Thursday, April 30, 2020

Atheistic Physicalism Is Rooted in Faith

(Holland, Michigan)

An atheist should be, and usually is (unless it's a social media trolling atheist, where incoherence reigns), a physicalist.

Physicalism is mythical.

Therefore, an atheist's faith is rooted in a myth.

Physicist Richard Muller (Berkeley) writes:

"The denial of nonphysics, nonmath truths has been named physicalism by philosophers. Physicalism is faith based and has all the trappings of a religion itself." (Muller, Now: The Physics of Time)

Muller spend much time in his book debunking the myth that nonphysical realities do not exist. For example,

"We take this truth to be self-evident: If it isn’t measurable, then it isn’t real. That “truth” is not provable, of course, any more than are the rights proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. But it is not a hypothesis, and certainly not a theory; it is more like a doctrine, a thesis figuratively nailed to a physics department door, a dogma that, given faith, will lead you to mastery of the physics world. Philosophers call this dogma physicalism."

You Have The Power to Choose // Children's Pastor Holly Collins

Redeemer's Children's pastor Holly Collins.

Overcoming Fearfulness

Downtown Monroe

Many of my fears are irrational, in two ways. The first is like this:

1) I believe that Horrible Event X is going to happen.
2) I feel fearful of Horrible Event X.
3) Horrible Event X never happens.

The famous non-event of "Y2K" is an example. I was among those who did not believe this horrible event would happen. But some did, and the emotion of fear was real to them. Many went through that fearful time for no reason. Their fear was irrational. 

Many fears concern events that never happen. 

A second kind of irrational fear is this.

1) Horrible Event X is probably going to happen.
2) I feel fearful of Horrible Event X.
3) Horrible Event X happens.

For example, I might be facing a surgery. I experience fear while waiting for it. It is natural to feel fearful, but my fear does nothing to help the situation. My fearfulness makes the whole thing worse than it already is. In this sense my fearfulness is irrational. It is like pouring fuel on an already-existing fire. 

Consider a less toxic situation. Let's say that tomorrow I have to mediate in a conflict which threatens to hurt our church if it is not healed. (Which I do not, BTW.) I have trouble getting to sleep tonight, because I am fearful there will be a negative outcome. My fear is real, but irrational, since it contributes nothing to the healing, and may actually prevent me from seeing clearly in the act of mediation.

Both as a pastor and as a human, I face fearful situations. There is always "something coming around the bend," imagined or real. I would like to face those situations minus the feeling of fear, which is unhelpful, unhealthy, and debilitating. Is this possible?

I believe it is possible to overcome fearfulness. The antidote to a fearful heart is to make God one's "fortress and strength," the result being, "what shall I then fear?" Henri Nouwen writes:

"The mystery of the spiritual life is that Jesus desires to meet us in the seclusion of our own heart, to make his love known to us there, to free us from our fears, and to make our own deepest self known to us... Each time you let the love of God penetrate deeper into your heart, you lose a bit of your anxiety." (Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 70-71)

Nouwen devotes an entire book to this theme, and asks the question, "Do you live in the house of God or in the house of fear?" 

We have a choice about which spiritual and emotional "house" we are going to call home. (See Nouwen's Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective

Today, engage in those spiritual disciplines that connect you to Jesus. Make the house of God, not the house of fear, the dwelling place of your heart.

My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Monday, April 27, 2020

Bible Study This Friday: An Invitation to Doxologize

Sleeping Bears Dunes on Lake Michigan (Michigan)

Over the years I have taught many classes and seminars on The Nature of God. This Friday, May 1, at 11 AM EST, I'm doing a Zoom Bible Study on The Nature of God. If you want to join send me an email, and I'll send you the link.

I'll especially follow Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, using his distinction between God's incommunicable attributes (those belonging only to God, such as his aseity and eternality) and God's communicable attributes (e.g., God power-shares with us; his love; and so on). If I have time, I may teach on the triunity of God (God's complex unity, in his being).

Whenever I study the attributes of God, I have moments where I am inwardly moved. I feel emotions of awe that lead me to worship God. My study turns into doxology.  

