Skill sets

My job title is Family Teacher (or, one half of a Family Teaching Couple), and as I’m getting used to that I’ve been thinking about skill-building of late.  The teaching which is expected of me is entirely practical, not at all esoteric, and so if I am teaching effectively, the people I am teaching will be gaining skills, or deepening and sharpening skills they already possess.

During this last week I realized that I wanted to be intentional about observing the skills possessed by the women who employ me as teacher*.  In taking an inventory of what these women can do, and cannot do, and want to do, and would be enriched by learning to do, I am getting to know them; I can also (humbly, to be sure) begin to learn their past in seeing what they do and do not know how to do.

*I am finding it important to remind myself that I am in the employ of these women.  Funds which the state of California provides for their well-being are used to pay for my services, and if these women or their families find that I am insufficient to the task of being one of their teachers, then my services will cease.  We often identify ways in our relationships in which we are the superior, especially when we deal with people who have some sort of obvious limitations or weaknesses.  It is valuable for me to remember that my bosses are three women who have not been considered fully capable of living independently.  They have real power, and that is as it should be. 

During these first two weeks, there have been plenty of instances of people not getting their way, and showing their displeasure about that.  This is not unexpected, especially since new people (me, my family) change the dynamics of a household, and there is inevitable testing of one another.   A partial list of the ways I have seen people act in their displeasure during these weeks would include: crying, hitting, screaming, slamming doors, biting, tattling, spitting, throwing objects, kicking, swearing, whining, emptying drawers and closets, soiling ones’ self, tearing clothing, running away, and self-inducing vomiting.

I’m not going to tell you which of those things have been done by the women who reside in the house, and which have been done by my children, my wife, or me.  Trust me when I say there is more than a little bit of overlap.  As you read that list, there are probably a few items you nod knowingly at, some that you chuckle about, and some that hook you.  Maybe they make you recoil, or feel a catch in your throat, or feel disturbed.  Maybe you felt pity.  Maybe you felt superior.  I’ve felt all of those.

A couple days ago, I realized something, during a moment when one of the most jarring of these behaviors was going on.  The person doing this really unpleasant thing, which they really weren’t enjoying, which was debasing them and threatening to put the distance of judgment between me and them, was doing this thing because at some point it worked. At some time in this person’s life, this act had succeeded in getting them something.  Maybe they got the tangible thing they wanted.  Maybe they got attention. Maybe they got personal space.  Maybe they got momentary power over the person who had to clean up. But this person learned to do this thing because at some point it was how far they had to go to get something important.

Think about that.

Think about the most desperate thing you’ve done to get something important.

In that moment, I realized that I hope I can teach with this person long enough and well enough that they can learn a new way, a healthier way, to get what they want and need.  I hope I can help this person let go of some of their current skills.

Learning What I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know

I’ve been trying to decide how I’m going to talk about this season of life, and I’m still undecided.  That means (I think) that for a while I’ll be using this space to tell stories about the work I am doing with my wife Christy, and to share reflections I have on what I’m learning through the work.  Perhaps at some point on of those forms will take over.  Of course, I’ll likely also have some odd side paths along the way as well.

This blog has existed for a long time, but it hasn’t had a very clear purpose.  I’ve used it to share work I had done in my role as a Pastor, to give me a place to put pieces I gathered up while doing side projects as a speaker, and to just ruminate on things.  If you’re reading this, you’re probably either someone who knows me personally (Hi, Mom!) or you ran across one of these periodic pieces on church life in modern America or on disability and theology. From now on, though, this blog is going to have a more specific focus and purpose.  I want this space to increase the appreciation of people who aren’t “normal” (some of you know this is one of my least-favorite words) and how their lives weave into the everyday of American culture.  However, these people don’t need me to speak for them or to represent them, and that’s not what I intend to do.  Instead, I want to use this place to document my learning experience – as I learn about the people I work for and with, and learn from them, I want to put those lessons here.

This is really a blog about me learning the ways that I’m growing by the grace of being in community with people who have typically been put at the margins of our society.  You might learn something from it, too, and that’s great.  Or you might be able to teach me other lessons, and that’s great too.  You might just choose to cheer me on, and I’d take that, because we all need encouragement, don’t we?

So thanks for reading, and I want to really encourage you to share your comments.  You’re not reading the writings of an expert or guru.  I’m a traveler, and I’d love your input on the journey.

Thanks.  More to come, soon.

