I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. —Evelyn Beatrice Hall
Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the one right which they first of all strike down. —Frederick Douglass
Freedom isn’t free, and staying free is costly. Holding freedom up takes work. The default setting on the freedom toggle is off. “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man, a wise one said, is eternal vigilance.”
I’ll make this short so you can get out and celebrate America’s 245th Birthday. Because we felt it acutely this year: keeping freedom—especially to speak truth in love—required practice and vigilance.
Now for those quotes.
5 Free Speech Quote
1. “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
2. “It is often a strategic mistake to silence a man, because it leaves the world under the impression that he had something to say.” ~G.K. Chesterton
3. “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” ~ George Washington
4. “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ~ George Orwell
5. “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.” ~ Frederick Douglass
Free Speech: A Liberating Strife?
I’m no political expert. But I know that what makes my muscles strong is weight-bearing exercise. I know that what makes my marriage and friendships, and my church or nation great is not 100% unanimity all the time, but in still being free to both listen, as Frederick Douglass pointed out, and to speak.
What makes for strength is not suppression but endurance, not plugging our ears but hearing what’s hard to hear, not silencing opposition, but staying engaged when we don’t agree.
To promote free speech even when we disapprove is difficult. It may even be painful. Because free speech cuts both ways.
But maybe hearing what we don’t want to hear is a severe mercy and perhaps free speech itself is a sort of liberating strife?
O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife, Who more than self their country loved And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine, Till all success be nobleness, And every gain divine!
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.
Mercy triumphs over judgment.
**Three of the five quotes are from Erwin Lutzer’s 2020 book, We Will Not Be Silenced. Lutzer gave a lively interview—”I think it’s okay to use the word bloody…No, you’re getting just enthusiastic enough.”—to Eric Metaxas this week. You can access that conversation here.
Son, you get the Lunchable. Would you like some ice cream too?
Those words cut across every grain of my don’t-back-down,actions-have-consequences,hold-the-line parental instinct.
And then some.
On the table was an “Uploaded Pizza Lunchable.” Despite the absence of whole food health, these had somehow weasled their way as a field trip lunch tradition. But when one son had pitched such a fit about a reasonable bit of homework, his Lunchable was off the table. And when he refused my warnings, ice cream for dessert was too.
Because of what, in the education world, we call “Escalation” and “Red Zone” and “Level 5.” Because of his kicking and shouting and chair-banging. You might call it a good, old-fashioned temper tantrum. At home we call it raging and losing control or, how I classed this one: out-of-your-head mad.
Mind over matter, I kept telling myself. Tune it out. Don’t engage. Ignore the beast and wait for the boy. Keep on.
But the self-talk was to no avail. I managed to finish all of two sentences of a work report in the half-hour my boy lay writhing on the floor. I couldn’t tune out the beast and my mind couldn’t hurdle this matter. And I couldn’t just keep on.
So- better late than never-I thought, and dropped to my knees to pray.
Mrs. Business Relents
…Have Mercy. Help me. Help the boy. Amen. Then a still small voice said, Relent, even as a loud, mad voice wore on.
The Lunchable’s yours, Bud. You can take it on your field trip. And the loud, mad voice was stilled.
What did you say? it said.
You get your Lunchable back I said.
Then, the silencer: Wanna have a bowl of ice cream with me?
Kids need to know parents mean business, child-rearing gurus say. As if I’m not Mrs. Business herself. Give a consequence, set your face like flint and stick to it-I generally subscribe to that. Relenting went against every sound disciplinary principle I knew.
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
The Lord does not turn a blind eye to sin or make nothing of it.It is there and it is real and it is offensive to him, Carlsen says.
But God is patient and his kindness waits for us to repent. That is why sinners aren’t consumed. When God proclaimed his name to Moses way back in Exodus 34:5-7, he opened with “The LORD, The LORD, a God merciful and gracious.” The reason judgment hasn’t crushed us all is because of God’s kindness and forbearance and patience. God waits for us to repent and come to Him in his Beloved Son.
Charles Spurgeon said it so well,
GOD is often exceedingly good to those who are utterly unworthy of such treatment…The goodness of God to a man of evil life is not intended to encourage him to continue in his sin, but it is meant to woo and win him away from it. (Charles Spurgeon, Sermon #2857)
But kindness isn’t always received this way. It doesn’t always woo sinners away from sin.
But God blessed us- the boy and me- this time and it did. My restoring the Lunchable and scooping the ice cream did woo Gabe from his selfish fit. He worked a glorious repentance from a tiny act of kindness. He turned from writhing on the floor to homework at the table. And based on the writing on the bathroom mirror that night, Gabe had turned from sin to God.
It’s all there lumped together and it’s all true. And we do fail and we won’t always do discipline right. We’ll cave when we should wait and hold the line when we should release. It’s only with divine guidance that we can know when to relent and when to keep the consequences in place and sit tight. Only with the wisdom from above that we will apply these truths aright.
Mama said they’ll be days like this. (They’ll be days like this my mama said.)
