What Everyone Wants and Few Find

Sermon preached on Sunday, June 15, 2008 by Rev. Brian D. Schulenburg,
at Woodbury Community Church, Woodbury, MN

GALATIANS 5:22-23

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

JOHN 15:9-12

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

JAMES 1:2-4

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

GOT FRUIT? – WEEK TWO

WHAT EVERYONE WANTS AND FEW FIND

Well, it’s Father’s Day. And, according to all of the advertisements that I have heard on my car stereo and my television, I am supposed to want the perfect gift this year. And, that perfect gift has been described to me as all of the following via commercials this week. I want a new cell phone, gift certificates to Auto Zone, Checker Auto Parts, Buffalo Wild Wings, Target, the Home Depot, Best Buy and Radio Shack. I also want a brand new digital TV, the bigger the better, and according to the ads I’m going to be just fine with my wife charging for that TV on a brand new credit card, because, after all, she’ll be getting the best deal, and that will mean that she’s really in love with me. The ads also say that I want the perfect Father’s Day lunch, which can only be had at certain restaurants. But, the ads have also told me that what Dads really want is a brand new grill so that they can cook lunch for the family, all by themselves. Dads, aren’t you glad that we at Woodbury Community Church have it figured out and that we got you what you really wanted? A David Olson CD! (We gave away David Olson’s Beloved CD in this service. David is our Worship Leader.)

According to the National Retail Federation, families will spend $9.5 billion to honor their father’s this year. That is $7 billion less than they spend on Mom’s, but still a significant investment. I read an article in the Star Tribune yesterday that said that more than 40% of you will take Dad out for a meal, spending an average of $20. Others will choose clothing (37 percent), gift certificates and gift cards (33 percent), electronic items (19 percent) and sporting goods (13 percent).

While I’m sure that the gifts that I have heard about over the past few weeks would bring happiness to dads all over the world, I’m not sure that the happiness would last. In fact, if someone could give the gift of happiness and could guarantee that the happiness would never disappear, that person would be a very rich person. Because, according to Blaise Pascal, “Everyone, without exception, is searching for happiness.”

Given the choice of being at a wedding or a funeral, 100% of you, would choose the wedding. We like being happy.

Last week, we began our summer series, entitled, “Got fruit?” And, we talked about the fruit of the spirit that we know as love. If you recall, I said last week that love is the relentless pursuit of the lifting up of others. We talked about love, because it is first in the Apostle Paul’s list of nine Christian virtues that he called the fruit of the Spirit. In other words, these virtues are the direct result of the Spirit’s work in your life.

Turn with me to Galatians 5:22-23, and let’s read again this passage in which Paul lists the fruit of the Sprit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Today, we talk about something that is much deeper than happiness. It’s joy. And, in order to understand it, we need to practice what I like to call the indispensable principle. That is, before we go to the Word of God, we must first go to the God of the Word in a word of prayer. Why? Because, we cannot understand the deep things of God, apart from the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

Let’s pray.

Dear God,

You have called us to a journey this summer that involves taking a deep look at the fruit of Your Spirit. Today, we talk about something that everyone wants, but only a few find. Lord, God, help us to find the joy which you offer. Help us to live for You. May Your Spirit be our guide today.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

The word joy is found all over Scripture. We are told, according to God’s Word, that joy is one of the markers of a follower of Jesus Christ. But, sometimes it seems as if that joy is elusive.

To His disciples, in John 15: 9-12, Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

In Philippians 4:4 we read, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Jesus wants us to be people of joy. So, what is it? Joy, I mean. How does one define joy? I told you last week that joy is not the same thing as happiness.
Happiness comes from the Latin word hap which means chance. It’s the same place we get the word happenstance from. Happiness, therefore, is based upon our circumstances. Joy is not. The Philippians passage that I read you was written when the Apostle Paul was in prison. In a short book, written in the darkest of days, Paul uses the words joy and rejoice nineteen times! Joy is deeper than happiness. It does not depend upon our circumstances. Joy is truly a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in our life and can be with us no matter the situation.

I like to define joy this way: Joy is the result of living our life with God’s priorities. I’ll say it again – joy is the result of living our life with God’s priorities.

C.S. Lewis, the great author, theologian, and professor once wrote, “All that we call human history – money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery – [is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

Oh, that we could get what it is that Lewis is talking about there! How many times I have sat in my office counseling a man, woman, or child whose life is a mess because they have chased after everything but God! Want joy in your life? Chase after God! And, chase after God’s priorities.

There is a direct correlation between the love that we talked about last week, and the joy which we speak about this week. Back to John 15. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

How do we remain in Christ’s love? Is Jesus saying that if we walk away from Him that He walks away from us? No. But, we are not abiding in his love when we walk away from him. He tells us that we remain in his love when we keep his commands. In other words, we’re not going to feel very loved when we are disobeying what God has called us to do. In 1 John 2:6, the apostle John, perhaps thinking back to Jesus’ words in John 15, wrote, “Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did.”

