Divine Happiness Superior to Disney Happiness

While attending the Ligonier National Conference at Disney’s Coronado Springs resort recently, I couldn’t help asking, “What is happiness?”

Here I was at the world center of happiness and not many people looked that happy. Admittedly the weather was unseasonably cold, but even so, I didn’t see many smiles among the multitudes of Mickey-Mouse-eared children and their stressed-out parents.

In contrast, when I walked into and through the Ligonier conference venue, I saw a lot more happiness, I sensed a lot more joy, and I heard a lot more laughter. Who would have thought that there would be more happiness in God’s Kingdom than in the Magic Kingdom?

Which brings me back to my question: What is happiness? Specifically, what is this superior Christian happiness I experienced last week?

In some ways, Christian happiness is so large, so multilayered, so multidimensional, that it’s virtually impossible to define in one sentence. But let me try:

Christian happiness is a God-centered, God-glorifying, and God-given sense of God’s love that flows from a right relationship with God in Christ and that flows out in loving service to God and others.

Where do I get that from?

Largely from Moses’ deathbed!

As he is dying, Moses rouses himself one last time to enthusiastically pronounce multiple blessings (happinesses) on Israel’s tribes (Deut. 33:1-28). He then takes a big view of the whole nation and joyfully exclaims, “Happy are you, O Israel!  Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord” (Deut. 33:29)

He happily calls them the happiest people in the world!

It was a God-centered happiness. It wasn’t a happiness based on things or achievements (neither Israel nor Moses had any of these). It was a happiness based on truth, truth about God.

Moses had spent the previous three verses declaring multiple facts about God and all He was and did for Israel before climaxing with “Happy are you, O Israel!”

It was also a God-glorifying happiness. Moses doesn’t just narrate facts about God like a dull and boring lecturer. No, he’s exulting in God and exalting God as he speaks. He begins this final chorus of praise by saying, “There is no one like . . . God.” God makes him happy, but worshiping God makes him even happier. God-centered happiness makes him glorify God happily.

Finally, it was a God-given happiness. To the onlooker, Moses and Israel were in the saddest and most miserable circumstances. Moses had experienced many disappointments and frustrations over his life, especially during the last forty years in the wilderness, and particularly in being banned from finally entering the promised land because he lost his temper once.

Israel’s forty-year history up to that point was a trail of thousands of carcasses in the same wilderness, and they were still outside the promised land! Yet Moses pronounced God’s people not just happy but the happiest people in the world! Incomparably happy. Happier than the most powerful and prosperous nations.

What can possibly explain it?

It wasn’t something manufactured or manipulated; it was given by God. Given the circumstances, negativity and pessimism would have been much easier. But by grace, God enabled Moses to rise above every discouragement and sadness (without denying them) and to find his happiness in God. Like Paul, who faced similar harrowing circumstances, he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). Divine happiness is far superior to Disney happiness.

And if Moses and Israel had such happiness, how much more should the New Testament church and every New Testament Christian? If we claim to know much more about God (and we do) and claim to have experienced so much of His great salvation (and we have), how much happier we should be, and how much more happy should be our service of God and others.

10 Ways To Hate People

A few weeks ago I listed 10 Ways To Hate God. Today, 10 ways to hate people, which Paul says comes very naturally to us (Titus 3:3).

1. Grudge their success.

2. Blacken their name.

3. Desire their failure.

4. Ignore their graces and gifts.

5. Suspect their motives.

6. Rejoice when they fall or fail.

7. Refuse their confession.

8. Highlight only their defects.

9. Despise their callings and roles.

10. Take vengeance upon them.

But God’s love can turn the worst of haters into the best of lovers, as Paul immediately highlights:

“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:4-5).

The Worst Ever Honeymoon

On Friday night, as part of a fundraising dinner for our youth group’s mission trip, Shona and I won the “Most Interesting Honeymoon” award. “Interesting” is quite the euphemism; “worst” would be more fitting. Because there can’t be many honeymoons as disastrous as ours was. But having given everybody a bit of a laugh, I thought, it’s time to share this fiasco with the world and hopefully put a few smiles on some faces. Settle down, this may take a while.

The year is 1991, and my first mistake was to book a trip to Kenya. That was a mistake for a few reasons. First of all, Shona was finishing up her junior doctor year during which she had been working 80-90 hours a week for a full year. Probably not the best lead-in to a 5000 mile trip to Mombassa. She subsequently made me rip up photos I took of her in the plane because she looked like she was terminally ill.

Second, while I’d travelled abroad many times, though never to Africa, Shona had never been outside Scotland. Yes, that’s right, I thought it would be a good idea to take my bride 5000 miles away from home when she’d never left her homeland before.