Mama knew about beaten-down days. About days when bad news comes and high hopes go. When relationships feel so strained it hurts to say Hi or to try to relate at all and we look down and wait for the other show to drop.
Days like this when no wind fills the sails and infection’s weight makes us just almost ache.
Days Like This
A 7:00 am text set me down a sad way. Even though her reason for cancelling had nothing to do with me, Still, I took it personally and started second guessing. You know how these, why-so-downcast-O-my-soul days can be.
Thirty minutes later, the email. Not any email.- the “Hey! When can we talk?” email. The sort that make your heart sink to where the other shoe dropped and you want to meet immediately to get the dread deed done.
Then my husband caught me by surprise and took me to task for a mistake I’d made a week back. His correction was right on and true blue. And stung a little still.
By 9:00 the day had officially become one of those days. One of those days that turns into a downcast, hot-mess of a day.
Pickin’ Mercy Off The Trees
But we don’t take days like this sitting down. Children of the Father of mercy don’t write off a whole day as a bad day before the noon bell rings. Or anytime, for that matter. We don’t throw in the towel and give in to the sulks because this is the day that the Lord has made.
And because God gives his kids mercy to match the hard in these days. In fact, his mercies never come to an end. And if they never end, it means they’re there every single moment. They’re there in the morning and the whole day through. Ripe for the picking.
But we might have to fight to see them. There might be sweet mercy fruit hanging on the trees, but it’s not ours till we go pick it. Looking for mercy in days like this takes some spiritual pluck. Pluck like what weeping Jeremiah showed when, in the throes of disaster, he wrote,
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I surely wasn’t singing that tune this morning. It was all I could do get showered and dressed and to the group where I needed to be.
Mercy to Match
Four hours after that “can we talk” email summons, the hard talk was had. It was a firing of sorts- bad news. But I swallowed hard and forced a smile and started back to the car. And just as the first tears were welling, a few cars before mine, I looked up and there was Deb,
Deb’s my friend Jen’s mom. She’s s a sweetheart. Still, when Deb smiled and asked, “How are you today?” the words didn’t come at first, because I knew words would release tears. But Deb cared and words came-thankfully, more than tears. Then, Abigail, how can I pray? and Deb hugged me and we were on our way.
Mercy waiting in the parking lot.
Then to the post office where no line- more mercy- greeted me. So when our town’s friendly-face-of-the-USPS- Ted- asked how I was, I looked up and gave a real answer. God’s still good, I said, but it’s been one of those days. To which Ted spoke some of the kindest, most encouraging words a guy selling stamps could ever say.
The more I looked, the more big and little mercies I found that afternoon. The more my focus changed from woe is me self-pity to great is his mercy. They really were all around and it was, as so much of the Christian life is, mainly a matter of focus. Of fighting to behold God’s glory and so be transformed (2 Corinthians 3:18). Of choosing to think on what is true and noble and good (Philippians 4:8).
It got easier to see them, and have hope. But I had to do defy my downcast soul to do it. Like the Psalmist in Psalm 42: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are so in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
We must not be content in days like these to listen to the lie that says, Go ahead. Sympathize with yourself. Its okay to sulk this one away.
Talk Back to Yourself & Take Back the Day
We must, says Lloyd-Jones, take ourselves in hand.
We must talk to ourselves, instead of allowing “ourselves” to talk to us! Have you not realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? You must say to your soul, preach to yourself, questions yourself “Why are you so downcast?”
Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: I will hope in God for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Spiritual Depression, p. 20)
Mama said there’ll be days like this, and God said He’d send fresh, ripe mercies on these days.
But we might not see his mercies until we defy ourselves to lift our eyes and look.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning;great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
Yet I’m wide awake and wet with sweat and flashback to the flood that came last Wednesday morning. And I wonder, still I wonder, How long O Lord? Will it all begin again? And as I wonder, these words, His Words, for one reason or another roll one to the next to mind. Some are hard words, but all of them give comfort and courage and hope.
The cattle were saved. Huddled on high ground with flood water muzzle-high on the twin calves. Someone drove by at four and sent word to the farmers up the hill. Then, just before dawn came their deliverance.
Yes, God’s Never again rainbow promise stands forever. But the Son of God said, They were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away. And as the thunder rolls and the lightening strikes, I think how I don’t want to be caught of guard. He will come again.
The storm you’re in isn’t always because of you, Pastor had said the Sunday before the flood. The sailors on Jonah’s ship weren’t to blame for those waves. Which isn’t to say that in infinite love, God doesn’t use floods and storms to shake us and shape us.
Carp crossed the road Wednesday morning and cars could not get out to take workers to work. Saints and sinners unsifted. Some were untouched. Some woke to water a foot deep on the ground floor of a home they might never wake up in again.