There is a beautiful and mysterious thing that happens when we live as Christ. We experience Christ’s joy in us. He wants us to follow Him so that his joy may be in us and our joy may be complete.

Last year, in a rather dry time in my own devotional life I made the conscious decision to meditate upon one verse from Psalm 119 each day for 176 days straight. My devotional life was never very consistent. When I did this, I made God the priority. My life began to change. It was during that process that we began talking with Woodbury Community Church. It was during those days that I experienced a joy in my Christian life that I had never known before. When we honor God, His joy is made complete in us.

I read one of Mother Theresa’s famous quotes this week. She said, “One filled with joy preaches without preaching.”

I love that. When we are walking with Christ, and His joy is dwelling in us, we are reflecting his priorities and our lives begin to radiate Him. We begin to change our world. And, we experience joy like never before.
I’ll never forget sitting in my office with a man who had decided to leave his wife. She had been faithful to him despite his numerous affairs throughout the years. The man had begun to believe the delusion that life without his wife and with other women would make his life better. He reasoned that he deserved to be happy. He just wasn’t happy in his relationship with her. No matter how I tried to reason with him, he was impervious to spiritual things. His heart had become so darkened that he could not even see the misery that he was in. There would be no joy found in walking away from his family. Fleeting happiness? Sure. But, joy? No.

Joy is the result of living our lives with God’s priorities.

Like Paul, the Apostle James wrote about joy sometimes coming in the valley of despair. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” So, again we see that joy isn’t determined by our circumstances. Joy is the result of living our lives with Gods’ priorities. And, it’s in those circumstances, that are difficult and which seem to offer little hope, where joy really does its work. Nehemiah, who God tasked with rebuilding the walls Jerusalem’s destroyed walls, said at the end of Nehemiah 8:10, “for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

I can think of few places where joy would have been as absent as that of a Nazi Concentration Camp. That is precisely the place where Corrie Ten Boom and her family found themselves during World War II. Their crime? Loving the Jewish people, and providing a safe haven for dozens of Jews. Corrie would go on to survive the Holocaust. Her family would not. She has long been one of my heroes. Corrie died in 1983, but people who knew her described her as a woman of incredible joy. I had occasion to hear Corrie speak a couple of times when I was growing up, and those are memories that I will never forget.

While in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, Corrie and her sister Betsy were together. Listen to the excerpt from a letter that Corrie wrote in 1974:

“My sister, Betsy, and I were in the Nazi concentration camp at Ravensbruck because we committed the crime of loving Jews. Seven hundred of us from Holland, France, Russia, Poland and Belgium were herded into a room built for two hundred. As far as I knew, Betsy and I were the only two representatives of Heaven in that room. We may have been the Lord’s only representatives in that place of hatred, yet because of our presence there, things changed. Jesus said, ‘In the world you shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’ We too, are to be overcomers bringing the light of Jesus into a world filled with darkness and hate. Sometimes I get frightened as I read the Bible, and as I look in this world and see all of the tribulation and persecution promised by the Bible coming true. Now I can tell you, though, if you too are afraid, that I have just read the last pages. I can now come to shouting ‘Hallelujah! Hallelujah!’ for I have found where it is written that Jesus said, ‘He that overcometh shall inherit all things: and I will be His God, and he shall be My son.’ This is the future and hope of this world. Not that the world will survive but that we shall be overcomers in the midst of a dying world. Betsy and I, in the concentration camp, prayed that God would heal Betsy who was so weak and sick. ‘Yes, the Lord will heal me,’ Betsy said with confidence. She died the next day and I could not understand it. They laid her thin body on the concrete floor along with all the other corpses of the women who died that day. It was hard for me to understand, to believe that God had a purpose for all that. Yet because of Betsy’s death, today I am traveling all over the world telling people about Jesus.”

I believe that it was in the same year that Corrie wrote that letter that she had a remarkable experience. After speaking about God’s forgiveness and the love that God has for us, a man approached her. She knew this man’s face. Inside, all she could feel at the moment was hate for the man. He had been a guard from the concentration camp where Corrie and her sister Betsy had stayed during World War II. He told Corrie that he had been struck to the core by what she said and asked if she thought God could forgive him, and become his Savior. One author writes:

“In herself she could not offer that forgiveness. The Lord had put his finger on
something which was preventing her from becoming more ‘Christ Like.’ She
remembered the command of Christ to love your enemy and to forgive
seventy times seven the person who has wronged you. As Corrie Ten Boon
prayed that Jesus would give her the strength to forgive the man, she felt a
sensation begin in her heart and flow through her hand as it touched his. Then she heard herself saying, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, I forgive you.’
The man fell at her feet and wept a prayer of thanks. Jesus Christ was
continuing to transform Corrie Ten Boom to be Christ Like through adversity
and through shining his light on those dark areas of her life which were not
pleasing to him.”

Corrie understood that joy didn’t come from circumstances. Her joy flowed out of a commitment to Jesus Christ. Her joy was a byproduct of the Holy Spirit’s work in her life. True joy is the result of living your life with God’s priorities. May you choose to live your life in such a way!

Amen.

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