Are You Unhappy? Here are 5 Things People Do to Find Joy

Image courtesy of stockimages /
Image courtesy of stockimages /

What makes you joyful?

At my church’s Wednesday night adult group once we were talking about joy. It’s one of those things that the Apostle Paul talks about as “The Fruit of the Spirit.” That is to say, when the Spirit of God is in us one of the things that should be produced in us is joy.

So we split into two groups (men and women) to come up with the top 5 things we think the average person in America thinks would bring them joy. If you had to pick 5, what would you think the average person would say?

Here’s what our men came up with:

1. Propane – yes, we lived in the Midwest. If you weren’t aware there was a propane shortage there. Go ahead, read all about it. It was leaving many people without heat (or paying exorbitant prices). Yes, having propane would make many joyful.

2. Financial windfall/winning the lottery. I’ve got 100 problems and 90 of them would be resolved if I had more money. That would definitely make me joyful!

3. Romance/significant other. I just want someone to share my life with. That would make me joyful.

4. Good health. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. I would be so much happier if I had good health.

5. Helping others. I get such a good feeling when I help others.

Were these close to what you came up with?

The problem with all of these answers is that they are connected to temporary things. None of them is permanent. Cold weather, bills, people, health, and good feelings all come and go. If we look to these things for our joy then we’re always going to be chasing.

That kind of joy is a pipe dream.

It’s not the kind of joy we see in the Bible when Peter writes:

He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while…you have been grieved by various trials. (1 Peter 1:3-6)

Finding joy in the middle of trials and tough time feels impossible, yet time and time again the Bible talks about joy in the midst of suffering. You see, from the Bible’s perspective, joy isn’t based on temporary things and events. Though such things might give us joy for a bit they will eventually fade. It is when we are able to shift focus and take our eyes off of this world and focus on what’s coming for us later that we can know joy no matter what we face in this life.

It’s about holding on to our eternal circumstances over our temporary trials.

I might not know what you’re going through. It may be excruciating. But we know and believe that one day we will rest easy in the presence of Yahweh. All the wrongs will be made right. All the hurts will be healed. We will know a permanent and lasting joy unlike anything we have ever experienced.

Until that day, that hope anchors us here and now. May we learn to say with the Apostle Paul:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11)


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How to Get Money From God

You can’t.


Today I actually heard a Christian minister say:

If you give money to God, He’ll give money to you. NOT so we can get rich, but so that we can live generous lives & be a blessing to others!

Boy that sure makes us feel good, doesn’t it?

It’s a promise of getting money (which we all love) and it comes our way when we first give money to God.

Here’s the kicker – the part that makes us feel better about the whole exchange is that the money that God gives us needs to be used to bless others.

Everyone got that?

Give money to God. God gives money to you. Go and bless others with what God has given you in return.

Here’s the thing. IT’S GARBAGE! TOTAL BALONEY!

Boy, this really got me steamed up today.

There’s no equation by which we can coerce God into giving us cash. Moolah. Greenbacks.

I know plenty of righteous poor people who give to God and never get money in return. God’s not a bank paying you interest on your investment.

Telling people that if they give then God will give back is ludicrous.

“But Pastor, what about the poor woman who gave her last two coins?”

What about her?

That’s a great story, but the point is not, “Give to God and he’s gonna give you more in return.” There is no Heavenly CashBack Plan. The point of the widow giving is about the heart of the giver.

Jesus says, “So what if you give a little out of your abundance? Look at this poor woman who gave a lot out of her poverty!” Her heart was in the right place – not because she wanted God to return her money ten-fold, but because she prioritized giving to God above everything else. She gave until she had nothing left to give.

What a heart.

I’m not there. I haven’t met a whole lot of people who are. But shouldn’t that be our goal? Can we grow and mature and get to the point that we’re willing to commit to God 100% of everything we have and everything we are?

Jesus said, “The poor you will have with you always.” There’s not divine get-rich plan. Giving to God may get you no earthly reward. Don’t believe anyone who tells you differently.

At the same time, when we cultivate generous hearts then we reap unseen rewards. We may never experience them in this lifetime – but that’s not the point.

So examine your heart and your motivations for giving.

You won’t earn money back. But how’s your heart?

Fat, Greedy, Money-Grubbing Churches

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane at
Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane at

Do you ever get sick of greedy, money grubbing churches always asking for your money? For some reason many people have the impression that churches are always asking people for money. Churches have reputation for being money hungry; for trying to squeeze every red cent out of the people who attend. Shoot – I would get tired of that kind of behavior!

