I Give Up Trying to be Happy

Stop tryingto beHappy“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. . . “ These declared our forefathers in the Constitution of these United States, are basic human rights. They considered that all people have the right to pursue happiness.  This right is from our Creator – God.

We have the right to pursue happiness.

Many today consider that happiness is a right. I hear many say, “God wants me to be happy.” Does He? The founding fathers says we have a right in this nation to PURSUE happiness.  I might pursue happiness all my life and never catch it, but I have the right to that pursuit.  I do not think the founding fathers considered that God necessarily wanted them to be happy.

I looked up “be happy” in the English Standard Version and found one occurrence, “When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken.” (Deuteronomy 24:5).  I think the idea is that a man and woman need time to lay a good foundation for their marriage.  This verse is NOT saying God wants me to be happy.

For comparison I looked up the words “be holy.” I counted 156 occurrences of the words in the same sentence or verse and 32 matches for the exact order.  One of those passages is 1 Peter 1:14-16, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (underlined for emphasis – SMc).  God wants me to be holy.

God wants me to be holy.

To be holy is to be set apart, to be sanctified for service to God (Colossians 1:19-23). But more than that, holiness is distinctiveness (2 Corinthians 6:17-7:1). When we become God’s children through the blood of Christ we are set apart, called out of the world, and delivered into the Kingdom of His Son. This calling is our salvation from the wrath of God and to a distinctive life – a life different from the world.

Holiness is Distinctiveness

If my life is not distinctive, if I talk like the word, if my entertainment is the same as the world’s entertainment, if I dress like the word, am I any different from the world? Am I distinctive? Am I holy? Have I set my life apart for God?

If my pursuit of happiness comes from the things of the world. I am not pursuing holiness. Stop trying to be happy according to the world’s standards. God does not tell us, “Be happy as I am happy.”

I do have good news. When you choose to pursue holiness, you will find much happiness. Holiness is key to happiness.

Pursue Holiness:

  1. Trust God even in the tough times – Psa 23:4
  2. Be content with God’s daily blessings – 1 Tim 6:6-8
  3. Live each moment (day) with God – Matt 6:34
  4. Set holiness (distinctiveness) as your goal – Col 3:1-2
  5. Be holy to be happy, walk in the steps of the Lord – Jer 10:23

Religious thinker, speaker, and writer A. W. Tozer said in his book Of Man and God, “No man should desire to be happy who is not at the same time holy. He should spend his efforts seeking to know and do the will of God . . .”

Today, I give up trying to be happy and start trying to be holy – distinctive – to live for God. Then in Christ I find that pursuing holiness fulfills my life and that brings true happiness.

-Scott

 

Churches and the Preacher

cccoffice

In my study at Central

Congregational expectations vary from place to place and congregations expect much from their preacher(s).  Too often these expectations are not written down and this lack of concrete expectations can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings.  I suggest having as many on the table (written down) as possible.  We also know that some expectations are ridiculous or out of the ordinary.  Again expectations vary from place to place and group to group, but there are some that are common and that no preacher should ignore.  Let’s talk about those:

1. Challenging Lessons

Churches have a right to expect challenging lessons.  One elder I served with a number of years ago called these challenges “aha” moments. He believed that sermons and lessons should lead Christians young and old to reflect on their life and make needed changes or additions.  Sometimes this “aha” is a new idea; “Aha, I did not know that.”  Sometimes it is a reminder of what we already know to do; “Aha, I do need to do that.”  When lessons and sermons are the rehashing or regurgitation of oft preached sermons, or are straight from sermon books or websites, there is a staleness about them that does not affect people.  Stealing (borrowing) sermons and ideas is fine, if you recast them in your own language, dialect, style, vocabulary, etc., but not if you preach them just as they are.  Take the needed time to prepare lessons that are Biblical and challenging on differing levels.

[To expedite challenging lessons, the preacher should not have an office, he should have a study or two.  Have a room at the building, at home, or both where there are books and materials that benefit growth in Biblical knowledge and spirituality.  Spend ample time in this place to prepare for your sermons and lessons.   This can consume up to half (½) or  three-fourths (¾) of a normal work week.  Use the materials available in your study (studies) to help you understand specific passages.  Read, read, and read again.  Someone said, “Leaders are readers and readers are leaders.”  Do not limit your reading to books you know you will agree with.  Challenge yourself to learn a different opinion or stand on various topics.  Do not neglect to take time for private study.  You need to grow to be effective in helping others in their spiritual growth.]

