Joy … Joy … Joy

I like to share my words when I preach from the slanty side of the pulpit. Today — and for the next three weeks — I was/will be at Howland (ME) United Methodist Church. While this has been delivered and shared before, I felt the people of Howland needed to know a little bit about me. As I explained, I was born, raised and educated as a Catholic, ordained as a Reformed elder, had credentials transferred as a Presbyterian, and most recently have been facing Methodist congregations. Hey, that all may be one!

So, here goes …

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:4).

As I mentioned in my introduction, I’m not a preacher, but when I was an elder at Tyre (NY) Reformed Church, I was pressed into pulpit service. I came across my first sermon the other day and thought I would share it with you today.

… 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.

I was working on these comments the other day, 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 that I am, the days wound down to a precious few. After putting out that week’s edition of my newspaper, I settled in for a night of “rest” and “relaxation.”

Lo and behold, my grandson came along. He’s the one with more energy than any three-year should legitimately have {shows you how long ago this was written; he just turned 23}. 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 instantly I 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 creations.

We often speak of the faith of a child … simple, unjaded, often direct enough to cut to our very own core 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.

Praise ye the Lord.
    Praise God in His sanctuary.
Praise Him in the firmament of His power.
    Praise Him for His mighty acts.
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness.
    Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet.
Praise Him with the psaltery and harp.
    Praise Him with the timbrel and dance.
Praise Him upon the loud cymbals.
Praise Him upon the High sounding cymbals.
    Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.
Praise ye the Lord.

That’s Psalm 150. What praise is expressed here. What joy. How can I keep still, Lord, when everywhere I see Thy works. How often I’ve heard these words and allowed them to vaporize off into the distance. Too many things on my mind, I guess, and it isn’t easy to shut out the worries, fears and concerns.

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, for God knows I am thankful. It’s just I don’t slow down enough to let Him 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? Aren’t today’s readings more on the Debbie Downer side than joyful?

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. We know firsthand as Christians there is 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 the negative 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 is loathsome. 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. We 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. We can concentrate on the somewhat and often times difficulties of discipleship … or we can concentrate on the promises God has given us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Half empty … half full.

Do we deserve eternal damnation?

Of course we do … but that is not God’s will. It’s His will 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 both in biblical and modern times. God has shown His rightful wrath and He owns the right of justification. He is the creator, we are the creation. If He chooses to throw us in the fire for our blemishes, so be it. It’s His prerogative. Nothing we do on our own will ever change that. It’s all about grace.

Our gospel account [Luke 14:25-33] deals with two not so joyful themes – allegiance to God, even over family and the discord the Lord  expects; and “carrying the cross”, the emphasis on giving up self interest and competing loyalties and pointing out the high cost of following Jesus. He illustrates His point of counting the cost of discipleship with the two parables about the land owner and the king. He extols a commitment to finishing the discipleship journey once begun or not beginning it at all. Following Jesus is an all or nothing proposition.

My point is no matter how difficult and problematic our readings are [first reading was Jeremiah 18:1-11], there are still nuggets of joy and hope to be found for those who have made the commitment to Christ. See, 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. Half empty … half full.

Well, there are some strings. We must always and ever recognize and demonstrate this unwavering love. And we do that 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 angels 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 after praying.

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” prayer. In the middle of a traffic jam or when in the solitude of my distress I might internally scream 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. 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. Half empty … half full.

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? 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, intending 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 to draw from, all pointing towards joy, praise and gladness. All we have to do is take our cue from the source of our authority.

Praise God.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: The fault finder will find faults, even in Paradise. — Henry David Thoreau

About wisdomfromafather

I'm just an ordinary guy walking along the journey of life.
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2 Responses to Joy … Joy … Joy

  1. How can we say that God is good
    when the world has gone so wrong?
    If we’re true to ourselves, should
    we praise in deed an song?
    How can we say He’s merciful
    when the gentle die in pain?
    How can we call Him bountiful
    when starvation strikes again?
    We can because of who He is,
    and yes, indeed, we must,
    for it’s we who have the target missed;
    not Him, but His love is just.
    We’ll collect on sin we’ve placed in store,
    and then He’ll help us up, once more.


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