Psalm 1 – Choose Real Happiness

The truly happy person
    doesn’t follow wicked advice,
    doesn’t stand on the road of sinners,
    and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.
Instead of doing those things,
    these persons love the Lord’s Instruction,
    and they recite God’s Instruction day and night!
They are like a tree replanted by streams of water,
    which bears fruit at just the right time
    and whose leaves don’t fade.
        Whatever they do succeeds
.

That’s not true for the wicked!
    They are like dust that the wind blows away.
And that’s why the wicked will have no standing in the court of justice—
    neither will sinners
    in the assembly of the righteous.
The Lord is intimately acquainted
    with the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked is destroyed. (Common English Bible)

True happiness happens when we conform to disciplines of a good life and eschew practices that go against the grain of goodness. That statement might be a bit difficult to accept. Frankly, it is for me, and I wrote it.

You see, I’m not much of a conformity sort of guy. I like creatively doing my own thing, man. Bucking the system and questioning the rules is just something I do. Conformity tends to have a negative connotation with me – like a group of unthinking lemmings running off a cliff to their death.

Yet, the truth is that, although there is a wide range of creative choices we have for most everything, we as humans best function and discover happiness when we are in sync with our Creator. So, we can choose to ignore our foundational human hard-wiring, or we can live into it as the unique individuals we are.

Those two ways of shaping our lives are the path of the righteous and the path of the wicked. The way of the righteous leads to human flourishing, relational connection, and a vast spiritual life. Alternatively, the way of the wicked leads to human degeneration, disconnection from others, and spiritual death. It is to be out of sync with who we are as people.

Distinguishing between the righteous and the wicked is not always as easy as it looks. Only at the end of the age, when the Day of Judgment comes, will we know for certain the righteous and the wicked.

The magisterial Reformer of the sixteenth-century, Martin Luther, framed the two opposing ways as the theology of the cross and the theology of glory. The cross of Christ is G-d’s attack on human sin. Through being crucified with Christ, we find the way to human flourishing and life. It is the narrow road of grace.

A theology of glory is seeking to be radically independent – to rely primarily, perhaps even exclusively, on our own laurels and personal way of doing things. Although these might appear to be outwardly fine, they feed and water themselves from a wicked stream, devoid of grace.

Whenever we place our complete trust in self and forsake faith in something or someone outside of ourselves, it is a highway to the grave.

It is far too easy to place faith in our good works and to do good so that others will observe our goodness, rather than doing them out of the good soil of being planted in ancient and wise instruction.

Embracing tried and true practices of righteousness; delighting in G-d’s law; meditating on sound instruction; privately pouring over the large body of wisdom we have available to us; and diligently seeking to put it all into action is the way of good people who shall surely realize human happiness. They will yield gracious fruit. They will know blessing.

Joyful are people of integrity,
    who follow the instructions of the Lord.
Joyful are those who obey his laws
    and search for him with all their hearts.

Psalm 119:1-2, NLT

Serving only to be seen; seeking public accolades and personal recognition as a sole motivator; and disrespecting others to prop up individual respect is the way of the wicked. They don’t bother to consult the ancient ways of happiness. Instead, they pridefully believe they know what is best.

“You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.” (Matthew 23:27-28, MSG)

Abundance, generosity, gentleness, and grace marks the righteous because G-d is abundantly gracious and generous. Jesus is the gentle shepherd who mercifully and lovingly leads anxious sheep to the quiet pastures of settled happiness. Indeed, the Lord watches over the way of the righteous.

Only looking out for number one, stinginess, withholding good, hoarding, and angry criticism identifies the wicked. They have judgment in their future because they add no value to the great needs of humanity. Unhappiness is their lot.

We have choices. We can choose conformity to established patterns of godly instruction and happiness – or we can choose to rely solely on our own ingenuity and/or brawn to eke out a morsel of satisfaction.

Choose wisely, my friends.

O Holy Wisdom, direct us on your path. Make us worthy of your teachings and open our hearts to accept your embrace, that we may serve you in peace and grace. Amen.

1 Corinthians 7:32-40 – Relational Worries

 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better. A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is—and I think that I too have the Spirit of God. (NIV)

Everyone experiences worry and anxiety. It is part of our human condition in this broken world. You may have even woken up this morning with deep furrows of anxiety about the state of your life – and maybe God was lost somewhere in your worry. The Bible addresses worry many times, and the Apostle Paul brings it out here in our New Testament lesson for today.

Throughout the letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul dealt with several issues effecting the life and health of the church. One of the topics of discussion was the prospect of marriage for unmarried persons (sounds like Paul spoke at a lot of college campuses). Paul went back and forth with the people as if he had a daisy in his hand giving a pre-marital counseling illustration of “she loves me, she loves me not” as he pulled petals off the flower.

“We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.”

thomas merton

Paul vacillated between whether to get married or not because of his larger concern about individual and congregational anxiety. The Apostle wanted everyone in the church to be free from worry. This, then, becomes a sage grid from which to make an important life decision: Does being unmarried create worry and anxiety within you, to the point that you cannot think about pleasing God? 

