Joy celebrated
by Jack Wald | June 12th, 2016


For the past two weeks I have talked about a deep joy that thrives in good times and bad. It is present in weddings as well as funerals. It led Jesus to the cross and caused James to tell us to rejoice when trials and tribulations come. This deep joy may not put a smile on your face and make you laugh, but it will sustain you in difficult circumstances. It is a joy that holds on to what is true for eternity even when this temporary, earthly life is oppressively bearing down on us.

Today we are going to talk about living a life that is full of joy. The deep joy, yes, but also the laughing, dancing, exuberant joy that I talked about in the introduction to the first sermon on joy.

Let me refresh your memory.

When David defeated Goliath, Israel celebrated with “singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres.” The word used here is simcha, a bright and shining joy. It is joy expressed with a beaming face and eyes..

When Peter and John went to the Temple to pray and healed a man who was lame from birth, he “jumped to his feet and began to walk.” He went with them into the temple courts, “walking and jumping, and praising God.” This is masos joy. It is a leaping and jumping joy. This is joy that cannot be expressed sitting in a chair. It requires movement.

Rinnah joy is a shouting joy, a joy that has to be expressed and cannot be contained. Rinnah joy is often found in the psalms. (Psalm 90:14)
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

When David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem he was caught up in the celebration. David “danced before the Lord with all his might.” His wife, Michal saw him “leaping and dancing before the Lord.” This is gil joy. It is “moving around in a circle” joy.

These are the main Hebrew words for joy in the Old Testament. This joy carries on into the New Testament. When Jesus sent seventy-two of his disciples out to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, they returned with an exuberant joy. (Luke 10:17)
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!”

They were whooping and shouting with joy, jumping up and down, so excited that they had been able to do what Jesus had done.

Those who were healed or delivered from demonic oppression by Jesus and by his disciples exhibited great joy in their healing or deliverance. When Mary ran to tell the disciples that she had seen the resurrected Jesus, she showed exuberant joy.

As followers of Jesus, we are meant to live a joy-filled life. Jesus said he came so we could have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10). Other translations say that Jesus came so we may have life and have it abundantly. The Message translation says, “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”

Why did Jesus say this? The Triune God is joy-filled. John Ortberg writes:
Joy is at the heart of God himself. We will never understand the significance of joy in human life until we understand its importance to God. I suspect that most of us seriously underestimate God’s capacity for joy.

We will not understand God until we understand this about him: “God is the happiest being in the universe” (G. K. Chesterton). God also knows sorrow. Jesus is remembered, among other things, as a ‘man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.’ But the sorrow of God, like the anger of God, is his temporary response to a fallen world. That sorrow will be banished forever from his heart on the day the world is set right. Joy is his eternal destiny. God is the happiest being in the universe.

We need to know this about God so we can see the importance of joy in our lives. C.S. Lewis wrote: “To miss out on joy is to miss out on the reason for our existence.” Joy needs to become a description of who we are as followers of Jesus.

In his book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, Ortberg tells the story of a long-time friend, Chuck, who called to say that he had cancer. Chuck began his chemotherapy treatment and suffered the effects of all the radiation. He almost died in the course of treatment but at the end of the treatment, he had prevailed. There was celebration.

A month later, Chuck went for his first post-treatment checkup and the doctor told him his cancer was back, at levels as high as they had been before the treatment. Being a doctor himself, he knew this was a death sentence. He called John and they grieved together.

At 6:30 the next morning, Chuck called. “You won’t believe this,” he said. Someone in the lab had mistakenly switched his results with those of another patient, who had not yet even been through treatment. It turned out that Chuck’s cancer was gone – and has not reappeared, these many years later.

“I’m going to live,” my friend said. “I’m going to see my kids grow up. I’m going to grow old with my wife. I’m going to live.”

For a few moments we just wept on the phone. Chuck told me he was filled with a gratitude he had never known. He couldn’t stop touching his kids or hugging his wife. Things that had bothered him before faded into utter insignificance. He was going to live – and suddenly he did not just know intellectually but actually experienced the truth that life is a gift. We don’t earn it, can’t control it, can’t take a moment of it for granted. Every tick of the clock is a gift from God.

Every morning when we wake up, we have in front of us a day to be lived. We can wake up tired and grumpy, feeling oppressed by all the things we have to do, feeling worried and anxious about relationships and deadlines – or we can wake up with the realization that God has given us another day to live and that he wants us to live it to the fullest.

