Joy to pass the test .:. Borne Identity

This sermon was preached at the Church in Waldo.
You can listen to the recording here, or read the manuscript below:

I want to read John 15:9-11 to you. It’s a staggering passage that’s really messed me up this week.

John 15:9, Jesus says “9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

Do you want the joy of Jesus? Do you want a joy that the only word Jesus uses to describe it is this: full. It’s a joy that is full. Jesus says, “It’s my joy, it’s full, and I want you to have it.”

Are you hearing this?! Jesus offers to us his joy! His joy! A joy that Hebrews 12 says was set before him so he was able to endure the torment of the cross. A joy that the Spirit of God wants to bear as fruit in our lives. Jesus offers to us his joy.

Doesn’t that sound awesome?!

So why is it that so many of us don’t seem to be living lives full of joy?

I used to help out in the summers at a Boys Camp. One of the 9 year olds asked me this question: “If God is bigger than me…and Jesus is in my heart, then shouldn’t I be able to see him?”

If the Spirit of God is in me—and the fruit of the Spirit is joy—then why isn’t my life filled with it? What keeps us from living lives full of joy?

If I asked you to put together a list of the top ten things in life that bring you joy, what would you include on it? What would make the list? …family? Music? Nature? A friend or mentor? Fogo De Chao (that’d be on mine) Think about it…what would make your top ten?

If we went around the room comparing lists, I’d venture to say that none of our top tens would include this particular thing. Listen to what James writes about joy in James 1:2.

He says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when: you meet trials of various kinds…”

Yeah, that wasn’t gonna make my top 10. Why would he say “Consider it all joy—pure joy (some translations say)—Consider it pure, unadulterated, everlasting joy when trials come your way.”

In fact, so often, what we think keeps us from joy are trials. Life’s tough. There’s so much suffering…it’s hard to stay above it, right? Trials steal our joy, we often think.

So what does James know that I don’t? The word “trial” that James uses can also be translated as “test.” Think of a court trial, for example. The Judge and Jury are testing to see what’s real and what’s not. A test reveals what is real. A trial can be any situation that tests your faith and character to see what you can handle, and I don’t know about you but I never liked tests. Not at all.

I remember my first day of college: one of my professors stood in front of the class and said, “I know how you guys think this works. You think you can goof off for most of the semester then try to cram it all in at the end, but you won’t be able to master the material that way; it can only be learned incrementally. So…I’m not gonna tell you when any of the exams are.”

That was her opening line…and she wasn’t kidding. There was no participation grade. There was no homework grade. There were no quizzes or papers or anything like that; only four tests. Four random, pop-quiz like exams. It was her way of saying, “You’d better come to class, and you’d better keep up,” because the tests can come at anytime.

James says, “Count it all joy, WHEN—not IF, but WHEN—they come.”

So the tests are coming. That’s what James tells us. Trials are coming, but not just any one kind. Notice, he writes trials of “trials of various kinds.” That word “various” can be translated as “multicolored.” So not only do we not know when the tests are coming, but we don’t even know what the tests will look like.

You won’t just get hit with red trials, life’s gonna throw some pink and blue ones in there too. Trials suck, but at least they’re not redundant—at least they’re not bland and boring. Life’s gonna be creative when it messes with you. Today was brown; tomorrow’s green. The next day might be orange and violet. “How’s your week been?” Ah, you know, just getting hit with a: double rainbow.”

Yesterday was a flat tire, but tomorrow might be a head on collision. Yesterday was a malicious rumor being spread about you by a close friend, but tomorrow you’ll get fired from your job for no substantial reason. Yesterday, you discovered your spouse has been hiding a 5 year porn addiction. Tomorrow, your dad dies.

Trials come, and they don’t always look the same. That means we don’t always recognize them as tests, but they’re tests nonetheless. So remember: the tests are coming, and they don’t always look the same, but above all else, here’s what a test does and here’s what I think James is getting at when he says count it all joy.

A test reveals what’s real.

Take my college class. As bad as random tests might be, here’s the thing: if you did keep up, the tests weren’t so bad. At least in the sense that they kept you honest: they showed when you were making progress and where you still needed work…they held you accountable and even kept you going in a way because you were constantly coming prepared, no matter what.

But: if you were letting it slide, if you were trying to bluff your way through it, well, it showed you where you really were, because a test reveals what’s real.

“Count it all joy” James says, “when you meet trials,” because the tests are coming and you have no idea when, but they are coming—a wide spectrum of colorful tests will be thrown at you, and despite what it may feel like, trials don’t steal your joy; they merely reveal where your joy has been coming from.

Now, up until this point, I may have given the impression that it’s joy being tested—and it is, in a way—but really, what’s being tested is what’s underneath joy. Joy is seen on the surface, but what’s below is: faith. Trials are tests of our faith.

