Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other. Nehemiah 4:17b
It was incidental and mentioned merely in passing. It wasn’t the point.
But on the heals of that weekend, smarting from that blast from a friend and that hideous snarl from my mouth, the pastor’s almost throwaway line was the point.
When The Enemy’s Up To Something
Because I was thinking of hanging up my work clothes and throwing down the trowel.
Because even though I’d confessed, I felt like a fraud. Like I’d disqualified myself from ministry. Lead that life group in the afternoon? Share my faith with younger believers? Expand God’s kingdom? I wasn’t equal. The Accuser had me right where he wanted me.
Since the Fall, the enemy has tried to bait us with lies and lure us into sin. He does this because we are God’s witnesses to the world. He does this to keep us from carrying out the Great Commission, from making disciples. That’s why he seeks to devour us (1 Pet. 5:8).
Chuck Lawless explains: The enemy wants us to mess up (fall into sin), give up (get discouraged), get puffed up (live in arrogance), split up (divide), or shut up (quit evangelizing).
To mess up, give up, get puffed up, split up, or shut up- that’s what the enemy’s up to.
Stand Tall, In His Strength
But God calls us- which means He also enables us- to stand against the enemy (Eph. 6:11, 13, 14). Paul is our precedent. He kept on with kingdom work in the face of opposition. Pray that I may proclaim the gospel boldly. That was Paul’s prison request. (Eph. 6:18–20).
“Standing” -sword in one hand, trowel in the other- meant that he would keep preaching if it cost him his life. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom (2 Timothy 4:18a), Paul wrote. He knew, sorely opposed saints must know, that no one is strong enough-or weak enough- to fall away while God is resolved to hold us.
Lawless explains, We put on the full armor of God not so we can defend ourselves, but so we can…do the work of the Great Commission.
Which brings me right back to that sermon last Sunday.
Don’t Let Opposition Stop You
The sermon was not about Nehemiah and Co. rebuilding the wall. It was about Great Commission at the end of Matthew 28. But when I paged back to Nehemiah 4 and the opposition I faced suddenly paled.
First, the enemy fire:
Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. And he said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? They won’t finish up in a day. Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!”
Then came friendly fire, from fellow Jews:
In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.”…At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.”
But all that opposition didn’t stop Nehemiah and the Jerusalem wall building crew.
If You’re Doing God’s Work, Never, Never, Never Give Up
The point was: Don’t give up. Don’t throw in the trowel. Opposition is not a license to quit. Nehemiah didn’t.
When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail…Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built.
They kept building God’s kingdom in the face of opposition, with trowels and swords. We must do the same when we face opposition.
Including opposition from our flesh that wages war within.
A Violent Streak
Nehemiah’s wall builders carried swords to fight enemies outside the wall, but we do battle with the enemy inside our skin.
Which reminds me of a John Piper quote that comes to mind again and again, when I fail again and again. It reassures me that battling my indwelling sin is par for the course.
There is a mean, violent streak in the true Christian life! But violence against whom, or what? Not other people. It’s a violence against all the impulses in us that would be violent to other people. It’s a violence against all the impulses in our own selves that would make peace with our own sin and settle in with a peacetime mentality…
If by the Spirit you kill the deeds of your own body, you will live. Christianity is war — on our own sinful impulses.
That’s why I need a sword.
Sword And Trowel
But I also need a trowel. Because building the spiritual kingdom- making disciples- is the Christian’s call.
So it’s no stigma to carry a sword with your trowel. In fact, it’s just hearing Paul’s call to “take heed” (1 Cor. 10:12, 16:13) and Christ’s call to “be on guard” (Mk. 8:15, Luke 12:15). In Nehemiah 4:9, we read that after the enemy showed itself, “We prayed to our God and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.” And by grace, the work continued.
Battle sin, build God’s kingdom. Sword in one hand, trowel in the other. That’s how we build God’s kingdom. We can’t let opposition stop us.
We cannot use the excuse that we haven’t arrived to disengage from the work. My ugly outburst discouraged me. But, thanks to Pastor Matthew’s mid-message nod to Nehemiah, it did not disqualify me from serving.
It did not keep me from teaching truth on Sunday or listening to a hurting friend on Monday or taking Sunday school girls out for smoothies on Tuesday.
It could have, but God spoke straight to my discouraged heart in that quick mention of “trowel in one hand, sword in the other,” Sunday morning.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.Psalm 32:9
A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. They’re said to be more hardy than horses and more intelligent than donkeys.
Still, being likened to a mule isn’t exactly a compliment.
My uncle owned a mule named Petey. Petey was both strong and headstrong. Life on the farm was good for Petey the Mule.
But one day, which happened to be manure hauling day, “Petey decided he no longer liked his ears touched. This caused problems putting on his halter and bridle,” Uncle John posted. “He developed some escape routes which included trying to run Farmer John over; thankfully this isn’t Farmer John’s first rodeo.”
Thankfully, God can relates to mules too. He’s familiar with beasts that charge and beasts that avoid.
But, biblically, what is it that makes mules so mulish?
Hint: It’s what our kids do when they refuse to come and confess that he stole the candy or broke the lamp or lost his Fitbit, again.
That is, they refuse to come to us until after they’re busted outright or the guilt gets so heavy they simply can’t bear it. That’s mulish.
About The Most Happy-Making Thing You Can Do
In Psalm 32, this is the behavior in view: Refusing to come and confess to the one who freely forgives.
Staying away from God when we sin is irrational-without understanding. Because confessing to the God who already knows and freely forgives is one of the most happy-making things we can ever do.
In fact, that’s how David begins Psalm 32, with a double-whammy description, and prescription, for happiness:
Happy is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
The way to be happy and blessed is to go and confess.
Why Mulish Is Foolish
Which is exactly why the next two verses in Psalm 32 contrast this path to happiness:
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
Pity the fool, the mule, who does that- who stays silent and far away from the Master.
But mules do. They are silent, slow and stubborn. Mules need pressure applied to come to the master. They must be curbed with bit and bridle. That’s why God’s hand feels heavy on us sometimes, like Farmer John’s did on Petey the Mule that day.
I put pressure on you when you were sinning and neglecting me, our Master might explain, so that you’d come back to me. But I wish you’d just come freely. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.
Not Confessing Is Irrational
In case you missed it, avoiding the master is irrational. It is not acting in accord with the truth that repentance brings refreshment and confession clears the conscience. It is living as if estranged relationships and hidden sin are to be preferred over restored relationships and forgiveness. That is foolish. Mulish.
Like when son-who-shall-not-be-named confesses to eating my prized Dove Dark only after I show him the wrapper I found under his bed and not a moment before.
To be human rather than horse or mule, is to be rational. To be rational is to realize that we will be happier when our sin is confessed and covered by God.
And that when we cover it, he will not, but that when we uncover our sin before God, he will cover it (Psalm 32)
Life on the Farm
Mules live on farms. Here John Piper expands the image for us:
Maybe we should try to picture God’s people as a farmyard of all sorts of animals. God cares for his animals, he shows them where they need to go, and supplies a barn for their protection. But there is one beast on this farm that gives God an awful time, namely, the mule…
God likes to get his animals to the barn for food and shelter by simply calling them.
Or even with a look.
Steered With a Look, or a Bit?
Psalm 32:8 says, “I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”
My Mom says that I was disciplined with a look as a child. All it took was the look, and I’d usually come around. I’d curb my tongue or knock it off or change my tune.
If only the grown-up Abigail was always so sensitive to God’s eye.
But sometimes I’m a mule. Sometimes God has to put the bridle of suffering on me and drag me from danger. I completely agree with John Piper that,
A guilty conscience and all the agonies that go with it is a merciful gift to the unrepentant.
Piper continues the barnyard analogy, “So God gets in his pickup truck and goes out in the field, puts the bit and bridle in the mule’s mouth, hitches it to the truck, and drags him stiff-legged and snorting all the way into the barn.”
But we’d be better off and so much happier if we just came with a look or a call.
Repentance Brings Refreshment
But isn’t all this come and confess talk very gloomy? you ask.
C.S. Lewis answers that question like this,
It is not even, in the long run, very gloomy. A serious attempt to repent and to really know one’s own sin is in the long run a lightening and relieving process. Of course, there is bound to be a first dismay and often terror and later great pain, yet that is much less in the long run than the anguish of a mass of unrepented and unexamined sins, lurking in the background of our minds. It is the difference between the pain of a tooth about which you should go to the dentist, and the simple straight-forward pain which you know is getting less and less every moment when you have had the tooth out.
C.S. Lewis, “Miserable Offenders,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans, 1970) 120-121.
I bear witness: confessing is happy-making. In the moment, it’s humbling and hard and it hurts. But, “‘Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free, ‘Tis a gift to come down to where we ought to be.”
In fact, isn’t being forgiven about the most lightening and relieving, soul-healing and refreshing gift a sinful soul can ever receive?
In Acts 3, Peter preached just that:Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins mat be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.
Repentance brings refreshment.
How Not to be a Mule
Sometimes it is the bit of affliction and the bridle of suffering that makes us come to him. Or, to borrow David’s words, to stay near him.
It is much to be deplored that we so often need to be severely chastened before we will obey. We ought to be as a feather in the wind, wafted readily in the breath of the Holy Spirit, but alas! we lie like motionless logs, and stir not with heaven itself in view. Those cutting bits of affliction show how hard mouthed we are, those bridles of infirmity manifest our headstrong and willful manners. We should not be treated like mules if there was not so much of the ass about us. If we will be fractious, we must expect to be kept in with a tight rein. Oh, for grace to obey the Lord willingly…
In summary, not being a mule means staying near God without being forced. It means praying to God before his hand is heavy on you. It means confessing your sins to Him straightaway. Before you’re busted.
That is how NOT to be a mule.
And when I do come to him and confess, he will freely forgive. He will tenderly take my chin in his hand and lift my humbled head.
My unbridled, forgiven head.
You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory and the lifter of my head.
Have you heard that the pope changed the Lord’s prayer?
You know that line about temptation?
For centuries English-speaking Christians have been reciting the same Our Father. I pray it with Catholics at my sons’ parochial school and with perfect (Protestant) strangers when I’m in a new church. Young and old, at home and away, we say it together.
But this month, Pope Francis approved a revision. Rather than, “Lead us not into temptation,” Catholics may now pray, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”
“I am the one who falls; it’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. A father doesn’t do that. A father helps you to get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation. That’s his department.”
The pope was worried that the words “Lead us into temptation” might confuse us. They might cause us to think that the Father who calls us to be holy might also lure us off the narrow way.
