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When Isaac Made Me Cry

But this poverty of spirit is a gracious disposition of soul, by which we are emptied of self, in order to be filled with Jesus Christ.” 

-Matthew Henry, Commentary on Matthew 5

We won’t forget the Alamo. But four days at the National Bible Bee in San Antonio afforded even more glorious moments to remember. 

But one stands above. It was when Isaac made me cry.

Moments

I will remember Joshua Bontrager (pictured), a dobro-plucking, dairy farmer from Koloma, Iowa reciting Psalm 103 in the final round. We met Joshua in the parking lot our first night. Struck by his gentle zeal wondered aloud how he prepared for the Bee. “Honestly,” he said with a hint of a grin, “I like to study sermons and commentaries.” And so he stole our hearts.

But hearing this Joshua recite my favorite Psalm is not what I’ll remember most.

I will remember a senior and still genial Dr. James Dobson asking the Junior Champion, who happened to be Joshua’s brother, “So, Taylor, are you coming back next year?” I will remember a young Taylor shrugging as he said, “Lord willing.” And Dr. Dobson chuckling, answering, “You should say yes.” And Taylor shrugging again and smiling, silent.

But this humble example in speech, in faith is not what I’ll remember most.

I will remember waiting beside Shirnette in from New York in the small room where her Christine and my Sam would soon be ushered in to recite. Her admission that preparing for Nationals was, “a fight every step of the way,” bonded us. As did, we would soon learn, seeing our kids struggle hard before the judges. So this time with Shirnette is etched. 

But this time with Shirnette in the frying pan, before the fire is not what I’ll remember most.
I will remember visiting with gentle Julia Leary as we awaited results. Julie is a mother of nine. Her Sarah won last year’s competition. Her six year-old Victoria is precocious too. When Julie shared the whole crew had driven 24 hours from New York to compete, Victoria piped up with a family travel secret: Full bladders don’t matter. 

But this Leary family’s costly devotion to the cause is not what I’ll remember most. 

I will remember How Firm A Foundation echoing loud around Cibolo Canyon Ballroom where we all gathered that second night. Never mind that the screens went blank; the lyrics were written on these hearts. Strong, strong they sang, What more can He say, than to you he has said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled. 

But singing this soul-stirring song with that joyous throng is not what I’ll remember most.   


The Spirit


In a sermon on Acts 10 John Piper explains that the Spirit comes,

[T]o make Christ real to people and to show us who he really is in his glory so that we come to love him and trust him and obey him and show him to the world. 

What this means is that the Holy Spirit is more likely to come power where the truth about Jesus is being lifted up and made plain. The Spirit loves to come and take the truth about Jesus and turn it into an experience of Jesus

We know that no one can control the Spirit. He is free to come and go. The wind blows where it will and God gives the Spirit as He wills (John 3:8, Hebrews 2:4, Corinthians 12:11). But we also know that the Spirit comes to glorify Jesus (John 16:14). So maybe by exalting Christ in our words, as Peter did in Acts 10, we can increase the chances He’ll come.


I think Isaac did that. I think he increased the odds.  

The Moment


I sit beside Shirnette in the little judging room, and 
Isaac is escorted in. He’s the third of eleven to recite in this room this morning. He states his name and Bible version to the judges.


The timer is set for five minutes. And the moment begins.

The judge said, “Your first passage is John 4:21-25.” Isaac said, “Pass.” 

The judge said, “Your second passage is 1 Corinthians 15:50-54.” Isaac said,“Pass.” 

The judge said, “Your last passage is 1 Timothy 6:4-8.” Isaac said, “Pass.”

And with that third pass, all hope of Isaac advancing was dashed. This is how it ended. Hours and months hiding hundreds of verses in his heart had came to this. Did Isaac wonder, I wondered, if all that time memorizing instead of Minecrafting, reciting verses instead of running around, and studying Greek instead of playing games was wasted?

I hear the judge, again.