2. A Good Reputation

Churches have the right to expect the preacher to have a good reputation in the surrounding community and at other congregations.  If an elder is to be “of good report,” we have every cause as preachers to be the same.  This affects how we deal with businesses, neighbors, government, and our creditors.  Everyone may not like us, but we should do our best to “live peaceably with all men” so that our “accusers” can find nothing evil to say about us.  A preacher with a good reputation makes the evangelism that members do easier.  “We know your preacher, he is caring person.”

3. A Willing Servant

Churches have the right to expect the preacher to have a willingness to serve and an openness to be involved in people’s lives. In 30 years, I have helped change tires, pull trucks out of the mud, clean fish, feed animals, chase chickens into a pen, babysit, drive older members to the store, provide transportation to and from services, fill gas tanks, type letters to editors, unclog toilets, on and on and on . . . all so that by some means, I might win some to Christ or keep them near to Christ.

4. Compassion and Understanding

Congregations have the right to expect the preacher to be compassionate and understanding.  This is especially true of medical conditions, family situations, and death.  A preacher needs broad shoulders for members to lean and cry on, and a soft heart that breaks when touched by the pain others are going through.  A preacher is to be a real person, a complete individual in love with God first and man second (Matt 22:36-40).

[Spending time each day in prayer helps develop a heart of compassion and understanding.  Pray for yourself, your family, the congregation you are a part of, the community in which you live and work, the efforts and advancement of the Kingdom of God, pray for the sick, pray with the sick, spend time thanking God for prayers answered positively and negatively.  James reminds us that “ . . . the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (Jas 5:16b).]

[Also remember that spending time with people is invaluable; you cannot know people you do not associate with.  Be visible in the community. Attend events at other congregations.  Eat at local restaurants occasionally even going alone.   Do business at local retail stores, grocers, and fuel stations.  Let people get to know you, and you get to know them.]

5. To Be a Good Husband to His Wife and Father to His Children

DO NOT neglect your family in ministry.  Your wife and children are as much a part of the community and congregation as any other member, and in some way are more important.  Your marriage and home life reflects back on the congregation and on the Lord.  Be sure to be a superb husband and father.  Many preachers lose their families by neglecting their role as a husband and father.  Live out the passages you teach and preach concerning marriages.  Paul reminds Timothy to be an example to others.  If a preacher stands before the congregation, reminding men to love their wives and to bring their children up in the Lord, yet he neglects his wife’s need for a loving, compassionate, affectionate husband and helper and leaves the spiritual guidance of his children to her and Bible class teachers, he is not a good example of what he teaches.  Preachers need to learn to say, “No, I have plans with my family.”  Then suggest alternate times you can help or talk with the one asking for your time.

6. Be You.

Modern society calls this being authentic or being real. People can see through pretense, just be a Christian who the congregation asks to spend extra time in God’s Word to help them learn to deal with life having Christ in their life and His word as their guide.

-Scott

For the Preacher

OldLeonard-3BW

The building where I Obeyed the Gospel

The family was sitting at breakfast, dressed in their Sunday best, when Dad shuffles in, still in his pajamas, unshaven, and looking as if he had just rolled out of bed. “Honey, you are going to make us late for church.” said his wife.

“I’m not going today.” He continued, “No one likes me, no one listens to my ideas, people talk about me, and I don’t think the elders care about me. Tell me one good reason I should go?”

His wife rolled her eyes, “Honey, you are the preacher!”

The prophet Jeremiah said, “If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.  (Jer 20:9)

Matthew Henry’s comment on that passage is, “Since by prophesying in the name of the Lord I gain nothing . . . but dishonour and disgrace, I will not make mention of him  . . . nor speak any more in his name; . . . I will . . . silence myself, and speak no more, for I may as well speak to the stones as to them.”  It is a strong temptation to ministers to resolve that they will preach no more when they see their preaching slighted and wholly ineffectual.

