Finding Happiness in the Holiness

By Jonathan Bannister

“God cares more about your holiness than your happiness.”

When I first heard that I thought to myself “Boom! Truth bomb to the face!” But, the more I thought about it I wondered is that really true?

What is holiness? Using the Oxford Dictionary one could say holiness is the state of being dedicated to God.

So then another way to say it would be God cares more about you being dedicated to Him than your happiness.

Well, what is happiness? Again using the Oxford Dictionary one could say happiness is the state of enjoying having our wishes, expectations, or needs fulfilled.

So then yet another way to say it would be God cares more about you being dedicated to Him than you enjoying your personal wishes, expectations, and needs being fulfilled. Does that still sound like something that is right? What if your personal wishes, expectations, and needs are to be dedicated to God?

Why did God create us? According to Isaiah 43:7 it was for His glory. The New City Catechism states “God created us male and female in his own image to know him, love him, live with him, and glorify him. And it is right that we who were created by God should live to his glory.”

The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks “What is the chief end of man?” the answer it gives is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Well how does one glorify God? Again, the New City Catechism states “We glorify God by enjoying him, loving him, trusting him, and by obeying his will, commands, and law.”

The word enjoy seems to pop up across the board. So, if being happy is showing and feeling pleasure, and pleasure is a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment, then can we be happy by getting pleasure from enjoying God which He has called us to do?

I don’t think holiness and happiness are two separate things. Rather, I think happiness is a byproduct of holiness. We have to reorient ourselves to what will actually make us happy. The world gives any number of answers for how to be happy. Acquire things, do things, make things. It’s always focused on the self. What do I want to do? What makes me happy? My first response to that even after becoming a Christian hasn’t always been enjoying, loving, trusting, and obeying God.

My answers would be a girlfriend, a job I didn’t hate, living in a house I found acceptable, driving a car I thought was cool, having enough money to just do what I wanted, when I wanted to. Me, me, me.

1 John 5: 3 says “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” He wants us to get happiness from delighting in His law as it says in Psalm 119:70 and in Psalm 40:8 it says “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”

Am I there yet? Not always. Some days, I even wonder if I have it set as one of my end goals. I still struggle with defiance. The only difference is, when I sin, I’ve noticed more and more that it doesn’t feel right. “The thrill is gone” as noted theologian B.B. King sang. I’m left searching for more and I realize I feel most at peace when I am abiding, trusting, and learning to find happiness in obeying.

Some might say Psalm 37:4 is a monkey wrench to this line of thought. It says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Sure, I could be way off base. I do know that the first part of that verse says to delight in the Lord. What if when we actually delight in the Lord we find the desires of our heart changing? What if instead of things it’s forgiveness, justification, community? As Tim Keller says, “God will either give us what we ask for in prayer or give us what we would have asked for if we knew everything he knows.”

Philippians 4:4 says Rejoice in the Lord always. I think it’s a different kind of happiness we have to work towards and an understanding that true, real happiness is only derived from knowing and worshiping the one true God.

Off with the Old, On with the New!

 By Mark Zeiler
 
Today’s Reading: Ephesians 4: 17-24
 
There’s nothing like putting on a new outfit. The feel, look, and smell of new fabric and the freshness of wearing something for the first time is like nothing else. Nothing signifies our identities like clothing. Clothing can identify gender, economic status, social preference, working status, and religious or political convictions. Paul compares learning Christ to “putting off” the old self and “putting on” the new self, just like taking one outfit off and putting on a new one. Except this transformation goes much further than the surface of our skin, because this transformation changes how we think, feel, and behave.
 
One of the biggest misconceptions about Jesus is that he came, died, and rose to give us some good-feeling, emotional experience. He’s after so much more. He’s after concrete, permanent transformation in our minds, hearts, and actions. As we renew our minds in God’s Word, we are changed. God’s Spirit convicts us of sin, changes our desires, and makes us more holy. We can’t ignore that putting off the old and putting on the new is a command. We play a part. We must put on the new self, just as we put on our pants. And who wants to go outside before they put on their… truth?
 
