Monday, September 22, 2008

A Lengthy Response to "Happiness Is the Residue of a Holy Life"

September 22, 2008

The following is my response to the above article by Patrick Morley which recently generated quite a bit of email discussion among some of the men of the church.

Link to the Article:

First, let me say that I enjoy reading all of the comments that have been arriving to me as emails. Very spiritually stimulating dialogue. Thanks Brett Crow for getting these conversations started. Second, all of you (and you know who you are) who are not leading a study group should be! Seriously, this is the kind of well-thought-out dialogue that should characterize Hebron’s Sunday School and Bible Studies. Third, I am “weighing in” late on the topic as the church did not have internet for most of last week and I have been unable to access my account. Anyway, having said all that, let me throw my two or three cents in.

I enjoyed the article, “Happiness Is the Residue of a Holy Life” and felt that Patrick Morley was right on target. True holiness, which is living a God-centered and directed life, does produce true happiness or “blessedness.” This makes perfect sense. When you pursue God with all of your heart, soul, and strength, you discover the kind of true happiness that is described in the Beatitudes (God’s radical attitudes for life). Of course, the issue seems to be, “Is it appropriate for the church to offer people the way of happiness?” “Is this somehow selling out or commercializing the Gospel?” “Can we preach the Beatitudes to people in the hopes that they will discover God’s way of happiness?” My answer is a resounding “Yes!”

In understanding a text, it is imperative to know at least two things: (1) What kind of literature you are dealing with and, (2) What was the author’s original intention (purpose). Keep in mind that the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are by there very nature considered evangelistic literature. In other words, they present in the purest form the basic materials for Gospel preaching; that of calling people to faith in Christ. This makes the Beatitudes fair game for evangelistic preaching. In my preaching from the Beatitudes, my underlying approach has always been to make clear to people, “This is what God says true happiness is; therefore, if you will radically reorient your life towards God (become God-centered through repentance), you will discover that God’s blessedness is far different from the worlds, but also far more satisfying.”

I agree with Brett’s statement that it is God-honoring to preach a message on a topic (e.g., “True Happiness” [my phrase]) as a starting point with the intention of showing people that this is a result of a God-glorifying relationship. Let me digress for a moment and veer off into the field of preaching. Homiletics (the art of preaching) has to do with the way a preacher develops a sermon – its content, structure, and style. Because preaching is art (but not fine art), there will be many variations in how a biblical text is presented, all of which can be faithful biblical sermons. For instance, some preachers chose to begin with a topic which is supported with various biblical texts (e.g., Rick Warren’s approach), while other preachers chose to begin with a text which is developed as a unified message (e.g., John MacArthur’s approach). Topical sermons (once the mainstay of preaching, especially in Baptist churches), generally speaking, are not held in high regard by many people today. This may be a poor generalization, but people that listen typically to a John MacArthur or John Piper are not big Rick Warren fans. Nevertheless, both styles of preaching are evident in Baptist churches (and others as well) every week and can be God-honoring, biblical, expository in nature (i.e., explaining and applying the text) and effective in calling people to salvation in Christ.

In case you’re wondering, probably 90% of my sermons begin with one unit of text and are expository in nature. Last week’s sermon, “If I Were Satan,” was an exception to my general practice. Although I will preach topical sermons on occasion, I generally prefer to preach a biblical unit of thought (usually a paragraph in length) and I often preach successively through Books of the Bible. (Commercial) This week I will begin an expository series of sermons from the Book of Malachi.

What does all of this have to do with our discussion of “Happiness”? It is biblical to promote God’s way of life (His Word on happiness) in a topical fashion that appeals to people outside of the faith in the hopes that individuals will be open to God’s Spirit at work in their lives. Of course, we do have an obligation to preach the truth with integrity and not just tell people what they want to hear. I admit that some preaching today sounds like man-centered pop psychology, “Ten Easy Steps to Being Happy” (minus God). However, just because some preachers (and churches) are preaching happiness (and other “felt-need” topics) from a man-centered view doesn’t mean we should not apply the proper corrective by preaching what God really says on these subjects.

In conclusion (a favorite expression of preachers), let me say that I think holy people are happy people. They are happy because the Beatitudes are fleshed-out in their thinking and lives. The godly man does live a “blessed” (“makarios,” exuberantly happy) life. Some Christians have adopted a suspicious attitude toward happiness as if being happy is somehow less than holy or God-honoring. I praise God that He has made me righteous (holy) through Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). Because Christ has set me free by His amazing grace (Eph. 2:8-10; Jn. 8:31-32), I am living a “blessed” (happy) life. Does God want people to be happy or holy? Based on Scripture, I would have to say God desires that people be both holy and happy. It’s not an either or situation that we are confronted with as one of the first paragraphs in the article points out: “But why do they [i.e., holiness and happiness] have to be mutually exclusive? . . . I think a better solution is to describe the correct relationship between happiness and holiness.” So I ask, “Why does the church have to present holiness and happiness as mutually exclusive?” The answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is helpful at this point. To the question, “What is the chief end of man?,” the catechism states the following: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” There it is – holiness (“glorify him”) and happiness (“enjoy him”) residing together in wonderful harmony. The better path is to preach and teach both holiness and happiness. Faithfulness to the biblical text demands that we do no less.

