Exodus map

Do you leak? What grumbling reveals about us.

An unthankful person is like a container with a hole in it and all the blessings that are in it just leak out. The grateful person has unlimited capacity to truly enjoy God’s blessings, while the ungrateful person can’t enjoy the blessings he does have. 

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, The Attitude to Gratitude

Do you leak?

Not- Does your thanks spill out and overflow? I mean leak– as in accidentally lose the contents. As in, God’s gifts are lost on you. 

A little grumbling here and there might not seem so bad, but it says a lot- about us and about what we believe about God.

Grumbling is that bad.

God hates grumbling. We’re called to do all things without grumbling.

Pastor Ritch Boerckel offers three reasons why the  grumbling of God’s people is that bad.

Reason #1: Our grumbling proclaims that our God is not good.

We might call it venting, or keeping it real, but take a minute and ask yourself: About what or whom do I grumble?

I’ll start with me. Sadly, the question is easy: I grumble when my time feels “wasted” and,  if others poor choices caused the “waste,” I might complain about them.

There- I said it.

But how, you wonder, can I draw such a straight line from my grumbling against the people and circumstances down here straight up  to God?

Well, when the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the desert, God heard it. Then he told Moses to tell themYour grumbling is not against us but against the LORD (Exodus 16:8, Numbers 14:26-27). Our Father in heaven heard their grumbling, and hears ours.

When we whine like deprived children, we don’t adorn. We don’t make our loving Lord look good. We slander his loving care to watching eyes and listening ears.

Grumbling, John Piper explains, only adds to the darkness because it obscures the light of God’s gracious, all-controlling providence. 

But there’s more.

Reason #2:  Our grumbling demands that God submit to our wishes.

We don’t put it like that, but at the end of the day, isn’t that what our complaints say? That we wish God would do it our way, would submit to our wishes. When we grumble, we’re rebel children, pots second-guessing the potter.

For has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? (Romans 11:34-35). A complaining spirit, therefore, reveals a problem in our relationship with God.

But there is a difference between grumbling and groaning. Groaning, for the record, can actually be a sign of our faith and hope in God’s promises (see Romans 8:22-24).

Groaning and disappointment, criticism and disagreement need not be the same as grumbling and complaining.

Kevin DeYoung explains,

[T]he Bible is full of examples of godly people who say, “I’m upset. I wish this were different. Lord, would you do something? I don’t like this.” …Grumbling, however, is not a humble cry for help, but saying to God, “I know how to run the universe a bit better than you do.” Instead of saying, “This really hurts, but I’m ready to receive whatever I must receive from God’s hand,” grumbling says, “This stinks, and I’m ready to rebel against God’s heart.” That’s the difference…

We’re talking about rebellion against God. Not that the situation is hard, but that God is hard.

Our situation may be hard. But our God is not hard.

He has promised his children good. 

Reason #3: Our grumbling disbelieves God’s precious promises.

God has promised to provide all our needs according to his riches in glory (Philippians 4:19) and that he will withhold no good thing from him whose walk is upright (Psalm 84:11) and that all things work for good to those who love him and called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). Not to mention that his mercies are there for the picking, new every morning.

But grumbling says we don’t believe those. Or, at least, for the moment, we’re choosing to ignore them. Grumbling says we don’t trust God.

More from DeYoung,

Though you might direct it toward your spouse, your kids, your parents, or someone in authority, you’re saying to God, “You’re not taking care of me…” Grumbling dishonors God.

The problem with complainers is that they don’t really trust that God is big enough to help and good enough to care. That’s what you think when you complain. “This God?! I may say that I believe him, sing songs about him, and read a Bible about him, but I don’t really believe that he’s big enough to do anything about it or good enough to care about me.

Who knew a little complaining about the rain and work and delays and aches and pains could betray so much?

That grumbling could be such a hard habit to break?

Fill the house with gratitude.

Habit is overcome by habit. It’s called replacement. Breaking bad habits means we fill the void with something good.

Just stopping up the leak isn’t enough. In other words, Quit yer grumbling, is not the goal. That’s just the empty house. And Jesus warned that if the house stays empty, the final plight might be worse than the first (Matthew 12:43-45). We need to fill the house.

