Becoming Like Jesus, Making Disciples, Bringing Real Change
January 12, 2018
“100% Happiness Guaranteed!” Wow! That’s the best offer I’ve had all week – even all year. Worth investigating further. Is it part of the package presented by motivational speakers, in which your life is transformed by doing something or reading something or simply declaring that you believe in something? Possibly; more likely, perhaps, that what is required of you is some money. But even handing over a shed-load of money couldn’t actually guarantee One Hundred Per Cent, could it? Well, as usual, it all depends. Each of us has a different concept of happiness, what it is, how to find it, and how hard we have to work to get it.
Many of us have the idea that human beings have a right to be happy. I don’t know where that comes from, because the evidence for it is slight. More convincing is President Abraham Lincoln’s assertion that humankind has a right to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. We can’t demand 100% happiness just because we think we haven’t had our share, but nobody else has the right to stop us looking for it. So how do we begin to look for it? Can we work for it? Nothing I’ve read spells out how hard labour brings happiness. Nor does following a specified pattern of life, or giving away all we possess, or following a particular guru. Happiness can’t be bought off the shelf, or donned like a character in a play. Why? Because it’s a gift from God, and while such gifts are available to all it is up to us to accept them humbly and gratefully – not to claim that we have earned them by sticking to the Ten Commandments or saving a child from drowning. It is wonderful when we suddenly become aware that God has just overwhelmed us with this gift, undeserved and unexpected.
Happiness is not the same as Joy, or Pleasure, and with God’s help we shall meet all those joys in time, but let’s not be seduced by a skilful advertising copywriter who claims that his product (and only his product) can bring “100% happiness guaranteed!” Total Happiness belongs to God, and he wants to share it with us. The closer we are, the easier it becomes to share. So let’s get as close as we can to God – and watch out for 100%!
If you’re from the right generation, the name Spotty Muldoon will awake memories, mostly of the late, inimitable Peter Cook and his special Muldoon voice, not to mention being doubled up with laughter every time you heard him. In company with many teenagers I had a period of Much Spottiness, during which time I tended to avoid all responsibility or anything that involved being on public view. As adolescence passed by, I became more adept at avoidance, so you may imagine my horror when a neighbour, aiming to hone his skills, asked me to sit for him as a photographic model. Actually, the results were not half bad, and I began to glimpse the joys of a spot-free world. The climax came when, in my first job, an anonymous figure told me that the virtual blockage of my career progress was now defunct, so they could consider me for a posting to some exotic tropical place overseas. “They” had thought that spots might lay me open to terrible disease. As it happens, they were wrong.
“They” were wrong, but for the best of reasons; they cared for their staff. They were committed to efficiency and success, but recognised that a happy workforce was the best way to achieve those ends. Of course there are similar stories in the Bible; take the story of Mephibosheth in the second book of Samuel, chapter 9. As it was with my plethora of spots, Mephibosheth’s handicap was impossible to ignore: both feet were damaged and useless. Society of that time held the disabled in low esteem; they were a burden economically and socially embarrassing. Yet David, embodiment of physical beauty, sensitive to music, and a model of leadership, went out of his way to find a remnant of his enemy Saul’s family to whom he might make amends. Many of us fall victim to some kind of physical, mental or social disadvantage, but we need never feel friendless. We all have family ties because we are children of God, we all can benefit from God’s career planning, and we can be sure we are on the winning side. And Mephibosheth? “And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table; he was lame in both feet”. (2 Sam 9:13) God’s blessing is always there, ready to receive and to delight – Praise Him!
As soon as you’ve heard a word for the first time, it seems to crop up everywhere. For
instance, this household has hitherto found no use for the word “Cusp”. It isn’t the sort of
word that crops up in general conversation, and if it does, there’s bound to be somebody who
is bold enough to say “Er – what does ‘Cusp’ actually mean?” Thus are many otherwise
bright and erudite people reduced to incoherent babble when trying to understand a chunk of
(for instance) Bible text. It is difficult enough wrestling with language that is two or three
thousand years old, without having to take in differences of interpretation. It’s reassuring that
Peter, everybody’s favourite Apostle, who delivered a couple of brilliantly clear sermons
about Jesus, himself found some of Paul’s letters difficult to understand. Two of Peter’s
letters are included in the New Testament, and in one he wrote of Paul that “His letters
contain some things that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16).
