Joy, More than a Girl’s Name

August 3, 2014

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.