July 27, 2008

Life, Liberty, and the (never-ending) Pursuit of Happiness

The marketers for Cadillac, the luxury line of cars manufactured by General Motors, pretty much hit the nail on the head when they came up with their new slogan: "Life. Liberty. and the Pursuit." Taking this great slogan directly out of the Declaration of Independence, they correctly placed the emphasis on "the Pursuit"...it really is all about the pursuit, isn't it?

In case you don't remember the middle school test question, here's the small, and probably most famous part of the Declaration that we've all heard: "...all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Have you spent any time dwelling on the statement above? I think many Americans take some of those Rights for granted, yet our Founding Fathers thought them so important and innovative that they felt compelled to include them in the Deceleration of Independence. This "innovative" thought is actually centuries old! In fact, Christ offered these same Rights to any and all that would follow Him.

– Jesus Christ spoke extensively about Life, both physical and spiritual. He offers Eternal (spiritual) Life to any person who believes in Him. In John 3:16 we read, " This is how much God loved the world: He gave His Son, His one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life." John 10:10 reiterates this thought, "I [Jesus] came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of." Again in Acts 16:31 Luke, a disciple of Christ writes, "Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you'll live as you were meant to live."

Christ gave explicit directions to Christ Followers concerning their physical life: Do not worry! In Matthew 6:25 we read, "So I tell you, don't worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes. Doesn't life consist of more than food and clothing?" Again and again He stresses to Christ followers, "If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life." (Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, and Luke 9:24) During His short earthly ministry, Jesus Christ redefined the meaning of life. He transformed a physical, materialistic view of life into a spiritual and eternal view of life. In Luke 12:15 we read, "Beware! Don't be greedy for what you don't have. Real life is not measured by how much we own." Luke 12:15

Liberty – The Gospels are full of Christ’s offer for liberty, or freedom. The nation of Israel spent years in captivity and bondage, and at the time of Christ’s birth, they were seeking a Messiah to free them from the Roman Empire. The Pauline Epistles and other New Testament books reiterate Christ’s offer of freedom, not just for Israel, but for all peoples of all nations. Paul writes in Romans 8:21, “Creation itself will also be set free [liberated] from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God's children.”

The liberty that Christ offers is freedom from the Old Testament Law. In Romans 6:14 Paul describes our liberation from the Law, “Sin can't tell you how to live. After all, you're not living under that old tyranny any longer. You're living in the freedom of God.” Christ Followers are also offered freedom from bondage to the Devil and worldly desires. Romans 12:2 instruct Christ Followers, “Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” You see, while Christ offers everyone freedom from the Law and freedom from sin, He calls all of His followers to a higher standard of Christian excellence.

Pursuit of Happiness – Did you know that the word happiness does not appear in the New Testament at all? And happy appears merely six times in the New Testament. For the context in which we are discussing the word happy – only five of those six verses are appropriate. In John 13 we read of Jesus washing His disciple’s feet. He explains to them that He is acting as an example to them, and concludes his discussion by saying, “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.” The remaining four verses (Romans 14:22, James 5:11, I Peter 3:14 and II Peter 4:14) attribute being happy to those who endure persecution, ridicule, and suffering on behalf of Christ Jesus. This Biblical model of happiness certainly doesn’t match our culture’s model for happiness!

Perhaps that’s because this culture constantly emphasizes the pursuit of happiness instead of emphasizing being happy. In today’s society, just as the makers of Cadillac so aptly remind us daily on TV, happiness is always just a little out of reach. Buying a luxury car, the latest gaming system, a bigger home (with a pool), name-brand clothes, designer purses and shoes, etc, etc. does not inherently equal happiness. It’s all just part of the pursuit of happiness.

Early Christ Followers (Paul, James, Peter, John, etc.) frequently utilized the word joy rather than happy. Joy is found in the New Testament ten times more often than happy – that’s sixty times in the Gospels and Epistles! John 15:11 introduces readers to the (not so secret and yet oh so attainable) Source of joy: “[Jesus said] I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” How amazing that despite our circumstances, status in life, demographic location, gender, race, and social standing, Jesus Christ offers us His never-ending joy! Society and culture will constantly bombard us with the never-ending pursuit of happiness, and all the while, we have available to us a constant supply of joy – Christ Jesus Himself! Again and again Christ Followers are assured of Christ’s joy in its fullest! Christ even goes so far as to say that, “. . . no one can rob you of that joy.”

