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Life’s Questions – Week 23 Notes

  1. Does pursuing happiness actually lead to happiness?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

These famous words from the Declaration of Independence, were penned by Thomas Jefferson (edited by others)

Jefferson professed to being an Epicurean in his philosophy.

*Please don’t go to sleep when I talk philosophy.

-The word philosophy means lover of wisdom and it is about the search for truth

Everyone has a philosophy, not all of those are in line with what is true…many don’t even know they have one.

Some of your friends are Epicurean, and/or Hedonists…wouldn’t you like to know what that means?

Epicurus was a Greek philosopher who was what we would now call a Deist…the belief that a God or god’s exist but they are not involved in the lives of humans.

God made the universe, like a really complex watch…wound it up…and left it there to run…so prayers are ineffective and miracles impossible…you are on your own.

In addition Epicurus taught that pleasure was the greatest good.

It’s a form of the philosophy called Hedonism which believes that all people have the right to do everything in their power to achieve the greatest amount of pleasure possible to them.

And everyone’s pleasure should surpass their amount of pain.

Now…doesn’t this sound very much like American Religion…2019?

But it’s been around for thousands of years.

What Jefferson believed was a bit different than pure Hedonism…but he did believe that the absence of physical pain and fear(mental pain) are the greatest pleasures and should be pursued at all cost…and that the pursuit of happiness is a human right.

A self-evident human right.

This pursuit of happiness as he defined it…failed him personally

Let’s go back to his declaration

We hold these truths to be self-evident, (not needing to be explained, obvious) that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights(not based on humans laws or customs but they are absolute they are baked into the fabric of reality), that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So back to my original question:

Does pursuing happiness actually lead to happiness?

How has that worked out for people overall?

You might say “It depends on how one defines happiness?”

I would agree and I think Scripture would as well.

The word translated “Blessed” in Scripture means “happy”…like in…

Psa. 33:12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance.

Or what we call the Beatitudes…you can put “happy” in place of blessed.

Matt. 5:1   Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Being Blessed or happy is tied to relationship with God…throughout the Bible.

So the pursuit of happiness, when happiness is understood to be tied up in relationship with God is the best path for humans to travel…it is the ideal pursuit.

It is no “right” of ours to know God…but it is our privilege.

But the pursuit of happiness, apart from God…is just not going to end well

Perhaps for some…for a short time…it seems to work out.

But it doesn’t work for the many…and even the few who think it’s working…it will fail them eventually.

Recently I dealt with a situation(outside our church and community) that has caused a lot of unhappiness for a man and his family…because of his temporary pursuit happiness…a happiness that was out of line with the will and ways of God…he has suffered enduring pain.

I have seen this same scenario unfold over and over.

The book of Proverbs…where we will spend a good deal of time in 2020 talks about how those who travel the path of pursuing pleasure apart from the ways of God (wisdom) end up miserable.

Ed Shaw, the author of “Same Sex Attraction and the Church: The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life.”

That subtitle alone would cause most Americans to go “What??”

But he wrote about how his same-sex attraction and his refusal to act on it often make him feel unhappy.

He says that many tell him that if–not acting on your same sex attraction makes you unhappy–then surely God wants you to be happy.

How could God condemn something that would bring such happiness to people?

He wrote “The great authority in the world we live in today is our personal happiness. If someone or something leads to unhappiness in our life, they or it must be wrong. If someone or something makes us happy, they or it must be right.”

But I am not picking on same-sex attracted people…this really is a challenge to all people.


  1. Parents who sell out the big picture in order to make their children happy today (and really to make themselves feel happy by avoiding pain of conflict in the short run)

-Homes where teens or even younger rule because parents don’t want to be unhappy or for their kids to be unhappy.

Never mind that they may be selling out their kid’s future.

  1. Christians who leave bad marriages (for unbiblical reasons) because they are convinced that God wants them to be happy…yes, he does…but holiness is happiness.

*Please don’t become flooded with guilt if you have been through a divorce…my point is not to throw stones but to cast vision.

Casting vision requires addressing very specific situations.

  1. Singles who engage in sex outside of marriage…because they don’t want to miss anything, because their bodily desires have become their bosses…they pursue happiness at all costs…and it is costly.

The result is not increased peace, freedom, happiness…but increased brokenness, unhappiness and insecurity.

The pursuit of happiness apart from God has never, in the end, made anyone really happy.

Yet, humanity continues to try…this is the long story of the Bible…but we don’t have to live this fool’s errand…we can live differently.

You can put water in your gas tank because gasoline is smelly and dangerous and expensive…but if you try to bend reality to your own preferences…you will be walking because your engine will be ruined.

Because your car, like everything in the world runs on reality…not what you want to be real.

Put gas in…enjoy the ride.

Long-term studies on several thousand married couples demonstrate that 2/3 of those who are unhappy in their marriages now will become happy within 5 years if they stay married.

Many have encouraged people to leave unhappy marriages for the sake of their happiness…and they have done them a great disservice.

Or materialism as the pursuit of meaning…how is it working out for people who are living for a secure pension, or to accumulate more stuff…this just doesn’t work for people in becoming actually happy as they age.