In general, we Ordinary People expect precision from those whom we’ve selected to be
Intellectuals, Specialist Advisers, and the like. It’s their job to know and understand the
detail of the world around us, and any mention of uncertainty is frowned upon. So when,
after a series of tests, the Consultant says that you’re “on the cusp” of developing a particular
condition or disease, you feel vaguely disappointed. We can’t be satisfied by anything other
than total understanding or total commitment. Unfortunately God didn’t make human beings
perfect, and often stands back to give us a chance to tackle a problem rather than just handing
it over to him. Of course, he’s still there in the background and ready to step in to what will
have been for us a learning experience.
Not much room for being On The Cusp in all this. But it’s there; we can often feel that we’re
neither here nor there in facing a life challenge or coming to faith, but we’re not on the cusp
for long, because we have a God of order, not untidiness. Maybe we don’t need to remember
what the cusp is, because God wants to get rid of it as much as we do. Cusp = a place of
uncertainty, between one condition and another. Certainty = God, Praise Him!
There are times when you have to buy something that will do a particular job, but about which you know very little, and understand even less. Recently we reached that point in life when you just have to buy a roll of adhesive tape, and for once the tape manufacturers anticipated such a problem. The packaging of our freshly-bought tape bore the legend “If unsure of application please consult a qualified Tradesperson “. Oh dear. How can we find such a person? How do we know that anyone we find is actually Qualified? And what sort of qualification will we need – HND, GCSE, MSc, Postgraduate? There are various helpful guides available to help us choose – but there remains the problem of personality and whether
the Tradesperson is easy to get on with.
That’s the point when The Little Man enters the discussion. Many people get to know the local Tradespeople with the best reputation, and find ourselves saying “Flat roofing? Yes, I know a little man who can do that at a decent price and quickly as well”(People who do this always speak of a Little Man; where are the Big Men?) . Indeed many of us would prefer to
rely on the recommendations of friends than on specialised directories. What if our query
relates to our faith? Did the person you spoke to suggest a Little Man who knew more about
Jesus? Probably not. . A survey in the 1990’s came to the conclusion that the great majority
of Christians came to faith via the testimony of a friend (not a professional) who was happy
to talk about his or her experience. So beware. You may be called on to be the Little Man,
regardless of how much you think you know. Just for that moment you will be the Fount of
All Knowledge. Go with it, trusting that God will make up for any imperfections. He has
left the door ajar (Revelation 3:20); you don’t even need to push!
(By the way, the book of the survey was “Finding Faith Today” by John Finney, published by
the Bible Society in 1992)
The retirement home where my late mother-in-law chose to spend her latter days provided
comfort, food, and friendship, but was occasionally weak in the area of spiritual support.
Naturally, at that time of life one’s thoughts turn to whatever comes next; will it be pearly
gates and a deluge of gorgeous party dresses (wings optional), or is there an alternative
destination for those not up to the mark? I was chatting to one of the residents some time
after my mother-in-law had died, and found myself saying “But you know where you’re
going, don’t you?” A pause, longer than it ought to have been, and she replied “Well, you
see, I’m not sure”. I was dumbfounded. More than 90 years old, a dedicated Methodist,
exposed almost daily to excellent Bible teaching, and she wasn’t sure about whether she
would be welcome in Heaven when the time came!
In our 21 st century society, it’s normal to provide evidence to justify being allowed to enjoy a
privilege; tick all the boxes and you’re a winner. But God doesn’t work like that; he is
pleased to see us doing his will without prompting but he’s not in the business of counting
good deeds. First of all he wants us to love him and do things because we want to please him
and show our gratitude for his grace, Grace is the word we give to God’s gift of forgiveness
that is free to those who give their lives to him. And alongside forgiveness and so many
other things is his promise of eternal life (John 5:24). Jesus doesn’t actually say that we will
be in Heaven, but what he does say takes it for granted that there is a better place awaiting us:
“In my Father’s house there are many rooms .... I am going there to prepare a place for you”
(John 14:2). To the thief crucified on the next cross, he said “Today you will be with me in
Paradise” (Luke 23:43) Eternal life in the presence of a loving God is the backdrop to all the
drama played out in the New Testament. If we accept all that God is and has done for us, we
can be certain that Heaven exists and that there is a place prepared for us. There’s one less
thing to worry about!