top of page
  • Writer's pictureLou Hernández

CHOOSING JOY - PAUL (Junio 19,2022)


Intense. Driven. Bright. If it were the practice, his wall filled with credentials, educational awards and community accomplishments. An achiever? Without question. Pedigree – unmatched. Likable? - not sure I can say that. Driven by his goals, he turned a deaf ear to those he pursued. Those who threatened what he believed – what everyone should believe and so the pleas of these Christians for mercy, were ignored. Because, in keeping with the man - compassion was for the weak and the uncommitted. Saul would never be accused of that especially when it came to eliminating the One who threatened everything he and many of his fellow Jews believed.

Someone you’d want for a friend? Not likely because for him life was too serious for small talk and small friendships, especially for any less committed than he. He had no time to invest in anyone or anything other than 100% dedication to what needed to be done. Driven to do what others wouldn’t do. Driven to do what was right. Driven by his belief in a ‘dotting every I, crossing every t’ God.

No, this was a man who likely spent days between Sabbaths largely alone, pouring over Scripture. Disciplined – yes. Committed – yes. Zealous for God as he knew Him to be – yes, yes and yes. And far removed from all of this – any hint of joy because for him, knowing God was about doing the right thing and religiously obeying the right laws. Joy does not fit into this.

Until …. he was stopped in his tracks. When everything came to a knocked off his perch stop where all the things he understood, went dark. Blindly dark. No reference points, no sightlines making sense of where his life had led and more importantly, where his life would lead in days to come.

Stopped – just like how we sometimes are. Not necessarily stopped from the driven like him but stopped from running after things that occupy us. Things are not necessarily bad – in fact, some are incredibly good. Like committed to family and trying to balance all the things that come with that or advancing in careers to establish ourselves and when we are especially lucky, doing things we enjoy, things that give purpose. Like a round robin of kids’ activities: sports, dance, drama, the cycle on continuous repeat. Exhausting but worth every minute. And then interrupting all that - the life-changing we never saw coming. Something that stops us where we suddenly realize that what we’ve been busy with, as good as they are, still leaving us unfulfilled; an unsettling feeling there has to be more.

In Saul’s case the everything stops moment was a blinding, light encounter that thrust him into a period of life-changing darkness. Darkness ironically allowed him to see light. Yet in another way, not ironic because often it’s awareness of the dark that opens us up to see what we’ve too long ignored. That the things with which we’ve been preoccupied, have often led us down dark empty paths that have taken us no closer to the lives we want. And in that awareness, an epiphany that we’ve been in the dark a long time and didn’t even know it.

In Saul’s case, it was a light from heaven revelation that ushered in 3 days of darkness. We aren’t told what transpired in those days but you can be certain lots did. Above all, his life-changing encounter with the living Christ shook him to the core. Discovering that Jesus, who he had sought to destroy, was the One foretold by the prophets, the One for whom he’d been searching. God in flesh, crucified now alive. Blinded into darkness gave him time to think on this, undeniably the euphoria of discovery and yet I doubt that he was spared flashes of incredible - guilt for things done where only days before when he, breathed out threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord Acts 9:1. But the predominant theme in his darkness – grace and overwhelming joy. Jesus appears to him – loving, forgiving - claiming him as His child. The past changed in an instant. And yet questions undoubtedly remained about the news he’d stepped into. How would he ever fit in the world of believers he’d persecuted? How would he fit anywhere as a blind, side-of-the-road beggar? And for a fiercely independent man that meant crippling dependency. Yet in the darkness of the unknown, a transformed life.

In his encounter with Jesus, Saul was made entirely different yet some things remained the same. Saul’s conversion didn’t change his personality, it changed his understanding of God. Changed his understanding of Jesus. And with that, his understanding of himself was changed as were his actions and attitudes.

His hate-filled, self-righteous drive was gone but his passion remained he was more passionate than he’d ever been. Only now - love replacing judgment; hope replacing threat, joy replacing legalism. A life-changing encounter with Jesus that he points to in Phil 4:3 knowing that his name was in the Book of Life.

In the Book of Life we see:

Rev 21:27 Nothing unclean will ever enter, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life or Rev 20:15 If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Paul’s joy? My name’s in the Book. Whatever else can be said of me, nothing better than this - my overwhelming joy – that my name’s in the book. I’m known and accepted by God because of Jesus. Sins are forgiven because of Jesus. A life forever because of Jesus.

Speaking from that transformation, Paul writes, Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness/reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things. Phil 4:4-8

Before Jesus, none of this could be said of Paul. He was defined by what he opposed not by what he loved. He was the description of worry, grace the last word that would be said of him. Now life was entirely different because Joy had chosen him.

