Fully one half their number was dead. Of the 102 who crossed on the Mayflower, only 50 remained. Of eighteen married couples who embarked together, just three remained intact. In fifteen marriages, one or both partners had died.
This was the group who paused to thank God. This was the thanks giving group.
But as Tracy McKenzie points out in this insightful The Real First Thanksgiving podcast, those 50 wouldn’t have dubbed that autumn week a first anything. The feasting was simply God’s children being the grateful people he had made them to be.
God gave them eyes to see his grace. Then they gave thanks.
Which reminds me of a story.
A Giving Thanks Story
After the Second World War, two seriously ill woman were placed in the same London hospital room.
Marie was blind, and Ginny was assigned the bed next to the room’s only window. The days flew by. Despite her sickness, Ginny’s words were full of good cheer. She inquired about Marie’s friends and family and prayed for those they knew. And always Ginny thanked God for the day.
But there was this other thing she’d do. It started their third afternoon together, when a discouraged Marie needed hope.
“What’s outside the window?” she’d ask.
Ginny by the window described the squirrels and trees, and the park with the little lake just beyond. She’d tell about the kids and their kites, the rowers and long-necked swans. And Ginny could paint a sunset. The sunsets were Marie’s favorite. Her face would glow as Ginny spoke.
Ginny Could See
In fact, Marie began to live for those “paintings” of the world outside the window. They inspired hope and healing even though her eyes could not see. But while Marie’s health improved, Ginny’s rapidly declined.
Shortly after Ginny died, Marie’s new roommate settled in.
“Would you tell me what’s outside the window today? Who’s at the park? Are the swans on the lake? If the sunset is pretty tonight, would you describe it to me, too?”
Silence filled the room.
“The park? A lake? Our window faces a brick wall. And there’ll be no sunsets tonight or any other, for even if the wall weren’t there, this window faces east.”
Now Marie knew. How Ginny could see.
Seeing Grace in All the Things
Ever since I first heard a version of that story decades ago, I wanted to be Ginny. I still want to be Ginny.
But my honest friends and family will tell you I’m a far cry from her. I dwell on my hurt and others’ wrongs and don’t always see through to the sunsets and swans. This bird gets quiet in winter.
But giving thanks is a miracle drug for our souls. It is a silver bullet for spiritual disease. It trumps every ugly that messes with our souls. You can’t sing as you sneeze and you can’t whistle while you yell. You can’t grumble as you give thanks. My friend Shari says: you can’t ride two horses with one heinie.
But you also can’t conjure up a thankful heart. Seeing grace is a gift. Author Sam Crabtree defines thankfulness asa divinely given spiritual ability to see grace. Giving thanks, then, is the corresponding desire to affirm that grace and the Giver of that grace as good.
This ability to see grace is a God-given gift. And affirming the grace and the Giver is called giving thanks. Crabtree explains, “I can ask God to help me look at my circumstances through a different lens or from a different angle. And He wants to do it, He wants me to be thankful.”
Give us what you command, Augustine prayed. We can echo him and say, You command us to give thanks, so give us eyes to see your grace.
Giving thanks does not depend on our circumstances. A difficult husband, problem child, poor health, unjust boss or a nasty neighbor might make it hard. But we can ask God to give us thankful hearts.
I’m here to tell you, that whenever I pray that prayer, he answers yes.
Singing Birds In Winter
Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father…Always and for everything is what Paul wrote (Ephesians 5:20). Not just in everything, which is God’s will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:18), but for everything. Everything. All. The. Things.
I want people to see Christ as all that. Giving thanks for everything does that. My Uncle Steve did that.
Uncle Steve has had a year. He was hospitalized, near death and discharged, then came bedsores, hospitalized, and G-tube. His breathing is still not right. A specialist next week may tell him there’s something big wrong. But more than once today Uncle Steve said, “God is good.” He sees grace and he gives thanks.
I want to be like that. Like Ginny and Uncle Steve. Because that kind of thanks giving is supernatural. In fact, the call to give thanks in Ephesians 5 verse 20 is an expression Paul’s main command to be “filled with the Spirit” in Ephesians 5:18:
Be filled with the Spirit….giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Spirit is supernatural—he’s God. And I’m supernatural and you’re supernatural if we’re in Christ and his Spirit lives in us.
Giving thanks when you’re healthy and all speak well of you, when your kid is a starter and your business thrives is natural. Most every bird can sing can sing in the spring.
But when we give thanks for illness and hurtful words, for kids who don’t make the team and fails at work—this is supernatural. These are birds singing in the dead of winter.
Which is what happened in 1621.
The 1621 And 2021 Project: Give Thanks
There are only two primary sources detailing the Pilgrim’s 1621 harvest feast. William Bradford’s is less detailed than this one by Edward Winslow.
[O]ur harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors…we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation…And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
Edward Winslow, Mourt’s Relation
That’s it. Yet by the goodness of God…The harvest feast of 1621 was a decimated, threadbare group who gathered to rejoice together and to celebrate the goodness of God.
That’s my 2021 project. Heading into a cold winter, I want to celebrate the goodness of God as he gives me eyes to see.
I want to be like the Pilgrims in 1621 and like Ginny and Uncle Steve. I want grace to sing in the dead of winter.
We should give thanks for all things; not only for spiritual blessings enjoyed, and eternal ones expected, but for temporal mercies too; not only for our comforts, but also for our sanctified afflictions…
It is our duty in every thing to give thanks unto God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father in him…
Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…
Because you, dear reader, are still reading. And unless this is your very first JoyPrO post— and if it is, a big warm hug of a welcome to you—you’ve suffered your way through an unkind number of typos.
Once upon a time, I wrote “Be Freed From Perfectionism.” Alas, it seems I’m a wee bit too free. It’s not perfectionism that’s plaguing me.
Reader, I’ve treated you with less than my utmost respect. I’ve drug you through the mud of my sometimes sloppy and slapdash ways. I am guilty of overthinking and under-editing. And, if I’m a writer who cares for my readers—indeed, who has readers—that’s a lethal combination.
In short, you’ve endured far too many typos. You deserve better. So I humbly beg your pardon.
To Love Is To Proofread
Some of you are thinking exactly what I’d be thinking right about now. Namely, “The proof is in the pudding.” Because you know that the mark of true repentance is turning from error.
By the way, the end of all this proofreading and patience is love. And I don’t mean mostly the self-love that knows you’ll stop reading if I keep publishing sloppy posts. I mean the care for my readers that says, “Slow down. Don’t push “publish” until fresh eyes have checked it for typos.”
In other words, I’d best deny myself and wait awhile for your good, dear reader. Because if what I have to say has any encouragement at all, you’ll miss it. It’s just not worth it if you must wade through missing punctuation, misspelled words and fragmentary phrases. It’s just not loving. So I must deny myself and wait.
I love how counselor Ed Welch explains that connection: Self-denial is the just the means to the end. And the end is love.Self-control is the grace that allows us to say no to indulging ourselves for the sake of others. You could call it love…
That Would Be A Good Idea
Abigail, you need a proofreader.
That’s what my sister-writer-friend Kat texted after she read the post. And I was convicted in a painful minute on Saturday morning. She was right.
Within minutes, a wise, insightful friend who reads with a careful eye came to mind. I didn’t waste time.
Yes, I think that’s a good idea. And I’d be proud to help.
I won’t tell you her name in case you spot a mistake. But my proofreader friend is another one who has the precious gift that some of you have. You encourage and correct in one fell swoop. When you correct, it feels like love.
Because, like Lincoln said, he has the right to criticize who has the heart to help. And believe you me, Kat has a heart to help. She told me I needed a proofreader, then she gave up her next half hour to be that proofreader.
When uncaring souls calls out our faults, our souls deflate. I call that “dish and dash.” But criticism tethered to a helpful heart is how the world is changed.
Back to you, reader: I ask your forgiveness and I promise to do better. You see, I am taking steps.
Listen In: Onward & Upward With Abigail Wallace
This has been a sort of DTR (Define The Relationship) post. DTR talks are dangerous. Sometimes couples and friends get too meta and that can get messy. But I hope this DTR has been less messy and more clarifying. I will do a better job proofreading, and in turn, I pray you will read with greater joy, and ease.
Because I want to serve my readers better. I want to write words that help build you up in your most holy faith as we become stronger, softer saints who embrace God’s sometimes uncomfortable grace. For the record, if there’s a question or topic you’d like to see me address, please send it my way. I want to scratch where you itch. Odds are, others itch there too.
One final note. A few readers have said they’d prefer to listen than to read. I get that. If you’re one of those readers, you’ll be happy to know that future posts will include a link to the brand new Onward & Upward With Abigail Wallace podcast, which for now, is simply me reading these posts.
I hope the podcast format helps you redeem your time. Plus, if typos sneak into a post, you won’t even know.
Enthusiasm without knowledge is no good; haste makes mistakes.
My husband knows those words well as they come from his external-processor wife. My best friends know how to “take and sift my words,” as the poet wrote.
To keep what is worth keeping
And with the breath of kindness
Blow the rest away.
But I don’t have that luxury, that “inexpressible comfort,” when I write.
I Failed And I’m Sorry
No writer does. Because readers can’t see writers’ hearts. You can’t hear my happy sighs or see my messy tears. You don’t know what happened last night or how he hugged me this morning. It’s up to me, the writer, to convey what I mean. And I fear I failed you, dear reader, last week. I failed to express my heart.
My last post, Don’t Force The Duck: 16 Years After Adoption Day,struck a chord. Actually it struck two very dissonant chords in readers. One group expressed gratitude for my candor with hope, the other near outrage that I would be so critical of adoption.
For each person who responded, there are dozens of you who made comments in your minds and left them there. I suspect The Duck ruffled more feathers than I know.
What I Meant
While my goal for this blog is to build stronger, softer saints who embrace God’s uncomfortable grace, I don’t want you to be uncomfortable because of my inability to write what I mean.
So here’s what I meant when I took the twin occasions of the 16th anniversary of our A#1 son’s adoption day and National Adoption Month to share a few pages of our unfolding, unfinished story.
I wanted to be the voice that I wish I had heard 20 years ago when I scoured the internet for adoption stories and studied all the “adoptive families” I knew. I wanted to be the voice that was neither the adoption-grim voice of our friend Jo, nor the blissful, glib voice I heard in those glossy adoption magazines. But I may not have been. So here’s take two.
What did I mean by that adoption post?
I meant to say that any decision we make to love – whether it be to marry, to conceive, foster or adopt children, or to be a loyal friend— brings with it the very real risk that the results of our commitment will be harder than we thought. That is par for the course with earthly love. When the hard comes, we are not to lose heart and think we made a mistake. Rather, it probably means we are starting to love like God.
I meant to say that I am not giving up. Not for a second. In fact, in the week since that post, God has softened my heart to help me better love A#1. A caramel macchiato with extra caramel delivered late to the high school is exhibit A.
I meant to say that no heart change, including a decision to love a person or to love God, can be forced. God alone gives new, soft hearts (Ezekiel 36:26). I didn’t force the duck and the duck stuck is my reminder that God can soften hearts without my help.
What I Didn’t Mean
What didn’t I mean to convey?
I did not mean to disparage adoption in any way. Because in the end, adoption is the way every single Christian becomes a child of God. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves (Ephesians 1:5-6). God loves adoption. It’s how he builds his family. I’m glad we could adopt.
I did not mean to convey that the hardship in our relationship is one person’s fault. No way. I am a sinful mother—a sometimes proud and impatient, harsh and unkind mother. Jim is a sinful father, and we have two sinful sons. Our sins affect each other. We are all sufferers and sinners. I wish I’d been more clear on that.
Finally, in no sense did I mean to convey that our story is over. Not a chance. While there is life there is hope. If can’t help myself, I am a prisoner of hope.
Comfort Is Overrated
Maybe, if the duck post was your first, you wondered how it could possibly be written by a mother who is joyfully pressing on, by a mother who hopes against hope. Well, one of the themes of this blog is that comfort is overrated. Could I beg two minutes more to explain that?
By comfort, I mean being comfortable. Believe me, if I could find it in Scripture that God’s plan and will for his children during their time on earth was to go through unscathed, unchallenged, untested, untried, uncorrected, undisciplined—in other words, comfortable—I’d be the first to proclaim it.
But the longer I seek my Savior and Lord—and so far it’s been about 25 cycles through his Word— I can’t seem to find comfortable among God’s goals for us. I don’t see it listed as a Spirit fruit or a mark of the mature Christian. In vain I search for verses that say God’s children will be known by their comfortable lives.
Mostly what I find is that Christians will be marked by their love.
For the Love of God
I read of a God who loved so much that he spared not his own Son, but freely gave him up for us all. I see a maligned and misunderstood Jesus who, in the span of one chapter of Matthew, is called a blasphemer and prince of demons. Then I hear the crowds laugh at him when he announced he’d raise a daughter back to life. Later, in the Upper Room, he would tell his disciples, if they hated me they will hate you, and in this world you will have trouble.
Now I hear old Simeon tell mother Mary that a sword would pierce her heart. I read that two of his three closest friends, Peter and James, were murdered. I see his servant Paul stoned, whipped, and left for dead. But I don’t find smooth and easy lives mentioned as evidence of God’s love.
Rather, from Genesis to Revelation, I meet a God who suffers with us, who calls us to come to him and share his yoke. I see the One by whom all things were made and in whom was life, indignant and weeping at the grave of his beloved friend Lazarus. I see Jesus who loved Mary and her sister Martha wait four days when he heard Lazarus was sick. He didn’t rush in to make them comfortable. He shows his love by giving us what we need most—a view of his glory. Suffering can give us that view. It can show us His glory. The stars are brightest in the darkest nights.
Adoption does that that for me. It shows me God’s glory.
Adoption, Parenting, Loving: All Uncomfortable Grace
This sometimes uncomfortable grace and lavish love of God is manifest in adoption every single day. Every single day. After all, He adopted me.
As I end, please know that your comments are most welcome. I love hearing from my readers. Whether your comment is critical or thankful or something in between, I am grateful to you for investing your precious time reading my words.
I pray that they will equip us to embrace God’s uncomfortable grace, and to grow more strong and meek—like Jesus.
Even as sometimes we groan.
And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
There are good reasons people choose not to adopt. I heard a lot of them. But this week, we celebrate adoption day.
Don’t Force The Duck
Think he’ll like the duck? I wondered aloud.
No idea. We’d never done this before. Jim was as clueless as I.
But I had followed the agency directions and all the pick-up-your-baby rules. The Britax car seat was firmly strapped in the back seat and the paperwork was in hand. Bottle, formula, blanket—check, check, check. My sister met us at O’Hare with the orange-beaked, yellow fella to mark adoption day.
The experts said it would be best to let him wear the clothes he was in and use the bottles they sent and slowly ease American formula into a blend with Korean. They said all the new sights and sounds and smells would be jarring to this six-month young sensory system. They said, Ease in.
No. I wouldn’t force the duck.
They Broke Her Heart
But let me back up. Before we met A#1 at the airport, we heard lots of reasons why we shouldn’t adopt.
The one I remember best came two summers before adoption day. My husband and a good friend, Jo, sat around me on the cafe veranda. I’m not sure how we landed on the topic of adoption. But suddenly here we were.
My friend Caroline’s adopted children both went bad. They rebelled in their teens and never did seem to accept her and Tom as their parents.They broke her heart.Even though they were treated like their own flesh and blood children, it just didn’t work out.
I’m not Pollyanna now and I wasn’t then. Nor were all my hopes of happiness hitched to the adoption cart. All the sessions with our adoption social worker guaranteed some measure of realism. Still, this was a bitter pill.
It happened to my college roommate Pat too. Her adopted son John never seemed to bond, even though he was with her from day one. He said vile things to them, left home at 18 and never came back. Pat said he’s only called a handful of times in all the years since. And then, only to ask for money.
Sobering isn’t strong enough to describe the effect of her words.
No, adoption just doesn’t seem to work out.
No Illusions Of Adoption Grandeur
That bubble-bursting conversation wasn’t the only one. We can’t say we weren’t warned. Our social worker, our friends, and our own knowledge of adoptions gone sour insured we were under no illusions of adoption grandeur.
But no illusions does not mean no hope. Not living life like I wrote it frees me to take part in a far grander story. The hard and heartache in this chapter does not mean adoption wasn’t part of God’s plan for our family.
Still, a grand story with a hope and a plan don’t make living it easy. A#1 tests my mettle and I test his. This National Adoption Month, I admit, it’s been harder than I ever imagined.
Make No Mistake
Do heartache and pain mean we made a mistake? Do conflict and strife mean we misread God? Does trying and hard mean we’d all be better off if we’d chosen not to adopt?
Because adoption is forcing us to trust, causing us to hope and teaching us to love. And last I knew, those three were the only lasting things: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
This is the adoption month message that came.
But it’s not just for those directly impacted by adoption. It’s for all of us who second guess decisions made in good faith whose results are far harder than we imagined. Maybe it was a decision to get married, to bear children or to remain a faithful friend. The message is for all of us who, for Christ’s sake, love right on.
For us sinful, disobedient people who keep on loving and, as we do, come to know and love our Father better. Our heavenly Father had a chosen, child named Israel who spurned him. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the hand, but they never knew that I healed them (Hosea 11:3). And, All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people (Romans 10:21). To love this way, those who do not repay, is the love that God rewards (Matthew 5:46).
So my adoption month message for us is a question:
Don’t Force. Trust.
I didn’t force the duck on November 2, 2005. And 16 years later, on November 2, 2021, I didn’t force a hug.
I can’t force golf, chess, or good friends and I can’t force dental floss, haircuts or good books. I can’t even force the veg. Once I was a royal tastemaker, but now I’m a short order quesadilla chef.
In all these things, I must trust that my God will meet all of this son’s needs without me pushing my way. In other words, this adoption, this son, and this God—his way is perfect—are forcing my force-it, control issues.
Could it be that one big reason God formed our family is so that that I’d quit thinking I can force my way? So that I’d trust that the perfect Father—whose own children resist and rebel, who spurn his love and break his rules—is completely able to lay hold of a heart?
A#1 wasn’t much of a snuggly, stuffed animal guy. But this beloved son is fond of the duck. Sixteen years after we met our stoic, six month-old A#1 at the airport, I snuck into his room to take a picture of Duck
I didn’t force the duck and the duck stuck.
Don’t force the duck has become my reminder to trust. The duck is my reminder that God can lay hold of hearts without me.
Afterward: Two Quotes from Two Articles About the Good and Hard of Adoption
There is no such thing in God’s economy as an “adopted child,” only a child who was adopted into the family. “Adopted” defines how you came into the household, but it doesn’t define you as some other sort of family member. In the Book of Romans, Paul defines all Christians, both Jew and Gentile, as having received a common “spirit of adoption” (Rom. 8:15; 9:4). -Russell Moore, Adopted For Life, Ten Years Later
Some adoptions cause quite a bit of pain and grief in the lives of moms, dads, sisters, brothers, and other relatives. But just because there’s conflict, it doesn’t mean that the adoption wasn’t meant to be…God uses all things, especially conflict and struggle, to work together.. and bring about a good “end.” -Mark Gregston, Pitfalls Of Adoption
How long do you wait? Not, how long do you wait in the drive-thru or the phone queue before you opt out?
I mean, how long until you remind or text the “❓“ or ask again? Do you anguish over that?
Sometimes I do.
How Long Do I Wait?
Lots of times I jump the gun. Ask my husband. Too many times to count I remind him of what he knows and, in a little way, betray the trust. And ask my sister-in-laws about the cherry Butter-braids I bought and the Horny Toad dress I lent—times my reminders hurt, not helped, the cause.
Because patience is a thing for me. Because the initiator, performer me likes to move. But the Jesus follower me needs to wait.
Yesterday I struggled. I drafted a friendly reminder to a friend who promised to send some key details about a project. But I deleted the text. But since Saturday was prime time to get this ball rolling, a few hours later, I drafted a text again. And deleted it again.
I have not so great a struggle with my vices, great and numerous as they are, as I have with my impatience. My efforts are not absolutely useless; yet I have never been able to conquer this ferocious wild beast.
French reformer John Calvin said that. I’m with him. My family and honest friends would agree.
How many times have I reminded my husband only to find he remembered? How many times have I sent a “❓“ when my text to a friend goes unanswered only to find she was on it?
Wait Beyond Your Waiting Point
Too many. For every one time I wait beyond my natural “waiting point,” there are two times I don’t. Times my impatience betrayed my weakness. Because strong people can wait.
But how do we grow and gain strength? Physically and spiritually, it’s the same. We must push ourselves, stretch ourselves past the pain point. To maintain we can do what we do—I can run the same 4 miles every day and do the same 150 saddle-backed pushups every other day and I’ll maintain fitness and muscle.
But I won’t grow. In order to grow stronger or faster, I’ve got to run the mile faster, or go two miles longer, or straighten my arms and my back for those push-ups.
That means for me to grow more patient, I’ve got to make myself wait—to send or say—to the point where I feel like I can’t wait a second longer. And then wait.
And the times I’m able to do that, it’s because I’m playing by this rule.
The Only Safe Rule
C.S. Lewis was dealing with giving not waiting when he offered this rule. But when I anguish over how long I should wait, I find in his answer my only safe rule. [Mine.]
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give [wait]. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give [wait] more than we can spare. […] If our giving [waiting] does not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say it is too small.
Mere Christianity, 82.
That’s the rule. Spend more time waiting than I can comfortably spare. My rule of thumb for waiting is that if I don’t feel pinched, I haven’t waited long enough.
Have patience. Have patience. Don’t be in such a hurry. When you get impatient, you only start to worry. Remember, remember that God is patient too and think of all the times when others have to wait for you.
I won’t lie. I sing Herbert the Snail’s song more now than I did in third grade. I’m not sure if I’m less patient or only more aware of my impatience. But when I remember how often others wait for me, it helps me wait for others.
Because my impatience is not love. It’s preferring my pace to theirs, and my time as more precious than theirs. It’s not thinking of others as better than myself. It’s not love. Because, love is patient. Love waits.
My loving friend waits for me when I’m late for our coffee date. My loving husband waits for me with the car pointed out Sunday morning. And my longsuffering Lord waits for me to wait every single day.
I’m not what I will be and I’m not what I should be. But, thank God, I am more patient than I was. I am learning— to wait longer before I hit send, to wait longer before I ask again, to wait longer before I text the “❓“.
Remember that text I drafted and deleted, then drafted and deleted again? How I waited longer than “I could spare”?
Well, round about 6 o’clock last night, this came.
“Sorry, Abigail, that I didn’t get back to you earlier.”
And I was so glad I waited.
May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy…
If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?
Our culture is getting so soft. No one can handle criticism. People just wilt. I can’t tell you how many times that gist has come up in conversation lately.
I’m no expert on culture. So correct me Mom and Dad if you think I’m wrong: You weren’t much for coddling. And correct me sons if you think I lie: I’m not much for coddling.
Which is probably just fine. Here’s why.
I Thought I’d Be Wrecked
No bright pink line. Another stinging sign of my empty womb. I thought I’d be wrecked at the next fruitless month. Little did I know there would be more than two hundred empty months (and nine full months) ahead. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.
I was looking for dirty socks under his bed. But there it was, my clue that something was off. I thought I’d be wrecked if we didn’t fix this now. But the rascally habit grew. It got more entrenched and bore bitter fruit. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.
They walked out of our house in silence. We’d have to meet again and try again to patch things up. I thought I’d be wrecked by year’s end if we couldn’t mend. But it would be ten long years before hugs. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.
God gave compassion and comfort and care. But there was not coddling.
Warm Mush & Helicopter Moms
So what is coddling?
To coddle means to overprotect. Not to protect, but to overprotect. As in helicopter mom. As in Ashley and her twelve year-old daughter Lacy, A girl was mean to Lacy at lunch, so I called her teacher and messaged the girl’s mom. As in, It’s 50 degrees so wear your hat and mittens and coat, Lacy, or you can’t go outside.
But I know many of you enjoy word study and a few love Latin. So here’s the quick etymology of coddling:
Coddle is probably a dialect variant of obsolete caudle: ‘administer invalids’ gruel’, based on Latin caldum: ‘hot drink’, from calidus: ‘warm’.
But that doesn’t mean he spares us grief, trouble and pain. While God is absolutely compassionate and merciful and comforts us in our sorrows (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), our Heavenly Father does not coddle his children.
He doesn’t overprotect us or spoon feed his adult children mush. God wants us to grow up (Ephesians 4:13, Colossians 1:28). But solid food is for the mature.
Anti-fragile: Children Prepared For The Road
I probably wouldn’t have had coddling on my mind if our book club hadn’t just read The Coddling of the American Mind. In it, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt take on some great cultural “untruths,” like human fragility: the untruth that what doesn’t kill us makes us weaker. The truth, they say, is that humans are anti-fragile.
While that is true now and then—the greater truth is that human beings need physical and mental challenges or we decline. Stress actually makes us stronger, not weaker. For example, muscles and joints need stressors to develop properly. Without stress, our muscles to atrophy, our joints to lose range of motion, our heart and lung function to decline, and blood clots may form.
This is not mere resilience as when when we bounce back from a fall like a rubber ball. It’s more. Anti-fragile means we actually get stronger, we move past baseline, because of the stress.
The foolishness of overprotection is clear as soon as you understand the concept of anti-fragility, Lukianoff and Haidt explain. Given that risks and stressors are natural, unavoidable parts of life, parents and teachers should be helping kids develop their innate abilities to grow and learn from such experiences. There’s an old saying: “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”
In other words, the trials you’re facing now will prepare you for bigger ones later. Running against men will get you ready to race horses.
Not the Exception, the Rule
Time to explain the horses. A little background might help.
I’ve been reading Jeremiah lately. It strikes me again that God doesn’t coddle his children. He doesn’t overprotect the ones he loves. Rather, he prepares them for the rocky road ahead with smaller bumps now.
The more I read the Bible the more I see this not as the exception, but as the rule. Job and Jeremiah and Elijah and Paul and 11 of 12 apostles who died martyrs deaths prove it. Recall Jesus’ words to Peter, What is it to you? You follow me. God often turns up the heat before he turns it down. He prepares his children for the road.
Here’s what I mean, spotlight on Jeremiah. As chapter 12 opens, the weeping prophet takes God to task.
You are always righteous, Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?
We get that, don’t we? How many of us would have a word with the Lord about his justice? Why is it bad guys thrive and honest, decent folks barely survive?
While it is grand to pour out our hearts to God, it doesn’t guarantee that we’ll like his reply. When Jeremiah inquires about the mistreatment he’s receiving in his own hometown (see 12:6), from his own brothers, God gives a shocking response.
You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet
So what is God’s answer to Jeremiah‘s questions? God comes back with a couple questions of his own:
If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?
You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. It’s as if God takes Jeremiah down to a track meet and has him run the 400 meter, the 800 meter and the mile. Then, as he stands doubled over in the infield, God asks, Jeremiah, you all set to race in the derby?You’re in lane five, against Secretariat.
The second question is like asking, If you fall down in the Great Plains how are you ever going to make it over the Rocky Mountains? Things will get worse before they get better. If the hometown crowd is mean to you, get ready for the toughies in Jerusalem.
Buck up, Buttercup. How will you compete with horses?
Prepared For The Road Ahead
In a message on Jeremiah 11-12, Phil Ryken says, God did have great things in store for Jeremiah, but he could never achieve them unless he was willing to persevere in little things. There were greater challenges to come.
By analogy, Jeremiah could expect to run against horses in the future. He needed to learn how to trust God and to draw on His strength in his present challenge, in order to prepare him for the greater challenges in the future.
If Jeremiah was foundering at his mild mistreatment in Anathoth, how would he fare in big-hostile Jerusalem? Before long, he would be locked in stocks (Jeremiah 20:1-3), thrown into a muddy cistern (Jeremiah 38:6), and imprisoned in the court of the guard (Jeremiah 28:13). The troubles he was having in Anathoth, Ryken says, were nothing compared to the troubles he would have later in Jerusalem, Babylon, or Egypt.
“In order to our preparation for further and greater trials, we are concerned to approve ourselves well in present smaller trials, to keep up our spirits, keep hold of the promise, with our eye upon the prize, so run that we may obtain it.”
That is 17th-century Bible teacher, Matthew Henry’s take on Jeremiah 12:5 and our non-coddling God. Our non-coddling, deeply-compassionate God who lovingly trains us for more difficult roads ahead.
So where’s the good news in this, Abigail? Good question.
Jeremiah never saw the hard road coming. But I want us to see it. I want you to learn what it’s taking me so long to learn. In the decades since that first negative pregnancy test and that wrapper under the bed and those hug-less years, I’m learning to feel God’s love in the trials, to know his purpose, that the Lord is compassionate and merciful (see James 5:11).
But believing that takes frequent reminders. Reminders about running with horses. Reminders that God is a loving Father but not a coddling grandfather.
Jeremiah’s little exchange with God reminds me again that our God is not safe— if safe means he keeps us from hardship and trouble. No, as Mr. Beaver said of Aslan, Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.
Good parents prepare their children for the challenging roads ahead. Our Heavenly Father is doing just that. Which, I hope you’ll agree, is good news.
As I close, I ask, Who’s running against you? What troubles could wreck you?What is the long, hard road you’re on?
Just look at you. Here you are—running with horses, bucking up. You are strong.
And you are definitely not wrecked.
The LORD is the strength of His people, a stronghold of salvation for His anointed.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
-God, to Paul
Is Sufficient Enough?
Do you like that word? How does it sound in your ear? Does it sound sort of meager, barely enough, and just scraping by? We prefer different words—words like abundant and lavish and great—to describe grace. Thankfully, there is biblical warrant for all three.
But sufficient is a grace word. And as such, a word we embrace. But outside of that one phrase in that one verse, who cites sufficient?
If I do, it’s only as a concession. Because I’m hungry for more. I prefer excess. If a 220 thread count percale is good, a 500 thread count sateen is better. If one scoop of ice cream is good, two scoops are better. And a three bedroom ranch is good, a split four bedroom must be better. If two kids are good, three or four are absolutely better.
Lavish, abundant, great—but most of us don’t want sufficient. We want better. We want more than enough.
But when God answered Paul’s thrice-repeated plea to remove his thorn in the flesh (see 2 Corinthians 12) the word the Word chose—of all the possible words and he knows all of the words—the word he chose was sufficient.
Sufficient for the Day?
In Greek, the word for this kind of grace is ἀρκέω. It’s used only eight times in the Bible and it’s always translated as one of three English words: sufficient, content, or enough.
These are three examples of how ἀρκέω (arkeo) is used:
Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” (John 6:7)
But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. (1 Timothy 6:8)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a)
Sufficient. Content. Enough.
A man can no more take in a supply of grace for the future than he can eat enough today to last him for the next 6 months, D.L. Moody said, nor can he inhale sufficient air into his lungs with one breath to sustain life for a week to come. We are permitted to draw upon God’s store of grace from day to day as we need it.
As we breathe it in, God’s grace sustains us, day by day. Grace enough like manna, like mercy to match tomorrow’s trouble.
But sometimes it feels like fumes.
Even When It Feels Like Running On Fumes
Fumes were enough to get Dad’s little yellow Chevy Luv truck through the intersection and into the gas station lot. That was a white-knuckle, “Will we make it there?” trauma, running on fumes. At least to the ten-year old daughter riding shotgun.
But fumes were enough. They were sufficient to get us to the pump and fill up the Luv tank.
And they were enough this week when our plans got highjacked by serious sickness in a son.
I really don’t feel good. My stomach hurts and I am sweating really bad. I want to go home, the first text said.
This, after a day home from school, a pick up at school after 90 minutes there and a call from the nurse, and then a third day at home.
It’s horrible. A cramp in my lower gut, I am sweating really bad. And on and on, five days like this with a sick boy weaker and weaker.
But He gives more grace. I breathed it in. God provided help and helpers. We adjusted our plans.
But I could be all wrong about sufficient grace like running on fumes. It could be that the Lord is massively understating.
British author Alan Redpath thought so, As if a little fish could swim in the ocean and fear lest it might drink it dry! The grace of our crucified, risen, exalted, triumphant Saviour, the Lord of all glory, is surely sufficient for me! Do you not think it is rather modest of the Lord to say sufficient?
The God of all grace may have been rather modest when he told Paul his grace was sufficient. I don’t know.
But I do know that until we meet Him face to face, our trials will endure and his sufficient grace will endure.
Until then, enough is as good as a feast. Whether it feels like drinking the ocean or running on fumes.
This sufficiency is declared without any limiting words, and therefore I understand the passage to mean that the grace of our Lord Jesus is sufficient to uphold thee, sufficient to strengthen thee, sufficient to comfort thee, sufficient to make thy trouble useful to thee, sufficient to enable thee to triumph over it, sufficient to bring thee out of it, sufficient to bring thee out of ten thousand like it, sufficient to bring thee home to heaven…
We get stronger by lifting others up. The words on my friend’s shirt caught my eye, and I mentioned it.
Yeh, John looked at it and said, “Really?”
My friend is not a hypocrite for wearing that shirt even if her “domestic encouragement” lapses — even if she’s not constantly lifting, as on mother eagle’s wings, her entire family up. I’m not a hypocrite when I join the meeting because I gave my word, even when when something better came along. And you’re not a hypocrite when you smile at me, I tell my sons, even if you don’t feel the love.
Don’t get me wrong—there are hypocrites inside the church and there are hypocrites outside the church and the best argument for Christianity is Christians and the best argument against Christianity is Christians—hypocritical Christians. Jesus saved his most scathing words for hypocrites. See Matthew 23. (Extra credit if you can count how many woes Jesus pronounced on hypocrites.)
Like this woe, in Matthew 23: 25, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”
But this post isn’t to pronounce woes on hypocrites. It is to correct one misunderstanding about hypocrites. Because we might get confused and think we’re hypocrites when we’re not. And it’s hard to grow up and mature when we’re mixed up and confused.
So what exactly is this word “hypocrite”?
What is a Hypocrite?
The Greek word, hupokrites, from which comes our English word hypocrite means a play actor. In ancient Greece, hypocrites literally put on masks to play the various parts. A hupokrites is someone who pretends to be something that he is not. He plays the part.
Hypocrites profess to believe one thing but actually live a completely different way. For example, if you are a vegetarian spokesman who eats a burger every lunch, you are a hypocrite. If you are an opponent of alcohol and you drink a bottle every night or if you’re a force for family values who enjoys strip clubs on the weekend, you’re a hypocrite.
Those are blatant examples of pretenders whose aim is to look good and get applause. Hypocrites might be slaves to praise.
More Natural, More Hypocritical?
But too often Christians confuse hypocrisy. And whenever we do, it’s to our loss. We lose confidence, and we feel shame. Or, more dangerous still, we may feel emboldened to sin because it feels more natural, less hypocritical.
Here’s what I mean. In Galatians chapter 5, Paul wrote, For the flesh craves what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are opposed to each other, so that you do not do what you want.
Which means that when my friend wore the Lift Others Up shirt, even though as her husband teased, she didn’t always to live up at home, this was not hypocrisy. Rather, she was a fallen human living out the battle. She shrugged, I wear the shirt to remind me to live it out. When I sent birthday wishes to someone who annoyed me, this was not hypocrisy. It is the Spirit in me.
Now you try it. Fill in the blanks:
When I [pray, say kind words, or do acts of service] for [someone who hurts, annoys, disappoints me], this is not hypocrisy, it is love.
No doesn’t that feel good?
Hypocrisy Or Maturity?
Hypocrisy is not when we do one thing but feel another. That is not hypocrisy.
Hypocrites publicize one set of beliefs but live by a different set of beliefs. When you come to church but you don’t feel like it, that’s not hypocrisy. That’s faithfulness. When you do the right thing in your marriage even when you don’t feel in love, that’s fidelity.
And I underscore this because I’ve heard this before, as a pastor, “Well, Pastor, I would be a hypocrite to stay in this marriage because I’m not in love anymore.” Or “I would be a hypocrite, Pastor, to give to the offering when I don’t feel like doing so.” God loves a cheerful giver, as you’ve heard me say before. Yes, He does, so keep on giving until you’re happy.
Listen very carefully, doing what is right when you don’t feel like doing what is right is not hypocrisy, it’s maturity.
God wants his kids to grow up. So send the note to the annoying friend (he may already have sent one to you). Do the deed when you don’t feel like it. Pray for your enemies. Love on.
It’s the nature of life in a tent. We must fight our sinful flesh and selfish feelings (Romans 8:13) and even still, we will fall (Proverbs 24:16). This makes us strugglers and sometimes sufferers and only proves again that we’re sinners who daily need the Gospel to free and empower and forgive.
But it does not make us hypocrites.
So while we are in this tent, we groan under our burdens, because we do not wish to be unclothed but clothed, so that our mortality may be swallowed up by life.
Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
I heard an expert say that you are qualified to teach a “master class” if you know 10% more about something than others. A handful of scintillating course topics I could teach crossed my mind when she said that. Then Sorry, can’t make it, lit up my screen. I knew my topic: loser-itis.
Actually not loser-itis, even though I’ve got some experience there. But who’d take that class? No, my masterclass would not be about loser-itis, but about how to fight loser-itis.
Fight Loser-itis Right 101
The next text confirmed my topic, Something came up. See you next week. A couple friends declined my invites and my husband rejected my plan, and someone unsubscribed from my Facebook group all on one day last week.
But even worse than outright rejection are those soul-desolating, joy-decimating crickets that come when you pour your heart out and not. a. peep. For souls who long to influence, those chirps are deafening.
This all was inflammatory. It triggered my loser-itis.
But recall, while I am a certain expert on loser-itis, I’m fairly sure I know 10% more than many about how to fight loser-itis. I don’t have a syllabus or slide show yet, but I’d love to share three fight tips that help me beat loser-itis— and they’re all 100% free!
