Prepare before the battle comes

O Lord, there is no difference for you between helping the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you.

2 Chronicles 14:11

 

This verse caught my attention this morning during my quiet time. Judah’s king, Asa, was facing a major battle with Zerah of Ethiopia, who had an army of 1 million men. Asa’s army was about half that size.

Asa had several options:

  1. He could have relied on his own wit to try to out-maneuver the stronger Ethiopian army.
  2. He could have raised a white flag and quit before he started.
  3. He could have asked God to fight the battle for him.

Asa chose option 3.

It worked. “… the Lord defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled.” (verse 12)

Asa didn’t ask God to play a genie’s role – come save me from my crisis, then I’ll go on my merry way. I know some people who treat God like that.

I wonder if that offends God.

Instead, Asa rallied Judah to follow God – all the time.

Getting ready

Previous kings had set up worship centers to foreign gods. God’s chosen people had rejected Him and worshiped gods that didn’t exist, or a golden calf or wooden idols that couldn’t do anything.

Asa destroyed all of those.

Then, he built fortified cities that included protective walls around them that enemy armies couldn’t penetrate.

He prepared for battle before the battle came.

When the Ethiopians attacked, Asa was ready. He didn’t know ahead of time that the battle was coming from that particular army, but he knew he would face a battle from somewhere. So, he prepared for it.

He built fortified cities and talked with the true God who actually answers prayers.

If we want to defeat the temptations and sins that threaten to overtake us, we have to prepare ahead of time and be ready for battle, as Asa did. This isn’t an easy lesson to learn.

Missing the message

In 2000, I had a great job, a wife and three growing children, and vibrant church and community involvement. I could not ask for anything better than the life God had given me at that point.

My job as a copy editor at The Saginaw (Mich.) News was wonderful. Great co-workers, great bosses even, a salary that paid for the lifestyle our family of five enjoyed, and a job pledge.

Yes, a job pledge.

The pledge – which the company mailed to us every year in January, in writing – said that as long as The News published seven days a week, we had a job for life. The company retained the right to change our job descriptions, of course, as needs changed, but they promised us jobs until we reached retirement age.

Talk about blessed. I’m sure many of you, even if you have a great job, don’t have a pledge like that.

But in 2000. I received a surprise. God put a bug in my ear.

At the height of our prosperity, He told me that I was trusting that job pledge more than I was trusting Him. I was too comfortable, and my faith wasn’t as passionate as it should have been.

That startled me.

Really, God? You’ve given me so many blessings, so many ways I can serve You … so what’s up with this?

God persisted, so eventually I prayed this prayer:
“Okay God, I give the job pledge to You. I trust you more than I trust the job pledge.”

God knew something I didn’t.

The battle arrives

The newspaper industry, which had thrived for decades, was going to crash in the near future.

God was trying to prepare me for that moment.

When The News cut back to three days a week in 2009, the job pledge went out the window. I got downsized, as did many of my co-workers.

Even though God gave me a heads-up years earlier, I still didn’t handle it well. I sat around home for nearly a year and didn’t do much of anything. My wife didn’t appreciate that. I made no effort to re-train for a different career or to seek any job.

The News offered a nice buyout that continued my salary for a time. I should have taken advantage of that by preparing for my future, but I didn’t.

Unlike Asa, I hadn’t built my defenses up and prepared for battle.

When the battle came, I didn’t know how to handle it.

I didn’t prepare my family, either. I internalize things, which means I don’t talk things out with other people. Including my wife.

Learning the lesson

We attended a marriage retreat a few months ago – in 2018, nine years after the buyout – and talked about some things we should have begun talking about 10 years ago.

We worship a God of second chances, so the Ethiopians in my life don’t have to defeat me, even if I don’t prepare well for them. I’m sure I made it harder on us than it should have been.

Sometimes we bring pain on ourselves. That is not God’s will, nor is it His fault.

Unlike Asa, I tried option 1: to figure out my career plans on my own. That didn’t work out too well.

My newspaper career is done now, for several reasons. We’re here in Elyria, Ohio, doing other things. My wife has a very good job that she enjoys, and I have meaningful work where I can build relationships with people who need that.

My job has its frustrations, but I try not to focus on those (too much). I’m trying to rely on the living God for my job and for our future, like Asa did.

Temptations are much easier to defeat with this mindset, with this way of living.

Thanks, Asa, for reminding me to rely on God.

It makes no difference whether I’m strong or weak. If God fights the battle for me, I’ll win.

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How to apologize

Public apologies are just that.

Public.

Celebrities apologize only when they get caught. Which means they aren’t sincere.

Samantha Bee apologized for cussing out Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter. Roseanne Barr wrote a racist tweet about former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Roseanne’s show was canceled by ABC. Samantha’s show was not canceled by TBS.

Whatever.

The apologies themselves took place only because public outcries forced both celebrities to do so.

If Samantha and Roseanne were sincere, they would have measured their words in the first place. Instead, they revealed their true hearts.

Even former president Bill Clinton was interviewed harshly the other day on whether he apologized to Monica Lewinsky for their sexual encounters 20 years ago.

If Bill would have said yes, I did apologize, that would have satisfied the reporter, but would it have satisfied Monica?

Instead, Clinton beat around the bush and wouldn’t answer the question.

He should have, in my opinion, given a direct – and crass – answer:

“None of your damn business.”

Seriously.

That’s between him and Monica. The reporter was out of line for even asking.

On a different level, I’ve always wondered why parents sometimes force their children to apologize for doing something bad. I suppose it depends on the situation.

If a young boy hits another boy or girl, for example, should he be forced to apologize?

First, he needs a lesson on how to treat other people. He needs to be taught that people – and animals and other living things, for that matter – deserve respect. He needs to learn WHY it’s wrong to hit someone else.

Don’t assume the obvious. Many adults haven’t learned this lesson yet, either.

Then, apologize.

And hopefully, there won’t be a next time.

“I’m sorry” means nothing if no behavior change follows.

