Thursday, April 11, 2019

What's The Question?

“How do I achieve success and happiness?”. That was the question asked by one of the students.

My little church is part of a campus ministry at a local junior college. If you’ve seen the Netflix documentary Last Chance U about football players, then think of our little JUCO as First Chance U for these kids. A chance to get a couple of years on the cheap before going off to a nearby state university or maybe just a two-year degree in the culinary arts and then a good job at one of the Indian casinos across the river. Or a nursing degree with a ticket to a better life down in the Metroplex.

Some local churches are part of a Tuesday night rotation where do-gooders and bible-thumpers show up for supper with the students. The churches bring pizza, hamburgers and hotdogs or that holiest of holies, Chick-Fi-Let. The kids consume mass quantities. For some it’s grab and go, some stay and eat while studying their smart phones. A few act as if they are paying attention while someone tries to tell them why their church is cool and just knowing Jesus makes life better. Try it, you’ll like it, that sort of thing.

If I sound cynical about such “ministries” it’s because I am. Kids come for free food and leave. No strings attached. Over the years, churches haven’t seen much fruit from all of this effort. But I am told that a couple of kids have become Christians, making a profession of faith and being baptized. That being the case, then it is worth it.

And if it’s worth it, it’s worth doing better. So I suggested that we ask the kids to submit questions (anonymously). I sort of put our pastor on the spot. So now he has to prepare for these suppers and respond to some tough questions about God, good and evil, heaven and hell or just life in general.

I haven’t been going to these events because I thought they were a waste of time plus I don’t want to be the resident Granddad. I also have a tendency to commit 100% or not at all, and I knew that if I got involved, I would take it all too seriously and too personally. Some of these kids would end up breaking my heart or I would break theirs. Valid excuses or me just being chicken---t?

But since the questions were my idea, I decided that I better show up, at least once, and survey the damage. It was interesting and some of the kids actually listened and responded to the answers. When the pastor got to the “success and happiness” question he gave a solid response including the true joys of being a Christian and what really matters in the grand eternal scheme of things. That’s what he gets paid to say.

However, there is such a thing as giving the right answer to the wrong question. If I had been answering the question I would have started by asking this question: “What do you mean by ‘success and happiness’?” If success and happiness for you means financial success and the happiness money can buy (because money actually can buy happiness of a certain sort for a period of time); then that requires a different answer. If success and happiness means getting to do just what you want to do for a living and having as much personal freedom as possible, even if it means sacrificing wealth and security and perhaps even relationships, then it’s a different answer.

Words have meaning and they mean different things to different people. Success and happiness? What that means to 19 or 20 year olds living on campus at a little old Texas JUCO is a mystery to me and probably a mystery to most of them. And what it means to them today isn’t what it will likely mean a year from now, or five years from now, or twenty-five years from now.

At some point in life, if one is lucky enough or blessed enough, one learns that success and happiness are not all they are cracked up to be. We are all going to die and someone else will end up playing with our toys. There’s nothing wrong with success and happiness as long as you know what those words truly mean. And if you know what they mean, live like it. I’ve always known that true success and happiness had more to do with the soul and eternity than ones net worth. But, that never stopped me from counting my chips and figuring that “more” was better than “less”. These days I’m not so sure.

As we draw near the end of the Lenten season and prepare for Easter, I think about the questions Jesus asked. He always asked the right questions and often answered a question with a question. If He were asked “How do I achieve success and happiness?”, I think His response would have been something like this:

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” –Mark 8:36

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