So we no longer pray in unison.
A Less Confusing Translation?
Pope Francis is absolutely correct in saying that we are the ones who fall, that Satan is the one who tempts us, and that our Holy Heavenly Father does not seduce his children to sin.
Those are not in question. The Greek word eisenenkēs is the word in question. It’s the word that he changed. It means “lead into” or “bring into.” The same word is used in Luke 5:18; 12:11; Acts 17:20; 1 Timothy 6:7; Hebrews 13:11, as in “They will bring you before the synagogues.”
But, to avoid confusion, the pope approved the revision. Do not let us fall into temptation, is easier to wrap our brains around.
But Is It Accurate?
While the saints have long wrestled with the implications of the words-going back at least as far as Tertullian in the third century- they’ve agreed that Lead us not into temptation is the most accurate translation.
Ancient translations like the Latin Vulgate and the Syriac Peshitta preserve this meaning, as do classic reformation translations like those of Luther and Tyndale…Translators across cultures, centuries, languages, and theological perspectives have all grasped the Greek here the same basic way: we are to pray that God would not lead us into temptation.
So we agree. The traditional wording is the most accurate.
But I understand the pope’s concern. Asking God not to lead us into temptation implies that rather than lead us in paths of righteousness, he might draw us off the way.
Does God Tempt Us To Sin?
Scripture is clear. God does not tempt us to stray.
“Let no one say, when he is tempted,” James wrote, “‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:13-14).
In this Look at the Book episode, John Piper helps explain from James 1 how innocent desire can cross the line into sin. Suffice to say, our Good Father has nothing to do with it.
What Good Fathers Don’t Do
Now back to the pope. Here’s why he approved the change: “A father doesn’t [lead his children into temptation]. A father helps you to get up immediately.” So says the pope.
John Piper argues that this approach to the Bible is upside down.
God is a good father to his children. A perfect father. And since he is God, and not a mere human, his perfections should not be forced into the mold of our fallible views of what good fathers do. Having perfect wisdom, and knowing all things, our heavenly Father does things no human father should do.
A prime example is Isaiah 53:4: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. . . . Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.”
No human father should take the life of his child as a sacrifice for others. Yet that is precisely what God did to his beloved Son. There are other examples, but the takeaway is this,
We should learn whether he does or not from Scripture, not from our prior notions of what good fathers do. Our notions are finite, and distorted by sin and culture. We must continually refine them by what the Bible teaches.
Since lead means lead and temptation means temptation maybe we shift the focus to the word into. Which may change our focus as we pray this way:
Do for us, dear Father, what you did for Jesus, when you “led (!) him by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). You filled him with the word of God and, though he was led to the crisis of temptation by your Spirit, he did not get sucked into sin, but triumphed by your word (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10). For this same grace, in all your leadings, we earnestly pray. Amen.
What does “Lead us not into temptation mean?”
This is what you’ve been waiting for, what I’ve been puzzling over for the last three weeks since the pope changed the Lord’s Prayer.
When we pray Lead us not into temptation,
We are asking that we should never be led into a situation where we are liable to be tempted by Satan…into positions where we are liable to fall. This is what our Lord meant when He said to His disciples at the end, ‘Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation.’ There are situations which will be dangerous to you; watch and pray, always be on guard lest you fall into temptation.
God does test His children, and we must never presume to tell God what He is or is not to do. He knows that we need much training in our preparation for glory.
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Volume 2, “Prayer: Petition”
In other words, as Paul warned, Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
Take Heed Lest You Fall
George Whitefield, an 18th century evangelist, said, My brethren, if you were left to yourselves, you would be overcome by every temptation with which you are beset.
What this “confusing” last petition in the Lord’s Prayer teaches me is to take heed. To not ever think I’ve grown so much that in my faith that I can’t fall. I can. We can. We must see the weakness of our flesh.
This is not a contest in which we are being tested and tried to prove ourselves,Al Mohler suggested. The reality is we are being tested and tried in order to prove God. To prove his faithfulness. To prove God’s strong grace triumphant in our self-control. And to prove that we need the Lord.
Because at the end of the day, we are not up to this. But for the power of God, we will cave in, we will grow faint, and fail.
Christ’s Chosen Words
Of all the words the Lord could have used, he chose those.
When one of Christ’s disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray,” (Luke 11:1), Christ answered, “When you pray, say . . . ” (Luke 11:2).
Lead us not into temptation. Those are Christ’s chosen words.
On the one hand, there is a Father whom we must ask not to carry us into evil. On the other hand, there is a Shepherd who suffers unspeakable agony in his triumph over evil. From Job to C. S. Lewis, Christianity has a rich spiritual and intellectual history of reflecting on God’s relation to evil. We could let the words of the Our Father continue to prompt the faithful in this consideration.
Or we could whitewash all the timeless tensions in Scripture and play master over Christ’s words.
I’ve been pondering this for the last few weeks and my head is still spinning. I feel this “timeless tension” of Scripture. But I’ve landed on this.
As with all of our petitions, the requests we make in the Lord’s prayer are not meant to bring things to God’s attention that He doesn’t already know. As Jesus says before offering the model prayer, “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him,” (Matthew 6:8).
To pray is to admit we need help- help to do God’s will and help to want to His will. We don’t so much aim to change God’s mind as transform our own.
So in the Lord’s Prayer. The other requests contained in it make that plain. Praying, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” reminds us that we need to forgive. Praying, “give us this day our daily bread,” reminds us to be content and trust God to provide. And praying, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” reminds us that, with God’s power, we can resist temptation and stay on the narrow path where God leads us.
We pray about these things because we need God’s help. We are weak and cannot do them alone. As we pray about them, we make them priorities. Prayer is a means God uses to conform our will to His will.
Lead Us Not Into Temptation
Today we will face countless temptations. We’ll stare down multiple desires that could conceive and give birth to sin. But, our Father in heaven, forbid that we would give in. Deliver us from evil.
Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Jesus, in Gethsemane, quoted in Matthew 26:41
EXTRA (aka: More good stuff that would have made the real post way, way, WAY too long.)
The Greek word translated temptation is the same word for trial or testing (see Acts 20:19. Heb. 3:8, James 1:2,12, 1 Peter 1:6, 4:12, Rev. 3:10). Lead us not into temptation-or trial or testing.
In Hebrews 2:10 it says that it was fitting that the author of our salvation be perfected through suffering. If it was true for Christ, how much more true for us. Therefore, there is a fittingness to our trials. Temptation, testing, and trials are necessary for our spiritual growth and strength.
And good fathers and mothers do test their children. In part, at least, we give tests to help our children learn and succeed. So with our Heavenly Father. He puts us in the fire to strengthen our faith, not to see us fall.
God doesn’t tempt us. But he does test us.
Need some evidence?
Exhibit 1: Abraham.
See Genesis 22. Abraham was told to offer Isaac, his child of promise, as a sacrifice. He was tested. God the Father tested his son Abraham to see if he believed the promises of God of not. Abraham was asked to offer up the child of promise. He reasoned that God could raise Isaac from the dead. He passed the test.
Exhibit 2: Job.
See Job 1 and 2. Does Job fear God for nothing? Satan asked. Then Job was tested- he lost his children, his wealth, his health. God’s purpose was not that Job would fall, but that he would stand. And we have heard of Job’s patience and have seen the Lord’s aim: to show that he is compassionate and merciful.
Exhibit 3: The Israelites.
See Exodus 20. God had just given the 10 Commandments. Then came came some audio-visual effects sent by God to mark the day. Then the Israelites trembled with fear and stayed away. That’s when Moses told them , Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.
Exhibit 4: Philip.
See John 6. It’s just before the feeding of 5000. When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Jesus tested his disciple Philip.
Exhibit 5: Jesus.
See Matthew 4 (& 26). Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. This is the strongest evidence. It was the Father’s good pleasure that his dearly loved Son be tempted. Jesus was tempted in every way as we were yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). With crimson colors, Jesus passed this test.
What I mean by the first is this: I want my readers and friends to know that struggling with bad stuff is good. That struggle is both normal and good.
In fact, I expect and solemnly hope that there’s some fight in me until the day I die. Because my sin is ever before me and I know too well my proneness to pride and impatience, to gluttony and envy– to name a few.
And because there is a “mean, violent streak” in every vibrant Christian life. In one of those sermons I keep going back to, John Piper explains that this violence is never against other people. Rather,
It’s a violence against all the impulses in us that would be violent to other people. A violence against all the impulses in our own selves that would make peace with our own sin and settle in with a peacetime mentality. It’s a violence against all lust in ourselves, and enslaving desires for food or… alcohol or pornography or money or the praise of men and the approval of others or power or fame…
Christianity is not a settle-in-and-live-at-peace-with-this-world-the-way-it-is kind of religion. If by the Spirit you kill the deeds of your own body, you will live. Christianity is war — on our own sinful impulses.
Recently I spent some time exploring what Paul meant in Romans 8:37 when he called us “more than conquerors.” Because to be a conqueror is one thing, but to be a “superconquerors”- well, in this tempted and tried flesh of mine, that is, to quote from The Princess Bride, nearly “inconceivable.”
The word in Greek that is translated “more than conquerors” in Romans 8:37 is only used once in the whole Bible. It’s one compound Greek word that takes two- super conquerors– or three of ours- more than conquerors– to express.
Albert Barnes explains what this strong man term means.
That is, they have not power to subdue us; to alienate our love and confidence; to make us lose our faith. We are the victors, not they. Our faith is not destroyed, our love is not diminished, our hope is not blasted.
But it is not simple victory; … it is more than simple triumph; it augments our faith, increases our strength, expands our love to Christ.
Think of it this way: borne by faith, the weight of trials and temptations are transformed from burdens slumping our backs to CrossFit bars squaring our shoulders. Same weight, different results.
This is more than simple triumph.
But Not Without Struggle
In, “The Law of Antagonism,” Oswald Chambers explains that super-conqueror status doesn’t come without struggle.
Life without war is impossible either in nature or in grace. The basis of physical, mental, moral, and spiritual life is antagonism. This is the open fact of life.
Health…is maintained only by sufficient vitality on the inside against things on the outside…Things which keep me going when I am alive, disintegrate me when I am dead. If I have enough fighting power, I produce the balance of health.
The same is true of the mental life. If I want to maintain a vigorous mental life, I have to fight, and in that way the mental balance called thought is produced. Morally it is the same… No man is virtuous because he cannot help it; virtue is acquired.
And spiritually it is the same. Jesus said — “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” i.e., everything that is not spiritual makes for my undoing, but — “be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
I have to learn to score off the things that come against me, and in that way produce the balance of holiness; then it becomes a delight to meet opposition.
