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Ponder: After Good News of Great Joy & a Savior is Born

Mary ponders as she holds baby Jesus

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke 2:19

Do you ever ponder? I mean, do you take time to think about and reflect on a thing, what Miriam-Webster defines as, “to weigh in the mind”?

Pondering isn’t the same as drifting. It’s not the same as what occupies your mind those 90 seconds that come around every other fifth month when you’re alone for the night and your phone is off. That’s not pondering. Pondering means prolonged, intentional thinking over. It may start as a wisp, but when it comes, you hold it in a mind and weigh it a while.

Pondering is effortful for some of us. It doesn’t come as naturally to me as, say, to my husband. He is content to drive for hours with no music, no screens, no talk- content with just his thoughts. Just pondering.

Which is precisely what Mary did after the shepherds returned to their sheep that first Christmas night. Mary pondered.

What Mary Pondered

What did Mary ponder?

All these things. Yes, you appalled English teachers, Mary pondered things. The Greek cuts it a tad tighter with the word rhēma, which refers to a thing spoken. And that “thing” is probably the message announced to the shepherds, recorded in Luke 2:10-11,

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

So the shepherds probably told those things to Mary who treasured them up as precious things. Maybe Mary sang again. But certainly she pondered.

Pondering Ponder

Taking cues from the Blessed Mother, I’ve been pondering pondering lately. In Greek, it’s symballō. It means to throw together or to bring together in one’s mind, to confer with one’s self.

It is formed from sum- with, ballo- to put into. Symballō is used five other time in the New Testament. It’s used in Luke 14:31, when Jesus asks, What king, going out to meet another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate? It’s what the Jewish leaders did after they forced Peter and John to leave the council in Acts 4:15, they conferred with one another. And it’s what happened in Acts 20:14, when Paul met the ship at Assos, and went aboard.

We don’t ponder enough these days. We don’t let thoughts meet up and confer with them. Maybe because we’re out of practice; to reflect and meditate and think long on the same thing is hard work. So distractedly we drift and rush. Screens train our brains this way.

So with the culture, we wade in the shallows.

If Mary, How Much More I?

But we’re not off the hook. If anyone could have been exempted from taking time to ponder the reality of her Savior Son, it would have been Mary. She nursed him, held him, bathed him. And pondered him.

No one can absolve himself from the duty of spiritual thought... Shall we, with our restless, distracted lives, with our feeble and imperfect grasp on Truth, be content to repeat with indolent assent a traditional confession? Can we suppose that the highest knowledge alone… is to be gained without effort, without preparation, without discipline? Is it credible that the law of our nature, which adds capacity to experience and joy to quest, is suddenly suspended when we reach the loftiest field of man’s activity?

Bishop Westcott, “The Incarnation a Subject for Devout Study

Westcott’s words challenge, maybe even incriminate us. Because we know that the more we learn about an artist, the more we savor the art and that the more we read a good writer, the more we enjoy his work,

If in all other realms this is true, then why- when it comes to knowing Jesus- do we think that if we’ve sung a few carols and prayed a few prayers, “we’re good”?

Why would we think that knowing him and enjoying him a little is enough?

Be Not as the Swallow: Ponder

C.H. Spurgeon calls us to the “holy work” of pondering.

Let your intellect be exercised concerning the Lord Jesus. Turn over and over by meditation what you read. Do not…stop at the surface; dive into the depths! Be not as the swallow, which touches the brook with her wing, but as the fish, which penetrates the lowest wave. Drink deep draughts of love; do not sip and go away, but dwell at the well…

Ponder him. Think on him. Let your intellect be exercised. Come to think of it, that happens to be what Christ himself called “the first and greatest commandment“: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

And the command is not without promise. Because the more you do, the more you’ll love him and the more you’ll know his love. Spurgeon again: Certain persons are best esteemed at a distance, but not the Savior; when you shall have known Him to the very fullest, then shall you love Him with the love which passes knowledge…

We can’t love, trust, or adore someone we hardly know. If we’re content to ponder the Lord Jesus for a few minutes on Christmas Eve by candlelight we won’t know his love, or love him, well. For that we must ponder.

Ponder like Mary pondered.

