Monthly Archives: May 2013

Reimagining Happiness


                                             By Michael Wren
coca_cola_aaahCoca Cola launched this advertising campaign several years ago—“Coca Cola Happiness.”  Now I like Coke just as much as the next guy.  Actually, I probably like Coke more than the next guy.  When I was very young, my great aunt would keep 8 oz. Coca Cola bottles in the refrigerator and would let me have one every time I came over.  I’ve been a Coca Cola fan ever since, and will confess that drinking one makes me happy.  The ad campaign definitely resonates with me.  Still, the idea that any experience in this world could equate with happiness raises a larger question.  Where do we find satisfaction in life?  People’s approach to answering that question has changed many times over the centuries.

Augustine, the great theologian and bishop of the North African city of Hippo in the fifth century said it well: “God is the only source to be found of any good things, but especially of those which make a man good and those which will make him happy.”  Because God is good and is the giver of all good things, lasting happiness must be found in Him.  And when a person loves God, his love for God satisfies him.  As David said, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4).  Augustine said it this way, “Whatever he loves will be there, and he will not desire anything that is not there.  Everything that is there will be good, and the most high God will be the most high good.”  True happiness is found in God because the happiness that He gives is eternal.

But Augustine himself recognized how peculiar this view of happiness is.  As he explained, “the philosophers themselves have all constructed their own happy lives as each has thought best,” (The Trinity 13.10).   And they are still doing it.  During the Enlightenment, philosophers took God out of the equation and measured what is good based on what accomplishes the most good here in this world.  Many people who are active in our culture trying to bring change are evaluating happiness by this measure.  If we can improve people’s lives here and now, they think, we have produced happiness.

Far more people, though, measure happiness based on an experience—the Coca Cola Happiness idea.  Theologian Miroslav Volf of Yale argues that in the late twentieth century people increasingly lost sight of any reference to a higher power in defining what constitutes “the good life,” and they equally ceased to concern themselves with what is good for humanity in general (as had been the case for centuries).  In its place was a preoccupation with the experience of happiness.  In other words, people around us have changed.  In general, people once had some conception that in order to achieve happiness in life one had to have a relationship with the eternal God of the universe.  That is, generally, no longer the case.  People once thought that in order to achieve happiness in life, one had to seek the well being of others in the community.  That, also, is all too often not true anymore.  What we have left is a culture that seeks fulfillment through whatever activities are designed to produce it in the short term.  This is why every sector of the entertainment industry is booming right now.  Entertainment has become our savior.

But Augustine was right all along.  Not only was he right, but he was merely echoing the teaching of Jesus.  Jesus stated that if a man wanted to gain his life, he must lose it for the sake of the gospel.  Happiness is grounded in God, and the good news of Jesus is that it can be ours for eternity if we will lay aside our idols now and follow Him.  This is the gospel, and when people come in contact with the church, they need to hear it.  My concern is that we as the church are not doing enough to encourage people in our culture to redefine their conception of happiness.  In a world in which they want bigger cars, better jobs, and prettier girls, we sometimes draw them into the church by appealing to their desires: “Be a part of our community and you will experience more fulfillment.  Our church is bigger, cooler, kinder, and more innovative.”  If we appeal to their cravings and their senses, they will join us until something more immediately satisfying comes along.  And we have not made a disciple of Christ, because Jesus calls us to take up our cross (not a very satisfying experience in the short term) and follow Him.

What we must do is teach them to hope.  Again, hear the great Augustine, “But a man who is happy in hope is not happy yet.  He is waiting in patience for the happiness which he does not yet possess.”  But that happiness is eternal.  Let us remove ourselves out of the trap of trying to appeal to the senses of people whose value system is completely backward.  If all they value is a temporary experience of satisfaction, they will not find following Jesus fulfilling.  Jesus’ followers were only happy in hope as long as they remained in this world.  In fact, all twelve Apostles died a martyr’s death.  But they have been in the presence of God ever since.  Let us teach people to love God and let happiness come later.  As for the Coke, I’m still going to enjoy it, I’m just not going to live for it.


Life’s Journey

Bryce Ulrich
Pastor, First Southern Baptist Church
Terre Haute

By Bryce Ulrich

Do you remember the last time you took the opportunity to reflect on your life and see how the hand of God has worked on your behalf?  This week is one of those times for me.  As my family and I travel to Fort Worth for seminary graduation, I am reminded of the many stops along life’s journey where God has blessed and directed my path.  So many times in the hustle and bustle of our culture I lose sight of the blessings in my life.  I think many of us fall into that same trap and live a life of dread and despair instead of a life of joy and thankfulness.

As a result of my reflection this week, I would like to briefly share three of the reasons I am thankful for my life’s journey in hopes that you may find some joy and comfort in these as well.  The first reason I am thankful is I serve a risen Lord who saved me by grace and not by works.  What a great God we serve!  While I still struggle at times to wrap my arms around the concept of God’s grace, I’m thankful that he willingly made the sacrifice to atone for my sins and transgressions.  Not only has he restored me into a right relationship with him, but he also sustains me, protects me, and provides for me in this life.  Not a day goes by that I don’t see the hand of God working in my life and in the lives of those around me.  That gives me great joy and happiness and causes me to be thankful for what I have!

