Don’t Judge Me For My Troubles

A woman looking out window judge not
You’d rather listen to the Keep On podcast of this post? Great! Here’s the link.

Our family has faced our hardest times yet these last few weeks. We’ve “expanded our circle” of helpers and burden-sharers. It’s humbling. Yesterday my hot-mess sobs stopped the ladies’ prayer time cold. But today I want to share the good coming out of all this: I’m learning not to judge.

Judge Not

Oh, sure, I already knew that. To walk a mile in his shoes; and take the log out of my own eye first. But through this backdoor way, the troubles of the last months are peeling off judgmental layers I didn’t know I had.

I’m embarrassed to admit it. “Judge not” feels, now, too obvious to state. But what is plain as day to some is as clear as mud to others. In some dark nights this truth did not shine brightly. It was not front and center when my friends passed through the valley.

This post is for you who are in a world of hurt. And to you who aren’t in that painful world now, but love someone who hurts. I want you to know this when you are tried and I want you to remember it you see hard times come to others, so that you don’t assume you know why trouble came.

Don’t Assume

It is both massive caution and immense relief. So, what is this brilliant truth?

Troubles are not proportional. Life is not a formula. We must not assume that suffering and prosperity are distributed in proportion to the bad or good that a person does; that if we live by faith and obey Christ, health and ease will come, and if we don’t, it won’t.

The truth is, we do not always reap what we sow.

Job didn’t. But Job’s counselors gave him many iterations of “you reap what you sow,” to explain his trials. None of them helped. Every one hurt.

We hear it in the words of Job’s friend Eliphaz. First Eliphaz observes, “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:8). That’s the assumption. Job suffering must be a punishment for some secret sin. For, as Eliphaz adds, “The wicked man writhes in pain all his days” (Job 15:20). Then he gets even more direct, “Is not your evil abundant? There is no end to your iniquities” (Job 22:5).

You reap what you sow is biblical (e.g., Galatian 6:7, Hosea 10:13, Proverbs 1:31). As a general principal, you reap what you sow is true. But sometimes what looks like a harvest is not a harvest.

Job knew this. He is right when he says, “The evil man is spared in the day of calamity” (Job 21:30). And the suffering of Job was the suffering of “a man blameless and upright; who feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).

No, life doesn’t work like this. Trouble is not a proportional thing.

Don’t Judge That Way

None of us like to admit to being judges like this, judges with evil—or at least self-protective— thoughts. But I know I have been. I fall back into thinking that if I live by faith, I will be spared of trouble on earth. But God is teaching me to stop judging myself and others that way.

Because the earthly outcome of genuine faith is not the same. That’s just not how God does it. God does not spare his children from suffering. The good die young. And the good die old. The length of man’s days, and the trouble he sees in those days, does not reveal his faith.

In other words, don’t judge a man’s faith by the suffering in his life. Don’t judge your sister’s faith by the hardship she endures. Please don’t assume the cancer came because she ate junk food or the prodigal was formed by parental indulgence. Don’t assume the conflict means she was controlling and the lost job means he was a poor worker.

No, trouble is not so simple, not so black and white.

The Rule, Not The Exception

We see this truth throughout Scripture. Righteous (and afflicted) Job is Exhibit A, blameless (and long childless) Zechariah and Elizabeth are Exhibit B, Apostle (and thorn-poked) Paul is Exhibit C, the man born blind (and it was not for his sin or his parents’) is Exhibit D, and John the Baptist (among those born of women no one was greater and still Herod took his head) is Exhibit E. The list could go on and on.

In other words, we can’t judge a man’s faith by the trials in his life. God’s ways are higher. For who has understood the mind of the Lord? Ours is a non-coddling God. Aslan is not a tame lion. Our God is in the heavens and he does whatever pleases him. He has mercy on whom he has mercy and makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust. His righteousness endures forever.

In the end—hallelujah and amen— there is a crown for the righteous. Heaven awaits. Then we will see Jesus face to face.

But we make a grave mistake if we think we can judge the genuineness, purity and depth of one’s faith by looking at the trials they experience in this life.

My friends, this should not be. The end of Hebrews chapter 11 tells us why. It does not permit us to believe that a life of faith guarantees pain-free.

Both By Faith

Hebrews 11:32b-39 makes the case.

32 For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection.

36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, mistreated—38 of whom the world was not worthy— wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. 39 And all of these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised…

Both were commended. All of these are in the “Hall of Faith.”

Both Were Commended

By faith some conquer kingdoms and some are tortured to death. By faith some become mighty and some are stoned. And by faith some raise godly sons and daughters and some endure prodigal wandering.

