Glimpses of joy

It was February 13, 1970, and I had just come to pick up Jana for our first date. The moment she let me in the front door, I heard a sound coming up from the basement: “Hee, hee, hee!” 

Jana took me downstairs to meet her dad. He was lying on the floor watching TV, literally rolling on the floor in laughter. 

My first thought was that this family must be out of its mind.    

But that was Lonnie. He laughed like that all the time. He simply loved life. He got joy out of whatever he was doing.

In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul wrote that we are to “rejoice in the Lord always.” Lonnie always rejoiced because he could see God in everything. 

He rejoiced in hunting and fishing. He rejoiced in fixing his old boat. I think he actually rejoiced when it broke; so he could fix it.

He rejoiced in his wife and his family. In good times and bad, he rejoiced.

Where did he get that endless reservoir of joy?

In Colossians 3, Paul wrote, “Since then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above….”

Fascinating. Paul was writing to Christians who were still living, but he said, “You have been raised.”  It’s already happened.

The main purpose of the Christian faith is not for God to swoop down and take you to heaven when you die. Heaven is not an ethereal place far away where you float in a kind of disembodied existence. 

That’s not resurrection; that’s death.

When the Risen Jesus met his disciples after the resurrection he could still eat, but he could also be anywhere at once. He was somehow more real.

And he didn’t tell them to wait around until they floated off, he sent them out to make the world more beautiful and just, starting now, like he did with my father-in-law Lonnie.

Heaven is here, another dimension of reality that most of us are out of touch with, and Jesus followers live at the intersection of the two. They’ve been raised with Christ to give the world glimpses of the ultimate joy that awaits us when heaven and earth are fully joined at last. Alleluia!

Or as Lonnie would say, “Hee, hee, hee!” 

Hidden in plain sight

A friend of ours tells the story of taking violin lessons as a child. Her grandfather had purchased a violin second hand during the depression so her mother could take lessons. Both our friend and her mother had carried that violin back and forth to school for years.  

Our friend’s mother died. Years later, our friend remembered the violin and went looking for it. She found it under a bed, hidden away with other things. She tried to get it appraised by Antiques Road Show, but they recommended she take it to someone else. Eventually, she found a dealer who knew what it was. He told her he could only offer her $100,000. It was all he could pull together, but that wouldn’t be fair to her.

But it had been an honor for him just to play it.

No, it wasn’t a long-lost Stradivarius. It was a Guarneri. 

Giuseppe Guarneri was an 18th century contemporary of Antonio Stradivari. Only about 150 of Guarneri’s violins are known to exist, far fewer than the number of Stradivari’s.

Our friend said she had considered the violin a family heirloom, but she had no idea that the instrument under the bed was worth millions.

If you came across a Guarneri in a flea market, you’d stop at nothing to buy it, wouldn’t you?

This is what Jesus offers us. He told a parable of a farmer who discovered a treasure hidden in a field. “In his joy, he went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

In his joy.

There is nothing in the Bible about Jesus’ appearance. We don’t know what he looked like, how tall he was, or anything else. He just blended in. But we do know that when people discovered who he was, they left everything to follow him.

Not out of obligation or compulsion.


Can you eat your way to joy?

Does joy in life depend on how much you weigh?

This week, the Today Show debuted a new series featuring actress Valerie Bertinelli. Bertinelli has spent her life in the public eye. In 1975, at age 15, she got her big break in the sitcom One Day at a Time. In addition to acting, she’s had her own cooking show and been a spokesperson for Jenny Craig.

“Valerie Bertinelli is feeling positive about 2020,” the reporter said. That includes paying attention to her own needs.”

“When you’re busy taking care of other people you forget to take care of yourself. I’ve been working so hard for so long…I just want to know what true joy feels like,” Bertinelli said. 

Today said that Bertinelli brought joy to others through her TV roles while hiding her own sadness. Over the years she found comfort in food, leading to swings in her weight. But now, with the Today Show documenting her progress, she plans to eat better and lose weight to learn to feel better about herself.

Who can’t feel her pain?

Women of all ages are crushed by a culture that places a premium on youth and beauty. Any standard of beauty that would suggest that the lovely Valerie Bertinelli needs to lose weight is arbitrary, harmful, and impossible to achieve.

And if your eating failed to cover sadness, does it follow that you can eat your way to joy?

The Christian faith has a whole different path to joy that doesn’t depend on one’s weight, bank account, job prospects, number of Facebook friends, or anything that can go up and down.

