Tag Archives: happiness

The only way to truly fulfill your longings – First Sunday of Advent 2019, Part 5

5 Dec
Photo by Alex Ivashenko on Unsplash

Have you ever thoughts that you be so happy if you hit the lottery? I have. I have dreamed of how I would spend the money. It sounds so freeing. I would be free from debt. My kids would have no college debt. I get excited just typing it. Many of us can feel that way, can’t we? We are convinced we will be happy if we get a surprise inheritance, or if we get the latest new iPhone for Christmas, or if our favorite sports team wins the big game, or if that guy asks us out on a date, or if we ask a girl and she says Yes, or if we get a house, or…you fill in the blank.  Those longings are strong, and we have convinced ourselves that if those longings are satisfied, they will make us happy.  But it does seem that every Christmas we have a new Christmas list. So we continue to long for more.  That thing we had to have last year, it very quickly lost its satisfaction.  So it might sound off to hear Paul saying in Galatians 2, which we have been studying in the series (starting here) that we need to die to ourselves and live life 100% by faith in Christ, so that his life becomes our passion.  Of course it will sound off when we have lived, even as Christians, for so long in a world of competing longings, or if we have lived a Christianity that is focused on rule-following.  So even if I haven’t convinced you, let’s at least take some time to consider the possibility that when our longings line up with Jesus’, then we can experience a deep happiness.

The longings within us are real and often strong.  Desire is not inherently evil.  We all have desire.  But if our primary desire is not for Jesus and his heart, then our desires will be skewed. 

How then, do we line up our longings with Jesus in our minute by minute daily lives?  How do we actually die to our longings, and allow Jesus’ longings to become ours?  Do we just pray all the time?  But what about work, eating, sleeping? 

If what I’m talking about is correct, that we experience deep happiness when our longings line up with Jesus, then we will have to learn to long for Jesus in all the hours we spend at work, standing in front of our classrooms if you are a teacher, or sitting at your seat if you are a student, folding laundry, making dinner, and when we are on our phones, or watching TV, on scrolling through social media. No matter what we do in life, we will need to learn to align our longings, moment by moment, with Jesus. But how does that alignment happen?

I’d like to suggest that increasing our longing for Jesus will almost certainly not happen all at once, like a miraculous total change.  It can happen that way, but I would suggest that is rare and we shouldn’t expect it.  Rather, observe the life of Jesus who had a habit of longing for God.  He so often practiced it away from the crowds, behind the scenes, alone, sometimes in the middle of the night or early in the morning.  Considering that he practiced it though he himself was God, certainly we who are humans should practice as well. What we notice then, of Jesus, is that his behind-the-scenes practice empowered him to live a God-filled life.    

Later in Galatians 5, Paul will say that Christians should walk in step with the Spirit.  God’s Spirit, as Paul said in another letter, 1st Corinthians, chapter 6, is living in you.  Some of us barely recognize the Spirit in us.  Some of us might even be afraid of the Spirit, wondering if it means we’ll speak in tongues or something.  Some of us have no idea what it means that the Spirit is within us, or how to walk in step with the Spirit.  But clearly for Jesus (as we will see later in our Advent sermons when we study John 14, it is vital that we Christians understand that his Spirit lives in us).  Paul is saying the same thing here.  I suspect that many ofus can go for long periods of time with little to no interaction with the Holy Spirit in our lives. 

But when we learn to walk in step with the Spirit, our longings become his longings, and his longings become our longings.  So how do you walk in step with the Spirit?  Well, consider this: How do you learn about the ways that a favorite sports team moves and what plays they make?  How do you learn what your child is like?  How do you learn what your friends like to do?  Time.  We give time to watching how our sports teams interact with other teams.  We give time and attention to our child, our friends, etc. We will not be able to learn how to walk in step with the Spirit if we do not spend time and attention to the ways of Jesus.  We long for where our hearts lies.  What we are willing to sacrifice for shows us what we long for.  Therefore, take time to study Jesus.  Read his word.  Talk with him.  Sit still and listen for him.  Meet with others who you think do this well.  Be humble as you learn.  And watch your longing for him increase, and your heart be transformed.    

