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Please disregard Part One.  It was prematurely published by my misbehaving computer.1-Corinthians_15-55

My wife, Anita, and our daughters, Sally and Kelly, went on a road trip in July.  We live and work at a home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico, which is about 300 miles south of Mexico City.  We drove to visit my parents who live in northeastern Colorado.  It was a long trip, but worth it, as Sally and Kelly, 7 and 8 years old, got to see a lot of the two countries of which they are citizens.

We stopped at a lot of museums along the way, both in the U.S. and in Mexico.  One thing they all seemed to have in common – DEATH!  We hit three museums our first day after crossing the border into Texas.  Judge Roy Bean museum featured the actual building where the famous judge lived and died.  We stood in the billiard room where he breathed his last breath.  Next stop was the Fort Stockton museum where we learned the Indians, or Native Americans, if you prefer, where killing a lot of people bound for the western U.S.  The government build Fort Stockton and started killing the Indians.  The final museum was in Pecos, Texas.  There an old hotel and saloon had been turned into a historical museum of sorts.  The saloon featured an animated bartender who told the story of the death of two cowboys at the hands of a third.  The places where they fell and died were indicated by a marker on the floor.  That was the loss of life we encountered on our way north.

On our way home we took a different route and ended up at Dodge City, Kansas.  The museum there was a recreation of the famous/infamous wild west town.  It was at the end of a long cattle drive, back in the day.  The cowboys, after being on the trail for weeks at a time, finished their trek in Dodge City, got paid.  Pockets full of cash, they headed to the saloons, and with heads full of booze and there was lots of gunfights, knife fights and death.  We visited the cemetery there called Boot Hill and then watched as this museum staged a gunfight between the sheriff with his deputies against a gang of desperadoes.

Back in Mexico we spent a day in Guanajuato.  The ultimate place of death. Four locations, four places of death.  The first was a torture chamber.  Here part of the Mexican Inquisition took place.  Heretics and infidels were tortured and killed.  The second museum was an old mine.  Dozens of miners died extracting gold and silver.  The third was the “Calle de beso” or “Kissing street” where two young lovers shared their last kiss before an enraged father killed his own daughter.  The fourth and final place was the worst.  The mummy museum.  A building with over a hundred dead bodies that had been exhumed from the local cemetery and put on display. This was by far the most popular museum in town.  Hundreds of people stand in line for over an hour everyday to buy a ticket and see the “mummies”.

Visiting all these museums made me think about death and what the Bible says about death.  More specifically, what attitude should those of us who live in the Happy Kingdom have about death?

For me, the first thing to remember is that everyone starts life dead.  We begin our existence existing, but not really living.  The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”  The way to move from death to Life, from merely existing to truly living is through Jesus.  Paul goes on to say in verses five and six, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”  In the words of Jesus in John 3:16, “… that whoever believes (in the Son) shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Once we believe we immediately become citizens of God’s Happy Kingdom.  We should no longer worry about physical death.  Physical death for the Christian is not the end, but the beginning.  The beginning of eternal joy and peace and perfect righteousness.  NO MORE SIN!  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where O death is your sting?”  No longer does death have any victory or sting over the believer.

Paul also writes to the Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.  Yet what shall I choose?  I do not know!  I am torn between the two:  I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (1:21-23).

On our vacation we were often reminded of death in various ways in a lot of different places.  I wonder about all those people who died.  Did they die with confidence, knowing they would soon be in the immediate presence of a loving and gracious Father?  Or did they die in fear, feeling the sting of death, not knowing what eternity would hold for them?

Thank God for Jesus, for forgiveness, for the washing away of guilt, the new life and sure hope for eternity.  We can no longer fear death, but embrace it, knowing our Lord and Savior waits for us behind deaths door.

I was worthless, vile, soiled, polluted.  I was dead in iniquities.none righteous

Before thee I am nothing but vanity, iniquity.  May I, a convinced and self-despairing sinner, find Jesus as the power unto salvation.

