Bethel Baptist Church
Worship Service @ Home
11 April 2021
Service available on Youtube, or as text (below), or for audio see the Podcasts page.
Good morning and welcome to Bethel Baptist Church. Of course, the church is the people, not the building, which remains closed at the moment. There is nothing to stop us from worshiping together or from praying together – over the past year, Zoom meetings have proved very effective for this, although I recognise that this is not an option for those who do not use computer or smart phone technology.
This is Graham – Harry let me know that he would distribute a service sheet in advance of he and Mandy going to Belfast, but invited me to prepare the video service.
Heavenly Father, we worship You as the mighty God, creator of all things. You are the One who knows us, loves us, provides for us, You are gracious and merciful to us – we give You thanks. Your ways are higher than our ways, You know what You are doing, You are working Your purposes out. We often do not understand what You are doing or why, but we give You praise because it is our faith that You are the Mighty, loving God. You sent Jesus Christ to pay the price for us, so that we might have fellowship with You, not just now, but throughout eternity. Thank You so much for such a wonderful display of grace.
Please be with us now as we consider Your word. We want to grow closer to You. We want to trust You more. We want to be attentive to You, trust You, and hear Your word, so that we might be obedient to You and live lives that are honouring to You. Please encourage us, challenge us, inspire us, whatever each one of us needs, as we consider Your word together.
Where can we find endless joy, perfect peace? O happy day! Jesus is alive! Jesus is our source of joy, so let’s spend a few minutes joining in with the Tim Hughes worship song “Happy Day”.
A long time ago, before we ever anticipating having to close the church building, Harry would sometimes invite me to cover for him when he planned to be away, and would tell me, “Preach whatever is on your heart”. I led two morning services in August 2019: in one I did a general introduction to the Fruit of the Spirit, and in the second, thinking that I was starting a coherent series of messages, I covered “love” in more detail. I also led services when we were meeting in the building in August last year, but I felt led to cover different topics on those occasions.
Please stop and read the chapter Galatians 5.
Reading the whole chapter, we are reminded that Paul was writing to a church that had been drawn into a legalistic understanding of their Christian faith, of which circumcision was an important part. Paul refuted it: Christ came to set us free, not to encourage us to follow a strict set of laws and moral conduct. Yet we must not interpret “freedom” as a licence to do whatever we please, but freedom to please God and “through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13).
A licence to do whatever we please may sound superficially attractive – hedonistic, total freedom; yet from experience we know the truth of Gal 5:19-21. Some people, far from God, may genuinely delight in doing good works and serving other people – it is what many charitable organisations are about. But for many people the temptation and lack of self discipline leads to “deeds of the flesh”, or conduct that causes upset and makes life unpleasant for others. In contrast, test me on the following and see whether you agree (these are my words, not words from scripture):
When we exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit we make life more pleasant for people around us.
One thing that struck me about the Fruit of the Spirit is that it is not difficult to show this fruit when life is easy and I am getting on well with everybody. Some of this fruit is meaningless when life is easy and everybody around me is nice. The Fruit of the Spirit is only really meaningful when life is full of problems, and people around us are not being nice: only then is it obvious whether we have cultivated the Fruit of the Spirit.
- A feeling of great pleasure and happiness (Oxford English Dictionary)
- Great happiness, a person or thing that causes happiness (Cambridge English Dictionary)
- The emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : DELIGHT. The expression or exhibition of such emotion : GAIETY. A state of happiness or felicity : BLISS. A source or cause of delight (Merriam-Webster)
- The emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation. A source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated. The expression or display of glad feeling; festive gaiety. A state of happiness or felicity (Dictionary.com)
- A deep feeling or condition of happiness or contentment. Something causing such a feeling; a source of happiness. An outward show of pleasure or delight; rejoicing (Collins English Dictionary)
These are secular definitions. There has to be more to joy than that. These definitions feel very transient, emphasised with words like pleasure, delight, elation, gaiety. You could seek this kind of joy in a fairground ride, or in a special meal, or in a strong drink, or in illicit drugs. But it is soon over and, so what?
Some Christian definitions
“Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.”
“Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.”
“Joy rises from that confident assurance of God’s goodness, now and into the future. In the same way, I aim for my family—and yours—to experience that goodness and to impact others for good, now and into the future. Joy drives me to live for others, to do my best work and to give generously.”
These are less transient, particularly Rick Warren – it is less about momentary elation, more about confidence and determination. Rick Warren graduated from theological college and wanted to go and start a church in a place most in need of a church – he went with nothing, started a new church from scratch, and built a megachurch. If you want to glorify God and take part in building His Kingdom, imagine the satisfaction that comes from what Rick Warren accomplished.
Bill High writes of himself:
I am Bill High, and my heart is for enduring families. I grew up in a broken home, losing my dad at an early age, but through God’s great goodness, I now guide families in creating multi-generational legacy shaped by generosity. My personal mission is to teach how the ideas of legacy and generosity work together to unite families around a mission and the values that will help them thrive for generations to come. After building a successful career as a lawyer, I resigned from my firm to help start The Signatry, where we seek to inspire and facilitate generosity for Kingdom causes.
