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Saints in the Land?

As for the saints who are in the land, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.
Psalm 16:3

What delights your soul? Is it the saints you know? Do you even know any saints? And, if you do, do they make you glad?

Or does this sound like silly talk? Like such words about saints could only come from a  super-spiritual poet living long ago in a faraway land?

(Saint) Friends Who Stick Closer Than Brothers

It’s not silly talk. It’s real and daily- this saints-are-so-lovely talk. I know this because in the last week I’ve had- not one, not two, not three- but four different friends tell me, as it were, that sometimes blood isn’t thicker.  That it depends on whose blood; specifically, if it’s saints’ blood.

All four confided to me big hurts inflicted by blood. A sister whose words are sword thrusts, a brother whose whose aloofness wounds, another brother whose lifestyle choices take him to a distant land (my friend misses him), and a father who waited until my friend was 42  to tell her, “I love you.” 

All four also shared how a Christian friend- a saint- had helped them through. How, for example, when a blood-brother wound was raw, my friend texted a saint-friend to pray and then her friend not only prayed but showed up 30 minutes later to whisk my friend away to a happier place. 

Christian friends may be more loyal than an  unbelieving brother. Since brotherhood is one of the tightest relationships we know, a  friend who sticks closer than a brother is a life-giving gift, indeed. (David and Jonathan’s friendship is a great biblical example of this type of closer-than-a-brother friendship.)

Proverbs 18:4 says, There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. And if the friendship is between saints, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that water’s sometimes thicker.

Just who are these saints?

Saints literally means, “holy ones.”

But if the term’s still a bit murky, don’t worry. You’re not alone. One source says the word “saints” has almost completely lost its original meaning,

[T]hat is, of being set aside for the exclusive ownership and use of the Triune God. Very few people in the Christian Church today would consider themselves to be “saints”…Unfortunately the original meaning of the word “saints” has largely fallen into disuse.

But if the term’s still a little fuzzy, a quick survey of Scripture makes it clear: saints are simply believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. And all believers are called saints, even when their character is “dubiously holy.”

Paul uses the term “saints” – the plural- to refer to a group of Christians about 40 times. In fact, Paul addresses almost all of his letters to “the saints” in that particular place. (See 2 Thess. 1:10, 1 Cor. 1:2, Romans 1:7, Eph. 1:1, Phil. 1:1, Col. 1:2.) Only once does Paul refer to a solo “saint.” That’s at the end of Philippians where he writes, “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.”

So saints are not a special class of Christian. They are all those called by God’s grace and sanctified by His Spirit. Saints are in Christ Jesus.

Saints-R-Us. Saints are believers. Saints are “just” Christians, running the race by grace through faith, in Christ Jesus.

Saints-R-Us

Still, we’re prone to put people like Mother Teresa and Apostle Paul on pedestals and think they’re super-human. We ought not.

C.H. Spurgeon explains, 

Their holiness is attainable even by us. We are “called to be saints” by that same voice which constrained them to their high vocation…They lived with Jesus, they lived for Jesus, therefore they grew like Jesus. Let us live by the same Spirit as they did, “looking unto Jesus,” and our saintship will soon be apparent.

I crossed paths with some saints last week. Their names were Holly and Hannah, Jim and Jen, Christin and Cindy and Shari and Stan. They live with Jesus, they live for Jesus, therefore they are growing like Jesus. 

The saints in my land are doing this. They are growing more like Jesus.

They’re growing to:

Saints in my land are growing thicker skins and softer hearts. They set their hearts to seek God.

That’s why the saints in my land make me glad. Saints remind me of Jesus. 

Those nearest him are nearest one another.

Believers like this are closer to us in our thoughts and affections than even our non-believing families. That’s the oneness of the body of Christ. That’s the intimate, eternal relationship that we have with the saints.

That’s why the Psalmist cannot help but say, “As for the saints who are in the land, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.”

Or as S. L. Johnson said, God’s the center. Those that are nearest him are nearest to one another.  Saints take joy in saints.

David did this too. He took delight in the saints he knew. “I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me,”  (101:6), he said. And “I am a companion of all who fear you,” (Psalm 119:63). The saints were David’s delight.

Saints make saints glad.

Do the saints make you glad?

David says that there’s one type of person who gets him stoked and fired-up and makes him really, really glad. It’s saints. It’s the holy ones who treasure God.

So I repeat, do the saints make you glad? Do you cherish God’s people?  And do you delight in them or merely endure them?

If your honest answer is merely endure, I have two questions for you.  They’re from this sermon by Pastor John Piper.

  1. Do you know any Christians?  I mean radical people who lay down their lives for Jesus because Jesus means everything to them and they are servants of the world and God has broken them free from their love affair with the world and their ego and power and comfort.
  2. Why would it be that you, a professing Christian, would find more joy in people who find no joy in what is your primary joy?

Hard hitting, those. But it makes sense: If we treasure God, we treasure those who treasure God.

These are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.

