Sunday, August 3, 2014

Joy, More than a Girl's Name

It wasn’t exactly the end to a perfect day.  Paul, Luke and a colleague by the name of Silas have been travelling throughout the Roman Empire starting new churches and introducing people to Christ.  Everything seemed to be going well and then the wheels came off the wagon.  Figuratively speaking of course, I don’t think they actually had a wagon.
They started in Jerusalem and they’ve been through  Antioch, Pamphylia,, Syria, Cilica, Derbe, Lystra,  and Galatia and have finally ended up in the town of Philippi.  One day as they were on their way to the synagogue a demon possessed girl started to follow them shouting at the top of her voice, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”
Well at first the guys tried to ignore her, I mean really there are probably better people to have announcing your ministry then a demon possessed person.  As a matter of fact you might recall in the gospels on a couple of different occasions people who were demon possessed starting proclaiming that Jesus was the messiah and he commanded them to stop.  Well she continued to follow them and continued announcing them where ever they went,  after a couple of days of hoping the girl would go away of her own accord Paul decides to take things into his own hands and he turns around and commands the demons to release the girl, which they do.  I don’t know why he waited so long, but if I ever find out I’ll let you know, OK?

Now the story should have ended there, the girl was no longer demon possessed, the guys were no longer being bugged by a demon possessed girl, definitely a win, win situation.  But no, that wasn’t the case.  You see the demon possessed girl just happened to be a slave, which wasn’t all that unusual, but what made her stand out amongst other demon possessed slave girls is that she was owned by several men who would hire her out to tell peoples fortunes, kind of the original psychic  network.  So when the demon was cast out she no longer told fortunes which made her worthless to her masters. You would have thought she’d have seen that coming.  Well they weren’t all that impressed with their financial reversals and so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities.

They couldn’t very well tell the authorities what had really happened and why they were really upset, people are supposed to be happy when a demon is cast out of someone and so rather than appear shallow and cruel they used a different tact.  They started by making an accusation that was sure to stir the hearts of those in charge, “These Jews.”  Kind of gives you pause to wonder when you realize the early church had to put up with anti-Semitic racism, as a matter of fact normally it was the Jews who were complaining that the Christians were perverting the faith, why the change?  Well if we pull a map up here we discover that the town of Philippi was located here in modern day Greece.  This was the first foray of the church out of Asia and into Europe and these early Christians were identified as Jews. Which was pretty close to the truth. 

So after establishing that these guys weren’t like everyone else they laid the charge, it was very specific, well thought through and carefully laid down, they said “these guys are teaching people to do things different then the way we’ve always done them.”  That’s a pretty serious charge.  After all it was Robert Kriegel who said “The only people who like change are busy cashiers and babies with wet diapers.”

It’s amazing to see how quickly things start to happen.  The magistrates order Paul and Silas stripped and beaten and then has them thrown in jail.  And you thought you have had rough days. Being the dangerous felons that they were the magistrates also order the jailer to make sure they didn’t escape.  And so they were taken into the inner dungeon, had their feet clamped in stocks and were left in the cold, damp, dark cell.

So what are you going to do?  You’ve been wrongly accused, you’ve been slandered, you’ve been flogged; and now you’re locked up with the very dregs of society.  Well there is only one thing to do: sing!  Well that may not be what you would do, but it is what Paul and Silas did.  It’s midnight in the prison, they are sore from being beat, they are cold and wet from their cell and they are praying and singing.  Now if I was one of the other prisoners I think I’d be a little annoyed, we don’t know what they were feeling but the bible says the other prisoners were listening.  Like they had much choice they were in jail. 

So, what would make them sing?   Maybe they were simply living out what William James advocated when he said  “I don't sing because I'm happy; I'm happy because I sing.”
Or maybe it was deeper than that, maybe they were actually singing because of some deeper reason.  When Paul was writing about what a life was like that was controlled by the Holy Spirit he wrote this in Galatians 5:22-23 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
We know as Christians that we are supposed to demonstrate love and that is probably why love tops the list but joy is right behind it.

Biblical "Joy" is one of the most misunderstood attributes of the fruit of the Spirit! Normally when we think of the concept of "Joy" what do we think of?  Having fun, laughing children, carefree sleep, a lack of problems, an emotional high, no cares or worries.  And while that may define “happiness” it doesn’t necessarily define joy.  At least not the type of joy that is spoken of in Galatians 5.  

