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A Tale Of Two Showers

So I say to you, “If you knew the blessed God, and who it is that is offered to you-the sweetest love, the richest mercy, the surest friend, the chiefest good, the greatest beauty, the highest honor, and the fullest happiness… You would be more willing to leave these frothy joys and drossy delights for the enjoyment of God than any prisoner was ever willing to leave the misery of jail for the liberty, pleasures, and preferment of a court.”

-George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of the Soul

I attended two bridal showers last Saturday. Funny thing was, I didn’t even know I was at the one until I got to the other. Then these dull eyes started to make sense of what I’d seen. 

Because you’ve got to have no sight at all to miss a bride making ready for her big day. 

Bridal Showers

One shower was bigger, with dozens of cousins and aunts and friends. The other was just three sisters, until along came me. 
One shower had a table spread big with buffet of sandwiches and salads and mixed nuts and cake. The other was not so broad- some sips of soup and applesauce. Both showered refreshment on the guests. Both tables amply laid. 
At one shower, the bride-to-be was getting vases and sheets and picture-less picture frames. The other was giving vases and quilts and pictures in their frames away. Both had a devoted sister beside her, noting each gift opened or given away. 
At one shower, the bride is counting down-38 days and 18 hours-before she’s given away. The other bride knows not the day nor the hour. She suspects she knows the season and content to leave the precise timing to her bridegroom. 

She says, His timing is always best.

Preparing For Their Big Days

Both brides are picking playlists for their celebration days. Both select from among the special songs that marked their relationships along the way. One bride might play I’ve Got You. The other, for sure, Trust and Obey

Both brides are clearing clutter. One bride has far less than the other. Both sort through unneeded things from their single days. Both go deep into closets and drawers to throw old clippings and awards and cards and notes away.
Both brides can talk a blue streak about her beloved. Both smile and look just a little bit smitten when each says, in so many words how she knows his love. Both brides describe- in a word- their husband, their betrothed, as faithful every day 
Both brides will relocate upon their wedding days. One will move across the country to her groom’s new medical school. The other will go a little further than Philly. Both might miss some folks, but they say they’re not afraid to go away. 
I’m dense sometimes. I don’t always see through God’s signs to the truth that is behind. But even I couldn’t miss the message of the brides after the shower last Saturday. 

And Grandma Did A Fist Pump

It is possible for your dying day to be your wedding day…for then the fairest of ten thousand and your soul will be solemnly knit together. 

-George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of the Soul
Two weeks ago we found out Grandma’s cancer had came back. This time it was more painful-incurable pancreatic. We don’t know just how long. And how I wanted to visit while Grandma still felt, her word, perky. 
So I headed up Friday night, clueless about her shower. The second one Saturday, for lovely cousin Hannah, that one I knew about. You can see how the surprise was all on me when I walked in to find the three. Grandma with her sisters were gathered around the table writing lists and making plans and setting up the service. 

What’s the oldest blessing in the Bible? they asked me. Aaron’s, I think, at the end of Numbers chapter six. Grandma’s sister read it. 

That’s it, Grandma declared. Now, write that down so you don’t forget.
Then she let me to recite some verses I’d been working through. And when I got to- Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemptionshe broke right in with glee.

Here where Grandma fist-pumped and said so joyfully, 

That’s me! I’m sealed for the Day of Redemption, for Jesus. Oh, I’m so glad He loves me!   

Revel A Minute

A Puritan named George Swinnock lived 350 years ago and he would have fist pumped, too. Because what Grandma knows, Swinnock knew- that when outside is fading, the inward can be renewed. And that the abundant life Jesus gives only starts with our short as dew, fading like wildflower lives on God’s green earth.

We can know this too. We-me and you, church, the body of Christ, his betrothed bride-we aren’t unaware.

So revel here a minute with Swinnock and Grandma and me.

Come forth; behold your beloved in all His glory. His arms are stretched out to embrace you. His lips are ready to kiss you. Oh, what a loving look He gives you! I am certain that you have a greater place in His heart than you have in your own…Your beloved will entertain you with precious and costly feast at His own tableIf you accept this offer, it will be life for you to think of death. You will lift up your head with joy when the day of your redemptions draws near. (Swinnock, p. 76-77)

Saints know where their portions lay. Grandma’s portion showed through at her shower on Friday night. I saw Grandma’s affections are getting more set on Christ, her true husband, and that this world is gently easing out of her, so it’ll be easier to say good-bye. 
For now Grandma’s showering us all-her beautiful Connemara Girl and woolen Sunbonnet girls, her hand-sown quilts and beloved hymnals, even her dear Dutch art-her Delft blue and windmills and tulips. She’s giving it all away. 
And she’s sealed and dressed in fine linen and fist-pumping awaiting one glorious redemption day. 
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah!

