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Do you? Rejoice with Those who Rejoice?

Woman skeptical of friend's new dress

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Romans 12:15

In the span of two hours, they came. Bing-bing, bing-bing.

First, the text: Please pray- my brother was just in a hit and run. Taken by Flight for Life. Might be head injuries and for sure broken bones. Please, just pray. I moan- I can’t help but moan and wince in pain- and pray.

Next, the post: One more pumpkin in the pumpkin patch, was how a cousin’s pregnancy announcement came.  No, even at 43, the empty womb hasn’t said, “enough.” Still, I push, Congrats on such a precious gift! 

Then: It was one year ago this weekend that we lost our baby. I was only 12 weeks along, but I can’t stop thinking about her. The tears just stream. Instantly, my own eyes water. I can’t help but hug this friend.

Last: I just started at my dream job this week, she said with glee. In fact, the board actually created the position for me. It’s a perfect fit. I swallow hard, My job is not a perfect fit. Especially not this weekStill.

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

Natural or Supernatural?

Is it easy for you? I mean, rejoicing with those who rejoice? Does that empathy come naturally?

For many of us, it’s the weeping part that’s easy.  After all, it’s a rare person who is not touched by the sight of someone in distress.

But sharing others’ joy can be hard, especially if their success is right near our wheelhouse- or would-be wheelhouse. I admit: when ugly envy besets me, it suffocates my joy-sharing empathy.

John Piper details several reasons we might not rejoice with those who rejoice. And rock bottom for most of us with this problem is the life-choking weed of pride. Because the self-preoccupied- whether with disappointment and hurt or with a sense of superiority- find it hard to rejoice in another’s success.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains why so many of us find it harder to rejoice with those who rejoice than to weep with those who weep.

Because the one rejoicing has probably had a great success or bit of good fortune. Then this element of competition comes in…. It’s innate within human nature. We want to become high and great and important. It is one of the main things that happened to man after the Fall: he became proud and self-centered…

And so we find it easy to sympathize with people who are not successful. They are not in competition with us. We feel we are in a better position. We’re up and they’re down, so we can afford to weep with them. It’s more or less natural.

Yes, for me the weeping part is natural. It’s the other that’s supernatural.

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

If you can’t feel the joy?

Fake it till you make it might not sound like sage spiritual advice. But I think it might be.

For so much of my own spiritual stretching has been related to those times I’m called not only to do, but to feel a certain way and I can’t seem to feel it- like joy.

At those times, I return to this practical advice from C.S. LewisWhat are [you] to do? The answer is the same as before. Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, ‘If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?’ When you have found the answer, go and do it. The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.  

Rejoicing doesn’t always feel like 100% authentic Abigail. Rejoicing with those who rejoice can feel like pretending. The joyful kind of empathic love doesn’t always come naturally. We know that the natural is opposed to the spiritual, that the flesh and the spirit conflict.

So no matter if sharing the joy doesn’t feel natural. God’s rule is simple: Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. Don’t waste time worrying if you feel the joy. Do not worry if it feels artificial to smile and say abouthis huge new house, or her wedding gown or his all-star son- That’s great!

Saying it might feel fake. But that’s okay. 

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

A Very Fine Nature

Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success. What Oscar Wilde- a paragon, by the way, of a natural, self-preoccupied life- called a “very fine nature,” I call a  “new creation.”

You’re absolutely right: No one can ever do this for himself. No natural man cannot do this. Only the new creation can. It’s only as we work out while the Spirit works in that we can genuinely share the joy.

It’s only by grace through faith in Christ that I’m able to set aside my hurt and disappointment and pride so I can rejoice with those who are rejoice in things that aren’t mine.

Or are they? Can others’ joys be mine?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones again,

One trademark of our faith is that we are members of the same family and the same body. Nothing can happen to them unless it happens to you. When one member suffers, all the other members suffer with it [1 Cor. 12:26]. Whatever happens to the other  is really happening to you. The body cannot be divided into segments that are not connected. No, no- the body is one and organic and whole. An infection in the little toe can soon cause a headache.

When we show the joy, we might be surprised to find our friends’ joy really does become ours.

But who ever said anything about the Christian life being easy? Who ever guaranteed no growing pains? 

