Do You Have the Courage to be Happy?

Matthew 5:3-12

November 10, 1991 | Ray Pritchard

It started on a Friday night 17 years ago in Lansing, Michigan when a young sophomore came off the bench to lead Everett High School to victory. He scored 36 points, had 18 rebounds, 16 assists and 10 steals. It was the most remarkable high school performance Fred Stabley had ever seen. As he wrote his story for the newspaper, he groped for the right word to describe this sophomore sensation. Magic. That was it. The young man was magic. Forever after, Earvin Johnson would be known to the whole world as Magic Johnson.

From Lansing he went on to Michigan State where he led the Spartans to a national championship victory over Larry Bird and Indiana State. Then it was on to Showtime with the Los Angeles Lakers. Twelve years and five championships later, it all came to a sudden end.

It is the most shocking sports story of our time—Magic Johnson forced to retire because he contracted the virus that causes AIDS. Do you remember where you were when you heard the news? It was that kind of shock for most Americans.

Thursday I rushed home from work just in time to watch his press conference on TV. What do you say when you discover that you have a virus that will sooner or later take your life? How do you face it?

This is what Magic Johnson said. “It’s not like my life is coming to an end. I plan on going on living for a long time. It’s another chapter like when your back is against the wall. I think that you just got to come out swinging. And I’m swinging … I’m going to beat it.”

Then he added these words, “The only thing I can do is have a bright side.” He was smiling when he said it.

I hardly need to say that Magic Johnson is one of the most popular sports figures of our time. He represents so many qualities we all admire, qualities that went far beyond his incredible athletic ability. There was his infectious, childlike enthusiasm, his virtuosity with a basketball, and that smile that could light up an entire city. Like many others, I watched him over the years and became a devoted fan. I’m still a fan this morning.

The whole story of Magic Johnson remains to be told. Our prayers are with him, prayers not only for physical recovery but also that he would turn to the Lord in a brand-new way because of this tragedy.

Moral Schizophrenia

But that, of course, is not the whole story. There are many other aspects to consider, not the least of which is the fact that this very sad tragedy reveals the moral schizophrenia that currently grips our country. On the one hand, we are exhorted to join the fight against AIDS. The message seems to be, “If it can happen to Magic Johnson, it can happen to anyone.”

Then we have Magic Johnson showing up on the Arsenio Hall show Friday night saying that if only we will practice safe sex, we’ll be all right. Suddenly the airwaves are filled with spokesmen saying how good it is that the mainstream has finally decided to take AIDS seriously, and isn’t it too bad that it took someone like Magic Johnson getting the AIDS virus for this to happen.

But almost no one is pointing out the obvious fact that AIDS for the most part is a behavior-based disease. In order for Magic Johnson to get the virus, he had to engage in a promiscuous lifestyle. Somewhere along the way he slept with a woman who had the virus. She may not have known she had it, but it doesn’t matter, because the AIDS virus is no respecter of persons. It doesn’t discriminate at all.

In one of the most bizarre moments of the last few days, there was a kind of national sigh of relief when Magic’s doctor announced on Friday that Magic had contracted the virus through heterosexual sex. It’s almost as if we feel that heterosexual promiscuity is better than homosexual activity. But let’s not kid ourselves. The fact that Magic slept with a woman instead of a man doesn’t make his actions any more virtuous.

We’re almost afraid to point out the obvious: Magic Johnson got the AIDS virus through a promiscuous lifestyle. I do not say that to heap any more guilt on his head or to make him look bad. His burden is already heavy, and in the end he will pay an enormous price for what he has done.

My point is somewhat different. We know the truth about AIDS but we refuse to speak it. As a nation, we literally refuse to speak of things like abstinence, chastity, virginity and self-control. Those are Forbidden Topics. Speak of them and you will be laughed at. “Abstinence. You’ve got to be kidding. Get real. This is the 20th century. Nobody abstains anymore.”

Safe Sex Is NOT The Answer

The real tragedy is not just what has happened to Magic Johnson. That’s bad enough. The deeper tragedy is that we as a people have missed the message altogether. And Magic himself seems to have missed it. He says, “If we’ll all just practice safe sex, we’ll be okay.” What he means is, Use a condom.

He’s wrong. And a statement like that is not only wrong, it is virtually immoral. It implies that there are no binding moral standards that govern sexual conduct. The implicit standard seems to be, “If two people are grown up, and if they want to do it, it’s okay, as long as they use a condom.” It’s not okay.

At the risk of sounding simplistic, let me lay out a better approach to the AIDS crisis. If you wish to lower your risk of contracting AIDS, there are four things you should not do:

1. Do not engage in homosexuality.

2. Do not engage in sexual activity outside of marriage.

3. Do not use drugs.

4. Don’t date anyone who does any of the first three things.

That’s not an absolute guarantee, but it’s close. If you’ll follow those four rules, your risk of contracting AIDS drops to virtually zero. I’m aware of the cases that arise from blood transfusions or from visiting an infected dentist or from being infected through invasive surgery. But all those cases taken together represent a tiny grain of sand in the huge avalanche of AIDS cases.

