Your life will be as bright as the noonday sun. Job 11:17

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Inside Out

We like buying stuff, at least we think we do, and merchants are counting on us to think that. Almost from the crib it’s bred into us. Television commercials, billboards, pop-ups on our cell phones… Our 21st century lives are fast-paced, consumer-oriented experiences inundated with the constant message of BUY, BUY, BUY your way to happiness. The bigger house, the faster car, the trendier clothing, the coolest toys…these are the keys to happiness!

Were this true, then the thrill would not fade. But it always does, and we soon find ourselves back in the same place seeking the next “buy,” one necessary to keep us on a “happiness high.”

Many, thinking they’ve managed to turn a deaf ear to stuff, turn to experiences. Indeed, research backs up this thinking. Researchers from San Francisco State University report that people who spend money on experiences rather than stuff are happier and experience greater feelings of satisfaction thinking their money is better spent. These researchers suggest that the thrill of purchasing things fades but the joy and memories of experiences last a lifetime.

Well, you needn’t look far to find research that rebuffs San Francisco State. You guessed it – eventually the thrill of an experience fades, too, which is why people are constantly seeking the next experience – a higher mountain, a louder party, a better view…

Whether “stuff” or “experience,” the problem is that both find their roots in the external. Not only are merchants counting on us to look externally for a happiness fix, so is Satan.

Satan works from the outside in.

A common scheme of his is to get us caught up in external trappings, feeling that we need that car, have to have that dress, can’t live without that house, are nobodies if we don’t take that trip… He knows that we can only continue on this route so long. Eventually something runs out – our money, our health, our flexibility, our time – whatever will keep us from being able to secure that next happiness fix. We quickly cycle from simple disappointment to devastating ad debilitating depression, no longer able to keep up with the Joneses, no longer “on top,” no longer the pacesetter – the one that everyone else wants to be like. And much like the substance abuser who will do virtually anything to get that next high, we search frantically for our next happiness high, and such begins a downward spiral.

The real problem – seeking happiness instead of joy.

Happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts and events. While happiness and joy are both wonderful feelings, joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. Happiness tends to be more of what I call a “head thing;” the seat of joy is your heart because unlike Satan who works from the outside in, God begins His work inside and works outward. When you accept Jesus as Savior and Lord of your life, there is a change in your heart – there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11)!

As happiness tends to be tied to the external and wanes when the external changes, your joy is only as stable as the source. Fortunately, the source of true joy is Jesus (John 15:11) and, His joy is stable and lasting; it is our glory (1 Thessalonians 2:20), it is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10) and it is continual (Proverbs 15:15).

Happy New Year; I wish for you unspeakable joy (1 Peter 1:8)!

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Crocodile Tears

When you’ve been in the “business” of education for as long as I have, you see (and dry) a few crocodile tears. Students, young and old, as well as adults, staff and parents, are apt to shed a few tears. While some are legitimate (true heartbreak or true regret over a poor decision), many are about as real as the Louis Vuitton handbags you can buy on Canal Street in New York’s Chinatown. Sorry.

For a period, I served as a mediator for special education disputes. I was called to facilitate the mediation process when parents and school systems found themselves at odds over services and supports for children identified under the federal law, IDEA. Mediation training prepared me for crocodile tears and lots of other drama and, possibly, physical altercations. During training I thought that this couldn’t possibly be real, but surprisingly, during my three years as a mediator, I saw it all.

Even today I have vivid images of the mother who set up a tri-fold display of photos of her daughter right in the middle of the table around which we, opposing sides and the mediator, were gathered. When I turned the photos face down (as we were taught to do in mediation training – no trying to muddy the waters with emotions, just stick to the facts), the mom immediately began to “cry.” I moved the process along, as I had been trained, without acknowledging her “tears.” So, she “cried” louder. I continued the process and pushed a box of Kleenex in her direction. (Prepared mediators always traveled with a box of Kleenex. THAT lesson was part of the training.) She added physical elements to her “crying,” groaning and body jerks. I continued the process. She laid her head on the table and pounded her fist while still “crying” and now gasping for air. I asked, “Do we need to take a break?”

Mom immediately sat up and turned her mascara-smeared face directly toward me and said, “No! You are a cold —– who obviously does not care about my beautiful daughter!” And in that very instance the “crying” stopped. She added, “Nothing works with you!”

Yep, crocodile tears!

As Christians, we cry our fair share of crocodile tears, too. We always have. The book of Judges bears testimony of such. Its chapters and verses reveal patterns of rebellion, punishment, repentance and deliverance – a cycle of apostasy. Indeed, the Old Testament relays several incidences when the children of Israel “cried” to the Lord (Judges 6:7, 3:9, 4:3; Jeremiah 9:1-3; Exodus 14:10, 3:7). Sometimes they, like the mom during mediation, “groaned” (Exodus 2:23). But as we read account after account of the people crying and groaning to the Lord and their liberation from enemies and deliverance from persecution, we must wonder about the sincerity of those “cries” and true remorse for their sin.

While we are wondering about the children of Israel, we might wonder about ourselves, too – our crying out for deliverance only to return ourselves to sinful situations, sinful thinking and sinful acts. Do we beg, plead, cry out to God offering “deals” and promises to “never do this again,” to “stop seeing this person” or “give up this bad habit” to be delivered and only return later to the place (pattern, habit, thinking, behavior) where we were before? How genuine is our grief and, even more importantly, our repentance? True repentance involves a change of heart and a change in purpose and, subsequently, a change in behavior.

As you wonder, are you truly repentant or just shedding crocodile tears?


Biblical Repentance:  https://www.gty.org/resources/articles/A330/what-is-biblical-repentance