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Happiness: It's What I Deserve
Scripture: Proverbs 19:23; 23:17-18
Track 7 of 13 in the American Idols series
Running time: 42 minutes, 41 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

The Pursuit of Happiness

I don't recall meeting anyone who didn't enjoy In Pursuit of Happyness, the 2006 movie based on the life of Chris Gardner. Most people respect the grit and determination displayed. And the American psyche loves the "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" mentality that succeeds in the end.

It's in our founding documents, so why wouldn't we like it? We memorize this line as children-- We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Yet . . .
Peggy Noonan's "You'd Cry Too if It Happened to You"--Forbes Magazine--9/14/92

Somewhere in the Seventies, or the Sixties, we started expecting to be happy, and changed our lives (left town, left families, switched jobs) if we were not . . . I think we have lost the old knowledge that happiness is overrated . . . Our ancestors believed in two worlds, and understood this to be the solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short one. We are the first generations of man that actually expected to find happiness here on earth, and our search for it has caused such unhappiness.
Happiness has become the American Dream. All other pursuits--career, relationships, home ownership, toys, affluence, busy-ness--all seek to produce the one driving desire of our hearts--to be happy. Yet happiness proves to be elusive.

Someone once said, "Happiness is a cat. Chase it and it will elude you, it will hide. But sit and peacefully do your work, live your life and show your love and it will silently come to you and curl itself upon your feet." There's truth to that.

But may I be so audacious as to suggest that our definition of the "pursuit of happiness" may not be a Biblical ideal? From a human perspective "happiness" doesn't include "giving your life a ransom for many," "suffering for righteousness sake," "turning the other cheek." "Happiness" probably doesn't evoke images of "lend without thought of return," "leave vengeance to God," "our present suffering is not to be compared to the future glory" or any number of other Biblical pictures.

Could it be that our reduced focus on heaven (life, after death) has caused us to focus too much on earth (life, before death)? Is it possible that if we believed there was something better to come, we'd be less concerned about what happens now? I wonder if we shouldn't write a Christian declaration of independence: "we have these privileges/responsibilities . . . eternal life, forgiveness of sin and the pursuit of holiness."
Peggy Noonan currently writes for the Wall Street Journal, she was at one time the speech writer for Dan Rather for his radio program as well as being a special assistant to Ronald Reagan in the White House. She wrote an article about fifteen years ago called "You'd Cry Too, If It Happened To You." Published by Forbes Magazine. I thought what she had to say in that article, at least this portion of it, was apropos to the very issue that we're trying to address this morning. And that is the cultural bent towards being happy.

She says, "We weren't put here to be happy. Somewhere in the 70's or the 60's we started expecting to be happy. And we changed our lives, left town, left families, switched jobs, if we were not. And society strained and cracked in the storm." She goes on to say, "I think we have lost the old knowledge that happiness is over rated, we've lost somehow a since of mystery about us, our purpose, our meaning, our role. Our ancestors believed in two worlds, and understood this to be the solitary, poor, nasty, broodish, and short one. We're the first generations of man that have actually expected to find happiness here on earth. And our search for it has caused such unhappiness. If you do not believe in another higher world, if you believe only in the flat material world around you, if you believe this is your only chance at happiness, if that is what you believe, then you are not disappointed when the world doesn't give you a good measure of its riches...you are desparing!" We expect to be happy. It's an amazing thing, when you think about it. And I don't want you to think that happiness is not a good thing. I'm not suggesting that there is anything wrong with being happy. The problem is, our culture has dictated to us that we're suppose to be happy more so than just supposed to be happy, we deserve to be happy. Life owes it to us, to be happy.

There's an interesting article, that I thought captured some of this, called The Conspiracies Of Happiness. In which the fellow says, we often collude to maintain many conspiracies about happiness that have us believe that happiness comes from outside of us. We're promised instant happiness for simply buying the right toothpaste or drinking the right beer. We know from our own experience that more material things do not bring us happiness. We remember how quickly the happiness of a new job, a pay raise, a new house or a new car an international holiday wears off. Often leaving us feeling empty and needing something bigger and better.

