Happiness is Not Our Goal

This is a hard subject, but we in the West often believe that the primary goal of our life is to be happy. The Declaration of Independence for the United States of America promotes the concept that mankind is endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But is happiness the goal in life?

You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. (2 Timothy 2:3-4)

The fact that we are born to be happy is rarely questioned by anyone. No one bothers to prove that fallen human beings have ANY moral right to happiness, or that they are any better off happy. The goal is often to get the most happiness out of life.

I was read A. W. Tozer and he writes that “the whole hectic scramble after happiness is an evil as certainly as is the scramble after money or fame or success….”

This can be easily discovered by simply reading the New Testament. The emphasis of God is not upon our happiness but upon our holiness. God is more concerned with the state of people’s hearts than with the state of their feelings.

The soldier does not seek to be happy in the field; he seeks rather to get the fighting over with, to win the war and get back home to his loved ones. When he gets home, it is there that he or she may enjoy life to the fullest. While the battle is raging, his most pressing job is to be a good soldier regardless of how he feels. (from “Of God and Men” pp. 48-49)

Ask yourself a few direct questions…

  1. Do you seek your holiness more than your happiness?
  2. Will you reorganize your priorities to reflect your commitment to Christ and his kingdom?
  3. Will you allow God to speak to you through your reading his Word, so you better know the leadership of the Holy Spirit in your life? [ Read the Bible in 2014 ]
  4. Who in your life will hold you accountable for the commitments you know that you need to make?

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Are We True Ministers?

This is a devotion that comes from 2 Corinthians 6:3-13

The PriorityWe live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry.

Evaluate your life and behavior and see if this is true for you. Do you live in such a way that people will not stumble because of what they see? While no one is perfect, we are expected to strive toward a lifestyle that is honoring to God.

The Pain –  In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food.

The point here is that Paul demonstrated that he was an authentic follower of Jesus, he was a true minister of God. He then gives a few examples of his behavior: enduring troubles, hardship and calamity (beatings, prison, angry mobs) and faithfully worked through all of the stresses of his radical obedience to Christ (exhaustion, insomnia, starvation).

The Patience –  We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense.

Paul again was simply a man of words, but he proved the kind of person and minister he was (purity, understanding, patience, kindness). He was not able to do it in his own strength, but by the presence of the Holy Spirit and the power of sincere love. He preached the truth in season and out of season, in good times and hard times. He was a faith soldier in God’s service: he could attack the forces of darkness on one side and defend against our common enemy on the other.

The Paradox –  We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. 10 Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.

Much of the Christian life is a paradox: to save your life, you must lose it; to be first, you must be last; to be great, you must serve others. Paul is listing several lesser known seemingly contradictory statements.

The Parent11 Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you, and our hearts are open to you. 12 There is no lack of love on our part, but you have withheld your love from us. 13 I am asking you to respond as if you were my own children. Open your hearts to us!

Paul speaks to the people as a loving parent: kindness, openness, in love even when love has been denied. This passage screams the desire of a parent over a wayward child.

Here’s My Take-Away: We know that hard times will come. The light that we shine to others reveals our faith in God. Our faith can persist even in the face of hardship. It is a demonstration of faith to trust that the Lord is good. When bad things happen, the last thing we want is to be patient. We want to hurry up and move past our troubles. This is the time that God has been preparing us for, and we have the opportunity to grow closer to God. If you are in trouble or in the middle of calamity, muster your patience one day at a time. Live a life of integrity no matter what comes your way!

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Dealing with Disasters in Life

Kim is visiting her mom in weather-torn Alabama. I assume that many of you watched last week the story which unfold as killer tornadoes swept across the southern states. Don’t forget about the deadly fires that consumed millions of acres and destroyed lives in Texas.

Here’s the question, one which most Christians wonder about, but are sometimes afraid to ask: “God, where are you in all these catastrophes? Couldn’t you have simply spoken a word to still the tornadoes and quench the fires?”

And then there is THE question behind all others: “If God is all-powerful and loving, then why didn’t He stop the tragedies from happening? So He must either not be all-powerful, or not loving, end of story.”