Marva Dawn writes:

"The word doxology comes from two Greek words meaning "glory" (doxa) and "word" (logos). Thus, defined simply, doxology is words about the Glory, words that express praise, true praise. It is important to define praise carefully at the beginning of the twenty-first century because there exists in worshiping groups massive confusion between praise and happy songs. Praise is not merely something uplifting or upbeat. Rather, it is the naming of attributes, character, and/or actions of the one being praised." (Marva Dawn and Eugene Peterson, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, Kindle Locations 409-411. Emphasis mine.)

Dawn writes that "Doxology is praise that names the Glory and helps those who hear to see it." (Ib.)

Simply naming and defining the attributes of God leads God-believers to doxologize.

We'll see what happens this Friday as we go deep into the being of God!


For more see chapter 2 of my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God, "Praying and the Nature of God."

DECLARATIONS for LUNCH - noon, Monday, Apritl 27

Declarations for Lunch.

10 minutes together.

Print these declarations out and bring them to the Zoom meeting.

For the link - email me - 


  • I often experience an open heaven.
  • I speak to any worry, stress, or anxiety, and I say you cannot stay. Peace reigns in this temple.
  • My heart and mind are guarded and protected by God’s peace.
  • As a child of God, it is my privilege and birthright to hear my Father’s voice.
  • As I focus on Jesus and spend time in His presence, I am being transformed into His likeness.
  • God’s love for me is not dependent upon worldly measures of success.
  • It’s impossible for me to spend time in God’s Word and not be radically transformed.
  • I encounter God’s love and power every time I am in His Word.
  • I belong to Jesus. My identity is: Beloved child of God.
  • Christ, the hope of glory, lives in me.
  • Greater is He who lives in me, then he who is in the world.
  • Christ is forming His character in me.
  • This is the week the Lord has made. I am rejoicing, and glad in it!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

DECLARATIONS for LUNCH - Noon, April 23

Declarations for Lunch.

10 minutes together.

Print these declarations out and bring them to the Zoom meeting.

For the link - email me -

(I'll host Declarations for Lunch next M - T - W - Th.) 


• At the cross I was made a new creation; therefore, I do not have to be influenced by any baggage of the past.
• I am not who my past experience says I am; I am who God says I am.
• I have been set free and released from all bondage through what Jesus has done for me.
• Today is the day of my breakthrough — I am free!
• I am clothed with Christ, therefore I release His presence everywhere I go.
• My touch releases the healing grace of Jesus.
• I am a God-pleaser, not a people-pleaser.
• I am able to prophesy, heal the sick, deliver the oppressed, and walk in increased wisdom, boldness, and creativity through the power of the Holy Spirit.
• God’s Kingdom will advance everywhere I go and in everything I do.
• I am constantly stumbling into the favor of God.
• My life overflows with God’s love, making it impossible for me not to love others.
• People’s responses to me do not determine how I love them.
• I am permanently tapped into Heaven’s infinite supply of love.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Integrity or Duplicity?

(Sunday morning at Redeemer - prepping for worship.)

I began this day by opening the Bible to Proverbs 11. I got no further than verse three.

The integrity of the upright guides them,
    but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.

Most of the time these days, when I read Scripture, I read it as speaking to me.

My Hebrew professor told me about hebraic "two way theology." This verse gives an example. It's either-or theology. Either integrity, or duplicity.

More and more, reading Scripture faces me with myself. So, do I have integrity?

I understand this word to mean: consistent moral and spiritual character, wherever and whenever I am. To have such integrity means being the same when I am with people, when I am in my home, and when I am alone.

Is this true of me? Not entirely.

Duplicity lacks integrity because the duplicitous person puts on high moral and spiritual character when with people, but lacks this when at home, and when alone. Duplicity is double-mindedness. Duplicity is hypocrisy. 

Am I duplicitous? Not entirely. You'll have to ask Linda about this. And, if you ask me about her, I can tell you that she's the same Linda when with people, when at home, and when alone. 

But, like me, not perfectly.

It is important to understand this. Only Jesus was perfect in moral and spiritual consistency. Only Jesus was tempted, yet without sin.

Linda and I are not there yet. But we press on to take hold of this, and make it our own. Take hold of what? Of Christ, forming himself in us.

Duplicity takes too much effort. It creates hiding, and posturing, and acting, and mask-wearing. Duplicity destroys families and churches. (This is not about imperfection. One can be imperfect and still have integrity. The integrity part includes confessing our sins, one to another.)

