“Laundry Is My Overflowing Inbox”: Working within the Home

Stuffing a ratty t-shirt into the washer’s maw, I try not to think about the fact that it was only yesterday that I hung this very same t-shirt on the clothesline.  The laundry is never done — even though we are down to a family of four these days.  How in the world did I survive eleven years of cloth diapers?  Apparently, somewhere along the way I have discovered that there is Glory in the Ordinary, that there is meaning to all the mundane tasks that are stuck on replay in this mothering life.  So when Courtney Reissig compared her laundry hamper to her husband’s overflowing inbox at work, I stopped and underlined, and nodded, “yes and amen.”

My soul resonated, too,  when she argued that in our ordinary chores and in the act of corralling chaos into order, we image God.

“You and I were created to work because God Himself works.  It is a function of being image bearers.”

Organizing a cluttered closet, mucking out a nasty refrigerator mess, distributing clean and folded laundry to the four corners of the house — these are all as quietly mundane as the work God does in our time to water His trees with rain or, in history, to arrange for the Exodus 16 manna that faithfully fed a generation of Israelites.

Go Back to the Purpose

Courtney’s personal illustrations and the vignettes shared from the lives of her friends encourage me to lift my eyes from the all-consuming “what” of my daily list and from the pervasive “how” (as in “how am I going to get all this done?”), and to fix my eyes on the one beautiful question:  “Why?”

Why do I do what I do every day in my home?  To love God and to love my neighbor.  And sometimes the hardest “neighbors” to love are the ones that share my last name and my DNA.

While Martin Luther made it clear that the works of our hands are not meritorious for our salvation, he wrote decisively that “one ought to live, speak, act, hear, suffer, and die in love and service for another, even one’s enemies.” (Kindle Location 871)  Loving others in our homes is more than a feeling, and it is likely to include the inconvenience of vacuuming the mud from their shoes, replacing the groceries they consume, and washing the dishes and the bedding they besmirch.

Mother’s Little Helpers

The whole family is invited to experience the “glory in the ordinary” that comes with the work of home — not only because of the “many hands make light work” principle, but because of the soul-shaping nature of chores and collaborative effort.  With sweet reasonableness, Courtney shares this gracious logic (Kindle Location 923):

“The home we all live in is for us all, and therefore, requires that we all contribute to it.”

She traces the history of housework through the the subtle transition in terminology from “housewife” to “stay-at-home mum,” and examines the impact of cultural context on the believer’s theology of work.  For instance, missionary and author Gloria Furman is a mum and keeper at home in a middle-eastern, community-oriented culture, while those of us in the West tend to have a go-it-alone mentality which can lead to the isolation, loneliness, and burn out that has given motherhood a bad reputation.

Toward a Sound Theology of Home

Since God is relational Himself, and since He ordained (Genesis 2:18) that his creatures would fare better in company with others, even the introverts of the world (I’m looking in the mirror here), need to consider what part community should be playing in our work at home.  Hannah Anderson says it well:

“God did not intend for families to be islands; they are part of the continent.  This is why multi-generational communities are so important to the work of home.”

I enjoy covering the nursery in church these days so that young mums can get a break from little children, but I am on the receiving end when a dear friend in her eighties washes all my dishes whenever she attends a big gathering in my home.

“Home here on earth is a microcosm of the heavenly reality that awaits us, [and] so is the church.”  (Kindle Location 1134-1143) Good theology and its practical application should lead to a connectivity and a “my life for yours” mentality as we serve one another.  This glorious truth gets lived out whenever Titus 2-truth sees daylight in a discipleship relationship between older and younger women or whenever men and women of “grandparent age” step into a situation where are there are no grandparents nearby to help and encourage.

“Community done among women commends the gospel to a world that breathes isolation and loneliness.” (Kindle Location 1151)

The God-Designed Gift of Rest

If God rested (and He did), if Adam and Eve in their perfect prelapsarian bodies needed rest, it stands to reason that my own post-Genesis 3 life will be better if I submit to a pattern of work followed by Sabbath.  J.I. Packer speaks wisdom into this subject (Kindle Location 1276):

We need to be aware of our limitations and to let this awareness work in us humility and self-distrust, and a realization of our helplessness on our own.  Thus we may learn our need to depend on Christ, our Savior and Lord, at every turn of the road . . .”