Ponder the “Complex Beauty” of Christ

I don’t ponder enough. I’m so often running and doing. But I can take more time in 2020 to keep Christ in mind, to ponder Jesus, strong and kind.

I may ponder the complex beauty that John Piper describes as “coming together in one person of the perfect balance of extremely diverse qualities.” It’s like what we see in a man with bulging biceps cradling a baby in his hands and gentle woman standing immovable for the cause of truth.

That’s our Lord Jesus. He is tough and tender, lion and lamb, mighty and meek. He held the children in his arms and put his fingers into the deaf man’s ears and sat to chat with the woman who’d had five husbands and lived with another who wasn’t. Jesus, who spoke to the raging sea and it was still and wept before he raised his friend Lazarus to life. The Savior, who spoke to his disciples, O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe and to us, He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

I’ve pondered this- this beautiful, complex Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.

On Us To Know Him More

We sing about the beautiful name of Jesus, but to see more of his beauty, we must know him more. In her humility and trust, Mary somehow got that.

[She] grasped what much more sophisticated people have often failed to understand: that Jesus is to be treasured and pondered… that there is something so deep and wonderful about the person of Jesus that a lifetime of pondering will not suffice. We can both know him deeply and marvel that we cannot comprehend him totally.

Christopher Ash, “Repeat the Sounding Joy,” p. 109

But it’s on us to ponder these things. Because to us also a Child was born, to us also a Son was given.

And to us also comes the news: a Savior has been born and he is Christ the Lord.

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee!
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee;
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do
If with His love He befriend thee.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

Joachim Neander, 1680

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!

Luke 2:14

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5 (Fruitful) Truths For (Imperfect) Friends

Friends sitting at table
Friends Who Fit Me

Even though no zig-zagged, half-heart BFF charm has ever graced my neck, I really love my friends. I’ve been given some great ones. Lately, I’ve been thinking how much my friends fit me.

I mean how they shape, form, fit and transform me. I’m learning. 

Truth #1: No one likes jealous, clingy friends. Enjoy a bunch of (imperfect) friends.

My jealous bone came out in 6th grade when my friend Jill spent the night at Teresa’s without me. I pouted. Then Mom’s sage advice clicked: being clingy will drive friends away.

If you think of yourself as a needy, leaky love tank waiting to be filled, you’ll probably stay that way. You won’t have many friends. Mom’s advice made sense and I stopped pouting and soon Jill – and Teresa- were both my friends.

But I still try to take mom’s advice to heart. I get it about how if you love someone, set them free and if they come back they’re yours and if they don’t they never were. That.

But I’m not too proud to say I need friends. A bunch of friends. Because no one soul can bear the load of me, and no one friend can meet all my needs. Friendships flourish when we don’t expect all from one. 

Paul knew this too. He had a big bunch of imperfect friends. 

Truth #2: No one outgrows the need for (imperfect) friends. Not even saints.

For the last month, I’ve been studying the last half of the last chapter of the last epistle that Saint Paul wrote. Paul who wrote the magnificent theology of Romans 8 and set the doctrinal record straight.

But do you know what was on Paul’s mind at the end of his life? His friends. His fickle, deserting, imperfect friends.

Paul ends his second letter to Timothy with mention of no fewer than 17 friends (18 if you count Timothy and 20+ if you count “the brothers”). Verses earlier, Paul wrote those triumphant words, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. He spoke about the crown of life  that the Lord would award him. You’d think that would be the end.

But it wasn’t.

Paul eagerly- desperately?-wanted to see his friends. Do your best to come to me soon…Luke alone is with me (4:9,11). Paul was a spiritual guy. He’d already been caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2). He knew what it was to set his mind on things above and not on earthly things (Col. 3:2). 

And Paul really wanted to see his friends: Jesus- soon, Timothy- now.

Truth #3: You can love Jesus and (imperfect) friends. It makes both loves sweeter. 

John Stott explains how these two desires, to be with Jesus and to be with our friends, are not incompatible.

