Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Joy in the Crapshoot

Seems about right.
There’s a rather obscure made-for-TV Muppets movie called  The Muppets at Walt Disney World. In it, the Muppets visit—wait for it—Walt Disney World. My Mom must have recorded it on these black boxy things called VHS tapes back in the day because it was in our video library. Although it’s largely a big commercial for Disney World, I enjoyed it. It had some good jokes and some nice songs and Charles Grodin (y’know...from Beethoven) working with the Muppets again (which he had first done in the film The Great Muppet Caper).

And it had Waldorf and Statler. You know those great old guys. They’re like royalty amongst hecklers. And they’re at it again even at Disney World:

Why these guys didn't take over for Siskel and Ebert,
I have no idea.
“Hey, this place is pretty great.”
“Yeah. It’s clean, it’s fun...there’s nothing to complain about.”
“I hate it when there’s nothing to complain about!”
“Close this dump down!”

 (For the Muppet purists out there, I should point out that this exchange is reproduced from memory, as I cannot find a YouTube clip of it. I assure you I got the gist right.)

Ever know anyone like Waldorf and Statler? Who aren’t happy unless they’re complaining? Oh, gosh I have.

Ugh. I just know this guy's gonna start whining.
Of course, sometimes whining and grumbling makes sense, doesn’t it?

Pain has not been kind to my family. We joke that my wife, at twenty-seven, has the physical problems of a much older woman: blood clot, back problems, hip pain and more. She has permanent stress fractures from her time in Army (after being misdiagnosed by Army docs) and a host of painful issues stemming from that.

I’m not in the same boat as her, but apparently the fact that I’ve already had two kidney stones by the age of thirty is kinda rare. The first one just hung out and caused pain so I needed laser surgery to take care of it. Laser surgery! Cool, huh? But in May of last year I got to step up to the daily pain club. I still don’t have a
good diagnosis, and the pain is in sort of a sensitive, manly area that we cannot discuss in mixed company, but it comes to visit on a daily basis. You learn to live with it.

My vacation home away from home.
We went on vacation last week, to Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference on the shores of Lake Michigan. It’s sort of a special place for me, because I’ve been going every year for the past 26 years, with very little interruption. I got to sort of grow up there - one week a year anyway - and I’d love for my girls to have the chance to do the same. There’s good Bible teaching, great kids programming, wonderful praise and worship, exciting stories from missionaries about how God is working around the world and even an Olympic-sized pool on the beach! It’s a neat place.

Having been there so many years, I can assure you that it is a great deal more fun if you don’t have a boil. Yep, I said a boil. Now, I know what you’re thinking: wasn’t Job afflicted with boils? Yes, he was. Now, that doesn’t mean you should assume that I was also afflicted with a boil because of my rampant godliness (and humility) but I’m sure you started to wonder.

I could barely walk when I went into a med center near the resort and sitting was very painful too. I had heard of lancing boils in some context but had no idea if medical technology had advanced beyond what
Okay - this was too perfect not to share!
sounds like the most painful treatment imaginable. Spoiler alert: it hasn’t.

I didn’t get to see Lake Michigan again this vacation or attend the rest of the Bible teaching sessions. It was kind of a bummer. The good news is that I already had pain meds prescribed from my daily pain so all the doctor at the med center could do was prescribe...more portent pain meds! I’m glad I’m the sort of guy who brings along his XBox 360 to a place like Maranatha because all I could really do at that point was lie down on my side. Yes, I like to play video games on my vacation...but I honestly didn’t want to play them nearly that much!

But you know what? I’m good. Oh sure, I’m still disappointed, mostly that I didn’t get to play more down at the beach with my kids, or with my niece and nephew who came up for a few days while I was out of commission. I don’t get to see them very much. But at some point, as God’s been working on me and molding me more and more into the man He created me to be, He has taught me to choose joy above all.

Oh, I’m certainly not perfect on this score (or, um, any others). A few years ago, I encountered threats to my family and marriage that shook my smile in a way that I think very few could. But that was an extreme circumstance, and normal course for me now—despite the daily pain, despite the hiccups of life, despite living in a fallen world and having relationships with fallen people—is to genuinely enjoy life.

I wrote a skit called The Deep End when we were touring with our family drama ministry. In it, the character
This is pretty similar to my outfit for the skit.
I wore it better, too.
I played decided to deliberately take leave of his senses because he cannot make sense of a coworker who lives his life by the following mantra:

God’s still on His throne and I’m still going to heaven. As long as that’s true, nothing’s really that bad.

My character admires his coworker as he sticks to his philosophy through life’s bumps and bruises: car trouble and all the rest. It’s after the coworker’s wife dies after a lengthy battle with cancer that my character decided to embrace the crazy. He simply could not understand what in the world could give his coworker such peace, an underlying joy that persisted even as he grieved the death of his wife.

But we can know such a joy.

In fact, as believers, I would go further and say that we are commanded to choose joy in our lives:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).

