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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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Redeemed: How Milky the Cat came Back

The day the cat came back.

It’s a strange feeling that comes when you must pay for what is already yours; when you must buy back to keep what you own.

There’s a story about that with a boy and boat. But I’m going to tell a different one, about how Milky the cat came back.

Losing Milky

I admit: it was my brainiac idea to take Milky and Oreo back to their barn of origin while our family vacationed in Florida. So a month ago, we carted the cats back to the farm, to Mom and Dad’s.

Mom thought crating them a day or two in the barn would be good. They could re-acclimate to their former home that way.

I didn’t think that’d be necessary. Milky and Oreo wouldn’t need that. They’d remember their old kitten haunts and the smell of the sheep and the hay and their cousins.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Stray Cat Dirge

The second the boys left the van, was the second the cats exploded in a mad dash from their hands. Milky south through the corn field, Oreo north through the garden. Like spooked cheetah cubs escaping a lion, they ran.

Gabe raced after Milky a few steps, but in the dusky light they were instantly out of sight. And as he burst into tears, Sam shook his head.

It’s all your fault Mom. You ruined vacation.

I miss my cats. They’ll never come back.

Those were the words to the song. The dirge that Sam and Gabe sang as I packed the van for a sunny spring break away.

They sang them again ten nights later, upon our catless return.

Fast forward 20 days from the day the cats escaped.

Redeeming Milky

Your cat has been found. Please contact Lakeland Animal Shelter at 262-741-1000.

I did.

That was on the answering machine after work. So I called.

A trucker found the cat at a rest stop [10 miles from Mom and Dad’s] and picked him up. He felt convicted that it might be someone’s pet so he took him to a shelter in Milwaukee. They read his chip and called us and the trucker brought him back down. So your cat is here.

And just so you know, it’ll be a $20 handling fee and a $25 repeat occurrence fee when you pick him up. (Yes, repeat. But I’ll save that story for another time.)

Worth The Fee

Jim redeemed Milky from the shelter an hour later at a cost of $45. Our “free barn cat” was worth much more now than he was when the boys found him behind between bales in the haymow last fall.

Milky was our cat. But he had strayed. Milky needed to be redeemed. And the cost to buy him back was infinitely- any amount is infinite from zero- more than the cost to own.

But now he was ours. Because we loved him. Milky was worth it.

And you, Christian, you are worth it too. The way you’ve been redeemed is proof.

Redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb

The Greek word for redeemed in Titus 2:14 and 1 Peter 1:18 is “lutroo.” It means “free by paying a ransom, redeem…set free…rescue.”

Titus 2:14 shows Jesus’ death has rescued us from a life of slavery to sin: “Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from lawlessness and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good work.”

The same word is used in 1 Peter 1, “knowing that you were redeemed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things such as silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without spot or blemish” (1:18-19).

We redeemed Milky with an infinitetesimally smaller price. Jesus gave himself for us. Himself. As a lamb without spot or blemish. He gave himself.

We only gave 45 perishable, measly little dollars for Milky the cat.

We’ve been redeemed by the blood of the lamb.

More Sinful Than You Know, More Loved Than You Imagine

Do you now this: that the only thing you contributed to your salvation was the sin from which you had to be saved? God redeemed you from that.

Which means that you are at once,

more sinful than you know and more loved than than you imagine.

Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

That is the Gospel.

It’s the priceless key to both true humility and truly feeling valued. You- we are more sinful than we know and more loved than we imagine.

After all, it took the precious blood of Christ to redeem us.

And our Lord Jesus Christ did do that.

He Who Knew No Sin Become Sin

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). The perfect lamb, who is also the Good Shepherd, laid down his life for you. Who redeemed us by his blood.

Which also means nothing in the life of the redeemed soul is wasted: no trial (they make us mature), no wait (God works for those who wait for him), not even sin (who is forgiven much loves much). God can even redeem the years the locust have eaten, the lost years, someone said.

And when he does that, just what are the redeemed to do?

What The Redeemed Do

Well, Milky lapped up two bowls of milk then purred loud and long in Gabe’s arms. But Milky’s only a cat.

Just what is the redeemed soul to do? The Psalmist wrote, Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.

Or sing so:Let the redeemed washed by his blood come and rejoice in his great love.

O praise Him!

Alleluia!

Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.

Isaiah 43:4

P.S. -As of 4/20/19, Oreo the cat is still on the lam.
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Known: Why This Knowledge Matters Most

Known gifts

What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it- the fact that he knows me.

J.I. Packer, Knowing God

Gevalia Gold Coast coffee, dark-chocolate covered almonds, and Downton Abbey CDs.

Two friends recently gifted me with these. Then came the rush.

Do you know this rush?

