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Sometimes It’s Hard to See Heaven on Earth

Yesterday I went to a local hospital to visit someone, and as I got off my motorcycle (yes, I’m one of “those” guys) I noticed that antifreeze was pouring out of my bike onto the pavement. And I deduced that was not a good thing. What ensued was a three-hour delay in my already packed schedule and a high-level of frustration.

While I was waiting at the bike shop to catch a ride back to the church, I remembered the words of my mentor, Alan Ahlgrim, to find joy in all circumstances. Really? How can you find joy when life throws you a curve ball?

A good friend of mine just found out he has a malignant tumor. Where is the joy in that? Another friend told me he’s going to have an operation for skin cancer. What does joy look like in that situation? And I complain because I had a three-hour interruption due to a faulty radiator.

Oddly enough, the New Testament writers actually make it sound like the impossible is possible. James says to “count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). Paul writes that the Macedonian churches had an “abundance of joy” even in a “severe test of affliction” (2 Corinthians 8:2). Earlier he describes the reality of being “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

Dallas Willard defines joy as a “sense of pervasive well-being” (Living in Christ’s Presence, 82). Joy rises above the murky realities of this world. Joy penetrates the heart, because it is not bound by sorrow, pain or suffering. Even in trials, joy is connected with the knowledge that we will be okay…ultimately. Why? Because God has the final word. And God is a joyous God. As Willard puts it, “If you don’t have a joyous God, you’d better head for cover…. It’s a joyous God that fills the universe” (ibid., 83).

I once read that Mother Teresa trained her staff to carry about an infectious smile, and she would dismiss anyone who did not smile. Part of their ministry description was to smile! This didn’t mean that people were supposed to walk around with a frozen smile, but it emphasized the realization of God’s goodness even in the midst of great suffering. It was bringing the Kingdom of God to earth. Goodness entering brokenness. Eternal joy infiltrating temporal sorrow.

It’s hard to see heaven on earth. It’s difficult to find joy in sorrow. Not only does that seem paradoxical, it appears oxymoronic. Joyful sorrow. Joyful suffering. Joyful trials. How can this be? Only because heaven wins. The eternal overshadows the temporal. Joy trumps sorrow. Jesus defeated death. Forever.

Jesus said, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20). Whatever you may be facing right now, whether it’s a blown radiator, or something far worse, Jesus says that it is His joy that is in us, and that joy will be made full (John 15:11).

That, my friends, is the recipe for finding joy in all circumstances. It’s not your joy or my joy that we conjure up through positive thinking; it is Jesus’s joy that fills us up. To get joy, we need to get Jesus. Joy is a byproduct of living in Jesus, and Jesus living in us. Even in the midst of your trial you can have a sense of pervasive well-being, because your life is not limited to your trial, and neither is your joy.

Day Three in Kenya

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Going into Grogan today, we prepared with a devotional about spreading God’s love. You are loved no matter where you are, what you have done, and what you believe. God loves YOU. We focused on that as we visited homes of people in the Grogan community. It was incredible to see the women in the community open up and share their stories. How their lives had changed when they accepted Jesus, or as they say more often, were born again.

In the morning, we entered into each home with either a Malaria Cube or HIV Cube. Essential, the cubes were a set of blocks that told the side effects, ways of prevention, and modes of treatment with the disease. The method was an excellent way to spread awareness and prevention with basic knowledge of the diseases. Many times, the information they receive is not always right. For example, we were told many believe that you can get malaria from raw mangos! After lunch, we went out with Evangy Cubes, a set of blocks that told the story of Jesus dying on the cross to reunite us with God. It was incredible to see the way God worked today. For many of us, it was the first time doing evangelism in a setting like this, entering homes unannounced with no prior knowledge of the people or their situation. But God showed up, bringing us the courage to ask questions in fellowship, intentionally develop relations, and pray for the women and their families.

In between the house visits, the team played with the kids. For me, I got to see my sponsor child, Yvonne, really open up and be able to be herself in front of me while she was having fun with her friends. Every time I had met up with Yvonne in the past, she seemed to be extremely shy. Seeing her true personality and the way God’s light shines through her today was encouraging. The kids are so joyful, regardless of the situation they may be in, the family or lack thereof, whether or not they had eaten that day, they remain joyful. We take so much for granted, and it just reminds me of how minimal our problems can be, but we let them ruin the day. God has a plan and will continue to provide. The kids truly rely on God for the next meal, the next day. We can sometimes lose that faith, and it is so encouraging to see an entire school and community place so much faith in God, knowing it will get better.

Please pray for us over the next few days as we continue to build relationships, set aside our plans for God’s, and follow faithfully regardless of the circumstances.

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