Changes

Some of you have known this was coming for a while, but now we are ready to talk about details: I have resigned as the Pastor of St. Paul Evangelical United Church of Christ, and in mid-September, Christy and I will be moving our family to Cupertino, California,  where we will be serving as the lead staff in a community home for three developmentally-disabled adults.

Our work will be part of an approach called the Family Teaching Model, which supports disabled adults seeking independence and community. These are individuals who have previously lived in a state institution, and now are being given the opportunity to live in local communities. Our work as a Family Teaching Couple will be to aid these individuals, and to welcome them into our family. We are excited about this model because it treats the men and women who are a part of it with dignity and respect.  We believe that people with disabilities or impairments still deserve to seek the kind of life that they want to live, and the FTM does that.  It’s not a new model; an organization in Kansas has been leading with this model since 1977, and is being used in a few other places.  We believe that it is both a great approach to the need of supporting disabled adults, and we believe it is a way in which we can make an impact in the lives of others.

As I’ve been reflecting on the decision to make this change, I’ve been thinking a lot about Willie French.  Willie was a man who was a part of St. Paul Church for several years before he passed away in late 2010. Willie found us because of his own initiative – he wanted to be a part of a church, and so he pushed his support staff (and former support staff who were still in touch with him) to help make it happen. They did, and so Willie became a part of the St. Paul family. When he decided that St. Paul was a place he wanted to be, Willie asked for people who would be willing to give him a ride to or from church.  I thought that was such a beautiful, humble and yet bold way of behaving.  He didn’t really know us yet, but he was willing to tell us how he needed our help.  And several people stepped up and got him to and from church – although he would also walk the 2-plus miles to church if he didn’t have a ride!  The people who got to know Willie welcomed him and became friends with him, which was especially beautiful to me because I knew that in previous settings Willie had been made to feel like a problem, like a hinderance or an embarrassment. Willie knew that he had limitations, but he was not embarrassed. People who took the time to get to know Willie were blessed by him.  I was one of those people.

I believe that serving the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven includes making sure people like Willie French, or my son Zach, or our new friends in Cupertino, are part of the community. 1 Corinthians 12:20-26 tells us that the people who seem to be “weak” (to some) are in fact essential to our well-being as a people, because of how they teach us to be together. In Matthew 25 Jesus teaches that those who serve others in need – be it the need for food or drink, a place to call home or a cloak to wear or someone to call a friend – are those who are doing the work of the Kingdom on earth.

That’s what I want to do – the work of the Kingdom.  I want to inherit the Kingdom! I want to learn the lessons that the least of these have to teach me! I want to teach my sons the values of the Kingdom. So, my friend Willie, my son Zachary, many more friends we have made along the way in recent years (especially my JAF Maranatha friends!) and my King Jesus inspire me to go make a new community. All of us will be grateful for your prayers.

The Beginning of Hope For Cub Fans?

15-25

15-25

17-23

14-28

17-23

18-22

17-23

14-28

13-27

21-19

That is the win/loss record for the Chicago Cubs for each of the 10 quarter-seasons since Theo Epstein’s regime took over (I put the last two games of each season in the final quarter, which is why those groups have 42 games). Nine quarters of bad, with the last two of those producing the worst records, and then suddenly an over-.500 quarter. It’s taken a while for anyone to notice the improvement.

This is probably because a .500 record just means the team stopped sinking. Staying at 10-14 games under doesn’t feel like progress, and the difference between horrific and average is almost imperceptible at the micro level. Consider this: the team achieved their record in the first quarter-season by going 2-4 in every 6 games (basically); they achieved their second-quarter record by going 3-3 in every 6 games. Do we really feel one extra win a week? A recent hot streak (7-3 in their last 10 after today) starts to make people notice that this team isn’t the same team that was giving away wins in the late innings and finding a way to be on the short side of every one-run game. What’s more, this isn’t the hopeless squads the Cubs trotted out in 2012 and 2013. So now that we’ve noticed, how is this happening?

The least impressive-sounding reason is that they’ve gotten luckier. That’s not cynicism, it’s an observation. A team’s success derives from many specific skills, but there are other ways that all teams are subject to random variation. Team records in extra-inning games and one-run games tend in this direction. Good teams can perform badly in these areas, and terrible teams can do well. Having a good, or bad, bullpen can tilt things a little, but these types of games are not much more than coin flips.

A few current examples illustrate the point:

Tampa Bay has the second worst record in the American League, but the second best AL record in one-run games.

San Diego is 9 games under .500, but at 8 over .500 in one-run games.

The worst extra inning records in the National League belong to the Dodgers and Nationals – both teams on pace to go to the playoffs.