Pray that God would show you what prevents you from spending time to renew your mind daily in God’s Word, and would help you to spend time with him.

I Am an Adopted Child of God

By Mark Zeiler

Today’s Reading: Ephesians 1:3-6

One of the most incredible truths the New Testament shares with us is that, in Christ, we have been adopted by God. The astonishing bottom line of the theology of adoption is that, now that we are God’s children, God loves us as if we have done everything Jesus has done. We are loved as if we are God’s only Son. We even see Jesus praying toward this end in his high priestly prayer to God: “The world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me,” (John 17:23).

The question at hand is whether or not your experience–intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually–as God’s child lines up with your legal status as an adopted child of God. Christ secured that status for you through his death and resurrection. My cousin, Evan, and his wife, Kim, tried to get pregnant for six years before they adopted their first child. He described it as 72 months of disappointment. Shortly after adopting their son, Owen, they had their first biological child, Anna Lisa. When people ask Evan if his love for his adopted son is any different than his love for his biological daughter, he replies with an emphatic and passionate, “NO! NEVER! I love Owen with the same absolute, unconditional love that I have for Anna Lisa.”

What’s mind blowing is that, in Christ, we are God’s adopted children. And, just as my cousin loves his adopted son with the same love he has for his biological daughter, God’s love for us is no different than his love for Jesus. Let me say that again in a different way: when God looks at you, his love, favor, approval, and excitement for you equals that of his love, favor, approval, and excitement for Jesus. This is not because of anything you’ve done or ever will do, but because God decided to choose you as his adopted child before the foundation of the world. And, on top of that, God didn’t lovingly adopt you because you’ve avoided bad choices, or because you’d make a great acquisition. He adopted you because he loves you.

Today, know that God has adopted you, and you are loved purely because of his glorious grace.

The god of Story: Part 1

Is it possible to be so obsessed with your own story that you ruin it? Working at a church, I hear the word “story” all the time. What’s your story? I want to live a better story. We need to tell more stories. Where do I fit in to God’s story?

I read a book not too long ago that submitted the idea that, at the end of your life, if the most exciting thing about your story is that you bought a car versus building a well, would you be satisfied with that? Now, of course, if your greatest ambition in life is to buy a car and your chief end is to consume things, that’s not a life worth living. But part of the sentiment pushed in that message is that great stories in life always rise above the mundane. A great story is not a day in which you read your Bible, go to work, love your wife and kids, have a nice meal, and go to sleep.

But what if, in God’s eyes, an amazing story is a man who never travels to a big city or the mountains, but remains faithful to his wife for a lifetime. What if a great story is a mom who never gets a college education, but teaches her children to read the Bible? What if a story worth living is not necessarily building a well in a foreign land, but giving a large portion of one’s income each month to help others in a way that will never be publicly recognized?

I think this obsession with living a great story is ruining our stories, stealing our joy, and causing us to miss out on God’s daily provision of pleasures in the little things of life.

In our next couple of blogs, we want to give a few reasons why and how our own stories become our gods.

The god of Story Contributor: Celebrity Christianity

When you ask someone where they go to church, and they tell you the name of a place, and you ask them why they go there, their response (at least in my experience) every time is, “I really like the preaching,” or, “The worship is awesome.” Lately, I’ve even heard things like, “Well I left such-and-such church because the parking sucked, and this church’s parking was way better and a lot closer to my house.” I have even heard, “I really don’t like how that church has so many different people teach. I like it when it’s just one guy so I know what I’m getting into.”

Hardly ever do people answer the question of why they go to a church with reasons based on the New Testament’s definition of what a Church is. Things like fellowship, breaking bread together, sharing resources, discipline, teaching the Bible, or training and equipping church members to do the work of the ministry are completely foreign. It’s not just that people don’t mention them, they don’t even know that these are basic signs of a healthy church. Instead, it’s almost always the “celebrity factor.”

