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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

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Resolve. Even though you’ll fall.

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We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up.

C. S. Lewis, Letters, 1/20/42

Why We Don’t Resolve

Only one of five was. Some of the five shrugged. One shook her head and grimaced.

Why don’t we start the New Year with a resolution or two? Reasons tend to fall in one of two groups: either for sloth of soul or for fear of failure. I’ll explain.

1. Some of us opt out of New Year’s Resolutions because they’re so much work. We like comfort and a fast fix. Saying no to nighttime snacks and prepping salads for tomorrow’s lunch instead – these take diligence and effort and self-control.

And we don’t want to dig in for what might be a duel to the death. We’ve got work to do and kids to feed. Maybe next year. We’re not ready for that fight. Not yet.

2. Some of us resist resolutions because we know we’ll fall. Whether in two months or two days or two hours, it’ll happen. We’ll succumb. I’ll eat that bowl of ice cream at 10 pm and interrupt my friend, again. It’s only a matter of time.

But could it be that we fear stumbling on the right road more than we fear drifting along the wrong road?

Because we’re afraid of getting dirty, we let the perfect become the enemy of the good. We’re afraid to run and fall in the mud.

Which is why you might actually consider making these three resolves.

1. RESOLVE: To know God’s power in the fight.

C.S. Lewis knew of whence we speak, of what we fear, at the start of this new year.

I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations. It is not serious, provided self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience etc. don’t get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us: it is the very sign of his presence. (Letters, January 20, 1942)

So up and at ’em. Get in the fray. God is present with us in our muck.

Though a righteous man falls seven times, he gets up again (Proverbs 24:16a). Muddy and sweaty, maybe trembling or scraped, the righteous get back up.

But cowards watch unscathed from the couch. And cuddled up, clean and dry, they probably don’t much notice God’s power. They don’t feel his forgiveness and grace, helping them up.

We don’t know the strength of the wind until we try to walk against it and we don’t know the force of the evil within us until we try to fight it.

But, we also don’t know the power of God to strengthen us until we resolve, face off, do battle against the besetting sins and bad habits that would have us bound.

My power is made perfect in weakness, our Lord said.

2. RESOLVE: To avoid greater cost later.

It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish. -Sam Gamgee

Waiting can be costly. Strike while the iron’s hot. Resolve now. Agony comes when we wait too long, from thinking I wish I would have.

Rory Vaden is a motivational speaker. It’s hard to argue his premise that success of any sort requires self-discipline. He quips,

Procrastination and indulgence are nothing more than creditors that charge you interest.

He’s right. We eat too much and we feel sick and gain weight. That’s costly. We spew angry words and lose friends. Very costly. We don’t proof our messages and take triple the time undoing the confusion. Big interest. Procrastination and indulgence are costly.

Left unchecked, they cost us our souls. Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion (Hebrews 3:15).

Get started. Resolve today.

3. RESOLVE: To exalt Christ in the good fight and when you fall.

The Apostle Paul was a resolver. He resolved, he made it his ambition, to preach where Christ had not been named (Romans 15:10), to know nothing but Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2), to minister in Rome (Acts 19:21) to name a few.

You might not know this, but Paul also encouraged us to make resolutions. To make faith-filled resolves for good.

My proof text for urging you to make good resolves is 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12,

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul’s train of thought here is important for us to understand in order to make good resolutions. Not all resolutions are good resolutions. Because without faith it’s impossible to please God and whatever does not come from faith is sin. Resolves that are made, and-even worse-kept, without faith cannot be good and only tend to pride.

Yes, definitely- count the cost (Luke 14:28). Don’t be like the guy who started the tower and got laughed out of town because he didn’t have the resources to finish. If you are in Christ, you do have the resources. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work for you (Eph. 2:19-20).

But then, make good resolves by faith, relying on God’s power to help us will and act. And refuse to see failure as a sign that you’re on the wrong path.

The fact that you get mud on the windshield and temporarily lose sight of your goal and swerve, doesn’t mean that you’re on the wrong race track.

If you were, the enemy wouldn’t bother you. What the mud really means, John Piper explains (Future Grace, p. 55),

[I]s that you should turn on the windshield wipers and use your windshield washer.

Be encouraged. The mud means you’re right on track. Spiritual growth ahead.

Resolve Now. Quit Limping.

The opposite of resolved is not a happy-go-lucky drift to holiness. We only drift one direction and it’s not toward heaven. Not to resolve is to be undecided and irresolute.

