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Lent Reflections: Joy - Pasadena, California
Apr 8, 2012
In my mid-twenties, probably when I was super depressed about not having a girlfriend or something, I remember reading something by Martin Lloyd-Jones in which he said that the New Testament most associates joy with suffering and persecution. My first reaction was, “Dang, are you serious? That sucks! How many more years of singleness must that mean?” A little self-absorbed, I know. As you can see, whenever I hear a new teaching, it’s like Mary hearing from Gabriel, let it be according to your word, O Lord. Seriously, though, it’s always been a bit of an enigma to me that for Jesus and the New Testament writers, joy and suffering go hand in hand. Truth be told, I feel joy in God when I have the day off or I’m trying out a new, expensive restaurant (Derek, is this where you tell me we’re going in a “different direction”?) or my wife, Fina is watching the kids while I’m taking a nap or when I get front row seats to a Lakers game. Now that’s joy! At least it’s what gets the endorphins going I suppose. But if “Joy is the business of heaven” as C.S. Lewis says, and if Jesus says He wants us to have His joy and for it to be made full (Jn 15:11; 16:24; 17:13), then what is full joy in God supposed to look like in my life living in Pasadena? What’s it supposed to look like in your life living where you live? And if you think I’m gonna try to actually answer this question, you’re nuts!
I was talking with “Joshua” and his sister “Jo-Jo” the other day while doin’ my own version of a drive-by in my van with the 4 kids in the back. He was rollin' a cig and licking the paper to get it to stick so he could smoke it. My daughter, Tasha thought this was pretty cool. One of the downsides of raisin’ kids in the ‘hood, I guess. I pulled out all my “cancer kills” stories but she still thought it was cool lickin' cig paper to make a smoke. Keep prayin’ everybody. Moses is a Pasadena Denver Lane (local gang in NW Pasadena) and the only Latino in the gang. He’s one of my main connections to what’s happenin’ on the streets.
Both Joshua and Jo-Jo drink and get high just about every night with the homies that hang out on my street. When I see him and the homies, I usually shout at them, “Officer Brad here! You kids behaving properly?” And they all laugh. He and Jo-Jo come over to my car, while they play Frogger dodging cars driving by at about 40 mph. I ask how they’re doing and they tell me ‘bout Kendrec and 2 girls who got raped around the corner, and some robberies and both say, “It’s heatin' up out here, boss!” But I listen, talk with them, hold their hands and pray and afterwards, Jo-Jo says with a big smile, “I love it when you come by; you really make me happy.” And Joshua says, “Yes, sir, thank you Jesus!” And of course it puts a smile on my face because this small, momentary sliver of joy in God is only a direct result of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the joy that He’s put in me.
The light of the world is penetrating the darkness of death, rape and robberies. Joshua and Jo-Jo are brushing up against Jesus and one day, they might know His joy for themselves and see the cycles of poverty in their lives crucified once and for all. We all got Joshuas and Jo-Jos in our communities. We also all have joy in God for being in the slums/’hoods that we’re in. I really don’t have answers for how the joy and suffering all work together but I know that when I’m out on the streets, loving Joshua and Jo-Jo, I see Jesus at work and that brings me joy.