I will make this a short post, as I know everyone is busy, and time is limited to a few sound bites and perhaps several interesting quotes to carry us through the day.
Think about this for a minute: The universe is 13.7 billion years old. A light-year is the distance light travels in a single year, which is 6 trillion miles (9.5 trillion kilometers). This translates to a speed of 186,000 miles (300,000 kilometers) a second. The universe is 93 billion light-years in diameter and always expanding.
We live on Earth, third planet from a star called the Sun, in the Orion Arm, one of the spirals in the Milky Way galaxy. There are 100 billion stars in our galaxy, each of which may have planets of their own.
About 3 trillion galaxies populate the universe.
Each of us is one of 7 billion people who live here on this tiny planet.
Now I ask you this: Is it possible we are wrong to think God, the one who created the heavens and the earth, made a mistake when he sent Jesus to die for our sins?
After all, who are we who live on this insignificant planet called Earth, among the 100 billion planets in our galaxy, among the 3 trillion galaxies in the universe, that God should so love us in such a way as to sacrifice his only son so that we could share in the inheritance of all things?
It sounds crazy!
And yet, that is exactly what God has planned for every person who believes Jesus is his son. He wants us to inherit the universe and everything in it, just as it says in Romans 8:32: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (KJV)
So today, as we make our way through the events that shape our lives, let us consider God’s view on this: We may be one of 7 billion who live here, but his plan is to give us all things according to his promises and his love for us.
If that is not something that brings gladness to your heart, then look toward the night sky for your inheritance.
What is happiness? Is happiness attainable? Is it something I can give to someone else? In other words, can I make someone else happy? Or, do I need something—whatever it is—to make me happy?
These questions I will try to answer with this short article about being happy with what you have.
1. Throw Away Envy and Ambition
Remember how you felt when you received that shiny new phone for Christmas? You had resolved that nothing in the world could ever take away your happiness.
That is, until you saw someone else using the upgraded version. Now, you want one, too.
Envy and jealousy are like poison to happiness. No matter what, someone will always have it better.
The best way to fight the urge to compare oneself with another is to take life one day at a time. Satisfaction comes from realizing today’s problems and successes are for today. As the cliché goes, tomorrow is another day—another day to fail, another day to succeed.
As I believe Jesus is the son of God, I also look to the bible for wisdom. James 3:16 says, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” NIV.
There is nothing wrong with planning. Wise stewards plan. But if planning leads to wanting to be better than others, then there will be no happiness.
Throw away envy and ambition and allow happiness to flood your heart and your mind.
2. Stop Humanizing God
There was a time in my life that I used to think God did not know what he was doing. I saw all the misery around the world, the pain people suffered and I did not believe God could ever fix this mess.
It was too great, even for him.
Thinking that way led me to invalidate God and ask that if he could not fix the world, how could he fix me? In a sense, I humanized God.
Making God equal with me made the thought of his inaction bearable.
I was wrong. Once I began to know God and to learn why he did the things he did, by reading his word, praying, going to church, I learned about real happiness.
I learned God does things in his own time. He allows things to happen because it suits his plan. I may not understand it all, but I know his decisions will make sense to me eventually.
Having the faith that God will work things for the best is my reassurance he loves me and is greater than me or anyone else. I may be a sinner, I may stumble and fall, but he will never leave me. He has never left me, nor will he ever.
That reassurance is another layer to my happiness.
3. Be Grateful
Have you ever exercised and found yourself exhausted to the point that you would give anything for a glass of water? Think about how it felt when you finally took that first gulp.
Satisfying. Thirst-quenching. Happiness.
For a single moment in time, nothing else really mattered. The neighbors could have been bickering, your car payment could have been late and your dog could have suddenly developed a case of worms.
But, for that moment—you were grateful.
Imagine carrying that grateful feeling throughout the day—all the time.
You would not complain about the noisy passenger on the train next to you. You would give food to the homeless sitting at the street corner. You would forgive those who had done you wrong.
Your life, as you know it, would change all because you were grateful with what you had.
You would not worry about money. You would not worry about peace. You would not worry about anything, really
When you are grateful, everything else falls into place.
When you are grateful—there is no reason to be unhappy.
What does unconditional love mean? How does it apply to those people who have harmed us? We could easily dismiss them and move forward. That is a realistic choice.
