I wonder…

I wonder...

If I lived my entire life only to find out that Jesus wasn’t who He claimed to be, would I be thankful for my choice to follow Him? No question…

If you lived your entire life and found out Jesus actually WAS who He claimed to be, would you be thankful for your choice NOT to follow Him?

Don’t I have the right to be happy?

Don't I have the right to be happy?

I couldn’t help but notice her sitting on the couch, continually shifting from side to side with a look on her face that simply said, “I really can’t stand my life…”

It’s ironic because she actually has a pretty good life. She makes a more than decent living, drives a gorgeous European sports car and seems to have a very solid relationship with God;  the quintessential recipe that most of us are looking for in life. And the vast majority of people that look at her would say, “She’s got it made.” But why does she see it so differently?

I’ve been on a journey over the past ten years and have come to realize that there is a distinct difference between happiness and joy. The girl I’m referring to above is a real person. She’s also a really wonderful person that certainly has her moments of joy. But she lives most of her life chasing happiness; like a dog chasing its tail, never able to find the satisfaction of a catch.

So you might be asking, what is happiness? What is joy? And what makes them so unique? Great questions…

Happiness can be best defined when put into the context of your environment.

I’m happy because…

~ I’m finally getting to go to Disneyland.
~ I just got the new car of my dreams.
~ I received that promotion I’ve always wanted.
~ My kid has finally gotten his act together.
~ My husband is treating me like he should.

Every one of those statements of happiness are defined by an environmental impact. “A” happened, therefore I’m happy! The problem with this type of happiness is that it’s fleeting and it can never be sustained.

~ You’ll show up to Disneyland and your two favorite rides will be closed.
~ That new car smell will fade and you’ll find a lovely new dent in the side of the door.
~ That new job will get old and the next promotion will be in your sights.
~ Your kid will fail again…and again…and again…
~ Your husband will prove to be human and slip back into his old, uncaring ways.

Happiness is elusive! It can never be satisfied and it’s always contingent on our circumstances. But what if there was a better way? What if you and I could live life outside of our circumstances and live in a state of joy that isn’t dependent on what happens around us?

Friends this can actually happen…

Have you ever met someone that is almost always filled with joy? Search your memory banks for just a moment. Who do you know that always seems to be happy, no matter what’s going on in their life? I can think of several people. Yes, they still have their concerns and their circumstances can still rattle them at times. After all, they are human. But they seem to have this happiness (or joy) that never seems to leave their side. AND YOU WANT IT!!! I do too! I want that happiness (or what I would define as the joy that never seems to empty from the tank). But how do I get it?

Joy isn’t a pursuit, it’s a way of life. Joy doesn’t look around and see what’s going on and then responds. Joy simply IS. But that’s where the mystery comes in. And this is where some of you might part company with my beliefs, my theology.

I have been a follower of Jesus for most of my life. When I wasn’t following Jesus, my life was driven by the winds of this world. If there was a tornado of circumstances blowing in my life, I was a mess. I was scattered. I was tossed around emotionally. If there was a calm, cool breeze in my life (in other words life was pretty good), then I found myself to be in a fairly good state of happiness. Point being, my life was driven by my circumstances.

CS Lewis is probably the most profound post-modern writer on living a life for God. He made a great observation about elusive happiness in his book Mere Christianity.

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”

I love this! He points directly to the fact that we aren’t in a place where we will be completely satisfied. The earth is a bus stop along the way to our final destination. We get off the bus, grab a Starbucks, meet a few people on the street corner, and hopefully get back on the bus and finalize our journey home. And home is heaven.

But along that journey we face the fact that happiness can never be quenched. Our life must be dependent on something entirely different than fleeting happiness and that’s where joy comes in.

Joy IS. And it’s dependent on one thing and one thing only, our relationship with God. And that’s really the first step to true joy. But you might be asking, Jon, I’m a follower of Jesus and I’m STILL not filled with joy, why?

The answer may be difficult to understand. Earlier I had mentioned that we all know people that seem to always be content. In almost every case for me, those people are followers of Jesus. Yes, I know some non-Christians that seem to be happy, but the happiness I see in them seems much shallower and dependent on their circumstances than it does with those I know that follow Jesus. But Jesus isn’t a magic pill, He’s a way of life.