By this time you’re asking, “Why Kenya?” Good question. No good answer, apart from that I had a friend who had worked there for many years in the financial sector and he’d always been telling me what a great place it would be for our honeymoon. So Kenya it was. Brochure pictures looked amazing (no Internet then) and we also booked a three-day Safari for the second week.

A Mercedes On A Raft
After a 15-hour, three-flight trip, we eventually landed in the coastal resort of Mombassa in the middle of the night. The travel rep hustled us into a Mercedes taxi and off we went into the darkness. At one point we were on a massive raft built out of wood and barrels crossing a fast-flowing river. There were hundreds of people crammed on it with us and they were all very interested in the contents of the Mercedes. Eventually I got Shona to duck down and I covered her with a jacket as I smiled meekly at hundreds of very jealous-looking faces pressed up against our windows. Anxiety levels were beginning to climb.

Anyway, we eventually got to the beachside hotel, although “compound” might be a better description. It was surrounded by 10-12 ft fences with two layers of gate security manned by multiple men with scary looking guns. There were innumerable people around the entrance trying to get our money off us – either by begging or by selling. Shona back on the floor. Anxiety now moderate to high.

The hotel was really nice and the room was fantastic, but every time we looked out of the window, there were patrolling guards walking nearby, armed to the teeth again. Any attempt to get on to the beach was just about impossible because as soon as our feet left the compound and touched golden sand, hordes of beggars and sellers assaulted us (literally). Anxiety still climbing.

Five Star Torture Chamber
The room that looked so nice during the day then became a torture chamber as the live music nearby kept us awake until midnight and then the lawnmower awoke us up every morning before 6 am. After a couple of days we were pretty close to the edge of insanity. This wan’t helped when sitting in the hotel lobby one night we saw on TV news that a schoolgirls’ hostel 50 miles or so away had been attacked by a bunch of men with indescribable consequences. Anxiety in the red zone.

Then the hallucinations started. Yes, we were on anti-malarial drugs which began to loosen our grip on reality. We were both dreaming the most disturbing dreams, but I topped it off by waking Shona up one night screaming that someone had their hands around my neck. I was fully awake but in a life-or-death wrestling match with an unseen assailant. Shona was beginning to question who she’d just committed the rest of her life to.

Then the runs to the bathroom started. By this time we were both so paranoid and so sick that we didn’t want to be in the bathroom with the door closed. So there we are, two newly-weds, taking it in turns to run to the toilet with the other standing guard at the open bathroom door. Yes, if your marriage can survive that, it can survive anything.

Superman To The Rescue
We made one last try to salvage the vacation by getting our act together and deciding that we should learn how to scuba dive. I mean, why not? So we book a course in the hotel pool that would eventually lead to a reef expedition. The first lesson involved putting on all the tanks, mask, weight-belt, etc., and swimming to the deep end and back. I managed OK, then it was Shona’s turn.

When she reached the deep end, she panicked and pulled off her oxygen mask. However, the weight belt prevented her from getting to the surface. Then she really panicked. I saw her flailing underwater and shouted to the instructors who were smoking and drinking poolside, but they were totally disinterested and waved me away. At this point Superman Murray springs into action, running the length of the pool, before jumping in, grabbing Shona by the hair, and pulling a bedraggled gurgling wife to the side. Still nil movement from the instructors.

The last thing we tried was windsurfing (you can’t fault us for trying can you?) but we were both so weak by that point that we couldn’t turn the sails and we both started heading out towards Australia. We figured it better to drop the sails and try to swim back with the boards, expending our last reserves of mental and physical energy.

We went to eat that night but couldn’t even look at the food. Only eight more days of torture to go!

Homeward Bound
I looked at Shona, “Do you want to go home?” She burst into tears of relief. She’d been thinking that for days already. We phoned the travel company who said there was no way of getting home without paying thousands of dollars. But then they suggested that they send a doctor round to see if we could get home on the travel insurance. I hoped so, but felt hopeless.

The doctor arrived about an hour later, took one look at us, filled out two forms, gave us a few pills, asked for $50 and left. “That’ll get you home,” he said. We looked at the little slips of paper expecting to see something like “Insane” but the only word we could make out in the scrawl was “hyper-anxiety.” At that point, I couldn’t have cared if he had diagnosed me with multiple-personality disorder. I just wanted home and now we had our way out.

But not so fast. When we faxed the travel company, they said the only flight was leaving in a couple of hours and we were at least an hour away from the airport in good traffic. But, of course, it was the rush hour. Anyway, we threw our cases together, managed to get a taxi, told the driver we needed to be at the airport in an hour or so, and off we sped. At various points we got totally stuck in traffic; so he jumped the median a number of times, driving against the flow of cars and trucks, before jumping back over again. We were sure he was on our side.

