You want to be happy. I want to be happy. Everyone wants to be happy, I mean, who wouldn’t want to be happy? The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America talks about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as being unalienable rights of humanity. What can we conclude from all of this? Happiness is a central objective and desire that belongs to all. Having said that...why aren’t we happy? Why are so many of us frustrated, disappointed and anxious about our lives? Why do we overeat, binge, eat chocolate, shop or do any number of other things to hide from our lack of happiness? Why can’t we just be happy? Why can’t we stop comparing, stop wishing, stop regretting, stop rationalizing and just start living today for the glory of it being our present? There is hope because happiness is attainable! We just need to know where and how to look for it and how to recognize it when we see it.
After the greatest act of love ever committed, Jesus lay dead in a donated tomb. His loyal companions and followers were stunned, sickened by what they had witnessed. But beyond the gory details of this death, they were hit with the uncomfortable thought that perhaps all they had known the past 3 ½ years was a lie, fake, delusional. This man Jesus they had trusted and loved was dead. He died like everyone else. There was no last minute fire from heaven to kill the Roman soldiers or the angry mob of his own brethren demanding his death. There was no angelic rescue team to pull him off that dreaded piece of wood. He was dead. For real. No one was coming to save them from the Roman rule. They would not be sitting on anyone’s right hand in the new government. They had seemingly been duped. Now what? Well, three days later, it was imperative that the risen Jesus convince them beyond a shadow of doubt that all he had promised was REAL and was happening. His followers needed to be 100% convinced and energized to tell the Good News at any cost to all who would listen. The man Jesus was gone forever, but the spirit Jesus would have life within himself, and power to restore all of mankind back to his Father. They needed to urgently tell that story to you and me. How did they go from feeling ultimate betrayal and grief to absolute certainty and joy?
We make choices every day. Some are easy choices that we don’t even need to think much about and there are others that require some on-the-fly time and attention. Then there are the choices that can be difficult and even agonizing. These are the choices that can make or break a life or shape a destiny, or at the very least, alter the near future. These are the biggest choices we face, but they may not necessarily be the most important ones. We probably don’t think about how often our really big decisions end up being a sum total of many small and seemingly irrelevant choices we have made without much thought. The point is that all of our choices carry a measure of importance! So, what guides us in the choices we make? Are we most often influenced by how we feel about things or by what our friends or family will think? What are the most important factors in successful Christian decision making?
When you think of compassion, what do you picture? Perhaps you see Jesus healing the multitudes or volunteers caring for victims of some natural disaster. Perhaps you see an individual patiently working with a disabled person or a soldier protecting children in a war torn region. Perhaps compassion makes you think of Doctors Without Borders or food drives for the hungry. Whatever it is, thinking about compassion probably makes you think about the best of humanity – it probably makes you think about that glimmer of hope that says we can get along. Now, when you think about compassion do you ever see yourself in the role of the compassionate? Wouldn’t you like to be in that role? Just what does it take to become a truly compassionate person and most importantly, what are the limits of compassion? Are there times when compassion is NOT appropriate?
Did you ever notice that there never seems to be enough time? For some reason or other, we are always rushing around to do the things we need to do and we seem to scarcely be able to even take a breath in between this and that. Our lives are often harried, and as a result we tend to feel unfulfilled and empty at the end of a day. So, how are we spending our time? What are we doing – or not doing - with that precious commodity of time to either fulfill or fritter away our lives? As Christians, are there different and specific guidelines for spending and investing our time than for others? Are there ways to simply and efficiently reorder and reclaim our time? Where do we start? What do we do?
Fear is a life dominator. When fear wells up within us we are often physically paralyzed, speechless or at a loss for cogent thought. When fear strikes we run, we hide or we cower before it as our new and merciless master. When we see fear in others we can easily be drawn into its overwhelming grip and become hapless and helpless in our ability to see clearly and find our way. Because fear is such a powerful dominating emotion, it has always been a preferred tool of Satan. What better way to gain control of the masses of humanity than to instill fear? While fear can occasionally save us, fear is most often a pathway to dysfunction, a weapon of despair and a tool of defeat. So, what do we do to conquer fear? How can we learn to feel fear but not be afraid?
Two weeks ago we talked about Elijah and the incredible courage he had toward accomplishing God’s will. We saw him prophesy, take responsibility, wait, perform miracles, wait some more, appear before his greatest enemy and overwhelmingly conquer in a challenge to prove that God is in fact God over all. The next thing we knew, Elijah was running for his life – afraid and feeling alone. Turns out that all his heroics got him was more threats on his life. So, what happens to that courageous prophet of God now? He still must fight but in a different way for in this next stage of his life God is going to teach him submission. Submission – it does not sound like a characteristic that belongs with courage, but as we will see courage will burn you without submission and submission will burden you without courage.
Courage is perhaps the most underrated, under-appreciated and invisible virtue of our time. We are so busy complying with the status quo, with watching our words and with following what others say and do on social media that we seem to have forgotten the simple yet powerful virtue of courage. Courage is stepping up, stepping out and standing against the tide of darkness. Courage is being what you know you should be when it is unpopular with others. Courage is having the guts to listen when others only want to argue; it is reaching out to give when others are focused on taking and courage is leading by example when following in anonymity would be so much easier. Courage, when observed, incites others to stand, it provokes others to act and it plants hope where there is none. Yes, we need courage, but how do we find it and how do we learn to truly be courageous?
How is it that life seems to go by so fast? How is it that we more often than not look back on our life - the things we did and what we became - with a measure of regret, knowing that we could have been more or contributed more? Have you ever stopped to think of what makes life happen? It is actually a pretty simple equation: TIME + EXPERIENCES = LIFE. Now I know that is an oversimplification, but stay with me. If we can accept that life is the combination of time and experiences, then wouldn’t solving the issue of making one’s life fuller and more meaningful be easier to understand? Time is measurable and predictable and we all have the same amount each and every day. Experiences, be they physical, observational or thoughts, are essentially the sum total of what we do with the time given to us each day. So, what can we do to make our time and experiences produce a rich, fruitful and contented life?
Christmas has come - the hustle and the bustle, the lights, the music, the trees, the ornaments and the garland. Christmas has come – Santa and reindeer and elves and Frosty and movies and presents and gift wrap and cards. Christmas has come – whether you feel you can say “Merry Christmas” or just “Happy Holidays,” we are wishing well to those around us, for it is the season of good cheer and smiles. Christmas has come – family and dinner and cakes and pies and cookies and giving and receiving and football and dressing in new clothes. Yes, Christmas has come. It has certainly made its indelible mark on us yet again…. You know Christ has come – the prophecies said that he would and God’s plan said it was time. Christ has come – he was born to live so that he could die and redeem all of humanity. Christ has come – his gift was simple, yet it was the greatest and most powerful gift that could ever, that would ever be given to this world. Christ has come – and as a result, all of the human race has the opportunity for eternal life. Christ has come – has he made his indelible mark on you?