Look at how James finishes the thought. He starts by saying “Count it all joy, when various trials come… [then continues in v3-4] …because you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. Let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Joy is linked to faith. In fact, Joy stems from faith. Look up these other passages sometime on your own: Paul says this in Romans 5:1-5; Peter says it in 1 Peter 1:6-7; and as we’ve seen already, James says it here—that our joy is the by-product of what we place our faith in. Where your faith is, there your joy will be.

What you find your joy in reveals where you’ve placed your faith.

If your joy rises and falls with the stock market, that’s where you’ve placed your faith. If your joy is contingent on what people say about you, or what your boss thinks of you, or what the government or a business deems as acceptable, then I’m telling you, that’s where you’ve placed your faith.

And when you have faith in something and that something gives out, your joy does to. Trials test our joy because they test our faith. Metal is tested and strengthened through fiery trials. Same with faith… Where is your faith? That’s where your joy is too.

That means Joy only endures if our Faith is in something enduring. Real Joy is not borne out of a faulty or even a blind faith…and that’s where the tests come in. Trials don’t steal your joy, they simply reveal whether or not your faith is in something lasting. Joy then, is the observable overflow of our unseen faith.

So, if you’re here this morning and you find that there’s a lack of joy, it’s a likely sign and symptom that your faith has been misplaced into something that was never meant to bear that kind of weight. Missing joy reveals misplaced faith.

On top of this, tests also show us that it’s not about the size of our faith, but the object of our faith. It’s not about how much faith you have, but where you place your faith.

I may have a WHOLE lot of faith in this table vs. your little faith in this table, but if we both stood on it and the table crumbled beneath us; we’d both be on the ground despite the amounts of our faith. Trials don’t test the size of our faith, they test the object of our faith and help us see if we’ve misplaced our faith.

Joy, then, is like the thermometer reading what’s going on in the situation. Faith is the thermostat, joy is the thermometer. The thermometer of joy only reads what’s going on according to the thermostat of Faith. Joy simply gives us a read on where our faith has been set.

If your joy goes missing in the midst of a trial, it’s likely you’ve misplaced your faith. So tests don’t steal your joy, they reveal where your faith is placed.

Matt. 4:1-11 tells us about the time Jesus was tested 3 times. He had just finished a 40 day fast. No eating for 40 days and 40 nights. I can hardly make it 4 hours between meals sometimes. And here, in this moment of all moments of weakness, Jesus somehow passes the tests. 3 of them. Aced with flying colors.

How was Jesus able to do this? We often say “Well he was God, so…” as if that dismisses it. Yeah, he’s fully God, but you know what else: he was also fully man, and as a man, he knew what it was like to be so hungry—so empty—you’d do anything to satisfy and fill it.

As a man, he knew what it was like to have his own dreams and passions to pursue that could have pulled him away from doing his Father’s will (if anyone could have used God to achieve his own purposes, it would have been Jesus, but he didn’t!).

As a man, he knew what it was like to want to bypass pain—to bypass effort—in order to attain your inevitable destiny. He knew what those things were like and yet he was able to pass the test, each time. How?

Think back to the first passage we read. Jesus said, “As the father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” He continues to say how he “kept his Father’s commandments and abides in his love,” then offers his full joy to anyone who abides in his love.

You want the full joy of Jesus? Here’s the secret. Look at this. In the verses directly preceding the 3 tests from Matt 4, in Matthew 3:16-17—look what it says: as soon as Jesus was baptized and he got out of the water—at that very moment: heaven opened…and the Spirit of God descended like a dove and rested on him. And then, this voice from heaven—this massive voice from God the Father, himself—declared these words, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Then, Matt. 4:1 tells us, then Jesus was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil.”

God had JUST confirmed his love for Jesus, THEN(!), Jesus ends up surrounded by various trials. If you find yourself in the desert and far from green pastures—in a situation that sounds more like a fiery furnace than a day at the beach—I want you to hear me speaking this truth over you…let this truth liberate you and free you now:

God. is. not. mad at you.
—Suffering doesn’t mean God hates you…
—The desert doesn’t mean God stopped loving you…

We often think tests are God’s way of trying to get back at us for something we’ve done, but like Ethan Williamson so aptly shared with us a month ago:

“God did not cause your child to be born blind or with some other disability because of your sin. God did not send your car off the road causing you to be paralyzed for the rest of your life because of your sin. God did not give you cancer because of your sin. God did not cause you to live your life in toil and poverty because of your sin.

God’s only answer to our sin is a baby in a manger,
a man on a cross, and an empty tomb. Period.”

