I Deserve to Be Happy

Nearly every foolish, selfish, and destructive choice has been rationalized by these five words; I deserve to be happy. Those words are trumpeted like a battle cry from the carnal mind that desperately wishes to charge into some action to satiate one temporal appetite or another. One can almost hear the tempter whisper, “You worked hard today, you deserve this inebriation… again,” or “You feel neglected, you deserve an evening of pornographic indulgence or perhaps even an adulterous affair,” or “You had a rough week (or life), surely you deserve this particular vice.” Now, before you slam your coffee cup down and march out in feigned offense, allow me to refresh that mug and do me the kindness of hearing me out.

Let us begin by pointing out that it is a rather egotistical proclamation to make of oneself to declare, “I deserve to be happy.” The implication is that one has somehow earned happiness and is now, in fact, owed happiness. There are people in the world of whom I might say, “They deserve to be happy.” Such individuals would typically be of the sort who, through a lifetime of sacrifice, have unselfishly served others. Of course, the kind of person I’m referring to has likely already found happiness in their service. So, while I might say that someone of exceptional service to their fellow man deserves to be happy, I would never claim such a mantle for myself.

Please do not misunderstand me. I want to be happy. I would prefer to be happy. Even the Declaration of Independence recognizes the right of every individual to be free to pursue happiness, but to demand that I deserve it is quite another thing.

Why would one believe they deserve to be happy? Perhaps they have done some good deeds. To that I say, “So what?” If your deeds were done so that you may reward yourself then it can hardly be said any longer that they are good. Perhaps the individual has experienced hardships in life. However, everyone has experienced some sort of hardships in life. We live in a broken world. Hardships are part of life (even Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life, was betrayed and crucified), but they don’t automatically qualify us for deserved happiness. Perhaps the deserving is based on the belief by the individual that they are a good person. In response to that I ask, by whose standard are you good and therefore deserving of happiness?

Now, I do not wish to belabor the point of deserving happiness, because God offers us joy everlasting in His presence as a gift. However, that is not a gift of a carefree life here in this fallen world. (Again, I refer you to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.) Therein lies the root of the “I deserve to be happy” mantra; the search is for something, anything, to make us happy now. Therefore, caution is often thrown to the wind and we rush in where angels fear to trod without thought of consequences that assuredly await down the path. The happiness that is so often sought after in this scenario is a fast, but fleeting, happiness.

The glaring issue with this expedient and easy happiness resides in that particular object or person we have placed the burden upon to make us happy. The hard truth is this; if you need something or someone to make you happy, then your happiness is an illusion. It is a mirage, albeit a convincing one for a time, that will eventually let one down and be exposed for its true nature. When that happens, the individual is then brought to a crossroads; either admit they were foolish and forsake this path or stubbornly press ahead in order to save face.

Any disciple of Christ worth their salt will tell you that there is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is conditional. A certain set of circumstances is required to make one happy and once those conditions change, so does one’s mood. Joy, however, can exist regardless of outside forces; sometimes even in defiance of them!

In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, we find the Apostle Paul and his fellow minister, Silas, being mistreated and hated. These two good men who performed many good deeds and had suffered many hardships were beaten and thrown into prison. Acts 16:23-25 reads, “23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Now, considering the treatment they just received, one would be hard-pressed to argue that Paul and Silas were happy. Conditions would not allow that. What we can recognize is that they had joy; joy that manifested regardless of current conditions.

When it comes down to it, the question is not one of deserving, but of wanting. Therefore, what is it that you want? Do you want to continually pursue happiness rooted in conditions which will eventually change and inevitably leave you empty and dry (not to mention the collateral damage that such pursuits sometimes leave in their wake)? Or, do you want joy which will be present even when conditions cannot make you happy? There is a peace and a freedom that comes with that joy that mere happiness will never provide for you. I dare say that your choice between these two avenues will most likely be decided based on your level of stubbornness vs. you level of humility.

I leave you with this quote to contemplate from C. S. Lewis, “Human history – money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery – the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.

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Label Maker

Have you noticed the excessive amount of name calling that goes on today? It seems that the instant someone is offended, they are labeling the person they disagree with as some form of “-phobic” or “-ism” or “toxic” something or other. One gets the picture that we are all on a grade school playground where the children are incapable of mature civil dialog and can therefore only offer generous amounts of name calling at those they are angry with.

Now, please relax and enjoy your coffee. My encouragement for today’s contemplation is not to bemoan the adolescent behavior of politically correct groups who attempt to shut down conversation by name calling in order to mask their indefensible positions, but instead to focus on the nuisance of labels themselves. Human beings seem to possess an insatiable urge to make labels. Sometimes labels are helpful, but other times they can be harmful.

