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Lombard CRC

Part 4 - Rejoicing In God

Loving Part: Part 4 - Rejoicing in God

 

This summer we’ve been renewing our love for God.

We explored hearing the Lord

through meditating on God’s Word.

We shared experiences of seeing God

in the wonder and beauty of creation,

in the person and work of Jesus,

and God’s image in our neighbors

and those broken needing love.

Then we encouraged one another

in our trust in the Lord and Jesus our Savior.

Those who love the Lord love hearing God’s Word,

love seeing God’s grace and righteousness,

and love trusting the Triune God.

 

We also find joy and happiness in those we love

and are glad for those who love us.

So today’s scriptural truth is that those who love God

rejoice in God.

 

You believe in Jesus,

but do you take delight in him,

is he your heart’s desire?

What did you think of singing a song entitled,

The Happy Song?

Could you sing it?

Does your faith in Jesus make you glad:

I mean, if you’re happy and you know it,

clap your hands.

Judging by our clapping this morning,

hmmm, I’m not sure . . .

I sing because I’m happy

for his eye is on the sparrow

and I know he’s watching over me . . .

I sing because I’m happy . . .

do you?

Are you?

 

What do you think of that?

Should I be a little more joyful as a believer in God,

should loving God make me glad?

 

Personally, this is something I think I overlook.

I began some confession and repentance on this

when earlier this year I read a quote from John Calvin:

‘There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.’

Rejoice.

I didn’t expect that from Calvin.

I expected something like

we are intended by our Heavenly Father to . . .

be faithful,

or pursue righteousness and justice,

or worship and give thanks.

Right?

These are the first things we think of

when it comes to our devotion to the Lord

for the gift of salvation.

All good and true and right, for sure.

 

But I wonder if I’ve neglected

‘rejoicing’ along the way.

The old hymn sings

I found in him a resting place

and he has made me glad . . .

 I’m not sure I rejoice enough in the Lord.

 

Does this verse from Isaiah 55 describe you,

Your life as a follower of Jesus?

Isaiah 55:12

12 You will go out in joy

    and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and hills

    will burst into song before you,

and all the trees of the field

    will clap their hands.

This is a picture of God’s people and all creation

glad and happy and full of joy in the Lord.

Does this sound like your life of faith following Jesus?

I’ll generalize for a moment,

but there are times we act as if believing in Jesus

is like jumping into a cold lake.

We say, eventually you’ll get used to it.

If you’re thinking like that

then this verse is for you.

It’s time to introduce you

to the joy of the Lord.

 

One disclaimer first:

We’re not saying that being a Christian

is all about being happy all the time

or that God just wants me to be happy.

The power of the gospel is in the cross

and empty tomb after all.

We live for the glory of God not our own pleasure.

And let me add one objection

that we’re all thinking right now:

We gather after watching a week of terrible news

for our neighbors in Texas

and our hearts go out to them

even as we pray relief efforts get to them

and we know there will be huge commitments

going forward to help them rebuild their lives.

You may be here this morning

with heavy burdens of your own,

or even in deep sorrow for sin,

there is guilt or shame that clings to you.

How can we even begin to talk about joy

and happiness at a time like this?

At any time!

So you see why I struggle with this,

and maybe you do, too!

 

Listen again to John Calvin

who experienced the troubles of life:

his mother died when he was young,

he lost a son in childbirth,

he was a widower,

he battled chronic physical illness . . .

so he knew that life was full of sorrow and trouble,

but he said:

‘There is not one blade of grass,

there is no color in this world

that is not intended to make us rejoice.’

And,

‘There is nothing in afflictions

which ought to disturb our joy.’

 

If you’re not convinced listen again to out text:

 Isaiah 55:12

12 You will go out in joy

    and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and hills

    will burst into song before you,

and all the trees of the field

    will clap their hands.

And if you’re still not convinced listen to Jesus:

John 15:11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

John 16:24 Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

Jesus – is God who become human,

who lived a life of sacrifice.

Yet his life is described as one of joy:

Hebrews 12:2 let us our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

But wait a minute, you say,

happiness and joy are different things.

We say happiness is about our feelings

and based on earthly pleasure so it doesn’t last,

but joy is based on what Jesus has done for us

so we can be joyful despite our feelings

and it lasts into eternity.

And that is true, up to a point.

Yet the Bible uses words like joy, gladness, delight, being blessed and being happy interchangeably,

and doesn’t separate joy from happiness.

And really, how could people of joy

not be happy about that?

 

Isaiah 55 shows our Heavenly father’s desire

to fill your life with joy,

and that begins by receiving joy as a gift of grace:

 “Come, all you who are thirsty,

    come to the waters;

and you who have no money,

    come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

    without money and without cost.”