If I truly am sorry, I won’t commit that act again. I know it was wrong, and I feel bad for doing it. Enough so that I won’t do it again.

The right way to apologize

I read a Bible verse recently that offers a great formula for how and why to apologize. The verse often isn’t used in that context, but it works:

 

“… if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7:14

 

We have four responsibilities. If we do all four, then God will follow up in three ways.

Our responsibilities, and I think they are in this order for a reason:

  1. Humble ourselves.
  2. Pray.
  3. Seek God’s face.
  4. Turn from our wicked ways.

If we do those things, God promises that He will:

  1. Hear from heaven.
  2. Forgive our sin.
  3. Heal our land.

This is what an apology is all about, isn’t it?

Our part

First, we humble ourselves. We discover that we screwed up. We aren’t happy about it, and we don’t blow it off. We admit our mistake.

We pray. We ask God for forgiveness. When we hurt another person, we also hurt the God who made him or her. That’s what sin is: Doing things that God hates.

I understand this to some degree. My mind goes places it shouldn’t. I say something or do things that I know are wrong. Temptation is not sin, but if I don’t dismiss it immediately, then it becomes sin. Because I won’t let it go.

God gets hurt when I do that. So do other people.

So, I pray. I ask God for a change of heart.

The third responsibility might be the hardest one for me: Seek God’s face.

I know God is pure, holy and perfect, and I know that I am not. How can I seek God’s face? How can I stand before Him, guilty of evil thoughts and/or actions literally every single day?

This is the God we worship. His promises make this possible. More on that in a minute.

Once we encounter the living God, it should not be difficult to turn from our wicked ways. We want to be like Him – pure, holy and perfect. Our hearts change.

Because we live in a fallen world, we have to ask forgiveness repeatedly. A changed heart does this. We turn from our wicked ways, and keep turning. It’s a process.

We mature and do the right thing more often as we get to know God better.

If we truly do humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways, we become more like Him.

We should live differently than the rest of the world does. And not be afraid to apologize – from the heart – when it’s warranted. It’s a process, after all.

If the people I interact with can’t tell whether I’m a Christian or not, then my apology is no better than Roseanne’s or Samantha’s. What’s the point of being a Christian if it doesn’t change me?

Salvation is a worthy goal, yes, but God promises immediate results hear on Earth too.

God’s part

If we do our part, God will hear from heaven. Our prayers and changed hearts will be noticed. Even if other humans don’t see an immediate change in us, the God who created us sees it.

Does that matter?

Oh, yes. This is huge. God promises to forgive our sin, and to heal our land. Whoa.

Forgiving our sins means He doesn’t see them anymore. He knows us as perfect human beings. He sees only the best in us, because He’s forgiven everything else.

I can’t wrap my mind around that.

God doesn’t bring up sins we committed 20 years ago and say, “What about that?” It’s gone. Erased from His memory.

Yesterday’s sins are gone too.

That’s what forgiveness is.

Is it possible to live like that?

Yes.

I’m still working on it.

Once our sins are forgiven, then healing comes.

Between people. Between nations too, according to this Bible verse.

“Heal our land.” And all that is in it.

On a deep, deep level.

Changed hearts, changed lives.

That’s what an apology is all about.

And that’s what it means to live as a Christian.

 

Majoring in minor issues

My outlook on life is changing a little bit these days.

I’m much more detached when reading or watching the news. Politics, especially at the national level, doesn’t interest me much anymore.

I’d rather deal in real life.

Politics

For those of you who live and die by what the Democrats and/or Republicans do, I’m sure you won’t understand.

As a newspaper journalist for about three decades, I followed politics closely, because it sold papers.

Does it still?

Perhaps that’s one reason why what newspapers print isn’t the talk of the town anymore. Their editorial pages, as they have always done, focus on politics and not much else.

Not even government. Politics.

There’s a difference.

I rarely read any editorial page columns. They are so predictable. They say the same thing every day, using the issue of the day to promote their agenda.

Most of them these days slam President Trump. I get that.

But how many times do you have to say it?

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seemed to have an actual discourse leading to a summit, where they would talk about nuclear weapons, among other things.

The summit apparently fell through.

That was interesting, though.

But decades of mistrust can’t end in a few short weeks.

Maybe someday.

For the most part, the national discourse majors in minor issues.

Is kneeling during the National Anthem before NFL games really an issue worth dividing the country over?

Are school shootings really about gun control, or is something deeper at work there?

Do thoughts and prayers actually work? Do they change our outlook on life?

Sex

What’s the point of the #metoo movement, actually? Is it women’s rights, or is there something bigger at work there as well?

We are a sex-crazed society. We are massively messed up, and we all know it.

Exhibit A: #metoo.

Exhibit B: The divorce rate.

Exhibit C: Sex outside of marriage, including among teens, is not only normal, it is expected.

Exhibit D: Pornography is out of control in this country.

Exhibit E: Rape, sexual bondage, date rape …

Exhibit F: Clothing choices. How much cleavage is too much? Only for women, of course.

Exhibit G: Gender identity. Just the fact that we’re talking about this means we don’t know who we are anymore.

I don’t even have to quote statistics. You understand all of this because you experience it, or you know people who do.

But we won’t talk about it.

Not in a way that actually solves anything.

How do we expect to resolve the #metoo movement without talking about the role of sex in society? If sex outside of marriage is normal, why are we surprised when many men (and women) push the limits?

Nearly every song on the radio is about sex, some more blatantly than others. That’s been true for decades. I frequently listen to an oldies’ station that plays songs from my teen years. Talk about politically incorrect …

And yet we still play them. And listen.

Escape

Why are video games so popular? And illegal drugs? And porn?

Those are escapes from real life.

Real life is full of anxiety and stress. We don’t know how to solve real issues. Relationships. School. Jobs.

I’ve done the whole job search thing, and it’s not designed to bring out the best in anyone. It’s not even designed to connect passions with talent with careers. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time.