But how different would that make us from everyone else?
Would it not be more constructive to love our enemies in spite of their hatred toward us.
The high road is a far better road on which to travel.
Of course, we could never reach this decision without some help.
I recently read in the bible a reminder of what it means to love unconditionally.
Matthew 22:37-39 says, “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (NIV).
To love God—to really love God—means to do his will. His will is for us to worship him with joy and gladness in our heart.
And why not?
He sustains all things, great and small. His power infuses life in the largest of galaxies to the tiniest of particles. He set laws in motion for us to experience the wildest of sunsets to the most incredible of sunrises. His hand glides over the oceans imbuing his strength to the deep, so as we may marvel at his glorious handiwork.
When I kneel before him, I give him praise for his wonderful majesty over my life.
I would not be breathing, if it were not for him.
I learned unconditional love by his love for me. I did not ask God to love me. He does it because that is who he is.
God is love.
Once I learned that, loving others came easy.
Oh, what a world it would be if there were no more wars. Oh, what a life it would be if we could only resolve hatred in our hearts instead of on the battlefield.
When we reach that point in our lives that it makes more sense to allow God to work in us than to take matters into our own hands, that is when we finally allow love to work his will in our relationships.
God is love.
If God lives in us, it is easy to let a slight pass. It is easy to say to those emboldened to offend us, “I forgive you.” It is easy to see the other person’s point of view. It is easy to understand their actions. It is easy to fall asleep at night and not hold on to things for the next day. It is easy to make amends with those who do not want to make amends.
It is easy because unconditional love does not hurt, destroy, ridicule, hate, put down, torment, or devastate.
I would like to take a few minutes to talk about something that has been a weight on my heart for quite some time. Many of you may want to skim through this post to get to the point, but I know that if you read every word and listen to what I have to say, God will truly bless you.
This year has been good to me. I found God again, I returned to church, and I have a whole new set of people of whom I now count as my friends. I have learned all about forgiveness, love and joy beyond that which is superficial. I am also able to worship God with arms spread wide toward the heavens, much as I have read David had done countless occasions when he praised God.
Consequently, I have also made changes in my life that I could not have made had I not received the Holy Spirit earlier this fall to help me with my daily walk with the most high God.
Now, it may seem obvious that I would want to talk about how God has changed my life, given how I used to write about horror and all its variations, however, at this time, I do not feel God is leading me to do that. I am sure there will be a period in my life when I will have the opportunity to talk all about my change from being self-centered to thinking about others. I just feel now is not that time.
Therefore, if I am not going to talk about what is on everyone’s mind, why even write this post at all?
A Calling from God
With the Holy Spirit leading me, I believe God has a plan for each person reading this post today. He has never been shy to reveal to me what his intentions are concerning my life. Somehow, I believe, some of you need to hear these words. Perhaps he is also revealing to you through me your calling to reach out to him for comfort.
I know life is hard. Life is tough—especially now. For some of you, Christmas is a dark time of year. The lights mask the loneliness you feel when everyone is telling you that you ought to be joyful. Yet, how can you feel joy if nothing exists in your heart but emptiness? Yes, the gifts are aplenty, the food is delicious, and the company you entertain during the holidays may make it seem as if you lead a fulfilling life. Still, the emptiness remains.
Conversely, some of you may not even have enough money to purchase the simple necessities, let alone a gift for someone. Your families may also be broken, which makes getting together a chore, rather than a delight.
God is love (1 John 4:16). He is here for those who are looking for comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-4). He is here to heal the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18). He is here never to let you go. He really, really does love you, in spite of it all. You may feel that you have done the worst thing in the world, but if you come before God and sincerely confess your wrongs, he will forgive you (Acts 2:38). He always does. All he wants is to have a relationship with you.
Forget about not feeling worthy. Forget about the guilt. Allow God to give you wings so that you can fly (Isa. 40:31). Allow his light to flood the darkness and provide you the freedom to escape your troubles (John 8:12).
There is no other God than he (Deut. 4:35). He created the heavens and the earth (Isaiah 42:5). He set the earth on its foundations (Job 38:4-6) and separated the day from the night (Gen. 1:5). He made everything under the sun (Isaiah 44:24) and breathed life into our lungs (Gen. 2:7). He is the awesome God. And his life lives in every one of us who believes (John 3:16). His mercy is just and his righteousness endures forever (Ps. 111:2-3).