Belt On: Fight Loser-itis With Truth
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist. Ephesians 6:14
No one has a chance against loser-itis—that discouragement that comes with failure, rejection and being ignored—unless truth undergirds.
Truth number one for every Christian is that in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. That’s Romans 8:37 and it deserved its own post. If you’re in Christ, you are not a loser. Period.
Here are the three other truths I’d unfold with those enrolled in my master class.
1. Sow On: Forget The Weather App
He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap. Ecclesiastes 11:4
Failure is part and parcel with with trying. You can’t have one without the other. As Christians we are called to sow generously. We are to invite and initiate and bare our souls for the sake of the Name, even if no seed grows—or grows now, or grows where we can see it.
Because, you do not know if it will grow, but you will not reap if you do not sow.
This I know. There will always be excuses not to take a risk, and good reasons for caution, too. But if we observe the wind, we will never sow. At some point we must take that step into the river and stop looking at the weather app.
So when loser-itis bites, remind yourself that failure is part of success. Because not all seeds will grow. But none will grow if you don’t put yourself out there. Which leads straight into truth number two.
2. Love On: Accept No
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
This is a proven winner in the fight. Hard as it is, we’ve got to give others the grace to say no, or even to say nothing. We are not entitled to a response. And if the rejection is personal and a downright outright rejection of us or our message, it is still for us to give grace.
Because everyone we meet has struggles we don’t see. And sometimes the healthiest thing is to say no.
We all say no. And when we do, we want others to receive it well. Do unto others, as you’d have them do unto you. But it’s only the blessed meek who can go bold—can ask and invite and sow— and graciously take “no” for an answer.
So go meek, love on, and be kind. For everyone is fighting a hard battle. Which brings us to truth number three.
3. Keep On: Tend Your Little Patch
Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up. Galatians 6:9
Don’t look past your front door for a cure for loser-itis. Odds are, there are people inside your house could use some TLC. Thirty years after she gave it to an insecure 7th grader, pining away on a Friday night, Mom’s advice to me is evergreen.
I can’t count the times I’ve fought off loser-itis by texting or writing or phoning a friend. Maybe I can’t pick the circles I run in, but I can love the ones in the circles I’m in. Love the ones you’re with.
Jonathan Rogers helps me here. I mentioned his words before. Rogers says we all have a territory,—a little patch of ground that is yours to cultivate. Your patch of ground is your unique combination of experiences and perspective and voice and loves and longings and community. Tend that patch of ground.
Serve them. Keep on. Tend that little patch.
Rejected, Victorious, and Lover to the End
That would be my master course, three truths to help fight loser-itis.
I might have done that with the little red dress that I would not give away. And I might have done it last week—and died on the window sill. I might have withered at the old job site. Buzzing at that window stole my sleep and made me sick.
Faithfulness is a good thing. But this was not about keeping a commitment. This was about selfish refusal to change.
Those honest faces around the table told me the truth, they instructed me in the way: Now was the time to go.
Ripping off the BAND-AID
Abigail, it’s the best way to do this. It’s ripping off the Band-Aid, my colleague Kay, said. Now you can heal.
Or, I shall be like the bee
That booms against the window-pane for hours
Thinking that the way to reach the laden flowers.
With help from Kay and other kind colleagues, we loaded and tossed and packed and hauled and unloaded and tossed and unpacked 20 years of desk entrails and materials in two hours—flat. The picture above is my van all packed. It took Kay and Tracy’s trunks, too, to pack up those 20 years.
I got watery saying a few unavoidable good-byes. The propped door set off the school alarm and, alas, I had to explain. As I crammed the van, I lamented. I grieved lunch walks with Kathy (this kindness post started with Kathy) and camaraderie with Jess and Michelle.
I’m not too proud to admit it. I mourned the big new window with light and breeze and Jiminy cricket singing round the clock to me. The new building had no Kathy, Michelle or Jess and the new room no windows.
But, as God would have it, I went to work Wednesday morning and sat down beside the window. I left for home that afternoon from a windowless room. Just like that.
Moving twenty years in two hours is ripping off the BAND-AID. The day shook out the bee in me.
Shaking out the Bee
Abigail, you might want to transfer after this year. I think you might be happier and it will be easier that way. But it’s up to you.
That, I sheepishly add, came during a rare after-hours phone call from Kay last May. Kay is the most senior in our department and she knew. Kay saw the writing on the wall.
But I buzzed on through the summer and into school’s first week. I wearied my wings and bruised my head. Anxiety was like a load of bricks on my chest all night.
‘If we could speak to her,’ my doctor said,
‘And tell her, “Not that way! All, all in vain
You weary out wings and bruise your head,”
Might she not answer, buzzing at the pane,
“Let queens and mystics and religious bees
Talk of such inconceivables as glass;
the blunt lay worker flies at what she sees,
Look there – ahead, ahead – the flowers, the grass!
”We catch her in a handkerchief (who knows
What rage she feels, what terror, what despair?)
And shake her out – and gaily out she goes
Where quivering flowers and thick in summer air,
To drink their hearts. But left to her own will
She would have died upon the window-sill.
– C.S. Lewis, Poems, 1964. p. 127
Until I heard my Doctor speak to me, in those looks around the table on Wednesday. He made the way plain. There was no more buzzing at the window pane.
I knew the move was right.
But left to my own…
Freeing up You and Me
My JoyPrO’s don’t always have bows tied. But this one kind of does. My new workplace is a delight. One week in, there’s so much to enjoy that I seldom miss the light, the breeze, and life outside my window.
Are you a bee like me sometimes? Do you buzz hard at the window thinking through it only is the way to life’s laden flowers? Do you hunker down and “faithfully” stay the course when God’s good way is to turn?
If you do, you are not alone. But I’m here to tell you that God is good. He instructs us buzzing sinners in the way—us humble, buzzing sinners.
And if we don’t let go, our faithful LORD might lovingly shake us free.
Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness…
Note: A version of this post appeared in February 2012, the month Uncle Kevin went home. That post—I Hold Your Hand—was the first post written for JoyfullyPressingOn.
No, Mom —no! It’s very scary. I don’t want to go. Pleeeeease—nooooo!
Waterpark guests stared. Lifeguards raised their brows. I tightened my grip on the four year-old’s hand.
Gabe’s four-year old cousin and his six year-old brother couldn’t get up the stairs fast enough. So yes, by golly, Gabe would try it once.
Onward, then—his screaming and squirming matched by my firm hold.
You’ll love it Bud. It’s not very scary. It’s very fun.
But the boy didn’t buy it.
No, Mom. I’m too scared. The green slide is too dark and too steep and it goes outside. Pleeeease. No!”
For a split second, wavered. But then I envisaged Gabe’s goggled grinning face bursting from the chute and toward the stairway I strode, struggling boy in tow.
By the first landing, his body had stopped protesting, a couple landings ahead of his mouth. So I lowered him, but to prevent retreat, I did not relax my hold. Hand in hand, we climbed, whine-singing, “Why Mom? It’s too scary. (x2) Please don’t make me go down.”
You can sing it to the tune of “Skip to my Lou.”
One hundred-twelve steps up we hit the summit, a relentless, omniscient mom and her reluctant, scared-to-death son.
At the sight of the gaping green mouth, Gabe made one loud, last stand.
No, Mom. Please, no.
It passed and I plopped us square on the blue tube, and wrapped him tight.
You’ll be back ten more times, assured the sage teen who pushed us off.
There we were. Together on our tube, sliding along through the seafoam tunnel, awash in mid-morning sun. No longer did Gabe project fear. He broadcasted joy.
And as the tube splashed into the pool, he burst with those words I hoped to hear,
That was so fun! Let’s go again.
In the course of the next hour, with help from Grandpa (2 runs), Grandma (2 runs), Aunt Charissa (1 run), Aunt Danielle (1 run) and mom (the remaining 4 runs), Gabe enjoyed not one, not two, but ten runs down the feared and dreaded, once very scary green waterslide.
Not Strong Enough
What’s your very scary?
Is it fear of that your pain or the heartache will never away? That the grief and loneliness will always stay? That your prodigal won’t come home, that you love is in vain, or even that your faith will fail?
Rest assured: Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you. (J.I. Packer, Knowing God). He will hold you fast.
From the first run down the green chute to the last breath on this green earth, the Lord takes his children by the hand and walks us through every very scary.
His Unseen Hand
This post was written in memory of my generous, joking, winking, eye-twinkling, and fearless Uncle Kevin. On Sunday, February 19th, 2012, God took hold of Uncle Kev’s hand and walked him home.
In the nearly ten years since, the truth of God’s unseen hand gripping mine means immeasurably more now than it did then. Then, I felt it as a parent clinging to a scared child and as an observer of a dear soul fading into glory.
Now, I feel it more as a fragile parent-child whose hand is gripped by the Everlasting Father. I feel it more as a servant looking to the hand of her master, waiting for mercy (Psalm 123:2). Now I know what that I only cling to him because his hand upholds me.
Speaking of holding, had he been here Uncle Kev would have held his first grandchild, little dark-haired, rosy-cheeked Ellie last month. I know there are no tears in heaven. I hope there is a beaming Grandpa Kevin amazed by the wonder of Ellie.
For I the Lord your God hold your right hand; it is I who say to you. ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’
I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD, your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
The “disease model” of mental health asserts that good feelings come effortlessly to “normal” people, so bad feelings are evidence of a disease…Here is an alternative: Happiness is a skill that must be learned…
Refuse to see happiness as an entitlement.
Loretta G. Breuning, “The Therapy-Industrial Complex,” THE EPOCH TIMES, 8/25-8/31/2021
Work For Your Joy
Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.
2 Corinthians 1:24
Did you catch that? We work, Paul wrote, with you for your your joy.
Which means, we’re not entitled to joy and happiness is not a right. I don’t want the point to get lost in my words: You’ve got to work for joy.
And I mean that as 100% encouragement. Because too many of us have bought into the lie that says if we’re normal and healthy we’ll never feel flat, lonely or blue. And, while we might not say it this way, that we have a right to be happy.
But that’s wrong.
Happiness Is Not A Right
Pursue it, as our Founding Fathers said. Work for it with all your might. Fight for it. But please don’t say it’s your right.
You’re not entitled to it. Joy is a gift. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, meaning it’s given by God. Joy happens. We can’t command it. But we can work for. We can work to place ourselves where joy is more likely to be found. I can’t command a splendid sunset, but I can get out of this hickory woods in the evening and face west toward an open field.
I’m more likely to enjoy a drop-dead sunset there that facing east in my forest. But if I do get to savor that sun, I didn’t earn it. I worked to get where it’s found. But I don’t deserve it. Sun like that is sheer gift.
Count It All Joy
James wrote, Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
I’m not an accountant by trade, but my work this Labor Day and every other day is to count it all joy.
Picture me with my ground teeth stalking joy—fully armed too as it’s a highly dangerous quest. The other day I ran up on a wonderful quotation: “The dragon is at the side of the road watching those who pass. Take care lest he devour you! You are going to the Father of souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.”
I love this image. I live this image. My ground teeth and furrowed brow, out I stalk joy. I dare the joy-stealing dragon to breathe his fire as I pass—my eyes set on the city that is to come.
Because I know there is full joy in the presence of my Father, I press on.
George Mueller ran orphanages in England in the 1800’s. He was a joy crusader. You may have read this quote before. I return to it again and again,
The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished.
My primary business each morning is the same. And I assure you, many days it takes a fight. It takes a prayer and verse and another prayer and a verse and forcing myself to give thanks for five things before I roll out of bed to, many days, tasks I dread.
The fight of faith is the fight for joy. I wake up every morning and fight that fight. Am I wanting to look at Twitter before I look at Jesus? It sounds stupid. That’s how stupid sin is. Every morning there’s war in the Piper household, and it’s not against my family; it’s against me.
Every day, Piper does what David did (Psalm 101:8), Every morning I will put to silence all the wicked in the land.
We stalk joy to get our souls happy in Jesus every single day. When we feel blue, we neither fear we are diseased, nor give up the fight. We grind our teeth and stalk our way past the ancient serpent that would forever steal our joy.
Because we know joy is not a given and happiness is not our right. Joy is a gift of God and a Spirit-fruit that grows as we fight the good fight of faith. We labor to be happy in Jesus until the day we die.
This wasn’t a how-to post. I wrote this JoyPrO to persuade you that happiness isn’t your right, so you’re not discouraged when it’s absent and you go after it with a fight. But if you want “15 Tactics For Joy,” look here. For one described in detail look here.
But my anxious mind wouldn’t let my tired flesh sleep. Despite casting my cares and reciting a verse, two days in a row I awoke by a mind awash, weary and weak.
Then sometime in the third watch of the third night, totally unprompted, stones and a rock entered and settled me.
Strength Of Stones
I can’t explain how they came except to say, if you put God’s Word in your heart, the Spirit pulls it out.
He brought stones to mind first: What is my strength that I should hope?Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze?(Job 6:10-11)
Job was my man. He felt my pain and I felt his. He was strong. I was strong.
I’ve been strong. My sisters and cousins and I joke about our strong genes and high tolerance for pain. After all, we milked kicky goats and weeded field gardens and bailed August hay. We Considine girls are strong.
My flesh is strong, but it is not the durable strength of bronze. My heart is strong, but it it is not the staunch strength of a stone. It’s true: my flesh and my heart fail me. That happens when my hope dims, like it did in the dark this week when I couldn’t solve my way out of the tension at work. The truth is, I still don’t see the way out.
But I’m not alone. Centuries ago the Puritan Matthew Henry was also taken up by Job’s words.
What is my strength, that Ishould hope? You see how I am weakened and brought low, how unable I am to grapple with my [moods], and therefore what reason have I to hope that I should outlive them, and see better days?
Is my strength the strength of stones?Are my muscles brass and my sinews steel? No, they are not, and therefore I … sink under the load […]
What is our strength? It is depending strength. We have no more strength than God gives us; for in him we live and move.
The only real strength that we stones have is a depending strength. That is not a bug. It is a design feature.
Because, as Paul Tripp says, It is not your weakness that will get in the way of God’s working through you, but your delusions of strength. His strength is made perfect in our weakness!
God created us weak and needy, not with the unyielding strength of stones.
Strong Enough To Stay Upon
The truth is, I still don’t see a way out of the conflict at work. But my perspective is changing. This depending strength is giving me hope. I know He will be with me with the tension is high. Trusting Him for that brings peace.
Which is the second truth God sent in third watch of the third night. It was Isaiah 26:3-4,
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
Stayed upon means my mind is fixed on, focused on,stayed upon Jehovah. That is the only way to perfect peace. The Hebrew word sawmak comes from the root “to prop.” A Bible dictionary says it has the idea of “to lean upon or take hold of … lay, lean, lie hard, put, rest self, set self, stand fast, stay (self), sustain.”
No sugarcoating: staying our minds takes work. It means first we press on to know God. Because we won’t trust what we don’t know. And we certainly won’t focus and fix and lean and stay our minds on what we do not trust.
But I’m here to tell you that there is perfect peace when this dependent stone stays her mind on the everlasting Rock.
Come Forth As Gold
I actually started this post nine years ago when as I first pondered those “strength of stone” words of Job. Infertility wearied me then. It took massive depending strength that I didn’t always have to hope in God’s goodness—whether it came through a third child (it didn’t) or by knowing Him more (it did).
To tell you the truth, most of my adult life feels like a series of tests. Maybe yours does too. And maybe that’s normal for every believer. Maybe it’s God’s way of testing us lumps of gold.
I’ve got some theology for that too. It didn’t come in the third watch of the night like the Rock and stones. But I know what Job knew (23:10): that he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
No, my flesh is not bronze and my strength is not the strength of stones. But as I trust in the Everlasting Rock, I gain perfect peace and strength to hope.
And when he has tested us, we will come forth as gold.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:6-7
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart.
—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO
That’s it. If you need the TLDR, it’s that. Your greatest enemy isn’t outside of you. Because like it or not, you’re primed for polarity.
Good and evil pass right through the core of you. You and every human.
Polar Opposites, Fully Charged
There is the moral dualism that sees good and evil as instincts within us between which we must choose. But there is also what I will call pathological dualism that sees humanity itself as radically…divided into the unimpeachably good and irredeemably bad. You are either one or the other.
—RABBI LORD JONATHAN SACKS, Not In God’s Name
The earth has poles, magnets have poles, and some molecules—if I remember my chemistry—bond because of polarity. There is north and there is south, there is positive and there is negative, proton and electron. The whole world, Hopkins wrote, is charged with the grandeur of God.
The earth is charged all right. But how ’bout all the people that on earth do dwell? Are people made like magnets, with poles to attract and repel?
There is a sort of bi-polarity to every one of us. We all have both + and -, both good and evil poles. Every one of us is both/and, not either/or. No one is good but God alone. Which means no one is all good—not one of our heroes or models or guides.
But the other side of polarity is harder to swallow. Think of that person whose views are opposite yours. Pick your most staunch anti-vax or all-vax, pro-gun or no-gun, conservative or progressive cousin. Now remember, she is not bad to the bone.
We are not unimpeachably good or irredeemably bad. We’ve all got both forces inside us.
Okay, you say. But why tell me now?
3 Polarity “Untruths”
Because when the same truth falls into my lap from three different sources in less than three hours, I take note. And because I know I’m not alone.
People we trust take polar opposite positions. I felt it last night when a close friend expressed an opinion that was 180-degrees different from other valued friends. It’s confusing and unsettling and sometimes even crazy-making. By the way, these three non-negotiables still stabilize.
The past 18 months have been the most polarizing months of our lives. Friendships suffer. Relationships break. Yes, the earth is charged and we humans are tried.
Here are the three polarity “untruths” that were dropped in my lap. Writing them down shows me how polarity hurts humans.
This is emotional polarization. It means that “people who identify with either of the two main political parties increasingly hate and fear the other party and the people in it” (141).
Identity politics, the authors explain, “can be mobilized in ways that amplify…tribalism and bind people together in shared hatred of a group that serves as the unifying common enemy” (p. 60). Interpretations of “intersectionality” that teach people to see bipolar dimensions of privilege and oppression everywhere also “have the potential to turn tribalism way up” (p. 68).
Not surprisingly, this is driving many of Americans to embrace what the authors call, “the Untruth of Us Versus Them.” We go in to tribal mode and let the tribe think for us. Even worse, we show less empathy for “them” and “their” suffering when we’re in tribal mode (p. 58). That hurts humans.
Truth #1: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23-24). All. Not the heathen in the enemy tribe. Not the vaxxers. Or the anti-vaxxers. Not the oppressor, or the oppressed. All have sinned and all have need God’s grace.
Untruth #2: “Unconditional Affirmer Or Mortal Enemy”
After I read that, I heard this. There are two kinds of people: those who will give us unconditional affirmation and there are mortal enemies.
Some of us think there are only two kinds of relationships. There are people who will give me unconditional affirmation and there are mortal enemies. “If you do not give me unconditional affirmation—always agree with me, always like me, always tell me what I want to hear—then you are an enemy and you hate me.”
That sensitive is not that healthy. Tribalism cuts us off from hearing helpful, but uncomfortable information. So does “two-kinds of people” thinking.
If you have that mindset, you cannot understand who God is. That hurts humans. Because God does not unconditionally affirm everything about us. He said our sins are as scarlet and that they could be washed white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).
Healthy relationships are not polar. They don’t either affirm everything or oppose everything about you. Real friends, real brothers and real sisters and affirm and confront in love.
Truth #2: If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding (Proverbs 15:31-32). Seeing relationships with polarity is cutting off your nose to spite your face. Criticism may not be agreeable, Winston Churchill said, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to…an unhealthy state.
Untruth #3: “Good King Or Bad King”
The third strand came the same day, no kidding, when I dropped a book and an old paper fell out. It was a three column chart that listed the names of Judah’s kings, the dates of their reigns, and their “character.” That was in the last column where either “good” or “bad” was printed.
But scrawled in that right side column, I had added the word: mostly.
As in: King Saul: “mostly bad.” Recall: Early pardon of his enemies AND those spears he thrust at David.
King David: “mostly good.” Recall: Goliath, psalms galore, grace to bloodthirsty Saul AND Bathsheba.
King Solomon: “mostly good.” Recall: Prayer for wisdom, temple construction AND 1000 wives and concubines.
Fast forward to wicked king Ahab, who “did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel before him.” Who, with his long-lashed Jezebel knocked off righteous Naboth for a vineyard. But then the murderous thug, the evil King Ahab humbled himself. He repented. So again, I added “mostly” next to bad.
Three kings later: Jehu- zealous for God. He was so zealous that he executes wicked Jezebel and slaughters Ahab’s 70 sons. Not satisfied, Jehu gathers the Baal worshipers and wipes them out too. Such a righteous warrior! But still Jehu didn’t “turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam.” His zeal was incomplete; Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord with all his heart. This time, I had scratched “mostly” beside “good.”
Seeing polarity hurts humans because we write them off as static, as of the story is ✔️ and they’re either good or bad.
Truth #3: None is righteous, no, not one; … no one understands; no one seeks for God (Romans 3:10-12). One truth is inescapable in these royal annals of the kings: the good kings are not all good, and the bad are not all bad. Like Mom says,
No one good is all good, Or bad is all bad. We’re all shades Of gray or plaid.
I don’t know about you, but in my home, in my town, and in my nation I need this truth front and center. I need to give people the benefit of the doubt as much as I want it extended to me. I need to look for the good in those who naturally repel and I need to remember that no one is good but God alone as I’m with those who naturally attract.
I pray that simple prayer so real joy will come to the rebels I love. And if I revert to rebel ways, I hope my loved ones pray it for me. Because it is not healthy or right to think lightly of sin.
Listen to British preacher C.H. Spurgeon,
Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Savior. He who has stood before his God, convicted and condemned, with the rope about his neck, is the man to weep for joy when he is pardoned, to hate evil which has been forgiven him, and to live to the honour of the Redeemer by whose blood he has been cleansed.
Make sin taste bitter and repentance taste sweet.
Remember J.I. Packer’s definition of repentance?
Repentance is turning from as much as you know of your sin, to give as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of God.
But the Prodigal didn’t repent, he didn’t return, until his sin tasted bitter. Until he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
Make sin taste bitter and repentance taste sweet.
In Luke 15:17-18 we read,
But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.
We know how what happened then. A father runs and kisses and hugs. Servants prepare marbled steaks to celebrate.
But before the son ate the savory steak, the pig scraps tasted bitter.
Dear Heavenly Father, Make sin taste bitter and repentance taste sweet. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
Not playing it well. I’m the far left of the herd.
We are led to believe that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part we have played. The playing it well is what matters infinitely.
C.S. Lewis, The Last Night
I’m not sure if the role was wrong or if I just played it wrong, when I played a donkey in the pageant back in third grade. A donkey was a step up from white-tight, cotton-ball sheep or a gaudy, gold cardboard star. But it was nothing compared to Mary or even to a shepherd.
At least shepherds were people. Donkeys were just beasts. Plus, I resented the fuzzy brown hood and those tan, straight-leg, corduroys. I was a sulky donkey. I did not play the donkey part well.
When Uzziah Played The Wrong Part
Around 750 B.C. Judah’s King Uzziah wanted a new role. For the first 40 years Uzziah played the king part—his God-given role—like a pro.
He set himself to seek God…as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper(2 Chronicles 26:4-5). God helped him against his enemies and he became very strong. Engines on towers, irrigated farmland, and his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped. But Uzziah wasn’t content to be king. He stole a part not given to him. He took the role of priest. But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense…But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests and they withstood him and said, ‘It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense.’ (2 Chronicles 26:16-17). They were right. The fragrant, smoky offering part was assigned to Aaron’s priestly line. It was not in God’s script for his kings. So the 81 confronted Uzziah and said,
“It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the Lord God.”
Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the Lord’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead. (2 Chronicles 26:18-19) Because King Uzziah stole a role not his own, he lived leprous and alone for ten years until he died.
Don’t Let FOMO Ruin The Show
It sounds extreme. But Uzziah is a type. His sinful overreach—incited by his fear of missing out on a better priestly part?—was written down for our instruction, that we might have hope (Romans 15:4). Uzziah warns us to master the FOMO that tempts us to take a role not assigned to us.
“The fear of missing out,” writes blogger Jon Bloom, is “the Thing”-or the part- we think we need to be happy. In a word, it’s coveting. And coveting isn’t limited to material “things,” making it so illusive.
It’s a shape-shifter that assumes whatever form matches our current vulnerability to feeling like we’re missing out. Today it might be coveting someone’s income, tomorrow it might be coveting someone’s achievement, the next day it might be coveting someone’s harmonious family, next week it might be coveting someone’s opportunities or church or advanced degree or capacities or interior design or . . . you name it.
This is why we often experience Facebook and Pinterest as purveyors of “missing out.” They point out all the things that we don’t have. They remind us of what we are not. They show us where we have not been.
But the root problem isn’t social media or marketing. The root problem, says Bloom, is deeper. It’s “our active sin natures that tell us that idols satisfy. That fear that we are missing out is coming from inside us” (James 4:1-2).
So how do we fight FOMO?
Stage Tips: Play. Your. Part. Well.
That’s simple. Stay in your lane, on your stage. Focus on playing your assigned role well.
1. Play-work, take- an active part in salvation’s story. It’s on stage at this second in you. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12b-13
2. Play your. Not my part, or your best friend’s, or your fantasy role. Play your actual, factual, realio-trulio God-given part. Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. 1 Corinthians 7:17
3. Play your part. It’s not a one-man show. You’re only part of this grand play. But it is an important part. God picked you for this role. God arranged the parts in the body, each one of them as he chose… there are many parts, yet one body. 1 Corinthians 12:18-20
4. Play your part well. Not grudgingly, but cheerfully; not half-heartedly, but whole-heartedly. And whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing you will receive the inheritance as a reward. Colossians 3:23-23
My friend Jenny was new to her 50’s and working her way back to university when brain cancer hammered her husband. The youngest of their three sons was still in school when Phil went home to Jesus. Then her oldest married married a lovely lady with a lovely young daughter and suddenly Jenny was Nana frosting sparkly pink princess cakes.
A few years ago Christian author and speaker Nancy Leigh DeMoss, also in her 50’s, shocked us with this announcement:
No one could have been more caught off guard by this turn of events than I. In recent years, I have found myself in the most settled, contented, healthy, fruitful place of life and ministry ever. I did not have the slightest inkling that He was about to call me to step out into a whole new realm of faith and service…
For decades, I have [served] as a single woman, wholly devoted to Christ and His kingdom. Over these months, it has become clear to me that the Lord wants me to continue telling that gospel story . . . as a married woman.
Like Nancy, and Jenny, we’re often caught off guard when we find ourselves playing parts for which we didn’t tryout, and in roles God chose us to play.
Play Even The Little Parts Well
Brother Lawrence lived in a French monastery in the mid 1700’s. The Practice of the Presence of God tells of his “great aversion” to kitchen work and how he prayed “for grace to do it well.”
He is King Uzziah’s antitype. After fifteen years in the kitchen, Brother Lawrence wrote:
Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; I rise happier than a king.
The Author of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2), and the Director of our hearts (2 Thessalonians 3:5) wrote us into this grand play with just the right part. He casts each role, to the praise of his glory (1 Corinthians 7:17, Acts 17:26-27). He placed us on the perfect stage to make God look great.
I’ve cameoed in that donkey part more than I care to admit in the years since third grade. I’ve written before about how brutish I’ve been—with infertility, church conflict, in relationships that try me. My FOMO on other roles, roles I would have chosen for me, gives me some sympathy for King Uzziah. l do not always play my part well.
But always if I look back to the Director, his grace frees me to play my part. But there’s more. In every act, He holds my hand and guides me
Please know God picked you for your part. He is with you. He wants to guide you through.
When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.
The trouble is that what we call ‘asking God’s forgiveness’ very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses.
—C.S. Lewis, “On Forgiveness”
My tongue burned to tell all. All that led up to that rash word I spoke to Carrie that morning. How she was silent when I needed her most. How she said no when I desperately wanted her yes. The unkind word she’d said first. Maybe it was a passive-aggressive. For sure it was excuses.
Contrast these apologies:
1. I’m sorry I punched you Gabe, <eyes rolling high, facing away> but you shouldn’t have smashed my Ultimate Ultron Lego guy. It took me an hour to put it together. And it’s mine, not yours.
2. Sorry I punched you, Gabe. Will you forgive me?
And these two:
3. I’m sorry I’m late. This cake took longer than the recipe said to bake and then I got a call as I was heading out the door and since Sarah never calls I thought I better pick up. Sorry.
4. I’m sorry I’m late. Will you forgive me?
5. Samuel said, “What have you done?”
And Saul answered, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now they will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the LORD,’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:11-12).
6. Nathan said to David, “Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight?”
David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Samuel 12:9,13).
You’re right— the odd numbers aren’t apologies at all. They’re excuses. The most quoted forgiveness verse outside of the Lord’s prayer may be 1 John 1:9, where the beloved disciple wrote, “If we excuse our sins, God is faithful and just to excuse them, too.”
Excuses or forgiveness?
C.S. Lewis was on to this big mistake we make, when we (sort of) confess.
When I think I am asking God to forgive me, I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiveness and excusing. Forgiveness says, ‘Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology, I will never hold it against you…But excusing says, ‘I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it, you weren’t really to blame.’ If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense, forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites.
But the trouble is that what we call, ‘asking God’s forgiveness’ very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads to this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some ‘extenuating circumstances.’ We are so very anxious to point these out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the really important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which the excuses didn’t cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable.
King Saul had defeated the Ammonites. His felt strong. But after seven days of wait he was growing fearful or impatient, or both. So he ignored the command and took matters into his own hands. In other words, Saul sinned.
What have you done? asked Samuel.
Then off Saul’s tongue excuses and good reasons poured: My troops were scattering and you didn’t come and the enemy was assembling and and and…
And if those weren’t enough for Samuel-or for God-then maybe explaining just how hard it was to do wrong would make it right. I forced myself to do it, Saul explained.
“I’m sorry I ___, but___,” does not apology make.
If we forget this, we might imagine that we’ve repented and been forgiven and all is well when what has really happened is that we have deceived ourselves with our own excuses.
What should we do when we’re stuck like I was with Carrie, making excuses and thinking up buts?
Lewis offers two remedies. We can rely on these to help overcome our self-protecting tendency to make excuses rather than beg forgiveness.
The first fix is to remember that God knows all our excuses much better than we do. He even knows the excuses we never even thought of. “All the real excusing He will do,” writes Lewis, “What we have got to take to him is the inexcusable bit, the sin.”
The second treatment is to really and truly believe in the forgiveness of sins. We make excuses, maybe, because we think that God will not take us back to Himself, “unless He is satisfied that some sort of case can be made out in our favor. But that would not be forgiveness at all.”
Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness; and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.
This is the grace in which we now stand. It is the grace to confess the horror and dirt of our sin—even if 98% of it is excusable and explainable. It’s the power to confess the 2% and be forgiven. Grace brings the power not to pile on excuses because we trust that God, in Christ, has forgiven us.
Let Excuses Collect Dust
Driving to Carrie’s house, a litany of her past failures—excuses for my failure—flooded my mind. Truly, as pastor Andy Stanley observed, Good excuses rarely collect dust. We use them and use them and use them.
But God gives a spirit of power and love and self-control. And in some miracle of grace, I dropped my excuses on the dusty ground.
And there I stood—in the mighty, no-excuses, grace of God on Carrie’s front stoop. I rang the doorbell. She appeared.
I’m sorry for saying that to you this morning. It wasn’t right.
Her lips didn’t move at first but her gray eyes said, Yes, you have done this thing.
Someone said, We’re never more like God than when we forgive.
And God-like, Carrie smiled and did.
I forgive you.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
I don’t get it, Mom. Why did Aunt Danielle get Ella all those pretzel bites?
Ella* was the only one who whined and cried on the drive and now she walks out with the pretzel bites. Just her—no one else. That does not seem right.
I had to agree. As much as I talk about grace and write about grace and stand in grace, I was caught off guard by my sister’s grace.
Why Grace Doesn’t Seem Right
Because from our inside the van perspective, Ella seemed the least deserving of a treat. Oh sure, our drive home from northern Michigan was fraught: six hours of torrid air conditioning, a steadily deflating rear tire and horrid Chicago traffic that delayed potty stops were perfect fodder for any grumbler.
Still, Gabe didn’t grumble.
But when we finally walked into the Lake Forest Oasis, Gabe didn’t get pretzel bites. Ella did. In fact, of all six cousins, only Ella did. Aunt Danielle bought a big cup of Auntie Anne’s pretzel bites just for Ella. A big cup of grace.
So no, Gabe, it doesn’t seem right. Because at its core, grace is undeserved favor. It comes in so many transforming shapes. But it is never earned or deserved. Grace is not just for good people.
We thing that God loves good people rather than that his love makes people good. But, as Jeremy Treat explains, the Bible is not a story of God looking for good people, but one of God redeeming sinful people.
Behold What Wondrous Grace
Behold what wondrous grace, Isaac Watts wrote. But did you know that you really can behold it? That you actually can see grace?
It’s not invisible like the wind. In Acts 11:23, we read how Barnabas arrived in Antioch and “witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all…”
Short rabbit trail, but I can’t help but think it is no coincidence that it is Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement,” who saw God’s grace. I’m not sure if it’s correlation or causation—if seeing grace makes one an encourager, or if encouragers simply see grace more clearly—but I know that encouragers see grace.
Regardless, sometimes we get to do more than merely see grace.
A Taste of a Pretzel Bite
Back in the Lake Forest Oasis parking lot, waiting beside a hot, disgruntled son, I shut my eyes and sighed.
You got it, Gabe. In a way, grace never seems right. Because we think of right as deserve. And we can never ever deserve grace. We can never ever earn the love of God. We can never ever pay our way to his favor.
We looked up. The cousins were coming. They were close enough to see Danielle’s grace. We saw the Auntie Anne’s salty nuggets in Ella’s hand.
Now Ella looked up at me, the selfsame aunt who had delayed our hot van from the potty stop that might have prevented her tears and distress.
Do you want to try one, Aunt Ab? She held out the cup. I took one hot, doughy, unmerited, unpaid for, and fully undeserved bite.
And it tasted all of grace.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions
—it is by grace you have been saved.
Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
*Not her real name
“Good Grace Stuff That Didn’t Make The Cut”
On “5 Misconceptions of Grace” and “3 Enemies of Grace”: Jeremy Treat explains, “Confusion results because we don’t get grace; meaning, we receive it but we’re not transformed by it because we don’t understand it.”
On being a “Grace Amnesiac”: Paul Tripp says we don’t need more grace. Rather, we need to understand and live in light of the grace God already gave us. Tripp explains the phrase, “grace amnesiac.”
On grace being more than undeserved favor. It is. But, as John Piper explains, biblically it is so much more, including “the action or the power, which produces real, practical outcomes in people’s lives.”
On tasting grace when our taste is gone: I share some spiritual lessons from the time my taste died. One nugget: Appetite comes by eating. Even when God’s Word of grace doesn’t taste good, keep eating.
We all need refreshers. We need to hear the old and familiar explained again so it doesn’t become stale and taken for granted.
That’s what this quote was for me: a timely reminder of the purpose of grace; the reason for the grace in which we—and that includes me—stand (Romans 5:2). It’s from a chapter called, “These Inward Trials,” in J.I. Packer’s classic, KNOWING GOD (IVP, 1973). The spacing, bolding and italics are mine.
What is grace?
In the New Testament grace means God’s love in action towards people who merited the opposite of love. Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means God sending His only Son to descend into hell on the cross so that we guilty one might be reconciled to God and received into heaven. “(God) made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
What is the purpose of grace?
Primarily, it is to restore man’s relationship with God. When God lays the foundation of this restored relationship, by forgiving our sins as we trust His Son, He does so in order that henceforth we and He may live in fellowship and what He does in renewing our nature is intended to make us capable of, and actually to lead us into, the exercise of love, trust, delight, hope and obedience Godward- those acts which from our side, made of the reality of fellowship with God, who is constantly making Himself known to us. This is what all the work of grace aims at. At an even deeper knowledge of God, and an ever closer fellowship with him. Grace is God drawing us sinners closer and closer to himself.
How does grace prosecute [go about] this purpose?
Not by shielding us from assault by the world, the flesh and the devil, nor by protecting us from the burdensome and frustrating circumstances, nor by shielding us from the troubles created by our own temperament and psychology. But rather by exposing us to all those things, so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, and to drive us to cling to Him more closely. This is the ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities of one sort and another. It is to ensure that we shall learn to hold Him fast.
The reason why the Bible spends so much time reiterating that God is a strong rock, a firm defence, and a sure refuge and help for the weak, is that God spends so much of His time bringing to us that we are weak, both mentally and morally, and dare not trust ourselves to find, or to follow, the right road. When we walk along a clear road feeling fine, and someone takes our arm to help us, as likely as not we shall impatiently shake him off. But when we are caught in rough country in the dark, with a storm getting up and our strength spent, and someone takes our arm to help us, we shall thankfully lean on him.
Why is life rough and perplexing?
And God wants us to feel that our way through life is rough and perplexing so that we may learn thankfully to lean on Him. Therefore He takes steps to drive us out of self-confidence to trust in Himself—in the classical biblical phrase for the secret of the godly man’s life, “to wait on the Lord.”
One of the most startling applications of this truth is that God actually uses our sins and mistakes to this end. He employs the educative discipline of failures and mistakes very frequently. It is striking to see how much of the Bible deals with men of God making mistakes, and God chastening them for it. Abraham losing patience and begets Ishmael… Moses killing an Egyptian…David seducing Bathsheba and getting Uriah killed… Jonah running away from God’s call… So we might go on.