During the first quarter of the season, the Cubs were 2-9 in one-run games. In the second quarter, they went 5-4. Did they get better? Well, the bullpen stabilized during that time, which might help, but it would also seem they reverted to the mean. Does that seem too simple? They also went 1-5 in extra-inning games in the first quarter, but 2-1 in the second quarter. These are all really small sample sizes, but that’s the point: given time, these numbers usually level out. The Cubs really weren’t as bad as their record in the first quarter – they just got few, if any, random breaks to go their way.

Another way to see this is in the team’s run differentials this season. A team’s job is to win games, and the way to win games is to score more runs than your opponent. During the first quarter the Cubs scored 159 runs, and allowed 167 runs. Pythagorean win calculators suggest that with those results the Cubs could have expected to have gone 19-21 during those games; they were actually 5 wins worse than that! So how did the next quarter go? 144 runs scored and150 runs allowed – which also produces an expected record of 19-21. Which is to say that the second-quarter Cubs were actually a little lucky, if not enough to compensate for their very unlucky first quarter. Even though the team’s win totals from one quarter to the next were very inconsistent, their actual performance at scoring runs and preventing runs was very consistent.  This is where luck, or random variation, shows up. And since their horrible start, the Cubs luck has been evening out.

Another place of improvement for this year’s team is the starting pitching.  Of course, since I starting writing this, the team traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel for the top prospects in Oakland’s farm system.  For some Cub fans, this move will trigger an autonomic twitch and recollections of the last two seasons, when the pitching staff became completely uncompetitive after the most tradable starters were shipped off for prospects.  Maybe I’ll write another post after this one telling you why I think this year won’t be quite so bad. But for now, let’s talk about the starting pitching up to this point.

Through July 4 (the day the Samardzija Era ended), the Cub starters were second in the Major Leagues in WAR, to only the Detroit Tigers:

1. Tigers: 9.7

2. Cubs: 9.0

3. Nationals: 8.6

They were also 12th in ERA, 2nd in FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), and 8th in xFIP.  If you prefer traditional stats, the starters have nearly posted a .500 record (28-31)!

When you look at the individual performances, it becomes evident that this wasn’t just Samardzija and Hammel carrying the others.  Again using WAR from fangraphs.com, the Cub starting pitchers are currently ranked as follows among all of their MLB peers:

18. Jake Arrieta: 2.4 WAR

23. Jeff Samardzija: 2.1

26. Jason Hammel: 2.1

Let me stop here for a moment.  Remember that there are 30 teams; even distribution of talent would put one pitcher from each team in the top 30.  Instead, the Cubs have 3 such pitchers, which no other team can say (well, now that two of those pitchers are on the A’s, the A’s have that claim instead of the Cubs, but you see the point).

73. Travis Wood: 1.0 WAR

76. Edwin Jackson: 1.0 WAR

So, if you were doing a pitcher draft, 76 picks would mean you had gone through the league just over two and a half times.  However, all 5 Cub starters – even Edwin Jackson, who drives most Cub fans crazy – are in the top 76 starters this year.  We have no way yet of knowing how the new pitchers in the rotation will do, but we know that the 3 pitchers who remain are not worse than what most teams throw out there.  They are, in fact, better.  While everyone was complaining that the Cubs haven’t been drafting stud pitchers, and that the Cubs keep trading away their pitchers for prospects, the Cubs have been quietly keeping pitchers who fit with their plans (again, a topic for another post).  For the first time since the Epstein regime began, there is depth in the AAA rotation, with both organizational soldiers and prospects.  So fear not, Cub fan.  This year probably won’t look like the last two.

The final reason I want to suggest to you for why this team is better than the teams that have been haunting your dreams in recent years is that the bullpen is better, deeper, and more flexible.  Of course, at the start of the year, the pen performed terribly, as pitchers like Jose Veras, James Russell, and Brian Schlitter looked like the same kind of dreck that the team trotted out last year.  But then, pitchers started arriving from Iowa and other parts unknown – 12 different pitchers threw relief innings just in the month of April, as the brain trust tried to figure out who they could trust and who they couldn’t.  5 of those pitchers put up negative WAR, and 3 more put up 0 WAR.  But in May, things got a little better: 11 pitchers again, but only one had negative WAR (James Russell, with -0.1), and 6 gave positive contributions.  And in June, only 8 pitchers, with only one negative (Justin Grimm, -0.3).

