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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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Bad Infection & Good Infection

The infected earth wears a mask.

Something bad happened, Mom. You don’t want to know.

So ended our easy Saturday morning.

do want to know, Gabe, I assured, kneeling before him.

Then my seven year-old showed me two of the most obscene gestures I’d ever seen. The sun went dark.

But ever the prisoner of hope, I thought: Maybe they’re only meaningless motions to him. Innocent-like when he’d use his third digit to point.

Alas: This one means a boy is…And that other one is what a girl does…

Test positive. Gabe was infected.

Exposure

The boy who watches G was exposed to X, or R at least. The son with the sensitive eyes- the son who won’t watch Wallace and Gromit for “weirdness,” and who covers his ears to block the voice of a Talking White Rabbit-this son saw that. He heard that.

My heart crashed into my gut. Then, in the hush I asked,

Gabe, where did you learn that? Who showed you that?

Wide blue eyes to mine. Earnest, sober voice to me:

It was Evan, Mom, on the bus. I shouldn’t be his friend anymore. And a big boy-he showed Evan. He told me what it meant. But I don’t know his name. He doesn’t go to my school. 

That’s how Gabe got infected and his tender mind was tainted. It’s how his innocence was lost.

Bad Infection

Actually, Gabe’s innocence wasn’t lost by the vile words and vulgar gestures of a big boy on the bus. It actually happened way before that.

Because neither Gabe, nor any of us, has ever been truly been innocent. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, Israel’s sweet, sin-stained, Psalmist wrote. Babies aren’t blank slates and children aren’t cherubs.

Apostle Paul knew and in our heart of hearts, we it too: we’re all infected with sin’s dread disease. Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12).

We’re all carriers and one day we’ll all die of it. Sin is a bad infection.

But there is another kind.

Good Infection

In Mere Christianity (Book IV, Chapter 4) C.S. Lewis wrote about infections. Not all infections, he asserts, are bad.

Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them…

Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ…We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has–by what I call ‘good infection’.  Every Christian infected is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else. 

This is the good infection- that we may share the life of Christ. That we may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3:10).

And we ‘little Christs’ can spread this good infection, this loving life of Christ, to those infected with the bad.

Prayers For Carriers

That exposure came 5 years ago. A couple years later there was that online scare with the 12 year-old. And just this morning there were texts too ugly to show my husband. Contamination, exposure, infection. So we pray.

We pray that, though both sons were exposed and, like their parents carry the bad infection, God will keep keep them largely symptom-free. We pray they won’t infect others with this brand of the sin disease, and that they’ll be able to be sensitive to the Spirit and to resolve each day not to set of before their eyes any worthless thing (Psalm 101:3); that they will be wise to what is good and innocent to evil (Romans 16:19-20). We pray that this disease won’t keep spreading, that it’ll stay in remission.

And today when I jogged by Evan’s house I prayed for him too. For Evan and the big boy on the bus who infected him all those years ago. I prayed that they will know Jesus so that they too can be healed.

Lord, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who infect us with theirs. Please use us to spread your “good infection,” too. Help us to live in love like you. Amen.

For in Adam all die, so also in Christ will all be made alive.

1 Corinthians 15:22

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No Evil Shall Befall You: What Real Rescue Means

Woman with COVID-19 Mask

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
    the Most High, who is my refuge-
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
    no plague come near your tent.

Psalm 91:3-6, 9-10

President recommends Americans wear masks in public. That’s the headline of the day.

Fear is at fever pitch. There were more Google searches for prayer in March than in the last 5 years that comparison data has been available. People are afraid.

Then this.

No Evil Shall Befall You

He will deliver you from the deadly pestilence. Those words from Psalm 91 sound like a perfect fit for these COVID-19 days, don’t they?

People recite it when they wash their hands or as they go to the grocery store. Many are clinging to these verses for health- and for life. The words, for some, are like a Christian incantation, a hex on the deadly coronavirus.

And that makes me very uneasy.

But the Psalm does say, No evil shall befall you, no plague will come near your tent.

So what does that mean? Does it mean that if I have faith, or better yet, if I have faith and wear a mask and wash my hands and self-quarantine I- and those in my tent- won’t get COVID-19?

Is that what Psalm 91 really means?

Real Fear

Faith, by cheering the heart, keeps it free from the fear which, in times of pestilence, kills more than the plague itself…

Charles H. Spurgeon, Commentary on Psalm 91:3

Abby, I’m really scared. My caregiver does not wear a mask. That’s how my friend Jean started our call. Jean is physically fragile and homebound. She paused, then added, I feel guilty for being scared because I believe in God.