But the point to stress is that the human mistake, and the immediate divine displeasure was in no case the end of the story…God can bring good out of the extremes of our folly; God can restore the years that the locust has eaten.
You know what they say about those who never make mistakes?
They say that those who never make mistakes never make anything. Certainly these men made mistakes, but through their mistakes God taught them to know His grace, and to cleave to Him in a way that would never have happened otherwise.
Is your trouble a sense of failure? The knowledge of having made some horrible mistake? Go to God, his restoring grace waits for you.
For that, after all, is the purpose of grace: an even deeper knowledge of God, and an ever closer fellowship with him. Grace is God drawing us sinners closer and closer to himself.
To be near the Creator, Redeemer and Lover of my sinful, selfish soul and to know and be known by the one who loves me most.
What could this be, but grace?
He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.
If so, there’s no shame in it. Because you can be both at once. Jesus was.
Sorely Tempted And Dearly Loved
This post has one point and this is it:Don’t ever doubt when you are in the wilderness and sorely tempted that you are still dearly loved.
The flow of these three little verses in the beginning of Matthew’s gospel assure me this is true:
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
Matthew 3:16-4:1 (ESV)
The direct connection escaped me, because the chapter break between Matthew chapters three and four interrupts the flow. But chapter breaks are not inspired.
In Matthew’s mind the dove and the devil—the pronouncement of Beloved Son and temptation in the wilderness— were intimately connected.
His Well Pleased He Leads Into the Wilderness
From heaven the voice of God boomed, This is my beloved Son. Then without skipping a beat, the Spirit of God led the beloved with whom he was well pleased straight into the wilderness.
The seventeenth-century Bible commentator Matthew Henry observed, Great privileges, and special tokens of divine favour, will not secure us from being tempted.
I hope it’s becoming obvious. That if there is any connection between spiritual condition and “temptation factor” it is not that God’s children are spared. The opposite seems true—those walking closest to God have been the longest and hardest tempted in the wilderness.
Jesus, one with the Father, was fiercely tempted for 40 days.
Not Immune From Temptation
Something MUST be wrong, my friend said. I still struggle with the same sins that I did ten years ago. I struggle to forgive the same old things and sometimes I still get so mad at the kids. And just when I think I’ve got my discontentment nipped, a new envy blossom buds.No matter how hard I try and how much I pray, I just can’t master these things. Something must be wrong. This stuff should be overcome by now.
Really? I read Matthew 3 and 4 and I’m just not so sure. If the very Son of God, was not immune from temptation, we will not be either. It’s a sort of suffering that I think we’ll have to face until we leave these old tents.
In fact, I like to think, as I’m tempted yet again to envy or discontent, that the very fact I’m feeling the struggle against it, feeling it as a temptation to sin, means not only that the God-life is in me, but that I am God’s beloved.
That even with tempted and sometimes failing me—it feels audacious and tears me up to say—God is well pleased.
Beloved And Tempted
Because it was God, God the Spirit, who led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. Therefore, Thabiti Anyabwile explains, we know that the temptation of Christ was not random or without purpose. The Sinless Lamb of God endured temptation both so that He could identify with us (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15) and to showcase the beauty of His holy character. That is why the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness.
Here’s the point: Jesus proved that you can be God’s pleasing and beloved child and still be in the wilderness and tempted. So please don’t assume the next time you’re tempted, or even the next time you fall, that you are unloved. Please, please don’t.
Instead draw near to Jesus. Run to the One who knows temptation far better than you do and died and rose again to forgive all who flee to him. Go receive mercy where you failed and find refreshment in his grace.
And don’t ever assume when you are tempted that you are unloved.
Beloved and tempted—both.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
If you’re still curious about why your struggle might be exactly right, you might like this.
I would have thought them opposites. But after gazing at this bumblebee, I wonder.
Because exertion and elegance were together on display. And I think they often stay together in the way of faith.
Exertion And Elegance
A Taming Grace is the working title of “that meekness book” that’s still writing me. And I know that these two—exertion and elegance—go together in meekness, even as they did in the delicate, determined precise dance of the bumblebee.
Meekness is a fruit of grace and a work of faith. It is the freeing power that helps us to choose what we did not choose, and go through trials we meet, not just somehow but victoriously. It takes great grace and immense effort to yield to the hard and to seek the good.
The meek are always looking for the good. Their exertion is elegant. It’s graceful.
Meek Like A Bee
But what again does meekness have to do with bumblebees?
Well, we need meekness when unfair stings, for one. And meekness helps us call to mind that God is good and thatit is good to be near God. Meekness helps us stay in our own lane. It reminds us God will provide all our needs and that if we don’t have it, we don’t need it.
To extract takes work. It takes work when we feel mistreated, misunderstood and hurt to pull out some good. To be sorrowful and always rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10) means we can extract some good.
For the record, I can only ever do that and work meekness out because God is working his sweet will in me (Philippians 2:12-13).
How busy this bumblebee! How methodical and purposeful his movement, how tenacious and clinging his grip. He works so hard. Six legs tense, clasping tight before he thrusts that tongue down deep into each purple petal. Extracting.
We too have to work to extract the good. Granted, unless we’re talking about about teeth we seldom use the word extract. It means to remove or take out, especially by effort or force.
How hard the bumblebee works to extract that sweet nectar. Now I wonder, Do I? Do I work as hard to pull out the good in the hard in my house?
Spiritual Bees Extract Good
If I’m a spiritual bee I do. Proverbs 11:27 says, The one who diligently seeks good finds favor. The good is there to be found.
There is no provocation given us at any time but, if it be skillfully and graciously improved, good may be gotten by it. …[We may] gain some real benefit to our souls, by the injuries and offenses that are done to us: for even these are made to work together for good to them that love God. This is a holy and a happy way of…resisting evil. It is an ill weed indeed out of which the spiritual bee cannot extract something profitable…
So make like a bee. Exert to extract something good, something sweet. The effort itself might be a balm.
Kudos before I close to my dear friend Susanne for introducing me to bee balm. If it wasn’t for her Swiss, herbalist-botanist flair I wouldn’t have even glanced at that plant in our meadow with the bumblebee buzzing round.
But as we ambled through the garden last Saturday, she pointed, “These are good to eat.” Then Susanne plucked a pink blossom and we savored the spicy-sweet treat. But Susanne had another secret up her sleeve.
Then she unveiled a Mason jar full of elegant amber—a bee balm infused simple syrup. A splash at the bottom of the glass mixed with seltzer fizz for joy on a hot July afternoon.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.
We know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. —Evelyn Beatrice Hall
Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the one right which they first of all strike down. —Frederick Douglass
Freedom isn’t free, and staying free is costly. Holding freedom up takes work. The default setting on the freedom toggle is off. “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man, a wise one said, is eternal vigilance.”
I’ll make this short so you can get out and celebrate America’s 245th Birthday. Because we felt it acutely this year: keeping freedom—especially to speak truth in love—required practice and vigilance.
Now for those quotes.
5 Free Speech Quote
1. “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
2. “It is often a strategic mistake to silence a man, because it leaves the world under the impression that he had something to say.” ~G.K. Chesterton
3. “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” ~ George Washington
4. “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ~ George Orwell
5. “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.” ~ Frederick Douglass
Free Speech: A Liberating Strife?
I’m no political expert. But I know that what makes my muscles strong is weight-bearing exercise. I know that what makes my marriage and friendships, and my church or nation great is not 100% unanimity all the time, but in still being free to both listen, as Frederick Douglass pointed out, and to speak.
What makes for strength is not suppression but endurance, not plugging our ears but hearing what’s hard to hear, not silencing opposition, but staying engaged when we don’t agree.
To promote free speech even when we disapprove is difficult. It may even be painful. Because free speech cuts both ways.
But maybe hearing what we don’t want to hear is a severe mercy and perhaps free speech itself is a sort of liberating strife?
O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife, Who more than self their country loved And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine, Till all success be nobleness, And every gain divine!
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.
Mercy triumphs over judgment.
**Three of the five quotes are from Erwin Lutzer’s 2020 book, We Will Not Be Silenced. Lutzer gave a lively interview—”I think it’s okay to use the word bloody…No, you’re getting just enthusiastic enough.”—to Eric Metaxas this week. You can access that conversation here.
For physical training is of some value but godliness is of value in every way, holding promise for the present life and the life to come.
1 Timothy 4:8
It didn’t surprise me one bit.
Elizabeth Elliot exercised daily. This bold-meek saint and spiritual mother to so many trained her soul and her body. Theeulogy said that Elliot made a practice of “walking, biking or swimming in the ocean” near her oceanfront Massachusetts home. Ann Dirks is another spiritual mother. At 83, she is as spry as most are at 33. This week she leads 25 kids through a sweet, savory maze that is the church’s Cooking Camp. Kneading, rolling, and mixing are no match for Ann. And having sat beside her in Bible study, I vouch for Ann’s gracious, godly wisdom. Ann also happens to be an avid gardener.
Elizabeth Elliot biked. John Piper jogs. Ann Dirks gardens. And Jonathan Edwards* broke up his Great Awakening sermon prep with walks and horse rides and chopping wood. A thread emerges.
I don’t think it’s coincidence that so many Christ-exalting, fruitful servants exercise their bodies. It might have been a throw-away line in Elizabeth Elliot’s tribute- the bit about her daily exercise-but I won’t toss it. I think it was a rare glimpse at an usually unseen thread.
The paralyzed man dropped in from above and Joni Eareckson Tada prove it. Physical training is not a necessary means to God’s grace. It is not even close to the plane where prayer and the Word and assembling together rest. Some saints simply cannot exercise. No matter. It is only of some value.
Physical training can easily turn into an idol. Because the return is visible, we put some value over the great value of godliness. When we’re slave to our workouts-or the bodies they forge-we’d best take a time-out. One wise friend “gave up” exercise for Lent, seeing how work-outs were taking priority over all else, even time alone with the Lord.
This side of heaven, our motives are mixed. God ordained that there would be outward gain to exercise. The mirror motivates. Buff biceps and lean legs please our eyes. It feels good to look good. (But maybe God ordained that, too?) Maybe we work our bodies to buffer our gluttony- an extra mile for a second slice of pie.
Ann Dirks at Cooking Camp
Yes, let’s do ask God to search our hearts and reveal wrong motives. But mixed or multiple motives is no excuse to toss in the towel. When God’s glory is our chief goal, and gladly loving our neighbors is key to that end, there is some value in physical training.
Go Where Grace Flows
The body…is for the Lord and the Lord for the body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:13b, 19-20
The best reason to work the body is the best reason to work the soul. Not to avoid being caught, but because we were bought. It’s a means, not an end. The goal of training is to glorify God; to love him heart and soul, mind and strength. Glorify God in your body.
Like the spiritual disciplines-the Word, prayer and fellowship-physical disciplines can be a means of God’s grace to us. I can’t make the water flow, but I can turn on the faucet. I can’t make the electric current flow, but I can flip the switch. We can’t supply it, but we can go where grace flows.
Wee Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) and blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46) placed themselves on the path of grace. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by, he begged mercy. Grace, through faith, healed him. When Zacchaeus heard Jesus was passing by he climbed a tree to see. That very day, salvation entered his house. While we can never earn God’s grace or make it flow, be we can position ourselves to get should He keep giving. We can put the barrel under the spout and be in place ready to receive grace. We can line the paths where he might pass.
Four Reasons to Exercise, Even if it’s Second-Rate Training
For me that place is biking the backroads when weather and children allow. It’s on the treadmill with some good sermons and a duct-taped notepad when they don’t. Wherever your place is, go there, and glorify God with your body.
1. Serve strong.
If anyone serves, let him serve with the strength that God supplies, so that God in all things might be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:11
The obvious first: when you’re strong and fit, you’re better equipped for physical service. Fit people don’t get injured so easily or get sick so often. That means they have more energy to care for others. I can set up tables and chairs and help a friend move her boxes. I can bend low to pick Mom’s strawberries or help Dad hoist hay into the mow.
Being physically fit opens doors for service.
2. Remember more.
Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgements he uttered. Psalm 105:5
Christians are called to remember. Over and over we are warned not to forget how God worked in the past. Since we have such short memories, He even sent a Helper to bring to our remembrance all he said (John 14:26). The Helper doesn’t only remind- or always remind-while I bike or jog, but He does a lot. The memory boost, like the calorie burn from weight training, is twofold: during and after. My mind is more clear, more thoughtful and creative, while I bike than when I rest. I reflect, I remember, and memorized verses come to mind. But exercise helps us think straight after our heart rates go down, too. Over the long term, aerobic exercise reduces memory loss by reversing age-related shrinkage of the part of the brain largely responsible for memory.
3. Transfer strength.
[S]training forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13b-14
When the hill is steep, do you get off your bike and walk it up? Or turn around and coast down? Do you gear down and press on up? Exercise can be transposed to weightier matters. Physical work-outs can be the practice field for living strong in God’s grace in soul matters.
The more and more we prove to ourselves the presence of God’s grace in our work, the more and more we will be equipped, for the sake of our sanctification, to press in on that grace whenever the going gets tough. And this becomes our goal. This transposition becomes the fuel for that final push.
Making my body push up those hills somehow strengthens my soul to press on through life’s valleys.
God uses the grueling, gut-it parts of our work-outs to fuel the fight of faith.
4. Serve gladly.
Serve the LORD with gladness. Come before Him with joyful song. Psalm 100:2
You know what happens if Mama ain’t happy. Same is true about Papa. Or Auntie. My “sanctification level” fluctuates with the sleep I got last night and the jog I took this morning. I know the Lord loves a cheerful giver and I know patience and gentleness come a lot easier when I’ve had a good dose sleep and some exercise. That connection is central to why John Piper jogs:
I know that I am prone to depression and discouragement, and I have discovered that if I go to the gym three times a week and hammer my body, I don’t get depressed as often. I’m sure there are physical reasons for that…I know that it works. I know depression hurts my ministry, my marriage, and my parenting. So, for the sake of kingdom purposes I am off to the gym.
I think Elizabeth and Ann and Jonathan were on to it, too. How about you?
Do you know the some value of exercise?
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?
You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.
So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
*Author Philip Gura describes how early in his pastorate, Jonathan Edwards established routines he’d keep for life.
He typically spent thirteen hours a day in his study but always punctuated this labor with some sort of recreation, usually walking or riding or, if the snow was too deep, chopping wood for half an hour or so. In the warmer seasons he commonly rode two or three miles “to some lonely grove,” where he would dismount and walk for a while, sometimes jotting his thoughts on small pieces of paper that he would pin to his clothes for the ride home.(Jonathan Edwards: America’s Evangelical, pp. 58-59)
The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him: What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb? What are you doing, son of my vows? It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink…
Proverbs 31:1-2, 4
Preparing Royal Palates
Is there squash in this, Mom? I hate squash. Do I have to eat it?
You do, Son. Two bites. The Tastemaker holds firm and holds her breath.
Yuuuuuuck. It just looks so gross.
Tastemaker looks away and waits. Finally, at the sound of a slurp, she exhales.
Not as bad as I thought, the young prince admits, and dips for spoonful two.
Royalty holds itself to a higher standard, which may or may not include squash soup. In any case, I doubt Prince William slugged six-packs of Surge or Prince Harry survived on Hershey’s. And it is ours to raise sons and daughters-not of any king or queen-but of the King of kings. To be royal tastemakers.
Parents, and aunts and uncles and friends, we are influencers. We called to help train children’s tastes. And not just any tastes, but discriminating tastes, and pure spiritual flavors.
Because it is not for kings to go with the flow. Those of royal blood don’t play fast and loose with food and drink. What’s acceptable for some, wrote Matthew Henry, would profane their crown, by confusing the head that wears it; that which for the time unmans them does for the time unking them.
Even kings must be catechised and princes and princesses must be taught.
Healthy Tastes Don’t Just Happen
One friend tells me her girls actually request squash soup and my five-year old nephew inhales carrots with hummus. But in our house raw veggies routinely reappear in shriveled, dried form in wastebaskets. Hummus migrates there, too.
I’m not above it. I was an Esau. In grade school I’d trade my mom’s hearty whole-wheat bread for soft, squishy white fluff. It used to be Pop-Tarts and Twinkies and Fruit Loops. Now it’s arugula with walnuts and Stilton and Greek yogurt with berries and seeds.
Tastes do change. But how?
In “Healthy Eating: can you train yourself to like it?” Guardian reporter Amy Fleming answers that question, with Yes! But they must taught. We need training to love what’s good. We didn’t-and our kids won’t-just “grow into” kale and cauliflower.
The holy grail, surely, is to learn to love health food more than junk, thus avoiding the binge-fast vicious circle. We know that most of our food likes are a triumph of nurture over nature, with the exceptions of an innate fondness for sweet, and distaste for bitter.
Most of our “real food” preferences are learned, Fleming concludes. So how do we teach them? I’m right with you in the trenches, beside boys slurping Spaghettios with Ninjago comic books outspread. I’m still learning.
But I won’t go silent into that junk food night. I am that mom who offers snap peas and stuffed peppers and serves salad and lasagna. I want their tastes to shift not to drift, so I pull hard on my Mom oars. I’ve got princes in the boat.
It’s all of grace, for sure, the acquiring of nourishing spiritual tastes. God gives life and new life. He made our mouths and gives us new tastes (Ephesians 2:3-5, 2 Peter 1:4). So desire for healthy soul food is way more than nurture. It’s being given a new nature.
PREPAring Palates For New Tastes
But there are means to put us on the path, to PREPAre the way for healthy new tastes. Means are unavailing unless the Lord blesses them. So we pray God will incline hearts to fear his name, and PREPAre our tastes so that healthy food tastes good.
Diet experts assure us that the best way to increase consumption of veggies is to have them washed and chopped and out. PREPAration clearly counts.
Teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:7
The familiarity that comes from repeated exposure does not breed contempt. Have them keep trying it, and they just might like it. One study showed that after nine or ten tries, most kids started to like the new veg. Some even said, the liked it “a lot.” So keep packing the peapods and peppers. Keep your library basket filled with good books.
Proximity primes the palate.
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes….By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Psalm 19:8, 11
Another study found that healthy tastes can be nurtured. When kids were first fed sweetened broccoli, the kids liked the taste of plain broccoli more. Bible Lite is sugar: Gabe loves his Minecraft Bible and Sam, his Power Bible. Before the reward is intrinsic, you might sweeten the deal.
My parents had me memorize the first chapter of John in fifth grade. I don’t know if they asked me or told me to do it, but I do remember the $10 bill that came later. Jesus used reward to motivate. (See that in Matthew 6). And there was that mysterious appearance of big bills in Bibles at church. If that motivation isn’t above our Lord, it’s not above me.
We all long for hearts that crave broccoli without the sugar. God willing, that’ll come. Until then, Lego sets and candy corn motivate.
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. Philippians 3:17
Don’t minimize the power of example; for better or worse. Bad company corrupts, and set an example for the believers.
For a decade I’d watch I’d watch Jim shake red pepper all over his pizza. So often I got curious gave it a try. Now a pizza’s not a pizza without a smattering of crushed red pepper. My folks read the Bible a lot. Always, it was on the breakfast table. And my grandparents too. Whenever we had breakfast at Grandma and Grandpa’s, Grandpa would open that special Bible drawer the Amish built on the side of the table and take it up and read a Psalm while we watched the steam rise off our oatmeal.
Now guess who opens a Bible at the breakfast table?
Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things out of your law. Psalm 119:18
Pray. Pray for your princes and princesses. And pray for your yourself and your friends. Pray for yourself. Pray that God will open our eyes to see and our tune our spiritual tastebuds to delight in what is nourishing and good (Ephesians 1:18, Luke 24:45).
Samuel’s words to the people of Israel are for parents and grandparents and for aunts and uncles, too:
Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. (1 Samuel 12:23)
Pray God gives our kids new tastes and desires. Pray that they will not love the world, because without vigilance, and even with it, they’ll snack on the world’s fare. Love of the world creeps in.
5. Avoid Snacking
It’s not technically part of PREPAre. But it’s the last tastemaker tip. Because media molds our spiritual tastebuds. Don’t expect that a life filled with the world’s snacks —Fortnite and with its movies and Minecraft and music-will develop more discriminating tastes.
If our kids, and if we, constantly snack at the world’s buffet they won’t magically hunger and thirst for righteousness when they turn 18-or 38. They still might not. God must change their tastes. But, tastes are formed—I know from my experience with Stilton and Italian roast, with arugula and Shiitake and Kalamata – over time. Craving good Kingdom food doesn’t just happen.
Why don’t we hunger more for the living water and ever-filling bread? It could be that we’re already full. Maybe we’re sated by Facebook and Youtube and Netflix. If we’ve been grazing on pretzels and chips all afternoon, we won’t have room for salad and soup tonight.
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says that a diet heavy with media influence decreases her hunger and thirst and love for the things of God.
But then she takes us tastemakers to task.
If you want your children to cultivate a hunger and a thirst for righteousness and for the Word of God, you need to then be asking, “Am I allowing their lives to be filled with the influence and influx of worldly or secular media that may be robbing them of spiritual appetites?”
I’m raising princes. Well-adjusted, popular, happy kids is not this mama’s endgame. Don’t get me wrong, those would be great. But, even more than those things, I want my sons to have healthy appetites. I want them to taste and see that the Lord is good and that his Word is the sweetest delight they could ever taste. Because they, and we, are called by his name. So let’s eat like it.
Because we are royalty. We are sons and daughters of the King of kings.
Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.
Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly. -G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Gravitas is not an issue for Dad and me. Actually, having a tad too much of it—as my deeply etched brow lines betray—might be, at least for me. Dad has a serious bent and this daughter does too. He taught me how to think and showed me how faith works in love.
But I’m light years behind Dad in this: my dad knows how to laugh.
So while others wax poetic this Father’s Day about how their dads taught them about the sacrificial and abiding love of Father God—and I’ve done that too— this time I’ll share something else Dad taught me.
Don’t Take Yourself (Or Your Shirts) So Seriously
What did I learn—who am I kidding? What am I still learning—from my dad?
Don’t take yourself so seriously. That people who laugh at themselves are refreshing. That a cheerful heart is good medicine. And that sometimes the medicine takes the form of a T-shirt.
For the record, this seems to be a choice prescription from the Good Physician for me. I have some shirt stories of my own. One involved a chocolate spot I sported for a night of parent-teacher conferences and the other about a breezy new blouse that wasn’t actually a blouse.
They both reinforce Dad’s lesson. God teaches me, and heals me, through shirts. Maybe we could even call them “garments of praise.”
Lighten Up & Laugh
Oh sure, Proverbs 14:13 is true, “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.” But, Jesus said, laughter is a sign of well-being and blessing in Luke 6:21, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”
Which reminds me of another proverb Dad quotes: “The cheerful heart has a continual feast.”
For years, he had a picture of the Laughing Jesus posted on the fridge.
Just because Dad wears a Wiley Coyote T-shirt and laughs so loud at Laurel and Hardy or What About Bob? that you can hear him a mile away doesn’t mean he’s carefree and never provoked or pricked in heart. Not at all.
What it does mean that Dad is able to add the “nevertheless” like the Psalmist Asaph did. After he recounted in bitter detail the envy-inducing prosperity of the wicked, Asaph got to this near the end of Psalm 73.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory
Nevertheless. In other words, all that bad stuff is still true. Asaph didn’t retract all the all the ways the bad guys were winning. For now, the wicked might get away with murder.
But Asaph shifted his focus.
I studied those verses with my girlfriends today and I love what English pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote about them. He didn’t say that Asaph wore funny tunics and laughed a lot. He has an entire chapter titled, “Nevertheless” in his book Faith Tried & Triumphant he writes (p. 168),
“A very good way of testing whether we are truly Christian or not is just to ask ourselves whether we can say this ‘nevertheless.’ Do we know this blessed ‘but’? Do we go on, or do we stop where we were…?”
I’ve told you before about the wicked-mean chrome dome comment that mortified this sensitive seventh grader and how Dad just laughed.
Not a mean laugh, a nevertheless laugh. A good-medicine laugh. A “But God’s got this, Ab,” laugh.
So lighten up.
Life Is Good Again
Dad can laugh. To be sure, like Sarah the mother of Laughter, Dad recognizes the “wild incongruity of life.” Dad knows that things are not always what they seem.
A few days ago, I plodded up the sidewalk to Mom and Dad’s, heavy-hearted for hefty conflict at home compounded by, say, the weight of the wicked world, myself soundly included in it.
Then I lift my eyes and see Dad rinsing lettuce and not in any old T-shirt, but in his “WHO SAID SKIRT?” T-shirt.
Suddenly life was good. Nevertheless. A cheerful heart is good medicine.
And one of Dad’s choice drugs is a funny shirt.
A [humble] man must sacrifice himself to the God of Laughter, who has stricken him with a sacred madness. As a woman can make a fool of a man, so a joke makes a fool of a man. And a man must love a joke more than himself, or he will not surrender his pride for it. A man must take what is called a leap in the dark, as he does when he is married or when he dies, or when he is born, or when he does almost anything else that is important.
-G.K. Chesterton, in “W.W. Jacobs”, an article which appeared in The Tribune in 1906 Collected in A Handful of Authors (1953)
Ab, it was hard. A couple times it was actually sort of traumatic. I’m healing from other wounds. Now I’m processing this.
I swallowed hard.
This was us.
When Friends Keep Their Distance
Jess offered that in a phone call after our families had been together. She’d seen us up close. Jess was gentle, but I got the gist: our family dynamics were a downer. There was more downside than upside to being with us.
I felt unclean.
Friendship is risky. Traveling with friends is riskier. Sharing bathrooms and kitchens mean that faults will be exposed. And just like that, whatever bloom there was was off the Wallace rose.
Whenever we “put ourselves out there,” we risk being canceled or rejected. And in a Christian culture that promotes relational boundaries even good friends may be wise to draw their lines.
So I don’t blame Jess one bit. The burden of us it was just too much to bear.
Jess needed her distance from us.
Jesus Doesn’t Keep His Distance
But Jesus never did that. He never kept his distance. The Word became flesh to dwell among us (John 1:14)— the contagious, outcast, and unclean. The Son of Man visited his sinful people (Luke 1:68), and said, It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
Our burdens—tense family dynamics, secrets too secret for our best friends, the reasons we travel alone—don’t scare Jesus. Not one bit.
In fact, he knows all about them. He knows your issues better than you do. In fact, he knew you, and your burdens, before you even began to know you.
And Jesus doesn’t keep his distance because our sin doesn’t contaminate him. Our burdens are not to much for him to bear (Matthew 11:28-29). He doesn’t need to place boundaries. In fact, he destroyed the dividing wall that once created hostility and distrust (Ephesians 2:14).
But we’re fragile and frail. Jess is. I am. You are. This side of heaven, we are all saints, sinners and sufferers; we are victims and victimizers.
Healing For The Unclean
That reality hit me when our first-grader was infected by a bigger boy on the school bus. That morning, forever etched, made me want to protect my little boy. I wanted to keep him off the bus, and far away from “that boy.”
So no, I don’t fault Jess. Sin spreads. You can catch bad habits. Disease is contagious.
But there was a woman. She had been bleeding for 12 years. She probably hadn’t had either a husband or a hug in those 12 years because to touch her would make one unclean. This unclean, outcast woman knew that. Still, desperate for healing she risked touching Jesus. She risked making him unclean.
But that’s not what happened. She touched Jesus and immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease (Mark 5:25-34.). She didn’t make Jesus unclean. Jesus made her clean.
Jesus Didn’t Socially Distance
You see, in the Old Testament uncleanness, unholiness, was contagious. But in the New Testament, holiness— absolute cleanness and purity— is contagious. Jesus proved that when the woman touched him. In the New Testament, Jesus makes the unclean, outcasts clean.
Jesus brings healing.
We see this in vivid color when the leper came to Jesus.
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.
Mark 1:40-45, ESV
There’s so much here. But don’t miss how Jesus was, “moved with pity.”
Then, again: how he was not afraid of contamination. Touching a bleeding woman or a leper would leave one unclean. But Jesus doesn’t socially—or ceremonially—distance to avoid infectious disease. He touched the man and made him clean.
As Kevin DeYoung so potently stated, Jesus doesn’t just overlook uncleanness. He conquers it.
DeYoung continues, He conquers it by trading places with it. The one who is unclean is clean and the one who can make everyone clean becomes an outcast. Jesus gives him his cleansing and restores him to the community. And now at the end of this great miracle, where do you find Jesus? He’s an outcast. He ends up, “in desolate places.”
Does that truth stir your soul? It about made me cry. We were that unclean. We needed healing. So a Healer came. The Holy and clean traded places with the canceled, unclean. All for love.
He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.
I didn’t plan to write this post today. But then came a 1:30 AM wake up with another parenting struggle that nearly made my faith stagger and did keep me from falling back to sleep.
Then came new mercies: a text from a kind niece who mentioned my “strong faith” and these words from Romans 4—which just happened to be on the reading plan this day I woke up plumb-tuckered out.
And here we are.
How To Grow Strong
Now here is that text I read this morning. The last verse talks about how Abraham grew strong in his faith, giving glory to God. He trusted God would do what he promised. Another word for that is faithfulness.
In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver (stagger) concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
Romans 4:18-21, ESV
It’s like the chicken and the egg. We grow strong in our faith as we give glory to God. We give glory to God by trusting him, by having faith.
So how do we grow strong in faith? In four words: Have faith in God. The missionary Hudson Taylor explained those four words in these seven: Hold on to the faithfulness of God.
Because it is in the midst of these trials that faith has stood out most gloriously. It is just when everything is going against them that would make them despair at the natural level that they most glorify God, because they still go on believing. They’re unshaken. They don’t stagger because of unbelief.
In fact, the more severe the test, the more they give glory to God.
Then I heard how the strong men and women of faith are the very same people who endure so many trials and troubles and that no one more glorifies God than a person of faith (see Hebrews 11:6).
In all these things, you will grow strong. In them, I’ve shared before, not despite them. Because of our trials our strength grows.
Even if our trials are too tender and near for friends to know, God knows. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Hold On to the Faithfulness of God
Faith does not look at itself. It looks at God. People who grow strong in faith, to borrow Paul’s words, are “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Acts 4:21b) People with strong faith learn to glance at their troubles and the gaze at their God.
That’s exactly what Abraham did. God had promised that he and Sarah would have a son. Twenty-five years passed and in Romans 4:19 we read, Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.
Oh, sure. Abraham knew all about his age and Sarah’s wrinkly, dry body. He knew babies aren’t made in people at that age. But He did not stagger because of unbelief. Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”
He knew that God had spoken. God had made a promise and because of that, as Lloyd-Jones puts it, Abraham said to himself, “Nothing else needs to be considered at all.” And so he gave glory to God. It’s like they put all their seemingly irredeemable weakness and trouble on one side of the balance and God’s faithfulness on the other. And the side with God’s faithfulness drops weighty, like lead.
So Abraham hoped against hope and glorified God and Isaac was born.
Trust Issues: How Faith Gives Glory To God
Faith in God’s promises, John Piper explains, glorifies him as supremely wise and strong and good and trustworthy. Conversely, Lloyd-Jones notes, There is nothing more insulting to Godthan not believing him.
Martin Luther would have agreed, for faith he wrote, honors him whom it trusts with the most reverent and highest regard, since it considers him truthful and trustworthy.All that to say, most of us say we’re here on earth and the “chief end of man” is to give glory to God. When we believe God’s promises we do exactly that.
“O ye of little faith!” What a pang must have shot through the disciples — “Missed it again!” And what a pang will go through us when we suddenly realize that we might have produced downright joy in the heart of Jesus by remaining absolutely confident in Him, no matter what was ahead.
At rock bottom, our anxiety and fear are staggering in faith. They reveal that we distrust God.
Which means we don’t know him as well as he wants us to know him.
2 Ways To Strengthen Your Faith
It’s not surprising then, that Lloyd-Jones identifies these as the main factors that determine the strength of our faith:
Our knowledge of God.
Our application of that knowledge.
So we’ve got to know God and his unflinchingly faithful character. Then we’ve got to apply that knowledge.
3 Go-To Promises
I am learning both: to know God better and to apply my knowlege of him. And from 1:30-2:30 AM last night, I felt like a failure at both. But I desperately want to help you press on, and grow strong, in your faith.
So after some anxious thoughts and tossing and turning and feeble prayer, here’s what finally came at about 2:30 last night:
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:7) These parenting troubles are not futile or wasted. They are productive. They are producing glory.
For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is steadfast toward him. (2 Chronicles 16:9) Even at 1:30 AM, God is looking to help me.
The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. (Psalm 147:11) I make God happy when I hope in his love. (I wrote about this before.)
I took God to the bank on these. They weren’t complete in my head with chapter and verse at 2 AM. But the essence was there: I trusted that the trial was productive, that God was looking to help me and that as I hoped in his love— for me and my son—God would be glad.
He brought them to mind and I spoke them and I fell back to sleep.
But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
What do you know about David? I mean, beyond slaying Goliath and sleeping with Bathsheba?
Did you know that Godsaid (Acts 13:2), “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart“?
Why was David a Man after God’s Heart?
Why did David receive such an honor? What was it about David that would have God give him such high praise?
I don’t know all the reasons why. But I think they include the way he worshiped with his whole heart (Psalm 86:12), fearlessly fought for God’s glory (1 Samuel 17:45), and persistently sought the LORD’s face (2 Samuel 21:1).
But I think there’s another reason.
David was God’s man because David took God’s discipline with meekness. Whether it came directly from the hand of a holy God or through the second cause of a sinful man, David received it as from a loving God who intended his good. He did not “regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose heart when reproved by him” (Hebrews 12:5b).
In other words, he neither blew it off nor withered into a self-pitying heap.
Which is probably why he could say, Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.
David was used to God’s hand. He was a tamed horse, easily steered, not a foolish mule or a bucking bronco. The Latin word for meekness is mansuetus. It means tame, a compound of the words that mean “used to” and “hand.”
If meekness is key to delighting God’s heart, then how can we grow more meek?
Curses And Stones
Well. It turns out meekness grows when we are provoked. Like when Shimei hurled curses and stones.
Shimei was a pain in King David’s neck. He was a distant relative of King Saul, and a bitter provocateur. Now, decades after Saul’s death, he still resents David’s kingship. Shimei is not afraid to kick a man— even a king—when he’s down.
Here’s the scene: King David is running for his life, fleeing a hostile takeover by his usurper son Absalom. He and his loyal followers are just outside the city when they hear Shimei heckling, “Get out, get out, you worthless man. The LORD has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul… you are caught in your own evil” (2 Samuel 16:8).
To which Abishai, a loyal, right hand man asks, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head.”
A less meek, wounded dog would have.
But David didn’t.
Leave Him Alone
He didn’t let Abishai take revenge. Even though it was well within his power to avenge Shimei, he did not. Instead, I think he realized that God might be speaking to him through this cursing critic.
Here’s David’s reply,
Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.”
And as David and his men went along the road, Shimei went along the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went, threw stones at him and kicked up dust.
2 Samuel 16:11-13
He that is down fears no fall, John Bunyan wrote. The king is down, running from his rebel son while Shimei goes alongside, hurling curses and stones.
But David calls off Abishai. He doesn’t defend himself, but leaves vengeance to God.
He lets Shimei speak.
3 Reasons David Let Shimei Speak
Bible teacher David Guzik offers three reasons why David let Shimei curse. He doesn’t use the word meek, but do you hear it?
David let Shimei speak because:
1. He saw the hand of God in every circumstance (The LORD has said to him). He knew that God was more than able to shut Shimei up; David didn’t need to give the order.
2. He put the “Shimei problem” in perspective. (See how my son who came from my own body seeks my life. How much more now may this Benjamite?) David knew that his real problem was Absalom not Shimei, and he did not lose this perspective.
3. He knew that God’s hand was on the future as well as the present. (It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day) David knew that God would take care of the future.
But that doesn’t mean David didn’t grieve.
In 2 Samuel 15 we read, David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up.
This is a monarchy—in order for Absalom to take the throne, David must die. David weeps for the people he loves, people he can no longer lead.
But there is another reason for David’s weeping…When Nathan confronted David with the sin of adultery and murder, he predicted that evil would rise from the house of David against him—as a direct result of David’s sin. He is not just mourning his son. He is mourning the consequences of his sin.
The man after God’s own heart experienced God’s forgiveness (Psalm 32:1). But he still mourned the consequences of his sin. David’s sin with Bathsheba brought consequences on himself, his family and his kingdom.
So he wept.
But godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret. We do well to weep over our sin
So David wept.
And David Slept
I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
That’s what Psalm 3 verse 5 says. David wrote that. But do you know when?
The superscript over the third Psalm reads, “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.”
When David wrote “How many are my foes!” (Psalm 3:1), he is not just waxing poetic. There were literally thousands of people risen against him. David had massive, life-threatening, family-disintegrating, career-shattering problems.
And yet, David slept.
There was an army trying to kill him. His own son hated him to death. His family had turned against him. Yet God was a shield about him, his glory, and the lifter of his head.
So David slept.
Do you take discipline like David?
In the face of discipline, David did what maturing children of God do. It’s explained Hebrews 12:5, “My son, do not take lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose heart when you are corrected by him.” The meek avoid both extremes.
David didn’t take God’s discipline lightly. He didn’t “blow it off” as if his sin was no big deal. He wept.
But he also didn’t crumble into a heap. David did what the meek do when they’re disciplined: He confessed his sin and trusted God’s love. Then he slept.
He wept and then he slept.
At the moment we kiss the rod of his discipline meekness is being formed in us. We are growing into men and women after God’s heart.
But David’s is a tough act to follow.
I Hang My Head
A friend cared enough to confront me about some unkind words I spoke to her recently. I listened to her and agreed.
Guilty as charged.