For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,

for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;

it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

Revelation 19:6-8

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When Christians Aren’t Nice

Farm Dog

I wish I could like that woman, he said, shaking his head. But the whining and worrying and woe-is-me sure make it hard. Her sky is always falling.

I knew what my husband meant. Mrs. Olson was definitely an EGR.

Old Mr. Jones was an EGR, too. Both required extra grace. He was a crusty carmudgeon whose scowl could scare any smile away. And I do mean any. I’d watched bright chubby cheek toddler smiles grow cold and plenty of friendly greeter smiles disappear from his frosty frowns.

And he, and she, are Christians.

And let’s not forget one Mrs. Wallace. I know her inside and out. No one wants to be near her when her service gets showy and and her (little) intellect gets impatient or when her helping turns harsh and her eager zeal interrupts. 

Tough nut, that Wallace. She’s clearly got her faults.

And those faults, I happen to know, come despite the fact she listens to a half-dozen sermons and memorizes a handful of verses each week and leads a ladies’ life group and prays before she even gets out of bed each morning. Her lapses happen after all that. 

Those three, not always so nice Christians, raise two big questionsOne is reasonable. The other one is not.

The fair and right question first.

Shouldn’t all Christians be obviously better, nicer, than they used to be? 

In a word, YES!

The Bible- Jesus and John and Paul-repeatedly affirm: A tree is known by its fruit, and No one born of God makes a practice of sinning. Transformed from glory to glory, renewed in the spirit of our minds, we make no provision for the flesh. We are to grow up in every way into him who his the head.

So, yes. It is fair to assume and expect every single believer will be kinder and more patient and more loving than he or she would be without Christ. Every born-again person becomes better. Better than who he or she would have been.


But what about Mr. Jones and Mrs. Olson and Wallace? What about the ones who are ornery and edgy and difficult and often EGR? What about them? 

Why is it your faithless neighbor seems so much nicer than they are? 

Shouldn’t all Christians be obviously nicer than all non-Christians?

Not necessarily.

In a chapter near the end of his masterwork, Mere Christianity, you’ll find a chapter called, “Nice People or New Men.” Lewis spends most of that chapter called explaining that it is, in fact, unreasonable to expect that Christians will always be obviously nicer than non-Christians.

Only God knows the raw material. Only he knows the mass of nerves and hurts and natural temperament and early environment and everything else that made EGR’s what they are. 

Lewis explains how,

[G]od has allowed natural causes, working in a world spoiled by centuries of sin, to produce in Miss Bates the narrow mind and jangled nerves which account for most of her nastiness. He intends, in His own good time, to set that part of her right…  

We must, therefore, not be surprised if we find among the Christians some people who are still nasty. There is even, when you come to think it over, a reason why nasty people might be expected to turn to Christ in greater numbers than nice ones

But it is reasonable, he says, is to expect that Christ in his life will improve the old man. Jones will be more kind and Olson more trusting and Wallace more gentle, than each of them would naturally be.

If Christianity is true, Lewis explains, you can expect both that a) any Christian will be nicer than the same person if he were not a Christian, and b) that any man who becomes a Christian will be nicer than he was before. 

Lewis doesn’t leave it at that, though. He offers up a warning. 

A Warning For Nice People

You can’t expect God to look at Mrs. Olson (or nice Miss Bates) exactly the way we do, he says. If you’re naturally one of the nice ones, take heed. 

…If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. “Why drag God into it?” you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easily to you. You are not one of those wretched creatures who are always being tripped up by sex, or dipsomania, or nervousness, or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap and (between ourselves) you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe all this niceness is your own doing: and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness.

There is either a warning or an encouragement here for every one of us. If you are a nice person-if virtue comes easily to you beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous. 

And one of the expectations for nice folks is that they bear with the weak. 

