HAPPINESS, AN UNWORTHY GOAL

God’s got our happiness in mind. He has an eternity all planned out. It is impossible to dream about it in a way that could be close to its reality. It will far exceed our wildest imagination.

Meanwhile, this momentary experience on the earth gets us ready. We are called aliens and exiles. We don’t belong here. Most earth-dwellers figure this is all she wrote and are desperately trying to make the most of it. They wonder why we are not joining the rat race. They think we are strange for restraining ourselves, not indulging, not at least trying to collect a few toys.

They don’t understand that we would rather be righteous than rich. If they could catch on that we have already been given the kingdom, they might get a handle on true value. We have an inheritance that beats granddad’s millions.

Nobody oversold the short term on earth. Jesus said we would have tribulation. Paul was told by Ananias at his first interview “how much he must suffer for Christ’s sake.” And Peter wrote not to be surprised at “the fiery trials.” Hardly a sales pitch; we were forewarned. This short stint is tough.

Some are still thrown off balance when it proves harder than expected. Entitlement makes some think they deserve more. The payback, however, comes the next time around. We live for the world to come. Or in the exhortation from Peter, “Set your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:13). In other words, put all your marbles in the kingdom that is not yet here.

Happiness has already been taken care of. This short bleep will be done “in a little while” (I Peter 1:6,7). It doesn’t even register on the screen of eternity. Don’t make an issue out of it. Just die to yourself, take up your cross, and live with passion until the King returns. If you grumble about the dirt in your sandwich or the crabby neighbor, you’re not getting it; this is temporary. No pain in the age to come, no tears, no goodbyes. We can live with trouble now, because we know what is coming. We don’t need to pursue happiness, because the King is coming. And when you live for the upcoming wedding and eternal honeymoon, joy slips in the back door.

So go low, work your heart out, serve others unselfishly, and go to bed tired (that’s what sleep is for). You won’t regret it. Guaranteed!

HOLY

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1:3,4).

It doesn’t say, “…that we should be happy and self-fulfilled.” God wants a people like Himself. Truly, those who surrender to the lifelong process of sanctification and become holy and blameless are also happy and self-fulfilled, but it comes as a byproduct, not a goal.

The one word that best describes God is “holy.” The angel, pierced by divine revelation, do not cry out “love, love, love,” but “holy, holy, holy.” The Spirit within is the Holy Spirit. When Hannah’s request was answered for a son, she prayed, “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you” (I Samuel 2:2). Unholy demons knew they were in the presence of holiness when confronted by Jesus. They would cry out, “We know who you are, the holy one of God” (Mark 1:24).

We’ve been marked for holiness, for moral perfection. It was not an afterthought; it preceded creation. Think of it—God saw you holy before He called the world into being.

The work of the cross reaches beyond getting us into the family. It purposes to make us like God. We bear His image. We of all His creation are most like Him. The cross takes us past forgiveness to transformation, a total makeover.

Holiness is the way of God. It is also the will of God. Paul writes, “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” People often struggle with finding the will of God for their lives. I can tell you in one word—holiness. We read, “I am the Lord who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy” (Lev. 11:45).

And because the Lord is holy, everything about Him is holy—His name, His words (Jeremiah 23:9), His law (Romans 7:12). The holiness of God comes under fire more than any divine attribute. People don’t complain about His love, but they chafe under the standards of a holy God. We might prefer that He were a bit more flexible, but holiness has no give to it. His love embraces, but His holiness separates.

The Pharisees had the sick look of self-contrived holiness. In fact, they were walking dead men. Holiness must hit the heart where I live and think and feel and will. Holiness has everything to do with Christ-like character, nothing to do with pious talk or action. To give it my best shot and think I am remotely close totally misses the point.

Holiness is both an event and a process, a position and a practice. It takes us from the indicative to the imperative, what God declares to what God desires. It moves from being to doing. It’s the heart of humanity that is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” so that’s where we must start. And no one operates on the heart but Dr. Jesus.

Holiness is not only the way of God and the will of God; it is the work of God. It is not something I am capable of. It comes not by grit but by Holy Spirit. I can will it but I can’t work it. God who is holy can. Let Him have His way today, through the indwelling Holy Spirit!

