Just Joy because in Heaven there are No Tears

Since the new year has rolled in, the one that we all stayed up counting down to and waiting for,

It has brought a wave of earthly sadness with it that none of us could have predicted.

In just one week my best friend lost her mother after only having found her again after many, many heartbreaking years of separation,

Another friend lost his dad after a lengthy battle with a terrible disease,

And just days ago, one of my special friends said goodbye to this place we temporarily call home.

And while I weep with my friends and for my friend, as I sang the words in church on Sunday

Better is one day in your courts, better is one day in Your house than thousands elsewhere.

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I thought…while we grieve our losses here, the ones who’ve breathed the air of heaven are there in HIS courts, in HIS presence NOW while we are stuck down here.

“They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 22:4-5

Right there at the end of the last book of the Bible, the book that has confounded followers of Christ for so long, clear as anything it says it,

They will see His face.

And I began to weep as I sang those words in church…my best friend’s mom, my other friend’s dad, and my special friend Ronnie, they are seeing His face now.

I wanted to point out my special friend Ronnie. Ronnie was a guy, who by the world’s accounting, was “handicapped”, “special needs”, “mentally challenged or disabled”. Ronnie was the kind of person that sadly, most people would try to avoid.

But Ronnie made me laugh…a lot and I loved him very much.

I met Ronnie this past summer at Camp Joy and all I remember is his smile. That and the ridiculous getup he wore while singing “KoKoMo” at the talent show.  Camp Joy is built for people like Ronnie and having been there many, many times, I can tell you true, it IS the happiest place on earth. It is the closest thing to heaven any of us will ever see down here.

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Ronnie was one of the original campers at Camp Joy back in 1980 when Miss Ann (right) co-founded this very special camp.

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Ronnie was quite the beach boy.

So there I am singing, and crying, and thinking of the pain my friends and their families are experiencing and all I can think is

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-5

And then I thought…Ronnie has a perfect body and mind now. Or maybe he is exactly the same because maybe in heaven everything is perfect just the way it is…

Because everything there is JUST JOY.

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A night of worship, a week at Camp Joy is the closest thing to heaven I’ll ever find here on earth.

after the party ends…

 

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after the champagne has been drained, and the funny glasses that said “2016” have broken,

when the resolutions have been declared and the booming of the fireworks have been stilled,

then you’re alone with just what the new year is going to bring,

sometimes it feels like a let down,

because really nothing has changed that much from 11:59 to 12:00

nothing magical really did happen after all, you just believed the hype,

but then,

when you’ve had a chance to sleep off last night’s party,

you’ve cleaned up  what was left of last year’s holidays

reality sets in.

you do want this to be different.

you do want the change.

so there you are, on that first brand new day of January

just you and your best friend in all the world

talking of your Christmas disappointments and your Christmas miracles

how He had done so much more than you could have ever dreamed, asked, hoped or imagined

and how the best gift of all was the one that He had given you without you even asking,

then you wonder, how do you keep this change, this new thing, for a whole year long?

so you begin to write.

just one word at first, then slowly more come until the whole page is filled

dream upon dream, everything that you want to see, everything that you can imagine.

and you smile and nod at what the other writes because in your heart you wrote it too.

sitting there in the quiet night with just some favorite tunes playing in the background,

in the soft glow of the warm fire that lights the room,

you see the words you’ve written and you can feel it,

this is going to be different somehow for two are better than one and He makes three,

and you’ve somehow made this covenant to not take anything for granted anymore,

and you’ve  decided that you just want to be better. better than the year before,

no matter what comes tomorrow.

 

when you need a brand new day

when January comes and it feels just like December

when you need a brand new day…or a brand new year…

and you’ve waited for change, and hoped for something to be different this time,

but at the end of another year you’re feeling the same old

Pain

Loneliness

Bitterness

Anger

Grief.

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And you’re looking to the new year coming in and all you had to give this year was

Failure

Chances missed

Wasted time

Lost relationships.

You waited for joy to come like it is supposed to do, but all you do is weep in the night,

How to face another day, much less another year when all you pray is to wake up in Glory, with the weight of this world far behind…

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How are you to to be light shining in darkness when all around you feel the darkness closing in…

When you don’t want to be

Lost

Confused

Hurt

Angry.

How do you make January feel like all the old has gone and the new is coming?

The only hope any of us have

The only way we can ever be

Joyful

Shining

Content

Making the most of everything…

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There’s only one place to lift your eyes, one place to find strength…

He says, “when I’m all you’ve got, I’m more than all you need.”