Integrity is beautiful. To live, increasingly, a morally and spiritually integrated life is to live a life of freedom and power.

Tomorrow morning I will open the Bible, again, to Proverbs 11. Perhaps God will allow me to advance to verse four.


(Wildflower in our yard.)

Hello Everyone!

I am hosting another 10-minute DECLARATIONS FOR LUNCH at noon today.

Why not take a few minutes and join me?

We will say the DECLARATIONS ON HOPE together.

Hope to see you at noon today!


Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
- Philippians 4:8

DECLARATIONS of HOPE (adapted from Steve Backlund)
  • Today is the day that God is going to show off His favor on me.
  • I speak to any worry, stress, or anxiety, and I say you cannot stay. Peace reigns in this temple.
  • There is nothing I am facing that Scripture cannot speak into.
  • I am not who my past experience says I am; I am who God says I am.
  • Today is the day of my breakthrough — I am free!
  • Because I trust in God, I am kept in perfect peace.
  • My hope, my finances, my strategies, and my partnerships with others are causing great positive change in lives and nations.
  • Tomorrow is going to be one of the best days of my life.
  • I will wake up with strong faith, strong love, and strong hope in my heart.
  • My past prayers will be working mightily tomorrow in every situation that concerns me.
  • As I attach faith to what I am hearing, He will do far more than I could ever hope or imagine.

Friday, April 17, 2020

How to Abide in Christ In a Pandemic

(April 17, 2020 - my front yard - SNOW!)

Jesus told his disciples that, if they abide in him, their lives will bear much fruit. "Abide" can be translated "to dwell."

Imagine Linda and I knock on your door. "We've come for a visit," I say. Presumably, you will let us in and put on the coffee. 

But if we knock on the door, and I say, "We've come to dwell with you," you are wondering if we are homeless.

To visit is a microwave, to abide is a slow cooker.

To abide in Jesus is to connect. Like a branch is attached to a vine. Jesus is the vine; I am the branch.

As I am a branch, the resources of the vine flow into me. I begin to produce the life of the vine. I produce VineLife.

To produce VineLife I must choose to do something. I cannot just sleep in my recliner while half-watching Netflix and expect to do what Jesus did. I must connect!

Here are ways I connect. And remember, when you connect to Jesus the Vine, your life will be fruit-bearing. It just will. You cannot be connected to Jesus and not be fruit-bearing. 

1. I meditate on Scripture. I read Scripture. When I read something that speaks to me, I assume this God, trying to tell me something. This makes me a slow reader! If you could see me reading Scripture you would see moments where I've got my eyes closed, my hand on my chin, and my body is still. 
When God speaks to me through a passage or verse in the Bible, I stop reading, and start meditating. I may write the verse in my journal. I often write it on a 3X5 card, place it in my pocket, and carry it with me.
For example, weeks ago, while reading through part of Proverbs, I came to this.

2. I keep a record of what God is saying to me. This is a spiritual journal. I often take time to re-read what God has been saying to me. I have gone through a lot of journals in the past fifty years! I recently bought a new one, which I like. Here it is.

3. I practice spiritual disciplines. The apostle Paul spoke of exercising in the spiritual gymnasium (going into "strict training"). Paul told me that, if I want to compete in the game of life, I must "exercise unto godliness." 
In 1981 a friend of ours, Dr. John Powell, gave me a copy of Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline. John has been one of the most influential persons in my life (Linda's, too!). As I began to read this book, God was speaking to me. I read many books. But only a few have transformed my heart. This was one. My abiding life in Christ took a quantum leap forward! The connection-disciplines in this book became my spiritual DNA.   
The spiritual disciplines themselves don't produce the fruit. They provide the attachment. The Holy Spirit produces the fruit.

4. I pray. I have a praying life. I have done this for so many years Foster's book helped me here, too. He also wrote a beautiful book on prayer. (Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home
In praying I speak to, and I listen to God. I have conversations with God. The discipline of choosing to pray has moved from my head ("I need to pray!") to my heart ("I pray to live!").
An excellent book on listening to God is Hearing God Through the Year: A 365-Day Devotional, by Dallas Willard.

In this season of my life I continue to read, slowly, Proverbs. And Psalms. I am also reading Ezekiel, slowly, from the Old Testament. And I am re-reading, slowly, the four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

One more suggestion. My book on prayer can be read devotionally. Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

I hope this helps - blessings!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Solitude Is a Transforming Fire

Seagulls at Sterling State Park, Monroe

Solitude is not loneliness.

