Tuesday, June 10, 2008

How Strong Are You? Joy Part 1

The following is a continuation of the sermon series from Mosaic Church. This is an adaptation in narrative form, with some modifications and changes from the sermon series I am teaching on. It is the first of a 3 part series that has as a focus, joy. Hopefully you get something out of it and it should be noted, while much of the thought is my own, I have had many from various ministry sources, as well as friends and even some from MySpace that have contributed to my thought. Enjoy and if there are questions or comments, don’t hesitate commenting on the particular web site you are seeing this, or to email me at mike@thevirtualpew.com

I guess the first thing I would ask is; how strong are you? Not just in a physical way, but a spiritual way. What I would like to do is challenge you to start a new Spiritual exercise program. In doing so there are several passages from The Bible that I will encourage you to bookmark and take a look at as time permits, those passages include; Ecclesiastes 2: 1-11, Psalm 118:24, Philippians 4:4, 1 Thessalonians 5: 12-18, Nehemiah 8:10, Luke 15:7

Now before we get started, here is what I want you to do, of course in your own private setting, but be honest with yourself and do it. Go to your bathroom or bedroom which ever room you have a large mirror, take off your clothes, and look at yourself. Now let me ask you the question, are you in good physical shape?

I have to admit, I am far from being in the best of physical shape, and have to say, I am far from the shape I used to be in. One of the reasons is I don’t exercise like I should. I see my son; see the hard work he puts in for his wrestling and activities, and kind of marvel at the physical shape he is in. That said, I also realize that it takes work to get in pristine condition. Exercise, dedication, and commitment among other things are involved. While it takes these things to get into great physical shape, we must also recognize, it takes these kinds of effort to get into great spiritual shape.

One of the things that is lacking among many who call themselves Christians, or who are followers of Jesus, is that we aren’t in the best spiritual shape. In fact, often times, people seem depressed and not very happy. One of the things that is lacking, that we all need, that is important to share the value of our faith, if Christian, is the aspect of joy. I know of very few people who don’t want to be more joyful. Those that I do know aren’t very fun to be around; most of us know some of those people. Would you like to have more joy? Would you like to be happier in all things, not just a few? If the answer to those questions is yes, then are you willing to start a new exercise program?

One of the first things I would want you to understand. Joy is not necessarily happiness. In fact, I recently read a statement I strongly agree with, it read; “Happiness depends on happenings, Joy depends on Jesus."

I think the above statement is very true, or at the very least has been true from my own experiences and spiritual journey. It is important to realize, there is a tremendous difference between happiness and joy. One does not require the other, although one can benefit the other.

Mosaic is a church that has as a part of it’s affiliation an association with the Church of God in Anderson. A part of their statement of faith states from their web site:

In a miraculous way, that commitment to Christ is rewarded in the believer with a deep feeling of peace that C. S. Lewis has described as "surprised by joy!" The joy of the Lord is not one of temporary hilarity; rather it is the peaceful inner assurance that God is with me and I am with God—because of Christ. The experience of God working in our lives to forgive and redeem us begins as you and I confess our sins and accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The experience is described well by Bill and Gloria Gaither: He touched me, O He touched me, And O the joy that floods my soul; Something happened, and now I know, He touched me and made me whole.

As I read this statement for the first time, I begin to wonder, Joy - What is it? As I processed that thought I came to the following conclusions.

First let’s understand what joy is not. It is not a superficial happiness. In other words, joy and happiness are not synonymous with each other. We can all experience aspects of happiness and joy, but joy is not contingent on one being happy.

Next, understand, joy is not to be faked. Many put on a happy face, a happy face even when they aren’t happy. We see it all of the time, an example is we when often see a pat answer and smile when someone asks how another is doing. The seemingly consistent answer, even when we know it is not true, is “I’m doing fine, how are you?”

