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The Life You've Always Wanted #6--A Joyful Life

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February 11, 2007

The Life You’ve Always Wanted

Part 6: A Joyful Life: the practice of celebration

Introduction: “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” C.S. Lewis. The problem is not that we’re too happy for God’s taste; it’s that we’re not happy enough. 

1. _________________________________________________: a theology of joy.

Luke 15, John 15:11, John 17:13, Isaiah 62:5, Zephaniah 3:17, Psalm 30:5, 11; Galatians 5:22, Philippians 4:4, 1 Thessalonians 5:16

2. How celebration changes us.

          A. Joy _______________________________________________________. 

Nehemiah 8:10

          B. Celebration saves us from _____________________________________. 

2 Samuel 6:5, 16, 20-22

3. Some ideas for practicing celebration.

          A. Start ______________________________________________________.

Psalm 118:24

          B. Rejoice ____________________________________________________.

                   Philippians 4:4

          C. __________________________________________________________!

Exodus 23:14-16, 31:16

          D. See life ____________________________________________________.

                   Revelation 19:7

February 11, 2007

The Life You’ve Always Wanted

Part 6: A Joyful Life: the practice of celebration

Opening: (after drum line)

          That was fun!  And there’s more fun coming because today there’s a party happening at Life Center!  We are talking about one of my favorite spiritual disciplines: the practice of celebration.  Just to get us in the mood, here are a few suggestions my brother-in-law sent me—10 fun things to do this week to put a smile on your face!

·        On your lunch break, sit in your parked car with sunglasses on and a hairdryer pointed at passing cars.  See if they slow down.

·        Page yourself over the intercom; don’t disguise your voice.

·        Whenever possible, skip rather than walk.

·        When you go out to eat, order a diet water with a straight face.

·        When going through the drive through, specify that your order is “to go”.

·        When the money comes out of the ATM, scream, “I won!  I won!”

·        Ask your co-workers to address you all day by your professional wrestling name, “Rock Bottom.”

·        Tell your children over dinner, “Due to the economy, we are going to have to let one of you go.”

·        When leaving the zoo, run towards the parking lot screaming, “Run for your lives!  They’re loose!”

·        Sing along at the opera.

The life you’ve always wanted is a joyful life; today we’re talking about the practice of celebration.  Baby dedication and prayer


Greeting: Think of the funniest thing you saw, heard or happened to you this week.  Or think of something fun you did.   Now find someone you don’t know and tell each other.

Cheerleaders and worship and prayer


Offering and announcements

Life Center Women Live – tomorrow night at 7 PM for all women junior high age and older, speakers:  Robin and Jayme Hayford.

Women’s retreat—brochures available today at the Information/Resource Center.

Financial Peace University—new session ready to start, write FPU on the tear-off tab for information.

2 Corinthians 9:7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Giving is part of the fun!


This series, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, is about life transformation through spiritual disciplines.  If we want to grow, to change, there are some time honored practices—spiritual disciplines—that will help us connect with God. And when we connect with God, we change.  What are these spiritual disciplines?  So far we’ve talked about

·        the practice of slowing to have an unhurried life,

·        the practice of Scripture to have an equipped life,

·        the practice of prayer to have a life with God,

·        the practice of reflection to have a life without regrets. 

·        and the practice of community to enjoy life together.

Today, we’re talking about the practice of celebration! 

I want to convince you that God is the happiest person in the universe, and that He wants us to be the happiest people on earth!  I believe that God is joyful and wants to fill us with His joy.  That’s where we’ll start.

1. Our joyful God: a theology of joy.

ILL: Tony Campolo writes,

I took my son to Disneyland when he was just a little tyke. As we were leaving, he said, "I want another ride on Space Mountain."

          I said "Sorry, I'm out of money, and I'm out of time."

          He said, "Jesus wants me to go."

          I said, "I'm not reading you."

          He said, "When you were in church, you said whatever we feel Jesus feels it. When we cry, he cries. You said Jesus feels every emotion we have."

          I said, "That's right."

          He said, "If he feels every emotion I have, then when I'm laughing on Space Mountain, he's having a good time too. I think Jesus would enjoy it if I had another ride on Space Mountain."

