Mark Batterson - Choose Joy
Come on, how great was that? That just makes me happy! It makes me wanna hopscotch. In 1996, National Community Church was just getting off the ground. We averaged about 25 people on a good Sunday. Our total income as a church was $2,000 a month and it cost 1,600 to rent the D.C. public school where we met. That left $400 for our salary and all other expenses, if we're being honest. Are we being honest? It was downright discouraging. We were coming off of a failed church plant in Chicago, and this one wasn't trending much better. This is a little bit embarrassing to admit, but I remember thinking to myself that when we hit a certain attendance, that when we hit a certain income, when we had 100 or 500 or 1,000 people, when our income doubled or tripled or quadrupled, then I would start enjoying life and leadership, and it was a lie.
In retrospect, I have come to call this the when-then trap, and it comes in dozens of disguises. When I go to college, when I graduate from college, when I pay off my college loans, then I will enjoy life, right? When I get a job, when I get a raise, when I get a promotion, then life will be good! When I start dating, when we get married, when we have kids, when our kids are out of diapers, when, then. It just seems to me like there's a lot of people who are waiting for the planets to perfectly align, and kinda this magical combination of circumstances, that all of a sudden, they will experience joy. Please hear me, you can experience unspeakable joy, right here, right now.
So I'm standing in the back of the cafetorium, where NCC met way back when, and I'll never forget this moment. It's August, which means two things. One, it's hot and humid, and there wasn't any air conditioning in the school, and I used to wear a suit and tie! It's hard to believe. Bring it back! Bring it back, nope. Two, Congress was on recess and school was out of session, so there was this one Sunday in August where 13 people show up, and that may include Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I'm standing in back, I'm throwing a little pity party, and that is when I hear the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit say in an inaudible but unforgettable whisper, "Mark, enjoy the journey"! Easier said than done, right? But it was a defining moment. And I made a defining decision that I would try my level best to enjoy every age and every stage of pastoring and parenting and marriage and life!
Question, are you enjoying the journey, or have you fallen into that when-then trap? Now I don't wanna pretend that I had this all figured out. I still get discouraged, I experience self-doubt, I throw an occasional pity party, but I have learned two things about joy. Let's just get down to business. I've learned two things about joy. One, joy is a person! And his name is Jesus. Joy is more relational than emotional! There is joy, and then there is the joy of the Lord, and it's unlike anything else! The world can't give it to you, the world can't take it away, why? Because it's right relationship with my creator, with my heavenly Father, with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And two, joy is a choice. It's more volitional than it is emotional. It's not always the easiest choice. Can I get an amen?
It is not always the obvious choice, another amen. Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, but you can choose joy, anywhere, anytime, any way. But you don't know my past, you don't know my pain, you don't know my circumstances, you don't know the challenges that I face. I don't know those things, but I do know this, joy isn't getting what you want, joy is appreciating what you have! And so here's a challenge in no uncertain terms, and it's the title of the message, "Choose Joy". Welcome to National Community Church. This weekend, we kick off a series. I love it. Joy. We need a little bit more joy up in here.
Now along with our weekend messages, we will unpack the book of Philippians verse-by-verse and we'll do it day-by-day, Monday-to-Friday. If you don't subscribe to NCC Daily, come on, it is a great way to jumpstart your day, ncc.re/daily, and then, oh, it gets better. Wait, there's more! We are also kicking off our summer semester of small groups. Small groups are the community in National Community Church. And so we've got Deep Dive, we've got discussion groups, but you know what, we have so many opportunities for you to find joy with some other people, ncc.re/groups. Here's my prayer at the outset of this series. I am praying, Nehemiah 8:10, "May the joy of the Lord be your strength". I'm praying James 1:2, "Count it all joy when you face trials of many kinds". I am praying Psalm 51:12, "Restore unto us the joy of our salvation". And I'm praying Philippians 4:4, "Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again, rejoice".
