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Tag: Joy

The Joy of the Lord

We’re going to pick up our story today in Genesis chapter 21 – hopping over chapters 19 & 20 – but I would certainly encourage you to go back and read those chapters sometime this week – that will help you fill in the blanks of the story yourself.

Now while you’re turning to Genesis 21 in your Bibles, let me give you just a really quick summary of the story so far.

As I’ve pointed out before, the key issue in the whole story of Abraham is the issue of descendants. Namely that Abraham had none. One of the first bits of information that we read about Abraham was that his wife Sarah, had been unable to become pregnant. And of course, this is a big deal for any family, but it was particularly an issue for Abraham’s family because God had specifically promised to Abraham that his descendants would grow to become a great nation and they would inherit the land of Canaan or as we often call it “the Promised Land”. God was going to bless all of Abraham’s descendants and they in turn would be a blessing to every family on the earth.

However, through most of our story, Abraham has been childless. Several times God has appeared and reaffirmed his promise to Abraham – but by the time Abraham was 85, he still had no child on the horizon. So Abraham and Sarah decided to be proactive and help God out a little bit. They decided that Abraham should have a child with Sarah’s servant, Hagar. This was culturally acceptable – but was certainly not what God had in mind. The problems and the discord that this caused in the family became evident almost immediately. As soon as Hagar was pregnant, Hagar treated Sarah with contempt and Sarah treated Hagar so harshly that she ran away even before the child was born. Thankfully, God intervened and Hagar returned to Sarah and Abraham – and in due time, Hagar had her baby – little Ishmael.

Well, for many years, Abraham raised Ishmael as his dearly loved, one and only son – the son that he presumed was God’s promised child. But when Ishmael was 13 years old God appeared to Abraham and again reaffirmed his promise that Abraham would have a son – and that son would be born from Sarah – even though she was now 90 years old. God further clarified that Sarah’s son, Isaac, would be the one whom God would bless and would cause his descendants to grow to be a great nation – they would inherit the promised land, and they would be a blessing to every family on earth.

Of course, this was exactly what God had promised 24 years earlier – God’s plans had not changed even though Abraham and Sarah had not been careful to follow his plan. Despite their lack of faith, God remained faithful and today, we finally get to the part of the story where God finally does exactly what he said he would do for Abraham & Sarah. So in Genesis chapter 21, verse 1 we read:

The Lord kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised. 2 She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would. Genesis 1:1-2

I love how this chapter starts: The Lord kept his word. He did exactly what he had promised. Despite the impossibility of it all – (considering that Abraham and Sarah were well past the age of having children – Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90) – despite the impossibility of them having children, God kept his Word.

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Finding Satisfaction

I think I’ve mentioned before that when Heather & I were first married, I spent one spring working out at the Meadowbrook greenhouse just west of Penhold here. For the first two weeks of that job, when I came home from work at night, my body was sore. I was just carrying around these fairly light trays of plants, but I was using muscles that I didn’t usually use – straining them beyond their usual capabilities. But after about two weeks, I wasn’t really sore anymore. My body repaired the damage done and built up my muscles so they could handle that strain without issue.

And this is exact where this saying of “no pain – no gain” comes from. Without the pain that comes from straining your muscles, you will have no gain in strength. And so we often do this on purpose – (well, some people do). We call this exercise – or working-out. We purposely bring on this pain in our muscles so that we can grow in strength. A certain amount of pain is required if you want to gain muscle.

Well over the next few weeks, I want to use this catch phrase of ‘no pain, no gain’ as a way to remind us of what Easter is all about. At this time of year, most North Americans start thinking about eggs, bunnies, and chocolate – but of course, there is much more to Easter than that. And so over these next few weeks, I want to talk about what Easter is all about and why Easter matters. And I’ve titled this series “No Pain – No Gain.” Because this principle is true not just when it comes to our building our muscles – but it’s true when it comes to understanding the significance of Easter.

So the two big ideas I want to tackle over the next couple of weeks is the idea of pain and the idea of gain. I imagine most of you didn’t come here today to learn about body-building, so what is the ‘gain’ that we are looking for (if we’re not talking about gaining muscles) – and what is the ‘pain’ that leads to that gain? And of course, how does that all tie into Easter?

Well, let’s start by defining the ‘gain’ – that’ll be our focus for today.

And to do that, I want to start by taking a brief look in Ecclesiastes. Now Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon and for much of the book, he writes about all the things that he tried to do to find meaning in life. Now keep in mind that King Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived.

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The Reality of Discouragement

dis·cour·age·ment

noun

  1. a loss of confidence or enthusiasm; dispiritedness.
  2. an attempt to prevent something by showing disapproval or creating difficulties; deterrent.