Thank you, Isaac. You have some time left. Is there a passage that you memorized that you’d like to recite for us?

Isaac Yang, age eight, inhales deeply. No one breathes. Now Isaac answers.

Yes, please. I’d like to say Matthew 5:3-12.

Now he turns his back to the judges and faces us. And Isaac recites clearly, calmly, word-perfectly all ten verses of the Beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…

And the Spirit falls. The Spirit turns the truth of Jesus into the experience of Jesus and we all try to still our sobs and wipe our tears and dig for Kleenex. Here is Isaac living out loud Jesus’ words. Here in this little room is this little one-poor in Spirit, inheriting heaven, and calling down the Spirit even as in loss and disappointment he recites, Blessed are the poor in Spirit. 

*   *   *   *   *

Matthew Henry said this blessed poverty of spirit is,

[A] gracious disposition of soul, by which we are emptied of self, in order to our being filled with Jesus Christ…we are thankful for what we have, and make the best of that which is. Being poor in spirit is to sit loose to the world and not set our hearts upon it, but cheerfully to bear losses and disappointments which befall us.

Isaac made the best of that which was. He sat loose to worldly hopes. Dreams of advancing ended when he passed. But Isaac didn’t cry. Isaac exalted Jesus. Poor in spirit and filled with the Spirit, he cheerfully bore loss and disappointment. He brought Christ’s blessed words to life.

That’s why above all these precious moments, I pray I always remember when Isaac made me cry.
Isaac, second from right, second row up, standing beside our Samuel.
National Bible Bee Primary Qualifiers, 11/18/15
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How A (Pumpkin) Latte Covered (My Sin)

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 

Psalm 32:1
“In town. Want a pumpkin latte?” was all it said. But it made me weep. 

It made me weep because a week before my reckless words had hurt this friend. She had wept. She showed me my fault. I saw it and confessed. Then came peeling off more layers because harsh words are only ever the flimsy outer layer covering a sinful heart. 

But ten years together, if nothing else, must reveal one’s friend’s favored beverages. And that’s how a Saturday morning, pumpkin-spice latte was undeserved, understated and unadulterated grace. And how a six-word text was an exquisite, stunning cover. 


Two Kinds Of Coverings


He that covers his sins shall not prosper. Proverbs 28:13
You have covered all their sins. Psalm 85:2

Charles Spurgeon contrasts them, “we have man’s covering which is worthless and culpable, and God’s covering, which is profitable and worthy of all acceptation.” 

As far back as Eden. As soon as the first couple disobeyed God’s command, they knew they were naked, uncovered. They felt guilt and shame. And they did not like how those felt, so they covered up with flimsy, leafy covers. 

Then God came and uncovered the depth of their nakedness and their deeper need for more solid, substantial covering. And the LORD God made for Adam and his wife garments of skins and clothed them. He covered them, clothed them, with animal skins. Were they a divine foreshadow of the Sacrifice whose blood would cover us millennia hence when the Eve’s seed would crash, would crush, that serpent’s head?  

Still our first father and mother teach us. When we try to cover up our sin we will not prosper. Be sure, Moses warned, your sin will find you out. Try to cover up and sooner or later your telltale heart will be found out. You can’t cover it up yourself. It’ll ooze and squeeze and spill right through.

When it does- when sin’s ugliness spills- you can’t erase it yourself. It must be covered. Just like we cover stains and vomit and dead bodies. The very same Hebrew word used in Psalm 32:1 and 85:2-kasah– that is used for that blessed state when God covers our sins also refers to the cover for skin-crawlingly vile and revolting uglies.


In the Old Testament, kasah referred to the leprous disease that covered a living body (Lev. 13:13) and the worms that covered up a dead body (Job 21:24). And to innocent blood poured out on a rock where dust could not properly cover it (Ezek. 24:7).