Let us be absolutely clear on this point. AIDS is primarily a behavior-based disease. Most people who contract AIDS do so because of choices they have made. Once again, I do not say that to heap guilt on Magic Johnson or on anyone else. Nor do I wish to embarrass anyone who might be infected with the virus who attends Calvary Memorial Church. You are welcome here. We are glad to have you. We would never do anything to increase your problems. After all, you already know the truth.

But we do think the truth should be clearly spoken. Safe sex is not the answer. Abstinence is the answer.

God Has Already Spoken

God has already spoken on this subject 3,500 years ago when he said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14) That statement stands for all time. It is an absolute rule for the human race, completely binding on all men and all women at all times and in all places.

But you say, “Isn’t adultery limited to married people? How can it apply if the two people involved are single?” That’s easy. Each commandment in the Ten Commandments is like the tip of an iceberg. When you see the tip, you know that 9/10ths is below the waterline. Adultery is God’s shorthand way of signifying all sexual immorality—homosexuality, pornography, polygamy, premarital sex, and all forms of extra-martial sex. That’s how Jesus interpreted the 7th Commandment in Matthew 5:27-30. When he expanded it to include lust in the heart, he was using the principle that the Commandment was meant to cover the whole field of sexual immorality.

By saying, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” God was establishing two great principles:

1. That all forms of sexual immorality were forbidden.

2. That sexual activity was permitted only within the bounds of heterosexual, monogamous marriage.

I should mention as a sidelight that this is what the Christian church has always believed. It’s amazing that I have to say that, but today there is some confusion on that point. We keep hearing about certain denominations that are constantly restudying the issue, rethinking their position, trying to find a way to bring their teaching on sexual morality into line with modern culture.

The fallacy of that should be obvious to all of us. The church of Jesus Christ is not called to conform its teaching to the surrounding culture. No! We are called to proclaim the unchanging moral principles of the Bible to a culture that is in rebellion against God. And at the same time we are to hold up the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only hope for mankind.

You may wonder why I am taking so much time to talk about this. The answer is simple: Our country suffers from severe moral schizophrenia, a sickness that the events of the last few days reveal all over again. The Magic Johnson episode shows that we as a nation are unable to make moral judgments. We know the truth but we are unable to speak it.

Truth Amid Prevailing Confusion

The truth of God towers over the confusion of the present hour:

“Be sure your sin will find you out.” (Numbers 32:23)

“Be not deceived. God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)

“The way of transgressors is hard.” (Proverbs 13:15)

“Come now and let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18)

“The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:7)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)

“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away. Behold, all things are made new.” (II Corinthians 5:17)

“Let those who name the name of the Lord depart from all iniquity.” (II Timothy 2:19)

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

As for Magic Johnson, we wish him all the best. I pray that he may be spared for many more years. And I pray that a cure might be found for the scourge of AIDS.

The “Be-Happy” Attitudes

But for us there are great lessons to be learned. Would you like a happy life? The Bible says it is possible. Consider the familiar words of Jesus in Matthew 5:3-12, the verses commonly called the Beatitudes. Each of the Beatitudes begins with the word “Blessed.” But the word translated “Blessed” actually means something like “Happy.” That throws a different light on this passage.

Happy are the poor in spirit.

Happy are those who mourn.

Happy are the meek.

Happy are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

Happy are the merciful.

Happy are the pure in heart.

Happy are the peacemakers.

Happy are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.

Happy are they. They and they alone are the truly happy people of this world. Not the glitterati you see on television. Not the politicians who bask in the limelight. Not even the NBA superstars.

God says that the truly happy people of the world are those who have chosen to follow Jesus’ teaching.

They are poor in spirit … but theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

They mourn … but they are comforted.

They are meek … but they inherit the earth.

They are hungry for righteousness … then they are filled.

They are merciful … in the end they receive mercy.

They are pure in heart … as a result they see God.

They are peacemakers … now they are called the Sons of God.

They are persecuted … but great is their reward.

Happiness Is A Choice

So the question this morning is this: Do you have the courage to be happy?

Courage, you say, what does courage have to do with it? Everything. Happiness comes from making the right moral choices in life. Happiness is not a goal you seek; it’s the by-product of seeking the right goals.

Etch it in stone. No one is unhappier than the man or woman who is trying to be happy. You don’t find happiness by seeking it. People who try to be happy are usually the most miserable people in the world. They spend their days chasing after something they can never find.

Nowhere in the Bible are we ever encouraged to seek to be happy. Instead, the Bible describes the happiness of those people who have sought the right things.

The Happiest Young People In the Whole Wide World

Today is Youth Sunday at Calvary. What a pleasure it is share this service with the fine young men and women who make up Allied Force and the Power Connection. As I think about our young people, my heart goes out to them. They cannot know how proud I am of them. These are some of the finest young men and women I have ever met. They are strong, dedicated, courageous, and deeply committed to Jesus Christ. It’s a pleasure to have them in the service this morning.