If you preach long enough, you will face challenges. You will not think that you are making a difference in people’s lives. You will feel alone.  One preacher was asked if he ever thought about quitting preaching. He replied, “Yes. Every Monday!”

Every preacher faces challenges!

Every preacher faces challenges – from the world, from friends, from the congregation.  There come moments when you feel like you have hit a wall.  You preached, pleaded, maybe even pounded, but no one seems to listen.  Like Elijah you feel alone.  Like Jeremiah, you want to keep quiet, but you can’t.  The reason you became a minister (preacher) is because you had a desire to spread the message of God’s love.

It is during those times of discouragement that I remember Jeremiah’s message: “God’s word is like a fire in my bones, I am weary of holding it in, I CANNOT!”

Scott

p.s. I felt the need to post script. This article is a result of reading a post of Facebook from another preacher. He was feeling down about some things going on in his life and work. As I was thinking of him, I thought how many other preachers have faced, are facing, or will face similar stresses.

The Object of My Devotion

20111024-082456.jpgThe young preacher accepted the preaching position in a small country church in rural Kentucky. Excited and on fire with passion for truth, his first Sunday sermon spoke against the dangers and evils of gambling and horse races.  It was a masterful polemic.  The church leaders pulled him aside and complemented his study and delivery, but asked him to be careful preaching about gambling since many of their members worked at the track or at the stables of the horse owners.

The next Sunday he backed off of gambling and preached against the sin of drunkenness and the evil of alcohol. His delivery was passionate and left no one doubting what he was teaching. Again the leaders pulled him aside and complemented his study and delivery, but asked him to be careful preaching about alcohol since some of the members worked in the breweries making Kentucky bourbon.

The third Sunday he preached on the sin of Tobacco. Of course the scene unfolded in the same way because some members owned land or were sharecroppers raising tobacco.

The young preacher was feeling frustrated and asked, “What do you suggest I preach on, then?”

One of the leaders thought and then spoke, “Idolatry.  I haven’t seen an idol or and idolater around here for years.”

Habakkuk challenges the idols of the Chaldeans,

“What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it.” (Habakkuk 2:18-19)

Idols are the creation of men. What can they offer their creators? What value is an idol that cannot impart wisdom or truth? What can a carved rock or chunk of wood, or a forged piece of metal teach? All they do is reflect the craftsmanship of the artist.

Idols.

False gods.

Unreliable guides.

We have our idols. We have our false gods. We have unreliable guides that detract us from the true God. We have objects, people, and activities that we often use in place of God. We rely on these idols when we need to turn to God.

  1. Stress is piling up on my, but we feel better when we have ice cream at night.
  2. We need something to take the edge off at the end of the day, so we open a cold brew or pour a glass of wine.
  3. We want to be pleased, so we look for pleasure in sexual immorality.
  4. We are bored so we turn on the TV, watch a movie, or play a video game to fill that void.
  5. We want to be successful.
  6. We want to have a large bank roll.
  7. We desire to be known as a great husband, wife, or parent.

When we find fulfillment or look to find fulfillment in food, alcohol, sex, pleasure in general, or in empty entertainment we are looking somewhere other than God to fill our lives. When we make success in business, financial security, or even family our main goal, we are placing those things above God.

We do have idols and idolaters around hereThere is even one sitting in my chair.

Father, please forgive me when my life’s focus is on anything but you. Help me to know that You alone are my life, my all-in-all, my every need, and the fulfiller of all that I should desire.

Remember, “The Lord is in His holy temple; Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” (Hab 2:20)

Extreme Righteousness

righteousnessRighteousness: Right living, living “right-wise.” These are just a couple of ways we define righteousness within the church. In all honesty, the concept of righteousness creates within me a juxtaposition.  Perfect righteousness in something I can never obtain, yet complete righteousness is something I must strive for. The juxtaposition lies in this simple truth: I cannot be made righteous by my own effort.

I cannot be made righteous by my own effort.

Knowing this, we still compare ourselves to others and think about how good (righteous) we are. Even when we know we are not righteous on our own.