The bible talks quite a bit about joy. First and foremost, the bible says that joy is a “fruit of the Spirit.” What that means is that ONLY a follower of Jesus can produce true joy. If real joy only comes by way of the Spirit, then the Spirit must be within me in order for that joy to take hold of my life. But being a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean we always live in the Spirit.

The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5:16a, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives…”

If Paul is instructing us to “let the Spirit guide our lives,” that means we actually have a choice in NOT allowing the Spirit to guide our lives. We can be a follower of Jesus, but not live in the Spirit of God. And what happens when we don’t live in the Spirit? We live in the flesh.

Living in the flesh simply means living our lives selfishly and in a worldly manner. We are driven by what feels good and what makes us “happy.” Living in the Spirit is much different. We are living for God and for what makes Him pleased.

When we are living in the Spirit, our lives are consumed with loving God and putting others first in our life. We are living to ultimately love others in a manner that Jesus has called us to. And friends, when we live this way, WE FIND JOY!

Do you remember the girl I referred to in the beginning of this blog? She would be the first to admit that she wants something more. And the amazing thing is that she’s beginning to find it. Sure, it’s still a struggle. She finds life to be very difficult sometimes, but she’s beginning to loosen her grip on happiness and allow joy to fill her spirit. And as she serves her friends and her family, and allows God to crowd her heart, you can see a real change. Her smile comes from a deeper well that’s filled with living water. A water that can never be emptied.

So, do you want to live with Joy? Do you want to experience life where you get a “glimpse” of heaven and experience a resident sense of fulfillment and “Joy” that can only come from God? Then live for Him! Sacrifice yourself for Him! Make God first in your life and in EVERYTHING you do! Does this mean being perfect? Of course not. But continually pursue loving God with all your heart, soul and mind and love others as you love yourself. If you do these two very simple things, you will find a Joy that you never thought was possible. But yes, it takes work, it takes sacrifice, but you have a God that loves you tremendously and wants you to experience a Joy that only He can give.

I’m convinced that God wants to hurt me. Sometimes I just hate Him!

Businessman waiting with luggage, head in hands

I love stories.  Those that talk straight to the heart. And there’s this rather interesting story of a guy named Joseph found in the very first book of the bible, Genesis. It’s a bit of a lengthy story, so we’ll jump through it quickly as their is an incredible truth waiting for us at the end…

Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, was falsely accused of rape and left in prison for 13 years probably wondering where God was his whole life.  You might wonder where God is too at times…

– Maybe you’ve been looking for the perfect mate only to be let down over and over again…

– Waiting for the “perfect job” and it always seems to slip through your fingers… and it just did again…

– Looking to land that big business deal and it never seems to happen…and you just lost another one…

– You’re having a hard time paying your rent…and you just got served a notice to vacate…

Why do all these terrible things happen?  The bigger questions is this, “Where the heck is God when we cry out to Him over and over and over and over???”

There was a terrible famine in the land and although Joseph was stuck in a very dark place, God still spoke to him.  He was led by God to tell Pharaoh to build storehouses of grain as a great famine was about to hit the region in seven short years.  Because Joseph listened to God and spoke with Pharaoh of the impending doom, Joseph rose to great prominence and became the governor over all of Egypt.

Joseph’s brothers made their way to Egypt as their family was starving due to the famine. They had no idea that their brother Joseph was the head over all of Egypt. As far as they knew, he was dead at this point in time. As they approached the palace, Joseph recognized his brothers and was in absolute anguish over seeing them again. The emotions must have been a roller-coaster ride. Anger, sadness, bitterness, the list is probably endless.  It’s the kind of emotions that tell you what could have been.  Seeing his brothers is like you…

– Looking into the face of the person that just took your job…

– Watching the people move into the home you just foreclosed on…

– Seeing the drunk driver that killed your son having coffee with a friend and laughing away as if nothing ever happened…

They are painful reminders that never seem to take the edge off , much less deal a death blow to our hurtful circumstances.  None the less, we are left holding this bitter luggage of pain and emptiness wondering where God is and why He’s completely abandoned us.  But the story goes on…

Joseph was ultimately able to free his family from the famine and reconcile their broken relationship, but it came at a cost.  The cost of realizing something that most of us don’t like to face.  Let’s see what happened in the end.

