Sunday, December 13, 2015

Devotional: Repeat the Sounding Joy

Friends, here is the devotional I shared during the worship concert December 13:

We’ve just heard “Good Christians All, Rejoice” and in just a moment, we’ll hear “Joy to the World.”  Some people think joy isn’t particularly spiritual.  I’ve been a pastor a long time, and I’ve heard a lot of people confess a lot of sins, but I’ve never had anyone say to me, “Preacher, pray for me.  I’m just not a joyful enough person. “   I’ve known plenty who should have!  I know that would surprise some to hear. I have a friend who says Christians are people who always seem angry because someone, somewhere might be having fun.  When we think of a righteous person, we tend to think of a fat, red-faced preacher screaming about sin and hell, or a severe old woman with her hair in a tight bun, whose face would crack if she smiled.  But get this:
·       Jesus was a man of joy.  It got Him into trouble.  His enemies accused Him
of being a “drunkard and a glutton.”  This wasn’t because Jesus got drunk or ate too much; both of those things are sins, and the Bible clearly says Jesus never sinned.  They accused Him of these things because they weren’t used to a religious teacher who seemed like He was enjoying life.  Jesus was a man of wit and warmth, a man who gave His disciples joking nicknames, who made some of His more spiritual points with humor, and whose personality was so magnetic, people would spend days just listening to Him talk.  He didn’t fit the profile of a “serious” religious teacher.
·       God is a God of joy.  Genesis 1:31 says that after God had created every thing,
He looked around at it and said, “it is very good.”  Psalm 104:31 says, Let the Lord be glad in all His works.  In other words, God enjoys the things He made.  In Isaiah 65:18, it says that God rejoices in His people.  And in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15, Jesus pictures God as a father who throws a party when one of His rebellious children come home.  Imagine that: You bring joy to the heart of God!
·       In the book of Acts there are several stories of people becoming Christians.
In most of those stories, joy is mentioned.  Philip preached the gospel in Samaria, and “there was great joy in that city” (Ac 8:8).  The Ethiopian eunuch got saved in the desert, and “went on his way rejoicing” (Ac 8:39).  Paul and Silas led their jailer in Philippi to salvation, and he “rejoiced, believing in God with all his house” (Ac 16:34).  When Jesus comes into your life, He brings joy with Him.
·       Many times in scripture, we are commanded to rejoice.  We are told to enjoy
the food we eat (1 Ti 4:4-5), our friendships with other believers (Ph. 4:1), our physical relationship with our spouse (Pr 5:18-19), and most of all, our relationship with God (Ph 4:4).  We are even told to rejoice in times of trial (Ja. 1:2, among many others).  In Galatians, joy is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit.  In other words, if God is alive inside you, you should be a joyful person. That doesn’t mean you always need to be happy. There are times to weep, times to be serious, even times to be angry.  But joy means you have a settled state of joyfulness. It means your default setting is to enjoy life. 
How do we get there?  Treat it as you would any other shortcoming in your relationship with God.  Confess it to the Father.  Ask Him to teach you joy.  He wants you to have it.  Then allow the Holy Spirit to show you what is present in your life that is stealing your joy.  Maybe there is an area of rebellion against God in your life, and that is what is making you miserable.  Maybe you are spending too much of your time around people or influences that bring you down.  Maybe you need professional help.  God wants you to have joy.  Do what it takes to bring the joy of the Lord into your life.
There are probably people here today who have not yet accepted Christ as their Savior.  If you’re one of those people, it’s not surprising if you don’t have joy.  We were created for one thing above all others, and that is a relationship with God.  When we try to live our lives without that, it’s like putting an eagle in a tiny cage.  No matter how much good food, how many enticing distractions you put into that cage, they can’t stop that eagle from being miserable.  Eventually, that bird will die because it is prevented from doing the thing it was created to do: Soar.  As long as you live your life apart from Christ, you are slowly dying.  Perhaps you have found distractions that temporarily keep you from noticing, but you’re dying, just the same.  You can’t experience real joy until Jesus is your Lord.  I can’t say it any clearer than that.
               In the African nation of Ghana, the largest Christian group is the Presbyterian church.  It was started over a hundred years ago by Scottish Presbyterians, and when they would convert people to Christianity, they would tell them they had to act like, well, Scottish Presbyterians.  In other words, their worship had to be very somber, very serious, very reverent.  But somewhere in the last few decades, someone wised up and said, “Hey, these folks aren’t Scots.  They’re Ghanans.  Let’s tell them they can worship God like Ghanans.”  And the only thing they’ve changed is the offertory.  For the rest of the service, they’re somber, serious and reverent.  But when that offertory music starts, they get up.  They smile and clap.  And one by one, they dance—not walk, not run, but dance—down the aisle.  And they really get after it.  They don’t wait for the plate to come to them, they dance up to it.  I’m certainly not suggesting we start that tradition around here.  I’ve got no rhythm, and I doubt many of you do either.  Offerings would go way, way down.  All I’m saying is this: Isn’t it interesting that these Ghanans only smile and dance when they’re giving their money away?  Think about that.  I think that’s a lesson to all of us.  If you don’t have joy, maybe it’s because you’re holding something back from God.  When you give it all away to Him, that’s when the music starts, and your heart begins to dance.  Try it and see.  The reason we sing Joy to the World, the reason we can have joy in the first place, is because Jesus gave it all away for us.  Hebrews says He died for us “for the joy set before Him.”  The cross was bearable because He knew joy was on the other side of it.  That joy was knowing that His death meant spending eternity with you and me.  So we chase after Him, and we find joy along the way.  We live it, we shout it, we sing it, and we repeat the sounding joy of Christ to a world that desperately needs it. 

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