Slap Happy: Absolutely No Thing
We are starting a new series today, and basically I’m calling it “Slap Happy”. That’s why we started out with Pharrell Williams’ Happy this morning. Not only to wake you up, but to start talking about happiness. Let me just say, we are going to begin this series with a simple question, and it is rhetorical, so I don’t need a response right now, but I want you to think about it. The one question is, “What makes you happy?” Think about it. What makes you happy? Unlike other series’ where I present you with information, or I teach you about something in the bible, this one may be a little offensive, because I’m going to tell you what makes you happy.
I’m going to let you know the secret to happiness, because some of you haven’t figured it out. Or, you think you have, but maybe you haven’t. So you might be thinking, how can this guy tell me how to be happy? He’s just a preacher. He’s written no books that pertain to church work anyway; he’s just a preacher. How is this guy, right here, going to tell you all how to be happy? Let me put it this way. You guys, and I myself, have been bombarded with what makes us happy all our lives. You’ve been bombarded every day through the internet, through magazines, commercials. I’m telling you what makes you happy, because I have fallen for it. You know? Oh man, that infomercial, the perfect pitch, this is going to make me happy. Call that 1-800 number, get that in there and you know it will be processed in three days for a nifty little handling fee of $15 and it is going to supply all the happiness. We have fallen for it. If only someone like me had told me what makes me happy. You know, some of us are miserable and that is a fact. So we are going to talk this next five or six weeks about being slap happy.
Now, I busted on a girl I went to college with that was a “Happy” Christian; we called her Happy Hanam. Her cat just died, but she just smiled because she knew it was in heaven. You know there are times to mourn; we aren’t going to be stupidly happy. So we are just going to jump into what makes you happy, and this is something that you know, yet occasionally we need to be reminded of this.
So here it is. Happiness is more about “who” than “what”. Happiness is more about “who” than “what”. We get this. The first thing we learned playing as kids, before we even started school, is that it is all about who is in the backyard playing with you rather than what you are playing. Right? It’s about friends and relationships.
I’ve been amazed that when Ben was little (sorry to use you Ben – I didn’t get his permission, but I’ll ask for forgiveness later) it was like he’d come back from a restaurant and say, “I’ve made a friend.” I’d say, “You went to the restroom.” He’d say, “I made a friend!” He made a friend everywhere he went. Relationships were important to him before he even started school. In fact, let’s put it this way, how many of you have bought your child the most perfect gift ever, they open it on Christmas and then the gift goes to the side, because the box is more fun. Yeah.
It’s more about the “who” than the “what”. When you are in elementary school, it is about being able to sit beside your friends in the desk. You were worried about this much (very little) about who was the teacher, but you checked that list to see how many of your friends were in the class. When you were in high school it was about being in the right group. The right “who’s” or maybe the wrong “who’s”, depending on what your parents thought. We get divided up in high school by the “whos”. Right? The popular “whos”, the geek “whos”, the jock “whos”, the you-“whos”. (Laughter) It’s all about the “who”.
Some of us have tried to become the cool parents when we had kids. We did this so we could have our kids be with the right “whos”. We’ve done stupid things, like put in a swimming pool because it is a kid magnet, right? Really kids, youth, the reason your parents do this is they want you at your house and all your friends at your house so they can watch what you are doing. Oh, did I give it away? We’ve bought large screen televisions; we’ve bought PX Next Chapter, we’ve bought X-Box the next whatever. I don’t know why they went from 360 to 1, that’s backwards. We’ve bought televisions, and made our house very attractive for youth to come, and then we find out shortly they love to go somewhere else, and hang out in maybe a less desirable neighborhood, in a house that doesn’t have the pool and everything else. Because it’s about the…. (Congregation says, “Who”) and not the “what”. It’s about the “who” and not the “what”.
Happiness is always associated with the “who” or two. Happiness is always associated with the “who” or two. What that means is, if happiness was associate with “what” then we could go out and buy a happy “what”, correct? In fact, we’ve done that before; it is called buyer’s remorse. If there was a happy “what”, we could just go out and get it. What we find out is that happiness is more about the “who” and not the “what”, and when you buy the happy “what” you find that the happy “what” eventually leads to the happy “what else?” When that “what” gets old, when it gets dinged for the first time in the parking lot, or gets a little bit faded, or when the scary thing that happens, the happy “what” comes out with a happy “what” 2.0. Or, the happy six just came out with the happy seven. All of a sudden because of your plan, you just got the happy six and it is two years before you can get a happy seven. You are just praying a happy eight will come out before your two years is up. I’m glad you are laughing at this because it is true.