Some say that successful Christians are those who are famous. If someone has written a book, been in a video, or teaches in front of a crowd on a regular basis, they are worth listening to or meeting with, even though there’s a good chance the elderly man standing next to you in the isle could have an enormous amount of wisdom on life and the Bible, and will probably go completely unknown by many.

A friend of mine, a high school teacher, was invited by a friend to watch a game at a “famous pastor’s” house. Other famous ministers were there, too. It was a small group of men watching the game. He said not one of them said a word to him, except the friend of his who brought him. Now granted, there’s a slim possibility those pastors had some personal reason for not engaging with this neighbor who entered their house, but his response to the experience was worth noting: “If we’ve gotten to the point where a local pastor can’t show basic hospitality to someone face to face, why should anyone listen to them face to crowd?”

In 1 Corinthians 2-4, Paul describes the difference between a mature believer and immature ones. He specifically says to them, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not ready” (1 Corinthians 3:1-2).

He goes on to explain that an immature believers view of the church involves exalting leaders like Apollos, Peter, and even himself. His response to this idea of arguing over which man is more worthy of following is simple, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 5:5-6).

Whenever we exalt man’s giftedness above God’s power to cause growth in our life, our story becomes about man. We become the center, and live under the pressure to do something amazing. Take the pressure off, and look at the ultimate history that has been woven into our story through Christ, and live with zeal knowing that we are already part of the greatest story ever told.

-Mark Zeiler

God’s Commands: Burdensome or Beautiful?

I love music, but sometimes I do weird stuff with it. Recently, I found myself cycling through iTunes listening to samples of songs, but I wouldn’t commit to a purchase. I settled with a few samples, missing out on the full experience of a great album.

That’s what I do with God a lot too. I’ll listen to the parts of him that I like, and settle for small portions of what he asks, but don’t fully commit to ALL of him.

I remember hearing in college 1 John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” Not burdensome? How could John say that with good conscience?

This sounded crazy to me because cheating seemed to make school so much easier. Lying was extremely convenient at times. Gossip fueled my ego. Sexual temptation was so alluring. Envy and jealousy were powerful motivators. My grip on Sin was very tight- it felt good, it was exciting, and appeared to be very helpful. How could it not be burdensome to give it all up?

Now that I’m older, have sinned a lot more, been forgiven a lot more, seen a lot of other friends sin a lot, witnessed spouses cheat and divorce, and even a few take their own life it makes more sense.

I have never met a 50-year-old say, “I love being addicted to pornography.” “I’m so glad I’ve learned to lie so easily to my family.” “Living a double life has really paid off.” “Even though my kids hate me, this whole making up my own legalistic rules thing really works.” Nobody says those things.

But people do say things like, “I wish I could go back and end this addiction before it started.” “I would love to shake my former self and warn him of the dangers of lying and cheating.” “I wish I could spend more quality time with my kids.”

Read Psalm 119 (give yourself some time, it’s very long), and see what all these guys say about God’s commands.

Verse 20 says, “My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.” Can you imagine that? Longing for rules? Why would someone ever want to long for a rule?

People don’t long for rules, people long for things that are beautiful. Consider this… If I slaved over trying to plant a fruit tree in my yard and it dies over and over again, then you give me specific instructions on how to plant a fruit tree that will bear ripe fruit and the instructions work, I will be extremely thankful and say, “These instructions are awesome! They’re beautiful, I absolutely love these rules!”

What 1 John 5:3 is telling us is that when we demonstrate our love for God by obeying his commandments, the fruit of that obedience will not cause us to say, “I can’t believe I obeyed God, what a mistake!” Instead, as Psalm 119:72 states, “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.”

His rules produce something so beautiful inside of us that nothing else in this world can. Not even all the gold and silver in the world.

-Mark Zeiler

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