A Command For Us All

Therefore as a prisoner for the Lord, I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:1-3

Bearing with, or forbearing, means “to hold oneself back.” It means holding back your annoyance at Mrs. Olson and not telling off old Mr. Jones. It means listening to her worries and smiling through his frown. It means resisting the urge to get angry at one friend’s forgetfulness or irritated by another’s compulsiveness. 

Matthew Henry said it means, 

[B]earing their infirmities out of a principle of love, and so as not to cease to love them on the account of these. The best Christians have need to bear one with another, and to make the best one of another, to provoke one another’s graces and not their passions. 

We all have need to bear with one another. The frets and rubs are beneficial. Brushing shoulders with EGR’s gives us a chance to grow. 

We all know them. Look in a mirror if you don’t. We bear and forbear and if we cannot like them, we love them still. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ

And if you look in the mirror and you see one, Lewis has one more word for you.

Keep Driving

But our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself, will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body. Philippians 3:20-21

Lewis concludes, 

If you are a poor creature-poisoned by a wretched upbringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels…nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends-do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner than that) he will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all-not least yourself: for you have learned your driving in a hard school.  (Mere ChristianityNice People or New Men)

You’ve been praying and reading and worshipping and still you worry and hand out harsh words to the kids. Take heart. He knows our frame. God knows our wretched machines go and grow in fits and starts. 

God knows what hard things happened early in life to nervous Mrs. Olson. He knows that her compulsions and worries used to lock her up in her house. He knows old Mr. Jones, whose frowns can freeze the sunniest smiles. He came to faith late and now his furrowed brow eases out his violent old raging ways.

And He knows how much more harsh and impatient and puffed-up that Mrs. Wallace would be without God and all his means of grace. Just imagine me without the sermons and study, the fellowship and all that Scripture memory. 

He knit me. He formed me. He knows.

So press on and don’t despair, no matter the car you drive. Keep on, do what you can.

And know that we’ll forbear.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.  

Romans 14:4
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The Best Advice Mom Gave

He can crush me, exalt me, or do anything else He chooses. He simply asks me to have absolute faith in Him and His goodness. Self-pity is of the devil, and if I wallow in it I cannot be used by God for His purpose in the world.

My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers

Good 

It wasn’t teaching me to whip up apple pie in a flash, and always from scratch. Real butter for crust, and always topped with cream, fresh-whipped in a frost-covered bowl. But that know-how has come in handy.

It wasn’t showing a sulky furrowed-brow little lass that A smile is the prettiest thing a girl can wear. Surely, no one was more qualified to teach that than a girl nicknamed Mary Sunshine. Some friends call me Smiles.

It wasn’t explaining that A quality product doesn’t need cheap advertising. Mom gave that sage advice on Sunday in May when I chopped half my new blue jean skirt off and wore my new mini to church. Dad was pastor there.

Which brought about some better lessons.

Better

Like, Better to bend than to break. My mom lives like a willow. She bends with the wind and rolls with the punches. With mud on a fresh-mopped hardwood floor and with a thirteen year-old’s mini. I can’t bend half so low.

And as vital as it was to instruct me and rest of her honest-to-a-fault brood, If you can’t say anything kind, don’t say anything at all- this wasn’t the best. Though that wisdom from Mom has maintain the unity of the Spirit so many times.

Nor was it her steadfast prayer, her constant refrain, God, give me a pure heart. Which was, I think, as crucial for a preacher’s wife as for a farmer’s wife as for a teacher and mother and friend. I pray this now, too-for Mom and me.

As valuable as these lessons are, they’re not the best.

Best

The most precious advice mom gave is this: To have a friend, be one. Although she didn’t say just this way, I knew what she meant: Stop thinking of yourself, Abigail. Look around and love others. 

To an introspective, insecure ten-year old in a brand new school in a brand new town, her words hit home. She didn’t let me pine away the weekend, feeling left out and alone. Let’s have a hayride and invite your class. Be a friend, she said.

To a still introspective, somewhat more secure fourteen year-old in a brand new high school in a brand new town, her advice still struck a chord. Knowing nary a soul, before school even began, I marched in and and joined the low brass and met Tom and Chris and Pete and Sam.

Then, as a still introspective, and slightly lonely newlywed, I remembered what Mom said and a dinner group was forged with Shelly and Jay and Jen and Steve. Fifteen years and oodles of grace later, the group still gathers one Friday night each month.

