Tag Archives: Happiness

Regarding Storms

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Tonight I sat on the porch and watched the storm roll through. The lightning was beautiful, the way it struck in silence, for a nanosecond brightening the drenched landscape, then disappearing again into the black. I did the thing where you count the seconds between the lightning and thunder to see how many miles away it is — how long before I get struck in my rocking chair, sipping a cup of tea. 

I needed something beautiful tonight. Life has been a bit of a storm lately. Cliché, I know, but a storm just makes sense right now. I’m OK saying this on a blog called The Happy Alternative — a blog about happiness — because I give myself permission to be sad, to FEEL my way through a valley. And lately I’ve been fighting for happiness, the same way I fight for holiness. Scripture calls it a “good fight,” and that’s what I believe. That’s why I exhaust myself trying to punch and kick and head-butt my way to happiness. I know we’re made for it. We’re headed for it. 

So I watched the lightning and listened to the thunder. It sounded less like thunder and more like a waterfall — three of which I’ve seen and touched in the past month, so it sounded familiar — mixed with aircraft zooming over. It lasted longer than the typical bolt, and seemed more like the “rolling thunder” we sing about on those rare occasions when we crack open our hymnals and belt out “How Great Thou Art.” His power throughout the universe displayed.  And in that moment I really did think of how great he is. 

I’m teaching Sunday school tomorrow, on the topic of Heaven and Hell. Tonight, in the storm, I sensed the God of both Heaven and Hell making something known. His power? His wrath? His stunning creativity? I’m too tired to figure it out, but it’s nice to feel something other than 1) nothing, because I’m always too busy THINKING, or 2) guilt and shame — two things I’ve been wrestling with lately and two things, until recently, I’ve rarely ever faced in my Christian walk.

This is just a season, I’m sure — a storm that blows over, clears the air, makes everything feel new. Tomorrow is Sunday — a new day, a new week — and, as always, I look forward to the new mercies that come with it. That’s a promise I’ve always held on to: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Such a ray of hope… in a book called Lamentations. God is full of surprises.

Hope and lamentation. That about sums it up, I think. Especially tonight, as I “word vomit” this stream of consciousness onto the computer screen (and the perfectionist in me pleas for me not to press “publish” because it’s not pretty and polished). I’m thankful to serve a sovereign God who not only allows the storms to roll through, but sometimes calms them too. Either way, I know he’s with me. For me.

Now my tea is cold. But I think the storm has blown over. 

7 Happy Songs (Part 4)

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1.  “Mmlj” by the Eagle Rock Gospel Singers. (I love saying the title out loud!) An acronym for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, this song reminds me that DAILY NOURISHMENT comes from the gospels. The lyrics are so joyful, and the singers have voices to match!

2.  “I Will Never Let You Down” by Rita Ora. *GIRLY POP WARNING* Yes, it’s a throwaway pop song — nothing deep — but it’s got one of those melodies (with pristine production) that chemically alters my brain and makes me HAPPY! There’s a science to it, I’m sure.

3.  “In the Dark I See” by Lights. Oh man, LIGHTS. Everything she sings is magic in my ears. This song made me fall in love. Just her and a guitar. I’m not sure what this song means to her, but I know what it means to me. (I tend to sing it vertically, to God.)

4.  “Brighten My Heart” by Sixpence None the Richer. This song does what the title suggests: it brightens! I love the poetry and simplicity of the lyrics, paired with a humble melody and Leigh Nash’s childlike vocals. It’s a prayer I’ve sung on many occasions. Keep it handy for a pick-me-up!

5.  “Grace’s Amazing Hands” (and pretty much everything else) by Dave Barnes. That voice… Yummy. But this song in particular stands out because it personifies grace so beautifully: her hands are “ugly” and “bruised” because of the hard work they’ve accomplished, but they’re “soft as a feather bed” to those who’ve felt their loving touch.

6.  “Extraordinary” by Liz Phair. I admit this isn’t the HAPPIEST song on the planet… But I’d put it in the “angsty happy” category — a sort of liberating breakup song. Maybe it’s the happy memories that accompany the track, but it definitely belongs on my list. Maybe it’ll make the cut for you, too!