This wasn’t in any of our plans for Wednesday. I wasn’t planning to spend the rest of the week waging war with wetness, rolling carpets, pulling mats. Jim thought he’d be at work until that carp crossed the road. Yes, only if the Lord wills,
And over the aftermath. Over the carpets and couches and boxes and bins and pads piled high around houses and in heaps beside the streets. And over the mold and the mildew and the bleach and the fans and gutted out basements in Burlington. Enthroned.
But what happens when we hear God’s voice thunder, and cannot understand? Job heard and worshiped. I stood in awe of the power that erodes roadsides and overflows dams in mere hours hours. We still call these acts of God, don’t we?
It would be very wrong to pronounce the flood was divine judgment on the special sins of Burlington. But would it be just as wrong not to see God’s hand in the flood at all?
God’s voice thundered; the flood was beyond our understanding. But just because it’s beyond our understanding doesn’t mean there’s nothing to glean. Should we write off the flood of ’17 as a meaningless, chance event? And just bleach our basements, lay new carpets and move right along
We’d best not, I think. Because God’s still in charge. He still plants his footprints in the sea and rides upon the storm. He still speaks. Not just to the waterlogged us, but all of us who saw the National Guard and the Red Cross and ServPro trucks roll in and took pictures of rivers in roads and of lakes where once were yards.
I think God is saying something to all of us.
John Calvin explained that if natural things always flowed in an even and uniform course– not like the 8 inches in 2 hours that Burlington got early last Wednesday morning- that,
the power of God would not be so perceptible. But when he changes the face of the sky by sudden rain, or by loud thunder, or by dreadful tempests, those who before were, as it were asleep and insensible, must necessarily be awakened, and be tremblingly conscious of the existence of a presiding God. Such sudden and unforeseen changes manifest more clearly the presence of the great Author of nature.
Beyond that, and seeing in the flood a warning borne of love, we’d probably be unwise to assign specific why’s.
Burlington was no more evil than neighboring Elkhorn. Just like the sun that dries up all the rain, the rain fell on the just and the unjust. Even the Good Lord refused to place blame when he was questioned about the why behind little apocalyptic falling of the tower of Siloam.
Jesus didn’t say why. But he did say glean. Russell Moore writes, “Jesus doesn’t avoid talking about the ultimate Apocalypse either. He rejects a personal sin-disaster correlation but then says: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”(Luke 13:4-5).
Yes. Rolling Thunder, we heard your cry. And now alert, in turn we cry Mercy. For you are the God of mercy.
As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man…Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Matthew 24:37-39, 44
In love, we are warned. Because Gpd is patient, not wishing any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9). And I pray none of us- with wet basements or dry- will miss in this flood a loving alert. No, this shouldn’t come as a total surprise.
The WHY Is No Surprise
The Bible helps us face life when calamities like floods come. Job faced incomparably worse than we did in the Flood of 2017. Enemies with swords and thunder from heaven and great winds killed his cattle and servants and all of his kids. His wife said, Curse God and die. He didn’t.
Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away, blessed by the name of the LORD (Job 1:20-21).
Dr. Martyn Lloyd- Jones preached a sermon on those verses in response to epic English flooding in 1953. He preached then, and it’s still as true, that we waste too much time trying to figure out why.
We already know why, he said:
Sin. Disasters and calamities, earthquakes and floods…are the direct outcome of sin and the Fall. The Bible does not promise us anywhere that these things will not happen. The Gospel is no soothing syrup. There will be wars and rumors of wars and calamities. While there is sin left in this world these things will happen. We should not be surprised. Only those who do not know the Bible will be surprised by these things…
From the biblical standpoint, the remarkable thing is that worse things don’t happen. The remarkable thing is that God causes his sun to rise on the just and the unjust, that he allows such gifts to people who curse him to his face.
The HOW Matters More
What matters more than why is how we face these things, Lloyd-Jones said.
My HOW was a bad how: I was all of harshness and impatience and a smattering of faithless catastrophizing in the days following, as the wetness crept into more carpets and the boys likened the downstairs smell to- well, let’s just say a dank, dark smell that would make you flee far away.
So I’ll leave you with a picture of some friends who’ve been through the flood and responded to God’s thunderous voice with far more grace than me:
Bill and Genie woke up Wednesday with a 39 inch pool in their basement. Before they could pump an ounce out- the generator was in their also waterlogged garage- the power went out for two days and besides that there was no place anywhere near their house for the water to go. They left their home.
Genie told me Sunday after church that the water was still 39 inches deep. She told me how she had watched her family’s mainstays and memories – Q-tips to Christmas decorations- afloat down below.
But it’s okay, Genie said. It’s all God’s anyway.
Bill and Genie are waiting for adjustor to come this week. But they’re not hanging their hope on that. I know because I heard Bill loud and strong on Sunday.
Pastor’s sermon was on Jonah again. He’d just said something about how we all need to get to that place- and most of us get their without time to reflect in the belly of a fish- that place where where we can say,
My hope is in God alone and I know there is no other Savior.
That was when Bill’s voice thundered behind me,
Amen!I heard it boom.
We heard God’s voice thunder last week. Bill and Genie, like Job, worshiped in the flood.
For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.