Yet…the pursuit of happiness is my inalienable “right”

Okay…but it doesn’t work.

Now let’s go back to where we began the year and make the connection:

In the Beginning God created…all of us were made by God for God.

We rebelled…sought to find the thriving life(happiness) apart from God…found brokenness instead…lots of unhappiness.

The rest of the Bible(human history at large) is the story of God’s redemption and restoration…and our continued rebellion.

God exists in reality and his word is completely reliable…we were made by him for him…and he knows what will in fact make us happy.

We really, really need to trust him with this…he is smart and he is good.

Everyone has an overarching storyline that they believe to be true, a grand story that makes sense out of their own life story…what will be their main authority, or way of determining what is true and how should I live?

For some God doesn’t exist…I choose what will make me satisfied…I decide what is the good life…because in the end, it’s all just matter and chance…and I dissolve back into the void from whence I came.

God exists…but I decide what is true and good…because God wants me to be happy…and I know what will best will make me happy.

God exists…he has revealed himself in Scripture…his path is the good life

-He knows what will make me happy…my role is trust and obey.

Stop here and think about this: We are sitting in a church building on a Sunday morning, listening to words, a message…you are deciding if this message is valid (I hope you are)

We hear words, messages all the time…and we turn them into ideas…and attach them to what we believe is real and true in the world.

Everyone is doing this all the time…whether they are actual words, or just ideas directly forming in our minds…everyone is receiving and believing, messages…and then living in line with what they have decided is true.

From these ideas, messages….have come all of humanities wars, the rise of fall of nations, human trafficking, prisons populated with one out of every 140 Americans.

Not to mention the millions of choices made very day related to family, friends, self, and God…that lead to consequences that are as real as the chair that you sit in right now.

None of this is hypothetical, mere philosophical, or pie in the sky theological…how you and I live starts with what we believe is true…actually believe is true as revealed in what we value and do.

So let’s look at a Psalm that speaks to us of messages…of ideas…and the impact of believing what God says on our lives…starts generally then gets very specific.

Psa. 19:1   The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

This is called “general revelation.” It means information about God that is available to everyone, everywhere.

The skies “speak” of God’s glory but they do so without words.

They display knowledge…they tell of his creative power merely by looking at them and living in them.

Everyone hears creation’s call to see God’s glory.

In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, 5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. 6 It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.

He uses the sun as his focus of attention…because among the heavenly bodies, it is the most important to life on earth…and the most prominent.

You can choose to shut out the light of the stars…but good luck trying to live ignoring the sun.

At the time this was written you might stay indoors and escape the sun’s light…but you will not escape its heat.

For those who say this demonstrates that Scriptures are scientifically ignorant because it implies the sun moves…are ignorant of the purpose and language of Scripture…as well as hypocritical.

Experts in modern meteorology don’t say “Earth spins into the light of the sun at 7:00 and away from suns fixed position at 9:00” they say “Sunrise” and “Sunset”

So he poetically likens the sun as a bridegroom beaming at sunrise or an Olympic champion breaking the finish line at sunset.

Then he jumps from general revelation(the cosmos) to special revelation…the word of God revealed in Scripture.

7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

The Scriptures are called: Law, Statutes, Precepts…simply meaning all that is written in them.

  1. The Law is perfect and it revives the soul:   The soul is the part of you that will outlive this present body…it your mind, your will, your emotions…the permanent “you”

God’s word revives us on the inside.

A friend recently told me he was dark in his soul…exhausted on the inside.

You can be physical tired and not “soul tired”…but when you are “soul tired”….you are also physically tired as well…or soon will be.

God spoke to him through his word, his people speaking his word…and his soul was revived.

God’s word revived his soul…mind, will, emotions and the result was…a dramatic change in his interactions with family, friends, himself, God.

  1. Statutes are trustworthy, making wise the simple: Simple means the one who lacks understanding or wisdom. Not someone who is mentally deficient.

When it comes to ultimate things, the things we most need to know about life…we are all simple-minded without God’s word to us.

The smartest, best educated people on the planet are not normally the most ethical, moral pure, and nicest people to get along with.

There is no correlation between smart and good.

In fact…much harm has been done by the really smart

This is about being smart in regard what actually matters the most…The will and ways of God.

Those who understand and apply God’s word…are able to live with skill in the world…they thrive in life because they know how the world is designed to work.

  1. Precepts are right, giving joy to the heart:

God’s word can turn sad hearts to joy.

The joy of hope, the joy of perspective, the joy of acceptance by God, the joy of forgiveness, the joy of purpose and meaning.

  1. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

The comparison here is to the physical sun that gives light enabling us to see things around us as they are.

If you walk through a dark forest at night…all that is real about that forest during the bright midday is still real…but you can’t see it, you can’t thrive in that dark place without sight.

When the sun’s light shines on that place…the photons bounce off leaves, and bark and flowers and animals and water and hit your retinas and form images in your brain and you can now “see” the beauty and reality of what has already been there.

God’s word causes us to see what is actually there…and to live in line with that reality.

This happens every day all over the world…in refugee camps, hospitals, work places, schools, through tears, joy…God opens eyes to see him and it changes how we see the world around us.