So ready or not, here we go, Philippians 1:1. "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ". In Judaism, there's a hermeneutic called Pardes. It consists of four levels of learning, four stages of study, and you'll see them on the screen. Level one is p'shat. It is the plain reading of scripture. News flash, you don't need a seminary degree to rightly divide the word of truth or to hear the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. Now, that said, p'shat is like the tip of the iceberg. It's kinda that 13% that's above water.
The second level of study is called remez and it literally means hint. I love this so much. According to rabbinic tradition, every word of scripture has 70 faces and 600,000 meanings, ah! We gotta turn the kaleidoscope, and when we do, God reveals new dimensions of his Word. The third level is called d'rash and it means search, and I think Google search, okay? D'rash is connecting the dots between Old Testament and New Testament. It's letting scripture interpret scripture. And we'll do some d'rash today. The fourth level is called sod, and it means secret. And this is where we need the help of the Holy Spirit.
And I've got some good news, the same spirit who inspired those original writers is on both sides of the equation, inspired those writers, but inspires us as readers. We talked about this in the last series, right? It's the Spirit of God who quickens us with his Word. And so we don't just read the Bible, the Bible reads us. The goal isn't getting through the Bible, the goal is getting the Bible through us. May Philippians just filter through our minds and hearts and spirits so that we don't just get into the book, but that book gets into us. Let me try to set the scene, week one. There are some difference of opinion as to when and where Paul writes this letter. Best guess, Paul is probably writing from a prison cell in Rome right around 60 to 62 A.D., and he's writing to the church at Philippi.
Now Philippi took its name from Philip II of Macedon, flashback to world history, the father of Alexander the Great. Fast-forward a few centuries and Philippi is conquered by the Roman Empire in 31 B.C. So Paul is writing to Roman citizens, and this is gonna become critical when we get to week three. They speak the Latin language, they wear the Roman dress, they use the Roman coins. The city itself was patterned after Rome and it sat on the Via Egnatia, and I'll show you a map. The Via Egnatia was a major military road, ran east to west. And this is the road that Paul himself would've traveled on his second missionary journey, but we're getting ahead of ourselves just a little bit. This is where I wanna d'rash. Paul isn't writing to strangers. Paul is writing to old friends! As he's writing this letter, he can see their faces and they can hear his voice! You can feel this deep-seated affection.
My theory is that Paul is probably a T on the Myers-Briggs, but there is a lot of E in this letter, there's this affection that's visceral and tangible and palpable. Listen to how he writes to his old friends. Verse 3, "I thank my God every time I remember you! In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day," from the first day, we're gonna go back to the first day. We're gonna flash back to the very first day that Paul met them, "until now. Being confident of this," oh, I love this, "that he who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus". It's been a decade, but as Paul writes this letter, he's having flashbacks to Philippi, it produces this flash flood of emotion.
And what I wanna do is retrace Paul's steps. Everything that Paul writes in Philippians has to be seen against the backdrop of the events that are recorded in Acts 16. I wanna talk about how Paul got to Philippi in the first place. I wanna show you a map, but let me put it in perspective. In the first century, A.D., average person didn't travel outside a 30-mile radius of their birthplace. So a pretty small world, right? Some scholars suggest that the Apostle Paul logged 10,000 miles on his missionary journeys! That's like walking from D.C. to L.A. four times! Paul is one of the most traveled people on the planet in the first century. I just think that's significant.
All right, let me show you this map. We'll have a little bit of fun. Like his first missionary journey, the second missionary journey begins in Antioch. Now Antioch is home base for the Apostle Paul. It's right here, and this is their home church. Now, their first stop is Tarsus. Are you connecting the dots? This is Paul's hometown. And so I bet Paul slept in his old bed, right? Had a home-cooked meal, catch up with the fam. And then they head west towards Derbe and Lystra, and something really significant happens here. Timothy is added to the team at Lystra! Now, from Lystra, here's what happens. We pick up the itinerary in Acts 16:6. "Paul and his companions traveled through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the Word in the province of Asia".