Our faith is not the ultimate factor in whether we suffer or prosper. It’s not even the determining factor in if our own kids follow Christ. God is. His sovereign will and wisdom and love determine what I face.

Our friends may not understand. They may still judge. Our trials might be too traumatic for others to share. I get that too.

But in the end, isn’t this truth comforting? Our faith is not the final determiner of our trials. Some shut the mouths of lions, some were sawn in two. And both were commended for their faith.

Swords And More Swords

God can and does deliver his people by faith. He even performs miracles for them. God changed the normal way things work so that his people were helped or rescued from danger or death. We see this in verses 32-35a. But God doesn’t always rescue the faithful from suffering.

Some escaped the edge of the sword (verse 34) and others were put to death with the sword (verse 37). And both are commended for their faith.

In other words, having genuine faith in God is no guarantee of comfort and security in this life. John Piper says, it is crucial that we see the agonies God’s people sustained in verses 35-38 come by faith, not because of unbelief. He draws this out of the text in two ways.

First, in verse 33, notice that the list begins with “. . . who by faith conquered kingdoms . . .” and without a break continues into all the miseries of verses 35-38. It is by faith that “others were tortured . . . and others experienced mockings and floggings…” All this misery is received and endured by faith.

The other way to see this is in verse 39 which looks back on all the sufferings of verses 35-38 and says, “And all these suffering people], were commended through their faith.” In other words, the suffering and destitution and torture of God’s people in verses 35-38 are not owing to God’s disapproval. Rather God’s approval is resting on them because of their faith. The miseries and sufferings were endured, not diminished, by faith.

John Piper,Faith to be Strong and Faith to be Weak

Don’t miss this faithful, suffering friends: God’s approval is resting on you because of your faith.

Keep on.

Why We Judge This Way

I told my parenting woes to a friend this week. Then I confessed that I assumed. I assumed that behind all troublesome teens were problematic parents—over-controlling, hypocritical, neglectful, or some vile combination.

Then she said something surprising. Insightful, really. She said, she thought we did this formula thing not so much because we’re smug, judgmental beasts but because we want to protect ourselves. Because we want to believe that if we do X, Y, and Z this thing that happened to her won’t happen to me.

I think she’s absolutely right. I think we look for the flaws and the sins in those suffering as a way to sort of insulate ourselves. If I don’t parent like that, my kids won’t turn out like that. Or if I don’t eat like that, I won’t look like that. If I don’t do that, I won’t get cancer. We desperately want to know the cause.

Because if we know the cause, we avoid the cause. If we can reduce life to a formula to protect ourselves and those we love. Or so we think. While there may be some truth to each of the examples above—healthy lifestyles do promote health—they always break down. And the formula approach shatters in the context of faith and troubles.

In shards and smithereens, it shatters.

Joyful Suffering Shatters Assumptions

A new friend joined our Thursday ladies’ life group a couple months ago. Jan was there for the hot-mess, sob-fest. She heard me get so choked up I had to pause the prayer.

But you’ll never guess what Jan said.

She said thanks.

When I first met you, you seemed so strong and joyful. I assumed your life was all good. But now I hear this side and see your tears and you still have joy. Thanks.

Many things in this life are utterly opposite from the way they seem. For we wouldn’t think God would send his beloved to the wilderness to be tested or let his closest friends suffer persecution and martyr’s deaths. We wouldn’t think.

My trials are tiny compared to the persecution described at the end of Hebrews chapter 11. But I’ve read about the life and death trials of God’s children and I’ve seen a few friends suffer to death and I know they have heard, “Well done, good and faithful.”

Your Gift to the World

Which takes me to John Piper’s last point on that message from the end of Hebrews 11.

“When the precious children of God are permitted to suffer and be rejected and mistreated and go destitute, God is giving a gift to the world. He is gracing the world. He is shedding his love abroad in the world. Because in those who suffer and die in the unshakable assurance of hope in God, the world is given a message and a picture: ‘The Lord himself is better than life. Turn, O turn and believe.’

Who would have thought it—that the suffering are a gift to the world?”

“There is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8)? Who described Job in such glowing terms? Again, who commends “all of these” for their faith?

So judge not.

When a man is right with God, God puts his honor in that man’s keeping.

Job was one of those in whom God staked His honor, and it was during the process of His inexplicable ways that Job makes his appeal for mercy, and yet all through there comes out his implicit confidence in God.

“And blessed is he, whosever shall not be offended in me,’ said our Lord.

