Sticking Your Toe Into A Sea Of Joy
Can you imagine? Can you imagine all that God is going to do in and through the lives of the young women and men of MDPC. Frankly, I can hardly wait to see it. I thank God for all of them.
The words of Psalm 16. This is the Word of God.
“Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge. I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’ As for the saints who are in the land, they are glorious ones in whom is all my delight. The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods. I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips. Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely, I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night, my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His Holy Word.
Pray with me, please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest, just give me Jesus. Amen.
You may have picked up the hint that I love interesting, intriguing, sometimes even quirky little stories from the world of sports. Here is one such story. No doubt you’re aware of the fact that the National Baseball Hall of Fame located in Cooperstown, New York, enshrines more than 200 of the very best players ever to play the game of baseball. Only the best of the best ever make it to the Hall of Fame. Well, just a couple of years ago, an interesting, fascinating thing happened in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame was in the process of a complete refurbishing of the facility. They were, among other things, going to install a new humidification system designed to help preserve and protect the historical items which celebrate and honor the greatest players of all time. In the process of that project, it became necessary to remove all of the display cases in the Hall of Fame. And it was, as those display cases were being removed, that suddenly, one of the workers noticed that under one of the display cases being moved there was, on the floor, a photograph. He assumed that the photograph had fallen out of the display case. He picked it up. It was the photograph of a man dressed in a 1940s style baseball uniform with a bat on his right shoulder, and on the left sleeve of the uniform was the emblem of a small dinosaur.
Well, given the fact that he felt this was an important photograph, he took the photograph to Ted Spencer, who is the curator of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Ted Spencer looked at the photograph, immediately recognized it was not one of the great players enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but he wondered, who was this fellow and how in the world did this photograph get into The Hall of Fame. He recognized, as he looked at the uniform, that it was probably the uniform of some industrial league baseball team and a team probably sponsored, because of the little logo on the sleeve, by the old Sinclair Oil company. But who was the man in the photograph? He turned the photograph over, hoping that there would be a name on the back. There wasn’t. However, there was, on the back of the photograph, a handwritten message, a message written, obviously, by the son of the man in the photograph. And the son signed the message with just his first name, Pat.
Well, Ted Spencer was so intrigued with this little mystery, that he made a copy of the photograph and gave it to his good friend, Steve Wulf, who is one of the baseball writers at Sports Illustrated. They actually ran the photograph in the magazine asking for leads as to the identity of the man in the photograph. Before long, the story emerged. The man in the photograph was named Joe O’Donnell, and the photograph was placed in the baseball Hall of Fame by his son, Pat, after his father Joe had died. He wrote the message on the back of the photograph, and the message read like this. Listen. “Dad, you belong here. You were the great joy of my life. You were never too tired to play catch with me on your days off. You helped build the Little League field, you always came to watch me play. Now, you are gone and I miss you so. You told me that the Hall of Fame was only for the best of the best. Well, you were a Hall of Famer, Dad, the best of the best. You deserve to be here. Your son, Pat.”
Well, it seems that in August of 1989, Pat O’Donnell was making a tour of the Hall of Fame Museum and he was carrying with him this photograph of his late father. He noticed, underneath one of the display cases, there was just a tiny little space between the bottom of the case and the floor. And so, when no one was looking, he knelt down and he slid the photograph of his father underneath that display case. And then he said, “Okay, Dad, now you’re in the Hall of Fame.
Ted Spencer was so intrigued by this story that after the Hall of Fame had been completely refurbished, Ted Spencer actually placed the photograph of Joe O’Donnell in an envelope, he wrote a letter explaining the circumstances of that photograph, and then he placed the letter in the envelope and addressed it to any future curator of the National Baseball Hall of Fame who might happen to find that envelope. And then Ted Spencer actually slipped the envelope right under the very display case where earlier, Pat O’Donnell had placed the photograph of his father. And as a result, Joe O’Donnell, who know one ever heard of, Joe O’Donnell has a permanent place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Now, I want to tell you something. That story will preach. And, in fact, you’re getting ready to hear it. Now, what was it that made Pat O’Donnell feel that his dad was the best of the best, that his dad belonged in the Hall of Fame? It was the fact that his greatest joy in life came from the love of his father. His father was always there for him. His father was always supporting him. His father was always going the second mile for him. His father was always loving him unconditionally. And so, he believed that his father was the best of the best. And so love, you see, love is what caused Pat O’Donnell to regard his dad as being a Hall of Famer.
