Last week I began with a question – and the question was “Does it matter what you believe?” And the answer we came up with was “Absolutely. Yes it does matter what you believe because what you believe determines the choices you make, and the choices you make set the course of your life.”
If we have incorrect beliefs, then we’re going to make incorrect choices, and thus the course of our life will end up going in directions that we don’t want to go.
For example, if you believe that bears are cute and cuddly, the next time you’re out camping and you meet a bear in the forrest, your incorrect beliefs may lead you to make poor choices, and the results may not be what you were hoping for.
So yes, it really does matter what you believe – and this isn’t just limited to your belief about bears. As we saw last week, what you believe about God is even more important because what you believe about God will impact nearly every decision you make in life.
The trouble is, the world around us does not offer us much truth to believe about God. Our universities, our newspapers, facebook, tv, movies – western culture in general has very little truth about God to offer us. And so most people live their life with a lot of incorrect beliefs about God.
Perhaps they believe that God is judgemental and angry – or maybe that he’s aloof and distant. Or perhaps they believe that God doesn’t exist at all.
Last week we talked about one recent movie where the actor for God was a “Hank the angry, drunken dwarf.” That’s who played God in this particular movie. So if we or the people around us take our cues from hollywood – we’re going to have some messed up ideas of who God is and what He’s like.
And that’s exactly the reason why so many people today reject God. It’s actually not God they are rejecting, it’s their false idea of who God is that they are rejecting.
If my picture of God was painted by Hank the angry drunken dwarf, I think I’d reject that God too!
So our conclusion last week was that the key then is for us to know the truth about God and to convey that truth to the people around us.
We looked at Psalm 34:8 which says…
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Psalm 34:8
Over the past several months as I’ve been thinking about our church and our community and what kind of purpose God has for us here, this verse has just been coming back to me time and time again. Our friends and neighbours around us have been fed a lot of distasteful, incorrect information about God. More and more every day I am convinced that it is our mission to help them taste and see that the Lord is indeed good.
Not only do we need to taste and see for ourselves the truth about the goodness of God – but we want the people around us to do the same as they interact with us. We want to be living examples of God’s goodness.
Since moving to Penhold almost a year ago now, I’ve found that I’m a lot more aware of my neighbours. In Mirror, we really only had three neighbours. We had a corner lot so we had one neighbour across the road from us, one neighbour immediately to the west, there was an empty lot across the road to the east and one neighbour across the back alley from us. And the lots were pretty big, so everyone was far enough away that you’d probably have to yell or at least talk quite loudly for your neighbours to hear you.
But that’s not the case in Penhold. In our little close, our neighbouring houses are close enough that if we are talking in the front yard, probably the four closest neighbours can all hear what we’re saying. And because we’re in a close with a nice green space in the middle, I would say there are at least a dozen neighbours who can see clearly see anything we do in the front yard.
So as I said, I’ve become a lot more aware of my neighbours since moving to Penhold. And as a result, I try to yell at my kids less when I’m outside. I try to be more patient and more joyful when I’m in the view of all those folks. And since many of them know that I’m a pastor, well that increases the pressure for being a good example significantly!
But you know, I sure feel like a hypocrite when I do that. If I have to change my behaviour simply because people can see me or hear me now – that doesn’t really speak well for who I really am. If I have to put on an act for my neighbours to “see what a difference Jesus makes in my life”, what kind of a sham is that! I want to live a life both in the privacy of my own home and in the view of others that is filled with joy and peace and patience and all those other fruits of the Spirit. I don’t want those things only to show up when I’m in public view – I want that all the time!
Cuz you know what? My kids sure know the truth. They see the real me all the time.
Sociologists tell us that a persons’ dad or father-figure in their life hugely influences that person’s view of God. How they see their dad is how they see God.
If your dad’s a stickler for the the rules and he’s always coming down hard on you – that’s how you see God. You see God as a stickler for the rules and you just can’t please him no matter how hard you try.
Or on the other hand, if your dad is always patient with you and He always seems to have time for you – no matter how busy He is – that’s how you’re going to see God too.
Our dads or the father-figures in our lives dramatically influence our view of God.
And that’s pretty concerning for me. I might be able to put on a good show for the neighbors, but I can’t get away with that with my kids. My kids see me in all my flaws and faults. They experience the real me. What kind of a picture of God am I painting for them?
Through what they see in me, do my kids taste and see that God is… grumpy? Do they taste and see that God’s always getting after them for every little thing? Do they taste and see that God is too busy in his own work that he can’t stop to pay attention to them?