The happy “what” always leads to happy something else; it’s that caffeine happiness, that’s what I call it. The caffeine happiness; it eventually just wears out and then diminishes. The important thing here is if an aging “what” deflates your happiness, you were not happy to begin with. If the aging “what” deflates your happiness you were not happy to begin with, you were just being marketed to. This is what I see in church; there is a church science and I don’t like to call it that, but it is called the behavior of people. I had to study it when starting a new church. I call this effect the “tragedy effect”, because what I mean by tragedy, I’m using the dramatic sense, if we are going to study why people come to follow Christ or why people start to come to church, the number one reason why people go to church is that they were invited by a friend, not the pastor. I’ll just tell you that one. They were invited by a friend, not the pastor. The pastor scares them. Because when the pastor goes up to them and says, “You need to be in church”, they start examining their lives like, “What did I do wrong?” But when a friend invites them to church, it is already a bond. That’s just one thing there.
This is another message. The tragedy in the drama sense was that people start to follow Christ when they go through a tragedy. That means if we go on a mission trip to Puerto Rico, and they see how the other half lives; that’s what I’m talking about. You think you are going to go down and build these houses and these apartments, and make these clay bricks out of straw and mud and build these things. I’m going to do great work. Then all of a sudden we realize we’ve learned more about ourselves and we’ve actually benefitted from going on the trip. That is what I’m talking about. I call this thing the tragedy syndrome or the mission syndrome. When we come back we ask this question. “How can they be so happy?” They don’t have anything. For those of us who have been in a situation that was not our own, maybe a little less, we just cannot understand people who have nothing yet are still happy. But then we learn on a mission trip or through an experience, or sometimes when your adult child brings someone home for you to meet, and your think, “How can they be so happy?” They have nothing.
Parents, you know this, because you are only as happy as your happiest child. You might have three kids, you might have two kids, you might only have one kid, and if that kid’s miserable, you are not happy. You can do a survey; for us we have three kids and we are only as happy as the happiest child because our feelings are attached to them. Let’s put it this way. Spouse, you are only as happy as your spouse is. I could have said this is just like with the children; men you know this. You are only as happy as your wife, right? OK, I saw you look at her before you gave your answer. Think about it, if you had multiple wives you’d have to do a survey every morning to figure out which one was the happiest or the saddest, because you could only be as happy as that person. So there’s my case against polygamy. OK? Thank you. I’m glad I cleared that up. (laughter) (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It’s true, you are only as happy as the happiest person in your life. So, if you are with someone who is not happy, then you find yourself not happy. That’s the way that works. This may be the best example of this. If you’ve ever struggled with infertility; if you as a couple or someone has struggled with infertility you know. You see, when a couple decides to have children, it’s not because, well, sometimes it is because your parents are bugging you for grandchildren, but it shouldn’t be that. It should be because you want somebody else to love. You have this love and you have this bond, and you want to be happy, you want to share this love. Think about someone who is going through this? Where you are going on vacation doesn’t matter. What car you are going to buy doesn’t matter. All that matters is why can I not have a child to love? You are only as happy as the happiest ones around you. You see, if you have this struggle, you don’t care about vacations or what to wear. It proves there is an ultimate fulfillment that is tied to the “who” and not the “what”. It is not because you want to paint the nursery, set up the furniture, when they only give you the wrong size Allen Wrench for every one of those two hundred parts. It is all about the “who” and not about the “what”.
You see, in the end you will have relational not possessional regrets. I have yet to hear anyone on their death bed say, “Nurse, can you roll me out to my car. I want to spend my last minutes right there.” I have yet to see a woman on her death bed say, “Hey, can you bring those high platform, 1970’s heels? I love those high platform shoes. Can you bring them? I want to spend my last moments with those shoes.” In the end you will have relational not possessional regrets. Think about it. It is the “who” that is important and not the “what”.