Solitude is thick, deep, empowering, and transforming.

On Tuesday I spent two hours alone with God. Praying. For others, and for myself. Listening. Meditating on Scripture.

I have intentionally practiced solitude with God for fifty years. Often, hours at a time. I have experienced what Henri Nouwen means when he calls solitude with God the fire of spiritual transformation. In this fire, the false self gets burned away, and the true self - what God has intended us to be - emerges.

Biblical solitude, the kind that is transforming, the kind that changes us, is different from simply being alone in a peaceful, beautiful environment. Transforming solitude is bringing myself to God. It is being with God. It is being in the company, in the presence, of God.

Wil Hernandez states that biblical solitude "encompasses a kind of double transformative encounter: with ourselves and with God - often even simultaneously." (Hernandez, Mere Spirituality: The Spiritual Life According to Henri Nouwen, p. 14)

Transformative solitude is "daring to stand in God's presence." That's the first part of the double transformative encounter. Nouwen writes: "Our first task in solitude is to simply allow ourselves to become aware of the divine presence, to 'Be still, and know that I am God'," (Ib.) 

The second is this: 

"Through solitude we come face-to-face not only with God but with our true self as well. In fact, it is precisely in the light of God's presence that we can see ourselves for who we really are." (Ib.)

Arguably, not much transformation into increasing Christlikeness will happen without ongoing, solitary meetings with God.

Solitude is a transforming fire.

I write about this in my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

I Want a New Normal

"I just want things to go back to normal."

I hear this all the time. I agree with this, partially.

In the Old Normal people could see their sick loved ones in the hospital. We could all gather together on Sunday mornings. We could be with our extended families on Easter. Most people had jobs. Small businesses were open. We didn't have to wear masks in public. We could get close than six feet. We could eat out. We didn't have global fear. And there was enough toilet paper for all.

I would like all of that to return, and more.

But the Old Normal had systemic problems. There was a loneliness epidemic. People were too busy to be still, and know God. People were too busy to pray. Secular culture had taken over. The Church had become marginalized, and lost its influence. Parents kept their kids in sports on Sunday mornings. Utilitarian ethics was our default moral framework. The goal of life was happiness. "Success" was measured metrically (especially in the Church). Pornography abounded.  Baby-killing was legal. There were massive, cross-cultural identity crises. People worked themselves to the bone, and for what? People resorted to arguing by texting, instead of face-to-face. And God was mostly unattended to, as we created and bowed before our selfies, making ourselves into our own images.

I don't want to go back to that. I don't want the Old Normal to be resuscitated. I want a New Normal to be resurrected.

As bad and sad as the pandemic is, some have told me that self-isolation has brought their families closer together. Some are talking together, praying together, walking together, worshiping together, eating meals together, doing projects together, zooming together.

All this makes me wonder, is the revival we've been praying for at hand? Is the illusion that we control all things being exposed? 

In this toxic mess there is an opportunity. We have seen what humans without God can do. Now is the time to encounter the God who says, "Behold, I make all things new." 

This is your great opportunity. You can be "born again." You can become a "new creation." The resurrection principle is this: dead things come to be new, transformed life. Like dry bones taking on new flesh. 

It is time for something completely different. Time for something that transcends fragile, finite human talents and abilities. Time for something money has never been able to buy. Time for something that gets us out of our self-worship.

I want a New Normal.

Time to shed Narcissus and put on Jesus.

Time to go after this.

Image may contain: possible text that says '"If we have truly understood and believed the gospel, it will change what we do and how we live." TIM KELLER'

Monday, April 13, 2020

Levi Elliott Piippo - three months old

Our first grandchild, Levi Elliott, at three months old.

The Day I Became a Jim Harbaugh Fan

Jim Harbaugh at a coaching clinic in Lansing, Jan. 16, 2020.

Before this weekend I've never been a fan of University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh. I didn't dislike him. I just spent little time thinking about him.

This has changed. Because of what he said in Saturday's Detroit Free Press. (HERE.) 

