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This Changes... Happiness

Read this message transcript from the "This Changes Everything" message series

Harold Bullock: So, how are you feeling this morning? Good. Tired. A lot of different ways. You and I experience a lot of different feelings during the week. It's very interesting that every human language has words grouped around two matters. Every language. Let me show you a picture of them. There's a big group of words grouped around feeling good, and a big group of words grouped around feeling bad. That's interesting. Why? Why does... I mean whether it's Eskimo, or Spanish, or English, or a language in New Guinea, or one of the 1100 languages in India, every language has this. Why? Every human language has it. Why?

Well, it's because every human language is spoken by human beings, and this is how all human beings experience life. Sometimes we're feeling good, and sometimes we're feeling bad, everybody regardless of language or location. In English, and we actually have a group of words about feeling good. We'll take a look at them in the moment.

I'm Harold Bullock, I'm senior pastor here at Hope. I'm glad you're with us today. If I haven't met you, I'd enjoy meeting you. I'll be out near the door after the message. We all feel good and we feel bad. And we all would like to be happy. Right? I mean, wouldn't you like to be happy? Sure. As a matter of fact, sometimes we'd like to be happier.

It's common to all of us. We're going to take a look at how this changes everything. What's happening. Christ changes happiness too.

On the screen is a list of words from high intensity to low intensity. These are good feelings. You know, sleepy, sleepy is actually a good feeling, unless you've got another 300 miles to go. But it's a good feeling. Tired, not so much a good feeling, but sleepy is. Relaxed. That's good. Are you chilling? Calm, that's good. Serene, that's a higher level of just calm and peace. Pleased, happy, delighted, you know that's, you have a high degree of gratification. I'm just delighted. Elated that you, you have a high spirits now. Euphoric. That's both, "I'm, I'm happy and I'm excited too." Ecstasy, whenever you hit this one, you get past reason and self control. You're just so happy, past reason and self control. There's a drug by that name and it definitely will put you past reason and self control, but does sometimes we hit that level. Bliss, that's sort of the top of the list. Some of the eastern religions promise this. Whenever you hit bliss, you are delighted, you're happy, and you're unaware of anything else going on. I personally never been to that level yet, but we have, we have a lot of words, a lot of levels of feeling good.

Interesting thing is that the scriptures actually command followers of Christ to live with joy. Hmm. Now, here's one. This is Psalm 102 in the Old Testament, "Serve the Lord with gladness." There's a Hebrew word translated gladness. It's a word [Hebrew 00:04:25] it means to be happy or lighthearted and your disposition. So you serve the Lord, you carry out your life before him with a lighthearted, happy disposition. Very interesting.

Here's another one. This is New Testament. "Rejoice always." When is always? Always you rejoice. The word rejoice means, the Greek word is [Greek 00:04:53]. New Testament originally written in Greek, the Old Testament in Hebrew. "Be cheerful, be calmly happy." You know, not blown out with happiness, but be calmly happy. "Rejoice always." Do this always. Interesting idea, given how unpredictable life is, given the difficulties and the challenges that can suddenly show up in life, how do you do that? What do you do to do that? Rejoice always. That sounds like the writer has no concept of what my week is, but this is a command. We're going to dig into this. We want to look at it. How do you do that?

First of all, what exactly is happiness? You know, if you don't know what it is, you might miss it on your way past it, up or down. What is happiness? How good do you have to feel in order to be happy?

Well, first of all, happiness is not amazing delight. There's a listening guide in your handout, you may want to use to follow along with us. It's not amazing delight. Let's go back to the list that we had a few moments ago. Here you go. High intensity to low intensity, sleepy, happy is more than sleepy. Happy is more than calm. Happy is actually sort of in the middle of the scale. It's about halfway. It's sort of medium level intensity. It's mid-range, so if you are happy, you're not blissed out of your mind. If you're waiting to be blissed out of your mind before you are happy, then that's not happiness. That's something else.

Happiness actually is defined this way; it's a sense of wellbeing and contentment. It's those two things together. Wellbeing that says, you know, "Things are good." Could they be better? "Yeah." Could they'd be worse? "Oh sure." But they're good. Things are good. That's first. The second thing is they're not only good, but it's enough. Contentment, it's enough. Things are good, and it's enough. Buy it's hard to have enough of anything in our society. We live in a marketing and advertising era, with media dominating, it's full of those things. And there are some of the marketing that is really helpful. There are things you're looking for, things you need, and boy, this really helps out.