So what would Paul have us understand – 1st that we are to be a people of joy because we’re in the Book. Not put on, wear it in public joy but joy from within. Not happiness in something achieved or a gift received. Happiness is situational and trying to hold onto situational happiness is like holding water in your hands. It’s momentary, only lasting as long as what’s immediately held. Not joy. JOY IS POSITIONALin the LORD. It is something we’ve been given as part of God’s nature. Ps 16:11 and 21:6 speak of the joy in His presence and the joy of His presence. Neh 8:10 tells us the joy of the Lord is our strength. That doesn’t say, the joy from the Lord, it says the joy OF the Lord. Joy is who God is. Jesus echoes this as He tells His disciples My joy in you Jn 15:11, 17:13. That is to say, the joy we have is GIVEN joy – deposited, waiting to be activated. A while back I purchased a patio heater that has a remote control switch. The remote is battery equipped but for it to work, a tab must be pulled to release its power. The power is there but until I choose to release its power, the remote is no more than decoration. It’s present but not operational. And God’s command to us activates what’s been given. How? By entering into worship who Jesus is and what He has done. Without worship, there is no joy in His presence which robs me of the experiential joy of His presence.

Living with joy is in great measure - a choice. It’s a choice we often fail to activate because we allow other things to block what we’ve been given. But let’s be clear – joy is not something we privately possess; it is something expressed in how we live. It can’t be any other way because we reflect on the things on which we focus. This isn’t necessarily lived out with dancing and laughter, though these shouldn’t be excluded, it will be lived out as visible hope. This isn’t saying we will always feel joyous.

That's what we’ll always live on a mountain high.

Because life is hard, disappointment is real, pain can crush which means there will be times when buoyant feelings don’t come. The Greek for joy is chara related to charis grace which tells me the center of our joy needs to be centred on God and the amazing grace He’s given us. So when life gets hard, re-center on God and give Him our needs and our requests. Let Him carry the hard.

Paul identifies 3 joy killers, 3 things we allow to keep us from living in His joy, the first:

1st Disagreements that divide:2 Euodia and Syntyche let disagreement linger and grow, damaging themselves and those around. A harboured offence that dwelt on all the wrongs, all the hurts. The action did not let go. Forgiveness is not given. And Paul’s word – deal with it. Make things right because as long as we don’t, will not know joy. When our disagreements lead, we are not living in the Lord. Positionally we may be IN the Lord but experientially we are living far distant. And as disciples of Jesus, we are to live as He’s called us to live - positionally AND experientially - people characterized by joy. Put faith into action and allow the Holy Spirit to course God’s life, His joy in and through our lives. He who believes in Me Jesus said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water Jn 7:38.

Though I’ve said it before, it bears repeating, if you hurt someone in the present or past, do what you can to make it right. If a child has been wronged, make that call. If past friendships have gone amuck, take the step.

2nd joy killer - perspectives that promote worry, focusing on the things that might happen; the ground that might collapse; the relationship that might fail; the calamity that might come. All the things that cultivate worry. Deceitful perspectives fix our attention in the wrong place. Things over which we have no control. And Paul’s word - re-focus to where we need to look because fixed on what is now seen, we are not living in the LORD. Understand who we serve. He is LORD. LORD over the things that surround and LORD over the things that may come. LORD, who invites us to Him.

3rd joy killer - Destructive attitudes that feed on wrong things - the negatives and critique, the ‘we liked it better when's. Simply put, those attitudes that take up residence in us leak out, first doing their wreckage in us and then destroying and infecting those around us. Joy can’t live in infected hearts. And Paul’s word – when the poison is carried within, we are not living IN the Lord. We’re living a divided, un-submitted life to the One we call Lord.

Paul knew what living with these joy killers was like because they once described him. They had been his native language. Language God exchanged for His joy.

That’s why in :4 he says, Rejoice in the Lord always, I’ll say it again, rejoice. Understand, Paul isn’t offering suggestions or proposing principles for how we are to live, rather when he says, Rejoice in the Lord, he is stating a command! This is the only command given in Scripture explicitly stated in this repetition form. Nowhere does God say, Do not murder, listen, get it in your heads, do not murder. He doesn’t say don’t commit adultery and then adds an emphatic, adultery - no time, no place, no way, making certain we get the picture. Why? Certainly not because those commands aren’t important but because of those things we understand.

But joy? How can we possibly be commanded to live out joy? Surely that’s something that’s got to happen to me before it can happen to me.

And Paul’s response, as believers in Jesus, joy has been planted in us, and the Holy Spirit’s presence means joy. So Paul’s point, live out of that. Paul commands joy because we’ve been given God’s power to live joy. So get your focus right and start living according to the truth of who you are. Consider, what are the first mentioned pieces of evidence of being filled with the Spirit? Love and JOY. So by focusing on Him, be an active participant and demonstrated a witness of joy.

