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On COVID-19, Romans 14 & The Conviction You Keep

People picnic social distancing

One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons–marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

The recent loosening of stay-at-home orders has ramped up fear of missing out for countless Americans. Friends agonize on a high wire between fear of death on the one hand and fear of missing out on life on the other. It’s FOMO on steroids. Many lack conviction.

Apart from the temptation to let fear dominate us are these others Lewis described: To say the things are bad (wearing masks, singing in church) or that the people who practice- or don’t practice these- are unloving or bad. That quote has been heavy on my mind as our country opens up.

The purpose of this post is not to persuade you to eat inside or make it a picnic, to go out or to stay home, to wear a mask or not wear a mask.

My purpose is to share a bold, jarring truth, a truth Paul proclaimed to those with strong, and opposing, convictions in the Roman church to- get this- promote peace.

Ready?

Disputable Matters & Conviction

Opposing behaviors in disputable matters may both glorify God.

Before I back that bombshell up, we must define disputable matters.

Disputable matters are subjects on which the Bible does not prescribe the right way. In the church of Rome, some Christians felt they could not eat meat, drink wine, or celebrate certain holidays. Those were disputable.

However, adultery and pride, lying and stealing, gossip and envy, to name a few, are not disputable. They are never right. God has spoken on those. And he does not change his mind. (Numbers 23:19)

Jack Arnold offers this background Romans 14. What he calls “doubtful practices” are also called “disputable matters,” or “non-essentials.”

A weaker brother in Romans 14 was one who insisted that because they held the conviction that something was wrong it must be wrong for everyone else. Note: They were not weak because they did not practice these doubtful things, but because they judged others who did. So Paul told them not to judge or condemn others who held opposite convictions.

Which is, as Lewis wrote, a marks of a certain type of bad man.

3 Bad Attitudes about (Coronavirus) Conviction

When you throw mud at others you not only get dirty, you lose a lot of ground.Ravi Zacharias

C.S. Lewis talked about the badness of “looking down his nose” at someone who feels more free to do a thing than we. There are also these three:

1. Irritation. Impatient annoyance gets us nowhere. However much we may disagree, we must try to see the other person’s point of view.

2. Ridicule. No one remains unwounded when that which he thinks precious is laughed at. No one has a right to laugh at what another holds sacred.

3. Contempt. To scorn and disdain is unloving. William Barclay notesOf all attitudes towards our fellow man the most unchristian is contempt.

The point: Have your convictions. Make them motivated by love and faith, to the glory of God. But recognize that there are many paths to the same end. My husband and I take different routes to town. I take Johnson Road and he takes Potter. My route is steeper, his his longer. But, both roads get us there.

Paul’s plea is that the common goal should unite us and the differing routes should not divide.

Each One Should Be Fully Convinced

Romans 14:5 says, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Note well: Paul does not say “lighten up,” or “let it be.” He says, “Where you see things differently- be fully convinced.” This is not what we would expect.

In a timely message on this text, John Piper says what we’re thinking.

He is not saying as a kind of concession, Each one can have his own conviction. He is saying, Each one should have his own conviction. It’s a command, not a permission: “Let each one be fully persuaded in his own mind.”…It’s the same idea that we find in Romans 14:23, “Whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” In other words, minor matters do not call for mushy faith or flimsy convictions. They call for clear faith and full conviction.

Romans 14 says that Christians who disagree on non-essential things like these can do opposite things to the glory of God. 

Shocking as it may sound, dinner with friends or takeout at home, can both be done by faith, with conviction, to the glory of God.

“Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind.” If God has convicted you that something is wrong- that wearing a mask or dinner with friends is wrong- then you must not do it, but this does not mean that this same act is wrong for another Christian in the area of doubtful things. 

But, whatever is not from faith is sin.

Whatever is Not from Faith is Sin

Romans 14:23 says, Whatever is not from faith is sin. And without faith it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6) Faith looks forward to the promises of God, believing that He will keep his word.

If he says all things work for good to those who love him (Rom. 8:28), we believe they do. If he says he will supply all your needs (Phil. 4:19), we believe he will. Which means, by the way, that if we don’t have it, we don’t need it.

