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Abounding, Like Bolt

It’s not that much for someone who is poor and in a low condition to have his heart kept low, but for someone to have his heart low when his condition is high is much more difficult.

Jeremiah Burroughs, Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound. I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

Apostle Paul, Philippians 4:11-12 

Do you know how to abound? Did you watch the Olympics last night? Have you learned the secret to being content in plenty and fullness, not only in your need? Did you see Bolt bow the knee?

For all the mockery and misuse of #blessed, I think it’s a perfect expression of that noble, humble spirit. Blessed stands opposed to entitled. Blessed expresses gratitude. Blessed is against “I earned this.” Blessed testifies to God’s grace. #blessed.

Bolt included #blessed in his tweet after his three-peat in the 100m dash last night. I’m one of his peeps now. Here it is.

Thanks for all the support my peeps #blessed #TeamBolt #TeamJamaica #Rio2016

I know, I know, I know. There’s danger in lauding any earthly hero. Don’t put your trust in man. All men -even the fastest- are wildflowers and mist and grass. Every one will fade and fail. I know this.

But the Word also says, Blessed is the man who fears the LordAnd Paul urged that whatever good his peeps had seen and heard and learned from him- these put into practice

Usain’s not perfect. Google him and you might find a few foul words and spot him dancing with some risque Samba dancers at his Rio press conference last week. We all stumble in many ways.

But Usain St. Leo Bolt has got some big things right.

Humble Good Humor

A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.  

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Humility, you ask, incredulous? Haven’t you seen Usain’s breast-thumping, #1 boasts, you askAre you out of your up-too-late-watching-beach-volleyball-sleep-deprived mind?

Yes. Humility. And, no. At least I don’t think so it’s a hazy, sleep depraved mind.

Because we know this. That, Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less. And when any Olympic living-legend offers a prayer with a sign of the cross in front of a thousand cameras and then bows the knee within a minute of winning a race- I see humility.

Bolt is a century removed and a sea away from the Christian’s epic Olympic hero, Eric Liddell. I admit that Bolt’s lightening trajectory doesn’t look like it’ll lead to a mission field like Liddell’s. But then, one never knows.

Bolt does share more than fast feet with our Chariots of Fire hero. I was going to tie them together with that famous, God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure, quote. It fits them both. But it turns out that “quote” was written by Colin Welland as part of the Chariots of Fire script.

Liddell was known, Bolt is known, for their enthusiasm and good humor. And for this “Girl with the etched furrowed brow,” who takes herself far too seriously far too often, Bolt’s light-hearted, unpretentious exuberance is a breath of fresh air. (Yes, unpretentious. It means trying to impress others with greater talent than one actually possesses. Bolt is the world’s fastest man.)

Proud people tend to be too puffed-up with themselves to want to bless others with their levity and laughter. I dare you to watch Usain and not crack a smile. Eric Liddell had that same light heart. His friends and classmates recalled that,

No adulation, no fame, no flattery can ever affect this youth…He has got that great redeeming gift, the gift of humour. 

His infectious enthusiasm endeared him to the sporting public, and for the next four years he packed the terracing at every sports meeting he attended.

He had a characteristic, humorous resistance to bullying or posing masters, giving his answers stern and satirical emphasis ,’46 Sir’ and then following up with a disarming smile, whenever and wherever the atmosphere permitted it.

For all- or rather in all- Usain’s post-race antics (he hugged a huge stuffed animal on the track after the race last night), for all his smiles as he speeds on by, and his unpuffed-with-self poses that he freely gives “his peeps,” Usain Bolt displays a certain humility.

Honoring God

His pleasure is not in the strength of horse or his delight in the legs of a man, but the Lord delights in those who fear him and put their hope in his unfailing love. 

Psalm 147:10-11

God’s pleasure is (still) not in the (under 10 second for 100m ultra-fast) legs of a man. He delights in those who fear him.

A manifestation of fearing God is taking time to honor him. Usain doggedly honors God. Sure, it’s in his characteristically loose, Jamaican way. Critics might call Bolt’s God honoring ways, merely superstitious– signing the cross and sending prayers to heaven as the soles of his lightening-fast feet press hard on his starting blocks.

