Tuesday, April 30, 2013

On being happy (Psalm 128:1)

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 128:1 (CEB)
Everyone who honors the LORD, who walks in God's ways, is truly happy!

QUOTE by C. S. Lewis:
To ask that God's love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable. We cannot even wish, in our better moments, that He could reconcile Himself to our present impurities--no more than the beggar maid could wish that King Cophetua should be content with her rags and dirt, or a dog, once having learned to love man, could wish that man were such as to tolerate in his house the snapping, verminous, polluting creature of the wild pack. What we would here and now call our "happiness" is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy. 

Here is an article, which appeared in Reader’s Digest. It is condensed from the book, Glamour, by Adair Lara. It says it much better than I could:

A woman I know climbed on the bathroom scale after two weeks of butterless toast and chilly jogs around the park. The needle was still stuck on the number where she'd started. This struck her as typical of how things had been going lately. She was destined never to be happy.
As she dressed, scowling at her tight jeans, she found $20 in her pocket. Then her sister called with a funny story. When she hurried out to the car -- angry that she had to get gas -- she discovered her roommate had already filled the tank for her. And this was a woman who thought she'd never be happy.
Every day, it seems, we're flooded with pop-psych advice about happiness. The relentless message is that there's something we're supposed to do to be happy -- make the right choices, or have the right set of beliefs about ourselves. Our Founding Fathers even wrote the pursuit of happiness into the Declaration of Independence.
Coupled with this is the notion that happiness is a permanent condition. If we're not joyful all the time, we conclude there's a problem.
Yet what most people experience is not a permanent state of happiness. It is something more ordinary, a mixture of what essayist Hugh Prather once called "unsolved problems, ambiguous victories and vague defeats -- with few moments of clear peace."
Maybe you wouldn't say yesterday was a happy day, because you had a misunderstanding with your boss. But weren't there moments of happiness, moments of clear peace? Now that you think about it, wasn't there a letter from an old friend, or a stranger who asked where you got such a great haircut? You remember having a bad day, yet those good moments occurred.
Happiness is like a visitor, a genial, exotic Aunt Tilly who turns up when you least expect her, orders an extravagant round of drinks and then disappears, trailing a lingering scent of gardenias. You can't command her appearance; you can only appreciate her when she does show up. And you can't force happiness to happen -- but you can make sure you are aware of it when it does.
While you're walking home with a head full of problems, try to notice the sun set the windows of the city on fire. Listen to the shouts of kids playing basketball in the fading light, and feel your spirits rise, just from having paid attention.
Happiness is an attitude, not a condition. It's cleaning the Venetian blinds while listening to an aria, or spending a pleasant hour organizing your closet. Happiness is your family assembled at dinner. It's in the present, not in the distant promise of a "someday when..." How much luckier we are -- and how much more happiness we experience -- if we can fall in love with the life we're living.
Happiness is a choice. Reach out for it at the moment it appears, like a balloon drifting seaward in a bright blue sky.

And then I ran across this statement from, How to Counsel from Scripture, by Martin and Diedre Bobgan:

A fascinating study on the principle of the Golden Rule was conducted by Bernard Rimland, director of the Institute for Child Behavior Research. Rimland found that "The happiest people are those who help others." Each person involved in the study was asked to list ten people he knew best and to label them as happy or not happy. Then they were to go through the list again and label each one as selfish or unselfish, using the following definition of selfishness: a stable tendency to devote one's time and resources to one's own interests and welfare--an unwillingness to inconvenience one's self for others." (Rimland, 'The Altruism Paradox,' Psychological Reports 51 [1982]: 521) In categorizing the results, Rimland found that all of the people labeled happy were also labeled unselfish. He wrote that those "whose activities are devoted to bringing themselves happiness...are far less likely to be happy than those whose efforts are devoted to making others happy" Rimland concluded: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." (Ibid, p. 522). 
May our choice today be one of happiness and so, Lord, change the desires of our hearts until we desire nothing more than to do for others. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Being set on fire (Romans 12:11).

SCRIPTURE: Romans 12:11 (CEB)
Don't hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord!

When he was pastor for the Methodist church in Scarborough, William Sangster had an eccentric member who tried to be a zealous Christian. Unfortunately, the man was mentally deficient and usually did the wrong thing. While working as a barber the man lathered up a customer for a shave, came at him with the poised razor, and asked, "Are you prepared to meet your God?" The frightened man fled with the lather on his face! 