No man, or woman, is spiritually strong because he cannot help it. Strength is acquired. Strength only comes through struggle.
Why It Matters
You must know beyond the shadow of a doubt that struggle is normal, healthy, and good for you, Christian. This knowledge matters immensely because too many Christians think something is wrong with them- or worse, that God does not love them- when they’re tempted again and again. That if they were “really a Christian,” struggle and temptation would be done.
It matters because, honestly, if you see struggle with as the exception rather than the rule for the saint, “as if something strange were happening to you,” it will weaken you. I’ve seen too many friends give up, give in and quit.
I don’t know where that idea comes from, but it is definitely not from God’s Word. The Bible says the opposite. Over and over, we read that the Christian life is effortful and vigorous and full of struggle.
Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive . . . for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Romans 8:13, “By the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body.” And Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”
We must know this or the next time we crave the other sleeve of cookies, or another glass of wine or feel the urge to look at something we shouldn’t or the say words we’ll wish we wouldn’t have- because if we’re not prepared for the struggle, we’ll probably succumb.
And over time, giving in to sin gets demoralizing. Seeing the empty jar or empty sleeve or reliving the words that wounded or that image on the screen can sap the life right out of you.
Struggling (With Help) Makes You Strong
But when you know that struggle is normal and, in fact, the exact means God has chosen to grow you up and make you strong, well, then, you’ll be more likely to rise to the challenge and less likely to give in to temptation.
You’ll be more likely to plug in to a very great and precious promise to escape the temptation (see 2 Peter 1:3-4). You’ll be more likely to send out an SOS text to your comrades in arms. That is what should be normal.
Texting a friend to say: Please pray that I’ll be self-controlled and satisfied in God and listen well at the party tonight. I know I’ll be tempted to overeat.
Or messaging your prayer warriors at 12:45 am to ask, What promise can I cling to right now when fear is freezing me out? I can’t latch onto a single truth to break in on my catastrophizing dreams.
Or calling a sister to say, Can we please talk NOW? I am feeling paralyzed by anxiety and I need help.
We’re Needed and Needy (Both)
Those are real. Those came through from faithful struggling saints last week. Real people. And God’s grace was strong to meet their needs.
But remember that God uses means. He uses us- his needed and needy children- to strengthen his other needed and needy children.
So why does knowing that struggle is normal matter so much? That, in fact, if you didn’t struggle against besetting sins, that would be a problem.
It matters because if you don’t know that trials will come but God’s grace is strong you might be overcome. You might end up like seed sown on rocky ground, that sprang up fast but wilted away as soon as tribulation came (Mark 4:12). Do not be surprised,Peter wrote, when fiery trials come to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
No, struggle is not strange. It’s normal.
And Grace Is Strong
“Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” That’s what Paul told Timothy. Since God designed the good fight of faith to be normal till the day we die, it’s no surprise that he gives more grace. “Grace,” John Piper says, “is not just the gift of restfulness, but the power of God to enable us to work for holiness.”
Grace is strong. Good struggle and strong grace go hand in hand. Do you see that? Grace, I think, is less a safety net for hang-loose living, than the stabilizing bar that helps us cross the wire.
Biblical grace is also more than the gift of the kids sleeping in on a rainy days and picking strawberries sunny days and the power that keeps illness away. Grace is that- unmerited favor. But it’s so much more. It’s power.
God’s undeserved favor also comes in the form of strength to call out for help, and power to fight. To take up the struggle like a strongman hoists a barbell. This also is grace.
Daily Struggle + Strong Grace = Freedom
Freedom is not so much a destination that we reach as it is a daily choice that we make by our actions. Matt Fradd, author of The Porn Myth, said that in an interview with Janet Parshall.
The freedom Fradd mentioned doesn’t only apply to the porn problem. It applies to our struggle with other temptations. Fradd says,
We need to think of struggle as a daily battle. Whether it’s losing our temper or eating too much, succumbing to anxious thoughts or shutting off our screens, it’s not realistic to simply say, I’m done. I’ll never do that again. Rather than thinking of it as an all or nothing battle, we should think of it as a daily battle. Rather than think of this as one and done, we need to think of it as a daily decision to live free.
Struggle is a daily battle, a daily decision, to live free. And the struggle is made possible only by God’s strong grace. Strong enough to get you through, to help you beat up under, every single struggle you face. Not just somehow, but victoriously.
Having a free will, John Piper says, means doing what you want to do and not regretting it in a thousand years.
Such freedom, I think, will only come as we see struggle as good and embrace God’s strong grace.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.
-Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:10
When through fiery trials our pathway shall lie, my grace all sufficient shall be your supply.
Should we bother to pray about the little things? You know, for lost cats and clear skies and skinned knees?
Why should we pray for things that don’t seem to have a tight connection to spiritual growth, which we know is our greatest goal. Because, after all, great praying saints like Paul prayed far more for big things like inner strength than for relief from little circumstantial things.
So why would we pray for little things like broken dishwashers and dirty dishes?
The party was over, the guests had gone home. The table was cleared and the counters were clean. And the dishwasher was filled to the gill with table service for 13.
But then, at 10:45 Friday night, with a rinse barely long enough to loosen shreds of beef and traces of greens, it stopped. A red OE showed up and it did its little dingy thing and five minutes into the cycle it quit. Barely into its fourth run, our brand new dishwasher was done.
What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)
Well, I read the owner’s manual. OE, it said, means “Not Draining Error.” So I opened the door and, sure enough, gray water surrounded the drain.
What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)
Rinse the filter was the obvious first step. But the stagnant pool remained. So it wouldn’t wash because it it wouldn’t drain.
What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)
I read the next steps: Clean the disposal or air gap. Inspect the drain hoses for kinks. I sighed. We have no disposal and where’s the air gap? And how would an out-of-sight hose suddenly kink?
Still, I turned the kitchen sink faucet off and on and on and off and swished the dirty dishwasher for good measure. Then I closed the door and pressed start, again. It didn’t.
What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)
Hon? I called to Jim, The dishwasher won’t drain. I know you can fix it. Will you please try? By now it was after 11. I trusted my handyman husband, and I went to bed.
Morning broke bright but the dishes were still dirty and gray water was still undrained.
What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)
I hurried out for my jog before a track meet that would mean a full day away. When we got home, I beelined to the dishwasher. But I knew- the nose knows- even before I opened the door that Jim couldn’t fix it.
What’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)
He got home and after we ate, I unleashed my best pep talk: You can fix anything, Hon. You’re so good at figuring these things out. Can you please try again?
What’s a Girl to Do?
But Jim was weary- he had a lot on his plate. More, in fact, than those ripening in the dishwasher: a broken kitchen sink faucet he’d already replaced twice this month, an air conditioner that wouldn’t cool, and plugged gutters to boot.
He sighed and opened the manual, again. Then he took out the filter, again. And sighed, again- and walked away. I did those dinner dishes by hand.
After all, what’s a girl to do when the dishwasher won’t wash? (Pray?)
The smell of the that load filled the kitchen each time the door was opened. And I knew these greasy old dishes were truly small potatoes. But it sure would be a gift this new dishwasher of ours could make them clean.
Then I knew- what a girl’s to do when the dishwasher won’t wash.
Jim was sitting at the table sorting through his mail and the boys were already in bed when I walked over. Hon, I announced, I think we need to pray.
So pray we did. Father God, would you please help Jim figure this out? Would you please give him insight to drain that water so the dishes can get washed? Please open his eyes to see what’s wrong. And we’ll give you all the thanks and all the glory. Amen.
Then I went to bed with a broken dishwasher full of dirty, stinking dishes.
I started the coffee Sunday morning, then walked three steps to the dishwasher. I winced as I pulled open the dishwasher.
The dishes were clean. The water was drained. God had fixed the dishwasher. And I had never been happier to unload a dishwasher.
How the Dishes got Washed
So that’s how the dishes got washed. I prayed, God answered. In a way the details don’t matter, but in a way they do. God fixed it. But he did so by answering my prayer, by giving Jim insight late Saturday night.
Turns out that the drain stop in the kitchen sink needs to be lifted to run this new dishwasher. If it’s down, the water won’t drain and in seconds the dishwasher quits. Jim was just poking around and, on a lark, pulled up the drain stop in the little sink. And that was the fix.
But, would God have done it anyway? I mean, if I hadn’t prayed on Saturday night, would Jim have had the insight to lift the drain in the little left side sink? Maybe. Or would we have paid a repairman to tell us to lift the drain stop sinks full of dishes later? We’ll never know.
But I do know I’m glad I prayed for this little thing.
Steering Wheel Or Spare Tire?
I do know that, once again, I called, he answered, and my strength of soul he increased (Psalm 138:3). I do know that I called to him in the night of trouble, and he delivered me(Psalm 51:15). And I know I will cast my cares on him because he really does care for me (1 Peter 5:7).
A woman once approached the British preacher G. Campbell Morgan and asked, “Do you think we should pray for even the little things in our lives, or just the big things?” He answered, “Madam, can you think of anything in your life that is big to God?”
That’s answer #1. Because really is there any truly “big” thing with God? With the God who spoke and the worlds came to be, for whom the nations are like a drop in the bucket, who enabled a virgin to conceive?
Now here are reasons #2 and #3- We pray for “even the little things” because it opens us up to a double grace. God gets the glory and thanks, because the giver gets the glory. And, we get the joy of feeling as if we had a role in it. God instituted prayer, Pascal said, in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.
(Not) Impossible, So Pray
God gets us into impossible situations- situations we can’t fix by ourselves- take Abraham and Sarah, or the Exodus from Egypt, or Elisha surrounded by the enemy, even little things like dishwashers that won’t drain- to display his power and goodness. In other words, to reveal his glory.
So pray. Pray, pray, pray, pray. For big things and little things, pray. For his glory. And because our God cares about little things.
Because just maybe, to Him, all things are little things. And because He is able.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
You have the rare ability to see both sides at once. The glass is half empty and half full to you, lauded Mr. Baughn. You see shades of gray.
Mark Twain quipped that he could live off a good compliment for two months. That’s a gross underestimate in my case. Because those words from Mr. Baughn- senior year, English Lit- go back 25 years.
The reason I mention them now isn’t (mainly) to hail the power of praise or to encourage shades of gray. I bring them up, because they help explain why this pity thing keeps surfacing.
The Good Side Of Pity
Sympathy is good and it’s bad. In fact, if you don’t have pity at the right times, not to overstate, but you might be a cold-blooded psychopath. And the Bible commands us to have sympathy (1 Peter 3:8).