We need to do something hard: replace grumbling with thanks and turn that frown upside-down and, by God’s grace, choose gratitude.

Thankfully, giving thanks breaks the grumbling habit. In fact, it’s what we were created to do (1 Peter 2:9). Declaring God’s praise is why we were made.

So stop up the leaks. Don’t let the blessings drip through. Fill your house with gratitude.

Come, you thankful people, come.

Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall dwell in your presence.

Psalm 140:13

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Disappointment —> His Appointment

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What’s the biggest disappointment of your life?

Maybe it’s a high hope that came smashing down with an injury, a breakup, a loss. Or maybe it was a noble dream- for healing, for children, for peace- that has slowly fizzled out.

I had some disappointment last week when some grand plans I had for myself and my family didn’t pan out. The details don’t matter. What matters infinitely more is that I learn to do disappointment well.

Because how I cope with my disappointment reflects a lot on my God.

For God’s Sake, Do Disappointment Well

My learning to cope has been slow. The devils of Self-pity and I-deserve are right there, crouching at my door, desiring to have me the second my plans fall through.

But I am learning.  Here are two things I know about coping with disappointment.

  1. Joy comes when we choose what we did not choose.
  2. Grumbling won’t make the bitter taste go away, but gratitude will.

But the third is new- or maybe it’s just a new spin on the first two.

See God’s Hand in the Crooked Path

In my disappointment, Ecclesiastes 7:14 gives me pause: Consider the work of God, for who can make straight what God has made crooked? 

Thomas Boston wrote a book on that one verse. It’s called The Crook in the Lot. Crook is short for crooked and lot is as in one’s “lot in life.”

Boston writes,

I am now meeting only what has been determined by his eternal plan. I know not what is the “reason” why it was appointed; but I see that God had resolved to do it, and that it is vain to resist him.”

When we are disappointed, can we say the same thing? That it’s not by chance or accident, but by His appointment?

Boston adds,

It is much, when we are afflicted, to be able to make this reflection. I had rather be afflicted, feeling that it is “the appointment of God,” than feeling that it is “by chance” or “hap-hazard.”

It speaks comfort to the afflicted children of God to consider that whatever the crook in your lot is, it is of God’s making and therefore you may look upon it kindly since it is your Father who made it for you. Question not but that there is a favorable design in it toward you.

And by some miracle of grace, that’s what saints do with their disappointment. They trust that there is a favorable design in their disappointment.

Because God makes no mistakes.

Too Wise and Too Loving to Err

John Paton and his pregnant wife Mary left Scotland to be missionaries to the New Hebrides islands in the South Pacific on April 16, 1858. They arrived on November 5th.  In March 1859, his wife and newborn son died.

Talk about a bitter taste and a crook in the lot.

After Paton buried his beloved wife and infant son, he said,

I felt her loss beyond all conception or description, in that dark land. It was very difficult to be resigned, left alone, and in sorrowful circumstances; but feeling immovably assured that my God and father was too wise and loving to err in anything that he does or permits, I looked up to the Lord for help, and struggled on in His work…

I do not pretend to see through the mystery of such visitations – wherein God calls away the young, the promising, and those sorely needed for his service here; but this I do know and feel, that, in the light of such dispensations, it becomes us all to love and serve our blessed Lord Jesus so that we may be ready at his call for death and eternity.

It does. In our disappointment, it becomes us all to rest assured of our God’s wisdom and love.

Love Leads in the Opposite Direction

I’ve been camping in the land Exodus lately and was greatly impacted by Tim Keller’s sermon on chapter 19.

The Israelites are three months out of Egypt but further from the Promised Land than they were before they left.

Exodus from Egypt map, ESV Study bible

God, for kind reasons of his own (Ex. 13:17), led the people in nearly the opposite direction of their destination and he took them into a desert. A mountainous, barren desert. A land far worse than Egypt.

I love how Keller explains this “history of grace,”

God says I’m going to take you over here, but I’m going to take you by way of a place that is farther from Egypt and a land that is worse than Egypt. And that’s where he meets them. And it is often so…

If you admit it, you’re further away from the the things you thought God would be giving you than you were when you trusted him and it seems like God is taking you in the opposite direction.

