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Dregs, Eggs and Choose What You Didn’t Choose

Only eight words. Eight words I grasp with my mind. Eight words I’ll grow into until I die.

These eight words: Joy comes from choosing what you didn’t choose.

The TL; DR on this post: expect delays, remember that comfort’s overrated, and think twice when you pray for smooth. Choose what you didn’t choose is really just another way to say what James said 2000 years ago: “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters when you meet trials of various kinds.

Which starts with learning to welcome- not to resent- life’s interruptions.

A lesson it may take a lifetime to learn.

Interruptions Are Real LIfe

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 in many little ways.

I know 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.

Waiting for the green line and tending my sick son were “real” life.

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.

Lacking nothing. 

Dregs

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 sayIf 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.

Eggs

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 listed these four things that would help him joyfully endure trials:

  1. I am here (in this trial) by God’s appointment. It’s not haphazard.
  2. I am in his keeping. He will hold me fast.
  3. In appointing my trials and keeping me, I am in his training program.
  4. I am in his training program as long as he wants me there.

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.

Choose Joy

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.

They were traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love.

If You Knew Everything You Knew

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).

Fullness and joy comes from being with Christ. In your presence is fullness of joy, David knew.

So choose His presence. Joy will come.

The Lord sees further than I do; I only see things at present but the Lord sees a great while from now. 

And how do I know but that had it not been for this affliction, I should have been undone.  

Jeremiah Burroughs

Props to Skye Jethani for the phrase: Joy comes from choosing what you didn’t choose. (Listen to the full interview with Skye, here.)
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Random Roll of the Dice? (And How the Lot is Cast.)

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

Proverbs  16:33

Lots are the old-time equivalent for dice, I gather. And Scripture says God decides how the dice land.

In other words, Romans 8:28.

God works all things- good things and bad things, painful and sinful things, even seemingly random things like rolls of the dice- out for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

By God our lot is cast.

In a sermon on Psalm 16, John Piper explains that when

[T]he dice are rolled, and the straws are drawn, and the wheel is turned — whatever happens to us comes from the hand of God. God holds my lot. God decides it. The Lord rules over it. God is my sovereign, and I am glad to have it so. I don’t just affirm it stoically; I exult in it.

That’s what I heard in the morning. That nothing that happens is random. So, I affirmed it in the afternoon- dare I say, exulted in it even – when on a 95° day in May, our AC conked out with friends soon on the way.

God shook those dice.

The friends still came. And on the eve of Memorial Day we sat around the table after rhubarb pie with box fans blowing and sang God Of Our Fathers. (Yes- with trumpet fanfare, care of son in 7th grade band.)

Then, right there- out of the blue, smack in the middle of verse two – was another line about how our lot is cast.

Thy love divine hath led us in the past,

In this free land by Thee our lot is cast;

Be Thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay,

Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.

I’m dense and miss things, but even I couldn’t miss that: God holds our lot. How the dice land is from Him.

If God be for us, our lot is with God. The dice always land for our good.

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

Psalm 25:10

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All Things Work Together For Good, How Gears Turn & Romans 8:28

There are good things and there are bad things and good things are not bad things. But those who love God have a staggering promise: that all things- good things and bad things- work together for their good. That’s Romans 8:28.

 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 

We know this verse and many of us know it by heart. It’s on shower curtains and calendars and notecards. But when you really stop and consider it, Romans 8:28 is baffling.

To some ears, it might even sound like divine hocus-pocus.

Is Romans 8:28 Spiritual Hocus-Pocus?

Romans 8:28 almost sounds like the work of a fairy godmother.

As if God waves his silver wand over the bad things in a believer’s life, things like cancer and conflict and infertility and injury and accidents and temptation and pain, and then- bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!- the lowly pumpkin suddenly becomes a golden coach that whisks the suffering saint straight to the palace and prince.