Is He all you’ve got? Then that is so much more than all of the pain of your broken year

And He is so much more than all of the old you want to leave in the year before,

He is all. He is all and there is nothing else or nothing more.

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Journey to Joy–days 5,6,7 of Advent

(Apologies I had no internet access on Wednesday evening and then good friends from out of town came in town so I have not had a chance to sit down and write)

Here we are on the second Sunday of Advent, and Christmas and all the trappings and distractions that come with it are in full wide swing. The weather has turned chillier, which tells me we are indeed moving along on the journey to Joy.

With each day that passes, I am continually reminded how painful that journey can be. As I am traveling my own journey during the Advent season, I know the journey will bring joy but I also know that in the walking of it, there is heartache and pain and sometimes the waiting is almost more than I can stand.

“And the LORD’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the LORD was gone.” Numbers 32:13

Reading through the account of Israel wandering through the desert for forty years, I can only imagine how tired they grew of waiting…the old ones waiting, hoping that maybe just maybe the LORD God would relent and let them taste the Promised Land, the young ones waiting on the old ones to pass on so they could see the Promised Land. Joshua waiting for his turn to lead, Moses waiting for his leadership to be over…waiting, wandering, remembering, dreaming. Forty years of it.

God makes us wait…a lot. His people had to wait hundreds of generations to see the Promised One, the Messiah who would make it right again after the woman and the snake  had that little chat by the tree in the garden. Waiting for the one to save them once and for all after the man Noah and all those animals rode around in that boat made on dry land. Waiting for the Way to be made clear to them after Abram just up and left his life to follow this God who promised Abram a son in his old age. 

And now, the Israelites were just waiting and wandering around a big dry, desert, waiting for the joy that would come in the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey…a land with green grass and cool waters…a land that wasn’t the desert. At that point, they probably didn’t even care that much about waiting for the Messiah, they just wanted to wipe the dust off their clothes, take off their sandals, leave the quail and manna behind, and get on with it.

Maybe like me, you are waiting in your journey to Joy. So waiting doesn’t feel much like a journey to anywhere. Because waiting is hard. Waiting is boring, waiting seems pointless…

…but waiting is where we meet the LORD God.

We learn to let Him provide (the Israelites may have been sick of it, but they got food and had had clothes). We learn to trust Him to lead us (He went before them day and night so they knew the LORD God had never left). We learn to let Him work out all the kinks and flaws and imperfections left from that bad decision in the garden (Israel had plenty of time to think about what they had done wrong).

And finally, we learn that He is enough. He is the JOY we are seeking, He is the end of all our journeys. He is all we ever need and He gives the waiting its meaning.

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on the journey to Joy…

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Endless desert, endless waiting, but there is beauty in the journey through the waiting

 

Journey to Joy–day 4 of Advent 2015

When the rain had subsided and the earth had dried out, the LORD God moved His people right along on their journey to Joy.

But before God’s people were God’s people, He had to take them even further still.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

Abram didn’t know where he was going and had no idea what a role he had to play on the journey to joy that God’s people would travel.

All he knew was that he was called to get up, put one foot in front of the other and travel.

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sometimes the journey to Joy is just putting the first foot down

But he did. He followed the LORD God even though he had absolutely no idea where this One God would lead him. You see, Abram, was in all likelihood a worshipper of many gods. But when he heard the Voice of Truth calling to him, he had enough good sense to listen…without hesitation.

Are we so quick to follow our God into the unknown? Are we even so certain we are hearing His voice?

I like to make excuses. I like to second guess, and, like the woman in the garden with the snake by the tree…I like to doubt.

I like to doubt that God really has any idea what I am going through or that He really knows just how hard this journey is going to be. I like to doubt that He even notices me struggling. I like to doubt that I need His help.

This advent season, as the whole world waits for Christmas day, I must trust my God, the same God that told Noah to build that ark, the same God that told Abram to get out and go, I have to trust Him for the next part of my journey.

But I don’t want to. It’s too hard. It’s too painful. I want to just put on my Netflix pants and crawl under a blanket for the foreseeable future.