Not the Apostle Paul. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me (1 Cor. 15:10). In fact, I’ve heard it said, that there is not more thorough test of our profession of the Christian faith than just this, that we:

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

Joy Comes

Back to bing-bing #4. Remember that conversation with the friend who just landed that highly-satisfying, custom-fit job? I smiled, leaned in and asked,

So can you show me some of your work?

She did. She took me to an amazing website she’d built. And it was. It was a perfect fit for her passion and skill.

Then by some miracle of grace, it came. Genuine joy- the feeling not just the showing- welled up in me and I really did,

Rejoice with those who rejoice. 

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When Unfair Stings

The sight of them stung. Seeing all their kids set me off. The venom stole in under my skin and I started to scratch.

Am I the only one who overreacts to the sting of the unfairness bee?

Discontent is a fretting humor which dries the brain, wastes the spirits, and corrodes and eats the comfort out of life. Discontent makes a man so that he does not enjoy what he possesses.  Thomas Watson

Their kids were invited to the birthday party. Ours were not.

There were chairs to spare for all their kids and not two more for ours? I scanned the room for a logical reason why our boys were excluded: age or distance or relation? Nope. None of those fit. And the heat and the itch of that venom spread fast like when the real wasp stung.

So where are the boys tonight? a friend asked.

At home, <scratch> I said.

Then scratching again, I mumbled- and this was a bad reaction- They weren’t invited.

Envy and discontent spread. The more I scratched, the more I itched, like an out of control allergic reaction.

I knew what I had to do.

Stop that scratching.

Stay in your own lane. Mom Considine

I had to heed my mama. I had to do what Mom tells the grandkids to do when they compare their gifts then complain: Stay in your own lane. 

Stay in your own lane when you or someone you love is not invited. Stay in your own lane when your friend is gifted with a two weeks of tropical timeshare as you save all year for your five days on the beach.  And when a friend’s lucky connection lands him a job you’d love to have. Stay in your lane- and oh, this can be so hard- when marriage and babies and health come easy to some but not so easy to you.

You can take Mom’s advice too. Don’t scratch when unequal or unfair tempts you to discontent. Do what you’re supposed to do. Don’t complain. Run the race marked out for you

But I needed a pit stop before I could steer back to my own lane. So I pulled over and gave myself a good talking  in the ladies’ room: The hosts invited Jim and me to their party. We had no right to any invite with or without sons. Then my own words to those sons echoed loud: It’s okay that Sam’s invited to Jack’s house and you’re not, Gabe. Life’s not fair. And that’s okay. 

Stay in your own lane.

Or do you begrudge my generosity?

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? -Jesus

Do you know that parable Jesus told about the vineyard owner who hired workers at 7 am and 9 am and noon and at 5 pm, too? It’s in Matthew 20, and here’s how it ends:

Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’

Does even reading that make you itch? The guys who worked 10 or 12 hours got the same amount as the guys who worked one hour? Really, Jesus? That seems so unfair!

Fair isn’t equal.

Fair is whatever God wants to do –Leif Enger

I don’t know if it’s fair. but it certainly wasn’t equal.

Wise teachers and parents tell their kids, Fair isn’t equal. It’s getting what you need. And in his wisdom God deemed those vastly unequal hourly rates, were exactly the right wages- fair is whatever God wants to do. And I remember, getting invited to work in the vineyard was itself a gift. Any invite is a gift. But unfairness stings and discontent spreads when we begrudge others’ generosity.

Russell Moore explores this in Jesus Doesn’t Keep the Minimum Wage Laws: Following Christ When God Doesn’t Seem Fair

We don’t think the way God is bringing us into the kingdom is fair. So we grumble. We don’t understand the free heartedness of God. God knows what he is doing in your life. He is doing what it takes to conform you to the image of Christ…What we want is for it to make sense now, so we compare to others. We grumble against God. And Jesus is saying, “Don’t you see? You get to work in this kingdom?”

We get to work in the God’s kingdom. Do we see? Do we see past the second causes and believe God is working through even unfair stings  to conform us to the image of Jesus? Seeing that by faith is Benadryl to my soul. And I hear Jesus tell me, “Abigail, I have done you no wrong. Didn’t you agree to come? Don’t begrudge my generosity.