One sometimes meets super-spiritual people who claim that they never eel lonely and have no need for friends, for the companionship of Christ satisfies all their needs. But human friendship is the loving provision of God for mankind. (John Stott, Message, 120)

In other words, if you say you’re beyond the need for human friends- maybe because you’ve been burned by friends- you’re beyond the Bible. Paul had been burned. Paul was deserted by his friends at his first defense in Rome, but said, “May it not be counted against them!” (2 Tim. 4:16) 

(Have I mentioned yet that our friends won’t be perfect? That they will fail us even as we fail them. They will hurt us and we will hurt them. Count on it. There will be the giving and taking of wounds. But that needn’t end our friendships. It’s par for the course. In fact Jesus made Peter- as in Peter denied the Lord and cried Peter- his Rock to build his church.)

Commenting on Paul’s words at the end of 2 Timothy, John Piper clinches the point:

Don’t feel you must choose between the supreme love and delight you have in Jesus and the pleasures of Christian friends… The joy of a Christ-centered friendship is meant to magnify the worth of Christ as the common treasure of the friendship and this deepens the sweetness of the friendship.

Because maybe behind our choices, it’s God who chooses our friends. And because He does use (imperfect) friends who fail us to shape us into Christ’s faithful friends.

Truth #4: God shapes us through our (imperfect) friends. Welcome the rub. 

We are the friends we keep: the faithful and the unfaithful, the timid and the bold, the new and the old. We need them all. Failing friends, failing kids, failing wives can still be our friends- our  sweet friends, John Piper says. God brings them into our lives and they all play a part in the people we become.

God works in us through the friends he gives us.

A few weeks ago a friend told me how she’d asked another friend if there were any “blind spots” in her. That question is not for the faint of heart. But, if she could do it, I could too, and an hour later I asked her the same of me. What she said is another post and I’m not recommending you do the same. But I am suggesting that you have you’re close enough to others to feel loves frets and rubs– divine sandpaper on our rough spots, if you will.

Sometimes that hurts, but it need not be painful. Being with a soft-spoken friend helps me to speak more gently. Time with a big-hearted friend makes me want to be more generous. Being with a self-controlled friend makes it easier to skip bedtime snacks. Sanding me smooth. 

But most spiritual growth is slow. Sometimes we don’t recognize the tools. We might even ask, God, how are you actually working in me?

In Chapter 7 of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis gives this memorable answer. 

…[It] is rather like the woman in the first war who said that if there were a bread shortage it would not bother her house because they always ate toast. If there is no bread there will be no toast. If there were no help from Christ, there would be no help from other human beings. He works on us in all sorts of ways...He works through Nature, through our own bodies, through books, sometimes through experiences…

Now here’s the kicker:

But above all, He works on us through each other… Men are mirrors, or ‘carriers’ of Christ to other men… That is why the Church, the whole body of Christians showing Him to one another, is so important.

We need friends because they are one of God’s choice tools to transform us to be like Jesus.

Truth #5: (Imperfect) Friends fit us for heaven. And we are fit with them. 

As I write, we’re deep into the Advent season.  And the Advent is about preparing Him room. It’s about making space for the Savior.

But this year, as I shop and bake and wrap and read it’s dawning on me that Someone else is doing the lion’s share of preparing. For all the thoughtful stocking stuffing and gift wrapping he does, I don’t mean Jim.

All this while, Christ is preparing us, fitting us. He is rebuilding our ramshackle houses, transforming our stinky stables, and sanding our rough trim to make a fit throne room for the King.

The last line in Away in a Manger nails it: And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there.

It strikes me that He might just be doing that through (imperfect) friends. 

In Him the whole building is fitted together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2:21-22

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You Can’t Ride 2 Horses With 1 Heinie (AKA: Give Thanks)

It’s my thing: the annual Thanksgiving post.

Mayflower’s Daughter came first. Then came Why Pilgrims Don’t Grumble and smitten by William Bradford, A Poem For Pilgrims. Next was It Really is Good to Give Thanks, and last year I asked Do You Leak? (For the record, it was about roots of grumbling not moms on trampolines.)

This year, it’s one heinie on one horse. Because, choose this day who you will serve and no one can serve two masters. Because, give thanks in all circumstances is God’s will for us.