Things that make you go, "Hmm," right? Now we read right past this, but... You can put the map back up. This had to be frustrating. Paul and Silas plan on preaching the gospel in Asia! Now, there it is, do you see it? So they plan on, they wanna get... But something happens, the Holy Spirit stops them. And so my point is this, Asia was plan A. Would you hold that thought? Verse 7. "When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia," and here we go again! "The spirit of Jesus would not allow them to go there". We read right past this, but this has to be confusing. And so if Asia is plan A, then Bithynia is plan B.
Now you see Bithynia right up there, but the line doesn't go to Bithynia. What is happening? Plan A, plan B, off the table. I mean, at this point, the compass needle is spinning. What do we do? Where do we go? I know that some of you grew up with GPS. But some of us are old enough to remember Rand McNally maps. How big were they? Were they this big, this big? They were big old maps! Oh man, if you didn't have your Rand McNally, good luck! And then some of us, AAA TripTik, that's what I'm talking about, right? And this, okay, so stick with me. If you remember maps and TripTik, you have a unique appreciation for what's happening here. Because you know there's not some voice with a British accent that's gonna make midcourse corrections for you! You are off the map, you are off the grid! You're lost! And so what do we do? Where do we go? We read right over this stuff, but I mean, two strikes, now what?
Verse 8, "So instead, they passed through Mysia, went down to Troas, and that night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.' After Paul had seen the vision," I love this, "we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them". Go ahead and put the map back up. This is when and where and how Paul gets to Philippi. Do you see this? He crosses the Aegean Sea. Oh, I'm sure they had a ferry, right? A nice little ferry that ran on the hour every hour, drive your car on it, no, no, no, no, no. Like, you gotta cross, and so they cross the Aegean Sea and they land in Annapolis. I'm just making sure you're listening, Neapolis, Neapolis. Come on, come on. And this is where they pick up the Via Egnatia, and they go from Neapolis to Philippi. And here's what happens. "From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony, and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there for several days".
Okay, zoom out. Let me make a couple of observations. You can jot these down. We'll put 'em on the screen. One, if you wanna make God laugh, tell him your plans. Two, what we see as a detour is often the destination. Three, someday we'll thank God for the closed doors, as much as the open doors. And four, God wants you to get where God wants you to go more than you wanna get where God wants you to go, and he's really good at getting us there. Let me make this personal. When I was in seminary, Lora and I had a vision to plant a church in Chicago. We had a core group, we had a bank account, even had a 25-year plan. Check this out, my professor gave me an A! It's gotta work! Or not. Total fail, and it was discouraging, it was disorienting, it was embarrassing, and it's one of the best things that happened to us, why?
I don't see any other way that God gets us from Chicago to D.C., why? 'Cause our whole family was there! Deep-dish pizza! Michael Jordan was playing for the Bulls. Why would you wanna move anywhere else? It was home! See, D.C. was our plan B, but is it possible that it was God's plan A? Philippi wasn't plan A, Asia was. Philippi wasn't plan B, Bithynia was. Philippi was like plan P! I love Proverbs 16:9. "In his heart, a man plans his course, but God orders his footsteps". If you wanna make God laugh, tell him your plans. Now here's some good news. What we see as a detour is often the destination. I love how Corrie ten Boom says this. "When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don't throw away the ticket and jump off". What do you do? "You sit still and trust the engineer".
Ah, I like that! Corrie ten Boom and her family were arrested for hiding Jews during World War II. Her father and her sister would die in the concentration camps. Somehow, Corrie ten Boom would survive. A movie would be made about her life called "The Hiding Place," and in 1975, a five-year-old kid named Mark Batterson would watch that movie and put his faith in Christ. I'm so grateful, like, I don't know... I'm hoping that the marriage supper of the Lamb is kinda like musical chairs, that we just get to change seats for about 1,000 years. 'Cause I at least need a couple hours with Corrie, right? And then I need a few with a lot of other people. I'm so grateful she trusted the engineer. All right, if you wanna make God laugh, tell him your plans.
