Seek Joy, Not Happiness

So how do we achieve the contentment Paul was speaking of in his letter to the Philippian church?  Simple, get your eyes off the situation and off the people, even the ones who may be trying to help, and get your eyes on the Cross.

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What makes you happy?  Is it when you get that big promotion?  Is it when people do things you want them to do?  Is it when you get a gift from someone?  What about when you get sick or lose someone?  Are you happy then?  No, of course not.  That is because happiness is a circumstantial thing.  It’s dependent upon situations.  Sometimes people will make us unhappy.  It happens.  Sometimes situations don’t turn out the way we expect them.  It happens.  So how do we deal with this emotional roller coaster?  We look for contentment in all circumstances.

Philippians 4:11

11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:

Let’s start by making it clear, as I think I have already have, happiness is circumstantial or situational.  You can have happiness one moment and then in a flash, the situation changes and you can be completely miserable.  You shouldn’t be seeking happiness because then you are always wanting good news and good things, and that is not the way of this world.  This world has good and bad stuff in it, we have to learn to deal with them both.  So how do we achieve the contentment Paul was speaking of in his letter to the Philippian church?  Simple, get your eyes off the situation and off the people, even the ones who may be trying to help, and get your eyes on the Cross.

The apostle John wrote at the beginning of 1 John, his purpose for writing it was so that believers joy would be full.  He was speaking of having fellowship with other believers and most importantly, fellowship with God and His Son.  I can honestly say the moments when I am truly happiest, again circumstantial, is when I am spending time with the Lord or writing.  But what if I couldn’t write?  Uh oh, change of situation.  Would I still be happy?  Yes.  Why?  Well just because I can’t write, doesn’t mean I can’t spend time with the Lord.   See that’s where my joy comes from, spending time with Him, reading His Word and praying.  You can’t change that situation.

This world puts such an emphasis on being happy.  “If only I had [insert generic external source of happiness here} I’d be happy,” is a phrase often heard.  If it is an object, then you are hosed, because things can break or get lost or stolen.  Then where’s your happiness, gone.  If your happiness is dependent on a person, then you are equally hosed.  People will let you down, it’s a fact.  And it’s not that they are malicious, but life does happen and their own circumstances change, which then changes yours.  And if it takes you making someone else happy in order to make yourself happy, you are stuck in a vicious and detrimental cycle.  The moment that person’s circumstances change, your world goes into flux and you are not happy.  Your happiness depended on theirs and now they aren’t happy so you aren’t.  Situational, situational, situational.  We need to be seeking and pursuing joy, which goes beyond situation and circumstances and is found in one person, the Lord.

Staying Humble

But it’s better to be an outward Christian and be limited, than a closet Christian and be successful.

Every once in a while I will hear about a great sports star or celebrity being interviewed and during the course of the interview, they thank the Lord for giving them the ability to do the remarkable and sometimes miraculous things they do.  It’s refreshing in today’s self-centered world.  It’s also, more often than not, an active career killer.  But it’s better to be an outward Christian and be limited, than a closet Christian and be successful.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

As many of you know, I have a normal nine to five job as an HR assistant/payroll person.  What all of you, except for my Catherine who reads this regularly, may not know, is that it is an assignment from a temp agency.  I will not bore you with the rigamarole of how I ended up there, but I thank God for it every single day, not just for it allowing me to pay my bills, but because it reminds me to stay humble.

I am not trying to boast here, but I am good at working with computers.  I am an idiot-savant in that way.  My boss and I actually discussed how quickly I learned not only the payroll program, but the inventory program as well.  Then she remarked, but you can’t seem to get your own time in and out right.  It was quite humorous.  With this weird knack I have been gifted with, you’d think they’d make me permanent since I have been there since November, but they haven’t.

You see this temp assignment, for me, is a lot like the thorn in Paul’s side.  He prayed for God to remove it, but God used the thorn to keep Paul humble and not boastful about who He was or how good of a Christian he was.  More importantly, it drew Paul closer to Him.  Now history never tells us whether or not God removed the thorn from Paul, but Paul was thankful for and grateful for it and continued on his course for the Lord.

I can honestly tell you that I have many people praying for me to get permanency, and I cannot begin to express how thankful I am for those prayers.  I pray for it myself.  Everyone from the COO of the company to one of the owners has told me already that it will happen, it’s just a matter of determining my duties under the new inventory control and timekeeping system.  But I don’t trust in them, I trust in the Lord.  His grace is sufficient, and right now His grace has provided a job with which I can make ends meet and take care of what I have to take care of.  So I will boast in the fact for my nine to five job, I am a temp. But my real job is a lot like Paul’s, I write for the Lord.

Don’t Trust my Word on it…Trust His.