Here are some common happiness conspiracies. If I only had more money I'd be happy. If I was only more famous, I'd be happy. If I could only find the right person to marry, I'd be happy. If I only had more friends, I'd be happy. If only I wasn't physically disabled, I'd be happy. If only someone close to me hadn't died, I'd be happy. If the world was a better place, I'd be happy. The "if only's." I suppose it's a game we've all played at some point in our life, if only this, if only that, then my life would be different and I would in fact be experiencing this thing we call, being happy. Whatever in the world that happens to be. And we have this insatiable craving to be happy. Even if that means finding some obscure, even evil way of entertaining ourselves.

Maybe you saw it on the news, the other night? The video that was placed out on the Internet of giving a toddler Ecstacy, while a family was driving down the highway and when pressed about why they did that, it was because they were bored. They needed some entertainment. [Ed: Later determined to be rumor.] That seems to me to be one of the issues that we are dealing with. We find ourselves asking ourselves, what is there about life that makes us feel happy, elated, enjoying things, smiling? What is it that produces the euphoria that we somehow have labeled as being happy? Whatever it takes to produce it it seems like we're willing to do it anywhere from doing something criminal from doing something insatiable like shopping. So it seems to connect with all of those other idols that we've been talking about.

Something about this probably deserves us to ask some questions. Like, "Does what's going on in somebody else's life have anything to do with weather you feel happy at the moment?" Do you ever notice how quickly what goes on in somebody else's life can change your mood? A friend of mine, an acquaintance, Fred Kraddic, was traveling on an airline had ordered a, had sat beside a man who ordered a special meal, I've never tried that, though have been tempted to because you get to eat earlier if you do that. So they located this fellow, they brought him this special meal. They asked him if this was in fact the meal that he ordered, and he said yes. And a few minutes later they began, then, to distribute all the rest of the meals to people on the plane. And guess what? They all receive the same meal. I find that hard to believe. But it's true. I asked the man if it was true, it was. And so his seat mate, rang for the flight attendant. And complained. "I ordered a special meal." And she said, "you got a special meal. Is this not the meal you ordered?" "Yes, but everybody got the same thing I did."

Did you ever have that kind of experience, that you were perfectly satisfied with something you had, untill you looked across the fence to the greener pasture and realized they had something just a little better than you and somehow it wasn't quite good enough anymore? I know you haven't, because you're more mature than that. The question that I'm raising, is would a change in your own circumstances cause you to be happier?

I was fascinated this morning, this is actually todays posting, at Good Houskeeping. Don't even ask me how I ran across that this morning. The pursuit of happiness is one of the rights promised by the Declaration of Independence. But many of us simply don't know how to be happy. In a recent survey the United States ranked only 16th in the percentage of its citizens who say that they are very happy, compared to 65 other countries. We seem to have gotten the message that happiness is out there in the right job, perfect mate, the $50,000 SUV, rather than inside of ourselves. We've trained ourselves to think, "If only." If only my spouse, if only we could make, if only I could stay at home. We spend our time trying to make our if only's come true, only to discover if they were to come true, we'd need a new, "If only."

Here's the question I'm trying to raise. Is there anything that comes to mind when you think about being happy that would describe this cycle that we seem to be in whereby we never quite seem to be satified. I have two words that I would propose to you for you to just tuck away and just think about. The first one is the word, discontent. But of course, you know, we live in a world that is designed to create discontent. And part of that is very positive. There's something about living in your life and looking at yourself and realizing that there are ways you could improve who you are. We even promote that and we call it discipleship. Take a look at Jesus, take a look at yourself. And recognize that there is improvement that could be made in your own life. I'm not suggesting that all discontent is bad. The problem is, did you ever wonder if somebody elses "stuff," or some idealistic expectation has created in you a sense of discontent.