Our prideful rearing up against the rest we need and the fact that work exhausts, depletes, and frustrates us are both factors attributable to our fallen-ness.  So is the idolatry that makes work into a god and permits it to supersede in importance even the people we are called to love and to serve.

When my children were all small (in the pre-homeschooling days), I gave myself the weekend off from cooking by preparing meals ahead every Friday.  Courtney shares an idea from a friend who depends on leftovers and PB&J for the weekend.  Regardless of how we accomplish it, we ensure that the Sabbath is honored in our homes by “working hard at rest,” investing the effort up front and employing some carefully chosen “no’s.”

 Enter into the Joy

The job description driving the work of home is an unwieldy thing, shifting daily and expanding and changing as our families grow.  While this is unavoidable, we can lighten our own load with some purposeful choices and a Christ-shaped mindset such as steering clear of comparison; resisting the urge to audition for the role of Super Mum; and encouraging our husbands to fulfill their own God-ordained roles as workers at home — without feeling threatened or “less than” because we are unable to shoulder the work of two single-handed.

Mired in the here and now, we forget that the work of home is the work of spreading God’s glory throughout the world.  By entering into the reality of that today, we leave a mark on those we serve and prepare our hearts for a future of greater work and greater joy when we will see that there has never been a mundane task without purpose in God’s incredible universe in which nothing goes to waste.  Every little task, every intentional act of service points back to the God who made us and forward to an eternity in which the connection between worship and work will be forever eliminated.

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This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Regular readers will recognize that the theme resonating throughout Glory in the Ordinary has shown up in these parts quite a bit in recent days.  I recently reviewed Jen Pollock Michel’s excellent book (Keeping Place) that also touches on the work of home.  Click here for part one of my review which deals with a theology of home.  Part two parallels Courtney’s thoughts and gives additional perspective on the work of home.

Melissa Kruger blogs for The Gospel Coalition and has interviewed Courtney at their website.  Click here for further insights behind the scenes of Glory in the Ordinary.

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And . . .

. . . stay tuned for details and a reading schedule for Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I’m looking forward to a discussion here each Thursday from September 7 through November 16.

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Is Reading the Bible Different from Reading Any Other Book?

The Bible is the world’s best-selling and most widely distributed book.  A Huffpost Survey indicates that 88% of respondents own a Bible, yet only 1 in 5 Americans read the Bible on a regular basis.  At one end of the spectrum are those who consider it alongside and equivalent to any other ancient text.  At the other end, it’s seen as a magical book that we can open anywhere and find immediate and personal guidance. Furthermore, multiple surveys reveal that biblical illiteracy is at an all time high (and growing!).  Has the Bible become the book that we revere . . .  but never open?

In Reading the Bible Supernaturally, John Piper addresses the way we handle Scripture, and like a physician, prescribes regular and hefty doses of Truth for the health of the human heart, for the heart contains a “template with a form that corresponds to the glory of God.”   With our hearts “packed hard with loves of other things,” it’s easy to live an entire life without ever seeing and savoring the glory of God.  Since God has, indeed, revealed His glory in His written Word, can we read words on a page and come away with spiritual transformation?  Is reading the Bible different from reading any other book, and, if it is, how and why?

A Different Purpose

Building a case over the course of several chapters, John Piper uses intense imagery and moves back and forth between the voices of “Dr. Piper” and “Pastor John” to argue that the ultimate goal of reading the Bible is this:

” . . .that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation.

He introduces each new implication by devoting a chapter to its unfolding, and then pauses for frequent review along the way.  The apostles Paul and John provide the foundation for the truth that it is possible for the glory of Christ to be put on display for 21st century believers by reading a text that was written by eye-witnesses — and, thereby, to share in the very same glory that they saw.  

First, the familiar words of John 20 (which give the purpose of the gospel) tie the written word to belief, and then, in his first letter, John affirms that his readers will see the glory of Christ “shining through the inspired writing.”