“Happy in Jesus!”
Pastor Joe


Pastor's New Sermon Series Begins September 28th

What happens when the flames of faith burn low, sputter, and seem to be on the verge of being blown out by the winds of contempt and cynicism? God raises up a spokesman to call His people back to renewed faithfulness to Him. Malachi was such a spokesman for his time, and our time. Malachi – “God’s messenger” – ministered in perhaps the most difficult period of the nation’s history: a time of waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled. Many people doubted that God cared or would act on their behalf. Malachi showed his people that what was needed was to rekindle the fires of faith that almost had gone out. Among the areas that Malachi addressed were worship, divorce, the day of the Lord, ethical living, stewardship, and God’s righteous remnant.

Malachi is a timely book for today. Beginning this Sunday, September 28th, I will be sharing a series of messages from the book of Malachi. “Rekindling the Fires of Faith” is designed to help us as a church focus on four important areas of faith.
September 28Rekindling Your Worship
Malachi 1:6-14

October 5 “Gone Fishing!”
Sharing the Gospel Emphasis

October 12Rekindling Your Marriage
Malachi 2:10-16

October 19Rekindling Your Stewardship
Malachi 3:6-12

October 26Rekindling Your Hope
Malachi 3:13-4:3

For His Glory!
Pastor Joe

Sermon Text for Sunday, September 28, 2008


Sunday, September 28th begins a new series of messages from the book of Malachi.

Topic: "Rekindling Your Worship"

Text: Malachi 1:6-14

6 “ A son honors his father,
And a servant his master.
If then I am the Father,
Where is My honor?
And if I am a Master,
Where is My reverence?
Says the LORD of hosts
To you priests who despise My name.
Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’

7 “ You offer defiled food on My altar,
But say,‘ In what way have we defiled You?’
By saying, ‘ The table of the LORD is contemptible.’

8 And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice,
Is it not evil?
And when you offer the lame and sick,
Is it not evil?
Offer it then to your governor!
Would he be pleased with you?
Would he accept you favorably?”
Says the LORD of hosts.

9 “ But now entreat God’s favor,
That He may be gracious to us.
Whilethis is being done by your hands,
Will He accept you favorably?”
Says the LORD of hosts.

10 “ Who is there even among you who would shut the doors,
So that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain?
I have no pleasure in you,”
Says the LORD of hosts,
“ Nor will I accept an offering from your hands.

11 For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down,
My name shall be great among the Gentiles;
In every place incense shall be offered to My name,
And a pure offering;
For My name shall be great among the nations,”
Says the LORD of hosts.

12 “ But you profane it,
In that you say,
‘ The table of the LORD[a] is defiled;
And its fruit, its food, is contemptible.’

13 You also say,
‘ Oh, what a weariness!’
And you sneer at it,”
Says the LORD of hosts.
“ And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick;
Thus you bring an offering!
Should I accept this from your hand?”
Says the LORD.

14 “ But cursed be the deceiver
Who has in his flock a male,
And takes a vow,
But sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished—
For I am a great King,”
Says the LORD of hosts,
“ And My name is to be feared among the nations.

For His Glory!
Pastor Joe

Wednesday, September 10, 2008



With Gustaf hitting our area pretty hard, it has certainly been an eventful week. While many people are having their power restored, others in our area may still be waiting for some time. It’s safe to say that it will be awhile before all of us get back to normal. Let’s pray real hard that “Ike” fizzles out in the Gulf somewhere. Although we did not have electricity at the church this past Sunday, we did manage to have “Power!” during our one joint worship service held at 9:00 a.m. What a wonderful sweet spirit we experienced as we praised God, prayed, and shared testimonies of God’s goodness and His faithfulness. We attempted to get the word out concerning our revised schedule; however, many of our folks did not get the word. As you know, communication was almost non-existent at times this past week. Nevertheless, I still feel bad for the fact that not everyone got word. I apologize if you were one of the people who showed up for our regular service times. In the event of future disasters that occur, we will have a standing rule that we will meet for one worship service at 9:00 a.m. as we did last Sunday. Provided “Ike” doesn’t come our way, this week we will have our regularly scheduled services and activities.

Gustaf has reminded all of us of some important lessons, one being the importance of loving your neighbor. Paul said that “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). This past week, my family has experienced your love first hand in very practical ways. You called, visited, helped put tarp up in the rain, brought food and supplies (e.g., generator, gas, fans, etc.), washed clothes, and encouraged us in a dozen other ways. You made this entire experience bearable for us and I am truly grateful for your concern.

Another lesson that I have been reminded of is that all of the earthly stuff that we think is important, is really not. What’s really important is loving the Lord and serving others. What’s important is your family and your friends. When we love and serve the Lord through our families and neighbors, we are laying up treasure in heaven where moth nor rust nor hurricanes can destroy (Matt. 6:20). When we have the right perspective on our earthly stuff, we also will not worry nearly as much. Because we belong to the Lord, He is going to meet our needs and take care of us. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).

Another lesson that I have been reminded of is that we are to praise God even in the storms of life. When Satan came before the Lord he challenged Job’s resolve to praise God when things were not going well. He accused Job before the Lord by saying, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9). But notice how Job responded to the multiple disasters that he endured. “Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.’” (Job 1:20-21). No mater what the circumstance, Job determined that he was going to bless the Lord.

We are to bless God in the good and in the bad. Why? Because He will be faithful. So let’s keep praising Him in every circumstance. Let’s keep loving Him by loving our neighbors. Let’s keep sharing the hope that we have in Jesus Christ to a world that so desperately needs Him.

Praising God in the storms!

Pastor Joe
Phil. 1:3