Harbaugh said:

"I think this group, this younger generation, those in their teens and early 20s, they see more about the world as a whole and think less about themselves and more about the planet and the environment and others," Harbaugh said. "I have to honestly say much more than those of us who grew up in the '80s. That era, that decade seems marked more by individualism.
"Even now, as we all go through what we're going through with COVID-19, I see people more concerned about others. More prayerful. As I said, God has virtually stopped the world from spinning. I don't think it's coincidence — my personal feeling, living a faith-based life, this is a message or this is something that should be a time where we grow on our faith for reverence and respect for God. You see people taking more of a view of sanctity of life. And I hope that can continue. I hope that continues and not just in this time of crisis or pandemic.
"And lastly, abortion, we talk about sanctity of life, yet we live in a society that aborts babies. There can't be anything more horrendous."

Saturday, April 11. The day I became a Jim Harbaugh fan.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

God Power-Shares and Love-Shares with Us

Image may contain: ocean, sky, twilight, cloud, outdoor, water and nature
(Redeemer lobby)

In these troubled times churches need an outbreak of the tangible, felt, experienced, non-theoretical power of God. The good news is that it is promised to us, and is available.

What is this power of God? A.W. Tozer writes:

“The power of God, then, is not something God has; 
it is something God is.”

Tozer, Born After Midnight, p. 27

God doesn't have power, as if power were something he does not have in his being, but could acquire. God's power is not acquired power. It is power in esse. Which is to say, God's power is his very being; thus, God is power, like a triangle is three-sided. Just as a triangle cannot be other than three-sided, God cannot not be power. 

In the same way, God is love. God cannot not-love. Because God's love is in esse, his being, all that God thinks and says and does is love. 

What this means for us is this: God power-shares and love-shares with us. God invites us into his being (John 14-17). We are to connect with him, as a branch abides in a vine. The resources of the vine, what the vine is in its essence, flow into the branch. 

This is God's esse, coursing through me. This is why Jesus can say, 

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me 
will do the works I have been doing, 
and they will do even greater things than these, 
because I am going to the Father.
John 14:12

To do what Jesus did while on the earth requires power and  love that are not of this earth. 

My two books are:

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

The Great American Search for Happiness Leads to Unhappiness

I heard someone say, referring to the pandemic, "I just want things to go back to normal." 

Not me. I am praying for a new normal. Yes, let good, godly things be retained. But let rampaging secularism come to an end. This includes the American obsession with happiness.

This relates to parenting. If we could get this as part of a new normal God wants to usher in: Parents, your goal is not to make your children happy.

My idea is this: 

  • The more secular a culture becomes, the more utilitarianism rules as an ethical framework.
  • The more utilitarianism rules, virtue ethics recedes, and "right" and "wrong" and "good" and "evil" and "ought" and "should" (as ethical and moral  terms) disappear from our ethical vocabulary.
  • These words are replaced by "pleasure," "pain," "happiness," and "unhappiness." 
  • So, the rise of "happiness" is predictable on rising secularism (by "secularism" I mean the sort of thing Charles Taylor means in his A Secular Age). 
Lori Gotlieb, in "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy," writes about the American obsession with "happiness," and the American parental goal of raising one's children to be very, very "happy."

Gotlieb says that "Nowadays, it’s not enough to be happy—if you can be even happier. The American Dream and the pursuit of happiness have morphed from a quest for general contentment to the idea that you must be happy at all times and in every way." Ironically, this way of thinking will end up making people very unhappy and in need of a lot of therapy to set them straight."

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says, in a fit of a silliness, "Happiness doesn't always make you happy." By this I think she means to say something like: "To make 'happiness' one's life pursuit will not end up with you being 'happy.' Or perhaps: "If you mean by 'happiness' the removal of anything that would unsettle or disappoint or trouble you, then the achievement of that will leave you miserable and in need of help." 

Gotlieb confirms: "Modern social science backs her [Rubin] up on this. “Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing,” Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory at Swarthmore College, told me. “But happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.” It’s precisely this goal, though, that many modern parents focus on obsessively—only to see it backfire. Observing this phenomenon, my colleagues and I began to wonder: Could it be that by protecting our kids from unhappiness as children, we’re depriving them of happiness as adults?"

The answer is: yes. Happiness sought for its own sake will leave you miserable. The only happiness worth happening is happiness as a byproduct. Parents, therefore, must allow unhappiness and misery and even (yikes!) the dreaded "boredom" in the lives of their children. To shelter them from such things is to destine them to an adulthood of psycho- and drug therapy. "Parental overinvestment is contributing to a burgeoning generational narcissism that’s hurting our kids." (See also what M.I.T.'s Sherry Turkle says about the importance of boredom in a child's life, in Reclaiming Conversation.)