When people experience calamity and heartbreak, is that the end of their story? Consider a man named Job in the Old Testament. He endured an onslaught of disasters that would have driven most people to despair. Try to put yourself into his world as you read about the tornado of adversity that stormed through every area of his life; he lost his business, family, future, kids, (check it out in Job 1:13-16). He was having a very bad day.

Things continued to spiral downward following these events. Job lost his health, was accused by his friends of being the sinner responsible for his losses, and though he valiantly kept his faith through nearly all the ordeal, the haunting questions about God’s goodness and love consumed his thoughts:

“How I wish we had an arbitrator
to step in and let me get on with life—
To break God’s death grip on me,
to free me from this terror so I could breathe again.
Then I’d speak up and state my case boldly.
As things stand, there is no way I can do it” (Job 9:33-35).

In effect, Job is saying, “God, I’d like to meet you in court so you can stand trial for not stopping the disasters. Either you are not all-powerful or not loving, so which is it?”

Much to Job’s surprise, God answers with a hurricane force series of questions that all fit under the category of “Are YOU talking to ME, Job?” It’s not that God was being cruel or evasive, but the answer to our question lies in another question, which is, “Is God in charge or not?”

The answer is a resounding YES, God is in charge! And because I can hold on to this truth like a ship’s mast in a violent storm, I can be sure that by allowing trials in my life He is acting in the most loving way possible for my ultimate good. It is not only possible but absolutely true that our all-powerful God allows tribulations because He is forming us into Christ’s image and has to tell a story of His love for the world, and the salvation of humanity.

That’s why He boldly declares this truth:

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

When we are walking through the storms of life and feel like innocent victims in this broken, fallen and sometimes evil world, it is easy to only be aware of the pain and loss, but we can trust and be certain that above the dark clouds is a loving Father who will redeem all evil and reshape it into His perfect plan.

Remember also that pain and trial are instruments that God can use to reach people who are far from Him. As C. S. Lewis brilliantly stated:

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

God is all-powerful and loving. Let’s trust in His plan and share the most powerful and loving message ever proclaimed, the Good News about Jesus Christ, the One who will “wipe every tear from our eyes and make all things new!” (Revelation 21:4).

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Divide and Multiply

After the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:4, 5), Paul and Barnabas wanted to go back through the cities of the first missionary journey to strengthen the believers and see how they were doing (Acts 15:36). When the Spirit of God moves we need to be in a position to not only hear from Him but to act in obedience to His call. If we don’t, we will be miserable. One encouragement for me is that God does not use perfect people, but flawed ones like you and me.

On this second journey, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark (Acts 15:37) but Paul sharply disagreed (Acts 15:38) because of John Mark bailing on him back in Pamphylia (Acts 13:5, 13-14, 15:38). So Barnabas took Mark and Paul enlisted a young man named Silas (Acts 15:40); basically two teams going out rather than only one.

The story is deeper since Mark was more than just a fellow believer, he was Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10). Blood was thicker than water, they were a team, and Barnabas was still the “son of encouragement.” Strong emotions can bring on sharp disagreements, and both men were upset at this argument. Disagreements tend to cause people to take sides. I wonder if someone always has to be right or has to be wrong. Sometimes we just disagree.

Both men are assumed to be under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit cannot have two separate opinions, can He? Regarding John Mark, I suppose the Spirit could have said “yes” to Barnabas and “no” to Paul, both following the Spirit’s direction. As a result of this disagreement, these two preachers became four. While the Bible is clear that unity is a value that needs to be in the church, sometimes God wants to divide in order to multiply. People in churches today argue over worship styles and music, but does someone have to be right and the other have to be wrong? Why not both, not two services can reach even more people.

