Tag Archives: Happiness

7 Happy Books

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Besides Happiness, which I review here, I’ve got a handful of happy books for you! Anyone looking for lots of fiction will be disappointed. That stuff’s alright (and there are two on this list), but what REALLY makes me happy is Christian non-fiction. Here are just some of the books that make my happiness levels skyrocket.

1.  Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl by N.D. Wilson — This collection of creative essays reads like a poem, strung together with the theme of wonder. Wilson has a knack for seeing eternity in the ordinary, and a gift for awakening the spiritual senses of his readers, causing us to marvel right alongside him.

2.  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith — I read it before it was cool and before it was a movie. (You might also consider My Favorite Fangs, a tale of the Von Trapp family vampires!)

3.  A Case for Amillennialism by Kim Riddlebarger — This one’s a bit scholarly, but it helped change my end-times perspective. This was the beginning of a long, slow process of becoming an optimist (which I’m still working on). Meditating more on Christ’s current rule and reign certainly helps!

4.  Heaven by Randy Alcorn — My friends know I’m a little obsessed with the new earth. Our future home is always on my mind. Heaven matters in evangelism and everyday life, and here we have 500 glorious pages that stir my imagination and help me keep an eternal perspective.

5.  Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright — Another book about Heaven and how the resurrection changes everything!

6.  The Search for God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield — “A biography of the beer that changed the world.” I love how Arthur Guinness’ devotion to Christ influenced his entire life, family, and company. Cheers!

7.  The Reformers vs. The Prosperity Gospel by Sean O’Brien. Sean is a good friend of mine who makes me edit all his books. (And I make him pay me with food and hugs.) This is the story of what happens when a 3D printer mishap brings Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli to life just days before a televangelist comes to town. Lots of laughs for the “young, restless, reformed” crowd.

And for those who want 52 other book reviews (four of which are on this list), check out my abandoned YouTube channel, Man vs. Book.

Happy reading!

A Very Celibate Valentine’s Day

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Last year, a friend of mine sent me a picture of his “hot” date on Valentine’s Day. It was a brownie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream — and possibly human tears. (Cell phone camera, so it’s hard to say.) This is what Valentine’s Day can look like for single, celibate Christians.

But it doesn’t have to.

I’ve been single on Valentine’s Day for the past 32 years. (And every other day of the year, too, but that’s beside the point.) Yet somehow I’ve found things to love about it.

Remember in elementary school, when classmates passed out mandatory valentines and those horrible candy hearts? Sure, I got cards from people who’d never talk to me again after February 14, but it was fun getting “love notes” from the friends you cared about, and the kids who signed more than just their names.

When I was a teenager, sometimes my parents would leave me a gift on the kitchen counter. Maybe a stuffed animal or a coffee mug decked with hearts — just a little something to make Valentine’s Day special for the boy who never had a valentine. Meanwhile, hormonal girls at school huffed over not getting flowers from their insensitive boyfriends. Tragic…

In college, I’d often stay home on Valentine’s Day to spend time with my “Husband” (Isaiah 54:5). That’s about the time I fell in love with the Song of Solomon. I pored over Puritan commentaries, whose typological readings of the book celebrated the love between Christ and his bride, the Church. Coming to terms with faith and sexuality, learning what celibacy would look like for me, I took comfort in seeing God as the divine bridegroom — and I still do.

Today, at 32, I still love Valentine’s Day. I love reaching out to friends and family, or even someone who wouldn’t expect it, with a valentine via text. It’s also an opportunity to thank God for the gift of marriage — a chance to rejoice in marital bliss (even if it’s not my own). In the last few years, I’ve teamed up with friends to do outreach on Valentine’s Day, including helping a church host a dinner for homeless women, and rallying support for a fundraiser to aid victims of sex trafficking.

So yeah, Valentine’s Day isn’t a big cry-fest for me. It’s always been a day of love.

However, there are people in my life (and yours) for whom the holiday is unhappy. Maybe someone who is divorced or widowed. Maybe someone who really wants to be married and is wrestling with God’s timing and will. We ought to be gentle with their hearts, especially on a day when romance is shoved in our faces, as if that’s the only place to find love.

This year, Valentine’s Day is on Sunday. It’s a perfect opportunity to reach out to single folks in your church. Hug them. Kiss them. Tell them you love them. Tell them God loves them, too. Remind them love is real and available to them outside of marriage. There’s love in friendship — those people who’ve mastered the art of loving at all times (Proverbs 17:17). There’s love in the church body — a spiritual family that transcends bloodlines. There’s love in service — putting other people’s needs before your own. There’s love in the pages of Scripture, where God reveals his devotion to us. It’s all over the place, if someone would just remind us.

A very celibate Valentine’s Day can be a very happy one indeed. Come to think of it, brownies and a scoop of ice cream would make it even happier.

