Friday, July 3, 2009

How Can I Experience God's Joy?

One of my favorite (if not my favorite) online messages was one delivered by Johnson Bowie at Victory World Church. In fact, his being a guest speaker was how I actually discovered Johnson. Although I have listened to this message several times already, I chose to listen again so that I might share its richness with others.

"As you can tell, I am not Pastor Dennis Rouse. He did not magically and incredibly grow younger and better looking and become me..." is how Johnson opens, but he notes that Pastor Dennis and his wife, Colleen, (were) in China at the world's largest revival.

Johnson moves on to talk about the continuation of the "Inside Out" series. The focus of the series is to dive into what it would look like if the outside of us actually reflected what was going on in the inside of us. Hopefully, it would be a good thing. Maybe we could get to the place where we take off the "love mask" and actually learn to love people. Maybe we could get to a place where we don't pretend to be happy but we actually have Joy inside of us. What would it look like if God came inside of us to actually live through us? As Christians, our bodies become a temple for the Holy Spirit if we allow God to live inside us.

But as Christians, we are in this process of slowly dying to ourselves. John the Baptist said, "I must decrease so that he might increase." So, if we are taking up 99% of ourselves, that only leaves God with 1%. In Galatians 5, God gives us a picture of what this does and doesn't look like:
"The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like." Define "like" and we have to put our natural selves there. In other words, when we live apart from God, this is the stuff that happens. All of these things become the fruit of our life. We have this warning from God. Not only that, but we then even risk not going to heaven.

But if we invite God to engage us and if we invite Him to come and live inside of us, "then we would have nine earth-shaking, amazing characteristics that would absolutely define our lives if we would let it." These characteristics are summarized in verse 22. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Wouldn't it be awesome if these things defined our lives? It looks a lot better than the first list! If this was on our tombstone, it would be incredible.

The first fruit of the Spirit is love. Not the love we typically think about, but supernatural love, like "love your enemies". This is so hard for us. "I feel like a two year old when I read that...pray for 'em..God, bless them...Lord, let their brakes fail...let them get a ticket. Bless them reeeaaal good." But we have to let the Spirit work through us, so God helps us by showing us how to die to ourselves.

The second fruit of the Spirit is...Johnson sings "If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands..." We're talking about the supernatural Joy of God in our lives. "How many of you are really happy? C'mon, how many? You're all lying!! I tricked you into it...You're not happy all the time...If you are, you're weird and I would like to meet you...People don't just walk around happy...Life is not happiness, but life can be Joy."

"Look at the news! Iraq is imploding. You're probably going to get the bird flu on the way home. Don't open your mail because there's probably anthrax in there. If you haven't been fired first, a Recession is going to hit. You probably got into a fight with your wife this morning and make sure you check your tires for nails when you leave!" There's just bad things surrounding us and it makes it hard for us to be happy! We're being controlled by our circumstances and it hinders the Spirit of God from working in us.

See, here's our problem. We confuse happiness with Joy.

Philippians 4:4 says, "Always be full of the Joy in the Lord. I say it again, rejoice." Some of us read that and say, "That is impossible. Have you seen my life? God has obviously not seen my life and Paul probably had it made." "Well," responds Johnson, "Paul did have it made. Paul had one of the best lives of anyone who's ever lived. It is actually documented that when he wrote this, he was on the beach at Fiji...He was a big scuba diver...He had it made...How he got there was on his chariot Escalade with the spinners, you know?...Paul had some nice camels! I mean, Paul had it made!! Kind of..."

"I don't know if you know about Paul's life, but before this time...He had been shipwrecked 3 times...I've never been shipwrecked, but once would be enough! He's been left for dead. He's been bitten by snakes. He's been cold and naked. He's been flogged. He's been beaten with rods 3 times. He's had humongous rocks thrown at him until he was dead, was dragged outside the city and left for dead. Then God said He wasn't done with him yet, He raised him from the dead and sent him on...but man, always be filled with that Joy!...It doesn't make sense! But at this point, it had to have gotten better for him, right?...But we find out that Paul wrote this...while he's literally chained to a prison guard. I've never been wrongfully in prison, but I don't know if I'd be 'guys, I've got some crazy Joy for Jesus'...The guard would be like, 'Bro, that's the whole reason you're in here'...Paul is completely wrongfully imprisoned, but he is singing!...How could he be so happy?...Paul wasn't happy. He was filled with Joy."