So often the history of grace in our lives follows this same path. God seems to be taking us away from where we thought we were going, but he’s still leading us to the Promised Land.

In other words, our disappointment is God’s appointment. That’s how God’s grace often comes.

Disappointment, His Appointment

It just so happens that the very same day I wept myself dry, I ran across this poem.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
Change one letter, then I see
That the thwarting of my purpose
Is God’s better choice for me.
His appointment must be blessing,
Tho’ it may come in disguise,
For the end from the beginning
Open to His wisdom lies.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
Whose?  The Lord, who loves me best,
Understands and knows me fully,
Who my faith and love would test;
For, like loving earthly parent,
He rejoices when He knows
That His child accepts, UNQUESTIONED,
All that from His wisdom flows.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
“No good thing will He withhold,”
From denials oft we gather
Treasures of His love untold,
Well He knows each broken purpose
Leads to fuller, deeper trust,
And the end of all His dealings
Proves our God is wise and just.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
Lord, I take it, then, as such.
Like the clay in hands of potter,
Yielding wholly to Thy touch.
All my life’s plan in Thy moulding,
Not one single choice be mine;
Let me answer, unrepining —
“Father, not my will, but Thine.”

-Edith Lillian Young

No sugarcoating: “doing” disappointment this way is both a bitter pill and a sweet remedy. I cried hard last week. Coping with disappointment this way hurts my flesh. But as it does, it heals my soul.

Even when I don’t know why, I’m learning to change that one letter and see that His appointment is a better choice for me.

“For He performs that which is appointed for me…”

Job 23:14a

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Not Exceptional Things, Exceptional In Ordinary Things.

Cold Shower

Sometimes I just shake my head and laugh. At myself. I think yesterday the good Lord may have had a little chuckle at me too.

Because I have this uncanny knack for acting as if doing big, grand things are no big deal. As if– my latest grandiose conception- adopting siblings is no big deal. As if we could pull off a 50% increase in our family size like we pull off hosting a birthday party.

As if.

(For the record, that’s what this is for now- just a conception. No paperwork has been filed. But your prayer for he siblings to find a loving home, and for us, is welcome.)

Big And Small Things, Upside-Down

That I could embrace something as life-changing as the thought of taking two children into our family for life and in the same 24 hours balk at taking one needy young man into our van for two hours may be comical. It is, for sure, inconsistent and upside-down.

And balk I did Saturday morning when the doorbell ring at 8:15. I was looking forward to a mother-son date with Gabe after his game. I resented this surprise arrival.

That’s upside-down: embracing the big and grand and tripping over the little and mundane.

But we know it’s the small things- thoughts and acts- that form habits and character. And if you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength. But we are those who rejoice in the day of small things.

Still, some of us would polar plunge into Lake Michigan for any number of reasons, but can keep we our tongues from grumbling when the shower suddenly goes cold?

Now that’s hard.

Choosing What We Did Not Choose

It might have something to do with choice. Chafing at the little stuff while embracing the big things might have something to do with our struggle to choose what we did not choose.

When we decide on a life-changing course of action and we decide to take the plunge, well- that’s different from when God decides a thing for us. Like, say, when he says be kind and take the kid who needs a ride and do all things– including taking a cold shower- without grumbling or complaining

Maybe little things are so hard because they weren’t in our master plan. Because who chooses a cold shower in February in Wisconsin?

Or maybe we just prefer the drama.

He Would Have Done Any Great Thing

While I was laughing at my own inconsistency, Naaman popped to mind. His story is recorded in 2 Kings 5. Naaman was commander of the Syrian army. When he contracted leprosy, he sought help from Elisha, the famed healer and prophet of God.

Elisha’s prescription was not grand. So it’s no wonder proud Naaman didn’t like it: Go wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored, Elisha’s messenger said.

The muddy, little Jordan River, Naaman thought then ran off in a rage.

Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not the Abana and Pharpar the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?