In addition, Paul, in Ephesians 3:3-8, essentially states, “When you read my words, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ.”

A Different Response

The point of all this seeing of glory is two-fold:

  1. God has provided His Word as a means for believers to grow in affection for God, to savor and to enjoy God.
  2. The intended outcome of this emotional response to truth is transformation into the image of Christ.

Jonathan Edwards was on to this centuries ago when he wrote:  “God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.”  If you are hearing echoes of Piper’s signature statement that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,”  we’re on the same page!

A Supernatural Reading

Reading the Bible Supernaturally, then, is the only way to accomplish God’s purpose for the reader, for “God intends for us to read His Word in a way that involves actions and experiences of the human soul that are beyond ordinary human experience.  Seeing the glory of Jesus is not accomplished merely with our ordinary physical eyes, but with ‘the eyes of [our] hearts (Eph. 1:18).”  We depend upon God’s supernatural help because we are predisposed to spiritual blindness and bent on colluding with the enemy in our own deception and destruction.

It is this need for divine intervention that was behind Jesus’ accusation that the Pharisees (proud scholars of The Law, every one!) had “never read” the Scriptures!  Their eyes had certainly passed over the scrolls, and chances are they had memorized great chunks, but a supernatural reading (a right reading) of Scripture has not occurred until the essence has been absorbed and the heart has interacted with the substance of the message.

Fullest Use of Your Natural Powers

Without an open book, open eyes, the ability to make sense of grammatical structures, and the ability to intuit meaning from written words, there will be no reading.  Add to this the need for focused attention, a rested brain, adequate nutrition and exercise (and caffeine?) to aid in alertness, and the possibilities are endless, because — going back to our original question — the answer is Yes and No.  Reading the Bible is different from reading any other book because of the need for dependence on God to accomplish His spiritual purposes.  However, it is exactly like reading any other book in that it will not yield its contents from a remote spot on my nightstand or in my backpack — unopened.

The plain hard work of sitting oneself down in a chair for repetitive reading with a pen and an open book and a list of questions — only half answered — is the natural component of reading Scripture.   It is met with the supernatural work of God Who takes the natural birth process and incarnates a Messiah, and, therefore, is able to intervene and bring about spiritual enlightenment to a human heart.

“God gives the miracle and we act the miracle.”

For someone who has been reading the Bible her entire adult life, Reading the Bible Supernaturally offered truth that I already know but practice so imperfectly that it was important for me to hear it all again in a new way.  Those familiar with Piper’s writing will already know his acronym for the cooperation between God and humanity in spiritual formation (A.P.T.A.T.).  I had not stumbled upon I.O.U.S., but copied it into my journal as an important reminder that when I open the Bible, I am dependent upon supernatural help for the kind of seeing, savoring, and transformation that God desires for me:

I – Incline.  “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain” (Ps. 119:36).
O – Open.  “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Ps. 119:18).
U – Unite.  “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name” (Ps. 86:11).
S – Satisfy. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Ps. 90:14).

God invites believers into an aggressive pursuit of Truth — and then stands by to assist.  When we open the pages of Scripture, there is more going on than meets the eye.  He “watches over [His] Word to perform it.”  He makes huge claims that the Word will accomplish His purpose and will not fail.  The natural act of reading the Bible supernaturally is a metaphor for the entire process of sanctification, a delightful paradox in which God inspires our work, enhances the impact, and radiates His glory as he accomplishes His purposes in the world.

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This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

CaptureReading the Bible Supernaturally is John Piper’s follow up to his 2016 work, A Peculiar Glory, in which he examines the concept that the Bible reveals its complete truthfulness by the shining forth of a self-authenticating, peculiar, divine glory.  It provides helpful background, but even more important, it helps to put on display the uniqueness of God’s Word as the means by which we see and savor the glory of God.  I reviewed the book last year when it came out, and you can read my thoughts and get an overview here.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

Loneliness: An Opportunity and a Sign of Hope

When C.S. Lewis wrote (famously) of desires unmet that set our hearts toward the journey of further up and further in, it’s obvious that he was writing in the days of snail mail and expensive long-distance phone calls.  The truth is that life on planet Earth is beset with longings of every kind, but chief among them is the feeling of loneliness.  Now that humanity has access to the blessings of Skype and email and ubiquitous cell phones, it would seem that loneliness should have been eradicated from the globe — or at least all parts of it that have reliable Internet connections.  However, it seems that no one is exempt from the sadness of feeling alone.