But I hung my head. I was a puppy cowering beside her on the bench, my tail between my legs. My friend called me on that too.
Why are you sitting like that, with your head down?
I’m a complex case and I know it. But a big part of the answer was the obvious one.
I guess I still don’t like to be corrected.
It’s part of the “all or nothing” syndrome. Does it challenge you too?
It rears its head in relationships this way: When I realize I’ve hurt someone, I’m tempted to disengage and walk away. That’s the “nothing.” But the “all” would have me go hyper-verbal, defending my cause and explaining why her thin skin is the problem.
But that’s not what David did. All-or-nothing is not how the man after God’s own heart took discipline.
What about you?
Like great David’s Greater Son, David entrusted himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). He didn’t face off with Shimei. He accepted hard words because he trusted that God would right wrongs.
When you face discipline, even from the mouth of a sinful man, will you let the LORD be the shield about you, your glory and the lifter of your head?
What about you? Are you moving toward David’s wept-then-slept response? Do you graciously accept God’s discipline while trusting in His love?
The Lifter Of My Head
My friend Jen told me a story about her four-year old. Grace did something very naughty one morning. She made a mural on the wall with Jen’s Sharpies.
So they had a talk. Then Jen sent Grace to her room.
When lunchtime came, Grace slunk in, chin down, eyes glued to the floor.
But Jen loves Grace. That’s why she disciplined her and why she knelt beside her and stroked her tear-smeared cheeks.
Then Jen did what God does. She lifted up her child’s head.
And Grace did what meek ones do. She melted in her mama’s hug.
Let us pray that we may kiss the rod and bless the hand that holds it.
Let us pray unto God that we may see His hand in every affliction and say, as David does, “Oh, Lord, Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me!”
As for the saints who are in the land, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.
What delights your soul? Is it the saints you know? Do you even know any saints? And, if you do, do they make you glad?
Or does this sound like silly talk? Like such words about saints could only come from a super-spiritual poet living long ago in a faraway land?
Saint-Friends Who Stick Closer Than Brothers
It’s not silly talk. It’s real and daily- this saints-are-so-lovely talk. I know this because in the last week I’ve had- not one, not two, not three- but four different friends tell me, as it were, that sometimes blood isn’t thicker. That it depends on whose blood; specifically, if it’s saints’ blood.
All four confided to me big hurts inflicted by blood. A sister whose words are sword thrusts, a brother whose whose aloofness wounds, another brother whose lifestyle choices take him to a distant land (my friend misses him), and a father who waited until my friend was 42 to tell her, “I love you.”
All four also shared how a Christian friend- a saint- had helped them through. How, for example, when a blood-brother wound was raw, my friend texted a saint-friend to pray and then her friend not only prayed but showed up 30 minutes later to whisk my friend away to a happier place.
Christian friends may be more loyal than an unbelieving brother. Since brotherhood is one of the tightest relationships we know, a friend who sticks closer than a brother is a life-giving gift, indeed. (David and Jonathan’s friendship is a great biblical example of this type of closer-than-a-brother friendship.)
Proverbs 18:4 says, There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. And if the friendship is between saints, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that water’s sometimes thicker.
Just who are these saints?
Saints literally means, “holy ones.”
But if the term’s still a bit murky, don’t worry. You’re not alone. One source says the word “saints” has almost completely lost its original meaning,
[T]hat is, of being set aside for the exclusive ownership and use of the Triune God. Very few people in the Christian Church today would consider themselves to be “saints”…Unfortunately the original meaning of the word “saints” has largely fallen into disuse.
But if the term’s still a little fuzzy, a quick survey of Scripture makes it clear: saints are simply believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. And all believers are called saints, even when their character is “dubiously holy.”
Paul uses the term “saints” – the plural- to refer to a group of Christians about 40 times. In fact, Paul addresses almost all of his letters to “the saints” in that particular place. (See 2 Thess. 1:10, 1 Cor. 1:2, Romans 1:7, Eph. 1:1, Phil. 1:1, Col. 1:2.) Only once does Paul refer to a solo “saint.” That’s at the end of Philippians where he writes, “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.”
So saints are not a special class of Christian. They are all those called by God’s grace and sanctified by His Spirit. Saints are in Christ Jesus.
Saints-R-Us. Saints are believers. Saints are “just” Christians,running the race by grace through faith, in Christ Jesus.
Still, we’re prone to put people like Mother Teresa and Apostle Paul on pedestals and think they’re super-human. We ought not.
Their holiness is attainable even by us. We are “called to be saints” by that same voice which constrained them to their high vocation…They lived with Jesus, they lived for Jesus, therefore they grew like Jesus. Let us live by the same Spirit as they did, “looking unto Jesus,” and our saintship will soon be apparent.
I crossed paths with some saints last week. Their names were Holly and Hannah, Jim and Jen, Christin and Cindy and Shari and Stan. They live with Jesus, they live for Jesus, therefore they are growing like Jesus.
The saints in my land are doing this. They are growing more like Jesus.
That’s why the saints in my land make me glad. Saints remind me of Jesus.
Saint-Friends Strengthen Our Hands In God
In 1 Samuel 23:16-18, we find the best description of a best saint-friend a guy—or girl—could ever have. David is running for his life from a jealous king Saul.
Then Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.” So the two of them made a covenant before the LORD. And David stayed in the woods, and Jonathan went to his own house.
Whatever else Jonathan did to knit his soul with David’s he did this: he strengthened his hand in God.
We don’t use the phrase much. Maybe instead we say: He encouraged me. He gave me courage. She helped me hope in God.
We walk away from saint-friends like this feeling stronger. Feeling like we can look that difficult person in the face and take on the tough circumstance. We don’t feel so afraid. Jonathan reminded David of God’s promise—that you shall be king.
We, too, are strengthened when our friends remind us of God’s unbreakable promises.
Saints Point Us To The Right Rock
That is what Jonathan did for David. They stabilize us.
Jonathan could not rescue David, but he strengthened his hand in God. Jonathan couldn’t give David all the answers, but he strengthened his hand in God. Jonathan couldn’t stay with David, but he strengthened his hand in God.
My best saint-friends are those who don’t ignore my pain or minimize my trials. And they seldom solve my problems. In fact, I wouldn’t call any friend, even my husband, my rock.
It’s no wonder, then, that believers like this are closer to us in than even our non-believing families. That’s the oneness of the body of Christ. That’s the intimate, eternal relationship that we have with the saints.
That’s why the Psalmist cannot help but say, “As for the saints who are in the land, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.”
Or as S. L. Johnson said, God’s the center. Those that are nearest him are nearest to one another. Saints take joy in saints.
David did this too. He took delight in the saints he knew. “I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me,” (101:6), he said. And “I am a companion of all who fear you,” (Psalm 119:63). The saints were David’s delight.
Saints make saints glad.
Do the saints make you glad?
David says that there’s one type of person who gets him stoked and fired-up and makes him really, really glad. It’s saints. It’s the holy ones who treasure God.
So I repeat, do the saints make you glad? Do you cherish God’s people? And do you delight in them or merely endure them?
If your honest answer is merely endure, I have two questions for you. They’re from this sermon by Pastor John Piper.
Do you know any Christians? I mean radical people who lay down their lives for Jesus because Jesus means everything to them and they are servants of the world and God has broken them free from their love affair with the world and their ego and power and comfort.
Why would it be that you, a professing Christian, would find more joy in people who find no joy in what is your primary joy?
Hard hitting, those. But it makes sense: If we treasure God, we treasure those who treasure God.
These are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.
When it comes to people, he says, the ones who give him pleasure are godly people.. He doesn’t mean that he has delight in God’s people instead of God or above God. He means that godless people don’t give him delight in their godless ways; only the godly do. What delights him about people is how they treasure God and exalt God. This is the sweetness of his relationships.
Saint-friends are sweet to us because God is sweet to them. That’s why this saint stuff matters. Because it is one way we can measure our relationship to the Lord. It’s a simple test, really. For, as James Boice explains, Those who love the Lord will love the company of those who also love him.
So I’ll ask again: Do you love other Christians? Do you cherish the people of God and seek to be near those who treasure your Lord?
Do you delight in the saints in the land?
The new men are already here, dotting the earth- recognisable if you know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of ‘religious people’ which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. (We must get over wanting to be NEEDED: in some goodish people, specially women, that is the hardest of all temptations to resist.) They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognised one of them, you will recognise the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect that they recognise one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.
Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? Proverbs 27:4
Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success.
By this measure, Oscar Wilde’s measure, my nature is not very fine. I get jealous. Sometimes—when a friend shares a joy I wish was mine— I fake a smile. Mine is still a sin-twinged nature.
My daily reading today were 1 Samuel 18 and Acts 13. They got me thinking on jealousy. When David returned from striking down Goliath and the women came out singing, “Saul has slain his thousands; David has slain his ten thousands” Saul was very angry and greatly displeased (1 Samuel 18:7-8).
The word jealousy isn’t there but it’s there. So much, in fact, that King Saul repeatedly, ruthlessly sought to kill David. He nearly speared him to the wall in his jealous rage.
But in Acts 13:45 the word JEALOUSY is used: “The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him.”
Jealousy messes with our minds. It makes us assume the worst of others and to doubt God. And maybe it’s equally a sign of a messed-up mind. A mind that thinks it deserves what God has not given so much that it would hurt the one who has what it desperately wants.
Not A Jealous Bone
But, the good news is that if we are in Christ we are not slaves to sin, but to righteousness. Jealousy knocks at our door but we must master it. More good news, with the Spirit’s power, we can.
The Bible has some great examples of meek, contented souls. Like Jonathan, Saul’s son, the would-be-heir of the Israel’s throne who loved David as his own soul and helped to save his life (1 Samuel 18:3-4).
And in Acts 13:43, we read that there were “many Jews and devout converts to Judaism who followed Paul and Barnabas,” urged “to continue in the grace of God.”
Not a jealous bone in Jonathan and those many Jews. Theirs was such grace, such faith that God is good. Counting His blessings crushes my jealous bones.
So dear God, increase my faith. Help me put on the Lord Jesus Christ so jealousy won’t have me.
Let us behave properly as in the day […] not in strife and jealousy.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Afterward: Yes, you are absolutely right. Our God, our righteous, holy God is a jealous God. Our jealousy reveals two things-two hopeful things:
Through jealousy, God shows us two things. First, he shows us himself. He is a jealous God (he even says “my name is Jealous” Exodus 34:14). It is part of his character as the covenanting God to take on the pain and hurt of experiencing his bride’s unfaithfulness (Hosea 4:13–14). Through our jealousy, we experience a communicable divine emotion (Deuteronomy 32:21).
Second, he shows us ourselves. Through jealousy, the deepest desires of our hearts are elicited and amplified (Genesis 22:12; Psalm 66:18–20). The fire burns away the distractions of life’s details to show us the things we treasure. This process of internal emotional suffering — of jealousy most pointedly — can help clarify and bring to the surface all that we would otherwise have kept hidden from God and even from ourselves.
Driving out -ites is effortful. It’s hard work to hold back weeds. Despite all our pulling and digging, wild mustard grows like gangbusters and burdocks keep sharing their spiny seeds.
In fact, I plucked some burdock off my running tights this morning. Two steps off the trail was all it took; they latched on before I knew. I ran all of five yards before the itch was too much and I had stop and pluck them off.
At least some of them.
When It’s Not Good To COEXIST
In Part I, I shared how God told the Israelites on the edge of the Promised Land to drive out the current residents—the “-ites.” God promised through Joshua that he would be with them and give them success. So he called them to take and to possess the land. But they did not. They chose to coexist.
Neither God nor Joshua suggested the Israelites “coexist” with the Canaanites. Because coexisting with -ites leads to compromise (Deut. 7:16-26), “for that shall be a snare to you.”
The Israelites could not possess that part of the land where they coexisted with the Canaanites (Judges 1:27-34). Instead of destroying or driving them out as God had commanded, the Israelites allowed them to live in their midst.
But we are not called to dwell with sin in our lives and let burdocks to stick to our pants. With these we ought not coexist.
For we are called not only to take but to possess the land.
Take And Possess
In an insightful message called “Living With The Enemy,” pastor Bob Deffinbaugh explains the distinction between the Hebrew words, “take” (lakad) and “possess” (yarash),
The term “to take” has reference to the initial conquest of a territory while the term “to possess” refers to the permanent occupation and control of that territory.
We may read of an earlier conquest of a certain city in Joshua only to discover in Judges that it had to be taken again and then possessed. When the Israelites first “took” the Promised Land under Joshua, there were too few people to occupy and possess the land. When the victorious Israelites moved on to fight another battle, the displaced Canaanites moved back to “re-possess” their land. Under Joshua, the Israelite tribes united to fight the Canaanites and make strategic victories (Joshua 1-12). Later under Joshua (Joshua 13 ff.), the land was divided among the Israelite tribes with each tribe allotted an inheritance. Then, in Judges, it is the task of each individual tribe to “possess” their inheritance. This usually required retaking the land and then occupying (possessing) it.
But these two JoyPrO posts are more than an Old Testament history lesson. They’re meant to help make sense of our struggles with “indwelling sin.”
Because if we focus elsewhere the enemy slips back in. This morning it was a bright yellow flower, a cowslip I think, that took my focus off the beaten path where the burdock got me.
They represent our besetting sins, the ones that are hard to shake, that “cling so closely.” We might “take” and name them: gossip or anger, grumbling or envy or anxiety. But we don’t fully drive them out.
They’re irritating. But it takes more time and effort than we’d like to spend to pull all that burdock off.
Or, I could say, to fully “possess” my pants.
Why They Didn’t Possess The Land
Like we said at the start, taking possession is effortful. The Lord’s rebuke of his people in Judges 2:1-3 makes that plain.
Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”
The Israelites did not obey God. So God did not drive out the -ites. Which makes me wonder, does God drive out our sinful -ites while we stay friendly with them?
A Thorn In Your Side
The Lord had said that He would not drive out the Canaanites, but would leave them as a “thorn in the side” and as a “snare” to them (2:3). Thus, coexistence was a form of divine discipline.
God said to Israel, in effect: ‘If you make alliances with the people of the land, you shall no longer have power to cast them out. The swift rush of the stream of victory shall be stayed. You have chosen to make them your friends, and their friendship shall produce its natural effects, of tempting you to imitation.’ The increased power of our unsubdued evils is the punishment, as it is the result, of tolerance of them. We wanted to keep them, and dreamed that we could control them. Keep them we shall, control them we cannot. They will master us if we do not expel them.
The world’s prescription for hurt is to hurt back or to retreat, but it’ll only make it worse— more self-focused and proud. I know this. The worldly way of handling hurt won’t help you grow.
We’ve got to cling to the Lord and obey his commands. Or the weeds will come back.
Cling to the Lord & Possess the Land
We see this in Joshua chapter 23.
4 Behold, I have allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off, from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west. 5 The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you.
6 Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, 7 that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, 8 but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day…
11Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God. 12For if you…associate with them and they with you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.
The world will not yield an inch to the person who is not resolute for God. Like the -ites who became a trap and a snare. Like pesky, unyielding weeds. The world and the weeds come back. They’re invasive.
Worldliness is a garden of spiritual weeds.
But we don’t live those weeds.
Already & Not Yet
If you know Jesus, I know your address. Because it’s the same as mine: Between the already and the not yet.
The Book of Joshua speaks of both the complete fulfillment of God’s promises (11:23, 21:45) and the incompleteness of the actual possession of the land (13:1, 23:4-5). The writer speaks of the conquest as completed (21:43-45, 10:40-42, 11:23, 23:1, 14)—I have given them rest— but he also describes the occupation as incomplete (13:1-7; 15:63, 17:12-13, 18:3, 23:5). I will drive them out.
A country may officially be defeated and occupied before every part of it ceases resistance. I was after all jogging along with more prickers in my pants. But there will comes a time when they’re all plucked out.
We see the same truth in the New Testament: the power of sin is broken, but it’s still present in our lives. God has already blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing and our future inheritance is guaranteed (Eph. 1:3, 14).
But we don’t possess it completely. Not yet.
Able Not To Sin
Have you ever heard this progression? That after the Fall we were:
1) Not able not to sin. But when we were redeemed, we became
2) Able not to sin. Then, in glory, we will be
3) Not able to sin.
Zach Howard explains it well in context here. Near the end of the article he writes,
Although we are able not to sin, sin still plagues us. Scripture gives no promise of sinlessness in this life; indeed, it says the opposite (1 John 1:8). We’re never promised total victory over sin.
Instead, the renewal we experience in our life is a foretaste of future glorification. We will win battles against sin in this life, but we should not expect to win the war. We have the ability not to sin, but not the ability to eradicate sin…Our ability to achieve total victory over sin will never come in this life. But it will come. It will come because Christ will return.
As Christians we can live in hope — hope that God’s grace is sufficient for our fight against sin, hope that the Spirit is renewing us and restoring our ability to fight sin day by day, and finally, hope that we will one day be completely remade.
Yes, battling our own sin and waging war on our weeds is exhausting! But God’s grace is sufficient and the Spirit of Jesus is with us to strengthen us day by day.
Our Joshua Is Jesus
Which brings us full circle to Joshua. Reading the book of Joshua started this two part post.
Remember that the Greek name Jesus simply translates the Hebrew name Joshua. The names are the same.
What Israel received in the Promised Land, they received through the hand of Joshua. What we receive from God we receive through Jesus Christ, our Joshua. For all God’s promises are “yes” in Christ. Joshua led Israel into Canaan. Likewise, Jesus goes before us.
So don’t go into battle against with a coexist mindset. For in this Land of Already and Not Yet we are, after all, able to not sin. Even if the burdocks stick us now and then, we will pluck them off.
Until one day, led by our Joshua, we will possess a glorious thornless and weedless land.
A land with a tree and a river.
On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.
And as much as I’d like to think it was because our family is weary of fighting off Covid-19 and because layers of a loved one’s harmful stronghold keep unfolding. I’d like to think it was those—those “tough life circumstances.”
But if I search my heart, hard as those are, the real trigger is my sin within, my bad habits, my mental weeds. Self-pity is one. Comparing gifts—I’ll call it what it is, coveting—is another. These joy-killing natives in the land—these godless -ites—have have dwelt so long in my life that they dislike being dislodged.
They’re stubborn. The roots are deep. They go way back.
Back to the dejected five year-old hiding in Grandma Wustmann’s dark coat closet because she felt slighted by an aunt. Back to the eight year-old crying bitter tears because my up-north cousins go to Grandma Considine’s overnight grandma parties and again when my best friend Jane got a pool. Way back.
My sins are ever before me. They tell me that I need to be satisfied in God, that I need salvation’s joy restored (Psalm 51:10-12). But why should these enemies, these weeds, leave their dwelling-place?
After all, like the Canaanites in Promised Land- they were in the land first.
What Are Your Evil -ITES?
Do you know about the evil -ites? They’re the natives in the land; the enemies God’s people faced when they finally entered the Promised Land. God made it clear that Joshua was to destroy them and drive them out.
When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Deuteronomy 7:1-2
Why so severe?
God made that clear too. Because coexisting with Canaanites leads to compromise, “for that shall be a snare to you” (Deut. 7:16, also 7:17-26). That’s why this Canaanite must be conquered. The Canaanites were real godless people who lived in a real godless place. They were not an ignorant, innocent people.
To escape the evil, corrupting Canaanite influence, God told the Israelites to destroy them and drive them out.
But I think the -ites also represent our besetting sins, the sins that “cling so closely.” I mentioned a couple of my evil -ites, coveting and sullen self-pity.
They’re pesky and persistent—these “Canaanites.”
This Canaanite Must Be Conquered
But God commands us to deal with them the same way he commanded the Israelites to deal with the evil, godless -ites. “Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies…For sin shall not have dominion over you,” wrote the Apostle Paul.
Do you see how the imperative—let not sin reign— is grounded on the indicative—for sin shall not have dominion. This means that when God gives us a command to do, it’s rooted in what He has already done.
Christ has already set us free from sin’s ruling power (Romans 6:2,14,22). His death on the cross has already disarmed evil rulers (Colossians 2:13-15). What’s more, the Holy Spirit is ready to war against the sinful desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:17).
Which means, “The hasty temper [or the self-pitying, melancholic temper] may be natural to you: but seeing that your position is Christ is supernatural, this Canaanite must be conquered,” F.B. Meyer declares. “Talk no more of these Canaanites who would stay in the land; but say of the blessed Spirit, ‘He is well able to drive them out.‘”
If, by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, we will live (Romans 8:13). We are well able to drive them out, to uproot our weeds.
Weeds—and -ITES—Have No Rights
Sometimes, at the beginning of our Christian life, we make a feeble effort against them, and hope to cast them out; but they stubbornly resist, says Meyer. If conscience strikes, we reply, “Do not find fault; we couldn’t help it. These Canaanites are self-willed and persistent, they would dwell in the land.”
Meyer is referring to Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land, the land west of the Jordan. I just read about that in the book of Joshua and the start of Judges.
The book of Joshua opens with these words,
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
The book of Joshua is about how God was with Joshua on those conquests, gave victory over enemies, and gave Israel the Promised Land.
The Earth Is The LORD’S
Which means that their enemies had no right there. The rightful owner of the land, the Creator of the heavens and earth, had promised it to his people way, way back. In fact, hundreds and hundreds of years even before the Israelites were slaves in Egypt God promised this very land to Abraham.
For, “the earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). Which means the wicked -ites had no rights—no right to dwell in or to possess the Promised Land.
So too, our bad habits, our besetting sins, have no right to persist in our lives. We walk in newness of life.
These weeds have no right to grow in our united-with-Christ lives (Romans 6:1-11).
All Came To Pass
Because God keeps his promises. And He promised us his overcoming power. Remember 1 John 4:4, Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world?
God is greater than the enemy -ites. And He said if we obey, he’d drive out our enemies; and none of God’s good promises fail.
These next few verses come near the end of the book of Joshua,
Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. Joshua 21:43-45
It is ours to obey, and not to make peace with the enemy (See Judges 2:2). The whole soil of our hearts has been made over to the Son of God, Meyer writes, and there should be no part left to weeds.
Where “COEXIST” Cannot Exist
Whatever you might think of the bumper sticker, it was impossible for Israel to coexist with the Canaanites and thrive. And it is impossible for known, unrepented sin to coexist with righteousness (Romans 6:15-23).
There can be no peace between you and Christ, C.H. Spurgeon said, while there is peace between you and sin.
Which means that I had to do some fighting with my self-pity, whose roots were deep in coveting a life and I don’t have, and deeper still in discontentment.
I must wield the sword of the Sprit—real gospel truth—against these Canaanites. Truth like, The vinedresser prunes branches that bear fruit and the Lord disciplines those he loves. Like, in everything give thanks and be content with what you have.
Because we cannot possess what we do not first dispossess. We cannot possess what someone else controls. If coveting rules my heart, the peace of Christ won’t. Those two can’t possibly coexist. Don’t you know, James asked, that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?
The Israelites could not possess that part of the land where they coexisted with the Canaanites, even if they “kept” Canaanites as slaves. Instead of destroying or driving them out as God had commanded, the Israelites allowed them to live in their midst.
But if they had the power to enslave the enemy, they had the power to drive them out. (More on that in Part II.)
Living With The Canaanites
Judges chapter one gives an account of the successes and failures of the Israelite tribes in “possessing” what had been “taken” under Joshua. Judah did okay, but the other tribes did not.
At first, the Canaanites are dwelling among the Israelites (1:21), but soon after we read that the Israelites were dwelling among the Canaanites (1:32-33).
Do you hear the difference?
In the beginning of the account in Judges 1, the Israelites are driving out the Canaanites while a few pesky Canaanites lived among them. Even the finest manicured lawns have a few, isolated bursts of April dandelion bloom.
But eventually the Israelites are either using the Canaanites as forced labor—trying to put sin to work for them—or even worse, living among the Canaanites. That’s the yard so emblazoned with dandelion weed, you barely see green.
Dandelions And Grass
Here’s the progression from a few dandelions in a sea of green to a splash of grass in a field of dandelions.
It’s in Judges chapter one,
27 Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages[…]for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. 28 When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.
29 And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them.
30 Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them, but became subject to forced labor.
31 Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, 32 so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out.
33 Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land…
34 The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain.
The tribe of Dan didn’t even make it out of the hills. And so Israel failed to possess the land.
Not To Conquer Is To Be Conquered
Not to conquer your spiritual foes is to be conquered by them, A.R. Fausset warns. They will push the first advantage you give them over you, until step by step you are brought down from being their master, to become their dependent vassal.
We have all unconquered ‘Canaanites’ in our hearts. And friendship with the world is enmity toward God. We must be alert to our inward foes, whom we imagine we have “under control,” and so treat them leniently. Soul-foes like nursing a grudge, throwing a pity party, or maybe just “blowing off steam.”
But no. We can’t all just get along. These can’t righteously coexist.
Partial Obedience = Incomplete Victory = More Weeds
This was not a complete victory for God’s people. Despite the promise God made to give them the land and give the enemies into their hand, this is not that story. God had said to drive out these Canaanites. Israel was to get rid of them and then to dwell where they had dwelt. The tribes failed to drive them out.
There are things that God has told us to drive out of our lives. Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” In other words, fight your sin with urgency.
Irish Pastor David Legge warns, Do not flirt with it! Do not allow it to take root! You see, if you do not obey God completely, only in a partial obedience, you will be conquered. If you do not conquer that sin, that sin will conquer you!
I drive out the -ites in my mind. Sin has roots in thoughts. I must go deep to pull out weeds and plant that place with the excellent and praiseworthy.
Because gratitude and self-pity don’t coexist. Joyfully pressing on doesn’t dwell with discontentment. So I fought hard. I wrote thank you notes and sent I-care texts, and I thought on what is true. That’s how I took back the land.
Keep Up The Good Fight
I know I will have to keep up the fight because the Canaanites are persistent. But day by day, moment by moment, I can push them back. Because Christ died and rose again to give us His power to overcome.
So don’t make peace with sin. Don’t let the enemy possess the land. If you know it’s a sin, drive it out.
Don’t let the Canaanites dwell in your land.
When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land.
Amy’s “If’s” do. But her if’s are not meant to be read one after another. In her introduction to the book simply titled, “If,” Amy Carmichael writes,
Perhaps only one “If” will have the needed word.
But if one does, I say, then run with the one. Feel the conviction, let Christ’s love control you.
And if you’re like me and 21 “ifs” ring true, well then, back to the cross. He came, He died, He rose for these.
If I have not compassion on my fellow)servant even as my Lord had pity on me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I can easily discuss the shortcomings and the sins of any; if I can speak in a casual way even of a child’s misdoings, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I find myself half-carelessly taking lapses for granted, “Oh, that’s what they always do,” “Oh, of course she talks like that, he acts like that,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I enjoy a joke at the expense of another; if I can in any way slight another in conversation, or even in thought, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If, in dealing with one who does not respond, I weary of the strain, and slip from under the burden, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I cannot bear to be like the father who did not soften the rigors of the far country; if, in this sense, I refuse to allow the law of God (the way of transgressors is hard) to take effect, because of the distress it causes me to see that law in operation, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If my attitude be one of fear, not faith, about one who has disappointed me; if I say, “Just what I expected,” if a fall occurs, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I cast up a confessed, repented, and forsaken sin against another, and allow my remembrance of that sin to color my thinking and feed my suspicions, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I have not the patience of my Saviour with souls who grow slowly; if I know little of travail (a sharp and painful thing) till Christ be fully formed in them, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I cannot keep silence over a disappointing soul (unless for the sake of that soul’s good or for the good of others it be necessary to speak), then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I can hurt another by speaking faithfully without much preparation of spirit, and without hurting myself far more than I hurt that other, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I am afraid to speak the truth, lest I lose affection, or lest the one concerned should say, “You do not understand,” or because I fear to lose my reputation for kindness; if I put my own good name before the other’s highest good, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I am content to heal a hurt slightly, saying “Peace, peace,” where is no peace; if I forget the poignant word “Let love be without dissimulation” and blunt the edge of truth, speaking not right things but smooth things, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I fear to hold another to the highest goal because it is so much easier to avoid doing so, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I am soft to myself and slide comfortably into the vice of self-pity and self-sympathy; if I do not by the grace of God practice fortitude, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I myself dominate myself, if my thoughts revolve round myself; if I am so occupied with myself I rarely have “a heart at leisure from itself,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.
IF, the moment I am conscious of the shadow of self crossing my threshold, I do not shut the door, and in the power of Him who works in us to will and to do, keep that door shut, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I cannot in honest happiness take the second place (or the twentieth); if I cannot take the first without making a fuss about my unworthiness, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I do not give a friend “the benefit of the doubt,” but put the worst construction instead of the best on what is said or done, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I take offense easily, if I am content to continue in a cool unfriendliness, though friendship be possible, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If a sudden jar can cause me to speak an impatient, unloving word, then I know nothing of Calvary love.* *For a cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water however suddenly jolted.
If I feel injured when another lays to my charge things that I know not, forgetting that my Sinless Saviour trod this path to the end, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I feel bitterly towards those who condemn me, as it seems to me, unjustly, forgetting that if they knew me as I know myself they would condemn me much more, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I say, “Yes, I forgive, but I cannot forget,” as though the God who twice day washes all the sands on all the shores of all the world, could not wash such memories from my mind, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If interruptions annoy me, and private cares make me impatient; if I shadow the souls about me because I myself am shadowed, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If souls can suffer alongside, and I hardly know it, because the spirit of discernment is not in me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I become entangled in any “inordinate affection”; if things or places or people hold me back from obedience to my Lord, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If something I am asked to do for another feels burdensome; if, yielding to an inward unwillingness, I avoid doing it, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If the praise of man elates me and his blame depresses me; if I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself; if I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I want to be known as the doer of something that has proved the right thing, or as the one who suggested that it should be done, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I do not forget about such a trifle as personal success, so that it never crosses my mind, or if it does, is never given a moment’s room there; if the cup of spiritual flattery tastes sweet to me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If it be not simple and a natural thing to say, “Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If in the fellowship of service I seek to attach a friend to myself, so that others are feel unwanted; if my friendships do not draw others deeper in, but are ungenerous (to myself, for myself), then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I slip into the place that can be filled by Christ alone, making myself the first necessity to a soul instead of leading it to fasten upon Him, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If my interest in the work of others is cool; if I think in terms of my own special work; if the burdens of others are not my burdens too, and their joys mine, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I wonder why something trying is allowed, and press for prayer that it may be removed; if I cannot be trusted with any disappointment, and cannot go on in peace under any mystery, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If the ultimate, the hardest, cannot be asked of me; if my fellows hesitate to ask it and turn to someone else, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I covet any place on earth but the dust at the foot of the Cross, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
THAT WHICH I KNOW NOT, TEACH THOU ME, O LORD, MY GOD.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;
And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised again.…
But in case you know about Pound and in the event a Good Friday poem by an unholy man like Pound is off putting— for he lived not like a saint—please read this quick bit by Matthew Melema,
God often shares his truth through unlikely sources. Nebuchadnezzar was cursed to live like a beast because of his hubris. But he later wrote one of the humblest tributes to God’s grandeur in the Old Testament. Paul was the “chief of sinners” before becoming Christ’s chosen vessel. Balaam’s donkey was, well, a donkey before God used it to berate an oblivious prophet.
That’s how I view Pound in the “Ballad of the Goodly Fere”: a donkey. Sure he’s hard-headed, brutish, and even bestial. But when his culture had grown dull, thinking of Jesus as a mere teacher of platitudes, Pound was there. He reminds us of the vitality, the loyalty, the gospel-strangeness of the Son of God.
Our King Jesus was a man’s man and a gentleman. He is the Lion and the Lamb. He is the Mighty King of Meekness. His strength was tenderly harnessed, his anger was ever righteous, and his love for his mates, to the end.
The Greatest Drama Ever Staged
I opened with Pound’s poem but I’ll close with Sayers’ prose. Both make the same point: Jesus was not the least bit dull, nor for a second is the Passion Story.
[T]he tale of the time when God was the under-dog and got beaten, when he submitted to the conditions he had laid down and became a man like the men he had made, and the men he had made broke him and killed him. This is the dogma we find so dull – this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and hero.
If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore – on the contrary; they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.
To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggested a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand. True, he was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before Heaven; but he insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites; he referred to King Herod as “that fox”; he went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a “gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners”; Christ assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the temple; he drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; he cured diseases by any means that came handy, with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people’s pigs and property; he showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, he displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and he retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb. He was emphatically not a dull man in his human lifetime, and if he was God, there can be nothing dull about God either. But he had “a daily beauty in his life that made us ugly,” and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without him. So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness […]
Now, we may call that doctrine exhilarating or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all. That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed […]
Perhaps the drama is played out now, and Jesus is safely dead and buried. Perhaps. It is ironical and entertaining to consider that once at least in the world’s history those words might have been spoken with complete conviction, and that was upon the eve of the resurrection.
From, “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged Is the Official Creed of Christendom,” which first appeared in the London Sunday Times two weeks before Easter 1938. Reprinted here from Letters to a Diminished Church, by Dorothy L. Sayers.
We are here again friends, on the eve of the resurrection. And I hope that with me, you’re more smitten with the master of men now than you’ve ever been.
Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
What Our Savior Saw from the Cross, James Jacques Tissot. (Public Domain)
Dr. Pepper seltzer, Tim Hawkins, the ragged copy of My Utmostin her WC twenty years ago that led to one in mine; the elegance of Hedgehog and Goudge and countless other good books, whole cream in coffee, radish slices not Ruffles, and those flexible plastic cutting boards. Oh, those blessed chopping mats!
How could possibly forget that legendary Swiss vinaigrette, something like this but on the exact recipe, I’ve vowed secrecy.
Those things are not the half of it. They’re only a fraction of the ways Linda has influenced me.
On Linda’s Influence
You went to Peoria again last weekend? my friends ask. Why’d you go down this time?
It’s alway the same reason: Linda. Linda and John, and their five vibrant kids—remember that long, non-looping trip?— and their beloved “urban family” who have become our friends too.
And Linda. Linda is my husband’s sister, my sister-in-law. But more, she is my friend.
Turns out, my first memory of Linda is my first memory of my husband Jim. I was 14 when my family spent two August weeks at their grandparents’ campground. Jim and Linda would bound and bounce around the deck then spring into that little Meadowlark Acres pool. Vivacious, friendly, bright—I loved the life in them. Thirty-one years after we met at the pool, I still do.
Linda is a good influence—a joyful, faithful, cheerful influence. But you cannot be profoundly influenced by what you do not know.
Linda and her crew are why we go to Peoria. Because we want to know them more. I want them to influence me.
Think About These Things
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8
As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7
What do you think about when your mind is “resting”? Because the teacher wrote, as you think, so you are.
Lovely people think about lovely things, Alistair Begg said in a message on Philippians 4:8. By extension, truthful people think true thoughts, pure people think pure thoughts, and just people think just thoughts.
But the only way we can get those good thoughts a-thinkin’ is to place ourselves with them in the first place. That means we seek out good influences—influences that build our strength, our faith, our joy.
Do you see why all the three-hour drives to Peoria and all the time spent in the Word? In a word: influence.
Because thoughts stick around. For better and worse, they loop.
There’s a sign on a gravel road in Alaska that reads, Choose your rut carefully. You will be in it for the next 25 miles.
We have a say in what tracks we choose. As Christians, we’re called to choose an excellent and praiseworthy groove. Which means I must wisely choose my influencers. I must make an effort to spend time with people like Linda who affect me for good.
There Are No Ordinary People (So Be A Good Influence)
God created us to be influenced. Over and over, Scripture calls us to imitate, to be influenced for good. First, by the Spirit applying God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But then by the fellow image-bearers with whom we rub shoulders.
But God also created us as influencers.
This bit from Lewis is often quoted, and for good reason. Because we are all in process. We are all heading one direction or the other. We are all influenced and influencers.
It is a serious thing […] to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations -these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
From The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis. Lewis delivered this sermon at Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, on June 8, 1941.
All day long, we are influencing each other in one direction or another. Influence is never neutral.
You are not what you think you are. But what you think, you are.
We are influenced—for good or for ill—by who we know and by what we know. This knowledge base directly impacts our thoughts. As we think, so we are.
Which brings us back to the top. Find yourself some good influences. Latch on to a Linda. And set the Lord always before you.
Because you cannot be profoundly influenced by that which you do not know.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
This year I connected with two more of Patrick’s Confessions. For the uninitiated, Patrick lived in the 400’s AD and has two surviving writings, the Letter to Coroticus and and his Confession. (Read the Confession here, in English—or Gaelic—for free!)
On St. Patrick’s Eve I’ve made it my practice to read the Confession. Each time, I find more to make mine.
First, is Patrick’s Confession 6. It’s the reason Patrick wrote and the reason I write.
Although I am imperfect in many ways, I want my brothers and relations to know what I’m really like, so that they can see what it is that inspires my life.
That’s why. I want to be real and vulnerable enough in the blog that you get a sense of what I’m really like, not because I’m worthy of your time, but so that you can “see what it is that inspires my life.” In other words, I want to make God look big.
Which brings us to that other connection I have with Patrick.
It’s all about strength. Confession 30 is another way to say what Confession 6 said. Because what “inspires me” is what empowers me and makes me strong.
For that reason, I give thanks to the one who strengthened me in all things so that he would not impede me in the course I had undertaken and from the works also which I had learned from Christ my Lord. Rather, I sensed in myself no little strength from him, and my faith passed the test before God and people.
Patrick knew God’s strength when he risked his life over and over to preach the Gospel in Ireland—the very land where he’d once been enslaved. He felt it when he dealt with the hurt of his “very dear friend” sharing decades old dirt (See Confession 32). Patrick wrote his Confession so that his readers would know the source of that strength.