In a message on Romans 14:23- 40 years before all this COVID-19 chaos- John Piper said, Coming to church may be sin, staying home may be sin. Eating steak might be a sin, not eating steak might be a sin…Sin is not a list.

Because faith is not a list.

Conviction Comes To You Of Little Faith

To you who still feel anxious and panicky and just not convinced, Jesus loves you. You say, Abigail, easy for you. You’re healthy as a horse and don’t have a family member with fragile health. We just don’t know what’s coming.

Granted.

But guess what? No one but the Good Lord knows what’s coming. My choices must be borne of faith as much as yours. I don’t know if there’ll be another spike in COVID-19 deaths. We don’t know if we’ll get sick from having friend over for dinner or singing maskless at church. You don’t know if you are hugging a friend who is an asymptomatic carrier or if that hug might might do more harm to your body or good for your soul.

We just don’t know.

Exactly. That’s what faith must be: the conviction of things unseen. Unseen.

But, as Paul says in Romans 14, be fully convinced. Do your research and say your prayers and believe that God will care of you through whatever decisions you make, come what may. Have your conviction and carry on.

We walk by faith, not by sight.

Jesus’ Death Defeats FOMO

Let’s not be those who drown in information and starve for wisdom. The research– for and against– is ever new and at our fingertips. What seems obviously good and loving to one person is not so clear to another.

But whoever said love always looks the same?

We don’t need the CDC to tell us that ten out of ten people will die. And still no evil shall befall you. Christians are united by faith to the One whose own death broke “the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil.— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15) It’s not just that Christians aren’t afraid of rejection or affliction- it’s that they are free from the fear of death!

Yes, there is wisdom in caution. But he who observes the wind will not sow. We must move forward in our convictions.

The Best Response To (Others’) Fear

Finally, I offer this advice to you who have moved forward in faith with conviction but love someone who is afraid: The best response to fear is to live free of it. And be as gracious as you can be. (Douglas Wilson’s to C.W.’s “Letter to the Editor“)

Back to Romans 14. As if to prove the point that opposite extremes can both glorify God, Paul adds in verse 8: If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 

Talk about taking an argument to its logical end. Living and dying. Both can glorify God. I write this on Memorial Day. All gave some and some gave all. In God’s providence, some faithful soldiers lived to ripe old ages and some died on beaches. Life and death- BOTH to the glory of God.

And if God would ordain some live to his glory and some die to his glory, might he ordain that some don masks by faith, to his glory and some don’t, also by faith to his glory ?

That’s it, folks-Romans 14, Memorial Day, and COVID-19 together. Here’s the end of all three: Live free from fear. Be fully convinced.

And be as gracious as you can be.

Whatever you do, whether you eat or whether you drink, do all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

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It’s More Blessed to Give Than to Receive? Really?

giving flowers

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ 

Acts 20:35

Meg’ll like that, I thought, tucking in a gift card with the note. Meg is my friend’s daughter. She was turning 10.

But as I sealed the envelope, the old unfair bee stung. Even if she never remembers us on our birthdays.

The Word For Weary Givers

Don’t grow weary in doing good. For at the right time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. -Galatians 6:9

Why am I always the giver, the initiator, the one who remembers? I love to give, but why does it feel like I give more than I get?

It might be partly a love language thing. Words and gifts might be more my native tongue than, say, service or touch. When I start begrudging giving, that might play a wee little part. But language isn’t the main thing.

I know that because almost instantly the living, dividing Word moved in. It shoved me off the dark horse racing off to Self-Pity Land. I’ll tell you what God said.

Shut Your Mouth, Girl. And Open Your Eyes.

I am unworthy- how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. -Job 40:4

Abigail, stop. Halt den Mund! What do you have that you did not receive? Start seeing your gifts, my girl!

See the health and peace you’ve had all these COVID-19 days. See the family who loves on your sons. Give thanks that you and Jim have jobs. Remember your friends. Rejoice at the rhododendrons and rhubarb.

God didn’t audibly say those words, but through his Word he called to me. Give thanks, my Girl. Open your eyes. I’ve given you so many gifts.

Because we’re all givers and takers.

We’re All Givers And Takers

You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. -2 Corinthians 9:11

Paraphrased: We are receivers so that we can be givers. God gives us gifts- financial, spiritual, uncanny memories for birthdays and anniversaries-so that we can channel those gifts to others. But there’s more.

