Who Is Having the Most Fun?As you look at the picture on our cover this month, I would like to ask you who is enjoying the outing the most--the fathers or the kids? I think it is pretty obvious that the fathers are having a blast and the kids are not too sure. I would suggest to you that our view of what God calls us to do affects to an incredible degree the joy that we get from doing it. Atheists and skeptics frequently charge that the biblical teachings are too restrictive and too confining to be followed, and there are some believers that go through their daily Christian activities with the feeling that they are making a huge sacrifice to do what they do or not to do something they think they might like to do.
Christianity is not a morbid, confining, unhappy, restricted, miserable way of life. Christianity is a happy, free, joyful way of life. Following the teachings of Jesus Christ sets a person free and allows them to reach the very best of life. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 the Bible is defined as a guide given by God for the best of everything in life, completely furnishing every person to the best they can have. The fathers in the picture are doing what God tells them to do in the Bible. They are bringing their children up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), they are doing what avoids provoking their children and discouraging them (Colossians 3:21), and they are teaching their children about life and how to live it (Proverbs 22:6). As they do this, they are finding enormous joy and happiness; and a relationship is being strengthened by their continuous involvement with their children.
The principle of finding joy in life by following what God tells us to do works in every part of our lives. The person who feels that the Bible is just a bunch of limitations, stopping their fun and enjoyment of things, is terribly misled. In this discussion, we would like to suggest some areas where this can be seen in abundant clarity and suggest that we all think about how much we are missing by our approach or by our failure to do what God has instructed.
MARRIAGE. Perhaps the most obvious place where what we have suggested can be seen is in marriage. The media tells us that more and more people are cohabiting because it works better than marriage. If the figures are right, this is not just college age people; but even seniors seem to be sliding into this new living arrangement.
The teachings of the Bible are very clear on this subject. God says in no uncertain terms that the plan of God from the beginning is one man/one wife for life (see Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5-6). The various proponents of new moralities for the past 50 years have deemed this teaching unworkable and restrictive; but from every standpoint you can imagine, the biblical system is superior to all cohabitation methods. The risk of disease is increased with every sexual partner a person has, and that risk is not linear. What I mean by that is that you not only have increased risk because of the partner's situation and any sexually transmitted disease that they might have had, but every partner that your current sexual partner has had is also now available to you.
The problem of disease may not be compelling to many people because they are led to believe that with proper care they will not get whatever disease might be out there. That is patently false, but it is also important to understand that the joy and the pleasure that comes from sexual relationships is lost when God's plan of one man and one woman for life is not followed. Sex is a very personal and special thing. All of us have different needs and different ways of expressing our sexuality, and these expressions are incredibly complex and can be tempered by previous abuse or negative attitudes. In a marriage it takes time, a lot of time to understand what needs are in your partner and how to meet those needs. The best of sexual experience in a marriage take place five or ten years into the marriage. While the pleasure bond is developing between a man and a woman, other parts of the relationship develop and stabilize: the view of how money should be used, the feelings about punctuality and use of time, arrangements for recreation, and what kind of mission in life each partner is developing and finding that God is calling them to.
As these things get cemented and life becomes more directed, new problems come at us from the outside of the marriage--illness, extended family problems, professional problems, financial problems, etc. As these things are dealt with and overcome, the relationship gets better and better and the oneness that God talks about blossoms bringing security, deep friendship, identity. and common purposes and values into the marriage. Most marriages that break up do so before these things are accomplished, and if all a marriage is based on is physical release then the bond is too shallow to allow the joy that God intended.
FORGIVENESS. Many people find the teachings of God on forgiveness to be impossible. When Peter asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive someone who had sinned against him Jesus basically said "as many times as it takes" (Matthew 18:21-22). In the Bible we see people doing things that seem to be impossible--Jesus asking God to forgive those who were crucifying Him and Stephen begging God to forgive those who were stoning him (see Luke 23:34, Acts 7:60). All of us have had people who have done things to us that we feel are so bad we can never forgive them.
The problem with not forgiving someone is that the only person that really gets hurt by not forgiving is you. Every time you see the person who sinned against you, it hurts. The old wound is opened and you relive the problem. The relationship between you and that person deteriorates more and more because, even if you do not say anything, your body language does. The natural response to someone having done something awful to you is to want revenge. In one way or another, we want to inflict the same pain on them that they brought on us. There is no way that peace, freedom, lack of stress and anxiety can ever come about as long as these feelings and emotions rage within us.
