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)

How To Fight The Good Fight For Joy

http-www.flickr.comphotosmeesterdickey432953792

Christians should be marked by joy. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. If knowing Jesus doesn’t bring us a deeper joy than those who don’t know him, what’s the point? This doesn’t mean Christians don’t suffer and experience depression, discouragement, sadness and grief. Paul said in 2 Co 6:10 that he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” So somehow, even in the throes of sorrow, Paul had joy.

Jesus promised us joy. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Ultimately our fullness of joy will be in heaven. But Jesus wants us to know his joy now. Believers begin to produce the fruit of the Spirit in this life, and one of those fruits is joy.

Ps 16:11 says “in your presence there is fullness of joy.” Though fullness of joy awaits us in heaven, we begin to taste that joy in this life.

So how do we experience Christ’s joy now? As John Piper says, it’s a fight, part of the good fight of faith. Here are some ways to fight:

Realize that all lasting joy is found in Christ. Jeremiah 2:13 says “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” When we look to anything else but Jesus for lasting joy we’ll come up empty.

Abide in Christ. Seek him, walk with him, rest in him, trust him. In John 15:9-11 Jesus said: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Take in God’s Word. Jeremiah 15:16 says Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.”  God’s word is a conduit of his joy to us.  As we continue to take it in, believe and obey it, it becomes a joy and delight.  His promises give us hope and make us glad.

Thank him and praise him for as much as you can. Thank him for spiritual blessings and material blessings. A thankful heart is a joyful heart.

Ask Jesus for joy. As David prayed in Psalm 51:12: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.”

Contemplate your salvation and heaven to come. In Luke 10:20 Jesus said, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Tell yourself to hope in God.  David took himself by the collar and shook himself in Psalm 42:5-6 and said, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

Jesus came for our joy. Sometimes it’s not easy to experience, but if we continue to abide in Christ it will be worth it. No one in heaven will say it wasn’t worth going through what they went through on earth. So don’t give up.  Keep fighting the good fight.

Why I Want To Be Cheerful

“Be always as cheerful as ever you can,
For few will delight in a sorrowful man.

“Hood, visited by a clergyman whose features, as well as language, were lugubrious, looked up at him compassionately and said, “My dear sir, I’m afraid your religion doesn’t agree with you.” The same remark might be made to others who seem to have just religion enough to make them miserable. They forget the precept “Rejoice in the Lord.” – Spurgeon, Salt Cellars (Spurgeons Collection of Proverbs)

I love cheerful people. I want to be cheerful (not lugubrious – good word!). I want our church to be filled with cheerful people.

Not annoying, fake cheerful Pollyanna people. But real, honest, cheerful people. People who know how to cry and listen to others in their suffering. For there is a time for everything – a time to rejoice and a time to mourn. People who truly care. Yet as much as possible, I hope our church would be known for being genuinely joyful and cheerful.

Cheerfulness honors God. It says, “I serve a great Master. He’s an amazing God who does great things for me.” The Bible talks a lot about joy. About fullness of joy in God’s presence. About the joy of our salvation. One of the fruits of the Spirit of joy.

Believers should be joyful because of who God is: “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy” (Ps 43:4). God is our exceeding joy. Does your demeanor (another good word) say “God is my exceeding joy”?

If we’re regularly downcast, grumpy, depressed Eeyores, who’s going to want what we have? “If that’s what Jesus does for him, I think I’ll pass.”

Jesus was joyful. Little children were attracted to him. I don’t believe any child would have been attracted to the Jesus of so many movies who looks like his dog just died when he drones in his best Shakespearian accent: “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” Quick kids, run! Get away!

I want the kids in our church to remember me as being cheerful. Hopefully, someday they’ll know it’s because of Jesus. I love interacting with kids. Once I visited a woman in our church who was sick and when I pulled up I saw her son dressed in full military gear, stalking his big brother. I called him over to me. “Soldier. Tell me your name.” He said, “Sergeant Fichner.” I almost lost it on the spot. Not Sergeant Rock, Braveheart or Custer, but Sergeant Fichner. How does a kid come up with Sergeant Fichner? Anyway, I grilled him about every weapon he carried then dismissed him with a salute. From then on whenever I saw him at church, I would immediately stand at attention and salute him. “Sergeant Fichner, Private Altrogge reporting for duty — SIR!”

We have so much to be cheerful about. More than anybody in the world who doesn’t know Jesus: “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” Ps 4:7

Now I realize we all have different temperaments and we’re all going through different things. But as much as you can be cheerful. Ask Jesus to fill you with the joy of your salvation (PS 51:12). Read God’s word and grab onto his promises. God’s word produces joy as the author of Psalm 119 says, “Your testimonies…are the joy of my heart.” (v111). It’s clearly God’s will for us to have joy, for Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). It’s these and many more promises that embolden me to ask Jesus for his joy.

Not only will you bless others by cheerfulness, but you will be blessed by it: “All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.” (Proverbs 15:15). God loves a cheerful giver (2 CO 9:7). Why does God love a cheerful giver? Because God is the ultimate giver, who gave his Son for us and rejoices to give good things to us.

