The Happiest People on Earth!

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By Colonel Dennis Phillips – 

Vast! Enormous! Gigantic! Expansive and extensive! (Whew.) My computer has a thesaurus, and I’m checking it twice in this admittedly feeble attempt to describe the physical dimensions of the Western Territory.

The territory is so widespread, it’s the first each day to see the sun rise (Rita Corps on Majuro in The Marshall Islands is just over the International Date Line), and the last to see it set (Hanapepe Corps, on the Island of Kauai in Hawaii) as it embraces one third of the world’s 24 time zones. The gospel is preached in more than a dozen languages, and humanitarian services are delivered in Jesus’ name in climates ranging from minus 50 degrees in Fairbanks to 120 degrees and more from Phoenix to Pohnpei. (Whew, again.)

During these past 14 months, Mrs. Phillips (correction, Colonel Noella Phillips) and I have been privileged to see the Army at work as far north as Angoon, east to El Paso, and to the western and southernmost points of any USA territory, when we recently visited Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia and The Marshall Islands.

And what did we find?

We found the happiest people on earth. Yes, Disneyland lays claim to being the “Happiest Place on Earth,” but apparently they have not been to an Alaskan Congress. Nor have they seen Marshallese children at a corps picnic, frolicking in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean, diving for sea shells and making sailboats from palm branches. Disney’s execs would do well to drop in on a united rally in El Paso or slip into a youth councils session in Sierra Del Mar, where they would quickly observe that they have no monopoly on happiness. I’ve seen the multitudes of children on Disneyland’s Main Street, and their smirks and grins quickly pale in comparison to the bright and shining full-faced, beaming smiles of the children throughout Micronesia.

I promised that all of this made a poignant point, and it does. Here it is, in two sections: 1. Happiness is a choice. 2. Having things will not produce happiness.

This is a good gospel, for one of God’s richest gifts is the freedom to choose, and his Word consistently encourages us to make good choices while it cautions us about the consequences of misusing this generous gift by making wrong ones (such as those made for instant gratification but are dangerously harmful to ourselves or others in the long run). We opt for happiness, then, by prudently utilizing God’s gift in making the right choices through discipline, wisdom, experience, and most of all, by leaning on our spiritual instincts.

And then, for God’s sake–and ours–and others’, let us move past the lip service that says “things do not produce happiness” to the reality level where we finally understand that earthly possessions have never produced happiness, nor will they ever. Life as a Salvation Army officer puts one in contact with the richest and the poorest of our communities, and I have seen more unhappiness, greed and jealousy among the rich than the poor. And some of the most uproariously happy moments of my life have been with those who have so little to call their own. (This is not to say that happiness belongs only to the poor and all rich people are miserable, greedy ingrates. The statement itself declares its own absurdity. No, there are many wealthy people who have found a treasure of happiness, for they have made choices which honor God, and they have generously reached out to those who cannot care for themselves. And, regrettably, there are those among the poor who make wrong choices and create long-term unhappiness for themselves and their families.)

So, here we are at the threshold of yet another year. And what choices will we make for ourselves in 1997? We can begin by subscribing to what Bishop John Taylor calls, “The Theology of Enough.” The opening line of Richard Foster’s classic Freedom of Simplicity tells us “contemporary culture is plagued by the passion to possess.” Overly rich and overly doting parents who recently paid $1500 for a “Tickle Me, Elmo” doll dramatically document Dr. Foster’s statement, and I rest my case.

In fact, once you decide you really want to get off the “I gotta have it” treadmill and begin your search for true and lasting happiness, I highly recommend Richard Foster’s book as your guide, which includes a chapter that explores a wide variety of ways to utilize your time on this earth (other than working second and third jobs or remaining in high paying–and high stress–occupations) which, while reducing stress (physical, emotional and spiritual) provide the kind of experiences that help you sleep well at night and make you glad to wake up each day.

So, singer Bobby McFerrin’s advice was more theologically sound than we gave him credit for being: “Be happy…” (John 10:10). For, you see, each of us has the potential for being among “The Happiest People on Earth” (HPOE) It won’t happen with “the next appointment” (or with the next set of officers). Nor will it happen should Ed McMahon and Dick Clark actually answer their mail and appear at our door. No, we become citizens of the HPOE society only when Jesus Christ is the undisputed Lord of our lives and the only treasures we seek are those we are laying up in Heaven.

A Great Army Hero Promoted to Glory

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