This Sunday we are going to celebrate.
We've been thinking quite deeply the last few weeks. If you don't feel joyful there's a sermon about that on the Talks page of the website. We'll do more of those 'awkward texts' soon,' but this Sunday we are going to celebrate.
We'll start with Psalm 33: Sing joyfully ... praise the Lord ... make music ... play skilfully (we'll try). We'll have fun doing some activities that help us speak out our praise. And we'll sing a new song (well the psalm does tell us to.)
The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him ... he is our help and shield,
May your unfailing love rest upon us O Lord (Psalm 33:18-22, NIV)
Let's see if we can come all ready to praise God.
"How am I meant to be more than a conqueror when I feel like this? "
This Sunday we are going to look at our second awkward text, the one that says we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ. Sometimes we feel that this text is true; other times it seems almost ridiculous. How can frail, sinful people like us be more than conquerors?
Well the first thing to point out is that the Apostle Paul doesn't simply say we are more than conquerors. He lists seven difficult situations, starting with the word 'trouble' and he says that in these things we are more than conquerors.
The Apostle Paul was one of the great missionaries of the early church. He knew what it was to be depressed, he got ill, he was let down by friends, he knew distress, pain and anguish. (It really helps to understand him if you read his letters.) He wasn't some super human who danced his way through life; he experienced life in the same way that we do. He came through all these things battered and bruised.
Being a Christian hurts. Get to know one and you'll understand.
But in all these things, says Paul, we are more than conquerors because nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Paul says it because he has found it to be true.
So this 'more than conqueror' thing isn't about dancing your way through life. It's about staying connected to the love of God when everything else seems to be falling apart.
More on Sunday ....
By the way, the first talk in this series: 'Am I really meant to feel joyful all the time?' is on the Talks page of the website.
"I felt awful in church last week. Everyone was singing happy songs to Jesus and I felt lousy. I'm the only one who didn't feel joyful. I'm a rubbish Christian."
No, that's not a quote from me. But I've heard it often enough. This feeling that as followers of Jesus we ought to be joyful and if we are not we are second-rate Christians.
Last year i asked our leadership team to tell me about their awkward Bible texts, the ones that sometimes made them feel worse rather than better. We are going to look at some of them over the next few weeks, starting with texts that tell us to be joyful.
The problem is that when we feel bad, texts like these can make us feel worse. They add a pinch of guilt to our lack of joy.
So here goes ... when the Apostle Paul tells us to do anything, he doesn't expect us to be perfect straight away. He sees our growth as a long term project. Joy is something we work towards, not a gift from God that we unwrap on the first day that we believe. Joy is linked to hope and hope is the outcome of a long process that starts with suffering and perseverance. A process in which the Holy Spirit is deeply involved.
More on Sunday ...
Injured sports stars have to take a break. So do injured soldiers, office workers who are sick, and anyone who has been knocked out of action for a while. There's nothing wrong with this; it just happens sometimes.
So if I start this year with a call to stand firm, please don't think I'm asking you to be a superhero who bounces to their feet no matter what hits them. It doesn't work that way.
But I am asking you to remember that there is a spiritual battle going on and you are part of it. There is a devil and he schemes against us. Sometimes he seems to be quite accomplished at this. Did I say 'sometimes'? Maybe I should have said 'often.'
The Bible (Ephesians 6) tells us to stand firm with the belt of truth buckled around our waist. By 'truth' it means first of all the truth of the gospel. Jesus is alive and we belong to him. His resurrection power is at work in us. We are God's workmanship, created in the Messiah Jesus to do good works. Standing firm isn't first of all about doing anything. It's about, well, standing. It's about making a decision to believe the truth of the gospel.
So let's speak the truth in love to each other. The truth of the gospel. So we can stand firm in it.