Rightly placed pity is godlike and divine. Jesus Christ had pity (Matt. 9:36, 20:34, Luke 7:12-15). We are to be like Christ. We are to have pity.
The Pitfalls Of Pity
But the glass is also half-empty. While we are to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15b)- we are to express our pity with discretion.
Being overly empathic, leading with our hearts not our heads- as when we don’t consider the long term and get lost in emotion- can hurt us and those close to us. Too much pity- or what this post is about, pity misapplied- might actually be harmful. Like when we know that our disappointment is clearly God’s appointment. Or if you always cave when your five-year old cries at bedtime, and decide he can stay up.
Pity is good. Like many good gifts it can be misapplied. And lately I’ve seen a lot of misdirected pity.
Here are four ways I think our pity may get misdirected.
1. Pity is misdirected when it is self-focused.
Self-pity is of the devil, and if I wallow in it I cannot be used by God for his purpose in the world. –Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest
Self-pity– the kind defined as a self-indulgent dwelling on one’s own sorrows or misfortunes- would land squarely in the first category.
I’ve written about this again and again. I suppose it’s because I’m too sensitive- that sensitive – and self-pity is one of my besetting sins. Time and time again this line from C.S. Lewis rings in my head: Indeed what is commonly called “sensitiveness” is the most powerful engine of domestic tyranny. How we should deal with it in others I am not sure; but we should be merciless to its first appearance in ourselves.
Merciless. Like we were to the carpenter ants that bored their way through the ceiling and dropped onto our living room floor. They were destructive. We showed them no mercy.
Be intolerant of your own self-pity. Strike it at its roots. Distract yourself if you must-write a letter or wash the floor like I did Sunday afternoon.
But show no mercy to pity directed toward yourself.
2. Pity is misdirected when it is used to hold joy captive.
I’ve been re-reading The Great Divorce. It’s C.S. Lewis’ imaginative, instructive tale of a bus ride through heaven and hell. Near the end, we meet Sarah Smith in heaven where she’s reunited with her (shrinking) husband Frank, fresh off the tourbus from Hell.
In this scene, Frank is bemoaning the fact that her joy- both on earth and now in heaven-is not contingent on his.
You who can be happy without me, forgetting me! You don’t want even to hear of my sufferings. Don’t, you say. Don’t make you unhappy. And this is the reward–
Stop it at once, she said.
Using pity, other people’s pity, in the wrong way. We have all done it a bit on earth, you know. Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used the wrong way round. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity. You see I know now. Even as a child, you did it. Instead of saying you were sorry, you went and sulked in the attic. Because you knew that sooner or later one of your sisters would say, “I can’t bear to think of him sitting up there alone, crying.” You used their pity to blackmail them, and they gave in in the end.
Those who choose to focus on their own misery will not be allowed “to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy.”
Pity must never be directed so as to hold joy- ours or others’- captive.
3. Pity is misdirected if it never spurs us on to action.
Let us not love in word or tongue but in action and with truth. –John the Apostle
So there’s pity and there’s pity. And we must distinguish between the two. Because only the pure, active one will endure.
Continuing from The Great Divorce,
The action of Pity will live for ever: but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of Pity, the Pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak truth… that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken.
‘And what is the other kind- the action?’
It’s a weapon on the other side. It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light and evil into good.
Pity in this “passion” sense is not necessarily noble. It might just be a knee-jerk response or a veiled way of rejoicing that I am exempt from that particular suffering. That I am healthy, my husband has a job, my boys get decent grades. My pity may simply be an expression of my joy in not suffering that way.
Clearly the, “add-a-sad-emoji-and-be-glad-it’s-not-me” expression of pity is not a crowning virtue. This “pity” demands nothing from us and may just be an expression of underlying selfishness. It is certainly not heroic.
To add a sad emoji can be a kindness. But if out pity always stops there and doesn’t leap to bring healing and joy, it’s merely sentimental.
But if it’s never action and truth, it’s not enough.
4. Pity is misdirected if it doesn’t reflect God’s just mercy.
Virtuous pity, or what Thomas Aquinas calls ‘misercordia’, is married to justice, regulated by reason, and structured by doctrine. –Joshua Hren, “The Problem of Pity”
Joshua Hren’s Touchstone magazine article is super insightful. In it, he draws from Dante’s Inferno to explain why we must discriminate among pities, and “learn to measure our mercy against the just mercy of God.”
Hren cites a scene in Canto V, where in the circle of the carnal, Dante meets Pauolo and Francesca. As a result of their illicit affair, “these lovers glide through Hell’s whirl like grotesque mating doves.”
When Francesca sees Dante, she recognizes his pity- and, Hren writes, “pounces on it, telling her own ‘piteous tale.'” As she explains her sob story of “how love had led them there,” Paolo stands beside her as both of them weep. Seeing them, Dante felt, “my sense reel / and faint away with anguish.”
With that, he begins his descent into the Inferno, prepared “to face the double war / of the journey and pity.” In other words, Dante realized, misplaced pity is, in a certain sense, the enemy.
Hren, and Dante long before him, recognize that many (wrongly) think that pity should be indiscriminately expressed toward the other, whether that person has cancer or a married friend confides that keeping a secret life is so trying.
Hren concludes, “we ought not to pity the sinner to the point that we try to rearrange the architecture of Hell.”
Jesus Hurt Peter
The germ for this post came on Easter Sunday as I sat reading just past our pastor’s sermon text.
My eyes stopped at John 21:15. It’s in the context of the conversation that Jesus had with Peter after the bread and fish breakfast on the beach.
Here’s the part that arrested me:
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Knowing all things, Jesus could have said, “I’m sorry Bud, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” But our Lord, who was moved with compassion at times, didn’t pull his punches. He said, for the third time, “Feed my sheep.”
But there’s more: Jesus’ next words to Peter explained how he would die a martyr’s death. No mention of pity here.
But we know Peter loved Jesus. And Jesus loved Peter.
Therefore, pity must not equal love.
Break My Heart For What Breaks Yours
For the record, midway through the writing of this post, my husband loved me without showing an ounce of pity. Jim knows the tell-tale signs of my self-pity and they were starting to ooze Sunday afternoon. So, in love, he showed no mercy. Don’t go there, he simply said.
Sometimes pity’s a beautiful thing. Other times it’s ugly. And I only know one way to determine which it is: Break my heart for what breaks yours, is how the song goes.
But maybe the flip side is, don’t let my heart break for what does not break yours. Or at least, don’t hold back from speaking truth in love even if it hurts. Like Jesus did to Peter.
By the way, only an abounding, discerning love can do this. With so many shades of gray, that kind of love is the only way to avoid the pitfalls of pity.
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.
When good speakers prepare, they anticipate the questions their listeners might ask. Last weekend I was blessed to speak at a women’s retreat.
And there was one question I was not ready for.
Perfectionism, Stagnation, or Growth?
I’ll tell you about the question that stopped my cold in a minute. But let me start here where I started with the group: growth. I don’t take for granted that we all embrace a growth mindset.
But keeping growth as the goal guards against two life-choking dangers: perfectionism and stagnation. Perfectionism says I can’t believe I messed up. How could I have done that? It won’t bend. It demands 100% in ourselves or others- now. And when failure inevitably comes perfectionism crumbles in defeat.
But stagnation is equally stifling. It wallows and argues that change is simply impossible. That’s just the way I am, it reasons, I can’t help it. John Piper calls itspiritual fatalism and says it’s when we feelthat genetic forces and family forces and the forces of past experiences and present circumstances are just too strong to allow us to change.
A focus on growth prevents both perfectionism and spiritual fatalism. To say that we can amend the soil is to embrace growth.
How’s your soil?
“Amending the Soil” was the theme- it was all about how we can change the “pH of our hearts” for greater fruitfulness, productivity and growth.
With that growth groundwork laid, we moved to a list of “faith fertilizers,” found in 2 Peter 1:5-7. Add-ins like patience and love and self-control that change our heart soil so good things- or more good things- can grow.
Then we landed on verse 8: For if these qualities are yours and are increasing– note: increasing and growing, not perfected and arrived at- they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Adding these qualities changes our “soil” for good.
Now I asked the ladies to describe the current state of their heart soil. Was it muddy, weedy, rocky, or clay? Exhausted, high-yield,wild, or dry?
The responses were what you expect from hard-working women on a weekend retreat: plenty of exhausted souls, two weedy women and one wild woman. Sharing time was going swimmingly.
Until Shelly chimed in with the question that stopped me cold.
What about contaminated soil?
What about contaminated soil? I’m surrounded by toxic relationships at work and at home. How am I supposed to change those?
Alrighty then. Easy for me to talk about growth and change and growing in grace. But I was not prepared for this.
Back to the garden metaphor for a minute. My dad adds coffee grounds to the soil around his blueberries to help the plants grow. But what if there’s a can of paint buried next to the blueberry plants seeping its poisons into the roots?
What about polluting influences and toxic people we can’t escape? How does growth come then?
The Solution to Pollution? Dilution.
Thankfully, my friend Susanne came to my rescue: The solution to pollution is dilution, she said with a grin.
Susanne’s a nurse and she knows. You can’t always remove toxins from the blood, but you can dilute them. You can insert an IV and dilute with fluids.
To go back to the garden metaphor, it meansif you dilute a pollutant enough, the resultant intensity of the pollution is reduced; therefore adding clean material to a contaminated product will reduce the toxicity of the resultant mix…diluting the intensity will reduce the potency of a problematic pollutant with dilution.
Shelly was right. We can’t remove all the corruption around us. Workplaces, families of origin, debilitating diseases- all be out of our control.
But we can “reduce the potency of the problematic pollutant.” We can do that.
Change what you can change.
We can’t always change our circumstances. Our world is polluted. It is contaminated and polluted and we feel it. Little ones get infected and we weep. As much as we’d like to insulate ourselves and those we love from contamination, we just can’t.
But we can change what we can change. We can dilute the toxic influences in our soil with good influences.
We cannot escape the downers around us, but we can nourish friendships that bringrefreshment and joy.
We are not spiritual fatalists, so toxic relationships” need not hinder growth. We can phone a friend and say, Help me please or text a group, Please pray. We can open the Bible and let its pure words cleanse our contaminated souls.
It won’t be easy. It will take God’s power energizing our effort to “reduce the potency” of the pollution we can’t escape. But we can–we must- dilute.
All will be healed and clean. There will be no toxins seeping or wounded weeping then. And there will be abundant fruit.
