What do we attribute our joy to?

At an objective level, it’s hard to understand what it is about my current life that makes me joyful.

I’ve discussed the current frustrations in my job before in this space, the essence of which boils down to our alternative school having changed from being an actual alternative form of education into what we now lovingly call “juvenile detention north”. We’ve become a holding facility for students the main campuses decide they don’t want to deal with. So after an incredible thirty-year career teaching top-notch high school and middle school bands, the fifth and final year of my second career has turned into glorified babysitting of teenagers who deny the title of “student”.

While my newlywed wife and I are now married, we are still living in separate houses while we search for an abode sufficient for the needs of my four kids and I plus her two graduate daughters and her; the situation with her daughters continues to be difficult at best, and the house hunt is getting more and more challenging.

The cake underneath that daunting frosting, of course, is the continued deterioration of my health because of the tubular aggregate myopathy which first took away my music teaching career, is now taking away my entire teaching career, and has finally reduced me to minutes of motion followed by hours in the recliner to recover. {But it also slowed me down enough to stop and listen to the Lord six years ago, so overall, I count it as a victory.}

Given all of that, plus all the stories that go with having an ex-spouse whose work with our children I generally have to repair rather than reinforce, PLUS the money difficulties associated with being a teacher on 4/5 contract in Idaho saddled with substantial medical bills (derived from the TAM and Melissa’s illnesses as well), you might be surprised to know that I am actually one of the happiest people you’ll ever know.

Why would that be?

The obvious answer is Jesus Christ lives within me. And that answer would indeed be correct. (I think I had a naturally sunny disposition to begin with, too.) But why does that answer the question? What is it about having, um, a “roommate” with me wherever I go – especially when I’m such an introvert! – that would override the pressures that surround me?

The apostle Paul had an idea on this topic when he addressed the Philippians:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”         Philippians 4:11-13

If you’ve read Acts and the various epistles Paul wrote, you know the wide array of perils that poor man went through. And yet, regardless of his situation, he learned how “to be content”, and that’s through the strength of Christ.

I think of that strength as coming through the Holy Spirit, myself. We talk so much of having Christ living within us, but He talked of the Spirit being our companion. This is from John 16, verses 7-13, during the Last Supper, when Jesus is discussing where He will be going (after death), and what will happen when He does:

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see Me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on his own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.”

And, sure enough, ten days after Christ’s ascension (which fell 40 days after Easter), on Pentecost (i.e., 50 days after Easter), the Holy Spirit took His place in Jerusalem within the persons of the 120 disciples gathered there, awaiting His arrival. Bystanders marveled that each speaker spoke the native tongue of the listener, yet to his neighbor it was his language that was being spoken. Only God could do that – in this case, through the Spirit.

By the way, that particular ten-day range, between the time of Christ’s ascension and the arrival of the Holy Spirit happens to fall on May 10-20 this year (40-50 days after Easter). Smack dab in the middle of that (well, close – May 14th) is the 70 year anniversary of the founding of the nation of Israel. I’m fairly certain, given my eschatological background, that the Lord likes those sorts of dates, and that span of time is where I’m privately placing my money as to when He’ll call us Home. I could be completely wrong, of course, but that’s my current guess. If I’m wrong, then I still think it’ll be soon. I’m not putting my eggs in any particular basket except His, thank you very much.

And when we start making guesses about when the Rapture’s coming – when do we get to leave this world of the devil’s altering and go Home? – it becomes obvious that we spend as much time as we can making sure our t’s are crossed and our I’s are dotted as far as our Christianity is concerned, as well as working towards the salvation of whatever loved ones still need saving. 

But what does that really mean

It means that we make sure that we have a two-way relationship with Jesus. It means that we’ve repented of our sins, and we’ve made sure that we take the considered time in prayer to stop and hear what the Lord has to sayMind you, that doesn’t mean He uses an audible voice. Most often, He speaks to me as either a directing of my eyesight or as a conscious thought that could have been mistaken for my own (except that I wouldn’t have thought of whatever it was “I” thought of!).

And to be frank (not that I want to be Frank – I hardly know the guy), I’m not quite as attuned to Him right now as I should be. Writing this is a motivation to make that a priority this afternoon when I get home. 