That’s also why I write. I write because I sense “no little strength” from Christ. Any act of forgiveness or repentance, any evidence endurance or love is through “no little strength” from Christ. I want you, kind reader, to feel it in your life too.
Let’s celebrate today. Because Patrick knew what Paul knew and what you know and I know. He knew what all of us saints know.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
My country girlfriend braved Chicago traffic last week. Because her husband’s cancer is still there, still growing. He’s barely 40 and his first brain surgery was ten years ago, before their youngest could even walk.
So off they drove to the big city to determine if he qualified for an experimental new treatment. But 48 hours after the consult, they got the call. He did not. A previous chemo disqualified him from this new drug.
Resting on the soft pillow of providence can happen at night, but it doesn’t happen overnight.
I still don’t always, but day by day, through Spirit power, I am training myself to not just trust, but to rest in God’s providential hand. I’m slowly learning to ask myself this one good question, “What good and wise thing is the God who loves me doing in what doesn’t seem good and wise?”
I won’t always know the answer. But it builds my faith to ask.
My Trials Are Because He Remembers
Paul Tripp’s devotions have a way of convicting and encouraging me in one fell swoop. This one from NEW MORNING MERCIES nails my little faith and helps me replace it with bigger trust when I face trials.
From day one, God has clearly communicated his zeal to us. It is his purpose that, by the means of rescuing, forgiving, transforming grace, we would be brought into relationship with him, and in the context of that relationship, be fully molded into the image of his Son. He has never promised us that he will deliver to us our personal definition of the good life. Rather he has promised that he will use all the tools at his disposal to complete the work of redemption that he has begun in our hearts and lives. He has not been unfaithful. He has kept every one of his promises He will do what he said.
Our problem is that we tend to be unfaithful to his holy agenda and get kidnapped by our plans for us and our dreams for our lives. The trials in our lives exist not because he has forgotten us, but because he remembers us and is changing us by his grace. When you remember that, you can have joy in the middle of what is uncomfortable.
This truth helps me retrain my brain to reframe my discomfort and pain. It helped my friend and her husband do the same: the white-knuckle drive to Chicago, the medical tests, and the rejection to the clinical trial. She texted, “We thank God for guiding us. He is with us. Even in this ‘no’.” He is changing us by his grace.
Truth is, it’s only when we remember this that our little, light and momentary trials bring joy. Because God loves us and wants us to endure and mature and be changed. Because he is good.
Sometimes he guides his children with “no’s.” But he always follows them with goodness and mercy.
Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
Asking you to tolerate whatever I do or say because you say you love me is a fundamental misunderstanding of what love is and what love does. Much of what we think love is simply isn’t love after all.
-Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies
If You Love Me, You Would…
Have you ever said that? Has anyone said it to you? If you love me, you would ___________. Fill in the blank: scratch my back, stay up late, wear a mask, don’t make me wait.While it’s absolutely true that love is kind and seeks not its own, love does not mean anything goes.
We know this intuitively. Which is why I don’t bite when my 13 year-old says loving him means I allow him take a phone to school. Or when the 15 year-old insists loving him means I let him go deep with an ominously named gaming stranger.
But, as helpful as are, the love languages they might hurt us here. Because if I assume that for love to be love it must always come in my preferred language—and feel good—I’ll miss and misinterpret a whole lot of love.
I know this because the Lover of my soul doesn’t always speak my preferred language or love me how I would choose to be loved. He didn’t with Mary and Martha either.
Jesus loved them enough to let Lazarus die—yes, to die—so that he could raise him up in a majestic way and so that they would see the his glory. And I guarantee that Mary did not say, Master, if you love me, please wait to come until Lazarus dies.
I Wanna Know What Love Is
We’ve got to know what love is. And Jesus can show us.
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was (John 11:5-6). Jesus loved them so much he didn’t save Lazarus from dying. He didn’t spare Mary and Martha that pain.
Love is doing whatever you have to do — or whatever God has to do — at whatever cost, in order for the glory of God to be shown. If that sounds like no definition of love you’ve ever heard, like it’s straight out of left field, please reread John 11:1-6. (If that definition is still confusing, you might listen to “Even When It Hurts,” where John Piper explains this definition.)
Because seeing the glory of God is the greatest good. And love, we know, is helping the beloved enjoy the greatest good.
5 Things I Know About Love
1. Love Is Anchored In Truth
I know it must be anchored in truth. It cannot contradict truth. It cannot exist without truth.
Real, biblical, self-sacrificing, God-honoring love never compromises what God says is right and true. Truth and love are inextricably bound together. Love that compromises truth simply isn’t love. Truth without love ceases to be truth because it gets bent and twisted by human agendas. If love wants and works for what is best for you, then love is committed to being part of what God says is best in your life. So, I am committed to being God’s tool for what he says is best in your life, even if that means we have to go through tense and difficult moments to get there.
Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies
This, for the record, is one of the marks of a true friend. And lest we misconstrue Tripp’s words, it’s not as if one person in the relationship is always the “truth tool” while the other is always the “project.” Holding out the truth in love, or “truthing it in love” ala 4:15, is to be reciprocal. The subject and object are not fixed. Heidi truths it with me and I truth it with her.
What’s more, speaking the truth in love is not the main point. It’s not. The grammar of Ephesians 4 is clear. Truthing it in love is not an end in itself. Me correcting you or you proving a point factually true, or even us rooting out our idols together, is not the point.
Do you see the purpose of Ephesians 4:15? The end for which “speaking the truth in love” is but a modifier?
It’s grow up. We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. That’s the goal.
Speaking truth in love is not the endpoint. Growing up into Jesus is.
But what you might not know off the top of your head is what comes right before it. Here’s the famous command in context:
That jumped off the page when I read it last week. Because most of us are conflict avoiders. It’s so much easier to walk away when we see a brother do wrong. And if the wrong hurt us, well, we might walk away and nurse a grudge. Because, if I’m honest, to hate my sister in my heart takes less effort than to reason frankly with her.
When conflict comes we are tempted to think God has left the building. In peacetime we feel God’s presence; his providence is sweet. But the moment a fellow sinner hurts me, we imagine God left. But God said Love, don’t hate. And God said the way out of hate and the way into love is reason frankly.
Speaking truth in love includes “reasoning frankly.” And, done right, it not only benefits my sister it also helps me. Because the alternative to reasoning frankly with her is “incurring guilt” myself. The guilt could come if I take vengeance, bear a grudge, or get passive-aggressive. And she could be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13). In both cases, reason frankly is God’s preventative against incurring guilt, against harm.
But this is hard. Because reasoning frankly and holding out truth in love can cost a lot.
3. We All Need Influencers
But I’m learning that silence is costly too. To the extent that I feel I can’t speak truth—because a friend is that sensitive— it is equally hard to feel love. My closest friendships are the ones who truth it love, side by side, with me. They say, “Smile more, talk less.” They ask, “Do I hear discontentment?”
I read this paragraph last night. It doesn’t use the word truth and it doesn’t mention love, but it’s on point. Here, a main character—The Man in the Wing Chair— describes his mother.
She just has her own opinions, and they’re the only tribunal that’s permitted to judge her when she makes a mistake. Can you imagine what you would be like if you didn’t have anyone close who was capable of influencing you? Anyone to point out your flaws, to confront you when you went too far, to correct you when you did something wrong?
Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera, The Awakening of Miss Prim
Isn’t that so sad? When I read the paragraph, I dropped the book and asked myself, Who is close enough to correct me?
Now I ask you, Who in your life is close enough to dare correct or confront you?
4. Speak Soft Words And Give Hard Reasons
I won’t grow if I stay blind to my faults, blind to my sin. As a Christian, I know that the Word of God and the Spirit of Christ can convict me. I don’t always need a fellow sinner to show me my sin. Sometimes it comes to light without him.
But God uses means. I wrote about the large chocolate spot I obliviously sported one night. The lesson: friends tell friends.
But how we hold out truth matters. And I’ll be first to admit that I don’t always get the how right. My family and friends will tell you that. But I do aim to apply C.H. Spurgeon’s advice:
If you see that a stick is crooked, and you want people to see how crooked it is, lay a straight rod down beside it; that will be quite enough. But if you are drawn into controversy, use very hard arguments and very soft words. Frequently you cannot convince a man by tugging at his reason, but you can persuade him by winning his affections.
That might sound like this: Kelsey, your voice is gorgeous. And I know you want us to be drawn to worship Christ not be focused on your clothes. That’s why I wanted to tell you I was distracted by your clothes the last few times you led singing. But I don’t doubt your love and I thank you for your hard work.
Gentle words, with gratitude and hard argument, rooted in truth. We speak this way so that we will grow into Christ and not incur guilt.
5. We Love People When We Love God
That was a big takeaway for me as I studied 1 John. Since God is love (1 John 4:8), it stands to reason that if I don’t understand God rightly, I won’t understand love rightly. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.
But isn’t that out of order? Hasn’t John explained that the main way show our love for the God who we can’t see is by our love for our brother we do see (1 John 4:20)? Yes, he did: We cannot love God without loving His children.
But that answer just kicks the can. How do we love people? In 1 John 5:2, John explains that we love others by loving God and keeping his commands.
That brings us full circle. So what about, If you love me you would…? Jesus is the only person who could say with impunity, If you love me you would.
Do you know why? Because he and the Father were one. The God-Man had no sinful nature to taint his If you love me you would. He knew with certainty what would help us see His glory. So he said, If you love me you will keep my commands.
Truth without love is abuse. Love without truth is neglect.
The doctor that conceals a cancer diagnosis is not “loving” his patient. Remember the prophets who “healed the wound of the people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14)? Perhaps out of self-love or fear of disappointing, the prophets did not act in love for God’s wounded people.
Love covers offenses and sins (1 Peter 4:8, Proverbs 10:12). But it also exposes and rebukes (Matthew 18:15, Proverbs 27:5-6). Soft, gracious words do not abuse and hard, biblical reasons do not neglect.
Paul David Tripp writes,
Love doesn’t call wrong right. Love doesn’t ignore wrong and hope it goes away. It doesn’t turn its back on you because you are wrong. Love doesn’t mock you. And love doesn’t go passive and stay silent in the face of wrong. Love moves toward you because you are wrong and need to be rescued from you. In moving toward you, love is willing to make sacrifices and endure hardships so that you may be made right again and be reconciled to God and others. God graces us with this kind of love so that we may be tools of this love in the lives of others.
Love moves toward you because you are wrong and need to be rescued from you. Jesus did that for me. He—Love—covers a multitude of sins, but also shows me my faults.
And as much as I want to be a tool of this kind of love, sometimes it’s hard to discern which path love takes.
What I Don’t Know About Love
There are so many things I don’t know about truth in love. The God-Man alone, could rightly say, If you love me you would… Because he knows all things. He alone knows all that is good.
I do not. Which is why I can’t always tell if my friends and sons are right when they say or imply, If you love me you would….
And I don’t know how much truth love tells. I’m not always sure when love conceals and when it reveals. I often don’t know the best, the most loving way to hold out the truth in love or if I should say a thing when I don’t feel the love.
But I do know that I want to be pure for the day of Christ. And I know I need a discerning love.
We hit a new low. We’ve had bad weeks in our house before, but this week’s behavior borders on criminal. Still, there’s a reason this blog is called JoyfullyPressingOn. My times are in his hands; every jaw-dropping event in his providence.
To protect the guilty one I love, I won’t share details. But trust me, if I told you, your jaw would drop. You’d ask, “What are doing about that?”
So why do I disclose this much?
Because I know that some of you are facing tough stuff too—that kind that keeps you tossing and turning at night. Please don’t hear this as a brag, because I mean to boast in the God of all grace: I slept like a baby last night.
Because I’ve got a stellar pillow.
When It’s Hard To Sleep
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. Psalm 31:9
The events of the week could have made it hard to sleep. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
What happened this week marks years of prayers still answered, Not now. That answer, these events could make it hard for a mom to sleep.
At least, without the right pillow.
But too many nights tossing and turning on too-soft and too-firm foreign pillows have taught me: when I travel, I pack my pillow.
It’s well worth the space because to sleep in all sorts of strange beds and new places.
Providence Is A Soft Pillow
I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8
But when I put my head on that pillow and catastrophic, hopeless thoughts still swirl, I need another pillow. Because uncertainty should not be the occasion of panic.Alistair Begg says, The only thing you can put your head on is the providence of God. Then you go to sleep.
The Puritans said, “Providence is a soft pillow for anxious heads.” And some of us are terribly anxious about the uncertainty we face. We are not trusting our unknown futures to a known God who knows the future. And we are not alone.
Most of the occasions of my worrying, most of the occasions of my rising fears can be traced ultimately to a loss of confidence in the doctrine of providence—can be traced to the fact that I am prepared to say, “My times are in your hands,” but I’m not prepared to live in the light of that truth.
Joyfully pressing on means living in light of that truth. It means that even though I have no idea how this today’s event will unfold and if the heart will untwist, I will trust. In peace, I will both lie down and sleep.
Because I sleep on the soft pillow of providence.
My Times Are In Your Hands
But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand… Psalm 31:14-15a
My old theology text books defines providence as the “continued exercise of [God’s] divine energy whereby the Creator preserves all of His creatures, is operative in all that comes to pass in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.”
Unpacked: Providence means God is guiding all the events of the world including those in your life. In other words, your times are in his hands.
Some of you know I’m working on a book about meekness. Here’s a little secret: The meek know how to sleep. They have a heightened sense of God’s providence. They carry this pillow everywhere. On it they rest their heads.
And as they doze off, you might hear them pray, “My times are in your hand.”
Asleep in the Storm Like Jesus
And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow.Mark 4:37-38a
As I was writing this, it hit me. Jesus had a pillow too. His head was on it that evening he slept in the stern of the boat on the stormy sea. But his disciples then, like his disciples now, had trust issues. They got anxious.
Remember what they did? They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?”
For Jesus, Mark tells us, was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. Yes, a pillow. The very same pillow, in fact, that you and I can sleep on—the soft pillow of providence. The pillow that helps me sleep in the midst of the storms in my home is the same pillow that Jesus lay his head on in the storm-tossed boat.
Into Your Hand
Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. Psalm 31:5
How do I know? Well, it goes back to Psalm 31. A few verses before David prayed, My time are in your hand, he prayed:
Into your hand I commit my spirit.
I doubt Jesus prayed that on the boat. But great David’s greater Son did pray it in the most stressful of all times, ever.
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
Luke 23:44-46, ESV
Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it, John Calvin said.
I did not sleep well this week because I know how this chapter ends. I only slept well because of my pillow.
But when a good thing becomes an ultimate thing it’s an idol. When you’re willing to sin to feed it or sin if you think you’ll lose it, you may be feeding the beast.
Lent: Spring Cleaning For Your Soul
When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, Timothy Keller writes, it is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are actually worshipping.
I shared 4 “idol-identifying” questions a couple posts back. And when the Spirit convicts me of inordinate time and energy going into Facebook—specifically a Bible study ministry group—I’d best change that.
So then along comes Lent, a lovely 46 days (I’m including Sundays.) to forsake a good thing to make space for “more vibrant discipleship.” In other words, Lent is a great season to do some spring cleaning in your soul. It’s a great time to starve your idol.
So I’m fasting from Facebook and the hardest part of that will be laying aside my baby, my Isaac, my little Bible study ministry, the Wonders of the Word (WoW) group that I so enjoy.
Not, because WoW is bad, or Facebook is bad. So why give a good thing up?
Why My Facebook Fast?
It’s the same reason one friend is giving up a nightly glass of wine for the month of February, and another friend is fasting from sugar for 12 weeks.
Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 6:12: “I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but I will not be mastered by anything.
My focus, my energy, my “happiness and self-worth” even, is coming too much from my social media presence. I’m being mastered by a good thing— my online ministry. And any good think that is not God can morph into an idol.
That’s why you won’t see me on Facebook (or Instagram or Twitter) for a while. That is reason #3 for a Lenten fast .
The other two are described now, in a repost from April 2015, when I kissed ice cream good-bye.
Why give up a good thing? Why wage an optional war?
In a word, training. In four, Christ-exalting soul strength. Each time I skip a soft-serve and pass on pie a la mode, my soul gets a little stronger. Train yourself to be godly, Paul told Timothy. I from a little thing like ice cream and am strengthened for bigger battles against greed and pride, grumbling and envy.
It’s called resistance training.
Reason #1: Resistance training makes me stronger.
Lent is testing ground; a time for spiritual resistance training. It’s a battlefield of sorts. Fasting shows what controls me, what comforts me. It exposes what I really live by: ice cream and coffee, Facebook and fitness? Or every word that comes from the mouth of God?
Christian fasting-giving up a good gift for a time- is not about Stoic pride, or proving my love for God. It is about training in godliness. I work my soul in a new way to build spiritual fitness. It’s resisting what would lure my heart away from my all-glorious, all-satisfying God.
Fasting increases the strength of my soul. so, I will not be mastered by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12). That is why I kissed ice cream good-bye.
If I can’t deny myself ice cream for six weeks, how can I resist the more habit-forming, tempting tastes of pride and envy, of anger and impatience?
A heaping bowl after dinner and a long run every morning and notices on my phone could all have me for breakfast. When my happiness hinges on those, I’m done. I’m captive.
All are innocent pleasures. Caffeine and ice cream, Facebook and fitness are gifts from God. And all can move subtly to become an end in themselves. To enslave. Ice cream has that power?
It does. Or did. And so does coffee in the morning and posting that elusive “100 likes” photo. A sub-seven minute mile can do it for me, too.
But I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing his suffering, becoming like him in death (Philippians 3 :10-11). Starting with these little denial deaths. Paul said he counted everything rubbish that he could know Christ. Little food and Facebook fasts make me strong for big soul fights, because in them I know Christ better.
But there’s one more big I kissed ice cream good-bye.
Reason #2. God gets glory when we call on him for help to resist temptation.
C. S. Lewis hinted at it. Only those who try to resist temptation knows how strong it is, he wrote. And Christ is the only one who never yielded to temptation.
Jesus was like us in every respect, and because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:14-15). He can sympathize with our weakness, because in every respect he has been tempted as we are, yet was without sin.
And here is how Christ is exalted. It’s when we confidently draw near to the throne of grace, to receive mercy-forgiveness when we fall– and find grace-power to keep from falling-to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).
He gives mercy and grace. I call, tempted and weak. Christ answers, sympathetic and strong. I called, you answered; my strength of soul you increased(Psalm 138:3).
That exchange- I call, God answers- is soul-strengthening, Christ-exalting soul training.
But what does look like in real life?
For me, it looks like closing the freezer without sneaking a bite from the pint in the back. And refusing to peek at Facebook one last time to check if someone liked my post. At Arby’s last week it was Thank you Jesus as the rest of the family shared a Jamocha milkshake.
That’s freedom. It’s starving idols that would ensnare and enslave me. That’s some Lenten cleaning for my soul. But we don’t go it alone.
We don’t call uncle; we call Jesus.
Help me stand stand firm. Fill the hollowness. And please remind me of your truth. Like this.
It might be countering your itch for human praise with this reminder: Let another praise you and not your own lips.
Or dueling with envy the minute he starts to whisper, You ought to have a four bedroom, sunny-side house. Nope: Godliness with contentment is great gain.
And striking with the sword of the Spirit when despair over a failed friendship falls. Why so downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God. He’s the lifter of your face.
Or wielding the Word to kill worry when the infection spreads to your kids. Cast your cares upon him, for he cares for you. And, Commit your way to the Lord.
Or trading gratitude for grumbling, when we feel entitled to better this, or more that. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
That’s how God gets glory when we strength train. The One who was tempted in every way, who is right now interceding for us, His strength is exalted when I work my soul muscles.
Then we really know the truth we talk: no temptation can seize us beyond what we can bear. God truly is faithful to provide a way out so we can stand up under it. That kind of resistance strengthens our spiritual muscles.
Yes, we are a Resurrection People; Christ is Risen indeed! My sin is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. We stand forgiven at the cross. But our battles aren’t over yet.
Jesus suffered and died so I won’t have to suffer is NOT its message. It’s He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).
The cross isn’t just past. The word of the crossis to us who are being saved the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). John Piper says the cross of Christ is not merely a past place of substitution. It’s also a present place of daily execution.
It is not just history. It’s a present way of life for the Christian. It’s Colossians 3:5, Put to death what is earthly in you. It is Roman’s 6:11, Consider yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ. And, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
But remember, fasting and denying are not ends in themselves. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Luke 9:23-24). The Lenten fast always leads to the Easter feast.
In heaven there will be no self-denial because none of our desires will tend toward sin. We’ll be with the Bridegroom and we won’t fast. Oh no. We will feast.
That this our fast of forty days, May work our profit and Thy praise!
The ancient hymn, Audi benigne Conditordescribes the bonds between our bodies and souls. Anthony Esolen’s translation beautifully expresses how God is glorified when we bring both into subjection. When we resistance train in the present power of the cross.
I don’t know which was the bigger miracle—my question or his answer.
Miracles Never Cease
The first title of this post was “Miracles Never Cease: How The Phone Stayed Home.”
It was an amazing, soaring short story about how a son who so loved his phone willingly agreed to leave it at home for a weekend youth retreat. The climax of the story was the part when the prone to over-control mom—after days and days of praying and pondering and asking her friends to ponder and pray— stunned herself.
How’s that? you wonder.
Believe it or not, it happened when she asked the son in a voice so open and gentle that it surprised her own ears,
So, what would you think of leaving your phone home this weekend?
That open-ended meek question was miracle #1. If you knew the Mom you’d marvel.
But then on the heels of #1 comes miracle #2.
That’d be okay.
That’s it. That’s what the son said without hesitation, protest or reservation. Two miracles right in a row. That would have been the post. It’s what I had written at 10 pm last Sunday night.
A JoyPrO about two amazing Spirit-controlled actions of a mother and son. Tied with a bow. Happily ever after. The end.
Then along came 11 pm.
How One Phone Stayed Home
When in a too-rare flurry of mother-son affection, the mother decided to sneak into the sleeping teen’s room to plant a kiss on his forehead. That was her plan.
So she stole in to where he lay—wide awake with earbuds in and spare phone in hand. And off came the bow.
Did you sneak this phone on the retreat?
Yes, he nodded. I did. But I hardly used it, he added, handing off the hot phone.
But there was more. Two words from this son the mother so hungers for,
It was late and he was caught red-handed. But this time, she believed him. Because little by little we grow. And little by little we change.
Because it’s little by little that we drive out the enemies of our soul.
Little By Little
Please stick with me. Because these couple of verses in an obscure chapter of Exodus have a lot to do with snuck phones and with how all Christians grow. With how I learn to ask not force, with how I learn to resist self-pity and give thanks, with how I train myself to get to bed before eleven. Little by little.
Here’s the background. The Israelites were fresh out of Egypt on their way to the Promised Land. But the Promised land was occupied—by the -ite peoples—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These were strong nations.
But not so strong that the God who’d just split the Red Sea and closed it on Pharaoh’s chariots could have destroyed them all at once.
But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by littleI will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you. (Exodus 23:29-31, NIV)
Little by little I will drive them out. And you will drive them out too.
I Will, You Will
In a message on Exodus 23, Kevin DeYoung explains how those three little verses describe the whole of Christian life, of Christian growth. You drive them out, I drive them out. That is how we grow.
Did you see that? In verse 30, “I will drive them out.” In verse 31, “You will drive them out.” That’s how it is with sanctification, with the process of becoming more like Jesus. We work out our salvation, for God works in us to will and act. God is doing the work. At the same time, he tells us to get to get to work (Philippians 2:12-13).
DeYoung sums up Christian growth this way: Victory comes from God, victory takes work, and victory comes little by little.
God works in you, so you work. Growth happens little by little, change comes from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). Degrees. Little by little degrees. The son didn’t take his phone but he snuck another. The mom held her tongue two times, but not the third. By degree. Victory comes little by little, when we work because God is at work.
Perpetual Vigilance, Constant Dependence
Don’t despise the day of small things. I wrote about that with the same phone-sneaking son 6 years ago. Screen time and sneaking have been issues for a decade. And truth be told, overbearing and controlling have been too. And after those two miracles the night before the retreat, I was so hungry for growth. I was hungry for victory and freedom in his life— so hungry I could almost taste victory.
And sometimes God works his power in our lives in an instant. He removes a desire or heals a cancer or creates a life. All of a sudden he does it and completely he does it.
But more often, we see his work little by little. Transformation comes slowly. Today may not feel like a success, but over time we could see growth.
Little by little the Israelites would drive out their enemies. Bit by bit, rather than in an instant, would keep them from getting sluggish and overconfident. And it would keep the wild beasts from multiplying in the unpopulated land.
Thus too in our spiritual warfare, it is no doubt ordained for our highest good that our corruptions should be subdued, not all at once, but by little and little; that our old man should be crucified gradually. This keeps us in an attitude of perpetual vigilance, and reminds of our constant dependence upon God, who alone giveth us the victory. (G. Bush)
And when you think about it, what could be better this side of heaven than to fully rely on God?
Little By Little We Grow
Israel was promised a bountiful land, but we are promised an abundant life (John 10:10). Not easy life, but abundant life.
So I was going to end the first post, the happy bow post before I learned about the stolen phone, with Ephesians 3 verse 20. But then I scrapped it. Because that’s a powerful victory verse and we’d had a setback.
But as I think about it, to stay the course and drive out our enemies little by little takes massive power within us, too. And it’s at work in the son and me.
So I think I still will.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
Idols? What idols? And why would you want to identify your idols? After all, asking these questions is like plunging into Lake Michigan on February 1st.
Exposure stings. It’s painful in the moment, but— my Polar Plunging niece tells me—you’re glad you did it once it’s done.
Exposing our idols at once stings and bites and cleanses and invigorates.
What is an idol?
I’ll borrow from Brad Bigney, since he wrote the idols book my girlfriends are studying with me.
An idol is anything or anyone that captures our hearts, minds, and affections more than God.
Brad Bigney, Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols
In other words, when I fear or seek anyone or anything more than Jesus Christ, it’s an idol. And worshiping idols is a fool thing to do.
Because idol worship is a self-injurious, double sin. In Jeremiah 2:13, God explains how,
My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
Whenever we look to things other than God to meet our desires— even perfectly legitimate desires for gifts like health and happiness or security and peace— we have become idolaters. Period.
Because God is the Giver of all good gifts. When we turn a good thing—whether health or helping, our children or friends— into an ultimate thing, it’s become an idol. Paul David Tripp asks, Could it be that desire for a good thing has become a bad thing because that desire has become a ruling thing?
3 Reasons Idol Worship Matters
Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them (Jonah 2:8). That’s why idolatry matters. God gives special grace to the humble, to those who fear him, to those who seek his face. By idol worshipers forfeit that special grace that could be theirs.
They pursued worthless idols and themselves became worthless (2 Kings 17:15b). That’s another reason your idol worship matters. Because we become what we behold. When we look on Jesus, we are transformed to his image, from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). But when we pursue drivel, our souls shrivel.
When any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing in Israel separate themselves from me and set up idols in their hearts...I the Lord will answer them myself. I will set my face against them (Ezekiel 14:7-8). That’s the big gun. God does not share his glory with others or share his praise with idols (Isaiah 42:8). In shorts, if you set up an idol in your heart, God will set his face against you.
Clinging and pursuing and setting up idols sounds a lot like slavery. Timothy Keller has written, An idolatrous attachment can lead you to break any promise, rationalize any indiscretion, or betray any other allegiance, in order to hold on to it. It may drive you to violate all good and proper boundaries. To practice idolatry is to be a slave.
I told you. It would feel like a cold shower. So get your towel out. In we go.
4 Questions To Identify Your Idols
But first, have you noticed how it’s so much easier to spot other people’s idols than our own? I can see a friend with a security idol a mile away—the anxiety, the refusal to risk, the control. And an approval idol—I can spot that one from two miles away. But I can be a bit blind to my own.
So it follows that others might see my idols more clearly than me.
That’s where the questions come in to play. But my Thursday morning girlfriends and I are serious about rooting out our idols. We’ve taken the stinging, invigorating, cleansing plunge. You are absolutely right—this is not for the faint of heart.
Because most of us are a little too defensive. We’re a little too tightly wound to receive criticism aright. We want answers for our troubles, but we can’t handle the truth.
Are you ready? Brace yourself. Then humble yourself and invite a spouse or a close friend to speak into your life.
What do you see me running to instead of God?
Where do you see a demanding spirit in me?
What do you see me clinging to and craving more than God?
Where do you see me wanting something so badly that I’m willing to sin to get it or sin if I think I’ll lose it?
An Idol Revealed
I was feeling strong the night I posed those four to Jim, and he didn’t hesitate. His answers were stinging and cleansing at once. But none was a shock. I’ll spare you most of the sordid detail, I will confess to you that Jim’s answer to #4 was <gulp> “writing.” Which, I’m aware, goes deeper to a root of influence and pride. I like to feel esteemed. Not always and in every way, but sometimes and most every day.
I am guilty as charged: I have sinned to get my writing in. Namely, I may ignore the family around, or I may stay up too late—it’s 10:37 pm as I type—and wake up grumpy and get myself sick, both of which are unloving to those around me. Or I may be tempted to use work time for writing, which is stealing. And if, after I’ve poured heart and soul into it, my writing goes is unread and ignored I may commit the twin sins of envy and self-pity.
2 Ways To Guard Yourselves From Idols
It’s not quite Whac-A-Mole, but my idols keep popping up.
Seeing as, “Man’s nature…is a perpetual factory of idols” (John Calvin), my first tear-down technique is to realize that the fight won’t be over till glory. Bigney calls this a “wartime mentality.” Galatians 5:17 is true: For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want to do. That is as true for me today as it was 20 years ago and will be 20 years from now.
The second idol-destroying strategy is to seek Jesus. I seek Him in his Word, and I seek him in the wisdom of the saints. As Bigney notes, “Reading the Bible keeps you honest, because you don’t just read the Bible—the Bible reads you.” It exposes us—Polar Plunge style sometimes—but the more time we spend with Him in his Word, the smaller our idols will be and easier to uproot. But, addsTullian Tchividjian explains, If you uproot the idol,but fail to plant the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back.
That’s it: be on guard, and know Jesus. And follow him. Obey his Word. That will starve those idols out.
For me and my writing (and respect) idol, it meant no JoyPrO post last week. It meant delaying this post to play Euchre and watch a movie with the boys last night. And every single day, by grace, it means that I won’t open the laptop to write or head to Facebook to post if I haven’t sought God in His Word first.
Knowing Jesus Christ will keep us from idols. Or, as Elisabeth Elliot wrote, When God is first in our hearts, all other loves are in order and find their rightful place. And a cold plunge can be a rousing way to expose those other loves.
Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
1 John 5:21
Bonus: 10 Probing Idol Worship Quotes
1. “Thus it is that we always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.” –Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
2. “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God, your functional savior. ” –Martin Luther
3. “Saint Augustine defined idolatry as worshiping what should be used or using what should be worshiped.” –Colin S. Smith
4. “If we make an idol of any creature, wealth, or pleasure, or honour – if we place our happiness in it, and promise ourselves the comfort and satisfaction in it which are to be had in God only – if we make it our joy and love, our hope and confidence, we shall find it a cistern, which we take a great deal of pains to hew out and fill, and at the best it will hold but a little water, and that dead and flat, and soon corrupting and becoming nauseous (Jer. 2:23).” -C.H. Spurgeon
5. “What are you really living for? It’s crucial to realize that you either glorify God, or you glorify something or someone else. You’re always making something look big. If you don’t glorify God when you’re involved in a conflict, you inevitably show that someone or something else rules your heart.” –Ken Sande
6. “The most dangerous mistake that our souls are capable of, is, to take the creature for God, and earth for heaven.” –Richard Baxter
7. “Our culture says ‘live your dream,’ but God calls you to place your dream on His altar and to keep it there at all times. It is good to have hopes and dreams for the future, but we have no rights. There are no certainties. Any dream can become an idol and, if it does, God will bring it down.” –Colin S. Smith
8. “When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, it is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are actually worshipping. When such a thing is threatened, your anger is absolute. Your anger is actually the way the idol keeps you in its service, in its chains. Therefore if you find that, despite all the efforts to forgive, your anger and bitterness cannot subside, you may need to look deeper and ask, ‘What am I defending? What is so important that I cannot live without?’ It may be that, until some inordinate desire is identified and confronted, you will not be able to master your anger.” -Timothy Keller
9. “When human beings give their heartfelt allegiance to and worship that which is not God, they progressively cease to reflect the image of God. One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only to the object itself but also outward to the world around.
Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings. People who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sex objects. Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch.” -N.T. Wright
10. “The bottle of the creature cracks and dries up, but the well of the Creator never fails; happy is he who dwells at the well.” -C.H. Spurgeon
Cut comma, delete clause, better word. First impression! No typos on this one, Abigail. Big breath. Triple check.
Read it out loud. Read it again.
Is it wrong to want more influence? Is it bad to try to build your tribe? And is it sinful to want more opportunity to make a bigger mark for God?
It all depends.
It depends first of all if you’re being, what Paul David Tripp calls, a glory thief. If you’re craving the credit for what only God could create, or wanting your tribe to dote on you and hang on your words rather than worship God, you are a glory thief.
But there’s this other piece I’m learning. S L O W L Y learning. I am learning that while it isn’t wrong to approach Mom’s apple from a position of scarcity—because there are a limited number of pieces— it is both irrational and wrong to approach ministry and writing this way.
Because there is plenty of ground to go around.
On Friday, I wrote the big **Intro Post** to the Hope*Writers group I joined four months ago. Four months of build up to make the perfect first impression that could connect me to the “right people” and help launch the MORE MEEK book before long. That’s what the deleting and cutting and breathing and re-reading were all about before I hit post.
Saturday evening I looked back at the post, back at the group. I looked back like Lot’s wife and I started comparing. Not only the meager likes and tepid welcomes on my intro post with the massive likes and red hot welcomes on Amy’s intro post, but my life with her life.
You see, Amy was working for the campus organization that I almost joined 20 years ago. She is doing what I love do as her job. Plus Amy has a real book published by a real publishing house.
Silent tears kicked off a short-lived, impromptu pity party on Saturday night.
Yes, I know. Ug-ly.
Tend Your Territory
Enter Jonathan Rogers into my ugliness. The words of his post were God sent for me that Saturday night, when I started comparing my writing with hers.
Rogers describes urges his writing readers to switch from a hierarchical orientation to a territorial orientation. A hierarchical orientation is fueled by comparison. Instead of comparing and thinking better than, more than, think of faithfulness tending your land. Because comparison, we know, is the thief of joy.
Writing, like running (and, for that matter, like football) requires discipline and work and a willingness to do hard things when a thousand easier things present themselves. But the goal of all of that work and discipline is to get better, not to get better THAN. Other writers are your allies, not your adversaries…
If you’re a writer, forget about your place in the hierarchy. You don’t have a place in the hierarchy because there is no hierarchy in any meaningful sense. What you have is a territory—a little patch of ground that is yours to cultivate. Your patch of ground is your unique combination of experiences and perspective and voice and loves and longings and community. Tend that patch of ground.
Please be encouraged. Because we all have a patch of God-given territory. It’s ours to tend. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.
So tend your little patch of ground that is uniquely yours. Tend the girlfriends who want to spend time with you. And tend the growing sons who need you even if they don’t want you. Tend the home that needs your gentle stability. Attend to the readers and listeners God sends you.
Tend, tend, tend. Tend them.
Two Prayers: Both/And
Remember the prayer of Jabez? It’s buried in an obscure passage in a rather obscure Old Testament book. The genealogy is humming along, when after forty-four names, the name Jabez breaks in. And in 1 Chronicles 4:10 we read,
Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.
Jabez prayed for more territory—for me that might look like more people to encourage with God’s Word, more Bible studies, more readers, and maybe, getting that MORE MEEK book in print. What would enlarged territory look like for you?
Pray for it. But remember, too, the words of Psalm 131—that little prayer that King David prayed,
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Both. Pray for an enlarged territory. Pray that your little patch of influence for Christ, please God, would increase.
After a three month build up to that big first impression intro*post, which 5-6 hours of deliberation, I did the deed on Friday. Then came the sore dejection and deflation on Saturday when I compared my post, and my life, with Amy’s.
Then I got to tending. I started the Bible study prep in the Gospel of Matthew for my little Sunday afternoon territory. And as I prepared this little patch of ground that God has entrusted to me, I started to see that even though my envy is ugly, God isn’t afraid of ugly. So neither should we be. Jesus touched the unclean and made them clean. He deals in beauty made from ashes.
It was getting late and I was still straddling the fence. But my choice distilled to this: Do I stay at the party or blow the joint with the meek and humble Jesus?Do I compare or choose fellowship with the man of no reputation? I can’t do both.
He knows. Which means he can sympathize with the likes of you and me.
All Glory Be To Christ
That was Saturday night. Then came Sunday morn.
God wasn’t done speaking to me about envy and legacy. He speaks through his Word. Sometimes his Word is expressed through man’s lips or song lyrics that remind us of God’s truth.
And it just so happened that on the first Sunday of the new year we sang a song that starts like this, and this pity-party throwing, would-be glory thief was all undone.
In the best of ways.
Should nothing of our efforts stand No legacy survive Unless the Lord does raise the house In vain its builders strive To you who boast tomorrow’s gain Tell me what is your life A mist that vanishes at dawn All glory be to Christ
Hair fades, brows crease, and it is all grace that our marriage has endured to year 25.
But even with 24 years under my belt, I’m no marriage expert.
I do have one quick tip, though. I call it the THAT’S WHY I MARRIED YOU game; AKA: CALL OUT THE GOOD, or I LOVE THAT ABOUT YOU.
Single? No worries. It works with friends, too. Just call it, THAT’S WHY YOU’RE MY FRIEND.