Some people say there’s no jobs out there. I see “now hiring” and “drivers wanted” and “positions available, all shifts” signs all over the place.

On the other end of the spectrum, highly technical jobs go unfilled because not enough of us are trained for them.

Most of us would prefer a job/career somewhere in the middle, something more than minimum wage and something that doesn’t require an advanced degree that we don’t have time for or can’t afford to get.

Are most of us left behind?

Dreams

I mentored a fourth-grade student in inner-city Cleveland this spring. He has no concept of a long-term future. All he thinks about is getting dissed by a classmate, for which he gets in trouble. He lives with his grandfather. His mother and two older sisters also are in Cleveland, but he doesn’t see them often. His dad is in Arizona, and my student hopes to move out there with him this summer. Cleveland is too violent, he says.

People are people wherever you go, I told him.

If he leaves Cleveland, will his life magically get better?

I doubt it.

How does arguing about President Trump’s tweets solve my fourth-grader’s lack of focus and maturity? How can he learn not to respond in anger when things don’t go his way?
His family is broken. His school is trying, but isn’t reaching him. His teacher can do only so much.

He got suspended recently for cussing out the school principal. Seriously.

Seriously?

A good friend of mine is a Big Brother to a teenager in another nearby city. That teen also lives in a broken home. Some days, he doesn’t feel like going to school, so he doesn’t.

Is there no big picture in this life?

No goals to aspire to?

No dreams?

Respect

In the mentoring program I’m involved in, we’re not allowed to talk about politics or religion. Too divisive. Yes, they are.

But is that how we solve problems, by saying that certain subjects are off-limits?

I thought democracy meant all issues are on the table. By discussing, even debating, issues, we understand what’s too radical and what actually works.

We don’t know how to talk issues without talking personality. How can we talk about sex without condemning those who practice sex differently than we do? Can we disagree and still respect each other?

That’s what we’ve lost in this country. Respect.

For teachers. For parents. For the boss. For the mayor. For the police.

For ourselves.

I’m right. You’re wrong. The world revolves around me. I can set whatever rules for my life that I want.

And we wonder why we’re so messed up.

A motorcyclist passed me the other day in a right-turn lane. Another vehicle and I were stopped, waiting for traffic to clear before proceeding on to state Route 57, a 45 mph highway at that point. The motorcyclist passed us in the turn lane and roared onto Route 57 before the other driver and I could move.

So much for “look out for motorcycles.” It goes both ways, you know.

Or, I wish you knew.

Faith

So, what is the big picture? How is my outlook changing?

While I can’t talk about my faith in school (unless my student brings it up first, of course), that’s where the answer lies. Not in your perception of faith, or mine, but in real faith.

In a God who wrote the big picture. Who wants the best for us.

Discipline is good, sometimes. My student doesn’t understand that. Most adults don’t either.

Good parents do understand that. Children need boundaries. If you’ve had children, you know this.

So, why do we think that we don’t need boundaries as adults?

Political boundaries change all the time. You and I think differently, so the boundaries I set may not work for you, and vice versa.

If we don’t like them, we can change them.

Why will we not look up? Put the video games down, look away from the porn, turn off the music. LeBron James and Steven Spielberg make far more money than you and I will ever see, but are they the best role models? Do they have all the answers?

When I talk about faith, I don’t even mean in a pastor or the Pope. Their interpretations of faith aren’t always right, either.

The best role model? Jesus Himself. And we killed Him.

If Jesus walked the Earth in the flesh today, we’d kill Him again. I’m sure of it.

We still don’t get it.

We’re searching for love in all the wrong places.

Haven’t heard that song in awhile.

Only one source for peace

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

 

We all long for peace, but it’s elusive.

Why? Because most of the time, we don’t know what peace is. It’s so much more than the absence of war. People can hate each other and not fight, if they think their enemy is too strong.

We can’t legislate peace with a treaty. Treaties, like most rules, are made to be broken. So it seems.

Peace comes from relationship with the living God, and from nowhere else. Look around you if you don’t believe me. Where else do you see peace?

Jesus said, “My peace I give you.” Peace is a gift from God. We can’t earn it; we can’t find it with willpower or by trying harder to attain it. Peace doesn’t come that way.

It’s a gift.

We must receive it.

That’s the only way we will find peace in this world.

My pastor, the Rev. Jim Mindling, senior pastor of Church of the Open Door in Elyria, Ohio, put it this way:

“Before there can be peace, there must be grace.”

Grace is a relationship with the living God. Because Jesus Christ is God, He not only teaches us but shows us by example what relationship is. Grace means God gives us gifts we don’t deserve, starting with salvation.

After that, other gifts, including peace, follow.

So, what is peace?

Shalom

The most common Hebrew word for peace in the Old Testament is “shalom,” which refers to relationships between people (Genesis 34:21), nations (1 Kings 5:12) and God with men (Psalm 85:8). It’s a traditional Jewish greeting for hello and goodbye.

The most common Greek word for peace in the New Testament is “eirene,” which means rest and tranquility. These also are attributes of peace.

https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-peace.html

Peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

 

In this verse, Jesus is not referring to mediators or political negotiators, but to those who carry an inward sense of the fullness and safety that is available only through son-ship with God. In the biblical Hebrew understanding of shalom, there is a point at which you have so much shalom that it spills out from you, and is repaid or rendered to others.

And so, as you make others peaceful and inwardly complete, that makes you a peacemaker.

Jesus said these peacemakers will be called sons of God. Jesus was called the Son of God. By sharing God’s uncontainable peace with others, we become just like Jesus.

http://firm.org.il/learn/the-meaning-of-shalom/

Losing peace

“There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”

Isaiah 48:22

 

With evil in our hearts, we cannot know peace – inner peace (in our hearts) or outer peace (in the community). This is true moment by moment, as well as our overall view of life.

Some of us argue constantly. We don’t have to physically fight to be “wicked.” Our general nature is confrontational. We don’t get along well with others, because we don’t get along well with our inner self. That happens because we don’t get along with the living God.

