Message give to Friday night fellowship in Morrisville, NC on September 13, 2015

As the group prepares for the upcoming Christmas program with the theme of Joy to the World, Pastor Walt spends part of the time talking about the testimonies that were shared the previous week and then the rest of the time talking about what it means to have Joy as the Bible describes it. Knowing more biblically about the joy one obtains as a follower of Lord Jesus provides background to be able to discuss the subject matter of the program to their guests and others with whom they may have conversations about their faith. Below is a written version of the message. Not everything said in the audio is in the written version and some of what was written was not mentioned. So, it might be fruitful to listen to the message and then read and study the written version.

JOY

The theme for our Christmas program this year is “joy.” Last week we had several people share their testimony, or their story, of why they are a follower of Lord Jesus so that each of you can know how to share the reason for the hope that you have, if the opportunity to share should come up with any of our guests, or with your friends, neighbors, co-workers, or family. If you are talking to someone and you realize your testimony may not relate to them as well as one of the other ones you heard, you could mention the other testimony. Of course, you should always say something about your own testimony in the discussion, because the person you are talking with can ask you questions about your story, whereas it is difficult to answer questions about someone else’s testimony. They are more likely to believe what you say about your own testimony, given they can ask questions, than to believe the story of someone else who is not there to confirm it. Nevertheless, these other testimonies can be helpful. As we heard, some devoted themselves to Jesus for intellectual reasons, some for assistance with a need, some because of conviction of sin, and some for recognition of God’s love to rescue them from hopelessness. All of these were specific reasons for specific people as to how they in particular came into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Everybody’s story will be different, even if there are similarities in some of them.  But do you realize that all of these reasons should apply to various degrees with everyone who is a believer?

Not everyone has the personality to be inclined to consider the intellectual aspects of their faith, but all should know intellectually why we can know the Bible is true, that God exists, and that Jesus truly rose from the dead. The mind feeds the heart and the Bible says we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Emotions can fool us, but knowing for a fact that your faith is historically true gives you a solid foundation to stand against the storms of life. We have the only faith that can rest on a solid intellectual basis. Many atheists might disagree with that fact, but it goes to show they have not honestly investigated it. Many atheists who have investigated it have become followers of our Lord! Those who investigated while being active Christians and ended up becoming atheists obviously didn’t know what they were supposed to believe. Because if they had, they would have never become atheists. Unfortunately Satan has sowed a lot of confusion out there to help cause people to stumble. But a sincere search for truth will result in a solid faith. Focusing on what is not understood and claiming it has been investigated is foolishness. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matt 7)

Now one can have the facts right but still be missing a living relationship with the Lord. Knowing about God is one thing. Having a worthwhile faith where we truly trust the Lord even in the most difficult times is a whole other thing. We all need help and there is no one greater to get the help from than the one who made the world in the first place, still oversees every detail of it, is perfectly wise, and is concerned for our best interests. We have to remember, though, that sometimes He may have a plan with a situation in our life that is different than what we want. That is where we trust in His wisdom over ours. Jesus went on to say, ”Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt 7)

While some are too proud to admit it, we have all done wrong and failed to meet the perfect standard of God’s character. Failure to live up to that standard results in a distancing between God and us, because deep down we know we have failed Him. Doing our best is not good enough because we are prone to selfishness. No person in the history of humanity, other than Jesus who was also the very God who created the world, has lived a perfectly selfless life. If I dishonor you, we would not have the best of relationship and it would not likely be one full of love for one another. The shame of having dishonored you would always get in the way. Of course, if I ignore you, that is the ultimate of dishonor. If you send me money every day so that I can buy food, clothing and shelter and I worship the money instead of you, I have dishonored you. The same thing exists between us and God. We as human beings tend to give more honor to the things God has given us than God Himself. We will bring more honor to our own abilities to serve our needs than to the God who gave us the abilities to serve Him. In the religions of the world, the forces of nature are often worshipped through myths and chants are made to the forces for protection or success rather than the God who made those forces in the first place. God desires to forgive us, but if the shame of our dishonor towards Him is not dealt with in a satisfactory way where we can be assured of the forgiveness, we cannot enjoy a heavenly existence. Our presence before God while still holding on to our shame would be hell. We cannot remove our shame of dishonoring God. Only God can do it. If you dishonor someone else, they must forgive you, you can’t forgive yourself and think all is alright. So, we need to recognize the depth of the shame we have, the degree to which we have dishonored God, and that that shame must be put to death by God – as it was through Jesus dying on the cross for our sins and overcoming sin and death by His resurrection back to life. To recognize the lengths God had to go through to bring us forgiveness, we can then know that our old self with its shame has been buried with Christ’s death and now we have new life by Jesus’ resurrection. We must know that. There is no salvation if we don’t! Knowing that allows us to see God’s love that while we were still sinners Christ died for us so that we are no longer condemned by our shame! Too many people talk about God’s love, but not in terms of dealing with our shame and our guilt. I think the reason is that they are trying to avoid acknowledging the shame of knowing they have dishonored God as if they don’t deserve separation from God because of it. In that case, it is a pride issue. They are too full of self-pride to admit their faults. If they won’t accept that there is shame they will not seek forgiveness. It seems they want acceptance, but not forgiveness. But there is no acceptance if there is not forgiveness first. The shame, which might be kept hidden for now, will be fully exposed before the Lord in the end and the separation into eternal darkness because of lack of forgiveness will be permanent. In the book of Hebrews it says, 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Heb 9)

