Tag: Family

The Struggle For Joy

Every year Sherry and I try to set a theme for the year. The last two years we kept the same theme (we liked it so we kept it). So 2009 and 2010 were the year(s) of laughter. That was born out of the fact that almost every thing we encountered when it came to TV or movies seemed to be obsessed with death in some form. It isn’t like we watch a lot of TV – or movies. But we do enjoy a few programs (especially Master Piece Theater on PBS – don’t mock me – they are really well done programs). So, we made sure that we watched TV shows and movies – as well as focused on laughter – and we laughed a lot. That was good.

This year we went a bit more spiritual – which is something you’d expect from a pastor his wife and kids. We decided that 2011 was going to be the year of joy. The end of 2010 we talked about it – and tried to think of what that would look like. We told a very good friend of our decision to declare 2011 the year of joy. He smiled (he may have actually laughed – it still being 2010 and all) and politely reminded us that joy is often something we have to struggle for. “You’re right,” we said. Nevertheless, joy is something worth struggling for – we just were not sure what sort of things we’d have to struggle to have joy.

Have you ever given that much thought? Have you ever thought about the place of joy in your own life? Perhaps you have. Joy is a funny thing in many ways. It is one of those things that we most often notice when it seems to be missing from our lives. The Bible speaks a lot about joy.

One place in particular draws my attention to this notion of struggling for joy. The Psalmist, in Ps 30:5 wrote, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” And Psalm 126:5 says, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!”

Those Psalms make me think about this notion of joy coming on the heals of struggle. That seems to be a pretty consistent picture throughout the Bible and it is consistent in terms of being an accurate portrayal of what it means to be human. Joy is often related to struggle. In fact, we may not even be able to fully appreciate joy until we have struggled.

The struggle for joy is real – very real. There are all sorts of things that come up that create a challenge for us to have joy. That became clearer to me as the subject of forgiveness occupied a huge chunk of the day. If there was ever anything that could cause a person to have to struggle for joy – it would indeed be forgiveness. Think about that for a moment. Think about times when you knew that you had to go to someone who you had wronged. Think about the times when you knew you needed to forgive someone else. Think about the struggle that you may have accepting the fact that God – through Christ – moves toward you to forgive you and draw you to Himself.

There is a tremendous scene in the book Les Miserables (if you’ve never read that book – believe me – you are missing out – again don’t mock me for reading French literature – I’m smarter than I look). Jean Valjean is one of if not the main character. He is a convict whose life was “redeemed” by Christ through the life of a priest (Bishop). But Jean Valjean was never really ever supposed to know forgiveness or redemption or restoration according to the culture of the day. Throughout the novel he is tormented, chased by his past and by Inspector Javert. Javert will not rest until Valjean is punished forever. He is zealous for the law. Valjean has experienced grace.

There is a powerful scene where Jean Valjean has a chance to escape forever. A man is arrested and the authorities think he is Valjean. Valjean can keep his mouth shut. He has lived a good life. He had done loads of charity work. He has totally changed his life. Helped the poor. He was a well-respected mayor. He was a good man. So one night he comes to terms with himself. He goes back and forth in this great scene wrestling with the notion of forgiveness. It is a powerful scene as good and evil wrestle within the heart of this man. In the end though, I’d have to say that it was as much as struggle for joy as it was about good and evil and his sense of forgiveness.

I will not spoil the end of the novel for you (the movie doesn’t include it – sorry you’ll have to read). But the picture of Jean Val Jean struggling for joy even in his own soul is a profound picture to me. Especially because so many people have to wrestle with the notion of what it means to both forgive and to be forgiven. Many of us think often of the people who have wronged us in some ways. We may mouth the words, “I forgive you” but in our heart of hearts there is still a very deep burn. Many more of us can read or hear these words, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We may nod, say amen, but we still walk away from those words with a lump in our throat – wondering, could it be true.

Forgiveness contributes to the struggle joy. Of, sure, there are other things that add to that struggle. But today, as I thought about forgiveness and thought about joy I could not help but think about the intersection of these two things.

I know people who feel deep joy – inexpressible joy – each time they take the Lord’s Supper. They are overwhelmed because they have tasted – not just the bread and wine – but God’s forgiveness for them. As their pastor – serving them – I’ll tell you there is nothing more electric than seeing the anticipation in their eyes as they take the bread and cup in their hands.

There are others who hold such animosity in their hearts that joy is foreign to them. What they have tasted, even as they often take the bread and cup, is not forgiveness and joy but bitterness, regret and perhaps as a result apathy.

As the discussion of forgiveness came up I wondered aloud about the starting place of forgiveness. Some theologians would argue that it begins with reconciliation – I’m pretty sure that’s missing something theologically. Some would say it begins with hell and we work our way out from there – I know that’s missing something. Some would say it begins with the cross – and I think they are right. It starts where we start – as human beings – in light of our creation as God’s children and in light of God’s move of love toward us. We see that best in light of the cross.