Again, I’m not denying that Christians get depressed and anxious and sick and go through horrific trials. Every one of us will go through afflictions of various kinds and at times be grieved and downcast. But God’s ultimate plan is to wipe away every tear from our eyes and everlasting joy will be on our heads. And we can have a taste of that now. So as much as you can, ask Jesus for his joy and seek to be a cheerful witness.

If you don’t I just might have Sergeant Fichner pay you a visit.

Six Surefire Steps To A Joy-Filled Life

[This post was written by my fellow pastor Bob Mundorff]

John 15:7-11  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Step 1: Be a Christian.

  • “Abide in me…” If you trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior, you are “in Christ”.

Step 2: Read God’s Word.

  • “If you… and my words abide in you…” Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God, so take in more Bible than food.

Step 3: Pray answered prayers.

  • “If you… (you do steps 1 and 2), ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” If God’s words abide in you, you’ll pray them. And he’ll answer them.

Step 4: Prove your faith by bearing much fruit.

  • “If you…  bear much fruit and so prove…” Fruitful work for Christ brings both glory to God and assurance of salvation.

Step 5: Abide in Jesus’ love.

  • “If you… Abide in my love…” How? See step 6.

Step 6: Keep Jesus’ Commandments.

  • “If you keep my commandments…” This fulfills step 5. Jesus said that we abide in his love by keeping his commands. A very necessary final ingredient in the recipe for joy.

Result – Guaranteed Joy.

Another Way to Make Yourself Miserable

Some of you are way too happy, and you’re wondering, What can I do to increase my current level of misery?

Search no further, I’ve got just what you need. Call me the medicine man of misery, or alternatively, Dr. Gloom. If you want to double your misery level by 100%, here’s what you need to do:

Get so caught up in what you need to do for God that you forget all that he’s done for you.

This is so easy even a new Christian can do it! Here’s how it works.

Spend as much time as you can thinking about what you need to do for God. Think long and hard about all the ways that you’re failing, and picture, if you can, how unhappy God must be with you. As you read the Bible, make sure you turn a blind eye to all the indicative passages – the passages that talk about what God has done – and laser in on the imperative passages, which tell you how to live.

Don’t thank God for the gospel. Instead, fill your prayers with pleas for holiness and nothing else.

Whatever you do, do not allow yourself to ponder the depths of your own depravity. You might find yourself in total despair, which could lead you to accidentally trust wholly in Christ. Wouldn’t want that to happen!

Until next time, stay miserable my friends. Stay miserable.

How Joyful Are You This Christmas (And The Rest Of The Year)?

Christmas is the season of joy.  Yeah right.

As Paul McCartney sings, “Simply having a wonderful Christmas time,” I see haggard looking parents pushing their gift-laden baskets through the aisles of stores yelling at their kids, “If you ask one more time we’re going home and never coming back ever again.  And you will eat oatmeal from now on.  Without sugar.  And we’re never going to McDonald’s again either!”  (I once threatened to never take my kids to McDonald’s again.  Empty threat #302).

Would people describe you as joyful?

Would your co-workers and neighbors?  Would your classmates and roommates say you’re cheerful?  If your friends knew no other Christians but you what would their impression of Christianity be?  Would little kids describe you as happy or fun?  This quote by D Martin Lloyd Jones challenges me:

“Nothing is more important, therefore, than that we should be delivered from the condition which gives other people, looking at us, the impression that to be a Christian means to be unhappy, to be sad, to be morbid, and that the Christian is one who ‘scorns delights and lives laborious days’…..It behooves us, therefore, not only for our own sakes, but also for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the glory of the Christ in whom we believe, to represent Him and His cause, His message and His power in such a way that men and women, far from being antagonized, will be drawn and attracted as they observe us, whatever our circumstances or condition.  We must so live that they will be compelled to say: would to God I could be like that, would to God I could live in this world and go through this world as that person does.”

Christians should be joy radiators. And not just at Christmas.  This doesn’t mean we’re rosy-eyed Pollyannas who wear pasted on fake smiles all the time. This doesn’t even necessarily mean we feel happy. But there’s a joy in Christ that’s deep and lasting and real.  And others should see something of it in us.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:10)

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)

Think about it.  God has freely forgiven our multitudes of sins, counted us righteous in Christ, adopted as his own children, and given us the hope of eternally gazing on Christ’s beauty.  His mercies are new every morning and he has promised to never cease doing good to us.  Are you feeling joyful yet?  No?  Ok, he redeems your life from the pit, crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (Psalm 103:4-5).  I hope you are at least smiling a little.

The somber, depressed looking Jesus portrayed in movies wouldn’t attract anyone, much less children, as he mutters in a flat Shakesperian accent, “Suffuh the little children to come unto to me,” with about as much delight as an annoyed junior high school principal talking to a troublemaker for the hundredth time.

Let’s ask Jesus to fill us with so much of his joy that people say, “Would to God I could be like that, would to God I could live in this world and go through this world as that person does.”

photo by Aspex Design

Four Ways to Cultivate God’s Joy

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.  JN 15.11

It’s God’s will that his children experience his joy.  Here are four ways we can cultivate the joy of Jesus in our lives.