Harvard child psychologist Dan Kindlon says, “You have to be exposed to pathogens, or your body won’t know how to respond to an attack. Kids also need exposure to discomfort, failure, and struggle."

Why might parents try to protect their children from all unhappy events and work hard so as to make them eternally happy? One answer is: because it's really about the parents' own happiness, and not their children's. Read the entire Gotlieb article to see the reasoning behind this.

Infant and toddler narcissists are happy because they are the center of the universe. As they grow older this changes; indeed, it becomes a "big problem." So parents - do not "protect" your child from negative feedback.

Theistic philosopher J.P. Moreland has written about this in The Lost Virtue of Happiness. J.P. presented chapter 1 of this text at our HSRM/Green Lake conference a few years ago. You can watch a video of J.P. speaking on this here. A heads-up: J.P. is a brilliant philosopher, but appears clueless when it comes to fashion. If one does not buy into the idea that trendy clothes will make you happy, then J.P. is a free man. The bullets are:

  • American people are addicted to happiness, and they overemphasize its importance in life.
  • If, right now, you are not tremendously happy, that's OK.
  • Yet, in America, if you are not happy, or your children are not happy, it seems like the world is falling apart.
  • Given the American emphasis on happiness, are Americans happy?
  • The answer, says Moreland (drawing on Martin Seligman's research), is that the rate of depression and loss of happiness has increased, in the span of just one generation in America, tenfold. We Americans are not a bunch of happy campers! We have an epidemic of depression and an epidemic of the loss of happiness.
  • Yet the Boomer generation is twice as rich, a lot healthier, more youthful, and a lot safer than our predecessors were 50 years ago. These are the kind of things that have defined the "American Dream." We are now living in this "Dream." We have more discretionary time. We have more money. It takes longer to age. So we feel younger, longer. J.P. says: "There's just one problem with this. All of this has not only not made Americans happier, we're slowly getting worse."
  • Why is this happening? Seligman's answer is this. "The Baby Boom generation forgot how to live for something bigger than they were." Americans have been taught to get up each morning and live for their own selves and try to find meaning in their own lives, rather than live for something other than their own well-being and bigger than they are.
  • From Moses to Solomon, to Plato and Aristotle, to Jesus and Augustine and Aquinas, to the Reformers al the way up to the 1900s, everybody meant the same thing by 'happiness.' But from the 1920s/30s on a new definition of 'happiness' was introduced and lived by. This new definition of 'happiness' is: "a feeling of pleasurable satisfaction." (See here, e.g.)
  • "Happiness' has become a positive feeling. Moreland is not against positive feelings; he'd rather experience them then their opposite. But there are two problems with this definition of happiness: 1) pleasurable feelings are not a big enough thing to build your life around; and 2) the more you try to get of it the less of it you have. "The best way to be happy is largely to forget about it."
  • Now watch this. 1) If 'happiness' is the feeling you have, say, when your team wins; and 2) the goal of life is to be happy, which means to retain that kind of feeling; then 3) your goal this year is make make sure that your job, your spouse, your church, your children, etc., help you that positive feeling named 'happiness.' All the aforenamed things (job, wife) are but means to making you happy. If a man's 4-year-old wife doesn't make him "happy" he may trade her in for a 20-year-old woman that gives him that hap-hap-happy feeling.
  • The ancient definition of 'happiness,' used by Aristotle and contained in the word eudamonia, is: to live a life of wisdom, character, and virtue." Plato thought it would be terrible if all a person did was spend his life worrying about whether he was good-looking, wealthy, and healthy. Solomon tells us that the happy person is the one who lives his life wisely reverencing and fearing God. In the New Testament the happy person is the person who looks like Jesus of Nazareth and lives the way he lives.
  • How do you get that? See Matthew 16:24-26, where Jesus says: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." Jesus is not here commanding us to do this. He is saying, if you want to get good at life, this is what you have to do.
  • If you want to get good at life, if you want to be "happy," then learn daily to give yourself away for the sake of God and others. J.P. says, "Give yourself away to other people for the Kingdom's sake."
  • If you do that, you end up finding yourself. That's the upside-down logic of Jesus. "Happiness makes a terrible goal. It is the byproduct of another goal, which is giving yourself away to others for the Kingdom's sake."