I realize this is idealistic, but we have to fight for this perspective. Chuck had this perspective because he thought he had lost it all. He had lost his family, his friends, his work, his responsibilities. And then all that he had lost was returned to him. His view of life was transformed. All the things he had been worried about the week before this were now trivial. All the people he had taken for granted were now precious to him.

There comes a time when it is too late. Too late to tell someone you love them. Too late to ask for forgiveness. Too late to do something special for someone. Too late to care about what is really important. Today is the day to value all God has given you.

We read in Psalm 118:24 (NASB95)
This is the day which the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

This is the day to rejoice. This is the day to relax with a friend. This is the day to hug your spouse and children. This is the day to call your parents. This is the day to stop the car, get off the bus and smell the flowers, look at the birds soaring over our heads, enjoy the beauty of God’s creation all around us. This is the day to stop taking all God has given you for granted.

G.K. Chesterton in his book, Orthodoxy, writes:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

When we were young we examined blades of grass. We watched ants move along the ground. We explored the world. But then we grew up and became serious with a long list of responsibilities, worries, and concerns. We have aged but God remains young. God remains full of joy.

There is joy in the world because Jesus is at work rescuing the lost. There is joy in the world because the Holy Spirit is at work transforming those Jesus has rescued. There is joy in the world because the Kingdom of God is advancing. Yes, there is suffering, but there is also joy and we need to open ourselves to enjoy the world God created and is renewing.

To quote Chesterton again, “God is the happiest being in the universe.” We need to share in his happiness.

We live in a world where good and evil are battling it out. The devil is called the prince of this world and when Jesus became flesh and was born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, this was a heavenly invasion of the devil’s territory. The devil seeks to divide and destroy; Jesus seeks to unite and give new life. In this battle we suffer from evil that comes to us in the form of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

How do we respond to this? Let me take you back to the teaching of Jesus in John 10:7–10.
Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Francis de Sales, a 17th century bishop of Geneva, wrote:
The evil one is pleased with sadness and melancholy because he himself is sad and melancholy, and will be so for all eternity. Hence he desires that everyone should be like himself.

The devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy. The devil is miserable and wants everyone else to feel as miserable as he does. Jesus came to give life. It is up to us to make a choice each day how we will live that day.

Because Chuck, the man in John Ortberg’s book, thought he was going to die, he had a new appreciation for life and for each day he lived. I hope it does not take cancer and a misplaced lab report to help us come to the same realization.

Let me share a week’s worth of ways we can encourage joy in our lives.

First, develop a community of friends. You cannot celebrate alone.

The year I was living in Germany, the New York Knickerbockers won the basketball championship. I stayed up in the middle of the night, listening to the game on the US Armed Forces radio station. They won and I had no one to celebrate with. The next day I went to school and told my classmates they had won. They said, “Wer sind die Knickerbockers?” “Who are the Knickerbockers?” It wasn’t the same without having someone to share my joy.

In the movie, “Chariots of Fire,” a film about the 1924 Olympics, Sam Mussabini is a trainer who helps one of the British athletes to win a gold medal in the 100 meter sprint. Because it was considered improper for a British athlete to receive help from a professional, Mussabini was not permitted into the stadium. So in the film, he sits in his room where he can hear what is happening in the stadium. He knows the time the race is to be run. He looks at his watch and waits. He waits, not knowing who won the gold medal. He waits and then he hears the British national anthem being played and he knows his runner has won the gold medal. He is so excited but has no one to share the victory with. So he punches his fist through his straw hat.

We need friends to help us celebrate.

In 1999 when I sold my business, I signed the papers in the morning, came back to the company, and went out to lunch with the workers. I came home and showered, and then went to pick up Michael and his wife Maureen to take them out to a dinner to celebrate. Michael was my running partner and confident. He was my closest friend.

All day long I had kept the joy of having completed the sale inside. This was a huge deal but I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t know how to celebrate. But when I stepped out of the car and Michael came toward me with a big smile and open arms, the joy popped out and I celebrated. Michael gave me permission to celebrate. We drove to a wonderful French restaurant and had a great evening along with some other friends I had invited.

This leads me to a second way to encourage joy: Ortberg tells us to find a joy mentor. Find someone who can help you celebrate.