The result Paul says is that the Fruit of the Spirit flowing from your life.

How you speak.  With kindness and patience.  

How you care for people. With love and goodness.

How you live.  With gentleness.  With joy. 

So let’s make this Advent a season of longing for Jesus! What is one way that you can free up time, even if it is 15 minutes to spend more time with Jesus, getting to know his Spirit in your life? 

Make a commitment to it for the next four weeks.  Tell it to someone you trust.  Ask them to check in you!  And get ready to watch God transform your longings to be in line with his.

Why did the US death rate jump sharply in recent years? – First Sunday of Advent 2019, Part 1

2 Dec
Photo by Kyle Johnson on Unsplash

If you could say in one word what you want more of in life, what would that be?

What this question gets at is longing.  This Advent, we are talking about longing. 

Advent is a season of longing.  Ancient Christians created the season of Advent as a four week long preparatory time for the great celebration of Christmas.  Advent means “coming,” and it looks back to the first coming of the Messiah, when Jesus was born.  It also points forward to Jesus’ second coming.  As Jesus taught us, we need to be ready for his second coming.  There is a sense, then, in which Advent is a period focused on longing for Jesus to return, and so we would do well to evaluate our longings.  Are we longing for the right things?

I read an article this week in which the author asked the same question of her readers that I asked you: in one word, what do you want more of in your life?  This is just another way of asking, “What do long for?”  Nearly 800 people responded, and the results were fascinating.  I’m going to list the top 8.  What do you think nearly 800 people in our society said they want more of? 

  • 8 – Confidence
  • 7 – Fulfillment
  • 6 – Balance
  • 5 – Joy
  • 4 – Peace
  • 3 – Freedom
  • 2 – Money
  • 1 – Happiness

People have many longings.  This is no surprise.  What is alarming is that there seems to be a growing sense in our culture of longings going unfulfilled.

Another article I read talked about this.  The article studied the death rate in the USA from 1959 through 2017. The general trend: the death rate improved a great deal for several decades, particularly in the 1970s, then slowed down, pretty much leveled off and has recently reversed course after 2014, increasing dramatically since then.

The article reported sharp especially among those in mid-life, ages 25-64.  The report showed the trend to be true both genders, all races and ethnicities.  By age group, the highest relative jump in death rates between the years 2010 and 2017, a jump of 29 percent, was people age 25 to 34. What is going on?  The title of the article is “There’s something terribly wrong.” 

One person in the article said:

“Whether it’s economic, whether it’s stress, whether it’s deterioration of family, people are feeling worse about themselves and their futures, and that’s leading them to do things that are self-destructive and not promoting health.”[1]

This is alarming because, we are the richest country in the history of the world.  We’re not in a major war.  Our health care is amazing.  We have loads of connection through social media.  We are more educated than ever before.  We have so much opportunity.  Yet there is deep despair in so many in our culture, leading to self-destructive behavior.  What is going on?  Perhaps at the root is a epidemic of unfulfilled longing.

As I answered for myself the question above, “What do you want more of in life?” I’ll admit that “peace” and “money” were the first two words that came to my mind.  Let us consider this: How many of us thought of Jesus?  How many people are longing for Jesus? 

We might actually find that a bit odd.  “What do you mean, ‘longing for Jesus,’ Joel?” What I am referring to is the long-held Christian idea that in Jesus and Jesus alone is where we will find the answer to all our longings.  But is it true? Keep following the blog, as our next few post will look into that.