There are other things, other types of focus that primarily exist to make you discontent. "You need this. You don't have it. You wretched person. Your life will be so much better if you had this." Well, yeah, with that pouring on you all the time, it's just hard to reach that point of this, "It's enough." However you can do it.

Wellbeing, things are good. Contentment, it's enough. You pull those two together, you're happy. So what is happiness? That sense that things are good and it's enough.

Second, "What makes me happy or sad?" Where does this come from? I would like to share a video clip with you. It's from Despicable Me 2. Gru the hero, is an arch criminal, but he's turned from crime to do right. And he did that because he met three little sisters and he adopted them. They won his heart, he adopted them, and he turned away crime. Interesting. Happy. Sad. This is how we usually approach happiness. Things go well, they look hopeful, we're happy. Things don't go well, things don't look hopeful, I'm upset and I'm sad.

Actually that's not unusual. Joy, The way that term we use in English, joy is something that comes out of good circumstances. It's the emotion that we have that whenever there is wellbeing, things really are coming together going well. Now, joy is one of the things that bubbles out of that. Or success or good fortune, something wonderful just happened. Or the prospect of getting or possessing, you know what we really want, we can see it. It's there. Whenever we're at that point, joy.

Gru is going to see the secret agent lady at the scene of the investigation, and it looks like wellbeing, success, prospect of possessing this relationship. And then anything but wellbeing. Anything but success, anything but hope for that relationship, up and down. If this is the way we normally experienced joy, how on earth do Christ followers produce that joy even amid difficulty that adversity? How do you do that? It's a good question.

How do you process the hard stuff in life and maintain gladness, joy, happiness? Here's a suggestion from the music world it's simple. "Don't worry, be happy." The advice is good, but how do you turn off the anxiety and turn on that sense of wellbeing? It's hard. "Don't worry. Be Happy." Good. Psychology Today, the magazine, carried a post in 2015, a guy who studies this area, happiness, wrote, "A happy person experiences the spectrum of emotions." Because if you're basically happy, you still have the wide range of emotions, positive and negative, but the frequency by which they experience the negative ones may differ from regular people. They're not down as often as others, he's saying.

It could be that happy people don't experience as much negative emotions because two things, they process it differently, and they may find meaning in a way that others don't. It's very interesting. They process it differently and they find meaning in a way that others don't. Actually what he says lines up with scripture, happy people have a different way of seeing meaning in things and they have a different way of processing.

What makes me happy or sad? Well, we think it's a circumstance we run into, like Gru. His lady is going to Australia, end of the relationship, but it's not so much the circumstance, it's our view of the circumstance. It's not so much what happened, it's the view I take on the circumstance, how I view what happened, and then the process I use for dealing with the tough things.

Years ago I heard a happiness expert on talking and he said, "You could tell me that one person won the state lottery and another person at the same time became a paraplegic. You would be telling me nothing about their happiness one year later." That's amazing.

If something is hard, it has an impact on us, a downward pull, you know, and that's normal. It's not abnormal, it's just normal. I mean, hard things are hard. But to do what scripture says, we have to do something different. Now we don't have to ignore reality. "Oh, that's not really that hard." If it's hard, it's hard friend, you can admit it. You don't have to deny that the disappointment hurts, or that the hurt is not there. "I just don't feel it." You know, "Sticks and stones may break my bones" et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Truth is, whenever we're hurt, we actually are hurt.

We don't have tried to pump ourselves up into some kind of emotional unreality. "Yes, I know it was tough, but life is good and I can master this." You don't have to do that. If it's hard, you can just say, "This is tough." At the same time though, you have to realize that you're going to have to think about it, what has happened, you're going to think about it from a different angle and then you're going to have to process. You're going to have to move forward from a different angle from what people normally do. If I'm going to live joyfully, happiness makes some demands of me.

First of all, I'm going to have to choose some things. Now I'm going to give you something that's not on your paper. There's not a mention of this, but it's important. I'm going to have to pick a grateful view of the ordinary. You know, I don't know about you, but life tends to go by fast. Stuff happens during the day and I'm moving through the flow of things and I just sort of get caught in hurrying from one thing to another. I start cycling from stress to calm to anxiousness, maybe to relaxation, and then back to hurry, and then back to stress, and then we just sort of run through this during our day. In the middle of it we tend to miss the really good things that are going on. We miss things good things we're experiencing, like here's one, continuing to breathe. That's actually a good thing. Whenever that stops, you really have a hard time. It's hard.