It’s baseball season and we cheer our favorite team(s) on with much enthusiasm. The NBA have started there playoff games to determine which two will meet each other in the championship … and we will zealously cheer for one. Go Heat! In the fall college football will once again dominate the airwaves and we will devote hours of cheering on our favorite, wear their colors, fly the flag of our team from our car window, pledge our loyalty loudly on Facebook and do all sorts of things that will not cause us to think otherwise because there is a certain zealousness when it comes to college football. Go Gators!

Why doesn’t this zealousness translate over into our faith? “Be on fire in the Spirit as (we) serve the Lord!” Oh, if that was true what a change we could bring to our communities and our world.

We’ll get hoarse cheering a touchdown, a homerun, a slam-dunk, but our voices barely can be heard when singing praises to the Lord. Why is that? Why don’t we bring the same enthusiasm to serving the very thing that truly matters in life … the King and his Kingdom?

I don’t have the answer, just the question. I wish I knew the answer, but the scripture does convict me to be more zealous for the Lord! I keep coming back to the much quoted statement by John Wesley: “The Lord set me on fire and people come from all over England to watch me burn.”  I really wish that could be said of me. How about you? What would it take to make that idea a reality in our life? To be so on fire for the Lord that it would draw people to us.

Set us on fire Lord, set us on fire!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Staying on course (James 1:15-16) is very hard especially when there is so much that demands our attention.

SCRIPTURE: James 1:15-16 (TM)
Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby: sin! Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer. So, my very dear friends, don't get thrown off course.

STORY as shared by Dale Turner:
John W. Gardner, founding chairman of Common Cause, said it's a rare and high privilege to help people understand the difference they can make -- not only in their own lives, but also in the lives of others, simply by giving of themselves.
Gardner tells of a cheerful old man who asked the same question of just about every new acquaintance he fell into conversation with: "What have you done that you believe in and you are proud of?"
He never asked conventional questions such as "What do you do for a living?" It was always, "What have you done that you believe in and are proud of?"
It was an unsettling question for people who had built their self-esteem on their wealth or their family name or their exalted job title.
Not that the old man was a fierce interrogator. He was delighted by a woman who answered, "I'm doing a good job raising three children;" and by a cabinetmaker who said, "I believe in good workmanship and practice it;" and by a woman who said, "I started a bookstore and it's the best bookstore for miles around."
"I don't really care how they answer," said the old man. "I just want to put the thought into their minds.
"They should live their lives in such a way that they can have a good answer. Not a good answer for me, but for themselves. That's what' s important."
Not getting thrown off course is hard. There is so much petty stuff that is thrown at us that is becomes too hard to keep focused on what we are meant to do in this life. The old man’s question is a good one to keep us moving forward with a God given purpose.

Let’s face it there is a high demand for our attention. We are literally bombarded on a regularly basis. Our attention span moves quickly from one area to the next. Everything has the appearance of being important. “Look at me,” “Hey, over here,” “Pay attention to me,” “I’m the most important,” etc. Sometimes I feel that I am the pull-toy in some cosmic tug-of-war. The 24/7 news cycle doesn’t help. The level of trust or lack there of in our national leadership doesn’t help either.

We need to remember, don’t we, that achieve anything for the Kingdom we have to focus in on what the King wants. It’s so basic that it gets lost in the clutter. As an old shoe repairman shared once: “God gave me the ability and the keen interest to repair shoes. Therefore, I’ve dedicated my life to becoming the best shoe repairman in the world (and he was) while giving God the glory all the time.” No one left his shop without hearing the Gospel.

In the church we hear often that “you are not this” or “you are not that” or “I don’t like this” or “I don’t like that” … just little stuff that can throw us off our game and knock off course. And that is true in our family life as well. The introduction of doubt or a bit of criticism can begin to eat away at the foundation.

Recently I’ve found myself repeating again and again: Keep the focus! It is hard, especially when we desire to be the best … to be all the God has called us to be. "What have you done that you believe in and you are proud of?" is a good place to start in keeping the focus on the Kingdom and the King!
We really want to keep the focus, but we hate disappointing others. We want to keep the focus, but there is just too much that demands our attention. We cannot find the delete button in our mind. It weighs us down. We cannot stay on course without your help. Focus, focus, focus … what a challenge. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Being consumed by a lust for life? (Psalm 34:12a)

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 34:12a (TM)
Who out there has a lust for life?