Christians are given grace and give grace so that God will get thanked. God made us to get and then give, so that he will be praised. What’s deadly is to let his love flow into your life without finding an outlet in love for others. Receiving is not bad. It’s not- getting is also a blessing. It’s just that Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Jesus, who came to earth to give his life (Mark 10:45) and told his disciples, Freely you have received, freely give (Matt. 10:8).

Which brings me to a big reason giving is more blessed.

Why Giving Is More Blessed

From his abundance we have all received one blessing after another. -John 1:16

Giving reminds me that I live by the grace of a giving God. The God who so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son. When we give we are blessed because it we are becoming more like our giving God.

Talk about perspective. Selfish me says, Why put yourself out for them? Why initiate and spend your time on them? They don’t bother with you.

That’s sin talking. Sin does something terrible to me. Sin turns me in on myself, Paul Tripp says. It makes me obsessed with my wants, my needs, my feelings. I want, I want, I want, I want, I want. Sin turns me inside out. Focusing on how much we give and how little we get is a sin (1 Thess. 5:18, Phil. 2:14).

When you give- forget, when you receive- remember. That’s a truth.

And the truth of a giving God’s turns us right-side out again. It did last week after I sent Meg’s birthday card. So next time giving feels more like sting than blessing, let’s remember God’s truth.

It really is more blessed to give.

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7

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She Meddles Not: In Praise of a Non-Meddlesome Mom

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

Proverbs 31:26

I could go right down Proverbs 31 line by line and apply each virtue to Mom. It would be easy. Because my mom is easy to praise. In fact, that’s how this post started (See me later for that draft, Mom.)

But one bit of wisdom mom has given from me is: Short and sweet, Girl. Get past the curse of knowledge.

So I’ll try that. I won’t assume background knowledge. I’ll be short and sweet.

Here’s one more reason I praise my mom.

Mom Doesn’t Meddle

Meddling means interfering. Not minding your business. Sometimes I struggle with that. Not meddling isn’t among the virtues hailed in Proverbs 31. But it’s between the lines. Because children don’t rise up and call a meddling mom blessed. And because meddling flies in the face of laughing at the days to come (31:25), nor is it wise (31:26).

In fact, the word meddle isn’t used much in the Bible. But the one time that jumps to mind is 1 Peter 4:15. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler. Yes, meddler. Peter lists it right there with murderer and thief as behaviors that bring suffering down on us. Mom knows this.

I can count on one hand- maybe on 1 finger, maybe none!- the number of times in my adult life that Mom has given unwanted advice. She uses her words with restraint (Proverbs 17:27) and knows that holding her tongue is wise (Proverbs 10:19).

When I share my own mom struggles with my mom her MO is to 1. listen well, 2. purse her lips, 3. nod her head, then maybe ask, 4. Want my advice, Babe?

Such restraint. Such wisdom. What a gift from my non-meddlesome mom.

Not Meddling Does Not Mean Un-Involved

Which is not at all to say Mom’s hands-off or uninvolved. In fact, those words couldn’t be further from the truth. Mom is in our lives in so many kind, daily ways.

Ducks in garden pond
“Lucky Ducks” mom wrote.

Hardly a day goes by without a happy text or punny picture. Yesterday was “Two Canadian guests at our lakeside property.” The pic-fowl swimming in their flooded garden puddle.

During garden season, we await mom’s weekly, post-farmer’s market calls: Hi Babe, here’s what we’ve got.

Then she lists what’s left- seasonal, of course- radishes, peas, lettuce, asparagus, and a fresh bouquet for you. Just tell me what you want and we’ll bring it.

But she doesn’t force it on us or ask why we don’t take turnips (a private matter between Jim and me).

A person convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.

Mother and daughter adults

That’s actually a quote from my Jim’s grandma, not Mom. But Mom knows it. Because she doesn’t advise when we we don’t want advice. That said, she has given me some pretty wise advice.

Mark Twain said something to the effect of, “My father was an amazing man. The older I got, the smarter he got.” I feel the same way about my mom. The older I get the more I want her advice.

She gave kindly yesterday when she dropped off the first run of rhubarb, when the talk turned again to the sons.

Give the last word. Choose your battles. Trust God. And pray.

