Give thanks to the Lord for He is good and His mercy endures forever…

Sometimes it is best to let photos and music speak for themselves…no reason to elaborate on what should be and can be the song of our hearts!  Hallelujah to the Lord of the Harvest, the Lord of the soul and heart.  

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A VERY powerful story from a gifted storyteller – Wm. Paul Young

I read The Shack years ago, literally.  I can't remember exactly how I heard about it but I ordered it from an obscure website and I was told it was being shipped from someone's "garage" to me.  At first I didn't know what to think but the website (later I discovered it was a friend of Paul's who posted it) promoted the book as something "fresh" and enlightening with new perspectives on life, God and spirituality.  So, I ordered it.  Fast forward to a few days ago when FINALLY I had the opportunity to hear Paul speak live @ Trinity College (where I teach one class as an Adjunct).  There were many things about the talk that were moving, encouraging and challenging….even so, THIS STORY that I am embedding in this post is worth every minute of your time.  I'm not going to say any more about it with the exeption that there wasn't many dry eyes after its telling…enjoy!

 

Happiness – a follow up to the post on Blessedness

Happiness_bulldogdrummondA follow up on Happiness

At our worship experience in Monroe last Sunday, I had to opportunity to walk through the Beatitudes with people in our faith community. We talked about the difference between the EMOTION of happiness and the REALITY of blessedness. If you would like to see a text of the message, check it out on my personal blog. Click here and you can review the text.

As a means of following up on that talk I decided to talk about the importance of happiness and how there are insights that encourage us in our journey toward positive feelings and emotions. Make no mistake about it, happiness is important. Your emotions are a gift from God…it’s true! You might not FEEL like they are but trust me when I say that your emotions are part of the “imago Dei” (God’s image in the world). Take a stroll through scripture sometime and underline or not the emotions that God “feels” throughout the narrative. The great God we worship and serve has revealed in the context of our human story HIS emotions. The difference is is that God is not controlled by emotions but by His nature and character. The same is true for us (which is why I said what I said on Sunday, November 2nd about the reality of blessedness).

Your feelings help you navigate life – they are in many respects a reaction to the circumstances you face. They are “flags” to give you an indication of your awareness in the moment. They are a sign to you that you are fully engaged in life. You see, all those things are positive. You and me NEED TO BE ENGAGED IN LIFE and we need to understand that are feelings are signs that we are alive! Again, that’s good. So let’s not start out hammering the fact that we have feelings because God gave us the gift of feelings. Your feelings are reactions to the stimuli of life. NOW the issue is, how do your reactions (which are momentary and fleeting) become responses (something you choose to retain and experience continually)?

Feelings of happiness (or rather “well-being) are NOT necessarily characterized just by a buoyant mood, merriment, good cheer and smiling. Happiness isn’t a big smiley face sticker that you post on your business card, your refrigerator or on the dashboard of your car. Happiness, and I’m quoting here from one of the “fathers” of positive psychology, Marty Seligman,

“Happiness could be analyzed into three different elements – positive emotion, engagement and meaning. Each of these elements is better defined and more measurable than happiness. The first is positive emotion; what we feel: pleasure, rapture, ecstasy, warmth, comfort and the like. The second element, engagement, is about flow: being one with the music, time stopping, and the loss of self-consciousness during an absorbing activity. There are no shortcuts to “flow.” This is the realm where you deploy your highest strengths and talents to meet the world. When you engage the world from the foundation of your strengths, positive emotion will result. There is a third element of happiness, which is meaning. The pursuit of engagement and pleasure are often solitary, solipsistic (belief in self as total reality) endeavors. Human beings want meaning and purpose in life. A Meaningful life consists of belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self.” Seligman’s book, Flourish

I think it is important to view each of these realities in your personal pursuit of happiness in your life. Positive emotion is tough to maintain…why? Because we often live our lives in reaction to circumstances. Positive emotions, thus, are the “carrots at the end of the sticks” when the sticks seem to hard to reach. That’s why “well-being” or happiness depends on you understanding the other realities Seligman articulates. Because ONCE you understand your character strengths and “lean into” those strengths and ONCE you have aligned yourself with purpose and meaning in life (which is obviously a “no-brainer” for a Jesus follower), happiness comes as a result.