Remember the gospel

“Spiritual depression or unhappiness in the Christian life is very often due to our failure to recognize the greatness of the gospel.” — Martyn Lloyd Jones

Regularly meditate on the incredible truth that when you were a God-hating sinner, he so loved you he sent his Son across the chasm your sins had created, to obey God for 33 years for you, then bear the horrific wrath of God in your place to make you God’s child.

Regularly meditate on God’s character.

Thinking about who our God is and what he’s like has the effect of producing joy in us, because all that God is, he is to his children.

You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find — Matt Redman

Remember your spiritual benefits and thank God for them constantly

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:2-5)

Christians are the richest people on earth.  Even if we lack in this world, if we know Christ, we’re rich.

Forget about whether you’re joyful and serve others

We Americans are way too concerned with whether we’re happy or not.  I once saw a TV special in which John Stossel asked people in 3rd world countries whether they were happy or not.  Most of them answered, “I never think about it.”  It wasn’t even a category for them.

One of the best ways to grow in joy is to forget about ourselves in the service of others.  Not only will we find joy in serving, but God promises we’ll reap what we sow.  I often find that the Lord fills me joy after I’ve looked to the interest of another.

Lord Jesus, fill us with your joy today.  And may everyone we know see your joy in us.

photo by Pranav Prakash

Who Are We Attracting To Our Churches?

This quote by Tim Keller really got me thinking:

…in general, religiously observant people were offended by Jesus, but those estranged from religious and moral observance were intrigued and attracted to him. We see this throughout the New Testament accounts of Jesus’s life. In every case where Jesus meets a religious person and a sexual outcast (as in Luke 7) or a religious person and a racial outcast (as in John 3-4) or a religious person and a political outcast (as in Luke 19), the outcast is the one who connects with Jesus and the elder-brother type [from the Prodigal Son parable] does not. Jesus says to the respectable religious leaders “the tax collectors and the prostitutes enter the kingdom before you” (Matthew 21:31)

Jesus’ teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avante-garde ones. (Prodigal God, 17-18)

This is profound. No one took holiness more seriously than Jesus, and yet Jesus was inherently attractive to prostitutes and tax collectors. The people who disregarded holiness the most were attracted to the One who was the most holy. How was this possible? The only conclusion that I can come to is that in addition to being the most holy, Jesus was also the most loving, the most joyful, and the most fun.

Jesus wasn’t a stiff, joyless, somber person. He was brimming with life and gladness! He was the kind of person who could romp with little children and rebuke the Pharisees. I like to picture Jesus sitting at the table, surrounded by tax collectors and prostitutes, laughing, loving, and calling them to the kingdom of God all at the same time.

Man, I want to be like Jesus! I want to be full of holiness, love, and joy all at the same time. Don’t you?

25 Ways To Pursue Joy In Christ

God promises his children joy, and many times he fills us with it without our asking.  But at other times, especially when we go through trials, we must fight for it.  Much of the battle lies in fighting to believe God’s word.

For some the battle for joy is much harder than others.  Some must deal with their own tendencies to being downcast. Depression and hard, long, sad afflictions can make Jesus’ joy seem beyond reach.  Yet God’s word says it’s his intent to give us his joy both in this life and especially in the next.  So here are some ways to pursue joy in Christ:

1.    Praise God for the cross: for his mercy and grace in saving you.
2.    Thank him for all his spiritual benefits: forgiveness, adoption, the Word, spiritual gifts, the church.
3.    Ask Jesus to fill you with his own joy (JN 15:11).
4.    Thank him for his steadfast love that never ceases.
5.    Thank God for your temporal blessings: for your spouse or for the blessings of being single, kids, health, sight, food, strength, home, computer and coffee.
6.    Praise God for his attributes: his greatness, sovereignty, goodness, love, wisdom and power.
7.    Praise Jesus for being a compassionate high priest who intercedes for you.
8.    Thank him for all the specific good he is producing in you through trials: patience, perseverance, and faith.
9.    Thank God for his past faithfulness.
10.    Give to the kingdom.
11.    Give to the poor.
12.    Serve others (PHP 1:25).
13.    Don’t dwell on whether you are joyful or not.  Try to forget yourself.
14.    Thank the Lord that he is making you like Christ.
15.    Seek God’s presence in prayer (PS 16.11; PS 43.4).
16.    Read the Word – it produces joy (PS 119.111; JE 15:16).
17.    Thank God that he will never turn away from doing good to you (JE 32:40).
18.    Ask others to pray for God to fill you with joy.
19.    Ask the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of joy in you.
20.    Confess your sins to God and ask him to restore the joy of your salvation (PS 51:12).
21.    Memorize God’s promises to give you joy and ask him to fulfill them (JN 16:24; RO 14:17; 15:13; PS 4:7; 30:5; 68:3; 97:11; 126:6).
22.    Consider others who have it much worse than you.
23.    Pray for others who are suffering.
24.    Contemplate the joys of heaven and the world to come.
25.    Read John Piper’s book, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy

photo by de Paula F J