That is what we are trying to explore in this message. What is the difference between happiness and the "Joy that passes all understanding"? The Latin root for happiness is "hap" which means circumstance or luck. When everything is going great, we're happy. When it is not, we're unhappy. It's like we ride on this roller coaster of circumstances and it controls us! We might as we be playing the lottery. Whatever we get in that morning, we decide to be happy or sad.

"I made my first million. Yeah!...get a new Escalade...It gets repoed...Phsstt...Everyone is talking good about me...yeah!...then they start spreading rumors....You know how it is on a Saturday morning...the comforter is pulled up and it is glory-filled...The pillow is fluffy...and it just doesn't get any better than this...and then "Momma! Daddy!! Come get me!! (Deflates)...I know what it looks like when we look at our bank account...Honey, we're eating grass for the next month. If the cows can do it, we can too!..Being controlled by our circumstances just doesn't work...C'mon, you know these people. They are like Tigger one moment and then Eeyore the next...'Hey, hey, hey..I just closed a big girlfriend is really good looking...and I just saved a whole bunch of money by switching to Geiko!'...And then you see them the next day...'I got fired, so I'm cleaning out my office. My girlfriend is not good looking anymore. I got dropped by Geiko...'"

The pursuit of happiness is this dead end. In Will Smith's movie, "The Pursuit of Happiness", Will's character says the writers of the Declaration of Independence probably put "the pursuit of happiness" in there on purpose because they knew it was never really achievable and it would always keep people moving and chasing. It becomes a constant pursuit.

But Jesus never told us that the Christian life would be happy. In fact, Jesus wept a lot! He wept over Israel and He wept over the death of Lazarus. He told us to weep with those who weep. That's not happy! Johnson is tired of meeting people who know nothing about the Bible, but quote things that aren't even in the Bible. Like they want to get a divorce because "God wants me to be happy." "Chapter and verse, please!?!...let's think about that...God wants you to be happy, right?...What about your wife and your kids that you're leaving? God doesn't want them to be happy, just you?"

See, the thing is God doesn't offer us happiness. He offers us Joy. The Hebrew word for Joy means "to leap or to spin around with pleasure." When Johnson dances, he stays in one place "Q-Tip, throw it away. Q-Tip, throw it away." But, when Johnson thinks about Jesus, he just starts going nuts because he is filled with Joy over what Jesus has done for him!

David was on to this in Psalms 16:11. "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." We don't even know what "fullness of Joy" means, but the more we lean into God, the more we will experience His Joy. We don't have to live a life of worldly riches to experience Joy! We can live it right where we are with Him and the Spirit! "It makes me not want to sin, because when we sin we are separated from God." But it is in His presence where we find Joy. Joy transcends disasters. It's not that God doesn't care about our troubles. He wants to heal us!

Nehemiah 8:10 says "the joy of our Lord is your strength." We've been there when we don't want to get up, but then there is this whisper where the Lord says, "You're mine" and it gives us the strength to get up and conquer the day.

Johnson was on a mission trip not too long ago where his team went to this little, itty bitty town in the middle of nowhere. They woke up in the morning and they were going to spend time in a bus for a couple hours that day. But after the buses, they were put in two pickup trucks. "I don't know if you've ever shared a pickup truck with 15 other people, but it's not my definition of happiness...So, do the math...there were 2 people in front and about 13 other people in the bed of the pickup...But they know we're Americans, so there is no way they will make us ride that long like this...We're too good for this...but then...30 hour...2 hours...3 1/2 hours in the back of a pickup!...and we are supposed to go spread the gospel...but we did it!...and it was like walking on chalk dust...but guess what happened when we were about to leave?...It rained!...We get stuck in the mud and have to push the truck out...the ride is 3 1/2 more hours through a mountain pass...Then we get there and there is this horrible party music playing that keeps us up until 6am in the we all wake up...and everyone was joyful..because the Joy of the Lord was their strength!"