And God’s will for us is always good

The Silver Bullet To Joy: Thanks

Because I know- not just in my head but in my heart- that giving thanks is as close to a silver bullet to joy as there possibly could be. While we cannot force thankfulness, the feeling; we can coerce the action. Even if we don’t feel thankful, we can give thanks.

And if we do, if we force ourselves to be thanks-givers, I say this from experience, the thankful, joyful feeling follows. It works like this: I wake up and feel the discontent not gratitude oozing out of me. But if I make myself thank God for five things before I roll out of bed, I hit the ground happier, and more thankful. Because I forced the issue. I talked to myself instead of listening to myself. I grabbed the reins and took myself in hand.

It works. Every. Single. Time. When I feel discontent because of what my husband didn’t do, I can thank him for what he did do. When I feel envious about a girlfriend’s gift, I can thank God that she is my friend. And when I’m grumpy about a sink full of dirty dishes, I can thank God for mouths to feed. One or the other: grumble or give thanks.

Because you can’t ride two horses with one heinie. 

You Can’t Ride Two Horses 

You simply can’t feel thankful and entitled at once. You can’t ride the I-Deserve and the All-Grace thoroughbreds together. You just can’t. I can’t. And believe me, I’ve tried.

I’ve tried to ride the Thankful bay and the Self-pitying paint together and it never works. But sometimes I still try to saddle up the Envy pony right alongside the Gratitude gray and climb up.

But no matter how hard I try I cannot ride both. Because I’ve only got one heinie.

Ride The Thankful Horse

How it went down yesterday: I started saddling up my Envy pony after hearing opportunities for friendship and ministry that some friends of mine have because they don’t work outside the home. I had one foot in the stirrup before I came to my senses and climbed on Gratitude Gray. God’s got me at this job for his good reasons and I’m thankful- YES THANKFUL!- for the ways He’s using it to grow and shape me. 

That was yesterday. Today when I was tempted to mount the Comparison mare and let it gallop off again with my old dreams for a quiver full of kids- the Spirit counseled me off her back and onto the strong Thankful stallion. The Father promised He’d provide all your needs. So if you don’t have it, you don’t need it. No good thing does he withhold. 

Those were Spirit-wrought victories. Other days I ride too long on the wrong horse’s saddle. I climbed on the I-Didn’t-Choose-This chestnut and let him get the best of me. He charged off to You-Deserve-Better Land. And if I spend any time at all there, I return quarrelsome and harsh with my family.

All because I got on the wrong horse and let it take me for a ride. 

Defeat The Dark Horse: Give Thanks

The best way to drive out my self-focused, self-pitying, envious grumps is to be a thanks-giver. Gratitude, John Piper explains, is the song that defeats the enemy. Suppose, he says, that you discover that there is a song which the enemy and their sympathizers cannot tolerate or approach. Whenever they hear it, they pull back and run the other direction.

Isn’t it certain that you would want to learn this song? And after you learned it, you would sing it when you went to bed at night and when you got up in the morning. You would sing it on the way to work, and among strangers… Others would see and hear and learn the song from you. And in the end you would conquer the enemy.

The enemy rides a dark horse. He steals our joy and deceives us with lies. We play right into his hand when we compare and complain. One of his most convincing, joy stealing lies starts like this, But you deserve.

And the song that drives the dark horse and his lying rider away is thanksgiving.

Sing the Song of Thanks

You can give thanks or you can grumble. One will drive out the other.

Because I deserve and by grace cannot peaceably coexist in one heart. We cannot have two masters; Jesus isn’t looking for 60-40 split. We can’t serve ourselves with I deserve and Woe is me and  give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne. You can’t ride two horses with one heinie. 

So ride the right horse. Be a thanks-giver.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Psalm 118:1

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The Coffeepot Note & How Strong Moms Keep On

Dear Mom I love you note, found on the coffeepot. This note is why strong moms endure.

The note said without saying, Thanks for holding your ground, Mom. You were right not to give in to me. And I love you so much.

It was taped to the coffeepot Saturday morning. He said he put it there because he knew I’d find it.

Now I’m putting it here so you don’t give up or give in.

Because the night before I found the note, Tall One and I were in a tussle and I almost quit.