But, when I think about the ways in which I have to struggle for joy when it comes to forgiveness – when it comes to think about who wronged who (or whom), or how I see myself in light of being forgiven (or not) – it seems too big – too grand of thing to think of the way that God has forgiven us (and me). But when I think of what it means to be human – and the deep desire that God has created within my heart for joy – and what a challenge forgiveness is in the struggle for joy, then I think, maybe the starting part of forgiveness is joy.

What I mean the starting point for forgiveness may be that God intended men and women to be people of joy. The whole notion of being restored by the gospel is seen in the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5). “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…”So perhaps the place for “us” to begin when we think about forgiving or being forgiven is with joy. We were made for joy but we may have to struggle for it. We may have to wrestle with forgiveness. But I think in our heart of hearts we want joy. As human beings the motive to move through the process of forgiveness is in the end because we know we have to struggle for joy.

When Sherry and I thought about this being the year of joy – well – we intended it in some ways to fall right along with the year of laughter. It does not work like that. Joy is more than happiness and it is certainly more than just laughter. It is something that we were made for but it is also something that we often have to struggle for. But I’m confident the struggle is worth it – at least the proverbs seems to imply that, “A joyful heart is good medicine” (Pro 17:22).

Next year, however, it might just be the year of BBQ – that’s probably good medicine for my heart too.


This is the best BBQ I know of…and I’ve eaten some great BBQ – but this takes top billing in my book.

If you ever want to try it – it is in Bluff City, TN. Not far from the Race Track. It will make you slap your granny it is so good.

It brings our family great joy!



There was a bit of fear – fear of pain and loss – that went through my heart tonight. My wife told me something about Cash – our dog (he’s named in honor of Johnny). We are not sure – totally not sure – but he may not be well. He’s been acting weird lately. Last night he started coughing. Sherry described it like an asthma attack. A friend told us that it could be nothing. But it could be something serious. If it is – there is nothing that can be done really.

There is probably nothing wrong with our dog. But that didn’t stop me from going there. At the moment that Sherry told me about Cash I had a simultaneous flash backs – one to the far past and the other to the not so distant.

I was about ten years old when my family got another dog. We had a Great Dane when I was a toddler. Preacher was his name. He got that name because he was all black except for a small white spot on his neck. He was an awesome dog. After he died we didn’t get another dog for some time – and when we did he was a dandy – a Golden Retriever. He was beautiful. But I gave him a terrible name – Abraham – maybe for Lincoln – I really don’t know (I was ten).

I played with him a lot. He was just a puppy – still growing – still all puppy. But one day when he was hit by a truck. He ran out into the street and the driver could do nothing. It was terrible. I remember kneeling by this puppy – crying my eyes out – crushed by the reality of something so horrible I can’t describe it. But I had sort of forgotten that – until tonight.

I had a few dogs after that – but I didn’t dare really love them like I did Abraham. In fact, even after we got Cash – our first family dog – I kept my distance. I did not want to like – let alone – love that dog. But Cash is a sweet dog. He just wants to be loved and played with. And does he get the love from three boys. And, I hate to say it – I kind love the dog too. I didn’t mean to – I didn’t want to – but he’s worn me down. Which brings me to the second flash back.

A few weeks ago I made a not so nice remark about Cash. Actually, it was awful. We just moved into a new place and Cash took off across the yard near the street – too close to the street. In a way of self-protection I mumbled something like, “well it wouldn’t bother me if he got hit by a car (total lie).” I said it to myself but then I heard these words behind me, “It would bother me.” I turned to see my eleven-year-old son walk back into the house.

These are proud parenting moments ones that will mark me forever as the world’s best dad.

Those words came back to me tonight as I thought about Cash and thought about my sons dealing with the loss of a dog that they love. It crushed me to think how foolish I have been with this dog. My sons love this dog. He’s a part of their stories. He matters to them like Abraham did to me. And, he matters to me.

I do not want to see my children hurt. I do not want my own words to mark them. I do not want anything to happen to Cash because I do not want to see the hurt and pain in the eyes of three boys.

I love my sons very much. I’d do anything for them. I want to I help my sons grow into men – godly men. I can’t believe that I didn’t apologize to my son after I said that. That is exactly what I want to do and should have done. I want to explain to him why I would say something so terrible.

It is important that my sons see me love something like a dog. It is important for them to see me and hear me talk about pain and sorrow and suffering. It is just as important for them to hear me share about the hope in Christ that I have. It is important for them to hear me apologize, to repent and to love and be loved in return.

What sort of impact will it have for my sons to hear their dad share about his pain and at the same time point them toward his place of hope and assurance? I’m betting a huge impact. I know it’ll have a big impact on me.

