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The Gospel: Cheerful Tidings Or Tearful Chidings?

Philippians 4:4-7

Well, I’m back from my vacation, and boy, am I ever glad!”Well, I’m back from my vacation, and boy, am I ever glad!”

You see my wife, Trisha, now more or less lovingly and laughingly refers to our recent vacation as “the vacation from hell”. The first part of it was quite wonderful, but then, let me tell you, everything came unstuck! First of all, they called from the church to tell us that the church’s home, where we had been living, had been sold in just ten days time, and furthermore, the new owner wished to take occupancy in just two weeks. That meant that we would have to cut our vacation short and come home in order to move.

Add to that an additional complication. The condominium in which we were scheduled to move later on was not anywhere near ready for occupancy. And then to add insult to injury—or maybe more accurately -to add injury to insult—in the middle of all that, my back went out. And Trisha was left to drive the ten hours home, while I was stretched out on the back seat with the dog and the cat! You can imagine what that did for my immortal soul. Thanks to the miraculous efforts to some people in this church, the condominium was put in liveable condition in just one week. And then thanks to a whole battery of friends from this church who pitched in to help, we managed to make the move this last Monday—just in the nick of time!

On Wednesday morning, I was scheduled to speak at the Expo Center for the kick-off for the Central Florida Campaign for Community Values. Since my car was still loaded with boxes from the move, Trisha said: “I’ll just drive you down to the Expo Center and drop you off, and while you’re speaking, I’ll unload the boxes from the car.” And so she proceeded to unload the boxes into our new garage, and carry them into our new home. While she was unloading the boxes in our new home, someone walked in off the street and stole the car! Broad daylight! 9:00 in the morning! On a busy street! And in my own garage! Here I am standing up at the Expo Center speaking about crime and community values, and at that very moment, someone is stealing my car! And you try to tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.

Not only that, but that’s my first day back at work, and I’m trying hard to keep my mind on what I’m supposed to be doing—and not upon the things that I enjoy doing, like golf, and wouldn’t you know among the things that were stolen from the car were my golf clubs. God really does have a sense of humor! By the way, they haven’t found the car yet. You can help me. Keep an eye peeled. It’s a 1990 navy blue Oldsmobile with an Orlando Magic tag on the front, and the license tag is LBI22B.

Thursday morning, as we were getting ready for the day, Trisha said to me: “I sure hope they don’t have anything in the newspaper about your car being stolen.” And I said: “Oh, not to worry. They only put things like murder in there.” A few minutes later, I heard a blood-curdling scream from the other end of the house. I went running, and I said: “What’s the matter?” And she said: “It’s in there. And not only that, but they put my age in there! What has that got to do with stealing your car? And how did they even know it in the first place?” I said, “Well, Trisha, I guess they read it off the police report.” “Besides that”, I said, “You don’t look too bad for 51.” I guess it wasn’t the right thing to say!

Fortunately, no one’s hurt except my back and my pride, and so we can laugh about it all. You know, it got me to thinking that one of the true marks of genuine Christian faith is being able to laugh, and to maintain a sense of joy—no matter what circumstances you may happen to encounter along your life’s way.
There’s a wonderful old story that happened some years ago, apparently. A train was making its way through the towns of southern Georgia, and in one of those little towns the train stopped to take on water. On board the train, one of the passengers was a preacher. This preacher decided that he would step out onto the depot platform and stretch his legs while the train was being serviced. He was walking along the station platform there and he happened to see a local old-timer leaning against a post whittling on a stick. The preacher walked up to him and said: “Tell me friend, anybody around here enjoy religion?” The old-timer shuffled his feet and then replied: “Them that has does!”

Now I want you to think about that for a minute. I mean that old boy made a major accomplishment in that statement. He spoke four words, and made four grammatical mistakes. Amazing! Four English mistakes in a four-word sentence. That takes real talent. However, it should be noted that while his English was terrible, his theology was terrific. Forget how he said it, but please remember what he said: “Does anybody around here enjoy religion?” His answer, “Them that has, does.” In other words, he was saying that those who have true religion are radiantly joyful people. That’s one of the great truths of scripture. The Christian faith is, above all else, and above all others, the religion of joy. Nowhere is that more clearly stated than in the words of the apostle Paul, who wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say it, rejoice.”

Unfortunately, too many Christians today have not made this discovery. They do not think of the faith as a source of joy. They are pious, but not happy. They are conscientious, but not radiant. They are dedicated, but not joyful. They scowl more than they smile. They see the faith as a source of goodness, yes, but not as a source of gladness. They see the faith as a sensitizer of conscience, yes, but not as a fountain of joy.

I remember the story of the little boy who went to church one Sunday with his grandmother, whose approach to religion was stern and puritanical. The little boy saw a friend across the way and smiled at him. The grandmother said in a stage whisper: “Quit grinning, son. You don’t smile like that in church.” Now I suppose that that is an extreme case, but the fact of the matter is, my beloved, there are too many Christians today who have forgotten that Christianity is the religion of joy.

Do you know what a “spoonerism” is? A spoonerism is an accidental transposition of sounds, usually the initial of two or more words. For example, if you mean to say “well-oiled bicycle”, but it comes out “well-boiled icicle”, well, that’s a spoonerism. This kind of verbal blooper was named after a man named Reverend William A. Spooner, who was a professor at Oxford some years ago, and who was famous for making such mistakes. One of his most noted verbal mistakes occurred in a sermon when he meant to say the “cheerful tidings of the Gospel”, but instead, it came out the other way around. He said, “the tearful chidings of the Gospel.” That spoonerism captures what is a great problem for some Christians; that is, they have forgotten the cheerful tidings of the Gospel, and have chosen instead to come down hard and heavy on the tearful chidings. It’s such a shame. You see, our world needs people who are radiant and happy, joyful and confident. And yet, there are too many people in Christ today who are going around with long faces and sad spirits, and sullen personalities. They have forgotten the great good news of the Gospel, that Christianity is the religion of joy.