Back in the days of prehistoric eighties technology, we had nifty little devices called label makers. These handheld tools came with a variety of colorful plastic tape spools that the operator could change in and out depending on the color label desired. Once the spool was loaded, one would have to painstakingly turn the dial to each letter or number that was required on the label and squeeze the trigger each time to imprint the character into the plastic. Once your label was complete, you would cut the tape and remove the backing so the label could be placed on the item needing labeled. This process could take a lot of time if one needed to do a large amount of labeling and there were times that the tape would not stick properly. Of course, there were other instances where any hopes of removing that label in the future were futile.

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I believe we have a tendency to run around with our label makers sticking our perceptions on to other people as we interact with them. In the meantime, many of the people we interact with are busy making and placing labels upon us. If we were able to see and read all of these labels at the end of the day, we would surely find that several of them contradict. One label might describe you as bossy while another characterizes you as timid. The conflict between the two labels is formed by the moment of interaction that day, coupled with the temperament and personality of the particular label maker. Therein lies the problem with labels; they are subjective. A label or two cannot hope to encompass all the person that you are or even can be. Labels are, for the most part, a microcosm of your personality based on the situation of a particular interaction or set of interactions.

That’s not to say that labels hold no value. There are certainly people who are rude and people who are mean and people who are pleasant and people who are kind. However, it is quite likely that someone in that person’s life has a far different view of them. For example, you may know a crotchety old man whom you would label as rude and unkind. Yet, that same old man may have a couple of grandkids who find him to be the kindest, most tender-hearted individual they have ever met. The reality is, both labels could hold truth depending on your interaction with the individual.

Indeed, some labels tell a portion of truth about an individual but often not the whole. However, there are other labels, based in little truth, which create dark, self-fulfilling prophecies. These labels are always negative in nature and unfortunately tend to be the type that become extremely difficult to remove. Labels of being a failure or a disappointment are some of this type. They begin through a failure (or two or three or four) or by disappointing someone on a few occasions. Yet, instead of the situation being labeled as a failure or an instance of disappointment, the label is inappropriately placed upon the person! Everyone experiences failure and everyone has and will disappoint others from time to time. But just like many other labels, these negative labels don’t tell the entire story. Instead, they only tell of the interaction of a particular slice of time. It would be like trying to write a synopsis of a book based on the reading of one paragraph in the narrative. Be wary of reducing yourself to a few labels. You are certainly more than that.

Labels are not unique to our culture. Even the Lord Jesus Christ was labeled as was His cousin John the Baptist. Matthew 11:18-19 – “18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.” Notice the contradiction of the label makers. They applied a different standard to each of these men they disliked in order to place a label upon them. However, even though the Lord pointed out their faulty label making, He did not bind Himself to their perceptions. He knew who He was and would not allow their labels to stick… though they repeatedly tried to apply them.

My encouragement to you is to beware of labels; especially the negative labels we may place upon ourselves. While it is a good thing to do some self-evaluation and root out negative traits we may possess, such evaluations should be done in order to facilitate self-improvement and personal growth. Self-evaluation should never be done as a means of making labels. You are more than your labels. If you want to know who you really are and who you can really be, don’t go to a label maker. Instead, I would advise you to seek your Maker. The Maker knows what a label maker can never see.

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.

Fight or Flight

Have you ever determined to get your life together and put yourself on the right path only to be met with an onslaught of intense opposition? Obstacles so overwhelming begin to appear before you that you eventually question why you ever bothered to set your foot upon this path. At some point you may even shout to God, “I’m trying to do what is right now, so why has everything gotten worse?”

I suppose that a major cause of our confusion is that we assume that the right path is the easy path. We figure that the wrong path is filled with sorrows and heartache (which it often is) and therefore the right path should be marked by calm streams and warm sunshine upon our face. However, as one person noted, “Anyone who plays video games can tell you, if your character (in the game) is meeting resistance, it’s a good sign that you are heading in the right direction.” The simple fact is, that if the right path was easy then virtually everyone would be on it. Humans, like electricity, tend to follow the path of least resistance.

In the last year and a half to two years, the Lord has been doing a tremendous amount of renovations in my personal life. It has been a time of significant spiritual growth for me, but as a result, I have encountered my fair share of battles on several fronts. Many of these battles have been, and continue to be, extremely taxing.

I suppose I can liken what the Holy Spirit has been doing in me to the renovations that Chip and Joanna Gaines do in houses on their show, Fixer Upper. Now, if you were to begin the show with only the last ten minutes, you would be introduced to a beautiful home that they put together. However, you would miss all of the work that went into that finished home. You’d miss the demolition of things that had to go, the installation of things that needed to be added, and especially the unforeseen obstacles encountered that continually threw monkey wrenches into the plans. Our growth as individuals will, inevitably, involve all of those factors.

I believe this is why many people, Christians as well, shy away from pursuing the right path with one hundred percent commitment. Although we want the right path to be smooth, most of us know, at least subconsciously, that it is not. Therefore, we surmise that it would not be to our benefit to invite more trouble into our life. It’s as if there is this silent agreement in place between the Christian and the devil that states hence, “I will not pursue an uncompromised walk with Christ if you promise to leave me alone and not stir up troubles and sorrow in my life.”  It’s the path of least resistance. The problem is, when you make an agreement with the Father of Lies, even a silent one, you cannot expect him to honor his end of the bargain.