Abram was in much the same place. He had been promised a son, but he and his wife were old…and even an Old Testament Patriarch knew about where babies come from…so Abram is sitting in his tent feeling pretty sorry for himself. If he could’ve, I know he would have put his Netflix pants on too…He wasn’t enjoying the journey to Joy very much…

“And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:5)

God did not allow Abram to sit in his tent wallowing in his self pity and whining about how hard the journey was…He made him get up, go outside and see the work that His own hands had made…

and the LORD God made a promise…

And the LORD God makes me that same promise today…the journey is hard, the journey is painful, but the journey will bring JOY.

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the journey to Joy

 

 

Journey to Joy–day 3 of Advent 2015

And from the Tree that seemed to have doomed us all…

if not for the journey…

if not for the unmatched grace of a Father…

if not for the JOY set before Him…

From that tree whose curse became our blessing, the LORD God continued to send His precious creation on the journey to JOY. The journey that was always His first plan all along.

The journey began in a garden and continued in the rain. He knew…knew we would always need to be saved…continually need a Savior. He knew we would always need to find our way on this journey to joy.

So when mankind was at his worst: The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.  The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. (Genesis 6:5-6). 

and the LORD God regretted creating His greatest work, for we had become His greatest sorrow…

But because He knew we would always need a Savior…

Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. Genesis 6:8 and with Noah’s favor, our grace was found.

And right there in the middle of the dry and parched land, that man Noah began to build a boat. Not just any boat, but a boat that would carry us all, a boat that would carry us on towards joy. And they called that man crazy, they laughed, they mocked and they shook their heads and continued in their corruption. What crazy fool builds an ark in the middle of the land where there is no ocean?

Then…a strange thing happened…two by two the animals came. The LORD God called to them and they came to board this boat that would be their salvation.

Then…it began to rain.

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the LORD God promised that we would never see rain like rain that destroyed the earth…but He never promised the journey to joy would be all sunshine either.

And it rained on and on and on for a full forty days and forty nights, but that man Noah and his family and the all animals that the LORD God had called, were safe and secure in that boat built on dry land in the middle of the desert. And the wicked  men laughed no more.

And boat floated on…and over 200 days later, Noah and his family and all the animals stepped out of that ark and saw the Promise the LORD God had made:

“I establish my covenant with you, with your sons and their sons for generations to come (right down to you and me) and with the animals.”

The LORD God said to the man Noah and everyone and every animal after him,

“I will carry you through on this journey to JOY.” He knew we couldn’t do it on our own.

The journey would be long, the journey would be hard, just as our own journey is long and hard, and obstacles, dangers, fears and doubts will throw us off the road time and time again. But the LORD God had said…

“I establish my covenant with YOU. I will take you myself on your journey to JOY.”

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even in the rain, the LORD God walks the journey to Joy with us

 

 

Journey to Joy –day 2 of Advent 2015

The journey began in a garden.

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“And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth. And it was so.'” Genesis 1:11.

We all know the rest of the creation story. God went on to create the animals, and at the end, He painted His greatest masterpiece: man and woman. But, Paradise didn’t last very long…right there in Chapter 3 verse 1 of Genesis it says “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” And that serpent slithered right on up to the woman that the LORD God had made and he planted a seed of doubt in her mind: Doubt about the goodness of God. Doubt that God really did have the best in store for her. Doubt that God really knew what He was doing. And in that doubt, she turned away from the promise of goodness that the LORD God had made. And in that doubt, the Journey to Joy began.

God knew what He was doing when he made man and woman and the serpent and put them all together in the Garden beside that Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He knew that choosing to make the man and woman was choosing to sacrifice His son on the Tree of Calvary.

The Journey to Joy really began I suppose, the moment the LORD God had it in mind to create anything at all. He knew what man would choose (not Him). He knew the man would continue to choose the wrong things. He knew the man would need a Savior.

And He created the world out of nothing anyway.

The cross was always God’s Plan A. The LORD God always intended for us to walk this Journey to Joy. He knew we would doubt Him, His goodness, His love for us and His plan. He knew that we would fail Him, He knew that we would stumble and fall all over ourselves trying to run from Him. He knew what pitiful, frail creatures we really are.

And He breathed His breath of life into us anyway.

From the beginning of time, from the heart of the Garden where the man, the woman and the serpent met by the Tree, God saw the Advent of the ONE who could make it right. He knew the journey would be filled with pain, with death, with sickness and with heartbreak. He knew the journey His Son would have to take would be filled with loneliness, heartache, betrayal, pain beyond description but that ultimately it would end in Victory. He knew the journey would not be easy. He knew it would refine and define us all. 

And He set us on a Journey to Joy anyway.