So when you hear that, some of you, especially men, are going to say, “I don’t need anyone to be happy.” I’ve said it too, but I’ve quit saying it, because if I ever do anything wrong I’m going to just disappear. I know where I’m going to go, because I could just spend it with myself, live in the rain forest and just eat bananas, you know? I think this way. Sometimes when men hear that we have to be relational beings, they could say, “I could live without anyone. I could do it.”
I think people who say this fall into two categories. The first one is that they have so many people around them they’ve never been isolated. It’s like me saying I could go a week without eating. I can say it, but I’ve never gone without food. So I think the first category is the people who always have people around them, and take it for granted. The second type of people who don’t need others around them, this second group is people who can’t fix their isolation, so they tell themselves that they are fine. This is very dangerous.
This is very true about me. You see, my wife will agree that when I can’t get what I want, I tell myself that I don’t really want it. I save for it. I collect it. I put it in a little green bag; a little envelope. I can’t wait until I buy it. I walk into the store and I talk myself out of it. People do that with relationships. When we can’t get what we want, we tell ourselves that we really don’t need it. That is another way we isolate ourselves. We are afraid. We have been hurt by relationships; we’ve been hurt by the “who”, and we’ve built up such a guard that sometimes risking another relationship, we tell just ourselves it isn’t worth it. We really don’t want to do it. It is a risk to be in a relationship.
So, here is the point of the next several weeks, in fact any time I ask you, “What makes you happy?” I want you to… Who sang “War, what is it good for?” Bruce Springsteen, thank you. Come on musicians! Step up. (laughter) When I ask you this question for the next five weeks, “What makes you happy?” Your answer is not going to be Bruce Springsteen; your answer is going to be “Absolutely No Thing!” Get it? So, what makes you happy? (Congregation answers – Absolutely no thing.) Absolutely nothing. What makes you happy? (Congregation answers – Absolutely no thing.) So when I ask you that throughout the week that is your response, absolutely no thing, absolutely nothing.
So, then I’m going to tell there is one thing that makes you happy. One thing, and it isn’t really anything you can purchase; it is not anything that you can go to the store and buy, a happy “what”, but it is kind of an ooey-gooey thing. Usually men go “Nah.” (Waves hands away) They don’t really care about it. But when I ask you what makes you happy, yes your answer is absolutely no thing, but there is one thing that a happy person has. Think about a person who is happy; think about what makes a person happy. We have peace.
You know that person. In fact, you may think that person has a screw loose because they are at peace. They have a thing that is peace, they are peaceful. When you look at it, happy people are at peace with what? They are at peace with themselves. They are confident, not arrogant, but peaceful, happy people. They are at peace with themselves. It takes a long time and maybe you’ll never figure out who you really are, or be at peace with that. That is a difficult task. Happy people are at peace with themselves.
They are also at peace with others. “Did you see what that lady did? Did you see what that man did? He should…..” People are people. “No you should fight back, you should sue, you know?” When you are peace with yourself, when you are at peace with others, now I’m not saying be kumquat may, I mean come what may. (laughter) Sorry, when you are at peace with others and peace with yourself, the third thing that happy people are at peace with is with God. That’s the truth. They know who God is. They do expect awesome things, but you know it is in God’s time. And we usually call these people weirdo’s. I want to be a weirdo. Happy people are at peace with themselves, with others and with God.
The important thing here is that anything that undermines your peace, think about it, anything that undermines you peace, undermines your happiness. Am I right? Think about what disturbs the peace, now we even have a legal charge for that, disturbing the peace. It should be a larger charge. Anything that undermines your peace undermines your happiness. So now you are saying, “Buck, why are we even talking about this in church? Because you’ve gone on, and on, and on, telling us how to be happy, yet you haven’t even mentioned Jesus. See how I did that? It is called turning the corner.