That is not the picture of God that I want to paint for my kids or for my neighbors. So how do I change that? How do paint an authentic picture of God for my kids? How can I live the same life in the privacy of my own home as I do in the public view of my neighbours – a life that is overflowing with the fruit of the Spirit?
Well, you probably know what the answer is…. I need to taste and see for myself that God is good.
As I said last week, the more we know and are convinced about the truth of who God is, the more that truth changes our lives.
And so for the next few messages, as a reminder for me, and perhaps as a reminder for you as well, I want us to have a taste and see some of the truths about God. And I thought we’d start with this truth – that God is joy.
One of my own character traits that I’ve been aware of in the presence of my kids or my neighbours has been my joy – or rather my lack-there-of. The last thing I want to convey to them is that God is grumpy or angry or boring. That’s not who God is – and that’s not who I want to be. When my neighbours are describing me to their friends and family, I want them to describe me as the most joyful person they know. I want them to wonder – what’s wrong with this guy (or what’s right with this guy) so that He is always so joyful all the time! I can’t think of any better flavour of God for them to taste and see that God is joy.
We always hear that God is love. Or that God is merciful. Or that God is just. And those are all true – but how often do we hear that God is joy?! Cuz that’s also true!
If you look at the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 – joy is the second thing that Paul mentions. Love comes first – followed by joy.
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22
In other words, when God comes to dwell within us, we start living out his character traits. The first thing we should expect is love (because God is love) – and the second thing we should expect is joy (because God is also joy)! I think for the most part, we’ve gotten the message that we are supposed to be joyful, but for some reason, we find it hard to imagine that God is joyful.
We find it pretty easy to envision an angry God – dishing out vengeance and justice. We can envision a loving God – tender and merciful. But for some reason, it’s harder to envision a God who is just bursting with delight – a God who would sing and dance – a God who grins. It almost seems irreverent to suggest such a thing.
But I believe that the God described in the Bible is a God who not only created a world of wonders and delights for us to enjoy – but He Himself delights in his Creation. The very character of God is joy!
I think we see this right from the very beginning of time. We talked with the kids last week about Creation and how after everything God made, God looked at it and said that it was good. God made the dry land and saw that it was good. God made the plants and God saw that it was good. God made the sun, moon and stars, and God saw that it was good.
Five times in that chapter, the Bible tells us “And God saw that it was good.” And then in verse 31 we read….
31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! Genesis 1:31
He didn’t say it was sufficient. He didn’t say it was satisfactory. It didn’t just meet the minimum requirements. It was very good. There’s this idea that God really liked what He had made. Maybe I’m reading to much in between the lines, but it seems that God took pleasure in what He had created. There’s this sense that it gave Him joy!
I think we see that same kind of pleasure in creating when we watch a child’s face after they’ve put a bunch of effort into creating something – maybe they’ve drawn a picture or shaped something out of playdough. When they’re all done, they look at what they’ve made and they determine that what they have just created is good. They’re pretty quick to come and show mom and dad and say, “Hey, look what I just made.” They are pretty happy about it, aren’t they? There’s a joy there.
I wonder if there’s a bit of that in Genesis 2:19. Now again, I’m reading between the lines, but humour me for a minute…
So the Lord God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one. Genesis 2:19
I don’t know how you envision that all happening in your mind, but I kinda think God & Adam had a blast looking at all these different animals that God had come up with.
Can’t you just see God bringing Adam a flamingo or a llama or a porcupine and saying “Here Adam, how do you like this one? This one is one of my favourites. What are you going to call it?
And meanwhile, Adam is just blown away by all of these wild, wonderful, and unique creatures that God has brought forth out of His imagination. I can see God and Adam both having a great ol’ time. Both of them, I think, were filled with joy!
And you know, God didn’t have to do that. He didn’t have to bring all those animals to Adam and let Adam come up with a name for them all. Or for the matter, God didn’t have to create such a diverse array of animals in the first place. For example, there are about 10,000 different species of birds in the world. I’m pretty sure we could have gotten by with less. In fact, there are about 325 different kinds of hummingbirds. I’m not a biologist, but wouldn’t 3 or 4 different kinds be enough?
And birds didn’t have to sing. Moose don’t sing – so why do birds? They could have made a terrible sqwaking noise – well, actually some of them do! But there are some birds that have beautiful songs. Other’s have beautiful feathers. Some creatures just make you laugh whenever you see them. Some look ridiculous. Some look adorable. Some are majestic. I don’t think God didn’t make them that way because He had. I think He made them that way for the sheer joy of it!