But for some of us with stronger reactions, Benadryl’s not enough. We need an injection to help us see.

Our EpiPen against unfair: You follow me.

Complaining is not a bad habit. It’s evil and satanic. It is a repudiation of the Gospel. -David Prince

These three words are the strongest antidote to the soul-killing effect of discontent’s venom. If Benadryl slows the spread, then these three words are the EpiPen that stops it dead. 

Remember at the end of John’s Gospel, when the seven disciples had just finished fish and bread breakfast on the beach, cooked over coals by the resurrected Lord. Now Peter and Jesus are alone. Peter has just confessed his love and reaffirmed his call to follow Christ. All is well.

Then Jesus ends their little talk with some hard words for the Rock, to show him by what kind of death he was to glorify God. Peter turns and sees John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.  And I think the unfair bee stung Peter just then. Because he asks, “Lord, what about this man?”

I can hear Mom say,  Stay in your own lane, Peter. Jesus says it this way,

If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!

You follow me. Down a different, unequal but still grace-lined path.

Because overreactions can kill.

[T]he angry man lays all his comforts at the mercy of every wasp that will strike at him. –Matthew Henry

It might seem little, this little party invitation sting. You’re right, in a way it is. The stinger is tiny but the venom- actually the body’s over-reaction to the venom- can be deadly.

I know this. Because 20 years ago a single wasp nearly killed me. One little sting was all it took to land me in the ER with a racing heart and dizzy, with puffy Gumby-like limbs and an irresistible itch from my scalp to my soles. But the epinephrine injections stopped my body from its out-of-control anaphylactic response.

Basically, my immune system overreacted to the venom and released chemicals that led to horrible allergy symptoms. I overreacted. So it wasn’t the sting itself that brought me to the ER. It was my own body’s response to it. Attempting to protect itself from the sting, my body stung me worse.

And discontentment, like an anaphylactic reaction, is more deadly to our souls than “provocation” of the sting.

Be a spiritual bee. 

There is no provocation given us at any time but, if it be skillfully and graciously improved, there is good to be gotten by it…It is an ill will indeed out of which the spiritual bee cannot extract something profitable.-Matthew Henry

I could have let the sting come between the host of the party and me.  I could have kept scratching that unfair itch.

But really, I couldn’t have.

I’ll explain: After my scary, allergic reaction I knew I had a problem. With as much as I loved autumn running and hiking, the risk of a worse reaction was all-too-real.

So I signed up for five years of desensitization shots. They “taught” my body to handle the venom in the sting of even a hundred wasps and bees. And living years under God’s grace has trained  me not to react so badly.

Obviously,  I still react. The sight of the kids provoked me. It stung and I scratched.

Desensitize yourself by grace.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. –David

But instead of continuing to scratch that itch, I auto-injected truth. Like how the lavishness of God’s grace to me is as far from fair and equal as east is from west. Like how complaining is conduct unbecoming a child of God. How scratching the itch by venting and complaining is not merely a bad habit. It is evil.

To gripe about unequal grace is a repudiation of the Gospel. And to move out of my lane and refuse the divine antidote- YOU FOLLOW ME- is to begrudge the God of all grace who gives to each one of us- not equally, but unequally and lavishly – as He wills. God gives us what we need to grow us up like Jesus. Our Father knows best and I want to be His spiritual bee.

So I left restroom and returned to the party room. My friend Meg’s son sat alone at our table. I plopped down and asked, How old are you now, Tim? You’re getting so big. Just then Meg came back with food for Tim and asked, So where are your guys anyway?

This time I didn’t scratch. They’re having some good Grandma and Grandpa time tonight.

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After The Memorial Day Parade

It will never be lawful simply to ‘be ourselves’ until ‘ourselves’ have become sons of God.

-C. S. Lewis, “The Sermon and the Lunch”

See you at the parade tomorrow?

‘Spose so. We’ve got a house to clean and a lawn to mow, but we’ll be there. 

Yeah. We need to get our garden in soon, but it seems like the right thing to do. 

Nine o’clock?  Same place?

Yup. Corner of Lincoln and Kane. 

