christmas seriesToday we start a new series and I have to say I’m really excited about it.  This new series will run us through the holiday season and is called “The Joy of Christmas.”  So we are going to be focusing a ton this holiday season on a very specific thing, and that is joy.  Did you know that the term joy comes up over 300 times in the Bible?  So I’m thinking that it must be a big deal!  Isn’t also interesting how we often we hear the word joy around Christmas?  Joy comes up a ton in scripture, and really seems to be one of the biggest ways to describe a disciple of Jesus…so it’s a really big deal.  I want to give you an idea of where this series is heading.  Today we are going to spend our time really focusing on what joy really is, and how we can kind of mistake joy for something much more fleeting in our lives.  Then over the next few weeks Ken and I will really jump into a practical discussion on joy where we will be looking at Sabbath (rest), and joy in our families, and joy in our church, and in our own personal walk.  I’m telling you this is a big deal series on a big deal subject!  So this is it, all through the holiday season here we are going to try and open up the secret to something the bible says is really important…that seems to be so difficult to find…JOY.

It’s really interesting to me that one of the defining marks of being a disciple of Jesus is someone filled with joy.  I mean look at what Paul says here…

Romans 14:17 God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. (MSG)

So God sets us right, He puts us together and completes us with joy.  WOW!  So I’d like to start by kind of walking you through some of what the Bible explains to us about joy.  You see one of the first ones there in Romans God uses joy to complete us!  Now in our culture thanks to movies and TV shows we have decided that there is some person out there that completes you…but the Bible lets you know that isn’t the case, we are made complete by God.  He puts us together and completes us with joy.

So that really helps us understand something that we will come back to time and time again in this series, God is our joy.

Psalms 43:4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.  ESV

We also learn in scripture that the joy of the Lord can be our source of strength.

Nehemiah 8:10 The joy of the Lord is your strength.  NIV

So what is your source of strength?  Where do you go to find the courage and strength to walk through another day on this planet?  The Bible tells us that we can have spiritual strength.  We can be so impacted by God and what He has done for us that we can have joy…that will actually be the strength we need to live in this challenging world.  What did God do?  Well he created us, loves us unconditional and saved us from our sins through the unbelievable work of Jesus, who we are celebrating this holiday season for coming to this world.  We have been given the most incredible gift of all…GRACE!  That is why we are filled with a joy that can be our strength.

I also want you to know that joy was Jesus’ goal for all of us!  How do I know this?  Because he told us that joy was His goal for all of us!

John 15:9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. NIV

So you can see that joy is a really, really big deal.  It comes up in scripture a lot, and it is how a disciple of Christ is described.

I mean can we get really honest here?  How many people do you know that you consider a disciple of Jesus would you describe as being filled with joy?  I know for me personally, when I look in the mirror I sure don’t always see a man filled joy, frankly in our community I’m not seeing a ton of joy.  I think for me when I hear about joy and I think of someone that is just obnoxiously happy all the time that never seems to have a bad day, and I got to say…I’m not that guy.  I know I’m a Pastor and I’m supposed to smile all the time and just be happy but I’m just not always that way.  I just have to say that when I am around someone that is THAT happy and peppy all the time…well I will just leave it that “those people” can get under my skin.  How about you?  I don’t always feel super upbeat and switched on and the older I get the less upbeat and grumpy I can feel!  I just don’t always feel like this happy, joyful person all the time!  While we are confessing the other day, I am really not proud of this…but one of the kids on my soccer team posted something on Instagram, it was one of those meme’s that had a picture of slinky on it and it said this;

“Some people are like slinkies, not really good for much, but bring a smile to your face when pushed down the stairs.”

Now I literally spit water out of my mouth when I read it…I laughed and laughed and laughed about that, then I thought good grief “Pastor Sam” you have issues.  I still giggle about it and I don’t really seem to find a ton of times where I’m laughing that hard anymore.  I text you “LOL” but I’m not always “LOL’ing” so how does that mean meme crack me up so much!  Good grief!  You know as I get older I seem to have less pep, and I seem to be getting grumpier not happier…which is what it is I guess.  But here’s the problem, I turn to scripture and over 300 times read about how a distinguishing mark of a disciple of Christ is joy yet I don’t always feel happy and peppy.  So what is the deal?  Well this is a very important place for us to start a series on joy.  We must understand that there is a HUGE difference between joy and happiness.  We often make them the same thing, but they are not, they are actually very different and as you will see as we get into this talk is that we are yearning for joy.  Which is found in God and God alone, and when we don’t go there we can’t find joy.  Frankly when we don’t go to God for joy and we turn to other things, we will walk in a tiredness and a frustration that we just can’t seem to understand at times.  Then we end up turning to other things that make us feel happiness, but happiness is not joy.  This is so important to understand!

So as we start a series about joy we need to recognize that there is a big difference between joy and happiness.  Jesus didn’t tell you that he came so that you could have happy feelings, he told you that he came that his joy would be in us, and his joy would be complete in us…not his happy is our happy!  Remember Jesus came to give us joy…not happy.

