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The Source of Our Joy

It has now been over a month since we last met together in person as a church family. I don’t know about you, but I’m really beginning to miss those times together. Its one thing to miss church for a Sunday or two – but it’s another to away from your church family for weeks on end. 

God designed us for relationships. In fact, he describes the church as being a body and we are all parts of it. A hand was never designed to function apart from the arm. A foot cannot fulfil it’s purpose without being connected to the leg.

It’s the same in the body of Christ. God has designed us for relationships with each other! The Christian life was never intended to be lived out in isolation!

In light of this pandemic, it’s certainly been good to gather virtually like what we’ve been doing, but it’s sure no replacement for meeting face-to-face. 

There is something about seeing people’s faces when we communicate. I think it was Shakespeare who said “the eyes are the window to the soul.”

Well, I miss seeing into your souls! I miss seeing whether you’re joyful or whether you’re discouraged. I miss that personal connection with you and I’m certainly looking forward to when we can again meet face-to-face.

However, until then, we’ll just have to keep doing the best we can with the technology we have!

So this morning, I’d like to ask you a question. You can think about this and email me your answer sometime later this week if you like. I can’t see the answer in your eyes, but here’s my question: How much joy do you have these days?

If joy was like a gas tank – how full would your tank be? Is your joy-tank full and overflowing – or when it comes to joy, are you running on empty these days?

And I suppose this question might be best answered by the others in your household. Your joy (or lack thereof) is not something you can hide very well when you’re stuck at home with the same people for weeks on end! The people you live with can easily see just how joyful you are.

So maybe here’s what we’ll do. Let’s pause here for a minute and I want you to ask the others in your household that are watching this along with you – maybe your wife or husband, maybe your kids, or your roommate or whoever’s there with you right now. Ask them this question: “On a scale of 1-10, how joyful have I been in the last week?” – with 1 being about as joyful as a wet blanket and 10 being an absolute delight to be around. 

So how joyful were you? Were you an absolute delight to be around this week – or were you more in the wet blanket category?

Well, if you find yourself in the ‘wet blanket category’, don’t be too hard on yourself. In fact, I would guess that most of us have probably had quite a few highs and lows when it comes to joy in the past few weeks.

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Preoccupied with the Kingdom

Nearly three months ago we began looking at how life in the kingdom of God is very different from the life in the kingdom of this world. We’ve used the analogy of immigrating to another country – you have to learn a new language, a new culture, a new set of values, there are new laws – you even use new currency – it’s all very different.

In a similar way, Paul tells us that when we chose to follow Christ, we were transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. Colossians 1:13 says…

13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. Colossians 1:13-14

As followers of Jesus, we now live in a new kingdom – one that operates very differently from what we’re used to. And making this transition is not easy. In many ways, actual immigration would be much easier. If we could physically immigrate to the kingdom of God, I’m sure it would be a shock at first, but you’d quickly pick up these new values and new ways of doing things because everyone around you would be living that way – you’d be surrounded by this new culture and of course, that would reinforcing those ideas and values and ways of doing things.

But as it is, even though we are now citizens of heaven (as Paul tells us), we still live right here in the midst of the kingdom of the world and so learning to live differently is very challenging for us. More and more our Canadian culture and values do not line up with the values and the culture of the kingdom of God, so it can be a real challenge to live as citizens of heaven while still present in this world. And that’s why we are instructed in Romans 12:2…

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

And so that’s been our main goal for this message series – we want to let God transform us into new people by changing the way we think – the way we think about our time, the way we think about our money, the way we think about our relationships and so on and so forth. So hopefully, over the past couple months as we’ve looked at a variety of issues, you’ve been challenged to change the way you think in some of these areas and you’ve learned a little more about God’s will for you – which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Today we want to conclude our Kingdom Living series. There’s always more that could be said, but I think we’ll end today with a summary of everything we’ve already talked about.

If I were to wrap up everything we’ve talked about and put it into a short, concise statement, I would say that Kingdom Living means living a life centered around God.

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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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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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Your Spiritual Journey

Every person on the planet is constantly in motion. We are always moving. For example, scientists tell us that the earth’s continents are slowly drifting apart. They figure that North America moving at a rate of about 2 to 4 inches every year. And actually in 2011 when Japan had that large earthquake and tsunami – it moved Japan about 8 feet closer to our west coast. That’s amazing! That’s some serious motion.

And not only are our continents moving – the entire planet is in motion. You know how the sun comes up every morning and goes down every evening? That’s because the earth is spinning in an easterly direction at about 1000 miles per hour. Not only that, the earth screaming through space in an orbit around the sun at about 67,000 mph. That’s a lot of movement!

But the sun is moving too… Our entire solar system is rotating within our galaxy at a speed of about 500,000 mph. And if that still doesn’t blow your mind, our galaxy is not only rotating, but it is also moving away from other galaxies at a rate of about 1.2 million mph.

That means, even if you were to try and stand perfectly still within your own home, you would actual move approximately the distance between here and Cuba!

The fact is, from the day you are born to the day you die, you are always moving. You’re never standing still.

And that leads me into what I want to talk about today. Just like we are always physically moving, we are also always spiritually moving. From the day we are born to the day we die, we are on a spiritual journey. Everyone of us. It doesn’t matter if we are a Christian, or an atheist, or a muslim, or a hindu, or a whatever else. We’re all on a spiritual journey. The difference, of course, is where our journey leads us. (And we’re going to get into that a little bit later on.)

But all of us are on a spiritual journey. We’re either moving towards God or away from Him. There’s no standing still in this journey.

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