[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/theres-something-terribly-wrong-americans-are-dying-young-at-alarming-rates/2019/11/25/d88b28ec-0d6a-11ea-8397-a955cd542d00_story.html

God wants me to be happy, not angry, and never to doubt? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s desires for Christians. Part 4]

28 Mar
Photo by Bruce Mars on Unsplash

In 1 Timothy 3:12 we read that “all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  Woah.  Maybe God doesn’t want us to be happy, and only cares about us becoming godly or holy, even if it takes us being persecuted? How are we to understand this?

Does God want us to be happy?  It sure seems like he would, right?

In this series of posts we’re fact-checking common phrases Christians believe, and in this post there are two phrase: “God isn’t interested in making you happy; he’s interested in making you holy.”  VERSUS “God always wants me to be happy.” Which is it? This takes some explaining.

First of all, God is most interested in our character, in our heart.  And sometimes going through trials is the way to get to our heart.  But as we have seen in previous posts in this series, the trials we go through are not necessarily from God.  The world is broken and fallen, and we will have troubles in this world.  God can redeem those struggles, though, as we strive to follow him in middle of our troubles.  And he promises that he will be with us always.  The result is that we do often grow in godliness during difficult times. 

But can we grow in holiness through joy and plenty and comfort?  Yes.  That’s why a life of spiritual practices and habits is so important.  God calls us to pursue practices like prayer, biblical meditation, silent listening, generosity, and disciple-making all the time, not matter if life is going great or if it is really difficult. 

So the phrase “God isn’t interested in making you happy” is wrong.  God DOES want us to be happy!

Remember the festivals in Deuteronomy?  God embedded happiness and celebration in the life of the nation of Israel.  Ecclesiastes talks about enjoying life.  Philippians says “Rejoice in the Lord always!”  And James 1:2-4, says “Consider it joy when you face trials of many kinds.”

It is very hard to feel joy in the middle of the pain. 

Is there a difference between happiness and joy?  Can we be joyful while being unhappy? 

Happiness is fleeting.  Joy is a choice.  It can be hard to distinguish the two.  Especially for those who struggle with anxiety.  “Consider it joy?”  This means that you can use your mind to control your emotions.   Happiness is an emotion, and emotions do not always tell you the truth.

So we need to remember verses like Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” 

The song “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns speaks to this when it envisions God saying to us, “if your eyes are on the storm, you’ll wonder if I love you still, but if your eyes on the cross, you’ll know I always have and always will.”   

Isn’t that so similar to the lamenters in Psalms?  In the pain they turned and ran to the Lord rather than running away from him.  And when they ran to him, they brought all their pain and doubt and anger to him.

And that is a great lead-in to the next phrase we’re fact-checking:God is not OK with doubt and anger.

We’ve referred to James 1 already.  Take a look at verse 6.   “When he asks he must believe and not doubt”?  Wait, is doubt wrong?  And later in verse 19, “be slow to anger, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires.”  So doubt and anger are wrong?  Or are they?

Read the psalms, the laments.  In them you’ll find gut-wrenching doubt and anger.  Raw pain. 

That means we can also declare that this is a false idea.  God is absolutely okay with doubt and anger. 

Saying that God is not okay with doubt is potentially dangerous, making it seem like a good Christian should never struggle with doubt. There is a sense in which God doesn’t want us to doubt.  He wants us to trust in him.   We should have faith in him.  But even then, we have to remember the promise of 2 Timothy 2:13, “if we are faithless, he is faithful for he cannot disown himself.”

In Mark 9:17, we read a fascinating story that relates to doubt.  The disciples were trying to cast a demon out of a boy, but to no avail.  The father of the boy brought him to Jesus to help.

Notice the father’s response to Jesus: “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” We all doubt, and we all get angry.  Remember that there is nothing that can separate us from the Love of God.  But God’s gracious love for us should also not be an excuse to just stay in our doubt or anger.  Instead, God’s grace should motivate us, make us grateful, to trust in him and allow our anger to subside.  If you have an anger problem that keeps popping up, and you can’t control it, I urge you to get professional help.  It’s not okay to be angry and damage people. 

Does God want you to be rich? (and healthy?)

