SHOW THE JOY
Dear Christian friends,
On Facebook I saw this reminder as we approach Christmas: “Remember that not everyone is looking forward to Christmas. Some people are not surrounded by large wonderful families. Some of us are having problems during Christmas and may be overcome with great sadness when we remember the loved ones who are not with us.” It goes on to remember that some have received bad medical news or are in a broken relationship. For some, “Tis the season for depression.”
When I was in my early teens, my family was having a family Christmas party at my grandparent’s farm. Grandpa lay dying of cancer in his bedroom. Not long after the Lord took him to heaven. My oldest brother’s last wish was to live through Christmas. God gave Ed that wish but he went to heaven the week following. We are a small church but Christmas has been a difficult time for a few families here too. Christmas had to be and must be spent without that loved one for another year.
Death is no respecter of persons or of holidays. Neither is sickness. “Joy to the World” is not always easy to sing. Yet, the apostle instructs to dig deep and look at life from here to there. When we do, we can Show the Joy!
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” It is fascinating to hear these words from Paul when one considers where he was when he wrote these words. Of the thirteen books that Paul wrote that are in the Bible, four of those books were written while he was in prison in Rome. They are the “prison epistles.” Philippians is one of them. He had been confined for a fairly long time. He wasn’t able to publicly preach the Gospel. Yet he didn’t have a problem writing to the Philippians urging them, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” He means always! If you didn’t hear it the first time, I will say it again, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
The key phrase here is “Rejoice in the Lord!” If there was someone who was an expert on the phrase “in the Lord,” it was Paul. There was a time he wasn’t “in the Lord.” There was a time he was the Lord’s bitterest enemy.
You know the story. The journey to Damascus to round up more of Christ’s people to get rid of them once and for all. Why? He was outside the Lord. Yet the merciful God full of grace changed his status. In his own words as he appeared before King Agrippa on trial, “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.”
He went to Damascus because he was outside the Lord. By the grace of God he saw the light. That light was Jesus himself. And Jesus spoke, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” By the grace of God, he went from outside the Lord and brought “in.”
Spectacular? You bet it was! Nothing short of miraculous! But no different than you or me. We were not put on our backs on the ground like Paul was. We didn’t see the physical light like Paul did, but were enlightened nevertheless. For many of us it took place at a Baptismal fount. Water was applied in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Born of water and the Spirit, we who were on the outside were brought inside of God’s family. Forgiven. Wearing the robes of His righteousness. Saved, not by the washing of dirt from the body, but having the pledge of a good conscience toward God. Still others, not really able to pin a time on it or a day or even a place… but so silently, so mysteriously, so subtlely, but filled with the certainty that Christ is yours and you are in Christ. That’s the reason. Rejoice, in the Lord! I will say it again: Rejoice.
When we are in Christ, we are assured that when the worst thing happens, the best thing begins. The finite becomes the infinite. A world of sin is exchanged for the promises of a Paradise of perfection. Tears of sorrow become tears of joy. Even though we may lose everything in the world, we haven’t lost what is most essential and gives us the greatest joy, our God. We have the promise that we will meet and greet our loved ones who died in the Lord; in a place that literally can’t be beat. In the Lord means the short term is exchanged for the forever. So show the joy!
How? “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” One of our grandchildren was talking to me about school. She loves to laugh and joke and smile. She loves school. But when she talked to me about the teacher’s rules, she got very serious. With the breaking of rules there is punishment.
I don’t know too many Muslims who seem to have joy. I am convinced that it is because theirs is a religion of rules. The Five Pillars of Islam is all about doing. It is not about God’s grace and kindness and forgiveness. It is hard to smile when you have nothing but rules staring you in the face.
I am not saying the Ten Commandments, God’s rules aren’t real and they aren’t important. The Bible says sin is real. The commandments point that out. Paul himself wrote, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.Not a pretty picture at all. But Paul goes on, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” God saved us. His kindness and love was revealed. Our Savior appeared to the world and saves. We are forgiven. Jesus earned it for us. God made that forgiveness personal when he brought us to faith by the washing of rebirth. We are now “in Christ.”
God’s kindness behooves us to show kindness. That’s how we show the joy! Someone said, “Kindness makes a person attractive. If you would win the world, melt it, do not hammer it.” Let others see how the kindness of God given to you lives in you. What better way to live out our days? Paul includes “the Lord is near!” Spend your days doing works of kindness. Spend your days showing you are in the Lord. Show the joy!
This week I saw a 2002 Messiah church directory. Many people have traveled through this city and were here for a short time. Judy and I were talking about friends we had thirty to forty years ago. We might not even recognize them anymore. Thank God he never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t feel close to God, who is the one who really moved?” Not the Lord. Even when people desert us, the Lord doesn’t. He is nearby and invites us to talk to him. He invites us to ask for his help. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
If we were not in the Lord, we couldn’t pray and expect to be heard. After all “our sins have separated us from God’ as Isaiah said, ‘so that he will not hear.” But God’s kindness took over. The separation is no longer there. There is a bridge that covers the gap. That bridge is Jesus. The bridge is shaped in the form of a cross. We are in the Lord. We have access to him. Show the joy! Pray…with prayers and petitions and thanksgiving!
Show the joy for “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We have heard this verse thousands of times. It is spoken by the pastor right after the sermon. In the ancient church it was called the votum. That’s a Latin word that means “promise.” Having just heard the Word of God we are promised a “peace that transcends all understanding, and will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Peace is the absence of trouble, tension, disaster. Peace is the presence of safety, security, contentment and relief. When you experience peace, you’d like things to stay just as they are. You hope that nothing changes.
In the world we don’t have that kind of promise. Only when we are in the Lord we have it with him. At the time of Jesus’ birth there was something historians call the Pax Romana. Pax Romana, which is Latin for “Roman peace," was the long period of relative peacefulness and minimal expansion by the Roman military. It was established by Caesar Augustus. It spanned a little more than 200 years. The Pax Romana is said to have been a "miracle" because prior to it there had never been peace for so many centuries in a given period of history. Yet we know full well that within the Roman Empire there were disagreements and arguments, threats and hatred from person to person.
This is a world of sin. Right to the very end Jesus promises, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”
Peace between people and nations will never occur on this side of the grave. But peace with God is real here and now because of a grave in which Jesus was buried and from which he arose.
Members received a devotion recently taken from Micah 5: 4, 5. The Christ “will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.” Jesus’ peace, the forgiveness of sins, is not only for a time or an isolated area or for a certain people. Jesus’ peace and compassion reaches everywhere, all the time, penetrating into our hearts and lives.
Take note especially of this phrase, “And he will be their peace.” The verse doesn’t tell us that Jesus knows where to find peace, or that he can show us the way to peace - Jesus IS our peace! Because of him, we are at peace with the Father and remain at peace with the Father. It is there forever. Don’t be so foolish as to turn away from it.
A few of our people remember when World War II was ended. Some of the photos of the day the armistice was signed shows people dancing in the streets and kissing total strangers. Yet that peace lasted only until the next war came along. Christ, however, is our eternal peace. We have it now; one day we will experience it in its fullness. We have it even though our loved ones die, even though we die. We have that peace when we go through all kinds of hardship. It is a permanent peace for us now and forever. So, show the joy!