Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Romans 15:13

The first jolting text came Sunday at noon. A dear young cousin had fallen in church and couldn’t speak, couldn’t move. She was flighted for life. Details trickled in all afternoon. Brain surgery soon. A possible stroke? By bedtime, Stable now. Still, please pray for Hope

Inside Out

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  Luke 6:45

What’s inside our cup comes out when we spill. If my mug’s full of coffee it’s coffee that splashes, not tea. If my cup full of water is shaken, then water, not milk’s what you’ll see. When the cup spills, its contents are exposed. 

I know spills. Coffee stains spot our living room carpet. Drowsy at dawn, I stepped on a right-side up Lego and stumbled and spilled. Last Monday four hours of work didn’t save and I spilled. The suddenness of the provocation, said Lewis, doesn’t create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. 

Whenever a heart is full, full to the brim of a thing- of pride and self, or hope and faith-it will show. Because when a full thing is shaken it will overflow. For better or worse, when we’re shaken up and jostled about, insides spill. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss explains this so well, how being full of one thing matters most.

We think, I’m not an angry person, until we get jostled, right? Then out come attitudes, and these words that come spewing out. We think, Ooh! Maybe I am an angry person. I didn’t realize it! When we get shaken, we find out what we’re full of, and what we’re filled with is what flows out in those crisis moments. 

It’s the Holy Spirit, and the fullness of the Spirit, that enabled Stephen to suffer for Christnot just to serve, not just to speak, but also to suffer. When Stephen was threatened, he didn’t retaliate. In Acts 7:54-55 we see: When they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Do You Bleed Bibline? 

Prick him anywhere-his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting it, for his very soul is full of the word of God.  -C.H. Spurgeon 

But it can’t pour out if it wasn’t put in. Even for Stephen, such fullness was a gift given with discipline. He did-we must-still get dressed each day. We must put off our old self and put on Christ’s new. We speak in Psalms, hymns and songs and giving thanks to God are filled. 

So what comes out of your when you’re pricked or shaken and spill? Do words sill out that show we trust God is still good? Do we grateful words like Thomas Watson’s flow? Do we spill faithful words like Job’s? If we have not what we desire, yet we have more than we deserve. The Lord gives and the Lord takes and blessed be the name of the Lord.

It’s absolutely unnatural to be filled like that. Such gracious words don’t bubble out from a muddy fountain. We can’t just drill up this kind of faith, these words of hope, when we get shaken and spill. 

No, the kind of full happens daily, as we work out while He works in. We bop the sinful self every time it bobs its head up, day after day, year after year, for our whole lives long, Lewis said. We count yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. We know we’ve been crucified with Christ and no longer live and that Christ, our hope of glory, is alive inside.  

Then, filled like that with His fullness, hope will overflow.

Hope Overflows

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and hope in believing that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:4

With this quake, this awful shake, we glimpsed our dear cousin’s heart. A few days after the jolt, her older sister sent this note:

The last couple of days have been a bit of a blur to us. Thank you for those of you who have been praying for my sister. Hope had a stroke and is hospitalized in Madison.  

We are grateful that she is able to converse with us, albeit slowly at times. She is very weak…

Thank you for your prayer covering for the family. As Hope has whispered to us many times over the last three days, “God is good.”

Hope’s whisper shouts. Her sacrifice of praise puts it all in perspective: Life is hard and God is goodHope’s whisper stirs my selfish soul, and reminds me of these truths we know: 

That we will be shaken and jostled,
That we all will be spilled;
That precious words of praise tip out,
When with the God of hope we’re filled. 

*   *   *   *   * 

But this I recall to mind and therefore I have hope. 
The Lord’s lovingkindnesses never cease. His mercies never fail.

They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. 
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I have hope in him.’

Lamentations 3:21-24

10/17/15-As I write, I know Hope’s is grateful for your prayers for her doctors and her recovery and for comfort and strength for her husband, children and family. 

*Spoken of John Bunyan in Mr. Spurgeon as a Literary Man,” in The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, Compiled from His Letters, Diaries, and Records by His Wife and Private Secretary, vol. 4, 1878-1892, p. 268.

Small Things

For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice. 