Pretty good theology.  I think Jesus would enjoy a ride on Space Mountain!  Why?  Because God is joyful.  How do we know this?  It’s all over in the Bible!

          First, Jesus is joyful.  Jesus is God in the flesh.  If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.  And Jesus was joyful. 

·        Children flocked to Jesus—He was a kid-magnet, so much so that it irritated His disciples and they shooed them away.  Now I’ve never known a sourpuss who was a kid-magnet.  Kids are attracted to joy, so I’ve got to believe that Jesus was joyful.

·        Jesus loved parties.  He did His first miracle at a wedding party, turning water into wine, keeping the party going!  Party on dudes!  He hung out with sinners so much that religious people were a little put off by it; they accused him of being “a glutton and a drunkard,” which He wasn’t.  They also accused Him of being “the friend of sinners,” which He was.

·        Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is a party, that heaven is full of joy. 

For example, look at Luke 15.  This is one of those places where the religious leaders were upset with Jesus because He enjoyed hanging out with sinners.  Jesus answered them with three stories, about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son.  When the lost sheep was found, the shepherd joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. 

Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

And when the lost coin was found, the woman called her friends and neighbors together and said,

‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

And when the lost son made his way home, the father welcomed him with open arms and said,

‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

What’s the common theme?  When the lost are found, God rejoices!  There is joy in heaven!  I like to tell people, “If you are far from God, there is party in heaven with your name on it waiting to happen!”  God rejoices!  And Jesus made it clear that it’s a full-blown party, a celebration—they killed the fattened calf!  That’s like saying, “Let’s bring out the frozen cheesecake, and par-tee!”  God gets down!  Jesus taught us that God is joyful.  Here’s another verse:

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

Jesus must have been a joyful person.  Most people don’t think of Him that way.  Many people imagine Him to be very serious, maybe even a little uptight.  Others imagine Him to be sorrowful, like the old hymn says, “Man of sorrows.”  Most of the religious movies portray Him as sober, somber, unsmiling, kind of spacey.  Imagine that kind of person saying these words: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”  I think the disciples would have fled the scene; instead they followed Jesus.  Why?  Because Jesus was incredibly joyful.

John 17:13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”

John 17 is Jesus’ prayer for us before He died.  He prayed for us so that we would have the full measure of His joy.  God is the most joyful being in the universe, and He wants you to experience the full measure of His joy! 

          So I know that God is joyful because of Jesus.

Now some people think that the God of the Old Testament was cranky and the God of the New Testament was nice—that God got converted between the testaments.  But Jesus is the Old Testament God in the flesh; what we see in Jesus, we see in the Old Testament too.  God is joyful.  Over and over, God commands His people to rejoice.  It’s why He ordained all of the feast days and holy days.  You know, our word “holiday” is just a shortened form of “holy day”.  Holidays are holy days; that’s what they were—celebrations, days of rejoicing.  Holidays were God’s idea because He is joyful.  Listen to these verses.

Isaiah 62:5 “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

ILL:  How many of you attended a wedding this past year?  Can you remember the look on the groom’s face as his bride walked up the aisle?  How would you describe that look?  Love, pride, wonder, delight, joy.  I’ve never seen terror! 

Imagine God looking at you that way.  As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so God rejoices over you.  He looks at you the way a groom looks at his bride.  He rejoices over you.  God is rejoicing…over you! Can you imagine that?  God looks at you and His heart fills with joy, and He gets up and does a dance!

Zephaniah 3:17 “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” 

There it is again!  God—that grumpy Old Testament God!—rejoicing over you!  With singing! 

ILL:  When my youngest son Michael was a little guy, every now and then he would burst out in song when he was around Laina and I.  “I love my mom.  I love my dad.  They’re the greatest, and I love them!  Whoa yeah!”  He just rejoiced over us with singing.  It’s a joy that just bubbles up and overflows.

That’s how God feels about you!  He rejoices over you with singing.  He enjoys you! 

You will not understand God until you understand this about him: God is the happiest being in all the universe.  Yes, God also feels sorrow and anger, but the sorrow of God and the anger of God are his temporary response to a fallen world.

Psalm 30:5 “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” 

God’s anger lasts for a moment, weeping lasts for a night; but God’s joy is forever. The sorrow of God and the anger of God are his temporary response to a fallen world; and they will be banished forever from his heart on that day when the world is finally set right. But joy is God's basic character. God is the happiest being in all the universe. And God wants to fill you with His joy.

