Summary: How can we have true joy?

"Once . . . we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future . . . . this girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." . . . Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!" At that moment the spirit left her. When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice." The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully . . . . [H]e put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns [of praise] to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. -- Acts 16:16-25 (NIV)

Paul and Silas had been falsely accused, attacked by a mob, horsewhipped, and thrown into prison. Now here they are, sitting in a Roman jail (not exactly the Holiday Inn), having no idea of whether the next day would bring release or execution. And what are they doing? Are they complaining about their unfair treatment? Are they asking each other, "how could God let this happen to us?" Are they bitter, angry, resentful? Are they discouraged or depressed? Are they muttering dark threats against the jailer and the authorities? No! They are rejoicing! They are singing hymns of praise to God! Imagine what the reaction of the jailer and the other prisoners must have been!

Is this how you would have reacted in their place? [Unlikely, since we grumble and complain daily over minor inconveniences.] Is this how you typically react when we are mistreated? How about another one: do you have that kind of joy? Do you want it? Would you like to be able to rejoice in the middle of stinky circumstances?

What did Paul and Silas have that we don’t? Where did this joy come from? If you can answer that question, you will have the key to literally transforming your life. Because I am convinced that Joy is the missing piece in many Christian’s lives today. Some have even persuaded themselves that a joyless Christian life is normal and virtuous.

This is the last in the series of messages on our Core Values. This morning, we’re going to look at our "Commitment to Joy". We’re going to look at where true joy comes from, how we can cultivate joy in our lives, and what difference this makes to us as followers of Christ.

What is the Joy of the Lord?

First, let’s take a look at what real joy is. Can people who are not in relationship with God experience joy? Yes! Joy is a universal human emotion, an example of "common grace".

· Yesterday, when Thome hit that three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning, there was joy at Jacobs field. Shouting, hollering, dancing in the aisles.

· When you find out that you’ve gotten that job you wanted, the one that comes with a big raise.

· When the woman you love says "yes" to your proposal of marriage.

· When you as a parent attend your son or daughter’s piano recital / football game / graduation / marriage.

So if you don’t need God to experience joy, then why bother with religion? Because the joy that God gives is different. It’s better. It lasts. It’s not dependent on circumstances. The "joy of the Lord,"God’s joy, lasts through every kind of struggle, suffering, disappointment, and heartache.

"I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy." -- John 16:22 (NIV)

"And yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything." - 2 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NIV)

"I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds." - 2 Corinthians 7:4 (NIV)

The joy of the Lord isn’t like a bush or a flower that needs good weather to thrive. It doesn’t depend on things that come and go. It’s like an oak or a redwood tree. It can survive all kinds of terrible weather, because its roots go down deep. It draws its strength from deep underground, not from what’s on the surface. If you have the joy of the Lord, you can survive all kinds of sorrow and suffering with your joy intact. You can have peace and joy in the midst of pain and tears.

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