In fact, I advise my single friends, Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, then half-closed after the wedding. This, I think, is an active way of keeping our eyes half-closed—closed to negatives we can’t change in others—and wide open to their praiseworthy ways.
To clarify, calling out the good does not mean we don’t see the bad. It only means we choose to dwell on the good, à la Philippians 4:8,
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Not Blind, Just Focused
So playing this “game” doesn’t imply you’re smitten down to the pinky toes. It just means you’re choosing to see the good in them. It’s not blind devotion. It’s proper focus.
Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates…But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to.
Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 51-52
And you’re real soul-mate will thank you and feel more like your soul-mate if you practice this one tip.
Do Not Withhold Good
Directions for use: Simply call out the good when you think it. You notice when a friend keeps her word when it hurts, call it out. Your husband unloads the dishes, acknowledge it.
Don’t save you loving speeches. Praise the praiseworthy. Don’t be stingy with it. If you think a complimentary, affectionate, kind-hearted thought about your husband (or friend) share it.
Bonus Points: Call out the good in front of others. I try to play “that’s why I married you” in front of the boys. It sounds like, “He gives great hugs. That’s why I married your dad.” Or when you’re having coffee with Meg and some mutual friends you casually ask, “Doesn’t Meg give the most thoughtful gifts?”
And without any more ado, here’s why 24 years after the wedding, I’m glad Jim’s my man.
In no particular order, here are 10 reasons I’m glad I married Jim:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
I think of these lines as December runs out. They’re from a king’s speech to his fearful people—people of one of the most powerful nations on earth in a time of great uncertainty and three long months at war.
More than eight decades have passed since King George delivered that message, but its truth is as needed as it was then. Because the times they are a-changin’. And the order rapidly fading and the roads rapidly changing isn’t all good.
It wasn’t so good then, either.
Peace In Troubled Times
Great Britain had entered the Second World War in September 1939. In the three months since, air-raid sirens had been ringing in their ears and tension was rising. Anxiety and fear over the New Year pressed into English hearts and minds.
King George VI was England’s reigning monarch in December 1939. As was the custom, the king addressed the nation on a BBC radio broadcast on a Christmas day when all was not calm and bright. He told the people of the only true source of peace in troubled times. King George concluded the message with the part of a poem introduced to him by his 13 year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth.
The king read the poem to encourage the English people that even during the dreadful war their future could be bright and secure.
That’s why I share it with you on the gate of this year. If your hand in His, you will walk by faith in him, your way will tread safely and rest secure—come what may.
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
So heart be still: What need our little life Our human life to know, If God hath comprehension? In all the dizzy strife Of things both high and low, God hideth His intention.
God knows. His will Is best. The stretch of years Which wind ahead, so dim To our imperfect vision, Are clear to God. Our fears Are premature; In Him, All time hath full provision.
Then rest: until God moves to lift the veil From our impatient eyes, When, as the sweeter features Of Life’s stern face we hail, Fair beyond all surmise God’s thought around His creatures Our mind shall fill.
God knows. His will is best…Our fears are premature. He will provide for all time.
For all your days and times.
Our Days Are Numbered, And That’s Good News
All of our days are numbered. They were written in his book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). Priest and missionary Henry Martyn said, You are immortal until God’s purpose for you is complete. And since God loves his children with great love, this is very good news.
So I echo the king at the gate of our year, May that Almighty hand guide and uphold us all. Amen.
I finished the list—the 23rd list. Compiling the Piquant Page-Turner ladies’ book club annual book list is both one of my favorite and one of the most difficult things in all the world.
Partly because I feel a sacred trust. Selecting in which friends will invest their precious time is a burden. I don’t want them to waste their time. But it’s excruciating for another reason: I see how many good books I cannot introduce to my friends.
After 22 years of reading a book a month together—250 or so books, I think—we have barely touched the top shelf.
Good Ladies Behind Good Books
This year two books helped me pick good books. Not surprisingly, both books were gifts from book club friends. Before I tell you about the books, let me tell you about the friends.
My friend Jen gave me the book on the left, Karen Swallow Prior’s, On Reading Well. Jen joined the book club over a decade ago, but her health seldom allows her to leave the house. But still Jen reads. She reads and reviews and helps launch books. Jen has been behind some of our best books and arranged the most fascinating author interviews.
My friend Karen gave me the other book about good books, Sarah Clarkson’s, Book Girl. Karen came to the very first book club meeting I hosted as a 22 year-old, married 1-year, grad-school student who loved reading and talking about books. She’s 30 years older than me and Mom’s friend—Mom comes too—but age is no barrier to when you love to read.
I wish I could tell you about my other book club friends—friends like Lisa and Kathy and Joyce and Jen.
Why Read Good Books?
Reason number one: because my imagination and attitudes and behavior need tune-ups. Reading helps me set my mind on what is good and pure and lovely. But it’s not enough to read widely. As Karen Swallow Prior notes, One must also read well…Reading well entails discerning which visions of life are false and which are good and true.
And, as Mark Edmundson explains in his book Why Read?, The ultimate test of a book, is the difference it would make in the conduct of life. So why take the time to find and read good books? Because reading good books makes us more virtuous people.
Prior quotes Thomas Jefferson to explain this further,
Everything is useful which contributes to fix in the principles and practices of virtue. When any original Act of Charity or of gratitude, for instance, is presented either to our sight or imagination, we are deeply impressed with its beauty and feel a strong desire in ourselves to do charitable and grateful acts also. On the contrary, when we see or read of any atrocious deed, we are disgusted with its deformity, and conceive and importance of Vice. Now every emotion of this kind is an exercise of our virtuous dispositions, and dispositions of the mind, like limbs of the body acquire strength by exercise. But exercise produces habit, and…the exercise of the moral feelings produces a habit of thinking and acting virtuously.
We read good books works our virtue muscles, if you will.
Why Keep Reading Good Books?
Build An Excellence Habit
In a word: habit. To have your imagination bathed in virtue you must continue at it. Don’t just dip your hand. Just as water, over a long period of time, reshapes the land through which it runs, Karen Swallow Prior explains, so too we are formed by the habit of reading good books well.
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly; “these virtues are formed in Man by his doing the actions”; we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit: “the good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life…For as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or short time that makes a man blessed and happy.”
Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, quoting Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics
We keep setting good books before our eyes because goodness is formed in us over time. We become what we behold, someone said. And what we keep beholding.
Build Empathy Too
Why else should you keep reading good books? Because continual reading of good books gives us more empathy. Empathy enables kindness, and God knows we need more kind and tender-hearted among us.
Reading allows us to place ourselves in another’s shoes, seeing the world through another’s eyes, empathizing with views different from our own… Just as thinking about walking can actually stimulate your brain and muscles to remember the feeling of walking, reading a book stimulated the brains of readers in such a way as to suggest they were imaginatively “feeling” the story as something real. Imagine the power that gives us to feel the pain of another, to understand someone else’s struggle, stubbornness, or need. The kind of compassionate insight offered by a perceptive story is one that drives us toward connection. We are given the insight both to understand and to reach across the barriers…
Sarah Clarkson, Book Girl: A Journey through the Treasures & Transforming Power of a Reading Life
We need each others’ presence. And we need—and crave for ourselves—empathy in their presence. That’s why we keep reading good books.
Why Keep Reading Good Books Together?
I won’t lie. It’s a drain. I’ve greeted my book club friends with dinner-stained sweatpants and tear-stained eyes some Monday nights. It takes time to read and effort to get together and the family still needs feeding. So we eat and I and race to the couch to finish the last 20 pages which more often than not make me cry. Then I answer the door and we book girls talk about books together.
In these more “socially-distant” days, we need friendship. Reading books together builds friendship. As Irving Stone noted, There are no faster or firmer friendships than those formed between people who love the same books.
Clarkson explains how this connection happens.
[A] woman who reads is a woman who relates. A book girl knows that a shared book is a ground of mutual discovery, a space in which the soul and thought of another may open to her in a wondrous way…When people inhabit a realm of imagination or theology or poetry together, their own realms of soul and spirit are revealed to the others who sojourn with them to that place. Reading, when shared, begins a conversation that breaks down the barriers of isolation and connects us, one to another, as we exclaim, in C.S. Lewis’s description of friendship in his book, The Four Loves, “What! You too?”
Sarah Clarkson, Book Girl: A Journey through the Treasures & Transforming Power of a Reading Life
Reading good books together connects us.
Will You Be a Book Girl (or Guy)?
That’s it. Now I’ll share the book list. And I hope with me you’ll resolve to keep reading good books in 2021, and maybe to read some together. (You’re always welcome to join the Piquant Page-Turners. If you can tolerate sweats and tear-stained eyes.)
I’ll close with this. It’s a vision of the generous Book Girls I’m blessed to know (you know who you are), and, by grace, I want to be.
The reading life is, I’m convinced, a form of love, a way of encountering the world and its splendor and drama. The reading life comes to us as a gift and, as it fills us, drives us to fresh generosity. As you read and imagine, learn and grow in the company of great books, I hope you, too, will find that joyous urge that comes of a heart grown rich to hand out books to the children in your life, to pass on novels to your best friends, to press a good story into the hands of a struggling teen.
Sarah Clarkson, Book Girl: A Journey through the Treasures & Transforming Power of a Reading Life
I hope you’ll enjoy these books and I hope you’ll use these books—to learn and grow, to gain hope, to battle well.
Love, be changed: read good books together.
2021 Piquant Page-Turner Picks
January 11- Perfectly Human: Nine Months With Cerian, Sarah Williams
February 8- Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High, Melba Pattillo Beals
March 8- The Awakening of Miss Prim: A Novel, Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
April 12- The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim
May 10- True Grit, Charles Portis
June 15- The Death of Ivan Illych, Leo Tolstoy
July 12- Live Not By Lies, Rod Dreher
August 9- A Gentleman From Moscow, Amor Towles
September 13- The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
October 11- Health Is Membership, an essay by Wendell Berry
November 8- Pilgrim’s Inn, Elizabeth Goudge
December 13- Two From Galilee, Marjorie Holmes
The Piquant Page-Turners typically meet at 7 PM on the second Monday of the month. Please note that dates and times are subject to change based on the fancy and whim of its members.
In 1948, C.S. Lewis published a poem called, “The Turn of the Tide.” In it, he imagines the cosmic significance of Christ’s birth.
Rest assured, the tide has turned. It might not feel like it, but feelings lie. Oh sure, we’re still in these long last days and I’m still one of the poor orn’ry people—but about 2020 years ago the tide turned.
It was never intended to stay there. In fact, it reached the highest heavens. Breathless was the air over Bethlehem. When the Virgin gave birth to a son the galaxies tingled and rocked.
But it also reached the lowest shepherds keeping watch over their flocks that night and it penetrates into our little house in some big Wisconsin woods in these Covid-19 days.
The Turn of the Tide
I read the poem aloud to three teenage boys in that little house this afternoon. At least two out of three at half-listened. I hope you enjoy it at least twice as much as one of three did.
Breathless was the air over Bethlehem. Black and bare Were the fields; hard as granite the clods; Hedges stiff with ice; the sedge in the vice Of the pool, like pointed iron rods. And the deathly stillness spread from Bethlehem. It was shed Wider each moment on the land; Through rampart and wall into camp and into hall Stole the hush; all tongues were at a stand. At the Procurator’s feast the jocular freedman ceased His story, and gaped. All were glum Travellers at their beer in a tavern turned to hear The landlord; their oracle was dumb. But the silence flowed forth to the islands and the North And smoothed the unquiet river bars And levelled out the waves from their revelling and paved The sea with cold reflected stars.
Where the Caesar on Palatine sat at ease to sign, Without anger, signatures of death, There stole into his room and on his soul a gloom, And his pen faltered, and his breath. Then to Carthage and the Gauls, past Parthia and the Falls Of Nile and Mount Amara it crept; The romp and war of beast in swamp and jungle ceased, The forest grew still as though it slept. So it ran about the girth of the planet. From the Earth A signal, a warning, went out And away behind the air. Her neighbours were aware Of change. They were troubled with a doubt.
Salamanders in the Sun that brandish as they run Tails like the Americas in size Were stunned by it and dazed; wondering, they gazed Up at Earth, misgiving in their eyes. In Houses and Signs Ousiarchs* divine Grew pale and questioned what it meant; Great Galactal lords stood back to back with swords Half-drawn, awaiting the event, And a whisper among them passed, ‘Is this perhaps the last Of our story and the glories of our crown? –The entropy worked out?–The central redoubt Abandoned? The world-spring running down? Then they could speak no more. Weakness overbore Even them. They were as flies in a web, In their lethargy stone-dumb. The death had almost come; The tide lay motionless at ebb.
Like a stab at that moment, over Crab and Bowman, Over Maiden and Lion, came the shock Of returning life, the start and burning pang at heart, Setting Galaxies to tingle and rock; And the Lords dared to breathe, and swords were sheathed And a rustling, a relaxing began, With a rumour and noise of the resuming of joys, On the nerves of the universe it ran. Then pulsing into space with delicate, dulcet pace Came a music, infinitely small And clear. But it swelled and drew nearer and held All worlds in the sharpness of its call. And now divinely deep, and louder, with the sweep and quiver of inebriating sound, The vibrant dithyramb** shook Libra and the Ram, The brains of Aquarius spun round; Such a note as neither Throne nor Potentate had known Since the Word first founded the abyss, But this time it was changed in a mystery, estranged, A paradox, an ambiguous bliss.
Heaven danced to it and burned. Such answer was returned To the hush, the Favete, the fear That Earth had sent out; revel, mirth and shout Descended to her, sphere below sphere. Saturn laughed and lost his latter age’s frost, His beard, Niagara-like, unfroze; Monsters in the Sun rejoiced; the Inconstant One, The unwedded Moon, forgot her woes. A shiver of re-birth and deliverance on the Earth went gliding. Her bonds were released. Into broken light a breeze rippled and woke the seas, In the forest it startled every beast. Capripods fell to dance from Taproban to France, Leprechauns from Down to Labrador, In his green Asian dell the Phoenix from his shell Burst forth and was the Phoenix once more.
So death lay in arrest. But at Bethlehem the bless’d Nothing greater could be heard Than a dry wind in the thorn, the cry of the One new-born, And cattle in stall as they stirred.
C.S. Lewis, Poems, edited by Walter Hooper, 1992, pp. 49-51.
The After Effects
I’ve never imagined how it would feel to be a galaxy—Bowman or Crab, Libra or Ram— or even a planet of moon. But I’m glad Lewis did.
Because there must have been a ripple effect—a pulsing sound into space and even into forest and seas—when One babe was born. Maybe a shiver of re-birth and deliverance on the Earth.
And because every single day I feel the after-effects of the Babe born, the Son given. I live and love, I confess and forgive, and whenever I joyfully press on, it’s because of the coming of the One. It’s all because of the birth that arrested death.
Oh, yes. All these pulses and ripples and shivers and thrills and all this joyful musicmust mean the tide has turned.
The Tide Has Turned
A few years later, another famous Inkling, was also writing about the turn of the tide.
‘Gandalf,’ the old man repeated, as if recalling from old memory a long disused word. ‘Yes, that was the name. I was Gandalf.’ He stepped down from the rock, and picking up his grey cloak wrapped it about him: it seemed as if the sun had been shining, but now was hid in a cloud again. ‘Yes, you may still call me Gandalf,’ he said, and the voice was the voice of their old friend and guide. ‘Get up, my good Gimli! No blame to you, and no harm done to me. Indeed my friends, none of you have any weapon that could hurt me. Be merry! We meet again. At the turn of the tide. The great storm is coming, but the tide has turned.’
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, 1956
The Child was born and the Son was given—unto us. The tide turned when the majestic glory of the King of the Universe was revealed in a Babe laying in a manger in Bethlehem.
And I’d be surprised if the galaxies didn’t dance.
So feel free. Be merry!
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
We await our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…
He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the Lord is his name…
I can’t wait for 2020 to be done! 2021 has got to be better. I keep hearing that and I’m just not so sure.
But I know we have need of endurance.
Need Of Endurance
That’s how the author of the book of Hebrews put it, For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised (Hebrews 10:36).
Endurance is bearing up under pressure or strain. It’s holding the weight above your head for 30 more seconds while your arms are quivering and aching. It’s carrying the six-year old all the way back while your legs are shaking. Weight bearing strengthens your body. It also strengthens your soul. But there are no shortcuts. You must bear up.
Endurance is strength in opposition. People who endure stand firm and handle pain because they know that trials can be productive (James 1:2-4). I like to write about about strong moms and strong grace and strength to do the ordinary things. My business card says I’m a spiritual strength trainer. I love to help people stand firm and grow strong.
So it’s not surprising that in this truth-denying climate, with freedom-ceding Covid-19 and a hyper-charged political scene, I hear the call to endure louder than ever.
Because 2020 might have been birth pangs and tremors. Not recovery and aftershock, but beginnings. You have need of endurance.
Because who’s not to say that the year of our Lord 2021 may be an even wilder ride?
Oak Or Squash?
Before James Garfield was President of the United States, he was head of Hiram College. At Hiram, a father once asked Garfield if his son’s course of study could be simplified so he could get through by a shorter route.
The blessed are the steadfast. The ones who endure like Job and grow strong in their faith like Abraham (Romans 4:20). The ones who feel the pain and scratch with potsherds and grieve their losses as praise, but don’t charge God with wrong (Job 1:22). But they don’t take shortcuts. They cling to God’s promises (Romans 4:20). They’re strong, steady oaks.
The not-blessed are those who squish under pressure. They feel they heat and turn to mush. They don’t stand firm. They spring up. But trials— like 2020 come and under the pressure, they wilt (Mtt. 13:21).
Or, to borrow from Garfield, they seek shortcuts. They don’t stand firm and they’re squash. Squishy, mushy squash.
Ooh. That sounded condescending, I confessed seconds after using the phrase, “So cute.” The topic? Christmas decor.
What does condescending mean? asked the 13 year-old son.
Like you’re God’s gift to the people you’re with. I paused, As if they’re beneath you and you’re so great to get on their level and give them the time of day.
Oh, he said.
I didn’t tell him the Latin part.
Condescending Is Seriously Bad
I can be condescending. The bad way—the smug, snooty, Seriously?! way. The, How could you not know that? way. I don’t say it. But sometimes I think it. And thinking it even once is too often for a child of God.
But I begin to think how good it is of me to “go low” and help someone “up.” Even with “so cute” Christmas decor. That thought betrays my pride. For humility is not thinking less of yourself, Lewis said, it’s thinking of yourself less. Jesus said, Don’t let your left hand know.
Bad condescending is bad not only because it’s proud, but because it lacks sympathy. I condescend the bad way when I feel like the people I’m “gracing” with my insight or presence should know better or know more or fear less and trust more.
I’m not alone in that mire. Even the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon confided,
There are distresses to which God’s people are subject with which their fellow Christians can have but little sympathy. Some Christians whom I have tried at times to comfort, have had fears so silly that I have felt more inclined to laugh at them than to console them.
Aunt Merriam says to condescend means 1: to assume an air of superiority, 2: to descend to a less formal or dignified level; to waive the privileges of rank. Number one is bad. Number two is the good.
Now here’s that Latin part. Condescendere comes from the Latin words con- which means ‘with’ or ‘together’ + descendere which means to ‘descend’ or ‘come down.’
A question for us: When we descend to be with another, is it with love and sympathy or pride and superiority?
Condescending Is Gloriously Good
The God way is the good way. Philippians 2, verses 6 and 7 explains the “good” condescension so beautifully,
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Come, lift your hearts on high, Alleluia! Amen! let praises fill the sky; Alleluia! Amen! he is our Guide and Friend; to us he’ll condescend; his love shall never end. Alleluia! Amen!
Did you see it again? God’s condescending love is worthy of our praise. God’s is gloriously good condescension; his condescension is free from pride and full of sympathy. Spurgeon—and I— know that even when we are unsympathetic and condescend in the bad way, our God in not like us. Thank God he is not like us.
Now our God is so tender and gentle that He even condescends to deal with our silly fears…His gentleness shows itself in His being afflicted in our afflictions and entering into our sorrows, and putting Himself side by side with us in the battle of spiritual life.
Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people. He settles the barren woman in her home as a joyful mother of children.
The Lord who is enthroned on high nevertheless stooped to look down upon me. He was mindful of my humble estate. After ten years of barrenness, he remembered me. He came down with me and lifted me from the heap.
But our Lord condescends in everyday ways too. Today he gave me peace in conflict and strength to forgive again. Then he allowed a cancelled session which gave me time to finish a report. In big and small ways, God stoops down.
But He did it biggest at Christmas.
Christmas Is About Condescension
I think C.S. Lewis saw it that way. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body, he wrote. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. (Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 5)
That condescending conversation in the van last night brought this song to mind in the morning. You might like it.
Who but God would send his Son To condescend and make himself the likes of a mere mortal man
For in the end, condescend is one of the sweetest, most Christmasy words I know. It’s why we stretch Advent out. Because in the incarnation, God did way more than just come down and give us a hand. More than just step out of his castle for an evening of revelry with his serfs at Ye Olde Pub. Oh, no. Infinitely more.
He became one of us. He took on our weakness, sympathized with our weakness and bore our sin. The Creator became a creature. Like us becoming slugs but far more shocking. Who would condescend like this?
We didn’t know what discountenanced really meant until Bilbo started his smuggle in Smaug’s lair and Gabe bawled, I’m not listening.
Then he plugged his ears and shouted, I can’t hear you.
But he could.
We can’t hear, Bud. If you don’t obey and quiet down, you will be punished.
He did not and he would not. So I did what I had to do. I sent Gabe from my presence. I turned my face away.
Gabe, go out in the hall. You may listen there. Come back when you will listen.
He balked. Instead of heading to bed, he clapped hands over his ears, and wailed louder.
Go. A. Way. Get out of my sight. You may come back when you are quiet.
Then I waited for him to return. How I waited for him to return.
A Most Grueling Parental Duty
You have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins. Isaiah 64:10
It had held every promise of a perfect night.
Apart all day, we four were back together at night. We feasted on our favorites: beef fajitas topped with home-made salsa and vanilla bean crowned with Magic-shell. Then Chinese checkers and baths for the boys before we all snuggled in for a first-rate family film.
Gabe was in a very good place. The boundary lines had fallen for him in pleasant places. It began a night of delight.
But the DVD stopped and bedtime came and Gabe pushed the boundaries. He was bent on hearing his bedtime story— THE HOBBIT—on the couch. I agreed to that. But when finally bedtime came, he stomped and stormed and plopped himself down defiant. He turned his back on me bawling like a little man banshee.
That’s when the night turned ugly. But the next hour included a most-grueling parental duty.
Your Sins Have Hidden His Face
But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you… Isaiah 59:2
Some wise Christians won’t use the word punishment when they discipline their kids. I do. Not often, and I wish never. But in this fleeting season, sometimes I do punish. By punish, I do mean that bit of discipline that is intended to inflict a penalty for an offense.
I don’t mean paying them back or giving them what they deserve. That work is entirely God’s. And thanks be, He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities (Psalm 103:10).
But our merciful, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness Lord does discipline his children. He lets our sins separate us. The perfect Father found it necessary to punish his hard-hearted children. God turned his face from his people (Ezekiel 14:8, Leviticus 20:3-5, Jeremiah 21:5). He did not approve. He could not approve.
So when our children turn away, rebel and refuse to obey, we cannot approve. We cannot countenance, we cannot look on or look past defiant, hands-pressed-over ears rebellion.
So we discountenance. We turn our faces away.
“In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer. Isaiah 54:8
The Westminster Catechism (1648) uses the word discountenance to describe the “Duties Required of Superiors towards their Inferiors” (Q. 129). Scripture seems to reserve the punishing job for parents and for civil authorities. It is not our job to punish a spouse or friend—or an enemy. It is for us to do good, love mercy, and walk humbly and with truth in love. These are our appointed tasks.
But for our children, punishment may be right. Two centuries after the catechism, J.C. Ryle listed punishment as one of The Duties Of Parents:
Fathers and mothers, I tell you plainly, if you never punish your children when they are in fault, you are doing them a grievous wrong…Reader, if you would train your children wisely, mark well how God the Father trains His. For He does all things well.
But it is so hard. Done right, discipline truly hurts me more that it hurts you. But it is a work to which all loving parents are called (Hebrews 12:6, Proverbs 23:13-14). And it is a purposeful pain maturing saints are called to bear (Lamentations 3:22-30, James 1:2-4).
So we pray that after the hard work, and all discipline- from correcting to training to punishing- is hard work, it will produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
He Longs To Be Gracious
For the Lord will not cast off forever, but though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.Lamentations 3:31-33
There is such grace in God’s face. It was there for the woman caught in adultery when Jesus stood up and looked at her, and for the rich young man and the Gadarene who was Legion.
But when hearts are diamond-hard, our ears are plugged, and we sinfully walk away, our lovingly jealous Lord doesn’t shove up our chin and force us to face him. He waits, but He won’t approve. He longs, but He won’t condone. God yearns for our return, but he might look away until we turn to him.
The LORD waits, He longs to be gracious to you, to show mercy. In repentance and rest is salvation, he said. But you were unwilling (Isaiah 30: 18, 15, see also Isaiah 8:17 and 54:8).
Return to me, your fountain of living water and I will heal you. But my people have forgotten me, forsaken me, so I will show them my back, not my face (Jeremiah 18:15, 17).
My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. But, when I would heal Israel, the iniquity of Ephraim is revealed (Hosea 7:1).
While we sit and bawl in the hall, he may let us feel the shame and disgrace we deserve. Being discountenanced is bitter. Divine disapproval of our defiant disobedience smarts. Therefore repent and return, Peter preached,so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.
The Grace In His Shining Face
The LORD bless you and keep you, the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The LORD lift up his countenance to you and give you peace.Numbers 6:24-26
But then we remember the bitterness and the gall, and the pain of being separated from His shining face drives us back to its light. Then we confess our sin and he covers it. And the moment he does, we cry with Micah, Who is a God like you, pardoning sin and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love (7:18).
But that covering and passing over comes at high cost. It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief (Isaiah 53:10). We considered that Son smitten, stricken, afflicted by his Father. But he bore our punishment. Like disobedient sheep, we’d strayed. We didn’t heed his voice. But now we’ve returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25).
Maybe it was for sheer fatigue or for want of blanket and brown Bear-bear, or maybe he was contrite to the core. Maybe the little banshee boy simply came to his senses and realized he’d be better off beside brother in bed. Or maybe it just sounded cozier to hear how Smaug was taken down while mom rubbed his back than to rage alone at the far end of the hall.
Whatever the reason, Gabe obeyed and lay down his sweaty little head.
Then you better believe I turned my shining face to him.
I’d like a white horse for Christmas. I wouldn’t mind some Florida sunshine, strong coffee and a stronger back rub, but a white horse tops my list.
Bring me a white horse for Christmas We’ll ride him through the town Out into the snowy woods Where we will both lie down
Underneath white birches Our faces toward the sky We will make snow angels With our white horse standing by
Hush now, baby One day we’re gonna ride Hush now, baby Our white horse through the sky
Bring me a white horse for Christmas We’ll ride him through the snow All the way to Bethlehem Two thousand years ago
I wanna speak with the angel Who said do not be afraid I wanna kneel where the oxen knelt Where the little child was laid
Hush now, baby One day you’re gonna ride Hush now, baby Your white horse through the sky
No bridle will he be wearing His unshod hoofs they will fly Keep a watch this Christmas For that white horse in the sky
Hush now, baby One day we’re gonna ride Hush now, baby Our white horse through the sky
Hush now, baby Let every angel sing Hush now, baby One day we’ll ride again
Over The Rhine, “Snow Angels”
Keep looking up. The baby of Bethlehem will ride.
Is this white horse on your Christmas list?
It’s only the first week of Advent, but 2020 has had feel of an eternal Advent with all the waiting for relief and cries for peace and longing for right.
I feel the ache. This week left me second guessing a lot of things I thought I sort of knew. About how to love like Jesus loved and live not by lies and walk in the truth. About the right times to tear and to sew, to keep silence and speak, to love and hate, for war and for peace. In darkness.
This first Advent week my convictions are getting all muddled and despite seeking God’s will, I was the more befuddled.
Because relationships are messy business. So is love. When love is feels cruel it makes you wonder, is the lover deceived or the beloved blinded by feelings? Or are both or neither true?
I don’t know.
A White Horse Comes
But the darkness in the world, in my mind makes me wait more. And that’s what Advent’s about, right? The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
I know Jesus is coming. And I want to be one of those looking up, like Paul was, longing for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). Longing for Him. While I don’t always know how to love His world, I know that I love Him and He loves me. And I know the Baby of Bethlehem will come again and take his children to be where He is (John 14:3).
And that knowledge is hushing my harassed and burdened heart this week. Will you join me in these long last days and short three weeks and bear the weight of sin until He brings his peace to reign?
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Thanksgiving this year will be different. The massive Considine clan will not gather for the first time in my adult life.
Thoughts Of Former Thanksgivings
There will not be the moment when I walk into my Uncle Nathan’s house and stunned by the dozens of beloved aunts and uncles and first cousins who are now having dozens and dozens of children whose names I can’t always remember.
There will not be those catching up down country roads with my cousins Hannah and Humility, Rachel and Kathleen.
Nor will there be the competitive-friendly, after-dinner football game with cousins and uncles from age 8 to age 58, when I count apples and rush, and sneaky cousins eavesdrop on play calls and we run and laugh—and some of us limp—until we just can’t see no more.
Then there will not be the hymn sing with Aunt Judy playing the whole hymnal by ear, while I curb my enthusiasm just enough to refrain from calling out consecutive hymns, to give others a chance to request.
No, there won’t be those.
Thanksgiving of 2020—in one way or another—will be different for all of us.
This Thanksgiving, Think Upon The Things That Are
So the annual Thanksgiving post is different. It’s not about giving thanks per se. It’s about “cleaving the faster together,” and being “friends in adversity.” It’s a theme I keep coming back to in 2020: maintain good friendships. Whatever shape they take, do not give up meeting together, as some are doing (Hebrews 10:25). Keep your friends close.
The feasting was over and the tables were cleared. Robert Cushman delivered the same advice to the Plymouth Colony Pilgrims shortly after “The First Thanksgiving” in November, 1621. In a sermon entitled, “The Sin and Dangers Of Self-Love,” Cushman warned the Pilgrims that they must not go it alone. Self-love must not cuase them to forsake the friends. His whole message can be read here.
But it’s the end of the message that prompted this post. In a fraught year when fear and unknowns make it easier to let our friendships go, the last two paragraphs are both timely and timeless (bolding mine),
And as you are a body together…labor to be jointed together and knit by flesh and sinews; away with envy at the good of others, and rejoice in his good, and sorrow for his evil. Let his joy be thy joy, and his sorrow thy sorrow: Let his sickness be thy sickness: his hunger thy hunger: his poverty thy poverty; and if you profess friendship, be friends in adversity; for then a friend is known and tried, and not before.
Lay away all thought of former things and forget them, and think upon the things that are; look not gapingly one upon other, pleading your goodness, your birth, your life you lived, your means you had and might have had; here you are by God’s providence under difficulties; be thankful to God, it is no worse, and take it in good part that which is… when Job was brought to the dung-hill, he sat down upon it, Job 2:8…consider therefore what you are now, and whose you are; say not I could have lived thus, and thus; but say thus and thus I must live: for God and natural necessity require, if your difficulties be great, you had need to cleave the faster together, and comfort and cheer up one another, laboring to make each other’s burden lighter; there is no grief so tedious as a churlish companion and nothing makes sorrows easy more than cheerful associates: bear ye therefore one another’s burden, and be not a burden one to another; avoid all factions…singularity and withdrawing, and cleave fast to the Lord, and one to another continually; so also shall you be an encouragement to many of your christian friends in your native country, to come to you, when they hear of your peace, love and kindness that is amongst you: but above all, it shall go well with your souls, when that God of peace and unity shall come to visit you with death as he hath done many of your associates, you being found of him, not in murmurings, discontent and jars, but in brotherly love, and peace, may be translated from this wandering wilderness unto that joyful and heavenly Canaan. AMEN
Robert Cushman, 1621, “THE SIN AND DANGER OF SELF-LOVE”
To these ears, Cushman’s sermon is as much for Christian pilgrims in November 2020 as it was for those who heard him deliver it in November 1621. Avoid all factions, singularity, and withdrawing. Do not forsake your friend,the proverb says.
And for those of you who are missing Thanksgiving days of yore, well, like Cushman said, Here you are by God’s providence under difficulties; be thankful to God it is no worse, and take it in good part that which is.
There won’t be the Considine multitude, the after-dinner football and cousin walks and hymn sing. But there will be other good things. Within a smaller circle, I will be thankful.
I wish you all a thankful Thanksgiving, friends. Take it in good part that which is.
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
Conversely, one of the biggest deflators I face as a small group leader is deafening sound of silence. Sometimes it’s like this: I pray. Others are invited to pray. But if the people all prayed, I heard not what they said.
Admittedly, sometimes it might be that I sucked all the air out of the room. I’m working to change that.
But sometimes the silence might have to do with comparing our prayers with others.
Admittedly, my prayers can be profuse, sprawling and verbose. I’m like that in most of my close relationships. I’m seldom terse—with my human friends and my God-man friend. One praise reminds me of a second, a third request of a fourth and it’s off to the races. I’m a mouse with a muffin, if I don’t rein me in.
But I love when my concise friends pray. I love when my casual friends pray and I love when my formal friends pray.
In short, I do love to hear the saints pray. And some of them are models.
Choose Models—But Choose Them Well
Theologian D.A. Carson says there is not one best way to pray. But prayer models can help us pray. In different, good ways.
Most of us can improve our praying by carefully, thoughtfully listening to others pray. This does not mean copying everything we hear. . . Not every good model provides us with exactly the same prescription for good praying, exactly the same balance. All of them pray with great seriousness; all of them use arguments and seek goals that are already portrayed in Scripture. Some of the seem to carry you with them into the very throne room of the Almighty; others are particularly faithful in intercession, despite the most difficult circumstances in life and ministry; still others are noteworthy because of the breadth of their vision. All are characterized by a wonderful mixture of contrition and boldness in prayer.
I am learning to pray. First from Bible pray-ers, then from my friends. Cathe ends prayers with Psalm 19:14, and Jen prays with touching spontaneity; Hannah with God’s character first, and Donna ever with gentle persistence. My friend Sarah prays in earnest for the lost.
Prayer is an active exercise of a personal relationship. Our friendships are dynamic. They change and grow. How I relate to my friend Jen isn’t the exact way my friend Lisa relates to Jen. There is uniqueness, and that is as God means it.
I start with the truism that each Christian’s prayer life, like every good marriage, has in it common factors about which one can generalize and also uniquenesses which not other Christian’s pray life will quite match. You are you, and I am I, and we must each find our own way with God, and there is no recipe for prayer that can work for us like a handyman’s do-it-yourself manual or cookery book, where the claim is that if you follow the instruction you can’t go wrong.
Praying is not like carpentry or cookery. It is the active exercise of a personal relationship, a kind of friendship, with the living God and his Son Jesus Christ, and the way it goes is more under divine control that under ours. Books on praying, like marriage manuals, are not to be treated with slavish superstition, as if perfection of technique is the answer to all difficulties; their purpose, rather, is to suggest things to try.
But as in other close relationships, so in prayer: you have to find out by trial and error what is right for you, and you learn to pray by praying. Some of us talk more, others less; some some are constantly vocal, others cultivate silence before God as their way of adoration. . . Yet we may all be praying as God means us to do. The only rules are, stay within biblical guidelines and within those guidelines, as John Chapman puts it, “pray as you can and don’t try to pray as you can’t.”
J.I. Packer, In My Path of Prayer, ed. David Hanes, p. 57
In a word: pray.
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
When’s the power coming back on, Mom? the 13 year-old called from somewhere down the pitch black hall.
By 8 o’clock, I hope. For Roboman from the electric company had assured me of that time when I called at 4:45.
Well, Roboman was wrong. He was off by almost a day. We did homework by candlelight, ate sandwiches by candlelight, played euchre by candlelight and by the time we brushed our teeth by flashlight, all the candles had burned out. In the morning my husband rigged up a generator to power the fridge. By noon—guess what?— the gas had run out too.
It all got me thinking as I ran along. Admittedly, I may have been thinking more since—for the first time in months— I ran without my (stone-cold dead) phone. And as I did, I grew downright glad. I was the gladdest jogger around because I have a power source that will never go out. It will never burn up, fizzle out, or run dry.
Do you tap the same source?
Our Power Source
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises… 2 Peter 1:3-4a
Our power source is a divine. Do you see that in verse 3?
Divine power is available to us through knowledge. Namely, it comes through knowing Jesus Christ, who even as I type, is upholding the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).
Have you ever stopped to think about this?
Every day God lights up the Milky Way with yottawatts of power and he never has an energy crisis. And the amazing thing is that His divine power- this power- is available to you. If you are a Christian you have power to progress. This power is available to you! Before you were a Christian you lived you lived your life in the condition of a power cut. You were powerless to please God. But now you have power to progress.
Colin Adams, The Pilgrim’s Progress
All this power is on tap for us who know Christ. And He never has an energy crisis.
No Charge, But You Must Plug In
Here’s more glad news: we don’t pay for this rich source. It is given to us. Gratis, granted. That means it’s a gift.
Knowing God and trusting his precious promises is, if you will, the electrical wire that empowers our life and growth in godliness. In case you wondered, the growth doesn’t come to us when we work like a hamster in a wheel, Kevin DeYoung explains. But neither does our growth in godliness come while we stand still as if riding up an escalator.
No, we cooperate with him. We work out because God is at work in us (Philippians 2:12-13). A vacuum won’t work unless you plug it in. A car won’t run unless you turn the key. We access, if you will, divine power through the twin outlet of our knowledge of him and our trust in his promises.