Notice the three ways I said the pen was improved:

Better: This year’s bullpen has accumulated 1.6 WAR so far, compared to -0.2 WAR for the bullpen in the first half of 2013.

Deeper: 7 different pitchers have made positive contributions this year, and only one pitcher has been given meaningful innings while posting negative WAR (Justin Grimm, -0.1). Last year in the first half, there were actually 8 pitchers who made positive contributions, but three of the 5 highest inning pitchers were significantly negative (Hector Rondon, Carlos Marmol, Shawn Camp); in fact, those three had -2.0 WAR, which wiped out the 2.0 WAR put up by the 8 positive pitchers.

More Flexible: The failures of Rondon, Marmol, and Camp last year overwhelmed the rest of the pen, and management kept sending them out for more abuse.  This year, Ricky Renteria has moved far more quickly to shuttle out those who are struggling and give opportunities to new players.  8 relievers have logged 20 IP or more, and only Justin Grimm among them hasn’t righted the ship in some measure.  Compare that to last year, when 5 relievers shouldered most of the load for the first half, including the three busts we’ve mentioned.  This year, Jose Veras was given an opportunity, DLed to work out his problems, and then given another chance.  When he couldn’t figure things out, he was cut loose.  This more rapid response to poor pitching, and willingness to give significant innings to newcomers, has been a strength of this year’s team.

I’ve not said anything about the offense, and that’s because this team is better this year in spite of the offense, not because of it.  It is true that Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro have returned to form and taken big steps forward, but only Luis Valbuena is helping them regularly.  The offense is still waiting for the cavalry to arrive from Iowa and West Tenn.  But the evidence of a real plan on the pitching side of the game is the earliest reason to start to hope that the team has started to turn the corner toward success.

Jesus is the Source of Your Joy

We had a video malfunction at St. Paul Church last weekend, so the service didn’t get recorded.  Since it was the second week in a four-part series, I thought it would be nice to make the sermon available, in case someone was trying to follow along.  So, what follows is the manuscript of the sermon from June 29.  The series is called “Hope Overflowing in You!”, and the structure and content are related to the series I taught at this year’s Joni and Friends Family Retreat in Muskegon, Michigan.  If you are interested in the videos of the other sermons in this series, you can check out our channel on Vimeo.

*******

Jesus the Son is Your Source of Joy

Charles Spurgeon was a preacher in England in the late 1800’s. He has been called by many “The Prince of Preachers”, for there is no preacher who has had an output to match his, he had enormous impact upon the lost in his day, and he was a skillful preacher. However, as is the case with any pastor, he had his critics. One of those critics had this to say:

“His style is that of the vulgar colloquial, varied by rant … All the most solemn mysteries of our holy religion are by him rudely, roughly and impiously handled. Common sense is outraged and decency disgusted. His rantings are interspersed with coarse anecdotes” It sounds like at least on these counts, I can relate to Spurgeon!

Others said he was too jovial, bringing too much humor into his messages. He responded that his critics would close their mouths if they knew how much of his humor he left out.

At the same time, for all of his robustness and apparently offensive humor, Charles Spurgeon lived with sorrow. In 1856, when he was only 22, but already wildly famous, he scheduled a service at the Music Hall of the Royal Surrey Gardens because his own church could not hold the expected crowd. In fact, the Music Hall was also too small, and the crowd swelled to an estimated 10,000 beyond the hall’s capacity. When someone yelled “Fire!”, there was a great panic, and in the stampede 7 people were killed and scores more were seriously injured. Spurgeon was overcome with grief, and the event haunted his thoughts for the rest of his life. Many who were close to him believed that it was one of the elements that fed his life-long battle with depression.

He also knew sufferings at home. His wife Susannah dealt with physical ailments which rendered her homebound by the time she was 33; she was virtually never seen in public the last 27 years of Spurgeon’s life.

And he knew physical sufferings of his own. He suffered from gout, rheumatism and Bright’s disease (inflammation of the kidneys). His first attack of gout came in 1869 at the age of 35. It became progressively worse so that it was estimated that “approximately one third of the last twenty-two years of his ministry was spent out of the Tabernacle pulpit, either suffering, or convalescing, or taking precautions against the return of illness”.

In other words, for more than half of his ministry, he endured chronic, debilitating pain that kept him from his labor which he adored. And then, at age 57, he died while convalescing in France.

Charles Spurgeon lived a life of suffering, and yet he also still had great joy, which people seemed ready to hold against him.

There was another preacher who was considered a bit too much of a partier. His critics didn’t like that he consistently choice to hang around with a dubious crowd.

