Short answer — that’s up to us. God never promised happiness for those of us who opt into the Christian lifestyle. By default, we have lots of enemies. We’re still on the same planet satan runs, so we have to deal with his garbage too.
We find happiness through anticipation. We have to find excitement for the new life we’ll have, and hang onto that with everything in us.
We find happiness through selflessness. Doing good things for other people is a tried-and-true way to be happy. Once we’re more focused on others than we are on ourselves, we’ll understand genuine happiness.
We sometimes conflate happiness with euphoria. As Newton famously said, “What goes up must come down.” Euphoria is temporary and often accompanied by a rebound slump. But it’s a feeling of profound well-being that tends to be addictive, and is often above a natural baseline sense of well-being. Most people who want to be happy are really just chasing euphoria. We’re seeing now that it’s making everyone miserable.
Happiness is not guaranteed, but we can experience it with the right mindset. Help people. Pray for your enemies. Love people who hate you. Designate at least a couple of minutes every day to think about the next life. Look at the stars, planets, galaxies, and nebulae at night. You can’t help but be blown away by how intense and beautiful the universe is. This is God’s home (cf. Ps 115.16; Job 38.7; Deut 10.14; Neh 9.6; Ps 68.33; Mt 18.10), and the most tangible display of his power that we can experience with our senses (Rom 1.20). It puts our existence into perspective and reassures us that God actually is in control.
This life isn’t about being happy — the next one will be nothing but happiness, because entropy and dysfunction will no longer exist (Rom 8.20-25).
We have entered the vestibule of a new year. Upon reflection, one might realize how subjective the significance of this day is. Neil deGrasse Tyson likes to point this out annually. For example, in 2011, he tweeted: “January 1, 2011: Happy New Year to all –at this arbitrary spot in Earth’s orbit around the Sun.” (Tyson) Consider China. They may observe the Gregorian calendar to conduct global business, but they will not celebrate the new year until February 12, 2021. Why is there a discrepancy? The Chinese, like the Jews, have a lunar-based calendar. God may have created time as a construct in our material universe, but the only “clocks” He provided were the moon and the sun (Genesis 1.14-19), and it is easier to mark time by the moon since we watch it wax and wane. The sun may appear a little lower or higher in the sky, but it is always making its same east-west circuit.
Even so, we choose January 1 as a special day to begin making necessary or desirable changes to our lives. I would hope that in an age of “fear porn,” the child of God will choose calm. I apologize if the use of that four-letter word is offensive. However, “fear porn” is an expression that has entered our vernacular. Oxford defines this specific usage of the word “porn” as follows: “[in combination or with modifier] Television programs, magazines, books, etc. that are regarded as emphasizing the sensuous or sensational aspects of a nonsexual subject and stimulating a compulsive interest in their audience.” (“Porn”) Perhaps the definition provided by a user of the less-authoritative Urban Dictionary is more accessible. “Mainstream Media content that deliberately and enticingly plays on people’s fears about disaster, disease, and death.” (Animalfarm1984)
While addressing the Great Depression, Democrat Franklin Delano Rosevelt famously stated, “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Among others, Michael Reagan, speaking of his political opponents, has altered the maxim to be “the only thing we have to offer is fear itself.” (Reagan) I imagine there are those considering that indictment up to debate. However, it is not my point to assign blame to political parties or politicians. Many thrive on instilling fear regardless of political affiliation. As one writer for a pop-psychology magazine opined, fear is “the most powerful motivator of all.” (Wilson)
I set out to recall a time in my life in which no Chicken Little was trying to scare me about something. I fail to remember a season when all was well with the world. In nearly a half-century of life, alarmists told me of the perils I face from nuclear war, a new ice age, a hole in the ozone layer, acid rain, killer bees, the deforestation of the Amazon region, the policies of Ronald Reagan, Y2K, global-warming-no-wait-let’s-call-it-climate-change-to-cover-all-our-bases, the policies of Barrack Obama, Ebola, the very existence of Donald Trump, the Illuminati, Globalists, Antifa, Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, and, now, Joe Biden’s socialist regime. Phew. Sadly, I have occasionally given such Chicken Littles a greater hearing than the assurances found in God’s Word.
What was it that the inspired Apostle John said? “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4.4 NASB1995). Jesus created and now sustains creation (Colossians 1.16-17). It is He who will destroy it when the time comes (2 Peter 3.10). In the interim, as God promised Noah: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease (Genesis 8.22 NASB1995).” It may be that we figuratively see the writing on the wall as Belshazzar indeed did in Daniel 5, but even so, God will be our Rock. Even if the mountains crumble and fall into the sea, He is still our refuge (Psalm 46). It is OK to face uncertainty with apprehension like Habakkuk did as he awaited the impending Babylonian invasion (Habakkuk 3.2,16). Yet, like Habakkuk (and the Apostle Paul), we must bravely move forward, recognizing our dependence upon Providence (Habakkuk 3.17-19; Philippians 4.11-13). Regardless of what 2021 may hold, if you seek God and His Kingdom first, God has your back (Matthew 6.33)!
