My family had the privilege to lead the Sunday afternoon service at Cedarvale Lodge Retirement and Care Community in Keswick. Below is my short sermon to the audience.
Good afternoon everyone. Blessings, joy and peace to you all. In case you don’t know this weekend is Chinese New Year and it is the year of dog.
I grew up in Hong Kong and Chinese New Year is our biggest festival with 3 days of statutory holidays. My childhood memory was full of candies, special food, family gatherings and of course, the red pockets. Anybody here who doesn’t know what a red pocket is? In case you don’t know, an elder person, usually a parent or grandparent, would fill a red pocket with money and give it to a young child or young person in the family. Sometimes we can also get red pockets from relatives and even strangers. It is a token of “good luck”. For my family, I would need to say at least five different traditional Chinese wishes made up of 4 characters before I can get a red pocket. And so I could memorize up to 20 of these wishes in order to impress the elderly to get more money.
Most of these Chinese New year wishes are related to good health, happiness and getting rich. I believe that the same wishes are proclaimed in other cultures as well because universally it is our human nature to pursue happiness and live a joyful life. Everybody wants to be happy. The question is, what makes us happy?
An average person on the street would most likely say, “money”. In our materialistic society, most people believe that riches can bring great happiness. Most people believe that if they win the lottery jackpot, they will live happily forever. All their problems are gone. The truth is, according to a survey by New York Daily News, nearly 70% of lottery winners end up broke within seven years. Even worse, several winners have died tragically.
We tend to imagine that wealthy people can buy whatever they like, go to whatever places they want to go and have fun all the time. That is so far from reality. Can you guess what the worst nightmare for a billionaire is? Losing all his wealth. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The rich always have to be on guard against other people scheming to steal their money. They don’t know if a friend or even a family member who shows kindness to them is out of love or out of greed. And we have all heard about tragedies where a person would go so far as to murder his spouse or parent or child for money.
Can stuff bring us happiness?
In recent years, there is this crazy phenomenon of Black Friday sale. It was originated in the United States, but have now spread all over the world. Every year, I can watch videos on youtube showing people fighting over big screen TVs, electronic games and clothes on Black Friday. People push, pull, punch, wrestle on the ground and even trample each other just to get that discounted product from the store. Then they come back next year and repeat the same manic scene. Most of these shoppers probably already have a nice TV at home, a working smartphone and lots of shoes in the closet. But they always want the latest gadgets, the latest fashions and the next iPhone. We have all been there, haven’t we?
We have this urge in our heart and the mindset that if we buy and own that TV, we will be happy. If we drive away that nice car from the dealer, we will be happy. And stuff do make us feel happy, only for a short while. When the hype is over, we look for the next thing to buy again. When summer comes, we will see lots of garage sales at people’s home because they have to get rid of the old stuff and make room for the new stuff. There is nothing wrong to buy a nice car with our hard earn money, but we have to remember that worldly pleasures are temporary and we can easily fall into the trap of hording stuff.
Can power and fame bring us happiness?
Some people think happiness can be acquired by being in position of power, influence and fame. I think some of us have the same childhood dreams of one day becoming a politician, a movie star or a professional athlete. We want to be that person in front of the camera who is always smiling with confidence. We think that it is so cool to have someone ask for your signature as you walk down the street. We think about all the money that would jump into your hands when you are famous and influential. However, we probably have heard confessions from some of these celebrities that under all the glamour and charm, they are still unhappy and lonely. We have all heard in the news and from gossips about their divorces, adulteries and sexual harassment allegations. We have heard about the corruption, bribes and fraud charges against affluent businessmen and government officials.
In the process of climbing up the social ladder, in order to satisfy their own ego, they probably have demeaned, cheated, lied or sacrificed their conscience. They might be successful by the world’s standard, but they have also lost the respect and love from people around them.
Can good health and outward appearance bring us happiness?
As I get older, I realize that good health is more important than wealth, power and fame. It takes a healthy body to enjoy the money and stuff you have bought. Everybody is talking about diet, weight loss, yoga, exercise and vitamins because who likes to be sick. But just like everything else, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can quickly turn into obsession. I heard that some people would keep meticulous record of nutrients they absorb in each meal, amount of water they drink and number of calories they gain and burn every day.
Then there are those people who would spend lots of money to undergo cosmetic surgery or injectables because everyone wants to look attractive. We know that since the beginning of time powerful people have spent vast amount of resources to look for something that can help them to stay young forever. The desire to live healthly forever is one of the greatest dreams of mankind. But we know that no matter how strong or good-looking you are, you will still get old and one day you will die and face your Maker. All the famous kings, queens, generals and movie stars have become a thing in the past.