Galatians 5:22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

When the Spirit of God fills you, He produces certain things in your life.  What He produces, this fruit, is listed here: love, joy, and so on.  When you are filled with God, you will be filled with joy.  Catholic theologian Teilhard de Chardin, (tā-yär` de shär-dăn`) said that joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

This is God’s will for you.  Have you ever wondered what God’s will was?  Here’s one thing that’s clear: be joyful always!  Our joyful God wants you to be joyful always.

          So there’s a basic theology of joy.  But we’re talking about life transformation through spiritual disciples.  How does the practice of celebration change us?

2. How celebration changes us.

          A. Joy makes us strong. 

Nehemiah 8:10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Some Jews had returned from captivity in Babylon to Jerusalem, and had rebuilt the city wall.  When the people gathered to celebrate the completion of the wall, Ezra the priest read God’s Law to them.  When they heard it, they wept, for they realized that they had broken God’s law.  But this was a party, a celebration.  So Nehemiah said, “Stop crying and start celebrating.  The joy of the Lord is your strength.” 

          Joy makes us strong.

          First, joy makes us strong physically.  Any doctor will tell you that negative emotions will make you sick and positive ones will make you healthy. 

Proverbs 17:22 A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

You’ve all heard the old adage: laughter is the best medicine.  It’s true!  Joy makes you strong. 

ILL: In Norman Cousins famous book Anatomy of an Illness, he describes how he used laughter to overcome a crippling disease.  He would watch old Marx Brothers movies or Candid Camera.  "I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep," he reported.

Laughter is the best medicine.  Joy will make you strong…physically healthy.

          Joy will make you strong emotionally too.  It’s pretty hard to do anything for very long if you don’t get some joy from it.  We need joy to keep us going. 

Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

What helped Jesus endure the cross?  It was the joy set before Him.

ILL: What keeps a kid taking piano lessons?  It’s the joy of being able to play well.  If there’s no joy, if it’s just pure drudgery, eventually he’ll give up.

          Lifting weights hurts.  What keeps me going?  The joy of seeing my wife admire my studly body!  Woohoo!

Joy is what keeps us going!  Joy makes us strong!  I know people who have dropped out of church and stopped following Jesus, and in almost every case, it’s because they had gotten trapped in a Christian faith that was grim and miserable.  They lost the joy, and when you lose the joy, you lose your strength.

          We need to celebrate because joy makes us strong.

          B. Celebration saves us from taking ourselves too seriously. 

          We also need to celebrate because celebration saves us from taking ourselves too seriously.  Noel is always saying to me, “Stay light.”  Lighten up!  Don’t get heavy.  Take a chill pill! 

ILL: There’s a great story in 2 Samuel 6.  King David wanted to bring the Ark of Covenant to Jerusalem.  So he threw a party—it was a huge parade and it says they celebrated with all their might before the Lord.  David himself was dancing for joy before the Lord.  His wife, Michal, was a party-pooper—she just watched from her window.  And when she saw her husband dancing in a linen ephod—roughly the equivalent of a sleeveless t-shirt, kind of like dancing in public in your underwear—she despised him.

2 Samuel 6:20-22 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

21 David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

Michal was upset that her husband’s behavior was undignified, not befitting a king.  David said, “I’m going celebrate before the Lord; I’m not worried about my ‘dignity’”.  Michal took herself too seriously—she could have used some celebration.

Do you ever do that?  Do you ever feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders?  That everyone is counting on you?  That if you don’t get it done, who will?  Chill out!  You need to celebrate to remember that God’s in charge, not you. 

3. Some ideas for practicing celebration.

A.   Start today.

Here’s the first practical step to pursuing joy: start now!  Don’t wait until tomorrow…start rejoicing right now!

Psalm 118:24 "This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it."

When are you going to rejoice?  Today.  This is the day.   The psalmist doesn't say, "Tomorrow is God's day" or "Yesterday was God's day." He says, "It's today." He says that, I think, partly because we live in a world with this illusion that says, "I'll be happy someday when the conditions in my life change."

