More Joy … Joy … Joy

I’ve tried to share my time behind the pulpit with you as I’ve gone along. Here’s the latest from Sunday’s message at Dover-Foxcroft (ME) United Methodist Church.

It’s actually a revisit of one of my first sermons. I liked the message and, of course, this was a new audience. Some of you may remember this since it has been posted before.

So, here we go …

Way back when, well over 20 years ago, I was at a Consistory meeting at Tyre (NY) Reformed Church. We were talking about the budget and how we could trim it. I was doodling when the pastor announced it would help our bottom line if one of you could step up and preach while he’s gone. I looked up and five pair of eyes were fixed on me.
I mention this only because if you’re caught doodling or dozing during the sermon, you might end up on this side of the pulpit!

And He sayeth unto thee, the wicked shall be punished

No, no (shuffle papers), these are the wrong notes.

Ah, here we are. Joy … one of the “glad” words like praise and rejoice.

When I was working on this commentary in the early days of my pulpit supply like a fish out of water, I knew what I wanted to say, but I didn’t know exactly how to phrase it. And being the procrastinator I am, the days were winding down to a precious few. After putting out that week’s edition of my newspaper, I settled in for a night of rest, relaxation and inspiration.

Lo and behold, my then three year old grandson came bounding down the stairs. Anthony had more energy than any three-year should legitimately have {which shows you how long ago this was written; he’s almost 21}. He wanted to watch a movie and, since I wanted a few winks, I figured it was a good mix.

To make a long story short, he chose Pollyanna and as he nestled comfortably in my arms in the recliner, I instantly recognized the hand of God in that decision. The movie was the connection I needed to discuss joy.

You’ve probably all seen the movie. Pollyanna has become a model for all that is good and righteous. In a town fraught with pettiness, loneliness, fear and tepidness came this bright-eyed maiden with a simple faith who touched the hearts and souls of the people of Harrington.

She reminds me a lot of Clarence, the angel in It’s a Wonderful Life. The simplicity of seeing things at face value is a faith lesson to us all.

Both Pollyanna and Clarence had a clarity in their world view. It wasn’t based on theological discourse. It wasn’t attained through rigorous study. No, it was a pure, simple faith in the goodness of God’s creation.

We often speak of the faith of a child … simple, unjaded, yet often direct enough to cut to our very own self. We can tell from Scripture God loves his youngest creations. Jesus was as much at ease with the little ones as He was with others. They weren’t a bother. They were important.

And the common theme of this innocent view is the ability to look for the good in people … to look at the wonder of a snowflake … to explore the richness of life.

Our call to worship was Psalm 150. What praise is expressed there. What joy. How can I keep still, Lord, when everywhere I see Your works?

How often have you and I heard these words yet allowed them to vaporize off into the distance. In my case, too many things on my mind I guess, and it isn’t easy to shut out the worries, fears and concerns of day to day life.

But, what joy there is in praise. I’ve been given so many marvelous gifts and yet I don’t appear to be the happiest person. It’s not that I’m thankless. I am thankful. It’s just I don’t slow down enough to let God show me the life that can be mine.

The pivotal scene in Pollyanna, I think, is when she visits the good Rev. Ford to drop off some “notes” for his sermon. She’s wearing a locket her father gave her, which she allows the reverend to read.

“When you look for the bad in mankind and expect to find it, you surely will.”

You won’t find that reference in Scripture or any theological discourse. It’s from the sayings of Abraham Lincoln and it opened the reverend’s eyes.

It should open our eyes as well. Don’t we often look on the down side of life? Don’t we often focus on the trials and tribulations? Don’t we often look at the glass as half empty?

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of trials and tribulations in life. There is plenty of darkness out there. But we have the light. We have the Son — S-O-N. We know firsthand as Christians there something better in store for us. Through thick and thin, we truly, truly have a friend in Jesus.

Maybe we should start looking for the good in people. I think we’ll find it just as surely.

What joy. What unmistakable joy. What a missed opportunity we have.

We hear that when we come to church, too. Very often, it is the God of fire and brimstone that gets the attention. We have a fear of the Lord drilled into us from our earliest days.

Certainly, our God is to be awed. To think He created us in His likeness and image only to have us throw it back in His face; we deserve the fire and brimstone of hell. We … deserve … the … fire … and … brimstone … of … hell.

But God loves us. He sent His only Son to atone for our sins. In a few weeks we will again remember Jesus’ cruel death … a death He freely chose to save you and me. He stretched His arms across the cross to create a bridge allowing us access back into the heavenly fold.

We can concentrate on the death … or we can concentrate on the Resurrection. Half empty … half full.

Do we deserve eternal damnation?