Or having the strength to do things. If you're younger, you don't think about that. As you get older, you remember what strength was. You're grateful for what little you have now. This is just how life moves. We tend to just roar past the good things that are going on. Engaging your kids, if you have young kids, they are never not a problem. They have to be managed, have to be taught, and be taken care of, and it's easy in the middle of all of it just to get caught in it, and miss the fact that one of these days you're going to be thinking about those times fondly. It's easy to miss it. That's one of the reasons why we're doing the Heads Up Parenting Workshop tonight. They give you a heads up on some things that'll be really useful for you.

You can, you can miss the fact that you're doing something helpful for the world. If you have a job, you're actually helping the world in some way. You're helping move things forward. That's a good thing. You're going miss the beauty of a day. You know, today's a glorious day. Enjoy it. There will be other days in the middle of the hurry. Don't fail to enjoy that. You can miss God's kind provision. God puts all kinds of things in your life that are good. We tend to see what we don't have, not what we do have, and the scripture says in Acts 14 that he actually provides food and all this other stuff. So that we can enjoy life. It's easy to roar past it.

Take a different view of the ordinary. Take a grateful view of the ordinary. Say thank you to God as you hit the small joys. Recognize them, thank God for them. If you live with joy, you're going to have to adopt a grateful view, not just a busy view, a grateful view.

Also though, you're going to need a positive view of difficulty. Difficulty keeps on intruding. And whenever it shows up, you're going to need a different angle on it. It's going to be something like this, "My God is in charge. He was not asleep whenever this landed on my plate. He is in charge and he will use this for my good. This will be for my good." But it may not look very good. It may actually be very, very hard, but "This will be for my good."

James says, "Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds." When I first read this verse, I thought, "That is weird. That's just weird." Trials, hard things, that's just weird. "Consider it pure joy." That's not what I do. Consider it pure joy because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance, perseverance is pressing on doing right. It develops perseverance. Perseverance has to finish its work so that you may be mature and complete and not lacking anything. In other words, as I hit the trials, as I hit the hard things, they're going to come and I'm going to have to deal with him by doing right over, and over, and over again when it's hard. Out of that I change. I become a different person. And you know what? That's good, actually that's good.

So I'm going to have to take a new view on things. The difficulty arrives. My view has to be this difficulty will change me for the better. It's going to be used by God to somehow bring good to me and to other people. It's not because you see how it can be used. It's a trust. Alexander McClaren said, he was a Baptist pastor at the end of the 1800s, became very famous man. He was very committed scripture, very good speaker. He said, "All of life, and every incident, is a part of God's training to us, training us to a greater capacity for blessedness." Every incident that comes along is a part of God's training and what's happening, God is trying to train me to have a greater capacity so he can bless me more. Every incident, the hard ones included.

My understanding is that he's right. Even the darkest and most threatening times, if you rightly think through them, are like storms that produce rainbows. But that's not the way we normally approach them. So I choose a perspective, a different perspective, on the difficult thing. A grateful perspective on the ordinary, a different perspective on the difficult.

I don't choose the angle that says, "This is not what I want." It may not be what I want, but that's not going to be my angle. Or "This just makes me sad." Well, it may be pulling me downward, but if I picked that angle, I'm going to spend a lot of time in the black hole of sorrow and depression. I have to pick a different angle. Instead, here's my angle, "I don't see how, right now, that it will happen, but this will bring me good. I live out of who I am, and I will grow through this experience. I will change amid difficulty. I will change so my life will ultimately be better because I'm different. And then God will bring me good out of the hard things. I don't see how I have to choose this."

You have to not only choose a different perspective though, you have choose a different process, a different way of handling it. I don't know what your process is for handling hard things, you know, many of us just fall into a heap on the floor emotionally, and try to live until something different happens. But you have to have a process. You choose a different process. I trust in the... I obey Christ. I handle it a different way. So when difficultly shows up rather than wig out and become paralyzed by fear, we choose what scripture says.