7.  “Every Time I Close My Eyes” by Mariah Carey… Err, I mean, Babyface. But really, this song is all about Mariah’s “background” vocals. This diva can’t just shrink into the background. Nuh uh. Poor Babyface takes a backseat when MC brings her signature vocal runs on the bridge. It’s PURE GOLD! *Pressing replay now*

Oh, and you can find more happy songs here and here and here.

Interview: SSA, Singleness And The Church

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Last week, I had the pleasure of joining two great guys at The Rugged Marriage for a conversation about same-sex attraction, singleness, and the Church. We talked about other stuff, too — music and tea and something called “Florida Man.” Let me tell you, I’d much rather type my thoughts from the safety of my laptop than speak out loud, on the spot. But Alex and Chris made me feel right at home. Check out the interview here. And show the boys some love by subscribing to their podcast and following them on Twitter

Why Can’t You Just Be Gay?

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If anyone has a reason to search Scripture for an “out,” a way to be in a gay relationship and yet remain within the bounds of God’s will for sexuality, it’s me — the Christian who experiences ongoing same-sex attraction. Trust me, I’ve heard arguments from Matthew Vines, Justin Lee, and others who try to make a case for gay marriage in the Church. I’ve read books, watched debates, and had long talks with friends who urge me to pursue a sexual relationship with a man. I’ve listened to and reasoned through every attempt to justify gay marriage, but nothing has convinced me — the guy who, in theory, should be the easiest person to convince.

Why?

The simple answer is “Because God said so.” It’s true, only six verses in the Bible explicitly mention homosexual practice. All of them, of course, forbid it. The most quoted are Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1, which, admittedly, come with a fair share of controversy regarding civil and ceremonial laws, cultural context, and so forth. (Although it’s not as if theologians throughout time haven’t already explained why the ban on homosexual practice is different from the ban on shellfish or mixed fabrics.) These verses, complicated though they seem to some, are enough to prove to me that pursuing a gay romance would dishonor God. But let’s say I didn’t have those six verses. I still couldn’t “just be gay,” because there’s still the big picture of marriage in Scripture to consider. Which is good, because I’m a big picture kind of guy.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, marriage is a symbol for God and his people. God is always the bridegroom; his people are the bride. Jeremiah compares Israel to a bride devoted to her husband, the Lord (Jeremiah 2:2). Ezekiel portrays Israel as an unfaithful wife, while God remains the faithful husband (Ezekiel 16). Hosea’s marriage to his adulterous wife parallels the relationship between God and Israel throughout the Book of Hosea. In the New Testament, John the Baptist calls Jesus the bridegroom, whose bride, his followers, delights to hear his voice (John 3:29). Jesus calls himself the bridegroom, while the disciples represent his bride (Matthew 9:15). Clearest of all is Paul, who says the act of man and woman becoming one flesh “refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). God designed marriage between husband and wife, sexual complements, for a very specific purpose: to be a living picture of the gospel. This metaphor matters to God. And it matters to me, too.

If there’d been a huge paradigm shift on marriage and sex, it would’ve happened in early Church history, not the early 21st century. With something as important as sexual purity, Jesus and the New Testament writers would’ve made it 100 percent clear that the ban on homosexual practice had been repealed, the way God did for Peter regarding dietary restrictions, with a vision of formerly unclean animals and a voice from heaven saying “eat” (Acts 10:9-16). We don’t have that with marriage; we only have reconfirmation from Christ that marriage remains as he established it in the garden: a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6). A beautiful picture of the truth of the gospel.

People might ask, “Why can’t two men or two women reflect that same truth?” Well, gender and biological sex are realities created by God, and he uses them in creation and within marriage for his purposes — both for the flourishing of mankind and to tell a story. If you’re looking for a why beyond the why, I can’t help you. To me, that’s like a child asking “Why?” after the parent has already explained— as if additional answers will ever satisfy. (If you’ve spent time with a toddler, you know what I mean.) But there is a WHO beyond the why, and I can tell you he’s good, wise, loving, and he withholds no good thing from those who walk in his ways (Psalm 84:11). This is the God I love, trust, and seek to obey. And I’m OK with the reason he’s given. That’s enough.