And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luk 15:2 ESV)

Have you ever had the parenting experience of a child having a meltdown in public? Do you remember the withering looks of judgment you got from the people around you? Imagine the looks Jesus got!

And clearly, the word got around to Jesus (as it usually does to preachers, eventually), because he responded:

“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man, and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!’ (Luk 7:34 NAS)

Clearly, his critics thought that Jesus was enjoying himself too much. And it does seem that many who encountered Jesus went away with joy. At the same time, Jesus lived a life that clearly mingled joy and sorrow. His compassionate grief moved him to action when he encountered those who were suffering. Matthew and Mark tell us he had compassion on the crowds who he saw as being like sheep without a shepherd. And he ultimately gave his life in sacrifice, enduring torture and then a horrible, criminal death on a cross. And he knew this was coming. We don’t know how far in advance he knew what he knew, but he clearly knew that he was going to suffer. And in the midst of the suffering of his creation, and the awareness of his coming pain, Jesus lived with joy.

I think of John as the gospel of Jesus’ joy, because John records Jesus not only living with joy, but teaching in chapters 15-17 about his own joy, and his mission to extend his joy to those who follow him.

I told you last week that Hope is a word which has a far more robust meaning than we usually assign to it. We talked about it as a kind of Holy Dissatisfaction with the way life is, and a confidence in God to deliver the shalom he has promised. The same is true of the word Joy, which is in our sights this morning.

The cultural usage of Joy is essential the pinnacle of happiness. A synonym of words like delight, jubilation, glee, exuberance, elation, euphoria, bliss – but, of course, still an ephemeral experience, something that is subject to change when our circumstances change. But I want to assert today that that’s not joy – there’s something bigger than that. Something that Charles Spurgeon got. Something that Jesus got! Something that some of you already get, and that I believe the rest of you can take hold of today.

You may have heard preachers say that joy is not merely extreme happiness, because happiness is about our circumstances, and joy is not. I’ve said the same thing myself in the past, but I want to amend that idea today. Today I want to tell you that joy is related to happiness, and at the same time it supersedes happiness. The key is that we need to improve our definition of what “our circumstances” are.

Right now, take your index finger, and hold it up about six inches in front of your face. Focus your eyes on that finger, and as you do, recognize how everything beyond that is out of focus. Then, while keeping your finger where it is, shift your focus to the distance, perhaps to something on the wall of the room you are in, or to the greatest distance you can see. When you put the deepest part of your field of vision into focus, your finger is still in your sight, but it’s completely out of focus, and instead you are seeing much more.

Your finger is like the circumstances that are happening to you right now. Meanwhile, the longest of our circumstances is actually the eternal Kingdom which we are awaiting when Jesus the Christ returns. Since we believe that is a sure hope that will come to pass, and because God has invited us to live in that Kingdom, that is part of the circumstances of our lives just as much as what is happening right this minute. Joy is the state of God-centered pleasure that comes from looking at the deepest or longest view of our circumstances, which brings into view the full restoration of all things by God through Jesus Christ and puts our present circumstances into proper perspective. It goes beyond happiness because happiness is normally grounded in a short view of our circumstances, and is therefore subject to change when short-term circumstances take a painful turn.

The Swiss theologian Karl Barth described joy in the Bible as “…’a defiant ‘Nevertheless!’ that Paul sets like a full stop against the Philippians’ anxiety….”

I think that’s what Charles Spurgeon understood – in spite of his near-term circumstances, he was fully confident in the hope that God has brought through Jesus Christ, and so he lived a defiant nevertheless against anxiety and despair.

Now think about the life experience of Jesus. Jesus came to earth and lived in the midst of the sorrow of his own broken creation. Imagine that! My cousin Michelle lives in Washington, Illinois, which suffered a devastating tornado last year. We are grateful that their family was safe, and in fact the storm’s damage path was just blocks from their house. We have all seen pictures of families walking back into their homes after that sort of devastation, looking at the bits of framing that are left, things twisted and bent out of shape, perhaps a few family heirlooms scattered around. Now imagine for a moment if you had built your own house, with your own hands and labor. Imagine what it would feel like to walk through that wreckage knowing that it was not only your financial investment, but your creative energies, your craftsmanship that had been leveled.

Jesus came and walked the earth, every day for three decades, and saw the devastation that sin had wrought on his creative craftsmanship, the ways that human rebellion had twisted souls, had mangled lives. And yet, Jesus was able to convey joy. How can that be?

