At a Church committee meeting yesterday the group shared about our feelings about this season. I believe everyone regretted the busyness of the Christmas Season. The hurried pace of life has a tendency to slow down our spiritual life and still there remains in us a profoundly indescribable longing for JOY and fulfillment. Our commercialized world wants us to believe that this spiritual vacuum in our souls can only be filled if you buy the latest toy and get the latest gadget. Material goods that can be bought at an "incredibly low price" are the things that true happiness are made off.
Is it any wonder that people are short-tempered and blow their fuses this time of year? You see, its not all that easy to be joyful always, as Paul instructs us.
MADE OTHER PLANS - I read the story about the waitress who couldn’t get a smile out of her customer for love nor money. The old woman was miserable, depressed and dejected all through dinner. And the food really wasn't all that bad. As the lady paid her bill and was leaving, the waitress said, "Have a nice day!" And the woman responded snappishly, "I'm sorry, but I’ve made other plans!"
My friend, if you have made other plans than to be happy and to rejoice in the gift that God has given us in the Christ-child, may the Word of God today release from the bondage of sadness and misery and fill you with everlasting joy. Today's message is about joy - the kind that is not dependent on external circumstances, but that comes from knowing the God of Joy. When we experience the true joy of salvation it's really TOUGH TO HIDE YOUR TRUE FEELINGS - A Gambler walked into a saloon and was amazed to see a dog sitting at a table playing poker with three men. He asked, "Can that dog really play cards?" One of the men answered, "Yeah, but he isn't much of a player. Whenever he gets a good hand he wags his tail."
WAGGING YOUR TAIL I guess that’s not such a bad definition of the word JOY. The true story is told of the translation of the New Testament from the English into the Eskimo (Inuit) language. Problems arose for the translators when they encountered certain words in English for which there is no corresponding word in the Eskimo language. For example, there is a passage, which tells us that the angels in heaven rejoice for each sinner that repents from his sin. But since there is no word for "joy" in the Eskimo language, the translators had to find another way to express the meaning of the passage. In their research, they discovered that one of the most joyful times for an Eskimo family is when the sled dogs are fed in the evening. The dogs come barking and yelping, running about and wagging their tails furiously, and the children are squealing with delight, and the neighbors too become part of the happy commotion, and it is altogether a joyous time. Consequently the translators used that particular event to help them convey the meaning of the Biblical passage. As a result, when the passage was translated back into English, it read: There is great tail wagging in heaven for every repentant sinner.
When we meet someone, our greetings are often a form of politeness not always meant to be taken literally. For example, when someone says, "How are you doing?", how do you respond? Do they really want a full and literal description about your life at the moment? Or is it sufficient to say back to them, "Fine, thanks! How are you?"
With time and practice we also learn to sniff out the people with whom its better to avoid the question altogether. You never asked them, "How are you doing?" unless you are ready to get the lot! The arthritis is playing up, the wife's not so good lately, someone ran over the cat the other day... and on and on...
When I ask you this morning, it will be a rhetorical question - I am not looking for an individual answer from each one - we would be here all day and miss the beautiful Christmas program this evening. However, I want us all to think about it... How are you going? Has your week been exciting, or at least fulfilling? Has life been frustrating or disappointing? Is your situation warm and secure, or do you have a feeling of uncertainty and isolation? At the moment, are you finding life good or bad? Basically, are you happy or sad?
What we call "happiness" tends to be very much related to our circumstances. If our circumstances are good, we are happy. If our circumstances are difficult or frustrating, our happiness decreases. Our theme today isn't "happiness" but "joy" - which is far deeper than happiness. It doesn't depend on what is happening to us.
In Philippians 4.4 we Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice." Paul talks about joy, rejoicing and being glad some twenty times in this letter. Charles Price suggests "If you read these four chapters through, you might think that Paul was having a good time when he wrote this letter. He must have been on another missionary journey and ended up in Majorca where he is lying on the beach and writing this letter to the Philippian Christians. He's having such a nice time and he says, 'I'm so glad to be writing to you. I'm having so much fun. It's so joyful - rejoice, again I say, rejoice! In all circumstances, rejoice, rejoice!'
But that was not the case. There are two things that keep coming through in Philippians - 'joy' is one of them, 'my chains' is the other (he mentions them four times in the first chapter). He is in prison. Why? Because there were Jewish Christians spreading an untrue rumor that Paul was preaching against Moses... Jewish unbelievers started a riot in the Temple. Paul was arrested and sent to jail in Caesarea for two years where Felix the governor waited for a bribe knowing that there was no real charge against him. Felix was replaced by Festus who came and wanted to hear Paul, but Paul appealed to Caesar and was sent on a boat to Rome. When he got to Rome, Caesar wasn't interested. Acts finishes with Paul in prison in Rome. Altogether about five of the best years out of his life - all because of gossip that was spread about by Christians in Jerusalem..."
That is hardly the sort of stuff that happiness is made out of, is it? Yet Paul can say, "Rejoice! Be joyful!" In the midst of these circumstances, Paul has great joy - a deep underlying sense of well being because of God and God's grace and the fact that his security is in Jesus. His joy isn't bound up with his circumstances at all, though in the midst of his circumstances he sees the evidence that God is at work - the guards are coming to know about Jesus. He writes, "All God's people here send greetings, especially those who belong to the Emperor's palace" (Phil.4.22).