Promises like it is more blessed to give than receive, and like we will reap a harvest if we don’t stop doing good. Promises like these empower me to give and do good when I’d rather give up and receive.
So God gives the power, but we turn the switch. The car and vacuum are a gift and the outlet and gasoline are too. But to make progress in godliness, we get in the car and push the gas pedal. We make every effort to supplement our faith (2 Peter 1:5). And here’s another empowering precious promise: our effort in this struggle is productive and good.
But that’s not the point of this post. This post is simply to remind you, as I reminded myself in the dark, that we have a power source that will never go out. Oh yes, the people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
Knowledge is Power
Knowledge is power. First Peter 1:3 says that his divine power comes to us through our knowledge of Jesus. We know the gospel, that we are more sinful than we realize and God loves us more than we realize. Both. That while we were still in our sins, Christ died for us. If we know Jesus Christ we won’t be powerless. Growth is possible. Hope is possible. Change is possible.
But we won’t have this power without knowing him. So we press on to know him. In His power, we press on.
That’s why my three non-negotiables for health in any fraught—or not—days stay the same. Especially #3: Go hard after God. I mean seek His face. I mean listen to him speak in his Word. Put down your phone, turn off the news, and press on to know Him.
I have too many impoverished friends. Friends, we will never—never— experience divine power if we don’t know Jesus Christ. Oh you might be a “strong person” and carry on with lots of props. But when the cords are pulled— when your health fails, your nation fractures, and your family is all a shambles —what then?
Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He is our keeper (Psalm 121). God’s power never goes out.
But we unplug from the power of God when we leave our Bibles on the shelf. Going about life without striving to know God is like unplugging from the power source then complaining that we feel anxious and alone in the dark. Complaining about God being silent when your Bible is closed is like complaining about not getting texts when your phone is turned off.
Tim Challies puts a bow on it:Apart from this, speaking by his Son, through his Spirit, in the Bible, God does not promise that He will speak in any other way.
In other words, we can all believe that God will speak to us through the Bible. And all this JoyPrO stuff is about how God does speak and how when we listen we gain divine power when we seek.
That’s the one thing. It’s the one habit I hope I never shed. Till kingdom come, I want to keep knowing Him and his power. Because all other powers, even the sun itself, will grow dark.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? Then Peter answershis own question: You ought to live holy and godly lives.
Don’t Make Excuses
So we’d best not make excuses. First Peter 1:3 doesn’t allow it. We cannot say, “If only I had more time or more money or a better church or better family I could be more godly and have a stronger spiritual life.” There is no good excuse.
But we can’t expect God to give us what he did not promise us. He did not promise us the power to cure disease, or create world peace or even to change a child’s heart. But take his promises to the bank. If he tells us, Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you, believe it. Seek first his kingdom.
And keep seeking. His Kingdom and Himself. Don’t settle. Because Christ wants us to grow- in spiritual life and godliness.
Don’t Make The Fatal Mistake
Because God’s powerstore is always available through our knowledge of Him and of his precious promises, we can’t slack. I’ll leave you with C.S. Lewis.
I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone. As we say ‘I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.’ And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble.
But this is the fatal mistake. Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us.
Fraught is the word of the week. As in headlines like, “How is TV news going to cover the weirdest, most fraught election in US history?” Or, “How to talk to kids about the election and fraught politics.” Fraught, fraught, fraught. Fraught.
Election or not, our lives are fraught.
So just what is “fraught”? It’s an adjective and its strong synonym is UNEASY. The word worked its way to us from the Middle Dutch noun vracht, which meant “load” and which is also the source of the word freight. As in baggage, burden and load.
Merriam-Webster defines fraught as,
1: full of or accompanied by something specified —used with with a situation fraught with danger; The paper was poorly researched and is fraught with errors.
2: causing or characterized by emotional distress or tension : a fraught relationship
I’m writing this post to reassure my fraught self and your fraught self that God strikes with severe mercy—he shakes our sense of security and sends moths to devour our treasures—because our Lord God will not share his glory with another or his praise with idols (Isaiah 42:8). In his grace, our Lord will not permit us to have stability apart from Himself.
In other words, I’m here to say that God sends these fraught days.
God Sends Fraught Days
Why? James answered well: “that you may be perfect [mature] and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1.4).
That’s good, right? Who wouldn’t want to be mature and complete lacking nothing?
But what if those only come at the cost of days fraught?
Our current trials may be discipline. Covid-19, the political scene, and our increasingly tense relationships could be God’s moths. He might bring these circumstances so that we tighten our grip on him or he could be bringing it to loosen our grip on our treasures. But in both cases God is working in and through these fraught days to make himself our chief treasure.
Consider the Psalmist in Psalm 39. He believed that what he was enduring was a result of divine discipline for sin.
Erik Raymond explains,
In other words, God sends the discipline and the circumstances act as a divinely dispatch moth to consume his treasure! This is good because in sin we are, like Achan, hiding treasures in our tent (Josh. 7.22). God intends to unfasten us from these fleeting treasures and to refasten us, wholly and completely upon himself.
Regardless of whether our specific sin prompted these fraught Trump v. Biden post-election days or if God’s more general goal that his children grow in holiness was the cause (Hebrews 12:10), we can rest assured. For we know that if we are patient and trained by our trials, these fraught days will yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).
Therefore, we should not be too taken aback.
We Should Not Be Too Taken Aback…
I, for one, do not want to miss the forest for the trees in these fraught days. God’s ultimate purpose is that we trust in Him (Psalm 37:4-7, Isaiah 26:3-4, Proverbs 3:5-6). Our work, Jesus said, to believe in the One He has sent (John 6:29). To trust him.
We tend to feel like our times are more fraught than times past; as if Noah and Job, Joseph and Moses had fewer reasons for discouragement and unease. So I’ve come back to this bit by J.I. Packer a few times in the past couple fraught days.
The same wisdom which ordered the paths which God’s saints trod in Bible times orders the Christian’s life today. We should not, therefore, be too taken aback when unexpected and upsetting and discouraging things happen to us now. What do they mean? Why simply that God in His wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and is dealing with us accordingly.
Perhaps he means to strengthen us in patience, good humour, compassion, humility, or meekness, by giving us some extra practice in exercising these graces under specially difficult conditions. Perhaps He has new lessons in self-denial and self-distrust to teach us. Or perhaps He wishes to break us of complacency, or unreality, or undetected forms of pride and conceit. Perhaps His purpose is simply to draw us closer to Himself in conscious communion with Him…
J.I. Packer, Knowing God, InterVarsity Press, 1973, p. 86
Free From Fraught
As I write this votes are being recounted in my hyper-divided swing state of Wisconsin. Our nation is on a razor edge. The tension is tangible, this fraught-ness that is new. Oh sure, I’ve been disappointed before.
But this is gloom goes far beyond the two men atop hundreds of thousands of contested ballots in light blue and pink states. As much as I spout hoping in God, I’ve been more skim milk than real cream since election night. Kind of weak. Rather fraught.
But I know there is a good design in it all of this. To quote from a Puritan named Thomas Boston,
It speaks comfort to the afflicted children of God to consider that whatever the crook in your lot is, it is of God’s making and therefore you may look upon it kindly since it is your Father who made it for you. Question not but that there is a favorable design in it toward you.
By some miracle of grace, that is what saints do. We trust that there is a favorable design in our fraught days. I am drawing near. He is drawing me near. And I’m more aware of the treasure it is to commune with Him.
We trust, and we watch for the divinely dispatched moths. They might fly in with coronavirus closures and kids stuck at home. Or they might appear in the mail with late arriving ballots or on the wings of a Twitter bird that does not tweet away.
We trust that God in His wisdom sends moths to eat away our idol hopes and make something of us which we have not attained yet. Yes, we trust that God is at work. Perhaps simply to draw us closer to Himself.
We have to be push-backers, Abigail. Truth demands it.That from a recent email from a friend-who-shall-go-unnamed. This post is that: a little pushback. It is not a call to civil disobedience, to wear a mask or to take it off, or even to vote.
It is a call to not live by lies—a call to be courageous and walk in the truth in love and in truth. Both. John Stott wrote, Our love grows softif it is not strengthened by truth, and our truth grows hard if it is not softened by love; John the Beloved, Let us not love in word or talk but in action and in truth. They belong together. Believers love truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10).
So when the world calls evil good, bitter sweet, and darkness light (Isaiah 5:20), those of the truth refuse. They refuse to drift along or succumb to self-righteous masquerade. Rather, because they love the truth, they push back against pretense.
They live not by lies.
1. Are You A Push-Backer?
Do you ever push back for truth? Or only ever go along?
I’m not (naturally) a push-backer and I don’t (generally) like to rock the boat. But sometimes a shift is too important to ignore. When it comes at you on multiple sides you can’t let it slide out of mind. You’d be a fool not to take note. I don’t want to be a fool.
So I took notes and now I share them. Because my friend is right. We must be push-backers. Truth demands it. Since Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), as his follower I must walk in truth. The Father commanded (2 John 4) and the Spirit guides this walk (John 14:16-17).
In fact, did you know truth is the reason Christ came into the world?For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). And, at some point, everyone who is of the truth will push back for truth.
2. Do You Trust God’s Truth And Doubt Your Deceitful Heart?
Culture makes it hard. For one thing, our culture cherishes moral ambiguity as an end in itself, as an intrinsically good thing; theologian D.A. Carson notes. Humble Christians trust God to be true (Isaiah 66:2) and doubt their deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9).
But the world does the reverse. Be true to your heart, it shouts. How can you be so sure, it taunts. If you trust God—if you “stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E” and believe the sum of his word is truth (Psalm 119:160)— now that, it sneers, is most virulent form of pride.
This reversal is nothing new. G.K. Chesterton described it a century ago, when he wrote,
[W]hat we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert – himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason.
Do you see? We should doubt ourselves—our feelings, desires, and ‘needs’— not God’s truth.
But believing a truth and speaking it are two different things. Gabi taught me that.
3. Do You Speak Up For Truth?
It was a Friday night in July. Maybe it was pushback to even be where we were. I’m not sure. But the after-dinner mood was light and Gabi was right across the table from me. We’d only met the hour before, but I sensed my new friend from the Czech Republic wouldn’t mind if I asked.
So what was it liketo live under communism?
Gabi was in middle school in 1989, when the Wall fell. Almost overnight, she replied.
That’s how fast her teachers went from denouncing democracy to decrying communism. Her school dumped the pro-communism for pro-republic curricula—taught by the very same teachers who’d spouted the party line mere months before.
How could they do that? I asked, incredulous. What do you think they really believed?
I think there was relief when communism fell and they could teach the truth. They taught what they were told to keep their jobs.
Since statue toppling and painting was big in the news, I pressed on.
So what about all these statues toppled and defaced?
Without blinking, Oh, yes. That happened in Czechoslovakia shortly before Soviet rule.
My stomach churned with the same tension I’d felt a lot in 2020 when I felt torn to like a friend’s post or affirm her position—even if it didn’t sit right. Gabi was insightful and wise, and still across the table from me. So I asked the burning question.
When do I just go along when and when do I speak up for truth?
I think—here Gabi paused and took a deep breath—you must be true to your conscience.If your conscience says it’s wrong, do not go along.
4. Do You Lower Your Voice And Close The Door?
Rod Dreher said the same thing Gabi did in Live Not By Lies: A Manual For Christian Dissidents. The title comes from an essay by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, dated February 12, 1974 —the same day Russian secret police broke into his apartment and arrested him. He was exiled to West Germany the next day. Live Not By Lies, the essay and the book, are clarion calls to courage for those who are of the truth.
But courage to push back against lies doesn’t mean we refuse all compromise. Daily life requires assessing which fights are worth having. Choose your battles. Though one must guard against rationalization, prudence is not the same thing as cowardice. (p. 105)
Sometimes silence is an act of resistance.My refusal to like a popular post or parrot a trendy mantra is choosing to live not by lies.Judit Pastor, whose father was arrested for vocally opposing Ceausescu in 1968 was arrested and his life destroyed in a Romanian prison. She says, Keeping silent when you aren’t expected to be silent is also pushing back.
A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed the restrictions, “soft” restrictions, I now feel on freedom of speech. I am loath to admit that I close more doors and look over my shoulder far more often when I speak in public places. I wonder, “Can I trust her with this? Should I say that in front of him?”
This is new. It’s a shift. I never used to wonder like this.
A Primer On “Soft” Totalitarianism
I don’t fear arrest by government police. That happened in Soviet era where compliance to the Party’s demands were enforced by the state. That’s not what we’ve got. The totalitarianism we face is “softer.” It demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs… It masquerades as kindness, demonizing dissenters and disfavored demographic groups to protect the feelings or “victims.” I’m not worried about arrest as much as Facebook nixing my post, or a “fact-checker” blocking a link. I have, by the way, experienced both.
Compliance within soft totalitarianism, Dreher explains, is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations, that thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit. (p. 8-9)Anyone else second guessing your open invitation to Echo and Alexa?
But no, this is not a copy of life in the Soviet Bloc nations, with their secret police, gulags, and strict censorship. Which is precisely the problem, according to the many émigrés Dreher interviewed who had experienced “hard” totalitarianism. One Czech émigré, a professor in the Midwest, told Dreher about the shift he feels: friends would lower their voices and look over their shoulders when expressing conservative views. I grew up like this, he said, but it was not supposed to happen here. (p. xiii)
I agree with Dreher: it’s hard for us who’ve never lived through such “idealogical fog” to recognize what’s happening.
But don’t forget the frog in the pot.
Silence Doesn’t Save Us, It Corrodes Us
Part of the reason it all feels so foggy is that language is changing. Newspeak, here Dreher borrows from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, is the Party’s word for the jargon it imposes on society—it controls the categories in which people think. “Freedom” is slavery, “truth” is falsehood, and so forth. Doublethink—”holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”—is how people learn to submit their minds to the Party’s ideology. If the Party says 2+2=5, then 2+2=5. (p. 14)
We might see through the lies, but will we speak up? But if we never do, our silence will not save us but corrode us. So says Czeslaw Milosz. He would know. Milosz was exiled from his native Poland as an anti-communist dissident in 1951.
To dissent costs more these days. To even post this blog gives me pause. But walking in truth constrains me to write and encourage you to live not by lies. Because when you see someone acting courageously, you will act courageously as well. (p. 170)
5. Do You Prefer the ‘Peace’ of Conformity to the Tension of Liberty?
Dreher interviewed Vladimir Grygorenko, an immigrant from the Ukraine. He expressed concern over polls showing waning support for the First Amendment. Grygorenko sees this as a sign of a society that prefers the false peace of conformity to the tensions of liberty. He added, To grow indifferent, even hostile, to free speech is suicidal for free people. (p. 104)
I walked and talked and ached with a friend over our difference this morning. I bear witness: tension, discomfort, and hurt feelings are the price our free expression. But wouldn’t your rather bear the tension of our differences, as our Founding Fathers did, than enjoy a false peace of conformity? Wouldn’t you?
What I did with my friend—imperfectly as I apologized twice in 20 minutes for raising my voice—we must all do. We must speak up. We must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19), but we must “truth it in love” and grow up (Ephesians 4:15).
You have to live in a world of lies, Dreher concludes, but it’s our choice as to whether that world of lies lives in you. (p. 105)
The Greengrocer Breaks The Rules
One of the most gripping sections in the book was the Greengrocer story.
The grocer posts a sign in his shop bearing the well-known slogan from the Communist Manifesto, “Workers of the world, unite!” But the grocer doesn’t believe in it. He hangs it in the store to signal conformity. He just wants to be left alone.
But his action is not meaningless. As Dreher explains, the grocer’s act, “not only confirms that this is what is expected of one in a communist society but also perpetuates the belief that this is what it means to be a good citizen.” Then he quotes Vaclav Havel, one time Czech political prisoner who became the Czech Republic’s first President.
Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really things at political meetings. And he even finds the strength to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game…His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth. (p. 98)
And Shatters the World of Appearances
But this act is costly. He loses his shop, his salary is cut, and he can’t travel abroad. Maybe his children can’t get into college. People mock him. If not because they disagree with him, then to keep the authorities off their back. By refusing to mouth a lie, the man suffers.
But there is a deeper meaning to his gesture,
By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. The grocer has…demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie…He has said that the emperor is naked…He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. (p. 99)
Maybe you’re shaking your head, saying, Get off it, Abigail. Lighten up.
Last year I would have agreed. But now I say, The kind of Christians we will be in the time of testing depends on the kind of Christians we are today. (p. 204)
What are you willing to risk—to sacrifice—for the sake of truth?
6. Will You Choose Comfort Over Your Soul’s Health?
Because if you live by lies and never push back for truth, your spiritual health will suffer. A person who lives only for his own comfort, said Havel,who is willing to live within a lie to protect that is a demoralized person. (p. 99)
Havel’s words remind me of something J.I. Packer wrote. Packer sets up the analogy by describing first how our bodies are like machines, that need the right routine of food, rest, and exercise to run efficiently. Conversely, if they’re filled up with “the wrong fuel—alcohol, drugs, poison—they lose physical health and ultimately ‘seize up’ in death.”
Then, to our point,
What we are, perhaps, slower to grasp is that God wishes us to thing of our souls in a similar way. As rational persons, we were made to bear God’s moral image—that is, our souls were made to ‘run’ on the practice of worship, law-keeping, truthfulness, honesty, discipline, self-control, and service to God and our fellows. If we abandon these practices, not only do we incur guilt before God; we also progressively destroy our souls. Conscience atrophies, the sense of shame dries up, one’s capacity for truthfulness, loyalty, and honesty is eaten away, one’s character disintegrates. One not only becomes desperately miserable; one is steadily being de-humanised.
J.I., Packer, KNOWING GOD, 102-103
Simply put, believing one thing and doing another will ruin your spiritual health. Living by lies will enslave your soul. It might seem like a liar is strong, and his lie is a victory over his victim. But in reality, a lie is an enslaving act.
Because, as Ayn Rand wrote, one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked.
Maria Wittner said, We live in a world of lies, whether we want it or not. But you shouldn’t accommodate to it. She would know. Her refusal to go along with the Party lies landed in a Hungarian prison. It’s an individual decision if you want to live in the freedom of the soul. If your soul is free, then your thoughts are free, and then your words are going to be free.
Refusing to live by lies isn’t always comfortable, but comfort is overrated. The idol of comfort will disappoint. C.S. Lewis observed,If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.
If you refuse to live by the lie, whatever it costs you, you will gain a spiritual victory. And this is the victory that overcomes the world—our faith. (1 John 5:4) But God doesn’t mean for us to conquer alone.
I read it and I agree. It’s hopeful because it says we are not without options and because it is a call to be alert.
That call to be alert and watchful so we’re ready for the Bridegroom is not new. Jesus urged us, Peter urged us, Paul urged us: be alert, stay awake, be watchful (Matt. 24:42, 1 Pet. 1:13, Eph.6:18).
Christian community helps us does that. That came through loud and clear in all of Dreher’s interviews with Christians who kept the faith under communism. To stay alert and remind ourselves of truth, Dreher prescribes the Christian dissident form small cells with fellow believers with whom she can pray, sing, study Scripture… (p. 18)
Rod Dreher wasn’t the first to note the connection between living in loving relationships with other believers and being alert. John praises his readers for “walking in the truth” (2 John 4), then reminded them “to love one another” (v. 5), expressed by “walking according to his commandments” (v. 6). Those words probably don’t surprise us: truth, obedience, love.
But it’s the connection in verse 7 that grabbed me, the reason we must not let our love grow cold (Mtt. 24:12). Love one another, John writes, For many deceivers have gone out into the world. Walking with others in love is a protection against deception.
When we walk side by side we gain strength to live not by lies.
The Final Word: Touchstone For Truth
None of this is easy. Lies aren’t always obvious. The conscience is pricked at different points. But the Christian, as J.I Packer described, is the one, who acknowledges and lives under the word of God. She says with the Psalmist, The sum of your word is truth.
He submits without reserve to the word of God written in ‘the Scripture of truth’ (Dan. 10:21)…since the Scriptures tell him that all things work together for his good, the thought of God ordering his circumstances brings him only joy. He is an independent fellow, for he uses the word of God as a touchstone by which to test the various views that are put to him, and he will not touch anything which he is not sure that Scripture sanctions.
J.I., Packer, KNOWING GOD, p. 104-105
But we need to the Spirit to illumine and help us apply the word. I feel my need acutely. My sin is ever before me.
Solzhenitsyn, for all his calls to resist totalitarian rule, knew well his own sinful heart: “the greatest totalitarian ruler of all—myself.” We are not gods. We never will be gods. But we can know the true God.
For only when we know him can the truth set us free— free from slavery to deadly self-rule and free to live not by lies.
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
1 John 5:20
AFTERWARD: If You’re Still Wondering What It Means to Live Not By Lies
Even if, Solzhenitsyn wrote, we do not march into the squares and shout the truth out loud… let us refuse to say what we do not think…let us each make a choice: whether to remain consciously a servant of falsehood…or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect from one’s children and contemporaries.
Such a person, Solzhenitsyn wrote, will not:
sign, write or print in any way a single phrase which in his opinion distorts the truth;
utter such a phrase neither in private conversation nor in public, neither on his own behalf nor at the prompting of someone else, neither in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, nor as an actor;
depict, foster or broadcast a single idea in which he can see a distortion of the truth, whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science or music;
cite out of context, either orally or in writing, a single quotation to please someone, to feather his own nest, to achieve success in his work, if he does not completely share the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue;
allow himself to be compelled to attend demonstrations and meetings if they are contrary to his desire;
remain in a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film if he hears a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda;
subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed.
While these are not “all possible and necessary ways of avoiding lies,” wrote Solzhenitsyn, “whoever begins to cleanse himself will easily apply the cleansing pattern to other cases.” Learn more in John Stonestreet’s probing 4-minute Breakpoint podcast.
How will you resolve to live not by lies? I’d love to read your comment.
Holding Out for a Hero is back on my playlist. This election season gets me belting it out with Bonnie Tyler. Where have all the good men gone? Isn’t there a white knight on a fiery steed?
Trump & Biden: Not My Heroes
Admittedly, this might feel like a bait and switch. Because you thought I’d back a candidate here and now. In fact, I did vote today. And if you’re still on the fence, here’s a voter guide.
But I’ll tell you the end at the beginning: my hope and my joy are not in a President. Why? Because the LORD is our Judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our King. He will save us (Isaiah 33:22).
That’s the main reason I’m not holding out for an earthly hero. But there’s another reason: I’m already blessed by heroes I know.
Heroes Among Us
And for the record, my heroes do need to be strong— and humble and joyful and meek. Even if public heroes are in short supply, they are out there. They share common traits. May I describe them to you?
You can recognize them both by what they do and what they don’t do.
Heroes Don’t Write Their Own Stories
Your eyes saw my unformed body; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were not one of them. Psalm 139:16
Heroes don’t write their own scripts. They don’t star in their stories. But with courage and grace, they play parts in stories they didn’t write. And they don’t begrudge the author.
Heroes are the ones who play their assigned part even when it is so hard. My heroes are Julia and Barb, Shari and Kate—but not Bill.
My heroes are the ones who go with good cheer to places they never planned. They have touched the bottom of the deep and can assure me, It is sound. These are my heroes. Not the ones who swimmingly make their way.
Real heroes embrace their place in Someone Else’s story. Often it’s a waiting stage. Like the string of Bible heroes from Noah’s ark stage to Moses’ wilderness stage and Daniel’s Babylon stage and Esther’s Persian stage. Not one of those heroes picked his stage. Sometimes it’s a moving stage. Moses speaks for them when he asks God, “Who am I that I should go?” (Ex. 3:11).
But real heroes stay or go depending on what’s written in the book, in the script. Real heroes play their parts.
Before his fall from grace, I remember Bill Cosby saying of his- to date, storybook- life- It’s as if I’ve written the script myself.Hold out past the ones who live their dreams and follow the script they wrote.
But search high and low for heroes who embrace parts they didn’t write on stages they didn’t select.
Barb is 60-something, a friend of our family’s from way back. We reconnected at Grandma’s funeral. Barb’s got way more pep and way less gray than this 45 year-old has got. Not for a second does she seem senior.
But when Barb’s husband suffered a brain injury a few years ago, they sold their home and moved to Oak Park Place Senior Living. She explained, He needs some extra help plus he loves to visit with all the neighbors. He’s so social. Barb blesses the 90 year-olds that are now her neighbors. She shares Jesus’ love and calls them friends.
She doesn’t begrudge this change in setting in the story she did not write. For that, Barb is my hero.
*Note: Since writing the original post four years ago, Barb’s husband went home to be with Jesus. Like Job, Barb worshiped.
She’s a whiz with words and super-savvy with people and works for a Fortune 500 company. Julia always dreamed of being a wife and mother. Julia never married, never bore children. She wouldn’t have written her script that way. But she says it’s okay.
Aunt Julia is the most generous, most nurturing aunt her nephews could ever have. Two live with Aunt Julia half the week. She takes them to church and shows them Jesus better than their mom and dad have. And her nurturing love overflows way beyond those two nephews.
*Note: After 20+ years at that Fortune 500 company, Julia was laid off in February of 2020. She begins a new lower-paying job next week, and says, “Now I trust God (not money) to open up ways for me to live on this salary.”
Julia didn’t select single status or job loss as a character in this story. But she has trusts God still. For that, Julia’s my hero.
Kate’s in her thirties. Kate’s calm, patient presence speaks volumes of the Refuge she’s got. You see, before Kate turned thirty, her husband was diagnosed with brain cancer. Treatments and seizures and surgeries left John disabled, and Kate with the lion’s share of raising four kids under eight.
But Kate’s strengthened by his glorious power for all endurance and patience with joy. She’s got a heavy load, helping care for four kids and a husband with fragile health.
*Note: In the four years since I wrote this, John has been in and out of hospitals and other heartache has come Kate’s way. But last week Kate said, “I wouldn’t have chosen this. But the intimacy I have with John and God, well—I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Kate didn’t pick the twist in their love story when she married John 20 years ago, but she embraces the story, her husband and God. For that, Kate’s my hero.
Shari was pillar in our church. She was the Christian education director who wrote curriculum that was a smashing success year after year for a decade. Shari wrote plays and painted sets and designed stunning graphics and fun games to draw others to Jesus. Thousands were nourished with the fruit of Shari’s lips and scripts and pens.
Then, Shari’s story took a turn. Things at the church changed and Shari’s husband lost his job. Now Shari sells insurance. Who’d have thought? she said the other day. She’s still awaiting His timing for her writing.
*Note: Shari was diagnosed with a serious cancer last summer. Because it was so rare, treatment decisions were excruciating. But Shari trusted God through. She’s the one who said, you can’t ride two horses with one heinie. Anxiety and gratitude can’t coexist.
Shari didn’t write the job change or the cancer into her story. But with incredible grace she plays this part. For that, Shari is my hero.
Maybe as you read about some of these heroes you were wishing you had more courage, or strength or greater faith to believe the story you find yourself in will actually turn out okay.
Please take heart. Every single thread in God’s story will come together. In His hands, nothing is wasted. Every line in the script is crafted with the glorious end in mind. Blogger Jean Williams is one of my heroes who’s felt the bottom and knows that it is sound.
Heroes Do Get Caught Up in a Bigger Story
Jean’s blog breathes strength and courage. She too has felt the bottom and calls back to us on shore, Fear not, it is sound.
God is a far better author than I could ever be. I wouldn’t have written so much hardship into the recent pages of our life. But as I look back, the suffering has…helped me see just how weak I am, and driven me to rely on God’s strength.
Better than that, this author hasn’t stayed outside the story, an omniscient, removed narrator; he has become a character on its pages…For in the end, this isn’t my story at all. Not only am I not the author of my story, I’m not the hero either. My part in this narrative serves to do one thing: highlight and direct attention to Jesus. He is the hero of this story, not me.
So forget me being the author of my story. The real Author is far more skilled than I am. Forget me being the hero of my story. Jesus is front and centre on all its pages. Forget this being my story. It’s God’s story, and it’s moving towards the glory of his Son. We’re all caught up in a bigger story, you and I, and that’s exactly the way it should be.
Heroes forget about being heroes.And that’s exactly the way it should be. Because they don’t want to be front and center, eclipsing God’s glory, starring in their own little dream stories.
Oh, no—real heroes want a larger than life, overcoming hero front and center.
Holding Out for a (larger than life)Hero
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have troubles, but take courage; I have overcome the world. –Jesus, in John 16:33
A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West, Alexander Solzhenitsyn said decades ago.
Courage is declining in 2020, I think. Fear of Covid, fear of the future, and fear of losing control of our stories chokes some of us. Opening our hands to release the scripts we wrote and embracing roles we didn’t seek is scary. It takes faith and courage.
We need more courage. That’s why we need more heroes. Because real heroes- overcoming, faithful heroes- bring it. If their names are not on our ballots, they are still among us- real world heroes like Kate and Barb and Julia and Shari. Let’s not forget the heroes bursting forth in God’s Word. Read about Abram and Deborah, Moses and Joseph, Esther and Daniel and Paul. Read and take courage. Be encouraged by the way they play their parts.
But worship only One. And hold out for Him: the Hero who overcomes. Because Bonnie Tyler had that right: He’s gotta be larger than life. He is larger than life because he swallowed up death.
And He will come again on a fiery white steed. I am holding out for Him.
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
The recent loosening of stay-at-home orders has ramped up fear of missing out for countless Americans. Friends agonize on a high wire between fear of death on the one hand and fear of missing out on life on the other. It’s FOMO on steroids. Many lack conviction.
Apart from the temptation to let fear dominate us are these others Lewis described: To say the things are bad (wearing masks, singing in church) or that the people who practice- or don’t practice these- are unloving or bad. That quote has been heavy on my mind as our country opens up.
The purpose of this post is not to persuade you to eat inside or make it a picnic, to go out or to stay home, to wear a mask or not wear a mask.
My purpose is to share a bold, jarring truth, a truth Paul proclaimed to those with strong, and opposing, convictions in the Roman church to- get this- promote peace.
Disputable Matters & Conviction
Opposing behaviors in disputable matters may both glorify God.
Before I back that bombshell up, we must define disputable matters.
Disputable matters are subjects on which the Bible does not prescribe the right way. In the church of Rome, some Christians felt they could not eat meat, drink wine, or celebrate certain holidays. Those were disputable.
However, adultery and pride, lying and stealing, gossip and envy, to name a few, are not disputable. They are never right. God has spoken on those. And he does not change his mind. (Numbers 23:19)
Jack Arnold offers this background Romans 14. What he calls “doubtful practices” are also called “disputable matters,” or “non-essentials.”
A weaker brother in Romans 14 was one who insisted that because they held the conviction that something was wrong it must be wrong for everyone else. Note: They were not weak because they did not practice these doubtful things, but because they judged others who did. So Paul told them not to judge or condemn others who held opposite convictions.
Which is, as Lewis wrote, a marks of a certain type of bad man.
3 Bad Attitudes about (Coronavirus) Conviction
C.S. Lewis talked about the badness of “looking down his nose” at someone who feels more free to do a thing than we. There are also these three:
1. Irritation. Impatient annoyance gets us nowhere. However much we may disagree, we must try to see the other person’s point of view.
2. Ridicule. No one remains unwounded when that which he thinks precious is laughed at. No one has a right to laugh at what another holds sacred.
3. Contempt. To scorn and disdain is unloving. William Barclay notes, Of all attitudes towards our fellow man the most unchristian is contempt.
The point: Have your convictions. Make them motivated by love and faith, to the glory of God. But recognize that there are many paths to the same end. My husband and I take different routes to town. I take Johnson Road and he takes Potter. My route is steeper, his his longer. But, both roads get us there.
Paul’s plea is that the common goal should unite us and the differing routes should not divide.
Each One Should Be Fully Convinced
Romans 14:5 says, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Note well: Paul does not say “lighten up,” or “let it be.” He says, “Where you see things differently- be fully convinced.” This is not what we would expect.
He is not saying as a kind of concession, Each one can have his own conviction. He is saying, Each one should have his own conviction. It’s a command, not a permission: “Let each one be fully persuaded in his own mind.”…It’s the same idea that we find in Romans 14:23, “Whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” In other words, minor matters do not call for mushy faith or flimsy convictions. They call for clear faith and full conviction.
Romans 14 says that Christians who disagree on non-essential things like these can do opposite things to the glory of God.
Shocking as it may sound, dinner with friends or takeout at home, can both be done by faith, with conviction, to the glory of God.
“Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind.” If God has convicted you that something is wrong- that wearing a mask or dinner with friends is wrong- then you must not do it, but this does not mean that this same act is wrong for another Christian in the area of doubtful things.
But, whatever is not from faith is sin.
Whatever is Not from Faith is Sin
Romans 14:23 says, Whatever is not from faith is sin. And without faith it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6) Faith looks forward to the promises of God, believing that He will keep his word.
In a message on Romans 14:23- 40 years before all this COVID-19 chaos- John Piper said, Coming to church may be sin, staying home may be sin. Eating steak might be a sin, not eating steak might be a sin…Sin is not a list.
Because faith is not a list.
Conviction Comes To You Of Little Faith
To you who still feel anxious and panicky and just not convinced, Jesus loves you. You say, Abigail, easy for you. You’re healthy as a horse and don’t have a family member with fragile health. We just don’t know what’s coming.
But guess what? No one but the Good Lord knows what’s coming. My choices must be borne of faith as much as yours. I don’t know if there’ll be another spike in COVID-19 deaths. We don’t know if we’ll get sick from having friend over for dinner or singing maskless at church. You don’t know if you are hugging a friend who is an asymptomatic carrier or if that hug might might do more harm to your body or good for your soul.
We just don’t know.
Exactly. That’s what faith must be: the conviction of things unseen.Unseen.
But, as Paul says in Romans 14, be fully convinced. Do your research and say your prayers and believe that God will care of you through whatever decisions you make, come what may. Have your conviction and carry on.
Let’s not be those who drown in information and starve for wisdom. The research– for and against– is ever new and at our fingertips. What seems obviously good and loving to one person is not so clear to another.
But whoever said love always looks the same?
We don’t need the CDC to tell us that ten out of ten people will die. And still no evil shall befall you. Christians are united by faith to the One whose own death broke “the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil.— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15) It’s not just that Christians aren’t afraid of rejection or affliction- it’s that they are free from the fear of death!
Finally, I offer this advice to you who have moved forward in faith with conviction but love someone who is afraid: The best response to fear is to live free of it. And be as gracious as you can be. (Douglas Wilson’s to C.W.’s “Letter to the Editor“)
Back to Romans 14. As if to prove the point that opposite extremes can both glorify God, Paul adds in verse 8: If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
Talk about taking an argument to its logical end. Living and dying. Both can glorify God. I write this on Memorial Day. All gave some and some gave all. In God’s providence, some faithful soldiers lived to ripe old ages and some died on beaches. Life and death- BOTH to the glory of God.
And if God would ordain some live to his glory and some die to his glory, might he ordain that some don masks by faith, to his glory and some don’t, also by faith to his glory ?
That’s it, folks-Romans 14, Memorial Day, and COVID-19 together. Here’s the end of all three: Live free from fear. Be fully convinced.
And be as gracious as you can be.
Whatever you do, whether you eat or whether you drink, do all to the glory of God.
Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.
What One Ought To Do
Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom,Benjamin Franklin wrote.
A nation’s soul can’t be stronger or more free than the sum, or soul, of its parts. And without individual ability to self-govern, without willpower, national government has no hope. A nation of souls enslaved to their sinful ways will not a free nation make.
Michael Novak explains that true freedom is not being able to do what what desires at the moment or is impelled by passion to do.
To be free as a human being ought to be is to be able to discern, not only what one desires to do or is impelled by passion to do, but also, and even more clearly, what one ought to do…In short, in “the American ideal”… is not the capacity to do what one wishes but the capacity to do what one ought. It is, in short, to be capable of self-government, self-mastery, and self-control.
Paul knew this too.
For he knew that true freedom is not found in following our hearts and acting out our selfish desires. Rather, it is found in subverting our desires to serve one another. Paul knew how easy it was stay slaves to sin:
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16)
Confirm thy soul in self-control.
Strong (Joyful) Souls Are No Accident
Add to the self-control mix, this common refrain I keep hearing as I talk with strong Christian friends. Can you hear the repeating theme?
Believe me, I could definitely down that whole pan of brownies tonight. I could. That’s why I can’t even sneak a bite. I’ll share them Friday.
It’s hard to get to bed by 11. There’s so much I can do when the kids are asleep. But when I stay up so late I overeat. Then I’m short and grumpy come morning.
It seems a little over the top, I know, but I add my husband whenever I text or email another man. It’s just a safeguard. I’ve watched affairs start.
I try to practice giving others the last word, especially when we disagree. It’s hard to bridle my tongue and resist setting the record right. But it’s good.
In short, my faithful, fruitful Christian friends didn’t get that way by accident. They had all learned to exercise self-control.
No One Drifts Toward Self-Control
There was quite a lot of Spirit-powered, self-control happening behind the scenes. They don’t toot their own horns, but day after day, they discipline themselves. Oh, sure, they stumble and fall sometimes. Then they get back up because they know the joy of self-control.
Do you know that joy? The joy of going to bed on a hungry stomach? Or of leaving a well-deserved zinger unsaid?
It’s counter-intuitive, the joy of self-control. Because the pleasure of Spirit borne fruit is way deeper than the fleeting joys of giving in to sin.Knowing that you didn’t cave, but by grace overcame- now that feels great.
Confirm thy soul in self-control.
Like a city with walls broken down
Like a city with its walls broken down is man who lacks self-control.Proverbs 25:28
Cities with broken down walls will crumble. They are open to enemies and become slaves to invaders.