The Joy of being Known

It’s the same rush I felt when my friend Jen nailed my game clue. “Fleeting” wasn’t too veiled for Jen, because she knows how much I love sunsets.

It doesn’t matter if you know the game. What matters is someone else playing the game knows you. When that happens, there’s that rush.

It’s the surge of joy, of feeling loved, that comes from being known. I felt it last night, too when my friend Jen guessed my card right, in a Dixit game where it pays to be known.

But there’s a flip side.

The Pain of being Unknown

Back to gifts for a minute. My favorite gifts are not the ones that cost most. They’re the ones that show that the giver of the gift knows me. I mean knows me.

Which probably has something to do with the fact that most of the gifts I give are far from a perfect fit. I’ve given plenty of duds: whole-bean coffee to friends with no grinder or who don’t even drink coffee and milk chocolate to those who much prefer dark. Then there are the musical mismatches I’ve made. Just because I like I folksy, hymnsy doesn’t mean my friends do.

Recalling those poorly chosen gifts makes me cringe because I know how some gifts I’ve received have hurt my own fragile little feelings. I won’t tell you which ones. Let’s just say how I felt opening them was probably how someone with a deadly nut allergy would feel if a good friend made him a very special peanut-butter cup birthday cake.

Painful.

But it’s not only gifts. Questions sometimes do this too.

When Questions Miss the Mark, or the Heart

We all long to be really known and truly loved.

I think the reason misfit gifts hurt us is that they reveal that we are not really known, at least not as much as we thought, or wish, we were.

But sometimes gifts show us that we’re not and sometimes well-intentioned questions miss the mark. They miss our hearts.

Like when a friend asks about your work but it’s your kids that are heavy on your heart. Or when she inquires about your sore knee, but really it’s a trouble at work that that’s got you losing sleep.

Failure to read minds is no fault. Credit goes to any friend who gives a gift or cares enough to ask.

Still, when gifts and questions miss, we’re disappointed. Because deep down we want to be known and the misses show we’re not. And since we can’t love something we don’t know, feeling unknown often leaves us feeling unloved.

But maybe you’ve got secrets that you don’t want known, because if they really knew you, they wouldn’t love you.

The One Who Matters Most Knows Most

Maybe it’s not so much that you want to be known as that you’re afraid that if you really are- if you stop hiding- you won’t know love. And you’ve been hiding your “stuff” from everyone.

But Jesus sees it. Which is actually a good thing.

The person who matters most knows most. The person whose judgment about you is all important knows all. Let that sink in. You are totally known. Totally. There is not the slightest part of your heart unknown to Jesus, at this hour, and every hour.

Therefore, there is always at least one person you must relate to who knows everything about you. You may be able to look at others in the face and know that they do not know certain things about you. This shapes your relationship. But there is one who when you look him in the face sees totally through you. If you relate to him at all, you relate as one utterly laid bare. Utterly known. What an amazing relationship!

There is one, and only one, who actually and totally knows you. Nobody else even comes close. Your spouse’s knowledge of you, or your best friend’s knowledge of you, compares to Jesus’s knowledge of you is like first-grade math to quantum mechanics. You are fully known by one person — Jesus Christ.

John Piper sermon, “He Knew What was in a Man,” bolding added.

Yes, do. Let that truth sink in.

Known By God

This truth grips me: that my God knows me. I am known infinitely better than even my husband and best friends know me.

Here’s some proof:

  • “But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” (1 Cor. 8:3)
  • “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:22–23)
  • “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Gal. 4:9)
  • “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)

It blows my mind to think we can know the Holy, Almighty God. It blows my mind more to think that He wants to know me.

Which might suggest that He loves me.

What Matters Supremely

J.I. Packer wrote Knowing God two years before I was born, but I missed it till now. I’ll close with this wise man’s wise words.

What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that he knows me.

I am graven on the palms of his hands [Isa. 49:16].

I am never out of his mind.

All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me.

I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me.

He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.

This is momentous knowledge.

There is unspeakable comfort—the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates—in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good.

There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.

Certainly, there is great cause for humility in the thought that He sees all the twisted things about me that my fellow-men do not see (and I am glad!), and that He sees more corruption in me than that which I see in myself (which, in all conscience, is enough).

There is, however, equally great incentive to worship and love God in the thought that, for some unfathomable reason, He wants me as His friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given His Son to die for me in order to realise this purpose.

Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 36-37, emphasis added.

Do you feel the rush now? I hope you do. Because you are fully known and deeply loved by the One who matters most. You are never out of his mind.

In fact, He even wants you as His friend.

The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.

Psalm 25:14

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The Infamous Stanley Park Incident

Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC- 6/19/04
 

Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can; all of them make me laugh.