I am also careful about my diet and body because the Bible says our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. We should take care of our bodies that God has given us. However, the Bible also tells me in 1 Timothy 4:8 that “For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”
Now, if none of the above, money, power, luxuries and good health can make us happy, what can?
But first, let me be clear. I definitely believe you can be full of joy while being rich, famous and healthy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying your life with all the wealth you made from hard and honest work. In fact, let us hear what the wisest man ever lived had to say about happiness. King Solomon said in Eccl.
Eccl 5:18 Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.
Eccl 5:19 Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.
Eccl 5:20 For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.
Earthly treasure and luxuries are created by God for us to enjoy. However, as I said before, worldly pleasures are short lived and will fly away some day. Let me read another Scripture verses that teaches us about true happiness.
1Tim 6:6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
1Tim 6:7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
1Tim 6:8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
1Tim 6:9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
1Tim 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
1Tim 6:11 But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
Paul is telling us that being content with what God has given us is real happiness. It is true that we were born naked and we will return to dust naked when we die. We cannot bring our bank accounts, our cars or our jewelries or anything with us when that day comes. If we have food to eat, roof over our head and clothes to wear, what more do we need? Money is not evil. It is a medium of exchange. The real evil comes from greed and lust when I start to accumulate wealth for myself. Paul tells us to avoid being enticed with money but focus on living a righteous and godly life.
We can have true happiness by learning not to worry. Chronic anxiety and stress can kill a person. When we are young we worry about getting into a good college, after graduation we worry about getting a good job. Then we worry about when we can meet our future spouse. After marriage and having children, the anxiety index starts to shoot off the chart. Now we have to deal with mortgage, car loan, finding schools, parenting, unemployment, middle age crisis….on and on and on. Sometimes we just wish that we could be a 5-year-old again, living a care free life.
The truth of the matter is, we don’t have to go back and be a little kid again. We don’t have to drown ourselves in anxiety if we know that our Father in Heaven cares about us and He is in control of everything, provided that we trust Him.
Matt 6:31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
Matt 6:32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
Matt 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Matt 6:34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
The world teaches us other ways to relieve our stress and worries by meditation, medication, tai-chi, yoga, breathing exercise. Frankly these techniques do work one way or the other, but they cannot give us the genuine assurance that things will work out. As believers, we have the immovable faith and trust in Almighty God that He will provide all our needs, if we obey His commandment and follow after righteousness.
We can have real joy when we learn to be thankful to God and people around us. All of us have heard or probably even have met a “grumpy old man”; a person who likes to complain about just everything around him. I think one of the reasons that makes a person grumpy or arrogant or cranky is not showing appreciation or gratefulness towards God and people around him. Life is full of challenges, problems and difficulties. Rather than complaining about them, which doesn’t solve anything, why don’t we just be thankful for what we already have.
God created each one of us. He created the food we eat, the sun that gives us warmth, the water that we drink and the air that we breathe. Not only that, if we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, He promised to come back and give us eternal life with Him in the new Heaven and new Earth. He promised that He will be with us every minute and help us when we cry out to Him. Friends, God alone is the reason we should be filled with joy and thankfulness. The Bible says in
Phil 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.
Phil 4:6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
Phil 4:7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
One of my favourite hymns is “Count your blessings”. The chorus goes like this:
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
If we sit down and take some time to reflect on our lives, I am sure we can all remember the numerous blessings and miracles that God did. If we learn to appreciate how God has blessed and love us, if we can appreciate what our family, our friends and even strangers have done for us, we will and should be much happier. And I think we will be even happier when we start to love and help other people around us.
I would like to tell a story to end our sharing today. There are different versions to the story but the idea is the same. The parable was about a young Cherokee who is brought before the tribal elders, who are concerned about his aggressive tendencies. One of the elders takes the young man aside and tells him that his anger is understandable, since all humans have within them two wolves. One wolf is good and peaceable, and the other is evil and angry. The two wolves are in constant battle with one another, since neither is powerful enough to destroy the other. The young man asks the elder “But if they are of equal power, which wolf will win?” And the elder replies, “The one you feed the most.”
As good as this story goes, that is man’s wisdom. God has a better version. Paul in Romans 7 describes the same struggle he has in his heart, the fight between our spirit and our flesh. Then in Roamns 8:1 Paul gives us the biblical approach to the problem:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
In Matthew 22, Jesus was asked with this question “What is the great commandment in the law?” Our Lord answered:
Matt 22:37 Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
Matt 22:38 This is the first and great commandment.
Matt 22:39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Matt 22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
I believe that if we can follow these 2 simple principles that Jesus laid out for us, we can have true happiness all the days of our lives. Money, power, stuff and good health can indeed give us some happiness for a short while. But loving God and loving people around us will give us real joyfulness in eternity. Let us pray.