When alone and unknown in a new church and alone and unknown in new job and more often now, well-known and let-down, Mom’s words to her introspective ten-year old, still echo through, her words about being a friend.

Plus these other two.

Three Musketeers Who Blow Self-Pity Away

To have a friend, be one is first. Then these two join forces with that advice. Together, they’re my Three Self-pity-busting Musketeers.

Don’t wait to be served, serve. Don’t wait for thanks, thank. To have a friend, be one.


Those three are all for one and one for all. And the one they’re for is healthy, happy, humble me. Because self-pity is the weak side of pride- wounded ego, not-getting-what-I-deserve- pride. And this self-pitying pride cannot abide humility.

It cannot abide the God-Man Christ, who took on the form of a servant. Self-pitying pride can’t believe he really said, It’s more blessed to give than receive. And that truly blessed is happy. And happy is what a giving, serving, befriending me is bound to be. 

So when Mom’s words come to me, by grace, I go. They come when I feel left out and I go invite a friend. They come when I start to feel unvalued and I go send a thank-you note. The woe-is-me monsters still come and want to throw me a pity party. But I’m learning to look outside of me and go. 
I don’t wait. I can’t. Because if I do, I know melancholic me will join that party. So I don’t wait for someone to comfort or reach out or thank me. I’m learning that when I want thanks, the best thing to do is give it. And when I want to be served, the best thing to do is serve. Because I know it’s more blessed to give than receive.

*   *   *   *   *
Four days ago, an introspective eight year-old burst in the front door and burst into tears. Between his massive  shoulder-shaking sobs, I gathered a blemish on his nose drew snickers from a big boy on the bus and that he missed recess because of late work and-horror of horrors- bicycle safety pre-empted gym class. 

The world conspired against Gabe Thursday.

Imagine my surprise when my wounded second-grade warrior entered the kitchen ten minutes later, hands full of comb and brush and spray and gel. And with “One pass to the barbar.”

Mom, I know you like me to do your hair. Can I fix it for you now? 

And so I was blessed by the best 40 minute “barbar” job a girl could ever get. And this regal treatment came from a son who was somehow learning that looking away from his pain to show others love is the best way to brush any terrible, horrible, no good, very-bad and lonely day away.

So thanks, Mom, for all your good advice. I’m still learning to live it. And by grace, the boys are, too.

Slowly and surely, we’re learning.

She opens her mouth with wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 

Proverbs 31:26

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

Philippians 2:4-7

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The Carnation Conundrum: Mom’s Day Fodder for Mothers and Others

RAFAH - GAZA STRIP - NOVEMBER 22: Sheep feed on carnations flowers at a farm November 22, 2007 in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. Palestinian farmers had to dispose of their flower crop due to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, preventing them to export their goods. According to reports Israel yesterday said that it would ease its trade embargo - imposed in June - allowing the export of fruit and flowers into Israel and Europe. (Photo by Abid Katib/Getty Images)

Should we give a carnation to each mother? 

That was all she asked. Simple question. But it got so complicated. 

Not that all involved weren’t entirely gracious in reply. Everyone was. But our email thread got tangled.

Maybe the kids could hand-out them out? 

No, that won’t do. Some moms might get overlooked. That’s uncomfortable.

Plus, some who aren’t moms might be mistaken and get a flower, too. That’s awkward.

Besides,”Children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward.” Why heap gifts on the gifted?

The gift could hurt all the ladies who have longed to hear but never heard a child call them Mom.

And cause pain for mothers whose children are prodigal or gone.  

And what about all the guys? (Dad’s Root Beer all around come June?)

I don’t bend over backwards to be PC. That’s why my carnation reluctance surprised me.

But it’s these words-Let all you do be done in love– not the avoidance of unease-that should guide. Because the God who is love didn’t promise pain-free. And the God of all comfort didn’t canonize comfortable. We are each called to honor our mother (and father).

Honor Your Mother

Every last one of us has a mother. So Mother’s Day is a holiday for all of us. We’re all called to honor our mothers. It might mean a grown child pauses to remember the good in a mom who is gone. And if Mom is with us, we let her know she’s valued. Honor is due.

Honor might mean carnations. Or a card or a call or a brunch. Or “one pass to the barbar and a bakrub,” unexpectedly came my way yesterday.

