Monthly Archives: September 2015

Pursuing Happiness

If we are all being honest today, there is something that all of us long for in life. There is something we strive to achieve every single day. In everything we do we want to be satisfied, fulfilled . . . we just want to be happy! Years ago, Wal-Mart had a symbol for their “price rollbacks” that always brought a smile to us all. They had the famous “yellow smiley face.” (Show smiley face on the screen). This little “happy man” has managed to survive after Wal-Mart and made the transition into “emoji world” in this multi-media generation. Just look at that face. It’s really hard to look at that face and not smile! But the reality is happiness is not just about the smile and the exterior. Happiness is something God desires to saturate all of us down into our heart and soul which is the very core of our being.

On August 11, 2014 one of the funniest men to ever live took his life. (Show Robin Williams picture on the screen). From all outward appearances Robin Williams was a man filled with happiness. His whole persona, his career as an actor and comedian was all about laughter and making us smile. He smiled a lot because it’s hard to make someone else smile if you are not smiling. But what appeared to be happiness was not happiness at all. There were inner struggles and battles going on behind those smiles and the laughter.  There is no doubt many of you have lived the truth that life is difficult and can be hard. You have been or currently going through the chaos of life. You have lived with the tragedies and mishaps that life can sometimes bring. When it comes to this admittedly everyone of us has been through it, going through it right now or we will go through it.

With what we are talking about today I am not making little of the fact that Robin Williams had some emotional stuff going on that he was dealing with. Clinical help and counseling is sometimes a big piece of the puzzle to working through all that. How we deal with that is a big part of all this. I have seen people who find themselves in this dark hole and caught up in a downward spiral and rather than dealing with it they try to escape.  They escape through drugs, alcohol, “busyness” and avoidance. Never realizing that they are not dealing with the issue. Sooner or later, most of the time much sooner than later, you still have the issue and the situation to deal with. Dealing with what might be an issue is critical. Being willing to put the right practices and pieces in place is also vital to finding true happiness. True happiness that goes past the smile, past the exterior and deep into your heart and soul.

Sometimes we struggle with the whole issue of happiness and ask, “Can I be truly happy in life?” The question for right now is, “Are you happy?” Maybe you are on this rollercoaster ride when it comes to happiness . . . happy one moment but not the next . . . etc. Think about it this way . . . If your life didn’t change at all from this moment forward would you be happy? If your situation didn’t improve . . . If your marital status didn’t change . . . If your career didn’t progress . . . If your body didn’t feel any better . . . could you still be happy?”

The Old Testament book of Psalms was written about 3,000 years ago and that collection of songs and writings deal with some of the most crucial questions in life. One of those questions is, “Why am I not happy?” Or put another way, “How can I be happy?” At some point we all ask that question. You get caught up in the chaos of life or get blindsided by a tragedy or mishap and you find yourself asking, “How can I be happy?”

The entire book of Psalms in the Bible opens up with the word “happy.” The word used is “Blessed” (Psalm 1:1). The Hebrew word is “ashray” which literally means “happy.” This entire psalm is about happiness. It addresses the issue of “Can we be happy and if so, how do we get it?” Going back to the big idea for our series for a minute. We have established the truth that . . . Today’s decisions become tomorrow’s realities!

If we truly desire what happiness brings and we are committed to pursuing happiness, we have to look past the moment and be forward thinking with the future in mind. Always be looking down the road and see what the immediate and long-term effects will be from your decisions. Avoid the trap of being “caught up in the moment.” Don’t settle for instant gratification but aim for long-term satisfaction . . . that will lead to happiness!

After the psalmist begins the word “blessed” or “happy,” he then goes on to explain what it takes to be happy. He basically gives us an instruction manual on “How To Be Happy.” He does so by illustrating what a happy person’s life looks like and comparing the righteous life with the unrighteous life. As we work our way through this psalm we will see that happiness is a process. Happiness is not automatic but happiness is possible.