Tyson, Neil deGrasse (neiltyson). “January 1, 2011: Happy New Year to all –at this arbitrary spot in Earth’s orbit around the Sun.” 1 January 2011, 2:55 p.m. Tweet.
“Porn: Definition of Porn by Oxford Dictionary on Lexico.com Also Meaning of Porn.” Lexico Dictionaries | English, Lexico Dictionaries,www.lexico.com/en/definition/porn.
It was nearly twenty years ago that I walked with Keith Kasarjian through an orphanage in eastern Ukraine. I cannot remember how many children were there, but there were many. My first impression was their appearance–unwashed and tattered clothes, dirty bodies, and many had mussed or shaved heads. But my overwhelming impression was regarding their behavior. They clung to us, wanting our attention. They couldn’t speak much, if any, English, and our Russian was sparse. There was a hunger in their eyes, not for food but for attention and affection. While we were not there for very long, the memory of that evening is as fresh today as it has ever been. They had no family, few possessions, and terribly uncertain futures. Legally, culturally, and financially, adopting dozens of foreign children was virtually impossible. Not a few tears were shed when we said goodbye and as we looked back at that evening.
An orphan “is someone whose parents have died, are unknown, or have permanently abandoned them” (Merriam Webster online; Concise Oxford Dict.). While Scripture mentions physical orphans 36 times, including twice in the New Testament, the concept of spiritual adoption is an important way the New Testament describes what God does through Christ to make us part of His family. Particularly, Romans 8-9, Galatians 4-5, and Ephesians 1 describe this process.
Consider how we appear to God. Even our righteous deeds are like filthy garments (Isa. 64:6). He even figuratively described His Old Testament people as like castoff children abandoned and helpless whom He bathed, clothed, and took care of (Ezek. 16:1ff). But, that figure could certainly be applied to us today. Scripture depicts sin as making us stained (2 Pet. 2:13), spotted (Eph. 5:27; 1 Pet. 1:19), and unclean (Rev. 21:27). Yet, God saw us and loved us (Rom. 5:6-8). He wanted us to be part of His family (Eph. 2:19).
The difference between God and us is that He is able to take all of us. He wants to, and He has the resources and power to make it a reality. He feels perfect pity for us who are orphaned by sin, and He acts on that compassion by inviting us into His family. If we accept His offer, He makes it happen. That being the case, why would we ever reject what only He can give? We can go from being the lowliest reject to being a child of God!Truly, it doesn’t seem like much of a dilemma. If we see ourselves, spiritually, as we are, we will anxiously accept what only He can give us.
No, not Enid, Kenya, or Enid, India. Enid, Oklahoma. On November 4, 2009, a Wednesday night, Bill and Deena Carpenter were returning to their home from church services. Driving down the highway in their SUV, Bill at only the last second saw the 4,500 pound animal standing in the middle of the road. He attempted to evade the pachyderm, but the eight foot Asian elephant was too big to miss. The good news is that neither the humans nor the elephant were seriously injured. The massive mammal had escaped earlier that day from a circus set up at a nearby fairgrounds. It seems to me that there are a few important reminders to consider from this bizarre incident.
IT IS A REMINDER THAT SOME THINGS ARE OUT OF PLACE. Enid is an unusual place to (literally) run into an elephant. Elephants just do not roam our countryside in America. Some things are incongruous and not just elephants running free in Oklahoma. Worldly Christians, aimless shepherds, inactive deacons, scriptureless preachers, warring brethren, and the like are more out of place than an elephant on the lam in Enid!
IT IS A REMINDER THAT SOME THINGS ARE TOTALLY UNEXPECTED. When is the last time your friend or loved one warned you to be on the lookout for elephants on the loose as you drove home? You just do not anticipate the need for such a warning. Some things cannot be foreseen, can they? How many of our trials and difficulties came with clear, sufficient warning? Certainly some do, but many more do not! Furthermore, what a reminder that the second coming of Christ will not come with signs or prescient warnings (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10; Matt. 24:35). The problems and adversities of this life often cannot be prepared for, but that coming, great, and unexpected day can and must be anticipated.
IT IS A REMINDER THAT EVEN THE BIGGEST ISSUES CAN BE MANAGEABLE. No doubt, Bill’s life flashed before his eyes. As he yelled “elephant” at the last second, he might have had time to think that this would be his last word. Mercifully, all parties escaped serious problems. What at first appeared catastrophic now makes for the story to end all dinner-party stories! How often do our looming problems seem overwhelming and utterly devastating only to pass like a storm with dark clouds and thunder but no damaging winds, rains, or hail? Too many times, we are so paralyzed by fear and worry over our personal challenges that we miss opportunities for spiritual growth and development (cf. 1 Pet. 5:7; 1 Cor. 10:13). We do not face a difficulty too hard for the Lord to handle.
No, you almost certainly will never hit an elephant driving down the highway this side of an African safari. Yet, you will be called to be salt and light in this world, a challenge that may make you awkwardly stand out at times. You will face the unexpected, both now and ultimately. You will also face supersized but surmountable issues in life. Do what you can to prepare, then leave the rest of it in the omnipotent hands of God!