The prophet Elisha had a King who wanted him captured and probably killed.

The King had his army surround the area where Elisha was located…Elisha’s servant was terrified by the imposing army but Elisha, who had the unusual ability to see what was actually true about the world said…

2Kings 6:16-17   “Don’t be afraid, “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Let’s go on in Psalm 19

9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. 10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. 11 By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

The fear of the Lord is pure…because it is the beginning of wisdom.

To fear the Lord means you take him seriously enough to take him at his word.

Paying attention to and believing what he says is super valuable because what he says will last forever.

This is in contrast the constantly changing trends of culture and the fickle moods and desires of the human heart.

The fact that God has spoken to us is of incredible value…like gold, food…the normal resources that we sustain us.

His word keeps us from foolish paths and puts us on wise ones.

12 Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.

Then a shift from the perfection and beauty of God’s word to the reality of our own imperfection and need for God.

“God protect me from folly and sin I am not even aware I have in me.”

We don’t know what we don’t know…paying attention to God keeps us from running off cliffs.

Then even when we do know it’s wrong…our passions can be strong…so…

“God protect me from my own desires, I don’t want to be controlled by my own desires…they are not reliable, but you are.”

Finally…just as creation speaks of the glory of God.

And God’s word reveals the will and ways of God.

Now we get in on that communication action ourselves…let the “language of our mouths and minds” reveal the glory of God.

14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Let the words that come from my mouth and the words that form in my mind (meditation of my heart) be in line with the reality of God.

The pursuit of happiness is the good path when we understand that holiness (being set apart for God) is happiness and what holiness looks like has been revealed by God in his word.

Two applications for today:

  1. Happiness apart from God is a moving target…we need a fixed point of reference to navigate life by.

Imagine you are at a NBA basketball game, what will you see? It depends.

-Are you in locker room?

-Are you working security and have your back to the court?

-Are you a referee and watching only a certain part of the court?

-Are you in the cheap seats, courtside, behind a goal?

-Are you a player and if so are you playing post or point?

What you see depends on where you are stand or sit…your perspective (without God’s help) is relative to things that change in and around you.

I love reading stories and talking to people whose values and perspectives have dramatically changed as they have grown older…rough dads becoming gentle grandpas for instance.

I am sad when a choice was made as a young man…that is now out of line with the perspective and values of a much older one…I have heard these stories from men who committed crimes when they are young…now they languish in prison.

So Age has its perspective

And Mood has its perspective…these moods shifts tend to be quicker than age shifts…but they are profound.

It is amazing and even scary how we can see the world one way and then a few days or even hours later in an entirely different way…could be a caffeine change, a change in weather, or a single encouraging or discouraging conversation.

The world was terrible the world is wonderful.

I love this job. I hate this job.

Then there are…Situational perspectives…the Germans even have a word for it: sitzenbleiben. (sitz en bly ben) or life setting.

My life setting right now determines my perspective…job, family, health, location, climate, politics…whatever.

Someone in a war zone or in hospital or any number of situations sees the world one way and they are likely to see it another when they are no longer in that situation.

Cultural as a whole shifts its perspective dramatically on what is real and valuable, true and untrue…what is the good life and how do I get there.

I don’t know how can anyone read history…ancient or even recent history and put confidence in what current culture says about the “good life.”

We desperate need a Fixed point of reference…not dependent on moods, situations, age, culture.

That is exactly what we have in Scripture.

“When we want to be something other than the thing God wants us to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy. Those Divine demands which sound to our natural ears most like those of a despot and least like those of a lover, in fact marshal us where we should want to go if we knew what we wanted.” Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Pay attention to what God has said…let it set the course of your life…it is a fixed point of reference for what happiness, or the thriving life looks like.

  1. Living in line with this fixed point of reference directly impacts all relationships now…God, self, others.

We are warned in Scripture about the cost of making idols of God’s gifts…health, life, liberty, relationships, pleasures, happiness.

These gifts of God should bring out our gratitude but they cannot sustain our worship.

God’s gifts make terrible gods in and of themselves.

So imagine…how setting your life course based on a fixed point of reference (God’s word) can empower gratitude for the gifts of God without turning those gifts into our life purpose.

If physical pleasure is present then we are grateful for it…if it is not, we are not desperate for it.

It cannot become our greatest good.

When pleasure or pain avoidance are pursued as the ultimate life goals…we become foolish and as perspectives shift over time we will come to have great regret.

I know a person whose perspective in a certain life setting led to a choice that made sense to them, then…now in another time, place, age…that perspective appears utterly foolish…and the choice made during that time has proven costly.

The way you relate to God, yourself, and others…must be based on the fixed foundation of God’s word…it is not fickle and will not leave you with regrets.

By God’s commands (the Psalmist said) is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

You don’t have to obey moods, passions, shifting cultural messages…you don’t have to make regretful choices as a young person…you can run with confidence a consistent direction.

Let’s Finish with what for me has been a helpful mental hook:

-Letting God’s word…not shifting trends and moods and feelings determine our perspective..

Neck break beach:

Riding the wave vs. being crushed by it

“taking thoughts captive”

7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

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