Like hocus-pocus magic. As if to disguise the reality of the badness, because we know good is good and bad is bad and good and bad are quite often opposites. And yet Romans 8:28 boldly states: All things work together for good to those who love God. And of course, all things means good things and bad things.

But how can this be? How can things working in opposite directions-things like health and disease, kindness and mistreatment, birth and miscarriage, reconciliation and separation, comfort and distress- both be working, pointing, moving for our good? 

If good points right and bad points left, how can they both be leading to our good? 

I don’t know about you, but visuals help me understand. And I need a metaphor to grasp this hard thing. My little pea-size mind needs an image to help make sense of such a staggering promise.

But it’s not a silver wand. It’s a watch.

Watch The Wheels Turn.

In “Working for our Good,” Martyn Lloyd-Jones offers another image. It’s at the end of his sermon, but it hit me so hard I played and rewound and transcribed for an hour so I could describe this unbaffling image. Here it is:

Take your watch and open it. What do you see? You see wheels turning in opposite directions. You see one wheel moving in an anti-clockwise direction attached to another wheel going in a clockwise direction.

And you… look at this machinery and say “This is mad. This is quite ridiculous. Here are wheels working in opposite directions. The man who made that watch must have been a madman.”

 Of course he wasn’t. This is how he’d arranged this watch to work and move the hands around. Because all these different wheels are ultimately controlled by a main spring.

There’s a purpose at the back of it all. At the back of the main spring is the watchmaker who made the watch and wound it up… One gear is turning this way and one turning that way, but they’re all working together to move the main wheel and tell the time.  All these things that seem to be in contradiction are working together to the same end. It’s like that.

See the Gears Spin with a Spiritual Eye.

You look at life and say at first, “What’s happening? I can see that certain things are good for me, but look at all these other things. These are all against me.” 

“Think again,” he says, “Think again. Think of the One who’s planned it all. Don’t jump to conclusions. Look for an ultimate purpose. Look for an ultimate end. And if you do so with a spiritual eye as you should you will soon begin to see that God knows what he’s doing.”

Yes look at it again with spiritual eyes and will come to the conclusion that all things- everything- yes everything- that’s happening too you is working together. God’s made it like that. He wound it up. He keeps it going. The watchmaker is working it all together for our good.. 

Could there possibly be a more comforting and reassuring truth than that? Could there be a more heartening promise?

 

Don’t Slap It On.

I could stop here. After the watchmaker is working it all together for our good.

But I know Romans 8:28 is so encouraging we might be tempted to apply it quick and loose to others in pain. At our best we do so because it’s we’ve felt it’s immense comfort and we want to comfort others with the help we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:4). There may well be a time to share Romans 8:28.

At our worst we apply the verse like a slap job. It’s a take-this-pill-and-get-over-it. It’s saying, “It’s all for the best,” at a funeral for a child. It might mean, “Hurry up and heal, so I don’t have to see you hurt.”

Besides that, it might come off as if we’re saying that bad things are good. They’re not. In the context of Romans 8, Paul had just finished talking about trials and suffering and all creation groaning (see Romans 8:17-27).

Paul was not calling black white or dark light and neither should we. To do so would be “false spirituality and a crass insensitivity.” 

Because evil does enter our homes. Things invade our lives that are just plain bad. We’re not to be glib and slap on Romans 8:28 like we slap a band-aid on a crying four year-old’s knee, to quiet him and send him away.

Our freshly wounded friends need our presence and hugs and listening ears. A slapped-on Romans 8:28 won’t heal their hurt.

Fools rush in. Wisdom can sit and wait when words won’t come.

But Hold On Tight.

But we, reading this now- we need grasp the watch and the gears- and hold on tight to the image when things go “anti-clockwise.” Because bad things will come to us. Things will go anti-clockwise.

That’s why we need to latch on to ALL THINGS. Because Romans 8:28 tells us that no meaningless trial comes to us. It affirms that no suffering- no bad thing- is wasted. Romans 8:28 teaches us that there is no experience ever in the Christian’s life that will not be worked for good.