Now if it does, it's not new. That's been going on forever, hasn't it? You're not nodding your head yes. So let's try to prove that it has. "Wow, this looks like it would make me as wise as God. Why I think if I took a bite of this, I'd be just like God. I would be different than I am. I would become something better." And Satan immediately in the garden established discontent, you're not good enough the way you are. Or Israel took a look around at the rest of the nations and said, "Wait a minute, they've all got kings, we don't have a king." Other than God, who didn't seem to be good enough. So give us kings. Did you ever wonder if looking at what somebody else had, was creating in you a spirit of discontent that was distroying your happiness? So you couldn't feel content. Or that maybe there was some ideal out there that you had created, that if life were like this, then I'd be happy. But down deep in your soul when your really honest with yourself you know life will never be like that. But you got it created up here this idealistic marriage, or this idealistic job, or this idealilstic family, and when it doesn't come true than you are just going to be constently disatisfied. It's that discontent.

The second word that comes to mind is the idea of deserving. That, frankly, God owes us. I found this absolutely fascinating. I don't know if you will see the subtlety in this, I'm not very good at explaining it, but there is a subtlety here that I want you to see. You may have caught the news report, a week and a half ago, about a really heinous event in Florida. Where a gang raped a woman, and then they took her twelve or so year son and they began to poor chemicals in his eyes. Just, they were having fun. That is absolutely horrid. And all of you ought to be just sick at your stomach at the very thought of such a thing. On a web site, and please don't hear this as anti-atheistic, it happened to be an atheistic web site, it said, "I guess we'll have to learn to protect ourselves, because there is no God to protect us." Do you hear the expectation here? If there really is a God, then nothing bad will ever happen to us. Do you hear it?

We have come as a culture, to believe that we deserve to be happy. That nothing bad will ever happen. Well I don't know if I have adequately painted for you that picture that I'm trying to paint. The picture is that I think the culture has sold us a bill of goods. That my greatest achievement in life, my greatest dream, is to be a happy person. Don't think it's true? Is there an alternative? Yes. But I'm not going to tell you yet, what it is. We'll come back to that.

But I do want to ask you to think about this. If life going well, is what makes you happy. If not having something bad happen to you is what makes you happy. If living in such a way as to please yourself so that there is a sense of self satisfaction and self gratification that is going on, is what it is that makes you feel this thing we have come to call happiness. Do you ever wonder how we got to this table? Did you ever stop to wonder, if happiness was our greatest ideal, if happiness was our greatest blessing, how in the world is it that the son of God could ever come to earth and live among us and die for us? Because suffering doesn't fit in the category called happy. Dying for something you don't deserve doesn't fit in a category we call happy. And yet scripture is abundantly clear in Hebrews 12, that Jesus for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame. You mean there is something greater than happiness in this life? And the answer to that is yes, yes. And there's a demonstration at this table, of what that is.

I'll try to explain that better. But one of the things, that is so important in the life of a disciple--if you want to genuinly experience what God is looking for in your life--is to stop thinking all the time about happiness and thinking about service. Maybe that's a hint as to why Jesus was able to do this. Because somebody else was on his mind, besides himself. We want you to have an opportunity to experience the Lord's supper as an act of service. Where it's not about you, it's about somebody else. And so the Lord's supper is set up at various places in the room, as are stations typically are when we do it this way. But we want to do it a little differently, normally you would walk up to the table and you would serve yourself and then you would walk away. That's not what I would like you to do today. Let me just demonstrate what I would like to have happen. Glen would you stand up? If I am at the table I want Glen to walk up, and I want him to serve himself. And then rather than him passing the tray down the aisle, I want him to take the tray, and simply turn around, and stand there and serve the next person. And then that person will take the tray, stand there, and serve the next person. So that in our experience of receiving the Lord's supper we are--in the same time--demonstrating an act of our service to the christian community, to remind us this isn't about what we get, this is about our opportunity to imitate the service of Jesus.