Lastly, we are to recognize that Jesus is the rescuer from hopelessness. Hopelessness is easy to have in this life. There is no real hope if this life is all there is. There is no hope either in the thought that we have an endless cycle of chances to reach ultimate enlightenment when in fact we can never be united with God without Him setting us free from our shame. Knowing that this is only a temporary life, not the ultimate destiny, and that Jesus has already dealt with our shame, or sin, so that we not only can, but will have, if we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, an everlasting life of pure joy and ecstasy, should bring us great joy in the here and now! Psalm 33 says, 20 Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. 21 For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. 22 Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. Here is what Paul said in Romans 8 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Hebrews 12:2 says, 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.

This then brings us to the theme of joy! Because conversation may come up at the dinner after the program or you may have discussions with your friends a later day, it would be good to understand what it means to have joy. The program will address some of this, but it is good if you all will have thought about it ahead of time. So, I have dedicated this message to teach on joy.

Since we are considering joy in the context of Christmas, let’s look at the a couple of verses from the Christmas story: Luke 2:10-12, 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” It is a great joy that a baby was born, who was the Messiah and Savior of the world. There is always joy when seeing a new baby, but in this case it was the news, the announcement, that was of great joy. This baby was to save the people from their sins. Without God’s action in the world to do what we cannot do for ourselves, we are a hopeless people, forever doomed. Yet God did not leave us condemned, but has brought new life to us through faith in His Son. Jesus did not come to condemn the world as some think, but He came to rescue a people who are already condemned. He came to bring light to those in darkness, to bring life to those who are spiritually dead. We are born in a pit, to be there forever until God Himself, the only one not in the pit, can pull us out. We cannot save ourselves. In other words, we cannot put ourselves in light if all we know is darkness. We cannot bring ourselves to life if we are already dead. So the good news that brings great joy is that God has finally arrived in the world through this baby to bring the world back to Himself. To bring about a way to pay the cost of shame and make us new. Those who reject this free gift of God remain forever separated from Him. This should make us sad! But in the midst of the sadness, we can still have joy in knowing that many are accepting the message and turning to the only Lord who paved a bridge where there was none before. John 16:20-22, 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

Webster dictionary defines joy as “a ‘feeling’ of great pleasure and happiness.” Since this says that joy is tied to our feelings, human joy then tends to come with our happiness and go with times of difficulties. This is because we tend to spend much time thinking or worrying about ourselves, thus our joy revolves around us and our situations. At times we experience joy through others when family or friends have success or do cute or exciting things. But, it always comes back to ourselves.

There is some confusion about this definition, though. A happy person expresses emotions. Such happy emotions may come from an experience of joy, but I don’t think joy is based on emotions. Rather, it is a matter of contentment. If I enjoy something, I am content with that experience and that may make me happy. Although, I can be content or satisfied without necessarily being happy. However, I probably would feel good about it and there wouldn’t be any displeasure associated with it. Is there a joy that can bring contentment even in the midst of difficulties and sufferings? It is unusual to see a person full of joy in the midst of great difficulties. Yet, we saw that Jesus had a joy set before Him even as He endured the cross! The contentment or satisfaction of the joy that Jesus had must have been greater than the displeasure caused by the agony of the cross. If we are to be like Jesus, we also must have that type of joy!

The type of joy Jesus had is not diminished by difficulties and sufferings. Such joy does not come from anything in this world. It can only come from God! What did Jesus have? He had an intimate relationship with His Father. Perfect joy comes from the experience of knowing God intimately! We receive this supernatural joy through His Spirit, which is given to us when we trust that God has removed the barrier between us and Him through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus Christ! Galatians 5:22 lists the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit, and joy is one of those characteristics. This ultimate joy cannot be manufactured by us. Our joy is not to rest in the day to day earthly satisfaction, but in our peace with God!

