Rejoicing in the Lord (12/16/2018)

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Once there was a man who fell in love with Jesus. Over the years, his devotion to Christ became so rich and deep that he decided to quit his job, sell all of his possessions and become a monk. He joined a monastery that was so strict he could only speak two words every ten years.
For ten years he diligently worked, prayed and studied God’s word. When the day arrived that he could speak his two words, he walked up to the abbot and said, “Hard bed.” Then he went back to his obligations.
Ten years later he walked up to the abbot and said, “Bad food.” Afterwards, he returned to his duties.
Ten more years passed. He’d now been there 30 years. When the day arrived for him to speak his two words, the looked the abbot in the eye and said, “I quit.”
The abbot looked him up and down then quietly replied, “I’m not surprised. You’ve done nothing but complain ever since you got here.”

We laugh at this. But hopefully it makes us think about how we present ourselves to the rest of the world. Are we known for being excited because we’re disciples of Jesus? Or are we better known for our complaining?

On more than one occasion, I’ve heard some waitresses don’t like to work Sunday afternoon shifts because that’s when a lot of Christians eat out. Christians have the reputation for being rude and lousy tippers. I wanted to find out if this was true so I asked several waitresses about it. Most of them were reluctant to share too much since they were talking to a pastor.

One day my wife, Stephanie, and I struck up a conversation with a young waitress in Altoona. We found out she was a Christian who didn’t attend Sunday worship on a regular basis. She often worked instead. I asked her viewpoint of the Sunday afternoon Christian crowd. She said her experience was they tipped OK but they were more demanding than the non-Christians were. The Christians were the ones who were more likely to complain about the food not being fixed correctly or that their drinks weren’t refilled fast enough.

We’re also have the reputation for being easily offended when things don’t go our way in modern culture. Some Christians get upset because people say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Others refuse to watch any movie where the main star supports a politician they don’t.

Now I realize that not every Christian acts this way. But we have to acknowledge this is how many people in our society view us. Is it any wonder some people reject our faith? Many people don’t reject Jesus because of Jesus. They reject Jesus because of Christians.

What would happen if we decided to grow some thicker skin and actually do what the Bible teaches? The Bible doesn’t tell us to be cheap, rude and offended by every little thing. It tells us to do the exact opposite.

The New Testament contains a letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi. That congregation was facing hardships and dealing with false teachers. When Paul wrote to them, he was in prison. He encouraged them to remain faithful and gave them a few instructions on how they should live.

Let’s look at what he said in the conclusion of his letter. Philippians 4:4-7 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

God expects disciples of Jesus to be known as people who are always rejoicing. Paul says having this type of attitude should then lead us to be gentle with others. The Greek word that’s translated to “gentleness” in this passage “denotes generosity towards others and is a characteristic of Christ himself” (New Interpreter’s Commentary). Being generous and Christlike should flow out of us. The reason this happens is spelled out at the end of verse 7. We focus on the fact “the Lord is near.”

Advent and Christmas remind us how near he actually came to us. John 1:14 says, “The Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus, the Son of God, our Redeemer, came down from heaven to earth in the form of a baby. He did it to save us from the penalty of our sins so we can spend eternity in heaven.

Even though Jesus went back into heaven after his death and resurrection, other scriptures tell us he’s still very near to us. As a matter-of-fact, we often overlook how close he really is. Galatians 2:20 tells us, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Jesus is so close to us that he actually lives in us.

When we gripe, Christ is with us. When we complain that our glass wasn’t refilled fast enough, he is inside of us. When we go off on someone because she said “Happy Holidays,” Jesus is there. Would we complain as much if we concentrated on the fact that Jesus is always with us?

Rejoicing hearts and gentleness aren’t the only results of the Lord living in us. Paul also tells us we don’t have to be anxious about anything. The prayers we lift up to the throne of God aren’t fueled by worry or anger. They flow out of thankful hearts. Once all of this takes place, the peace of God guards our hearts and minds.

There’s an important point in all of this that many Christians often overlook. God doesn’t expect us to do all of this by relying on our own strength and abilities. If we could naturally do these things on our own, we wouldn’t have the reputation for being a bunch of whiners and cheapskates. This passage teaches that if we are faithful to Jesus by rejoicing and being gentle, the power of Christ within us will give us supernatural peace. The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary says the “peace” promised here (v. 7) “is total-well-being, and it comes from God…to those who are in Christ Jesus and who share his attitude, so that his ‘heart and mind’ become theirs.

Since we’re approaching Christmas, the time when we give presents to one another, let’s give a present to Jesus. Let’s honor him by deciding we want to be known as people who rejoice and are gentle instead of being known as people who are thin-skinned and complain when we don’t get our way.

Since acting like this isn’t natural for us, let’s start small. I’m challenging each one of us to Go one week rejoicing instead of complaining!

Make it a point not to complain when you eat out or fight the crowds as you do your last-minute shopping. Be loving and thankful instead. Don’t fire off an email, text or other message that complains about someone or something you don’t like. Make it an encouraging one instead. When you realize your children didn’t clean-up the way you wanted them to, start by sharing the things they did right before you show them what they did wrong. Thank your spouse for the 4 things that did get checked off the list before you gripe about the one thing she or he didn’t do. In whatever situation you find yourself, rejoice and be gentle with anyone whom the Lord puts in your path.

We’re going to need each other’s help to do this. Give your spouse permission to tell you when you’re complaining. Parents, encourage your children to tell you when they hear you do this. If you aren’t married or don’t have children living at home, allow those who are around you to speak up when they hear you complain. Let’s keep one another accountable for the teachings in this passage. If you hear someone else complaining, even if it’s me, gently tell them. We need to help each other if we’re going to break our patterns of complaining.

Doing this will open the door for the supernatural power of Jesus to flow out of us and give us peace. As this happens, the world will see how Christians who faithfully walk with Jesus really look and act.