A difficult family background does not exclude you from joy. A successful career does not give you the best joy and satisfaction. Bill found joy in seeking God’s glory and inspiring others to do likewise.
Compassion International asks, “What is the difference between joy and happiness?”, and notes the following:
- Joy is in the heart. Happiness is on the face.
- Joy is of the soul. Happiness is of the moment.
- Joy transcends. Happiness reacts.
- Joy is an inner feeling. Happiness is an outward expression.
- Joy endures hardship and trials and connects with meaning and purpose.
Compassion International (“What is the difference between joy and happiness?”)
I like the Compassion International distinction between joy and happiness: it shows that the dictionary definitions that we looked at earlier are more about happiness than joy.
What joy is not
Counter-intuitively, scripture shows that we should not equate joy with having a happy, good, easy time.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.James 1:2-3 NIV (GNB does not use the work “joy” here)
There is much the same theme in the Beatitudes:
Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.Luke 6:22-23 NIV
Nor is joy about having everything exactly the way I want it, maybe like a birthday treat in which I can choose exactly what I want in order to have the happiest birthday possible. At some point in history an English speaker made joy an acronym:
- J – Jesus first
- O – Others next
- Y – Yourself last
In the 1980s I graduated from university and got my first job in Livingston, Scotland. There I joined a church, and one summer we ran a children’s holiday club, using a series of Agapeland lessons as the theme for the week. Technology was a bit less advanced in those days: from what I remember, the Agapeland lessons themselves were audio recordings accompanied by slide illustrations. I see now that the lessons have been animated and are available on Youtube. It is often the first experience that makes the most impact, and my lasting memory is of the first lesson of the holiday club, on joy. It was a children’s lesson: the takeaway points were that joy comes when you think about God, take time to help other people.
Matthew describes the experience of the wise men:
After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.Matt 2:9-11 (NASB)
The wise men experienced joy when they reached their goal. They worshiped. They gave gifts. As far as I can tell, they did not receive anything – they just gave, and then they went away, taking nothing new back with them. From a cold, worldly perspective they went away and took back less than they had brought. But they had great joy. Which do you value most: worldly riches or great joy?
Matthew’s account of the resurrection:
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.Matt 28:8 (NIV)
From this account of the resurrection, is joy an emotion? Is fear an emotion? We can have both at the same time!
There is great joy to be had (the greatest joy to be had?) when we see Christ gaining the victory and souls being saved:
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”Luke 10:1, 17 (NIV)
Joy comes through giving boldly and blessing others. We saw something of this in Bill High’s account earlier. This “giving boldly and blessing others” can be done when times are hard and we are suffering:
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.2 Cor 8:1-4 (NIV)
It is not easy to rejoice in suffering. The epistle to the Hebrews was written to Christians who used to do it better, and the author encourages them to do it again:
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathised with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.Heb 10:32-34 (NIV)
Sometimes joy is all about anticipation of the joy that is to come, and it can be done when great suffering awaits:
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Heb 12:2 (NIV)
Over the past year we have been unexpectedly restricted and have not been able to do or to enjoy many of the things that we would normally have had. Do you still have joy? This week can you share with somebody, on the telephone or on Zoom if not face to face, something that has given you joy over the past, difficult year?
We have Zoom meetings on Sunday at 11:00am and Wednesday at 7:00pm. If you do not have details of how to join, please get in touch.
- What happens when you display the Fruit of the Spirit? Who benefits?
- Share something that has given you joy over the past year.
- Can you recall an experience of feeling joyful in circumstances that were not “happy”?
- Describe a gift or experience that you have received, or given, the value of which far exceeds the money, time or effort that went into preparing it.
- Which aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit do you find most difficult? What can you do about it?
Please do not just stop with my prayer, but consider your own special needs, and those of people known to you – those who are a part of Bethel and those who are not.
Lord we thank You that we can have joy – confidence and assurance in You, even when our circumstances are not what we would choose. There are many in our church who are vulnerable, who are disabled, or who have other special needs – please be gracious to them, let each one know Your loving presence and care.
Please have mercy upon our nation – those who are sick, those who have been working especially hard and at risk to their own welfare throughout the pandemic. We pray for our Government, the police, and all in authority, as they carry heavy responsibility. They are so easy to criticise, but they are doing a difficult job, and we want to be obedient to the scriptures that command us to pray for all in authority.
We thank You for the pharmaceutical experts, the researchers, and all who have been developing the vaccines for Covid; we thank You for the roll out, that many in our nation have now received at least a first vaccination.
Please bless the ongoing effort to vaccinate as many as possible in our nation, and in Your mercy, bring an end to this time of trouble and uncertainty. Many have lost jobs, or income over the past year. Many have been kept apart from loved ones. Young people have missed out on the regular format of education – please restore to them what has been lost.
Lord, we would like to meet together in the building for worship and fellowship, so that we can care for one another and plan outreach. I am especially conscious that many in our fellowship cannot take part in online meetings, and they benefit especially from meeting together in the building. We pray that You would make this possible soon – please show us all that we need to do, in order to ensure everybody’s safety in this matter.
Now we give You thanks and praise, because You are a loving, mighty God. Thank You especially for that great work of Jesus Christ on the cross, and for the glorious resurrection that we celebrated again particularly last week. For Yours is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever, Amen