How many of you are familiar with this word? I’m pretty sure we all are. And not just linguistically. We are intimately familiar with this word in our lives.

Discouragement is a reality that we all face. When our plans don’t turn out how we hope – or when unexpected problems arise – or when others do or say things that steal our joy and cause us to question why we’re even doing this – discouragement can set in.

We get discouraged at our workplace or when that pile of laundry or dishes never goes away. As kids, we get discouraged at school when we struggle with academics or when our friends are being jerks. We get discouraged as parents when our kids just don’t get it and they keep making poor choices. We get discouraged when we struggle with health or emotional problems or when our relationships are strained. We get discouraged when we pay our bills or when the car won’t start or whatever it is!

I think most of us face discouragement nearly every day of our lives.

So what do we do when that happens? How do we deal with discouragement? It’s easy to throw up our hands and say “I give up! I’m not doing this anymore.” Or maybe we get angry – at people or circumstances – ourselves – or even at God. Somebody’s got to take the blame – right?

How do we deal with discouragement?

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The Unexpected Source of Joy

We’ve been preaching through the season of Advent – remembering the first (and looking forward to the second) coming of Jesus. These Advent candles remind us of the many gifts we have (and the gifts we look forward to) because of Jesus’ coming.  We started two weeks ago with God’s gift of hope – last week was a reminder of the gift of peace – and this week, of course, we want to look at God’s gift of joy.

This gift of joy is made possible only because of Jesus’ arrival into the world as a little baby. We read at our Christmas Celebration on Friday in Luke chapter 2 of how, on the night of Jesus’ birth, angels appeared to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem and announced to them this good news that would bring great joy to all people. Let me read for you in Luke 2 – starting at verse 8.

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12

This little baby boy, born in the Bethlehem some 2000 years ago would be the source of joy to the world – even for us here in Penhold in 2017.

And I know this probably isn’t necessarily ‘new’ news for you this morning. Chances are, you many of you have heard this good news before. Especially if you’ve been here for the past two weeks.

One of the concerns that I had when we decided to do these Advent messages was that hope, peace, and joy are so intertwined with each other that I feared I’d be preaching the same message every week – just using a different word.

  • I could talk about how Jesus gives us hope because our sins are forgiven and he has promised to return and make all things right.
  • I could talk about how Jesus gives us peace because our sins are forgiven and He has promised to return and make all things right.
  • And I could talk about how Jesus gives us joy because our sins are forgiven and He has promised to return and make all things right.

And of course, that would all be very true! Christmas really is a ‘buy one, get two free’ kind of a deal. Hope, peace, and joy are all part of the same package. They are all made possible by Jesus coming to earth, being born as a baby in a manger – living and then dying on the cross and being raised back to life again.

But even though they are all so closely related, I do want to talk a little bit today specifically about joy. As I was studying up on the topic of joy this week – I found that even defining ‘joy’ could be a little tricky. There was no one clear definition of joy.

  • Some would say that joy is another word for happiness. Others would say that joy is certainly not the same thing as happiness.
  • Some would say that joy is a feeling or an emotion. Others would say, no. No it’s not.
  • Some would say we can choose to be joyful – that is it an act of our will – but others see joyfulness a natural by-product of something else.

There are lots of different ways to define joy – I think there can be good arguments made for all of those different ways.

So how do we understand joy? What exactly did the angels mean when they said that this good news would bring great joy to all people? How does this good news help you and I experience joy today?

Regardless of how we define it, joy sure sounds like a good thing – so how do we get it? I guess that’s really our bottom line – how do we experience joy in our lives today?

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Peace on Earth – Goodwill to Men

How many of you have ever heard Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story”? I asked Greg – and he had no idea what I was talking about – so I started feeling a little bit old – but I’m glad that some of you know what I’m talking about. But for those of you who don’t know Paul Harvey – when I was a kid, every Friday at noon, Paul Harvey would come on the radio and do a 3 minute spiel on the rest of the story. He would take a real life famous story – a person or event that everyone would know about, but then he would tell you the story behind that famous person or event.

On Thursday I listened to one of his clips – a story about a struggling poet and author in New York named Ted who’s book had been just been rejected for the 27th time from different publishers. So finally in frustration, Ted decided to go home and burn his manuscript. But just as he considered this, he happened to run across an old school buddy. Well, as they talked, it came out that this old school buddy was starting up his own publishing company – and believe it or not, he wanted to specialize in publishing works that had been rejected by other publishers. Well, you can guess what happened. Ted’s book was published. And it was only the first of many. He went on to write and publish many books – you might even recognize some of the titles like – Horton hears a Who, Green Eggs and Ham, or How the Grinch stole Christmas.