As Christians, we all need to do this [study His Word], no matter how old we are and for one reason and one reason alone, He wants to speak to us and His Word is his primary form of communication.

Today/s devotional, for me, spoke about passive and aggressive listening.  I think I am going to stick to that subject matter today, mainly because it’s a big problem in many churches today.  Far too often, a church will simply take what their pastor or leadership is saying and follow it without question because they are so enamored with them.  It’s truly a sad state of affairs because when that church leader falls in some way, the people become disillusioned.  They forget they are not in a building to follow a person, they are there to find/follow God.

Acts 17:10-13

10 Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds.

At this point in the book of Acts, Paul was getting a regular reputation as a trouble maker for preaching about Jesus and telling people about salvation.  But that’s not who I want to focus on, you can read about Paul and his missionary journeys in your personal studies.  What I want to focus on is the people he met with, those who “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.

The folks in Berea were ready and willing to hear and respond to God’s Word.  Not only that, but they didn’t just believe Paul, the went to look for the evidence themselves.  This, according to my devotional today, is what is known as aggressive listening and frankly, I agree.

I remember going to church and asking the pastor a question after service about what he had taught.  I remember sitting in the cafe with the very tablet I now use to write this blog and vehemently taking notes and jotting down things I needed to study more in depth later.  I am two classes short of a degree in journalism, because I can’t stand a classroom setting, but I love the collegiate atmosphere of expository Bible teaching and the interaction of small group studies.  I have never considered myself a great student, but where knowing what God wants is concerned, I will seek and ask questions and go hard.

So I’ll conclude today by asking this question, what kind of a listener are you?  Do you simply hear what the pastor is saying and go “Yup, I think the same thing” without giving any critical thought or in depth analysis of the veracity of what they are saying?  Or do you go afterwards, seek out the Scriptures, read commentaries on them to really understand God and His Word.  As Christians, we all need to do this [study His Word], no matter how old we are and for one reason and one reason alone, He wants to speak to us and His Word is his primary form of communication.

Not Perfect…But Getting There

We can’t let our past or our circumstances keep us from doing what God wants us to do, which is to reach out to a lost and hurting world and, eventually, join Him at the big kids table in heaven.

Alright everyone, big reveal time.  Ready for it…I am not perfect.  Wait, neither are you?  Oh good, I thought I was alone.  But knowing this, you know what’s really great, we keep moving forward.  The apostle Paul called it “pressing on” because we are moving towards a higher goal than what’s here on earth.

Philippians 3:12-14

12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Note what Paul is saying here with regard to pressing on and moving toward perfection.  You have to let go of the past.  There are people who love living in the past.  They will talk about it as often as they can and express their continuing outrage for some way they have been wronged by someone.  Or some people will even use their past as a way to get sympathy from people.  But the past needs to remain in its place, as Paul said, behind you.

Now I am not saying things of the past do not shape or affect us, but if you look at what Christ did for us, through His sacrifice, His Father forgot our past.  If we look back toward them or even turn around and head toward them again, then we will not be pressing on and moving forward.

In my view point, strictly my viewpoint, there are two types of people in this world.  Those who are victims of their pasts and their circumstances and those who use their past and their circumstances to make themselves stronger, wiser and more able/equipped to serve the Lord.  As Paul says in today’s reading, you have to press forward for the prize.  What prize is that?  The upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  (This is like the easiest open book test ever isn’t it?)  We can’t let our past or our circumstances keep us from doing what God wants us to do, which is to reach out to a lost and hurting world and, eventually, join Him at the big kids table in heaven.

As the title of today’s entry says, we aren’t perfect, but we are getting there.

An Open Door

We are misrepresenting Him if we go to people who are not ready, whom God does not have in His figurative sniper scope, and attempt to force them to hear what we have to say and make the choice to follow Him.

One of the biggest issues that I have seen with brothers and sisters who have felt the calling of the Lord to evangelize is their approach.  They sometimes end up speaking to people who really don’t want to hear what the Lord has to say, but will speak anyway.  This creates one of two situations the first being the “Bible-thumper” mentality.  Now please hear my heart on this, I am proud to be considered a Bible thumper, but I won’t beat people in the head with Scripture.  But that is how someone who doesn’t want to hear what the Lord is saying will feel.  The second situation is the person who will try to be argumentative.  For a new brother or sister new in the faith, this could very easily put out the fire the Lord has stoked in them.

Colossians 4:2-4

Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.

First things first, Jesus, during His ministry, gave us the blueprint for how to go out evangelizing.  He sent His disciples out in twos.  This was a very practical way of doing things.  It ensured safety for those going out into a hostile environment.  That’s honestly the way it should be done now, not just for safety, but for mentorship.  Those who are older in the faith and see someone who is on fire for the Lord with regard to evangelizing, should accompany them and look after them to make sure they are not representing the Lord in the wrong way.  There is also an encouragement aspect when a young believer being mentored by an older believer.  They can know what is being done right in their approach vs. what is being done wrong.  I can tell you this much, when I was out there and wanted to speak to people about the Lord, I learned one thing very quickly.  Sometimes people just don’t want to listen.