But while we await that glorious day, the best solution to pollution might just be dilution.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. 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.They will see his face…
It’s a strange feeling that comes when you must pay for what is already yours; when you must buy back to keep what you own.
There’s a story about that with a boy and boat. But I’m going to tell a different one, about how Milky the cat came back.
I admit: it was my brainiac idea to take Milky and Oreo back to their barn of origin while our family vacationed in Florida. So a month ago, we carted the cats back to the farm, to Mom and Dad’s.
Mom thought crating them a day or two in the barn would be good. They could re-acclimate to their former home that way.
I didn’t think that’d be necessary. Milky and Oreo wouldn’t need that. They’d remember their old kitten haunts and the smell of the sheep and the hay and their cousins.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The Stray Cat Dirge
The second the boys left the van, was the second the cats exploded in a mad dash from their hands. Milky south through the corn field, Oreo north through the garden. Like spooked cheetah cubs escaping a lion, they ran.
Gabe raced after Milky a few steps, but in the dusky light they were instantly out of sight. And as he burst into tears, Sam shook his head.
It’s all your fault Mom. You ruined vacation.
I miss my cats. They’ll never come back.
Those were the words to the song. The dirge that Sam and Gabe sang as I packed the van for a sunny spring break away.
They sang them again ten nights later, upon our catless return.
Fast forward 20 days from the day the cats escaped.
Your cat has been found. Please contact Lakeland Animal Shelter at 262-741-1000.
That was on the answering machine after work. So I called.
A trucker found the cat at a rest stop [10 miles from Mom and Dad’s] and picked him up. He felt convicted that it might be someone’s pet so he took him to a shelter in Milwaukee. They read his chip and called us and the trucker brought him back down. So your cat is here.
And just so you know, it’ll be a $20 handling fee and a $25 repeat occurrence fee when you pick him up. (Yes, repeat. But I’ll save that story for another time.)
Worth The Fee
Jim redeemed Milky from the shelter an hour later at a cost of $45. Our “free barn cat” was worth much more now than he was when the boys found him behind between bales in the haymow last fall.
Milky was our cat. But he had strayed. Milky needed to be redeemed. And the cost to buy him back was infinitely- any amount is infinite from zero- more than the cost to own.
But now he was ours. Because we loved him. Milky was worth it.
And you, Christian, you are worth it too. The way you’ve been redeemed is proof.
Redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb
The Greek word for redeemed in Titus 2:14 and 1 Peter 1:18 is “lutroo.” It means “free by paying a ransom, redeem…set free…rescue.”
Titus 2:14 shows Jesus’ death has rescued us from a life of slavery to sin: “Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from lawlessness and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good work.”
The same word is used in 1 Peter 1, “knowing that you were redeemed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things such as silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without spot or blemish” (1:18-19).
We redeemed Milky with an infinitetesimally smaller price. Jesus gave himself for us. Himself. As a lamb without spot or blemish. He gave himself.
We only gave 45 perishable, measly little dollars for Milky the cat.
What’s your secret? How do you stay so healthy? my friend asked, noting I hadn’t been sick all winter.
Ooh. Right into my wheelhouse. Because health and fitness are some of my favorite topics and I do have a few secrets. None of which, incidentally, involve dietary supplements, protein powder or organic juicing; some of which involve intermittent fasting, everyday friendship, and every other day push-ups.
And since today is my “golden birthday” -44 on 4/4- I’ll take full advantage to tell you one of my “secrets.” One the pathways to the good health I’ve enjoyed to this ripe old middle age.
But before I do, I must give credit where credit is due.
Because the first and last word on health has got to be grace.
It is 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)
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).
Means To Health
Not to guarantee it, but to go to places where God’s grace flows. You’re more likely to get sunshine on Sanibel Island than in Seattle. God has revealed certain channels through which he regularly pours out his favor, David Mathis writes. And we’re foolish not to take his word on it.
Just like we can’t force electricity or water to flow our direction, we can’t force health. But God has given us circuits to connect and pipes to open and trails to hike. Pathways to power, water and health should he send them.
Our God is lavish in his grace, often liberally dispensing his favor without even the least bit of cooperation and preparation on our part. But he also has his regular channels. And we can routinely avail ourselves of these revealed paths of blessing, or neglect them to our detriment.
Health is a blessing. And going outside avails us of that blessing.
The Secret: Vitamin Sea (or just a walk around the block)
Physical health and spiritual health are closely intertwined. Very closely. A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones (Proverbs 17:22).
So when I talk about this secret to health, I am talking about both. This pathway is a means to spiritual and physical health.
“Have you been outside today?” is subtitled, “The Spiritual cost of Isolation from Creation.” In it, John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris hail the spiritual benefits of basking in the great outdoors.
Hear them make the case in the rest of this post.
Have you had your nature fix today?
One of the defining features of God’s Word is how often it points us to God’s world.Much of Scripture, in fact, assumes a level of understanding about nature. So, it would seem, if we fail to go outdoors, if we fail to experience and engage in God’s creation, our faith could suffer.
Nearly every book of the Bible is bursting with references to creation, chronicling in soaring prose the making of the universe, identifying God’s covenant promise with colors in the sky, and inviting us to gaze with Father Abraham at the starry hosts, where an even greater promise was written.
The psalmist compares the longing of his soul for God with the thirst of a deer running to water, fully expecting his readers to get the word picture! He sings of the heavens’ divine declaration, he praises the Lord for making mankind ruler of “all flocks and herds…animals of the wild…birds of the sky, and the fish of the sea…”
John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris
The Birds And Beasts Will Teach You
“Ask the beasts, and they will teach you,” exclaims Job, “the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”
The Bible at length promises that the consummation of history, like its beginning, will take place in a garden-city atop a mountain, with a river of life and trees whose leaves are to heal the nations….
Faced with this forest of references, it’s hard to see how someone who never spends time outside could fully grasp things the Scripture wants us to. Today, the benefits of modern technology have effectively cut us off from the natural world and the general revelation of God that it offers, perhaps more than ever before in history.
John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris
There are costs to this insulation. Last May, the Washington Post reported that children today spend less time in unstructured outdoor play than any prior generation which, research indicates, results in worse school performance, less creativity, higher levels of obesity, fewer friends, and increased rates of depression and hyperactivity. Even more critically, the world kids experience today bears little resemblance to the backdrop of the Bible.
Writing at The Gospel Coalition, Scott Martin calls this modern isolation from creation not only physically, but spiritually dangerous. Citing studies demonstrating how time in nature reshapes our brains, he suggests that our manmade worlds of concrete and climate control rob us not only of the practical vocabulary to understand Scripture, but actually make unbelief easier.
Thankfully, there’s a simple solution: Go outside!
John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris
Path To Life
Now I realize I’m a privileged, living in the SE Wisconsin countryside and richly blessed to take a holiday at the sea every couple of years.
But even if you live the city or go to the sea, you can go out and look at the sky. You can be intentional. You can rouse yourself and gaze at creation. For your health, don’t isolate yourself inside.
He’s shown us the path of life. He has given us means to health and grace.
One just might be to see His work outside. So go take a hike.
We’re closing in on Sanibel. Of 1,408 miles from home, only 148 remain. Twenty hours down, two to go. Unless traffic suddenly comes to a dead stop on I-75 en route to Florida for spring break as it’s liable to do.
Unless that happens and I don’t take the reroute.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. That’s how the writer of the book of Hebrews describes faith in chapter 11. Faith means trusting God when we can’t see the road ahead.
It’s been two years since we walked these beaches and soaked in this island sun and two years since that little stop off the causeway got me wondering if others can see how much we’ve grown.
I don’t know if others can. But in this one way, I think I’ve grown: I’m learning to embrace life’s reroutes faster.
I’m getting better at accepting changes in my plans. I mean, I’m learning to accept them gratefully like the reroutes that suddenly pop up on my screen.
If you use GPS or Google Maps, you know just what I mean.
Just shy of Chattanooga last night, that calm female voice broke in to say, “There is a delay on I-24 two miles ahead. Exit on state road 11 and save 37 minutes. Press yes to accept this reroute.”
I did. In a heartbeat I did. I gladly accepted that reroute.
Because I trust that the GPS Girl knows best. I trust Google’s eagle eye view of the roads. So I trust her completely with the way our van takes.
But sometimes I question whether God’s got my best route figured out. Sometimes I get thinking that interruptions in my time and deviations from my plans are beyond His view.
As if they could halt his plan. The Lord will perfect that which concerns me, Psalm 138:8 says. As if accidents and wrong turns and lost jobs ever catch God by surprise.
After 24 years with the same employer, my husband’s job ends next month. After giving thousands of eye exams, the optical is in bankruptcy and this job is over. Paycheck ends, insurance ends, this stability ends.
We don’t know what’s next. The road ahead is unknown.
We all like stability. We like to know the route, the plan.It’s the uncertainty that’s killing me, we say as we await a lab result or a call back. It’s this not knowing what’s ahead that’s hard.
[A]nd he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge, the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure. That’s the comfort the prophet Isaiah provides God’s afflicted children (33:6).
Here’s where my relationship the GPS Girl helps me trust God. When make a wrong turn or the road gets blocked ahead, the GPS Girl doesn’t get mad. She doesn’t yell at me or go silent. She provides stability.
If we have ears to hear, we’ll hear her say in that same calm, composed way: Recalculating.
In her steady, calm way, she reassures, It’ll take a little longer, but I’ll get you there. Wrong turn, missed exit, accident- no matter, I’ll still get you there.
But the analogy between the GPS Girl and God breaks down here, because God never has to recalculate. He knew your days before you were born.
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. That’s where Asaph lands at the end of Psalm 73, after he envied the prosperity of the wicked. Like when I envied the drivers that zipped along on the right shoulder while we waited at a dead stop north of Nashville.
Nevertheless. I love that nevertheless. Because I make wrong turns and because other people’s accidents affect my travel. They change my plans and slow me down.
Nevertheless…I guide you. Like the GPS Girl. She doesn’t get mad at me when wrong turns and accidents happen. She doesn’t give up either. We hear her say,Re-calculating.
And we hear God say: Trust me. I’ll guide you. There is another way.
That’s why Corrie ten Boom’s words makes sense, Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.
Faith sees God’s hand everywhere, unbelief sees God’s hand nowhere; not in big things or in small, everyday things.
If we see God’s hand we realize that we are dependent on him. This is maturity- to realize we need him.
I believe and help my unbelief. Because, truth be told, sometimes I trust the GPS Girl more than the Almighty God. I wonder about the route to Jim’s next job. But instantly I press accept and off we go on a scenic detour of Lookout Mountain outside Chattanooga.