In the same manner, our Lord is our Heavenly Father.
And the only way to experience true joy in life is to understand that the loving presence of our Heavenly Father is with us.
He is always there for us. He is always there to support us. He is always there going the second mile for us. He is always there loving us unconditionally. I love the way the psalmist puts it, “Lord, you have made known to me the path of life. You will fill my life with joy in your presence and eternal pleasures are at Your right hand.” How beautiful. I’d like to share with you what I think the psalmist means as he delivers those words to us. The Bible, I believe, is here reminding us that you and I actually, literally, can experience the reality of the loving presence of God in our lives. Now, I know there are a lot of people out there in the world who doubt that. There are all kinds of people around us who cannot accept that. They cannot imagine how some great God, if in fact there is a great God, how some great God could ever take up residence in hearts like yours and mine. They can’t conceive it. And because they can’t conceive it, they can’t believe it. And because they can’t believe it, they can’t receive it. And oh my, do they ever miss out on a lot in life.
Let me try to express it like this. I actually read about this in USA Today, and so it must be true. I read about a group of college kids who pulled a prank in Yellowstone National Park. You know that one of the great attractions of Yellowstone is the Old Faithful geyser, the geyser that erupts on a fairly fixed schedule. Well, these college kids got together and they went to Yellowstone, and they proceeded to measure and calculate the precise amount of time between the eruptions of Old Faithful. Furthermore, they measured and calculated the amount of time that each eruption lasted. And then they got two big pipes and hooked them together with a hand-cranked valve at the top and then they joined the crowd at Yellowstone waiting for the eruption of Old Faithful. And just before the eruption—they knew because of their calculations—they suddenly broke out of the crowd, jumped over the barrier, went out halfway between the crowd and Old Faithful, jammed those pipes in the ground, and suddenly began turning that valve for all they were worth. And as they did, suddenly, Old Faithful erupted and the water went soaring skyward. And then, because of their calculations, they waited until they knew just about the time that the eruption was going to stop, and they turned the valve the other way, and sure enough, the water retreated right back down into the earth. The great crowd fell apart laughing. They thought that was hilarious. It was so funny, everybody thought that, except for the National Park Police. They didn’t think it was so funny. Fortunately, for those college kids, in time, the police came around and they saw the humor in the whole thing. It was a great joke.
What I am talking about here is no joke. I want to suggest to you that the loving presence of God in our lives is exactly like Old Faithful. Let me explain. Old Faithful is totally uncontrollable. You cannot switch it on and off. You cannot operate it with a valve. It is totally uncontrollable. And Old Faithful is completely unexplainable. No one understands the plumbing of Old Faithful. No one can tell you how and why the geyser erupts like it does. It is totally uncontrollable; it is completely unexplainable; however, it is absolutely dependable. That’s exactly what’s true of the loving presence of God in our lives. It is totally uncontrollable; we can’t just switch it on and off. It is completely unexplainable; no preacher, no theologian, no one can describe for you how the great God of the universe can come to take up residence in your heart and mind. It is completely unexplainable. But while it is totally uncontrollable and completely unexplainable, nevertheless, it is absolutely dependable. You can count on it.
We cannot explain it, but we sure can experience it. And not only that, but we can enjoy it.
You, oh Lord, will fill my life with joy in your presence. Now, let me try to share with you how those words have impacted my life. Let me express it like this. No doubt, you’ve had this experience. I’ve had it any number of times. You go to the beach, you go to the seashore, and if you watch people as they are preparing to swim in the ocean, so many, many times, they will walk right up to the edge of the water and then they’ll stretch out their leg and they’ll just barely stick their toe into the water. And after that, then they’ll take a step further into the water, and then another step, and then they’ll move out into the smaller waves. And then as they get a little farther, they suddenly plunge into the water, immerse themselves in the waves, and then come up, enjoying every minute of it.
Well, I believe that’s the way it can be for us in the faith. Just stick your toe into the faith, just a little bit, not much, just a little. Just stick your toe into what little of Jesus you know and understand at any point along the way. And then having done that, then just take another little step and then another larger step and then, then after that, plunge yourself into the things of Christ. Dive into what it really means to live your life in obedience to Jesus Christ every day. And you will discover that the more you immerse yourself in the Word, the way, and the will of the Lord, the more you will experience in your life sheer joy, unbridled, exhilarating, inexhaustible, indestructible, unshakable, unbreakable joy. The only way, I submit, to know true deep joy in life is to know the loving presence of the Lord at the center of your life.
