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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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St. Patrick, Me, and COVID-19

Man dressed for St. Patrick's day with hat over face.

My family celebrated St. Patrick today, but capped at 10 only. Dad read from the Confessions and we sang St. Patrick’s Breastplate. I wore my green Irish sweater and made mashed potatoes. It’s St. Patrick’s day.

But it’s also the day that all the schools in my town locked up and the library shut down- while the librarians wore plastic gloves. Culver’s is takeout only and the Wellness Center is closed.

It’s a new day, this St. Patrick’s Day.

COVID-19 Tests Our Hearts

Pressures squeeze out what’s inside of us. Surprise trials test our hearts. Coronavirus burst on the scene and with its coming, temptations abound.

Some of us are tempted to anxiety, some to pride. Many are tempted to find security in hoarding supplies and as many are tempted to arrogance because we don’t.

Some of us grow harsh trying control to our little kingdomsVirtual school starts at 8:45 sharp. Go wash your hands again- sing Happy Birthday two times. Go outside! You need 30 minutes of exercise.- in a world that feels out of order.

Some of us are so overwhelmed that we’re letting go of any semblance of self-control- Sure, wear your PJ’s all day. I’ve lost two hours scrolling the news feed.- and tempted to dulling sloth.

Coping Skills Or Just Rats?

We might try to excuse it by saying, We didn’t see this coming, and We’ve never lived through anything like this before. But don’t take it. What we might call our coping methods C.S. Lewis just calls rats.

…Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? 

If there are rats in the cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light. 

Coronavirus hit us fast and hard. The rats had no time to take cover.

I’ve had my heart laid bare and humbled. My desire for order turned surfaced and turned into bossing the boys. I didn’t buy extra toilet paper, but I did hit the grocery store three days in a row.

The last few days, I acquired lots of peanut butter. And, I pray, more humility toward those who don’t see things just like me.

Impending Chaos

Which brings me back to St. Patrick.

Last year, I told how St. Patrick and I love the sun. Two years ago, about his gratitude. Before that, I shared my own bittersweet confession about a selfish choice to climb Patrick’s holy mountain alone. There were 5 Reasons Why Saint Patrick Is My Homeboy and one more reason that rustic Patrick is a kindred soul.

But today is a new day, and time for a new confession from one of my favorite saints. (You can read all 62 confessions here.) Confession #34 (C 34) is a confession about acceptance- acceptance of good or bad– and gratitude.

Here’s where I connect Patrick, me and COVID-19. In big ways Patrick’s day wasn’t so different from our COVID-19 day. Patrick lived on the ragged edges of the Roman empire where “there was a sense of impending chaos, if not a very real experience of it.”*

Rather like our day.

The Time of Our Temptation

In the face of that wild world, living at the edge of western civilization, with high anxiety (C. 27), almost perishing (C. 28), very real threats to his life (C. 35, and actually running out of food (C. 22), here’s what Patrick said,

I’ll never stop giving thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the time of my temptation… He is the one who defended me in all my difficulties. I can say: Who am I, Lord, or what is my calling, that you have worked with me with such divine presence? This is how I come to praise and magnify your name among the nations all the time, wherever I am, not only in good times but in the difficult times too. Whatever comes about for me, good or bad, I ought to accept them equally and give thanks to God. He has shown me that I can put my faith in him without wavering and without end...

God is able to keep us faithful in the time of our temptation. For many of us, this is the time. Whether it’s pride or anxiety, control or sloth, the rats that live in our hearts come out.

But If Not, He’s Still Good

We all fear the unknown. Some days, we fret. Honestly, some of our worst fears may come true. I might wish I had bought more toilet paper and peanut butter or not gone out at all. I don’t know. But I do know this: God will provide all that we need for our souls to prosper.

Not a single one of us- the CDC or otherwise- knows what the future holds. But we know who holds the future. And he is good.

St. Patrick trusted that all things come from God’s fatherly hand and gave thanks. Don’t you want to do the same?

For I hear many whispering,
    “Terror on every side!”

But I trust in you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hands…

Psalm 31:13a, 14, 15a

*The Wisdom of St. Patrick, Greg Tobin, p. 164

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Abraham Lincoln, Wrestler

Cover of LINCOLN'S BATTLE WITH GOD

 

Amid the greatest difficulties of my administration, when I could not see any other resort, I would place my whole reliance in God, knowing that all would go well, and that He would decide for the right.

Abraham Lincoln, October 24, 1863

Abraham Lincoln was a wrestler. With his impressive heigh and long arms, perfect for wrapping his opponents, Lincoln was renown in his teens and early 20’s for his unmatched strength and keen mind. Record has it that Abe was defeated only once in nearly 300 matches. He was scrappy.