Zechariah 4:10a

Hi, Mom. This is Sam, our introvert ten year-old announced. You told me to call at two o’clock. It’s two o’clock.

It may seem a small thing, Sam’s call. But it’s big, because Sam isn’t much for talking on the phone. Besides that aversion, he was digging deep in Minecraft when the appointed check-in time came. In days past, he forgot. He lacked self-control. This time, Sam called. It was big small step.

Sorry for whining, Mom, our eight year-old reluctant writer confessed. I just don’t want to write it all again, but I will. 

That after self-cues to take three big breaths. And so Mr. Emotion took a small step toward perseverance. Instead of the usual moan-and-groan act we see when he’s asked to redo, Gabe took correction. Without a whine or tear, he rewrote the note. A small thing, and big. 

Small things are there for the seeing, if we look. Resisting an ice cream urge at nine at night is small. And big. Refraining from, I told you so, when you did tell him so is small. And big. 

Saying I’m sorry and Thank you and I forgive you are all small statements. But they have potential to cause huge growth, both in the speaker and the listener. The lips of the righteous nourish many.  

Eyes To See Small Things

It was 520 B.C. The Jewish exiles had come home to Jerusalem. Decades after their temple had been destroyed, the rebuild restarted. The foundation was laid. But the sight of the stacked stones struck onlookers as small and scant, at least compared to the former glory of Solomon’s temple. 

So friends of Israel wept while her foes jeered. Many doubted the project would ever be finished. It was a day of small things. 

Enter the prophet Zechariah and the angel who spoke God’s word. To the Prince Zerubbabel and the mournful or scornful around him, Zechariah (4:6, 9-10) offered big encouragement: 

Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts…The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands shall complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For who has despised the day of small things shall rejoice and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel

Just you wait, Zechariah assures. It’ll get done. Zerubbabel will soon drop the plumb line down those straight temple walls. And when he does, you will rejoice. This little foundation, this groundbreaking, isn’t the sum total of the work God is doing. It’s the mustard-seed-small start of something big. 

The temple of the LORD will be rebuilt, because the Spirit of Almighty God is at work. 

Learning Zerubbabel’s Lesson

In some ways we’ve learned Zerubbabel’s lesson. We celebrate small beginnings of big buildings. We dig with silver shovels and cut ribbons and mark the new house starts with smily photo ops. 

We mark physical growth in all sorts of festive ways, too. Staggered lines and dates on the doorframe, walking, talking milestones in baby books, very big birthday bashes for very little people. We do these things-we celebrate and commemorate- because we know that big things start small. 

But what about the spiritual starts? Do we celebrate days of spiritual small things? Do we rejoice when the son shows growth in self-control? When he shuts off the iPad without being told and reins in complaint all on his own? Or the day the daughter uses words to build up and not bully her little brother? 

How about the day your friend chooses gratitude over grumbling, or timeliness over tardiness? Or when- after a quick fit of anger- a spouse turns and asks forgiveness? Do you rejoice? Do you praise the small actions borne of godly wisdom and fear of the Lord? A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30), and A man shall be commended for his wisdom (Proverbs 12:8). 

So maybe we should celebrate Spirit-led small things more.  Because, writes C.S. Lewis, 

Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature into a hellish creature. 

Sow an action, reap a habit. Nail is driven out by nail; habit is overcome by habit. Sow to the flesh, reap corruption, sow to the Spirit-the mighty working Spirit that builds God’s temples-reap eternal life (Galatians 6:8)Little seeds grow into big weeds or fruitful trees. 

So, who will despise the day of small things?

Worth Doing Badly

It’s not ours to judge how great the growth. We don’t even know the starting point. But it is ours to see-and celebrate- progress in the faith (1 Timothy 4:15, Philippians 1:25). It’s not the size of the thing we see that really matters. The world knows, Every journey begins with a single step. 

More and more I mouth this motto-as I scratch out a short note rather than a long letter or stop in for a 20-minute visit rather than stay for the day- A little bit is better than none at all.

When we say, I don’t have enough- we despise the day of small things. Not enough time to listen, enough money to make a dent, enough wisdom to teach, enough wit to put in a word for Christ, we despise the day of small things. If you find yourself here, take heart.