Travel back in time with me to the Roman empire, to a small territory within that empire in the region that the Romans would eventually call Syria-Palestine. This is the area known during much of the 1st Century as Judea. Imagine yourself as an average member of Judean society. Religiously, you adhere to the Law of Moses and you look up to those that call themselves religious “separatists.” They are the extremely righteous. They can quote the Law of Moses and tell you how you are to best keep it. They believe so much in giving to the Temple that they tithe of the spices in their cupboards. Their extreme giving leads them to a life void of the trappings of wealth, and they are proud of it. One of these Pharisees described his own righteousness to God in prayer, “I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, . . .  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luk 18:11-12).

You would look up to this man as “having it all together” religiously. He would be, in your estimation, the epitome of righteousness.

Now imagine you are hearing Jesus as He delivers the Sermon on the Mount.  He is explaining righteousness that goes deeper than actins and points to the motives behind that action. Then He boldly states, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:50).

What?!?

My righteousness must be more extreme than the righteousness of the most right people I know? Jesus’ answer is, “Yes.” As a common Jew you are wondering, how anyone can be more righteous that the Pharisees. They had righteous figured out and down to a science. They would tell yo so. Your mind is spinning.

What you and I need to remember now is neither you nor I can be made righteous my our own effort. Say it with me,

“I cannot be made righteous by my own effort.”

Righteousness comes only from God when we are in Christ.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2Co 5:21)

Thank you, Father for the grace of righteousness bestowed upon those who trust in you and your Son.

-Scott

Reasons Why

3crossesatsunset why

Why, Lord? Why did Christ have to die?

I thought about this question this morning as I sat down to eat breakfast. I thought about it more as I scanned the news feeds on Yahoo.

What are some reasons Christ died?

  1. He died because the religious leaders felt threatened by his popularity and teaching. He would not bend to their teachings nor conform to their mold. He even accused them of misunderstanding what God really wanted from His people in life and worship.
  2. He died because some of the same people who followed Him, ate the bread He provided, and listened to His parables were fickle. They allowed a mob mentality to swing their opinion against Him. The same ones who saw Him heal friends and loved ones now yelled “Crucify Him!”
  3. He died because Pilate was a political pawn and a spineless puppet. He had the authority to release Jesus, but he feared losing points in the favorability opinion poll and he feared the hand of Rome.
  4. Christ died because so-called witnesses lied about Him. The twisted His words to make them say what He did  not say and mean what He did not mean.
  5. Christ died because the trial was rigged, not to mention illegal – even then.
  6. More importantly, Christ died because He loved me and knew that His death was the only way to atone for my sin and to save me from the wrath of God.

-Scott

Bonus video: In Christ Alone

Points to Ponder

Thumbing through an old file of sermon illustrations and poems, I came across this encouraging piece.  The clipping does not have an author listed, so I am not sure who originated it – it was NOT me. But I am drawn to it.

Points to Ponder

Now, not all our attenders are members,

And not all our members are attenders

But if all our attenders were members,

And all of our members were attenders:

Then . . .

We would have more trouble menders,

More Gospel defenders,

And more true soul-winners!

But . . .

We would have fewer people offenders,

Fewer spiritual hinders,

And fewer religious pretenders!

So . . .

Let us all render a more tender surrender

To the Commander of a love full of splendor!

As we meander on this earth frull of sinners,

Let us engender a life with the Lord at the center.

Thoughts to Consider

10 thoughtsA few years ago, I shared this list I heard from Vance Hutton. I ran across it the other day and decided that it is worth a second share.

10. You have a God to glorify.

9. You have a Savior to imitate.

8. You have a Soul to protect (save).

7. You have a body to “put to death”.

6. You have Virtue to acquire.

5. You have Heaven to seek.

4. You have Eternity on which to meditate.

3. You have Temptation to resist.

2. You have the World to guard against.

1. Perhaps today you have Death to meet or perhaps the Lord will return.

What do you think?

-Scott

 

 

Turning Turmoil to Peace

peaceHe was out of his mind crazy! You know the scene; You know of that person who is not just different, but certifiable. They talk to themselves and give answers. Their demeanor, if not their words say, “Stay away!” You and I both have seen them and maybe interacted with them.  I once watched as a lady tried to give a Subway sandwich to another lady sitting on the side of the road. This apparently homeless lady had what looked like all of her belongings in shopping cart and multiple layers of clothes on, even in the lae Alabama Summer. I was glad to see someone stopping to help. Then something happened I did not expect. The lady she was trying to help became all but violent. She screamed, she swung her arms, she grabbed the sandwich and tossed it back at her would be benefactor.