Even those of us who do know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, who have relationship with Him, can get frustrated or angry at other people, losing our peaceful hearts in that moment. When that happens, we need to ask forgiveness and re-center our hearts on God.

I face this struggle constantly, many times a day in fact. On the road. At the office. With family, sometimes. Even at church. It’s easy to lose peace just about anywhere, if I take my eyes off of Jesus.

So yes, I can be “wicked” too, in the moment.

Like my pastor said earlier, grace comes before peace. This is what he was talking about.

Heart and mind

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests by made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-9

 

Rejoice.

Gentleness.

The Lord is near.

Prayer.

Thanksgiving.

Peace of God.

Hearts.

Minds.

Christ Jesus.

All of these ideas are connected. The peace of God is not just a heart thing; it’s not just a state of mind. It involves both, completely.

It involves rejoicing. How can we be angry at someone if we are rejoicing?

It involves gentleness. Righteous anger is a thing, but that should not be our lifestyle. We should be known as a gentle people. In today’s America, we Christians should stand out because of this. You know what I mean.

If peace involves relationship, it involves prayer, which is nothing more than communicating with God – both ways, talking and listening. I confess that I do not pray nearly as much as I should. My relationship with Him can be so much better. So can my peaceful lifestyle.

Instead of complaining about what we do not have, we should be thankful for what we do have. Many years ago I saw Third World poverty in southern Mexico. Each of us should take a trip like that at least once in our lifetime. I met people who don’t have running water in their homes. I saw people living in shacks on the side of inner-city buildings, or on top of inner-city buildings. Many didn’t have electricity. (I was surprised how many such people had televisions, even if they did not have a refrigerator. Everyone needs some form of entertainment, I guess.)

Our tap water is good. I can take a shower or wash the dishes whenever I want. We have a solid roof over our heads. We have money in the bank. I have good health.

I never want to take any of these things for granted. Like Job learned, all of those things are temporary and all can be taken away from me at any moment. When I die, I won’t be able to take any of that stuff with me to the next life anyway.

So, what is my priority?

Relationship with the living God. That will continue in the next life.

That also will give me peace in this life, right now. As long as I keep my eyes on Jesus.

A search for joy

When we talk of joy as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), we aren’t talking about a worldly concept, or an idea that the world even understands. Joy hardly isn’t even in the world’s vocabulary.

We talk more about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Happiness and joy are not synonyms. Happiness is temporary; joy is forever. Happiness is the result of doing something that makes us happy, such as eating a good meal.

My wife and I enjoyed a delicious seafood dinner at Red Lobster after church yesterday. But we had a light supper that evening and breakfast this morning. The happiness we felt from yesterday’s dinner didn’t last; we got hungry again.

Joy is constant. Even when I don’t feel “joyful” – and I don’t consider myself a joyful person – joy remains in my heart. Joy, as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, is something that only Christians can understand. It’s deep in our hearts. It comes from relationship with Jesus Christ. It involves knowledge as well as feelings.

Let’s look at this a little further.

Good news of great joy

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Luke 2:8-11

 

For the shepherds, that night started like any other night. With no warning, an angel showed up. The shepherds received the shock of their lives. But the angel had a wonderful message to deliver: Don’t be afraid. The Savior was born today.

This news is “great joy.”

Jews had waited for that moment for hundreds of years. Their prayer, their hope, their longing were answered. Expectation and silence were replaced by great joy.

That joy is the Savior, the Messiah. His parents named him Jesus.

Temporary pain, permanent joy

Jesus … said to them (the disciples), “Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me?’ Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.

“When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.

“So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

John 16: 19-22

 

Just a few hours before He was crucified, Jesus told His disciples that their pain would be temporary, and that it would turn into permanent joy – that no one could take from them.

Pain comes first. Perhaps we have to feel pain before we can understand joy.

The world will rejoice in their pain, Jesus told the disciples. He knew the disciples would run away from Him when He would be arrested soon after this conversation took place. The world did not understand Jesus’ pain, or that of His disciples, nor can the world understand the joy that followed His resurrection.

This remains true today.

Lost and found

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Luke 15:7

 

Luke 15 describes three parables with the same theme: one lost sheep in a flock of 100, a lost coin and a lost son (prodigal’s son). In all three stories, something valuable was lost. When it was found, the owner in all three parables threw a party for his friends and neighbors to celebrate.

That kind of joy is uncontainable. It bubbles over. It has to be shared.

It’s not “happiness.” Finding something meaningful that was lost brings out a much deeper response in us. A joy worth celebrating.

Reading the law

All the people (about 50,000) gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel.

He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.

Then he (Nehemiah) said to them, “Go your way … and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” And all the people went their way … to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

Nehemiah 8:1, 3, 10, 12

 

After Nehemiah and Ezra led the Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem and, despite opposition, rebuilt the wall around the city, they read the book of the law of Moses (the first five books of our Old Testament), which was God’s word to them. Because they had been exiles, they hadn’t heard God’s word verbalized for decades.

When the people discovered through the law how much God loved them, they rejoiced. They found joy in God’s promises to them, and in His faithfulness despite their sinfulness.

Do we have the same response when we read the Bible?

Joy while suffering

Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

 

Can there be joy in the midst of pain? When someone is suffering from cancer and is given a short time to live, can that person rejoice despite his or her pain? When a loved one dies, can those of us who remain find joy in the eternal rest our loved one is now enjoying? We miss the deceased person terribly, of course, but can we find joy in the midst of sorrow?

I’ve seen it happen. Such times are never happy. But they can be joyful.

A friend of mine in his early 80s has suffered from severe, often debilitating, headaches since he fell down a flight of stairs when he was 14. He has suffered for decades, literally. He and his wife just celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary. She has suffered alongside him all those years.

Yet, they rejoice in God’s goodness. Like Job in the Old Testament, they accept the bad with the good.

They persevere. Even more than that, they overcome. They continue to live life to the fullest as best they can.