Remember, please, that the Bible is a radiantly joyful book.

The poet Goethe once charged that Christianity is a religion of sorrow, but you certainly don’t get that impression when you read the Bible. Oh there is much sadness recorded in its pages, but the fact is, the dominant theme of the scriptures, from the first to the last, is one of gladness and victory. There is much agony there, to be sure, but more, much more, there is ecstasy. There is Nehemiah crying out: “The joy of the Lord is your strength and your song.” There is Job crying out of his own oppressive suffering, and saying that God will put laughter into your mouth, and joy upon your lips. There is the great book of the Psalms, where on page after page after page, you encounter magnificent songs of joy. There is Isaiah, whose faith put his life at risk, and yet who was able to affirm in the midst of it: “I will greatly rejoice in my God, and I will be joyful in my Lord.” But don’t stop with the Old Testament, go on to the New. The New Testament actually begins with the joyful celebration of the birth of Jesus, and the New Testament ends with a multitude which no one can number singing alleluia choruses, and no matter where you look in between—amid fortunate or discouraging circumstances, no matter where you look on any page of the New Testament, if you read it carefully, you will inevitable find there the lovely, lifting, lilting notes of joy. My beloved, please remember always that the Bible is indeed a radiantly, joyful book.

And remember, please that Jesus was a radiantly joyful person.

Artists, it seems to me, always have pictured Jesus as being somber and severe, austere and cold. What a shame. They picture Him as a man of sorrows. Let me tell you something, dear friends, He was a man of sorrows, yes, but he was not a sorrowful man. Nothing could be more false to the true character of Jesus than to picture Him as sad and gloomy, and all bleached out. To the contrary, everywhere He went, Jesus carried with Him an atmosphere of joy and happiness. Think about it. If Jesus had been somber and severe, the children would not have loved Him so. They would have run away from Him. If Jesus would have been sad and sullen, the crowds would never have flocked to hear Him preach. Instead, they would have shunned Him. If Jesus would have been cynical and hard-bitten, people would never have come to Him seeking the secrets of life. Instead, they would have avoided Him like the plague. Mark it down, please, in your hearts. Jesus was no kill-joy. Jesus was, and my friends, I say this with the most profound reverence, Jesus was the life of the party. And we dare not forget it. His whole demeanor was radiant and attractive. His faith and His face were joyful and happy. People were drawn to Him because they wanted what He had, and what He had so clearly, was a deep sense of joy—not a silly, giddiness about life, no. But a deep, down sense of joy that would stay with Him no matter what circumstances He encountered along His life’s way.

Note please that on at least two occasions when the Pharisees attacked Jesus, they did it because they were upset that Jesus and His disciples were having a good time. Note please that many of the teachings of Jesus were laced with remarkable humor. In fact, the people listening to Him sometimes would have split their sides laughing at the things He said. At how he drew these outlandish word pictures that were so humorous, or how he used ironic humor to spice up his parables. And note, please, that Jesus’ humor was not based on material possessions or outward circumstances. Remember, please, that Jesus had not much of this world’s goods and Jesus’ death-shortened life was filled with danger and difficulty, and yet through it all, the most distinguishing mark of that life was the deep sense of joy. It was because His gladness was not superficial. It arose out of the depths of His being. It came out of the center of who and what He was. It came out of His sense of mission in life, and His sense of life, and His sense of partnership with the Father in heaven. That was the secret of His joy, and I dare to suggest to you today that those same factors can be the secret of joy in your life and in mine. Jesus was, remember please, a radiantly joyful person. He was the brightest, warmest, happiest, sunniest soul who ever lived.

And remember, please that Christianity is a radiantly joyful faith.

We see it in the great Apostle Paul, who in ill health, locked away in prison, under the sentence of death, still can write to the Christians at Philippi these words: “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say it, rejoice.” We see it in St. Francis of Assisi, whose joy and happiness was so contagious that even the animals were attracted to him. We see it in Phillips Brooks, a great New England preacher of another day. One day the newspaper in Boston printed this little item: “Yesterday was dark and gloomy in the city of Boston, but then Phillips Brooks walked down Newspaper Row, and suddenly all was bright.” We see it in the great composer, Joseph Haydn, who was asked by a friend why his church music was filled with such gladness, and Haydn replied, “It cannot be otherwise. I write the thoughts that I feel, and when I think of my God, my heart is filled with such joy that the notes literally leap and dance from my pen. Because God has given me a cheerful heart, I must serve Him with a cheerful spirit.”

My beloved, that is our heritage as Christians. That is the legacy which belongs to us. Christianity is above all else and above all others, the religion of joy. That’s what Paul means when he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” It means that no matter what circumstances we may encounter in life, we can have confidence that God is in the midst of it all. It means that we can know that if we are faithful to Him then the victory in this life or in the next or in both will be ours. It means that, yes, we can indeed rejoice in the Lord always. The Christian Gospel is good news of great joy. The Christian Gospel is cheerful tidings not tearful chidings. And the Christian life is a life of joy.

How does the poet put it?

I am not sure the world is round
Nor that the sky is really blue
The tale of how the apples fall
May or may not be true.
I do not know what makes the tides
Nor what tomorrow’s world will do
But I have all the certainty I ever need
For I am sure my Lord, of you.

Tell me, anybody here enjoy religion? Remember, please….

Them that has, does.

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