You can see when you read this he is developing a prescription for happiness. Just like when you go to a doctor and based on his diagnosis or desired outcome, he writes you a prescription. Happiness is the result of what you choose not to do. “1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers . . .” (Psalm 1:1). “Walking” is a reference to the way you think. “Standing” is talking about how you behave. The way you think must come from what I call a Romans 12:2 mind. “2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2). This is a mind that is under the control of God and His thoughts, His ideas, His ways and not the ways, the thoughts and the ideas of the world.

A natural result of thinking right is right behavior. You act and react only as a result of the impulses you get from your brain. If you are thinking like the world, you will act like the world. If you are thinking like Christ, you will act like Christ. “Sitting” is about where you find your identity. In Jewish culture, where you sat showed where you belonged. The men sat with other men, women sat with women, the rich sat with the rich, the young with the young, the old with the old, etc. As Christ followers we must be around people who are far from God so we can share the gospel and show them Jesus through our lives.

At the same time we have to be around other believers to be held accountable and be encouraged in our faith. You have concentric circles of friends. You are at the center and going out from there are your circles of friends. The first and closest circle are your friends who are Christ followers who encourage you in your faith, hold you accountable in your faith and help you grow in your faith Then you have circles out from there that are your friends and acquaintances who are not living for Jesus and who don’t know him. Sermons and Bible studies inspire you but your community shapes you!

This also applies when we are talking about our attitudes. If you are always around negative people, guess what? You will probably be a negative person. If you are regularly around positive people, guess what? You will probably be a positive person. Here is a challenge . . . Think about your five closest friends for a minute specifically their characteristics. If you take an average of how they think and how they act, more than likely that is how you think and act. So when you look at that, are you basically a positive person or a negative person? Are you an encourager or a discourager? You are who you are because of the influences around you. Your friends are your future you!

It’s not just about what we choose not to do. We must make wise choices in what we choose to do. Happiness is the result of what you choose to do. “2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2). The idea here is that the Word of God becomes such a delight to you that it frees you from the seductions of the world. God’s Word is not just a religious duty to you or something you simply put on a checklist to feel guilty about. It is something you take delight in. You enjoy it and you realize you can’t live without it.

Brother Lawrence who was a 16th century dishwashing monk once said, “I find myself attached to God with greater sweetness and delight than an infant sucking at his mother’s breast . . . I have at times such delicious thoughts on God that I am ashamed to mention them.” The reason many struggle spiritually is you don’t know what it is like to have joy in God. You can only escape the pleasures of the world through the pleasures of the Word. To get to the place where you are consumed with God and crave His Word you have to meditate on His Word. “. . . and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2). The Hebrew word for “meditate” means “mumble to yourself.” He is giving the image of mumbling the gospel to yourself over and over.  We read a section of Scripture, dig deeper in meditation and study of that Scripture and we memorize that Scripture to put it in our minds and hearts so it will influence how we live.

When you make good choices about those closest to you and you choose to delight in and meditate on God’s Word, you are establishing consistency and stability in your walk with Christ. The person who does this is compared to a tree. Real happiness happens when you choose God. Not happiness that is “here one minute and gone the next” because it is based on how you feel. Real happiness, happiness that lasts comes from God. “3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:3). People in the arid and dry Middle East knew the importance of having a water source close by in order to produce crops.

A tree that does not have a sufficient water supply will not produce a healthy crop and will quickly wither and die. Although you are surrounded by a world that is not so good, God will keep you spiritually healthy. He will sustain you and He will equip you to not only survive but thrive! A tree with roots is anchored and has the ability to draw nutrients but there has to be water and nutrients to draw from. The location where you plant a tree is critical to its survival and productivity. The imagery here is a tree that is intentionally planted by an endless supply of water. This is the image of you and God. When you are all about God and your relationship with Him, He gives you all of Him which is all you will ever need.

Even in the driest of seasons when trees in other places would not even survive, this one will because it is planted by streams of water. Spiritually when you are focusing your everything on God and His Word, God gives you a never ending supply of Himself which results in happiness. Just like in nature, life has seasons and storms. What you need to sustain you is a source outside of yourself and that source is God! When you have made a conscious decision to not be influenced by unrighteous people and be influenced by God’s Word you find that He gives you an endless supply of happiness.