17 Apr

health and wealthHave you ever heard of the Health and Wealth Gospel? It is a view of faith in Christ that has been around a while that basically says “if you are faithful enough to God, he has to bless you with health and wealth.”

If you believe enough, he will heal you.

If you give enough, he will prosper you.

Basically, if you have enough faith, you’ll have the good life.

You can hear preachers on TV that seem to believe this. But is it true?  God definitely wants us to be faithful to him, and to grow in our faithfulness, but does he promise that he will give us riches and health if we reach a certain level of faith?

The clear response across the many books of the Bible is that we live in a fallen world! We are not going to live forever. There are accidents, diseases, and sinful choices that we make, and that others make, that affect us. The result is that sometimes we will face difficulties in this life. We might lose our job, get sick and have pain.

I’ve officiated enough funerals and done enough hospital visits in my short 7 years as pastor to knwo that when someone we love dies, or when something bad happens to us, we are quick to question “Why did you allow this, God?”

I get it that when we’re in a difficult situation, we are desperate for answers, for explanations, for anything to help us make sense of the pain that we’re experiencing. So we quickly turn it on God.

But think about that with me for a minute. Is the pain in this world God’s fault?

Doofenshmirtz with his Deflate-inator

Doofenshmirtz with his Deflate-inator

My kids love the cartoon Phineas and Ferb, and in that show the bad guy, Dr. Doofenshmirtz, creates a new destructive ray gun every episode. He names each gun uniquely, ending with the phrase “-inator”. So there is the “Destruct-inator,” and the “Space Laser-inator” and the “Freeze-inator” and the “Ugly-inator” and about a hundred other “-Inators”. Do we really believe that God has a “Get sick-inator” or a “Accident-inator” or “Marriage break-up-inator” or an “-inator” for all the bad stuff that can happen, and he zaps us with them?

Is the pain in this world God’s fault? When we’re going through a hard time, should we go to God in prayer and ask “Why are you doing this to me, Lord?”

We do that, don’t we? I wonder if we do it because, while most of us don’t believe in a Health & Wealth Gospel, if we are honest with ourselves, we believe it a little bit.

A pastor friend shared the following quote from Jerry Walls that introduced this idea to me:

“Accepting Jesus and following him faithfully does not guarantee or make it significantly more probable that you will flourish physically or financially, or have your best material life now. But having said that, I wonder how many of us who repudiate health and wealth gospel may accept a more subtle, respectable version. In particular, how many of us believe we have been blessed with good health, good jobs, beautiful homes/cars, beautiful bodies, and so on by virtue of thinking God has acted in particular ways to bless us that he has apparently not acted to bless many other persons, including our fellow Christians? How different is this assumption/belief than the version of health and wealth gospel preached by many televangelists?”

That’s a deep question to think about.

Maybe we actually do look at health and wealth as a blessing from God. Maybe we actually do look at sickness and poverty as a curse.

But is it? Is that how God works?

Jesus has what might be a surprising answer for us in our next section of our study through Luke. If you want a sneak peak check out Luke 6:17-26, and if you’re in the Lancaster area and are not involved in church family, we invite you to Faith Church Sunday morning to be our guest!

When I’m not feeling happy or content in my relationship – 1 Corinthians 7:17-24

22 May

happy vs joyAre you feeling discontent in your relationships? Maybe you’re not feeling happy about a relationship?  But are you feeling joy?  Is there a difference?  And what does it matter?

When we are unhappy or discontent, we are very tempted to RUN!  In our passage from this past Sunday, Paul says “Remain in the situation in which you were called.” Over and over he says this. Remain? What if we don’t like the situation?  As I have said before, if it is an abusive situation, this would not apply.  Get safe!

But what about when a relationship is frustrating?  What about when there is a lot of anger and arguing?  In Relationship Month, we have heard clearly from Paul that we should avoid separation and divorce at all cost.  In this section again he says, “Remain.”  Then he adds in verse 19, “keeping God’s commands in what counts.”