 

You may think life doesn’t work that way.

But God works that way.

 

You have much more to rejoice and be glad about than you think.

But to know joy, says Isaiah,

you have to receive it for the gift it is.

This will require repentance on our part.

2 Why spend money on what is not bread,

    and your labor on what does not satisfy?

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,

    and you will delight in the richest of fare.

3 Give ear and come to me;

    listen, that you may live.

I will make an everlasting covenant with you . . .

 

Our confession is that

we have tried to take joy into our own hands.

We have attempted to quantify happiness

according to the things and possessions and experiences of this life.

Instead of accepting these blessings

as a sign of God’s promises kept,

the Lord’s covenant relationship with you.

We turn these into idols that define

why we do what we do,

and we lose the joy for which we were made.

CS Lewis puts his finger on the problem:

“But then Joy is never in our power

and Pleasure often is.”

― C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

 

That’s why this message on rejoicing

comes after the message on trusting.

You want too much control over your life.

You must give that up in trust

to our Heavenly Father.

Then comes the gladness.

 

Lewis helps us by adding:

“All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still 'about to be'.”

He’s observing for us that our delight

and gladness is a gift from God,

and we will not know such joy and happiness

unless and until we receive this gift from the Lord.

And if we struggle with this

it helps to tell stories.

How this day reminds you

of blessing already received.

I rejoice because my Lord has blessed me before

and my Lord will bless me again.

 

Our temptation is to rush ahead

and claim anything that looks like happiness to us.

So Lewis says,

 “Joy is not a substitute for sex;

sex is very often a substitute for Joy.

I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures

are not substitutes for Joy.”

 

Ahh, and that could be anything:

anytime we act on the tempting thought

God just wants me to be happy,

we are most likely grabbing,

grasping at pleasure but will miss

blessed happiness.

 

Our Heavenly Father is so loving and gracious

that not only does the Lord grant us gifts

to make us rejoice,

God also grants us the gift of enjoying them.

Listen again to what the Lord does:

Isaiah 55:12

12 You will go out in joy

    and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and hills

    will burst into song before you,

and all the trees of the field

    will clap their hands.

 

You will go out . . .

this is in contrast to the words of Pharaoh to Moses and those enslaved.

Pharaoh said: you shall not go out.

So these words from Isaiah 55 are exodus words.

But where the first exodus happened in a rush,

after the deadly plague,

here it is done in joy and celebration.

You will go out in joy . . .

Creation is described with happy words,

scenes of celebration,

natural delight spilling over into the supernatural,

encouraging us to take joy in God’s saving grace.

The verse continues: and be led forth in peace . . .

Our Heavenly Father sees to it . . .

The word for peace, shalom,

means so much more than being peaceful.

It means a human thriving together

and a creation that flourishes

in a lasting delight in all that comes from God.

Isaiah 55 declares that you and I are delivered

by the gracious will of God alone.

And the result of God’s saving work in your life

brings great joy and gladness.

Joy starts in celebrating the gift of our forgiveness.

 

Think with me for a moment about this.

I think of the parable of the prodigal son:

what gets the elder son angry is the celebration.

His brother has squandered half the estate

and he comes back a failure.

If he had to grovel,

toe the line,

prove his sincerity,

pay back what he took,

that’s one thing.

But he comes back and there’s a party.

‘We had to celebrate’

says the father to this elder son.

32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.

 

So that’s the beginning of our joy.

We are found.

Kenneth Bailey reminds us

this is what repentance really is:

accepting being found in the grace of Jesus,

and both delighting in it

and repenting when we tried to hide from it.

We like to think like the elder son

getting all religious

by confusing the gospel with morality

and think repentance is first about

admitting wrong and never doing that again.

Only to find out the good we want to do we don’t do, and the evil we don’t do we find ourselves doing,

as Paul confessed.

But repentance begins with accepting

that we have been found by God.

You are found.

Not merely found out,

but graciously found.

Your place in God’s kingdom is found.

Your deep gladness is found.

God has found great purpose for all your days.

 

How many of us walk away from God

then try to come back to God

with the prodigal’s speech in our pocket?

I am not worthy to be called your son,

make me like one of your hired servants.

But our Heavenly Father will have none of that.

Jesus has none of that:

I no longer call you servants, I call you my friends.

 

Can you accept your being found?

Jesus picked you.

You belong in the family of God.

You have a place and a home

and an identity in his love.

Without Jesus you’re like the shy teenager

knowing the school social is coming up

and would anyone want to go with you?

