Sunday, November 30, 2008

Great Joy!

Here is the Power Point.

The iTunes podcast is now posted. You should be able to access it at this link:

Looks like you survived “Black Friday.” I went to Walmart yesterday morning to experience the “culture” or lack thereof, and I was impressed by the amount of things being bought during these “tough economic times”. The real action in Walmart was in the toy section which resembled a looting frenzy. But the shopper of the day award goes to our Junior High youth pastor. Get this: He went to the Outlet Mall in Marysville at midnight. After that he made it to Kohl’s at 3 a.m. and was one of the first 100 through the door. From there he went to Best Buy and Circuit City. When he told me this I said, “Wow, it sounds like the only place you missed was Walmart.” But he corrected me and said, “No, I went there too – for the $2 DVDs.” He did all of this before 8:30 a.m. when he arrived here to decorate the church. So I said, Sean, did you finish your Christmas shopping? To which he replied, “I finished that two weeks ago, this was just personal.”
So he gets the golden shopper award. Congratulation Sean.

This year the average American will spend $1700 on gifts. They will fill their calendars with unnecessary holiday functions. They will gain 5 lbs. They will mail out a total of 20 billion letters, packages and cards between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Not bad considering there are only 305 million people in this country). Men will risk their lives stringing Christmas lights to their roof lines. Families will drive through blizzards late into the night pouring down energy drinks in an effort to make it to their distant relative’s homes. And all of this will be done in commemoration of the humble birth of our Savior.

So, during this first message of Advent in this series entitled “Resounding Joy”, we are going to turn our attention to a story in Scripture that contains keys to “great joy”: Joy that can be ingrained and sustained in the deepest parts of our hearts.
Today we are beginning the Advent Season with the challenge of discovering “great joy” that will carry us not only through the hustle and bustle of the holidays, but furthermore, discovering a great joy that will be unshakably established in our hearts regardless of the season or the circumstances

The story that we are going to be looking at is located in Luke 24. It is a story that takes place as far away from Christmas as you can go in looking at the life of Jesus. The stable has been closed. It had basically been all but forgotten. Jesus has lived His life. He has died on the cross. He has risen from the dead, and now he is having some final words with His disciples before returning to heaven. An important story that takes us from the first day to the last day of Jesus physical existence on Earth. We are told in Luke 24:50-53:

50 “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.
51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.”

Part One

The disciples had just been smacked with the mind-blowing reality that although He had been dead for three days, Jesus was alive. With His help they were quickly putting together the “big picture” regarding His life, teachings, the reason for the cross, etc. I think the disciples had a stunned look on their faces. Emotionally, intellectually and spiritually they were overwhelmed. Their jaws had dropped to their knees. They were in complete shock. They were possibly questioning their sanity and wondering if they were going to wake up from a dream.

So in working with His followers who are in a state of shock, Jesus leads them on their last walk together.

Verse 50 shows Jesus taking action on their behalf:
50 “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.

1. He leads them out of Jerusalem towards Bethany and onto the Mount of Olives.
2. He lifts up his hands and he blesses them.

The first thing Jesus does, to move them towards joy, is He takes them on a walk. Jesus is getting them moving from a state of paralyzing shock to one of action and from disbelief to joy-filled faith. He leads them. He meets them in their idle shock and getting them moving.

One of the keys to great joy is recognizing that Jesus never stops working on our behalf. He is an initiator of action in our lives. He is working the night shift, blessing us even while we sleep. He wants to lead us when we go through seasons where we don’t know which way to go. It’s difficult to make decisions when our world is turned upside down. When relationships are broken. When jobs are lost. When children move out of the house. When accidents take place. When careers change.
There are times when it’s difficult to find the way, and I believe in this story, the disciples were right there.

This past summer I competed in my first adventure race. An adventure race is a team competition, where four or more men and women are placed on a team, they are given a map, and on that detailed topographical map are a series of at least 20 checkpoints that your team must locate in order to complete the course. You can get there using trails, bicycles, climbing, going straight through brush, across streams, etc. The race I was in was at Dash Point State Park in Federal Way. My team was made up of all rookies, except for one. The one experienced adventure racer was our designated navigator. Those of us who were rookies, all we had to do was run together and follow his instructions. The truth is, I didn’t know how to read the map. I have no experience at orienteering. But he did. And it was up to me to run as fast as I could in whatever direction he pointed me.

There is a joy that is available to us, and it will be found as we follow the clear directions of our navigator, Jesus Christ. These are confusing times, but He will give you and I direction as we say, point me in the way. I’ll go there.