Not to resolve is to limp between two opinions and to think, I really should stop ____ (eating, scrolling, interrupting)but not yet. 

So when should we resolve?

Whenever we see something we should be doing that we’re not doing we should resolve to do it and whenever we see something we’re doing that we shouldn’t be doing, we should resolve not to. To walk worthy, to see God’s power, to exalt Jesus. We should resolve. January first or December 31st and any day in between.

How long will you go on limping between two opinions? If the Lord is God follow him, if Baal is God follow him, Elijah challenged the Israelites.

It’s the same today. If God is strong and your resolve is born of faith and for good, don’t be irresolute. Resolve. Don’t go on limping.

Oh, sure, we’ll fail and stumble and get a little muddy. But we will rise.

And the towels will be out and our clean clothes waiting.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.
Jude 24-25
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Like You Wrote It? When You’re Not Living The Dream

Like You Wrote It?

It didn’t sit right.

That America’s funny, wholesome family man- The Cosby Show was one of 3 sitcoms mom let us watch- would say something like that didn’t fit. It sounded smug, arrogant, proud.

I won’t comment on Bill Cosby’s fall from grace and imprisonment, except to say, It’s all so sad.

But Cosby’s comment does make more sense now.

These are not the exact words I heard on the TV interview two decades ago, but these are attributable, and they’re close. When asked about married life, Cosby said with that big easy grin of his,

We are living it now just like we wrote it.

It hit me wrong. Because even then, fresh out of grad school, newly married in my early 20’s, with a house and a job and good  friends, I may have been living somebody’s dream, but I knew I wasn’t living mine

My story had already taken some twists and turns I couldn’t have imagined, much less written 20 years ago. Let’s just say, I didn’t think I’d be playing these roles, with the “cast”  now. I’m not (mostly) living my dreams. This isn’t how I wrote the story.

Which is really no matter.

Playing The Part

Because, my life is not really my show.

C.S. Lewis explained like this: We do not know the play. We do not even know whether we are in Act I or Act V. We do not know who are the major and who the minor characters. The Author knows. We are led to expect that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part that each of us has played.

The playing it well is what matters infinitely.

God wrote us each into this story, where He wanted us. He’s the Author of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2) and  the Director of our hearts (2 Thessalonians 3:5). And He casts each of us in his grand play to the praise of his glory (1 Corinthians 7:17).

And when we are on our set stages- and in our waiting stages- playing our roles with joy and thanks, we make Him look great.

Testify to Grace

Paul said something 2,000 years ago that ties all this story-play-dream stuff together for me.

In Acts 20 Paul shares some sobering last words with some old friends, church leaders from Ephesus. He explain that he will go to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to him there.

In other words, Paul didn’t know what turns his story will take. No worries, though, because not knowing the story didn’t stop him from playing his part well. Heres’s how he summed up that part (Acts 20:24):

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 

Is that the aim of our lives too?

Different Stories, Same Aim

Our stories are so different. But, John Piper explains, in Christ,

We do all have the same essential goal: to magnify the glory and the greatness of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. This is the racecourse all Christians are running. The turns and the terrain are different. The aim is the same.

This means we embrace the fact that we do not write our own stories. We don’t know the next page, let alone the next chapter. The way there is unknown.

Our stories twist and turn,

[A]round the corner called future and disappears into the unknown. Therefore, the unwasted life is always lived one step from the unknown. This is what faith is for. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). That’s what faith does.

I don’t want to waste my life. Which means I need to rest content with the unknown next chapters and with parts I wouldn’t have scripted this way.

Not Living the Dream is Still Alright With Me

So, no. I wouldn’t have written myself in this way- not into this marriage or this job, not these boys, this house, or this blog. (Well, I guess I do write the blog. But it wasn’t my dream. My friend Traci spurred it on.)

But I do know this story I’m in, with both its surprise twists and its storylines that feel more static than I’d write, was scripted by God. 

And- oft in sorrow, oft in woe– often way too slowly both for the characters around me and for me- I’m learning that it’s not so much what part I play but how I play that part that matters.

Oh, sure, sometimes I let my hungry eyes drift to what seem like others’ storybook lives and dream up different parts for me. But my aim is to play my part well, which is to testify to the grace of God.

And the great thing is, I don’t have to have to be living like I wrote it, living the dream, to do that.