Of course we do … but that’s not God’s will. It’s His will is to share His heavenly bounty with us. His one aim is for us to be reunited with Him through the blood of His Son, Jesus.

That’s the joyful message of the Bible and the joyful summation of our faith. Sure, some pretty crummy things were done by us and by others to us. And God has showed His rightful wrath. He owns the right of justification. He is the creator, we are the creation. If He chooses to throw us into the fire for our blemishes, so be it. It’s His prerogative. Nothing we do on our own will ever change that.

But I believe this just God doesn’t want any of His creation to be damned. He wants us all to be saved. He has given us that gift … freely, of His own choice. Our responsibility is to accept the gift … no strings attached.

Well, there are some strings. We must always and everywhere recognize and demonstrate this unwavering love. And one way we do that is through praise and rejoicing.

Of course that leads us to prayer.

One television program my wife Karen and I generally tried to watch was Touched By An Angel. It’s nice to think we’re touched by angles and in the span of 47 minutes lives can be turned around. But angels are another topic. What I’m going for here is the transformation process found in our saved soul.

More often than not, at some point in the show that soul she is trying to save tells Monica to tell God to butt out. Where has God been? might be the question. Whenever that point in the show arrives, I’m reminded of George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life when he gets popped in the mouth after praying.

You know, I think sometimes God must get bored up there in heaven. I know I would, listening to the same old rhetoric over and over … words spilling from the lips, rote-style. “Heavenly Father this …” or “gracious God that …”

I think prayer is something else. It’s communication. It’s simply talking with God … from the heart, not the mind, from the soul, not the lips.

I’ve always had an open line to God. I’m not a “formal” pray-er. In the middle of a traffic jam or when in the solitude of my distress I might internally or externally scream out at God. “What the heck is going on?” I might cry, perhaps not that sedately. I can talk with God one-on-one like a friend … and I know God speaks to me as a friend. And we all know how caustic and sometimes blunt a true friend can be, cutting through all the garbage in our lives and touching our very souls.

This week, stop praying.

Well, that got some attention.

Seriously, stop praying … and start talking to God from your heart. The heart is our emotional fountain. Let God know your emotions. Heck, He knows them anyway. He knows our heart. He knows our motives. He knows the truth … better than we do. Don’t masquerade your emotions with platitudes. If you’re angry with God, let Him know. But if you’re happy with God, share that joy as well with words of praise, not because that’s what should be done, but because that’s the way you feel.

I’ll close with another story … one many of us can relate to.

“I’ve got some good news and some bad news to tell you. Which would you like to hear first?” the farmer asked.

“Why don’t you tell me the bad news first,” the banker replied.

“Okay,” said the farmer. “With the bad drought and inflation and all, I won’t be able to pay anything on my mortgage this year, either on the principal or the interest.”

“Well, that’s pretty bad,” the banker said.

“It gets worse,” said the farmer. “I also won’t be able to pay anything on the loan for all that machinery I bought, not on the principal or interest.”

“Wow, is that ever bad,” the banker admitted.

“It’s worse than that,” continued the farmer. “You remember I also borrowed to buy seed and fertilizer and other supplies. I can’t pay anything on that either — neither principal nor interest.”

“That’s awful,” said the banker, “and that’s enough. What’s the good news?”

“The good news,” replied the farmer with a smile, “is I intend to keep on doing business with you.”

The good news I’m telling you is God is our banker. Despite our failings, He wants to continue to do business with us.

Do we believe the good news or the bad  news? Isn’t that our dilemma?

The good news is Christ is alive. The bad news is that fact seems to have so little impact on the world today. In this world it’s easy to be fearful and troubled of heart. It’s easy to look at the glass as half empty … but Jesus tells us we must look at it as half full. Christ is alive and so are we.

You’ve probably figured out how I “look” at life. I try to see the little everyday miracles. I’m awestruck by the starry night or a flash of light bellowing amid dark stormy clouds. I’m struck by their beauty, but more so, knowing no mortal nor chance of nature could create such masterpieces. It is in those moments when I spontaneously praise God. It is those moments I ask you to look for this week.

Pollyanna looked for those bright clouds. As she told Rev. Ford in the movie, there are 800 happy texts in the Bible … texts of joy or gladness. “If God told us 800 times to be glad and rejoice,” she said, “He must have wanted us to do it.” Rev. Ford went to the pulpit the next day and corrected the young girl. There are 826 passages, he said, and he intended to dwell on one each week for the … well, it equates to the next 16 years or so.

I’ll take Rev. Ford’s word for it. Suffice it to say, there are plenty of opportunities from Scripture and from life to draw from, all pointing toward joy, praise and gladness. All we have to do is take our cue from the Source.

Praise God.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: The difficult we can do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer.

About wisdomfromafather

I'm just an ordinary guy walking along the journey of life.
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