The makers of Cadillac want us to believe that happiness can only be attained by purchasing a luxury vehicle. The truth is, it really isn’t about the pursuit, or happiness, at all. It’s really all about joy.

July 26, 2008

In My Weakness He is Strong

Many of you know that I often suffer from pretty severe back pain. 5 years ago I had emergency surgery to remove a herniated disc in my lower back and since that time I've had to endure frequent back pain and weakness. When I first injured my back the Lord used that time in my life to remind me of my utter dependence upon Him. At that time in my life I was 21 years old and 100% dependent upon my parents fore everything from turning on the bath water to tying my shoes. Being physically dependent upon someone allowed me to remember my spiritual (and often physical) dependence on God.

Since January of this year I have once again been faced with back problems. This time around I'm not as dependent on someone to care for every detail of my life, but I am very aware of my weakness and often I must ask for help lifting and carrying things that are too heavy for me. It doesn't take long for me to start feeling sorry for myself. It often seems that I have more limitations than I deserve, and that I am too weak for a 26 year old woman. Such are the thoughts I've been dwelling on for the past couple of days.

Today the Lord brought to mind some scripture verses that have been an encouragement to me. In 1 Corinthians 1:27 I read, "God has chosen the world's foolish things to shame the wise, and God has chosen the world's weak things to shame the strong.
God has chosen the world's insignificant and despised things--the things viewed as nothing--so He might bring to nothing the things that are viewed as something." And in 2 Corinthians 2:10 Paul writes: "Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size - abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become."

Many Biblical characters that God used to lead the Nation of Israel were weak according to man's standard. Moses felt that he was an inadequate leader for the captive children of Israel, and he actually begged God to choose someone else to lead Israel out of Egypt. King David was but a small insignificant shepherd, and yet he was HAND PICKED by God to rule Israel. The Apostle Paul wrote several times of a "thorn in my flesh", which likely could have been a physical disability, and it is also recorded that he had poor vision. Yet God used Paul to pen nearly half of the New Testament!

I am reminded that when I embrace my weakness and rely on God's almighty strength, I am made stronger, and He is glorified. His strength carries me through the pain, difficulty, and inconvenience of lower back pain. And He reminds me that His plan for my life is perfect, and His plan will be executed despite my physical weakness!!

Perhaps you too are facing a physical limitation or weakness. I hope you will be encouraged by these verses and remember that when His children are weak, God's strength becomes evident and His name renown. Won't you pray with me for His glory and power to be revealed, even if it means a disability or weakness for you?

The following song by Chris Tomlin is an encouragement to me as well.

"Great is Your faithfulness oh God, You wrestle with the sinner's heart. You lead us by still waters in to mercy, and nothing can keep us apart! Great is Your love and justice God, You use the weak to lead the strong. You lead us in the song of Your salvation, And all Your people sing along. So remember Your people, remember Your children, remember Your promise Oh God! Your grace is enough, Your grace is enough, Your grace is enough for me."

Let's dwell on His strength and sufficient grace, and not on our weaknesses.

July 17, 2008

Will You Accept this Rose?

It's no secret - I am a huge fan of ABC's The Bachelor and The Bachelorette! If I miss a Monday night episode, I am quick to log onto to the website to watch the episode online. You might wonder why I'm so addicted to this show...and the truth is, I have no idea! I am fully aware that, though it is called "reality" TV, it is nothing like reality. Even if you are one of the most beautiful and personable women in the world, or if you are the most attractive and accomplished man in the world, you will most likely never have the opportunity to date 25 men or women at a time.

The dates that take place on The Bachelor are far from reality too. Have you every watched the show? There are some AMAZING dates on that TV program. This season the Bachelorette took one of her dates to Frank Sinatra's home and they danced in his living room to, of course, Old Blue Eye's classics. I mean, WHO gets to do this kind of stuff in real life??

The other day, I was thinking about how so many "spiritual" experiences in life are not that far off from reality TV. As kids, we attend a week-long Vacation Bible School and we learn new Bible songs and stories, memorize Bible verses, and are introduced to the importance of international and homeland missions. I think that in a way, VBS is sort of a primer for youth camp and church camp. Once again, a week out of the summer is dedicated to delving into the Word of God, and the focus of every camp activity is to strengthen our spiritual life.