Hold the tears.

7 Happy Songs

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Oh gosh, this is hard. I’ve got WAY too many happy songs in my music library, so this might have to be a recurring series. For now, I’ll stick with the songs that I will NEVER skip when they pop up on my playlist.

1.  “Something in the Water” by Brooke Fraser. It’s not even possible to listen to this with a frown on your face, especially with an opening line like this: “I wear a demeanor made of bright, pretty things.”

2.  “Finally Free” by Andrea Hamilton. You’ve got to love a girl who’s created her own genre called hopeful pop. This song feels like walking — no, dancing — through a field of daisies, tiny animals prancing around you, the whole bit.

3.  “Who Is Like You?” by Starfield. Pulled straight from Exodus 15. I love the fact that God’s people are still singing this today — in the car, windows down, max volume. Or is that just me?

4.  “The Heart of Life” by John Mayer. Talk about the bright side! I think this song is even truer for Christians (although, you’ll need to read into it). I prefer the live recording, as it’s the version I fell in love with.

5.  “Up We Go” by Lights. Besides drooling over everything she’s ever recorded, I especially love this ode to a happier tomorrow. Only problem is it’s too short (2:52). Gotta press replay at least 15 times!

6.  “Another Rainbow” by Bo Napoleon. Heard this on the radio while driving through Oahu with friends. The island vibe and childlike lyrics, along with Bo’s buttery vocals, put me in a happy place REAL quick.

7.  “Beautiful Eulogy” by Beautiful Eulogy is pretty much one of my favorite songs on the planet. This is raw emotion for me — the gospel rapped over aching, ghostly, acoustic instrumentation.

Say Yes!

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Christians who experience same-sex attraction have a tendency to focus on what they’re giving up — marriage, sex, and various other pleasures. I know because I’ve been there. We can start to believe the single, celibate life is a constant journey of saying “no.”

It’s true that all Christians — not just those who experience SSA — are called to deny that which God forbids, but this is never at the expense of happiness. I’ll say it again: This is NEVER at the expense of happiness. Randy Alcorn says,

We need to say no to things that cause harm…but the solution is never to say no to happiness. What we should say no to are false notions of happiness — but this is not saying no to happiness; in fact, it requires saying yes to true happiness.

Christianity is not a religion of “no.” Because when we say no to sin, we’re ALWAYS saying yes to something better. When we say no to pride, we’re saying yes to humility. When we say no to coveting, we’re saying yes to contentment. When we say no to idolatry, we’re saying yes to God’s beauty and worth and preeminence.

But what about Christians, like me, who say no to homosexual desires? Those who choose celibacy, even when loved ones tell us we’re losing out on companionship, fulfillment, and the very thing everyone is searching for — happiness? What are we saying yes to?

•   Yes to the superior pleasure of loving and obeying God
•   Yes to holiness
•   Yes to being conformed to Christ’s image
•   Yes to marriage as God designed it
•   Yes to the blessings of singleness
•   Yes to treasures in heaven
•   Yes to eternal happiness in God’s presence

That’s just the theological stuff. I’m also saying yes to everyday joys: playtime with my niece, hikes in the mountains, game nights with friends, road trips with family, late-night talks about God and love and mysteries with my fellow night owls. When we walk with God, we experience both pleasures now and “pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Saying no to marrying a man seems a very small sacrifice indeed when I focus on the thousands of happy alternatives God gives me to enjoy in this life — and even greater joys in the next.

Perhaps this all sounds very “Pollyanna.” Trust me, nobody who knows me in real life would call me that. I’m a Christian realist. I’m well aware of everything I’m giving up to follow God’s will for sexuality (and if I ever forget, the world is quick to remind me). But my desire to love and obey God compels me to say yes to greater pleasures. Sometimes it’s a tenuous yes. Sometimes it’s a trembling yes. Sometimes it’s a choked-up yes, forced out only by the grace of God and the hope of future joy. I’m human. It happens.

But I know I’m saying yes to more than I can begin to understand — to this mysterious thing we call “God’s glory” and to everything he’s working together for my happiness because I belong to him and I’m part of his story. I said yes when God called me into his kingdom, and I’ll say yes until he calls me home.

Singleness Is Like Marriage

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Obviously, we could talk about the millions of ways singleness is different from marriage. But I’m a “big picture” kind of guy, and one way to keep an eternal perspective is to focus on what single people and married folks have in common. Not only does this help me relate more to my married friends, but as an added bonus, it also helps me to be content in my singleness. So, without further ado, singleness is like marriage because…

You have to work at it.