Until, driving through a dark village, he took a sudden turn to the left, down behind some buildings, into what looked like an ancient, and empty, industrial estate. He skidded to a stop, jumped out of the car, and ran away into the night.

The End Is Nigh
We looked at each other. Our faces said the same thing. “It’s over.” Seven days of marriage and it’s all over. We’re about to get robbed, murdered, and our remains deposited in the jungle. We awaited our doom with amazing calm. We’d probably used up all our anxiety chemicals by that point and resigned ourselves to meeting in heaven again.

When, suddenly, out of the dark, our driver came running back to the car, pulling up his zipper! “Sorry, had to go,” he explained. We put off heaven for the moment and resigned ourselves to what remained of our nightmare.

We got to the airport with just 15 minutes before the flight took off. We sprinted into the terminal with our cases, skipped the angry line, and asked for our tickets. Surprise, surprise, no tickets. Phoned travel company who assured us the tickets were there. By that time the airline agents were totally ignoring the crazy European couple.

A Kenyan Angel
At that point, a Kenyan man in shirt and tie (who I think may have been an angel) came up to us and asked if he could help. We briefly explained and he assured us he’d get us on the plane. He grabbed one of our cases, said “Follow me” and started sprinting. He ran us straight through security then passport control without stopping or showing any documents. No one said anything or shot anything. Eventually we were stopped at the last security point where a mean looking guard demanded my wallet. He looked inside and saw all my Kenyan currency. He looked at me and I nodded vigorously. He took it all and handed me back my empty wallet.

On we ran. On to the tarmac and up to the waiting plane. The man who was helping us us told us to leave our cases at the foot of the steps and get on the plane. I thought, “We’ll never see these cases again,” but by that point I was past caring. We saw an open aircraft door, bounded up the steps, and entered to have the door closed immediately behind us.

“Tickets please.”

“Eh, we don’t have any.”

“No, sir, you cannot get on a plane without tickets.”

I babbled incoherently about what had happened over the last few hours, by which time the plane was taxiing. Thankfully it was 1991 not post 9/11, or else I might be in Guantanamo to this day; she eventually laughed and waved us away to find seats at the back of the plane.

We were at peace. We prayed and prayed and prayed, thanking God for deliverance, not knowing that one further obstacle remained.

One Last Obstacle
When we got to Nairobi, the British Airways desk for the London flight asked for our tickets. We explained how we had travelled from Mombassa without tickets. She was highly skeptical, saying “No one could get on that plane without a ticket.” I was going to tell her about the besuited angel, but instead persuaded her to phone the travel company who authorized the Kenya-London tickets again, and within an hour we were on the way to London.

Shona then remembered the pills that the Kenyan doctor had given to us. We weren’t entirely sure what they were but we remembered him saying something about “helping you to sleep.” So we popped a couple and the next thing I remember was waking up nine hours later over London, looking down at Big Ben and the River Thames. Never has a Scotsman been so glad to see England.

We phoned Shona’s parents who lived in the furthest away point of a distant Scottish island, and they persuaded us to spend the rest of our honeymoon with them. That’s right, I honeymooned for a week at my in-laws. Anyway, I figured things could only get better, and they did; much better. One thing’s for sure though, unlike most couples, our marriage has been far better than our honeymoon.

PS. Before the Kenyan Tourist Board sues me, I have heard of many people who enjoyed the best vacations ever in Kenya. 

Digital Billboard Evangelism

A group of reformed churches in New Jersey and New York recently combined to purchase advertising space on digital billboards placed beside some of the major highways of the area. The messages are very simple, just select verses of the Bible and a website address for more information.


I was asked by TruthIsReal.org to produce some short videos that would explain the verses so that when people visit the website they’ll get a very brief Gospel message. They will then be able to click on other resources with more information. The first video has just been published (see below). Ideally I’d like to do this outside beside a road but I’d probably get frostbite in Michigan at the moment.

Video Lectures On R C Sproul’s “The Holiness of God”

Here are the third, fourth, and fifth Sunday School lectures on The Holiness of God by R C Sproul.

Lecture 3 VideoHandout.

Lecture 4 Video, Handout.

Lecture 5 VideoHandout

You can get the previous two lectures and handouts here.

The handouts have three sets of pages references. The first is to the white covered version of the Holiness of God, the second is the dark cover version, and the third refers to the Kindle location.

Experiencing The Trinity

If you enjoyed Note to Self by Joe Thorn as much as I did, you’ll be delighted to know that Joe has just published another book in a similar format (multiple short chapters of profoundly simple theology) on Experiencing The Trinity.

Here’s gospel gold emerging from the furnace of affliction. Truth that’s been lived becomes life giving as Joe comforts others with the comfort with which he has been comforted by God. I hope and pray that these beautiful meditations will do you as much good as they did me.

Experiencing The Trinity