Let me state it this way…many of us spend countless hours, days even years trying to negotiate our past hurts. We want “fixes” to our problems. You know what? Most counselors these days actually admit that you or me may NEVER be able to fix our problems. We can understand them and choose to respond to them in a healthier manner but its difficult to extricate an experience from our lives because of the complexities of the human heart and our memories. That’s why happiness is a choice in many respects. Instead of reacting to situation and circumstances (where you only react in ways you have conditioned yourself over time, usually emotionally) you CHOOSE to respond accordingly. In other words, you can choose how you respond to life’s circumstances. That choice can actually LEAD you to happiness. Here’s an example – say you have a conversation with someone where they say something that hurts your feelings. In that moment you can react in anger (as most of us usually would) OR you can choose to stop a moment, attempt to understand the situation that is occurring a bit more intentionally (maybe the words that hurt are more indicative of the pain that the person who SPOKE them feels) and you can choose something other than anger. Emotional choice in response to life is a HUGE factor in your happiness.

One more thing – once you understand your character strengths, you can make choices where you engage the world understanding that people will get the BEST of you when you are utilizing your strengths. In other words, once you understand WHO YOU ARE you can view your life from a different perspective and choose to communicate to yourself and to others that you will experience the BEST OF YOU when you are engaged in activities and relationships that underscore your strengths. One way for you to discover your character strengths is to take a survey – it’s free and it will give you a print out of five of your key personal strengths that you can see active in your life. Seligman’s thesis is this – if you live out of your strengths you will discover more and more personal life fulfillment and positive emotion. So, check that out by clicking HERE! Wow, that’s it for now!

Difference between happiness and blessedness – reflections on the Beatitudes

 

The Beatitudes – Matthew 5

1.  Introduction 

Play
Video – Happy Addiction

Look familiar?  It should…

  • I
    don’t want you to feel badly about that…because it is true for ALL of us

Just like the guy in the video – you
either lived crushed  OR you can escape
into some sort of fantasy land of delusion

Being happy and staying happy is touchy –
because all of us are beat down by reality

Happiness is very ethereal or fleeting
feeling

  • If
    you depend upon happiness in your circumstances, you are in big trouble because
    your circumstances change

In fact, for most of us happiness is all
circumstantial – if things are going are way…we’re pretty happy – if the boss
doesn’t ride our butts, if the wife doesn’t nag us, if the kids don't bother
us, if the traffic is good and the beer is cold, all happy

  • Again,
    just like the video – we might need that little extra in order to help us
    attain it – we can still get there…

I don’t know if you have thought about
this much or not at all…but for most people these days – their “feelings” guide
our lives – the problem with that is that feelings do not have enough true life
substance

I remember a while ago – therapist said
trust your feelings – problem is that I can’t – I learned that a long time
ago…my feelings are guided NOT by critical thinking or any outside authority or
guidance but by pure self-interest

That’s why – my experience is that if
Happiness is your main goal in life – that’s trouble

Read an article this week – “Put On Your
Grown Up Pants – How To Handle Yourself Emotionally When Things Go Bad” by Isaiah
Hankel

 “The greatest day in your life and mine is
when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That’s the day we truly
grow up.” John C. Maxwell

  • If
    you beleive that premise, then a lot of people are just not grown up yet…

You
see, he points out what a lot of people know – too many people are guided by
their emotions.