In the good and the bad, all glory goes to God.
Somehow, and you know who you are, you needed to hear this.
When I set out to read the bible from cover to cover last year, I did not know I would be in for a few surprises.
For instance, I had no idea that Job lived before Abraham, in spite of the fact that the Book of Job is located several hundred pages after Genesis. In addition, it was a revelation to me that after the flood, God declared that all animals would fear humans (Gen. 9:2 ESV throughout). And the thought that an honorable man such as Jabez, whose name meant “man of sorrow” or “borne out of pain”, had two verses written about him to demonstrate God’s blessings over his life (1 Chr. 4:9-10), left me wondering what else in the bible have I yet to discover?
The reading plan I used to accomplish this feat is part of the Olive Tree Bible Study app, which resides on my phone and on my tablet. I simply chose a chronological reading plan that consisted of the English Standard Version (ESV). When I travelled, I read it on my phone, sync’d it with my Olive Tree account, then, when I returned home, I picked it up from where I left off on my tablet. Even today, it makes for a seamless experience.
Choosing to read the bible chronologically has its advantages, too. I gained an incredible amount of insight into historical events when reading about the same story through two different accounts. I did not have to understand why certain things happened the way they did because the context remained the same throughout. The chronological reading plan is especially helpful when working through the Books of Kings and the Books of Chronicles, as the reign of kings can be quite confusing when studying it in a non-linear fashion.
All history aside, though, my favorite part of the bible is the gospels. In the gospels Jesus talks about how to get along with others (Mat. 5:43-48), how to have a relationship with God (Mat. 6:5-15), and what the ultimate goal for believers should be (Mat. 6:19-21).
And, of course, one of my favorite verses I cling to comes from the gospels:
“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).
In its basic form, it means that whatever I give is what comes back to me. I can attest that this principle works every single time I use it—and it does not apply to money only.
Anyway, I learned all these things in my first year reading the bible from cover to cover. I am hoping after having read the New International Version (NIV) this year, I will have something more to say about the experience.
In the meantime, I will quote this verse as my last thought for this post: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10).
“I am worried. I do not know what to do. I have made mistakes and I do not know if those mistakes will come back to shorten my days. The future seems dark, the present seems long, and I do not want to remember what happened in the past, as it makes me think of the wretched life I led.”
Or so I used to think.
When I was unrighteous, my insecurities swelled with boasting—boasting of my talents, boasting of how I lived my life, and boasting of my successes. In reality, I was missing something. I did not know what that something was until I discovered it with new eyes (Acts 9:18 ESV throughout). Even more so, I was not searching for anything. Instead, it appeared as a blip on my spiritual radar that would light up occasionally to tell me it was there, getting closer to the center, and me not doing anything about it.
Only, what I thought was my center was nothing more than sin living in me (Rom. 7:17 NIV).
Over the past several months, I have gone through a transformation. I wrote about this transformation and the things that I have learned in my previous post Forgiveness. In short, I wrote about reconciliation and letting go of grievances in order to move forward to becoming a new person in Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV). I also learned God has played a bigger role in my life more than what I was expecting. I found evidence of a deeper theme running through my years that, although I was not aware of it, came in the form of a realization.
This post is about that realization.
The Verse That Changed My Life
Those unfamiliar with the Holy Bible, the book of Matthew, chapters 5-7 is where Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount, teaching his disciples about God’s blessings on the humble and the peacemakers, instructing them on how to overcome anxiety, and encouraging them to set aside treasures in heaven. As God was leading me into a new walk with him (Mic. 6:6-8 NIV), the one scripture that kept appearing everywhere throughout this period came from Jesus sitting on the Mount,
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mat. 6:33).
Do Not Be Anxious
Learning about the concept of “and all these things will be added to you” required me to not only search, but after having found it, to read the entire passage in context beginning from (Mat. 6:25), “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” The anxiety one feels striving after food, drink and clothing also extends to attaining lodging and all the other necessities this life has to offer. In other words, Jesus says I should not worry about all that. Verse 26 explains why, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” He goes on to explain that Solomon, King of Israel, once the richest and wisest man in the world, could not compare his array of royal garments to the attire with which God clothes the lilies of the field.
