Monday, July 22, 2013

July 21, 2013 - Nurturing A Healthy Heart: Joy

Galatians 5:22-23, Isaiah 55:1-2, 6-12

This morning we continue our series of messages based on the fruits of the Spirit, as found in Galatians 5:22-23.  Titled Nurturing a Healthy Heart, the messages are based on the idea that what Paul is telling us in these two short, but very powerful verses – how to keep the heart of our faith strong and healthy.
Listen again to what Paul has to say in those verses from Galatians –

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Today we study joy.  A parallel passage to go with the subject of joy is this passage from the prophet Isaiah –

1“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; you who have no money, come, buy and eat! 
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? 
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. 
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

It was interesting to be in Orlando for the General Assembly.  Orlando is the capital of amusement parks, and it’s amazing the money spent on a short time of excitement.  I like amusement parks, but if you think about it logically it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  A lot of money goes into a very fleeting experience.

I want to differentiate between happiness and joy this morning.  When we talk about joy, in the Biblical sense, we are not talking about happiness.  Our culture is on a huge quest for happiness.  Fortunes are spent on happiness – whether for a day or so in an amusement park, in seminars, in books – there are myriad ways that people are searching for happiness.  Happiness is a good thing, but it is also very elusive.

Happiness and joy are not the same.  Happiness is much more fleeting and based on emotion, but joy, in the Biblical sense, is a far deeper sense of life being in order and the resulting sense of well-being that comes with that understanding.

Stop worrying about what others think.
A friend of mine told a story recently about working as a server in a restaurant.  He is a bivocational pastor and works two other jobs.  In May a family came into the restaurant where he works to celebrate their daughter’s graduation from high school.  As he served their table he asked if she had chosen a college to attend.  She had not.  He recommended his alma mater, and began offering some reasons why it would be a good choice and why it is such a fine school.  Her father suddenly blurted out – it couldn’t be too great, look at where you’re working.  I admire the manner in which he kept his composure and continued to serve the family with such dignity.  I appreciate honesty in people, but that was a callous and unnecessary remark.

We worry far too much about what others think.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pay attention to wise counsel from those who are important to us.  What I’m saying is we spend far too much time trying to please other people and trying to do what they think we should do and be what they think we should be.

I find Paul to be one of the most interesting characters in all of Scripture.  I don’t think Paul worried about what others thought about him.

We grant people far too much power over our lives when we allow them to dictate how we will think, how we will live, and what we will do.  If you are living your life according to what other people think, you will never be able to maintain a sense of joy in your life because you will be too busy trying to please others.

Don’t base your joy on what you have or your station in life.
When Isaiah spoke these words – Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? he is really talking about the endless pursuit of trying to find joy in something external to our lives – a car, a house or some other material object; or in a job that makes us feel important or successful; or even in another person.

Why do we expend so much time and energy looking for joy and fulfillment in places and in things that can never bring a real and abiding sense of joy?  For one reason, we are constantly bombarded with messages and images that promise fulfillment and happiness if we will buy a particular product.  But there is no product on the market that can bring a lasting sense of happiness.

We live in a world that is based very much on illusion – here is all you need to make your life great.  And we fall for that message.  We want to believe that kind of stuff, because we desperately want it to be true.  We want to believe there is something we can pick off a store shelf that will bring us peace of mind and joy in our lives, something that will meet every need and desire that is in our hearts, but we’ll never find it on a store shelf.

Isaiah said long ago that no such product exists, but thousands of years later we’ll still chasing that same unattainable dream.

Don’t forget others while you are pursuing your joy.
I believe that one of the reasons why the pursuit of happiness never leads to real happiness is because it is an erroneous pursuit.  The quest for happiness tends to lead us further into our own lives.  Happiness is about me; it’s a self-centered pursuit.  What can I do to make me feel better?  What can I do to become more satisfied with life?  But joy is much different, because joy leads us into the lives of others because joy helps us to understand that life is not just about ourselves.

If your pursuit is leading you to a more isolated life, if it is leading you to a life that is not drawing you into the lives of others in an attempt to help bring them a life of great meaning, you are pursuing happiness, but not joy.

Happiness is fleeting; but joy is a foundation for life.
I love to feel the emotion of happiness; who doesn’t.  Happiness is wonderful, but it is also somewhat fleeting.  Happiness can be with us one moment and gone the next.  Happiness can dissipate simply because the weather changes. 
But joy is much deeper than just a feeling of elation.  Joy comes from knowing you have your life in order, joy is being free from the expectations of others and from allowing yourself to be the person God has created you to be, joy is being calm in the midst of a chaotic world.

It’s easy to be happy when things are going well.  It is easy to praise God when life is going well.  Can we be thankful even when life is crumbling?  Can we praise God even when life is coming unglued?

Life may have dealt you a bad hand as of late.  Maybe you are in the midst of such difficult times and perhaps even in the valley of the shadow of death.  Don’t let the difficulties of life crunch your spirit and rob you of your joy.

That’s when our faith really shines – I Peter 1:3-9 says, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,
who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
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 end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 

It’s easy to have faith when life is good.  It’s easy to be happy when life is good.  But when life is tough is when the reservoir of joy will see us through.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

June 30, 2013 Nurturing A Healthy Heart: Peace

Galatians 5:22-23, John 14:27

In the fall of 1991 I had a couple of episodes with chest pains.  I didn’t do anything about them at first, because they didn’t seem to be overly serious, but one day when I was mowing the yard the pain became much more pronounced.  My first thought was it surely can’t be a heart attack, but wondering if you are having a heart attack is a real attention getter.  I decided I should visit my doctor.  He ran a few tests, stepped out of the office, came back in and said I have you scheduled for a stress test first thing in the morning.  If you promise to go home and do nothing but relax the rest of the day I won’t call an ambulance.  That’s a real attention-getting moment.  I ended up in the hospital as other tests were taken.  A cardiologist kindly sat down with me and talked about learning to relax and to learn to manage stress.  I asked what I thought to be a very simple question – how do you manage stress.  His answer was equally simple – I don’t know, he said.  Well, that was incredibly helpful.