William Lyon Phelps wrote  “If happiness truly consisted in physical ease and freedom from care, than the happiest individual would not be either man or woman, it would be, I think, an American cow”

And even though Paul and Silas may not have been happy to be in prison they were able to pray and sing.  The neat thing is that the word that was used in the original language for prayer wasn’t a prayer of supplication, which means it wasn’t an asking prayer.  Paul and Silas weren’t praying “Please get us out of this mess!”  Which is what I would be praying if’n I was stripped, beaten locked in stocks and thrown into the inner prison.  Instead the meaning of the original word was a prayer of praise, or worship.  They weren’t crying for help they were commenting on how good God was.  Perhaps they were like Matthew Henry the Bible Scholar from the 1700’s who once was accosted by thieves and relieved of his wallet.  The story goes that he wrote this in his diary concerning the entire incident,
I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.”

Now obviously this was to be a life philosophy for Paul, listen to some of the comments he wrote concerning joy: Romans 5:3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.
And in   2 Corinthians 6:9-10 We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.
Doesn’t sound like a formula for joy and yet over and over again Paul writes about Joy in the strangest circumstances. Why were Paul and Silas able to Sing and Praise God while they were locked away in Prison?

They Knew They Mattered To God  To some people it may have appeared that God had deserted them, but Paul and Silas knew where they were.  In a prison cell in Philippi?  No, they believed what was written in 1 Samuel 25:29 “Even when you are chased by those who seek to kill you, your life is safe in the care of the LORD your God, secure in his treasure pouch!
When you can get to the place that you can wrap your head around the fact that you matter to the Master of the universe, then you are on your path to joy.  Jesus told his followers this in the book of Matthew 10:29-31 What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.
Joy is not in things, it is in us. 

He created the entire universe, he is God, and yet he not only knows everything about you he loves anyways, as a matter of fact he loved you enough that he made the ultimate sacrifice for you, himself.  We all know John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
But let’s not get caught up in God sending someone other then himself, as a matter of fact listen to how John described Christ in the beginning of the gospel of John in the very fist chapter and very first verse John writes this John 1:1 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Paul and Silas knew that they mattered to God.

They Knew They Were Playing To An Audience Of One  Paul and Silas realized that they hadn’t pleased the owners of the slave girl and they also realized that that wasn’t what they were called to do.  There is nothing in this world that will steal your joy as quickly as trying to please everyone.  You can’t do it.  Not even God can please everyone, and he’s God. 

I personally learnt this over twenty five years ago.   I was going through a real struggle with the ministry in general and my ministry in particular, I almost left the pastorate during that time but I read three things by three separate authors that all said the same thing. Fred Smith, in his book Learning to Lead wrote “The shepherd or pastor's ultimate goal is not to please the sheep but to please God.”  Cecil Paul the Author of  Passages of a Pastor says that pastors need to free themselves from and I quote “The Tyranny of Evaluation.”  Tim Hansel writing in his book, Until Further Notice Celebrate writes that we need to realize that "we are playing to an audience of one"

About that time Angela and I were pastoring the Wesleyan Church in Truro, we were nudging the 200 mark in morning attendance, we had just finished a new church building and were dealing with all the financial pressures that went with being a quarter of a million dollars in debt, which seemed like a lot then but not nearly as much now. 

I was 28 had an ulcer, and irritable colitis and I was lying awake at night trying to deal with the church growth that I had coveted for so long.  A major part of that pressure was trying to please a congregation that was becoming more and more diverse in nature.  And in the midst of that struggle that I was feeling I realised that I had been called not to please the people of Truro Wesleyan church but to please God and God alone.  It was at that point in April of 1989 that I came to the place that I decided that I need to live my life before God and not fall into the trap of people pleasing.  I don't know what it did for the people of Truro Wesleyan Church but I know what it did for me, it set me free.  And that philosophy followed me around the world to Brisbane Australia and back again to Bedford.

I love you people, I really do, and I would love to do everything in my power to make all of you happy with my performance as the pastor of Cornerstone Wesleyan Church.  But I can’t.  And if I try it will eventually kill me and then Angela will be unhappy, wealthy but unhappy, I hope.  