That’s what the psalmist is driving at. When he says, “You will fill my life with joy,” that’s what He has done for me. I tell you, I have surrendered myself totally and completely to Jesus Christ. And no matter the circumstances of my life, not always sweetness and light, no matter the circumstances of my life, there is always, at the very center of my being, a joy which nothing in this life can ever destroy. The same thing can be true for you; count on it. “You will fill my life with joy in your presence, oh Lord.”
I suppose that’s why, for as long as I live, I shall never forget hearing Robert Reed speak. Robert Reed is a missionary, but Robert Reed is not an ordinary missionary. Wait a minute. Wait, wait, wait. Let me say that again. There is no such thing as an ordinary missionary. But Robert Reed is a most extraordinary missionary indeed.
Robert Reed is confined to a wheelchair. He suffers from the condition known as Cerebral Palsy. His speech when he speaks is sometimes a bit slurred. His hands are bent, twisted, and crooked. He cannot unbutton a button or unzip a zipper. He can barely push over the pages of his Bible. That didn’t stop him from graduating from Abilene Christian College here in Texas. That didn’t stop him from majoring in the Romance languages. That didn’t stop him from becoming fluent in four different languages. That didn’t stop him from taking a teaching position at a community college in St. Louis, Missouri. That didn’t stop him from taking a mission trip with his church to Lisbon, Portugal. And while he was there, Robert Reed experienced the clear, unmistakable call of God to become a missionary of Jesus Christ. And his field of service was to be Lisbon, Portugal. It made perfect sense. He was fluent in Portuguese; he could speak the language of the people. But more to the point, he could speak the language of the Lord.
I suppose that for as long as I live, I will never forget hearing Robert Reed speak. He understands that wheelchair of his is not a wheeled prison, it’s a chariot of fire. His shirts are held together with Velcro, but his heart is held together by faith. He is an incredibly powerful witness to Jesus Christ. He befriended the manager in the little hotel where he was staying in Lisbon, and that man became the man who actually feeds Robert Reed every meal; his bent, twisted, crooked hands cannot hold a fork. And so, every morning, Robert Reed would get up and struggle into his wheelchair and wheel himself out to the city park in Lisbon. And there, he would hand out little pamphlets to passers-by, pamphlets about Jesus Christ. He would hold them in his bent, twisted, crooked hands, and anyone who took a pamphlet, he would engage in conversation. Seven years, seven years he went to the park in Lisbon. And at the end of seven years, there were 60 people who had been converted to Jesus Christ. And with those 60 people, Robert Reed established a church in Lisbon. And in the years since, that church has grown.
One of the members of the church ultimately became Robert Reed’s life’s partner in love and mission. Her name is Rosa. For as long as I live, I shall never forget hearing Robert Reed speak. Four men lifted his wheelchair up and placed it on the platform. Rosa then placed his Bible in his lap, open. And with his bent, twisted, crooked hand, he shoved the pages over until he came to the letter of James, the first chapter of that letter. And then he read these words: “Sisters and brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, count it to be nothing but joy.” And then he lifted his head, and with an incredible smile on his face, he said, “I have everything I need for joy in my life.” And I thought to myself, “No, you don’t. No, you don’t. You don’t have your health. You don’t have your mobility; you cannot walk, you cannot play basketball, you cannot roughhouse with the kids on the floor. You don’t have everything you need for joy.” It was almost as if he knew what I was thinking because suddenly, he looked up and he said, even more forcefully and powerfully then before, with one bent, twisted, crooked hand shaking for emphasis, he cried, “Please hear me. My joy is not based on what I can do or what I cannot do. My joy is based on who I am. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I am a child of God. And no disease and no disability can ever take that joy away from me.” For as long as I live, I will never, ever forget hearing Robert Reed speak. Because I learned from Robert Reed that the only way to know real joy in this life in a world like this, a world filled with trials and troubles and tragedies, a world filled with hardship and heartbreak and heartache, the only way to know true joy in a world like this is to know the loving presence of Jesus Christ in your life.
That’s what the psalmist is driving at. “Lord, you have made known to me the path of light. You will fill my life with joy in your presence. And at your right hand, there are pleasures forevermore.” I guess that’s why I like to say that joy is a five-letter word. It’s spelled J-E-S-U-S.
Soli Deo gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.