Joy is not a fleeting expression that comes and goes. It isn’t turned on or off by the whimsical experiences we face from day to day. While there may be moments where it is hard to be joyful, joy is an attitude that is more constant than not, a part of our nature more than not.

In the above process, one must realize, joy is not feeling that is dependent on pleasure and decadence. As mentioned in the earlier statement, at least as I have experienced it, my joy comes from Jesus, not happenings. There is again, a huge difference. My joy is not contingent on the things that are happening around me.

Joy is not the absence of suffering; it is the presence of God. This is a serious mistake many who follow Jesus make, it is also a serious mistake many make when looking at and contemplating the spiritual aspects of Christianity. When considering that joy comes from a place much deeper than the things we posses, or the dreams so many of us aspire for, we can take into consideration the words from Ecclesiastes 2: 1-11 which helps illustrate from a Biblical perspective what joy is not.

Ecclesiastes 2: 1-11
(1) I said to myself, "Have fun and enjoy yourself!" But this didn't make sense. (2) Laughing and having fun is crazy. What good does it do? (3) I wanted to find out what was best for us during the short time we have on this earth. So I decided to make myself happy with wine and find out what it means to be foolish, without really being foolish myself.

(4) I did some great things. I built houses and planted vineyards. (5) I had flower gardens and orchards full of fruit trees. (6) And I had pools where I could get water for the trees. (7) I owned slaves, and their sons and daughters became my slaves. I had more sheep and goats than anyone who had ever lived in Jerusalem. (8) Foreign rulers brought me silver, gold, and precious treasures. Men and women sang for me, and I had many wives who gave me great pleasure. (9) I was the most famous person who had ever lived in Jerusalem, and I was very wise. (10) I got whatever I wanted and did whatever made me happy. But most of all, I enjoyed my work. (11) Then I thought about everything I had done, including the hard work, and it was simply chasing the wind. Nothing on earth is worth the trouble.

In the above passage from Ecclesiastes we can see, that according to the author, he had virtually everything, yet that didn’t satisfy. How different is the above passage from those we know and see in our society today, especially in the West. It seems as if we have daily examples of how wealthy people, people with all of the trappings of, “nice things” don’t find happiness in those things. The author in fact, indicates that the things really aren’t worth the trouble. Nothing can replace the joy that comes from Christ.

Author Walter Wangerin Jr. wrote: "The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can't stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance, and of endurance into character, and of character into hope, and the hope that has become our joy does not (as happiness must for those who depend upon it) disappoint us."

Joy is an attitude of the heart and for those of us who are followers of Jesus we will find it as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Joy is not merely happiness but much more.

Joy, for those who follow after Jesus, and who have committed themselves to his leadership and teachings is a lasting truth written on our hearts, hearts which are grounded in gratitude, thanksgiving, and hope. Joy is the deepest form of happiness, because it is a celebration, an eternal song. It is evidence of the hope we have that is beyond this world.

CS Lewis wrote: “All joy emphasizes our pilgrim status, always reminds, beckons, and awakens desire.”

This can help us start to move to the point where we better understand what joy is. It is in large, our longing, our desire for eternity. We have to be mindful of the things God ultimately has for us. There is no shame in contemplating, thinking about Heaven. While I may have financial issues now, I won’t in Heaven. While I may have relational problems now, I won’t in Heaven. While I may be tired, broken down and sorrowful now, I won’t in Heaven. While I may have difficulties paying the bills, high gas prices, or mortgage payment now, I won’t in Heaven. Heaven is the ultimate thing that God has for us who choose to follow him and accept his son Jesus Christ. While I realize that things on planet earth may stink for the moment, Heaven awaits me.

Joy is a deep thanksgiving and happiness for all God has for me, but it is also a commandment. In other words, God wants us to experience joy. The joy we experience helps us bare and deal with all of the difficulties we face now. It also helps to display the ultimate goodness of God to a people who are searching for an escape to all of the difficulties and curve balls life throws us.

We must all understand, whether followers of Jesus or not, joy is also God's will for each of us. God does not want people to live in tough times. He wants us to know that he loves us so much that he wants us to focus on what we will have, the ultimate gifts he will provide.

Joy is also a fruit of the spirit. In other words, when we give our lives to Christ, His Holy Spirit comes into our life and we experience joy. Joy is one of the proofs that God is real, and one of the proofs that Jesus still lives. Despite the tough and difficult times, the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to find and recognize joy.

Joy must always be grounded in truth, gratitude/thanksgiving & hope. When we do this, we make the expression of praise towards God and others complete.

I love the following expression, it states: “Joy is peace dancing, and peace is joy at rest.” When we experience joy in our lives, it is as if we have found peace and as if our spirits dance. A celebration of happiness that we can all experience with the joy that comes from God.

Some things never change, it seems as if we focus and strive after the things we think will give us pleasure and joy. We chase pleasure, and pursue happiness, but as Christians we have a deeper, more beautiful calling, we are called to JOY!

There are several passages that help illustrate the journey and attitude toward joy we are taught in the Bible. Some of those follow.

Psalm 118:24
This day belongs to the LORD! Let's celebrate and be glad today.
Philippians 4:4
Always be glad because of the Lord! I will say it again: Be glad.

Now while we strive for joy; the deepest happiness of all is also found in suffering. In other words, it is sometimes from our suffering that we really come to a complete understanding and appreciation of the joy God provides.

Paul wrote many letters while in prison. Philippians uses the words rejoice and joy more than any other. These words were written while Paul waiting to be executed and in chains! Paul uses the words rejoice over and over again, empathetically expressing his joy despite the conditions he was in, and the future that seemingly awaited him. We can use Paul as an example to encourage us that rejoicing, even in tough times, is a way to exercise our joy experience. As we exercise our experiences, then we have more joy, it is more evident, and when looking into the mirror, we will realize that God is with us, building us and molding us into the people he wants us to be, and ultimately the person that will experience more joy than ever before.

I could ask you, was Paul delusional? No I think he just understood God's will for us. He knew from his own personal experiences what God could ultimately do if we allowed him. In fact, if looking carefully at Paul’s words we can easily see, we are commanded to joy.

Our cultural understanding of repetition in language is different than that of the world which Paul initially wrote his letters. The repetitions of the word rejoice is like adding three exclamation marks to the end of the sentence. Paul means to quite seriously REJOICE! And to rejoice is to take joy in whatever experiences we are facing.

Some may ask what are some additional ways to exercise joy? We can see some of those from looking at the Bible and various life situations.

1 Thessalonians 5: 12-18
(12) My friends, we ask you to be thoughtful of your leaders who work hard and tell you how to live for the Lord. (13) Show them great respect and love because of their work. Try to get along with each other. (14) My friends, we beg you to warn anyone who isn't living right. Encourage anyone who feels left out, help all who are weak, and be patient with everyone. (15) Don't be hateful to people, just because they are hateful to you. Rather, be good to each other and to everyone else.
(16) Always be joyful (17) and never stop praying. (18) Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do.

When we become Christians we spend hours searching for God's will in our lives. One of the few times the phrase' for this is God's will for you' is used is in reference to joy! It is GOD'S will for us to have joy. Did you hear that? This is one of those few times where God’s will for our life is clear!

There are several key points to being able to do this that we can get from this passage, some of those points includes: We need to be thoughtful to our leaders. Note here, from this passage we should also show our leaders respect and love. Then there is the need for all of us to try to get along with each other, but when need be, to confront each other when we do wrong, in love. In that we should encourage each other, especially those who feel left out. We should help the weak, be patient, and make the effort to not be hateful to anyone, even those who are hateful to us. The lessons don’t stop there though, we read, we should be good to each other, always be joyful, never stop praying, and no matter what, no matter how bad or how good life seems to be, thank God!

Nehemiah 8:10
Nehemiah told the people, “Enjoy your good food and wine and share some with those who didn't have anything to bring. Don't be sad! This is a special day for the LORD, and he will make you happy and strong."

Here in the above passage we see additional ways to practice joy. I love the first example, it is one a lot of people enjoy and appreciate, we should eat together, share with one another, celebrate together, and last but not least from this passage, share and give to those less fortunate.

On this passage I must state, it is hard to find joy in today’s world, especially with the rising costs of gas and the overall implications of that in rising costs across the board. I firmly believe, if followers of Jesus were to put the above practices into practice, not just with each other, but with a struggling world, searching for spiritual truths, our message about the love of Jesus would be a lot more receptive to people. What a wonderful world it would be if those who don’t know God, don’t believe in the salvation offered by Jesus would see us as a people who cared for, loved, and served even those who don’t hold to the same beliefs. Instead, many see those who say they follow Jesus as a bunch of judgmental, hypocritical jerks who could really care less for those who have difficulty. While we get passionate about speaking up against homosexuals, whatever political party we disagree with, or those lazy poor people, the truth is, we forget about the mission and message of Jesus. How sad is that, no wonder we don’t show that we are a people of joy, we are too busy being a people of judgment.

Luke 15:7
Jesus said, "In the same way there is more happiness in heaven because of one sinner who turns to God than over ninety-nine good people who don't need to."

From the above passage we can see another joy exercise. We need to share Jesus with those who don’t know him. We need to cause Heaven to throw parties. We can find true joy when we implement the message and mission of Jesus into our own lives. I love the concept presented by Mother Teresa here. She stated: “Joy is a net of love by which you catch souls.” How involved are we who call ourselves followers of Jesus, or Christians at casting nets of love in order that we can help introduce the souls of all people to the love and hope provided by Jesus.

There is an old Sunday school song that says: Joy is a flag flown high from the castle of my heart, for the king is in residence there. Let it fly in the sky let the whole world know, that the king is in residence there. A question I have, is, how many of us are letting that joy flag fly high from our heart? If we aren’t doing it, if we aren’t practicing the things God has told us to from the Bible, is it any wonder that we may not be experiencing joy?

The following is a letter written by Mehdi Dibaj who was an Iranian man who was first imprisoned, then released and later murdered for his faith in Jesus Christ. He exemplifies the joy each of us can find if we exercise our faith in Jesus, put into practice, and then move on from there. In a letter to his son, he wrote:

These days there are celebrations everywhere. People outside celebrate the day of Revolution and you, my son, are celebrating your birthday today (17 years old).

Inside my prison cell I am celebrating my forty-third year of becoming a Christian and today I am celebrating the entering of the eighth year of the test of my faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.

There is a celebration and joy within my heart. I thank my loving God ever so much that He accounted me worthy to be here in prison for more than seven years now because of my love and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my Christian brothers and sisters who have supported me with their prayers and love, so that the victory should belong to the Lord.

Victory is yours, risen Jesus, Son of the Creator, our Redeemer.

Are you willing to exercise in the things you need to in order to be the joyful person God wants you to be? Or are you going to keep on being miserable? In closing I am going to use a poem by W. Roger Lee. He contributes on a regular basis to our web site, http://www.thevirtualpew.com/ I appreciate these words from one of those contributions.

Look To Christ for Joy

Don’t wait until tomorrow to be happy,
As if happiness were a land far away,
For it can be found in this moment,
If your heart is grateful for today.

For happiness is not a place or thing,
Rather it’s a content state of mind,
And for all who look to Christ for joy,
His happiness they are sure to find.

A Reminder, you can also find our more about Mosaic Church by visiting, http://www.mosaicwichita.org/ or by visiting the MySpace page at, www.myspace.com/mosaicwichita

Here is a video of a wonderful song with a focus on Joy. If you see the video double click on it, if not, just click the following link:


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