There’s so much talk of working on marriages, but so little talk of working on singleness. Part of the problem, of course, is that singleness is viewed as a temporary state on the way to marriage, where the “real work” begins. But in much the same way marriage does, singleness requires time, effort, planning, prayer, and maybe even counseling. If it looks like your singleness will last awhile, it’s worth asking, “How can I do this well?” We can’t expect things to fall into place without putting in the hard work. We don’t expect it with marriage; we shouldn’t expect it with singleness.

It comes with blessings.

Marriage comes with (ahem) benefits. Aside from sin-free sex, there’s also a measure of security, the hope of children, and the honor of being a living metaphor of Christ and his people. And yet singleness, too, comes with blessings. (Although, if you’re watching too many romantic comedies, it may be harder to recognize them.) Being single affords some of the opportunities Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 7:32 — a chance to focus on “the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.” Single people can minister in ways that require time and energy that married people simply don’t have. That’s a real gift.

It comes with challenges.

If we’re honest, I think married and single folks actually share many of the same challenges. The sins we often associate with single people — lust, discontent, and selfishness, to name a few — are just as real (and dangerous) for husbands and wives. These are things we fight against, not as married or single people, but as CHRISTIANS. The challenges may look different on the surface, but the root sins are the same.

God approves.

Some religious people have elevated marriage too much, deeming it the epitome of happiness, or even worse, godliness. Others have allowed the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction, idolizing singleness. In recent history, of course, the former has won out. (Recruiting offices at monasteries don’t get much business these days.) But one path is not nobler than the other. Single people will learn lessons that married couples never will, and married people will learn lessons that single people never will. We’re all in the business of glorifying God. Whether single or married, if you’re living a life that honors God, then he approves.

It’s temporary.

And here’s where I get really theological. You see, along with companionship and procreation, marriage exists to be a symbol of God’s faithfulness to his people. Jesus said, “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30). That’s because in the next life we’ll all be married to HIM. The shadows will give way to the greater reality, and we’ll see what earthly marriage represented all along: the joining of Christ to his people. This means that singleness, too, is a temporary state. All of us, whether or not we are married in this life, look forward to that final marriage described in Revelation 19, where we become the collective Bride of Christ.

7 Happy Movies

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Let me tell you about seven movies that make me happy. Every. Time. Just like real life, some of these films have sad moments — and I LOVE those moments. I embrace the emotion as part of the whole experience. Some of these may not be your typical “feel good” movies, but they’re my seven happy movies.

1.  The Sound of Music — Don’t EVEN think about hating on Julie. She’s pure perfection in this cinematic classic, as is every single musical number (except “Something Good”… Blah.) I’ve loved this movie since boyhood, and will love it until I’m bald and brittle and bedridden.

2.  Life is Beautiful — How can a movie about the Holocaust be even remotely happy? Perspective. Just TRY not to cry as this devoted father keeps hope alive for his young son while detained at a Nazi concentration camp. Mostly by telling him lies, but still…

3.  About Time — I’m kind of obsessed with this genre called “magic realism,” which includes movies like Ruby Sparks, Timer, Stranger Than Fiction, and The Purple Rose of Cairo. For me, About Time stands above the rest in terms of pure emotion. I cry at all the same spots every time I watch it, which is maybe once every full moon.

4.  Win a Date With Tad Hamilton! — Chick flick alert! And I don’t even care. It’s one of those movies that I love because of the nostalgia, not because it’s Oscar-worthy. My friend Yvonne and I have seen this almost as many times as we’ve hung out… So, countless?

5.  Pride and Prejudice — I’m all about the Keira Knightley version. Mostly because I haven’t seen the BBC version. Can you believe it? I’m told I would love it, but six hours is a big commitment, and I’m already too in love with the 2005 film. Especially the MUSIC!

6.  Spellbound — When I first saw this documentary about a spelling bee, I thought it was a mockumentary, because it’s that funny. But it’s totally real. Which is why I’ve watched it more times than I count. I don’t think it’s helped with my spelling, though.

7.  Dear Frankie — Heartwarming story. Scottish accents. Gerard Butler. Need I say more?

 

Review: Happiness

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When I decided to launch this website, I knew Randy Alcorn’s new book Happiness would be a must-read (and must-review). I don’t know if Randy knows this, but he and I are kindred spirits. First there was his book, Heaven, one of the happiest books I’ve ever read, and parts of which I’m sure were taken telepathically from my own brain. (Kindred spirits, you know.) Now there’s Happiness, which is a fitting “sequel.” Also, thanks to Randy, I’ve got tweets lined up for weeks. (No, seriously. Pretty much 90 percent of my tweets for the next few months will come from this book.) Here are my main takeaways from each of the four sections:

Our Compelling Quest for Happiness

If happiness is the one thing ALL people desire, and the one thing only God can ultimately provide, why aren’t churches talking more about it? In part one, Alcorn gives evidence from throughout Church history that happiness is something that saints have always, until very recently, pursued and preached. But he’s also careful to define his terms so that readers understand that the only kind of happiness we should pursue is that which results in glorifying God. That is, we won’t find true happiness in sinful pleasures (or GOOD pleasures that we’ve turned into idols, such as relationships), but we can — and should — seek happiness in God and the gifts of his creation.