I still don’t know how to answer the question of how to manage stress, but that episode did start me on a path of realizing the importance of taking care of my heart.

This morning we begin a new series of messages based on the fruits of the Spirit, as found in Galatians 5:22-23.  Titled Nurturing a Healthy Heart, the messages are based on the idea that what Paul is telling us in these two short, but very powerful verses – how to keep the heart of our faith strong and healthy.  The heart is important not just because of its physical function, but because of its spiritual function as well.  As the heart is the center of our physical lives, it is also the center of our spiritual and emotional lives.

  Listen to what Paul has to say in those verses from Galatians –

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Although Paul begins his list with love I am saving that topic for the final message of the series.  I will begin with the third word in the list – peace.  Notice that all of the fruits of the spirit are things that we do.  Except for peace I begin with peace because I believe it to be foundational to all of the fruits of the Spirit and because it is a byproduct of practicing the other fruits.  

If one does not have peace in their life, it is going to be difficult to allow the other fruits of the Spirit to prosper and come to completion, so for this morning we also have this verse from John’s gospel, chapter 14, verse 27 –

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

As I thought about what to say about peace, my mind went to a time in my life that was very difficult.  I was really struggling to find a sense of peace.  I don’t want to go into the details, but suffice it to say that it was not at all an easy time.  I couldn’t relax, I was having a difficult time sleeping, and I felt anxious all the time. It went on for a time and I realized I had locked myself in this terrible state of anxiety. I remember a night when I awoke and couldn’t sleep for hours, as I wrestled with the same sense of worry and anxiety.  I remember wishing that I could find some sense of peace.  In the morning I got up and went out by myself and really struggled as I asked God what was wrong with me.

There were a couple of things I learned from that time, and I want to share them with you this morning.

1.  A healthy perspective in life can bring peace.
There’s an old story of a man sitting on the front porch of his house, located on the main street just as you came into the small town where he lived.  A car pulled over and a man got out and began asking about the town and the people who lived there.  What are the people like where you’re from, the man asked.  Well, they’re very friendly, kind, and helpful.  Very nice folks, really.  And it’s a nice town.  It’s a wonderful place to raise a family.  Well, said the man on his porch, that’s what you’ll find here as well.  A little while later another car pulled up and a man got out and asked the same questions.  What is the town like, and what are the people like?  What are they like where you’re from, asked the man on the porch.  It’s a terrible little town, really.  Nothing to do there, and not much good to say about it.  And the people!  The people aren’t friendly at all and wouldn’t bother to help anyone.  Well, said the man on his porch, that’s what you’ll find here.

Part of finding personal peace is in our perspective.  Some people find bad in everything.  No matter how good life may be, they only see the negative.  Others find good, no matter how bad their circumstances. 

Paul is a great example of perspective.  In Philippians 4:11-13 he writes I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Paul penned those words as he was locked in a Roman prison awaiting his execution.  Now that’s perspective!  Far too often, we allow our circumstances to dictate how we feel about ourselves and our lives.

2. Learning to distinguish what is important in life can bring peace.
Another part of finding personal peace is in learning to distinguish what is important in life.  There are some things that are simply not worthy of the time and effort that is expended when we worry.  There are a few foundational matters to life, and they are worthy of not only our time and effort, but also the investment of our emotions.  It is not worth getting upset over the outcome of a ball game, but I am going to worry about the well being of my family.  Working to secure the health and well being of our family is a far more worthy concern than the score of a ball game.

3.  Avoid the trap of comparisons.
There is also what I call the trap of comparisons.  I find many people comparing their life to the lives of others.  The danger in comparing is that, from the outside at least, the lives of others seem so much better than ours.  This is, however, rarely the case.  I have found that a good many of the people who seem to have lives that are ideal are, in reality, far less than ideal.

When Jesus said peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid, he is making a lot of implications, and one of them is to have the spiritual discernment to stop basing your life upon comparisons to other people.

Comparisons make people believe they are not good enough or that there is something wrong with them.  They find no peace in who they are.  Obviously, if you’re an identity thief you shouldn’t have a sense of peace.  But I’m talking about who God created you to be.

Some years ago a man sought the perfect picture of peace.  Not finding one that satisfied him, he announced a contest to produce one.  The challenge stirred the imagination of artists everywhere, and paintings arrived from numerous artists.  The judges uncovered one peaceful scene after another, while the gathered crowd applauded each one.  Only two pictures remained, and as a judge pulled the cover from one of the two the crowd grew very quiet.  A mirror-smooth lake reflected the branches of surrounding trees and a beautiful evening sky.  Along the grassy shore, a flock of sheep grazed undisturbed.  Many thought this would surely be the winner.  The final painting was uncovered and the crowd gasped in surprise.  How could this picture represent peace?  A waterfall crashed down a rocky cliff.  Dark clouds threatened ominously, with lightning crashing in the background.  In the midst of the noisy waterfall and threatening skies a small tree clung to the rocks at the edge of the water.  One of its branches reached out almost too close for safety toward the rushing water.  Tucked into the branch was a small bird’s nest.  Seemingly undisturbed was a bird, resting on her little ones, with wings outstretched for protection, and very much at peace in the midst of her circumstances.
(A Wardrobe From the King, Berit Kjos, pp. 45-46).

Allow God to bring his peace into your life today, knowing that whatever your circumstances, he is with you.