There is a response to danger or trouble in most creatures, including humans, which we term fight or flight. The basic premise is that, when faced with adversity, the creature will respond by either fighting against the trouble or fleeing from it. Fear is not the determining factor, for it is likely that fear is experienced by both the one who fights and the one who flees. The outcome of living or dying is also not a determining factor as fight or flight could both result in the same outcome. The determining factor is simply choice; how do you want to respond? Do you wish to run and hide your entire life or will you fight every obstacle in your path though it be through much pain and tears? I am reminded of a line King Théoden spoke in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers; “If this is to be our end, then I would have them make such an end as to be worthy of remembrance!”

As for me, though troubles may wear me down and at times seem to drown me, I have become more determined to pursue my God. I will not be pushed back into compliance by the enemy of my soul. The word of the Lord declares in Psalm 126:5, “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.” What about you today? Will you flee from the face of resistance and be corralled into being compliant or will you recognize that resistance to the right path only comes because the enemy fears you reaching the destination ahead? Will you be angry at the resistance in your way and flee or will you be angry at the one who resists you and fight?

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 – “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplation be rich and fulfilling.

New Year, Old Troubles

It is interesting to watch how quickly the enthusiasm of a new year wears off. All of the bright hopes and endless possibilities evaporate in the scorching rays of the reality of life and the requirements of effort. This new year, in particular, seemed to generate more reality checks than I had observed in any previous years. Before we even reached 2019 I heard and saw remarks scoffing at New Year’s resolutions and mockery made at the very idea of a “New Year, New Me” mantra. Perhaps it is that we have all experienced this song and dance enough times to know that a calendar change doesn’t really signal a life change.

It’s early on a rainy Saturday morning and I’m sitting here with a cup of coffee and my computer. My heart is weighed down heavy by various stresses and struggles that did not have the good sense to mind the calendar and remain in 2018. I am all too aware that when the ball drops in Times Square on New Years Eve, it does not press a reset button at the bottom whereby all troubles dissipate into the atmosphere like so many candles snuffed out on a birthday cake. Indeed, it is a new year, but old troubles remain.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons why our enthusiasm for the fresh start that a new year promises so quickly disintegrates. A realization is experienced two or three weeks into January, and like the abrupt awakening of a cheap alarm clock, we are suddenly faced with the fact that the first month of the new year is quite reminiscent of the last month of the old year. The problems of the previous year have somehow crossed the threshold into this new chapter. We’ve been followed!

That’s the key to keep in mind, however; a new year is not a new story, but instead, it is a new chapter of the same story – your story. Imagine reading a book and every time a new chapter begins there is a completely different story taking place. New characters, new plot, even a new writing style with each new chapter. Not only would that be the most incongruent book ever written, it would also be an extremely frustrating read because one would never discover how any of the stories turn out.

One’s life is not a series of short stories. On the contrary, it is one epic saga from birth to death which carries the main character through various struggles and triumphs, mistakes and defeats, joys and disappointments. The current chapter is not the end of the book and no one can tell the outcome of a situation based on a mere reading of the page they are on now.

Yesterday I came across an article about an adult film star who came to Christ and left the industry and is now married to a pastor. As she explains, she gave her heart to Christ and accepted His salvation while she was making adult films. However, she continued in that industry for several more years citing her pride as her driving force for not immediately leaving. Finally, as she was heading out to a shoot for another movie, she felt God tell her, “I have something better for you than this.” It was that day that she took a stand and ended her career in pornography.

The thing I took away from that article was God’s grace in His knowledge of her story. From an outside human perspective, one might have read one chapter and concluded that her salvation did not take hold. How could she be saved and still do what she was doing? Yet God knew the entire book of her life and had His day of confrontation already written into the pages of her story. And because she responded to God correctly, she now has beautiful new chapters in her book!

Now, lest some half-committed Christian be tempted to take up the unbiblical banner of “Don’t Judge Me!” and use the above story to justify their compromised faith, let me assure you that I have little confidence that the woman in that article wishes to be the poster child for your wanton rebellion. It is highly likely that your day of confrontation by the Holy Spirit has already come – indeed there have probably been several – and you have ignored them all thus far. The point I am making is that God knows that our story is longer than merely a chapter or two and we need to come to that understanding as well.

So, how am I handling my current troubles? I am praying and waiting on the Lord. You may consider that to be a waste of time, but as Isaiah 40:31 tells us, “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” I wait on the Lord, not in order for me to avoid doing something, but so when it is time to do something, I can hear God clearly and have the strength to see it through. There are pages in our stories where we must wait and pages where we must act. Wisdom, often times, is knowing the difference.

It’s a new year, but you may have noticed that old troubles have followed. Remember, however, that your story is not over yet. I urge you, therefore, to walk in wisdom during this current chapter so as not to add more unnecessary troubles to your story.

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.