I discovered a four item checklist for resolving conflict:

  1. Identify the real source of the argument (Job 16:3): In Job’s case, the question is basically, “What’s wrong with you? Why do you keep arguing?” The Message puts it this way, “I’ve had all I can take of your talk. What a bunch of miserable comforters! Is there no end to your windbag speeches?” Ask the Holy Spirit to shed light on the true source of the disagreement. Sometimes God will reveal selfishness or an unwillingness to change. The Holy Spirit reveals our motives.
  2. Submit the issue to God (James 4:7): Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you. Do not let sin or anger give the devil a foothold in your life. Ask God to remove all worldliness and selfishness and watch the issue come down to size.
  3. Resist the temptation to sin in your anger (Ephesians 4:26-27): While anger is not a sin, what we do in our anger is often quite sinful. Sin that comes out of anger will create regrets over what we said or what we did.
  4. Pray for the other person involved (and maybe pray with that person): Philippians 4:6 invites us to pray about everything. Imagine the enemy’s defeat by two quarreling believers down on their knees in prayer, praying for God’s glory.

Application: None of this is easy. Don’t let fear or difficulty keep you from doing what will bring God the most honor. Think about how you have handled disagreements over the past few months: at work, in your marriage, with your kids. What could have made the situation win-win rather than “I win” and “you lose?” Have you ever felt like John Mark, when someone perhaps did not want you on their team (on the playground or in the board room)? Have you treated others poorly just because they might disagree with your opinion or decision? Sometimes people just have to agree to disagree, and then let it go. Seek the Spirit’s guidance on the direction you need to take.

Have you ever took a John Mark under your wing to bring encouragement and restoration to them? Paul may not have wanted John Mark on the team for this second journey, but at the end of his life, Paul recognized how valuable John Mark was to him (2 Timothy 4:11). Mark even spent time in prison with Paul where they apparently bonded together during this difficult mission (Colossians 4:10). Thank God that our Father is a God of second chances. Let’s give others that same opportunity.

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When Things Go Wrong

Life is hard. We are not guaranteed a life of ease just because we have died to self and followed Christ. We expect his hedge of protection and we often find hardship and pain in everyday life: we are involved in an auto accident, our job is lost, our health declines, our promotion falls through, our expenses exceed our income, our teenagers rebel and make poor choices that will affect the rest of their lives… It’s a burden, yes, and God wants us to cast our cares on him because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). We complain to God and let him know that we think this life is unfair and it stinks. Remember this, he is big enough to take all of our complaints, the Bible is full of people who questioned what God was doing in their lives (Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Job). There’s no sin in speaking out to God, but we need to get an eternal perspective.

I found this awesome message in a song called “Held” by Christian music artist Natalie Grant:

Two months is too little. They let him go.
They had no sudden healing.
To think that providence would take a child from his mother while she prays, is appalling.

Who told us we’d be rescued?
What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares?
We’re asking why this happens to us who have died to live?
It’s unfair.

This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was when everything fell we’d be held.

This hand is bitterness.
We want to taste it, let the hatred know our sorrow.
The wise hand opens slowly to lilies of the valley and tomorrow.

If hope is born of suffering.
If this is only the beginning.
Can we not wait for one hour watching for our Savior?

When Bethany crashed on her bike years ago, she did not sit there on the driveway and complain that I did not care about her, that it was a bit casual of me to allow this to happen to her, or worse, that I sent this accident to teach her some sort of a lesson. She wanted daddy to run to her and hold her and reassure her that she was not alone and everything was going to be alright. Does not God do the same for us? Faith sustains us during the hard times of life, especially that this life is not all that there is.

I recently received this interesting story that puts hardships into perspective:

The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him. Every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements, and to store his few possessions.

One day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, with smoke rolling up to the sky. He felt the worst had happened, and everything was lost. He was stunned with disbelief, grief, and anger. He cried out, “God! How could you do this to me?”

Early the next day, he was awakened by the sound of a ship approaching the island! It had come to rescue him! “How did you know I was here?” asked the weary man of his rescuers. “We saw your smoke signal,” they replied.

So, the moral of this story? It’s easy to get discouraged when things are going bad, but we shouldn’t lose heart, because God is still at work in our lives, even in the midst of our pain and suffering. Remember that the next time your little hut seems to be burning to the ground. It just may be a smoke signal that summons the grace of God.


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