Thoughts on Happiness

By Mark Deisinger

Let’s talk about happiness. What is it and what isn’t it and how important is it? Merriam-Webster defines happiness as a state of well-being and contentment. If that’s what happiness is, then what isn’t it? I would say, and here I’m disagreeing with Merriam-Webster, who offer this as a synonym, that happiness is not joy, especially as the Christian tradition has defined joy. I think the key difference is that happiness is fleeting and depends on our circumstances, while Christian joy remains even when we’re suffering or in some sort of pain, because joy is based on the belief that God loves us and has secured our salvation even in the midst of worldly grief. C. S. Lewis said, in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer: “Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” Maybe, like Lewis often did, we should capitalize this definition: Joy.

So, if Joy is sort of the eternal counterpart to happiness, then how important is happiness itself? We certainly do seem to give it a lot of our attention. It’s easy to get wrapped around the axle because of a lack of happiness, and that can stunt our ability to navigate through our days and function in our world. Lack of happiness colors our view of the world in gray. I would say, then, that it seems unwise to neglect our own happiness.

Social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) amplifies the “turn the world gray” effect. It’s widely understood that the overwhelming majority of people on social media portray only the positive, happy parts of their lives. This leads to an insidious trick we play on ourselves. Here is the lie we tell ourselves: A lot of people, maybe most people, are happier than me.

We see the lives of others through social media at a carefully-selected distance. From that distance, their lives look amazing. They are always smiling, their Christmas gatherings are picture-perfect, and their children have straight teeth and are beautiful, respectful, and successful.

What we don’t see are the things they don’t want to air in public. We don’t get transcripts of the arguments that ruin dinners on normal, boring Tuesdays. We don’t get anecdotes about the child falling into drug abuse before she’s out of high school. We don’t see video and hear audio of slamming doors and a strained marriage. The gatekeeper of social media keeps our understanding at bay, and from that distance we see people with better lives than ours.

But it’s not true. I think of a gal with whom I attended elementary school and college. She grew up a block from me, and she was a  lovely and gracious person. The last time I saw her, at college, she was engaged to a basketball star from my high school (he’s a great guy, too). Their four beautiful kids are athletic and smart. Every picture of them just bursts with fun and good feelings. They all seem to live charmed lives, moving from success to success. The very picture of happiness. Privately, though, I learned from her that her father died not long after we were in college. That part wasn’t on her publicly-available page. Life has not been an unbroken chain of happy moments for her.

During the second week of the enCompass Clues teaching series, our illustrious pastor Kevin was talking about happiness and said this in a facetious aside:

[T]here’s always a few obnoxious people in every church who got it all. They always get the parking space, they have the happy family, their job is miraculous, and they go around looking at the rest of us like “What’s wrong with you? I’ve got the parking spaces and the happy family and the perfect job. Jesus does this for me; why doesn’t he do that for you?”

This got me thinking. If there were any such people, then my earthly nature would probably indeed find them annoying, but I don’t think there are any perfectly happy people in our church, or in any church, or in any community of any type anywhere on the planet. Happiness just doesn’t work like that. It comes and goes. It’s fleeting and hard to grasp and elusive. It isn’t Joy.

Romans 12:12 (NIV) says “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Patient in affliction and joyful in hope at the same time? That seems hard to do, but it’s what we’re called to pursue. Speaking of the Macedonian churches, Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:2 (NIV) says: “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” Right in the midst of a very severe trial and extreme poverty, they had overflowing joy. Wow. Pretty impressive. Very unusual. Very unlike me, I’m afraid.

But also attainable for me and for you and for Joe or Jane Average Christian, because it’s been made available to all who believe in Jesus. Learning to live in Joy in the midst of trials, no matter who you are, where you live, or the degree to which others judge the severity of your trials, is something we, as Christians, should all do.

I mean, what’s the alternative? Be sourpusses? No thanks. I choose life, with all it implies, including Joy. Choose it with me.