My friend Michael died in July 2014 from a brain tumor, the same kind that Barry’s wife Suzy had. Some people look at a glass and say it is half empty. Some look at the glass and say it is half full. Michael looked at the glass and said it was overflowing with the water of life. He was a man with great achievements in his live, who loved and enjoyed what the world had to offer, but who longed for what only God can give.

I needed Michael in my life and miss him. I look at the glass and question if there is any water in it at all. I still need people like Michael in my life to help me celebrate.

Last year Annie and I watched a movie with our daughters and their families, Inside Out. This is an animated film that is set in the mind of a young girl named Riley Andersen, where five personified emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust try to lead her through life as her parents move from Minnesota in the central north of the US to San Francisco on the West Coast of the US and she has to adjust to her new life.

Joy is the lead emotion and there is great dialogue between Joy and Sadness as they try to help Riley make adjustments to her new life. At one point in the movie, Joy and Sadness need to bring happy memories to Riley’s mind to get her out of a difficult spot and so they begin.
Joy: Think of something funny.
Sadness: Remember the funny movie where the dog died?

Joy tries again:
Joy: What about that time, with Meg? When Riley laughed so hard, milk came out of her nose.
[Joy starts laughing as she remembers]
Joy: Come on.
Sadness: Yeah, that hurt. It felt like fire. It was awf…
Joy: Okay, okay. Don’t think of that. Let’s try something else. Um, what’re your favorite things to do?
Sadness: My favorite? Um, well, I like it when we’re outside.
Joy: That’s good! Like, there’s the beach and sunshine. Oh, like the time we buried Dad in the sand up to his neck.
Sadness: I was thinking more like rain.
Joy: Rain. Rain is my favorite too! We can stomp around the puddles, you know? There’s cool umbrellas, lightning storms.
Sadness: More like when the rain runs down our back, and makes our shoe soggy. And we get all cold, shivery and everything just starts feeling droopy.
[Sadness falls onto her face crying]
Joy: Oh. Hey, hey, hey. Easy. Why are you crying? It’s…it’s like really the opposite of what we’re going for here.
Sadness: Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life’s problems.

This is a great movie and one of the lessons of the movie is that joy and sadness need to work together, both are helpful to us. But we need people whose emotions are more joy than sadness to help us gain a perspective from which we can celebrate. We need people who can help us let our emotions come out and celebrate.

When I received my Dmin from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary last May, my friend Uchenna, who graduated with two Masters degrees, helped me celebrate. My daughter and granddaughters, my sister, and other friends helped me celebrate at a lunch with great food. Friends from RIC helped me celebrate when I returned to Rabat.

We need a community of friends and we need at least one friend who helps us be more joyful. When you find a friend like that, don’t let go.

A third way to encourage joy is to make it a point to celebrate life events. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and graduations are the traditional celebrations. Don’t let these pass by uncelebrated. Some people, as they age, say they don’t want to celebrate one more birthday. But each day, each year is a gift and needs to be celebrated. Even if your wedding anniversary is not divisible by five or ten, celebrate it. Celebrate more than these traditional celebrations. If you are an alcoholic, celebrate the anniversary of your sobriety. Celebrate the end of the school year. Celebrate a promotion at work.

Celebrate the anniversary of a point at which you turned your life around to follow Jesus. When I was in Hong Kong in April, I attended an international church where a Chinese woman was celebrating her 50th anniversary of having been baptized. I was invited to come along to a wonderful Chinese feast where a video of her story was shown.

Celebrate the birth of a child. My father drove up to Boston when Annie gave birth to our first daughter. He cooked me a meal of steak, baked potato, and asparagus. I continued this tradition when our second daughter was born and when friends give birth to a child, I cook for them: steak, potatoes, and asparagus.

My first grandchild was born when I was at a conference in Spain and I celebrated by taking some other people at the conference out to dinner. Annie and I continued that tradition, going out to dinner with friends to celebrate the birth of our other four grandchildren.

Be creative, find reasons to celebrate.

Fourth, set aside a day a week to rest. Observe the fourth of the Ten Commandments to rest on the Sabbath. I talked about this last week so don’t need to repeat what I said about the importance of this. Rest. Sleep in. Take a nap. Read good books. Do something artistic. Make this a special day. Eat special foods. If you are dieting, don’t diet on this day. Treat yourself.