You don’t think so,

but then yes, someone has the courage

and risks the question just for you,

would you go with me?

Chosen, picked.

 

Without Jesus we’re like

those trapped by the floods in Texas

and calling for help.

Pregnant Annie Smith went into labor

as the floodwaters rose.

She and her husband called 911 but no response.

Finally through friends a firetruck

pushed through the rising waters.

But she couldn’t get out on her own.

Neighbors formed a human chain

to get her to the truck and safety.

Someone involved sent a message out saying:

happy thoughts and prayers to the new parents.

Happy? at a time like this? Joy?

Accepting our being found is the beginning of joy.

 

Focusing on Jesus then adds to our joy.

Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

We all can picture in our minds

an image of Jesus on the cross:

we’ve seen movies and pictures and crucifixes

that shape such thoughts.

But Jesus was criticized and judged

as a ‘drunk and a glutton.’

Now he was not that,

but no doubt the way he celebrated

and enjoyed life bothered the Pharisees

enough to falsely accuse him this way.

He judged the Pharisees who said such things

by contrasting his life with that of

John the Baptizer:

Matthew 11 - 17 “‘We played the pipe for you,

    and you did not dance;

we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking,

and they say, ‘He has a demon.’

19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking,

and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard,

a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

Jesus enjoyed life.

He describes his own life with music and dancing.

He called disciples friends.

He not only fasted but also feasted.

He told jokes in his parables.

He prayed and gave thanks for good gifts.

He did not sin.

 

So it makes sense that we’ll find happiness

in following Christ.

Isaiah 55 sets up that faith:

receive the love of God,

or work at that which does not satisfy.

 

Joy is holy happiness.

A sanctified emotion that participates

in the delight of God.

If happiness is defined as

being pleased about a certain thing or circumstance then unhappiness is being sad

about the lack of something

or a bad circumstance or experience.

But that means letting the circumstance

or experience have more power over you

than the Lord.

Our happiness is the result of Jesus in us –

he is perfect joy

and we are remade for complete joy in him.

 

Rejoice lately? Laugh more?

Delight in God, creation, forgiveness, and love?

“We can experience joy in adverse circumstances by holding God's benefits in such esteem that the recognition of them and meditation upon them shall overcome all sorrow.”

John Calvin

That is, to add to your gladness – pray.

Pray about it.

Confess the ways you have failed at joy.

Accept the love of God

as greater than your regrets

or sin or anxious thoughts.

Ask the Spirit to lead you in the joy of Jesus.

Then give thanks for your blessings in Christ.

All to ask our Heavenly Father

to re-shape our desires.

 

Habakkuk 3 shows how deep our gladness can be:

17 Though the fig tree does not bud

    and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails

    and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen

    and no cattle in the stalls,

18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

 

Of all the things going on in our difficulties,

this is one of them,

God shaping our desires toward joy.

We know every day billions of dollars

are being spent to shape our desires

toward things like pride, greed, gluttony,

lust and the like.

What a relief to trust God to shape me for the better.

Grace is greater,

love is stronger,

happiness is linked to eternity.

And when we remember and celebrate our joys

we speak against the fear and worry of life.

 

Then take time each day to recognize

how our Heavenly Father adds to our gladness.

Here’s John Calvin again:

‘When God created food,

‘He intended not only the supplying of our necessities but delight and merriment (hilaritas)’.

Clothes serve not only for need but also for ‘comelinesse and honesty’;

herbs, trees, and fruits,

‘beside their manifold commodity’,

for ‘goodlinesse, and sweete smelling sauour’.

 

Isn't it a joy to you

when you make something and others enjoy it?

The first time you played ball with your child.

The special dessert you only make once in a while. The sweet kiss.

So God creates this universe with all its beauty

for your delight,

because in that he glories.

 

So how will you respond?

In what ways will you take a little more joy,

bring a little more gladness into your day

and the life of another?

how about in church –

do you too quickly grumble about church

and are too stingy with your joy?

what will you do to change that?

how about at home –

do you take joy in your marriage,

are you glad together as husband and wife?

Would your kids say so?

How about as family?

What about your brother or sister makes you glad?

Have you told her or him?

What can you do tomorrow

to add to your neighbor’s joy?

What will you do

to add some happiness at home?

And how about in your faith?

To go out in joy . . .

let us pray to add joy to our faith practices.

 

After our prayer you’ll have a moment to reflect on this.

Take the 3x5 card you found on your bench

and write a little prayer pledging greater joy.

Then offer your response in the collection basket,

and we’ll display them as our thanksgiving

to the Lord next Sunday.

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