Rejoice in the Lord, always, I’ll say it again, rejoice. This command invites us into a life God says is possible. People filled with joy. People who radiate joy. This is why our worship is so important. It’s not about the songs we sing, it’s about the worship we give and the worship we are surrounded by as we sing. It’s about the things we look at and the viewpoints that saturate our life.

Above all, never forget that Jesus has given us a new life.

Sometimes, we who’ve been Christians for a while, fail to appreciate what that means; the things we’ve been saved from things that bring wreckage and heartbreak, things that destroy. And when we fail to consider the life that’s been left behind, it’s easy for our sense of joy to become muted.

But our lives are also to be characterized by joy because a changed life is to be an always changing life. In how this looks, God does not give a personality exclusion – well, that’s just not me. Nor does He give a situational pass – sure, when I get through the things I’m dealing with. But in this command, a call to choose. It’s something chosen not felt.

Emotions tell me that’s not true – I’ve got to feel it, to do it. God’s word tells me I must choose joy to live joy, to be filled (keep being) with the Spirit and from that, the fruits of the Spirit will come – chief among them – joy. The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song, I give thanks to him. Ps 28:7 ESV.

So is this to say, that I’m going to feel joy about all the things that press in on my life? That I’m to smile through the bad and sing through the storm? Not exactly, because Jesus reminds us, that in this life there will be trouble but His assurance to us is what Isaiah would say, Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. 12:2

Admiral James Stockdale was an 8-year POW during the Viet Nam war. Asked how he survived, he observed, “I never lost faith at the end of the story. I never doubted that I would get out but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.” When he was further asked, ‘Who didn’t make it out?’, he responded, “Oh that’s easy. he optimists …. They were the ones who said, We’ll be out by Christmas .. or out by Easter … and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

They were the ones who put their faith in a ‘trouble is over the outcome.

As Christians, we aren’t promised a pain-free, trouble-free life. Jesus tells us that in this life, we will have tribulation but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world Jn 16:33. His point, is we are not called to some blind faith or a Pollyanna joy, we are called to a re-directed faith, placing our faith in the One who writes our story. Paul pointing us to change where we look, people whose focus is on the blessings we’ve been given; whose focus is on what God’s Word says is true; wanting us to see that there’s a greater truth than the things that come at us that cause us trouble, and that is our hope that, the Lord is near. Near His return. Near as He’s claimed you for His child. Near when all harm and pain will finally be destroyed. Near when He’ll usher in His glorious kingdom with all that joy has for us. God’s nearness of so much greater ahead.

But the Lord is near also speaks to the reality that now, in the daily the Lord is near. To live under the view of Him as the kids drive you to distraction, as the workplace threatens to put you under, as friends betray and as situations overwhelm you. The Lord is near – to hold, to empower, to sustain, to comfort. That’s what Paul is talking about in verse 6 when he says, Don’t worry about anything but in everything by prayer present it to God. To God who says, I’ll carry it. I’ve got it. So quit trying to carry what you were never meant to carry. And in :7 when you do that – your life will be at rest.

Peace gave beyond understanding. Peace in the place of worry. Peace of a heart at rest. Peace is not merely because worry is gone, but peace because our focus has changed. When that happens, joy comes because our minds and our hearts are centred on Jesus. The Psalmist tells us, “in your presence, there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” 16:11.

So what is God telling us? – live in the presence and power of Jesus. Not in monastic retreat but as the pressures come and as the turmoil gets loud. At work, at school, at home – God’s got it but He only gets what we choose to give. Giving our despair when we don’t know which way to go; giving our pain that at times feels far more than we can carry; giving our 2nd nature attitudes of how we’ve done life. Given to God who has promised to carry it all. And in its place:

Focus on the true, the honourable, the just, the pure, the lovely, the commendable and watch as your life and mine become lives on the show. Living with the joy Paul speaks of as, blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you SHINE LIKE STARS in the universe. Hold firmly the message of life 2:15,16a

This is the life Paul commands us to live, our eyes fixed on Jesus, lives of peace lives of joy. All possible for those who have received new life in Jesus, sins forgiven because of the shed blood of Jesus. That life can be yours as well, no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how lost you’ve been. All possible because of the shed blood of Jesus. Offered to YOU as you confess your sins and accept the forgiveness offered in His blood. Just by asking.

Do it now, in the awareness that the Lord is near. Near in His promise to hear what you sincerely ask of Him and near as our soon returning Lord and King. And that is the reason for our JOY - a joy none of us want to miss.

0 views0 comments
Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page