THREE OUTLOOKS REGARDING POSSESSIONS

WHAT’S YOURS IS MINE. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead” (Lk.10:30). The outlook of a thief (and toddlers) is this: If I can get it from you, it’s mine. Robbers are takers. The goal of a robber is to get as much as he can however he can. He is not his brother’s keeper; he’s his enemy.

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WHAT’S MINE IS MINE. “A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side” (Lk.10:31,32). Why didn’t these religious people stop? Because they said, “What is mine is mine. My time is mine, my money is mine. It does not belong to you.” Religious—but not righteous.

These are the capitalists in the world. Given the condition of the human heart, capitalism works. Capatalists bow the knee to the god of gold and seek to accumulate what they can.

They insulate themselves from the world, from interaction with real need. It is a terrible deception. They miss the most obvious opportunities to love God by loving people. Jesus said, “When you did it to the least, you did it to me.”

Capitalism ultimately doesn’t work because of human nature. What we possess possesses us. And the god of green urges us on for more, and we embrace a money morality. We justify our style of life by whining, “If I bought it, I can have it.”

There is one more outlook:

WHAT’S MINE IS YOURS. “But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have’” (Lk.10:33-35). The Samaritan accepted the responsibility to care for his brother. Why? Because he was not an owner, he was a steward.

If the Creator owns it all, we are managers. The issue is not how much we can accumulate but how much we can care for. I do much better as a manager of God’s than as an owner. As an owner I get greedy. As a steward I learn to live responsibly. And one of my responsibilities is my brother. Whatever you need I give to you. If you need time, I have it. Encouragement? I give it. Money? It’s yours.

You know you are a steward if…

  • You get more excited about giving to a mission in China than getting a jacuzzi.
  • You wish you had more money because you love giving it away.
  • You see a need and you have a hard time not meeting it.

“It will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them” (Matthew 25:14). The ultimate question Jesus will ask His own when He returns is, “What did you do with what I gave you?”

Amazingly, even the Creator who owns it all does not say, “That’s mine.” He is pictured in the parable of the prodigal son as a good father who says, “All that is mine is yours.”

When my wife’s niece and her family moved from Chicago to Seattle, they had a sale, then gave the money to the poor. Not that they were rich; they were just righteous. How fun!

ARE WE REALLY DEAD TO SIN?

Paul thinks so. He writes, “We died to sin; how can we live in it any long?” (Romans 6:2). Sounds dead to me.

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death…” (4). You only bury dead people. “…in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (5). Christ’s death was my death, and His new life is my new life.

He goes on: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (v. 6,7). So who died? The sinner Paul Anderson. Then who got raised up? The new man Paul—in Christ.

A man once knocked on the door at Martin Luther’s and asked to see Luther, who responded, “He doesn’t live here anymore. Christ lives here.” Martin got the message.

No one is freer than a dead man, and Paul affirms that: “Anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (v. 7). So if this is true, my job is to believe it. What I believe I become. If I believe that I am alive to sin, my behavior proves it. If I believe that I am dead to sin, that finds expression in how I live. Paul writes, “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11). The Greek word for “count” is an accounting term, meaning “chalk it up as true and act upon it.”

Paul doesn’t argue his case by looking at his experience, which is what we are tempted to do: “Oh, I just stretched the truth. I must not be dead to sin.” My death to sin has everything to do with the death of Christ, nothing to do with my experience. We live by faith! This is not simply positive thinking or a healthy psychological twist. It is confessing what is true in all cases and in all time—the absolute efficacy of the cross of Jesus Christ. You can trust your experience or the work of the cross.

A phrase I heard often at seminary was “both sinner and saint.” On the positive side, it keeps us from thinking that we are hot stuff. On the negative side, it sets the bar low on what the cross of Christ means for our daily life.

Paul goes on to say in chapter 6 that “sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (v. 14). He fully expects Christians to get the upper hand over sin. Two chapters later he calls us “more than conquerors” because of the powerful work of the Holy Spirit within. The grace that forgives is the grace that empowers.