Watchman Nee tells the story of his stay in China with twenty other Christians. The bathing accommodations were inadequate in the home where they were lodging, so they went for a daily dip in the river. 

On one occasion, one of the men got a cramp in his leg and began sinking fast. Mr. Nee motioned to one of the other men, who was an excellent swimmer, about the drowning man. To his astonishment, however, the man did not move. He just stood there and watched the drowning man. 

Mr. Nee was agitated, but the swimmer was calm and collected. Meanwhile, the voice of the drowning man grew fainter and more desperate. Mr. Nee hated the swimmer who just stood and watched on the shore when he could have jumped into the river and rescued the drowning man. As the drowning man went under for what looked like the last time, the swimmer was there in a moment, and both were soon safely on shore. 

After the rescue, Mr. Nee chewed out the swimmer, accusing him of loving his life too much and being selfish. The response of the swimmer revealed, however, he knew what he was doing. He told Watchman that if he had gone too soon, the drowning man would have put a death grip on him and they would have both drowned in the river, and he was right. He told Mr. Nee that a drowning man cannot be saved until he is utterly exhausted and ceases to make the slightest effort to save himself.

What consumes our every moment? What demands our undivided attention? What requires 100% of our energy? What keeps our focus? It is these things that we lust after.

An old Scottish Presbyterian evangelist challenged my home church congregation to be so focused in on God that it matters not what we are doing – driving, studying, laundry, watching TV, eating – it is done to the glory of God because we desire nothing but God all the time.

He would have labeled this: Lust for a Godly life. Lust as all consuming, attention riveting, energy requiring desire. Another way to look at lust is: great eagerness or enthusiasm for something that literally drives our being until we achieve or obtain it. Or, a strong desire that demands satisfaction and will not rest until it is reached.

Is this the driving force in our relationship with God? Do we lust for a Godly life? Do we start every morning with this drive within our soul? Like a the drowning man in the story maybe we have to get to the point that we cannot save ourselves any longer and just give up at which point God can step in and save us. The experience will be so moving that we will begin to lust for the life that only he can provide.

Oh that we might be so consumed by the lust for life that nothing else matters until we desire nothing but you Lord. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Opening the door to all of God's goodness (Psalm 34:9) with a Henry Ward Beecher story.

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 34:9 (TM)
Worship God if you want the best; worship opens doors to all his goodness.

During the tenure of the great orator Henry Ward Beecher, a visiting minister (Beecher's brother) once substituted for the popular pastor. A large audience had already assembled to hear Beecher, and when the substitute pastor stepped into the pulpit, several disappointed listeners began to move toward the exits. 
That's when the minister stood and said loudly, "All who have come here today to worship Henry Ward Beecher may now withdraw from the church. All who have come to worship God keep your seats!"

Daily we are confronted by choices. Some choices are easy to make while others stretch us beyond our capabilities. How we decide which choice to make depends on whom we worship.

If we worship self then when difficulties come our way we become frustrated and fret about what is happening. Depression can slip in and have its sway over us. If we worship self then worry and doubt can win the day. If we worship self then we can be disappointed by preachers and churches thus finding ourselves searching for a different situation more pleasing to our self-centered spiritual nature.

If we worship God then we face each day with great hope and promise. If we worship God then we deal with every challenge with a positive attitude. If we worship God then grace and mercy mark the path we traverse. If we worship God then our focus is on him and not on our aches and pains. If we worship God, and God alone, then nothing but goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life.

Does that mean that only good things will come our way? Absolutely not! Does that mean that we will only be blessed with good health, healthy finances and positive relationships with everybody we met? Not so much. But it does mean that we don’t meet life’s challenges by ourselves. It does mean that we don’t have to deal with the struggles that come down our path all alone.  It does mean that when something knocks us down, we don’t stay down.

It is our choice … a daily choice … an hour-by-hour choice. At each intersection during the day we make a choice.

Our desires is that Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me… All the days, all the days of my life… Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me… All the days, all the days of my life… And I shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever;
And I'll feast at the table spread for me… Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me… All the days, all the days of my life… so help us to make the godly choice when we are choosing.