Living in the Spirit #3
This morning I want to start with a question. What’s black and white, black and white and green? Two Zebra’s fighting over a pickle. What’s black and white, black and white, black and white and green? Three Zebra’s fighting over a pickle. One more: What’s black and white, black and white and red? No, it’s two Zebra’s sharing an apple. Everybody knows Zebras only fight over pickles.
Now it’s your turn. I’ve asked the ushers to pass out some Laffy Taffy. Take two pieces. On the back of every piece of Laffy Taffy are two riddles. The question is on the top. The answers are under the flap.
Once you get you Laffy Taffy I want you to turn to your neighbors and share your riddle. You can eat the candy if you want, just remember what Mom used always say, “Don’t talk with your mouth full. And pick up your trash when you leave.”
Even though there probably weren’t any million dollar jokes in the bunch, I heard a lot of laughter. And there’s a certain amount of joy that comes simply from laughter. Like laughter, joy lifts the spirits and lightens the load. I think that’s why Paul put it second on the list of his fruit of the spirit. Let’s look at Galatians 5:22-25 (NRSV) again.
 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,
 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Remember the quote I read last week? “Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Patience is love enduring. Kindness is love’s touch. Generosity is love’s character. Faithfulness is love’s habit. Gentleness is love’s self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reins.”
Love is the key. And Joy is love singing. I think that is so true. Joy is love singing in us and through us about God’s love for us. So, what is Joy? And where does Christian Joy originate.
I. FROM GOD:
A. Outside a small town in New Mexico is a sign that reads as follows: “Welcome to Portales, New Mexico, home of 12,000 friendly folks and 3 or 4 grouches.” Except for the 3 or 4 grouches, most people believe our purpose in life is to be happy. In our country we even have the right to “pursue happiness,” but that right isn’t a guarantee that we’ll actually catch it.
Scripture says our purpose in life isn’t to be happy but to glorify God. I believe that along the way, while we’re living to glorify God, we will experience happiness. But while we might experience happiness, that’s not our purpose; our purpose is to glorify God. And glorifying God brings us joy.
Like Grace, Joy is a gift from God. Sometimes it’s a surprise gift, coming when you least expect it. Sometimes it’s as elusive as a summer breeze, the more you pursue it the further away it seems.
And just when we’ve given up looking for joy, it suddenly springs up right in front of us. God blesses us and overwhelms our hearts and that’s when we understand that Joy is love singing.
B. I experienced the surprising depth of that gift when my youngest son, Josh, was about 6 or 7. We were hosting a missionary family our church supported. He and his wife spoke at a couple of churches around us. But they and their young son, who was about the same age as Josh, were staying with us. We noticed something very quickly, these two little boys, from very different cultures and continents, not to mention skin color and appearance became instant friends.
Those two little boys, not knowing any other language than the love of life, laughter and joy, secure in the knowledge that they were surrounded by people who loved them, bridged that language barrier through the simple Joy of play. That joy came from God. It wasn’t something they earned; it was who they were through the gift of grace found in God’s love.
Joy is both a Gift from God and often times a Surprise. Joy always leaves us hungry for more. It’s like a glimpse into eternity or a taste of the heavenly banquet that is being prepared for us right now.
II. FOR GOD:
A. God gives us the gift of joy that allows our love to sing. But did you know that you bring God joy; that God delights in you? The God of the Creation, the God of the Universe;
this God who designed every cell in every living thing to work together to bring about life and breath and reproduction;
this God who ordered the stars to hang in the sky and divided them into nebula’s and star clusters and galaxies beyond measure and set every planet around every sun in motion;
this God who is the source of all time and both controls and orders the span of every nano-second;
this God, this immutable, unfathomable, immeasurable, light of every light, eternal God of mystery takes delight in us. Not just as a group but as God’s individual children.
This God who is beyond time takes the time to love you. This God took the time to become one of us and walk among us because we bring Him so much joy.
We give God pleasure. We bring laughter and joy to the heart of God. Every time we obey the teachings of God’s Son, every time we bow our head in prayer and think of someone besides ourselves; every time we unselfishly offer a crust of bread or and drink of cool water to a stranger; every time we seek to serve God rather than ourselves or the world, God rejoices in us.
We give God joy when we say I love you Lord by caring for others; and when we care for enemies even though we don’t want to. We give God joy when we worship together and when God is revealed in some simple thing that reminds us of God’s love and we give thanks. We are both the recipients of God’s Joy and the object of God’s joy and affection. We give God Joy.
Sometimes we surprise God. And it brings God great joy.
III. IN GOD:
A. But I think what gives God the most Joy is when we obey God with Joyful Obedience. There’s a beautiful promise found in Isaiah 40:31 “those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” That’s a beautiful passage of Scripture filled with hope.
But – is it true? Maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe it would be better stated: Do you believe it’s true. Do you have faith that God will make it true in your life? Disciples are filled with Joy because they know and trust that what Isaiah wrote and what the Psalmist wrote IS true. “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5
There’s a difference between believing and trusting. Fans of Jesus believe. Followers of Jesus trust.
Disciples of Jesus trust and obey as the old hymn says. Remember a few weeks ago we talked about the seemingly oxymoronic phrase “free us for Joyful Obedience” That’s what this is about.
And in this obedience we find the Joy Christ was speaking of when he told the disciples “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:10-11 (NRSV) Jesus desire for us is Complete Joy, unfortunately, sometimes what we consider obedience becomes something else.
The other day I read about an executive who was given a prank gift for his birthday, a penguin. He decided just to accept it in the spirit in which it was given. The next day he called in one of his employees and said, “Will you please take this penguin to the zoo?” The employee never returned to work that day.
That night, however, he appeared at the executive’s house, with the penguin. Exasperated, the business executive said, “I thought I told you to take the animal to the zoo.”
“I did,” said the young employee. “He enjoyed it so much, tomorrow I’m planning to take him to the museum!”
Our Joy comes from our faith, from trusting God and from trusting Jesus and from having had that trust proven time and time again by our trustworthy God. And when we trust God, we are able to Obey God. And when we Obey God, we not only fill god with Joy but God takes delight in us. Which makes our joy complete.
This morning we come to a feast of celebration, out of God’s great love for us, God has a laid a banquet before us to show and share his joy in us, his delight in us. The host is Jesus, who not only invites us, but gave his life to make this feast possible. And it is Jesus who brings us the depth of Joy Joy beyond compare through both bread and wine.
“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11 (NRSV)
Joy comes From God, so that we can live For God and bring God Joy. As we live For God we discover that, like Jesus, we are living In God. Living In God through Joyful Obedience makes our Joy complete.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.