It was also used to describe man and beast covered with sackcloth (Jonah 3:8) and the deep waters that covered the pursuing Egyptians (Exodus 15:5). And to describe how Shem and Japheth took a garment to cover their father and walked backward so they did not see Noah’s nakedness. But Ham didn’t cover-his eyes, or his dad’s drunken body. And Ham’s line was cursed (Gen. 9:23-25).

So in our sin-stained world, kasah is a nitty-gritty word. MacLaren’s Exposition of Psalm 32:1 drives this home:

[Cover] means, plainly enough, to cover over, as one might do some foul thing, that it may no longer offend the eye or smell rank to Heaven. Bees in their hives, when there is anything corrupt and too large for them to remove, fling a covering of wax over it, and hermetically seal it, and no foul odor comes from it. And so a man’s sin is covered over and ceases to be in evidence, as it were before the divine Eye that sees all things. He Himself casts a merciful veil over it and hides it from Himself.

Foul things can’t be undone and divine can’t abide the offense. It must be covered. Love divine came down and cast his merciful veil over the sin we confess. He hid it from himself. Now we love because of he first loved. We forbear and forgive and cover. 


Love is a many splendored thing.

And its resplendent rays reflect coverings. 


I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.  Isaiah 61:10

We are to be and live-to love and forgive-to the praise God’s glorious grace. But we forget. Or find it too hard. Then comes a pumpkin latte to reflect God’s grace blindingly to dull eyes. Who is forgiven little, loves little, I remember. I wince in this light. 

But covering doesn’t remove the sin. The crimes were committed, and the blood cries out. I did pierce her with reckless words. I did destroy the tabletop and the Coke did stain the carpet. These really did happen. But for the sake of showing God’s glory to a watching world and for our own progress and joy in the faith, we simply must cover. 


Myriad Of Colorful Coverings


Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered. Proverbs 11:13

Matthew Henry observed, It is the property of true charity to cover a multitude of sins. It inclines to forgive and forget offenses against themselves, to cover and conceal the sins of others rather than aggravate and spread them abroad

Coverings take on hues more diverse than Crayola’s 152 Crayon Ultimate set. Here are a few:
  • When my husband waltzes in to dinner group before me and nonchalant he says, “Sorry we’re late.” And doesn’t mention it was because I burned the first batch of almonds when we should have been out the door.  
  • Or when a friend throws a rug on the spot where someone tipped a two-liter of Coke on her creamy carpeting. No mention. Just cover and welcome and Let’s start this party
  • Or when another friend covers the spot on her heirloom table where a hot pan melted the varnish away. A quilted placemat covers and my friend covers and we all sit down to dinner. 
  • And when a man stopped me on my bike to ask if I’d seen his yellow lab and I didn’t mention that tire spokes alone had kept his dog’s teeth off my calf. Saw him ten minutes ago on the Grove Road hill, was all I said.  

How can we cover like this? 


Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8


Lewis has a precious answer to this in his “Charity” chapter in The Four Loves. In a word, we cover with humility, with lowliness of heart. We humbly let life move on, while keeping fellowship with those who sinned against or wounded or wearied us. 

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? 

We “get over our tantrums” and get on with it. Tell a joke and smile and hug. Offer a latte. Move along, with or as the covered one. That’s covering. That’s humility. That’s grace.

And if it keeps hurting we pray that we can take the hurt and the sin that got at us, and cover it with grace. “Oh, that we could take the provocations from our fellow Christians, so that pearls of patience, gentleness, and forgiveness might be bred within us by what would otherwise would have harmed us,” said Spurgeon. Oh, to make pearls of pains.

Sometimes the small things are the hardest to cover: dropped balls at work and friends who forget and careless houseguests. These little nigglings are when my lack of love appears so stark. Like when I want to tell it like it is about loose dogs or justify my wrong. 

It could be that the small things are the hardest to cover. Or maybe it’s that we mostly only have small things to cover. Still, they are love’s blessed testing ground. And it’s an expansive land, because we are not all so naturally lovable. Lewis knew this so well.