Jean, about the guilt: You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair. You can’t stop the fear that tenses your gut. But you can keep fear from nesting in your head. She liked that. I went on.

May I share two things I try to do when I’m really scared? She agreed.

Here’s what I told Jean.

Reality Therapy for Real Fear

What is the worst thing that could possibly happen if my worst fear comes true? I try to ask myself that the moment fear springs up. Whether I hear a bump in the night or I feel a lump in my chest- I ask, what it the absolute worst thing that could happen? Then I sit with that answer a while. And usually, Jean, if I’m honest, my worst fear is death.

But the second thing more important. As I sit with the worst case in my mind, I try shine God’s truth on it. It might be lyrics that buck me up, like I fear no foe with you at hand to bless Or, Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed. (I didn’t tell Jean, but I’ll tell you, if you’re so frozen in fear you can’t find this light, please won’t you ask a friend to help you?)

Or it might be a truth like all things work for good and nothing can separate us from his love

Like, no evil shall befall you.

How can you be so sure, Miss Abigail? That’s what you’re thinking, right? Because faithful Christians will die of COVID-19. Pestilence and plague will befall us. Death will come near our tents.

They may have done everything right and may have even prayed Psalm 91 each night.

What Does Psalm 91 Mean?

Not to burst your bubble, but unless Jesus returns first, you and will die. We’re mortal. We must.

So what does, No evil will befall you mean? We’ve got to understand rescue the right way or we’ll be greatly shaken when good folks get sick or when we have to look death in the eye.

Charles Spurgeon ministered through a deadly cholera epidemic in London. He explained “no evil” like this:

It is impossible that any ill should happen to the man who is beloved of the Lord; the most crushing calamities can only shorten his journey and hasten him to his reward…Losses enrich him, sickness is his medicine, reproach is his honour, death is his gain. No evil in the strict sense of the word can happen to him, for everything is overruled for good.

Let that thought nest. Actually, go you rest under his wings.

Because one way or another, God will deliver all his children. He will rescue us from the fangs of COVID-19 and bring us safely into his kingdom.

One way or another, in life or in death, he will.

Real Rescue

God does not say no afflictions shall befall us, but no evil.-Thomas Watson.

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. These are some of the very last words Paul spoke. They’re at the end of the last chapter of the last book he penned in prison shortly before he died, probably by beheading at the hands of evil Nero.

He had just mentioned Alexander the coppersmith who did him much evil and he knew his days were short. What most of us would call evil was “befalling” Paul. Then in 2 Timothy 4:18, he writes,

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.

We must understand this to understand what Psalm 91 really means. Real evil was is that Paul’s faith would wither. Real rescue was being brought safely home to Jesus.

That is it! If we make the Lord our refuge, then fear won’t cripple us- because we know that the worst- even disease and dying- brings the best.

Because real rescue means God bringing us safely into his kingdom.

When Death Sounds the Retreat

Faith is endangered by security, but secure in the midst of danger, someone said. If there’s an upside to COVID-19, this is it.

I know the Puritans paint a rosier picture of death than we’re used to. But tell me this isn’t true:

Friend, if you were prepared, death would be to you a change from a prison to a place, from sorrows to solace, from pain to pleasure, from heaviness to happiness. All your sins and sorrows would be buried in your grave and the ship of your soul…and you would arrive at a blessed and everlasting harbor. Death would sound the retreat, and call you out of the battlefield- where the bullets fly thick in your combat with the flesh, world and wicked one- to receive your crown of life.

George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and Flourishing of Faith, 1662

We are under his wings. Evil cannot touch us there!

And, if it seems to, as John Piper wrote, there must be a glorious deliverance we can’t see. What else can we conclude when we put these two Psalms together:

Psalm 44:22 – “For thy sake we are slain all day long.”
Psalm 34:19 – “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

Remember how Jesus talked to his disciples this way?

Luke 21:16 – “…some of you they will put to death.”
Luke 21:18 – “But not a hair of your head will perish.”

Jesus doesn’t tell lies and he doesn’t speak out of both sides of his mouth. He speaks truth. He is the truth.

So Jean, this all means that you might- I might- get infected with COVID-19 and Psalm 91 is still true.

No evil will befall us.

What is our hope in life and death?
Christ alone, Christ alone
What is our only confidence?
That our souls to him belong
Who holds our days within his hand?
What comes, apart from his command?
And what will keep us to the end?
The love of Christ, in which we stand

Christ Our Hope in Life and Death

Words and Music by Keith Getty, Matt Boswell, Jordan Kauflin, Matt Merker, Matt Papa

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

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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