Strong Ones Don’t Give Up

Aw, Mom, why can’t we just play Brawl Stars? He brought his iPad too. C’mon. That’s what we want!

We had very different ideas about how our Friday fun night should look. When a new 6th grade boy visited, Tall One pushed hard for screen time, alone. Mom held out for tacos at the table and real games- board games- after dinner, together.

And I asked myself what I sometimes ask my husband, Why am I surprised parenting is so strenuous and effortful and just plain hard ?

Unlimited screentime would have been so much easier.

Strong Ones Stand On Promises

Honestly, had it not been for these verses swirling around my mind, I’d have given in.

  • And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9
  • For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. Hebrews 10:36
  • Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58

They’re a few of my go-to, keep-on promises from God. And you know what they say about what makes strong ones strong, don’t you?

They stand on the promises. They don’t sit on the premises.

Strong Ones Endure

Strength can be measured, physically and spiritually, by what will make us stop. What will make us throw in the towel, cry “Uncle!” or just be done?

But God strengthened me with his promises that night. I endured Tall One’s onslaught and stood my ground when the 12 year-old lashed out against the good. This mom endured that pain.

Because I’m learning that strong ones reframe their pain and so renew their minds (Romans 12:2). Strong ones know that it’s trials and pain that build endurance- the ability to stand up under a burden (picture big dudes gripping bendy barbells)- and that it’s endurance that makes them mature and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2-4).

Add that to your go-to promises.

Strong Ones Rest

But, to be sure, strong ones rest. Athletes build rest days into their training plans. God rested the seventh day and commanded that we rest, for our good. You might even say, so that we can better endure.

I love how Timothy Keller explains this, and, fair warning, if you’re a driver like me, this might be hard to read:

Anyone who cannot obey God’s command to observe the Sabbath is a slave, even a self-imposed one. Your own heart, or our materialistic culture, or an exploitative organization, or all of the above, will be abusing you if you don’t have the ability to be disciplined in your practice of Sabbath. Sabbath is therefore a declaration of our freedom. It means you are not a slave—not to your culture’s expectations, your family’s hopes, your medical school’s demands, not even to your own insecurities… In the long run, of course, a deeply rested people are far more productive.

Yes, rest. In freedom, rest. By grace through faith, rest in the God who supplies all our needs (Philippians 4:19) and freely gives us all things (Romans 8:32).

Let the record reflect that three games of Mexican Train, twelve hands of Apples to Apples (Tall One’s friend wanted more!) and five dirty taco bowls later, I did rest.

Strong Ones Know Their Real Home

But in this pilgrim life, rest is not the norm. The norm is work and work out. The norm is get up and press on. Strong ones know that comfort is overrated and don’t expect full satisfaction this side of heaven. They know that expecting comfort and ease now tends toward anxiety and disappointment and, well, being dissatisfied.

Knowing that truth is the only reason that this weary mom could hold her ground against Tall One’s barrage coming home Friday night after a very long work week.

Because even Friday night at home, I’m learning, is not really home.

The settled happiness and 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

Strong ones know their real home. They know they are pilgrims on a narrow way. They enjoy fun times but they know such times are just “pleasant inns.” And they don’t demand the inn every Friday night.

The Strong Know God Knows

Pilgrims were sturdy souls. They were focused and strong. The hundred who settled Plymouth 400 years ago had every reason to quit.

But they were strong ones and strong ones don’t look for excuses because they know spiritual strength comes from endurance, and endurance must finish its work. So they push back against pressure to quit because their eyes are on the prize (James 1:12), even when it’s invisible to naked eyes (2 Corinthians 4:18). Oh, yes! Strong ones see that victor’s crown that awaits enduring saints and jubilate.

So whether your pressure is long term or short term, whether a difficult job or a strong-willed kid, whether it’s aches in your body or strains on your mind- please keep on. Will you join me and stand on the promises? Our labor is not in vain, we will reap and there will come God’s reward. God will strengthen us (1 Peter 5:10) to endure.

You might not be gifted with a note from a Tall One taped to your coffeepot like I was.

But you can know that God knows when you bear up for his sake. So keep on.

I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.

Revelation 2:3