Let's pray together for the Lord's supper. And then you can make your way to one of the stations, and please serve the person who is standing immediately behind you and then make your way to the table and serve the next. Father thank you, thank you for not sending a son who was bent on being happy. Thank you for sending a son who is bent on being obedient, who loved us enough to forget about himself. So that he might die for us. So in this really simple symbolic act, once we have come to the table and experienced the death of Jesus. We will then die to ourselves, and serve someone else. May that become inculcated within us. That that, that, not happiness, but that imitation of Jesus is what we're about. We eat, we celebrate, we serve in his name today. Amen.

We're making our way to an answer to this question. I don't know how many times I've given this statement to somebody who has come to me and said they aren't happy they don't always say it that way but that's what they mean my response has always been well I've got two suggestions for you and which neither of them you are going to like but I've yet to be proven wrong. I issue you this same challenge you want to be happy I mean you want this thing we're talking about, serve more & give more. That doesn't necessarily mean financially but give more of yourself, serve more now a lot of people are its an interesting report in the wall street journal people are stepping up to the plate philanthropically these days. They're not doing it because they are Christians there doing it because they are finding great satisfaction in giving more. I don't mean more dollars I mean more percentage of their income. There are people out there who are really stretching themselves to be able to give quite honestly yesterday when I was driving a load of brush down to the radio road dump site I was thinking to myself you know when I take a load of my own grass clippings and my own brush down here I don't feel nearly as good as I do today as I do when I do for someone else.

If you ask the 25 or 30 guys who show up on Saturday the second Saturday of every month and they go do service for somebody and they take one of our ladies and they do something at that house whatever it happens to be you will probably find 90% of them thinking to themselves I really could be doing this at home I need to do the same thing at my house but they don't find the same level of satisfaction doing it at their house that they do when they do it for somebody else. They just don't because there is something about giving of yourself something about pouring yourself into somebody else that matters.

You'll find in your bulletins a big blank spot. Some of you have been asking, "What is that there for? Did somebody goof? Did it not print?" No, it's intentional. It's a spot for you to write somebody a note. It's a spot for you to give of yourself to just write somebody a note. Your husband, your wife, your kids, your parents, your grandparents, or friend, your Sunday school teacher, somebody. Just write them a note and say, "You don't have any idea how important you are in my life. I want you to know that I'm here to encourage you today." You'll feel better because you've done that. There are way that you can pour yourself into other people and one of the ways we do that around here is marriage mentors and some marriage mentorees or whatever we call the other end of this thing to come up and want to spend a minute talking with you about this thing we do here that allows you to pour yourself into somebody else.

So if I can have the S. and the W. come up here they can do their thing.

Testimony on Marriage Mentoring

Well just a couple of weeks ago my wife and I were sitting at the table of a reception of a one of the many beautiful weddings we've had the opportunities to attend of Lacey and Dan and my wife looked around a little bit and asked the question of everybody at the table and later expanded it to about anybody she could find, "Do you remember when you got married and the preacher said 'You can kiss your bride?'" How many of you remember? I'll put you all on the spot today--how many remember that? Well that's a good thing.

I want to ask a series of questions and then give a comment here. First of all how many in here have been married over twenty years? Wow that's very good and the day that you got married do you remember when the preacher handed you that manual that said here's absolutely everything you may encounter from now until eternity about being married? Where are the hands? We didn't get one. Granted, I'll grant you that. Ok again the guys--single this out to the men--the guys who have been married over twenty years how many of you now look backwards on this and say man that worked out just exactly precisely the way that I had that I thought it would the day that we said I do? Boy this is a dead crowd today. Well, when Evan asked Kay & I if we would be marriage mentors my first reaction was, "There is no way! What way am I qualified to teach marriage?" Mentoring is not teaching mentoring is being there for someone having maybe perhaps just a little bit more experience of what does and does not work. Also you guys who have been married over 25 years, have you figured out a few things of how marriage works? You can shake your heads yes if you want. I think you all have, I think you've all seen that sometimes it involves just a little more than what you thought it was. And how what a great opportunity probably most of you took of the other people within the church to bounce ideas off of to discuss I feel this or I feel that or like Chuck may mention "I don't feel happy about this" or "I don't feel happy about that." So you took the opportunity to go to a brother or sister in Christ and you talked to them and said I'm thinking this or I'm thinking that and they were able to help you see you through your feelings your thoughts and come to some conclusion that's what mentoring is all about and its been a really, really great privilege to do so. People who have been married who have been less than five years in this crowd, I got a feeling next service will be a little quite larger than that. In that short period of time has everything totally worked out exactly the way you thought it would when you said I do? There's only a couple over here. Brent you can shake your head yes, Dan it probably has for you (they've only been married for two weeks) two weeks doesn't count but if you have the opportunity and there are many, many people here that are given that opportunity to mentor I would certainly encourage you to do so.
Testimony on Marriage Mentoring