If that’s not joy …

And yet I can’t explain it. I have never experienced anything like that. When all is taken away, we discover what we truly need.

Peace in the midst of injustice

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12:18

 

Such a simple statement, and yet so profound. You’d think everyone would want to live peaceably.

If it is possible …

The apostle Paul wrote this statement in a letter to a specific group of Christians. He didn’t write it to a nation or a government. He wrote it to us. We aren’t to point fingers at others with this sentiment – or any other sentiment in the Bible, for that matter.

Paul was writing to me. And to you.

I am not to take revenge. Ever. That only escalates any situation, and hurts me as well as the other person.

Road rage

Example: road rage. Just yesterday, I was driving the company van at 20 mph through a school zone. Slightly ahead of me in the right lane was another van. Without warning, the driver of the other van jerked into my lane. Had I not slammed on the brakes (and hit the horn), he would have sideswiped me.

He continued on as if nothing happened. Then, a couple of minutes later, he did it again, swerving unexpectedly into the left lane (thankfully, there wasn’t anyone beside him then).

I let him go. I could have flashed my lights at him, honked repeatedly or pulled up beside him, rolled down my window and yelled at him. Right?

Then what? He might have apologized. He might have given me the finger and cut me off again.

To what end? Likely a crash involving him, me or both.

Because I drive for a living, such an incident would probably cost me my job. That’s a steep price to pay for getting angry in the heat of a moment.

So far as it depends on you …

Facebook anger

Example: political thinking. I’ve been ostracized by a close relative whose political views differ from mine. She wouldn’t let up on my Facebook posts after I asked her to chill out, so last fall I had to de-friend her. She blames me for rejecting her. That feeling of rejection goes back much farther than last year, by the way (and is not justified, in my opinion).

How do I respect someone who thinks differently than I do, and is not shy about saying so? In the short term, we need a cooling-off period, I think. I’m not adverse to a respectful conversation at all.

If it is possible …

I’ve apologized a couple of times for offending her, and she has not accepted my apologies. In real life, she’s a much nicer person than she is on Facebook (she’s not the only one I know who fits that profile). We live in different states so we don’t see each other often. Perhaps a face-to-face is in order. I’ll have to think about that.

False accusation

Example: Joseph in the Old Testament. If anyone has ever understood injustice, it’s Joseph.

After getting sold to a trader by his brothers, he was bought by Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh in Egypt. Potiphar’s wife wanted to have an affair with him, but Joseph said no – because he respected Potiphar and he followed the principles of the living God. As a result, the revengeful wife of Potiphar falsely accused him of rape. Potiphar, without asking Joseph his side of the story, had him tossed in prison.

Then forgot about him. For two years.

So far as it depends on you …

Joseph never complained. He wasn’t happy about it, but he tried to make the best of a bad situation. Eventually, he got out of prison and served Pharaoh very well. Read about these events in Genesis 39-41.

Joseph also eventually forgave his brothers for selling him years earlier, when he could have turned the tables and had them thrown in prison, or worse. Read about that in Genesis 43-45.

Joseph’s attitude?

“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”

Genesis 50:20

If it is possible …

Defending truth

Example: Stephen in the New Testament. Stephen is one of my heroes. We first hear about him when he, “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” is appointed with six others to meet the physical needs of people so the 12 apostles could spend all of their time preaching. He was a behind-the-scenes servant.

And yet, he “did great wonders and signs among the people.” Some of the religious leaders of his day didn’t appreciate that – nor could they defend themselves against Stephen’s wisdom.

As with Joseph, Stephen was falsely accused, Stephen of blaspheming against the temple and the law. In response, Stephen gave a phenomenal history lesson to the leaders who should have already known what he was saying. But instead of understanding their own history, they stoned him.

As Stephen was dying a painful death, he “cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’.” Read his story in Acts 6-7.

So far as it depends on you …

Remaining true

Sometimes, when we try to live peaceably, there are consequences. Just ask Joseph and Stephen. Both paid a huge price for their faithfulness to peace and to the living God – Stephen with his life.

In the end, I’m sure both would say that living a peaceable life was worth the cost. Other people benefited greatly from their peace-loving ways.

Even if they didn’t understand why they had to suffer, they trusted the God they worshipped for the results of their peace-loving ways.

Joseph saw those results: restored relationships with his brothers, for one. Stephen did not. He became the first martyr to the Christian cause. The results came later.

That was good enough for Stephen.

Wow.

This life often is not very peaceful. What can you and I do to help make it more so?

Changing laws not enough; we need a new mindset

It happened again. Another school shooting with multiple casualties, this time north of Miami.

We’re getting good at knee-jerk reactions to these situations. We aren’t good at figuring out how to prevent them.

Grandma saves lives

A grandmother in Washington state, of all people, has the right idea.

http://www.heraldnet.com/news/grandmother-turns-in-teen-who-allegedly-planned-shooting/

The grandmother of Joshua Alexander O’Connor, 18, found alarming journal entries Tuesday at her home in Everett, Wash., according to reports filed in court. She called police. An officer pulled O’Connor from class at ACES High School, an alternative school he began attending in the fall, to arrest him, reported the Herald newspaper in Everett.

The Herald continued:

O’Connor wrote that he wanted the death count to be as high as possible so that the shooting would be infamous, according to court papers. He went into detail about building pressure-cooker bombs, activating inert grenades and deploying explosives for maximum casualties.

“I need to make this count,” O’Connor reportedly wrote. “I’ve been reviewing many mass shootings/bombings (and attempted bombings). I’m learning from past shooters/bombers mistakes” …

On Tuesday police took a glance inside the teen’s room, saw two grenades and left the area to get to safety. Officers applied for a warrant to search the room. The high school was notified and O’Connor was arrested, reportedly carrying a knife and marijuana. A search of the home led to recovery of the journal, a rifle, the grenades, masks …

On Wednesday in court, deputy prosecutor Andrew Alsdorf told a judge that O’Connor bought a rifle because it was the same style as a gun used by one of the shooters at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in 1999 …
School officials learned of the threat Tuesday.