W. H. Auden

Hurry Hon! I think we can catch it if we run.

So we cinched up our backpacks and off we ran to the free summer Stanley Park shuttle bus that offered “free shuttle service around the park stopping at 14 popular locations.” Oh, and “The shuttle stops are easily identified.” And sure enough, right on cue, as we raced into the Rose Garden, the bus squealed to a stop. We looked , smiled at the driver and climbed on. And took off our packs and sat down. Because after a few hours hiking the Park’s walkway and seawall and North Creek and Beaver Lake and South Creek Path, our feet were sore. So we caught our breath and enjoyed the view. First, Rhodendron Garden, and the Rowing Club. Then the Salmon Stream and Lost Lagoon. Isn’t this great? Jim asked.

And it’s free, I sighed, sinking into my window seat, about halfway back, driver’s side, admiring the totem poles.

Hey- there’s our car! Jim said. And sure enough, it was. And seconds later this sign, “Leaving Stanley Park.” Little did we know.  

 

Leaving Stanley Park

Next stop, the driver piped, Vanier Park. Then Granville Island. Enjoy three of the city’s best attractions all in scenic Vanier Park. What? Vanier Park? What happened to Stanley Park? I whispered to Jim. Maybe he’s giving us a little bonus ride, he said with that grin. I was none too sure. And as riders got on at the Vanier stop, the driver started asking for tickets. That’s funny, I whispered again. We didn’t show any ticket when we got on. Maybe that’s because we raced right on, Jim said, his eyes growing wide. Riders piled in at Granville Island and my anxiety was rising mile high.  No, you’re not in Kansas anymore. Or Stanley Park. We were probably only 5 miles away, but it felt 500 miles away. I slumped deeper into my seat and resisted looking up for fear of meeting the driver’s eyes. Sure enough, at each stop the driver- or his assistant- punched tickets. But he hadn’t punched ours. Or, by the matchless grace of God, even asked to see them.  

 

The Radio

We didn’t have tickets. We were free riders. And with each stop, my misery grew. Then the bus driver looked back, ominously, I thought. I avoided his gaze and trembled slightly as he grabbed his radio. By now the din of the riders drowned out the driver’s voice.  But I thought I knew why he made that call. Jim, do you think he knows? I felt like a mouse hiding on top of a carpet cat tower. He might. Maybe he was calling the authorities. Then, Be prepared to show your tickets at the next stop in Gastown. A new driver will be stepping on board. I squirmed. And tried to look invisible. What are we going to do, Hon? I almost cried. We have no money. Should we just go up and confess? Nah. Just pray it goes back to Stanley Park, Jim assured.   I did. And the bus filled and a new very crisp, capable looking driver stepped in at the Starbucks in Gastown. I curled into a ball and heard nothing whatsoever about the sights in Gastown. The driver took his place and the old driver got off. I exhaled, Now our secret was safe.  

 

Don’t Look Now

Abigail, whatever you do, don’t look up, Jim said staring down into his book. The new driver’s looking our way. I grimaced, and slunk a little lower. I could barely see out the window.  Oh no! He just picked up his radio. He’s talking and he just looked at us again. This was unbearable. I think I’d have preferred a night in the Vancouver clink to this. I heard something about Grouse Mountain off to the right but I dared not lift my head to peek. Abigail, I think they might get us at the next stop. Get ready to run. I turned my head the slightest inch to see another grin. But despite myself, his grin made me grin. Then, the driver’s voice broke in.  

 

Next Stop, Stanley Park

And after our nearly 90 minute (free) tour of Vancouver proper, the loop had closed. We spotted our car again. Then the Rose Garden. Now the bus slowed.  As soon as it stops, just run as fast as you can, Jim whispered. I almost laughed as we grabbed our packs and rose. And with the most grateful and innocent smile I could muster, but without eye contact,  I said, Thanks for the tour. I couldn’t, and didn’t, say then that I enjoyed the tour.  But 15 years and plenty of retellings of the Infamous Stanley Park Incident hence, I realize that I did. I did enjoy that undercover, high-stress Vancouver loop. I enjoyed it because of Jim. 

 

Joy, Because Of Jim

He makes me sweat and makes me laugh. He knows me pretty well and still loves me. Jim  knows I don’t laugh enough and I’m prone to introspection.  So Jim makes me laugh. Moral of the story: Marry someone who makes you laugh. And if you can’t do that, find a friend who makes you smile. Because life is full of inconvenience. And, after all, adventures are only inconveniences rightly considered. And rightly considered the Vancouver loop was edge-of-my-seat, or slink-deep-in-my seat adventure. Because I was with my husband, my friend Jim.  

 

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.” 
William Shakespeare