In today’s reading, Paul asks the Colosse church to pray for an open door for himself and others to minister and evangelize to people where he was imprisoned.  That’s the start right there.  Someone whose heart is ready to hear and open to hear from the Lord.  They are out there.  Those who have gotten to the end of their ropes, whom the dirt around their heart is all plowed up and they have that open door and are just waiting.

God gave people free will to make a choice.  He sent His Son down to show them a physical manifestation of that choice.  We are misrepresenting Him if we go to people who are not ready, whom God does not have in His figurative sniper scope, and attempt to force them to hear what we have to say and make the choice to follow Him.  We are called to make disciples of all nations, yes.  But we are not called to force the gospel down someone’s throat.  Before going to evangelize, we need to make sure He is opening the door of hope that is Him at that particular moment.  Otherwise, we could end up turning them off permanently.

Grace and Mercy

Today’s reading shows how much God loves us because He could have left us to be in our sins. But He didn’t. He chose to sacrifice His only begotten Son for us.

And to continue along with the lessons about mercy from my previous entry and how we should show it to others, let’s look at how much God showed mercy to us, which is why it is imperative we show it to others.

Ephesians 2:4-7

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, , 8 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

There’s a meme I saw once that said “We are called to be like Christ, not other Christians.”  As I think about that, I wonder how much I actually behave like that.  Today’s reading shows how much God loves us because He could have left us to be in our sins.  But He didn’t.  He chose to sacrifice His only begotten Son for us.  It’s His grace and mercy that now allows us, as believers, to have fellowship with Him.

And that is the kind of behavior we are to emulate brothers and sisters.  We don’t deserve God’s mercy.  Speaking for myself and some of the really messed up things I have done in the past, I recognize the fact that I deserve wrath.  Not being self-deprecating, just stating a fact.  But in rededicating my life to Him, I’ve come to realize He showed me mercy.  He sent His Son to take my sins and screw ups.  So when someone does something wrong to me or the people I love, the best way to emulate Christ-like behavior is to, regardless of whether or not they are a believer, pray for God to show mercy on them.

In Luke 23:34, Jesus it reads, “Then Jesus said, ‘Forgive them Father for they do not know what they do.’ And they divided His garments and cast lots.”  Even while being crucified and enduring unspeakable pain and humiliation, Jesus was still making intercessory prayer for us.  Can you say you would do the same?  For me, it’s a struggle, but when the chips are down, I do make the conscious choice to ask God to have mercy on those doing wrong.  It’s the only Christ-like thing to do.

Bit, Bridle and Discipline

There are things we may want to do and say to people that, while true, will cause more harm than good.

For the ones that know and love me, they know I am the type of person who says what I want, when I want.  I will speak the ruthless and uncensored truth, and it won’t matter how much it hurts a person’s feelings.  For those who are cheering that idea, it’s really not a good thing.  Why?  Well if we are looking to win people to Christ, then our behavior has to reflect His.  So over the years, I have had to learn to be more careful with my words and behavior.

1 Corinthians 9:26-27

26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

You gotta love Paul the Apostle.  The most awesome letters about Christian behavior coming from a guy who used to murder Christians.  He actually held the coats of the people who went to stone the first martyr, Stephen.   You can read about that in the book of Acts.  Anyway, Paul really understood what it meant to turn yourself around from your old ways and start living for Christ and winning others for Christ.  That’s why he was able to say in his letter he was running the race with certainty and fighting with connecting blows (when you fight the air you are either shadow boxing or missing).  But here is the more important part, he also walked with discipline.

There are things we may want to do and say to people that, while true, will cause more harm than good.  In my case, when someone comes at my family or those I care for with hostility, I want to go in guns blazing ready for a physical altercation.  Or if someone says something to offend me or hurt them, I want to tear them down with their own actions with my words.  This is undisciplined behavior and again, sometimes quite harmful.

In riding horses, a bridle is used to direct the horse.  There are bridles with a bit and bridles without.  The point of all this is that a bridle, bitless or not, maintains discipline for the animal to stay on the path directed by the rider.  Personally, I can be both.  I can go without a bit because I can hold my tongue when it comes to certain situations, but then there are days when I need to have that bit in, because everything I say will be ruthless and hurtful.  I don’t want to push anyone away from the Lord or through my behavior misrepresent Him, so having the bit and bridle on, is not a bad thing.  So here is the question, where it comes to your behavior in Christ, what kind of a horse are you?