The Happiness of God

This section tackles one of the most neglected attributes of God: his happiness. It didn’t take long for Alcorn to convince me that the Triune God is happy in himself and his creation — and that believing this is vital to understanding our own happiness. Many churchgoers imagine God’s default demeanor is one of anger and disappointment, which affects our worship. Alcorn asks us to imagine how our lives would look (and how the world would see us) if we knew that the God we serve is happy. Then we’re given evidence from Scripture that God is, indeed, happy — and he delights to make us part of his story.

The Bible’s Actual Words for Happiness

In what Alcorn calls the most important section, he takes us through passages of Scripture that use the Hebrew and Greek words for happiness, letting the Bible build its own case. One main point here is that these words should often be translated “happy,” but translators and publishers are fixated on the more traditional word “blessed.” We’re comfortable with the SOUND of Psalm 1 (“Blessed is the man”) and Matthew 5 (“Blessed are the poor in spirit”), but we can easily miss the MEANING of the word “blessed” in these contexts: HAPPY! Alcorn takes us through dozens (out of hundreds) of verses where the original languages denote happiness, making it clear that it’s one of the Bible’s most prominent themes.

Understanding and Experiencing Happiness in God

This section could be called “How To Be Happy.” It includes Scripture reading, prayer, corporate worship, repentance, forgiveness, service to others, gratitude, and a focus on our future hope. Now, these are strategies we already know. But with what we’ve learned in parts 1-3, we start to see these not just as things we ought to do, but things we should delight to do. When our DUTY becomes our DELIGHT, Christianity starts to look and feel the way it should: a religion of joy.

This book is a commitment, weighing in at more than 400 pages. But it takes about that long to debunk the myths surrounding happiness. In both the church and the culture at large, happiness needs to be redeemed — it’s demonized by churches, hijacked by prosperity preachers, and misunderstood by unbelievers. With the Bible and Church history on his side, Alcorn puts happiness back in its rightful place and gives us permission to pursue it as an integral part of our walk with God — a God who himself delights with us.

The Happy Commandments

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I’m gonna say something that might make you uncomfortable: God wants us to be happy. No, this isn’t a quote from Joel Osteen. (Or maybe it is, but I certainly wouldn’t know.) It’s biblical. God not only wants us to be happy, he demands it. The Bible is filled with directives to delight, rejoice, and be glad. They’re what I call the happy commandments. Let’s look at just two of them.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4)

Oh boy, this is one of my favorite commandments. This I can handle. Loving our enemies? Hard to do. Humbling ourselves? Hard to do. But rejoicing in our good, faithful, loving Creator? Yes, please! Charles Spurgeon said,

“What a gracious God we serve, who makes delight to be a duty, and who commands us to rejoice! Should we not at once be obedient to such a command as this? It is intended that we should be happy. That is the meaning of the precept, that we should be cheerful; more than that, that we should be thankful; more than that, that we should rejoice.”

But how do we obey a command to be happy? Like anything else, it takes a little practice. It requires reading God’s Word, praying, and meeting with our fellow saints to honor God in corporate worship — the same “spiritual disciplines” we’ve heard about a hundred times. Practicing the things that REMIND us of the Lord will cause us to REJOICE in him.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15)

Of course, that’s only half the command, but we’ll talk more about the second half in good time. This one is great because it gives us a reason to make other people’s joy our own. But once again, how do we obey such a command? I’ve learned two practical ways to do this over the years.

The first is to say, “I’m happy for you.” Out loud. While smiling. And really mean it. When someone gets promoted or engaged or wins a vacation to Hawaii, tell them you’re happy for them. Even better, thank God for those things. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Blessings are blessings, whether or not they’re yours. So take time in prayer to thank God for other people’s gifts. You’ll find there’s a lot to be happy for.

The second trick is to ask WHY people rejoice and WHERE people rejoice, and then go there! Get out of the house and celebrate things that don’t revolve around you: weddings, birthdays, baby showers, retirements, baptisms, and maybe even anniversaries. (Just make sure you don’t drop in at the wrong time!) And if you can’t be there in person, send cards or text messages. Or if you’re REALLY pressed for time, click “Like” on Facebook — let them know you’re rejoicing right alongside them in the laziest way possible.

God commands us to delight in him and our fellow man, just as he commands us to love him and our fellow man (Matthew 22:38-39). I’m with Spurgeon on this one: we shouldn’t delay in obeying the happy commandments. We need to start taking happiness as seriously as God does.