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The Apostle Paul wrote 13 letters that are in the Bible. In his introductorygrace peace remarks at the beginning of each letter he includes this salutation, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” In the concluding remarks of his epistles he writes, “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”

Peter wrote two letters. He begins his letters with the phrase, “Grace and peace be yours in abundance.” He ends his first letter with these words, “Peace to all who are in Christ.” The second letter ends with “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

I think grace and peace are the most important possessions we can have to be truly happy people. We need the grace and peace that comes from God to enjoy God in His happy kingdom.

Think of Paul before his close encounter with Christ. He claims that as for righteousness based on the law he was faultless, and as for zeal he persecuted the church (Philippians 3:6). He thought he could do it all spiritually speaking. He certainly tried, but apart from the grace of God he had no peace. Imagine the peace that flooded his soul when he encountered the grace that come from trusting Jesus and living in right relationship with God.

Think of Peter, living and learning from Jesus for three years. Boasting that he would never deny the Lord, willing to die for him if necessary. Hours later Peter claimed vehemently that he never knew Jesus. Jesus looked at Peter as Peter made his last denial while the rooster was crowing. He fled in tears. Not a lot of peace there. But later, he received abundant grace and forgiveness and was able to live and ultimately die, crucified upside down, in great peace.

It’s no wonder Paul and Peter begin and end their letters with reminders to their readers of grace and peace that are only found in Jesus Christ. It defined their lives. Those qualities of grace and peace were the foundation of everything they believed and did.

What did they have in mind when they used the words grace and peace.

With grace they meant the free gift of God that comes through Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. This gift, totally undeserved by humans, transforms mere existence into Life, survival into thriving and flourishing.

Peace is not simply the absence of conflict, but a deep and abiding sense that in the turmoil, confusion, pain and loss that we experience living in this broken world, there is Someone who is ultimately in control; a Savior who not only keeps us from going crazy, but who imbues us with a feeling of contentment. A God who loves us and wants us to be happy.

I live in Mexico and cooperate with God at a home for needy children. In the last two weeks we have experienced two really big earthquakes – an 8.2 and a 7.1 that caused incredible damage and took the lives of almost 400 people. Fortunately, by the grace of God, there was no physical damage to any of the buildings here at the mission, but many of the children, including my own two daughters, are constantly aware of what could possible happen and are reminded almost daily with the aftershocks. We felt four yesterday. To some extent we all waver between nervousness about whether or not there will be another earthquake, to outright fear. My daughters talk about earthquakes many times a day and sleep with us at night for fear of more of them.

I don’t understand much about God and natural disasters and suffering and loss. I can’t figure out exactly why God does what he does. I am perplexed at many turns on lifes long road. But I am grateful to God for that Peace that brings wholeness and well-being. That peace of God that makes me secure on the inside, even though things appear miserable on the outside. That peace of mind that comes from the God of peace. The peace of God which transcends all understanding and guards my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. The peace I have when I trust in the LORD with all my heart, and lean not on my own reasoning.

Peter and Paul begin and end their letters with Grace and Peace. May we begin each day by meditating and contemplating the incredible grace we have through Christ, and end each day thanking God for peace in our lives.

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Suzy loves chocolate chip cookies.  They make her happy.  She asks her mom for one. happy y evil Her mom tells her she may have one after dinner.  Suzy sneaks some before dinner and eats them.  They make her happy, but she has done an evil thing.  Romans 1:29-32 says she should die.

Adolf Hitler hated Jews.  It made him happy to have them killed.  He had millions of them put to death.  He was an evil man.

All people desire to be happy.  No one wakes up in the morning and says, “I hope I have a terrible bad day and end up sad and miserable.”  No, people hope to have a good day where everything goes as planned, and perhaps some great unexpected things happen and they end the day with a big smile on their face.

There is some part of the brain that is constantly making decisions about what will make me the happiest or what will cause me the least amount of pain or discomfort, be it emotionally, physically, mentally or spiritually.  Everything I plan, every decision I make is ultimately based on what I perceive will make me happiest.

God made us and knows what will make us ultimately happy.  That is why he gave us the Bible, to tell us what kind of choices we should make to be happy and avoid pain.  This life on earth is short compared to eternity.  Ultimate happiness is going to heaven and living in God’s immediate presence.  Ultimate pain is hell.  Got it?  Heaven good.  Hell bad.  Heaven joy.  Hell pain.

So it is in our best interest to make decisions that will make us happy both in this life and in the life to come.  Reading the Bible and listening to people who know the Bible will go a long way toward this end.  It will help us make decisions that lead to long term happiness and goodness, rather than short term happiness and long term evil and pain.

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C.S. Lewis quote

 

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.

 

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 Happy are the people whose God is the LORD.

Psalm 144:15