At the heart of this question is a plea for me to be happy, which I appreciate. It’s nice to know I have family and friends who desire my happiness. But what I need people to understand is that following Jesus REALLY DOES make me happy! It’s not the kind of happiness a sex-obsessed world expects; it’s the happiness that comes with being given a new heart and new desires. That includes obeying God’s commands for marriage and sexuality — those boundaries set for my joy and sanctification. Violating God’s Word (and my own conscience) actually works AGAINST my ultimate happiness. I have no doubt that a sexual relationship with a man would bring some temporary pleasures, but that’s not the kind of pleasure I’m looking for. I want the kind that lasts forever, which only comes through a relationship with my God (Psalm 16:11).

Yes, I’m still attracted to the same sex, and I imagine I always will be. But I choose to remain celibate and pursue a life of joyful singleness because I believe God and his purpose for marriage. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). I really do love that man, and I want to keep his commandments without people telling me I’d be happier if I didn’t.

7 Happy Verses

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Yeah, it’s pretty much impossible to narrow down hundreds of happy Bible verses into a list of seven. So, to make it easier, I’m pulling a handful from the Book of Psalms, which is where I often go when I need an extra dose of delight. Let the impossible begin!

1.  “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).  This is a good reminder: we’re not missing out on ANY joy when we walk with God. The Christian’s joy is FULL and it extends into eternity!

2.  “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve preached this to myself when I’m sad, especially at night. I realize this is poetry, but the hope of joy in the LITERAL morning really comforts me — not to mention the promise of new mercies (Lamentations 3:23).

3.  “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).  It’s true, God actually commands us to be happy. Don’t mind if I do! I like how Randy Alcorn puts it: “When God invites you to a party, say yes.”

4.  “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51:12).  Although this is a psalm of repentance written after David’s affair with Bathsheba, there’s an important truth here: we’re designed for joy, but sin separates us from it. The sins we think will make us happy actually destroy our happiness, and we need God to restore it. I’ve prayed this so many times. I’m thankful God listens.

5.  “Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.”  The never-ending Psalm 119 (this is verse 111) is all about God’s law, which is meant for our joy, and not to be a burden (1 John 5:3). Keep this verse handy when you start believing the lie that God doesn’t want us to be happy.

6.  Psalm 139.  The whole thinggggg! David doesn’t use literal happy words here, but this song can’t be sung without unbridled joy! God KNOWS us, UPHOLDS us, CREATES us, DEFENDS us, CONVICTS us, and LOVES us. I think this psalm has given me more joy than any other.

7.  “For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation” (Psalm 149:4).  Wait… God takes pleasure in ME? I’m glad this verse is in the Bible — and others like it, such as Zephaniah 3:17 — because I need a reminder in my goal to delight in God that he also delights in me. An allegorical reading of The Song of Solomon conveys this mutual love between God and his people beautifully… but I’ll save that for another blog.

Of course, the psalms also touch on unhappy emotions — and sometimes I need those verses too — but what I find interesting is that they almost always circle back to joy. The collection of 150 songs ends with a series of happy doxologies culminating in praise to God, much like the Bible itself. And our lives, too, if we’re doing it right.

Life As A Doorkeeper

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We’ve all felt it. When we stare up at the stars or survey the outstretched sea. When we study those grand historical narratives or read some great theologian’s biography. I’m talking about feeling small.

Sure, we could all use a hearty slice of humble pie. We all need that Isaiah moment when we recognize how unclean and undone we are before a holy God. But those feelings should be balanced with (or shortly followed by) the beauty, mercy, and grace of God. They should be felt in the wider context of the Christian worldview — humility without despair. That is, humility with happiness.

Years ago, a friend, a housewife, taught me how to do this (unknowingly, as is often the case). That day we sat on the sofa in her living room and swapped summer reading lists. She flipped to the first chapter of Melville’s Moby-Dick and shared a passage that stood out to her. In it, the narrator, Ishmael, discusses his intent to go whaling:

And, doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances. I take it that this part of the bill must have run something like this:

Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States.

WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL.

BLOODY BATTLE IN AFGHANISTAN.

Though I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage managers, the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage, when others were set down for magnificent parts in high tragedies, and short and easy parts in genteel comedies, and jolly parts in farces…

“Sometimes I feel like Ishmael,” she said. “Just a passing note — wife and mother of three.”

She said this with a smile, some otherworldly contentment, as she closed the book. Of course, being a wife and mom is a beautiful role, and something my friend does very well. But she understood that life has bigger headlines than hers, and somehow she’d made peace with her “shabby part.” If you asked her, she’d probably say something like this: Our life on earth is a foreword, a preface to a much longer, far greater story. A story that’s not our own. We play our part, however big or small, with God’s glory always our goal.

Paul put it this way: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Whether you’re called to be a whaler or a wife and mother of three, “do all to the glory of God.” Doing so offers the kind of humility that’s accompanied by great joy in knowing that God would give us even the smallest role in the saga of salvation.

The psalmist said it like this: “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” Just a doorkeeper — that’s all he asked, if it meant being part of God’s kingdom. And if that’s my part, if that’s my tiny role, I pray that God will give me the grace to be the best doorkeeper I can be.

7 Happy Quotes

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Ain’t nothing wrong with some filler content while I’m traveling the UK with friends and family this month! Especially when it’s so TWEETABLE. Plus, who doesn’t love a good quote on happiness? Feast your eyes on some of these gems.

1.  “God made human beings as He made His other creatures, to be happy… They are in their right element when they are happy.” (Charles Spurgeon)

2.  “Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness in the other world as I possibly can” (Jonathan Edwards)

3.  “Christ [is] the very essence of all delights and pleasures, the very soul and substance of them” (John Flavel)

4.  “The Christian owes it to the world to be supernaturally joyful” (A.W. Tozer)

5.  “Above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord.” (George Muller)

6.  “If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full.” (John Piper)

7.  “[God] has no design upon us, but to make us happy” (Thomas Watson)

I’m always posting stuff like this on Twitter, if you want to follow me. And if you haven’t found my Facebook page yet, that’s where I share articles on singleness, sexuality, and happiness — and, of course, the occasional happy quote.

See you when I come back stateside!

7 Happy (Country) Songs

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Alright, we’re gonna add a little twang to the “7 Happy Songs” series (read the first two here and here). You’ll notice these songs are SLIGHTLY dated cuz my country phase peaked in about 2007. But they still have a place on my iPod, and I’ll tell you why.

1.  “Find Out Who Your Friends Are” by Tracy Lawrence. I looovvvvve songs about friendship, and this one’s perfect with its fiddles and steel guitars. PLUS it features guest vocals from Tracy’s real-life friends, Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney!

2.  “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” by Travis Tritt. Sure, this song is goofy — with subpar lyrics and Travis literally howling on the bridge — but there’s NO WAY I’m not smiling when I hear this.

3.  “American Honey” by Lady Antebellum. I will NEVER skip this song! It reminds me of road trips to Kansas with my parents. Love them. Love this. Perfect combo.

4.  “Isn’t That Everything” by Danielle Peck. Maybe she’s not rich and famous, but “I know Jesus loves me up in that sky above me.” I like when a song reminds me to count my blessings.

5.  “Mayberry” by Rascal Flatts is a throwback to the days of simple pleasures, none of which I remember because I was born in the 80s and I’ve never once watched The Andy Griffith Show. But I think we all ache for something pure and beautiful and uncomplicated. This songs nails it.

6.  “It Just Comes Natural” by George Strait. King George strikes again! Those charming vocals and child-like lyrics make for a perfect little love song. Feel free to sing this to me anytime.

7.  “Heart Like Mine” by Miranda Lambert. I think we’ve all got a little Miranda in us — a touch of rebel. (OK, more than a touch. Total depravity, people.) But this song, although wrong in some ways, has a hint of gospel that I love.

Honorable mentions include most anything from Martina McBride, Dixie Chicks (pre-Bush bashing), and Taylor Swift (pre-pop).