seaside-371229__340

Infected

Something bad happened, Mom. Trust me, you don’t want to know about it. 


So ended our easy Saturday morning.

I do want to know, Gabe, I assured, kneeling on the kitchen floor beside him.

As my heart sank to my socks, he showed me two of the most vulgar gestures I’ve seen in my life. My heart sank. But ever a prisoner of hope, I was solaced: Maybe it’s only meaningless mouth motions to him. Like when-innocent-he’d use his third digit to point. Maybe it’s just a gesture.

Short-lived and vain was that hope. Alas.

This one means a boy is…And that other one is what a girl does…

Proof positive. No doubt about it- Gabe was infected. The vile disease has touched our vibrant seven-year old. The boy who watches G was exposed to X, or R at least. The little one who has to be so careful what he sees in the days because it might transform to nightmare.

The son with the sensitive eyes- the son who won’t watch Wallace and Gromit for “weirdness,” and who covers his ears to block the voice of a Talking White Rabbit-this son saw that. He heard that.  

My heart fell fast and heavy. To stomach’s pit it sank. In the hush that alone could come through the lump, I asked,

Gabe, where did you learn that? Who showed you that?

Wide blue eyes to mine. Earnest, sober voice to me:

It was Evan, Mom, on the bus. I know I shouldn’t be his friend anymore. And a big boy-he showed Evan. He told me what it meant. But I don’t know his name. He doesn’t go to my school. 

And so Gabe caught the infection. His tender mind was tainted. His innocence was lost.

Yes, yes, and yes.

But it didn’t happen at the perverse tongue and sick gesturing hands of a big boy on the bus. It actually happened way before that. Neither Gabe, nor any of us, has every truly been innocent. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, wrote Israel’s sweet, sin-stained, Psalmist. 


Paul knew and we all know in our heart of hearts. We’re all infected with sin’s dread disease. And one day we’ll all die of it. Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12).

In Mere Christianity (Book IV, Chapter 4) C.S. Lewis wrote about infections. Not all infections, he asserts, are bad.

Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them… Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever?

Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ…We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has-by what I call ‘good infection’.  Every Christian in to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else. 

Our prayers have changed since Gabe got infected.

We pray that, though Gabe was exposed and is a carrier, God will keep keep him symptom-free. We pray he won’t infect others with this brand of the sin disease, and that he’ll be able to stay sensitive to the Spirit. We pray that he’ll resolve more now than ever before, not to set before his eyes anything that is worthless; that he, with King David, will keep a perverse heart far from him and know nothing of evil (Psalm 101:3a-4). We pray that this disease won’t keep spreading, that it’ll stay in remission.

And we pray for Evan and the big boy on the bus who infected him. We pray they will know Jesus and become Christians.  We want them to be healed.

We pray that those boys will catch the “good infection,” too.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  
1 Corinthians 15:22
seaside-371229__340

Would Be Slaves

Eastman Johnson, A Ride for Liberty 1863, Brooklyn Museum


We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. 

Romans 6:6

Some would be slaves. 

They would fight for the right. They would weep to return; and faithless forget the horrors. For fear of the unknown or to keep peace at home, they would stay enslaved. 

A line in Lincoln’s “Speech to an Indiana Regiment” launched this post. In the speech, he addressed the baffling matter of slaves who would fight for the Confederacy. 

Fellow Citizens…I may incidentally remark, however, that having, in my life, heard many arguments, — or strings of words meant to pass for arguments, — intended to show that this negro ought to be a slave, that if he shall now really fight to keep himself a slave, it will be a far better argument why should remain a slave than I have ever before heard– He, perhaps, ought to be a slave, if he desires it ardently enough to fight for it…[March 17, 1865]

Then I read the book of Numbers. The Israelites were about a year out of Egypt, and already they would return:

And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic (11:4-5). 

Why is the LORD bringing us into this and, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to EGYPT? And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt”(14:2b,5).

Why would a freed slave fight for the Rebels? Why would he return to Egypt?  Why would we turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves we want to be once more? Surely not to let our stomachs and screens play god? Or to let lust and greed rule; to allow pride or pity to throw parties? Why would we possibly be slaves to the world’s weak and worthless ways? 

Scripture offers (at least) these three reasons:

1. We choose slavery to sin because sin just feels good. 
For a second at least. We choose “to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin,” (Hebrews 11:25) because killing sin hurts and ice cream tastes good. Zipping our lips to blame and complaint is hard, and it’s not easy to open them to forgive and repent. Gossip rolls of the tongue, anger flies, and impatience and envy are so…comfortable. Status quo needs no fight. Natural need not deny the flesh. 