God is not mad at you… if anything, he’s mad about you.
 He loves you and He is with you in the wilderness and in the fire.

Jesus may have been starved of food, but he wasn’t starved of God’s love. That’s the secret. He had just been assured of the Father’s love before any of this started and because he chose to abide in and place his faith in the love of God—something enduring—his joy was full and he didn’t feel the need to look into something temporal to find it.

If you’re going to have lasting joy—a joy to pass the test—you need to be absolutely convinced of God’s love for you; a love that Paul urges us in Ephesians 3 not only to be rooted and grounded in, but also to give all of our lives to knowing more fully just how deep and wide and high and vast it is; a love that no matter what we have done, no matter what we do, and no matter what we ever will do—Romans 8 assures us that we can never ever EVER be separated from it if we are in Christ; a love that no power of hell or death or fire could ever take away… That’s the very thing the tests are trying to reveal, if our faith is in this love, because if so, our joy will be full.

Is this your joy?

Again, listen to the words of Jesus from John 15:9…
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” And v11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

If you are not certain of God’s love for you, then you’ll fail the test. But if you see his love as the foundation of your faith, then your joy will last because God’s love is everlasting. Your joy will endure because his love endures forever. Your joy will never end or change no matter the fiery storms of hell that come because God’s love is unending and unchanging and eternally the same.

One last thing that needs to be addressed:
Does all this mean you shouldn’t find joy in what you do? if you’re a teacher, should you not enjoy teaching? Or if you’re a mom, that you shouldn’t ever enjoy being a mom? Of course not. That’s ludicrous.

Of course you should be able to find joy in those things…and when you rest ALL of your joy in God’s love, it protects you from resting all of your joy in any one of those things, which then frees you to enjoy them for what they are instead of demanding they satisfy more than they were ever meant to.

To paraphrase one author, learn to “trace the sunbeam back to the Sun,”—enjoy the sunbeam, but realize where it came from. Don’t get caught up so much in the blessing that you miss the Blesser, who is the source of all blessing. Trace the sunbeam back to the Sun. Enjoy these things. But see them for what they are, little signs—little joys—all pointing to the greater and greatest Joy.

I really do enjoy Fogo de Chao. I mentioned it twice now in this sermon. Big fan. For those who don’t know what it is, it’s a brazilian steakhouse where they bring you endless meat. All-you can eat. Lamb, ribs, bacon wrapped chicken, filet mignon, you name it. Just endless.

And no matter what you’re craving, it won’t run out, because it’s all you can eat. But it’s a lesser joy. I’m not supposed to find all my joy in it. But, to trace the sunbeam back to the sun looks like this: every time I eat it, I don’t have to indulge, but can appreciate it for what it is. It becomes a visual reminder for me of the all you can eat love of God that he invites me to feast my heart on.

Feast your heart on the love of God. It’s not running out. There’s filet here, and strip, and lamb, and when you get tired of those, there’s more than you can imagine because his love is endless.

I mentioned earlier about the 9 year old from the Boys Camp I used to help out. His name was Daniel. It was free time, he’s playing tetherball and after getting beaten, he blew up. Which was a fairly normal thing for him. It seemed every hour or so, something else went wrong.

Joy was an elusive reality for him. Daniel dealt with some serious demons. He was constantly bitter. Always angry. He was so easily agitated and highly aggressive toward other kids. So when I saw the fight about to go down, I intervened. I pulled him aside and starting talking with him.

I won’t bore you right now with all the details of the conversation, but after twenty minutes or so of walking around the campgrounds—seeing the magnificence of the mountain range and the dazzling sun shining brightly above them—Daniel gave his life to Jesus.

It was after this, that he asked: “If God is bigger than me…and Jesus is in my heart, then shouldn’t I be able to see him?”

Well, not two minutes later, as we’re lining up for dinner, a frisbee comes flying out of nowhere and hits him in the back of the head. He quickly clenches his fists, turns around, and then—I saw it: a change in his eyes. It’s like he was so used to responding a certain way that it was his body’s default, but then something happened. Something—or Someone—took over. His eyes…were soft. His fists…loosened.

He picked up the frisbee, walked over to the kid who threw it & said, “…can I play?”

Because of his newfound faith in God, he found a joy to pass the test.

So, Daniel, to answer your question: “If God is bigger than me and Jesus is in my heart, then shouldn’t I be able to see him?”

Believe me, kid, Jesus is showing through.

Place your faith in God, feast on his endless unwavering love, and when the trials of life fly out at you like frisbees, you’ll have a joy to pass the test. And as you do this, you’ll come to appreciate the little joys of life as they were meant to be enjoyed. You’ll live a more joyful life, because your faith will be set on the bedrock of God’s enduring love.

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