“But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.” ~Genesis 45:5-8

Is that not crazy?  God sent him to the prison.  God allowed him to be falsely accused.  God let him suffer for 13 years before giving him any sort of hope for a future.  And yes, God ordained Joseph’s entire life for the sole purpose of saving the family line of Abraham.

Friends, God has some great plans for you and I, but in our shortsightedness and frankly our downright selfishness, we often pass over the great blessings headed our way because we’re stuck in believing that where we are at is exactly where God had planned for us to be.  Let me say that in another way.  Your current situation may be exactly what God intended for your life.  Think deeply about that for a moment.

Where are you at right now?  What struggles or difficulties are you in the midst of at this very moment?  Are you willing to endure patiently for 13 years and serve God faithfully even if your pain increases?

Those are tough questions and a tall order to follow.  Sounds to me like what it might look like to “take up your cross.”

Be patient friends.  Allow God to be God in your situation.  Look eternally at things, not temporally.  God might just be waiting for you to wait on Him.  He’s got incredible plans and, He loves you…

Survived by his 15-year-old daughter, Meadow…

Survived by his 15-year-old daughter, Meadow...

It happens so fast. One day we’re here, the next day, gone. Yesterday afternoon, Paul Walker, Fast & Furious Star, walked through the doorway of death. The same passage we will all trek through one day. And Paul’s little girl Meadow? Ugh… My heart just breaks for her. I pray God comforts her broken heart. But forgive me for being a bit morbid, it just got me thinking…

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Life is short” a thousand times. But how many of us just sit on that phrase and ruminate on the consequences? Probably not many. Seriously, who likes to think about death anyways? I do…

To me, death is a doorway to another life. To others it’s just the end. Maybe they’re cynical and maybe I’m just a dreamer; (I hope not). We all have our take on the afterlife, but most people don’t like to think about it. And probably for good reason. I’ve heard comments like:

“I just want to live for today, forget about that whole death thing…”

“I don’t know and I don’t care…”

“I hate thinking about death, can we talk about something else?”

“Buzz Kill!!!”

Okay, I get it. Death isn’t a fun subject. And I really don’t mean to be a downer here, but it’s something we all need to think about. Some of us have kids, spouses, family members and friends that have a vested interest in our lives. I see two sides to this equation…

1. Where are we going to spend our eternity?

2. How am I spending my time on this planet?

Hang with me for a minute here, I’m not going to preach to you about your need for Jesus. I’ll let God handle that department…

It’s the second point that’s got my mind stirring today. Right now, my wife is sleeping about 9 feet away from where I’m sitting. She matters to me… My kids are all between 20 feet and several miles from me. They matter too… And the way I live my life TODAY greatly impacts their lives tomorrow. I want to be a good man to them. I want their lives to be rich with faith, hope and love. And I have an opportunity to give that to them. But so do you. You also have a unique opportunity to impact your family and friends as well…

Who’s important in your life? Maybe your mom, an uncle or niece, possibly a best friend or cousin? Who’s important to you? Do you live your life in a way that enriches their life? Do they KNOW (without any doubt in the world) how important they are to you? I know I want my family to know, because they ARE important to me.

As we close out this Thanksgiving weekend, I have a lot to be thankful for. I also have a lot to work on. I’m a selfish (you know what) and life is short. The reality is I may only have 5 more minutes to show my loved ones just how dear they are to me.

Friends, take a moment to reflect on your life. It may end sooner than you think. Grab every moment and make them count. Show your love by living a life of sacrifice and purpose. Don’t let it slip away, It’s just too important…

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go downstairs and clean the kitchen for my wife. She’s my rock star and I don’t want to waste even one second in showing her just how much she means to me…

“I’m addicted to booze, sex and drugs…”

I was in a men’s small group at church this past Tuesday night. The teacher had just given a very strong exhortation on being “real” with one another, especially as church leaders. At the end of his ever-so-eloquent sermon, I found myself shifting in my seat and wrestling deeply in my soul. I needed to be real.