I deplore my my own foolish maliciousness.  I live in contempt, anger, malice, self-sufficiency…

Before thy cross I kneel and see the heinousness of my sin, my iniquity, my evil.

I have destroyed myself, my nature is defiled, the powers of my soul are degraded; I am vile, miserable, strengthless…

The sentences above come from Puritan’s prayers, found in the book The Valley of Vision.

Before we can be fully happy enjoying the Lord’s love, we need to be fully aware of the depths of our wickedness apart from Christ.  Before we can rise to the heights of joy in God, we need to know the depths of the sin that we were in.  Before we can fly like eagles in glory, we must realize what a bunch of turkeys we are without Jesus.

The Happy Kingdom of God is made up wholly of broken, twisted, sin-bent, hurting, vile, wicked, alienated people who have been bought, forgiven, redeemed, rescued and restored by the blood of Christ that dripped from Calvary’s cursed tree.  That’s why it’s such a happy place.

Salvation is more than being saved from Satan.  Salvation is more than being saved from a depraved world.  Salvation is mostly about being saved from ourselves.  There are a lot of people who don’t think they need saving from themselves.  They think they are pretty good people.  They don’t murder, steal, rape or pillage.  They give to charities and help the poor.  Some even attend religious/spiritual services and occasionally read religious/spiritual books that help them to do religious/spiritual acts of goodness.  They are pretty OK, they think.  Don’t need all that Jesus stuff.  Don’t need to be saved.

They need to read  Romans 3 to get a glimpse of what God thinks about them-

“There is no one righteous, not even one;

there is no one who understands;

there is no one who seeks God.

 All have turned away, they have together become worthless;

there is no one who does good, not even one.”

There throats are open graves;

their tongues practice deceit.”

“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”

“Their feet are swift to shed blood;

ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.”

Before we can appreciate, rejoice and live in the Good News, we must realize the truth of the Bad News of who we really are without God.  Before we can glorify God and enjoy Him forever, we have to know the extent to which we despise God and hate Him.  It is only when He enlightens the eyes of our heart (Ephesians 1:17-18) that we can understand that we are bound by the chains of wicked evilness and reach out for a Savior full of grace and mercy and live lives of Joy and Gladness in His Happy Kingdom.  God give us that enlightenment.

righteousness from God

 

 

 

God loves us and wants us to be happy.  Psalm 136:1 says “Give thanks to the LORD, forgod is good he is good.  His love endures forever.”  This idea that God is Good and that his love lasts forever is repeated often in the Psalms (100:5, 107:1, 118:1).

In the New Testament we are reminded of God’s love for us in verses like John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…”, Romans 8:35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”, 1 John 4:7-12, “love comes from God – God showed his love by sending his Son – God so loved us” and many other verses.  God’s grace and mercy flow from his great love.  We take in that love and are happy.

What is our good and proper response to God’s love?  To love God and others. The Great Commandments. We reflect God’s love back to him and to others.  To show grace and mercy to those around us, to our neighbors, enemies and the “least of these, my brothers and sisters” are signs of our love for God (Matthew 25:40).

Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).  Blessed is often translated “Happy”.  It is a happy thing to reach out and take the  good gifts from the hands of God our loving Father, and from those around us.  But we are happier when we give.

There are three primary things, or categories of things that God gives us, and that we in turn are to give.  We take from God’s generous hand Beauty, Goodness and Truth.  We see those things in Creation and in the Word of God.  We give those to our world.  We imitate God by Making Beauty – Gardens, Paintings, Music, etc. We Do Good – helping orphans and widows, feeding the hungry and standing up for the oppressed, etc.  We Share Truth.  All truth is God’s truth, but primarily we share the truth of the Gospel, the Good News that God brings hope to the hopeless, new Life to the dying, rescue to those in peril, through the incredible gift of Jesus, his work on the cross and his resurrection.