2. We choose slavery to sin because we have selective memory
We are faithless enough to think only of the “free fish and garlic,” and “My Old Kentucky Home.” We choose to remember short-term security over the deadly wages of sin. We remember the pleasure, but forget to remember the bricks and the straw, the whips and the welts. We forget God’s provision in the past and ignore his promise to prosper.

3. We choose slavery to sin because we fear. 
Slaves, at least, know stability. Leaving Old Masters brings fear of unknown places, but also sworn enemies. When Jesus said, “If your hand or foot causes you to stumble, cut it off,” he wasn’t talking about peace in our time. His mind was on the kingdom that the violent take by force. We did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back again into fear (Romans 8:13-14a). But of little faith, we fear much.

But we would be slaves
Like Old Testament slaves, we have a choice in our service. He could choose to stay forever with a master he loved. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free, then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever” (Exodus 21:5-6). 

But Slaves-R-Us, whether to sin which leads to death or obedience which leads to righteousness. But this kind is not forced on us against our will. Either we see a) the pleasures of sin or b) the beauty of righteousness as more appealing. 

I think we will opt for b) if we:  

  • Remember right: the fruit we’ll will get (Romans 6:22), not the fruit we got. 
  • Wage war against the flesh: stop keeping the peace with our eyes and ears, our tongues and hands and feet (Romans 8:13).
  • Fear not, for our Master goes before us (Numbers 14:9). 

Like Lincoln said, “Perhaps he ought to be a slave, if he desires it ardently enough to fight for it.” 

And so, with the best of Masters, we press on in the good fight.

Since we would be slaves. 


Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Romans 6:16-18



For more on the parallels and imperfections of the slave metaphor for our relationship to God, I recommend John Piper’s sermon “Slaves to God, Sanctification, Eternal Life.”  

seaside-371229__340

Humble Uncle Abe

I

You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; 

you stoop down to make me great. 

Psalm 18:35

The truly great go low. They go low and exalt others.

Our Lord took on the nature of a servant. He humbled himself. Lincoln did too.

His humility only began in a Kentucky log cabin. For Abe, success bred humility. From farm and flatboat to law and orator-and peaking as President- Lincoln lived it. The way up is down.

Honest Abe was also Humble Abe. You don’t have to mine long or deep to find proof. He declined titles and elephants gently. He said thanks and sorry freely. Proud people don’t say either.

The following quotations are taken largely from Harold Holzer’s, Abraham Lincoln The Writer

In April 1848, in Washington as an Illinois Congressman, Lincoln wrote home to Mary:

Suppose you do not prefix the “Hon” to the address on your letters to me any more.  I like the letters very much, but I would rather they should not have that upon them.  It is not necessary, as I suppose you have thought, to have them to come free. 

Lincoln left Springfield for Washington in February 11, 1861. He was not to see his hometown again. From the back of the train, with friends and neighbors standing before him, he gave this farewell address.

My friends-No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe every thing. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried…Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended him [Washington], I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be every where for good, let us confidently hope that all will be well. To his care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell[.]

On July 4, 1863 Vicksburg surrendered to General Grant. This letter was sent a few days later.

 My dear General

I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further…I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I that the Yazoo Pass expedition, and the like, could succeed. When you got below, and took Port-Gibson…I thought you should go down the river and join Gen. Banks; and when you turned Northward East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgement that you were right, and I was wrong.

Yours very truly, A. LINCOLN 

This letter from Lincoln to the king of Siam exudes grace and goodwill. It was Lincoln’s response to two letters from Siam’s king. Two letters addressed not to Lincoln, but to President James Buchanan. 

Despite being hard pressed within and without-by month’s end his son William would die of typhoid fever-Lincoln took precious time to reply to an obscure dictator in a far-away kingdom. 

I appreciate most highly Your Majesty’s tender of good offices in forwarding to this Government a stock from which a supply of elephants might be raised on our own soil. This Government would not hesitate to avail itself of so generous an offer if the object were one which could be made practically useful in the present condition of the United States. Our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant, and steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce. 

I shall have occasion at no distant day to transmit to Your Majesty some token of indication of the high sense which this Government entertains of Your Majesty’s friendship.  

Meantime, wishing for Your Majesty a long and happy life, and for the generous and emulous People of Siam the highest possible prosperity, I commend both to the blessing of Almighty God. 