But did you know that Lincoln also wrestled  with God? 

Lincoln’s Battle With God

Anyone who would put Lincoln’s faith in a neat, Christian box would do well to read Stephen Mansfield’s, Lincoln’s Battle With God.  Lincoln’s faith won’t be contained in box, because it was in constant motion.

Many of us are familiar with Lincoln’s nods to Almighty God and the biblical language in his speeches. But as a young man, Abraham Lincoln distanced himself from organized Christianity,  but not from grappling with God.

Lincoln struggled with a God who let his dear mother die a painful death before his nine-year-old eyes and would take his only sibling Sarah ten years later. As if that weren’t enough, God allowed pretty, vivacious Ann Rutledge-the light of his 20-something eyes- to die.

Trash Talking

Lincoln’s struggle with God was probably rooted in his father’s faith as much as his loss and pain.  “He had only known the religious of the haughty, self-assured hyper-Calvinist or the exuberant camp meeting extremes.” Mansfield  explains, “He had found both wanting.” (p. 40)

So when he moved to New Salem, he soaked up the Christless rationalism of Volney and Paine.  It’s no surprise that it was in 1835, the same year that Ann Rutledge died, that Lincoln wrote a “little book on Infidelity.” In it, he reasoned that the Bible was uninspired, that Jesus Christ was not divine and that the Christian church was a lie. Lincoln had God on the mat.

Mansfield writes, “It may be that he was actually living out the inner duplicity of the atheist’s confession: ‘There is no God-and I hate him.’ (p. 45) Whatever the case, during his early Springfield years, Lincoln continued to call Christ a ‘ba__,” to speak of a churched society as “priest ridden,” and to call Christianity a myth. (p. 61)

That might sound more  like Lincoln pinning God than an ongoing match. But mostly it was trash talk. Kind of like when he told the New Salem stags, “I’m the big buck of this lick. If any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns.” None of the guys tried.

But God didn’t back down so fast.

Always Wrestling 

Mansfield traces the wrestling match from smack talk in New Salem, to the fervent seeking in Springfield to the gritty drawing in his gripping account. He traces a man who “was always wrestling spiritually, always in transition, and was always unwilling to appear otherwise.” (p. 100)

Mansfield’s conclusion, after all that tracing?

If during our Civil War, a White House dressmaker finds Lincoln reading the book of Job and a congressman recalls a discussion of divine destiny with the President, and Lincoln’s own written reflections reveal a man wrestling with God’s purposes, and a clergy man confirms that Lincoln sat in on prayer meetings, and if Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address is more sermon than a political speech — then certainly there is room to consider that Lincoln in the White House was not the Lincoln of New Salem or Springfield. The evidence- not the myth- demands this conclusion. (p. 191)   

Lincoln’s own words lead us to the same conclusion: “Through all, I groped my way until I found a stronger and higher grasp of thought, one that reached beyond this life with a clearness and satisfaction I had never known before. The Scriptures unfolded before me with a deeper and more logical appeal than anything else I could find to turn to, or ever before had found in them.” 

What I love about Lincoln is that he never left the mat. He groped and grappled and struggled and wrestled. Which means, he stayed engaged with God and studied his Word.. 

Looking Up

Some people wear their unchanged position as a badge of honor. As if it’s a virtue to say, “I’ve always believed this. I’ve never changed my mind.” They would say change is a sign of weakness rather than a mark of humble faith. Lincoln’s life stands in stark contrast. Lincoln changed his mind about God. 

My heroes are the ones who keep changing and growing. Lincoln is a real hero for that. Because real heroes are not static. They wrestle and change and grow. Where it mattered most, Lincoln did those. 

Sometime after his son Willie’s death, he told Rev. Miner, an old friend from Springfield, 

If I were not sustained by the prayers of God’s people, I could not endure this constant pressure. … It has pleased Almighty God to place me in my present position and looking up to Him for wisdom and divine guidance I must work my destiny as best I can.

Lincoln stayed on the mat with God. Early in the match he may have thought he had God pinned. But at the end he found himself prevailing on God, looking up for help- right where God wanted him to be.

Which means, I think, that God doesn’t mind a good grapple. 

And a man wrestled with Jacob until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 

Genesis 32:24-28

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Why This 40-Day Sugar Fast?

Plastic bin loaded with chocolate
Au revoir, chocolate!

“Why you putting all that chocolate in there, Mom? That was from Christmas. You like that stuff,” Gabe wondered aloud as he watched me pack it all in the little plastic bin.

“I’m not eating sweets for 40 days, Bud. Because I want to be more hungry for God.”

He shrugged and then begged for the York peppermint patties tucked at the bottom. I surrendered them to the mint loving son. Tomorrow Jim will take the little bin to his office in town, a safe place away, for 40 days.