·        So people are in school, and they think, "I'll be happy someday when I get out of school."

·        People are single, and they think, "I'll be happy someday when I get married."

·        People get married, and they think, "I'll be happy someday when we get kids in the house."

·        People get kids in the house, and they think, "I'll be happy someday when we get the kids out of the house."

But today is the day to rejoice—rejoice in the Lord.  Rejoice that you have a relationship with this joyful God.

The test of authentic joy is that it is always compatible with pain because joy in this world will always be joy in spite of something. The truth is if you don't rejoice today, you will not rejoice at all. If you wait until conditions are perfect, you'll wait until you die. If you're going to rejoice, it must be in this day, for "This is the day that the Lord has made.”  Start now!

          B. Rejoice in the Lord.

Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Rejoice in the Lord.  What does that mean?  It means that you can find joy in your relationship with God regardless of your circumstances.  Happiness comes from happenstance; what happens to me.  Happenings make happiness.  Jesus makes joy.  No matter what happens to me, I have Jesus.  You can take away everything else, I still have Jesus.

I always have Jesus, so no matters what happens, I can rejoice in the Lord.  When you’re feeling gloomy, take a few moments and think about Jesus and what’s He’s done for you.  Start thanking Him and you’ll feel your joy tank filling up.  That’s rejoicing in the Lord. 

C.   Plan a party!

God loves a good party.  I’m not talking about a drunken orgy that leaves you with a hangover and bunch of regrets—that’s what lots of people mean when they talk about partying, but that’s only a sad excuse for a real celebration.  God loves a good party. 

Exodus 23:14-16 “Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me.

15 “Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread…

16 “Celebrate the Feast of Harvest…

“Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering…

Three times a year God expected the Israelites to gather for a weeklong party.  Read the Old Testament and you’ll discover that people were to take a week off, bring lots of food, and party for a full week—three times a year!  God loves a good party!  Not only that, the Sabbath was a weekly celebration.

Exodus 31:16 The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant.

God wanted His people to take one day a week off—no work—just play and pray.  Rest and worship and celebrate.  God loves a good party.

          So plan one.  Make the most of every opportunity to celebrate: birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas and Easter, the fourth of July and secretaries’ day!  Plan a party and celebrate every chance you can.

          D. See life from a Biblical perspective.

          God is in charge.  He wins in the end and puts all things right.  If we can keep that Biblical perspective, we’ll have joy even in the midst of trouble.

I want to finish with a story from Robert Fulgum. It's about a wedding that he officiated at, and it's a good example of having the right perspective.

ILL: "Usually a polite, reasonable, intelligent, and sane being, the Mother was mentally unhinged by the announcement of her daughter's betrothal. I don't mean she was unhappy as often is the case; to the contrary, she was overcome with joy and just about succeeded in overcoming everybody else with her joy before the dust settled. Nobody knew it, but this lady had been waiting with a script for a production that would have met with Steven Spielberg's approval -- a royal wedding fit for a princess bride.

"The father of the bride began to pray for an elopement. His prayers were not to be answered. She had seven months to work, and no detail was left to chance or human error. Everything that could be engraved was engraved. There were teas and showers and dinners.

"The bride and groom I met with only three times. The mother of the bride called me weekly and was in my office as often as the cleaning lady. An 18-piece brass and wind ensemble was engaged. The bride's desires for home furnishings were registered in stores as far east as New York and south as Atlanta.

"Not only were the bridesmaids outfits made to order, but the tuxedos for the groom and his men were bought -- not rented, mind you, bought. And if all that wasn't enough, the engagement ring was returned to the jeweler for a larger stone, quietly subsidized by the mother of the bride. When I say the lady came unhinged, I mean unhinged.

"The juggernaut of faith rolled down the road, and the final hour came. Guests in formal attire packed in the church. In the choir loft the orchestra gushed great music. And the mighty mother of the bride coasted down the aisle with the grandeur of an opera diva at a premiere performance.

"Never did the mother of the bride take her seat with more satisfaction. She had done it! She glowed, beamed, smiled and sighed. The music softened, and nine -- count 'em, nine -- chiffon-draped bridesmaids lock-stepped down the long aisle while the befrocked groom and his men marched stolidly into place.