My perspective is that marriage is a covenant with God given to us by God and it's a very wonderful, wonderful thing when it's a Christian marriage and it is under the covenant with God when you allow that. We're also very, very well aware of the pressures that are put upon newly weds the changes in their lives and we've encountered many of those as well and we feel that this is a very valuable experience for us to be able to be a mentor to become to get to know a new married couple and to share with them some of the things we have learned, so that they can have a truly good foundation which is vital for a good marriage.
Testimony on Marriage Mentoring

I can't memorize that much so we had to write ours down. I'm Shane W. and this is my wife Trudy and four years ago we were in pre-marital counseling for our upcoming marriage here at Madison Park. Evan Horner was our counselor and had recommended the marriage mentor program to us. We felt very blessed that Madison Park offered this program to us. There are so many other churches out there that don't in our community that do not offer these kind of services for newly wed couples newly married couples who are about to take the life changing experience. We told Evan we'd love to be matched with a couple and he introduced us to Mike and Kay S. We met with Mike and Kay on several occasions right before our wedding and several occasions after our marriage.
Testimony on Marriage Mentoring

When we would meet we would discuss the ups and downs of marriage um, several things in regards to our new life changing experience, and some similar circumstance that we were going to face that Mike and Kay also face during their first few years of marriage. The marriage mentor program was a great experience for us and it's helped us in so many ways. Even though our parents are excellent role models for a good marriage it was nice to have a couple like Kay and Mike to guide us as well, this experience has created a friendship for a lifetime.
Testimony on Marriage Mentoring

The first thing Mary said was, "Don't talk too long, because time might run out. We've been involved in it since Evan started this program about five years ago. It's been enlightening to us we've worked with three different couples now and the last one was last night and it's a joy to do this. All we're trying to do is just use the experience of our almost fifty-three years of marriage to let them know the first thing I stress to them to put God first in your marriage, your spouse second, and you third. And that's, I'm not going to go into any more detail, but we've had our spats after fifty three years but we've survived every one of them and thankfully we're together, until God parts us, whenever that's going to be.
Testimony on Marriage Mentoring

Jim and I have really enjoyed our marriage mentoring it's one of the ways we feel we can serve the church. We've had experiences that maybe we can pass on and it was just a joy last night just to see one of our marriage partners that we have help mentor, Sarah O. and Mike S., they are such a wonderful couple and we just feel like we have grown by knowing them more and we just feel like it was such an honor to serve God that we can help these young people get along in life and maybe they can learn from us some of the experiences that we have had.

Would you come with me to the book of Proverbs? We're driving toward an answer and I do hope we get one before we finish. Proverbs 19:23, the fear of the Lord leads to life, then one rest content, untouched by trouble. The awe--the fear of the Lord--surfaces all through scripture as one of the things that we are to drive toward to respect God, to honor God, to worship God, to find our focal point in God. And here comes this rather remarkable statement in the book of Proverbs that we will remain untouched by trouble. Please do not hear in that, that you will not have trouble. You'll just be untouched by trouble. You'll be unmoved by trouble, because trouble will not be the thing upon that you focus. You will find yourself dealing with trouble differently simply because you have your focus elsewhere. For those people who deal with life as life comes and frankly you all know this, life is really messy. And I've said this and I've heard you say this, I don't know how people who don't know Christ handle it. But those who have Christ who's focus is the worship and respect God remain untouched.

