Sunday, March 20, 2011

Receiving Joy from the One We Follow

As usual, Brad welcomed us warmly this first day of spring and second Sunday in Lent. "Good morning. I'm grateful you're here." He reminded us that his theme these several weeks will be the fruit of the Spirit.

Announcements included mention that the first Sunday of each month we would be having cake to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and special events of the month. The third Sunday would be a potluck meal.

After Darlene's introit and a time of worship, Walt Cresman presented an update from the building committee. The next step is a needs assessment. The finance committee has completed its foundational work and the building committee will meet Monday evening to continue its efforts to move things forward.

Today's Scripture reading by Eli was from John 3:1-17, the story of Nicodemus. After a time of prayer and praise, Pastor Brad delivered today's message.

Receiving Joy from the One We Follow

Brad began by sharing some humorous examples from a word game in which you take a common word, change one letter to make an alternate word and give it a definition. For example, change one vowel from intoxication and you have intaxication, the euphoria of getting a tax refund which lasts until you realize it was your money to begin with. Or Beezelbug, which is Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out. Or Karmageddon, a New Age term which is like when everybody is sending off these really bad vibes, and then the earth explodes and its a serious bummer.

This last word became the start point for today's message. "You know, it seems to me there's a lot of stressed out, angry, grim-faced people experiencing a kind of karmageddon in their lives these days. Everything's going bad and feels like it's falling apart," he began.

Yet, in the midst of all this stress and anger, the New Testament says an amazing thing. Paul wrote to the Philippians, "Always be joyful... and again, I say rejoice." Brad said it was one of his favorite verses, and a verse his dad lived out.

How can I be full of joy all the time? Is this possible in a broken world like ours? It's challenging to stay on the upbeat side of life when facing challenging circumstances. Or when there's friction in your family. Or when surrounded by difficult people.

The author of these words was well acquainted with challenging circumstances and difficult people. Five times he'd been whipped to within an inch of his life. Several times he'd been imprisoned, three times beaten with rods, stoned once, shipwrecked three times and on one of those occasions spent a night and a day in the open sea. He knew hunger and hardship throughout his ministry, survived assassination plots and knew what it was like to be cold and naked. Yet he could say unflinchingly, "Rejoice always."

Brad paused to remind us that this message is not directed to those many Americans who suffer from clinical depression caused by physiological chemical imbalances that result in socially disabling mood disorders.

Many people think that happiness is a beach in Florida. Brad stated that the happiest place in the universe is the place where God is. That's because God Himself is full of joy. He is not dour, nor should He be viewed as a cosmic party pooper.

Yet many people have a distorted view of God as a spoilsport because of the Christians they have encountered in many of the churches they have been in. Hence, Billy Joel sings, "I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints."

The Bible presents a different image of God, and today's sermon presented the case for a joyful creator. Brad shared with us a passage about God's joyfulness from Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy.

Joy is God's basic essence. It is who He is. Joylessness, Brad said, is a sin because it is acting as if God is not right there with you.

In John 15 Jesus' friends became depressed when He told them He was leaving. He said, "I told you this... so that your joy may be full."

There are more than a hundred verses in the Old Testament and more than a hundred-fifty in the New about joy. God's kind of joy is far deeper than a good belly laugh after a funny joke.

Joyful people know they are deeply loved. The joyless are often people who don't know they're loved.

In Acts chapter 8, when the Ethiopian was baptized, the Bible says "from that point on he went on his way rejoicing." He knew he was loved by God. Highly loved people are highly joyful.

It says of Jesus that "for the joy set before Him endured the cross." That joy set before Him was you. He went to that cross out of love for you.

And the follow up: "Love others as I have loved you." No matter what's going on inside, look beyond your cross. David went through hard things, too, but penned, "I know the Lords is always with me."

What are the roadblocks in your life that keep you from experiencing joy? I want you to know that you are deeply loved.

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