John would agree: “I write this to you so that you will not sin [the issue of power]. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense [the issue of penalty]…” (I John 2:1). Are we making too much of ourselves? No! We are taking the cross seriously.

John writes, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev. 1:5). Here is the same theme as Romans 6. He talks about freedom from sin, not forgiveness for sin. Forgiveness addresses the penalty; freedom focues on the power over sin. The theme of forgiveness does not occur in Romans 5-8, the theme of freedom does. If we focus only on forgiveness and not on transformation, we won’t get there.

What about Romans 7, in which Paul says that he does what he doesn’t want. Paul is confirming what I am addressing. He shows that desire and grit are insufficient to overcome sin. He goes on to say in chapter eight that the Holy Spirit within can accomplish what a stiff upper lip can’t.

When we went to the funeral of a friend, he was given an award because of his outstanding service as a deacon. When the pastor pinned him in the casket, my daughter said, “If they stuck him, it wouldn’t hurt, right?” I said, “No.” Then I thought, “And he wouldn’t get offended if we told him we didn’t like his suit. Dead men don’t take offense.” How liberating!

Paul declares that we are dead to sin by virtue of the death of Christ. He does not say, “I don’t sin anymore.” Only Christ is sinless. But by walking in His victory, we sin less!

How do we to pull this off? We are taught in Scripture to believe what is true even when it flies in the face of experience. Abraham believed that God was able to give him a child when Sarah passed child-bearing years.

When we sin, we don’t punish ourselves. We confess, acknowledge the truth that this is not who we are in Christ—and move on. If we concentrate on sin, we become sinners. Concentrate on the cross—and live victorious. What you believe is how you behave.

BUY NOW, PAY LATER!

How about “pay now, enjoy later?” That’s what Jesus took. “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross…” He did not enjoy it. He looked beyond the pain to the pleasure. Followers of Christ do the same. They live for the age to come.

Peter, who had an allergic reaction to the idea of a cross, finally got it. In his first letter he uses suffering and glory in the same sentence—many times. Take your pick: suffer now and get glory later, or enjoy now and get pain in a dark future. Christians put all their marbles in the coming kingdom (I Peter 1:13).

People who jump out of a thirty-year marriage for an affair are working with the “buy now, pay later” plan. They will wish they hadn’t. Jesus did not regret putting off joy—neither will you.

Satan’s offers look so good. Step over the line, just this time. The pleasure is exhilarating and enticing. But an ounce of illegitimate joy today equals a pound of sorrow tomorrow. You are not an exception. “The wages of sin is death”—every time. Guys who choose an affair over faithfulness are fools. Satan gives them the immediate, and they sacrifice the ultimate. Jesus promises to pay us back for all good, and His payback is incredible (Eph. 6:8).

I know men who regret going with “buy now, pay later.” They didn’t expect that a few experiences would cost so much. I decided to write something for myself, my wife and my children called, “If I Should Fall.” I wanted to count the cost before attempting something stupid. I needed to get a sober idea of what I would pay for saying yes to pleasure.

Let’s face it—sin is fun. “By faith Moses…refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrew 11:24,25). Sin brings pleasure, but it “fleets.” It is followed by shame, guilt, excusing, and blaming, nothing that brings joy. Way to go, Moses. You were given the offer of non-stop pleasure in the home of the richest man on earth, and you chose persecution. Call it greatness!

Any pleasures you can put off today? Here are three ways to practice the mindset:

  1. Fasting. You are saying no to the legitimate pleasure of food for a deeper sense of God’s presence. Not a bad idea.
  2. Physical exercise. You are inflicting yourself with artificial pain for the joy set before you. It takes months, but ask people in good shape if their pain is trumped by pleasure.
  3. Disciplines Building regular prayer and Bible into your life does not come naturally or easily, but the hard effort builds lasting pleasure down the road. In time, discipline morphs in delight.

Brother, sister in Christ. Don’t let Satan trick you like a pressure salesman into willful sin that he dresses up and calls good. It is not. I’m going with the “pay now, enjoy later” plan. How about you?