This is what scripture says; God will help me. So here's how I'm going to process this. Number one, I'm going to pray. I'm going to ask God for help and understanding. Number two, I'm going to do what's right. Even though I am feeling so low and my heart is almost in the bucket, I'm going to press on. I'm going to do what's right before God. And then I'm going to trust him. I don't see how, but I'm going to trust him to do me good to this. And actually this is often a repeated fight to keep your perspective, but the fight can be won.

It's not as simple statement. You have to do it again, and again, and again, and you'll win. Second Corinthians 1:8-10 Paul writes, "The hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure." It was more than we could handle, "So that we despaired even of life." In other words, indeed our hearts, we felt the sentence of death. It's over. We're all going to be killed. He goes on, "But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead like he did with Christ. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril and he will deliver us." He didn't say the sun came out and everything looked so rosy. What he said was, "We press through and God increased our level of trust and faith in him, and it'll happen again."

Here's the core issue in what I'm saying, rejoice, it's a choice. It's a choice. I have to choose a grateful view of the ordinary flow of life and I'll forget it. I have to remember it. I got to keep coming. I have to keep coming back for this, a positive view of the difficult. If I don't take that view, I will just spend my time in the black hole. I have to choose to respond to difficulty by praying for help, doing right, trusting God to bring good.

Now I'm not saying this is easy, I'm just saying it's necessary. For me and Deborah, we've gone through a number of hard things. Probably the most devastating was the death of our eight month old daughter, Natalie. This took place seven years after we'd started Hope. I would sacrificed a lot, and a lot of good things were happening, but Natalie suddenly got sick with a cold. She was eight months old, almost, and took her... Debra took her to the hospital the next day and they told her that she would die.

She had picked up a disease that killed several babies in Fort Worth. Now, kids get the vaccination for this very early on, there was none at that time. The people of Hope, and we, and people around the U.S. actually, prayed around the clock for her life. Now some of you were involved in that. Ten days later she died. And, you know, we loved her. As she breathed her last, I wanted to hate God. I wanted to curse him. I wanted to rebel against him, and turn away, and do the things that he despised just to hurt back.

And I mean my heart was raging, and I was crying, I got down on my knees by her bed and shook it, and told God while I was shaking it how I felt. I told him, "I hate you. I want to curse you. I want to turn my back on you. But I will not. Please help me. I will not. Help me." I wept in grief. The church sent us away to rest, me and Deborah, and Jessica was a little girl then. I spent some time clearing the land for my folks back east, and then we vacation for 10 days, my folks kept Jessica, and I kept praying for perspective on this thing because we'd sacrificed. We'd really tried hard to obey God, and Deborah and I finally decided that we're going to take this path, we were going to trust God to do us good. Even out of this though, we did not see how. And we were going to walk forward doing right. We would ask God for another daughter, but we were going to trust Him. And this was not a simple matter, this was a continuing fight for months, but you keep coming back to trust. You keep coming back to trust. You keep coming back to trust.

Gina, our daughter was born a year later, I think on the date of the funeral. And she has been a delight. She has four kids of her own now, living in California. I battled through grief many times. You know there's a right kind of crying. If you lose someone like that, you cry. This is not trivial, but there's a wrong kind of crying too. There's a kind where you just sort to fall into the blackness, that's wrong for God's people. And then not refuse to go into the black hole of just overwhelming grief. You refuse it, it'll go away.

Over time, God showed us that he was taking care of Natalie, she was with Him. Jessica, our little girl, actually, she was about three at the time, three or four, Lord actually gave her a dream and she saw Natalie and saw Christ with her and a lot of things happened. She gave her testimony about that sometime back on in the conference. That that was really a tremendous help cause we were concerned about her. And then the Lord show me, he had disciplined me, part of this was discipline for complaining. I'd done some complaining against God.

But 16 years later, a guy who's had a tremendous impact on other people told me, "You know, when your daughter died, I knew that you guys are going to chuck it all because this was just awful. But when you didn't, my life had to change." He's been a person who's had tremendous influence on people, but you know, I didn't know that for 16 years. You don't know these things. You don't know about the daughter who will be born a year later. In the moment you have to trust Him and process this differently. If you don't, it will take you.

