The Search for Joy

Man cannot live without joy; therefore when he is deprived of true spiritual joys it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures. Thomas Aquinas

One of the vital lessons that must be learned at a young age is the understanding that true happiness cannot be found in worldly pursuits. This contradicts everything that we are told, from the enticements of the party life when we are teens to the keeping up with the Jones' when we are a bit older.

From our peers to television advertisers to Hollywood, we are taught that happiness is found in pursuit of physical pleasures. But drunkenness leads to hangovers and addiction, illicit relationships lead to disease and guilt and unwanted pregnancies, and greed just leads to envy and covetousness and dissatisfaction with what we do have.

Why is that? It's because God did not set up His world to yield joy for those who sow evil, anymore than He set up His world to yield corn for those who sow wheat. God created us, he created this world and he created the only path to true and lasting joy. There are no shortcuts, no better ways and no exceptions.

Joy can only be found in God and Christ.

One of the strangest character studies in the Bible is that of King Solomon. He was given the gift of wisdom by God, so he knew that true joy was available only to the obedient. But he decided that he would find out what was worthwhile in life. He tried drunkenness, many wives, and the heaping up of wealth. Do you know what he found? In his own words, he found that pursuit of physical pleasures was "meaningless".

The fact is that much of our lives are consumed by these meaningless pursuits. For those who try the worldly route, there is sorrow and pain and depression and addiction. But, for those whose focus is squarely on Christ, there is joy. Joy does not mean we are immune to the sorrows inflicted on us by those who would pursue worldly pleasures, but it does mean peace of mind and a quietness of spirit.

God wants us to be happy and He has carefully revealed the exact path to that joy. The question for us is will we take the one path to true joy, or will we insist on the alternate path that is filled with sorrow? The answer to that question will be the difference between a nightmarish existence and a fulfilling life that most only dream about.

This only I have found: God made man upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes. Ecclesiastes 7:29, NIV


The Recipe for Success

It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way. King Solomon

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 

These two passages contain the key to the life of accomplishment that most people want. In the first, King Solomon points out that enthusiasm without understanding is not to be desired. To understand why, let us consider for a moment the lowly lemming. The lemming has oodles of enthusiasm: Just put him and a million or so of his buddies behind another lemming, and they will all follow the leader - and with a great deal of fervor. However, lemmings seem to have a void when it comes to discernment, so they will not only follow the head lemming to tasty lemming food, but also over the edge of a cliff. It is not good to have zeal without knowledge.

In the second passage, James points out the worthlessness of knowledge without action. Consider the child who can sit right next to a ringing phone, but never seems quite able to answer it  - especially if it's your child and your hands are full. You and I might say something clever to the child such as, "The phone is ringing", to which he or she might respond, "I know". They are missing not only the point, but also the zeal needed to act. (It is the parent's duty to view this as a "teachable moment" and supply the proper motivation for the desired zeal.)

It is only when we combine these two ingredients (zeal and knowledge) that our lives can become what God intended. It is this combination of zeal and knowledge that makes effective corporate executives, all-state athletes and straight A students. More importantly, it is this joining of understanding and enthusiasm that makes for great husbands and wives, great parents and children and, especially, great disciples.

Too many people look at examples like this and think that it will not work for them. While it is true that there are a few things out of our reach, (I've about given up on my dream to be the starting center for the Boston Celtics) it's also true that we can accomplish anything that God wants us to. And, just as one part of hydrogen properly combined with two parts of oxygen will produce water every time, when we properly combine zeal with knowledge, we will have success every time. So, what is it that you could accomplish with the right amount of zeal and knowledge?

It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good... Galatians 4:18, NIV


The Privilege of Being a Child of the King

Imagine Michael Jordan showing up at your daughter's little dribbler's basketball game and visiting with you afterwards. Imagine him telling you that he was so impressed with your child's potential that he wanted to help her to develop into the type of player that he knew that she could be. Imagine Michael Jordan then telling you that if you ever wanted his help and instruction all you had to do was call, and he would be there anytime you chose. Imagine the privilege.