Because, Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. 
 G. K. Chesterton didn’t intend the line to be an excuse for laziness or low effort (though possibly for poor results). Instead, to a culture plagued both by not gonna bother if it can’t be perfect, and drive for good results with minimal effort-or someone else’s effort- Chesterton says, in effect: Be an amateur. 

Do the thing for love and not for money. Do it imperfectly, but do it still. If the things is worth doing, do it, even it’s not perfect. Don’t wait for weekend at a waterpark, head to the beach for an hour. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. Heed the Spirit and do the small thing.

Or do you despise the day of small things? The day when sons wash windows and multiply streaks and husband humbly bears wrong-size, wrong-color peace offering? Do you begrudge the hour because it’s not a day? 

Seek More Grace

Maybe you do see and celebrate the small things around you. But, what about in you? Do you despise the day of small things by not seeking more small things from yourself? I worked harder then them all, wrote Paul to the Corinthians, yet not I but the grace of God that was with me. 

In 1871, Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon on Zechariah 4:10, titled Encouragement for the Depressed. In it, he pushes us who do see and do rejoice in small things to do so yet more. Don’t settle. Don’t despise the day of small things by standing still, satisfied. Seek more grace. 

On the one hand, do not despond because you have the day of small things..but prove your value of the little by earnestly seeking after more grace. Do not despise the grace that God has given you, but bless God for it: and do this in the presence of his people. If you hold your tongue about your grace, and never let anyone know, surely it must be because you do not think it is worth saying anything about. Tell your brethren, tell your sisters, and they of the Lord’s household, that the Lord hath done gracious things for you; and then it will be seen that you do not despise his grace.

So I say-to the praise of His glorious grace-last week I was on time to the ladies’ group and went to bed without my Bear Tracks and didn’t say Told you so, when I did

Small things, all. But I rejoice. And want more grace.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you 
will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 
Philippians 1:6

Gone Fishin’

Let another praise you and not your own mouth; 

a stranger and not your own lips. 

Proverbs 27:2

Modesty is the only sure bait when you are fishing for praise. -Lord Byron

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all. -1 Thessalonians 5:14

If you fish for compliments and angle for praise, this post is for you. If you love an angler, it’s for you, too.

Did you find that gift I left?  I asked Liz, sheepish. 

It had been three months since I delivered the gift, a family read aloud. Our boys had loved the Easter adventure and I hoped Liz’s kids would too. But I hadn’t heard from my friend. Had they started reading it, or even found it?
We know as Christians we’re to give expecting nothing in return. We know if we give to be seen by men, we have received our reward in full. We know that the Father sees the hidden gifts, and that our reward is heaven.
We know. We get it. And sometimes we’re weak.

My last post was a tribute to praise. It was in praise of the pleasure we feel when we aim to please another and do. It was also a call to heed Proverbs 31:30 because A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 

But it was a guarded, wary praise because love of human praise can enslave. Praise can turn idol. What we worship becomes our God. Inordinate desire for praise leads us to sacrifice at that altar. 

Even with those distinctions, a niggling question remains: 

Is it ever okay to fish for a compliment?

The subject still strikes a nerve. Last month, our ladies’ life group split right down the middle. Never, said some. How will you know unless you ask, said others. You’ve received your reward, came the reply. What about “Help the weak”? another asked. 

Where do you fall? Do you ever find yourself biting your tongue and wondering, Didn’t they noticeDoes he have a clue how hard I worked to put that meal together? Does she know what I gave up to watch the kids? 
We itch and sometimes we can’t resist scratching. So we fish for compliments and angle for thanks. I’ve been there, and truth be told, I return from time to time. Ask my husband and Liz-if you must.
Some of us shake our heads, and roll our eyes at the vanity, the weakness. We’re not so needy as to fish in those waters. We’re strong and confident and our praise is in heaven.

Not so fast, you eye-rollers. C.S. Lewis lets us in on a little secret about the anglers among us:  

The vain person wants praise, applause, admiration, too much and is always angling for it. It is a fault, but a child-like and even (in an odd way) a humble fault. It shows that you are not yet completely contented with your own admiration. You value other people enough to want them to look at you (Mere Christianity, Book III, ch. 8).