We started this essay by asking why there was joy in the manner of people like me. And again, I turn to Paul for a suggestion, especially for people like me who are comparatively close to death. This is from Philippians 1:20-24 :

 “…It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by deathFor to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”

Incredibly, Paul sounds like he has a death wish! “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” – how else would you describe that? Remember, too, that Paul has had a glimpse of “the third Heaven”, which he recounts briefly in 2nd Corinthians 12:1-4

“I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows — and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.”

For reasons of modesty, Paul describes the experience in the third person, but make no mistake: he speaks about himself, most likely (if it was 14 years before this epistle was written) in the very beginning stages of his time as a Christian, so in that three year period between Damascus and the beginning of his apostleship. If you had actually BEEN to Heaven, would you want to come back to earth?

The reverend Greg Laurie answers vehemently in the negative. “If I die, I’m going to Heaven. Jesus promised us this.* And if I’m in Heaven, don’t you dare start praying for someone to raise my body from the dead! I will come back kicking and screaming to be returned!”

*I’ve inserted this four-word sentence from another conversation just to make it clear: Believers, if you’ve truly been saved, you’re going to demonstrate your salvation in the way you act. And assuming that’s true, then Jesus absolutely told us that we WILL go to Heaven when we die. That should NOT be a concern for you IF you’re truly a Christian.

So, Paul would indeed rather be in Heaven than here. But here’s the thing: he (and we!) already know that we’re going to Heaven when we die. But once we die, there’s no coming back! Whatever we want to see or do while we’re “alive” here in the shadow lands, we need to get done soon! You’re not really choosing “death or life”. You’re choosing “death NOW, or death LATER”.

But in the hearts of all Believers, the knowledge that the worst thing that could happen to you is to die, and that would only send you to a far better place than the one you’re in now has GOT to be reassuring! 

The knowledge that no matter what you’ve done in your life, whatever mistakes you’ve made in your pitiful, pathetic life here on earth, there’s a God Who lives within you Who knows every little thing you’ve ever done — and loves you anywayHow amazing is THAT? There were times in my younger days when I couldn’t imagine anyone loving me. I certainly didn’t love myself. And there were other moments, when I was on a roll or in a particularly successful mode, when I felt like the smartest person in every room I entered. And usually suffered for the ego trip afterwards.

NowI’m never the smartest person in the room – I’m not even the smartest one in my own body!  So much for THAT ego trip! (And that’s a good thing!) On the other end of things, knowing at my lowest ebb that God loves me no matter how badly I’m screwing up? Think about that! How bad can you BE if He loves you no matter what?

My wife Dana is one of the most incredible people I’ve ever known. One of the greatest things about her is one that she can’t help; it’s just a part of circumstances: She and I only met two years ago. I can’t complain to her about how far I’ve deteriorated from when I taught band, because she never knew me then, and she loves me anyway

Whenever I’m feeling particularly useless because of my illness, I remember that amazing fact – she loves me for who I am right now, not who I used to be! – and I usually recover fairly quickly. (When I’m in really bad shape, she’s “obviously delusional, and someday she’ll see the truth”…) Jesus loves me for who I am, who I was and who I will be. That’s also an amazing realization!

The other people who keep me pushing forward are my four youngest children. While Hamilton and Isaiah have long-since moved out and started living on their own, the 16, 13, and twin 12 year olds still spend half their weeks with their dad, delighting me with their brilliance and beauty and wit and love. 

And the Holy Spirit reminds me every time I’m with them what a precious gift they are, as He does when my new bride is near. How can I be gloomy when such beauty is in my life?

I’ve known folks who weren’t Christians who were still filled with that joy – heck, I was one of them until six years ago! I think that the people who live their lives joyously are the ones who understand how much there is in this world that has the touch of God’s great Hand. People, nature, amazing technology, His Word, the “coincidences” that remind us He’s right there, behind every one of those, and the faith and knowledge of what awaits us when we’re done with these clunky old bodies. 

How can you NOT be joyful under those conditions?

Finally, remember that it’s almost an order from the Lord to be cheerful! From John 13:34-35, we read this as the Last Supper was beginning: 

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  

We show all people that we are His disciples simply by having love for one another

Can you do that? It was an order, from the Lord! 

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