—Oswald Chambers, Baffled To Fight Better

Don’t Be Scared: He Holds Your Hand

Uncle Kev, God holds his hand
Uncle Kevin, 8/26/60-2/19/12

Note: A version of this post appeared in February 2012, the month Uncle Kevin went home. That post—I Hold Your Hand—was the first post written for JoyfullyPressingOn.

Firm Hold

No, Mom —no! It’s very scary. I don’t want to go. Pleeeeease—nooooo!

Waterpark guests stared. Lifeguards raised their brows. I tightened my grip on the four year-old’s hand.

Gabe’s four-year old cousin and his six year-old brother couldn’t get up the stairs fast enough. So yes, by golly, Gabe would try it once.

Onward, then—his screaming and squirming matched by my firm hold.

Very Scary

You’ll love it Bud. It’s not very scary. It’s very fun.

But the boy didn’t buy it.

No, Mom. I’m too scared. The green slide is too dark and too steep and it goes outside. Pleeeease. No!”

For a split second, wavered. But then I envisaged Gabe’s goggled grinning face bursting from the chute and toward the stairway I strode, struggling boy in tow.

By the first landing, his body had stopped protesting, a couple landings ahead of his mouth. So I lowered him, but to prevent retreat, I did not relax my hold. Hand in hand, we climbed, whine-singing, “Why Mom? It’s too scary. (x2) Please don’t make me go down.”

You can sing it to the tune of “Skip to my Lou.”

Please No

One hundred-twelve steps up we hit the summit, a relentless, omniscient mom and her reluctant, scared-to-death son.

At the sight of the gaping green mouth, Gabe made one loud, last stand.

No, Mom. Please, no.

It passed and I plopped us square on the blue tube, and wrapped him tight.

You’ll be back ten more times, assured the sage teen who pushed us off.

Let’s Go

There we were. Together on our tube, sliding along through the seafoam tunnel, awash in mid-morning sun. No longer did Gabe project fear. He broadcasted joy.

And as the tube splashed into the pool, he burst with those words I hoped to hear,

That was so fun! Let’s go again.

In the course of the next hour, with help from Grandpa (2 runs), Grandma (2 runs), Aunt Charissa (1 run), Aunt Danielle (1 run) and mom (the remaining 4 runs), Gabe enjoyed not one, not two, but ten runs down the feared and dreaded, once very scary green waterslide.

Not Strong Enough

What’s your very scary?

Is it fear of that your pain or the heartache will never away? That the grief and loneliness will always stay? That your prodigal won’t come home, that you love is in vain, or even that your faith will fail?

Rest assured: Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you. (J.I. Packer, Knowing God). He will hold you fast.

From the first run down the green chute to the last breath on this green earth, the Lord takes his children by the hand and walks us through every very scary.

His Unseen Hand

This post was written in memory of my generous, joking, winking, eye-twinkling, and fearless Uncle Kevin. On Sunday, February 19th, 2012, God took hold of Uncle Kev’s hand and walked him home.

In the nearly ten years since, the truth of God’s unseen hand gripping mine means immeasurably more now than it did then. Then, I felt it as a parent clinging to a scared child and as an observer of a dear soul fading into glory.

Now, I feel it more as a fragile parent-child whose hand is gripped by the Everlasting Father. I feel it more as a servant looking to the hand of her master, waiting for mercy (Psalm 123:2). Now I know what that I only cling to him because his hand upholds me.

Speaking of holding, had he been here Uncle Kev would have held his first grandchild, little dark-haired, rosy-cheeked Ellie last month. I know there are no tears in heaven. I hope there is a beaming Grandpa Kevin amazed by the wonder of Ellie.

For I the Lord your God hold your right hand; it is I who say to you. ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’

I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD, your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. 

Isaiah 41:13-14

2021: Better? Or More Need of Endurance?

solo oak tree in snow
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
Isaiah 61:3c

I can’t wait for 2020 to be done! 2021 has got to be better. I keep hearing that and I’m just not so sure.

But I know we have need of endurance.

Need Of Endurance

That’s how the author of the book of Hebrews put it, 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).

Endurance is bearing up under pressure or strain. It’s holding the weight above your head for 30 more seconds while your arms are quivering and aching. It’s carrying the six-year old all the way back while your legs are shaking. Weight bearing strengthens your body. It also strengthens your soul. But there are no shortcuts. You must bear up.

Endurance is strength in opposition. People who endure stand firm and handle pain because they know that trials can be productive (James 1:2-4). I like to write about about strong moms and strong grace and strength to do the ordinary things. My business card says I’m a spiritual strength trainer. I love to help people stand firm and grow strong.

