Unexpected Joy

  • Unexpected Joy
  • Romans 5:1-11
  • Lyndol Loyd
  • December 16, 2018
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Some of my favorite Christmas memories have to do with unexpected things that took place. Those tend to become the stories that get told over and over again within families. I know that’s the case in my family.

 

I think back to when I was in the third grade. At the time my parents owned the Ben Franklin, a variety store. Leading up to Christmas I had my heart set on a Mickey Mouse watch that was in the jewelry case at their store. I had it at the top of my Christmas list for Santa.

 

Christmas Eve came, and I was so excited I could hardly sleep. About 2:30  in the morning I woke up and went into the living room where I discovered the Christmas tree with the lights all aglow and beneath the tree was a football-shaped toy box with some games and toys surrounding it and right beside it was an apple shaped toy box for my little sister with games and toys for her.

 

Upon seeing this sight, I ran straight to my parents’ bedroom, flipped on the overhead light and declared loudly, “Wake up. You’ve got to wake up. Santa Claus has already been to our house, and he made a mistake and left all the wrong stuff. I asked for a Mickey Mouse watch, and he left me a football-shaped toy box, and he left Mitchie a toy box too. She doesn’t even need a toy box. She’s already got one.”

 

My parents shot up out of bed after my jolting announcement. My Dad grabbed me by the arm and walked me down the hallway to the living room. My mom was trying to calm my Dad down. I was crying. It was not a good scene. Then my parents asked me, “Did you look in the toy box?”

 

You know, it never really occurred to me to do that. I took off the lid, looked inside and there waiting for me at the bottom of the toy box was my Mickey Mouse watch. Santa hadn’t mixed things up. I had. He had brought me more than I wanted or could have imagined. I’m fifty-one years old and still have the watch today.

 

After that year it was a rule in our house that you couldn’t leave your bedroom on Christmas morning until Mom and Dad came to get you.

 

All of this got me thinking. If Santa wanted to do something more for me than I could have expected or imagined, could it also be that God wants to do the same for us today? What if God wants to give you the gift of some unexpected hope or joy or peace this Christmas? This morning I want us to contemplate the gift of unexpected joy.

 

Everyone wants to be happy, wouldn’t you agree? If you ask people what their number one ambition in life is, most people will say, “I just want to be happy.”

 

America, like no other place, happiness is such a serious business. We work at it. We have this idea that we must be happy all of the time. I must act happy. I must talk happy. I must smell happy. I certainly must look happy. If I’m not happy, I must fake it.

 

Folks, always having to appear happy creates stress. There are a great many more people faking happiness than living reality. The truth is that every day doesn’t score a perfect 10.0. Everything does not always work out according to the way we planned it. Some days are disasters. Let’s be honest about it.

 

How do you know when it’s a bad day? You know it’s a bad day when…

-You go to open the refrigerator and the dessert you’ve made for the guests, who will be arriving in five minutes, comes sliding out and does a belly flop onto the kitchen floor.

-You know it’s a bad day when you get a round brush stuck in your daughter’s hair while you are trying to blow it dry and you can’t get it out. All the while your daughter is crying and saying, “This is horrible. This never happens when Mommy dries my hair.”

-You know it’s a bad day when you pull up to newly constructed building your church will worship for the first time the next day and one of your air conditioning units has quit working.

 

All of those things have happened to me. I’m sure you could come up with a similar list of annoying things that happen at inopportune moments.

 

It’s easy for us to be happy when everything is going our way. But what about the rest of life? Are we only happy when everything is going our way? If so, you’re going to be unhappy for much of your life. How can we stay positive in a negative world? How can we remain optimistic when everything is falling apart? This is where joy comes in.

 

Happiness depends on happenings. It comes from the root word “hap,” which means luck or circumstances. “I’m happy today because things just happened to turn out right.”

 

Joy is different; it’s deeper. Joy is an attitude, a choice. Joy is an inside job. It’s not dependent upon our circumstances. It’s your choice to rejoice. This is the basic truth of this gift which God wants to give to you. You can choose regardless of circumstances to be joyful.

 

When we learn to choose joy, our lives will be greatly enhanced. As Christians, we can learn how not to be ruled by our circumstances, and scripture tells us how.