In all honesty, though, churches probably ask for money a lot less than you think. I’m not talking about the weekly routine of collecting money. Different churches call it different things:

–         Taking the collection
–         Passing the plate
–         Time for tithes and offerings
–         What else have you heard?

Though this has become a standard feature in many evangelical churches it’s not quite the same thing as “asking for money.” It’s not like the Christian radio station that has a bi-annual fundraiser telethon. In the Christian worship service, giving becomes an extension of worship – something we do in recognition that what we have is a gift from God and through our giving we say, “I value God and his kingdom and want to express it through my finances.”

So giving becomes an act of worship (assigning worth to something) and a practical way of making sure the needs of the ministry are met.

I had a friend tell me the other day:

The church doesn’t need money. Jesus didn’t need money.

But the truth is that the church does need money. Ministry requires money. And yes, Jesus did need money. Jesus had a group of financial backers that helped make his ministry possible:

And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. (Luke 8:1-3)

Jesus and his staff were provided for out of the means (income) of these women.

Once the Apostle Paul was trying to raise money to do ministry to Christians in Jerusalem. He was collecting it from the Corinthian church:

On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. (1 Corinthians 16:2-3)

There are many different financial needs for a church to do ministry. Some are related to physical location: rent/lease/mortgage, utilities, salaries, etc. Some are material needs for people: rent assistance, utilities assistance, food/clothing aid. Some are for spiritual ministries: materials for communion, children’s church, Bible studies, etc.

Ministry requires finances. And how will people in the church ever know about the need unless the church tells them? It’s plain logic, really. It’s not about being money-hungry, it’s about letting people in the church know that, in order to do what God has called the Church to do, it’s going to take some backing.

If you don’t want to give, no one is twisting your arm.

Paul says:

The point is this…each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-9)

To honor God and to participate in what he wants to do through my church my wife and I give. But that’s between us and God. Your giving is between you and God.

Whatever you decide to do, do it with joy for God, not for anyone else.

BE HEARD! How have you seen churches handle money well? How have you seen them handle money poorly?

Thus Spake Jesus: It’s the Economy, Stupid!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Would anyone deny that our country is in a bit of an economic mess? Just turn on the news or open a newspaper and one of the hot topics is the state of the economy. In the political world, you see accusation flying back and forth: the Democrats are to blame. The Republicans are to blame. This isn’t a partisan issue. This is a people issue because shutdown affects real people.

Everyone is concerned with the economy, even God. The word economy is even in the Bible! Many translations use the word manager or stewardship, but the literal words are economist and economy. When we are called to be good stewards or managers, God is calling us to be good economists. And since we are called to be good economists, and we KNOW God cares about what we’re going through, I think it’s safe to say that God is watching over this economic mess that America is in. And if God DOES care about you and the economy, we need to ask the questions: 1) How would Jesus respond to the economic crisis? and 2) How does Jesus view money and spending? Believe it or not, the Bible does address these two questions! How would Jesus respond to the current economic crisis? Jesus once told a story:

Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions….” Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:15,22-34)

It’s almost as though Jesus is speaking to an audience in 21st century America instead of 1st century Israel! There is more to life than things, Jesus would tell us. So don’t worry about life. Don’t worry about food, or clothing, or drink. Worrying doesn’t accomplish anything. Jesus makes a difficult connection between worry and faith. It’s difficult because it is a natural tendency to worry when you’re not sure where your next paycheck is coming from. It’s a natural tendency to worry about paying your bills. It’s a natural tendency to worry about feeding your kids. And yet, Jesus says, “Who can change anything by worrying about it?” There are more important things in life than worrying about material things.

I don’t think Jesus is being naive. I think he understands the necessity of work, of pay, of food. Jesus was a skilled laborer who worked on construction and building projects around Capernaum. He’s not telling you to stop working. He’s not telling you to stop trying to earn a living. But what Jesus IS saying is that we don’t have our priorities straight. We too often get focused on the physical and material world and we forget that the things of this world have such a small significance in the big picture. I don’t think Jesus is being naïve. In ancient Israel, it was not uncommon to have feasting years and have famine years, times of plenty and times of scarcity. Our situation in this shutdown is not anything new to the world. Our own country has had it worse off than we are now. But we so often get caught up in the emotions of the moment. What am I going to do? We become economic chicken littles: “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

Hear the voice of Jesus: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” There are far greater things to focus on, things with eternal significance. Stop worrying about the physical world, have faith that God can, and will provide for your needs. Instead of focusing on your physical needs, focus on how you can serve God and his kingdom. The rest, Jesus says, should be left in God’s capable hands. This doesn’t sound very practical, does it? Jesus sounds a little crazy for our tastes.

