Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Have You Ever Given Grace The Stiff Arm?

When we're grumpy, we want other people to pay. Have you seen this? Have you seen other people do this? Have you noticed you doing this? Why do we do this?

Let's say you've had a bad day. You've paid a greater emotional or physical or relational or vocational or financial cost than you wanted or were prepared to pay. You're feeling emotionally bankrupt and you resent it. What do you do with these emotions? 

Sometimes we try to make the happy or at least the less malcontent people around us pay.
“Give me some of that emotional capital!”
We do it not so much so that we can be happier, but so that they will be less so. We want them to feel a little of the impoverishment we feel. Or, we at least want others around us to know how much we’ve had to pay. They should know how much emotional capital has been required of us. They should feel sorry for us. They should not ignore our sacrifice. Our sacrifice ought to be noticed and appreciated. (Can I get a witness?)

And yet, when those people around us actually respond, how often do we resent their paltry sums offered in the currency of compassion or kindness? Their compassionate inquiry appears patronizing. Their kind gesture of encouragement or service we rebuff and dismiss. We want more.

Or, when we are grumpy, we want others to prop us up. And then they try, and we slap their supportive hand. “What are you saying?! I’m not your charity case! I’m fine!”

Now here’s the interesting thing I noticed on my way home from work one day about 6 months ago (it obviously takes me a little while to get around to writing these things up). I was feeling overworked and overwhelmed. I was tired of having to do all that I was having to do. I wanted to mope. I wanted to come in the door and subtly (or not so subtly) show it. Why? So I would receive some pity and props.

I knew this was wrong. My family didn’t need this from me. They each have their own loads and burdens. I don’t say this in some stoic, stiff upper lip, don’t-ever-show-you’re-struggling sort of way. I say it in the sense that husband and fathers ought to strongly depend on the strong grace of God and be strong in the grace of the Lord Jesus so that they can bless their wives and children with strong and steady and reliable and proactive and sacrificial and joyful love. Anyway…

I knew I should preach the gospel to myself and rehearse the blessings and promises that are mine in Christ. I knew God could meet me right there in the car and enable me to walk through the door with joy and contentment. I even knew that God was beginning to do so as I prayed for it!

And then I found myself resisting his grace! I didn’t want to yield my claim to pity. If I came in happy, then they might not realize all I’ve had to deal with today. They might think I paid no cost. They might not pity or prop me at all. What pathetic pride. What prideful self-pity.

So, I found myself teetering between a desire for the consolation and encouragement of God and a desire to resist that grace in favor of my family’s pity and props. What?! What am I doing resisting grace?!

"God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6). True. True. True. And there is a corollary. The proud oppose the grace of God, but the humble welcome it.

If you can't relate to what I'm saying, just pray for your foolish pastor who needs to grow up and always humbly welcome the grace God gives.

If you can relate, let's forsake all our foolish and prideful resistance to grace. We do NOT want to be grace-resistant, grace-repelling people! We want, we need! to be grace-welcoming, grace-receiving, grace-attracting people. Grace repelling people are repulsive. Grace attracting people are attractive.

Lord, give us more grace! Make it always irresistible to us. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


“The difference between an unconverted man and a converted man is not that one has sins and the other does not; but that the one takes part with his cherished sins against a dreaded God, and the other takes part with a reconciled God against his hated sins.”

