The Seriousness of Joy

There’s enough of the news junkie in me to delight in the last few weeks of the presidential campaign. I read the columns, watch the polls and, for sure, watch the debates.

Because I am an American citizen, I will vote on November 6. Because I am a Christian, I will vote as a Christian and my faith will inform my vote. Jesus is Lord in the voting booth as much as anywhere else. As a pastor I encourage you to vote and to vote as a Christian. I cannot and will not tell you that (D) or (R) is the Christian vote. In fact, I am pretty sure that (D) and (R) are, or certainly can be, a Christian vote. Pray before you vote.

Okay, off my soapbox (or is it out of my pulpit?).
I am not and should not tell you how to vote, but I will tell you that I think this campaign season has managed to be both mean and silly while rarely serious. We give more time to reacting to Mitt Romney’s Big Bird line or Joe Biden’s grin than to issues of peace and justice. We have a hard time being serious.

In a world where “likeability” is more important than governing ability, where zingers and “gotcha” lines are more important than serious discussion, seriousness has fallen on hard times, because we’ve made seriousness out to be mean or dull or contentious.

I’d like to make a case for the joy of seriousness. To make the case I am going to leave the debate stage for a bit and return to one of the most important places in my life: the streets of Favela da Ventosa – the shanty town in urban Brazil where I have spent some seriously joy-filled time.

I’ve written about my friend Leonardo before.  I met Leo a dozen years ago when he was a 15-year old street thug up to no good in his impoverished neighborhood. But God was up to good and had other things in mind for Leo. In time Leo came to faith and it was my privilege to administer the sacrament of baptism to him. He met Jenifer at church and a year ago they were married (and again, my privilege to preside at the wedding).

I heard from Leo last week and he brought me up to date on some of what’s going on in his life.  He told me about the joy of his first year of marriage and his hope to begin taking college level classes.

He talked about his spiritual growth through Bible study (he’s just finished all the general epistles and plans to begin a study of the Gospel According the John) and his study of the great Belgic Confession of Faith (this favela kid reading the Belgic Confession!)

He leads the church’s worship team and has been asked to consider being an elder but believes he should wait until he has more spiritual wisdom. He’s hoping to help the church start a daycare center to help young mothers have a safe place to leave their children as they seek employment or go to their jobs. He writes, “I believe that if a church has a daycare center, it can provide a social service as well as evangelism and teaching the word of God to these little children, planting a seed that will be harvested later.”

God was up to something good when he pulled Leo off the streets of the favela and into the Kingdom. Leonardo is a very serious follower of Jesus Christ and he takes discipleship very seriously.  But there is an unmistakable joy about him and his life that is amazing. He ended his last letter to me this way, “I am very happy with my family and with God.”

There’s nothing mean, dull or contentious about Leo. He is seriously joyful.

Joy isn’t a zinger or laugh line. It is the serious promise of our loving God. Joy is worth our serious consideration.

If I can find a candidate who takes joy seriously, I think I’ll vote for that candidate.