John 15:9 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  NIV

So as we start a series on joy, we need to do is understand the difference between joy and happiness and for many of us we can confuse the two, which is a big mistake for many people.  I don’t know about you but I do this too!  This is why I worry about not having joy because I’m not super peppy and happy all the time!  You don’t have to act like Ned Flanders from the Simpson’s to be a disciple of Jesus.  Frankly I hope you don’t act that way!  So let’s start by looking at the definition of both and go from there.

Happiness is defined as a state of well-being.  It is also defined as a pleasurable or satisfying experience.

Joy is defined this way…to feel great delight or to welcome or to be glad.

So defining these terms is a really big deal because they are very different things.  And when we mistake happy feelings for true joy it can lead to devastating results.  So there are great moments, like when my son wins an award at school, or when its taco night in my house, or when my favorite team wins the Super Bowl, I can think in those moments that I have obtained joy!  But I can also look at the unhappy moments, when I’m overwhelmed at work, or with the kids schedules, or when something breaks in my home that I need to fix and I can wonder why in the world I don’t have any joy.  But what I have done is replaced joy in my mindset with happiness.  Do you see it?

You see happiness is a feeling that really tends to be temporary.  It depends on external circumstances or factors outside of ourselves to give us a feeling.  So basically something needs to happen to make me feel a certain way.  So the Steelers win the Super Bowl, I’m very happy.  I go to work the next day and my boss doesn’t care that the Steelers won the Super Bowl and gives me more work than I can handle…well I’m not so happy any more.

Joy on the other hand is true contentment that comes from internal factors, joy comes from God and our relationship with Him.  It doesn’t depend on circumstances or anything outside.  Joy comes from depending on God.  I think David understood joy more than most, and here we see the source of joy in our lives.

Psalms 33:20 We’re depending on GOD; he’s everything we need. 21 What’s more, our hearts brim with joy since we’ve taken for our own his holy name. 22 Love us, GOD, with all you’ve got — that’s what we’re depending on. (MSG)

So a simple way to think of it, is happiness comes from something outside, and frankly it can be taken from you!  Joy on the other hand comes from something inside and cannot be taken from you.  This is very important to see because around the holidays we throw this term joy around a lot right?  We want joy!  The problem is that when we confuse it with happiness we can really end up in a difficult position wondering why we can’t find joy…or keep joy and that is really where we wanted to start this series.

When we mistake joy for happiness we try to keep those happy feelings, and we can end up in a big trap of our enemy.  I don’t know about you but I often feel like if I just had ______ THEN I would have this joy that I’m told I can have.  The problem is, that when I get that next thing, or enter that next phase of life, or whatever it is…I’m still not finding joy and I seem to just keep kicking that can down the road!  Why is that?  It’s because I have confused happiness and joy!  This is such a popular problem and it’s really where we need to start today.  Especially when we are talking about joy in the Holiday season.  There are many things that we can run to that give us happy feelings, especially during the holiday season but this time of year there are 2 that stand out more than most.  These two things that we run to thinking we are finding joy, when in reality we are finding happiness are killing our joy in the process!  Remember happiness is fleeting and depends on things outside of ourselves, true joy is eternal because it is from God (who is eternal) Joy cannot be taken from you because your joy is based on your relationship with God!  During the holiday’s we sure can get wrapped up in a real mess running to things that will actually kill our joy rather than bring us joy.

Joy Killer #1-Our Stuff.

Through the holiday’s I think we probably deal with this one the most.  When you are a kid you can hardly sleep before Christmas because you are just so filled with the excitement of celebrating the birth of your Lord and Savior right?  We go to bed completely focused on what this holiday is all about right?  No, you are pumped for your presents.  You want your new thing!  Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to be excited about these things, and I’m not saying that these things don’t make you feel happiness…they do!  I remember running down stares one Christmas morning to see my Super Cliffhanger race track already set up and ready to go!  It was awesome, the cars literally climbed up the wall!  I can tell you that race track was a big day for me…but did it bring me joy, no it made me happy for some moments of my childhood…but I couldn’t tell you where that track is today!

You know Black Friday is an interesting day right?  This is the day when we camp out in parking lots of stores and do our best to trample over everyone to get the best deals on the best stuff.  Now, I believe that we can feel really good when we trample over someone and actually get a flat panel TV for next to nothing, but is this joy?  How did this happen?  Black Friday the day when we can riot to save money on the next great thing.  Listen, I want you to hear me say this…material possessions are not evil.  Finding good Black Friday deals is not a sin.  The issue that we can have is when we think that material possessions will give us joy…it won’t, not as we defined joy.  It will give us happiness which is temporary.