The great English preacher, the late David Martin Lloyd-Jones, said that the essence of the Christian faith is to say that “Jesus Christ is good enough and I am in Him.” To say that “I’m not good enough” is to deny the very essence of what it means to be a Christian.

Joy will always be illusive if it depends on anything that can go up and down.  

But the good news is that you are so attractive to Jesus Christ that he left heaven to pursue you. When you are in Him, you have the joy of knowing that you’ve been approved by the only one who matters, and that his approval will never change.


Years ago, the story goes, an admiral was speaking to a Navy Officer’s Wives Club. Before he began, he asked the wives to line up in order of rank. They dutifully complied without a word being said. He then lectured them that they didn’t have rank, their spouses did.

The wives smiled politely, but they knew better.

When we enter into a new situation, we instinctively size up where we fit in. Yet when Jesus left heaven to enter into his creation, he always took the bottom position. And at his last meal before his betrayal, he knelt to wash his disciples’ feet.

And he told us to do the same.

We’ve been studying Ann Voskamp’s book, 1000 Gifts, about her personal journey from anxiety to joy. Her journey meant practicing giving thanks in all situations, even when it was hard.

The practice transformed her. It didn’t change her situation; it changed her.

And the transformation was ongoing. There was always another, deeper layer to a life of thanksgiving.

Naming blessings, and giving thanks for them, led her to live the blessings.

Voskamp says, “At the last, this is what will determine a fulfilling, meaningful life, a life…every one of us longs to live: gratitude for the blessings that expresses itself by becoming the blessing.”

It’s not just the Navy. Every day, someone or something reminds us where we stand in some pecking order.

But when we get down on our knees to serve Christ by serving others, when we empty ourselves of us, that’s when Christ fills us with Him.

And with Him comes joy.

Soul satisfying joy

One of the women who testified at the sentencing hearing of Larry Nassar, the US Women’s Gymnastics team doctor who abused dozens of young women, was former gymnast Rachel Denhollander. She was the first to bring the abuses to light, and her courage inspired others to come forward.

But in the midst of sharing her horrific story, Rachel shared her faith: Because God exists, there is right and wrong. Because God is just, we can recognize evil and stand against it.

Then Rachel said this to Nassar: “I have experienced the soul satisfying joy of a marriage built on sacrificial love and safety and tenderness and care. I have experienced true intimacy in its deepest joys, and it is beautiful and sacred and glorious. And that is a joy you have cut yourself off from, and I pity you for it.”

Amid the darkness of abuse and fear and pain, there is still light. There is a God of love, who is love, who made us for love; to love each other and to love him. And not just love. God created us to experience deep, soul-satisfying joy, tenderness, and care. And yes, even glory and ecstasy.

In the creation story, God put the man to sleep, pulled out a rib, and fashioned the woman. The woman was created from the man, but the man wasn’t complete until the woman was complete.

Do you see? God designed us to experience his love, joy, tenderness, care, ecstasy, and even his glory, through each other.


Last summer’s mega-hit was the animated feature Inside-Out, the story of an 11-year-old girl named Riley whose world is turned inside-out when she has to move with her family to a new city. Inside-Out is one of those kids’ movies parents enjoy too, because it captures so many of the emotions we all experience growing up.

The movie depicts five different emotions, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust as characters in Riley’s head competing for control. At first, Joy is in control, but when things go wrong, Sadness takes over. How is it that Joy and Sadness relate to each other? The message, at least in part, is that all of those emotions are normal and we need them all, in balance, to live a normal life.

The thing is, we live in a culture which claims life owes us happiness. As we discover that real life doesn’t work that way, may people create personas on social media to project to the world a life that is happy and pulled together. But the truth is, sadness is sometimes the most appropriate response to the things life throws at us. In the Bible, Jesus was called a “man of sorrows.” The word “smile” is only used in the Book of Job, and then in an ironic way.

The Christian faith offers us a way of looking at life that gives us hope, while at the same time acknowledging the world as it is, sadness and all. Jesus never just said, “Put on a happy face.” He promised to take the sadness we all experience and redeem it. He promised to make our joy more complete for the sad things we experienced in this world.

If I could made a sequel to Inside-Out, I would introduce a new character called Gospel, who Riley would meet at church with her parents. Gospel would gently work with all the other characters to keep them in their proper place. Gospel wouldn’t save Riley from sadness. Gospel would help Riley live a life worth living.