True. Only God knows our hearts.

But his #blessed tweets aren’t required by the Olympic Committee. In fact, they’re probably not preferred. They’d probably rather Bolt not be so visible about his faith in the Holy Trinity. Bolt’s going against the flow when he honors God this way.

If ever they did, “Christian” shout-outs do not earn brownie points in the wide world of sports anymore.  His tweets and signs and prayers may not be so bold as Eric Liddell refusing to race on a Sunday. But still. They look like signs of man who behind his big talk and bigger grins fears his God.

A prosperous state, wrote Jeremiah Burroughs, mightily endangers the grace of humility. He explains, that those who have learned to Paul’s secret show their noble, humble spirits when they are

[A]s careful to return proportionate respects to God as they are to receive any mercy from Him. Their nobility is further sown in this: they are thankful. A noble heart is a thankful heart that loves to acknowledge whenever it has received any mercy.

Did you see Bolt bow his knee and give thanks to God when his 100m race was done? After winning the 200m in the last Olympics, he tweeted: “I want to thank God for everything he has done for me. Nothing would be possible without him.” No one made him do that. A strong humble man knows who gives him strength.

A fast humble man knows -and fears- the One who gives him speed.

Sitting Loose

Sit loose to this world’s joy-the time is short. 

Robert Murray M’Cheyne 

Sit loose. That’s a motto for The Girl With The Furrowed Brow. It’s a shorter version of Paul’s Philippians 4 secret. Learn to be content, whatever situation you’re in. Because in Christ all things are yours, and you can do all things

Usain seems to take even his huge success lightly. Jason Gay in today’s Wall Street Journal wrote,

The most recognizable man at the Olympics is staying in the Olympic Village, for goodness’ sake, posing for selfies with mortals who will never make it out of a preliminary heat, pulling his own luggage, turning the same wobbly doorknobs like everybody else. He’s OK with that. He’s into it. 

And sitting loose means sharing the glory. As “the Cosmic Center” of these Olympic games, Bolt he knows that the really great go low. They’re able share others’ success and joy. Jason Gay describes it.

One of the finer moments Sunday night occurred when Bolt was doing post-race interviews near the track, and he noticed the South African runner Wayde van Niekirk, who earlier had shattered the world record for the 400 meters, running 43.03 seconds. Bolt turned to reporters, told them he’d be right back, and then leapt back up onto the track to embrace van Niekirk, clearly the new buzz of these Games. 

No one is better suited than Usain Bolt to make the case that winning isn’t everything, because even while he’s the world’s fastest man, he seems to know that all human glory fades away. No one can make this case better because no one can accuse Bolt of merely making and serving loser’s lemonade. 

I don’t know if Usain Bolt knows Jesus. I don’t know how closely he follows the Christ whose cross he traces before each race. But I know Bolt’s enjoy-life, fear-God, sit-loose ways are even more legendary than his 100m Olympic gold three-peat.

Usain Bolt lives Paul’s secret and teaches us how to abound. That’s the biggest lesson The World’s Fastest Man taught The Girl With The Furrowed Brow. That’s why Usain Bolt is a refreshing breath of rare Olympic air to a very amateur runner who tends to take herself and any modest achievement far too seriously far too often.

From all of us who cling to success and abundance too tight and proud and need to sit more loose and humble, Usain deserves praise.

Behold, what I have found to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 

Ecclesiastes 5:18

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On Our 19th Anniversary: Still Going Ahead, Having Fun

He loves Thee too little, who loves anything together with thee, which he loves not for thy sake. -Augustine

Ya Mon! Jamaicans do have a way with words. This photo was taken 19 years ago this month. It’s a honeymoon picture. There we were in Ocho Rios: Going Ahead Having Fun.  
Yes, I was all of 21 years old. And yes, we did laugh when we first laid eyes on the words. The Sandals photographer snapped the photo while we waited for dinner one night. We had no idea Fabulous & Fantastic was part of the deal.
I wasn’t planning an anniversary post, but stumbling on photo with its corny captions was the perfect pairing with my daily reading (The Business Of Heaven, January 3). And then my man gave me his blessing, with just this caution: “Don’t get too serious.” 
So here I am again, going ahead, having some not-too-serious fun; musing on our 19-year momentary marriage. 