The Bible tells us by example that one way to deal with things like this is geographic separation. When Paul and Barnabas had a falling out, they each went their separate ways and let the past be past and went on to do good and share in a common goal. In both cases mentioned above with Jesus and Stephen, they were praying for those who had done terrible things to them. It is hard to stay angry with someone that you continually pray for, and Christians can believe that God will eventually in His own time find positive ways to answer that prayer. It has been said "It is not what you eat, but what eats you that makes you ill" and while that is not totally true, there is certainly a large element of truth in it. God's teaching on forgiveness can bring healing and joy back into life and to relationships. It also can be applied to ourselves. Sometimes we need to forgive ourselves and let the past go and move on to the good things God has in mind for us; and I know from personal experience how hard it is, but it is essential and with God's help it can be done.
GIVING. One subject that skeptics seem to enjoy dwelling on is religionists constantly asking for money. There is no question that there have been religious con artists that have taken money from people on false pretenses and sometimes have used money in inappropriate ways. It has been said that there are two kinds of people on this earth--the givers and the takers. The statement is not intended to deal with reality but with attitudes. When the Bible tells us to give, the emphasis is, "the Lord loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). If you stop and think about it for a minute, the Bible also identifies God as the creator of the cosmos, so the whole cosmos belongs to God. Why does God need my money? The answer to this is that He does not. If every Christian in the world stopped giving this instant, the work of the Lord would still get done. The purpose of giving is not for God's benefit, but for ours.
Somewhere in the past I remember hearing a comparison of the Sea of Galilee in ancient Palestine with the Dead Sea. They are very close together geographically and share the same waters. The Sea of Galilee is a beautiful life-filled place, while the Dead Sea is a lifeless, ugly, negative place. The only real difference between the two is that the Sea of Galilee has more water going out its outlet than comes in its inlet--apparently due to underwater springs and copious rainfall. The Dead Sea has no outlet--it just takes and takes and takes and never gives. People are just like that.
The person who never learns to have a heart that is oriented toward giving never finds the kind of love that God intends for us to have. Not learning how to give freely and cheerfully dooms our families, our marriages, our sexual relationships, and our friendships to mediocrity at best. Learning to give brings the best of everything to life, and not being able to give fully chokes the best things in life and prevents their full joy.
WORSHIP. Many people will give mental ascent to the existence of a supreme being, but will reject church worship as unnecessary and meaningless. I love the out-of-doors and I have had friends who share my love of lakes and woods say to me that they get much more out of two hours in a canoe than two hours in a worship service. The problem here is that their view of worship is that it is a time of entertainment, of feeling good, of doing something that brings pleasure and good feelings--something like catching a big fish, watching an owl, or observing migrating geese. Worship is not a spectator sport, and what is done in worship is not the same thing as fishing or engaging in floating down a beautiful river.
Worship is an opportunity to reach upwards, outwards, and laterally. What I mean by that is that in worship, we reach upward to God, outward to those in the world who need help, and laterally to our brothers and sisters in Christ who share our values and our desire to change the world in a positive way. God does not tell us to worship because He needs His ego salved or because He is depressed. God is not a deficient Being who depends upon us for anything because He lacks something or has a personality disorder. Jesus demonstrated worship by praying with His disciples and singing hymns with them, but He also washed their feet and commanded them to do likewise. The message is not foot washing but being able to serve others: "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, to visit the widows and the orphans in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." (James 1:27)
Maturing as a Christian means growing up enough to enjoy helping and serving others--actually getting joy out of it and finding it adds new meaning and value to life. A full grown Christian finds great joy, strength, encouragement, peace, and renewal in worship. "The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:16) describes this process. Living with the Spirit of God dwelling in you is a daily thing, not something that floats down from heaven when we reach a certain state of emotion or engage in enough religious activities. Having a loving, friendly, peaceful, secure, unthreatening relationship with God is a beautiful thing and sustains us in the battles and problems of life. When Jesus said "Come unto me you that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30), He was promising His followers that they would find the best of everrything in life by following God's plan.
Who is having the most fun? Those who follow God's teaching and His plan for life. Everything Jesus said works and is a powerful reason to obey the Lord and be an active, dynamic, working Christian allowing God to work through you to change the world and bring good things to others. --John N. Clayton
--John N. Clayton
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