Johnson met this lady in Nicaragua whose son was Marvin. Marvin is in his late 50's with horrible Muscular Dystrophy. His mother and he live in this stick hut with two rooms. Her job is to get up every day and cook for him and help him around. She is in her late 70's! This is something that some Americans would kill themselves over. So, when Johnson and his team showed up, they were thinking, "Okay, guys, here she comes, we're Americans, let's get ready to pray." But this 70 year old lady comes up saying through her tears, "Other followers of Jesus!" and she is praying over them. It totally took them by surprise and it touched everyone. "She had joy that we didn't even know about!" We complain over air conditioning and plumbing. But this lady had Joy despite all her troubles. "We got rocked!" Sometimes we have to remind ourselves why we should have joy.

Paul says, "I want to stir you up by way of remembrance." We have to remember what God has done for us. When we are feeling down, let's remind ourselves how God has been faithful to us. We are a new person in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" God says we are saints! We are wholly and dearly loved. All the guilt and the shame are gone. What did Jesus call what He was doing? THE GOOD NEWS! We've had a spiritual blood transfusion! Jesus died so we wouldn't have to go to Hell. In His presence is Joy! We've been saved! We can stir ourselves up in the Joy! Keep our eyes on the author and perfecter of faith!

Paul also, says, that we are the "adopted sons and daughters of the Living God." We've seen the stories where the adopted children are playing second fiddle. But this verse was written in an environment when the Romans would adopt citizens into the empire despite their past as the Empire spread. We are defined by God, not by our past, but by His grace.

Johnson found this new definition of Joy,

Joy is "the emotion evoked by the prospect of possessing what one desires."

Zephaniah 3:17 says, "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."

God is delightfully looking down on us. "I get this mental image of Jesus being like a dad at a tee ball high 5's to all the other dads...He has to be giving high 5's to all the angels...but the angels must be like, have you seen their life?...They suck!...But God doesn't look at what we've screwed up in our lives. He looks at us as His children!"

1 Peter 1 says, "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls." Not even death can take this away from us.

2 Corinthians 2 says that wherever we go we carry the aroma of Jesus Christ with us. Our joy is what this world does not have. Nothing can take it away. The old is gone and the new has come. We have joy because we know that, while we were still sinners, God died for us. We have to start stirring ourselves up.

"You have not seen anything yet...Start thinking about the eternal...I think we have our misconceptions about what Heaven is...It's gonna be this really long church service...Hopefully the speaking will be better...hopefully the worship might be as good...hopefully they'll play the song everyone likes."

C.S. Lewis wrote the "Chronicles of Narnia" which is symbolic of God and His relationship to us. Aslan, the lion, represents God in the story. In one of His conversations with one of the children, Lucy, Aslan talks about Heaven.

Aslan turned to them and said, "You do not look so happy as I mean you to be." And Lucy said, "Aslan, we are so afraid of being sent away and in your presence is fullness of Joy. You have sent us back to our world so often." "No fear of that," said Aslan, "Have you not guessed?" And their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them. "See, there was a real railway accident", said Aslan softy. "Your father and mother and all of you are, as you used call in the Shadowlands, dead. But the term has ended and the holidays have begun. The dream has ended. This is the morning. And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a Lion. But the things that began to happen after that were so great and so beautiful I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories and we can most truly say we live happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page. Now, at last, they were beginning chapter one of the great story which no one on earth has ever read, which goes on forever and in which every chapter is better than the one before.

This is what lies ahead for us! It is only the title and the cover page! This is where the really good stuff is. Revelation 21 tells it another way.

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. And there was no longer any sea. And I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for a husband. And a wedding ceremony began and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men and He will live with them and they will be His people and God Himself will be with them and God will be their God. And he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things is passed away. And He who is seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making everything new.'...I did not see a temple in the city because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it for the Glory of God gives it light and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it. Nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful. Only those who's names are written in the Lamb's book of Life.

A real God is writing your real name in a real Lamb's Book of Life. That is our Joy. Death has no hold over us. Death is only Paradise in disguise. There's no fear in death. Circumstances have no hold on us because we know what's on the other side. Easter wasn't somber, it was an endzone dance. Death was defeated. Stir yourself up. You are a lover of God and you are known by God. Take joy in that. We have to start thinking about that. We've been rescued. Always, we must rejoice. Our eternity will be with Him.

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