I got an e-mail from a friend this week, I can't read all of it to you but I just would like to share this with you. I was struck by this paradox. As this friend of mine is sharing with me the current troubles in his life the difficulty was some parental health. His father is not a believer and yet is in very bad health. They had just gone through a miscarriage and they are thinking that they may be again facing a miscarriage and yet the paradox comes in the closing. Here's how he signs off. Resting in Grace. Do you hear it? It's not that there's no trouble, it's that your untouched by the trouble it doesn't hinder you from being the person that God desires.

Turn over to chapter 20, excuse me chapter 23. In the book of Proverbs, verse 17. Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord. There is surely a future hope for you and your hope will not be cut off. Do you hear the instruction here? It's such a practical statement. Don't envy somebody else. Particular in this case, don't envy sinners. The difficulty that we face because we're human beings is that the other side of that fence really does look better. I have yet to see anybody give up what they have for something they thought would be less than what they had. It's always the perception that if I had that or if I had him, or if I had her, or if I went there, or if I did this, then my life would be better and that's usually stimulated because we have sat back and looked at somebody else and didn't understand the reality of what was going on in their lives. I would venture to say that all those people out there that you have looked at that looked so happy on the surface probably are dealing with the very same issues that you are. Their life isn't all that much different than yours, and yet we get caught in this trap in envying people thinking their life surely must be better.

And what the Proverb writer reminds us of, I think is the very thing Peggy Noonan had her finger on. That what we're after is not what this life can provide.

I've gotten to thinking about that recently I don't know what this means at all this is just the meanderings of a preacher who has nothing better to do than sit around and think. Have you noticed how few songs in recent years have been about heaven? And how many of them have been about now? We seem to have passed from an era when everything that the church focused on was on the other side, now I realize that there's another worldliness to that probably isn't all that helpful to many of us. But the truth of the matter is you shouldn't expect happiness in this life, because this life is not what it's about. And yet we've come to a conclusion to expect what we're supposed to get on the other side we're having here, and it isn't. So the Proverb writer reminds us to make sure we think about the future and to recognize that we have a hope out there that is bigger than whatever life gives us here. One last text, this one not from Proverbs, but from Psalm 37. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Do you hear it? Oh, I didn't say he'd give you whatever you want. I said he will create in you desires that are appropriate in you heart. You delight yourself in God and the next thing you know your going to discover the things you use to long for the things you use to want change. And you're not as distracted in this world anymore. I have to confess to you, it wasn't until early this morning it all came together for me and I don't know if it's right, I just know it came together for me. I found myself sitting there trying to pull all of this stuff together you have no idea how many articles about happiness I've read, you have no idea how many websites I've gone on looking up happiness and happiness quotations, and happiness factors, and unhappiness syndromes. You cannot believe all the stuff that is out there about happiness indexes from country to country, and I finally this morning, finally it dawned on me what everyone of them is saying, it's about me. If you do this, you'll be happy; if this happens you'll be happy; if you change this about yourself, you'll be happy; if you look inwardly you'll be happy. Every one of them. And I'm a slow learner, but I sat at my desk this morning and I was drawn again to Psalm 103. Bless the Lord all my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name. If you don't turn outward, if you don't turn upward, I can leave you one promise--you are going to be unhappy. Because your circumstances will always be changing something will happen to upset the equilibrium and you'll wake up and it will be a cloudy day. But if you look upward and you look outward and you make it your life goal to bless the Lord, to bless the Lord. To bless the Lord with all of your soul then it will not matter what your circumstances are and you will have what God intended for you to have and that is peace and his contentment in your life at a level that you will never be able to explain like Paul can talk about a peace that passes all understanding. And you'll have it, you'll have it. If your one passion is him and not yourself.

[Transcribed by AM3]