Beautiful

Charm is deceptive and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.Proverbs 31:30 is truth. And one big way we can “see” that someone fears the Lord is when she follows Jesus.

Do you remember the exchange in Luke 12 when someone in the crowd tried to get Jesus to meddle? Spoiler alert: He didn’t.

Instead, Jesus said to him,

Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”

Beautiful people look like Jesus.

And like my non-meddlesome Mom.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.

1 Thessalonians 4:11

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You Have Been My Friend: When A Friend Moves Away

Two friends moving day
My friend Cathe and me.

You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.

-E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

She writes fiction very well. I write nonfiction not so well.

My Friend Cathe

But my friend Cathe is the one who called me up after reading a post one summer dayand said, “Abigail, there’s something wrong.”

I braced for the worst. Because one thing I love about Cathe is that she speaks the truth. She’s gracious and discrete. And direct and sincere.

So I prepared to hear, “You’re too long-winded, dear. Your message gets lost in your words.” Both true, still true.

But that’s not what I head. Instead Cathe said, “That post you just wrote was good. More people need should see this. I think you need a website.”

But my friend didn’t stop there. Cathe hooked me up with her website host, then took time from her writing with real deadlines to walk me through the nuts and bolts of my little website design.

Earnest Counsel

Proverbs 27 says, Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. It’s true.

As we were loading in the van last night Cathe leaned in- not to talk to me but to my 15-year-old son. “Sam,” she started, “I have some advice about girls. Mind if I share?” We both stared at Cathe, rapt.

Find a girl with a cheerful disposition, she said. I like that. Because the moodier seem to grow moodier still. Sage advice, and kind.

You can see, Cathe doesn’t waste words. She uses them kindly and well.

The Sweetness of a Friend

It was Cathe who broke the ice after a month of estrangement from church, and asked, “Abigail, want to join the Thursday group?” I did. And with 3 week old Gabe in tow I joined the ladies in Cathe’s home over Cathe’s magic carrot nut muffins and spicy sweet tea.

Now 13 years later, I lead “the Thursday group.” It goes on with new faces and a handful of good old, including Cathe, though lately we meet via Zoom.

But after 20 years in our local life, as I write, Cathe is moving away. Last night, Jim, the boys and I got to help fill the U-Haul to its squid-ly brim. Totes, bins, washer, dryer and (Yes, Pat.) even the big brown sofa fit in.

Cathe is candid with herself too. I heard that last night. When she looked toward the sunset, maybe a little wistfully, and said,

“You know, Abigail, heaven is described as a city.

Because Cathe is a country girl, even more than me. So as my friend makes her way to a big city in Minnesota today, I’m back in the country thanking God for her- a friend who goes and chokes me up when she moves.

My tears come, in part and probably a selfish part, because I realize that Cathe is a keeper of my story. She has a valuable perspective on my life that I don’t have. She sees me in a way I can’t.

Friends, the Keepers of Our Stories

While Cathe is a gifted weaver of made-up story threads, she took a few minutes away from loading bins last night to tell some of my own real story threads. Threads that can get all tangled up in my head.

Like the one about how we came for dinner almost 20 years ago. After dinner, her tween son who knew that Jim and had been married a while and still didn’t have kids, leaned in and asked,

Hey mom, are you sure the Wallace’s know how?”

But Cathe also remembers the Sunday in November 2005 when we walked in to church holding our son, fresh from Korea. And how on a Sunday one year later, there was a collective, congregational gasp as my sister announced, “Abigail is expecting in June.”

Then, next June when Gabe was just a baby, Cathe broke silence and breached a tender subject. She broke that ice and welcomed me to the ladies’ study that met in her home.

Cathe has shared some of her precious story threads with me. They’re not mine to tell. But I do want to say, Cathe, that watching you endure with joy spurs me to do the same.

You Have Been My Friend

You know I’ll miss your real hugs and earnest counsel and practical kindness. And, as a keeper of my story, I will miss you because you know- and keep- my story so well.

Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for being a keeper of my story the last two decades. I’ll miss you on Sundays and Thursdays and I’m excited to see how God writes this next chapter in yours.

Cathe, you have been my friend. That, in itself, is a tremendous thing.

Thank you.

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

-A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Sunset on moving night with friend
Unfiltered view last night