When Are We Truly Ever Happy?

The happiest people I’ve known are also the ones who I’ve watched selflessly serve others.

My Grandma and my wife are two people in my life who exemplify this. They are people pleasers. Now, there are good and bad people pleasers.

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The bad ones want something out of you. But both these ladies are simply happiest when they are making others happy. They just do it to do it. Why?

Jesus, who is the perfect human image of God, fully pleases God, and it delights Jesus to do it, as only one perfect Being can please another. It’s part of the perpetually pleasing back and forth of the members of the Trinity.

As humans, we are made in the image of God, so we have some sense of it, too. That’s why when we please other image bearers, it just makes us happy.

You can only find happiness in either the true image or the image bearer.  You can’t find it in yourself or in an inanimate object, because its something that has to be reflected back at you by another Being.

  • Happy in the True Image: It’s a not-so-vicious circle. We live by God’s good- are happy in it- so we do more of God’s good- and are even happier. And since God is most pleased with us when we love and obey Him, so we are pleased and content, too.
  • And Happy in the Image Bearer: what brings happiness in others, bring happiness in us. And who doesn’t like being around happy people? So when we please others- love your neighbor style- they are happy, and so are we.
So we are designed to do good things. And the degree to which we are able to do those good things- we’re happy when we do it, and less happy when we don’t.

Cold Affections

Micah exclaimed, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” (Micah 7:18)

David, the famous adulterer, said the same thing: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Ps 32:5).

You’re a Christian so you think you’re OK. Maybe your not “as bad” as David. So you’ve stopped bringing your sin to God. Stuffing your sins in the closet rather than dealing with them has a lot of practical consequences.

One of them is that Jesus becomes less and less an object of our desire and delight. As Christians, when we pass on the forgiveness and restoration offered by Christ, our desire and delight in Him waxes cold.

And, as Octavius Winslow wrote:

If there is coldness in the affections, if the mind grows earthly, carnal, and selfish; dark and gloomy shadows will gather round the character and the glory of God.

AND

Where there is but little dealing with the atoning blood, leaning upon the righteousness, drawing from the fullness, and bearing daily the cross of Christ, the love of a believer waxes cold.

And you’ll never suspect it. You’ll never see it coming. You’ll look just as holy outwardly- but have a lack of joy inwardly.

You’ll do all the same things you always do: go to church, your Life Group, serve occasionally- but there will be a lack of joy in any of it.

  • Do you lack joy?
  • Has gathering with God’s people and listening to His Word become a boring chore?
  • Would you rather take a pass on worship (or at least skip the first few songs)?

Our view of Jesus is affected by the state of our affections towards him.  Winslow said that we can judge the depth of a person’s Christianity, by the reply to the question:

“‘What think you of Christ?’ Is he lived to, or is he lived upon? Is his name your delight, his cross your boast, his work your resting place?” 

Or is he just a decision you made long ago?

Out of Focus

All at once, the law shows us God’s holiness and our own sin. And it doesn’t just reveal sin, it stirs it up.

Now, let’s be clear, the law doesn’t cause sin. Sin is already there. At best, its buried in a shallow grave where it can easily claw its way out. But the law brings to the surface what we find hard to see. It shows what a Holy God requires. And it shows me that I’m really bad at it.

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. Romans 3:20

But the law not only reveals sin, it stirs it up in us, too. The law actually antagonizes the sin. It aggravates it. Draws it out of us like an Epsom salt bath.

The law is holy and just, but sin works its way in when we hear it. It actually makes us want to sin. Think about it. What happens when someone tells you that you can’t so something? Naturally, you want to run right out and do it. Try telling a toddler (or teen) what they can’t do and see what happens. Then look in the mirror. Because every human is hard wired with authority issues.

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The law tells us what to do- our hearts rebel at the thought of someone in authority over us, who knows better than we do what’s best for us- and sin has its way.

The answer- adjust your focus.

Focus on the law alone and you’ll fail. And even if you are a little successful, the tiniest voice will still whisper, “good job.” That’s works righteousness, i.e. sin.

So apart from Christ, any good work starts us down the road to earning it. And that doubles down on our sin. For then, even when we do good, we are doing bad.

Law out of focus is law done out of the sight of Christ.

You can only properly approach the law through Christ, in whom we can and want to do all things as we remember what he has done for us.

You can never do law out of view of Christ. You must always hold the law in one hand and Christ in the other.

An Un-hypocritical Love

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Law starts with love. Because how did Jesus say we are to do the law? By loving God and neighbor as ourselves.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:9-10

“Love must be sincere…” And then Paul continues in the chapter with all these things we should be doing: hating evil, clinging to good, being joyful, patient, blessing those who curse us, etc.

And not just love, but sincere love. If we’re focused on the list, box checking, refrigerator list Christianity, even though they are all things you should be doing: you are practicing hospitality or sharing with those in need…there’s a danger- we may have a secret ulterior motive.