In Finding God in My Loneliness, Lydia Brownback argues that loneliness is a bellwether, an indicator that something is missing.  Our longing to know and be known by others is an invitation to pay attention to that feeling and to find our ultimate fulfillment in the God who created us and knows us by name.  In His days here in this broken ground, Jesus offered the pathway of finding one’s life by losing it, but when I believe the lie that finding my life is all about me and getting my needs met, I become  a very small package indeed.  Cramped and restless, my self-seeking leads only to more loneliness and an endless pursuit of serial wantings.

In her analysis of ten reasons people experience loneliness, Lydia also provides Scriptural examples that bear upon each situation and reveal the truth that God is present with us even when all we sense is absence and longing:

Abraham experienced The Loneliness of Leaving when God called him into the unknown, and he found that “through the loneliness that comes from heeding this call, the Lord redefines us and gives us a whole new identity.”  (Loc 503)  In the learning process, we begin to make our home in Him.

Those who experience The Loneliness of Night find, as Jacob did in his wrestling match with God, that a humble dependence on God changes our focus.  Nighttime struggles with fear and loneliness can lead to new hope and, over time, an abiding light that does not depend upon the time of day.

Anyone who believingly follows Christ will eventually experience The Loneliness of Obedience.  In addition to feeling abandoned, Joseph could also have felt resentful during his stint in an Egyptian prison, but an aerial view of God’s redemptive plan allowed him to live and walk in forgiveness.  God is able to redeem the lonely seasons of a close-following life, not merely for my own sake, but also for the sake of “many survivors.”

Elijah was discouraged when he fled to Mt. Horeb, but what he found there was The Loneliness of Running Away.  Sitting under our own personal broom trees, if we listen carefully, we, too, will hear from God the message that there is no guarantee of a “one-to-one correspondence between effort and success.” (Loc 862)  Picking through the rubble of our disappointment, we find our true motivation, and, with this humbling truth in hand, we are ready to be sent back into our calling without the burden of a get-it-right, produce-results, and build-your-own-kingdom mentality.

When we experience sorrow over the “pain of knowing life will never be the same,” we are feeling The Loneliness of Grief.  The prophet Isaiah described Jesus as the one who can enter into our grief with us — unlike well meaning friends who spout platitudes and exude impatience.

Those who are different “in a way that offends the sensibilities of others” know the painful Loneliness of Being Different.  Lydia vividly re-tells the desperate situation of the woman Jesus healed in Mark 5.  Her gynecological malady may have been debilitating, but it was most certainly isolating, and Jesus offers spiritual cleansing to those who are desperate enough to come to Him with an open mind about what healing means.

Even in the 21st century, addiction, disease, and dysfunction usher in The Loneliness of Being Unclean.  When loved ones are swallowed up in the darkness, it feels as if they are running wild in the tombs just as the poor guy that Jesus delivered from demons in Mark 5.  Lydia offers the helpful perspective that the horror, fear, and isolation of an addiction are truly a misplaced worship and require the same kind of miraculous healing to take the victim off the road to death.

If your idol has been relationships, and your heart has led you astray, then you know The Loneliness of Misplaced Love.  Jesus walked thirsty into the hub of a Samaritan town and put His finger directly on the thirst of the town’s female outcast. Serial husbands had not freed her from the pursuit, but through her story, the thirst-quenching love of Christ is revealed as the one thing that will change the future by freeing us from being defined by the poor decision of the past.