If you are a Christ follower, and I use the term Christ follower because the term Christian maybe was used only twice in the entire bible, in the New Testament, Jesus didn’t say we have this set of rules, would you like to join? Jesus said, ‘Follow me.’ Follow me, and so we are called to be Christ followers. Being a Christ follower allows you to understand this, “Peace with God paves the way to peace with ourselves and equips us to make peace with others.” Did you hear that? “Peace with God paves the way to peace with ourselves and equips us to make peace with others.” Most of the New Testament, most of it from the birth of Jesus to the expansion of the church, most of the New Testament is about making peace with God, making peace with ourselves and peace with others. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Because a long, long time ago, not in a galaxy far, far away, but just a long time ago, across a big ocean, Jesus is walking with his disciples and talking with his disciples and sharing this. The funny thing is that a lawyer who was concerned about the law came to ask Jesus a question. A lawyer, which you know I do have some friends who are lawyers and they are pretty good people so, I don’t know where all those jokes come from. OK, I do know where those joke come from. But as we look at our scripture lesson this morning, in Matthew chapter 22, if you look in verse 34 it says, ‘Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.’ So here they are, they are grilling Jesus, what about this and what about this? I can’t wait until he gives us a wrong answer. You know we are going to hit the buzzer. Ding, ding, ding; you lose ten points. No golden star for you; we are waiting to give Jesus demerits, asking him questions. So in verse 35 it says, ‘One of them, an expert in the law’, which is where I got the word Lawyer. ‘An expert in the law tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”’ What we are about to get is that we don’t think of laws and commandments as providing happiness, right? The fact that my neighborhood is only 25 miles per hour does not provide happiness. OK, I’m not going to use another law, but we don’t look at laws or commandments as providing happiness. In fact, we think that sometimes commandments and laws just get in the way of living. They don’t understand and here’s my story.
We listen to the scripture today through the filter of everything I’ve just talked about since I got up here. We need to do that. We need to listen to the scripture today through that. It’s not to cheat, it’s not to lie; what is the greatest commandment? What is the greatest of the laws? And this expert of the law, this lawyer knew that there 618 laws in Leviticus. He knew them all, he had memorized them all and he was going to check, this is what Jesus thinks God thinks is the best law. So, is it going to be the don’t cheat, is it going to be the don’t lie? If you were asked this question, what do you think would be God’s most important law or commandment? Jesus replied, ‘Love’. What? I wanted a thou shall not, or thou shall. I want a shall or shall not. I want to know what I can’t do and what I can do. Jesus starts out with love. I want do’s and don’ts. Love is a relationship thing; that word is not a command word. But He starts out with, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ You see the most important commandment is that God loves and you need to love God back. God loves you and God needs you to love him back. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
But that’s not it; that’s not all. In verse 38, ‘This is the first and greatest commandment.’ Verse 39 it says, ‘And the second is like it’. Now the Greek here means equal to. It is not only like it, the first one is just like the second one. It is equal to; it is as important as the first. It ‘…is like it ‘. Then it says,’ Love your neighbor as yourself.’ As many of you know, I have interpreted this to say, love your neighbor and love yourself. So love your neighbor and yourself. ‘All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ You see, the most important thing here is to love your neighbor and yourself; if you have peace with God, the first commandment that Jesus said is the best, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’, then it is equal that you will have peace with others and yourself. So what we get from that is peace with God gives us peace with ourselves and peace with others. With that it sounds like we should be happy. That like it, the first is like the second, and we can’t do one without the other. We cannot love ourselves and love others unless we love God. We cannot do one without the other.
So, peace with God paves the way to peace with ourselves and equips us to make peace with others. Peace with God paves the way. When I was young I thought God was in the way of my happiness. I will tell you when in college this is exactly the way I believed. Because when we talk about laws and commandments, we think of the shalls and the shall not’s. We think the do’s and the don’ts. To be honest with you, it took a long time and I got it all backwards, folks. It was when I finally came to terms with who I was, comfortable with who I was, oh, shall I say at “peace” with who I was, that I found out that God is not in the way of happiness. God provides a way to happiness. God provides a way to happiness. To resist God is to resist happiness.
Regrets are usually caused by abandoning peace. When we abandon peace, we usually have regret. When I have interviewed someone and asked, “What is your biggest regret?” I better give percentages, 99.9% of the time somebody is going to mention a “who” and they are going to say, “I wasn’t thinking. I was irrational. I did this at the time. There was this going on.” We could boil it down to what? They weren’t at peace. They weren’t at peace. Regrets are usually caused by abandoning our peace; our peace in God, our peace in ourselves and our peace in others. Folks, this is just the introduction. I invite you back. I’d love to see you and it’s all about what makes us happy.