I want to trust God like this, because he sees the road ahead better, and he’s got my best interest in heart. We cannot always trace God’s hand,Spurgeon said, but we can always trust God’s heart. I want to rest in that.
Because He knows the way I take. And he knows all the roads in front of me more than the GPS Girl.
So how could I trust him less?
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Two friends recently gifted me with these. Then came the rush.
Do you know this rush?
The Joy of being Known
It’s the same rush I felt when my friend Jen nailed my game clue. “Fleeting” wasn’t too veiled for Jen, because she knows how much I love sunsets.
It doesn’t matter if you know the game. What matters is someone else playing the game knows you. When that happens, there’s that rush.
It’s the surge of joy, of feeling loved, that comes from being known. I felt it last night, too when my friend Jen guessed my card right, in a Dixit game where it pays to be known.
But there’s a flip side.
The Pain of being Unknown
Back to gifts for a minute. My favorite gifts are not the ones that cost most. They’re the ones that show that the giver of the gift knows me. I mean knows me.
Which probably has something to do with the fact that most of the gifts I give are far from a perfect fit. I’ve given plenty of duds: whole-bean coffee to friends with no grinder or who don’t even drink coffee and milk chocolate to those who much prefer dark. Then there are the musical mismatches I’ve made. Just because I like I folksy, hymnsy doesn’t mean my friends do.
Recalling those poorly chosen gifts makes me cringe because I know how some gifts I’ve received have hurt my own fragile little feelings. I won’t tell you which ones. Let’s just say how I felt opening them was probably how someone with a deadly nut allergy would feel if a good friend made him a very special peanut-butter cup birthday cake.
But it’s not only gifts. Questions sometimes do this too.
When Questions Miss the Mark, or the Heart
We all long to be really known and truly loved.
I think the reason misfit gifts hurt us is that they reveal that we are not really known, at least not as much as we thought, or wish, we were.
But sometimes gifts show us that we’re not and sometimes well-intentioned questions miss the mark. They miss our hearts.
Like when a friend asks about your work but it’s your kids that are heavy on your heart. Or when she inquires about your sore knee, but really it’s a trouble at work that that’s got you losing sleep.
Failure to read minds is no fault. Credit goes to any friend who gives a gift or cares enough to ask.
Still, when gifts and questions miss, we’re disappointed. Because deep down we want to be known and the misses show we’re not. And since we can’t love something we don’t know, feeling unknown often leaves us feeling unloved.
But maybe you’ve got secrets that you don’t want known, because if they really knew you, they wouldn’t love you.
The One Who Matters Most Knows Most
Maybe it’s not so much that you want to be known as that you’re afraid that if you really are- if you stop hiding- you won’t know love. And you’ve been hiding your “stuff” from everyone.
But Jesus sees it. Which is actually a good thing.
The person who matters most knows most. The person whose judgment about you is all important knows all. Let that sink in. You are totally known. Totally. There is not the slightest part of your heart unknown to Jesus, at this hour, and every hour.
Therefore, there is always at least one person you must relate to who knows everything about you. You may be able to look at others in the face and know that they do not know certain things about you. This shapes your relationship. But there is one who when you look him in the face sees totally through you. If you relate to him at all, you relate as one utterly laid bare. Utterly known. What an amazing relationship!
There is one, and only one, who actually and totally knows you. Nobody else even comes close. Your spouse’s knowledge of you, or your best friend’s knowledge of you, compares to Jesus’s knowledge of you is like first-grade math to quantum mechanics. You are fully known by one person — Jesus Christ.
John Piper sermon, “He Knew What was in a Man,” bolding added.
Yes, do. Let that truth sink in.
Known By God
This truth grips me: that my God knows me. I am known infinitely better than even my husband and best friends know me.
Here’s some proof:
“But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” (1 Cor. 8:3)
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:22–23)
“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Gal. 4:9)
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)
It blows my mind to think we can know the Holy, Almighty God. It blows my mind more to think that He wants to know me.
Which might suggest that He loves me.
What Matters Supremely
J.I. Packer wrote Knowing God two years before I was born, but I missed it till now. I’ll close with this wise man’s wise words.
What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that he knows me.
I am graven on the palms of his hands [Isa. 49:16].
I am never out of his mind.
All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me.
I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me.
He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.
This is momentous knowledge.
There is unspeakable comfort—the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates—in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good.
There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.
Certainly, there is great cause for humility in the thought that He sees all the twisted things about me that my fellow-men do not see (and I am glad!), and that He sees more corruption in me than that which I see in myself (which, in all conscience, is enough).
There is, however, equally great incentive to worship and love God in the thought that, for some unfathomable reason, He wants me as His friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given His Son to die for me in order to realise this purpose.
Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 36-37, emphasis added.
Do you feel the rush now? I hope you do. Because you are fully known and deeply loved by the One who matters most. You are never out of his mind.
In fact, He even wants you as His friend.
The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.
Maybe it’s a high hope that came smashing down with an injury, a breakup, a loss. Or maybe it was a noble dream- for healing, for children, for peace- that has slowly fizzled out.
I had some disappointment last week when some grand plans I had for myself and my family didn’t pan out. The details don’t matter. What matters infinitely more is that I learn to do disappointment well.
But the third is new- or maybe it’s just a new spin on the first two.
See God’s Hand in the Crooked Path
In my disappointment, Ecclesiastes 7:14 gives me pause: Consider the work of God, for who can make straight what God has made crooked?
Thomas Boston wrote a book on that one verse. It’s called The Crook in the Lot. Crook is short for crooked and lot is as in one’s “lot in life.”
I am now meeting only what has been determined by his eternal plan. I know not what is the “reason” why it was appointed; but I see that God had resolved to do it, and that it is vain to resist him.”
When we are disappointed, can we say the same thing? That it’s not by chance or accident, but by His appointment?
It is much, when we are afflicted, to be able to make this reflection. I had rather be afflicted, feeling that it is “the appointment of God,” than feeling that it is “by chance” or “hap-hazard.”
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.
And by some miracle of grace, that’s what saints do with their disappointment. They trust that there is a favorable design in their disappointment.
Because God makes no mistakes.
Too Wise and Too Loving to Err
John Paton and his pregnant wife Mary left Scotland to be missionaries to the New Hebrides islands in the South Pacific on April 16, 1858. They arrived on November 5th. In March 1859, his wife and newborn son died.
Talk about a bitter taste and a crook in the lot.
After Paton buried his beloved wife and infant son, he said,
I felt her loss beyond all conception or description, in that dark land. It was very difficult to be resigned, left alone, and in sorrowful circumstances; but feeling immovably assured that my God and father was too wise and loving to err in anything that he does or permits, I looked up to the Lord for help, and struggled on in His work…
I do not pretend to see through the mystery of such visitations – wherein God calls away the young, the promising, and those sorely needed for his service here; but this I do know and feel, that, in the light of such dispensations, it becomes us all to love and serve our blessed Lord Jesus so that we may be ready at his call for death and eternity.
It does. In our disappointment, it becomes us all to rest assured of our God’s wisdom and love.
Love Leads in the Opposite Direction
I’ve been camping in the land Exodus lately and was greatly impacted by Tim Keller’s sermon on chapter 19.
The Israelites are three months out of Egypt but further from the Promised Land than they were before they left.
God, for kind reasons of his own (Ex. 13:17), led the people in nearly the opposite direction of their destination and he took them into a desert. A mountainous, barren desert. A land far worse than Egypt.
I love how Keller explains this “history of grace,”
God says I’m going to take you over here, but I’m going to take you by way of a place that is farther from Egypt and a land that is worse than Egypt.And that’s where he meets them. And it is often so…
If you admit it, you’re further away from the the things you thought God would be giving you than you were when you trusted him and it seems like God is taking you in the opposite direction.
So often the history of grace in our lives follows this same path. God seems to be taking us away from where we thought we were going, but he’s still leading us to the Promised Land.
In other words, our disappointment is God’s appointment. That’s how God’s grace often comes.
Disappointment, His Appointment
It just so happens that the very same day I wept myself dry, I ran across this poem.
“Disappointment — His Appointment” Change one letter, then I see
That the thwarting of my purpose
Is God’s better choice for me.
His appointment must be blessing,
Tho’ it may come in disguise,
For the end from the beginning
Open to His wisdom lies.
“Disappointment — His Appointment”
Whose? The Lord, who loves me best,
Understands and knows me fully,
Who my faith and love would test;
For, like loving earthly parent,
He rejoices when He knows
That His child accepts, UNQUESTIONED,
All that from His wisdom flows.
“Disappointment — His Appointment”
“No good thing will He withhold,”
From denials oft we gather
Treasures of His love untold,
Well He knows each broken purpose
Leads to fuller, deeper trust,
And the end of all His dealings
Proves our God is wise and just.
“Disappointment — His Appointment”
Lord, I take it, then, as such.
Like the clay in hands of potter,
Yielding wholly to Thy touch.
All my life’s plan in Thy moulding,
Not one single choice be mine;
Let me answer, unrepining —
“Father, not my will, but Thine.”
-Edith Lillian Young
No sugarcoating: “doing” disappointment this way is both a bitter pill and a sweet remedy. I cried hard last week. Coping with disappointment this way hurts my flesh. But as it does, it heals my soul.
Even when I don’t know why, I’m learning to change that one letter and see that His appointment is a better choice for me.
Patience, kindness and humility served Lincoln- and our united nation- well. Since I’ve already written about them, I thought I might forgo the Lincoln post this year.
Then I heard what Stanton said.
Edwin, “Mars,” Stanton was President Lincoln’s Secretary of War. Stanton was a sharp, biting critic of Lincoln early in the war.
He called Lincoln a “gorilla.”
Yes. He did.
Stanton publicly declared that it was foolish to go to Africa in search of a gorilla when “the original gorilla” could be found in Springfield, Illinois! Then, six months before he was appointed to the Lincoln’s Cabinet, Stanton wrote former President Buchanan:
“The dreadful disaster of Sunday [Battle of Bull Run] can scarcely be mentioned. The imbecility of this administration has culminated in that catastrophe, and irretrievable misfortune and national disgrace are to be added to the ruin of all peaceful pursuits and national bankruptcy as the result of Lincoln’s ‘running the machine’ for five months.”
Scathing words, those.
But somehow Stanton transformed into a strong supporter of the President.
If Stanton Said I Was…
But Lincoln took this “gorilla warfare” all in stride, and, because he felt that Stanton was the most qualified for the office, and in 1862 appointed him Secretary of War.