Written from the perspective of a single woman, Finding God in My Loneliness looks at both sides of the relational coin, for there is a Loneliness in Marriage that may be more bitter than the Loneliness of Being Unmarried.  With demographic data showing that there are currently about as many single adults in America today as married ones, it’s important to understand that, while there is a loneliness particular to singleness, singleness need not be equated with loneliness.  Betrayal, spiritual mismatches, and dysfunctional relationship patterns exacerbate the loneliness that happens within marriage, but even the best and happiest of marriages prove the point that marriage was never meant to fill us up or define us.  In fact, the single life demonstrates with clarity what all believers need to grasp in our search for community:  individuals find fulfillment through intimacy with Christ, and we will “know our oneness with Him most fully when we do life together with other believers.” (Loc 1866)

Participation in a local church has a way of banishing us from the center of the universe while we come to grips with the truth that the loneliness we experience is a sign post, pointing our hearts toward another world.

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This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

If You REALLY Want to Help those Who Grieve

We sat on the couch, side by side, but miles apart.  She had just lost her son in a tragic accident.  I had four living and healthy boys — and no words that could touch her loss.  In the weeks and months that followed, I wrote notes, shared Scripture verses, listened to her sadness, and showed up at her door bearing food, but never feeling confident that any of it held meaning, and often feeling as if I was missing the whole point.

Nancy Guthrie writes to bring clarity and a measure of confidence to people like me:  those of us who want to help and bring comfort to our grieving friends, but want to avoid saying all the wrong words and assuming things that are not true.  Her “research” for What Grieving People Wish You Knew was gritty and uninvited, and began on the day when her infant daughter Hope was diagnosed with a rare and fatal metabolic disorder.  Grief “barged through the door,” and Hope’s 199-day life was a day-by-day good bye that was all too short.

Certainly, this experience alone would qualify a well-known Bible teacher like Nancy to speak wisdom into the lives of those who grieve, but then, a year and a half after Hope’s death, Nancy discovered that she was, once again, pregnant with a baby who had the fatal syndrome and who also lived for about six months.  Working through all this sadness sharpened Nancy’s awareness that often, when Christians try to help those who have suffered losses, we mainly reveal that we just don’t “get it.”

In response, she conducted an online survey in which she asked grieving people for examples of what others said or did for them that proved to be helpful and meaningful. She shares many of these suggestions in her book, and they were truly a highlight, including thoughts as simple (and as obvious) as using the name of the deceased in casual conversation or sharing pictures and memories with family members.

Under the best of circumstances I’m not a great conversationalist, so it was a relief to me to hear the news that “it matters less what you say than that you say something.”  In fact, “even if you come up with the perfect thing to say (as if there is such a thing), it simply won’t fix the hurt or solve the problem of the people who are grieving.”  This is absolutely critical, and with that taken care of, Nancy goes on to provide additional insights:

  • Grieving is as unique as the individuals who grieve.  There is no one-size-fits-all comfort formula.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Don’t assume anything about their feelings, about the spiritual condition of the deceased, or that your own grief experience is comparable — or helpful to share.
  • Don’t feel the need to be a fixer.
  • Examine your heart for selfish motives in your caring or for a warped tendency to get your own need for significance met by ministering to your grieving friend.

Nancy quotes Dr. Kenneth Haugk who cautions us that if you hear yourself starting a sentence with the words “Well, I . . “; “When I . . .”; “I remember . . .”; or “My . . . ” — just don’t say it.

Other red flags that call for a re-thinking of our words include:

“Well, at least . . .”
“It was God’s will . . .”
“I know someone else who . . .”
“God took him/her so that . . .”

According to Nancy, one of the best statements you can make is “I don’t what what to say,” while one of the incorrect assumptions we make is that the grieving family is being ministered to by people who are “closer” to them, or, even worse, that they would rather just be left alone.  Showing up makes a powerful statement of support.

Esteeming the grief of those we love will look like patience and will keep us from putting a deadline on someone else’s grieving process.  It will keep us from looking away when they cry, and will give us courage to shed our own tears in their presence, because this demonstrates the fact that their loved one is worth grieving for.  Our shared sadness is tangible evidence of our love.

Nancy and her husband David host respite retreats for couples who have faced the death of a child and are actively involved in GriefShare which offers a ministry of education and counseling for those who are walking through loss.  She encourages grieving families to laugh and reminisce together and to seek community rather than trying to soldier their way through healing alone.