What we see is a detour is often the... You're doing good! Someday we'll thank God for the closed doors as much as the... This week, we begin to punch list 20,000 square feet of kids' ministry space. It makes me feel like a little kid! It's so exciting. We're gonna impact thousands of kids in that place, in that space, in the years to come. And so I can't wait for you to see it in person, but... You have to see it to believe it, but here are a couple of pictures, okay? Real quick, so you can see the loft right up there, and we're looking down Main Street towards the L Street. You can keep going, and here's a shot from that loft kinda looking down. You can see the play space under construction. And those stools are kinda cool, aren't they? I can see moms and dads hanging out for a few minutes there.
And here's the shot kinda looking down and all the way to M Street where those old streetcars used to come in off of M Street. And we'll give you a peek outside. We are taking the blue out of the blue castle. If you like blue, I apologize, but I'm not sorry, okay? And so you can see kinda the facelift that we're giving the building. Let me have a little bit of fun with this because the Capital Turnaround was not plan A. If you reverse-engineer how this happened, it started with a closed door that scared the living daylights out of us. What am I talking about? We had met in Union Station for 13 years! When those movie theaters shut down, the door closed in six days' time, and I wondered if our best days were behind us.
Can I just say, I'm gonna say it a few times, praise God for closed doors, why? Because it was that closed door that prompted a search for property, and here's what happened. We ended up assembling six properties with a block of frontage on Virginia Avenue. We went through a charrette. We were planning on building full steam ahead. Mm, and CSX decides to build a double-decker train tunnel right in our front yard on Virginia Avenue. And our plans are derailed, pun intended. It was a five-year delay! It was a five-year detour! We were so frustrated, but it was during that delay, mm, that a city block came on the market and we bought it for $29 million, why? 'Cause God has blessings in categories that you can't even imagine. We weren't even looking!
And look at what God does. The city block we call the Capital Turnaround wasn't plan A or plan B. I don't even know if it was C, D or Z. Like, you lose track of the delays and the detours and the closed doors. But here's a promise I pray all the time. Revelation 3:7-8, "These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens, no one can shut, and what he shuts, no one can open". We love the first half of that promise, right? We love open doors! But you can't pray half a promise, why? Because most open doors started with a closed door! And so I wanna put the map up one more time. If God doesn't close the door to Bithynia, Paul does not make his way across the Aegean Sea to Philippi.
Now, I want you to look at where he goes next. If Paul doesn't go to Philippi, I don't think he goes to Thessalonica, I don't think he ends up in Berea or Athens or Corinth. A few of these, correct me if I'm wrong, a couple of these are some of the epistles that we read, so if you don't go there, you don't have the epistle. And then I'm not sure he doubles back to Ephesus either! But what I'm getting at is this, like all of these epistles, these missionary journeys, a lot of the good things that happened were the result of a closed door. So I'm just gonna say it one more time for good measure. God wants you to get where God wants you to go more than you wanna get where God wants you to go, and he's really good at getting us there. Maybe you feel like your life has taken a detour. Maybe you feel like you're in one of those seasons where it's a delay of game. Maybe you feel frustrated because of a closed door.
And I have tremendous empathy because I've been there and I've done that, but here's my advice. Trust the engineer. And while you're at it, enjoy the journey. Acts 16:13, almost done. "On the Sabbath, we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer. We sat down to speak to some women who had gathered there. One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshipped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying, and she was baptized along with members of her household". This is a major tipping point, a major turning point in the book of Acts. This is the day when decades happen! Lydia becomes the first convert to Christianity on the continent of Europe. How does it happen? It may be plan P for Paul, but God was setting up a divine appointment. He turned a detour into a destination, turned that closed door into a divine appointment, on a riverbank outside the city of Philippi, and the rest is history.