So this is what I'm talking about is not simplistic. You know, as we've had other kids we have struggled with fear, "Will this one be taken too?" but you battle through that. There is actually a kind of joy you live in. Our happiness comes through our choices. You choose a different perspective, a different angle. You choose to find meaning in a different way from everybody else, and you interpret hard things by the realities of scripture. As I face difficulties, I can press through all the swirling emotions and they do swirl. I bet I can press through with a deeper joy that arises, not because of how wonderful the circumstance was, but because my God will use even this to do good.

My life's not going to be perfect. I'll make mistakes. I'll forget about my choices and then I'll remember. There'll be moments of brightness in the dark. They can increase over time. Something like this picture right here.

Now you see the street lights in the dark, love darkness between them. As you look down the street perspective makes it look like the lights are closer, and closer, and closer. Now, this is how life can get. We're human beings, we don't get it perfect, but take the right angle, take the right angle, take a grateful angle on the ordinary, and take a trust angle on the difficult. And over time, the frequency of the light increases. You'll still mess up. If you do, tell God, "Lord, I messed up" and start back rightly.

And gladness is actually one of your defenses. There's a verse in the Old Testament. This is not on your notes, but this is true and Nehemiah 8:10 says, For the joy of the Lord is your strong place." This is in the basic English translation, Bible in basic English.

Many times translations will say, "The joy of the Lord is your strength." Actually, the strength word in Hebrew is like a fortress that you enter when you're under attack, and you can repel the attack. This is a part of your defense. We actually have a spiritual adversary. The Bible is very serious about him and when you're distraught, upset, discouraged, you're a very easy target for him. Whenever you walk in the basic joy, when you're operating in the basic joy, then you have a protection against the thoughts, the random feelings that come roaring through you, but you have to walk in the joy. You leave the castle. Life's a lot tougher.

Rejoice always and remember, rejoice is a choice. Whenever this stuff shows up, it's a choice. I want to encourage you amid the busy flow of this week, be grateful. Take a second just to thank God for the good thing, his kindnesses in the middle of all the rush. Thank him. If you've experienced really bitter things in the past, then I want to encourage you to admit the grief to him and tell him, "This really hurt. And it hurts." Admit the grief, but ask God to bring good out of it, and then walk forward asking Him to do good, doing right in your circumstances, and then trusting Him to bring good over time. You'll see it. It'll be awhile.

Hard things may arrive this week, something shows up you didn't want. Remember rejoice, it's a choice. You'll take a perspective and you'll process it some way. I want to encourage you, take the view that he will do you good. Declare that, "Lord do you will do me good". Then pray, ask Him for help, do what's right, and trust him. Over time, trust him. Look forward to what he will do rather than just how awful this is. You can admit it's awful, but look forward. Don't get stuck here.

Happiness really is possible, not a "Blissed out of my mind." That's not realistic, but it really is possible. It's a sense of wellbeing, and this is enough. It really is possible. If you lose happiness admit it. Ask God's help, then move forward trusting him. If you've not yielded your life to Christ yet, I want to encourage you to do so as we pray. He is God. He came on a rescue mission. Jesus Christ did to pay the price for our rebellion against God. That's why he died.

Actually, that's probably the greatest example of God bringing good out of tragedy. He was, he was crucified on a Friday and his disciples thought their life was over. "Everything we've given ourselves for is gone." On Sunday he did something no one expected. He came alive again with a different body and since then things have been different. What they thought was true about God suddenly became real. This is reality. So when you yield your life to him, your record before God is stamped, forgiven, and he moves in, he moves in to give you power to handle difficult things like we've been talking about, power to approach life from a different angle. To trust him in the middle of the hard thing, and to lead you into a deeper and more meaningful life. So why wait?

As we wrap up, I just want to say again, rejoice always. And remember, rejoice is a choice. Choose well.

I'd like to lead us in prayer. Father, thank you so much for your help to us. Thank you for taking the tragedy of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and turning it into victory in ways no one anticipated. Thank you for again, and again, and again, the small things that you've given us that actually enable us and help us. Thank you for the hard things that are so difficult to grasp and turn a different direction with. It is so natural to us, Father, to feel the downward tug and follow it. Give us eyes this week to see your hand in things even though we don't understand it and to pray, and do what's right and trust you. You have always been faithful. You've never run out on anyone. You have not done wrong to anyone and you have always done right by us. So help us, Father. We ask you in the name of Jesus. Amen.