Weakness is not sin. In Greek, weak– asthenēs is also translated sick, infirm, feeble. It’s used in Matthew 25 when Jesus was asked, When did we see you sick, or in prison or thirsty? It’s used in Acts 5 when the sick were brought that Peter might heal them and in Romans 5, When we were still without strength in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 

A friend and fellow blogger wrote about her struggle, her weakness to wean from man’s praise as she adjusted to stay at home status: 

The grades, awards, and stellar performance appraisals at work fed me. They told me I was worth something, that I contributed meaningfully. As SAHMs [Stay At Home Moms], we don’t get this regular feedback. Well, we get feedback, but it generally doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves. We get tantrums and turned up noses at dinner. 

So what do we do in the interim? …When I really need someone to tell me I’m doing a good job, I ask for it. People cannot read my mind. When I need reinforcement, I ask, “Did you like dinner? Did you notice I scrubbed the floors? How do they look?” Yes, this is fishing, but it helps. When I’m feeling desperate, it gives me the pat on the back I need to feel like my day was worth something.

But, as I mature, my dependence on these kudos wains.

I love her honesty. My friend Jess admits her fishing is a desperate measure, borne of weakness. But she’s maturing in Christ. She’s growing in faith. And growth means less dependence on man’s praise.

Both weaning and growth are gradual. But, we can help each other grow up in the faith. We are called to present each other mature in Christ. To that end, I offer these tips.

For fellow anglers:

1. Pray.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24) Ask the Spirit to convict you if your fishing is borne of pride or greed for praise.  

2. Then wait. 
The Lord is good to those who wait for him (Lamentations 3:25). Wait and wait until it hurts; longer than you thought you possibly wait. Then, baited in humility, go fish. Realize you might not catch. She might not like the gift, he might not care for your cooking. Be meek, ready to “take no.” 

3. Remember.
If you catch your compliment, you’ve had your reward. If you get the praise now, you forfeit the righteous reward later. And even if you do land a big one, remember, It is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the LORD commends (2 Corinthians 10:18).

Non-anglers, you’re not off the hook. You’ve got some responsibility, too. Sanctification is a community project.

For you who love us anglers:

1. Help the weak, be patient with all (1 Thessalonians 5:14). 
Take the bait. How well-chosen words can nourish a weak soul. One son needed a little extra praise to get over his double-digit borrowing hump. He got bigger ‘atta boy’s and more feedback than the stronger student. Go out of your way to praise the good done in fear of God and love for man. 

2. Strengthen his hand in God
That’s what Jonathan did when David needed encouragement. Try to tie your praise to God’s promised blessings for those who keep his way. It might sound like, That is good of you to open your house. Your hospitality pleases God (Hebrews 13:16).

3. Help the weak, be patient with all. 
Resist the bait. Sometimes silence may be better help. If you discern that’s a better help. If you discern flattery on your part, or greed for praise on his part, help by withholding. Jesus did. Martha, Martha, you are concerned over many things, he said. But Mary has chosen the better.  

*     *     *     *     *
Yes, we press on into maturity. We wean ourselves from man’s praise so that one day we’ll receive that eternal weight of glory, that far outweighs them all. We lift up the drooping hands and strengthen our weak knees. 

We train and deny ourselves, we wait until it hurts.Then in weakness, we fish if we must. Our God knows our frame; he remembers we are dust. So he sent one who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. 

When a weak angler comes fishing on our shores, let’s stop shaking our heads and offer some help. A little slap on the back can go a long way. This side of glory we are His hands.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 

-Paul, to the Colossians


In (Wary) Praise Of Praise

Praise is inner health made audible. -C.S. Lewis

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, 

but a man is tested by the praise he receives.   

Proverbs 27:21

Why be wary of praise?

I recently put the bow on a big birthday. I pray this post is more than a rationale for posting birthday pictures and soaking in others’ kind comments. That day, paired with Facebook’s fast feedback forced the issue.

Decades ago, well-meaning friends would chide, Learn how to take a compliment. Don’t shrug it off. Little did they know. Blind to the depths of my heart, they didn’t see how my coming of age meant coming to terms with man’s praise.

But I’m onto it now. By what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved (2 Peter 2:19b). Since I’m aware that pride dogs me, I’m wary of praise. I’m on guard, and sometimes it means I still don’t take a compliment well; I shrug it off. Battling isn’t always graceful.