Let me close with this. Paul is writing this epistle from a prison cell, but it's not his first rodeo! I mean, he was in and out of prison, like almost every city he went to, okay? And that includes Philippi. Here's how it happened. Almost done. One day, Paul was on his way to the place of prayer when a girl who is deemed possessed starts trolling them, starts baiting them, and eventually, enough is enough. Whatever you tolerate will eventually dominate. At some point, you have to turn around, confront the problem, and exercise your spiritual authority. And that's what Paul does! He casts out the demon, but there's a catch. She was a fortune-teller who earned a lot of money for her masters.
When you start messing with people's money, it's about to get real up in here. The entire city ends up in an uproar. Paul and Silas are stripped and beaten. They're in an inner dungeon, clamped in stocks. Verse 25, this is where we end. "Around midnight," let's see it. "Around midnight, Paul and Silas fell asleep". No, that's not what it says, even though it's not up there. I wouldn't blame them if they did, but that isn't what it says, "Around midnight," let's see it, come on, put it up. Pregnant pause. Maybe we don't have it! I probably didn't submit it. Aha! "Around midnight, Paul and Silas were complaining". No, no, no, no, no. I wouldn't blame them if they were! I mean, you could play the victim card, you could throw a pity party. I mean, all they were doing was being obedient to the vision and ends up in jail.
No, here's what it says, "Around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening". If that isn't choosing joy, ho, ho, ho! Then I don't know what is. We don't have time, but... There's an earthquake and a jailbreak, and the jailer gets baptized in the middle of the night. Wow. Why? Because, and here's the final challenge, Paul and Silas prophesied their praise. Gratitude is thanking God after he does it. That's great, but sometimes you need to praise God before it happens. They prophesied their praise and look at what happens, right?
Now I'm not sure what circumstances you find yourself in, and I'm not sure how else to say this, but sometimes you just need to worship your way out. I did it a week ago! I was in a little bit of a funk. I'm gonna do a worship walk. Oh man, I put on my playlist, by the end of that walk, my hands are kinda going like this a little bit, and ooh, I get my steps in, and I'm worshiping God! Sometimes you just have to worship your way out. You have to prophesy your... Whatever you don't turn into praise turns into pain. Whatever you don't turn into praise turns into pride. I wanna invite our worship team to come. We're gonna prophesy our praise, and I'm gonna close with this.
July 23, 2000 could've been, probably should've been, the last day of my life. My intestines rupture, I end up in emergency surgery in the middle of the night. Two days on a respirator. I lose 25 pounds in a week. Have an ostomy, they reverse it six months later. Worst year of my life, hands down. And I've got the scar to show for it. I may not have a six-pack, but I got a two-pack. 'Cause the scar goes right down my abdomen. Hardest year of my life, wouldn't trade it for anything. Wouldn't wanna go through it again, but there's some lessons, man, you learn the hard way. I learned to prophesy my praise. I remember this song, I'm laying in bed. I'm so weak. I'm like a shadow of my former self. I have this open wound that has to heal, it's painful, and I hear this Darrell Evans song. Do you remember this? "I'm Trading My Sorrows".
I must've listened to that song, Colin, 417 times! I just put it on repeat. "I'm trading my sorrows, I'm trading my shame, I'm laying them down for the joy of the Lord! I'm trading my sickness, I'm trading my pain, I am laying them down for the joy of the Lord," over and over, I'm laying it down, God, I'm laying down the pain, and I'm taking up, I'm choosing joy! And the joy of the Lord got me back up on my feet, and the joy of the Lord returned my strength to me. There is a God who gives beauty for ashes. There is a God who gives the oil of joy for mourning. There is a God who gives the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness! Would you prophesy your praise?