"And finally -- oh, so finally -- the 'Wedding March' thundered from the orchestra, 'Here Comes the Bride,' preceded by four enthusiastic mini-princesses chucking flower petals and two dwarfish ring bearers, one for each ring. The congregation rose and turned in anticipation. Ah, the bride! She had been dressed for hours if not days. No adrenaline was left in her body.

"Left alone with her father in the reception hall of the church while the march of the maidens went on and on, she walked along the tables laden with gourmet goodies and absent-mindedly sampled first the little pink and yellow and green mints. Then she picked through the silver bowls of mixed nuts and ate the pecans, followed by a cheeseball, a deuce of olives, a handful of glazed almonds, a little sausage with a frilly toothpick stuck in it, a couple of shrimps blanketed in bacon, and a cracker piled with liver pate. To wash this down, a glass of pink champagne. Her father gave it to her to calm her nerves.

"What you noticed as the bride stood in the doorway was not her dress but her face -- white -- for what was coming down the aisle was a living grenade with the pin pulled out.

"The bride threw up just as she walked by her mother; and by 'threw up' I don't mean a polite, little lady-like 'uurp' into her handkerchief. She puked. There's no nice word for it. I mean she hosed the front of the chancel, hitting two bridesmaids, the groom, a ring bearer, and me.

"I am quite sure of the details. We have it all on videotape -- three cameras worth. The mother of the bride had thought of everything.

"Having disgorged her hors d'oeuvres, champagne and the last of her dignity, the bride went limp in her father's arms while the groom sat down on the floor where he had been standing too stunned to function. And the mother of the bride fainted, slumping over in rag doll disarray.

"We had a fire drill then and there at the front of the church that only the Marx Brothers could have topped. Groomsmen rushed heroically. Mini-princess flower girls squalled, bridesmaids sobbed and people with weak stomachs headed for the exits.

"All the while unaware, the orchestra played on. The bride had not only come; she was gone into some other state of consciousness. Only two people were seen smiling. One was the mother of the groom, and the other was the father of the bride.

"What did we do? Well, we went back to real life. Guests were invited to adjourn to the reception hall, though they did not eat or drink as much as they might have in different circumstances.

"The bride was consoled, cleaned up and fitted out with a bridesmaid dress and hugged and kissed a lot by the revived groom. She'll always love him for that," Fulgum writes. "When he said 'for better or for worse,' he meant it.

"The cast was reassembled where we left, and a single flute played a quiet air. The words were spoken, and the deed was done. Everybody cried as people are supposed to at weddings, mostly because the groom held the bride in his arms through the whole ceremony; and no groom ever kissed a bride more tenderly than he.

"If one can hope for a wedding that'd be memorable, then theirs was a raging success. Nobody who was there will ever forget it. But that's not the end of the story. The best part is still to come.

"On the tenth anniversary of this disastrous affair, a party was held. Three TV sets were mustered, a feast was laid, and best friends invited. Remember there were three video cameras at the scene of the accident, so all three films were shown at once. The event was hilarious, especially with the running commentary and the stop action stuff that is a little gross when seen one frame at a time.

"The part that got cheers and toasts was when the camera focused on the grin of the father of the bride as he contemplates his wife as she's being revived. The reason I say this is the best part is not because of the party, but because of who organized it -- of course, the infamous mother of the bride.

"The mother of the bride is still at it, but she's a lot looser these days. She not only forgave her husband and everybody else for their part in the debacle, she forgave herself. And nobody laughed harder at the film than she.

"There's a word for what she has: grace. That's why the same grinning man has been married to her for 40 years and why her daughter loves her still. It is this absolute refusal to allow anything -- and I mean anything -- to stop the celebration."

Now, why could they rejoice when everything went so horribly wrong? Because in spite of all the mess, the groom still got the bride. And after everything is said and done at a wedding, that's all that really matters.

How is it possible for human beings to become joy-filled people in a pain-filled world?  Look at the promise that comes almost at the very end of the Bible in the last book, in Revelation 19:7.

"Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory for the marriage of the lamb that is Christ. The marriage of the lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready."

Joy is possible, even in a desperately pain-filled world because at the end of the story, the groom gets the bride.  Then, the Bible says, "God himself will be with his people, and he will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more."  And if you can remember that, you can celebrate now.

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