Hebrews 13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”   NIV

Why would the writer of Hebrews tie money and being content with our stuff to God never leaving you?  It’s because your money and your stuff are temporary!   This is why I’m not still playing with my Super Cliffhanger Racetrack is today.  Our stuff is temporary, but God is not.  God is eternal.  This is a huge concept to understand.  Jesus clarifies this so well…

Matthew 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. NIV

Our stuff is temporary.  Yes you feel happiness when you get the new thing…but it is a temporary thing.  Joy is eternal, and can’t be found in your stuff.

Joy Killer #2-People

Running to people to find happiness or joy will not go well and I think for a lot of us we probably could run down through a roster of people who can take energy and happiness away from us, and we have probably done a great job of avoiding a lot of those people for an entire year but we know that every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas we will be sitting across the table from them.  Well when it comes to people this one can be messy, and when it comes to family, and people that we have let in to our closest circles, it is very easy to run to people looking for a fulfillment that they can’t give you…they just can’t bring you joy.  You know why?  It’s because joy comes from God not from people…and people make terrible gods.  Listen to Paul’s words here…

Galatians 1:10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.  NIV

Those are such strong words, and you know I think we would probably agree with Paul here, but it sure is harder when it’s those people we are closest to.  When it’s family, or close friends or your spouse or your boyfriend or girlfriend that you are so wrapped up in right now this isn’t so easy.  We want them to like us right?  You with the girlfriend who is so dreamy.  Remember what we learned earlier.  God completes us, she doesn’t.  I know it sounds good in a movie with the romantic music playing, but she makes a terrible god.  Finding joy in people, even our loved ones is a very dangerous thing, because they are imperfect, just like you and I!  Yes we feel happiness in the moments with them when things are going well, but happiness comes and goes.  Joy is eternal and cannot be found in people!  Which is such a huge set up around this time of year.  You may never get what you want from your mother or father.  Your friends or relationships around you will let you down from time to time, but God never will.  Do you see it?

You know, it’s interesting I often read in scripture about joy.  I see just how much a disciple of Jesus seems to have this thing called joy but often when I look at my life I wonder why I don’t see it.  Why don’t I see joy?  I often write about this in my journal and you know here’s the conclusion that I keep coming to, I ask God for joy all the time, and wonder why I don’t have it yet I know very clearly where it comes from and where it’s found.  Our joy is found in God.  So if I know where joy is found and I want it, the ultimate question is why in the world don’t I seem to be experiencing it?  Here’s my thing and I wonder if you can relate.  I think we need more of God and less of everything else.  I think if we want to find joy we need more God and less distractions, less stuff, and less worry.  If you want joy you need God front and center in your life.  The problem is that we often mistake joy for happy feelings and I run to things that make me happy.  I’m happy when I have a nice new thing, or when my kids have all the things they want, or when, well you fill in the blank.  Ironically as I seek joy but run to things that can only make me happy, I keep adding to the clutter in my own life.  I add to my collection of stuff.  I add to my calendar that was already too full.  I run to things and people and add more stuff trying to gain more joy…and the reality is if I want more joy I need less of everything else and more of God.  I can get so caught up in this world of keeping up with everything else that I end up with more stuff, more people issues, more distractions and busyness and clutter, and I wonder why I can’t see joy in my life.  I get caught up in the joy killers and wonder why I don’t see joy!  Then I read Jesus’ words and remember what really matters…

John 7:37  On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” ESV

What an awesome text, because here is what is really interesting, we are all thirsty.  We have a deep, deep yearning in our souls for joy, for life, for a healthy heart…for joy.  Jesus says come to me.  You know he doesn’t say run to material possessions.  He doesn’t say run to people.  He doesn’t even say run to your deer stand, or to your favorite NFL team and you will find living water…He says it’s found in Him.  We all have this deep thirst, and only God can fulfill it…but sadly we run to anything and everything but Him for it, and we wonder why we have aren’t seeing joy in our lives!  Check out God speaking hear through the prophet Isaiah…

Isaiah 55:1 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 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 your soul will delight in the richest of fare. 3 Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.  I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”  NIV

Do you hear God’s warning hear?  Don’t run to all this other stuff to find what can only be found in me.  Don’t run to things that cannot satisfy you.  Listen to me God says, come to me Jesus says and your soul can live.  This is our warning today as we start the joy series.  So many of us can end up in trouble because we want the joy we see in scripture but we completely mistake it for happiness then we run to all the wrong places to have that deep yearning, that deep thirst in our souls fulfilled, and they will never be fulfilled when we switch the source of joy for things that make us happy.  I really wanted you to see there is a huge difference between the two.  We must understand that the source of our joy is God and we can be completely fulfilled when we come to Him.  Not to our stuff, and definitely not to people…even that dreamy boy or girl that the movies told you will complete you.  Yes these things can make you feel happiness, but happiness doesn’t last.

So this Holiday season we start a new series, and it’s our prayer that you will understand that joy is more than something we see on Christmas cards and wreaths and sing about in Christmas Carols.  Joy is the source of our strength…the energy that many of us wish we had can be had, when we stop turning to all these other things looking for something that can only be found in God.