The “Sweetness of the Saints” Test

Piper explains how this can be,

When it comes to people, he says, the ones who give him pleasure are godly people. “As for the saints in the land (the holy ones, godly ones — the ones who treasure God and live for God), they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” All his delight, his joy, his pleasure. He doesn’t mean that he has delight in God’s people instead of God or above God. He means that godless people don’t give him delight in their godless ways; only the godly do. What delights him about people is how they treasure God and exalt God. This is the sweetness of his relationships.

Saints are sweet to us because God is sweet to them. That’s why this saint stuff matters. Because it is one way we can measure our relationship to the Lord. It’s a simple test, really. James Boice explains, “Those who love the Lord will love the company of those who also love him.”

So  I’ll ask again: Do you love other Christians? Do you cherish the people of God and seek to be near those who treasure your Lord?

Do you delight in the saints in the land?

The new men are already here, dotting the earth- recognisable if you know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of ‘religious people’ which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. (We must get over wanting to be NEEDED: in some goodish people, specially women, that is the hardest of all temptations to resist.) They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognised one of them, you will recognise the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect that they recognise one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

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Ki-Bum: Joy Doubled And Hearts Wrung

I would give anything to have Ki-Bum just one more night. I miss him so much.

Granted, that’s from Gabe and Gabe’s our emotional one. But we both wear our hearts on our sleeves, and we both sob uncontrolled sobs. We all miss Ki-Bum.

I  can’t think of a single unkind thing he did. Even when he broke his fishing line and I got so mad at him, he forgave me right away. Or when Dad beat him at Slapjack every single time and he still wanted to keep playing. Or like when I offered him soggy Swiss Chard for lunch on his third day and he turned to the boys and asked, “You like?” They shook their heads and Ki-Bum smiled at me, then shook his head too.

He wasn’t fluent in English, but Ki-Bum understood. When I was feeling some heat for how I was enticing the boys to do summer school work, I asked if his Mom gave rewards to help him study, Ki-Bum shook his head again. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “But I not study.”

Ki-Bum was humble too. Most afternoons we were home, like a model son, he’d settle with his math at the dining room table. And break to serenade us at the piano with Summer.

But, Mom, if you had brothers and cousins in WI would you want to still live in Korea?  Gabe wondered, when we’d caught our sobbing breaths.

How Much Love Can You Pack Into One Month?

Short answer: Way more than the 48.6 pounds of luggage- and Pringles and Nerd ropes and Nutella- Ki-Bum stuffed into his suitcase Friday. So much love his leaving hurts.

Long answer: So much that a passing glance at the rice (“bahp”) or Ramen (“Lah-myun”) in the cupboards and the chopsticks (“jeotgalak”) in the drawer chokes me up a bit. We all took a stab at our sticky rice and real Ramen-not soup- with those.

So much that the kings and pawns and a bishop and knight stand hallowed in state, days after the last checkmate. Series total: 18-2, Ki-Bum over Sam.

So much that Gabe won’t shoot HORSE or PIG with his friends because it reminds him too much of fun at the hoop with  Ki-Bum. It makes me too sad. 

That much love.

Joy Shared Is Joy Doubled

I’ve been so slow to learn this JOY lesson.  Still, I slip back into thinking I’ll be happier if I keep my happy little joys private and Leave well enough alone.Then, by grace, the other side of my mind steps up and replies, Remember, love seeks not its own. Joy shared isn’t halved, it’s doubled!

Seeing our daily lives through Ki-Bum’s new eyes proved it again. Joy shared is joy doubled. Ki-Bum helped us enjoy common things more: meals together and “family-sized” ice cream, straw bales and fishing and even flat tires.

In four weeks we played more Sequence and chess, more rummy and ping-pong and spoons, took more bike rides than in the whole year before. There was more just-for-fun plunking at the piano and more lingering around the dinner table with more home-cooked dishes and more meals with friends and cousins and uncles and aunts.

To be sure, there was also more junk food in the bedroom over three-handed wars, more midnight games of slapjack and more waking up at ten AM than ever before.

But I think we grew a little more kind and courteous last month too. Maybe a little more Korean?

Regardless, Ki-Bum brought out our best and smoothed out our worst.

Only Some Other Friend Can Bring Out

We miss Ki-Bum and we miss the joy we shared with him. But there’s one more thing I miss:

Ki-Bum brought out something in each of us that wasn’t expressed fully without him.  I miss what we were when he was with us.

C.S. Lewis writes about that in the “Friendship” chapter of The Four Loves. He describes how he missed his good friend Charles Williams, and the way Williams changed what we’d call ” the dynamics” of the group of friends called the  “Inklings.

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth,…They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, “Here comes one who will augment our loves.” For in this love “to divide is not to take away.” *

That’s what happened last month. Ki-Bum brought out sides of Sam and Gabe sides- that only a big brother like Ki-Bum could bring out. Gabe plunking Summer, and Sam turned Chessmate. And fun sides of Jim I don’t see much, and I suppose more domestic sides of me.

Ki-Bum, to borrow from Lewis, “augmented our loves.” That’s the third reason our hearts were wrung.

Wrung

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, we say. We ventured, we gained. We opened our hearts and home, and- you’ve loved- you know what comes.C.S. Lewis again, from The Four Loves, 

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

“I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness… We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him;…

If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.