It’s worth noting here the significance of the phrase, “he blessed them.”
What does it mean, “he blessed them?”: Blessed is a word which can accurately be defined as “happy”. It means joyful. So when “He blessed them.” He was imparting joy to them through His prayer.
This is an action that He is doing in your life as well. The book of Hebrews says that Jesus is always interceding for us. He is always “blessing me” in this way. This is a constant reality which I usually overlook. Praying for my marriage. He is praying for my job. He is praying for my moral condition. He is praying for you.

How do you define joy? Is it the emotional bliss of falling in love? The time you walked down the aisle? The time you first held your son or daughter in your arms? The day you graduated? The feeling you get when you punch out at the end of a day? Do you perceive joy to be the emotion you feel when you win an athletic or a professional victory? What are the moments of life that bring you the greatest joy?
Webster’s definition: is the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires. Notice that this definition’s emphasis is on what one “gets” from life and circumstances.

The Bible on the other hand defines joy in another way: First it is identified as a fruit of the Spirit. Defn: A quality of a believer, not simply an emotion, but a confident happiness grounded upon God himself and indeed derived from him (Ps. 16:11; Phil. 4:4; Rom. 15:13). It is meant to characterize the Christian’s life on earth. This is not dependant on outwards circumstances. It has to do with deeper desires and the fulfillment of the deepest cravings of our souls.

Joy, in any form, can be so elusive, at times. While others are experiencing joy, I sometimes cannot find it in my life, and I can get a little jealous. Do you know anyone that is happy so often it is irritating or annoying? We wonder, why is that person so darn happy? It’s just annoying. I wish they would be grumpy like me! Join me in my pity party. Misery loves company and I am lonely right now.
Beneath this attitude is a deep longing for joy.

We encounter seasons of depression, times of grief and darker seasons of life. My challenge to you, if that is where you are at right now, is recognize that Jesus wants to walk you through this season, in much the same way that He did with the disciples in the story that we are looking at.

Great joy is unlocked through acknowledging what Jesus is doing on our behalf.
He is blessing us. He is initiating action while leading us away from situations that have defined us and brought us down. He has a new direction to take us. He is doing something new and He is doing something in you and in me. Recognizing and acknowledging that He is blessing us and leading us will open the door for a joy that is not dependant on circumstances. It is a joy that is dependant on Him, and He never changes.

Part Two

51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.

Just when things are looking better, He leaves!

Verse 51 leaves out some details that can be found in the book of Matthew and Mark, as well as the book of Acts.

Acts 1:7-11 tells us that after ascending, they were left there “looking intently up into the sky, as he was going, when suddenly two angels stood beside them, tapped them on the shoulder, and said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? ( It’s time to do something else). This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Imagine the scene: Jesus is there blessing them, praying for them, and he begins ascending into heaven. This was a literal ascension into heaven that left the disciples once again gawking into the sky with their jaws on the ground.

I wonder what was going through their minds as they stood there gazing into the sky. I doubt that they were feeling a lot of love at that moment. I doubt that they were feeling much joy. They were experiencing a loss of joy. Once again, their joy was being stolen by their limited view of their circumstances. Surely their joy was lost to the following things:
1. Feelings of abandonment – a God who comes and goes.
2. Idle “stargazing”.
3. Worry over their future.

These same things can be joy robbers for us:
1. Feelings of abandonment. At least every year I struggle with this one.
2. A “me” focus on God that fails to include other people. There is a problem when our relationship with God becomes a selfish pre-occupation. Survival mode.
3. Worry over our future.

Perhaps it is the “joy robbers” that cause us to lose the joy that we long for during Christmas. These are just a few that seem to relate to the text. For you it might be your stress, finances, relationships, or other circumstances.

So God sends the disciples a couple of angels to bring them a reassuring word, which alleviates their concerns with his departure. Part of their message of assurance was a word of prophesy stating, He’s not gone for good. He is coming back.
And He really was coming back. God was going to encounter them once again through the presence of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. And from that point on, He would be with them always. The angels come to restore hope.

We also know that Jesus is coming back again. This joy is meant to transcend our own mortality. These are tremendous sources of joy, confidence and peace. This was a breakthrough experience for them. The angels said, snap out of it. He isn’t gone for good and it was TIME for them to get busy.

So when “He blessed them.”, we know from Acts 1:8, Jesus prayed for them, He commissioned them telling them that they would be His witnesses, and in the process of that commissioning prayer there is included the element of the impartation of joy. It wasn’t a joy that would come from gazing into the sky. It was a joy that came from Him and would be a part of their obedient outward focused life.

It was not about looking into the sky. There is something basically wrong with this.

They were called not be star gazers but to be His witnesses.

