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The Solution to Pollution is Dilution

When good speakers prepare, they anticipate the questions their listeners might ask. Last weekend I was blessed to speak at a women’s retreat.

And there was one question I was not ready for.   

Perfectionism, Stagnation, or Growth?

I’ll tell you about the question that stopped my cold in a minute. But let me start here where I started with the group: growth. I don’t take for granted that we all embrace a growth mindset.

But keeping growth as the goal guards against two life-choking dangers: perfectionism and stagnation. Perfectionism says I can’t believe I messed up. How could I have done that? It won’t bend. It demands 100% in ourselves or others- now. And when failure inevitably comes perfectionism crumbles in defeat.

But stagnation is equally stifling. It wallows and argues that change is simply impossible. That’s just the way I am, it reasons, I can’t help it. John Piper calls it spiritual fatalism and says it’s when we feel that genetic forces and family forces and the forces of past experiences and present circumstances are just too strong to allow us to change. 

A focus on growth prevents both perfectionism and spiritual fatalism. To say that we can amend the soil is to embrace growth.

How’s your soil?

“Amending the Soil” was the theme- it was all about how we can change the “pH of our hearts” for greater fruitfulness, productivity and growth.

With that growth groundwork laid, we moved to a list of “faith fertilizers,” found in 2 Peter 1:5-7. Add-ins like patience and love and self-control that change our heart soil so good things- or more good things- can grow. 

Then we landed on verse 8: For if these qualities are yours and are increasingnote: increasing and growing, not perfected and arrived at- they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Adding these qualities changes our “soil” for good. 

Now I asked the ladies to describe the current state of their heart soil. Was it muddy, weedy, rocky, or clay? Exhausted, high-yield, wild, or dry? 

The responses were what you expect from hard-working women on a weekend retreat: plenty of exhausted souls, two weedy women and one wild woman. Sharing time was going swimmingly.

Until Shelly chimed in with the question that stopped me cold.

What about contaminated soil?

What about contaminated soil? I’m surrounded by toxic relationships at work and at home. How am I supposed to change those? 

Alrighty then. Easy for me to talk about growth and change and growing in grace. But I was not prepared for this. 

Back to the garden metaphor for a minute. My dad adds coffee grounds to the soil around his blueberries to help the plants grow. But what if there’s a can of paint buried next to the blueberry plants seeping its poisons into the roots? 

What about polluting influences and toxic people we can’t escape? How does growth come then?

The Solution to Pollution? Dilution.

Thankfully, my friend Susanne came to my rescue: The solution to pollution is dilution, she said with a grin.

Susanne’s a nurse and she knows. You can’t always remove toxins from the blood, but you can dilute them. You can insert an IV and dilute with fluids.

To go back to the garden metaphor, it means if you dilute a pollutant enough, the resultant intensity of the pollution is reduced; therefore adding clean material to a contaminated product will reduce the toxicity of the resultant mix…diluting the intensity will reduce the potency of a problematic pollutant with dilution.

Shelly was right. We can’t remove all the corruption around us. Workplaces, families of origin, debilitating diseases- all be out of our control.

But we can “reduce the potency of the problematic pollutant.” We can do that.

Change what you can change.

We can’t always change our circumstances. Our world is polluted. It is contaminated and polluted and we feel it. Little ones get infected and we weep. As much as we’d like to insulate ourselves and those we love from contamination, we just can’t.

But we can change what we can change. We can dilute the toxic influences in our soil with good influences.

We are not spiritual fatalists, so toxic relationships” need not hinder growth. We can phone a friend and say, Help me please or text a group, Please pray. We can open the Bible and let its pure words cleanse our contaminated souls.

It won’t be easy. It will take God’s power energizing our effort to “reduce the potency” of the pollution we can’t escape. But we can–we must- dilute.

But there will come a day. 

But there will come a day when we won’t have to deal with toxic people and debilitating diseases, with polluted water and contaminated land. All mysterious will be bright at last.

All will be healed and clean. There will be no toxins seeping or wounded weeping then. And there will be abundant fruit. 

But while we await that glorious day, the best solution to pollution might just be dilution. 

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face…

Revelation 22:1-4a

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When It Hurts To Keep Your Word

Promise

Mom, do I have to go? he cried. I really want to see my cousin play.

You do, Gabe- you have to go. You gave your word.

When “Something Better” Comes Along

And so the way to the town hall was a trail of tears. Because we had previous commitments that night.

That Monday night of his cousin Eli’s game. Of the only game Gabe might ever see in his MVP cousin’s last basketball season. Because Eli lives two hours away and was coming down this one time only, to play a team 20 minutes away.

But Gabe had signed up for his project talk that night, about bluegill fishing down in Honey Lake. Plus I’d promised to give some friends a ride that night. We’d made both these promises before the invite to Eli’s game.