Because he had a longer view. Because he knew that he had come to announce and begin the coming of the Kingdom of God. Because he used the power of God within him to give a preview of that Kingdom over and over again – restoring brokenness in people’s bodies, and also brokenness in people’s spirits. Because he came bringing salvation. Jesus could have joy, even as he was sorrowful over the state of people being like sheep without a shepherd, or the death of a dear friend like Lazarus, or even the cup that he had to bear in going to Calvary, because he knew that deeper in the frame was the resurrection, and his ascension to heaven to prepare a place for his disciples, and the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of billions of disciples, and his return as the King with the fullness of restoration, and the reign of a kingdom which has no end.

This is why and how Jesus is the source of our joy. His work has created the longest of our circumstances, and he has secured that hope, and he has shown us that it is possible to live in light of that long view, rather than the short view of our immediate context.

The big question for us, then, is how do we access the joy of which Jesus is the source? And the best answer I know comes from John 15-17, which I mentioned before. In particular, let’s look at John 15:4-11, where Jesus speaks about the Vine and the Branches.

4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.
10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
(John 15:4-11 ESV)

The promise about having access to the joy of Jesus is at the end of the section, but the primary instruction in the passage is in verse 4 – “abide in me, and I in you”. This is a command type of statement, as you can probably tell – he’s not asking, he’s saying, “do this. Abide in me.” What does it mean to abide? Simply, to stay. The word is talking about staying in a place, about residing, or remaining where you are. So, if Jesus says that he is a vine, like the master vine in a vineyard, and he says that we are branches off of that vine, like the shoots that grow off from the master vine, then to abide in him means to retain that relationship. Don’t leave. Don’t imagine that you can collect the wisdom of Jesus but then strike out on your own, and replant yourself without his ongoing nourishment. That’s actually really simple, I think, and it’s related to the first commandment Israel had from Yahweh: don’t have any other gods before me. I’m the one who brought you out of Egypt and slavery – who else do you need? Jesus is saying, “I’m the one who brought you out of the slavery to sin, out of the old way of trying to do things your own way – who else do you need?”

When we do this, he says, we have fruitful lives. When we do this, he says, the Lord gives us the things that we ask for (keep in mind that he is saying that when we are saturated in the mission of Jesus, what we ask for will be things that it is good and wise for God to give us, and he will). Above all, though, he says that when we do this, we abide in his love. And then v. 10 tells us what it looks like to abide in his love: we keep his commandments. Oh, and he says “commandments”, but then in verse 12, he actually gives one commandment. Just one! But it’s a real one: “love one another as I have loved you.” We don’t have enough time to unpack all of the implications of that statement today, but we are brought back to many ways of asking ourselves if the way we are loving another person fits with the way Jesus loved us. Are we being sacrificial? Are we being generous? Are we being forgiving? You see how this goes, right?

When we are really satisfied with Jesus and his work and his provision and his promises, and the hope he has accomplished for us, then we will be content to do what he teaches us, not what anyone else wants to teach us. Then we will be eager to follow his commands, and not to go wandering, and when that happens, then we have his joy. Live his type of life, trust his provision, experience his joy. That’s really it. Simple – but not always easy, right? Not a lot of steps. Not a giant checklist for you. But steps that many of us find consistently challenging, because of the tendency toward idolatry in our hearts. And that idolatry in our hearts springs up from that looking at our near-term circumstances and getting anxious from them. But when we re-focus, when we look at the long-term circumstances, and we remember that Jesus is working out the necessary steps to his eternal kingdom, then we can say “I’m not necessarily enjoying this right now, but I know where we’re going, and I’m looking forward to that.”

We have all seen more than our share of highway construction. Lots of heavy equipment rearranging the terrain, moving earth and removing old pavement. It causes long delays at times and traffic gets backed up. It has become accepted as one of the headaches of traveling.

In one construction area, in Ohio, there was an unusual amount of tension. The motorists were becoming hostile and the workers were frustrated. So, to resolve this tension one worker resorted to some humor and purchased bumper stickers for the heavy equipment. They all said the same thing: “The road to happiness is almost always under construction.”

Let’s change that to: the road to joy is almost always under construction. Or the road to hope is almost always under construction. Or the road to the eternal kingdom. You decide which of those you like best.

The key is that this life is connected to that life. But the key is that we look at that road, stretching out in front of us, and we say, “Nevertheless, we’re still going to the same place, the promised place, the place where he’s preparing for us right now. And we can’t wait to get there!” So we can live here, and now, with Jesus’ joy.