People try to find happiness without God but it will never work. Pursuing happiness apart from God will always end in futility. “4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.” (Psalm 1:4). The picture here is of a threshing floor at the time of the grain harvest. The threshing floors of Palestine are on hills that catch the best breezes. Grain was brought in, crushed by animals or by threshing instruments drawn over it, then it was thrown high in the air where the wind blew the chaff away. The heavier grain fell back to the threshing floor and collected. The chaff is scattered or burned. Chaff is worthless and gives the picture of a futile, empty, and worthless life without God.

True happiness comes from being totally focused on God and not your circumstances. Life has seasons and life has storms. Your happiness can’t be based on circumstances. God doesn’t keep you from the storm, but He keeps you within the storm. God doesn’t deliver you from the changing seasons of life, but He delivers us within the changing seasons of life. When your happiness is based on God, you will be happy not because of your circumstances but in spite of your circumstances.

True happiness comes from being totally focused on God and not your circumstances. Life has seasons and life has storms. Your happiness can’t be based on circumstances. God doesn’t keep you from the storm, but He keeps you within the storm. God doesn’t deliver you from the changing seasons of life, but He delivers us within the changing seasons of life. When your happiness is based on God, you will be happy not because of your circumstances but in spite of your circumstances.


Decisions …Decisions…Decisions

Decisions . . . Decisions . . . Decisions! Decision-making is such a seamless brain process that we’re usually unaware of it until our choice results in unexpected consequences. Then we may look back and wonder, “Why did I choose that?” or “Why did I just do that?” After you have acted or reacted to something, do you ever talk to yourself or am I alone. Telling yourself, “I did pretty good” or “That was stupid! Why did I do that?”

Certain factors can play a part in our decision-making process. Things like . . . Time of Day . . . Your Bladder . . . Your Mood (How angry or upset you are) . . . Having Too Much Choice . . . Your Gut Instinct . . . Your Surroundings . . . The Temperature . . . Tempo of Background Music . . . How Rested You Are . . . etc. There are more, but these are just a few of the common factors that will affect your decision making either positively or negatively.

Each individual is different, so it is impossible to pinpoint a specific number of daily decisions that applies to every individual. But Time magazine puts the number in the thousands. It has been estimated that the average adult makes 35,000 remotely conscious decisions everyday. Many decisions like what to eat for breakfast or what clothes to wear have few, if any long-lasting consequences. Other decisions like . . . whether or not to stay in school . . . the career path you choose . . . where to look for work . . . who to date . . . who to marry . . . can have a huge impact on the direction of your life.

When we think about the decisions we make and the factors that influence those decisions, I want to add another factor to the list. This factor is one that should trump all other factors when making a decision. It’s called . . . Your Convictions (Pre-Determined Boundaries)! Conviction is defined as “a firmly held belief.” Another way to think about that is setting your price. Do you ever remember watching the television show . . . Fear Factor? The premise for the show is if the price is right people will do anything at any given time . . . eat live slugs . . . climb into a coffin with thousands of snakes, worms and hissing cockroaches . . . perform a daredevil stunt . . . etc.

It would be nice to think that we as Christ followers do not have a price. That an initial one-time commitment to Jesus is accompanied with a lifelong and resolute loyalty. That we as Christians would not sell out. But sad to say many Christians compromise their commitment to Christ every single day. When this happens what we say many times is we are “compromising our convictions.” But I would ask this, “If it truly is a conviction, can it be compromised?” Again, conviction is defined as “a firmly held belief.” So, if it is firmly held, can you go back on it? And if you do, was it ever that firm to begin with and was it really a conviction?”

The reality that we face when it comes to our decisions is the Big Idea for our new series . . . Today’s Decisions Become Tomorrow’s Realities! While we did state above there are some decisions that have very little impact on the future, there are some decisions we make in the moment that have a huge impact on our future. Every decision you make to turn away from God will ultimately separate you from His purpose and His plan for your life!