It is hard to describe the beauty of faith evidenced in Room 913 yesterday as all the elders and their wives, Wes and Teri Autrey, and Tiffanie and Bethany Vaught stood with Myrna and the rest of the Murphy family at University Hospital yesterday. We sang songs and Dave Chamberlin prayed a touching, loving prayer. Moments later, a godly, wonderful woman made her transition from this life to the better one. Despite the inevitable, natural flow of tears, the heartache of separation, and the final earthly stanza of a beautiful, 59-year-old love song played by Ray and Myrna. Myrna was an obvious success as a mother, wife, grandmother, and friend, but central to everything she did and who she was was Christ. She did not fear death nor the condition that brought it. She was ready because of Christ.
When I think of the red-letter days that have occurred in our nation and world during my lifetime, whether the bombing of the Murrah Building, the horrors of 9/11, the unbelievable natural disaster of the December 26, 2004, tsumami (“Boxer Day Tsumami”), the disappearance of the Malaysia Airliner, and the like, I am made to think how many stood in the wake of such tragedy without the hope and promise made possible through Christ. Yet, every ordinary day where death looms through the natural course of life, people come to those final moments either ignorant or bereft of the bright prospect of what happens beyond death. Certainly, some think they have hope, but it is not hope rested in what they can find in Scripture but rather what they think, feel, or have been told is real and true. In some ways, those situations are the most tragic of all. Others are convinced that we are the result of chance and will cease to be when we draw our last breath, yet they continue to try and live with purpose and even act in the interest of others without bothering to ask why they behave civilized with such an animalistic point of view.
But for the one whose hope is built on the truth of what God’s Word says, there is no tidal wave of heart or explosion of life powerful enough to wrench us free from that hope. Paul exalts that we are saved by unseen hope (Rom. 8:24-25). In the rest of the chapter, he proclaims the unfailing love and promise of God for the redeemed who place their trust in Him. Paul encourages the Thessalonians not to face death, sorrowing like a world without hope (1 Thess. 4:13). Without Christ’s resurrection, there is no hope (cf. 1 Cor. 15:19-20). However, because He lives, we can face tomorrow, all fear is gone, we know who holds the future, and life is worth living (Bill Gaither lyrics from “Because He Lives”).
The Murphys will have sorrow and grief to bear. This is a testimony to their humanity. But they look at tomorrow with an even brighter anticipation. This is a testimony to the Christ who lives in them. It is available for us all!
Why is having a white Christmas such a big deal to me, you might ask. Well, for a boy who spent the majority of his boyhood Christmases in south Georgia, the whole idea seemed like a fairytale. Also, for a lifelong Bing Crosby fan, the movie was always one of Holiday favorites. I always imagined the “magic” of abundant snowfall on such a special and exciting day. With the prospect of 2014 in the Denver area giving us what we only get 14% of the time, a 1/10” or more of snow on December 25th, it’s like being a school boy in Cairo, Sylvester, or Hinesville once again.
There have been a few years when we’ve had white Christmases, and none of them disappointed! The biggest was December 25, 1976, a magical, heavy snow when dad preached in Barrackville, West Virginia. The next would not be until December 25, 1989, a historic, bizarre snowfall in Hinesville, Georgia, when I returned home during my Sophomore year in college. At one time, it was the deepest snow they’d ever gotten! It took over a decade until I saw another one. Though 22 inches fell a few days before our first Colorado Christmas in 2006, it was the next year we were fortunate enough to be here for Denver’s deepest snowfall on Christmas, about 8 inches in 2007. Some flakes flew in 2012, but gave us only a dusting. Perhaps it’s the rarity, maybe the nostalgia, but it’s special!
All my life, Sunday has had a similar impression on me. There are six other days in the week, and wonderful things have happened in them, but none compare to what happens on Sunday. From waking up filled with the anticipation of seeing church family to hearing, since childhood, records, tapes, CDs, or streaming hymns and songs by our favorite quartets and choruses. The way you get dressed and get ready has a different feel, knowing what you are readying to do. But this is more than nostalgia. It’s an attitude God has placed within man’s heart from the beginning. It’s the sentiment expressed by the psalmist in Psalm 95: “O come, let us sing to the Lord, let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation!” (1). “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our maker!” (6). Can’t you hear him seemingly hurrying everyone. Today, we might say, “Come on honey! Hurry up kids! It’s time to go to worship! I can’t wait!” It is important that we serve Him and live for Him every day we live, and a day of worship cannot make up for or offset bad living the other days. But, how wonderful for us to be filled with anticipation and longing for His day—Sunday! How unnatural to lack that desire or be so cavalier about it that we can take it or leave it—assemble or not assemble.
So, I’m almost like a rabid fan cheering on the meteorologist this week. I still get filled with a special sense of exciting on Sunday, too. Whatever your take on White Christmases, never lose your longing for the Lord’s Day! Merry Christmas!