If that is the case, then drop the long engagement and get married, or put yourself out there to connect in a relationship. If being unmarried does not cause one to worry, then Paul would say to stay in your current state and be unconcerned for pursuing a marriage relationship. Instead, use your station in life to serve God freely, liberated from the worry of caring for a spouse.

Pleasing and serving the Lord is Paul’s highest good. If we are in life circumstances which make it difficult for us to serve God, then we ought to work to change the situation so that we can focus better on Christ. This is one of the most simple and wise ways of making decisions for the Christian devoted to Jesus, and discerning God’s will.

Having said that, it is important not to overthink this – because it only adds to the anxiety and really goes nowhere in making sound decisions. When it comes to issues about marriage and relationships, some folks get paralyzed wanting to make the “right” decision, and so, get too scared to even talk about their worry with others. Throw into the mix a possible underlying anxiety about being rejected, and decision-making can get quickly stymied. If we are too nervous to voice our concerns, we will likely miss out on the opportunity to potentially get reassurance and help.

Whenever we experience decision-making anxiety, there are some ways to address it…

  • Breathe. Take some deep breaths and feel your feet on the ground. When you have an internal conflict, it creates inner drama, and we easily get stuck. Take a deep breath to take the edge off.
  • Be curious. When we are conflicted on the inside, be curious about what you want or need. Explore your true intentions without judgment. It is when our inner-critic chimes in with the harsh rhetoric of judgment that we often become anxious and worried. It is okay to identify and express what we really need and want.
  • Write it out. The act of writing not only helps clarify our thought process; it also calms our brains and our spirits – which allows us to calmly ask ourselves: “What is the best move at this point?”

May you blessed because you care. Although relational anxiety can vex our spirits, it is a sign that we want what is best for ourselves and others.

Gracious God, you in every way want me to be healthy and content. Help me not to be overcome by anxiety, and in all I do direct me to fulfilling of your purposes; through Jesus Christ, my Lord, along with you and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Proverbs 3:5-12 – Choose Wisely

fork in the road
“The choice to make good choices is the best choice you can choose. Fail to make that choice and on most choices you will lose.” ― Ryan Lilly

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Honor the Lord with your wealth,
with the first fruits of all your crops;
then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in. (NIV)

The book of Proverbs is a collection of short pithy statements based in experiential truth. In other words, they are wisdom sayings. Wisdom is a gradual accumulation of understanding over time with a combination of observation and practice. The Teacher highlights the wisdom needed to navigate life. It is a bit like learning the basic laws of the universe such as: Respect the force of gravity by not walking off the roof of your house. Wisdom pays attention and applies understanding to reality. Otherwise, you will find you have a broken life.

Notice the realities we need to respect from today’s verses: God, God’s guidance, God’s honor, God’s discipline. The wise response to the existence of these realities is trust, submission, reverence, and acceptance. In contrast, a foolish response to reality is pride, avarice, and hate.

Both wisdom and foolishness are seen for what they are through their consequences.

The wise person, having been taught a respect for God and the ways of grace, will most likely have an experience of guidance, health, abundance, and love. The fool who ignores divine counsel will probably experience misplaced trust, health issues, short-sighted financial decisions, and cruddy attitudes. All things being equal, the wise person who deliberately and carefully applies knowledge and understanding to life will have an abundant spirit full of satisfaction – whereas the fool who improvises everything will struggle to live in a small world of holistic poverty and want.

“You can’t choose your potential, but you can choose to fulfill it.” – Theodore Roosevelt  

The gist of the Old Testament lesson for today is that one cannot live as an island. We all need to practice consultation and collaboration to achieve a good life. Being both instructed and corrected are necessary elements to obtaining the good life. To spurn both divine and human connections in favor of radical personal independence is plain old foolish and leads to a lousy life. In short, the fool incessantly airs opinions with useless sophistry to an empty room; and, the sage is an observant student to universal rhythms and has learned the timing of proper words and of silence.

I am going to state this all in a different way:

Relying on God and others through making and keeping promises to one another is the basis of a solid community and a gratifying personal life.

Relying merely on one’s self is a one-way road to spiritual pain and emotional damage, not to mention physical illness and financial scarcity. Fools always think they know best. Sages always know better than that.

The book of Proverbs is a presentation, a dialectic, a contrast and a setting forth of two ways of approaching how to live in the world: foolishness or wisdom; independence or interdependence; cognitive pride or mental humility; negligence of evidence-based research or consultation through books, literature, and reading; exploitation of resources or submission to the natural laws and rhythms of the land; holding-on with clenched fist or generosity with open hand; Grinch-like attitudes or God-like dispositions; incessant criticism or heartfelt tribute; blame-shifts or recognition of other’s contributions; shame or vulnerability; resistance to correction or acceptance of discipline; hate or love; judgment or grace – there is a fork in the road and we must choose which way to go.

Choose wisely, my friend.

Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new: Transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace; and, in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.