This proves that overcomers aren’t enslaved by what others say about them and that they’re not above correction. Overcomers look long and hard for the kernel of truth in the criticism, even if it’s stuck on a cob of misunderstanding or lies. And once they find it, they don’t let pride prevent them from changing course and turning.
This exchange came after some “Western men,” led by Congressman Lovejoy, procured an order from Lincoln to switch out their soldiers for easter soldiers.
When Lovejoy explained the plan to Secretary of War Stanton, it was rejected.
‘But we have the President’s order sir,’ said Lovejoy.
‘Did Lincoln give you an order of that kind?’ said Stanton.
‘He did, sir.’
‘Then he is a d—d fool,’ said the irate Secretary.
“Do you mean to say the President is a d—d fool?’ asked Lovejoy, in amazement.
‘Yes, sir, if he gave you such an order as that.’
The bewildered Congressman from Illinois betook himself at once to the President, and related the result of his conference.
‘Did Stanton say I was a d–d fool?’ Asked Lincoln at the close of the recital.
‘He did, sir; and repeated it.’
After a moment’s pause, and looking up, the President said:
‘If Stanton said I was a d–d fool, then I must be one, for he is nearly always right, and generally says what he means. I will step over and see him.’
And so our meek President did not retaliate. Instead he deferred to the same one who called his administration imbecilic and himself a gorilla.
Not Overcome By Evil
Lincoln’s response to Lovejoy reminds me of 18th-century, British preacher George Whitefield. In response to a vicious, accusatory letter to him, Whitefield wrote,
I thank you heartily for your letter. As for what you and my other enemies are saying against me, I know worse things about myself than you will ever say about me.
With love in Christ,
Lincoln could have penned those words just as well as Whitefield. It was Lincoln’s meekness and restraint in returning good for evil that proved too great a weapon for Stanton.
Do I not destroy my enemies, Lincoln asked, when I make them my friends?
Lincoln Would Have Worn Nikes
Had they been invented a hundred years earlier, he’d have worn them. Not because he was 6’4″ and headed for the court, but because Lincoln was an overcomer.
Turns out the Greek word translated “overcomer” is from the word nikao (níke) and it means to get the victory, overcome, conquer or subdue. Overcomers wear Nikes.
And they don’t return evil for evil. Any fool can do that. But to return good for evil is supernatural. Overcomers aren’t enslaved by others’ evil. They don’t take revenge. They have One Lord and Master and are, “disciples of him, who died for his enemies.”
George Washington Carver once said, “I will never let another man ruin my life by making me hate him.” Empowered by the Spirit, Carver would not allow evil to conquer him. Instead he lived out Romans 12:21, Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
In the context, coming right after saying be good to your enemy, I think he means “Don’t let your enemy’s hostility produce hostility in you. But let your love triumph over his hostility.” Don’t be overcome by evil means, Don’t be overcome by his evil…
Don’t let another person’s evil provoke you to evil thoughts or evil attitudes or evil deeds. Don’t give them that kind of power. You don’t have to. Christ is your king. Christ is your leader, your champion, your treasure. Christ governs your life, not those who do evil.
Lincoln was not overcome by evil. He didn’t let the evil of his enemies control him. He returned good for evil and that makes friends of enemies.
It was Stanton who organized the response to Lincoln’s assassination, the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth, and the prosecution of the assassination conspiracists. It was Stanton who wept bitter tears beside the bed as Lincoln breathed his last.
And it was Stanton who, according to eyewitnesses, announced: “There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen. Now he belongs to the ages.”
Lincoln’s secretary John Hay wrote this in a letter to Stanton shortly after Lincoln’s death. “Not everyone knows, as I do, how close you stood to our lost leader, how he loved you and trusted you, and how vain were all efforts to shake that trust and confidence, not lightly given and never withdrawn.”
And as Lincoln to Stanton, even more our Lord Jesus to us.
His love for us will never be withdrawn. Through faith in Him we overcome.
Everyone born of God overcomes the world.
This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
Sometimes I just shake my head and laugh. At myself. I think yesterday the good Lord may have had a little chuckle at me too.
Because I have this uncanny knack for acting as if doing big, grand things are no big deal. As if– my latest grandiose conception- adopting siblings is no big deal. As if we could pull off a 50% increase in our family size like we pull off hosting a birthday party.
(For the record, that’s what this is for now- just a conception. No paperwork has been filed. But your prayer for he siblings to find a loving home, and for us, is welcome.)
Big And Small Things, Upside-Down
That I could embrace something as life-changing as the thought of taking two children into our family for life and in the same 24 hours balk at taking one needy young man into our van for two hours may be comical. It is, for sure, inconsistent and upside-down.
And balk I did Saturday morning when the doorbell ring at 8:15. I was looking forward to a mother-son date with Gabe after his game. I resented this surprise arrival.
That’s upside-down: embracing the big and grand and tripping over the little and mundane.
But we know it’s the small things- thoughts and acts- that form habits and character. And if you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength. But we are those who rejoice in the day of small things.
Still, some of us would polar plunge into Lake Michigan for any number of reasons, but can keep we our tongues from grumbling when the shower suddenly goes cold?
Now that’s hard.
Choosing What We Did Not Choose
It might have something to do with choice. Chafing at the little stuff while embracing the big things might have something to do with our struggle to choose what we did not choose.
When we decide on a life-changing course of action and we decide to take the plunge, well- that’s different from when God decides a thing for us. Like, say, when he says be kind and take the kid who needs a ride and do all things– including taking a cold shower- without grumbling or complaining.
Maybe little things are so hard because they weren’t in our master plan. Because who chooses a cold shower in February in Wisconsin?
Or maybe we just prefer the drama.
He Would Have Done Any Great Thing
While I was laughing at my own inconsistency, Naaman popped to mind. His story is recorded in 2 Kings 5. Naaman was commander of the Syrian army. When he contracted leprosy, he sought help from Elisha, the famed healer and prophet of God.
Elisha’s prescription was not grand. So it’s no wonder proud Naaman didn’t like it: Go wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored, Elisha’s messenger said.
The muddy, little Jordan River, Naaman thought then ran off in a rage.
Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not the Abana and Pharpar the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?
Naaman expected the exceptional and desired a grand cure– like the mighty prophet working his wonders and waving his hands. Washing in the dinky, little muddy river was demeaning. So Naaman wanted nothing to do with Elisha.
He would have done any great thingto be cured. Naaman had already traveled miles and miles and offered a vast treasure.
But a commonplace, mundane cure? Never.
Supernatural Grace (for the Mundane)
Maybe Oswald Chambers felt this strange inversion in himself, too. Maybe he know what it was to embrace a great cause and balk at the everyday.
Maybe he shared the impulsive boldness that I share with Naaman and with Peter, I’ll-die-with-you-after-I-deny-you Peter, too. Big-talking, water-walking Peter, who had grand ideas but stumbled on the mundane.
Discipleship is built entirely on the supernatural grace of God. Walking on water is easy to someone with impulsive boldness, but walking on dry land as a disciple of Jesus Christ is something altogether different. Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus, but he “followed Him at a distance” on dry land (Mark 14:54). We do not need the grace of God to withstand crises- human nature and pride are sufficient for us to face the stress and strain magnificently. But it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours of every day as a saint, going through drudgery, and living an ordinary, unnoticed, and ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God- but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people- and this is not learned in five minutes.
Disciples of Christ aim to be exceptional in the ordinary and love the ones they’re with.
Loving Our Neighbor Is Harder
Our duty is to love our neighbor not the mass of nameless humanity. GK Chesterton nails that: We have to love our neighbour because he is here… He is the sample of humanity which is actually given to us.
My heart has grand adoption plans. I’d love to expand our family. If God makes it clear us that we’re to adopt the siblings, I’d do that big thing in a heartbeat. If they come here.
But when the doorbell rang at 8 AM it wasn’t an “if”. It was God’s clear call for me to forgo my plan and love this little 5th-grade “neighbor.” He was here.
We don’t have to do exceptional things for God, we have to be exceptional- and I take that for faithful and obedient- in life’s cold showers and among ordinary 10-year-old boys.
That’s hard. Learning to live in that supernatural grace is not learned in five minutes.
“If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
This is Dave. He’s a friend, even though Dave can’t remember my name.
But Dave doesn’t take his memory problems lying down. Which is why we might all take a few memory tips from Dave.
Because I, for one, know that I have memory problems too. Spiritual amnesia, mine’s called. You know, when you forget what you should remember and remember what you’d best forget
Take Care Lest You Forget
Dave was in a motorcycle accident 20 years ago, give or take. He can’t remember the date. But he knows his memory hasn’t been the same.
So Dave always carries a notepad. Always. He’ll pull it out, scratch out a line or two, then tuck it back in his pocket.
Because Dave knows he needs reminding.
1. Remember Your Commitments
Why do you keep you so many notes, Dave? I asked between services.
I can recall this, he said, holding up his little green 3×5 spiral. At the end of the day I look back to see if I have to follow through on any commitments.
Dave is vigilant to remember. He explained how he transfers his notes from his little green spiral to a larger book at home, I don’t want to disappoint them and let them down. I don’t want to commit something to the Lord and forget about it.
But the problem, Dave said with a grin, is remembering to look back at the dumb notes.
In the Old Testament book of Numbers (15:38-40), the Lord told Moses to have the Israelites make tassels for the corners of their garments, “and a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them.”
Little green notepad or corner blue tassel or iPhone reminder, no matter- just so we don’t forget our commitments. We just have to remember to look.
2. Remember Who You Were
Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. This command to remember who they were- slaves, namely- is repeated over and over after the exodus (Deuteronomy 15:15, 16:12, 24:18, 24:22). In these texts, the reason for bringing up former slave status seems to be either to urge generosity and compassion toward those who are impoverished like they were, or to encourage thankful celebration under God for who they are.
Because we can take that for granted. And when we fail to remember that we were once slaves to sin (Romans 6:16), we can more easily fall back to slavery. Would-be-slaves, I called this once.
This idea is in the New Testament, too: Remember that at one time you Gentiles . . . were without Christ…having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11, 12).
Remembering who we were without Christ is so important because it can intensify our love and deepen our devotion to the God who saved us. When we remember our life would be without him, we can cherish his forgiveness.
Dave had to relearn even his own name after the accident. He thinks it took months. But he’s got it down now. And another thing he’s got down- without consulting his notepad- is his testimony.
He remembers who he was. He remembers his testimony. In fact, he says rehearses his testimony while he’s at his “1200 pieces a day, assembly job.” And he told me how before that day in 1970 he wasn’t born-again, and then after it he was.