A Pleasant Inn

You’ve seen the photo. Now for the reading:

The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. 

The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a  merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain). 

That’s it. Serious. But not too, I hope. It expresses my heart so well. Marriage is a gift, indeed. A faithful friend who can find? A source of joy, a blessed strength, a means of grace. Yes, yes, and yes.

The closest thing I have on earth to my faithful, loving immortal God is my flesh and blood husband, who knows me well and still loves me. It is a comfort and fun to have him near- to sample this new dish, and savor that gorgeous sunset and listen to me read, Please, just this one really good part?

Marriage is a gift from the God who richly provides us with everything to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17b). At its best, it is a cozy, refreshing inn along our path home.

A Gymnasium

Marriage is also a great test of character, a merciless revealer of sinful hearts. T.S. Eliot said that marriage is the greatest of tests, much more than a test of sweetness of temper, as people sometimes think; it is a test of the whole character and affects every action. Which is a big part of the gift.

It is my best chance to practice confessing sin and forgiving sin. It is, in a word, the gymnasium for my growth in godliness. Not that I don’t work out a bit at work and with friends and all alone, too.

But marriage is different. Gary and Betsy Ricucci nail it: One of the best wedding gifts God gave you was a full-length mirror called your spouse. Had there been a card attached, it would have said, “Here’s to helping you discover what you’re really like!

Gentleness and patience, in particular, get the best workout in marriage. I don’t struggle at all being patient and gentle with myself, and rarely with my friends. These two can be formed only in the crucible of frustration.

And gentleness? Francis De Sales instructed women like me, we who may do the right thing with a violent diligence, not to lose any opportunity, however small it may be, for exercising gentleness of heart toward everyone. 

(Alas, I’m falling down the serious slope. But I know who can pull us up.)

G.K. Chesterton wrote, Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honor should decline. And in “What’s Wrong with the World,” he wrote, I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. 

Jim and I know this good fight of incompatibility. And still, One made suitable helpmates. 

Moderate in the House of Mirth

In 1 Corinthians 7:29, Paul gives a surprising bit of advice for the lovestruck. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none. He’s laying down what Matthew Henry calls, a holy indifference toward the world and everything in it. Even husbands and wives.

In his commentary on this verse, Henry writes,

That is, they must not set their hearts too much on the comforts of the relation; they must be as though they had none. They know not how soon they shall have none…Those that are their comfort now may prove their greatest cross. And soon may the flower of all comforts be cut down…As to worldly enjoyments: Those that rejoice should be as though they rejoiced not; that is, they should not take too great a complacency in any of their comforts. They must be moderate in their mirth, and sit loose to the enjoyments they most value. Here is not their rest, nor are these things their portion; and therefore their hearts should not be set on them, nor should they place their satisfaction in them. 

But there’s more to the story. The creation itself, extending to the mystery of marriage, is communication from God. It is not an end. It is a pleasant inn, a bit of fun, and sometimes even fabulous. And when we’re there, we’d best give thanks and chase the pleasure up the beam.

Because, as Joe Rigney writes, Created glory mediates divine glory so that when we chase the pleasures up the beam to the source, we arrive a the joy of joys, the river of delights, the person of persons, the living God and Father of Jesus Christ (The Things of Earth, Chapter 3). 

So Jim and I start our 20th year of marriage. We’re going ahead, having fun, and mostly, we are moderate in mirth and sit loose the best our union offers. We sip our cocoa in front of a cozy fire and read the Twin Towers to the boys and laugh while we are Losing Our Minds Together.

And all the while we try to chase the pleasures of marriage up the beam to the source, to our true home, and forever Groom.

Fabulous and Fantastic how that works, isn’t it?


How precious is your steadfast love, O God! 
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 
They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you in the fountain of life and in your light do we see light. 
Psalm 36:7-9


May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

2 Thessalonians 3:5