But still- this was it, our last, best hope to see him play.

He Swears To His Own Hurt

So as Gabe bawled, I stewed. I seriously considered ducking out.

But I knew.

God’s children keep their word when it hurts. Sometimes only because their parents make them. But they don’t bow out the second something better comes along.

When Psalm 15 describes the kind of person who “may dwell on God’s holy hill,” one of the marks of that person is that “he swears to his own hurt and does not change.”

I knew the righteous keep their promises. That, even when it’s costly or inconvenient, their word is gold and their yes means yes.

Because They Trust God

I think they can do this because, at the end of the day, they trust that God is as just as involved in the timing of opportunities that came through as they trust that he never lies, that all His Word is truth.

Can we skip 4H? This is my only time to see Eli. Can we please not go, Mom?

But we couldn’t not go. We given our word. We’d promised.

Gabe, tip-off is at 7:00. The meeting is called to order at 7:00. We can’t do both. And Christians keep their promises– here I nearly shouted to hurdle his wails- WHEN IT HURTS!

When the Date Can’t be Changed

That was Monday. Then along comes Thursday, and lo! and behold, it’s me who’s all torn-up and thinking of bailing out.

Because the date of the boys’ annual piano recital- a day that marks an end of hours and dollars and commitment – was announced. And it just so happens it’s the one day this spring that I promised to speak hours away.

So after my sob story to our piano teacher friend, she nudged, I’m sorry the date can’t be changed. It would be good for them to perform.

And by the grace of God, I texted back, I agree.

Do we trust God in the timing?

These might seem so little: missing a piano recital or a basketball game.

But they made me revisit disappointment as His appointment and the truth that my times are in his hand. Which means, by extension, that the timing of the invites that come my way are also in his hand.

The speaking invitation came weeks before I knew the recital date, so I must take it that God didn’t mean for me to be at the recital. And Gabe agreed to give his project talk a month before Eli’s game was changed, so I take it to mean that we weren’t to be at the game.

Can we trust that the order in which the invites reach us isn’t random? That even this sequence was from God? Can we commit our commitments to him and take Psalm 37:5 to heart: “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in him and he will act”?

Will we bank on that promise when it costs us to keep our word?

Or will FOMO overcome us?

Maybe the root of our temptation to break our promises is FOMO- the fear of missing out? Maybe the reason we break our vows is that we really don’t trust God to work when we keep our word.

And fear, you know, is always at odds with trust.

This FOMO thing reminds me of a quote I recently came across. It describes a person whose faith is vibrant and growing and who is also self-controlled.

The world has no dominion over him: he is master of himself; and being possessor of a far better inheritance…he does not expect or seek on earth perfect happiness which he believes is secured for him in heaven.

John Brown, Commentary on 2 Peter 1

God’s children are not slaves to FOMO. We know we’ll miss out on some things here. We know our bucket list won’t all get checked off. That we’ll miss some great recitals and exciting games.

And that it is okay. Because we know that perfect happiness awaits.

More Concerned With Middles

One last point.

It strikes me that besides a lack of trust and a fear of missing out, there’s another reason it’s so hard to keep our word.

It has to do with beginnings and ends. We remember those best. When we study and practice, brain science says chunk it up so you have more starts and ends, because that’s what you’ll recall. And we emphasize births and graduations, first steps and last games.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that our God might be more concerned with middles. Middles are longer. They’re where we run the race. They’re where character is made.

In-betweens and middles are where we grow. And God cares about growth.

Where Faith Grows

And growth comes from how we live in the middle. From what we do with the “better party” that comes along after we committed to another, the ballgame on project talk night. That’s how character is formed.

Because faith is a like a muscle. Exercise it and it grows. Leave it- break your word, don’t trust God with the timing- and it will atrophy.

Will we be strong people of integrity who let our yes be yes and trust that God is pleased and his children are blessed when they swear to their hurt?

Will we believe his promises? That He is a shield to those who walk in integrity? That no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

And that when we keep our word when it hurts we will abide in His tent and dwell on his holy hill?

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He …who swears to his own hurt and does not change…

Psalm 15:1,4b

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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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More Than Conquerors: Not Somehow, But Victoriously

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8:37

The greatest truths don’t always feel true. Sometimes “more than conquerors” don’t even feel like conquerors.

Sometimes “super-conquerors” feel like losers.

More Than Meets The Eye

In fact, the “more than conquerors” are described one verse earlier as slaughtered sheep, who face death all the day long.

And back-to-back, just like that, slaughtered sheep are more than conquerors.

But that shouldn’t come as a shock to students of the Word. The Bible’s full of that sort of upside down kingdom talk. Because the earth is full of things are not what they seem.