 

Looking to the New Testament book of Romans 5:1-11, we find these words,

1Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

6 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

 

It has been said that “a person can live 40 days without food, 3 days without water, 8 minutes without air, but not 1 minute without hope. We have got to have hope.”

 

Lots of people have hope, but they haven’t based it on anything solid. It’s artificial, pump-yourself-up hope. Many people base their hope on wrong things: the stock market, their good looks, a big salary, a nice job, a good family.

 

But all those things are temporary and can be taken away. When they disappear, so does hope. We know that joy is impossible without hope.

 

When you live life as a Christian, you have a reason to be positive. We can rejoice because we rejoice in the hope we have.

 

Later on, in the book of Romans, Paul reminds us to “Be joyful in hope.” Paul is talking about our hope in Christ. The hope we have in Christ is the reason we can rejoice, even in difficult situations.

 

In our scripture passage from earlier, Paul says that “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance.”

 

The Greek word translated here as “sufferings” means distress, and it refers to anything that puts us under pressure. It can be translated as trials, troubles, pressures, or problems.

 

Many people have the misconception that when they get rid of their problems they will be happy. But we are never going to get rid of all our problems as long as we are alive.

 

Joy is learning to enjoy life in spite of problems. It has been said that “Joy is not the absence of suffering, but the presence of God.” That’s why Paul says we rejoice in suffering. God is always with us.

 

When the angel came and said that Jesus would be called Emmanuel, that is what God was saying to us. Emmanuel literally means “God with Us.” We can know the gift of joy this Christmas because God has come to be with us, even in our sufferings.

 

I want to be careful that you don’t misunderstand what I’m saying about rejoicing in suffering.

–    Paul is not saying that we should fake it.

–    He’s not talking about being a “Pollyanna” Christian.

–    It’s not about putting on a plastic smile.

–    God doesn’t expect you to be a phony or a hypocrite.

–    He’s not talking about denying that bad things are happening in your life if they really are.

 

Notice what Paul is saying to us, “We rejoice in our suffering.” He’s not telling us to rejoice because of our suffering. He’s not saying we enjoy suffering.

 

He’s saying that we rejoice in our suffering because we know that the suffering we experience in life is not allowed to go without purpose.

 

Christians can be positive because even in a negative situation we know that God will not allow the situation to be wasted. God is in the business of redemption.

 

We have a perspective to bring to the situation that non-Christians cannot have. Our perspective always determines how we react to the events around us.

 

Perspective makes all the difference in the world. How you respond to problems at work, problems at home, health problems – it all depends upon your perspective.

 

Paul says that as Christians we can rejoice even in tough times because we have hope and because we know that God is working in our lives. We have a perspective, and that perspective is that God has a purpose for us and will not allow any negative in our lives to be a wasted experience. He can turn it around and use it for our good.

 

We can be joyful, no matter what the circumstances, because God is always with those who believe in Him, no matter where we are or what we are facing.

 

As believers, we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. We have become God’s friends, and this is a friendship that is lasting.

 

Take for example Isaiah 43:2 – “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”

 

Some of you might need that verse later this week. It is saying that if you are a believer, God is with you and nothing can overwhelm you. Nothing can destroy you.

 

The devil cannot overwhelm you. He doesn’t have enough power. Other people cannot and God won’t. Nothing can overwhelm you. No matter what you go through in life, you will never go through it alone. Now that is a pretty great reason to rejoice if you ask me.

 

This morning I don’t want you to hear what I have to say about unexpected joy. I’d like for you to be able to hear also from David and Terri Gibson as they share about how God brought unexpected joy into their lives after they had both gone through experiencing the loss of a spouse.

 

Some of you here this morning have been through difficult and challenging experiences. Maybe like David and Terri, you have lost someone who you loved very much and ever since that person’s death you’ve wondered if you would ever feel happy again.

 

Others of you have faced adversity in ways you could never have imagined, and that has sucked the life out of you. Whatever your experience has been I want you to know that God sees you and that He cares. I believe that God wants to offer you the gift of unexpected joy this Christmas.

 

You see, God loves you so much that He sent His son Jesus on the very first Christmas. When the prophets of old foretold of his birth, they said that Jesus would be known as “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” This morning God wants to bring you the gift of joy. He wants to lift your head and for you to know that He is with you and for you.