This Much, O God, I Want You

If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast: “This much, O God, I want you.”

John Piper, A Hunger For God

For the next 40 days, from January 1- February 9, the online Bible study group I facilitate (Wonders of the Word) will focus on key Bible verses about hunger, fasting, and the satisfaction found in God.

Along with this Scripture focus, I will be going on a 40-day “sugar fast” and I invite you to join me. I’m committed to saying no to foods with added sugars. No sugary snacks or desserts, sweet lattes, cocoa or candy. It will mean forgoing some of my go-to, feel-good treats: ice cream and dark chocolate.

A few of you are already gung-ho, but most of you are probably wondering why. So I’ll share 3 NON-REASONS for this 40-Day Sugar fast and then 3 of most compelling REASONS to try.

My NOT 3 Reasons for a 40-Day Sugar Fast

  1. To lose weight. There are plenty of good physical reasons for fasting and I’d be glad to share them some other time. Intermittent fasting is part of my life. But physical health is NOT the reason for this fast.
  2. To impress God (or you) with my discipline or devotion. This is big. Huge. In fact, after reading what Jesus said in Matthew 6 about fasting for show, I almost skipped this altogether. But, the benefits outweighed the risks. We’ll do this 40 days with smiles, by grace.
  3. To escape evil, wicked sugar. It’s not. Everything God created is good and is meant to be received with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4). God made sugar cane.

By definition, Christian fasting is voluntarily and temporarily giving up a good gift to express our need for something greater, namely God and his work in our lives.

Why Fasting Magnifies Christ

Maybe you’re saying to yourself what I said to myself, “Well, I can eat my chocolate and ice cream and give thanks and it’s all good.” You’re right. It is all good. But maybe it- maybe your love and hunger for God- could be better. That’s what I’m banking on.

I love how John Piper explains this, how fasting and feasting can both exalt Christ, the Bread of Life:

Hunger and thirst were created for the glory of Christ. And fasting was created for the glory of Christ. Which means that bread magnifies Christ in two ways: by being eaten with gratitude for his goodness, and by being forfeited out of hunger for God himself. When we eat, we taste the emblem of our heavenly food—the Bread of Life. And when we fast we say, “I love the Reality above the emblem.” In the heart of the saint both eating and fasting are worship. Both magnify Christ.”

John Piper, A Hunger For God

Emblems are tasty. Chocolate covered almonds and Ghirardelli Intense Dark and Almond Joy ice cream are sweet emblems. I love those tastes.

But I want to love the Reality more.

L’appétit ient en mangeant

I don’t speak French, but I know this proverb. Appetite comes with eating. It fits. The more we feast on Christ and his Word, the hungrier we get.

Piper again, from A Hunger for God (free book PDF downloadable here):

One might think that those who feast most often on communion with God are least hungry. They turn often from the innocent pleasures of the world to linger more directly in the presence of God through the revelation of his Word. Paradoxically, it is not so that they are the least hungry saints…The strongest, most mature Christians I have ever met are the hungriest for God. It might seem that those who eat most would be least hungry. But that’s not the way it works with an inexhaustible fountain, and an infinite feast, and a glorious Lord. 

So, that’s why. That’s why this 40-Day sugar fast. Because appetite comes with eating. Eat more Word of God, crave more Word of God.

My TOP 3 Reasons for a 40-Day Sugar Fast

  1. Because I want to taste more of God’s goodness. I don’t taste it as much when the sweetness of sugar is on my tongue. I want Christ to fill my craving soul, even as my body craves the sugar. He satisfies the hungry with good things. Psalm 107:9
  2. Because I want to use my yearning for sugar as a cue to consume more of God’s Word. I want to crave pure spiritual milk, so to grow up in my salvation. Because I don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 1 Peter 2:3, Deuteronomy 8:3
  3. Because I want to master the appetites that would master me. Sugar, for the record, is far from the only one. Fasting can reveal what’s in us and how much a thing dominates us. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12

So I ask: Will you commit to 40 days of fasting from a good thing in order to increase your taste for God and his nourishing Word? Will you put your stomach where your heart is and say, “Lord, you’re more important to me than sugar?” Can you give up a good thing for a better thing?

Whether or not you decide to fast-from sugar or another food or an activity that lessens your hunger for God- I invite you to join the WOW crew as we seek more fullness in Christ, the Living Word and the Bread of Life.

Help Needed

One last thing: this resolution, like every resolution I’ve ever made, will only be kept with the help of Almighty God. So I close with Jonathan Edward’s prayerful preface to his 70 Resolutions:

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

Amen?

But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and they will fast.

Matthew 9:15

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Psalm 34:8