The second reason I am thankful is for my family and friends.  God blessed me with a loving wife who supports me in ministry as we work side by side.  Our son Hamilton is like the little energizer bunny that keeps going and going.  In his short eighteen months of life, God has used Hamilton to provide immeasurable amounts of joy and happiness to not only our family, but also to many of those serving with us in ministry.  I am also thankful for the godly men in my life who have served as mentors and friends.  As Wade Potts described in his post, “Biblical Discipleship,” last week, I was blessed to have men in my life that not only built relationships with me but also taught me Scripture.  I still have a relationship with many of those men today and look to them for counsel and guidance.  For these friendships and relationships I am eternally thankful!

The third reason I am thankful for my life’s journey is that God brought us to serve at First Southern with a group of loving, dedicated believers who love the Lord.  It is a pleasure to serve with a unified group of believers seeking to fulfill the Great Commission.  I am also thankful to be affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, and the West Central Baptist Association and have the privilege to work with leaders in a denomination focused on reaching the lost for Christ.  Many Southern Baptists never see the full impact of their Cooperative Program giving and don’t understand the Kingdom impact those contributions make.  For example, I am thankful those CP dollars support our six seminaries and make theological training financially feasible for the next generation of leaders.  I am also thankful those CP dollars support missions not only around the world through the IMB, but also in North America through NAMB.  I am thankful for God directing my life’s journey to join with a group of other believers that desire to see the Great Commission fulfilled in our world today.

 As spring turns to summer, maybe this is a good time for all of us to evaluate our own life’s journey in order to determine why we should be thankful.  While your reasons may be different than mine, I do think that as believers we should be living lives full of joy and happiness that reflect our relationship with Christ.  It is baffling to me why so many Christians are unhappy.  How have we ignored the hope we have in Christ?  Maybe we’ve become overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the world around us.  Maybe we’ve experienced a difficult time of life that threatens to drain our joy.  Maybe, just maybe, we haven’t taken time to look at our life’s journey in order to see the hand of God working in our lives.  Whatever the reason, I encourage you to live thankful lives full of joy and happiness, and to hold fast to the promise given to us in Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

Biblical Discipleship

Wade Potts,
Associate Pastor of Youth and Outreach,
New Life Baptist Church,

By Wade Potts

Like many Christians I remember the day of my conversion well.  Unlike most Christians I was led to Christ in High School by one of my teachers.  It was August 24, 1999.  I went to a Christian high school and it was after Bible class that I approached my teacher about conversion.  I was saved that day but it was much later when I actually began to be discipled.  I spent years cultivating terrible theology and living a purposeless existence.  It was not until I went off for my final two years of college that I began to be discipled.

What made the difference in my life was that I was actually being taught the Scriptures.  After my conversion in 1999 I was not taught the Bible, so I did not understand how I was supposed to live.  I was taught easy believism and that my works do not matter.  This only set me up for a lawless lifestyle.  I was not taught the Bible because during my senior in high school when I was led to Christ, the entire Bible curriculum was consumed with a study of the book Revelation.  We were more focused on newspaper headlines than God’s word.  After I graduated I was not plugged in to a local church and it would be years until I would actually begin to realize the importance of biblical church membership.  Thankfully, God led me to a situation in which I would be discipled biblically.

It seems many in the church ignore what the Bible actually says about discipleship and have forged new definitions of what discipleship should be.  Many in the church want to downplay the importance of the Bible in discipleship and focus strictly on relationship building.  Relationships are absolutely crucial for the health of the church but relationships are not the sum of discipleship.  If the relationship is not structured around learning God’s Word then it is not discipleship.

In both the Old and the New Testament, discipleship simply means a continual learner.  The Hebrew word disciple appears only one time in the Old Testament in Isaiah 8:16.  The prophet says, “Bind up the testimony.  Seal up the instruction among my disciples.”  The context of this passage comes when Isaiah is warning the people about the coming invasion of the Assyrian army.  In this particular section of the warning, Isaiah is discussing the believing remnant.  The people of this remnant are called disciples.  They make up the remnant because they obeyed the word of God and they obeyed the word of God because they were discipled – or taught the word of God.

In the New Testament, the word disciple is mainly found in the gospels and typically relates to the twelve disciples.  However, there are two things interesting to note as it relates to discipleship and the gospels.  The first is the nature of the gospels themselves.  Two of them, Matthew and John, were written by those who were among the twelve.  The tradition that was handed down to Matthew, which likely came from the disciples themselves, preserved the teaching of Christ and information regarding his person and work.  John himself wrote, possibly from memory or possibly from another tradition altogether, a highly theological work dealing with the person and work of Christ.  These men did not leave us funny anecdotes or information about what made Jesus smile or what his favorite color was.  No, they left us his instruction.  They gave us information that would make us disciples.

Secondly, Jesus’ final words to us are “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  The word in the Greek, like the Hebrew, means a continual learner.  D.A. Carson says it like this, “Disciples are those who hear, understand, and obey Jesus’ teaching.”  When Jesus says go and make disciples he is saying go and make a people that want to study the Bible, learn the Bible, and most importantly obey the Bible.  This is how we are a light to the nations.  This is how we can multiply as a church.  Lifestyle evangelism seems to be a popular form of witnessing, but if your lifestyle is more in conformity to the world than the Word, then your lifestyle is not evangelizing.

A practical way churches can begin to return to biblical discipleship is through Sunday School classes.  I read recently a little book titled, Transformational Sunday School but David Francis.  He makes an interesting point that Sunday Schools began as a missionary enterprise.  He encourages us to begin to view each Sunday School class as a different people group and to begin to structure our Sunday School classes in order to disciple each particular people group in a way that is contextualized for each group.  Sunday School ought to be an effective tool for making disciples.  Whatever the method, though, I encourage you to make biblical disciples!