Or imagine striking up a conversation with Warren Buffett. During the course of that conversation, Mr. Buffett learns that you are having some financial difficulties. Warren (you're on a first name basis with him now) lets you know that he would be willing to help with financial advice or even assistance, if it looked like you really needed it. Then he tells you that if you ever need help - day or night - to just pick up the phone and give him a call. Imagine the privilege.

Or suppose that your spouse has a seemingly hopeless medical problem. Out of the blue, you get a call from the world's most prominent physician. He tells you that he has heard of your spouse's plight and would like to help. He further tells you that, if you will just call on him, that he will fly anywhere in the world at a moment's notice just to provide you with any help that your spouse needs to be healed of their terrible disease. The fee for his service will be waived - all you have to do is to let him know what you need and when you need it. Imagine how privileged you would feel.

Pretty fantastic imagining - isn't it? But now imagine something even more amazing. Imagine that the Creator of the Universe was available to help you at anytime. If you had a problem or a need or just wanted to talk, no matter the hour - day or night - all you would have to do is let Him know and He would be there for you. This is, in fact, what we have in prayer because we are children of the King. Imagine the privilege!

The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5-7, NIV


The Price of the Whistle

Ben Franklin tells of a whistle he bought when he was a small boy. When he found that whistle, he was so enamored that he took all of the coppers from his pocket and, without even asking its price, gave everything he had to a very pleased shopkeeper. At first, he was extremely happy his new whistle and played with it all the way home. But when he got there and told his brothers how much he paid for it, they laughed with derision, for he had overpaid. He said that was so upset that he cried with vexation  because he had paid too much for his whistle.

Still, being the person he was, Franklin learned his lesson and vowed not to repeat that mistake. As an older man he observed that he had met many people whom, he thought, had paid too much for their whistles. Have you ever known such a person? I doubt that there is a single one of us who have not paid too much for their various whistles from time to time and, like young Ben, have discovered too late that they have paid far too much for what turned out to be little more than childish fancy.  

There are many such "whistles" in life, from the price young people pay for that party they should not have attended, to the price we pay when we skip the worship to rest, to the price we pay for getting involved with that person we should have never messed with in the first place. There will be many, many whistles in life that will tempt us with their glittering attractions. It is important for us, like old Ben, to mature enough to recognize those things that tempt us to pay everything we have now for something that will only leave us "crying with vexation" in the end.

If you have paid too much for your whistle, then welcome to the club. Now, what will you do to make sure that you never again pay such a dear price for your dangerous and trivial pursuits?

A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it. 

Proverbs 22:3, NIV


The Peace of God

Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and earth.

King David

A friend of ours was in a roll-over accident a few years back. She walked away with some pretty rough bumps and bruises but, as it turned out, everything was okay. It is easy to sit back and calmly reflect upon such incidents after they are long past, but it is another thing to keep your head when information is scant and the outcome is uncertain. When we got the call our first thought was, "Is she alright?". The second, because she and her husband have two beautiful girls was, "Were the kids with her?", and, "How are they?" Fortunately, the girls were not with her and they were alright.

I believe that such situations provide clarity to the great blessings we have as servants of God. You see, this young lady is a Christian. Her husband is a Christian. We are Christians. So as soon as we got off the phone - okay, while we were still on the phone - we started praying. You know how such prayers go, for you have prayed such prayers. At first they are filled with panic - an urgent call for help. Then, and this is the hardest part to explain to anyone who is not a Christian, there is a peace. But how can there be peace in such a tumultuous situation?

It is because God is in control! When we pray, we are not presenting our requests to someone who may or may not have the ability to handle our requests. We are praying to the Creator of the heavens and the earth. He not only knew of the situation before we did, He knew exactly what was needed and how to accomplish it.

The other reason that for our peace, even in turmoil, is because of our knowledge of what we are here for - to go to Heaven. Now it is true that none of of want to leave our loved ones one second too soon, but faithful Christians will be in Heaven someday and they will be reunited with their faithful Christian loved ones.

Success for a Christian is the destination - not the time of departure.

So we panic. And we pray. And then we have peace. For we know Who is in charge. Are you a Christian?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests t o God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7, NIV