If you have children, have some toys that are only brought out on the Sabbath. Help them understand that this one day of the week is a special day.

Fifth, fast from technology. We read in the gospels that Jesus went away to deserted places to get away from the crowds. In our technological world, we need to get away from the non-stop bombardment of information. We need to turn off our phone and turn off the other phone as well. We need to turn off the computer, and tablet, and other devices. We need to turn off the television. We become addicted to Facebook, Twitter, What’s Up, and a host of other social media creations. We need to fast from social media.

We need to fast from technology for a day. Your day of rest is a great day for this. Some people have jobs where being disconnected is not possible, but as much as it is possible, disconnect.

Get away from the news that pulls us down when we hear about yet another tragedy, another disaster, and the discouraging news of our political leaders.

Fight to maintain the perspective of 1 John 2:17
The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

Sixth, get out into nature. Take a walk in the park. Look up into the sky. See the clouds by day and the stars by night. Watch the birds as they play in the wind currents. Grow some plants in your apartment or villa. Enjoy their beauty. Go down to the sea and walk along the shore.

God has given us a beautiful world to enjoy; take time to play in it, to relax in it. Let his world bring you joy.

Seventh, keep a biblical perspective of life. I talked last week about standing on a firm foundation of biblical truth.
I am accepted by God as righteous!
I am delivered from the power of sin!
I am not alone for I have the Holy Spirit as my counselor!
I have authority over fallen spirits!

In this past week Annie and I have been reading one of those truths each morning. It is amazing to me that they continue to be so meaningful even though I know them so well. The truth they contain is so deep that we will never get to the bottom.

When we keep a biblical perspective of life, we will discover that we, as followers of Jesus, have more reason to celebrate than anyone else on earth. We know we are loved by the creator of the universe. We know that this life is not all there is and that a heavenly eternity awaits us. We know Jesus has promised to be present with us in this life and to bring us safely into his kingdom. We know the one who has created all the beauty and sensual delights we enjoy. If anyone should joyfully celebrate in this world, it should be us. We should be leading the way in celebration.

Steve Hayner was a pastor, president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (the American GBU), and president of Columbia Theological Seminary. He died this last year of cancer. Annie and I knew him and his wife when we were at Park Street Church in Boston. He was a man who radiated joy. Even in the months of his suffering from pancreatic cancer, he radiated joy.

Two weeks before his death, Hayner wrote in a blog post,
“Love embraces me. Joy uplifts me. Gratitude settles me. When I lean into love, joy, gratitude and service, I worry less, because eternity surrounds me and God’s grace upholds me.”

He wrote:
If there is no joy in my life, then I am not listening to God’s voice but only to my own perfectionism. I truly believe that “joy is the business of heaven.”
C.S. Lewis made this important point in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer(1964). Lewis pointed out that it is far too easy for us to assume that only the very serious things of life are approved by God. But in God’s economy, where so much is upside down, even things that look frivolous, unimportant, wasteful, or playful can be important when they are attached to the joy found in the heart of God’s character.

So the real question about my day is not “how productive was it?” but rather “how much joy did my activity bring, and how much love and gratitude did it express?”

What do you think of this? What would it be like to measure your day by how much joy was generated? By how much love and gratitude was connected with an activity? My most satisfying memories of my years in business are not of sales made but of conversations I had with customers, with employees, with others in the printing business. I still think of the people I talked with from time to time and pray for them, even though the conversations took place seventeen or more years ago.

John Ortberg wrote:
The problem with people, according to Jesus, is not that we are too happy for God’s taste, but that we are not happy enough.

Regain your youthfulness. Reread the classics you read when you were young. Get out paper and colored pens and draw something. Do something artistic. Write a poem. Explore the world once again with eyes full of wonder. Watch the BBC production Planet Earth. There are lots of Youtube videos from this series available. Be amazed at the beauty and wonder of creation. Let the scenes of the natural world give room for praise of the creator of what you see. Learn again to rejoice in God’s creation.

Stand on a foundation of biblical truth so you can be set free from the anxieties of the world. Celebrate what will last for eternity and celebrate what God has blessed you with as you make your way to his kingdom.

You are on the way home. You are heading to your heavenly home where Jesus is preparing a place for you. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and enjoy the journey. Let deep joy carry you through difficult times and let exuberant joy define the rest of your life.