Most of all, we know- not think or hope, but know- that in his providence God uses every single seemingly isolated event, to bring about his purpose- that we be conformed to the image of Christ and finally brought to glory.

Finally, in a Romans 8:28 sermon of his own, Pastor Geoff Thomas quotes one Daniel Howland,

All the events that take place in the world carry on the same work—the glory of the Father and the salvation of his children. Every ill­ness that may seize you, every loss you may meet with, every reproach you may endure, every shame that may color your faces, every sorrow in your hearts, every pain in your flesh, every ache in your bones, is for your good.

Oh, Christians, see what a harvest of blessings ripens from this text! The Lord is at work; all creation is at work; men and angels, friends and foes, all are busy, working together for good.

Oh, dear Lord Jesus, what have you seen in us that you should order things so wondrously for us, and make all things- all things – to work together for our good?

The Lord is at work. Clockwise or anti-clockwise the wheels turn for His purpose.

Rest assured, the watchmaker turns all things for our good.

 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 

Romans 8:28-29

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The Cure For My Passive-Aggressive

Pat thought what you wrote was a little passive-aggressive, a mutual friend relayed, her eyebrows raised.

The charge caught me off-guard and I winced. I’d never thought of myself that way- as a sort of silent and brooding, wounded-then-wounding type. Then again, sometimes we are blind.

So I raced off to re-read that post, with a sharp eye for the signs. But try as I might, I didn’t see the backhanded jabs of passive-aggressive. And as much as I can know my own heart, I knew that there was no motive to hurt in those words.

But, like Chesterton said, to have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it. The words came off as hurtful to friend I respect. So I pulled the post.

And that was the end of that.

Or not.

Find The Kernel.

Turns out, I’ve been sitting with Pat’s passive-aggressive charge for  2 1/2 years now. Which, I suppose, might prove the point. Maybe. We’ll sift that out later.

Regardless, I’m learning to look for the kernel of truth when I’m criticized. Because even if the charge is mostly false, there’s usually some truth.

And why, you ask, are you so relentless about this kernel business? 

Glad you asked: It’s because I know that letting hard truth land on me– painful as that is- always propels growth. Because I’m learning that if by God’s strong grace, I can chew on the seed without shattering my teeth, the odds are that its truth will nourish my soul and change me for the good.

What Is Passive-Aggressive?

Passive-aggressive, for the record, describes a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, pouting, or misplacing important materials. 

Passive-aggressive behaviors might include:

  • Putting off responsibilities
  • Carrying out responsibilities late, not at all, or inefficiently
  • Sulking
  • Using forgetfulness as an excuse not to do things
  • Having pent-up feelings of anger
  • Resenting and blaming other people

Avoiding direct confrontation, resenting, sulking– who can’t relate, at least a little?

Not guilty. And guilty.

But even in light of the list, I have a clear conscience about the post.

But what about the kernel? What about me would make Pat think that?

  • Do I sulk and pout?
  • Do I resent those who hurt me?  
  • Am I tempted to hurt others back even when they hurt me unintentionally?  (But only in socially acceptable ways of course- like avoiding eye contact or withholding smiles, or forgetting her special day when she forgets mine?)

I do and I am. Guilty as charged. Pat was wrong about the particulars. But Pat was right about me.

And I suspect I’m not alone. Because passive and aggressive come natural.

Here’s what I mean.

Get past natural.

Once upon a run, a ferocious German Shepherd bit me in the hamstring. It broke the skin. It hurt. At once, I wanted to kick the dog as hard as I could and run away as far as I could.

I think that’s our reflex reaction when someone hurts our feelings, too- fight or flight.  Lash out or flee. Both are knee-jerk natural.

But Christians are called to something more. We’re called to supernatural. We are called to love one another. Loving people like Jesus loved means we have to move past the soul’s passive-aggressive preset.

Some situations might call for boundaries. I get that. But if we cordon ourselves off too tightly to prevent hurt, we might miss out on kingdom blessings (see Matthew 5:1-12) that come from giving love. I’m learning to be  wary of promising in my pain, “I’ll never get close again.”