SAY ‘NO’ TO DISCOURAGEMENT

A lion-hearted Elijah challenged the wavering Israelites: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, then serve him. But if Baal is God, then serve him” (I Kings 18:21). The silence of the people condemned them.

So Elijah scripted a challenge to the Baal worshiper—two altars, two bulls: “The god who answers by fire—he is God” (24). Deal!

The prophets of Baal cried their hearts out all day to a god who was sleeping or taking a coffee break. No fire. It was evening and Elijah’s turn. He had them douse the altar and the trenches—three times. He was not going to make it easy for his God.

He prayed, “’Answer me, O Lord, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.’ Then the fire of the Lord fell…” (37,38). The people got the point: “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!” 450 prophets of Baal were slain at Elijah’s command. Hey, he called down fire—and it came! Then he dismantled the Baal worship. Not bad for one evening’s work.

Jezebel, not the least bit happy, put a contract on the prophet’s life. And Elijah ran for cover. James calls him a “man of like passions as ourselves.” We’re still surprised that a mighty prophet could be so intimidated by the queen and turn south. He had the big “mo” going for him. Revival could have broken out. He should have taken out Jezebel and continued the assault. Instead, he caved.

Discouraged people say and do stupid things. He thought he and God were the only ones left. He got suicidal and wanted to die. Come on, Elijah; this is not about you. Prophets run toward the conflict, not away from it. Giants not confronted get bigger.

Leaders need to know that they do not have the leisure of discouragement. It sidelines them, taking them away from the battle into one of inner turmoil, not a good thing for the people of God. It is selfish to be licking our wounds when we should be dressing wounds from real casualties. Victory rises and falls with leadership. Elijah listened to his fears—and left the battlefield.

Dear pastor, leader, disciple of Jesus: build up an immunity to discouragement. It is a luxury you dare not entertain. You are not entitled to it, and it will greatly limit the ability of the people under your care to overcome the darkness. Elijah ignored the momentum, and a wicked king remained in power. We cannot surrender to anyone the right to take away our courage, in other words, dis-courage us. Not our spouse, children, boss, pastor, or parents.

Discouragement blinds us to the ways of God, who uses conflict to secure the victory. Elijah was wrongly thinking preservation. The issue is never live or die. It is service, not survival. To obey or not obey—that is the question. As soon as we start thinking we need to save our skin, we make foolish decisions and leave the people to function on their own, while we fight an inferior battle.

So when discouragement knocks at the door, ask the Spirit to help you–and don’t answer!

FOUR WAYS TO HONOR YOUR PARENTS

Only one of the Big Ten comes with a promise. God viewed good relationships in the family with such importance that He offered an incredible reward. Paul writes, “’Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’” (Eph. 6:2,3). God’s Word offers two incentives that could not be bought with money and that most people want more than anything else—a good life and a long life, a promise found in both old and new covenants. Every wise child is saying, “I’m going for it!” And if you are still drawing breath, you have a chance to fulfill it.

OBEYING THEM. The Scriptures say, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” This immediately precedes the quotation from the Old Testament about honoring. It doesn’t say, “…when they are right,” as if children can determine whether to obey or not. Obedience is not complicated: “What do you mean—clean my room?” Children who have learned to obey their parents are prepared to respond properly to authority, which will enable them to live joyfully and successfully. Young adults who did not learn to obey are dangerous to themselves and to others.

SHOWING THEM VALUE…

with questions. Ask them to help you with a true picture of who you are, your strengths and weaknesses. Parents are in the best position to give children the gift of self-awareness. Do not be defensive when they point out areas of weaknesses. They have studied you for years.

with time. When children who have left home call, it is usually received joyfully. Parents may be living with the silent regret of putting in too much time at work and not enough time with the family. Phone calls or a visit help them realize they still have a chance to finish their job. Write a Mother’s Day card, end an email asking for prayer, get Dad’s advice on a practical matter.

 

with money. They were likely generous with you. How about returning it? Think creatively of how you can honor them with thoughtful gifts.