Earlier in the week I had found myself caught in a sin, a lie and then a cover-up (I know, I felt like a politician). But the fact remained that I had a clear choice to make, right then, right there. I can either experience freedom and wholeness or I can continue to be entangled in shame, anger, frustration and ultimately erode the relationships around me that are most important. I decided to be real.

By the way, it was Mike Tyson that made that incredulous statement in the Irish Daily News, not me. It certainly could have been me. Maybe the words would be a little different (a little), but I certainly could put a bold statement out there that might leave a few people wondering about my welfare… But It’s interesting how we read something like this and immediately go to a place of judgement.

“What’s wrong with that guy?”

“How can he act like that?”

“Sure glad I’m not like him…”

But maybe I am? Or perhaps you are? The real question is this; how honest are you with yourself? How honest are you with what is truly going on in your life? There is a huge difference between what we portray on the outside and what is really taking place in the shadows of our lives.

I’m actually proud of Mike in a way. He’s honest. He’s a mess, for sure, but he’s a breath of fresh air. He’s being real. Real about his struggles, real about his shortcomings. And I see this as an example for you and me. Of course we aren’t to pursue the “Tyson” lifestyle, but we are to live the example of being real. And that’s exactly how he rolls…

Some of us struggle with sex, others with drugs or alcohol, maybe some with shopping or gossip. The fact of the matter is that we all have yucky things going on deep down inside of us that we wish never existed, or at least we could control

I have to tell you though, It’s amazing how the truth completely set me free that night! I experienced love, grace and acceptance by an incredible group of guys who walk the same roads I do. And I love them all for it.

Friends, we are faced with the daily choice to either live a real life or to live in the shadows of shame and guilt. We need the truth! We also need to embrace the freedom that comes from living real. The fruit of living this way is simple, we grow!

So, what are you addicted to? Mike says booze, sex and drugs. I say let’s all be addicted to being real. It’s the only way to freedom…

#realwithourselves #realwithgod #realwithothers #sandalschurch

Why can’t my marriage look like that…

Why can't my marriage look like that...

Have you ever found yourself wondering, “I sure wish my marriage looked like that one…?” You know which ones I’m talking about. It’s the couples that have the “perfect” marriage; pure bliss, 24/7. You never see them fight and they seem to always be happy, holding hands and gleefully skipping across the sidewalk, IMPOSSIBLE! But the fact remains that we have this cavernous envy deep down inside of us all…

But why do we think that way? What’s bubbling up inside of us that ushers in such a comparison, such a deep seated jealousy? Let me suggest that it might have far more to do with you, than it does with your spouse.

My wife loves me very much, and she’s not shy about telling people what a great husband I am. (Sheepish Grin) Now I certainly don’t say that to toot my own horn, I say it for a very good reason. You see, my wife is the most loyal, caring, loving, honest and character driven person I’ve ever known. And because of those incredible qualities, it makes me want to love her all the more. She is a significant reason for the way I treat her, the way I love her. And ultimately, being a great husband has far more to do with her being a great wife, than it does with me being a great husband all on my own.

My wife allows me to walk deep into her soul. She provides me with a continual stream of “I Love You’s,” and she means it! I feel safe with her. I don’t ever wonder about her faithfulness. And consequently, IT MAKES ME WANT TO BE A BETTER HUSBAND.

If I may, allow me ask you a few gut-check questions…
– Does your spouse sense anger or bitterness in you throughout your day?
– Do they feel a sense of safety and trust or are they walking on eggshells around you?
– Are they the object of your affection or do they feel the brunt of your resentments?
– How do they TRULY experience you?

Those aren’t easy questions to answer, especially if (like me) the answer to those questions don’t always turn out so great. But I do have some really great news! Your marriage will become exactly what you put into it. Your marriage can thrive like “those others” if you really want it to. But the fact remains, you have to become a spouse that gives far more than you take.

Be the person you want your spouse to be… One more time, BE THE PERSON YOU WANT YOUR SPOUSE TO BE. Love them equally as much as you love yourself. I promise you that if you give of yourself sacrificially and love your spouse like they are the last person on the planet, you can encounter a marriage that others will look at and say… “I sure wish I had a marriage like theirs…”