"Happiness" studies now abound. In "Happiness: Beyond the Data," U of Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting writes:
"Happiness studies are booming in the social sciences, and governments are moving toward quantitative measures of a nation’s overall happiness, meant to supplement traditional measures of wealth and productivity."

But, as I said above, Gutting agrees that the pursuit of happiness does not lead to happiness. When the purpose of life becomes the bucket-list pursuit of pleasure, unhappiness and disquietude results. How so? Gutting writes:

"The danger — particularly for a society as rich as ours — is making pleasure the central focus in the pursuit of a happy life. This is done explicitly in some versions of utilitarian ethics, which regard happiness as simply the maximal accumulation of pleasurable experiences. But pleasures themselves often induce a desire for their repetition and intensification, and without moderation from a reflective mind, they can marginalize the work that lies at the core of true happiness.
A pathology of pleasures is often signaled by an obsession with not “missing out” on particularly attractive pleasures and strong disappointment when a highly anticipated experience does not meet expectations. (Examples from the world of food and wine are widely available.) In my view, the best strategy to avoid “hedonic corruption” of happiness is to welcome wholeheartedly the pleasures that come our way but not to make the explicit pursuit of pleasure a dominating part of our life project. The same, of course, applies to the money that is so often the price of pleasure."

Life, real life, is not gained in the pursuit of pleasure. 

Note for church leaders and pastors: Many of your people are happiness-seekers rather than Jesus-followers. Do not make it your objective to keep your people happy. It won't work. 
The Great American Search for Happiness leads to unhappiness. That's what philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote years ago. Hoffer said: “The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.” 

"This obsessive, driven, relentless pursuit is a characteristically American struggle — the exhausting daily application of the Declaration of Independence. But at the same time this elusive MacGuffin is creating a nation of nervous wrecks. Despite being the richest nation on earth, the United States is, according to the World Health Organization, by a wide margin, also the most anxious, with nearly a third of Americans likely to suffer from an anxiety problem in their lifetime. America’s precocious levels of anxiety are not just happening in spite of the great national happiness rat race, but also perhaps, because of it."
- Ruth Whippman, "America the Anxious" (nytimes, September 22, 2012)

Whippman continues:

"The American approach to happiness can spur a debilitating anxiety. The initial sense of promise and hope is seductive, but it soon gives way to a nagging slow-burn feeling of inadequacy. Am I happy? Happy enough? As happy as everyone else? Could I be doing more about it? Even basic contentment feels like failure when pitched against capital-H Happiness. The goal is so elusive and hard to define, it’s impossible to pinpoint when it’s even been achieved — a recipe for neurosis."

This makes sense to me. Our age, writes Elaine Showalter in The Chronicle of Higher Education, is an age of anxiety

In  How Everyone Became Depressed: The Rise and Fall of the Nervous Breakdown, medical historian Edward Shorter says that "It has not escaped many observers that today we are drenched in anxiety." Psychiatrist Jeffrey Kahn states that "commonplace anxiety and depressive disorders" affect at least 20% of Americans. That's 60 million people. In our pursuit of happiness we have become depressingly unhappy. (See Kahn, Angst: Origins of Anxiety and Depression) Woo-hoo, right?

Academics are particularly unhappy and depressed, argues University of Texas professor Ann Cvetkovich, in Depression: A Public Feeling. She writes:

Academe "breeds particular forms of panic and anxiety leading to what gets called depression—the fear that you have nothing to say, or that you can't say what you want to say, or that you have something to say but it's not important enough or smart enough."

Instead of happiness, opt for blessedness. The Jesus-idea of "happiness" is the promise of "blessedness." 

  • Blessedness is independent of material or social conditions. 
  • Blessedness is not to be pursued for its own sake, since to do so would cause it to suffer the same infelicitous fate as meets all whose life goal is "happiness." 
  • Blessedness is an indirect byproduct of the pursuit of God and the love of others, for their own sake and not for what you can get. One gives one's life away for God and others and thereby gains life. 
This is, precisely, anti-American in its non-consumerism. The result is a blessed life.

(On the American marketing of happiness see William Davies, The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being.)