord with cheerful, glad, joyful hearts today and show the world what an incredible Master we have.

A Question I Never Ask Myself

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A few years ago John Stossel hosted an ABC special called “The Mystery of Happiness: Who Has It & How to Get It.”

Stossel pointed out that three hundred years ago, life was really and hard most people had to endure poverty and disease in a struggle to achieve eternal happiness in Heaven. Stossel also mentioned that when Thomas Jefferson included the right to the pursuit of happiness in our Constitution that was a radical idea that changed American life.

What stood out to me from what I remember about the program was that when Stossel asked people in poorer nations if they were happy he often got the answer, “I don’t even think about that question.” Yet in the United States, where one of our inalienable rights is the pursuit of happiness, many people are continually evaluating whether they are happy or not and relentlessly pursuing that elusive bluebird of happiness.

I don’t ask myself if I’m happy. I don’t believe the Bible encourages us to be continually evaluating ourselves as to whether or not we are “happy.” Now before you jump all over me and send me a score of Bible verses about happiness, I believe that Jesus gives us deep biblical joy. But rather than asking myself am I happy, rather I ask myself questions like these: Am I rejoicing? Am I content in Christ? Am I trusting Jesus? Do I have hope in him? These would be the questions I would ask myself rather than “Am I happy.”

I regularly ask Jesus to fill me with his joy. And he does. But at the same time Paul also said that he was “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

I don’t have happy feelings all the time. But I am so glad that Jesus saved me and washed my sins away with his blood and I try to regularly thank him that he will never leave me nor forsake me and that someday I will see his face. I regularly rejoice that his mercies are new every morning and his steadfast love never ceases.

Sometimes people translate the word “Blessed” as” Happy.” I see them as two different things. To be blessed is to be favored by God. To be the object of his grace. But to be blessed does not necessarily mean I will have happy feelings. In the beatitudes, Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those reviled and persecuted for Christ’s sake. None of these things make you feel particularly happy.

Should we pursue happiness? If you mean pursue Jesus Christ who will satisfy our deepest desires, then yes. If we pursue happiness apart from Jesus, then we will certainly come up empty-handed. If we seek Jesus and his will we will be fulfilled even if we are not technically “happy.”

I often think about Christians who are suffering horrifically for their faith in North Korean prison camps. If we were to ask them if they are happy I would imagine they would not describe themselves as “happy.” I can’t imagine they would ask themselves that question. But I believe they would say that despite the agonies they endure for the glory of Jesus, that ultimately they are blessed and someday will experience the weight of glory their sufferings are preparing.

Am I happy when I suffer or things don’t go my way? Not necessarily, but I can be joyful. I can rejoice and do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Don’t pursue happiness. Don’t ask yourself if you are happy. Pursue Christ. Ask him for joy and let him take care of the happiness part.

Flappy Bird, Fame, and the American Dream

The first time I played Flappy Bird on my iPhone, I thought, Okay, this game seems kind of fun. 

The second time I played Flappy Bird, I thought, Wow, this game is kind of hard. 

The third time I played Flappy Bird, I wanted to set my phone on fire, then throw it across the room, then drown it in the toilet.

Because the game is hard. Really, really hard. Almost as hard as the original Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles game for Nintendo. Almost as hard as the last level of Super Mario Bros. 2. But the game is also kind of addicting, so you get stuck in the endless cycle of playing, dying, playing, dying, playing, swearing in your head, dying, almost swearing out loud, playing, saying a fake swear, like “sugar”, and dying. It’s kind of like drugs, except without the horrible withdrawl symptoms and the need to rob a bank to pay for your next fix. It’s kind of like the lottery, except you win the lottery more frequently.

The game is/was massively popular, and, according to some reports, the creator of the game, Dong Ngyuen, was making $50,000 per day from the game. The game had more than 500,000 four star reviews in the Apple App Store. I say “had”, because Dong Ngyuen suddenly decided to remove the game from the store. According to Ngyuen, he simply couldn’t take it anymore.

This series of events strikes me as simultaneously amazing and predictable. Dong Ngyuen reached the top. He achieved the American dream of being rich and being able to make money doing what he loved. Yet, when he finally got to the top, Ngyuen discovered that it’s not as great as everyone thinks. He achieved his dream, then realized that his dream was ruining his life.

The entire Flappy Bird saga is a reminder that, apart from Christ, everything is vanity. You may achieve your dream, but if you don’t have Jesus you’ll soon discover that your dream was rather hollow. Cynthia Heimel wrote:

I pity [celebrities]. No, I do. [Celebrities] were once perfectly pleasant human beings…but now…their wrath is awful…More than any of us, they wanted fame. They worked, they pushed…The morning after…each of them became famous, they wanted to take an overdose…because that giant thing they were striving for, that fame thing that was going to make everything okay, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to provide them with personal fulfillment and…happiness, had happened. And nothing changed. They were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable. (Quoted by Tim Keller in “King’s Cross”, pg. 29)