This is Kingdom stuff.  God’s Happy Kingdom.  His Kingdom is a happy one in heaven; No pain, No crying, No suffering.  Just lots of joy and gladness.  Why?  Because his Happy Will is done.  His Will is that all his children be happy.  Jesus taught us to pray “Your Kingdom come, your Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  He give us his Word, the Bible, the Truth, so that we know what to believe and what to do to be happy.  Primarily, Make Beauty, Do Good and Share Truth.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.  His love endures forever.

 

Or, Be Happy and Flourish!

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The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar in Lebanon;

planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God.

Psalm 92:12

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May the LORD cause you to flourish, both you and your children. 

May you be blessed by the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 115: 14,15

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I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God;

I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.

Psalm 52:8

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I was studying Hebrews chapter eleven, often times called the Hall Of Faith.  Here are a few things I learned about faith –

  1.  Without faith it is impossible to please God              11:6
  2. Faith means believing that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him  11:6
  3. Sometimes faith means you don’t know where you are going      11:8
  4. Sometimes faith means you are a stranger     11:9
  5. Sometimes faith means that you do not receive the things promised      11:13,39
  6. Faith means that you will be tested      11:17
  7. Sometimes faith means choosing to be mistreated     11:25
  8. Sometimes faith means making people angry      11:27
  9. Sometimes faith means being tortured       11:35
  10. Sometimes faith means facing jeers, beatings, chains and imprisonment.     11:36
  11. Sometimes faith means death by stoning, being sawed in two and killed by the sword    11:37
  12. Sometimes faith means being destitute and persecuted     11:37

So, do you want to be a person of faith?  I like to talk about how much God loves us and wants us to be happy.  Where’s the happiness in all that?  The ultimate happiness for people of faith is Heaven.  That’s easy to see by taking another look at Hebrews 11.

Verse 16 tells us that people of faith are longing for a better country – a heavenly one, and that God has prepared a city for them.  Later we see that Moses was “looking ahead to his reward.”  Verse 36 says that some who were tortured, refused to be released, so that “they might gain an even better resurrection.”  The last verse of chapter 11 lets us know that God has planned something better for us.

The main thing to remember about Faith comes to us from verse one, “Faith is the substance of things HOPED for …”  Not so much what we hope for in this world, but in the world to come.

After studying Hebrews 11, I came across some quotes from Timothy Keller about hope and heaven:

“We are future oriented beings, and so we must understand ourselves as being in a story that leads somewhere.”

“The disposition properly described as hope, trust, or wonder … three names for the same state of heart and mind – asserts the goodness of life in the face of its limits.  It cannot be defeated by adversity.”  (Keller quoting Lasch)

“Hope does not require a belief in progress, only a belief in justice, a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right, that the underlying order of tings is not flouted with impunity.”  (Keller quoting Genovese)

“Hope that stands up to and enables us to face the worst depends on faith in something that transcends this world and life and is not available to those living within a worldview that denies the supernatural.”

“Christian hope has more power for sufferers than a mere optimism in historical progress.”

“We are trapped in a world of death, a world for which we were not designed.”

“The immortal Son of God was sent into the world, sharing in our humanity, becoming subject to weakness and death.  But then through death he broke its power, in order to free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

“We may physically die, but death now becomes only an entryway to eternal life with him.”

“All death can now do to Christians is to make their live infinitely better.”

(All quotes from Timothy Keller’s book Making Sense of God)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“How much stuff do you need to be happy?

“I don’t know.  How much stuff is there?

(From VeggieTales – Madame Blueberry)

 

I have been reading Timothy Keller’s new book, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.  Here are some quotes from him and others about happiness.

“Studies find a very weak correlation between wealth and contentment, and the more prosperous a society grows the more common is depression.  The things that human beings think will bring fulfillment and contentment don’t.  What should we do then, to be happy?”