When I think about it, there really is no need to hold on to that sinking feeling of uneasiness regarding tomorrow because God has it all figured out today. If he can look after flowers and animals, which are of lesser value than I am, who is to say God will not take care of my needs? Did he not create me out of the dust of the ground, shape me into his image, and breathe into me the breath of life making me into a living soul? Has he not given me dominion over all things under the heavens and in the sea below? Was it not he who forged the universe and everything in it promising it as an inheritance to all who believe in his son for generations to come?
If he could do all that, he can certainly look after my needs and me. Nothing is impossible for God (Mat. 19:26). Jesus even emphasizes this point when he concludes his teaching by stating, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mat. 6:34).
To understand Jesus’ intentions when he came to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, I had to define what the kingdom of God was. To do that, I dedicated last year to accomplish one of my life goals—to read the bible from cover to cover. I reasoned that if I needed to understand God’s will, I had to understand his word.
Much to my astonishment, I am reading the bible again this year for the shear pleasure of it.
The Kingdom of God
During one of my study sessions, the very first verse I came across regarding God’s kingdom I found in the Lord’s Prayer, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’” (Mat. 6:9-10). Above all things, Jesus wanted God’s kingdom to come on this earth and taught his disciples to desire likewise. And why not? Part of his mission was to proclaim the kingdom of God to the entire world, as described in the gospel of Luke, “And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose’” (Luke 4:42-43).
Aside from being the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world (John 1:29), Jesus also taught others to seek the kingdom of God. However, he preached his message in such a unique way that the people at that time sought him from all the ends of Judea and Galilee. Only, his method of delivering his message was not for preaching the kingdom of God to everyone but to a select few, “And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven’” (Mark 4:10-12).
As strange as it sounds, Jesus taught in parables not to make things clearer, but to hide the true meaning of God’s kingdom. Odd, is it not? Why would Jesus do that? Why would he want to hide the true meaning of the kingdom of God? Was it not his mission to save everyone from his or her sins?
Surprisingly—for that time—no.
Jesus was the sower planting the seeds, and it was his disciples who would reap the harvest (Luke 10:2), in terms of the new church he was building (Mat. 16:18-19). The book of Acts reveals the actual growth that took place once Jesus had ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit for all those who hungered for the kingdom of God, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).
Over the course of his ministry, Jesus likened the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, yet, once fully grown, provides a shade for which birds can build their nests (Mark 4:30-32). Said differently, Jesus emphasized how his ministry, proclaiming the kingdom of God, which started humbly soon after the arrest of John the Baptist (Mat. 4:12-17), would one day flourish to engulf the entire world, as written in Revelation 22:1-5, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
Being a believer to me means looking forward to the time when God will reign over all things with power and great glory, and his kingdom, of which Jesus proclaimed there would be no end.
Yet, the kingdom of God is only one-half of what I should be seeking.
Getting back to the last part of (Mat. 6:33), where Jesus stated “and all these things will be added to you,” I desired never to worry about food, drink, or clothing ever again. Instead, I concentrated my efforts on God’s will.
His will for me was to seek his kingdom. His will also was for me to seek his righteousness.
Of course, what I did not know was how to define God’s righteousness. In my mind, righteousness had to do with integrity, morality, and walking upright in the face of adversity. However, those were just words according to my own opinion. Anyone, really, could have an opinion as to what God’s righteousness is. What I wanted to know, though, was God’s definition of righteousness. At any time, had he made a clear statement about it? If so, where could I find it? Was it something complicated I could not understand on my own? Or was it as simple as reading a single passage?
Psalms 143:1-2 came to mind, where it talks about God being righteous. However, there is more to it than that. It says, “Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.”
When I first read this, I wondered if I even had a chance to understand God. If no one is righteous, what is it to say that I can seek his righteousness in order for him to bestow me all things? I had to know more. It could not simply end there.
And it does not end there. The apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans as a means to address the necessity for justification through faith due to sin, as he wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:16-17).
Paul was saying faith gives life to the righteous. Without faith, the righteous could not understand God because faith reveals God’s righteousness. To put it another way, faith is my lifeblood. Faith is the means by which I will know God. Hebrews 11 demonstrates that throughout the generations great biblical figures have accomplished incredible things, not from anything other than by faith.