Youth summer mission trips and youth camps are similar in that kids spend the entire day running themselves ragged, and then attend evening worship or fireside devotions that are deeply meaningful and emotionally charged. I know I always came home from camp renewed and refreshed spiritually, but physically exhausted.

Adults have their own version of youth camp. Women and men alike attend church-sponsored retreats and nationally renowned conferences (and might I add - pay a pretty penny) in order to rekindle their passion for the Word of God.

Please don't misinterpret my meaning here. I am not bashing VBS, church camps, and church retreats. I am, however, presenting what I feel is the "reality TV" aspect of Christian living. Just like reality TV is a poor representation of life, so are VBS, mission trips, etc. poor representations of the Christian life. In real life, Satan is using every distraction to woo us with the ways of the world. (See Mark 1:13, II Corinthians 11:14, and I Thessalonian 2:18) Realistically speaking, Christ Followers must make a diligent effort to memorize the Word and pursue righteousness through Christ on a daily basis. One or two weeks out of the year, partnered with Sunday morning worship are not enough for Christ Followers to maintain a relationship with their precious Savior!

I think I enjoy watching The Bachelor and The Bachelorette because I am (and will always be) a romantic at heart. That's why it is so amazing to me that the God of the universe is constantly and daily pursuing me. Scriptures are full of examples of Almighty God expressing His love for His people Israel, and for His church, whom He gave Himself for. (Ephesians 5:25) The Song of Solomon is a beautiful book that so eloquently expresses passion and love. It is considered by some to be an allegorical depiction of God's love for His people. In Song of Solomon 2:1 we read, "I am the rose of Sharon..." Can you just imagine that Almighty God asks us, "Will you accept this rose?" THAT is true reality...and He asks us daily!

July 9, 2008


This weekend my grandparents are moving out of their home of more than 60 years. Because of their age and poor vision, living independently has become very difficult for them, and they have decided to move into an assisted living facility in Houston.

This time of transition is difficult for them and their family. Their home holds so many fond memories, spanning 6 decades and at least five generations. Every major holiday has been celebrated in that home, as well has fun-filled sleepovers, and birthday parties.

This week I spent a lot of time trying to decide if I want to go visit their house one last time. Part of me wants to go visit them and see the house, and make sure that they are okay. I also want to see their new home and know for myself that they will feel at home at Hearthstone. But at the same time, I don't want to see my grandparent's house packed and full of boxes. I don't want to see bare walls and empty closets. This internal conflict has plagued me most of the week.

I finally decided not go this weekend. I want my grandparent's house to remain in my memory the way it was when I was a kid. From the plastic table cloth on the kitchen table, to the gold mail box on the front porch, I want to remember every detail the way it is supposed to be. I want to always remember the yellow curtains that hang in the spare bedroom. They've been there my entire life, and I remember pulling them back to look out at the huge back yard when I was a kid. I'll always remember the pink polyester night gown that hangs in the spare bedroom closet. I couldn't wait until I was big enough to wear Grandma's night gown - it was a :grown up" night gown and I as soon as it fit me I claimed it as my own every time I spent the night at Grandma and Grandpa's house.

I remember the creaking sound of the latch on the screen door in the kitchen. My brother and cousins and I spent a lot of time in the back yard, and the small metal latch on the screen door was sometimes tricky for us to open when we were younger. It makes this wonderful soft creaking sound every time the door opens.

I love the HUGE dictionary that sits on the table next to my Grandpa's chair in the den. It must be about 6 inches thick, and contain EVERY word in the English language. When I was a kid I couldn't even lift it! It is blue and and I think my Grandpa has read it cover to cover....

I love how my Grandma and Grandpa's house smells...sort of a mixture between toothpaste, cookies, and natural gas. That doesn't sound like it smells good, but it does. Older homes have that natural gas smell, and that, mixed with the clean smell of toothpaste and the sweet smell of cookies makes for a wonderful fragrance that smells like Grandma's house.

In the next few days the house will be emptied, cleaned, and left vacant until Grandma, Grandpa, my mom and uncle decide what to do with the house. When they leave this weekend, there will be an enormous vacuum that will fill all of our hearts with sadness and a sense of lost. We are losing what was - their independence, their sweet home. This tiny house, lacking so many modern amenities has meant so much to my family, and is to me right now, a dream house.