  • We
    like to pretend that we are supremely rational creatures but very often, our
    decisions come down to our emotional states…motivation, good or bad
    feelings…anger, resentment, depression, desperation, loneliness, etc.
  • And
    a lot of people are victims of their emotions rather than being the master of
    their emotions – be that negative or positive emotions
  • Understand
    this: Decisions driven by negative emotions bring pain.
  • All
    sorts of people let negative emotions (even positive emotions) get the better
    of them
  • They
    Lose control…apt to verbally abuse someone, breakdown under pressure, and
    freeze up
  • All
    those feelings don’t promote action in fact they lead to destruction

That why I need to be clear today – let
me put it this way – the expectation that you or me can be happy all the time
is delusional – and if that is the case for you, as it has been for me ALL week
this week, you will have a hard time today

If you are expecting God to be some sort
of vending machine of happiness – you are in for some enlightenment

Because despite the fact that we would
LOVE IT if Jesus would guarantee our happiness…he doesn’t..but He does promise
us BLESSEDNESS and even that is not defined by Jesus in a manner would we
expect

Jesus wants to something HUGE in your
life and my life – something healthier and much more substantial than happiness,
that he calls, “BLESSEDNESS”

2.  Let’s look at the Text – Matthew 5

I don’t know if you know this or remember
this – but these words are from Jesus’ Sermon on the mount

  • This
    sermon occurs two times in the NT – one in Matthew and one in Luke – each
    writer has their own take on the sermon based upon the story of Jesus that they
    are weaving for their communities/audiences
  1. Luke
    – sermon is given on “the plain”…Matthew on a hillside or mountain (Luke the
    ultimate egalitarian and Matthew making connections with Moses and giving of
    Torah)
  1. Matthew
    Jesus gives sermon early in ministry – Luke later on 
  1. Luke
    has four pairs of blessings and woes – Matthew has nine blessings – persecution
    prominent in both collections

Now get on to the words…the word “Blessed”
is “Asher” in Hebrew – “Makarios” in Greek

  • Greek
    – happy, blessed or privileged, recipient of divine favor (Jerome in 410 AD –
    Vulgate – “beatus” – where we get the “beatitudes” from)
  • Makarios
    is translated blessed – not translated happy – if it is translated or
    interpreted as a feeling of happiness, that translation or understanding is a
    disservice to us
  • Not
    talking happy – as I said earlier, I’m happy and you’re happy about a lot of
    things and I’m not and you’re not about others 
  • I’m
    not happy with way my neighbor ripped off my power, or how the NFL is calling
    pass interference or the fact that the Tigers didn’t make it to the World Series…I’m
    happy if my pizza is warm or my guitar’s in tune or it my dog sleeps through
    the night – other stuff – again, all circumstantial

But on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus
isn’t talking emotion – in fact, the closest concept is to the actual word
comes from two words in Hebrew – one is Asher and the other Shalom – both Asher
and Shalom are more about an orientation, perspective, and discovery of what is
meaningful in the midst of shallow or superficial options than it is about
emotion

What Jesus is actually doing in this
sermon is saying that GOD recognizes an already existing state of happiness and
good fortune – affirming a quality that is already there – when He says we are
blessed

  • In
    other words, the Beatitudes are not formulas – “you are blessed if you do X”
    NOR are they a bargain you try to make with God – “God, if I do X,  will get you guarantee that I get Y”
  • The
    point Jesus is driving at is this –  “look at the joy of the people who are….
  • In
    other words, no matter the circumstance – blessedness already exists (gift of
    grace God already has given
  • “BLESSEDNESS”
    is a word picture of someone who is ultimately and firmly resting in God

You see, this is radical stuff – because
here’s how we usually do these things:

I
am blessed because (I have)______________(again, that’s conditional or material)

But Jesus says,

  • I am blessed because GOD – PERIOD!
  • I am blessed because God is doing
    something in and through me
  • In
    other words, this is the ultimate adherence to Jesus’ words about “Seek first
    His kingdom…” (Matthew 6) and Paul’s words about the peace that passes
    understanding (in Philippians 4) 

Now in my book that would be enough…but
there’s more at work here, so hold on – let me take a different angle with this
so that you don’t miss it – this is HUGE…

  • This
    is the way I see it in my mind’s eye – people gathered to listen to Jesus
    speak…he starts off the talk with blessed are…now most of the people, strain to
    hear what’s being said…he’s speaking to many, many people…there’s a miracle
    that day in the gift of hearing NOT just Jesus’ speaking…
  • But,
    back to the story, people strain because they want to hear…or, better yet, they
    expect to hear:
  • “Blessed
    are you when you are happy” – that’s what we expect to hear…”blessed are you
    when you have…”