 

with affection. Most parents want to show affection to their children, but if they didn’t get it, they may not know how to offer it. Give them a chance by showing it to them.

with service. I have two kinds of people around me, those that give ideas and those that do them. I need people to take things off my list. Do the dishes, take out the trash, mow the lawn, fix the shelf. Take it from a father of six—when my kids got it done, Dad was happy!

THINKING CORRECTLY.

Honoring does not mean changing them. Many children try to change their parents. Obedience comes with no deals.

God gave you the right parents. You don’t need to wonder if God made a mistake. Ask Him why and He’ll probably tell you.

You are not a victim. All of us enter this world through an imperfect father and mother. Parents didn’t get to practice before they were thrown into the task. Maybe their parenting created some wounding. It happens often. Those wounds do not define you.

You are not entitled. Pride says, “I deserve better parents.” Humility honors the parents God gave you.

 

You are not their judge. You are your parents’ child, not their prosecuting attorney.

YOU HONOR THEM BY FORGIVING THEM.

Heaven will bless you if you honor your parents for whatever they did give and forgive them in areas where they failed. Young adult: it’s not too late to honor them. Maybe you feel a level of remorse for not being a better child. Replace regret with repentance. Regret creates passivity—repentance creates activity. Repenting for criticism, laziness, or anger will turn your heart into good soil, and you can honor them the rest of their lives. (For a longer article write paulanderson@harvestcommunities.org).

THINK GENERATIONS

When we talk family, we think nuclear. Like the guy prayed: “Dear God. Bless me, my wife, our son, his wife, us four, no more.” When the Bible thinks family, it talks generations. Sin is serious because it impacts four generations out (Ex. 20:5). On the other hand, blessings accrue from one generation to the next: “Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn—for he has done it” (Ps. 22:30,31).

Look at the staggering impact of the family of Jonathan Edwards during the founding of America. He and his wife Sarah had eleven children. 150 years out showed 100 missionaries, 13 college presidents and 7 high officials, among other world-changers. One family impacted succeeding generations powerfully. Maybe yours will. The world will take note when a group of parents agree to raise godly children who raise godly children who raise godly children.

I’ve told my kids that I am praying for their grandchildren—who do not yet exist. Four generations worth. I have also told them to go where I haven’t gone and do what I haven’t done. What if each generation grew stronger? By the fourth generation, children are stopping cancer cold, seeing things we have only dreamt about.

Psalm 112 says, “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands. His children will be mighty in the land” (1, 2). What is “mighty” to the fourth power? A successful passing of the baton brings an acceleration of righteousness. When Moses passed the baton to his spiritual son, Joshua? They took the land. And when Joshua passed it to—whom? No one. Read the tragic book of Judges.

The following truths surface regarding generational thinking:

History and destiny merge. We worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Hey, three generations right there. The feasts helped Israel celebrate the God who worked in the past and promised faithfulness to a thousand generations: “Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come” (Ex. 12:14). Holy Communion does that for us. Names at one time marked the generations. I am an Anderson—a son of Anders; Ben-Adam—son of Adam. It was so much a part of the way they viewed life that if you wanted to curse someone, you went after succeeding generations: “May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation” (Ps. 109:13).

Obedience counts; disobedience costs. The Lord told Jehu, “Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation” (2 Kings 10:30). His obedience brought blessings for a century. Way to go, Jehu. Generational thinking helps us to remember that obedience matters to God.

 

Listen: if you’re thinking about an affair—have another thought. Of if you should ponder divorcing your wife of thirty years—ponder again. Do you really want to leave that legacy and potentially destroy a whole line? How selfish can you get.

Honor connects the generations. Children honor their parents and grandparents. Our culture has worshiped youth and not properly regarded old age. We pay tribute to beauty, brains and brawn. They chose gray hair; we color it. It was a sad day in Israel when “elders are shown no respect” (Lam. 5:12) and “the elders are gone from the city gate” (14). One of the curses for disobedience Moses reviewed with the nation about to enter the Promised Land was that God would send them “a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old…” (Deut. 28:50).

Grandparents: tell the stories, connect the dots, and pray like crazy. Parents: walk in righteousness and pass the baton deliberately. Children: honor your parents and fear the Lord! (Email paulanderson@harvestcommunities.org for a longer article on this topic).