In other words, Dave remembers being a slave in Egypt and hopeless.
3. Remember The Lord
God’s people have historically had a bad memory. They had selective memory right out of Egypt, remembering-and grumbling about- the “free food,” but forgetting who they were- the slave status bit. The food may have been free, but they were not. That’s in Numbers 11.
Then, at the end of Judges 8, after strong judge Gideon had died, spiritual amnesia set in again. The people did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side
But apart from selective memory, and probably worse, is this third memory problem: not remembering their God. In Deuteronomy 6:12 the God’s people are told, take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
They should have been taking notes. Papyrus pads anyone?
Dave told me that one of things he tries to remember while at his work center is- I quote- “the work of God. I consult my notebook to remember things of this sort.”
There are practical steps we can all take to overcome our spiritual amnesia- our forgetfulness of how God has been at work. Ben Reoach describes seven here. And guess what? One of his suggestions is keeping a journal.
Like I said, Dave definitely knows what he’s doing.
I Shall Remember
I don’t know all of Dave’s story but I that it’s not all rosy. Apart from the physical and mental impact of the accident, I gather that close relationships have been strained. I’ve had some nasty times, he sighed. But even there Dave sees the silver lining, “A blessing of having a bad memory is that when someone treats me like poop, I forget and when I see them again I treat them real nice.”
Which brings us to Psalm 77:7-9, where the Psalmist ponders: Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again-Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever? Has God forgotten to be gracious, Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion?
Dave could ask those same questions. Maybe you could too. Living in the group home around the corner from the church wasn’t Dave’s dream. And despite years of prayers for his memory to be restored, he still can’t remember names without his notepad.
But Dave does what the Psalmist did, right after he wondered if His lovingkindness had ceased forever.
Remembering Is Effortful
I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. Your way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God?
John Piper says that this remembering is intentional and effortful.
The central Biblical strategy for coming out of darkness and discouragement and doubt is a conscious effort of the mind. Notice these strong words of intentionality: “I shall remember . . . Surely I will remember” (verse 11); “I will meditate . . . and [I will] muse” (verse 12). These are conscious acts that he chooses to do. This is the fight of faith. This is the fight for delight. It is the opposite of passivity and resignation. This is a strategy of life.
This is what Dave does, what he consciously chooses to do. He carries that notepad and jots it down and gets it out. He makes sure to keep his commitments. And he rehearses over and over his testimony and who he was- not before the accident- but before he came to faith. And Dave remembers the Lord. He ponders the ways of his God.
Who Remember You In Your Ways
This morning and last Sunday, I asked Dave if I could take his picture and tell about him and his memory trouble and how he still remembers. Of course, he said. God gave this to me. That’s what it means to be a Christian.
And then, at the end of both little interviews, he chimed in, because he’s put it to memory, probably by writing it over and over and over in his little notepads, then transcribing it at home into his bigger book, Romans 8:28.
All things work together for good, he quoted. No matter how nasty it gets- it all works together for good if you love God.
So as Dave waits for the Day when he’ll again remember his friends’ names, he clearly remembers God’s ways.
And there’s a promise or two in Isaiah 64 for my friend Dave.
From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.
Hey, look at this! I just found a $50 dollar bill,” Ted yelled, waving it overhead.
We’re all dumbfounded.
From the giddy third graders to the sensible adult leaders, no one can make heads or tails of it.
Big bucks- $5’s and $10’s and $20’s and, last night a $50- have been mysteriously tucked in church Bibles. They’ve been showing up Wednesday nights at AWANA. No notes, not envelopes, no rhyme or reason- just fresh, dreamy cash.
The first $5 was laid bare a couple months ago during the group devotion. Lucky little Dominick got that one. It happens like this: kids crack the Bible to lookup a verse and, lo and behold, there appears cash. Every Wednesday, a $5 or $10 or $20 shows up.
Last night, it was a $50 bill.
Expectation, Hope and a Sense of Urgency
Part of me wishes I was the Mystery Bill Filler who tucks big bucks into pew Bibles.
Because those hidden bills are making kids open the God’s Word with glee. With expectation and hope and a sense of urgency.
I know, I know. The third grade treasure hunters scrambling over, under, around and through the pews last night were not desiring the pure milk of the Word. They just wanted the cash.
But the sight of those kids practically somersaulting over pews to open the Word show us how all God’s children should go after the Bible.
“The Bible,” Patrick Henry said, “is worth all other books which have ever been printed.” That’s because in it, God reveals God. The Creator shows himself to the creation for what he is a glorious, good God.
And calls us to seek Him- for forgiveness and life and fullness of joy- just to name a few (Isaiah 55:6-7, Psalm 17:3, Psalm 16:11). And we find Him by seeking him in his Word.
The bills in the Bibles – and the way the kids raced to get to a Bible and open it up to find the bills- make a spiritual truth plain: God’s word is “more to be desired than gold, even much fine gold,” (Psalm 19:10).
Last night, the leaders made Ted put the $50 bill in the offering box. But I pray that one day Teddy and the others will remember back. Back to third grade when all those big bills mysteriously appeared and that when they do, they’ll rejoice.
Because in that day, they’ll realize that the Word of God is all that.
And so much more.
“….My heart stands in awe of your words. I rejoice at your Word like one who finds a great spoil.”
Psalm 119: 161-162
“I want to know one thing, the way to heaven: how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end he came from heaven. He has written it down in a book! Oh, give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be: “A man of one book.”
The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination! —C.S. Lewis
That quote exploded my big-plan, little-margin life when I first read it years ago. Sometimes I still chafe when my plans are interrupted and I have to wait.
But He’s changing me. I know that because when the red line that suddenly popped up on my Google map had me praying just now, not grumbling, while our van crawled along for miles. And when my day-off plans were quick shortchanged by a call from the school nurse, I could count that “trial” right.
Because waiting for the green line and tending a sick son are precisely the “real” life God is sending me.
Count It All Joy
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
We will be interrupted and we will be tried. Which is why James wrote when you meet trials, not if. And that means we need to commit before they hit to count our interruptions and trials as-you guessed it- joy.
So trials are inevitable and they often come on us suddenly, like interruptions.
Which explains why James used a word that means “meet” or “fall into.” It’s the same word used in the parable of the Good Samaritan when a man fell among robbers, and in Acts 27 when the ship Paul was on struck a reef. The word emphasizes the surprise nature of trials.
Trials can come on suddenly. But all trials- internal and external- are tests by God intended to make us strong and mature and complete.
But you know what happens when we’re not tested?
There’s a striking illustration of that in Jeremiah 48. “Moab has been at ease since his youth,” the prophet wrote. Moab was a neighboring people to Israel. They’d lived an easy life; undisturbed and at ease.
John MacArthur closed a sermon on James 1:2-4 with an explanation of that Jeremiah text. It has to do with wine-making. With dregs. Verse 12 says, “Neither has he been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile. Therefore he retains his flavor and his aroma has not changed.”
When wine is fermented initially it is a combination of what is sweet and what is bitter. The liquid was poured into a skin and left for a long time. Eventually, the bitter part would fall to the bottom and become what we call the dregs.
After a period of time what was on the surface was then poured into another skin and another passage of time would yield more dregs. After some time it would be poured into another skin and a few more dregs until finally it could be poured into a skin and there would be no dregs at all because all of that had been removed in that process.
What you had at the end was the pure wine.
Sweet, Pure Wine
We want to be pure wine.. We don’t want to retain a bitter flavor and musty aroma.
But without trials- trials counted joy- we’ll stay bitter and musty. Moab’s problem was that he was never poured from trial to trial to trial. Moab’s sinful, bitter dregs never went out.
That’s why maybe we don’t always pray for smooth and ease. Why, by grace, we don’t fall apart when trials and delays come our way. Why we can say, If God needs to pour me from vessel to vessel, and trial to trial to so the sinful dregs of my life can fall to the bottom and pure, sweet wine of righteousness remains, then bring on the trials.
And, somehow, to count them all joy. Which means we learn to choose what we didn’t choose.
Choose What You Didn’t Choose
Choose to see the interruptions as sent by God for our good. See the sickness that keeps us home and flat tires that slow us down, infertility that blocks a dream and relationships that break our hearts as for our good. That we might be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
Christian joy is grounded in our union with Jesus, and that union, not our plans coming to pass is the fountain for our joy, which sounds and is supernatural. Murray M’Cheyne’s words, “It is always been my ambition to have no plans as regards myself.”
But that sure grates against our 21st century plan-oriented sensibility, doesn’t it?
Despite the autonomy and self-determination we have, much of life consists of things we didn’t choose. And as one friend just reflected- most of her life’s greatest joys were unplanned. Is that true for you?
Control is an illusion anyway, but we can choose joy.
Because saint’s trials are purposeful. They come to test our faith. The boot box says waterproof, but we don’t know till we hike in the rain. We say we trust God, but we don’t know till trials come our way. Alistair Begg makes it plain, Faith is a muscle. Test it and it grows. Leave it alone and it atrophies.
The pressure builds endurance. Kind of like boiling eggs. But if we pull the egg out before the pressure’s done, the good won’t come. If you don’t leave the egg in hot water long enough, it’ll be a useless mess.
Let perseverance finish its work, James 1:4 says. Get ‘er done, mama says. Finish the work. Don’t pull out of the pot before the pressure’s done.
South African pastor Andrew Murray shares four truths that helped him to joyfully endure trials:
I am here (in this trial) by God’s appointment. It’s not haphazard.
Choose what you didn’t choose. Count it all joy. If we’re going to be spiritual adults we can’t be dodging his purposes.
Let the egg boil already.
Alistair Begg says, trials responded to properly are always fruitful. That’s Begg’s code, I think, for Joy comes from choosing what you didn’t choose.
We accept that life is change and until the day day we die there will choices made for us that we did not choose. And we can resent the choices we didn’t make for ourselves or we can choose joy.
This is the day that the Lord has made. Don’t waste it. Choose what you didn’t choose. Choose joy. Because Someone who knows the beginning and the end sees it all and steers it all and loves you more than you can fully know, let those trials meet you.
Tim Keller said it this way, God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.
The fullness of the Christian life is available where you are now. You don’t need a dreamy husband or cuddly kids. You can be full and complete without a great church that sings the songs you like and work and ministry you crave. I can be full and complete without a bigger blog or a published book.
Which is not to say, don’t change your circumstances if you can (see 1 Corinthians 7:20-31). But it is to say, don’t buy the lie you can’t be full and complete until you do. In Christ, you can (see Colossians 2:9-12).