    • Enough
      food
    • Enough
      money
    • A
      big house
    • Protection
      from the romans
    • A
      place in society of high rank
  • But
    Jesus said, blessed are you when you are “humble, poverty in spirit, broken,
    persecuted”…that’s not easy stuff

See what Jesus is doing here – he’s
changing the rules…Jesus changed the rules and meaning of what we think blessed
is all about

You see, the people in Jesus’ time, just
like us, have a list of what we think it means to be blessed – if we see those
things, hey they FEEL that they are blessed

Illustrations:

  • He
    got healed – he must be blessed
  • Things
    are going well for him – he’s blessed
  • Or
    maybe in our time – He just won the lottery, got a raise, or a new car, or is
    going on vacation, or kid won an award, or, or, or…”fill in the blank” of
    anything positive 

But Jesus changes the paradigm – and we
don’t really get how astounding it was for Jesus to say these things….

He gets the people/us set up – “you are
blessed if (and what would we expect to hear – what would Jesus’ audience
expect to hear) He goes on to say things like humility, brokenness and mourning
and that’s not what they hear

Astounding – like this:

  • I’d
    like to give you a compliment – you’re ugly
  • Let
    me share with you something positive – then you give negative
  • Let
    me give you a gift – handful of garbage
  • He
    comes home dinner reservation to expensive place, tickets to a musical,
    flowers…sit down and he says, “I want a divorce”

That’s why this sermon has lasted the
test of time – Jesus’ audacity of talking about more than symptom relief or
saying “have a nice day”

  • If
    Jesus would have talked about happiness he would have been one more in a line
    of superficial, run of the mill emotional con men…
  • But
    he was talking about something deeper – something not based on Disingenuinousness
    but Authentically – something that only God can do
  • one
    exhausts and one empowers (living on the superficial – that will exhaust you
    because you’ve got to find a way to keep the positive feeling going – and you
    can’t) – THE OTHER (blessedness) will empower you because when you are blessed
    you can do anything (regardless of how you feel)

Jesus knew that looking for happiness
would lead to defeat or escapism – whether we admit it or not despite the fact
that Jesus lived in the first century, He knew why addiction comes so easily
for people

  • He
    knew our propensity to either mask it our lack of fulfillment or search for something
    as superficial as happiness…
  • Feeling
    happy is momentary symptom relief – momentary symptom relief doesn’t solve problems
    – the only way they EVER get fixed is in a deep state of blessedness –
    contentment – rest – peace no matter what the circumstances and in the midst of
    the most difficult of circumstances
  • In
    fact, Jesus actually has the guts to say it – it appears when your life sucks,
    you’re blessed…and that reality should change your life and life’s perspective
    – THAT should bring you happiness…

That sound bizarre? It is…

I’ve avoided this stuff all week…trust me
– tough week emotionally – seems like God does this all the time…

3.  Here are the specifics of the reality of
blessedness…

1
– Blessed are the humble and pious

2
– Blessed are they who mourn – to deny suffering or to find it morbidly
entertaining are wrong – suffering can be a doorway to wisdom – we mourn over
injustice and do not come to compassion fatigue – mourn over our own brokenness

3
– Meek will inherit – that is a link back to Abraham – rights of promise land –
humbly seek God – neither too bold nor too timid

4
– Hunger and thirst are HUGE yearnings…searching like for the pearl of great
price – righteousness is relational – not goodness but relational – hooking up
with the action of God in history – righteousness is also an action of response
– action of righteousness creates Peace

5
– Showing mercy is related to forgiveness – merciful respond to the needs of
other with compassion and action

6
– The heart is something that Jesus wants to change – once he has the heart the
hands will follow – purity of heart has to do with transparency and singleness
of motive

7
– Peacemakers are different from peacekeepers or pacifists- peacemakers work
for healed relationships at all levels

8
– Those who are persecuted join the fellowship of suffering