How would Jesus respond in this time of economic crisis? He wouldn’t worry about it and would focus on how he could serve the Father. As to the second question: How does Jesus view money and spending?

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ” ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ ” ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Luke 16:1-14)

How does Jesus view money? Use worldly wealth to gain friends so that you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. This parable is a little confusing, because the hero of Jesus’ story, the economist, seems to be shady! He was accused of being wasteful, so before he leaves his employment he calls his bosses debtors and tells them they can cancel the interest on their debts. There are several things to take into consideration here. First of all, the debtors do not know that the economist has been fired. For all they know, he still represents the boss man. The actions of the economist make the rich man seem very generous and benevolent. It’s as though the representative of your credit card company called you and said, “We’re only going to make you pay the principal, no more interest payments.” How would you react? You’d be jumping for joy!

When the rich man found out what his economist did he complimented his manager’s cleverness. The rich man won’t renege on the new deals because he doesn’t want to lose face. And now when the economist is out looking for another job, potential employers will remember him as the person who brought the good news about the reduction of their payment. The debtors see the economist very positively. When he leaves his employer, because of his actions he will be welcomed by other employers. The point Jesus is making is this: use your money in such a way that when you leave life you will be welcomed into eternity. That is to say, how you spend your money in this life can have consequences in the next life. Money may look to us like a simple thing for human economic interaction, but for Jesus its primary characteristic is its empire-building potential. Do you use your money to build your kingdom? Do you use your money to build God’s kingdom?

Jesus reminds us:

1. Money can fail ~ The economist thought about money like most people do; bills, debts, etc. When his world is about to collapse, he is forced to think differently. Obviously it makes a real difference for our way of acting and thinking if we see money as a never ending safe domain or as a domain which at any moment may fail to offer us life and protection. Money comes and goes. What will you do with it when you have it?

2. Money has no part in real wealth ~ There exist two worlds of economic living and acting. The “worldly wealth” Jesus talks about consists primarily of what you and others possess. But this virtual wealth is not equal to real wealth. While people of this world are inclined to look at their financial properties as real, and place faith and trust in God at the same time in the imaginary realm, Jesus turns these two around: it is the wealth of this world which is imaginary. Jesus tells us that wealth does not give life, just stuff. Are you concerned about wealth in this life or wealth in the next life?

3. Money can enslave ~ Usually the way we see money is that it serves us! In the words of Jesus, being a servant is inescapable. There is a service which sets you free and affirms you to serve God and your neighbor, and that service turns money into a little thing. Outside God’s kingdom, though, money sooner or later gets control over human lives and becomes a big power and set the rules. It gives its users the impression that they have the power of command or control, but the more they trust it, the easier they are deprived of their real freedom. For money has the inbuilt power to enslave.

Jesus does not condemn the role or use of money as such. He even recommends a specific kind of money-use, namely using money to build up God’s kingdom. But at the same time Jesus makes it crystal clear that money, because of its enormous potential to seduce people and nations, can also take the lead in the creation of an evil empire: the Kingdom of Money. It is a kingdom that functions as a kind of opposite to the Kingdom of God: in its view of life, of others, of wealth, of righteousness, of freedom, and of the reality of nature. You can never be a loyal citizen of both kingdoms. Jesus’ economic policy seems like madness in this market-driven world of ours.

Don’t stress about money and possessions, but have faith that God will provide for your needs. Don’t let money control you, because money and possessions aren’t important anyway. Instead, use your money to build up the kingdom of God. Use your money to serve other people. Jesus would not have been the most popular economic advisor. And in a country where one of our number one concerns in elections is who can take care of our country’s financial mess, Jesus probably wouldn’t have been elected president. But he’s not asking to be your president. He’s asking you to follow him and be his disciple. Can we make Jesus’ economic policy our own economic policy? Are you willing to trust God even when faced with economic difficulties?

Are you willing to use your money for God’s kingdom and other people rather than on stuff for yourself?

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