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Weird Uncles, Crazy Cousins, Wacky Aunts – Our Family

By: Samantha Sir

SamanthaHey, enCompass family! This year has been transformative for me, to say the least. It was my second year of coming to enCompass services, but really my first year of coming regularly. Although I haven’t been able to get as involved as I would like, I have finally let myself feel a part of this family. I am going to talk a little bit about the ways I see God working in enCompass and what God has been doing in my life, and how they work together. I hope it is encouraging to you.

When I first came to enCompass, I did not let myself get attached. I have been hurt by the Church in the past and have been a part of several church families, causing me to stay guarded. Through a combination of the authenticity of the sermons, music, and most importantly the people, I have really felt accepted and valued in this family. This is also significant because it is my first church (as an adult – without my parents). As a college student, I long to be a part of a family that includes people of all ages since I’m used to being surrounded by other students in the same stage of life as I am. The adults – the sisters, mothers, fathers and brothers – of enCompass have taken me in, just as the body of Christ. This started to occur as I came more consistently and did other things such as Connect group, leading worship, and prayer meetings.

This semester was a very rocky, twisty, sometimes dismal chapter of my life. It was a time that I was trying to complete an education in a major that I was not meant to do, but God led me to try it – and fail – so that I could learn to trust Him. I felt useless, incompetent, and frustrated, but God showed me that I can do more than I imagined, and that he can give us more strength and joy than I ever thought possible. The words of encouragement and exhortation I received at enCompass were one of the ways that God did this.

When He finally ended that journey, showing me a different path, I learned to listen to him. He had been telling me deep down that I was not using my gifts and passions fully, and that I was not a fit for the job that I was striving for, but I didn’t listen until very late in the process. Even though I was not very connected with enCompass throughout this process, they were praying for me. Also, the truth that I heard on Sundays lingered in my brain and heart throughout the week, and the Lord used it to speak to me. As the chapter ended and I was freed, I started getting more connected, and found that even though I felt as if I had offered nothing these past months – because I was physically and spiritually not able to – the people of enCompass were not bitter, guarded, or annoyed. No, instead, they embraced me and showed me that I am valued for just being there, not for what I accomplished.

This year, I have seen what sets enCompass apart from a lot of other churches. We still have room for improvement, but we are acting more as a family and a body of parts working together. I have seen growth, not necessarily in numbers, but in becoming a family in which we have the weird uncles, crazy cousins, wacky aunts, and everyone has their issues, but we love each other. As believers, we need to be real. We need to accept our own flaws and the flaws of others. I have seen this developing at enCompass. In fact, the weirdness makes me feel so at home that I almost feel… normal!! … Well, I don’t believe in normal, but seriously, I feel a part of this family. I have room for improvement too, but I look forward to seeing how we continue to grow together.

We can’t do this alone. Jesus made us to live in community with each other, loving and serving as he showed us to by example. Let’s keep striving for this and learning what this means in our own lives. As I learned this year, there are seasons in which I may have nothing to offer, but I am still valued as a part of the body! We are all called to love each other and be loved, and we do this by being open and vulnerable to God working through each person.

 

 

Fortifying the City

By: Sarah Arend

PillarsI’ve had some thoughts rattling around in my head recently. They’re about being equipped to stand against the enemy’s attacks. I’m a senior at Concordia Academy and oftentimes I feel really safe at Concordia; I know that I have people who will support and love me, I am comfortable there, I’ve been there for four years. But the fact of the matter is, in reality I’m not that safe [5]. In fact, nowhere that I go will really be safe. Nothing is safe because we have an enemy. And this enemy is going to attack, because he seeks our destruction at all times [1]. This means that no matter how safe I may feel like I am, I must be on my guard. And when I am in a place that is protected, that is the time to spring into action to prepare for an attack. It is not the time to get lazy or complacent.