It’s full of firsts who are lasts and lasts who are first and greats who are servants of all.  Full of weak who are strong and poor who are rich and mourners who get up and dance. Of persecuted who bless and wounded who pray and hurt ones who overcome evil with good. Of the hard pressed but not crushed and the fighters for rest and of the sorrowful yet always rejoicing.

The heroes are the saints who, like Mary and Joseph, and Joseph and Moses and maybe you and me- who choose what they did not choose.

Reality for these is far more than what meets the eye. These set their sights on things unseen and are never too old to see.

These are more than conquerors, in all these things.

Not In Spite Of, But Because Of

All means all. In all these things. For me, all these things means decades of longings unfulfilled and repenting of the same things and years peppered with rough scrambled days. In all these things.

What are your all these things?

Whatever they are, they can be your launching pad to spiritual growth. Because of that little preposition in. 

In all these things, we are more than conquerors through him. Not despite them, but because of them.

Do you remember the Old Testament Abigail? Abigail was “discerning and beautiful, but the her husband Nabal was harsh and badly behaved,” (1 Sam. 25:3).

In her study on Abigail, Nancy DeMoss Wolgumuth posed two questions that pulsate:

What if she was beautiful and discerning not in spite of the harsh and ill-behaved man she had been married to but because of her relationship with him? Was it her difficult circumstances that made her seek to know God and to become God’s woman?

Leading questions, those. No, Paul wrote, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

In all these things. Not in spite of them. In all these things. 

Not Somehow, But Victoriously

We’ve all heard it and most of us have said it:  I’ll get through somehow.

But come now. These aren’t the words of a super-conqueror, are they? Somehow it’ll all turn out.

Somehow?

And we who are in Christ are. We are super-conquerors. Not will be- are.

The word in Greek that is translated “more than conquerors” in Romans 8:37 is only used once in the whole Bible. It’s one compound Greek word that takes two- super conquerors– or three of ours- more than conquerors– to express.

Albert Barnes explains how it is we gain victory in all these things.

That is, they have not power to subdue us; to alienate our love and confidence; to make us lose our faith. We are the victors, not they. Our faith is not destroyed, our love is not diminished, our hope is not blasted.

But it is not simple victory; … it is more than simple triumph; it augments our faith, increases our strength, expands our love to Christ.

In other words, our sufferings become stepping stones on the path to glory when we score off them. When, instead of shipwrecking our faith, they cause our faith and love to grow.

Not somehow, but victoriously. In all these things.

But Not Without A Fight

In, “The Law of Antagonism,” Oswald Chambers explains that super-conqueror status doesn’t come without a fight.

Life without war is impossible either in nature or in grace. The basis of physical, mental, moral, and spiritual life is antagonism. This is the open fact of life.

Health…is maintained only by sufficient vitality on the inside against things on the outside…Things which keep me going when I am alive, disintegrate me when I am dead. If I have enough fighting power, I produce the balance of health.

The same is true of the mental life. If I want to maintain a vigorous mental life, I have to fight, and in that way the mental balance called thought is produced. Morally it is the same… No man is virtuous because he cannot help it; virtue is acquired.

And spiritually it is the same. Jesus said — “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” i.e., everything that is not spiritual makes for my undoing, but — “be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

I have to learn to score off the things that come against me, and in that way produce the balance of holiness; then it becomes a delight to meet opposition.

We learn to cling to him and run the race score of things that come against us. We overcome.

And, in all these things we are super-conquerors through him who loved us.

What Super-Conquerors Know

Super-conquerors don’t just triumph over evil things. We win by trampling- spiritually- on the things that would destroy us.

We score off suffering and sickness and mistreatment and conflict and injury and hardship and loss.

I love how John Piper explains what it is to be a super conquerer.

If you’re a conqueror, your enemies are dead at your feet. And if you’re more than a conquerer, your enemies get up…and serve you. The point is God doesn’t just protect you from all these adversaries, he makes them serve you, which is another way of saying Romans 8:28. The devil’s efforts are turned to work for our good.

This is the super conquerors’ secret: all these things are stepping stones to glory. What the enemy intends for evil, God turns for our good.

We look the worst straight in the eye and fight the faithless sin that would threaten to undo us and, through Christ, we fight for faith and strive to love and so we win the victory.

Through him who loved us. 

Stepping Stones To Glory

Christ was perfected through suffering and so will we be. Super conquerors use the same wounds that could be victim-makers and faith-takers and walk over them- as stepping stones- on the path to glory.

So we rejoice in our sufferings, Paul wrote, because we know that through Christ, these things serve us. They are precisely the means God ordains to grow us up and strengthen our faith.

Because these things-all these hard things– serve us. They pave the way to glory.

But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

1 Corinthians 15:57