February 25, 2018
Pastor Jeff Struecker
We’re wrapping up a sermon series called Weird. Today is the last in a six-week sermon series, and we use the word weird to define what it looks like to live for Jesus. The word weird means that to the rest of the culture that doesn’t share our faith, that doesn’t know Jesus Christ personally, the way that we live is going to look very different to them. In fact, if you were on the outside looking in at Christianity, looking and watching the way a sincere follower of Jesus is living, it should look a little bit weird to you, and we’re asking for you not just to recognize that, but we’re asking you to own it. -to hashtag, let people know, “I am weird.”
Well, I was going to wrap this whole sermon series up with a message about identity and who we are and whose we are and how it changes the way that we live. I think that’s an important sermon, but not today. You see, for the last couple of months especially, I’ve been feeling really strongly compelled by the Holy Spirit to talk about something that I’ve been learning from the Puritans.
Now, if you don’t know who these guys and gals are, the Puritans (most of them) lived in England, Scotland, and Wales. -some of them in New England in the United States about 3 or 4 hundred years ago. Most of these folks were criticized because many Christians believed they took this extreme view of sin. -that they had this radical view of their own personal purity, and they were criticized for it. In fact, I don’t even know if you can really rightly say that they were unduly criticized for this view of sin because when you understand what sin is, when you recognize what sin did to Jesus, I don’t think you can take this too far.
Basically, what I’m saying is if there is such a thing, I would consider myself a modern-day Puritan. But the word Puritan really comes from their view of the Church of England. They said by this point, “Hey, there have been politics and there have been other forces that have crept in, and they have disrupted or distorted the church’s teachings,” and their view was to return to the pure teachings of the Scriptures. So, the Puritans were guys and gals who understood sin, and they really carried that very carefully. They wore that moniker.
Then I was reading a series of essays by some world-renowned scholars on the Puritans called The Puritan Papers, and I was shocked by something that I read, because these scholars said the Puritans also had something that everyone who knew them recognized. The Puritans had this, what is referred to as this pervasive, this contagious sense of joy. And all of a sudden, I started to think, “Wait a second. How to these guys and gals who were acutely aware of their own sin and were willing to go to their own death to oppose corruption in the church, how did they have this incredible sense of joy? Where did this come from?”
And I have frankly been preaching this sermon to myself for the past several weeks. I have been looking forward to preaching it to us today, because as I look at our culture, I see this weak, wishy-washy joy that’s here for a moment and then it’s gone. -that it’s easily influenced by circumstances and that’s not the kind of joy that I see from the Puritans. The kind of joy that I see in the Chattahoochee Valley in our country today is the kind of joy that they show you on beer commercials. Yeah, everybody’s smiling on this chemically-induced joy that you see in beer commercials, but they don’t show you what it looks like tomorrow morning when you’re broke and hung over and you’ve got a text on your phone that you’re going to regret for the rest of your life. Nobody’s showing you what that looks like on a commercial today. The kind of joy that the Puritans had, that joy transcended circumstances. It was a soul-level joy that no one and nothing could steal, even when their life was on the line.
Each week, I try to give you the whole sermon in one sentence. Where is this sermon going today? Well, here it is. You can write this one down today. If there is one thing that I want you to understand from the Puritans (and really one thing that I want you to understand from the Bible today), weird people (those of us who know Jesus personally), we have what I’m referring to today as “bulletproof joy”. Nothing, no one can impact this joy. It’s deeper, it’s bigger than the circumstances of life, and what we’re going to do for the next few moments is, I’m going to share with you lots of Puritan thoughts on the topic of joy.
I. Joy is a gift from Jesus
In fact, I’m going to read for you a few things, some quotes directly from the Puritans. Here’s the first thing that the Bible is teaching us. This doesn’t come just from the Puritans; this comes directly from the Scriptures. The Puritans got their thoughts directly out of the Bible. Joy is a gift. You didn’t deserve it. You can’t do anything to earn it. Joy is a gift that is given to you from Jesus. By the way, this comes directly from the New Testament from the book of Galatians, chapter 5. Many of you who have been raised in church are familiar with these 2 verses. It is referred to often as the fruit of the spirit. This is what it looks like when the Holy Spirit moves in and takes up residence inside the soul of a man or a woman. Here’s what Galatians chapter 5, verses 22 and 23 say:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.