It’s the idea of fortifying the city in peace [2]. If a city waits until it is under attack to fortify itself, its efforts will be far less effective and it will weaken itself because it must divide its forces. As Christians, we are far more vulnerable if we wait until we are under attack to go to the Word and to seek God. We need to internalize the truth before the attacks come so that when they do (which they will) we will already be equipped. In times of peace, or even when things seem mundane, it is so easy to get lax. It’s easy to look at past hardships and think, “Well I’m glad that’s over so I can rest,” or even to think, “Hey, you know I deserve a break after all this hard work.” And rest is a good thing. In fact, the Lord sometimes will grant us times of rest, but we should not equate resting with doing nothing. In 2 Chronicles where it talks about the Lord granting rest to Judah (footnote 2), that is for the purpose of fortifying the city. For me, I want resting to be a time of settling Truth within me so deeply it will not be moved. I want resting to be finding verses that speak the Truth of who God is so that I know His voice and character when under siege [6].

There is always more hardship to come, and sometimes it will be worse than we think because the enemy doesn’t play nice [3]. If there is a crack in the wall, he will take the whole thing down. Open the door and he will charge right on in. This is why internalizing the Truth, knowing undeniably who God is, and fortifying the “city” (ourselves)  is paramount. If we do not internalize the Truth in times of peace, we cannot reach for it in battle [4]. If we do not know undeniably who God is when He is easily accessible, how much harder will it be to find Him when we are under attack? And if we do not fortify in peace, we will become quickly depleted when attacks come because we must both defend and strengthen ourselves. The word of God, His Truth, is our weapon, our armor. The more than we can saturate ourselves in it, the stronger that we are. It is a mighty defense so that when evil comes, we can stand our ground. And when the war is over, we will remain standing [7].

 

Footnotes:

  1. 1 Peter 5:8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
  2. 2 Chronicles 14:6 He built up the fortified cities of Judah, since the land was at peace. No one was at war with him during those years, for the LORD gave him rest.
  3. John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
  4. Jeremiah 12:5 “If you have raced with men on foot
    and they have worn you out,
    how can you compete with horses?
    If you stumblea in safe country,
    how will you manage in the thickets byb the Jordan?
  1. 1 John 5:19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
  2. 1 John 5:20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
  3. Ephesians 6:10-13 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

The Cherith Experience

By: Maran Halverson

CherithHave you ever stuffed 12 marshmallows in your mouth at once? Or watched shooting stars at 2am? Or eaten pudding through pantyhose? Or had a food fight with week old oatmeal? Or dressed up like a clown for dinner?

At Camp Cherith, these are just everyday, “normal” activities. Campers and staff alike have the opportunity to be their goofy, authentic selves while learning new skills, making lifelong friendships, and getting pushed outside their comfort zones.

Camp Cherith has been an essential and life changing part of my life for over fourteen years. Like many other staff and campers at Cherith, this camp has impacted my spiritual life, friendships, and sense of adventure in countless ways. As a camper, I had the chance to learn fun skills such as archery, kayaking, outdoor cooking, guitar, and water skiing. Camp also created a safe space that encouraged me to try things I would have never tried at home. If you had told my nine-year-old self that someday as a camp staff member I would dress up in an 80’s business suit and charge through the camp dining hall holding a live duck as part of a skit, I would have said you were nuts. But somehow the environment and community at Camp Cherith fosters a sense of goofiness and fearlessness – all while confirming that no matter what, we are all fully and equally loved by Christ.

The staff that poured their time, energy, and love into me at camp ensured that I connected each activity back to my relationship with God. The schedule at Cherith provides a perfect balance of having tons of fun, making connections, and learning about Christ in different settings. As a camper, Cherith provided a refreshing reminder of my identity and worth. Then as a staff member, Cherith provided me with the opportunity to pour prayer and biblical truth into campers while they in turn taught me about faith and authenticity.

Volunteering at Camp Cherith to prepare it for the summer is a wonderful ministry opportunity because it gives you the chance to invest in and serve its many staff and campers. Cherith is truly an incredible place, and I think that investing your time, energy, and prayer into this camp will reap incredible rewards this summer. AKA if you haven’t signed up to volunteer over Memorial Day Weekend, GO DO IT! I can guarantee you’ll have a blast and that your efforts will make a huge difference!