But some women deserve more than the honor that comes from being a mother. Sometimes special praise is due.

Praise Due

Charm is deceptive and beauty is vain, but the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates. Proverbs 31:30-31

The woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. If you’ve been blessed with a spiritual mother, with a holy mom who hopes in God, let your praises roll.

Why should we? Why should we praise a faithful lady? Pastor John Piper gives some great reasons.

1) It honors God. We must not think here that in praising the woman we are giving to her what belongs to God. There is a sense in which all praise, just like all boasting (1 Corinthians 1:31), should be in the Lord. But since the Lord has made the world and is at work in us fallen creatures, it is possible to praise him indirectly by praising something he made or praising something that exalts him. If you praise the table manners of my sons, Noël and I feel honored. So God is honored through praises which come to his people for graces which he has imparted and which by their very nature exalt him. Therefore, when we praise a woman who fears the Lord, we praise God. 

2) It strengthens her hand in the Lord. There are always temptations to allure us away from the fear of God: temptations to fear financial insecurity more than we fear God (cf. Proverbs 23:17), to fear rejection by our peers more than we fear God, to fear the loss of time spent in good deeds more than we fear God…Again and again we must have our hand strengthened in God. We need to hear a saintly person say, “Well done. I love the way you fear the Lord.”

So hand out those carnations. But maybe they go to the mothers and some others. 

To Mothers and Others

Because, Who really is my mother?

Jesus answered that in a surprising way in Matthew 12:48-49. And when his own mother and brothers asked to see him, Jesus said, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mothers and my brothers!’ 

The Lord Jesus Christ-Son of God, Son of Man-turned earthly relationships upside down. Luke records this short exchange. In a way, it confuses my carnation conundrum more. 

“Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” a woman cried out to Jesus. And he turned and said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27).

What is this that Mary’s son-God’s son-says? Is he really saying what it sounds like he’s saying? That the obedient Christian –mother or not, even married or not– is of mother status? It does sound that way.

But back to the carnation conundrum. I wonder what Jesus would say.

If Christ would weigh in our Mother’s Day thread, would it sound something like this? 

“Mothers, be thankful. Honor your mother. Be glad in the kids I gave you and treasure good things in your heart. Savor your role as Keeper of the Springs. And always be leaning into me. Abide in me. Feed on my Word. Their eyes are wide-open, watching everyday, so live like you need me. Show your kids that you know you are not their Savior. But live so they want to know yours. Help them want to know me.

Others, be thankful. Honor your mother. Know that there is a better name than sons and daughters. My Father’s-our Father’s-family grows through faith in me, not by children born of the flesh. The bonds you have to me and my Body, the Church, are stronger and tighter, more permanent and precious even than family ties. Marriage is temporary. The married couples are pointing to Christ and his Bride all along. Whatever state you’re are, remain in me. 

Mothers, a last word to you. It is your day, after all. Be sure you know my better name, the sweeter name than Mom. Keep your heart-eyes clear to see motherhood as the sweet gift, and terrible God that it is. Don’t idolize your kids. A sensitive son or devoted daughter can never deliver the forever satisfying joy found only in me. So come to me.  Keep coming to me. 

And when disrespect and complaining cut you deep and when sweet “bakrubs and barbar” treatment comes, your prayer can stay the same: Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14).

Far as the Curse is Found

We’re all- mothers and daughters and fathers and sons, single and married and adopted and orphaned- all of us wounded. Sin stains, disease maims, and words do hurt. The curse is still found far.

Far into lonely hearts of singles and aching arms of the post-abortive, the empty wombs of the infertile and broken hearts of moms of prodigals. It reaches into broken hearts of grieving moms who never saw their kids grow up and into wounded hearts of grown up kids whose moms never got to see them all growed-up. The Fall reaches far.

Its long reach means even a carnation can hurt.

There is no pain-free, awkward-less solution this side of heaven. A sword will pierce your own heart, Simeon said. Mary watched her Son die. And when he rose, he went away.

On Mother’s Day, I wonder if the Son of Mary might say, Pain is okay. Uncomfortable and awkward, too. But one day they’ll all be swallowed up. Until that day, praise the woman who fears me and honor your mother on Mother’s Day. 

A carnation just might be a splendid way.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Revelation 21:4