Naaman expected the exceptional and desired a grand cure– like the mighty prophet working his wonders and waving his hands. Washing in the dinky, little muddy river was demeaning. So Naaman wanted nothing to do with Elisha.

He would have done any great thing to be cured. Naaman had already traveled miles and miles and offered a vast treasure.

But a commonplace, mundane cure? Never. 

Supernatural Grace (for the Mundane)

Maybe Oswald Chambers felt this strange inversion in himself, too. Maybe he know what it was to embrace a great cause and balk at the everyday.

Maybe he shared the impulsive boldness that I share with Naaman and with Peter, I’ll-die-with-you-after-I-deny-you Peter, too. Big-talking, water-walking Peter, who had grand ideas but stumbled on the mundane.

In “Impulsiveness Or Discipleship?” Chambers explains,

Discipleship is built entirely on the supernatural grace of God. Walking on water is easy to someone with impulsive boldness, but walking on dry land as a disciple of Jesus Christ is something altogether different. Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus, but he “followed Him at a distance” on dry land (Mark 14:54). We do not need the grace of God to withstand crises- human nature and pride are sufficient for us to face the stress and strain magnificently. But it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours of every day as a saint, going through drudgery, and living an ordinary, unnoticed, and ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God- but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people- and this is not learned in five minutes.

Disciples of Christ aim to be exceptional in the ordinary and love the ones they’re with.

Loving Our Neighbor Is Harder

Our duty is to love our neighbor not the mass of nameless humanity. GK Chesterton nails that: We have to love our neighbour because he is here… He is the sample of humanity which is actually given to us. 

My heart has grand adoption plans. I’d love to expand our family. If God makes it clear us that we’re to adopt the siblings, I’d do that big thing in a heartbeat. If they come here.

But when the doorbell rang at 8 AM it wasn’t an “if”. It was God’s clear call for me to forgo my plan and love this little 5th-grade “neighbor.” He was here. 

We don’t have to do exceptional things for God, we have to be exceptional- and I take that for faithful and obedient- in life’s cold showers and among ordinary 10-year-old boys.

That’s hard. Learning to live in that supernatural grace is not learned in five minutes.

“If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

1 John 4:20

Do ordinary things with extraordinary love.

Mother Teresa

Exodus map

Remember: What Dave Taught Me About Memory

This is Dave. He’s a friend, even though Dave can’t remember my name.

But Dave doesn’t take his memory problems lying down. Which is why we might all take a few memory tips from Dave.

Because I, for one, know that I have memory problems too. Spiritual amnesia, mine’s called. You know, when you forget what you should remember and remember what you’d best forget

Take Care Lest You Forget

Dave was in a motorcycle accident 20 years ago, give or take. He can’t remember the date. But he knows his memory hasn’t been the same.

So Dave always carries a notepad. Always. He’ll pull it out, scratch out a line or two, then tuck it back in his pocket.

Because Dave knows he needs reminding.

1. Remember Your Commitments

Why do you keep you so many notes, Dave? I asked between services.

I can recall this, he said, holding up his little green 3×5 spiral. At the end of the day I look back to see if I have to follow through on any commitments.

Dave is vigilant to remember. He explained how he transfers his notes from his little green spiral to a larger book at home, I don’t want to disappoint them and let them down. I don’t want to commit something to the Lord and forget about it.

But the problem, Dave said with a grin, is remembering to look back at the dumb notes.

We too should keep our commitments to others, and our word should be gold. For Christians, this includes the commitment to love God and keep his commandments (2 John 1:6, John 15:10).

In the Old Testament book of Numbers (15:38-40), the Lord told Moses to have the Israelites make tassels for the corners of their garments, “and a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them.”

Little green notepad or corner blue tassel or iPhone reminder, no matter- just so we don’t forget our commitments. We just have to remember to look.

2. Remember Who You Were

Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. This command to remember who they were- slaves, namely- is repeated over and over after the exodus (Deuteronomy 15:15, 16:12, 24:18, 24:22). In these texts, the reason for bringing up former slave status seems to be either to urge generosity and compassion toward those who are impoverished like they were, or to encourage thankful celebration under God for who they are.

