There's An App For That - "Songs of Joy"

This week I am continuing my sermon series on the Fruit of the Spirit, entitled, "There's An App For That."  The basic idea behind the theme of the series is fairly simple:  The immediacy of our culture has resulted in all sorts of technology that "helps" us get what we want quicker, faster and more easily.

For example, this week I got an app called Red Laser that allows you to scan the UPC codes of products in a store, and then find out where there might be a better price for said product.  There is also a way to use the app where you can scan food items and it will tell you all of the ingredients in the food that you should avoid if you are trying to lose weight. 

It's also sort of ironic that the immediacy of our culture has spawned some interesting results in Christian practice and teaching.  Christians want more out of their "Christian" life and they want it now.  There is no desire for what Eugene Peterson calls "a long obedience."  Instead, we want quicker solutions, easy steps to better Christian living, our best life now and worship that fits within our schedule, and fulfills our perceived needs to boot. 

But there is a way that those of us who call ourselves Christians can have the sort of life that we were destined to have... It's simple (like an app) but difficult; it's not complicated, but incredibly challenging.  What I mean is, we can have a real, close relationship with Jesus Christ that isn't based on what's easier, faster and better.  Instead our relationship with Jesus should be based on what is grounded in Spirit and in truth.  Essentially, we choose the difficult task of living as Jesus would live, loving as Jesus would love and giving of ourselves as Jesus did for the sake of the world.  The Apostle Paul believed that we maintained this real relationship with Jesus by being led by the Spirit (of God).  And when we are led by the Spirit, we show evidence that we are living with Jesus, so to speak.  The evidence, Paul taught, was the "Fruit of the Spirit." 

This week we are going to be teaching on Joy, the second aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit.

Have you ever met someone who just seemed to exude joy in every part of their life?  I mean, it doesn't seem to matter what happens to them, they are just flat out joyful.  I've known a few people like this in my life.  It's hard to figure them out, to be honest.  I've often wondered how they get that way.  What motivates them?

Let me try to get to the bottom of this...  I had a Coke the other day from a real, honest to goodness glass bottle.  First, I have to say that Coke from glass bottles just tastes better than Coke in any other form.  This is a scientific fact. Second, the moment that I drink Coke from a glass bottle, I am instantly transported back to a place and time that was absolutely filled with joy.  There was a time in recent history when there was no such thing as a plastic Coke bottle.  Coke came in glass bottles that you would pull out of a cooler in the convenience store next to your high school.  Then you would stuff the neck of that 16 oz glass container of goodness with peanuts and drink it down.  The world was your oyster then.  The sun was bright and the blonde haired cheerleader holding your hand was going to kiss you in a minute...

Joy.

We all have those simple, joyous moments that we remember suddenly.  What happened to the joy that we felt in those moments?  Why is it so hard to feel that way all the time?  How do we hold on to our joy despite what might be happening to us now or what we are worrying about in the future?

Psalm 126 gives us a blueprint on how to figure this out--a blueprint that is grounded in a life led by the Spirit in close, real relationship with Jesus.

1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of[a] Zion,
   we were like those who dreamed.[b]
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
   our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
   “The LORD has done great things for them.”
3 The LORD has done great things for us,
   and we are filled with joy.
 4 Restore our fortunes,[c] LORD,
   like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow with tears
   will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
   carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
   carrying sheaves with them.

The history of this Psalm begins in 539 B.C. when Cyrus, king of Persia decreed that the exiled Hebrew people could return to their homeland.  The small remnant of Jews who returned to Jerusalem initially felt as though they were dreaming.  But reality set in pretty quickly.  Jerusalem was a ruin, and the area surrounding Palestine was like the Wild West.  What seemed like a wonderful homecoming soon became an almost impossible recovery.  In the midst of this, the singer of Psalm 126 remembers that joyous moment

This is a song that asks the singer to remember the past while praying for the present to change and looking hopefully toward the future.  It recognizes that God has done great things, joyous things in the past, and is still in control of the present circumstances and the future that awaits.   The phrase "songs of joy" gets repeated for a reason.  It's literally translated: "worship that is in direct response to divine deliverance."  For some strange reason, the singer is able to worship and express joy even though all indicators suggest that he's got a good reason for doing the exact opposite. 

Have you ever realized that things weren't working out as you planned them?  Maybe life has just not turned out as you thought it would.  Your relationship is falling apart.  Your financial reality is abysmal and seemingly hopeless.  Your health is failing.  In the middle of ruinous present, it's easy to forget what real joy feels like.  We need to learn to live in the hope of God's help in these moments, remembering what God has done in the past to fill us with joy.

Living a life that is led by the Spirit in relationship with Jesus is the best and surest way to bring the kind of long-lasting, joy "unspeakable and full of glory" that we desire so desperately.  When we are close to Jesus and being led by His Spirit our memory improves.

It's like an endless supply of glass Coke bottles. 

But like I said, this is simple, but difficult, uncomplicated but challenging.  It's difficult to keep our relationship with Jesus close. Circumstances can cloud our memories.  People will "steal" our joy--and we'll let them do it.  Our doubts and fears about what it might look like if we really followed Jesus more closely keep us from doing just that.  And before we know it, we're focusing on the "Dead Zones" of our life--the places and spaces that were devoid of joy, and we begin to secretly believe that these places and spaces define us. 

So what do we do?

We follow the Psalm 126 blueprint.  We remember the joyful moments, knowing that they came from God.  We trust that our present circumstances, no matter how dire, are held in God's hands.  We hope that God's promises through his Son Jesus will be fulfilled for our lives. 

And then we sing...  songs of joy. 

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