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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

 

 

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“Because they love me”, says the LORD, –

I will rescue them

I will protect them

I will answer them

I will be with them in trouble

I will deliver them

I will honor them

I will satisfy them with long life

I will show them my salvation

Psalm 91

 

Screen-Shot-2013-11-18-at-12.32.45-PMI just read this book for the second time called Ready Player One.  It’s about an eighteen year old boy who lives in the future.  The future is ugly and all messed up.  Nobody likes the real world, so those who have a computer and internet access, live in a computer simulated world where everything is beautiful.  The billionaire who created this computer universe has died.  Before he dies he created an elaborate game where the object is to find an egg that he has hid in his universe.  Whoever finds the egg gains control of the universe and all of the creators wealth.

After reading this novel, I have begun to think of the Christian life as a huge computer game.  I know that the Christian life is much more than a computer game, but I see similarities to following Christ and playing a computer game.

When I was in my early twenties, computers and programming and software were relatively new and I was fascinated by it all.  I had played many computer and video games and I loved them, although I wasn’t very good at them.  Except Pong.  This was one one of the first video games to go on sale to the general public.  I begged my parents for it incessantly at Christmas one year,  and I got it.  I played it every free moment I had and nobody could beat me.

In my senior year of high school I took a basic computer programming class in the basic language in the very first class that was offered at my school.  I enjoyed it a lot, and later went on to take programming classes at a Jr. College.  I started a little software business called Onward Christian Software and began to make my own  Christian Bible adventure games.

I said all of that to say this: I have played a bunch of computer games and I have made some computer games and I see a lot of parallels between computer games and the  Christian life.
One is that people who program computer games make them for the players to have fun.  Naturally they want to make money, but they won’t make money if people don’t have fun.  God created the incredible universe that we live in because he loves us and wants us to be happy.
Two.  Games have rules.  If you follow the rules you advance.  If you don’t, you lose points and eventually die.  God made a lot of rules for us to live successfully in this world he created.  If we follow the rules we live happily ever after.  If we don’t, we live miserable lives and die in our sins.

Three.  To play computer games, you have to put quarters in a machine, or have to buy some kind of computer device and software to play the games or someone has to buy it for you, as my parents did for me with Pong.  To play the ultimate game, or live the Christian life, we have to realize that Christ paid the price on Calvary.  Most of the Old arcade computer games began with the words, Ready Player One?  Revelation three has the words of Christ, “I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears and opens the door, I will come in.”  That is the biblical equivalent of “Ready Player One?”  We push the red button on the console of our existence, indicating we are ready to commit our lives to Jesus, and the real game of LIFE begins.

Four.  Levels.  All computer games have levels.  Many have more than 100 levels.  Naturally the first few levels are relatively easy.  As the player progresses they become more challenging, both in strategies and in quickness of the fingers in playing the game.  This too is like the Christian life.  Many Christians talk about when they first began to follow Christ, and the constant joy they experienced when the Holy Spirit opened the eyes of their hearts and they saw everything with a new perspective.  Levels of a new believer often include baptism, joining a church, long periods of Bible reading, and, hopefully, discipleship classes.
Most new computer games kinda hold your hand and give you detailed instructions during the first few levels to acclimate the player to the game’s environment, how to maneuver in that environment and what tools or weapons are necessary and how to use those tools or weapons.  A new Christian generally receives much of the same hand holding with the pastor of the church, elders, teachers and new  Christian friends.  Small groups can be especially encouraging.  Most importantly, the presence of the Lord seems tangibly ever near.

As a game player advances in levels, he or she faces grater challenges.  Frustrations increase and the game helps disappear.  Their are temptations to quit and to move on to an easier game. Many Christians face similar challenges as they progress down the spiritual path of New Life.  Sometimes God feels distant.  Joy no longer floods their soul as it did before.  They see factions in the church and perceive hypocrisy.  The Christian life is no longer the utopia they once thought it was.  The worst thing is that intimacy they once felt with God seems distant.
In the book Ready Player One, there are instances when all the players in the world are stuck on particular levels for months at a time.  Many end up giving up.  This is not unlike the Christian game of LIFE, where some people struggle with a particular situation for months at a time.  They see no way out.  No answer is immediately forthcoming.  Some face many dark nights of the soul where God seems absent from them. Many give up.  Jesus alluded to different “levels” with his parable of the soils.  There is the level of joy and then persecution.  There is the level of peace and then worry.  Finally there is the level of endurance and then much fruit.

When a player tries and tries and tries again, and then finally masters a difficult level, he is filled with happiness and is excited about the new knowledge and strategies that he has developed that will prove very beneficial to him as he continues the game.  The same is true for the Christian who remains faithful to the truth and cause of Christ.  When she comes out on the other end victorious, she feels a greater intimacy with her Lord and Savior, a joy and contentment never felt before.  She can say with the Apostle Paul, “I have learned in all things to be content.”  She knows now, that when there was only one set of footprints on the sand, that Jesus was carrying her.

Five.  Game Over.  You Win.  This is where I think that the parallels of the Christian Life and video games break down.  The Christian Life never ends.  We never ultimately win because Life goes on forever.  When we get to heaven it is not Game Over, but in a sense, just beginning.  God calls all Christians to make beauty, do good, and learn and disseminate truth.  I think that continues in heaven and in the New Earth.  An example.  I am the gardener at a home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico.  I love designing and planting gardens.  I designed the courtyard at the mission with flowers, bushes, a fountain, paths and grassy areas.  Recently the administrator at another home for needy children in Baja, California, Mexico, asked me to go there and design and plant another garden area.  I was happy to do it because God loves me and wants me to be happy and wants me to make others happy enjoying a beautiful garden.  Now, will my happiness in making gardens end when I get to heaven?  I don’t think so because it is a desire and gift that God has given me.

I don’t think that when we get to heaven we will be standing around the throne of God worshipping Him  for ten thousand years and then God will say, “You may be seated.”  We will be worshipping Him for eternity, but worshipping Him and glorifying Him and enjoying Him by using the gifts and desires He gave us while on earth.  The Bible talks about being faithful in the small things (on earth?), and being rewarded with greater things (in heaven, or on the New Earth?).  Paul said that our eyes have not seen, nor our ears heard, nor can our minds comprehend what God has prepared for us.  This verse has application not only for our life on earth but for the afterlife as well.  C.S. Lewis writes that our life and service to God in this life is only a preparation for what we will be doing in the Life to come.
Having said all that, I think that when I get to heaven, that God just might give me a thousand square miles of wilderness with rivers, lakes, ponds and mountains, and tell me to get to work turning it into a garden, with unlimited resources at my disposal.  Now that would be fun.  I won’t be done with gardening, making beauty, in heaven.  I will just be beginning.  It won’t be game over, but a new level, beyond my imagination, just starting.

Ready Player One?

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“Remember He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted—i.e., keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk—don’t keep on looking at it.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis