Before we begin our study this morning I need to enter the confessional. Before last Sunday’s sermon by Pastor Tre I had every intention of going back to 1 Corinthians for our study this morning, but of course, in keeping with what we’ve known for most all of 2020…what had been planned was changed. Sunday afternoon I texted Tre, “What’s the third Sunday of Advent?” Tre texted me back, “Joy.” I knew then that my topic for today needed to change, I needed to teach on “joy.” Notice I said, “I needed to teach on joy.” I don’t know if you need a lesson on joy, but I desperately need it.
I have allowed so many things to rob me of the joy of the Lord, the joy He has so graciously provided for me, during these past 9 months. I’m one of those people Tre mentioned last Sunday in his sermon. He said there are people who can tell you all of the Hebrew and Greek words about peace, but it would be the conversation he would listen for to learn when we experience the most peace. During the last nine months I would have spent far more time sharing the Hebrew and Greek words for joy because I have not been experiencing much joy in my own life.
I’ve allowed some of the very things that Tre mentioned last week, peace robbers, to steal my joy. I’ve had friends of mine leave Britton Christian Church during the racial unrest we experienced as a nation because we said too much about race relations and another friend leave because we didn’t speak out enough. The situation with Covid has been tough, really tough. When we closed I heard from folks who couldn’t believe we’d cave in to the government. They emphatically let me know that the church should never close. Now that we have reopened, after shutting down for the second time, I’ve heard folks say that if we want to be a good neighbor that we should not meet “in person,” we should go online only. I think one of the toughest blows was when we were visited by the Health Department because someone turned us in for not wearing masks. First of all, we have been reminding our people to wear masks and we continue to wear masks to our seats, but more importantly, that phone call to the Health Department had to have been placed by one of us. I asked myself, “After having been here for 30 years, are my relationships with our people so shallow that we can’t sit down and talk when we have a concern?”
Then there are concerns I’ve had for our church that have come about because of Covid. Concerns like our seniors who I still have not been allowed to go see in nursing homes. Concern for those in the hospital that I still can’t go and pray with while they are in such a time of need. Concern for our kids who are having to do school on a laptop with little interaction with their classmates and teachers and are falling so far behind where they would be if things were different. Concerns about the disconnect we feel. Concern about the national studies that I read about how loneliness, depression, child abuse and spousal abuse in the home, and suicide are rising dramatically. Concerns like the study I read that 1 in 5 churches will permanently close in the next 18 months because of the loss of financial support. I could go on with the list of things I have allowed to rob me of the joy of the Lord during the past 9 months.
I needed a week to dig deep into God’s Word and focus on the joy of the Lord instead of all of the things that I’ve allowed to steal His joy from my life. I have been so blessed by all of the Scripture I’ve read which has allowed me to refocus on the fact that joy is not an elusive cross-your-fingers-and-hope-it-comes-one-day wish, but joy is the possession of every one of Jesus’ followers. Let me share just a few verses that have helped me refocus. Turn with me to Psalm 16:11 and let’s read together.
11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11 ESV)
King David had more than his share of problems that he had to deal with throughout his life and yet he knew “in your presence there is fullness of joy.” In God’s presence, in walking with God, talking with God, and staying focused on God–David would experience joy.
We know that Jesus was God incarnate, He was God in the flesh, the One who came to give His life for you and me so that we might be reconciled to the Father. Jesus told His disciples,
11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11 ESV)
I was amazed this past week to go back to the prayer Jesus prayed as He and His disciples were preparing to go to the Garden of Gethsemane. It is the longest prayer of Jesus we have in the Bible and it also gives us a glimpse of what was going on in Jesus’ heart and mind as He prepared to go to the Cross. In John 17:13, Jesus prayed to the Father,
13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. (John 17:13 NIV)
What was Jesus asking? Jesus desired for His followers to have the “full measure” of His joy within us. So, David teaches us that in God’s presence there is the fullness of joy. We learn from Jesus that He has spoken to us so that His joy will be in us and that our joy may be full.
Maybe we should stop just for a moment and define “joy.” If you go to the dictionary you will get one definition. Here it is: “The emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying.” (Dictionary.com) That sounds like our definition of happiness doesn’t it? I often hear people talk about what makes them happy, how they wish they were happy, or what they experienced that made them so happy. Martin Lloyd-Jones would encourage us not to go to the dictionary to find the definition of joy. He writes,
In any definition we may give of New Testament joy, we do not go to a dictionary; we go to the New Testament instead. This is something quite peculiar which cannot be explained; it is a quality which belongs to the Christian life in its essence, so that in our definition of joy we must be very careful that it conforms to what we see in our Lord. The world has never seen anyone who knew joy as our Lord knew it, and yet He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” So our definition of joy must somehow correspond to that… Joy is something very deep and profound, something that affects the whole and entire personality. In other words it comes to this–There is only one thing that can give true joy and that is the contemplation of the Lord Jesus Christ. He satisfies my mind; He satisfies my emotions; He satisfies my every desire. He and His great salvation include the whole personality and nothing less, and in Him I am complete. Joy, in other words, is the response and the reaction of the soul to a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Life in Christ Studies in 1 John by Martyn Lloyd-Jones)
I have read that quote over and over again this past week. Don’t look to define joy with a dictionary. If you want to know the definition of joy, you and I must look to Jesus. The difference between happiness and joy is that happiness happens when good things happen. When good things fail to happen or worse yet, when bad things happen, then happiness fades away. Joy is a gift, the possession, of every follower of Jesus, it is part of the fruit of the Spirit. Paul writes, in Galatians 5:22-23,
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)
If you are a follower of Jesus the Holy Spirit resides in you. His aim is to produce His fruit in your life and mine. Joy is the possession of every follower of Jesus and it is His will that we experience the fullness of His joy. The great Bible teacher, John Stott wrote,
It is clear from Paul’s writing that the major mark of justified believers is joy especially joy in God Himself. We should be the most positive people in the world. For the new community of Jesus Christ is not characterized by self-centered triumphalism but by God-centered worship. (John Stott)
Do you believe this to be true? I believe it, I really do, but then, why have I not been experiencing this joy that is mine in Christ? Have any of you been experiencing a lack of joy in your life as well? I know this, our troubles are not greater than His joy that is within us. Our trials and concerns are not so strong, so painful, that they can put out the flame of His joy. How do I know this? Well, I’ve seen others, like the Apostle Paul, who, while he was in a Roman prison wrote the most joyful of all of his letters, the letter to the people in Philippi.
In the very first chapter Paul let the people know that his being imprisoned had really worked to forward the cause of Christ. Paul said that it had become clear to the whole palace guard that he was in chains for Christ. Every guard who drew Paul as an assignment would have to spend his shift listening to Paul share the gospel. Paul thought, “How else would I have ever been given the opportunity to witness to these guys if I were not in chains in this prison!” In that prison cell, in Philippians 3:1, Paul wrote,
1 Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. (Philippians 3:1 NIV)
Did you notice what Paul wrote? He wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord!” And then, in Philippians 4:4, he wrote the same thing, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” The fountain of rejoicing is found in the Lord, not in our circumstances.
You can see that God’s Word makes it very clear to us that our joy is to be found in the Lord, in our relationship with Jesus. We have no joy of our own, we can’t produce the joy that God provides–our experiencing joy is attached to our experience of the person of Jesus Christ.
That is equally true of what so many seek in being happy. Experiencing happiness is attached to someone, some thing, or some experience. This presents a two-fold problem for us. First, people, things, and experiences come and go, the new wears off, and our happiness dies down. The second problem this creates for us is this: We are consistently and notoriously wrong in predicting what would really make us happy. Most people when asked, “What is the one thing you could get that would make you more happy?” They would say, “More money.” I read a study from Purdue University this past week that showed that more money is not equal to more happiness. The study showed that once we reach an income of $105,000 people’s satisfaction with life oftentimes starts to slide downward. Let me read you a quote,
More income tended to be associated with reduced life satisfaction and a lower level of well-being. And it’s not just adults who are impacted by this phenomenon. Children who come from affluent families are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and substance abuse than those who come from less affluent families.
In another study I read this past week in an article from MarketWatch titled, “The Dark Reasons So Many Rich People Are Miserable Human Beings,” researcher Paul Piff and his colleagues at the University of California Berkeley found that the more wealthy we become the more isolated and selfish we become.
The acquisition of wealth–and more generally, possessions that signal high status– makes us want to distance ourselves from others. This may be due to a feeling of competition and selfishness that sets in with the acquisition of wealth or status. It may also be because, quite simply, we don’t need other people to survive the way we did when we were poorer. Whatever the reasons, the wealthier we get, the less we value social connectedness–and that eats into our overall sense of well-being. (Catey Hill. MarketWatch. February 22, 2018)
The Bible says Solomon was the richest man who ever lived, richer than Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Oprah combined. He was looking for happiness, some sense of contentment and joy in life, and he had the means to explore every possibility. At the end of his experiment he concluded that it was all “vanity,” empty as it could be. Solomon wrote,
10 Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. 11 But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless– like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 NLT)
It’s empty. The things of this world cannot provide for us the joy that God intends for His people to experience. So, one of our problems is that we are focused on the wrong things.
There is a bigger problem for me, a problem that I’ve been allowing in my life for far too long now, and that is I’ve been allowing things to rob me of the experience of God’s joy. The worries and sorrow of life can’t extinguish the joy that is the possession of every follower of Jesus, but they can sure quench His joy. Let me illustrate what I mean by sharing something Jesus said to His followers in Matthew 5:15. Let’s read it together.
15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. (Matthew 5:15 NLT)
A lamp placed under a basket is still shining, but nobody can see the light. The joy of the Lord is the possession of every follower of Jesus, but the baskets of sorrow, worry, the trials of life, the death of a loved one, the loss of a marriage, a terminal diagnosis from the doctor, the loss of the awareness of the glory of our King and how gracious He has been to us–these can stop us from experiencing His joy.
My problem, and maybe this has been your problem as well, is that I have been focused on my problems, the worries of life, and not on Jesus. Keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus does not make my problems go away, they are not even lessened, they remain firmly in the category of the trials of life. But when I focus on Jesus, and not my problems, I am able to see my troubles through His eyes and understand them as part of His plan for my life. I will be reminded through His Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit that He will not waste one of my trials, not one of my tears, but He will use them all to draw me ever closer to Himself, He will use them to mold me more and more into His image, and He will use them to increase my dependence on Him. I must live with the end in mind and not fixate on the momentary trials of life. Our long term view is much better than our short term trials in this life.
That is exactly what Jesus did my friend. This past week, in the Bible study I do each week with our tennis kids, we looked at the pain and suffering Jesus endured through being humiliated, scourged until His back was cut into ribbons, and nailed to the cross. We looked at it in great detail, something the kids had not done before, and it gripped them. Jesus knew who He was, He knew why He had come, and even though He could have avoided it all by simply saying He wasn’t the Messiah…He would not. He willingly endured the Cross. The writer of Hebrews tells us.
1 …Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1b-2 ESV)
What was that “joy set before Him?” It was your salvation and my salvation which could only be provided through His excruciating experience on the cross. Jesus’ love term view, the joy set before Him, enabled Him to endure. And our long term view, the joy set before us, will enable us to do the same through each and every trial of life.
I had lunch with a friend this past week. He is a little older than me and I reminded him of something he told me years ago. He said, “The older we get the more things fall away from us. We aren’t able to do the things we were once able to do, we lose those we love, etc.” These losses can cause us great sorrow if they have been the source of our joy in life. I then shared a letter with my friend that Jonathan Edwards wrote to his friend, Pastor Benjamin Coleman. Pastor Coleman served a church in Boston and he had recently experienced such great loss. His young daughter had recently died, his wife had been sick for a long time and she was left incapacitated, and then his associate pastor died. What would you say to Pastor Coleman if he came to you? Here is what Jonathan Edwards wrote to his friend.
When you are thus deprived of the company of your temporal friends, you may have sweet communion with the Lord Jesus Christ more abundantly, and that as God has gradually been darkening the world to you, putting out one of its lights after another, so he would cause the light of his eternal glory more and more to dawn within you. (Edwards on the Christian Life. pg. 118)
God is gradually darkening all of the lights, one after another, in your life and mine. He is not doing this to rob us of anything, but so that His glorious light might shine ever brighter in our lives. Edwards writes,
The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the ocean. (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 17:437–438)
I shared this quote with Ryan this past week. I told Ryan how badly I miss Jesse Arevalos. Jesse was truly a light in my life. I enjoyed that guy so much. Everyone in the choir loved Jesse. I realized this week that Jesse was a stream of joy, but God is the Ocean. Jesse was a beam of light, but God is the Sun. I could go on with the beams and streams of joy in my life. Gathering with a church full of friends has been a stream of joy in years past, but God is the Ocean. Singing with the choir on Wednesday night has been a stream of joy, but God is the Ocean. All of the opportunities for fellowship and worship that we’ve had to cancel this past year have been beams of joy, but God is the Sun. Looking ahead, with all of its uncertainty, God is our Ocean of joy that will never run dry, He is our Sun which will never be put out! We can lose the streams, but God is the Source. The scattered beams of joy may stop shining, but never the Source, never the Sun. The streams may all dry up, but never the Ocean of God’s joy given to His people.
It is time for us to stop our study, but I must share just one more thing with you. If you are looking for something to focus on to reorient you this morning away from your troubles and sorrows and uncover the joy that is yours, then focus on this–Our Savior lives, He reigns as the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords, and He has promised to come again for you and me.
I spoke at a funeral on Thursday of this past week for a lady I had met, but did not know. When I met with her family to plan her funeral, I asked about her faith. Her son told me that she was a follower of Jesus and she had talked to him on several occasions about going to heaven, she was looking forward to going to heaven. I was thinking about that as I studied joy this past week. In John 14, Jesus promised to go and prepare a place for us and then to come back for us so that we might be where He is–is this not the joy set before you and me. I need to see through every trial, I need to look beyond my trials to the day that Jesus will come for me.
I want to encourage you this morning, if you have never cried out to Jesus and asked Him to be your Lord and Savior, won’t you please do that this very morning? If you are already a follower of Jesus, but you, like me, have not been experiencing the joy that is yours, the joy that comes from knowing and walking with Jesus, then I want to encourage you to talk to Him this morning. Confess your lack of joy and ask Him to uncover His joy and bring it back to life.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
December 12, 2020