Mia & Rey Castillo. When Mia was ten years old her parents sent her to Manila to get a job. Once she gets there she discovers that she is employed in a brothel, so she runs away and begins living on the street. At the age of 15 she meets her husband who also is a "street kid". They eventually have eight children and continue to live on the street as a "family". Their belongings are kept in a cart. The kids beg, dad collects recyclable trash and sells it, and mom works with the kids. They are all illiterate. Of their eight children, one dies shortly after childbirth. One is lost. They sell another one for $1000P ($20 U.S.).

Had God abandoned this family? Not far from this family was the home of an 80 year old Missionary, Stewart DeBoer a widower who re-married (Corrie) and is still working in the Philippines. Stewart and Corrie have "taken in" this family. The youngest one (4 years old) is doing well in pre-school. Dad is working as a casual labor carpenter. The older kids are struggling to stay in school -- they don't understand how it works, are bored, and are looked down on by the other students.

This couple has found great joy and at the same time God is using them to rescue a family that has serious abandonment issues.

Great joy is unlocked through action (acts of obedience) – The second key.

If you want to experience joy this Christmas, get caught up in serving other people – caring and sharing and reaching out. Help for the Holidays. Piecora’s Pizza.

Part Three

52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

This looks like the end of the story. It is the end of the book of Luke. But it really is only the beginning. It is the beginning of the transformation of the disciples. It is the prologue to the beginning of the church.
What happens here? It shows the connection the disciples made between Jesus and the Father. Why did they go to the temple? To be with God. To praise God. They knew Him now in a new way.
It shows the restoration of hope and confidence in worship following His death and resurrection. It has the tone of anticipation and hopeful expectation that something great is going to happen – He is coming back!

With: Something they now had that they didn’t have before. So in this story a transformation has taken place. And it wasn’t just a little bit of happiness.

It was “great joy” Great: (Mega –Joy) Not a little joy. Not above average joy. No, great joy. Does this sound familiar? I am reminded of what the angel said announcing the birth of Jesus when he said I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.

And they entered into a time of the continuous praising of God.

They are corrected – and then they respond by putting their fears aside and embracing the promise, and engaging in expectant, sincere and authentic worship.
They had already been blessed and commissioned. It was now time to renew their worship and to receive the joy that comes from knowing that He had not abandoned them.
For us, the challenging application for us is to recognize His desire to encounter us, do something new, so that we might receive great joy and enter into a season of expectant worship.

3rd Point: Great joy is received and sustained through authentic worship.

If you’ll focus for a moment on the biggest challenges that you’re facing right now. And if along with those challenges you become aware of the “joy robbers” that have plagued you. Give those things over to the Lord and then ask yourself, “Can I praise Him in the face of these realities?” Habakkuk 3:17-18.
Biblical joy goes beyond circumstances. Biblical joy can be sustained. The raw emotion of joy comes and goes and as wonderful as it is, it can be very elusive. We pursue it sometimes at the expense of our morals our values and our health.
Biblical joy comes from the confident hope that is grained in the very nature of God.

Insert Drama or Media The scenes I planned to use were all the frenetic shopping scenes in Holiday classics like Jingle All the Way with Sinbad and Arnold Schwarzenegger when the shoppers rush the doors or A Christmas Story with Peter Billingsley when they visit Santa (“you’ll shoot your eye out kid!”).

I want to invite you to do something with me. Take out your debit card/credit card, if you have one. Make this declaration. Using this will not bring me joy. Confidence in this book’s promises, acts of obedience and a lifestyle of worship, will.

In the face of any joy robbing challenge, what are we to do? Follow the example of Jesus. When He faced His greatest challenge, how did He experience joy?

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”

It’s a joy that will survive sickness. It’s a joy that will penetrate depression. It’s a joy that will defy the sadness of divorce. It’s a joy that will be experienced during financial struggles.

The gift of great joy comes from Jesus through confident expectation, action and a lifestyle of worship.


TAMI said...

The munchkins are all tucked into bed after our first Advent gathering/reading/celebration of the year. It's a tradition that's come to mean more than words can tell to our family. Deeply grateful for our rhythmic heritage and the 25 more nights our family will gather in quiet & Christ-focus.

Matt said...

That is great. We have observed Advent for years now and look forward to it every year. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

Molly Lyons said...

Hey Matt, this is great! I was gone last Sunday and am up against the wall with my joy drama for Christmas eve.
I may need to ask you some questions but mostly I think, as always, worship will break through the wall.
Love to your wonderful family; especially that gorgeous wife of yours who is our Christmas eve drama Mary so you want me to be able to finish this piece!