The Bible is saying that when the Holy Spirit comes in, when he moves inside your soul, he gives you some of the indications that Jesus has, in fact, saved you. And one of those indications is a deep, soul-level joy. It’s a joy that you didn’t deserve and you can’t earn, but it’s a joy that should impact the people around you.
I’m going to read for you a number of quotes today from prominent Puritan pastors. One of those guys was a pastor by the name of John Howe, and this is what he taught his church about joy. He said, “It is the duty of all to delight in God.”
Now, look at what this pastor just did. He just said joy, delight, is a duty. It’s kind of a Christian’s responsibility. All Christians have this responsibility to enjoy Jesus and find your joy only in Jesus. If you’re not sure exactly what John Howe means, well listen to what he said to his church:
“Settle this persuasion in your hearts, that the serious, rational, regular, seasonable exercise of delight, and joy is a matter of duty to be charged up in your conscience from the authority of God.” Joy is a gift from God. It’s something that you and I need to grab a hold of and hang onto and don’t let it go. But if you’re not careful, you can lose this joy. Well actually, you can exchange this joy for something that’s going to disappoint, for something that’s going to let you down, and what John Howe was teaching is that when you hang onto Jesus, you’ve got joy that’s supposed to transcend your circumstances. Don’t look for joy in something other than Jesus.
II. Find joy in being right with Jesus
Joy is a gift from Jesus, but I want you also to know that the gift of joy comes from being in Jesus. Perhaps a better way to say it is being right with Jesus. It’s a relationship thing, and as the relationship is right, the joy is right. If the relationship with Jesus is not right, then certainly it’s supposed to impact your joy. But I would say this: It not only impacts your joy with Jesus; it impacts your joy in every other area of life too. If this thing’s not right, nothing is right. When you get this area right, everything becomes right.
Here’s what the Bible says in this famous passage in Psalm 51 about a guy who had a right relationship with God and then he blew it with his own sin. In Psalm 51, he’s crying out, “God, I need you to help me get this right again.” Psalm 51, verses 12 and 13 say it this way:
Restore the joy of your salvation to me, and sustain me by giving me a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach the rebellious your ways, and sinners will return to you.
Here’s what I learned from the Puritan pastors. These brothers preached hard against sin, and they should’ve preached hard against sin. They also preached even harder about enjoying Jesus, and they said your sin is always going to impact your joy. If you chase after temptation, if you give into sin, it’s going to undermine, it’s going to radically affect your relationship with Jesus. And when it affects your relationship with Jesus, it’s going to affect your relationship with everybody else.
One of the most famous of all of the Puritan pastors was a guy by the name of Richard Baxter, and Baxter said to his church, “You can’t have joy and be in persistent sin at the same time.” In other words, that kind of joy isn’t bulletproof. If you’re chasing after temporary pleasure to try to find joy, a chemically-induced happiness, you’re shooting yourself in the foot because eventually, it’s going to let you down, and when it lets you down, it’s going to impact your relationship with Jesus and your relationship with everybody else or everything else around you.
So, here’s what Richard Baxter taught: He taught, “Oh, leave your beastly and childish pleasures. Feast your souls in God. Think not of joining both together.” Do you see the word pleasure here? The Puritans knew what the Bible teaches about pleasure. Hebrews chapter 11 says that sin brings pleasure for a season. If there wasn’t any pleasure was sin, we wouldn’t call it temptation. Even though sin bring some temporary pleasure, if you give in to that pleasure, it’s going to radically undermine your joy in life, and not just when the pleasure is gone. It’s going to impact your joy in every other area of your life. Baxter said you can’t both pursue pleasure in sin and find joy in Jesus at the same time. You’re going to have to make a choice between one of these two, in his choice obviously would be to be pure. Work on your personal holiness. Don’t look for joy in pleasure because it will let you down.
III. Joy is deeper than my problems
Here’s a third thing that the Puritans realized, and this comes again directly from Scripture. Joy, it’s bigger, it’s deeper, it goes a lot farther than my problems do. When the world is crashing down around you, this is undeniable about who Jesus is and what Jesus can do for you. When your world is crashing down around you, if you can find joy in the middle of those kind of circumstances (notice I didn’t say, be happy), if you found joy in the middle of those kind of life altering circumstances, everyone around you is going to want that kind of joy. -because everyone around you is going to wonder, “Can Jesus do that for me? What he’s doing for her, Can Jesus change me the way that he’s changing that guy?” Here’s what the Bible says. Psalm chapter 4, verses 5-8:
Offer sacrifices in righteousness and trust in the Lord. 6 Many are asking, “Who can show us anything good?” Let the light of your face shine on us, Lord. 7 You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and new wine abound. 8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, Lord, make me live in safety.