William Arnot, Laws From Heaven for Life On Earth (London, 1884), page 311.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Spiritual Hardiness in a Cushy World

Rick Chapman brought my attention to this article recently. It's well worth reading. A couple quick quotes to encourage you to go and read the whole thing:
In a culture where comfort and convenience reign, relatively minor inconveniences — burned lasagna, flat tires, long post office lines, a lost Internet connection, or an unexpectedly tough hike — can seem overwhelming. If we can’t cope with these “first-world problems” without a meltdown, how will we handle a serious crisis?
In The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom attested to God’s loving presence, even as she faced illness and death in World War II concentration camps. She contentedly trusted that nothing separated her from God’s love — not nakedness, beatings, starvation … not even fleas.
Corrie and her sister Betsie would huddle with women at Ravensbrück reading the Bible and living its truth. As the sisters processed the horror of this concentration camp, they came across 1 Thessalonians 5:18 and its command to give thanks in all circumstances. At first, they thanked God for the few things that seemed positive, such as the fact that they remained together in the same barracks or the Bible they smuggled into camp. But Betsie pushed her sister to thank God even for flea infestation.
Corrie balked. “Betsie,” she replied, “there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
“Give thanks in all circumstances,” Betsie repeated. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.” With that, Corrie stood next to Betsie, and the two  gave thanks for the swarming fleas in Barracks 8.
For reasons the sisters didn’t understand at the time, prison guards never stopped them from holding hushed services in that space. Betsie and Corrie took advantage to read aloud Scripture, pray, and sing hymns with the women. Much later, Betsie overheard some guards talking. One admitted he was afraid to enter the barracks. Why? Because of the fleas.
As much as we might resent the label, it's really true that we 21st century Western Christians tend to be pretty "soft." It's good to have a soft heart, but it's not good to have weak wills and drooping hands and weak knees and thin skin and wet-noodle backbones.

Our Father loves us enough to drive that softness out of us. If we, as Christians, read the hardness of life in this fallen world as incompatible with the love of God, suffering will surprise us (or drive us crazy wondering what we did to deserve this). We need to prepare now so that we can will endure with grace and joy and love and gratitude, glorifying the great God who never leaves us nor forsakes us, even in the valley of the shadow of death. That's what the article is all about. That's what the Bible is all about (for instance here and here, just to name a few). You might already know this. I do. But, if you're like me, you need to be reminded of it again and again until soaks down into your bones and really strengthens your soul.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

If Only

(Photo found here)
Over the years, I have been helped immensely by Paul Tripp's writing and speaking ministry (in addition to admiring his stylish mustache). I signed up awhile ago to receive his "Wednesday's Word" weekly devotionals. Here's a good one that came through not too long ago.

"If Only..."
It's so easy to slip into an "if only" lifestyle. I find myself slipping into it often. The "if only" possibilities are endless:
If only I'd been from a more stable family...
If only I had a more understanding spouse...
If only my children were more obedient...
If only I'd been able to find a better job...
If only I'd come to know Christ earlier...
The seductive thing about our "if onlys" is that there is a bit of plausibility in all of them. We do live in a fallen world. We all face hardships of various kinds. We all have been sinned against in a variety of ways.
None of us ever lived in ideal circumstances or in perfect relationships. The world is a broken place and we have all been touched in many ways by its brokenness. Yet, the "if only" lifestyle tends to say, "My biggest problem in life exists outside of me and not inside of me."
In Psalm 51 David says something very radical. It's counter-intuitive to a culture that tends to say that we all are the result of what our experience has made us. David says, "Surely I have been a sinner from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." (Psalm 51:5)
David is saying that his greatest problem in all of life is not the result of what he has suffered in the situations and relationships of his life. Rather, David is saying that his biggest problem is internal and was there before he had any of these experiences! And David gives this deep and internal problem a name - sin. How humbling!
Think about it this way. It's the evil that is inside of you that either magnetizes you to the evil outside of you or causes you to deal with the evil outside of you in a way that is wrong. It's only when you begin to accept that your greatest problem in all of life is not what has happened or been done to you, that you begin to get excited about the rescuing grace of Jesus Christ. It's only when you begin to accept that your greatest need is something you came into the world with, that you will begin to hunger for the help that only God can give you.
It's only then that you begin to hunger for more than changes of situation and relationship. It's only then that you begin to accept the most radical and personally liberating truth that you could ever conceive. What is that truth? It's that what you and I really need to be rescued from is us! We are the biggest danger to us. That's why God offers us the gorgeous promise of his grace which has the power to change us from the inside out.
Are you embracing that promise or are you still saying, "If only..."
Make a list of the "If Only's" that you find yourself repeating. ... If you're honest, who do you blame most? Circumstances, relationships, situations (outside), or a heart that's corrupt (internal)?
How can you become more self-aware that your biggest problem exists inside of you, not outside of you?
God bless,
Paul David Tripp
You can find lots of resources by Paul Tripp at If you're interested in the Wednesday's Word emailings, you can scroll to the bottom of the page, left hand side, and see the link to sign up.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