I love how Paul anticipates his reader’s reaction, thinking it must be a typo or something. So he repeats himself. Not only is joy a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), listed right after love, but the supernatural joy of the Lord gives us strength (Neh. 8:10). Joy is important. And in hard times? James instructs us to choose joy even (or especially?) in the face of trials and difficulties (James 1:2-3).
Yeah I'm a Christian. What's it to you!?

And yet I feel that joylessness is one of those little “acceptable sins” that we tend to ignore or even rationalize as believers. We’ve all met curmudgeonly Christians who seem to have chronic bad attitudes. Heck, you may be one of those grumpy bear believers.

None of us are perfect. But for a believer to remain joyless does indicate a problem. I’ve heard from some who believe it’s pointless to teach about the Fruit of the Spirit because the Holy Spirit will automatically fill the believer with those nine traits—but I’ve got too much experience to agree. We can block the Spirit from working in certain areas in our lives, stubbornly holding on to pieces of ourselves. I know this because I’ve done it. Ever heard Augustine’s famous prayer? “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”
Yes, I realize that women can struggle with lust.
Sorry about the stumbling block, ladies.

Even as we relinquish control to God, as we learn how to die to ourselves daily, we do not become perfect overnight. Each of us struggle with different things. I used to struggle with joy. For the most part, I don’t anymore. You may not struggle with lust (like, you might be female or something) but have a hard time with patience.

But I feel the need for us to call a spade, as they say, a spade. Anyway, someone would get offended if we call it a hoe or something. I think the healthiest attitude we can take as believers is to avoid justifying any sin, whether it seems like a “big one” or not. If I have a problem area in my life, I need to pray about it and take steps to be more godly, trusting God to take me the rest of the way.

So let’s out joylessness as a sin. Perhaps it doesn’t seem as nefarious as murder, adultery or being Canadian (one of those might not be a sin, actually), but it’s a mistake to turn the proverbial blind eye. Not only does sin separate us from God, but it inhibits our ability to be salt and light in this world—and a lack of joy can most assuredly be a problem.

Clearly having the time of his nine lives.
Plus, learn from my personal experience: Grumpiness isn’t something to stubbornly cling to! It’s making you miserable! Grant me chastity but not yet makes sense—sex can be lots of fun!—but I fail to see the appeal in holding on to a bad attitude. Of course, I also fail to see the appeal in smoking but millions of other people clearly do. Also: Honey Boo-Boo.

You’ve probably read this quote by Charles Swindoll before. At least, I hope you have. I hope everyone has. But you can read it again. It’s golden:

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.

Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

And so it is with you... we are in charge of our attitudes.

Man, that’s a great quote. Every trial or temptation that comes our way is a chance to grow spiritually. You can only develop patience by being in situations where your natural inclination is to be impatient, such as driving or renewing your driver’s license. Similarly, you can only learn to be full of joy by being in situations
Between developing patience and not going on a homicidal
rampage, government agencies are a cesspool of spiritual growth.
where many people would grumble and complain. Since God wants you to be full of joy, that means that complainers should expect plenty of crummy circumstances which are God-sent opportunities to grow closer to Him. I’d rather get the point and maybe not have to go through the lessons so often!

Paul struggled with some sort of pain or burden. He begged God to take it away, but God said no. He was teaching a powerful lesson: “My grace sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). That’s such a profound lesson, isn’t it worth the pain?

Worth it.
If you enjoy my books or even my blog posts, thank the daily pain I’ve endured for the past fourteen months or so. The pain kept me up at night and, instead of tossing and turning, I took to writing. Staying up in a quiet house to write turned out to be the perfect solution for me. I’ve been working on The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living that whole time and maybe that seems like a long time, but it’s a big book. I can’t imagine how long it would have taken me to finish if God hadn’t sent me this pain.

So, Lord, thank You for this pain. I don’t know for sure what purpose it serves now that I’ve learned this new schedule, but I know without a doubt that Your grace is sufficient for me. And every time I receive a comment or a review about how much one of my stories has meant in somebody’s life? I know that this pain has been worth it, because it played a role in that and God is being glorified. Someday, the pain will be gone forever. For now, I will gladly endure it if it means I can have a greater impact for the Kingdom of the Lord.

I’ll endure it with a smile on my face, too.

And that’s called joy.


  1. Thank you for sharing this. Praying for you and your family.

  2. Needed this. I too am going through painful times. I have to work at having the right attitude. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. I don't know that it necessarily makes it any easier, but I think for some of us it comes down to control. Am I willing to trust God, that He's in control and that He knows what He's doing? Sure! That's a load off my frown lines! =)

      Father, I want to lift up Sheila to You as she goes through difficult times right now. May Your joy be her strength. May she focus on You and not her circumstances. And, if it's in Your will, may she have relief and comfort from whatever pain - physical or emotionally - she may be going through. I love You, Lord. In the Name of Your Son, Amen.