Of course, the Philippians knew at closer hand that Paul practiced what he was saying here. It was while in Philippi that Paul and Silas, in prison for healing a sick woman, "were praying and singing hymns to God at about midnight" (Acts 16.25). An earthquake shook the prison, opened the doors - and a jailer and his family found salvation in Jesus. But this time - after all this time - no earthquake, no immediate acquittal and release, and yet - rejoice! Sing for joy!
The life of Paul teaches us the same lesson as this little KITCHEN PARABLE - Take note of the tea kettle -- it is up to its neck in hot water -- yet it sings!"
NIGHTINGALE SINGS IN THE DARK. A birdwatcher observed: "Any bird can chirp in the sunlight, but a Nightingale sings in the dark."
Sing for joy! That is what the prophet Isaiah (12) encouraged the people of Israel to do. The kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah will both be scattered and experience the judgment and anger of God. But they are going to return and know God's comfort.
"God is my savior; I will trust in him and not be afraid. The Lord gives me power and strength; he is my savior" (v.2). These are forward-looking words of prophecy. We remember what the angel said to Joseph, "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Mt.1.21). God's comfort isn't a kind of let's-pretend-it-didn't-happen. Jesus would suffer and die for our sins. The God who has every right to be angry with us can comfort us because in his own Son he has taken our punishment. I will trust him and not be afraid.
"As fresh water brings joy to the thirsty, so God's people rejoice when he saves them" (v.3). Now that we have power and strength, we are secure in him and can rejoice. "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." Isn't that a beautiful picture of the refreshment that is available to us because of what Jesus has done?
But this joy is to overflow and reach out to all the nations of the world - "Tell all the nations what he has done! Tell them how great he is! Sing to the Lord because of the great things he has done. Let the whole world hear the news" (vv.4-5). We want everyone to know that Jesus is the Savior and that Jesus is the Lord!
BUSTED SMILES A teacher was getting frustrated with her student: "Freddie, you must not laugh out loud in the school room," she warned him. "But, Teacher, I didn’t mean to. I was just smiling and the smile busted." The joy of our salvation in Jesus Christ must be busting for all to see and hear.
When Ezra, the Old Testament prophet read the Law to the Israelites who had returned from exile, the people began to cry, but Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites said to them, "Today is holy to our Lord, so don't be sad. The joy that the Lord gives you will make you strong" (Neh.8.10b). We are never promised a life of carefree days always filled with laughter, but we are promised joy. Deeply secure within, we can sing for joy, no matter what!
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great English preacher of the 19th Century says: There is a marvelous medicinal power in joy. Most medicines are distasteful; but this, which is the best of all medicines, is sweet to the taste, and comforting to the heart. The cure for care is joy in the Lord. No, my brother, you will not be able to keep on with your fretfulness; no, my sister, you will not be able to weary yourself any longer with your anxieties, if the Lord will fill you with his joy. Then, being satisfied with your God, yea, more than satisfied, overflowing with delight in him, you will say to yourself, "Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God: for I shall yet praise him."
Joy speaks for itself! It is like a candle lighted in a dark chamber; you need not sound a trumpet, and say, "Now light has come." The candle proclaims itself by its own brilliance; and when joy comes into a [person], it shines out of his eyes, it sparkles in his [face]. Joy-it refreshes the marrow of the bones; it quickens the flowing of the blood in the veins; it is a healthy thing in all respects. It is a speaking thing, a demonstrative thing; and I am sure that joy in the Lord ought to have a tongue. When the Lord sends you affliction, sister, you generally grumble loudly enough; when the Lord tries you, my dear brother, you generally speak fast enough about that. Now when, on the other hand, the Lord multiplies his mercies to you, do speak about it, do sing about it.
Joy has implications also for witnessing: Spurgeon continues, There are many more flies caught with honey than with vinegar; and there are many more sinners brought to Christ by happy Christians than by doleful Christians. Let us sing unto the Lord as long as we live; and, [perhaps], some weary sinner, who has discovered the emptiness of sinful pleasure, will say to himself, "Why, after all, there must be something real about the joy of these Christians; let me go and learn how I may have it."
"Rejoice in the Lord always;" that is, when you cannot rejoice in anything or anyone but God. When the fig tree does not blossom, when there is no fruit on the vine and no herd in the stall, when everything withers and decays and perishes, then rejoice in the Lord. When the day darkens into evening, and the evening into midnight, and the midnight into a seven fold horror of great darkness, rejoice in the Lord; and when that darkness does not clear, but becomes more dense and [oppressive], when night succeeds night, and neither sun nor moon nor stars appear, still rejoice in the Lord always. He who uttered these words had been a night and a day in the deep, he had been stoned, he had suffered from false brethren, he had been in peril of his life, and yet most fittingly do those lips cry out to us, "Rejoice in the Lord always."
But also take care that you rejoice in the Lord when you have other things to rejoice in. When He loads your table with good things, and your cup is overflowing with blessings, rejoice in him more than in them. Forget not that the Lord your Shepherd is better than the green pastures and the still waters, and rejoice not in the pastures or in the waters [as opposed to] the Shepherd who gives you all. Let us never make gods out of our goods; let us never allow what God gives us to replace the Giver.
JOY IS WHEN - Mike Warnke say, "Joy is when you are in your deepest valley and you can still believe for the mountaintop. Joy is when you are at your darkest point and you can still believe in light. Joy is when you are confused beyond the point of recognition but you still know that God is in control and that the Holy Spirit has a special plan for your life."