Over the long haul, friends who mark their calendar to remind them of anniversaries and birthdays, who provide practical help ranging from the casserole brigade to the repair of the broken back step, who offer to baby sit for children, or contribute money for the onslaught of expenses are truly demonstrating the love of Christ and are helping their grieving friends move toward healing and hope.

What Grieving People Wish You Knew is a resource of words and ideas, and it’s a gift to readers which will certainly result in greater courage and a more sensitive engagement of the Body of Christ with those who need to experience first hand the love and mercy of God.

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This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Standing and Waiting with Those Who Suffer

The words of 17th century poet John Milton from On His Blindness, come to mind with every visit to my mother’s long-term care facility:

 “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

I hope it’s true, and I’d love to report that in the midst of my waiting we have warm and meaningful conversations or that I push her wheelchair outside for sunshine and fresh air, but the truth is that she refuses to leave her room, and that for the duration of my visits, the t.v. is blaring infomercials and game shows.  With every visit, I wonder if her life is enhanced at all by my presence.  Of course, “standing and waiting” on behalf of my mother also includes advocating for her when her crankiness gets in the way of administrators hearing her real needs, calling health care providers, and bringing her treats, but, most of the time, I realize that I don’t know what to do in the face of her great need.

It is this awkward and frustrating sense of helplessness that often prevents people of faith from taking risks in serving those who are disabled or grieving or suffering in other ways.  Being There by Dave Furman offers inspiration and advice from the perspective of the one being served.  Readers who are familiar with his wife Gloria’s writing will remember that Dave is afflicted with a neurological condition which, over the past decade, has disabled his arms, caused chronic pain, and resulted in four major surgeries and a variety of tests, therapies, and prescriptions — none of which have been helpful.

With candor and realism, Dave shares his discouragement, his depression, and the impact his disability has had on his young family and on his ministry as a church planter on the Arabian peninsula.  He warns readers of the danger inherent in playing the “if only” game, which goes like this:

Fill in the blank — If only ___________, then I’d be happy.
If only my arms were healthy.
If only I had more money.
If only my spouse were healed.
This is not a game that is exclusive to the disabled, and Dave quotes John Calvin, referencing our “idol-factory” hearts, for somewhere along the way he realized that pain-free living had become an idol to him.

Suffering is a group project, and those who care for the suffering have a unique need to come clean before God about their own grieving process.  They need a marathon-level strength that is not their own in order to act, day after day, with selflessness toward one who is continually in need.  The messy process of grieving over a loved one’s pain is hard work and is best done in community. Over and over, the Furmans urged:  “Don’t walk this journey alone.”

The Psalms of Lament (particularly Psalm 88) give words for the hopelessness and for the sense that God is distant and uncaring.  Three lessons emerge from the text:

  1.  It is possible that a believer may experience unrelieved suffering.
  2. Our pain and suffering are not the final word, but remind us of the redemption to come.
  3. The psalmist does not give up.  Even in the midst of darkness, he prays.

Being There thrums with Gospel-based reassurance that not only does God not look away in our suffering, but the truth is that “the only person who sought God and truly did lose God’s face and did experience total darkness was Jesus” — and this was on our behalf.  “Because Jesus was truly abandoned by God the Father, we will never be abandoned by God.”  This is solid truth to encourage the heart of the suffering as well as the compassionate caregiver.

A highlight of Dave’s writing is the wide range of great authors and thinkers he quotes.  For example, citing Thomas Chalmers on “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” Dave reminds readers that our love for the hurting comes out of new hearts based on resurrection-hope and because of what Jesus has already done for us — not because we are stellar servants or possess super stores of personal endurance.

Horatius Bonar’s Words to Winners of Souls applies to caregivers as thoroughly as to soul winners.  “You must be much with Christ before you are anything for anybody else.”