“Our main thing right now is gratitude, especially to the grandmother,” said Andy Muntz, a spokesman for the Mukilteo School District. “That couldn’t have been easy for her to do. The Everett police also did a wonderful job. That combination may have saved a lot of lives.”

Warning signs in Florida

In Florida, reports say there were warning signs about the Valentine’s Day shooter, Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

I can’t say I was shocked,” Joshua Charo, a 16-year-old student at the school, told the Miami Herald. “From past experiences, he seemed like the kind of kid who would do something like this.”

School Shooting Florida
A woman places flowers at one of 17 crosses placed for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

“I think everyone had in their minds if anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him,” Dakota Mutchler, a 17-year-old junior at the school, told The Associated Press.

“A lot of people were saying it was going to be him,” Eddie Bonilla, another student, told CBS Miami. “A lot of kids joked around like that, saying that he was going to be the one to shoot up the school. But it turns out everyone predicted it.”

https://www.yahoo.com/news/plenty-warnings-florida-school-shooting-suspects-past-missed-signs-154926468.html

“Everyone” predicted the Florida massacre, but no one acted on those beliefs.

The shooter remains responsible, of course. He will have his day in court, as the laws of our land dictate.

The teen in Everett, Wash., also faces a day in court, but not with murder charges – thanks to his grandmother and quick follow-up by the local police department.

The blame game

We can debate gun laws all we want. We won’t eliminate them from our country. It just won’t happen. Certain types of weapons can be outlawed and perhaps they should, but the teens in both cases this week obtained their weapons legally.

We can blame politicians, including the president and Congress, but they cannot legislate morality. They can change laws, but they can’t change hearts.

Studying the connection between mental illness and lethal weapons possibly could lead to ways to prevent some mass shootings from happening.

But not all. Not even close.

“I need to make this count,” the Washington teen admitted. How can we change that mindset? Where does that mindset come from in the first place?

A different mindset

My worldview provides an answer to these questions, but it’s not a popular one in today’s America.

The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” … The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

Genesis 3:12,13

We’ve had that mindset since the beginning of time. It’s not my fault. I screw up, and I blame you. You blame someone else.

And on it goes.

We think the world revolves around us, and we get upset when we don’t get our way, when someone puts restrictions on us – such as, you can eat from any tree in this beautiful, lush garden except this particular one (Genesis 3:2).

Why won’t we outlaw semiautomatic firearms? We don’t want anyone telling us we can’t have something. It’s that simple. The cost doesn’t matter. It’s all about what I want, or think I want.

Freedom. Liberty. My rights trump your rights. Damn the consequences.

We’ve clung to this value since we first walked the Earth.

When do the consequences become too much?

Will they ever?

It’s not about me, or you

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends …

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

The Parkland, Fla., shooting tragedy took place on Valentine’s Day, the day of love. I wonder if that was a coincidence. Was the shooter mocking love by carrying out a supreme act of hate on that day?

Love, when done right, solves everything. Which tells us how far off from “right” we are when it comes to love.

Who hates those words from 1 Corinthians in the Bible? Is that not the definition of love at its best? If all 300 million of us in the United States followed the views of just that paragraph, imagine the problems that would disappear. Instantly.

It’s a mindset. Patient, kind, no envy or arrogance, respecting your views without malice …

Why is that so hard?

Many of us are clamoring for change to prevent further mass shootings from occurring. Yes, absolutely.

We can change laws, but until we change our mindset, serious crimes will continue. As will other situations that hurt people.

It’s not about me. It’s not about you. There’s a bigger picture here, a much bigger picture.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:11-12

It’s time we grew up.

Featured photo caption: Joshua Alexander O’Connor, 18, appears in court Wednesday. He is accused of plotting to bomb and shoot classmates at ACES High School in Everett. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)

News, sports and weather

To start the new year, a little of this and that:

Browns in stable condition

The Detroit Lions fired head coach Jim Caldwell this week, as did the Chicago Bears with John Fox. Caldwell went 36-28 in four years in Detroit; Fox, 14-34 in three years in Chicago. Both had success in previous head coaching gigs.

Since I’ve lived in Michigan and west of Chicago, I have friends who root for those teams.

Those NFL teams are still searching for new head coaches.

They can’t have Hue Jackson. He’s taken.

Hue Jackson

Jackson, of the 0-16 (and 1-31 two-year record) Cleveland Browns, is coming back for a third year, according to owner Jimmy Haslam.

Those of us in the Cleveland area are scratching our heads.

And with no consensus No. 1 pick in the college ranks this year, the Browns are sure to bungle that, too.

Perhaps best to avoid talk radio this off-season. Could get ugly.

Of course, one win next year – or, gasp, two – would be a marked improvement.

Hey, the Browns have more stability right now than the Lions or Bears do. That counts for something, right?

Cold not cool

I wrote on this blog last week that I enjoy the up-north outdoors year-round. Yeah, right. See if I write that again any time soon.

freezing

This week, we’re having single-digit highs and below-zero wind chills – in the daytime. No outdoor exercise for me at the moment. Like everyone else around here, I’m just trying to stay warm.

We moved to Northeast Ohio four years ago this week during a polar vortex, when temps were even colder than they are today. It was so frigid, the diesel moving truck couldn’t start, so our move was delayed a day.

A slight thaw would be nice.

It’s expected early next week. Something to look forward to.

No guardrails

old fall river road

We visited Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colo., last September, before winter weather forced park officials to close the Old Fall River Road. The 11-mile dirt road up the mountain – with no guardrails and plenty of drop-offs, along with a 15 mph speed limit – was a fun drive. (Guardrails would spoil the view.)

I bottomed out the rental car in a pothole only once.

The drive down the other side of the mountain on a paved highway was much smoother, literally.

Make the drive in the morning, because afternoon thunderstorms frequently and suddenly pop up. We heard one up there as we were on our way down the mountain.