Your Good Friend, ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
Washington, February 3, 1862.

Finally, on the verge of Union victory and mere weeks before his death, President Lincoln spoke these words in his second inaugural address:

Fondly do we hope-fervently do we pray- that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said: 

The judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. 

Proud people don’t say thank you. Proud people don’t say sorry. They don’t stoop low for foolish, little people. And, meekness missing, proud people don’t bow before God and his righteous judgments.

Lincoln could, and did. Strong, he stooped low and preserved a nation.

Ten-score and six years ago today, at just the right time, God brought forth Abe Lincoln. Uncle Abe. Our Humble Uncle Abe.

And I am so very thankful He did.

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5
seaside-371229__340

Prayers of a Lesser Thanks?

Are comparison prayers-could be worse, at least it’s not- a lesser kind of thanks?


On their backs, our thanks resound?
No! (We won’t boss Mack around.) 
Well, maybe for a chance, 
To boost our prayer stance,
Just enough to get thanks off the ground!

Beware of comparison thanks, I told the ladies. Our life group topic was, yes, gratitude. My shower that morning was lukewarm, spit it out, tepid. So I prayed a Yertle prayer. I thanked God that at least it wasn’t ice-cold. 

Even as I shared it, my example it didn’t sit well. In my lap. These prayers never do.

Like, Thank you God, that:

  • My kids aren’t as ___ (wild, rude, fragile) as hers. 
  • My husband doesn’t play video games like hers.
  • At least my wife doesn’t go shopping as much as his.
  • Even though the quiver’s not full, at least I’ve got one, while some have none. 
  • Even though the car was totaled, the injuries weren’t worse. 

Yertle prayers don’t often sit well. Maybe it’s because they remind me of the old adage, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

But haven’t you wondered about the man with no feet? Was he thankful? Is he still crying?

Do you wonder the gratitude invoked by could be worse comparisons is of the same quality as, say, Job’s, The Lord give, and the Lord takes. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Or David’s,  I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples, offered as he hid from Saul in a cave.

Still, who among us hasn’t prayed one of these? Thank you Lord, that least I have a warm house, a loving family, good health, freedom to worship in public. That my woes are so very first world. 

But they leave a funny aftertaste. What if my shower was ice cold? If work was dull, with no benefits? If the quiver is empty? If I was one of 60,000 starving in the Yida, South Sudan refugee camp? If malaria and malnutrition, without home and family are your lot? What then?  

There’s the rub. Yertle prayers leave an aftertaste because, maybe, they aren’t totally pure. They’re relative, contingent. Maybe a lesser thanks?

Guess what? It’s a fallen world. We grow weak and we see dimly. Motives are mixed. But, hallelujah! We have a gracious God. And sometimes comparing is the boost triggers a truly thankful heart. I think He can sympathize with prayers that aren’t 100% pure. We don’t, after all, have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

Since my “Beware of comparison prayer,” alert I’m rethinking. I’d love to read your comments, too. I think I wouldn’t be so wary. Here’s why. 
  1. Thanking God is good.  It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name O Most High (Psalm 92:2). Just plain good. 
    • Because we magnify Him with thanksgiving (Psalm 69:30), and
    • Because it’s God’s will, and that’s always good (1 Thessalonians 5:18). 
    • Because He commands thanksgiving (Colossians 3:15, Psalm 50:14), and 
    • Because thanksgiving guards our hearts and minds and brings peace (Philippians 4:5-7). 
    • And if that’s not enough, because thanking God is the very business of heaven (Revelation 11:16-17). 

2.  Thanking God is good, even if it means comparing. (As long as it’s not self-exalting, self-righteous, smuggery.)

As far as I can find, there’s only one biblical example of bad thanksgiving. You remember it. Jesus told the parable to some who trusted in themselves, and treated others with contempt. (Luke 18:9-14)

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.


3. Thanking God is good. (As long as it’s not contingent on a physical set standard; as long as we adjust along the way.)

What I mean is this: Will thanking God that my boys’ are having school success in elementary school, be able to translate to thanks if they forgo college ten years from now?  And if my lukewarm shower is a cold shower after my next run?

Will thanking God in my 30’s that I can say, run for an hour without pain, translate to thanking him in the next decade (or day) that I can, walk to the mailbox with pain? And one day, if I’m unable to leave my bed, what then?

Where will I stand then to launch my thanks to the God?

Through [Jesus] whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 

Romans 5:2 
The same place as I am now.  This grace.
How about there?