Here’s what verse 7 is saying: People around me, when the rain is coming down and the crops are growing and the bank account is nice and fat, when they’ve got lots of money in the bank and they’ve got new wine, they’re happy. But when the crops aren’t growing, when the drought comes, when the bank account is empty, when the wine is gone, they’re miserable. Verse 7 says, “That’s not how it is for me, God. The joy that you gave me, it’s greater than the kind of joy that comes with a fat bank account and everything is going right in life. That kind of joy, it comes and it goes. The joy that you gave me, Jesus, it goes much deeper than that. In fact, circumstances really can’t change, or can’t take away, my joy.”
Just to be honest, these Puritans understood suffering. In fact, many that I’m quoting from today were drowned or were burned at the stake for opposing openly the church leadership in their day. These brothers and sisters knew what it meant to suffer, and they had joy even in the midst of giving their life up for their faith.
Richard Sibbes put it this way, “Joy strengthens the Christian to meet suffering. Practicing joy today in the little things gives me the strength to handle the suffering when the big things happen.” He said it this way, “Let your mind delight itself in God. Consider him as the only object of your highest delight.”
“The want of delight in God,” Richard Baxter said, “leaves [listen to this language] your soul prey to every affliction, and the full blow of the naked and unfortified heart.” This pastor said you’re vulnerable. Your guard is down. Your heart is naked if you’re not delighting and finding your joy in God, and in fact, something is going to come in, and it’s going to wreck your joy if you’re not finding delight in God. Finding delight in your relationship with Jesus gives you strength to meet the big suffering down the road.
One of the greatest missionaries of all time and a man who suffered perhaps greater than many for King Jesus was a guy by the name of Hudson Taylor, and Hudson Taylor once said, “I never permit a cloud to come between me and my Lord. There is nothing that this world can throw at me that I will let become a cloud that comes between me and King Jesus.” And that’s why a man like Hudson Taylor could accomplish the kinds of things that he accomplished in the midst of great persecution.
IV. Make hope the basis for your joy
The final thing that I want you to know from the Bible, the final thing that I want you to hear about joy today is that hope really is supposed to be the thing that anchors your joy. Make hope the basis for your joy. In just a second, when you read a verse from Romans chapter 15, I want you to pay close attention to this one verse. I want you to focus on the word hope, on the word joy and on the word peace, and I want you to see how these three words are related to one another in Romans chapter 15, verse 13. Listen to the Bible:
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
You could phrase it like this, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy. May the God of hope fill you with all peace as King Jesus moves in and takes up residence in your heart as you believe.”
These Puritans, they trusted in the Bible. They believed that there was something greater waiting for us in Heaven than what we see around us here on Earth, and it was the hope of the hereafter. It was the hope of Heaven that anchored these guys and anchored their faith, and because of that, even facing persecution to the point of death, they were able to find joy. -because they had something that they were looking forward to.
Can I be honest with you? Here’s where the problem breaks down in our society, and I’m afraid sometimes even in churches in our society. Here’s where the problem breaks down: We look for joy in circumstances, and then when circumstances don’t go right, all of a sudden, we lose joy. But these believers, these Puritans, sincere followers of Jesus Christ (weirdos) are supposed to find joy that’s anchored in Heaven, which means circumstances on Earth here can’t affect it.
Did you hear what I just said? Your job should have no impact on your joy. Your health should not be able to change your joy. Hey, the relationships that you have (as important as those are) those should not destroy your joy. Your joy should not be based on finances. That stuff shouldn’t be able to touch your joy because it’s anchored in the throne room of God in Heaven, and because my joy is anchored, there is nothing around here that can impact it. I promise you; if you have that kind of joy, people around you are going to notice it. People around you are going to want that. Maybe this is what made the Puritans such powerful witnesses for King Jesus. – because of this kind of joy.
I’m hoping that some of you are hearing from the Bible, and you’re thinking to yourself, “Wait a second, Jeff. I don’t have that kind of joy. I mean, I’ve had some good days. I’ve had some bad days, but I don’t have that kind of joy.” And maybe what you’re realizing for the first time is that you don’t have that kind of joy because you don’t have Jesus, and perhaps what you need is a relationship with Jesus for the first time. You need to nail this one down.