May’s rite must go on. So we went to the parade today. Because we must remember.

My forbears were farmers. None of my near kin fought for physical freedom. No names or faces come to mind when bands and flags go by. 


What if we don’t have an Uncle John who died in Vietnam or Cousin Jack who served in Iraq? What’s to remember then? 


If we’re Christians, plenty. 


Jon Bloom says that of all people believers are a “memorial” people. Only when we remember the gracious past can we forge free into our glorious future. With or without a parade, Christians remember the high cost of freedom. 

So stand up, boys, when the flags go by. Clap your hands, or salute. We rise, guys, and remember.

Remember Freedom’s Cost

But God shows his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

We don’t often make it to that third stanza of America, The Beautiful. But it’s a good one for memory. O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life.


There were and still are, heroes who love mercy more than life. There are still soldiers who fall on grenades. There are still heroes who lay down their lives. 

So guys, remember that real moms’ sons and real boys’ dads and real uncles and friends laid down their lives. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Hundreds of thousands gave their lives, if not to death, then precious time in their life’s prime, to preserve the freedom of the country they loved. All gave some, and some gave all. 

We are not our own. We-our lives, our blessed hope and our freedom-were bought with a price. 

Remember What Freedom’s From

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Romans 6:6-7

We’d all would be free from tyranny. No taxation without representation and free to speak our minds and hold up signs. Free to roam about and buy what we want and work where we will. We’d all be free from oppressive government, though we might argue the line where protecting oppresses.

But for what do we want it? Freedom to follow my deceitful heart, wherever it might lead, is no real freedom. In fact, obeying my every desire- following my lusting eyes and boasting heart-is not freedom at all. It is bondage. Paul called it slavery to sin.

Freedom to “be myself,” is not what this day is about. At least not for the Christian. George Bernard Shaw offered a definition of hell, in his play Man and Superman, which was, “having to do what you want.” This, writes Fr. Stephan Muse, leads to total depravity, and it happens a little bit at a time. 

We must remember that real freedom always means free from and free for

Remember What Freedom’s For

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 1 Peter 2:16 


The Corinthians thought they had freedom all figured out. To them Paul wrote, though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant of all, that I might win more of them (1 Corinthians 9:19). That remarkable statement of freedom from and freedom for that led Martin Luther to write,

A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none, a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one. 

Our freedom is for love. Christ set us free to serve. Freedom that means only free to, as my boys and my niece said driving home today, do what you want to do. This is not freedom. Freedom that overcomes what the flesh would like, and does what love would do-this is true freedom.


Fr. Stephan Muse explains,

True freedom is gained by coming to love Christ more than we love our own pleasures, likes and dislikes-by encountering God, and by coming to love the world more than we desire to possess and use it and others for our own ends. By praying “Thy will be done on earth” instead of our own, we begin to be instilled with a willingness to offer ourselves for the life or the world. We discover that we no longer have to do what we want; we are free and willing to do whatever God…wills. 

This morning from my same spot with our old friends, on the corner of Lincoln and Kane, I saw someone else. Someone from a former church. We didn’t always see eye to eye and I hadn’t we hadn’t spoken in a year at least. I saw her when the band played Mine Eyes Have Seen.


But I pretended my eyes had not. The band played on and my friend and I talked on. And I saw the estranged one when the unicycles and stilted clowns and all the scouts went past. But on I talked, pretending my eyes hadn’t seen. Free not to feel awkward. Free to ignore. Free.


But not really free.

Freedom After The Parade 

So rise, boys, and remember the high price of freedom. Stand silent, salute. Honor our freedom fighters. Let’s don’t let this parade be just a frenzy for the living. 


Count yourselves dead to sin. And alive in Christ to love. 


You know where this is going. You know just where I went. When the last red fire truck rolled by, I ambled 30 feet to the right. There she was-collecting Crunch bar wrappers, corralling her kids, folding their chairs.


True freedom overcomes what the flesh would like, and does what love would do. 


So I smiled at this estranged friend my eyes had seen. I stretched out a hand to help and asked her,

How have you been? 

And that is what freedom is for. 

For you were called to freedom brothers. Only do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 


Galatians 5:13