And that’s just the animals. There is so much wonder and delight in Creation that doesn’t really have to be there. Why does there need to be so many different kinds of flowers? Or flavours? God didn’t have to come up with taste. We could live without the flavours of coffee or chocolate or apple pie. We didn’t need to have music. But God has given us a world full of all these things so that we could experience a taste of joy and delight. Because that’s who God is. He is a God of joy and delight.
I happened to be reading in Psalm 43 just this Friday and I came across this verse and it just fits perfectly with what we’re talking about:
There I will go to the altar of God,
to God—the source of all my joy. Psalm 43:4
God is the source of all our joy. Every little bit of pleasure and joy and delight that we experience on this planet comes from the source of all joy – God.
It was God who imagined the flavour of strawberries. It was God who invented laughter. It was God who came up with the idea of music and dancing. It was God who determined that babies should be so cute. Every sunset, every symphony, every thrill, every delight, every pleasure – all originates from God – the source of all our joy.
If nothing else, this should make us look forward to heaven all the more! If God has given us all these tastes of joy and delight in this fallen, sinful world – just imagine what awaits us when God eliminates sin and death and pain and all that junk forever. All we’ll be left with is everything that brings us joy!
Of course, Satan would have us think the opposite. If you want to be happy, don’t become a Christian. No more parties. No more freedom. No more fun. Following all those rules in the Bible will put an end to all those things that you love so much!
But that couldn’t be further from the truth! God is the source of every good thing!
All the pleasures of sin are cheap imitations of the real joy and pleasure that God created for us in the first place!
It’s only when we are living in a right relationship with God – it’s only when we live life the way God intended us to live it, it’s only then that we can we experience the full measure of joy and delight that God intends for us. The pleasures of sin are very temporary and fleeting – and they always come with a steep price. But the joy that comes from God is lasting, deep, and rewarding in so many ways.
In fact, while there are certainly many pleasures and delights in life that anyone can enjoy, there is a deeper joy that can only be had by those who have surrendered their life to God.
And this is maybe where we differentiate between joy and happiness – or joy and pleasure.
You see, happiness and pleasure can be had by anyone in the right circumstances. Anyone can have a sense of pleasure when they eat a slice of cake or they create something really cool. But that happiness – that pleasure – is dependant on the circumstances. As soon as that cake starts going moldy, your pleasure is replaced with disgust. As soon as your brother wrecks that cool thing that you build, your happiness is replaced with anger.
Happiness and pleasure are temporary and conditional. They can disappear in an instant. But joy – that’s something much different.
Kay Warren defines this kind of joy like this:
“Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.” ~ Kay Warren
When you’ve tasted and seen that God is good, when you are absolutely convinced that God loves you like crazy and he wants nothing but good for you, and when you realize that God is sovereign over all creation and nothing – not even death itself – can separate you from the love of God – that’s when you can have true joy.
This joy does not depend on your circumstances. Life around you can be falling apart and you can still have tremendous joy because you know that God is still in control – God still loves you, and God will ultimately work things out for good for all those who have put their faith in Him.
Nehemiah 8:10 tells us that…
“The Joy of the Lord is our strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
I think our english language needs a better word for this kind of joy – because this joy is really like joy, hope, and peace all rolled into one. That’s the kind of Joy we have through Jesus Christ. That’s the kind of joy that gives us the strength to handle anything this world throws at us.
One of my favourite Christian bands in recent days is an Irish group called Rend Collective – and one of their songs is based on this verse – The Joy of the Lord is my strength. And I’d like to show you two quick videos. One is the story behind the song as told by a couple of members of the band – and then the other is the song itself. And I think both videos do a good job of reminding us that true, unshakeable Joy is only found in God.
I hope you have that song running through your head for the next week – reminding you again and again that the joy of the Lord is your strength.
We serve a pretty awesome God – who delights not only in giving us happiness and pleasure in this world and in the world to come – but he delights all the more in giving us joy – deep, lasting, unshakeable joy.
So this week, I hope you get many opportunities to taste and see that God is joy. I hope you’re reminded of God’s goodness when you eat a slice of cake or watch a sunset or listen to the birds sing outside your window. The evidence of God’s delight is all around us.
And I also hope you can taste and see the kind of joy that only comes through God. That 3-in-1 combo of joy, hope, and peace that comes and is unshakeable – even in the darkest of circumstances. May the joy of the Lord be your strength this week!