On the Nature of the Gay Marriage Campaign

This is very interesting piece by Brendan O'Neill, especially considering O'Neill writes not as a Christian, but as an atheist.

Hat tip to Justin Taylor who summarized as follows, including several representative quotes:
Journalist Brendan O’Neill, who is an atheist (in terms of religion) and a libertarian (in terms of politics), recently wrote about “the peculiar non-judgmental tyranny of the gay-marriage campaign, which judges harshly those who dare to judge how people live.” He writes, “Opponents of gay marriage are now treated by the press in the same way queer-rights agitators were in the past: as strange, depraved creatures, whose repenting and surrender to mainstream values we await with bated breath.”
He thinks this is more “conformism” than “consensus”:
I don’t think we can even call this a ‘consensus’, since that would imply the voluntaristic coming together of different elements in concord. It’s better described as conformism, the slow but sure sacrifice of critical thinking and dissenting opinion under pressure to accept that which has been defined as a good by the upper echelons of society: gay marriage. Indeed, the gay-marriage campaign provides a case study in conformism, a searing insight into how soft authoritarianism and peer pressure are applied in the modern age to sideline and eventually do away with any view considered overly judgmental, outdated, discriminatory, ‘phobic’, or otherwise beyond the pale.
Later in the piece he writes:
In truth, the extraordinary rise of gay marriage speaks, not to a new spirit of liberty or equality on a par with the civil-rights movements of the 1960s, but rather to the political and moral conformism of our age; to the weirdly judgmental non-judgmentalism of our PC times; to the way in which, in an uncritical era such as ours, ideas can become dogma with alarming ease and speed; to the difficulty of speaking one’s mind or sticking with one’s beliefs at a time when doubt and disagreement are pathologised. Gay marriage brilliantly shows how political narratives are forged these days, and how people are made to accept them. This is a campaign that is elitist in nature, in the sense that, in direct contrast to those civil-rights agitators of old, it came from the top of society down; and it is a campaign which is extremely unforgiving of dissent or disagreement, implicitly, softly demanding acquiescence to its agenda.
And here’s his conclusion:
The conformism around gay marriage cannot be put entirely down to handfuls of campaigners, of course, and certainly not to any conscious attempt on their part to enforce political and moral obedience. The fragility of society’s attachment to traditional marriage itself, to the virtue of commitment, has also been key to the formulation of the gay-marriage consensus. Indeed, it is the rubble upon which the gay-marriage edifice is built. That is, if lawyers, politicians and our other assorted ‘betters’ have successfully kicked down the door of traditional marriage, it’s because the door was already hanging off its hinges, following years of cultural neglect. It is society’s reluctance to defend traditional views of commitment, and its relativistic refusal more broadly to discriminate between different lifestyle choices, that has fuelled the peculiar non-judgmental tyranny of the gay-marriage campaign, which judges harshly those who dare to judge how people live. Through a combination of the weakness of belief in traditional marriage and the insidiousness of the campaign for gay marriage, we have ended up with something that reflects brilliantly John Stuart Mill’s description of how critical thinking can cave into the despotism of conformism, so that ‘peculiarity of taste, eccentricity of conduct, are shunned equally with crimes, until by dint of not following their own nature, these [followers of conformism] have no nature to follow’