Therefore, as Paul stated later in Romans 6:1-11, death does not have dominion over me because I have died to sin and am now alive through faith in Jesus. Verses 12-14 says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
It took me a long time to figure out what Paul meant because I thought through grace I was free to do whatever I wanted, including sinning without penalty. But Paul was not condoning that idea at all. On the contrary, I became aware of sin through the knowledge of the law (Rom. 3:10-20). Without the law, I would not have known what sin was. Additionally, when sin is no longer the chain that holds me in bondage, I am free to act as God’s instrument for righteousness.
Who Are the Righteous?
Throughout these studies, though, the question that kept resurfacing was, “Who are the righteous?” If Psalms 143:2 declares that no one is righteous, and in Romans 3:10, Paul agrees, then why does Jesus say, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mat. 9:13)?
The bible is replete with verses pointing to the righteous as those whom God will show favor.
For instance, Abraham attempted to intercede on Sodom’s behalf asking God if he would punish the righteous along with the wicked for the city’s iniquities (Gen. 18:23). And after Solomon built the temple of the Lord, he presented a prayer of dedication to God expressing his desire for God to condemn the guilty all the while rewarding the righteous according to their righteousness (1 Kings 8:32). And the prophet Isaiah foretold of God’s judgement on Judah and Jerusalem assuring the righteous the protections afforded to them by the Creator of all things (Isa. 3:9-10).
Nevertheless, the question remains: Who are the righteous?
The apostle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved and whom Jesus gave charge over his mother while hanging on the cross (John 19:26-27), wrote his first epistle to the church in Asia Minor (now Turkey) instructing believers there to remain faithful to the truth. In (1 John 1:5-6), he wrote, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Later in verse 9, he said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Now, for a long time I had to think through that idea because I had the notion I was unrighteous. I thought my sins would always keep me separated from God. Yet, what John was saying is God will purify me and make me righteous.
John brings the message home in 1 John 3:7, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” And to ensure it is God’s righteousness of which he is referring, John explains it clearly this way, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (v. 8-10).
I cannot describe how incredible a truth (1 John 3:7) is. I will repeat it once again, “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.”
Which brings me to the realization I spoke about earlier.
The Wow Moment
Jesus gave his life as a ransom for sinners (Mark 10:45). He was perfect in every way, without blemish (1 Pet. 1:18-19). He was righteous. To think I could measure up to Jesus’ stature is unthinkable. Still, the scriptures are clear. If I practice righteousness, I am righteous, as he is righteous—not only I—but also everyone who repents, accepts him as savior, and sins no more.
No other truth comes close to understanding God’s love than for him to have given his only begotten son, Jesus, as a sacrifice for the sins of the many so that I and everyone else can live a true life in righteousness.
And that, dear friends, is a wow moment!
I learned this over the course of several months, but not after a lifetime of doing things the wrong way. I still find it difficult to imagine that I had no clue who God was.
Yet, he was there for me. He never left me. He simply waited—waited for me to catch up while he did a great work (Deut. 11:7).
At this very moment, I feel privileged, not in the sense of what I own, but in the sense of who is now in my life. I have felt this way ever since deciding in the spring that, after a twenty-year absence, I belonged back in church.
Now, the funny part about it all is that my wife, Luana, had never stopped attending. In fact, not so long ago, she was going to a revival church one week and a fundamental church the other. Given my skeptical mindset at the time, it made for some interesting comic fodder. I could not pass up the opportunity to razz her about the obvious inconsistency with believing two sets of doctrine. After all, both churches could not be right about salvation, I thought!
However, God was performing a great work with my life. All I had to do was to be patient.
Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27 ESV).
Through my church, I have learned to be patient and listen to what God has to say (James 5:7). I have learned what true peace means (Rom. 15:13) and I have grown to understand where I fit in the grand scheme of God’s plan (Mat. 5:9).
I have repented (Acts 3:19). I have forgiven (Mat 6:14). Above all else, I have taken into me God’s spirit to become a new man in Christ, of which would not have been possible had God not called me to be a partaker of his plan (Acts 2:38).
With that in mind, I extend blessings to all my readers so as you may also find peace.