A person without self-control is like an unprotected city. When we don’t exercise self-control, when we don’t say yes when we should and no when we shouldn’t, we are vulnerable to our soul’s enemies. In time, our city-souls will crumble.
Self-control matters. In this age of distraction and endless temptation to drift online and through social media, we so need self-control.
America will never be destroyed from the outside.If we falter and lose our freedoms, President Lincoln said, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.
Soul-strength or city strength depends on walls of self-control. When we lack-self control we destroy our city from the inside, as individual and as nations. But exercising self-control confirms and bolsters the soul.
When Paul was called to explain the Christian faith to the Roman Governor Felix, he summed up the Christian gospel and worldview as “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25). He didn’t tack on peace or patience or kindness with Felix. He talked about self-control.
Not surprisingly Sir Secular Felix didn’t drop to his knees and convert. No- he was alarmed. “Go away for the present,” he said. Self-control is not flashy or flamboyant or fun. In the moment, anyway.
Author David Mathis describes self-control as not terribly attractive, but, frank and functional. And difficult.
It doesn’t turn heads or grab headlines. It can be as seemingly small as saying no to another Oreo, French fry, or milkshake — or another half hour on Netflix or Facebook — or it can feel as significant as living out a resounding yes to sobriety and sexual purity. This is the height of Christian virtue in a fallen world, and its exercise is quite simply one of the most difficult things you can ever learn to do.
But even then- I won’t kid you- it’s still a fight. Reining in my tongue, my stomach, my controlling appetites.
By the grace of God, self-control is possible.
And America, you listening? God has shed his grace on thee.
But America? The grace God shed on us is one and the same as the grace that confirms our souls in self-control, our liberty in law.
So, yes, America: Happy Independence Day!
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL
O beautiful for pilgrim feet, Whose stern, impassioned stress A thoroughfare for freedom beat Across the wilderness! America! America! God mend thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law!
The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular.
The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. I know from experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity.
At least for a rascal like me. It’s so easy to say I love the world or a major subset of it. But when it gets down to it, I’ve got my hands full loving the people right in front of me.
I am right there with Brother D. Some of the same petty things that disturbed him, disturb me. The brother who picks at his food and the sister who sniffles, the brother who doesn’t clean up his dog’s doo and the sister who speaks in high-pitch- that these little things can annoy me reveals a sin-sick heart. Not to mention the deadlies, like my envy and pride.
If I- sometime difficult, irritating sister- cannot love my sometime difficult, irritating brother – then Houston, we have a problem.
Because how can I love the God I cannot see if I cannot love the realio, trulio people in right in front of me?
Or, to borrow the Beloved Apostle’s words, If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)
Why am I writing this now?
First, because I need to hear it. I want this chaos to breed clarity. And love. As always, I’m writing first to me.
Second, because I want you to be free from false guilt you might feel for not having a feeling of love for people you don’t know. We cannot love what we do not know.
Third, because our world is being shaken. And when things are shaken we must anchor on truth. Since the murder of George Floyd the world wants change. One thing I know about change- about good, gospel change- is that it happens one sinful heart at a time. Racism and all other forms of selfish, sinful, setting ourselves above others only ends when Christ comes to rule our hearts.
This is not to say we ought to be content with the state of our love. As if we could say, “I’ve loved enough. I’m done.” No way. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another (Romans 13:8). Be zealous to love and do good (Titus 2:14, Romans 12:11).
But we can’t let our love for “humanity in general” or our zealous words on social media substitute for patient, kind love for the real people in our lives.
Talk Is Cheap
The course of thy life will speak more for thee than the discourse of thy lips. Puritan George Swinnock wrote those words 400 years ago.
But Apostle John said way before that, Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
We say we love God. We celebrate his love for us. But there is in us irritation and impatience and jealousy and greed and selfishness with respect to the people that God has placed nearest to us.
Brothers and sisters, should we say this gospel contradiction is okay? It’s easy to say, ‘I love God.’ Surely it’s much easier to claim allegiance to a God who I can’t see than to live in self-sacrificing love toward the people that we live the nearest to.
It is so easy to say we love people we don’t know. To hashtag my #love for the world is cheap. But to show patience with a sister who’s annoying me is much more costly. It costs my time and energy.
To forgive a neighbor who mows down my flowers, to rejoice with a sister who gets what I want or forbear a brother whose words wound- those can be harder than loving the world.
God Loves The World
The past two weeks have tapped me dry. In large part, because I have passionate and caring friends and family on “both sides” of these vital issues. I want to love them well.
I’ve searched my heart and sought peace as the Spirit leads. I’ve read uncomfortable words and wept for the heavy burden of sins. I’ve reached out to black brothers, albeit awkwardly, to to express my imperfect love.
But I haven’t loved the world. By grace, and for Christ’s sake, I am trying hard to love my neighbor. The one I met yesterday on the way to the mailbox, the friends I listened to last night, and the three who share this house with me.
It sounds glorious to say I love the world. But I cannot love the world. Only God is big enough and pure enough and loving enough to love the whole wide world.
Let Us Love Our Neighbors
Which is as He intended. Correct me if I’m wrong, but God never called me- called us- to “love the world.” That’s God’s job. Almighty God alone is equal to that task (John 3:16).
In point of fact, we are called not to love the world. (See 1 John 2:15.*) We are called to do something much harder than loving the whole world. We are called to love one another (John 13:34), to love our neighbor as ourself (Mark 12:30-31) and to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). And loving those I see, who hurt or disagree with me, is far harder than loving the world.
So in these days when love-talk for humanity abounds, our challenge is first to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind and to love our neighbor as ourself. (Matthew 22:34-40)
But there is another challenge.
Let us rest in the unfailing love of God who alone can and -Hallelujah!- does love the whole wide world.
We love because he first loved us.
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
1 John 4:19-21
*In Scripture and in John’s writing, the word world has multiple meanings- from the created physical universe to the people who dwell on earth, to a particular subset of them. This article helps explain. For the purpose of this post, I’m using world in the sense of “all humanity.”
In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
Meg’ll like that, I thought, tucking in a gift card with the note. Meg is my friend’s daughter. She was turning 10.
But as I sealed the envelope, the old unfair bee stung. Even if she never remembers us on our birthdays.
The Word For Weary Givers
Don’t grow weary in doing good. For at the right time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. -Galatians 6:9
Why am I always the giver, the initiator, the one who remembers? I love to give, but why does it feel like I give more than I get?
It might be partly a love language thing. Words and gifts might be more my native tongue than, say, service or touch. When I start begrudging giving, that might play a wee little part. But language isn’t the main thing.
I know that because almost instantly the living, dividing Word moved in. It shoved me off the dark horse racing off to Self-Pity Land. I’ll tell you what God said.
Shut Your Mouth, Girl. And Open Your Eyes.
I am unworthy- how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. -Job 40:4
See the health and peace you’ve had all these COVID-19 days. See the family who loves on your sons. Give thanks that you and Jim have jobs. Remember your friends. Rejoice at the rhododendrons and rhubarb.
God didn’t audibly say those words, but through his Word he called to me. Give thanks, my Girl. Open your eyes. I’ve given you so many gifts.
Because we’re all givers and takers.
We’re All Givers And Takers
You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.-2 Corinthians 9:11
Paraphrased: We are receivers so that we can be givers. God gives us gifts- financial, spiritual, uncanny memories for birthdays and anniversaries-so that we can channel those gifts to others. But there’s more.
Christians are given grace and give grace so that God will get thanked. God made us to get and then give, so that he will be praised. What’s deadly is to let his love flow into your life without finding an outlet in love for others. Receiving is not bad. It’s not- getting is also a blessing. It’s just that Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Jesus, who came to earth to give his life (Mark 10:45) and told his disciples, Freely you have received, freely give (Matt. 10:8).
Which brings me to a big reason giving is more blessed.
Why Giving Is More Blessed
From his abundance we have all received one blessing after another.-John 1:16
Giving reminds me that I live by the grace of a giving God.The God who so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son. When we give we are blessed because it we are becoming more like our giving God.
Talk about perspective. Selfish me says, Why put yourself out for them? Why initiate and spend your time on them? They don’t bother with you.
That’s sin talking. Sin does something terrible to me. Sin turns me in on myself,Paul Tripp says. It makes me obsessed with my wants, my needs, my feelings. I want, I want, I want, I want, I want. Sin turns me inside out. Focusing on how much we give and how little we get is a sin (1 Thess. 5:18, Phil. 2:14).
When you give- forget, when you receive- remember. That’s a truth.
And the truth of a giving God’s turns us right-side out again. It did last week after I sent Meg’s birthday card. So next time giving feels more like sting than blessing, let’s remember God’s truth.
It really is more blessed to give.
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
I could go right down Proverbs 31 line by line and apply each virtue to Mom. It would be easy. Because my mom is easy to praise. In fact, that’s how this post started (See me later for that draft, Mom.)
But one bit of wisdom mom has given from me is: Short and sweet, Girl. Get past the curse of knowledge.
So I’ll try that. I won’t assume background knowledge. I’ll be short and sweet.
Here’s one more reason I praise my mom.
Mom Doesn’t Meddle
Meddling means interfering. Not minding your business. Sometimes I struggle with that. Not meddling isn’t among the virtues hailed in Proverbs 31. But it’s between the lines. Because children don’t rise up and call a meddling mom blessed. And because meddling flies in the face of laughing at the days to come (31:25), nor is it wise (31:26).
In fact, the word meddle isn’t used much in the Bible. But the one time that jumps to mind is 1 Peter 4:15. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler. Yes, meddler. Peter lists it right there with murderer and thief as behaviors that bring suffering down on us. Mom knows this.
I can count on one hand- maybe on 1 finger, maybe none!- the number of times in my adult life that Mom has given unwanted advice. She uses her words with restraint (Proverbs 17:27) and knows that holding her tongue is wise (Proverbs 10:19).
When I share my own mom struggles with my mom her MO is to 1. listen well, 2. purse her lips, 3. nod her head, then maybe ask, 4. Want my advice, Babe?
Such restraint. Such wisdom. What a gift from my non-meddlesome mom.
Not Meddling Does Not Mean Un-Involved
Which is not at all to say Mom’s hands-off or uninvolved. In fact, those words couldn’t be further from the truth. Mom is in our lives in so many kind, daily ways.
Hardly a day goes by without a happy text or punny picture. Yesterday was “Two Canadian guests at our lakeside property.” The pic-fowl swimming in their flooded garden puddle.
During garden season, we await mom’s weekly, post-farmer’s market calls: Hi Babe, here’s what we’ve got.
Then she lists what’s left- seasonal, of course- radishes, peas, lettuce, asparagus, and a fresh bouquet for you.Just tell me what you want and we’ll bring it.
But she doesn’t force it on us or ask why we don’t take turnips (a private matter between Jim and me).
A person convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.
But my friend Cathe is the one who called me up after reading a post one summer dayand said, “Abigail, there’s something wrong.”
I braced for the worst. Because one thing I love about Cathe is that she speaks the truth. She’s gracious and discrete. And direct and sincere.
So I prepared to hear, “You’re too long-winded, dear. Your message gets lost in your words.” Both true, still true.
But that’s not what I head. Instead Cathe said, “That post you just wrote was good. More people need should see this. I think you need a website.”
But my friend didn’t stop there. Cathe hooked me up with her website host, then took time from her writing with real deadlines to walk me through the nuts and bolts of my little website design.
Proverbs 27 says, Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. It’s true.
As we were loading in the van last night Cathe leaned in- not to talk to me but to my 15-year-old son. “Sam,” she started, “I have some advice about girls. Mind if I share?” We both stared at Cathe, rapt.
Find a girl with a cheerful disposition, she said. I like that. Because the moodier seem to grow moodier still. Sage advice, and kind.
You can see, Cathe doesn’t waste words. She uses them kindly and well.
The Sweetness of a Friend
It was Cathe who broke the ice after a month of estrangement from church, and asked, “Abigail, want to join the Thursday group?” I did. And with 3 week old Gabe in tow I joined the ladies in Cathe’s home over Cathe’s magic carrot nut muffins and spicy sweet tea.
Now 13 years later, I lead “the Thursday group.” It goes on with new faces and a handful of good old, including Cathe, though lately we meet via Zoom.
But after 20 years in our local life, as I write, Cathe is moving away. Last night, Jim, the boys and I got to help fill the U-Haul to its squid-ly brim. Totes, bins, washer, dryer and (Yes, Pat.) even the big brown sofa fit in.
Cathe is candid with herself too. I heard that last night. When she looked toward the sunset, maybe a little wistfully, and said,
Because Cathe is a country girl, even more than me. So as my friend makes her way to a big city in Minnesota today, I’m back in the country thanking God for her- a friend who goes and chokes me up when she moves.
My tears come, in part and probably a selfish part, because I realize that Cathe is a keeper of my story. She has a valuable perspective on my life that I don’t have. She sees me in a way I can’t.
Friends, the Keepers of Our Stories
While Cathe is a gifted weaver of made-up story threads, she took a few minutes away from loading bins last night to tell some of my own real story threads. Threads that can get all tangled up in my head.
Like the one about how we came for dinner almost 20 years ago. After dinner, her tween son who knew that Jim and had been married a while and still didn’t have kids, leaned in and asked,
“Hey mom, are you sure the Wallace’s know how?”
But Cathe also remembers the Sunday in November 2005 when we walked in to church holding our son, fresh from Korea. And how on a Sunday one year later, there was a collective, congregational gasp as my sister announced, “Abigail is expecting in June.”
Then, next June when Gabe was just a baby, Cathe broke silence and breached a tender subject. She broke that ice and welcomed me to the ladies’ study that met in her home.
Cathe has shared some of her precious story threads with me. They’re not mine to tell. But I do want to say, Cathe, that watching you endure with joy spurs me to do the same.
You Have Been My Friend
You know I’ll miss your real hugs and earnest counsel and practical kindness. And, as a keeper of my story, I will miss you because you know- and keep- my story so well.
Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for being a keeper of my story the last two decades. I’ll miss you on Sundays and Thursdays and I’m excited to see how God writes this next chapter in yours.
Cathe, you have been my friend. That, in itself, is a tremendous thing.
How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
Something bad happened, Mom. You don’t want to know.
So ended our easy Saturday morning.
I do want to know, Gabe, I assured, kneeling before him.
Then my seven year-old showed me two of the most obscene gestures I’d ever seen. The sun went dark.
But ever the prisoner of hope, I thought: Maybe they’re only meaningless motions to him. Innocent-like when he’d use his third digit to point.
Alas: This one means a boy is…And that other one is what a girl does…
Test positive. Gabe was infected.
The boy who watches G was exposed to X, or R at least. The son with the sensitive eyes- the son who won’t watch Wallace and Gromit for “weirdness,” and who covers his ears to block the voice of a Talking White Rabbit-this son saw that. He heard that.
My heart crashed into my gut. Then, in the hush I asked,
Gabe, where did you learn that? Who showed you that?
Wide blue eyes to mine. Earnest, sober voice to me:
It was Evan, Mom, on the bus. I shouldn’t be his friend anymore. And a big boy-he showed Evan. He told me what it meant. But I don’t know his name. He doesn’t go to my school.
That’s how Gabe got infected and his tender mind was tainted. It’s how his innocence was lost.
Actually, Gabe’s innocence wasn’t lost by the vile words and vulgar gestures of a big boy on the bus. It actually happened way before that.
Because neither Gabe, nor any of us, has ever been truly been innocent. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, Israel’s sweet, sin-stained, Psalmist wrote. Babies aren’t blank slates and children aren’t cherubs.
Apostle Paul knew and in our heart of hearts, we it too: we’re all infected with sin’s dread disease. Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned(Romans 5:12).
We’re all carriers and one day we’ll all die of it. Sin is a bad infection.
But there is another kind.
In Mere Christianity(Book IV, Chapter 4) C.S. Lewis wrote about infections. Not all infections, he asserts, are bad.
Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them…
Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ…We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has–by what I call ‘good infection’. Every Christian infected is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.
This is the good infection- that we may share the life of Christ. That we may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3:10).
And we ‘little Christs’ can spread this good infection, this loving life of Christ, to those infected with the bad.
Prayers For Carriers
That exposure came 5 years ago. A couple years later there was that online scare with the 12 year-old. And just this morning there were texts too ugly to show my husband. Contamination, exposure, infection. So we pray.
We pray that, though both sons were exposed and, like their parents carry the bad infection, God will keep keep them largely symptom-free. We pray they won’t infect others with this brand of the sin disease, and that they’ll be able to be sensitive to the Spirit and to resolve each day not to set of before their eyes any worthless thing (Psalm 101:3); that they will be wise to what is good and innocent to evil (Romans 16:19-20). We pray that this disease won’t keep spreading, that it’ll stay in remission.
And today when I jogged by Evan’s house I prayed for him too. For Evan and the big boy on the bus who infected him all those years ago. I prayed that they will know Jesus so that they too can be healed.
Lord, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who infect us with theirs. Please use us to spread your “good infection,” too. Help us to live in love like you. Amen.
For in Adam all die, so also in Christ will all be made alive.
Good Friday turned great just before midnight. That’s when my pride died.
Again. This side of heaven, it won’t stay dead.
I can’t tell you the details. It would not be right. But I can tell you that it happened after a good friend confronted me about my wounding words.
Before Pride Died
But before pride died. I want you to know that the words I write do rattle around in my head. By them, I will be justified, or condemned. If I know the truth and ignore it, I’m worse than hot air. I’m a hypocrite.
Maybe especially last night, because Good Friday is so good.
Why Good Friday Is Good
Good Friday is good because “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3), and because, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). And it’s good because “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him” (Isaiah 53:5-6).
I read and re-read my friend’s words. They stung. But I knew there was a kernel of truth in them, because I know there is sin in me. So I confessed, not was she accused, but what I knew was true.
That layer removed, I thought of other sins of which my friend had no clue. And just before midnight, I went to bed and paged to the prayer called “The Grace of the Cross.”
O My Saviour,
I thank thee from the depths of my being
for thy wondrous grace and love
in bearing my sin in thine own body on the tree.
May thy cross be to me
as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs…
I got that far before the bitter tears began to flow. Bitter, in Hebrew, is marah. The Israelites found water too bitter to drink and called the place Marah (Exodus 15:22-27). Then the Lord showed Moses “a piece of wood.” He threw it in the water and the water turned sweet.
Wood turned bitter water sweet. I remember when I taught the story to my Sunday school class. Millie and Michaela and Audrie got it. They saw the cross of Christ.
They understood it was wood that makes our bitter water sweet.
But then sobbing like a hot mess in bed, the bitterness became sweet. I knew I was forgiven by my crucified King.
Christ died for this.
Feeling that was how Good Friday turned great. The cross makes our confessed sins, even our most embarrassing and ugly and bitter sins, sweet. Because, Who confesses and forsakes finds mercy (Prov. 28:13).
That is when bitter turns sweet, and good becomes great. We stand forgiven at the cross. We remember and we celebrate:
Christ died for this.
I saw my sin loud and clear last night. But I also saw the cross and confessed and found mercy and grace.
And that is how Marah became sweet and Good Friday turned great.
In confession we break through to the true fellowship of the Cross of Jesus Christ, in confession we affirm and accept our cross…
The old man dies, but it is God who has conquered him. Now we share in the resurrection of Christ and eternal life.
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place— the Most High, who is my refuge- no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.
Fear is at fever pitch. There were more Google searches for prayer in March than in the last 5 years that comparison data has been available. People are afraid.
No Evil Shall Befall You
He will deliver you from the deadly pestilence. Those words from Psalm 91 sound like a perfect fit for these post- COVID days, don’t they?
People recite it as they wash their hands or “brave it” to the grocery store. Many are clinging to these verses for health—and for life. The words, for some, are like a Christian incantation, a hex on a deadly plague.
And that makes me very uneasy.
But the Psalm does say, No evil shall befall you, no plague will come near your tent.
So what does that mean? Does it mean that if I have faith, or better yet, if I have faith and wear a mask and wash my hands and self-quarantine I—and those in my tent—won’t get COVID-19?
Is that what Psalm 91 really means?
Real Fear. Right Guilt?
Faith, by cheering the heart, keeps it free from the fear which, in times of pestilence, kills more than the plague itself…
Charles H. Spurgeon, Commentary on Psalm 91:3
Abby, I’m really scared. My caregiver does not wear a mask. That’s how my friend Jean started our call. Jean is physically fragile and homebound. She paused, then added, I feel guilty for being scared because I believe in God.
Jean, about the guilt: You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair. You can’t stop the fear that tenses your gut. But you can keep fear from nesting in your head. She liked that.
May I share two things I try to do when I’m really scared?She agreed.
Here’s what I told Jean.
Reality Therapy for Real Fear
What is the worst thing that could possibly happen if my worst fear comes true? I try to ask myself that the moment fear springs up. Whether I hear a bump in the night or I feel a lump in my chest—I ask,
“What is the absolute worst thing that could happen?”
Then I sit with that answer a while. And usually, Jean, if I’m honest, my worst fear is death.
How can you be so sure, Miss Abigail? That’s what you’re thinking, right? Because faithful Christians will die of COVID-19. Pestilence and plague will befall us. Death will come near our tents.
They may have done everything right and may have even prayed Psalm 91 each night.
What Does “No Evil” Mean?
Not to burst your bubble, but unless Jesus returns first, you will die. I will too. We’re mortal. We must.
So what does, No evil will befall you mean? We’ve got to understand rescue the right way or we’ll be greatly shaken when good folks get sick and when we have to look death in the eye.
Charles Spurgeon ministered through a deadly cholera epidemic in London. He explained “no evil” like this:
It is impossible that any ill should happen to the man who is beloved of the Lord; the most crushing calamities can only shorten his journey and hasten him to his reward…Losses enrich him, sickness is his medicine, reproach is his honour, death is his gain. No evil in the strict sense of the word can happen to him,for everything is overruled for good.
Let that thought nest.
Because one way or another, God will deliver all his children. He will rescue us from the fangs of COVID-19 and bring us safely into his kingdom.
One way or another, in life or in death, he will.
God does not say no afflictions shall befall us, but no evil. -Thomas Watson.
The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. Those are among Paul’s final words. They’re at the end of the last chapter of the last book he penned in prison shortly before he died, probably by beheading at Nero’s wicked hands.
He had just mentioned Alexander the coppersmith who did him much evil and he knew his days were short. What most of us would call evil was “befalling” Paul.
Then in 2 Timothy 4:18, he writes,
The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.
We must understand this to “get” what Psalm 91 means. Real evil was is that Paul’s faith would wither. Real rescue was being brought safely home to Jesus.
That is it! If we make the Lord our refuge, then fear won’t cripple us- because we know that the worst—even disease and dying—brings the best.
Because real rescue means God bringing us safely into his kingdom.
When Death Sounds the Retreat
Faith is endangered by security, but secure in the midst of danger, someone said. If there was an upside to COVID-19, this is it.
I know the Puritans paint a rosier picture of death than we’re used to. But tell me this isn’t true:
Friend, if you were prepared, death would be to you a change from a prison to a place, from sorrows to solace, from pain to pleasure, from heaviness to happiness. All your sins and sorrows would be buried in your grave and the ship of your soul…and you would arrive at a blessed and everlasting harbor. Death would sound the retreat, and call you out of the battlefield- where the bullets fly thick in your combat with the flesh, world and wicked one- to receive your crown of life.
George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and Flourishing of Faith, 1662
We are under his wings. Evil cannot touch us there!
And, if it seems to, as John Piper wrote, there must be a glorious deliverance we can’t see. What else can we conclude when we put these two Psalms together:
Psalm 44:22 – “For thy sake we are slain all day long.” Psalm 34:19 – “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”
Remember how Jesus talked to his disciples this way?
Luke 21:16 – “…some of you they will put to death.” Luke 21:18 – “But not a hair of your head will perish.”
Jesus doesn’t tell lies and he doesn’t speak out of both sides of his mouth. He speaks truth. He is the truth.
So Jean, this all means that you might—I might—get infected with COVID-19 and Psalm 91 is still true.
No evil will befall you.
What is our hope in life and death? Christ alone, Christ alone What is our only confidence? That our souls to him belong Who holds our days within his hand? What comes, apart from his command? And what will keep us to the end? The love of Christ, in which we stand
Words and Music by Keith Getty, Matt Boswell, Jordan Kauflin, Matt Merker, Matt Papa
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I’ll share those three healthy, stabilizing habits in a minute.
But the first and last word on health has got to be grace.
For in Him we live and move and have our being. Because He is our life and the length of our days. And His word has given us life. (Acts 17:28, Deuteronomy 30:20, Psalm 119:50)
Because any measure of health is a gift from God.
Because the LORD forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases, redeems my life from the pit and crowns me with steadfast love and mercy. He satisfies me with good so that my youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:3-4)
So what are we to do when the foundations are shaken? How do we live in these confusing COVID-19 days?
Well, our God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33). So here are my three: three means of grace to find the health and peace we so crave in these turbulent days.
Move your body. Exercise- outside if you can. Because God made our bodies and he made them to move. And- guess what?-he made them to feel good when they do. We weren’t made to stay put, even during these shelter-at-home days.
With the advent of the Internet in the 1990s, and the smartphone in 2007, many of us are still coming to grips with how sedentary human life has become. But this has not always been so. God made us to move, and to do so vigorously. And he wired our brains to need it, reward it, and reinforce it. Exercise makes happier humans, and God made humans to be happy — in him — with bodily movement being an assistant, rather than adversary, to our joy.
Regular human movement has been assumed throughout history, but the innovations and seeming progress of modern life have made a sedentary lifestyle more normal than ever before. Perhaps we’ve never needed to state the obvious about regular bodily movement and “bodily training” as much as we do today.
We get this- the dogs of the world are making out like bandits with all our extra walks. Still, I predict Weight-Watchers will go gangbusters. Because many of us have never had so much food stored up. Nor, I suspect, has the temptation to emotional eating ever been greater.
But getting physical doesn’t just mean walking or biking. My husband’s job is “non-essential” these days. He’s cleaned the garage and chopped lots of wood. Friends are cleaning drawers and sanding tables. That’s work-moving the body. It counts.
Let us…not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. –Hebrews 10: 25
No joke: I’ve phone-called and Face-timed more in the last week than in the six months combined. Yesterday was extra-social: 2 phone dates, 1 Zoom Lifegroup, 1 FaceTime call and 2 6-foot distant visits with my neighbors.
Every single contact was encouraging. And all provided much needed perspective. Each one was a real time was to give and receive love.
Rhythms For Quarantine
Justin Whitmel Earley provides Spiritual Rhythms For Quarantine, four habits that create household patterns of stability and hope in a time of distraction, upheaval and fear.
About Gather Safely, he writes,
Friendship is the lifeblood of the soul. We were made for community, and without it, we wither.
Christian community is the primary place where we process our anxieties and preach the good news of Jesus to each other. While now is a time where we absolutely must significantly alter the way we meet, we must not give up small and safe gatherings, even if that means we have to connect by digital means. These times will either be some of the most rich because of the ways we lean into community, or they will be some of the most despairing because…we fail to [meet].
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” –Luke 10: 42
Social distancing does not apply to God. COVID days or not, God’s call to us is the same: Draw near (Hebrews 4:16, 7:25, 10:22). Christ calls us to come to him every single day.
Honestly, this non-negotiable is the one I negotiate the most. It’s the one most likely to get squeezed out. Exercise and the friendship have immediate effects- endorphins from exercise and encouragement from friends. They make me feel good in the moment.
But of spending time with my Father who is unseen takes faith. Because I don’t always feel the perks right away. But blessed are those who hear these words of mine and obey them (Luke 11:28).
As if to drive that point home, it just so happened that Mary and Martha were in my daily reading today. Remember them?
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better thing, which will not be taken away from her.”
Am I the only one these days tempted to keep checking the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 interactive map? I’ve checked it twice since I sat down to write. The numbers are still going up: 116,505 confirmed cases in the US and 8 deaths in Milwaukee.
And Martha was anxious and distracted by many things too.
Choose The Better Thing
So if we need any reminder of non-negotiable #3- enter Mary. Mary, who chose the better thing that cannot be taken from her. She could have been distracted by the same things Martha was, but Mary chose the better thing.
The better thing was sitting and listening to the Lord Jesus, caring for her soul. Yes, I’m naturally Martha. But by grace these days, I’m becoming Mary – choosing the better thing. Seeking God in the Word and prayer: that is healthy habit #3.
A while back, my friend Jen gave me some good advice about parenting our new teen. Her words have been echoing in my ears: Teach him to care for himself. Don’t tell him what to do. Instead, ask him how he can care for his physical, social and spiritual health each day.
Will you take her advice? Care for your body, your friends, and your soul. Make those non-negotiables.
If you do, you won’t waste these COVID-19 days. Or any days.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.
Recommended and Related:
Author Amanda Barratt wrote a thoughtful piece about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Even though his social distance was kept in a Nazi prison camp, his non-negotiables were the same. Care for your body, your neighbor, your soul.
For the most part, his days were spent alone. He organized his time, dividing it between reading, writing letters, working on various writing projects, and exercising, both in his cell and for a half hour every day in the prison courtyard.
He said it last summer as I helped haul hay from the wagon to the mow. That wasn’t the only, but it’s the last time I recall.
Today’s my good dad’s 70th birthday. Let me tell you a few things about him. But in some big ways, if you know me, you already know my dad. For I am my father’s daughter.
A Dad Of Contrast
Let’s start last Sunday. With COVID-19, we worshiped at home. At 9:30 AM, Mom and Dad and my sister showed up with 4 hymnals. Hymnals. Dad and I love singing hymns. We started with Rise Up, O Man Of God. Man, not church, let the record reflect. But dad’s not a musical snob. Not at all.
He loves him some foot-tappin’ Gospel and strong-strummin’ folk. Besides playing the bagpipes- he recorded Danny Boy at dawn on St. Patrick’s Day for my sister to share with her 2nd grade class- he picked up some tin whistle too. He could probably play in a pinch at a session.
It’s like that with cooking too. He’ll whip up the most elaborate, marinate all day, ingredient list the length of spatula, simmer all afternoon with fresh rosemary and thyme from his garden dish you’ve ever tried. Then he’ll go a few days on vegetables with bread and cheese or just plain cabbage soup.
Teaches And Learns
Dad’s at home with the most intellectual. He’s reading a new book on redemption from a Greek Orthodox position- and did I mention how he popped open his Greek New Testament on Sunday to show us that the beyond in 2 Cor. 4:17 is hyperbole in Greek.
Dad’s a thinker. But he’s also a teacher and a lifelong learner.
In fact, he’s taught our boys most of the finer points in etiquette and mending relationships with Laurel & Hardy,What About Bob? and Ernest Goes To Africa. Just ask Gabe- or don’t- who taught him to lick last bit of ice cream from his bowl.
Dad’s always reading the farm journals to improve his horticulture. Currently, he’s learning be a champion broccoli sprouter. He’s already taught us how blowing fans on his tender sprouts toughens them for big gusts outside of the house.
Laughs and Serves
Dad can go toe-to-toe with a gifted theologian, and nose-to-nose with a baby. Dad pastored for decades and now he serves with mom in the little church nursery. I wouldn’t say the nursery is his passion, but I think being there brings him joy. Dad knows a real servant does what needs to be done.
I’ve got a lot to learn about being a servant, but what I’ve learned is mostly from watching Dad. Servants are humble. Dad isn’t all wrapped up in himself. For the Christian, that’s called maturity. Others’ focus is spiritual health.
I first remember thinking that about Dad when I was five or six. No kidding. We’d stopped off at a park 10 minutes from home. The park had a tunnel slide and Dad carried my down in his lap. I probably had begged him to go. But when we got off, I looked at him and burst into tears. Because blood ran from the top of his head down his face.
Dad was balding even then and the top of his head had scraped the tunnel and I thought he’d soon drop dead. But instead he laughed and grabbed his handkerchief. That was that.
Now fast forward to my 7th grade year. Dad was my science substitute teacher. I don’t remember anything about it except that Brian whispered, in range of my sensitive ears, “He’s a chrome dome.” Aaron laughed. And I about died of embarrassment- for my dad.
Somehow it came out at dinner that night- the outrageous, shaming slur- and guess what? He just laughed and said, Don’t let that bother you, Ab.
Dad Loves His Friends
Dad definitely loves his family. I’ve never doubted that for a second. But Dad also loves his friends.
For almost two decades now, Dad gets together with his friend Tom early Wednesday mornings, I think, to study and pray over coffee. Sometimes with Baileys Irish Cream. He used to do that with dear Mike, his literary friend.
Then there’s Paul and Robin their movie-swapping, ag-chat friends and Bob and Jane their all-thing-Irish friends. And for decades, until last year, there was Patsy and Jim. And on Tuesday nights, Lord willing, there’s sweet time with Jen and Tim.
My Dad loves his friends. I have a hunch that watching Dad love his friends has made my friendships second nature. We all need friends, and all different sorts of friends.
A Good Dad
But the best thing Dad did is make it easy for his kids to come to Jesus. I’m sorry some of you don’t have a dad like mine. Some fathers make it hard. They lay stumbling blocks instead of sowing gospel seeds.
But a good father lays down his life for his kids. He goes low to love his own. Dad feeds his kids what his sweat has grown, potatoes and berries and beans. He laughs with his grandkids, sings hymns with his kids, and, for love, serves us all in love. Where once he preached in the pulpit, now he plays in the nursery. That’s my Dad.
I have good dad. That’s in large part because he has an even better Father. So I’ll leave off with this song my father loves.
It’s about his Father whose name is love.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
My family celebrated St. Patrick today, but capped at 10 only. Dad read from the Confessions and we sang St. Patrick’s Breastplate. I wore my green Irish sweater and made mashed potatoes. It’s St. Patrick’s day.
But it’s also the day that all the schools in my town locked up and the library shut down- while the librarians wore plastic gloves. Culver’s is takeout only and the Wellness Center is closed.
Some of us are tempted to anxiety, some to pride. Many are tempted to find security in hoarding supplies and as many are tempted to arrogance because we don’t.
Some of us grow harsh trying control to our little kingdoms– Virtual school starts at 8:45 sharp. Go wash your hands again- sing Happy Birthday two times. Go outside! You need 30 minutes of exercise.- in a world that feels out of order.
Some of us are so overwhelmed that we’re letting go of any semblance of self-control- Sure, wear your PJ’s all day. I’ve lost two hours scrolling the news feed.- and tempted to dulling sloth.
Coping Skills Or Just Rats?
We might try to excuse it by saying, We didn’t see this coming, and We’ve never lived through anything like this before. But don’t take it. What we might call our coping methods C.S. Lewis just calls rats.
…Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth?
If there are rats in the cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.
Coronavirus hit us fast and hard. The rats had no time to take cover.
I’ve had my heart laid bare and humbled. My desire for order turned surfaced and turned into bossing the boys. I didn’t buy extra toilet paper, but I did hit the grocery store three days in a row.
The last few days, I acquired lots of peanut butter. And, I pray, more humility toward those who don’t see things just like me.
But today is a new day, and time for a new confession from one of my favorite saints. (You can read all 62 confessions here.) Confession #34 (C 34) is a confession about acceptance- acceptance of good or bad– and gratitude.
Here’s where I connect Patrick, me and COVID-19. In big ways Patrick’s day wasn’t so different from our COVID-19 day. Patrick lived on the ragged edges of the Roman empire where “there was a sense of impending chaos, if not a very real experience of it.”*
Rather like our day.
The Time of Our Temptation
In the face of that wild world, living at the edge of western civilization, with high anxiety (C. 27), almost perishing (C. 28), very real threats to his life (C. 35, and actually running out of food (C. 22), here’s what Patrick said,
I’ll never stop giving thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the time of my temptation… He is the one who defended me in all my difficulties. I can say: Who am I, Lord, or what is my calling, that you have worked with me with such divine presence? This is how I come to praise and magnify your name among the nations all the time, wherever I am, not only in good times but in the difficult times too. Whatever comes about for me, good or bad, I ought to accept them equally and give thanks to God. He has shown me that I can put my faith in him without wavering and without end...
God is able to keep us faithful in the time of our temptation. For many of us, this is the time. Whether it’s pride or anxiety, control or sloth, the rats that live in our hearts come out.
But If Not, He’s Still Good
We all fear the unknown. Some days, we fret. Honestly, some of our worst fears may come true. I might wish I had bought more toilet paper and peanut butter or not gone out at all. I don’t know. But I do know this: God will provide all that we need for our souls to prosper.
Not a single one of us- the CDC or otherwise- knows what the future holds. But we know who holds the future. And he is good.
Nooo! I am so embarrassed! I half shouted, half cried. Why didn’t you guys tell me? Didn’t you see this spot?
Death By Chocolate Spot
No one has ever died of embarrassment. And I’ve lived through other wardrobe malfunctions. But, my oh my, how they hurt my pride.
Parent-teacher conferences were last night. I’d sat across from not one, not three, not five, but seven- SEVEN!- of my son’s 9th grade teachers. I was close. Close enough to see the fray on his collar and the stain on his tooth and to compliment the Spanish teacher on her Jerusalem cross pendant.
They must have all seen the spot. How could they not?
That is the shirt pictured above. But, for the record, that is not the spot. Oh, no. It was much bigger and far darker and way more chocolatey than that. Because the spot that mortified me was a caked-on splatter of chocolate cookie dough, whence those dark beauties came.
4 Takeaways from the Spot
I’m always looking for a lesson. So without (way) overthinking the chocolate spot, here are four quick takeaways:
1. Look in the mirror before you head out the door.
Literally. Check for spots, check your teeth. But also spiritually. There are blindspots we don’t see in our lives and we won’t see without the mirror of God’s Word before us. So look in the mirror.