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.

Benchmark Disconnect

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Why is there sometimes a disconnect between our situation and our happiness? We’ve got “the job,” the kids are getting straight A’s, we had a great family vacation. But we’re still not happy. So its onto the sports car, 401K and beach house. If we achieve it, why do we still feel blasé?

True happiness is not achieved by meeting a life benchmark. Because God has connected our happiness to Himself.

The grace of God’s love is the spring-head from which all other graces flow:

  • joy at work,
  • in parenting,
  • relationships and anything else that’s important to us.

It’s only when we do these things in the context of Him that we will feel fulfilled.

If you’ve never given your life to Christ, if you haven’t taken Him up on his offer to reconnect you to God, you’ll just keep chasing what’s next. Because we’re designed to be connected to God.

Unfulfilling=disconnect.

If you are Christian, you can get stuck chasing what’s next, too.  And it’s because you’ve made your benchmarks the same as everyone else’s: perfect parenting, big promotion, fat 401K, and lake house with a boat out back.

Unfulfilling=disconnect.

Or instead, your benchmarks are based on being good. But in benchmark obedience, we obey, but our reaction time is sluggish, its not as complete as it used to be, and our attitude is a little off.

Unfulfilling=disconnect.

For the Christian, in both cases, we’ve reverted back to benchmarks to gain acceptance, rather than knowing we’ve already been accepted.

And when that spring of grace seems to dry up, it sends sickly and sluggish waters through the spiritual system, clogging your spiritual life.

Sure, you’re connected to God by Jesus, but its rabbit ears instead of FIOS. You feel something is missing.

Only in remembering the grace by which Christ saves us can the channels of grace to your heart be unclogged.

Connection reestablished… via the gospel.

Gospel Rescue

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In Galatians, the apostle Paul describes how the gospel is actually designed to “rescue us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:3).

But a false gospel will throw you into confusion (1:7). It will cause you to be disturbed, troubled, and will take away your peace.

The gospel that saves us from this present evil age saves us from having to figure it all out, and rely on on ourselves, and society’s false promise of “doing whatever you want.” God has given us his way, and it leads to freedom. And true freedom is not a response to your own sense of lack of worth. Because we can’t even live up to our own demands.

And when you throw in with the issues of the day, wherever it is you land on the scale will still not be far enough for anyone, because people on either side of an issue- which is everyone else besides you, will always want you to go further.

Conversely, your worth isn’t in routines, religion, or even law following. The evil age will always say you can do it, so pat yourself on the back. But you can never be good enough apart from Christ- out of the sight of Jesus.

The true gospel is is a thing of rest and peace, while the false gospel will keep you up at night.

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.

(un)Thankfulness

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Oftentimes, we’re thankful toward God generally: like when we marvel at things like his goodness or his majesty- or creation.

But scripture also tells us to be thankful specifically:

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thess 5:18

So yes, in all of it, good times and bad. But its easy to say “Yay God!” when you get the big promotion- but when I can’t pay the bills- Yay God? Or- when that relationship is over- yay? I’m so lonely, but thanks!

Life is hard- but we make it harder. By stopping short.

Because that verse ends- “in Christ Jesus.” Because thankfulness “in Christ” should be insulating us from the ups and downs of life.

So when the good news comes- I’m even more thankful- because I know that I don’t deserve it. It’s only Jesus who has made me righteous. Anything after that is icing on the cake.

And when the bad news comes? I’m even thankful then, because I remember that my worth isn’t decreased; God still loves me. And I’m even thankful he didn’t give me what I really wanted- because he knew that the company would be closing its doors right after I got hired anyway.

So, “in Christ”- in all circumstances- becomes this relief.

You can trust that if we knew what he knew- we wouldn’t want it.

But did you know, that Jesus is thankful for you? Jesus is thankful that God revealed Himself- to us- through Him- and we believed. (Matt. 11:25-26)

We are the apple of his eye. Jesus was so thankful for us that he suffered horrible circumstances so we wouldn’t have to. He didn’t get what he wanted, that the cup would pass from Him, because he wanted you more…

Being more worried about the circumstances of life rather than what those circumstances mean “in Christ”- says that your circumstances are more important than Christ and the gospel principles that go with him, like mercy and grace.

Gospel principles that have been applied to us and that we can then turn around and apply in any circumstance. That’s unthankfulness.

Desert of Sin

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We’re all told to do something we can’t.

In Numbers, God’s people are told that in order to obey the law, they are to make all kinds of sacrifices to God. But they can’t.

They are told to make grain, oil and and wine sacrifices and offerings, but they don’t have any of that.

They’re in the desert.

And there’s no Desert Costco where they can get it. But Numbers also envisions a future where they will be able to obey. The promised land.

  • We, too, are told to obey and can’t. But scripture envisions a future where we can, too.

We don’t have to stay no-growth stuck. Israel was stuck with just manna. But someday they would enter Canaan and have the ability to obey.

Despite their failures and sin.

In the same way, we’re able to obey. Because we have a sacrifice that allows us to. Jesus.

Hopefully, more and more each day, our failure and sin turns to loving obedience as we grow in our love for the ultimate sacrifice.

The gospel takes us on this journey from having to obey to wanting to obey.

And obedience is the gateway drug.

We may not even want to at the time, but after we do- we’re like wow, that was pretty cool. And then we act shocked and surprised that God really does know what’s best for us… and our heart changes a little more.

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…