So it’s not surprising that in this truth-denying climate, with freedom-ceding Covid-19 and a hyper-charged political scene, I hear the call to endure louder than ever.

Because 2020 might have been birth pangs and tremors. Not recovery and aftershock, but beginnings. You have need of endurance.

Because who’s not to say that the year of our Lord 2021 may be an even wilder ride?

Oak Or Squash?

Before James Garfield was President of the United States, he was head of Hiram College. At Hiram, a father once asked Garfield if his son’s course of study could be simplified so he could get through by a shorter route.

“Certainly.” Garfield replied. “But it all depends on what you want to make of your boy. When God wants to make an oak tree, He takes a hundred years. When He wants to make a squash he requires only two months.”

The blessed are the steadfast. The ones who endure like Job and grow strong in their faith like Abraham (Romans 4:20). The ones who feel the pain and scratch with potsherds and grieve their losses as praise, but don’t charge God with wrong (Job 1:22). But they don’t take shortcuts. They cling to God’s promises (Romans 4:20). They’re strong, steady oaks.

The not-blessed are those who squish under pressure. They feel they heat and turn to mush. They don’t stand firm. They spring up. But trials— like 2020 come and under the pressure, they wilt (Mtt. 13:21).

Or, to borrow from Garfield, they seek shortcuts. They don’t stand firm and they’re squash. Squishy, mushy squash.

God Supplies What We Need

So bear up. No shortcuts. Oaks of righteousness endure. Remember righteousness comes by faith. And faith means taking God at his word. His word in Philippians 4:19 says, my God will supply all your needs. So if we have need of endurance, we can bank on the our God—the God of endurance—to supply it. He gives it to the end to all who are saved. And he gives it with such kind purpose.

James 5:11 says that the purpose of the Lord is “compassionate and merciful.” And so his oaks endure.

Because God gives endurance. And because they know He will come through.

Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand...

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

James 5:8b, 11

WHITE HORSE: An Advent Song For Harassed Hearts

I’d like a white horse for Christmas. I wouldn’t mind some Florida sunshine, strong coffee and a stronger back rub, but a white horse tops my list.

Bring me a white horse for Christmas
We’ll ride him through the town
Out into the snowy woods
Where we will both lie down

Underneath white birches
Our faces toward the sky
We will make snow angels
With our white horse standing by

Hush now, baby
One day we’re gonna ride
Hush now, baby
Our white horse through the sky

Bring me a white horse for Christmas
We’ll ride him through the snow
All the way to Bethlehem
Two thousand years ago

I wanna speak with the angel
Who said do not be afraid
I wanna kneel where the oxen knelt
Where the little child was laid

Hush now, baby
One day you’re gonna ride
Hush now, baby
Your white horse through the sky

No bridle will he be wearing
His unshod hoofs they will fly
Keep a watch this Christmas
For that white horse in the sky

Hush now, baby
One day we’re gonna ride
Hush now, baby
Our white horse through the sky

Hush now, baby
Let every angel sing
Hush now, baby
One day we’ll ride again

Over The Rhine, “Snow Angels”

Keep looking up. The baby of Bethlehem will ride.

Is a white horse on your Christmas list? Here’s why he’s on mine.

Advent Darkness

White horse face

We’re only one week into Advent, but 2021 has had feel of an eternal Advent with all the longing for justice and waiting for answers and fights for peace.

I feel the ache. This week left me second guessing a lot of things I thought knew. About how to love like Jesus loved and live not by lies and walk in grace and truth.

This first Advent week my convictions are getting all muddled and despite seeking God’s will, I grew more befuddled.

Because relationships are messy business. Sometimes loving feels like dying and sometimes hope meets with sighing.

Jesus knows. He came to his own, but his own received him not. Sorrow and joy comingle.

A White Horse Comes

The darkness in the world and the murkiness in my mind makes me ache for Jesus to come back. Which is what Advent’s all about anyway, right?

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

I know Jesus is coming again. And I want to be one of those looking up, like Paul was, longing for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). Longing for Him. While I don’t always know how to love His world, I do know He loves me and calls me his child.

But to all who did receive him, he gave the right to be called children of God.

And I know the Baby of Bethlehem will come again and take his children to be where He is (John 14:3). That knowledge is calming my heavy heart this week.

Is your heart heavy or you mind a bit muddled too? Are you troubled by many things, by all your Christmas to-do’s?

If so, will you join me in these long last days and patiently wait until Jesus Christ brings his peace to reign?

Will you lift up your head and be on the lookout and get yourself ready for the coming of the King?

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. 

Revelation 19:11-12, 16