The Rocky Mountains are beautiful. We certainly don’t have anything like that here in the Midwest.

All talk, no action

Neither President Donald Trump nor North Korea leader Kim Jong-un has a “nuclear button” on his desk. Kim isn’t ready yet, and Trump doesn’t have the authority to declare nuclear war on his own.

But Kim has finally met a world leader who speaks his language.

Trump’s tweets make me cringe, since he frequently talks against his own policy and subverts the efforts of his own negotiators. Trump, however, was elected in large part because of his foreign policy stances. He’s tired of seeing the United States pushed around and dis-respected on the world stage.

Kim and similar leaders don’t follow diplomatic rules. The U.S. can sign all the treaties it wants and we can talk until we’re blue in the face, and Kim won’t care. Whether he signs a treaty or not is irrelevant. He’s building his nuclear arsenal regardless.

Trump understands that, and is acting accordingly. About time.

Neither side will flinch, and neither side will pull the trigger. They both know what’s at stake. Finally, a stand-off on equal terms.

Kim is 33. Trump is 71. We’ll see how this plays out long-term.

Who’s No. 1?

spartans logo

My Michigan State Spartans men’s basketball team is ranked No. 1 in the country this week. That’s nice, but it doesn’t matter, really.

Basketball crowns its champions (men and women) through a tournament. It can do that because the games aren’t physically brutal like football is, which is why the football playoff system will rage forever with no final solution that pleases everybody.

The Spartans can’t beat Duke, so I wouldn’t make them the favorites to win the national title.

It could happen, though. Perhaps this is the year.

I’m ready for March Madness already.

Suffering with Jesus

I’m reading through Romans with some friends. The next lesson includes this:

“ – if, in fact, we suffer with him (Jesus) so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”

Romans 8:17-18

bible

Do I suffer with Jesus? The apostle Paul, who wrote that, was shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, jailed and given lashes because he was a Jesus follower.

I can’t relate.

Many Christians today do suffer like that. Some are killed for their faith. Not in the United States, but in other places.

Does suffering include things besides physical pain?

I don’t suffer physically. Emotionally, do I?

How much are emotional wounds self-inflicted? That doesn’t count as suffering, not really.

All of us die eventually, and some of us suffer more than others through that process. That’s not what these Bible verses are talking about, either.

Suffer with him.

Should I? Do I?

Food for thought.

Still learning a 2,600-year-old lesson

Thus says the LORD: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the LORD; I act with steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the LORD.

(Jeremiah 9:23-24, emphasis added)

 

Wisdom, might, wealth.

Love, justice, righteousness.

Two lists, separated by God.

Wisdom, might and wealth are human gains.

Love, justice and righteousness belong to God.

That explains a lot about our country right there.

What do we pursue the most? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We search for those things in our wisdom, might and wealth.

Wisdom

Wisdom, according to Merriam-Webster, is the ability to discern inner qualities and relationships; good sense; generally accepted belief; and accumulated philosophical or scientific learning.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wisdom

We gain wisdom as we learn things. Wisdom is never complete; we never see the entire picture.

For centuries, “generally accepted belief” and “scientific learning” told us that Earth was flat. As we gained more wisdom, we learned otherwise.

That’s why trusting entirely in science is not enough. There’s so much we don’t know yet. All the tiny details of how atoms work, how to cure cancer, what’s on the far reaches of outer space. We know a lot, certainly, but wisdom comes in bits and pieces, sometimes by excellent research, sometimes by good luck, sometimes by trial and error.

Wisdom is what we’ve learned. And since some of my experiences differ from yours, my “good sense” and “generally accepted belief” might be different than yours. My wisdom is not your wisdom, necessarily.

Wisdom is good, but only to a point. It’s not conclusive.

Might

Why do we glorify physical strength? The reason so many NFL players get hurt these days – ie, nearly all of them – is specifically because they all are so big and strong. (And when they retire, what happens to their bodies without the exercise? We never hear about that.)

I weigh 140 pounds. I’m on the low end or off the scale of every height-weight chart I’ve seen. I’ll never win a weight-lifting competition. If might is the goal, I have no chance.

The Winter Olympics is coming up, when athletes will show tremendous feats of strength and agility. Once the Olympics is over, we won’t hear from most of those athletes again. How fleeting life is in the public eye.

We glorify might, but it doesn’t last. Our bodies wear out eventually.

Wealth

Wealth is power. You have to be rich (and either a Republican or a Democrat) to run for political office. Money talks in the business world. Entertainers and athletes make big money. (Teachers don’t, comparatively.) The largest public employee salary in many states belongs not to the governor, but to a college football or basketball coach.

As with might, money doesn’t last. When we spend it, it’s gone. And when we die, we can’t take it with us.

Most people across the world don’t have near the wealth that the average American has. Even our poor are wealthy by the world’s standards.

It’s easy to get greedy and envious. There’s always someone who has more than I do. (There’s always someone who has less as well, but most of us aren’t looking in that direction.)

Wealth is either inherited or earned.

And it can disappear overnight. Those of us invested in the stock market in 2008 can attest to that.

Are wisdom, might and wealth the highest goals we can attain?

Love

Love has many definitions, of course. The purest love wants the best for the other person.

It’s not about me. It’s about you. Me serving you. God serving us both.

This kind of love does not come from us. We are selfish by nature, every one of us. True love originates with God.

This is not debatable.

Again, there are many types of love. Husband-wife, parent-child, friends. All of them are (or should be) other-person-centered.

Others-centered love does not come naturally. If it did, our divorce rate would not be between 40 percent and 50 percent (higher for subsequent marriages – we aren’t learning the lesson the first time around). Our violent crime rates wouldn’t be so high. We wouldn’t be searching for love in all the wrong places – illegal drugs, prostitution and pornography, fancy clothes or cars or houses or (fill in the blank), climbing the corporate ladder, a bigger salary … and on and on.