I’m hoping nothing is wrong with our dog. I’m hoping that my sons don’t have to face something very painful. I’m hoping the dog ate a napkin or something. For once I’d be happy about that. I’m also wondering if dogs accept apologies. I’ll tell him I’m sorry right after I talk to my sons.

Volume and Velocity

In the last year or so I’ve come to appreciate jazz. Now, let me be clear. I’m not a musician although I wish I were. My tastes in music are eclectic. I do not “understand” jazz, if that’s the right thing to say. What I know is that some jazz makes sense to me in some remote place that I can’t explain.

There is one song that my whole family enjoys – even as much as I do. That’s saying something because I have a tendency to torture them with music. But one song stands out – we all like it, even our eleven year-old who is famous for claiming to hate jazz. But all of us like the song Mumbles by Clark Terry and Oscar Peterson. If you’ve never heard it – let me just tell you – the title captures the song. There are no words really – just, well – mumbles. It has a quick, upbeat tempo and it captures the way my wife and I feel a great bit of the time.

What I mean is that, between work and trying to raise our sons (something we are very thankful for by the way) – the end of the day sometimes can’t seem to come soon enough. In fact, by the end of the day, for my wife and I the idea of conversation, of going in-depth, sitting and having quite conversation and sharing all the intense feelings that we have for one another – well – sometimes all we can get out sounds more like mumbles.

We take our role as parents as a great responsibility  (as hopefully most parents do). Our goal is to raise men – not boys or children. We are trying to figure out what that means each day – but we are committed nonetheless – even if we don’t know what we are doing exactly. We are trying  to point them toward maturity as young men and as Christians. It is a challenge to say the least.

But parenting has always been challenging (as I’ve been told). I can’t imagine going through some of the things that other generations went through – world wars, depression, etc. In some respects raising kids today is simpler. In some ways, however, the challenges today are totally different and hard to compare to previous generations. A lot of that has to do with, what Donald Guthrie referred to as the “volume and velocity.”

Those two words capture so much of what it is like to be a child today. There is so much coming at them from all sides at such speed and such quantity that it is “humanly impossible for them to take it all in,” as Guthrie commented. It is easy to see.

My children are 12, 11 and six. In their lifetimes the iPhone has already changed multiple times – not to mention the iPad. We get books on things called a Nook. We bank online. Their friends have cellphones and email addresses.There are entire networks set up for the on TV and Satellite radio. An entire industry exists to capture the imagination and attention of kids – to get the dollars from their parents wallets. They play games on Wii – where they have a Mii. They stream movies on Netflix.

At the same time, even as technology throws out its own set of demands they are need to be on top of things artistically, athletically, and academically – and even spiritually. Oh and they need to learn a language and excel in the sciences and be able to write, type, and do amazes searches on the web. All the while they need to be able to deal with all the images that are coming at them – even as their endure the changes in their bodies (for my older two). I can’t even begin to list all the things that are coming at kids.

I don’t know how they can do it. I can’t do it. I can’t keep up with everything. How in the world can my kids?

The world my sons are growing up in is very different from the world I grew up in. It makes me think about what I have to do as a parent to understand the culture of my own children – and I’m existing in it. In some respects it feels like a foreign world – but I’m supposed to be a native.

I don’t think I am alone. I think most parents feel this way. In fact, perhaps the song Mumbles should become the anthem of parents across the U.S. On second thought, perhaps it ought to become the National Anthem. I think kids and parents alike feel like their mumbling.

It occurs to me then how important it is, not just for families to turn things off and stop running around, and grab a meal together. It is important for our kids to have safe, quiet places in their lives. In other words, rather than trying to take it all in we might want to find ways to keep it all out for a while, each day. I’m not advocating hiding in a cave – but we need to do something to help our children process what’s coming at them. Perhaps a great way is to help them turn it off for a bit.

It is probably all the more important for worship to be a place that is devoid of the volume and velocity that comes from the world around us. Maybe, just maybe, the notion of a sacred place and space needs to be taught to our children. They have never had that before, no place is safe from ads and promotion, from the mass of attention grabbing side-show that we call American Modern culture. But worship should be a place of transcendence and a place that has a singular focus – the worship of the triune God. It isn’t just important for them of course – is it important for parents as well. Perhaps it becomes all the more important for us to hold true to the biblical notion of a sabbath rest.

Our culture is our culture. We can try to avoid it and we’ll fail for sure. It is all around us. We can talk about changing it but at the same time we have to figure out how to thrive and flourish in it. It might be that the best we can hope for is that we change the way we handle culture as a family. We are here and now and we can’t look back and wish we lived in another time – a time that was slower, calmer, simpler (if it ever existed). So, I think we have to help our children. Perhaps parents have to learn to be thoughtful about the world and help their kids to do the same. Perhaps then we can help our children to avoid growing up in a world where they are destined to get the mumbles like their folks.