Yes, that struggling author that was about to set fire his first manuscript was Theodore Geisel or as you probably know him – Dr. Suess. And as Paul Harvey says, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

And I always enjoyed those “the rest of the story” stories. And this morning, I want to share one of those with you. Not about Dr. Suess – but about a famous Christmas carol.

The story begins with a man name Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow was a fairly famous American poet who lived in the mid-1800s and he wrote a poem that formed the basis for the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. You might be familiar with that one – I’m sure you’ll hear it at least sometime this Christmas season.

The poem that it was based on was written on Christmas Day of 1863. The American Civil war had been raging for over 2 and a half years by this point. Over a million fathers, sons, and brothers would not be home for that Christmas – and many of those would never return.

But on that Christmas day in 1863, Henry Longfellow pondered the dismal state of the world in which he lived. He was no stranger to tragedy. His first wife, Mary, had died six months into her first pregnancy at the age of 22. His second wife, Frances, had died from severe burns after her dress caught fire. And now, as the Civil War raged around him, Henry would spend this Christmas nursing his oldest son, Charles, back to health after a confederate bullet nearly paralyzed him.

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Joy in Suffering

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the privilege of speaking at a couple different kids camps.  One, of course, was Camp Little Red – and we’ve done that for several years. I think there is only a handful of summers since we’ve been married that we haven’t spent at least a week out there. But we also got to go out to River’s Edge Camp this summer – and that was new for us. In many ways it is very different from Camp Little Red – but at the same time, it’s just the same. It’s a bunch of people who love Jesus and want these young kids to know and love him too!

So it was a real blessing to be at both camps – and I thank you guys for giving me the opportunity to go and do that. Camp has certainly made a difference in my life – and I know it’s made a difference in the lives of many here in our church! So I am excited for our church to continue being involved in camp ministry – I think it’s a fantastic way for us to be involved in sharing the Gospel and making disciples.

But to get back to the message for this morning – when I was speaking at River’s Edge Camp – my theme for my messages for them was “The Adventure of a Lifetime.” And we talked about how following God is always an adventure. Peter walking on water, David going up against Goliath – Moses leading the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. We talked about all of these incredible adventures that we usually hear about in Sunday School. But I didn’t want to paint a picture for them that following God is always easy. It is always an adventure – but it’s not always easy – it’s not always fun. There are times when following God is going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

And so, I told them the story about Paul and Silas getting thrown in jail. But as I was preparing for that message, pulling out the points that I was going to share with the kids – I found that God pulled out several points that He wanted to share with me. Things that He wanted to challenge me on and encourage me in. Some of those thoughts have really stuck with me for these past couple weeks and so this morning, I want to share some of that with you too.

I want to read from Acts 16 this morning. This will be the extended version of what I shared with the campers. Just to give you the background to this story – Paul & Silas have headed out on what is known as Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul had in mind to go to Asia, but God kept closing those doors and instead redirected him to Macedonia. And so that’s where we pick it up in Acts 16, verse 11. And by the way, this is Dr. Luke writing this account… He says in verse 11…

11 We boarded a boat at Troas and sailed straight across to the island of Samothrace, and the next day we landed at Neapolis. 12 From there we reached Philippi, a major city of that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. 14 One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. 15 She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.

Acts 16:11-15

And so, so far, things are going really well for Paul & Silas. As missionaries they are having great success. They’ve only been there a short time and already they’ve met this Lydia lady, they’ve shared the Gospel with her, and she and her household believed the Gospel and are baptized! It’s a fantastic start!

I think we could see some parallels in our little church here. As a church, we’re only in year two and God has been so good to us already! We’ve grown to be a wonderful little family – we’re so thankful for each one of you. Through the different ministries of the church – and just through different people talking with friends and neighbours – our church has had many opportunities to share the Gospel with many people, we’ve had people believe and accept Jesus and we’re started to make plans for our first baptisms this fall!

It’s super exciting! Just as I’ve said in my camp theme, following God has been an incredible adventure. However, as Paul & Silas were about to find out – it’s not always fun and games!

16 One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit that enabled her to tell the future. She earned a lot of money for her masters by telling fortunes. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”

18 This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her.

19 Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. 20 “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials.21 “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.” Acts 16:16-21

I can certainly see some parallels here too. That last statement sounds just like what you might hear about Christians today. People might say of us – “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Canadians to practice!”

Although Canada was founded on Christian principles and on the truths of Bible – our country is increasingly moving in the direction where speaking the truth of the Bible and living according to that truth is becoming illegal. There are more and more laws that obligate us to live and act and speak contrary to how God has instructed us.

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