And if pleasing everyone becomes my goal then I will never feel joy because I will have to constantly live with the fear of failing one of you, because I can't please you all as much as I would love to.  As a matter of fact if you’ve ever looked at our core values number 7 says: 7) Cornerstone Wesleyan Church is committed to the sanity of its staff, both paid and volunteer. We will never sacrifice the physical, emotional or spiritual health of a staff member on the altar of church growth.

I don't preach to please people, I preach to please God, and if I make people happy when I preach then hey they got a bonus, but if they get offended well that's the way it's gotta be.  And some days it means that I’m not the most popular person being discussed around the Sunday dinner table. But I’m going to be able to stand before God with a clear conscience.  And I bet that’s what you really want, a pastor who wants to please God, am I right? 

Now where does that leave you?  Well pastors aren't the only ones who feel compelled to please people.  There are people who are constantly evaluating you.  Your boss has expectations of you as an employee, children expect certain things of you as a parent, parents expect things and behaviour from you as their son or daughter, as your pastor I expect certainty things from you as a part of Cornerstone, and others expect things from you as a Christian.  And if you are going to live your life trying to please everyone then you are destined to live a joyless, self-destructive life.

You need to realize that you are to get your ultimate strokes from God and that if you faithfully please Him then the rest will come along because in pleasing God you will become a conscientious employee, a loving spouse, a faithful friend and a dedicated church member and you will be playing to an audience of one and therefore responsible for pleasing only one.  God!

They Knew The End Of The Story  Paul and Silas knew that the book wasn’t finished, they knew that this was just a minor hiccup in their lives.  They knew that God was in control and ultimately he wins. 

It may have appeared that God had deserted them, but we have already seen that wasn’t true, they mattered to God.  And they knew that no matter what happened that God had a plan.  After all it was Paul who wrote Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
So they knew they loved God, they knew they were called according to his purpose for them, so everything was going to work together for the good of them.  Even if they didn’t understand how or why. 

God is no man’s debtor, but he doesn’t settle all of his accounts on this side of eternity.  Paul had what might at first appears to be a pretty fatalist outlook on life listen to what he says in Philippians 1:21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.
But that’s not fatalistic that is a belief in a beautiful heaven, where we will live forever and where we will be with the God we love and who loves us, where we will dance on streets that are golden.  Perhaps they believed what John Wesley believed when he said  “Until my work on this earth is done, I am immortal. But when my work for Christ is done ... I go to be with Jesus.” 
You say “but I don’t feel very joyful”.  I believe that joy is a conscience decision.  It is something deliberate that we decide “I will have joy.”  We all know that when we are happy on the inside that it causes us to smile. But social scientists have discovered something really neat, they have discovered that if we smile that it makes us happy on the inside.  Try it, smile, you feeling better all ready.  And maybe you do need to heed the words of Williams James,   “I don't sing because I'm happy; I'm happy because I sing.”

Through the years there were times that I would start to feel down and overwhelmed and I would start to sing, not pretty for anyone but me.  And the song that I would often sing says “Cheer up ye saints of God there’s nothing to worry about, nothing to make you feel afraid, nothing to make you doubt.

Angela recently told me that she thought I had made it up and so to prove that I didn’t I give you this:  Video

I’m not trying to put anyone on a guilt trip about their emotions, I know that we go through seasons in our life where being joyful is very difficult if not impossible.  But it will pass, honest.  Every night has a dawn, every storm has an end, every mountain has a crest.  King David struggled with depression throughout his life, just read the psalms, but he also had a grip on this joy thing.  Listen to what he wrote in Psalm 30:5 . . . Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Let each one of us learn to laugh, learn to rejoice always and remember when you're laughing to learn to laugh at yourself, because as John Powell "Learn to laugh at yourself and you'll never ceased to be amused." If your joy is based on circumstances this morning then you need to give your life over to the Lord and let Him place His joy within. 

And so I leave you with the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson “When you were born you were crying and everyone else was smiling. Live your life so at the end, you're the one who is smiling and everyone else is crying.”

Blessing May your joys be as deep as the ocean, your sorrows as light as its foam. 

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