“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 [as love that part of us]. 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-and perhaps at all times in respect of some one particular trait of habit- 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 I am sure it’s not because I’m lovable, but because Love dwells in those who love and cover me. So let holy charity my outward vesture be, and give me such lowliness of heart to take the humbler part

Because Love did come down and seek sin-stained soul and cover me. 

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.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace, till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.

 Bi­an­co da Si­e­na 


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Taking Wounds

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.  Proverbs 27:6


You wore that? To work, Hon? Those stripes with that plaid? 
I did, he said, calm as a clam. And no one said a thing. None of my patients. None of the staff. 
But, Honey, they’re not married to you, I reasoned. They’re not vested. I would never tell my doctor or my boss that his clothes clashed. Not my place.

*   *   *   *   *

Some faithful, friendly readers have told me, Get to the point. Sooner. And, A bit long-winded.

So, here she is: The rare times a trusted friend is gutsy enough to confront you in love, take it. Don’t rationalize and rebuff or get hyper-sensitive and turn to mush. Hard as it is to do, if it came from a faithful friend, you’d best listen.

(Back to the point. Sooner.)
The point here is not how to confront, when to confront or why to confront. The point is when you are the one confronted-wounded-as it were, by a faithful friend, to take it as God’s gift to you .

But I cringe, too. When my lovingly bold friends have cared enough to ask, “Can I talk to you for a minute?” I cringe. I dread. I admit I worry a while, too, because nobody wants wounds. 

(But keep this simple, to the point.)

Let’s assume the “confronter” has already done his hard work before he comes. He’s overlooked what he could (Proverbs 19:11), covered more in love (1 Peter 4:8) and then removed the log from his own eye (Matthew 7:5). And he’s gotten over his cowardice.

Now he comes. Bearing a precious gift that only a friend can rightly bring. He tells you what some others see, but don’t care enough to say. He tells you that tie, that plaid-they clash. The Christ you claim, those words you say-they clash. The disciple thing, the greedy weed he sees-they clash. 


Faithful are the wounds of a friend. It’s enemies, like Judas, that multiply kisses. And Peter was one of Jesus’ three besties. How much do you think “Get behind me, Satan” cut?  The penultimate Faithful Friend delivered that blow.  
(Short-winded. To the point.)

Now he comes to you. A trusted friend has said it. He’s said your fly’s down and there’s spinach between your teeth. He’s wounded you in love. He’s bucked the system where so many, 

[S]link away from the confrontation entirely, either because they fear it or because they have bought into our society’s hedonistic, relativistic view that places a premium on letting people do their own thing, regardless of how sinful that ‘thing’ is. (Ken Sande, Peacemaking For Families, p. 38)

Dawson Trotman said, “There is a kernel of truth in every criticism. Look for it, and when you find it, rejoice in its value.” We’d best spend our energy seeking kernels, not explaining criticism away.

And let’s not get all groveling-sensitive. Let’s have thicker skin, and softer hearts. Not vice versa. Let’s look the nugget of truth in that thar’ criticism and when we find it, let’s take it and get back up.

I do not agree that when all is said and done, friendship is but, “the giving and taking of wounds.” No way, no how. But friendship will include some wounding, this side of heaven, when faithful friends are lovingly bold. It’s part of the deal. It’s modeled by God and it’s for our good. He wounds and his hands bind up (Isaiah 30:26, Job 5:18, Deuteronomy 32:39).

(To the point, to the point. Not too long and windy.)

The point: Find the kernel in the criticism and take it as God’s gift for you. Humbly take the wound. Die that little death. Adjust, correct or repent where you ought.

Then get right back up and press right on toward the goal. And go with joy and with rest assured, since you’re alive. Your response to the wound proved it. Because, like C.S. Lewis* said,

A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way, a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble-because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out. 

Baptized into his death. Repaired by faithful wounds. Alive to God in Christ.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:5,10

*Mere Christianity, Book II, Ch. 5