He was so out of control that the town banished him. They even took him to the graveyard and chained him way out in the back. He kept breaking the chains, chasing off the mourners, causing injury to others and to himself. People tried to give him clothes, but he would tear them off. Can you imagine the scene in Mark 5 when Jesus and His disciples cross the formerly stormy but now calmed sea and come to shore near the tombs. This man comes running out of the caves, appearing out of the darkness screaming, flailing his arms, if he is not running on all fours like a primate. The remains of a chain drag behind him. His hair is like that of a mangy dog, he is covered in dirt, he is naked and bruised. There are fresh cuts on his body along with dried blood from previous self-inflicted wounds. Mark describes Jesus’ encounter,

And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” (Mar 5:6-9)

He is more than crazy – he is possessed by many demons.

Jesus commands the demons to leave the man and enter a 2,000 member herd of pigs. The possessed pigs drown themselves in the sea. When the people from the town arrive to check on the commotion Mark records, “And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, . . .”(Mark 5:15)

Sitting . . . clothed and in his right mind!

This man who was in turmoil is now at peace. His encounter with Jesus changed his demeanor. Jesus had just calmed the raging Sea of Galilee and now he calms a life stormed by turmoil. When the storms of our life increase, Christ continues to provide peace.

When the storms of our life increase, Christ continues to provide peace.

How can we have peace because of Christ today? I will let the imprisoned Apostle Paul answer that (Philippians 4:4-13),

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

In this I see six keys to learning peace from God in Christ:

  1. Rejoice in the Lord, always. Look to Whom all good things come and rejoice in all that the Lord does and has done for you.
  2. Turn your anxiety over to God through prayer of faith. God is there to carry you through your hardships. He is there to lean on in times of grief and trouble.  But only if you let Him. Let Him!
  3. Be thankful for what God provides. An attitude of gratitude changes our perspective and leads us to peace.
  4. Think, meditate, dwell on things that are worthy of praise. When I focus on my problems, doubts, fears, and things that are negative they wear me down. When I focus on truth, honor, justice, purity, etc. my energy and attitude change for the better.
  5. Learn contentment. Turmoil often grows from dissatisfaction. Peace grows from contentment. Paul learned contentment in all aspects of life.
  6. Rely on God’s strength in Christ.

I pray you find and live in the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.

-Scott

 

 

Not What you Thought it Would Be

According to the researchers at B.R.I. (Bathroom Reader Institution).  The delicacy knowns aslobster lobster has an interesting story.  The following is from Uncle John’s Endlessly Engrossing Bathroom Reader, (Bathroom Readers’ Press:Ashland, OR) 2009.

“Lobster may taste like shellfish (crab, shrimp), but it looks like an insect.  And technically, it’s an arthropod – more closely related to spiders than to anything from the sea.  Lobsters are abundant off the coast of New England, and from the colonial era until the 19th Century, they were treated like insects; fisherman considered them pests that took up room in the nets meant for more desirable fish.  But fisherman caught them in large quantities and were reluctant to throw them back, especially since they were edible and could be sold (cheaply) for other uses.  Those uses: ground up and used as high-protein plant fertilizer or as food for slaves, indentured servants, and prisoners.  In fact, during the American Revolution, some British prisoners revolted over being served lobster too often.  When the railroads made mass transport of goods possible in the late 1800s, East Coast fisheries realized that they could ship lobster west . . . where nobody knew it wasn’t an expensive delicacy.  In other words, they decided they could make a buck by calling lobster a delicacy.  They did, and it worked.” (Uncle John, p. 427)

I share that story because it reminds me of the way the Prince of this world – a.k.a. Satan – works.  He convinces people that what he has to offer is great.  He sells them on the idea of the supposed blessing of his offer.  When we listen to him and buy into what he is selling, we ultimately are paying a high price for a pesky ocean spider.  Paul would remind us to keep our focus on the things from above and to regard the accolades and pleasures of this world as rubbish meant for the trash pile (cf. Phil 3:8)

What have you bought from the world that is not worth the price?

-Scott