 

‘Wealth, power, and security – the external goods of the world – can lead only to a momentary satisfaction, which fades away, leaving you more empty than if you had never tasted the joy.”

“Philosopher Alain de Botton says that loving relationships are fundamental to happiness.”

“People find more pleasure in working toward a goal than they experience when they actually attain it.” (Haidt – Progress Principle)

“The functional cause of our discontent is that our loves are out of order.”

“Augustine believed all sin was ultimately a lack of love.”

“The unhappiness and disorder of our lives are caused by the disorder of our loves.”

“The ultimate disordered love, however, and the ultimate source of our discontent, is failure to love the first thing first, the failure to love God supremely.  In his Confessions, Augustine prays to God: ‘For there is a joy that is not given to those who do not love you for your own sake ….This is happiness and there is no other.  Those who think that there is another kind of happiness look for joy elsewhere, but theirs is not true joy.  Nevertheless their will remains drawn towards some image of the true joy.’ ”

“We were created to know this joy by loving and glorifying God preeminently.”

“You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”  Augustine

“If you love anything more than God, you harm the object of your love, you harm yourself, you harm the world around you, and you end up deeply dissatisfied and discontent.”

“Of course, not even the strongest believers love God perfectly, nor does anyone get close to doing so  Yet to the degree you move toward loving him supremely, things begin to fall into order, into their proper places in your life.”

“What matters most for pleasure is not the simple impact on our senses but what it means in relationship to other persons who matter to us.”  Paul Bloom – How Pleasure Works

“Attachment to God amplifies and deepens enjoyment of the world.”  It does not diminish it.     Miroslav Volf

“Don’t love anything less; instead learn to love God more, and you will love other things with far more satisfaction.”

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You are a forgiving God,

gracious and compassionate,

slow to anger and 

abounding in LOVE.

Nehemiah 9:17

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O LORD God, Who lives in eternity,

The heavens declare thy glory,

The earth thy riches,

The universe is thy temple:

Thy presence fills immensity,

Yet thou hast of thy pleasure created life,

and communicated happiness:

Thou hast made me what I am,

and given me what I have:

In thee I live and move and have my being.

(A Puritan’s prayer from the book The Valley of Vision)

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What did Jesus have in mind exactly when he said “deny yourself and take up your cross.”. Especially the deny yourself part.  He said that if you try to save your life you lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you gain it.  My big idea lately, my take away with those words, is that in one sense Jesus was talking about instant gratification vs. delayed gratification.  I think God loves us and wants us to be happy, so if we deny ourselves the instant gratification that most sin tempts us with, (Moses in Pharaoh’s palace for example) then we will be happier in the long run.  How could we be happier than to be filled with the fruit of the spirit?  It can take a while to get fruit from a newly planted sapling. We don’t get immediate gratification by planting a little apple tree or orange tree. We have to wait a year or two or three before we are gratified by a crunchy apple or a sweet orange.  We do experience immediate gratification when we give in to the lust of the flesh, best defined in Galatians 5:19-21 (sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and orgies).  Following those verses  we are given a list of the Fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control). So we strive to deny the lusts of the flesh and instant gratification so that we reap the harvest of fruit that comes with waiting and abiding in Christ, and experience greater pleasure in the long run.

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A question I have is how do you define Heart?  It’s a vital concept to be considered in the Bible.  After all, the first, greatest commandment says “Love God with all your heart.”  Yet what is meant by Heart?  It is a question I have asked myself many times.  I think Heart refers to our desires and motivation.  Many Christian writers through the ages have said that the base desire of all humans is to be happy.  People desire that which will make them happy.  People who have had the eyes of their hearts (desires) opened ( Ephesians one), realize that desiring God and His will is the ultimate road to happiness.  We have this constant struggle between satisfying the desires of the flesh  (which brings immediate gratification and is quickly lost) and desiring the things of God  (delayed gratification in most cases, in which the happiness has an eternal effect).  Ideally we deny the flesh and enjoy God.