To Forgive Is Divine

Human love demands risk. There is no safe investment, C.S. Lewis said. To love is to be vulnerable.

Maybe you’re less prone to retreat and more apt to fight back.  Your preset is “To vent,” and “Tell ’em like it is.” When unfair stings you,  it’s up to you to let her know how much she hurt you or let him feel the pain he gave.

These reactions all come natural. In a comment, commenting on ​1 Peter 1:6–7,John Piper explains that,God allows trials in our lives that could make us very angry. If they couldn’t, they wouldn’t be trials. But the reason he does is to refine our faith the way gold is refined by fire.”

 So will we? Will we look through the hurt to the sovereign goodness of God that allowed them? Or do we shut God out and let our passive-aggressive grow.

Only one is supernatural.

The Cure For Passive-Aggressive

There is a cure for every one of our sinful, destructive patterns. They’re not all named and described like in the DSM-V, but our Maker is our Healer and  He wrote the complete diagnostic and treatment book. What’s more, through his Holy Spirit, he gives his children the power to carry out the cure. 

Here it is, the Passive-Aggressive cure. It jumped out at me on another run when I wasn’t being chased by dog. It’s found in 1 Peter 4:19: Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. When I got home, I jotted this down:

1. Passive >> Continue to do good.

2. Aggressive>>Entrust yourself to your faithful Creator. 

3. Passive-Aggressive>> Forgive (and keep forgiving whenever the  hurt wells up) and cover with love.

And remember, If you hold a grudge, you doubt the Judge. Surely the judge of the earth will do right. His eyes see all. The thoughtful, or spiteful, lips and hands and the unforgiving, bitter hearts. 

Do Good.

God will give you opportunities to do good to those who hurt you. I know He will. Years ago, in the throes of some big hurt, I prayed that the man who hurt me would need help, and that I would be able to give it.

God answered that one before I’d prayed it more than a handful of  times. I saw said man with a broken down truck on the side of the road on my way home from work, and I thanked God and stopped to ask if I could help. It was part of my cure.

Do good. Trust God. Cover in love.

Cover WITH Love

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Keep on loving. Stay engaged. Fake it till you make it. I keep coming back to a passage in C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves. Here he explains what it looks like in real life when we cover with love.

A game, a joke, a drink together, idle chat, a walk…-all these can be modes in which we forgive or accept forgiveness, in which we console or are reconciled, in which we “seek not our own. Who would rather live with those ordinary people who get over their tantrums (and ours) unemphatically, letting a meal, a night’s sleep, or a joke mend all? 

It’s supernatural, strong grace when we’re able to  “get over our tantrums” and just get on with it. Sulks come far more easily than doing good and trusting God and proving I do by telling a joke or smiling at the one who hurt me.

But that’s covering. It’s humility. That’s love.

Covered BY Love

The last part of the passive-aggressive, bitterness cure, I think, is to remember that we ourselves are not always so lovable.

I’ll close with a quote from a previous post. Incidentally, it’s a revision of  the post that Pat took issue with. And it’s as true now as  it was then. It’s about covering.

It’s Lewis again: 

There is something in each of us that cannot be naturally loved…You might as well ask people to like the tastes of rotten bread or the sound of a mechanical drill. We can be forgiven, and pitied, and loved in spite of it, with Charity; no other way. All may be sure that at some times…they are receiving Charity, are loved not because they are lovable but because Love Himself is in those who love them.

There’s no other way. You are, and I am, receiving Charity. And it’s not because we’re always lovable, but because Love dwells in those who love us and cover our sins.

That’s it, folks-what Paul called faith expressing itself in love. This is the only cure for my passive-aggressive: trust God means good, leave him your hurt, and do good.

The fix is not fast or flashy. But it works.

“Come Down, O Love Divine”

Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

 

Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.
   
– Bi­an­co da Si­e­na