christmas series

The reason we are talking about Joy is simple. We want you to have it. We want you to have Joy. We defined what we are talking about. It’s not temporary happiness that can be taken from you, no, we are talking about long term joy that can’t be taken from you.

The second reason we are talking about this is because it is a defining marker of being a disciple of Christ. Scripture says,

…for the joy of the LORD is your strength! NLT Nehemiah 8:10

That means you are so deeply impacted by God’s grace, that it gives you spiritual strength. It’s normal to live like that. It’s normal as a disciple of Chris to say, “What God has done for me, gives me strength and courage to walk through the day.”

To find that joy, we said there is a rhythm to life. A rhythm of rest that we are invited into. Rest isn’t an option. There is a rhythm to life and if you avoid it, it will ruin your life and steal joy. What is left is a life of struggle with being worn-out, burned-out and stressed.

Last week, Sam and Kim talked about how to have Joy in our families.

This week I want talk about finding Joy in church. Think about this for a second, what is church to you? Is it an event you slide in and out of? Is it a community? Does it exist to keep you happy? Or does it have more meaning than that, maybe a mission. How do you find joy in Church?

I want to tell you a story about a young married couple. They attended church and in that service, the Pastor challenged people to give their lives to God. The challenge wasn’t only to give their lives to God, but follow Him wherever God would lead them. That night, they did. As a couple, the walked forward and gave their lives to Christ. In that moment, they felt like God was asking them to be missionaries. They would be the first missionaries to Guatemala for their denomination.

Let’s stop here for a second. They had no idea what their salary would be. They would be entering a culture they did not know. They would have to learn a new language. This is before we had health insurance programs to make sure everything would be perfect. This is before we had retirement programs, pensions and every financial safety net.  So please understand, they were being called into the unknown.

Would you do that? Let’s say God showed up and impacted your heart and you felt like God was saying, “Follow Me.” “Risk everything, follow Me.” Would you do it? What would hold you back? Comfort? Control?

Jesus told this story.

“There was once a man descended from a royal house who needed to make a long trip back to headquarters to get authorization for his rule and then return. 13 But first he called ten servants together, gave them each a sum of money, and instructed them, ‘Operate with this until I return.’

14 “But the citizens there hated him. So they sent a commission with a signed petition to oppose his rule: ‘We don’t want this man to rule us.’

15 “When he came back bringing the authorization of his rule, he called those ten servants to whom he had given the money to find out how they had done. 16 “The first said, ‘Master, I doubled your money.’ 17 “He said, ‘Good servant! Great work! Because you’ve been trustworthy in this small job, I’m making you governor of ten towns.’

18 “The second said, ‘Master, I made a fifty percent profit on your money.’ 19 “He said, ‘I’m putting you in charge of five towns.’

20 “The next servant said, ‘Master, here’s your money safe and sound. I kept it hidden in the cellar. 21 To tell you the truth, I was a little afraid. I know you have high standards and hate sloppiness, and don’t suffer fools gladly.’ 22 “He said, ‘You’re right that I don’t suffer fools gladly – and you’ve acted the fool! 23 Why didn’t you at least invest the money in securities so I would have gotten a little interest on it?’

24 “Then he said to those standing there, ‘Take the money from him and give it to the servant who doubled my stake.’ 25 “They said, ‘But Master, he already has double . . .’ 26 “He said, ‘That’s what I mean: Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of. Play it safe and end up holding the bag. 27 “‘As for these enemies of mine who petitioned against my rule, clear them out of here. I don’t want to see their faces around here again.'” MSG Luke 19:12-27

In this story, the man from the royal house was Jesus. The servants represented us. Jesus teaches something that goes against everything that is within us. He said, when you take what has been given to you to build God’s kingdom, you get more than you ever dreamed of. When you risk it all, put your life on the line, you get more than you ever dreamed of.

We don’t view following God like this do we? To follow God, we think, it is a huge risk. To give time to God’s kingdom would mean I would have to spend energy and maybe not be validated for it. To take what I have to invest it into advancing the kingdom of God, that means we have less. “To risk everything, NO! I don’t think I’m doing that.”