We all crave praise to some degree. It’s built into us. The proverb says a man is tested by the praise he receives. It feels good to be affirmed. Mark Twain quipped he could last two months on a good compliment. But some of us can barely last two minutes.

If the praise buzz fades and you crash, beware. Likes and retweets and man’s praise are a short-lived highs when your hooked. If you’re slave to them, you’ll need another fix the second they stop. You feel unsteady, un-affirmed, and insecure without more pings and new notices. You’re addicted. 

If you’re a slave to praise and a lover of likes, be very wary. Be wary of places where wise, witty words get likes, and #humorous hashtags get tweets, and clever crafts get pins. Alcoholics avoid bars. If your right eye causes you to sin, Jesus warned. Maybe it means a fast from Facebook.

When a frenzy of likes finds us feeding there at that trough, high on human praise we must fight. It’s still with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. We call to mind, Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord. And, God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. And, The Lord regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar. 

Human praise can feed pride and leave us craving. But pleasure in being praised need not be a guilty pleasure.

When is pleasure in praise pure?

So how can we tell if our joy in being praised has crossed the line and turned to pride? 

C.S. Lewis parsed pride and praise in a most helpful way. Pleasure in being praised is not necessarily  pride:

Before leaving this subject [of Pride]: I must guard against some possible misunderstandings: (1) Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well, the woman whose beauty is praised by her lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says ‘Well done,’ are pleased and ought to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted (and rightly wanted) to please. The more you delight in yourself and the less you delight in the praise, the worse you are becoming. When you delight wholly in yourself and do not care about the praise at all, you have reached the bottom. (Mere Christianity; Book 3, Chapter 8)

But pleasure in being praised is a good thing, provided we revel in knowing we have pleased another. To seek another’s joy is a good thing, and gettintan atta’ girl when you’ve hit that mark is a fitting reward. Paul urged, Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up (Romans 15:2). Rather than sinful pride, what we feel when we are praised for pleasing is proud response, 

What, in the end, is maturing in the faith but learning more and more to find our joy and pleasure in pleasing Another? Whether we are at home or away, we make it our goal to please Him (2 Corinthians 4:9).  

The pure pleasure we find in pleasing God is intended by Him. It’s not “sub-biblical motivation for holiness,” Kevin DeYoung writes. It’s akin to a parent saying, “God is our Father and when you listen to what Mommy and Daddy say and you try to do what they want you to do, it makes God really happy. He gets a smile on his face when he sees you trying to do the right thing.”  

Why praise the woman (or man) who fears the Lord? 

1.  Praising the good in others glorifies God. Praising goodness in others exalts the God who gave them the good gifts.

Way back, St. Augustine observed, “He loves thee too little who loves anything together with Thee which he loves not for Thy sake” (Confessions, X 40). When we praise a good thing- a son sharing a much loved Lego, a husband seeing patients gratis, or any man or women who fears the Lord-we’re delighting in what delights the heart of God. 

2. Praising the good in others encourages them in the Lord. Let’s be like Jonathan who went to David and strengthened his hand in the Lord (1 Samuel 23:16).

When we praise one who fears the Lord, we give them strength. To keep fighting the good fight; to stay patient in singleness, joblessness or barrenness. To keep casting cares to God, speaking truth in love, forgiving all over again. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30). 

3. Praising the good in others fuels our joy in Jesus. It feels good. Praise is not merely the expression of joy, Lewis wrote, but the consummation it. 

It happens when we drag your spouse out to see a spectacular sunset, or post the picture of it. How many times have the floodgates of thankful joy opened wide when I stop to jot a note of thanks! God uses our giving thanks and offering praise to release us from self-absorption and pride and discouragement. Praising others produces joy in the praise-giver and its receiver.

*      *      *      *      *   
I’m still a sucker for birthday wishes. I live long on a good compliment. I love kudos and bravos and plain old ‘atta girls. I do. But I will not be enslaved by them. Neither man’s praise nor Facebook likes will be my highest joy and my very great reward.

Church, we’re betrothed to One, and it’s his praise we seek.

His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” 
Matthew 25:23