Because we can take that for granted. And when we fail to remember that we were once slaves to sin (Romans 6:16), we can more easily fall back to slavery. Would-be-slaves, I called this once.

This idea is in the New Testament, too: Remember that at one time you Gentiles . . . were without Christ…having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:1112).

Remembering who we were without Christ is so important because it can intensify our love and deepen our devotion to the God who saved us. When we remember our life would be without him, we can cherish his forgiveness.

Dave had to relearn even his own name after the accident. He thinks it took months. But he’s got it down now. And another thing he’s got down- without consulting his notepad- is his testimony.

He remembers who he was. He remembers his testimony. In fact, he says rehearses his testimony while he’s at his “1200 pieces a day, assembly job.” And he told me how before that day in 1970 he wasn’t born-again, and then after it he was.

In other words, Dave remembers being a slave in Egypt and hopeless.

3. Remember The Lord

God’s people have historically had a bad memory. They had selective memory right out of Egypt, remembering-and grumbling about- the “free food,” but forgetting who they were- the slave status bit. The food may have been free, but they were not. That’s in Numbers 11.

Then, at the end of Judges 8, after strong judge Gideon had died, spiritual amnesia set in again. The people did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side

But apart from selective memory, and probably worse, is this third memory problem: not remembering their God. In Deuteronomy 6:12 the God’s people are told, take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

They should have been taking notes. Papyrus pads anyone?

Dave told me that one of things he tries to remember while at his work center is- I quote- “the work of God. I consult my notebook to remember things of this sort.”

There are practical steps we can all take to overcome our spiritual amnesia- our forgetfulness of how God has been at work. Ben Reoach describes seven here. And guess what? One of his suggestions is keeping a journal.

Like I said, Dave definitely knows what he’s doing.

I Shall Remember

I don’t know all of Dave’s story but I that it’s not all rosy. Apart from the physical and mental impact of the accident, I gather that close relationships have been strained. I’ve had some nasty times, he sighed. But even there Dave sees the silver lining, “A blessing of having a bad memory is that when someone treats me like poop, I forget and when I see them again I treat them real nice.”

Which brings us to Psalm 77:7-9, where the Psalmist ponders: Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again-Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever? Has God forgotten to be gracious, Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion?

Dave could ask those same questions. Maybe you could too. Living in the group home around the corner from the church wasn’t Dave’s dream. And despite years of prayers for his memory to be restored, he still can’t remember names without his notepad.

But Dave does what the Psalmist did, right after he wondered if His lovingkindness had ceased forever.

Remembering Is Effortful

I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. Your way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God? 

John Piper says that this remembering is intentional and effortful.

The central Biblical strategy for coming out of darkness and discouragement and doubt is a conscious effort of the mind. Notice these strong words of intentionality: “I shall remember . . . Surely I will remember” (verse 11); “I will meditate . . . and [I will] muse” (verse 12). These are conscious acts that he chooses to do. This is the fight of faith. This is the fight for delight. It is the opposite of passivity and resignation. This is a strategy of life.

Sermon, “I Will Meditate On Your Works And Muse On Your Deeds

This is what Dave does, what he consciously chooses to do. He carries that notepad and jots it down and gets it out. He makes sure to keep his commitments. And he rehearses over and over his testimony and who he was- not before the accident- but before he came to faith. And Dave remembers the Lord. He ponders the ways of his God.

Who Remember You In Your Ways

This morning and last Sunday, I asked Dave if I could take his picture and tell about him and his memory trouble and how he still remembers. Of course, he said. God gave this to me. That’s what it means to be a Christian.

And then, at the end of both little interviews, he chimed in, because he’s put it to memory, probably by writing it over and over and over in his little notepads, then transcribing it at home into his bigger book, Romans 8:28.

All things work together for good, he quoted. No matter how nasty it gets- it all works together for good if you love God.

So as Dave waits for the Day when he’ll again remember his friends’ names, he clearly remembers God’s ways.

And there’s a promise or two in Isaiah 64 for my friend Dave.

From of old no one has heard
    or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
    who acts for those who wait for him.
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
    those who remember you in your ways.

Isaiah 64:4-5a