So be it. Ki-Bum was a hand-picked gift from God. Sure, the International 4H Exchange Team officially made the match, but God’s hand was in it. I wouldn’t have picked him on paper. But I’m so grateful we were matched.

When Ki-Bum’s profile came a month before we met, I remember what I thought. when I saw his age- 15 (16 Korean)- and thought, So much older than the boys. And when I saw his hobby list; shopping, comeputer [sic] games, webtoon, eating, listening music- Oh dear. I thought. A teenager who likes shopping and video games and webtoon- whatever that is. 

Oh, well- a month goes by fast.

Kamsahamnida- 감사합니다 -Thank you, Ki-Bum.

So fast. The days went slow but the month went fast. But I won’t let myself say, Too fast. God’s timing is perfect and our times are in His hands. But it’s so hard to sit loose, to keep open hands. But if our hearts need to be broken and He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it. 

So kamsahamnida,  Ki-Bum. Thank you. Thank you for leaving such a big hole in our hearts that we’re looking to only One who can fill it. Thank you for bringing out our best and doubling our joy as our son and brother and friend. Thank you for opening your kind, patient, courteous Korean heart to us wild Wallaces.

Kamsahamnida, Lord, for Ki-Bum.

So teach us to number our days  that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!
 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Psalm 90:12-14

Remainder of *paragraph reads: “Of course the scarcity of kindred souls – not to mention practical considerations about the size of rooms and the audibility of voices – set limits to the enlargement of the circle; but within those limits we possess each friend not less but more as the number of those with whom we share him increases. In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah VI, 3) The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.”

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Zippy

April 1, 2000- August 23, 2012

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. 
Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Just a pet, I know.  And an “outside” pet, at that.  Still, like our friend John sympathizd, “There’s no good way to lose long-time pet.” And I am not a dog lover.  I didn’t think.

Zip followed her nose out of the safety of “the fenced in yard.”
As hours, then a day passed,
Hope mingled with impending sense of doom.
But maybe…like in Homeward Bound…?

A day and half later…
A knock on the door,
Neighbor reports Zip, alive but “not able to move” in the ditch.
Frantic calls to Jim at work.
Apple pie still in the oven, very al dente tortellini on the stove.
Boys hurried into van -confused, sad.
Thirty second drive to the neighbor’s ditch.
Assessment- alert,stable, but badly injured in the hindquarters.
Grim.

Reaching down, stroking, calming sweet Zip…

Our first dog.
Traded her blue and brown eyed sister pup for her.
A very good trade, 12 years ago.
At the end of my first year of work.
Before kids.
The first one I told when, home alone,  I “got the call.”
That our first son, Sam was born in Korea.
Enthusiastic running companion all these- gulp- 5000 miles!
(Checked math, yes: 10 miles x 50 weeks x 10 years=5000.)

Now, gingerly hoisting her 55 pounds into the van.
Countless adjustments as she’d yelp when I moved her.
Still, trusting eyes.
Gentle Zip.
Grateful she’d eat a slice of bacon and sharp cheddar.
En route to vet.

Shots.  X-rays. Bones badly out of joint.
Sadness.
Tears.
Tender goodbyes.
Final strokes of silky black muzzle.
You’re a good girl, Zip.

Now home without Zip.

I can’t eat because I’m just too sad, says Gabe, when Sam offers snacks.  What about her dog treats?  Her bowls?  (Between 5 year old sobs) I want a new dog, Mom.  When can we get a new dog?

No, Gabe, now is the time to think about Zippy and how much we loved her and how good she was.  It’s not the time to think about getting another dog.

Or is it?

Maybe Gabe’s response, self-centered as it is, really is the better, or at least equally good Christian response to loss. To jump right in and love again, to give the heart away, again.

The past two days I tear up at the strangest times.  I feel lonely.  When I head out for a walk, and see the open gate.  Or stranger still, when I’m clearing plates after dinner or draining the grease off the ground beef.  You see, Zippy was a dog blessed by frequent and many table scraps and I was blessed by a dog who cleared plates beautifully, allowing me to rest my mind that “nothing was wasted.”

Today I read, “Loneliness is the illusion we are tricked into feeling when we stop thinking of others and think only of ourselves . . . it’s a disease and we can fight it the moment we chose to put others before us.”  Hear, hear!

Or like my mom always said, when in the throes of pre-teen, cliquey girl angst (and periodically in the midst of sinful adult friendship envy), “If you want a friend, be one.”   Or, “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35)

So, what better way to heal the hurt, to fight the disease, than to share a meal?  Remember the apple pie and pasta?  Our pastor’s wife had her first baby a week earlier, and I had offered deliver a meal the evening we said good-bye to Zip.  By God’s empowering grace, I managed to choke back tears long enough to get out a call from the vet’s. 

Could I come an hour late with dinner, I asked, due to a pet emergency?

An hour later, pasta, peas and pie delivered. 
Smiles, congratulations and cuddles with a sweet new baby, Hans Noah.

Teary and blessed, to give and to have received.