Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Beware of those dogs!

Chris Gardner spent much of his adult life in search of all the world promises in the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness.”  He was a door-to-door salesman before he finally convinced someone in the world of finance to give him a chance.

The day of his interview, he has to run from the police station in those duds and then try to make an impression to land a job.  While he looked horrible, he was convincing enough to get an opportunity at what he believed would lead to happiness.  Gardner wound up being highly successful and achieved more worldly success than most of us could ever dream of in this movie, which was actually a true story.

Many of us understand his pursuit and can relate to it at least on some level, can’t we?  As 21st century Americans one of our greatest desires is to be happy, isn’t it?  A big part of my life’s story involves that pursuit. First it was athletic success, then it became working my tail off to achieve this or to have that – to be, well, happy!

For some, the cost for this quote-unquote happiness is very high!  As defined by the world, happiness means slaving away to amass a fortune, or to be able to buy the boat, the nice car, or to dine in fancy restaurants.  In Rock Valley, it is even defined by a sign that gets stuck up nearly every winter that has Charlie Brown and Snoopy on it.  The sign reads:  “Happiness is a trip to State.” 

What does happiness look like for you? 

Merriam-Webster defines happiness like this:  “enjoying or characterized by well-being and contentment.”

That sounds nice, doesn’t it? But do you know anyone who lives in the pursuit of happiness who is truly content?  Doesn’t the pursuit continue because we are not content, or because we don’t take time to be content with what we have…or where we are…or to be content with what we are doing?

As I ponder this pursuit it makes we wonder a number of things, including: where do we – if we are people pursuing happiness – turn when we are not well, our circumstances are terrible and/or we can’t seem to find contentment?  What then?  Where do we turn then?
You see, happiness as defined by the world is characterized by well-being, which often translates into having.  What happens when the economy turns sour as it has? Where have you turned?  Do we turn to the government to bail us out?  Do we turn to things that make us feel better in the short term – thinks like overeating, drinking, laying around being lazy?

What happens when hope is lost and we get that cancer diagnosis?  It would be pretty tough to be happy in those circumstances, wouldn’t it? I would think so, given the fact that living with cancer is hardly characterized by well-being and contentment!

What would happen if we lost an athletic event that we believe could define us?  If happiness and our lives are wrapped up in a game, and we lose?  What then?

In a search through the concordance in the back of my NIV Study Bible, I found 32 instances of the word happy or happiness mentioned in the scriptures.  Not bad, huh?  Nearly three dozen instances where the notion of being happy or happiness is mentioned?

No, not bad - until you consider that scripture references the word joy or joyful 234 times!!!!!  With the definition of the word happiness being so atypical of “the world,” wouldn’t it make sense that God has a greater desire for our lives?

Hear these words from Philippians 3:1-8 – “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!  It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 
“Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.  For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reasons for such confidence. 
“If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more; circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church, as for legalistic, righteousness, faultless.
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”

I love Paul!  He cuts right to it in his letter to the Philippians.

First, Paul exhorts the readers of this letter to “rejoice in the Lord.”  I would think that would always be a good idea.

Then he says, “Beware of them dawgs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.”  Them’s fighting words in those days because many provided aggressive opposition to the gospel Paul preached, so he takes them head on here with regard to the seriousness of their errors and their destructive, ‘devouring’ behaviors.

Them dawgs might be people who lead us astray, who are leading us away from Jesus.  Them dawgs might be things that lead us astray, too like alcohol, television, shopping, eating, gossiping, athletic achievement, or whatever else  “mutilates the flesh” and pulls us away from a posture of rejoicing in the Lord.

Paul understands these things and that is why he warns the church in Philippi to watch out.  He has been there and done that, he tells them.  Once a Hebrew of Hebrews, once a Pharisee with regard to the law, once a preeminent persecutor of the church and murderer, he was also about the world and what satisfied his own desires – what made him happy.

Not that I have already attained all this, but I can say the same thing.  Been there and done that.  Them dawgs controlled much of my life, they were where I ran when things weren’t going my way – when I wasn’t happy.  Anything to relieve the pain, frustration, irritation, lowly feelings – them dawgs were constantly nipping at my heels.

But in verses seven and eight, Paul explains life after an encounter with Jesus – his encounter with Jesus.

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”

Those things that used to make Paul happy he considers rubbish – garbage – compared to the joy found in knowing Jesus Christ!  Compared to the joy that accompanies the saving grace of Jesus.

Several passages in the gospel of John connect this thought.

Hear these words from John 15:11 – “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

John 16:22 says – “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

The word joy, in the original Greek, was Chara:  the joy received from you; or the cause or occasion of joy.

Webster defines joy as a “source or cause of delight.”

The verses from the gospel are Jesus’ words to his disciples.  They are intended to help us understand that the way of Jesus is never dreary or bland – that knowing him more and more will complete their joy – it’s a joy that cannot be removed by the assaults of this world – by them dawgs!

Tom shared with us the thought of living in two worlds last week, giving us great examples of what that looked like in the lives of the two couples he shared with us, particularly the two men – Harold and Michael. 

If you are like me, maybe you find yourself living in two worlds.  Perhaps it’s all the time, a continual wrestling match with trying to be happy in the world while also going to church.  Perhaps this issue of happiness – and the burden that accompanies that pursuit – is becoming more fleeting for you and you are beginning to understand joy and to seek it more and more.

I don’t know where you are today, and I don’t know where your heart is, either.  The fact of the matter is that there are two worlds in which we live and move and breathe.  One is of this world, the other is not.

One is the pursuit of happiness, the other the pursuit of Jesus and the joy that comes from an increasing understanding of who he is, how much he loves us and just exactly what it is that he did for us, and wants for us.

One world consists of all of them dawgs nipping away with nowhere to turn.  The other exists with hope and a place to turn that will never leave us nor forsake us, even when them dawgs are nipping at our heels.

Paul was forever encouraging the churches whom he wrote to be joyful.  In Romans 12:12 we read:  “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.”  I Thessalonians 5:16 says:  “Be joyful always.”

How do we do that, we ask?  These two worlds we live in are different worlds, and their focus is different.  The pursuit of happyness is about who, usually?  Me!

The pursuit of Jesus and being like him is focused on JOY – Jesus first, Others next and Yourself last!  The greatest way to live a life of joy is to try to live like this, I would imagine.  “Wouldn’t you?

Jesus first, others next and yourselves last!

But, how do we do that?

1.)  Open the Word and learn about Jesus.  Discover who he is, what he lived for and everything that he encompasses.
2.)  Pray.  Talk to God regularly, ask him to take away your desires for happiness, to help you rid yourself of them dawgs, to give you a desire to read the Bible, and so on.
3.)  Serve others and do things for others just as He did.

I trust that if we live a life of JOY, that we might be able to take some of the bite out of them dawgs and that our joy may be made complete!

 “May the god of hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  - Romans 15:13  


janelle said...


Great post my framily man. Good to hear from you again.

Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus said...

In the news biz, we say that when dog bites man, it isn't news. But when man bites dog, THAT's news. I'm going after some dawgs in my life, and I plan to take a bite out of them. And I'm gonna make some "news" for Jesus. Spreading the Good News, that is ...

Great, great post, Chris. Love how you pointed out the differences between joy and happiness.

sanjeet said...

Great post my framily man. Good to hear from you again.

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