In fact, God’s grace might just look that much greater when the testimony to it comes from one whose story is not just like he wrote it.

I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.

Jeremiah 10:23

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Conviction Comes To Interrupting Chicken


Yup, Little Miss Active Listener went rogue again. Tigger-like, she bounced right over reflective, soft-spoken Joe with her over-eager interjections.

I could say the interrupting words were well intentioned, borne of desire to build relationship and connect. I could say that.

But I know better.

Contrition

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Psalm 51:3

Jim and I were in the kitchen with our friends Sadie and Joe, enjoying some Sunday morning omelettes. Joe was summarizing a new book. I was Interrupting Chicken.

Hon! Stop interrupting, my husband broke after one of my break-ins. Let him talk!

I shut my mouth. Those words about how it’s the fool who answers before he listens (Proverbs 18:3) came to mind.  Guilt- the good kind- moved in.

After an awkward moment of silence, Joe continued, still calm.  I listened to him- and to my wounded ego- without interrupting either. In a few minutes. Joe left to help at early church.

But I didn’t say a thing. Any thing. And I didn’t do the right thing.

Conviction

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. James 4:17

But I knew the right thing to do.  James 1:19 has been a quote-out-loud verse in this house for years. Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. And I know Proverbs 18:23 pretty well, too: Whoever covers his sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and forsakes them finds mercy. 

Obedience required confession. And not in a vague Sorry-if-I-offended-you way.  Because confession- like thanksgiving- demands particulars. Precision like, Forgive me, Joe because for repeatedly interrupting . Or, sorry I wasn’t a patient listener.  Specific. 

I knew what I had to do. Interrupting was a sin of commission. I was doing the wrong thing. But to go on without confessing, that would add to it a sin of commissionWhoever knows the right thing to do- confess to Joe- and fails to do it, for him it is sin. 

There was conviction. I knew the right thing to do. 

Confession

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. James 5:16

But my pride had kept me from confessing as a first response, before Joe left for church.

And silence when there’s sin to confess wastes away the bones (Psalm 32:3). So the ‘ole bones groaned for the next three hours at church. But when we all got home, I did the right thing.

Hey Joe, I’m sorry I kept interrupting you this morning.

I don’t know if I added Please forgive me, or not. But I know meant it. And what’s more. I know Joe gave it.

That wasn’t the first time I’ve been selfish and rash and had to confess to a friend and I’m pretty sure, it won’t be the last. Because our gracious God reveals convicts us, bit by bit. There are sins we don’t even know we commit. A year or a month ago, I might not have seen Interrupting Chicken as a sinner.

But I do now.  And once we  know the right thing to do, it’s on us to do it.

Ongoing and over and over again.

Continue

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. 1 John 1:28

In a message on James 4:17, Russell Moore says that confessing our sins is critical for every Christian.

Then he explains why it’s so important to make things right,

Because the Christian life is about the Gospel. Because you and I understand that we are sinners. Not that we were sinners. That we are sinners. And that we are constantly in need of grace and mercy.

So what does the Holy Spirit drive us to do? He drives us to an ongoing confession of sin….

Because this is how God is drawing you near to him by the confession of your sins…The point is, you ask for forgiveness…so that you can be freed and liberated from that…

The most miserable Christian in the world is not the who is aware of his sin and is confessing it. It is the one who does not have his sins being exposed and repented of so [he can] experience the blessings of fellowship and walking in Christ.

It sounds so awful and terrifying. So does a surgeon. A surgeon rips you up to take the tumor out. So does the Word. It’s healing. 

Confess and repent is part and parcel of the Christian life until we see our Lord face to face, and are like him. And it’s not so morbid really, it’s actually, very lightening and relieving, and as Moore said, healing.

Confession, Interrupting Chicken can assure you, is good for the soul. 

Conclusion

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. Ecclesiastes 12:13

So what do you do with conviction? Do you stuff it inside and protect your pride? Or do you confess it and find fellowship?

During a swim at our friends pool this week’,  my 11-year-old, called me over and asked in confidence and with conviction,

Hey Mom, do you think I should say sorry to Mrs. Mills? I accidentally dropped a cheese cracker in the water and she told us kids not to have food in the pool.

You can guess this mama’s answer.

 You know the right thing to do, Son. Go do it.

Grant me never to lose sight of  
the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
the exceeding glory of Christ,
the exceeding beauty of holiness,
the exceeding wonder of grace. 
The Valley Of Vision, “Continual Repentance”