Maybe there are some of you who do know Jesus, and your joy has been wishy-washy. Your joy has been weak and anemic because you’ve been looking for joy in circumstances, and it hasn’t been anchored in your relationship with God and in the hope of Heaven. If that’s the case, I pray for you that you would find this eternal, pervasive joy that can’t be touched by circumstances.
Now, I’ve done something for you that I normally don’t do. I’ve got a list of 5 points of application for you, and one of the reasons I don’t do this very often is, I don’t want you to go home and just check off these five things. “Yep! I’m doing all five of these things. I’m good with God, right?” -because maybe you are or maybe you’re not. But I provided this list for you today because if you’re saying, “Jeff, I really want to have that circumstance-transcending joy, but I don’t know how to do it. I hear what you’re saying. I just don’t know how,” here are 5 things to keep in mind this week. This isn’t how you do this on Sunday. This is how you live this out Monday through Saturday.
5 Elements of Bulletproof Joy:
1. Pursue joy in Jesus above all else (Romans 15:13)
2. Let joy be the judge of your conscience (1 John 2:15-17)
3. Set the bar high for your own personal purity (Psalm 34:8-10)
4. Give your burdens to Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30)
5. Have “everlasting joy” here by thinking about Heaven (Luke 10:20)
The first thing on this list is, pursue joy in Jesus (look what it says) above everything else. It’s okay to find joy in other stuff, but not more joy in that stuff than you find in Jesus. I’ve included some scriptural references there. Go back later on today and reread Romans 15:13 and remind yourself to pursue joy in Jesus first and foremost.
Secondly, let joy be the judge of your conscience. That probably sounds weird to you. I’ve included a Scripture reference that may help you understand what I’m saying. But, is comes directly from one of the Puritans. Here’s what John Sibbes said to his church: “Conscience is a court set up in man by God.” Conscience is the Holy Spirit working inside of you saying, “Don’t go down that road! Don’t do that thing. Don’t look for joy there, because it’s going to let you down, and your conscience is supposed to start to make you miserable when you start to try to find joy somewhere else. Your conscience is actually the Holy Spirit. For a believer, your conscience is actually the Holy Spirit pulling your attention back to where it belongs and saying, “Look, put your focus on Jesus. Don’t try to find it in other things.”
Thirdly, set the bar, like the Puritans, set it really high for your own personal purity. How high should you set it? Well, go back and read Psalm 34, verses 8-10. This is the way that you know I’m right with God. My relationship is good with God, and I have joy no matter what life throws at me. -‘cause I know this thing is right.
Number 4 on the list: Give your burdens to Jesus. He says it this way (I’m going to paraphrase). In Matthew chapter 8, Jesus says, “Hey, if you’re overwhelmed, if you’re super stressed out with life right now, come to me. Give those burdens to me, and then take my load and put it on your shoulders, because my load is easy and my burden is light.” And what Jesus is saying is, “If you will come to me, I will take that heavy load this on your shoulder, and I’ll carry it right along with you, and now that load is not nearly as heavy.”
If you will run to Jesus with your burdens, you’ll find that he will meet you, and he will carry those burdens with you. Sometimes, he will carry those burdens for you. So, take those burdens to Jesus and leave them there. Give them to Jesus and allow him to give you the strength to handle the problems and the pressures of life.
Number 5 on this list: (I put it like this in quotes on purpose) Have “everlasting joy”, have eternal joy now, here on Earth, by focusing on Heaven. You can go this afternoon and read Luke chapter 10, verse 20. You can see how putting your perspective on Heaven will start to make what’s happening around you here on Earth become a lot less significant, a lot less important.
• My life lacks joy, because my life lacks Jesus. Today, I surrendered my soul to Jesus for the first time.
– I have let life determine my joy lately. Pray for me to live beyond my circumstances.
+ I will ground my joy in Heaven this week.
- What brings you the most joy?
- Does the biblical idea of joy mean you will never get depressed in the future?
- How does a Christian’s joy differ from that of a non-Christian?
- Read Psalm 43:4. How can you bring an offering of joy to the Lord?
- Can you make yourself have Christian joy? (Explain your answering using the Bible.)
- What is the relationship between a hope for the future and joy in the present?
- Pray that your joy would be grounded in Jesus this week.