Do you see the conflict? Jesus says, risk your life and get more.   Take what you got, live in a way that grows the kingdom of God, maybe doubles the kingdom of God. We say, ‘No!’ To do what Jesus says, means it will be risky, I won’t be in control, I’ll have less stuff. I’ll have less fun. Do you see the conflict? We want joy at church. We look for a joyful church. We want to be a part of something successful. We want to be a part of something with momentum. But we live completely opposite to the teachings of Christ and wonder, where is Joy in church?

Let me finish the story of the couple who risked it all. They moved to Central America and for two years learned Spanish. They started a church. Today, because they started the work and others came to help, over 10,000 people are Christians and attend over 180 churches.

They moved back to the States to lead a church in Ohio.

They moved to South NJ and started a church there. From that church, they sent out missionaries and started a new church in Atlantic City.

They moved to Lancaster and helped start another church in Lancaster.

The couple I am talking about is my parents. At a party a few years ago, at their 50th wedding anniversary, hundreds of people came to celebrate them. One man pulled me aside that day and said, “Ken, as my wife and I look back over our lives, the greatest days of our lives were when your parents were our leaders.” I was so impacted by that. I so impacted by all their friends in that room. I left that day and thought about how my parents decided to live.

They risked it all. They were all in.

Let’s fast forward to today. I am going to hang out with them for Christmas. Let’s ask a few questions. Are they loaded? No. Are they in perfect health? Cause we all know that if you serve God nothing bad ever happens ever, you live to 300 – right?!? No. Did they build relationships with important people and leverage those relationships to climb the latter be validated in the Christian faith? No. They are the real deal.

Did they take what was given them and produce more? Absolutely. I can introduce you to people who would bawl because my parents lead them to Christ.

My parents look at church and say, “We love the church.” The reason they find joy in church is because they gave it all to build it. I think of words of Jesus, Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of.

All this talk is a build up to my point. I never ounce heard parents complain about church. Do you know why? They were busy building it. It was one of the greatest lessons my parents taught me by their actions. If you find someone complaining about church, their upset about changes, who sings, who preaches, how they do it, chances are, they’re not building anything.   And don’t be surprised when they don’t have joy about church.

You want to find joy in church? Build it. Jump into the mess, take responsibility and make it better. Scripture puts it like this.

4 In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. 5 The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, 6 let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.

If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; 7 if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; 8 if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face. MSG Romans 12:4-8

In other words, jump into the mess, take responsibility and make it better. Don’t be lazy and wait for some magical moment. It’s not coming. Don’t make excuses about not being educated, not being qualified. Here is why, God spoke through a donkey in the Old Testament, He can work through your mess. Don’t look to be validated, don’t waste your time trying to feed your ego. Stop being a victim. Jump into the mess.

If you want joy in church, build it and stay away from people who won’t build it. Why? All they will do is complain, that’s all they got. I can’t thank God enough for my parents.

As may parents did their thing in God’s kingdom, I saw something else. Something that only happens years and years later.   I read letters that people wrote to them. Story after story of people who are living different lives because of them. I think when Jesus said, Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of… that’s what He meant. They now get more than they ever dreamed of because they risked it all.

Want Joy at church? You can find it. It’s when you jump into the mess.

How do you build it? It starts with your relationship with Christ. From there you work on your marriage and family. You can build a relationship with people who need Christ. A real, no strings attached relationship to simply love them.

At MRC, we have practical ways you can build MRC. Kids in children’s ministries, need people to pray for them, love them and be there for them. People visiting, need people to be nice when they visit like greeting, coffee. Building needs cleaned. Papers need filed. Grass needs mowed.

If you want joy in church, jump into the mess. What is God asking of you?

Here is the question I want to leave you with. In 20 or 30 years from now, who will you be? That guy who can’t mow a lawn without complaining? Or will you be reading a letter from a young kid who just graduated and wanted to thank you for the years you spent praying for them and loving them? Who will you be?

This Christmas Eve you will hear a story from a lady who walked through enormous pain and found Christ. It never gets old to me to hear real stories of people. DUIs. Jail. Drugs. Alcoholism. Abuse. Abortions. Real stories of people who gave up. But because of the local church reaching out to them, they know Christ loves them. What will you do in your life that is more meaningful than that?