Sunday, July 18, 2004

The Happiness Project: The People Who See God

Matthew 5:1-2, 8
(shared with the people of Friendship Church, July 18, 2004)

For six weeks now, we’ve been looking at some words Jesus shared privately with His inner circle of followers one day on a Judean hillside. They appear in the fifth chapter of the New Testament book of Matthew, in twelve verses we call The Beatitudes. In them, Jesus talks about happiness. Interestingly, in the Beatitudes, He doesn’t give us a how-to manual. Instead, He presents a few word pictures of what happy people look like.

Today, He presents a sixth picture of happiness: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” It seems to me that happy people who see God have three main characteristics in common.

First: They give up. I don’t mean that they give up hope. The happy people I know have an eternity of hope. But happy people do give up something.

One of my heroes is the writer and scholar, C.S. Lewis. As a young man, perhaps because of his experiences during World War One and because as a little boy, he had seen his mother die in spite of all sorts of prayers said on her behalf, Lewis was a committed atheist. But in the 1930s, after his scholarship had exposed him to cultures, literature, and myth from throughout the world, he found himself wrestling with the possibility that Jesus Christ really was the God and Savior of the world. One day, while riding in the passenger car of his brother’s motorcycle, Lewis found himself suddenly realizing that he believed in the God we meet in Jesus. He called his coming to faith in Christ as being “surprised by joy.”

Lewis gave up his doubts about God for good reason. I’ve mentioned before the story of two men standing on a pier as a large cruise liner sailed into harbor. The one man tells the other, “You know, nobody made that ship. It just appeared in the harbor one day, every rivet, engine, and deck chair in place. All by itself.” The second man clearly thought that this theory was nuts. He knew that where there is a creation, there must be a creator. We all have doubts and questions about life. But the fact that you and I are living indicates that there must be a God.

And that has implications for our lives. Six years ago, three research psychologists reported in The Journal of Clinical Psychology that people with strong spiritual beliefs were typically satisfied with life, while those without such beliefs were usually unsatisfied with life. Happy people give up on the notion of a world without God.

They also open up. Back in my atheist days, I used to make the most horrible comments about God, about Christ, about people who believed. I couldn’t understand how they could believe in a God you can’t see, especially with so much tragedy in the world. But then, I met real-life followers of Jesus. They were people who had personally dealt with lots of tragedy in their lives--the death of children and spouses, nervous breakdowns, divorces, loss of health, property, income. And yet, they had the power to keep on believing. They had opened up to Jesus, allowing Him to be their Boss and God and best Friend. They knew that only a Savior Who has been through death and gone on to rise again can really be relied upon to help us through all the seasons of our lives. They made me want Jesus in my life, too.

Finally, one night in the study of the house we were renting at the time, I prayed as best I knew how. I told Jesus, “I don’t know everything about You, Lord. But I want to give my life to You.” Jesus didn’t magically answer all my questions about life and He certainly didn’t make me perfect. But for the first time in my life, I felt a peace in my heart.

In the New Testament book of Revelation, Jesus tells us that He is knocking at the doors of our hearts. If we will just open those doors, He will come and be with us forever. Happy people open up to Jesus.

Happy people give up, open up, and they get cleaned up. The word that Jesus uses for pure in the original Greek of today’s Bible lesson is katharismo, from which we get our English word, catharsis. People who undergo catharsis are those who purge themselves of bad things, so that good things can come to them. To be pure in heart is, quite simply, to be a person who lets Jesus Christ cleanse us of all our old emotional baggage, our destructive habits, our ill-advised ways of thinking, and all of our sins. He washes them away and because of His goodness and power, makes us fit to live with God forever.

The famous pastor of the Crystal Cathedral, Robert Schuller, once had a terrible weight problem. And it was getting worse because he was incapable of saying no to sweets. He knew that this was a spiritual issue. He knew that his body was a temple given to him by God. He knew that he was allowing himself to be led in life not by God, but by the food he constantly craved. So complete was his dependence on the god of food that Schuller began to doubt the existence of the God we know through Jesus Christ.

One night, he cried out to Jesus in desperation:
“Dear Jesus, I don’t know if You’re dead or alive. I don’t know if You are even real! I have believed it! I preached it! But I can’t prove it by my weight control. Jesus, if You are there, can You help me?”
A calm came over Schuller after he prayed that prayer and he sensed Jesus telling him, “I have snatched you from destruction.” Difficult though it was going to be, Jesus Christ had cleansed Robert Schuller of his reliance on food to make him feel good and fill the void in his soul tha can only be filled by Jesus. He knew that Christ was going to help him regain control of his body.

When we turn from sin--whatever our sin--and turn to Jesus Christ, His love cleanses the sin away and He gives us the power to live changed lives. When we invite Jesus’ cleansing power into our lives, that’s when we see God for sure!

In a nutshell, Jesus tells us today that happy people are those whose hearts and consciences have been made clean by the death and resurrection of Jesus. They’re the ones who have seen that life is too big and complicated to try to deal with it on their own. They see that a Savior Who died on a cross understands the sorrows and difficulties of everyday life. They understand that without Jesus stepping in to be our advocate, friend, and Savior, we would stand naked in our sin before God. They let Jesus cleanse them, washing away all the obstructions that would otherwise keep them from seeing God.

Happy are the people Jesus has made pure. They’re the people who give up on life without God, who open up and let Jesus enter their lives, and who get cleaned up, letting Jesus scrub away their sin. Those are the people who get to see God. No wonder they’re happy!

[The message received some inspiration from a chapter in the wonderful book, The Be Happy Attitudes by Robert Schuller. It's there that he tells of his struggle with weight control.

[C.S. Lewis talks about his conversion from atheism to faith in Christ in his book, Surprised by Joy.

[The 1998 study on the relationship between spiritual beliefs and happiness is cited in The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People: What Scientists Have Learned and How You Can Use It by David Niven, Ph.D.]

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