But the pressures they are under dwarf anything I experienced when I was growing up. It’s always hard to be a teenager, but in many ways it’s harder today than ever before. The pressure to be sexually active is always there, but in today’s world, all our role models seem to be leading us against purity and abstinence and toward sexual experimentation.

I wish you could see their meetings on Wednesday nights. Since September they’ve been meeting in the Dining Room because they outgrew their room on the third floor. I always try to end up the Prayer Meeting a little early so I can slip in about 8:20 P.M. and catch the last few minutes of their meeting.

It’s fantastic to see what they are doing. Last Wednesday there must have been over 100 teenagers there. Each week they have a slide show, a drama, a Bible lesson and the loudest music in Oak Park. Usually they break up into force groups for prayer. A few weeks ago I stayed to watch their prayer time. One of the groups stood in a circle and put their arms around each other like a huge football huddle. They they prayed for each other and they prayed for their friends to come to Christ. “Lord, Jeff is really searching for you. Help him to see the light. And help Joe to spend some time with his Dad this week. And Lord, help us all to hang tough against Satan.” It was straight from the heart, bottom-line stuff.

The Battle Walk

Do you know about the Battle Walk? Twice a month some of our young people march around Oak Park-River Forest High School at 7:30 A.M. Last Thursday I joined them. About 15 of us met in the bitter cold on the sidewalk in front of the main entrance. We paired off and walked all the way around the school, praying out loud for the administration, the staff, the teachers, and the students. We asked God to bless our young people and make them mighty warriors for Jesus Christ. Then we asked God to give us the entire high school for Jesus Christ. When we met back together at about five ‘til eight, Don Warren gathered us in a circle, we put our hands together, counted to three and then shouted, “Fear not.” Off they went to their first period class, ready to serve the Lord at the high school.

It sounds crazy, but these are the happiest kids I know. They are far happier than the ones who are stoned out of their minds or the ones who are getting drunk every Saturday night or the ones who sleep around on their dates.

Why is that? Because God has established the moral order of the universe. Those who respect that moral order will be happy. Those who don’t, won’t.

Happiness isn’t a goal. It’s a by-product of seeking God’s goals for your life. Happiness is not something you seek. It’s something you find on the way to seeking something better.

Happy are those who love the Lord.

Happy are those who put him first.

Happy are those who respect God’s Laws.

Happy are those who are not ashamed of Jesus.

Happy are those who live according to the Bible.

They are happy, and shall be happy.

Two Timeless Truths

Let’s wrap this message up with two simple conclusions:

1. Sexual Promiscuity Cannot Bring Happiness.

We end where we began. Sexual promiscuity cannot bring happiness. Oh, it may provide a temporary thrill or a quick physical sensation. It may satisfy in the short-run. But the thrill fades, the sensation disappears and the satisfaction does not last. In the end, sexual promiscuity can only bring heartache, sadness and unhappiness. It promises more than it can ever deliver. And it delivers what no one ever desires.

Just ask Magic Johnson. Don’t you suppose that if he could, he would take back that one night with that one woman, whoever she was, wherever she was, whenever it happened? Don’t you think he would give all his mil-lions if he could take back that night?

What would you give to be free of the AIDS virus? You would gladly trade everything you had, and you would still consider it a bargain.

When will we ever learn this crucial lesson? When will we discover that God’s laws cannot be broken? Remember, when you sin you don’t break God’s laws, you are broken by them. It’s like the man who jumps off a cliff and lands on the rocks below. He doesn’t break the rocks; the rocks break him. Likewise, when we experiment with sexual promiscuity, we are broken by the laws of God we chose to ignore.

2. Happiness Begins When You Put Christ First in Your Life.

Would you like to be happy? Let me tell you where to begin. Happiness begins when you give your life to Jesus Christ and decide to live by his teachings. When you decide to put Jesus Christ first in your life, you’ll discover a level of happiness you’ve never known.

The young people you’ve seen today have discovered that. They are the happiest teenagers I’ve ever seen. That’s because they’ve figured out the secret to happiness—Put Jesus Christ first in everything.

I commend their discovery to you.

The Key To Wholly Living

And now I come to the end of this sermon series on Wholly Living. Our goal throughout has been very clear: To explain what Jesus meant when he said, “I am come that they might have life, and might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) Jesus came to offer you a kind of life you can never discover on your own. He called it “abundant life.” It’s the same thing as Wholly Living.

Jesus himself is the key to the abundant life. He is the key to Wholly Living. Without him, you’ll never know how exciting life on earth can be.

The first step is to give your life to Jesus Christ. Wholly and without reservation. No strings attached. No small print. No special deals. Just say, “Lord Jesus, I need you in my life.”

He is Lord of heaven and earth. He is the Creator of all things. And yet he stands at the door of your heart and knocks this morning. Will you answer his call? Will you let him in?

If you need any more incentive, consider this. Those who say “Yes” to Jesus will never be disappointed. Not in this life or the next. The are happy now and saved forever.

Jesus is knocking at your heart’s door right now. Will you let him in?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?