Some do not have a sense of joy when they have lost control in their lives. That feeling of being out of control brings frustration and it is difficult to have a sense of contentment. But, when it comes to faith in the Lord Jesus, we realize that this world is broken, it will have chaos and instability, and we will lose control in situations. Yet, we also recognize that God has not lost control. Amen? Despite His not forcing anyone to accept Him and thus allowing the world to flourish in its evils despite its rejection of Him as master, He is still able to oversee all things to the best outcome for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. So, just as Peter began to sink when he focused on the waves around him and he was walking on water when he was looking towards Jesus, we too can know that amidst the chaos around us, that Jesus will keep us and not forsake us. We might endure some suffering in this life, but just as James says, we are to Count it all joy, …, when (we) meet trials of various kinds, for (we are to) know that the testing of (our) faith produces steadfastness. And steadfastness is to have its full effect, that (we) may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1)  Our loss of control and how we grow through that can increase our joy in the Lord!

From time to time a follower of Jesus will lose their joy. This should not be! But why? The answer is sin! Jesus paid the price for our sin – death, but if we continue to sin, we will still have a barrier between ourselves and God. It may not be clear we are in sin, but subconsciously we know it and that is what is robbing our joy. It could still be a pride issue, resentment, not trusting the Lord, and so forth. However, the cure is to go to the Lord and ask for wisdom to reveal the issue. He will reveal it. We might not like what He reveals because that sin might be something we consider part of who we are. But no person in Christ is to be identified by their sin. They are to be identified by their relationship with Jesus. The Holy Spirit grieves when we sin, and our joy, which comes from the Spirit, is reduced or temporarily lost. We need to remember we are saved by God’s effort, not ours, and we need to return to the Lord when we stray. Do not feel guilt over what has already been forgiven. However, do hate sin for how it can distance you in your relationships and destroy your life. Vow to be rid of it by the Lord’s help! He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

When people are missing joy in their lives, missing contentment in their very being, they will seek it in the things of this world. Many addictions are either about trying to find contentment in other things or are due to lack of self-worth – which is not being content with self, resulting in one subconsciously destroying themselves and distancing themselves ever further from God. God is the satisfaction we were made for. Many are told that and still feel empty. But, my observation of these situations is that they are trying to please God in obedience rather than to simply know God. He is still distant from them, and that may be because the lack of self-worth is interfering. To know that all are loved by God and He desires the best for us, He does not want us to call unworthy what He has called worthy! That is not to sink us further into shame, but to wake us up to know that He is there for us. He has forgiven us through Christ just so that we can come close to Him. Several places in the Bible say that if we “draw near to God, He will draw near to us.” God is distant with most people because they are distant from Him. Paul said to the Athenians in Acts 17, 26 And (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. Even apart from addictions, people seek fame, money, success, acceptance by the world, and so forth. While it is good to be successful, that should not be our primary goal in life. If it is, we will not have everlasting joy because whatever temporary joy we get from successes do not compare to the joy of God. If we seek Him first, and His kingdom, than all other things will be given to us. Our success in life should come through that whatever we do, in word or deed, is for the Lord. If you worked you job, did your competitions, etc., for the Lord first and foremost – that it is pleasing to Him and honoring of Him, then success will come as a result. Seeking success first is putting the cart before the horse.

Surrender to God, and He will give you the desires of your heart! That is not to say He will give you everything you want that you might honor more than Him, such as wealth and health, but that He will give you new desires – desires to help others who are sick, desires to give to the poor, desires to seek out the lost and those who live in despair. He gives you the ability to love those who are difficult to love, to do the work you hate to do, to put Him first in your life. We were made to serve the Lord, not to be the master so that He can serve us. We make poor gods. We just don’t have the infinite wisdom and power, the perfect goodness and incredible love that God has. So, doesn’t it make more sense that we serve Him and be blessed with the joy of doing so than to have Him serve us with fleeing moments of joy that depend on our situations? Thus, seek joy by seeking God. He is not hard to find if we will only stop hiding behind the tree with our fig leaves and will bodily come out in our vulnerabilities, our nakedness and let God cover us with the precious blood of Jesus that forever gives us access to the God who is unknown in most of the world religions, but is known to those who accept the access, who cross the bridge by faith – a faith that does have evidence, that is historical, and that is true.

Amen

Additional Scriptures:

Romans 14:17-18; 15:13, 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Acts 13:52 (48-52), 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

John 15:11 (9-11), As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

1 Thess 1:6-10, And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Heb 10:34, 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.

Matt 13:44, 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.