God shows us the love we need. All we have to do is accept it, then give it away.

It really is that simple.

In theory, at least.

Justice

Justice, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims,” the administration of law, and the quality of being just, impartial and fair.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/justice

How well is all of that working out in our nation?

When we impart justice on human terms, it changes all the time. Jim Crow laws. Same-sex marriage. Legalization of marijuana (which is coming eventually nationwide).

What is murder, anyway? Self-defense? Insanity plea?

So many gray areas in our laws. Loopholes and exceptions. How do we know which of these are just?

Depends who you ask.

Do impartiality and fairness even exist?

We need to try, certainly.

But ultimately, justice belongs to God alone. He sees the big picture. He understands the human heart, because He created it, so He understands motive. We try to figure it out, and we don’t always get it right, do we?

The Ten Commandments were given to us for a reason. For our own benefit. No human court of law or body of legislators has ever improved upon it.

Righteousness

Righteousness, again quoting Merriam-Webster, is acting in accord with divine or moral law; morally right or justifiable.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/righteousness

We don’t hear much about righteousness in the news, because it’s about “divine law.” We’ll stick with our own “morally right or justifiable” laws, thank you.

Even though those laws change depending on who has the wisdom, might and wealth at the moment.

Is there a “moral law” greater than the human mind can come up with?

We’re doomed if there isn’t.

As we enter 2018, if we can’t figure out how to get along with each other – love in its most basic form – we won’t have much of a future as a nation.

The prophet Jeremiah warned us about this 2,600 years ago. We still haven’t learned the lesson.

Will we ever?

Happiness and joy: synonyms?

What’s the difference between happiness and joy?

That question crossed my mind recently, as I wonder how happy I am and whether I can do anything about it.

Happiness is a choice, many people believe. I’ve seen posts and books about that, and heard people say it.

I’m not sure I buy it.

Happiness, the way I see it, is the result of doing something that makes us happy.

We can choose to do something that makes us happy, but we can’t choose to be happy all by itself.

Maybe that’s splitting hairs.

According to a couple of official sources, it is splitting hairs.

Merriam-Webster defines “joy” this way:

 

1.a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight

b : the expression or exhibition of such emotion : gaiety

2: a state of happiness or felicity : bliss

3: a source or cause of delight

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/joy

 

The dictionary calls joy an emotion, and basically a synonym for happiness. It also says the first known use of the word came in the 13th century.

Really? It’s in the Bible, written hundreds – if not thousands – of years before the 13th century.

So, I checked another source I go to sometimes, especially with questions about the Bible, gotquestions.org. In its discussion of “Is there a difference between joy and happiness?” are these statements:

 

 

It is common today to hear believers speak of a difference between joy and happiness. The teaching usually makes the following points: 1) Happiness is a feeling, but joy is not. 2) Happiness is fleeting, but joy is everlasting. 3) Happiness depends on circumstances or other people, but joy is a gift from God. 4) Happiness is worldly, but joy is divine. But there is no such distinction made in Scripture, and forcing a distinction between two words that are so obviously close in meaning is unnecessary …

There is nothing in the Bible that suggests we divorce joy from happiness. The two are equal.

Of course, there are different types of joy and happiness. There is a joy that comes from the world, such as “the fleeting pleasures of sin” spoken of in Hebrews 11:25. There is a joy that is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galations 5:22). There is a temporary happiness and an eternal happiness, but we can call both “happiness.” We don’t need to split hairs between the meaning of joy and happiness. We just need to decide where our joy comes from. Are we happy in the Lord, or are we content with the happiness the world affords?

https://www.gotquestions.org/joy-happiness.html

 

 

So, I guess I am splitting hairs.

I’ve had all four of those thoughts listed in the gotquestions.org explanation. If they aren’t true, then where do those ideas come from?

I do not consider myself a “happy” person. I laugh, but not very often, and never in the routines of life. I don’t get excited or enthusiastic. I can encourage others and hopefully make them feel good about themselves, but I have a hard time doing that for myself.

Emotions are fleeting. They come and go. Happiness follows that track.

If happiness and joy are so closely related, does that mean joy comes and goes, too?

 

James 1:2 says, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials.” Christians can be happy, even in the midst of difficulties, because we know “the testing of our faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (verses 3-4). As we persevere through trials, with God’s help, our faith strengthens and matures. By God’s grace we can be happy despite our circumstances.

 

Gotquestions.org includes this paragraph on joy while suffering. Can we really be happy in the midst of difficulties?

Perhaps this is what we Americans are missing today. Many of us do have difficulties. We certainly are angry about a lot of things. We get upset when things don’t go our way.

Even more than that, “good people” suffer, too. People get sick and/or sometimes die far too young. Or God calls home a leader who has influenced many people, and we wonder why, when other people whom we don’t respect as much continue living.

We think like that all the time, don’t we?

God sees the big picture. All of us will die at some point. That’s a guarantee. Very few of us know when death will claim us.

Sometimes, people suffer before they die. Why? I can’t answer that.

Can suffering people be happy? Can suffering people find joy?

I work with almost two dozen adults with developmental disabilities. None of them can live on their own or take care of themselves. All of them have physical and/or mental disabilities that prevent them from living a life that you and I can enjoy.

Yet, I see happiness in my workplace every day. They laugh. They have fun when doing activities they enjoy. When I communicate with a non-verbal individual and we understand each other, both of us feel a joy, a connection, that’s hard to explain.

When two people connect, there’s joy. Friendship deepens. When one person holds back from communicating (that’s usually me), joy does not come.

Perhaps that’s why happiness often eludes me. A great communicator, I’m not.

So, where does my joy come from? As a Christian, I should be “happy in the Lord” all the time. That doesn’t mean I’m oblivious to suffering or to the real issues facing our family, city, nation, world, etc. I should have a joy that helps me see the bigger picture, to help me get through those issues.

Can I be joyful without being happy?

Perhaps not.

Perhaps I do need to choose joy/happiness.