One of our motivations is the hope that we’ll be loved back.

So, in that case, you’re really doing it for yourself. It’s self-love.

  • What can I get out of it?
  • Will people like me more?
  • Will God love me more?

Self love is not sincere love. Sincere means without hypocrisy. And if we’re not sincere, we’re hypocrites. Self love is hypocrisy.

We’re not really doing it because we love others, we’re doing it because we love ourselves.

Check out how we learn to do it the right way, in love, here:

The Wall Between Us

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One thing your going to find in Christian community- and its going to be unexpected- it might be surprising. Your going to find a strange mix, this strange brew of people. People that you normally wouldn’t be hanging out with. Different ages than you, backgrounds, nationalities, family types.

The gospel does that. It takes away all the boundaries and groups that we tend to clump ourselves into and uses the most unlikely people in our lives. And it makes for an unlikely church.

Now, if Christ is your Savior, God has broken down the wall of partition between you and God. A consequence of that, a side effect- is that partitions between people, walls between nationalities and tribes, skin color- rich/ poor, red state/blue state- those walls are also torn down.

Because we should no longer be identifying ourselves like that- those things are no longer most important- where we go for our acceptance. Now- our identity- is supposed to be found only in Christ and in what He accomplished for us. In other words, groups aren’t so important. So we no longer find our worth and accomplishments there.

In Paul’s time- a wall similar to what we see today, separated Jews and Gentiles. We often refer to this in theological terms- but in simple terms, they really just hated each other. Some of them would’ve been fine throwing down at a first century version of Charlottesville.

Here’s what Paul wrote about that- speaking of Christ- he says in Ephesians 2:14:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…

Will You Rest?

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In Hebrews 4:1-13 the author alludes to the rest God offered to the Israelites entering the promised land. But can Christians enter that rest today?

According to the author of Hebrews, the answer is yes. This rest is a place where his audience (Christians) have the opportunity to enter “today.”

Interestingly though, he writes that some may have fallen short (v.1)- (not meaning that they are not saved.)- while others have entered the rest already (v.3).

So you can be a Christian who rests- or you can be a Christian who doesn’t rest.

Depending on when you catch me, I’m both.

The key is in v.2: the ones who rest and the ones who don’t-both have had the “good news” (gospel) proclaimed to them- they are Christians- but its their response, with/without faith, that determines whether they are able to rest.

Do you really practically believe, in every area of your life, every day, that your acceptance is found in Christ?

What rest means for the believer today is this: you can rest in Christ today because of His work. Or… you can march on in your anxious frenzy.

You can only rest when you don’t feel that you have to seek acceptance anyplace else, whether its through following the law like a set of rules, or seeking approval from vocation, wealth, friends, parenting, or whatever else drives you.

Most of the anger I have as a parent stems from the pressure I feel to solve everyones problems, provide for them and put my own time aside for their time. When I’m angry, I’m not so much angry at others as I am angry in myself for the potential for failure- either as a parent- or in all the other things I spend time on- like writing this blog:)

But if I’m resting in Christ, those pressures are off, because in Christ, the believer is loved without exception by the God of the universe. And my anger gets short circuited when I remember that whether I fail or not, God still loves me and the sun will rise tomorrow.

  • That may shock. What? No Ten Commandments for me? And I can be a deadbeat in my life too?

Au contraire, mon frère. We are to uphold the law even more now (Romans 3:31)- but in a different way. The believer is now free to follow the law, not out of fear of rejection, but out of love for what Christ has done for us in following it himself. The pressure is off in our own success or failure. We can rest.

And in following that law, the other aspects of our lives: work, parenting, relationships- become easier, precisely because I don’t need to be accepted for my success or failure in any of those areas. And I can find rest. I’m no longer worn out worrying if I miss a swim practice drop off.

So I am actually even freer to follow the law and resist the culture even more.

I’m not so pressured for acceptance by others that I have to break God’s laws to conform to the culture’s laws.

That is rest today. Will you rest?

Dirty Windshield Effect

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Sometimes during winter, the chemicals on the road put a light film on my windshield. At night, when I am driving on a dark road alone, I really don’t notice it.

But when an oncoming car shines its headlights onto my windshield, that slight, unnoticeable film makes it almost impossible to see. I had no idea that something that potentially blinding was there until it got illuminated.

  • God’s Word is the set of headlights that reveals the junk that keeps us from seeing things as they are. Stuff in front of us, on a collision course even, that we might not have even noticed before.

Psalm 119:105 states:

God’s Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

Christian, God is at work, even in your darkest times. But God’s will, the Law He has written in His Word and in our hearts, may become clouded over and difficult for us to see in the middle of it.

Church family helps to hold and aim that lamp as an instrument of God, helping us to see clearly and putting us back on the road. That’s one reason that Life Groups are so important.

  • True change can only be accomplished if we allow the Holy Spirit to rewrite our code with God’s.

Ezekiel 36:26- I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

 

Jeremiah 31:33- I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.