My NIV Study Bible notes summarize it well: “There is nothing wrong with seeking to improve your condition in life, but be content at every stage.” There is a tension between being content and keeping his commands. Sometimes keeping his commands means we need to make a change.

My dad, Harold Kime, has taught Corinthians for many years at Lancaster Bible College, and in his notes he says: “Keeping God’s commandments does have spiritual value and worth. The verb, “keep”, that Paul uses here is not a simple obedience. When he says “Keep his commands” it also includes the idea of guarding or preserving. This is not a mere outward obedience but an obedience that guards and preserves the very thing obeyed. We can infer from this that certain types of social condition require a radical change. Certainly Paul would not say, “Were you called being a prostitute, think nothing of it.”

We could summarize like this: Remain in the life state that you are in, but do not sin.  At the root of all this is a heart that is committed to say that “Lord, your way is the best way.”  Keep his commands requires a heart desire that believes that following God’s way is the best! “Find your satisfaction in the Lord”  Paul is not saying that the believers in the church should stay as they are for eternity. He encourages slaves, if they can, to be free. But the focus is to be content in the Lord where they are at. Things may change, but the focus for now is to grow that passionate, heartfelt relationship with the Lord.
We can be so discontent about life. We can start to grow a bitterness about our station in life. Paul says that the Christians should find their contentment in the Lord. And we can grow that deep inner joy without having our circumstances change one bit.

Contentment is being able to be joyful no matter the circumstance. There is a big difference between inner and outer joy. One way to describe the difference is to look at the difference between happiness and joy. I am bit hesitant to use these two terms because they are basically synonymous. But think about them this way: happiness is that outer expression of emotion based in how we are feeling. We like happiness a lot because it means we feel good. Joy is different from happiness because it is a deeper inner state of heart and mind that is trusting in God no matter how we are feeling, no matter our circumstance, no matter our station in life. This deep inner joy, this contentment is what Paul is saying the Corinthians believers need.

There is much about life that we can be discontent about. Paul would say to the Philippian church in Philippians 4:12 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. Whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

What are you discontent about? Your marriage? Your singleness? Your job? Your finances? The state of the world? Paul is saying that we should be a people who avoid rushing to change, but instead remain as you are, be content, find that deep inner joy in obeying Christ, and commit yourself to grow in your relationship with him. Here’s what’s interesting about contentment. It is okay to allow the deep inner joy of contentment to bubble up to the surface of your life and overflow with emotional outward happiness. We should never confuse that outward emotion for the inner real thing. But it is okay to be outwardly happy. I would go so far as to say that when we are content in Christ no matter our situation, we will see that outward happiness, that outward rejoicing on a more regular basis! And it starts with a contentment in our relationship with Christ.

It is not just in the pain that we can experience deep inner joy. We can also celebrate the joy of the Lord in the good times. We can and should be content in the Lord, no matter if life is difficult or abundant. A friend of mine from my youth group is now a professor at LBC. He and his wife were married a few years ago, it took them some time to start a family. They are now just weeks away from the birth of their son. I asked him this week how they are doing, and he said “Excited, things are going great, but they’re also thinking about those many sleep-deprived nights ahead of them.”

I wrote back and said, “You will get through it. I won’t deny that I had a hard time in the middle of the night. But it is a phase that passes. I think what I have been learning with my kids, though, is that I can yearn too much for each phase to pass. I can be way too focused on “getting them out of diapers” and “getting them out of car-seats” and so one. In so doing, I have found that I can miss out on the wonderful aspects of the present phase. I think this is the message of Ecclesiastes: eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die. Enjoy the moment that God has given you. While the moment definitely can have its hardships, it also has great joy. Be content no matter the circumstances. I would encourage you to revel in each and every one of those nights of seemingly endless crying and feedings.”  (Not that I was the model dad in that regard…)

What will it mean for you to grow contentment in the Lord?