Seventeenth century English Puritan John Flavel’s writing drives home the truth that only those with a healthy heart can really help the hurting.  With this emphasis on a growing relationship with God in place, Being There moves on to some very practical components for helping the hurting and their caregivers:

  1.  Faithful friendship that offers silent presence, the fellowship of mutual burden bearing, loyalty over the long haul, the grace of lavish and ready forgiveness, and a willingness to use humor and lightheartedness to lift spirits.
  2. Continual clinging to the hope offered in the gospel over all other possible sources of hope.
  3. Selfless service that washes feet, honors the dignity of any image-bearer, humbly offers healing words, and shows up with specific and practical hands-on help.
  4. Heartfelt prayer in the manner suggested by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:  “True spiritual love will speak to Christ about a brother even more than to a brother about Christ.”  This includes urging the hurting to draw strength from their own prayer life.
  5. Loving rebuke when it’s clear that hopes need realignment and fear is in the driver’s seat.  Paul refers to it as “restoration” in the sense of putting a bone back in joint.
  6. Avoidance of unhelpful patterns such as becoming the “fixer;” delivering a message of false hope; unsympathetic questioning, pushing, condemning, or comparing; and allowing the disability to become anyone’s main identity.

We are called to a life of what Paul Tripp describes as “intentionally intrusive relationships.”  When we, as the Body of Christ, bear one another’s burdens in a culture of caring, we put the love of God on display and demonstrate our belief that He can provide strength to help us overcome obstacles and minister with love to those who are hurting. We can “stand and wait,” as we watch the grace of God prevail.

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This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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One Weekend in Jerusalem

Ash Wednesday is following hard on the heels of Groundhog’s Day this year, and while retailers are throwing heart and soul into Valentine’s Day, I find that my heart is more prepared to celebrate Easter if I spend some time during the Lenten season reading about the two historical events that are central to Christianity:   the cross and the empty tomb.  What happened?  What does it all mean?

This year, I have found Scandalous in which D.A.Carson isolates five theologically stunning concepts based on five scriptural passages that integrate the implications of both crucifixion and resurrection:

I.   The Ironies of the Cross — Matthew 27:27-51
Irony, using words that normally mean the opposite of what is actually being said, brings situations into sharp focus, and there were four profound and dramatic ironies at work in the narrative of Jesus’ crucifixion.  Living, as we do, after the resurrection, we are in a rich position to appreciate and to rejoice in the ironies as we read and reflect:

  • The Man who was mocked as king (robe, crown of thorns) was – and is – the King of kings.
  • The Man who was utterly powerless, holds all the power of heaven and earth.  His weakness became the path to power over death and to the provision of a perfect Temple through becoming the perfect Sacrifice for the people of God.
  • The Man who “could not” save Himself, saved others.  The mocking words of the chief priest, scribes, and elders were truer than they knew.
  • The Man who cried out in despair, trusted God.  In fact, He was quoting Psalm 22 in His dying agony, and, once again, His persecutors spoke more wisdom than they realized.  The torn curtain that opened access to the presence of God for humanity was the result of Jesus’ crushing experience of God’s absence.

II.  The Truth of Human Desperation — Romans 3:21-26
In our post-“I’m-O.K.-You’re-O.K” era, this may well be the most inexplicable of all Christian doctrines, for we are a tolerant generation in which “the one wrong thing to say is that somebody else is wrong.”  However, the truth is that we are offenders before God and in need of reconciliation which Jesus provided, preserving the justice of God while justifying the ungodly.

III.  The Strange Triumph of a Slaughtered Lamb — Revelation 12
In this apocalyptic reenactment of the Christmas story, the Red Dragon rages over the truth that a deliverer has come forth from the Messianic community, and, therefore, his demise is certain.  The past 2,000 years of martyrdom and persecution are the thrashing of the doomed dragon’s tail, while, in the meantime, the gospel advances through believers who are bearing witness to Christ, through the blood of the cross, and through the realization that life in Christ “is a call to die to self-interest,” (Revelation 12:11).

IV.  A Miracle Full of Surprises — John 11:1-53
The juxtaposition of death and life in Bethany reveals that God is always full of surprises.  Jesus’ dealings with the dead man’s sisters is foreshadowed in His response to the disciples when He receives their summons:  “This sickness will not end in death,”  (11:4).  The purpose of the miracle had nothing to do with death or even with life, but instead, God’s glory was put on display.  Of course, this is not clear to anyone at the time, and it only becomes clear to us if we take a minute to realize that Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus put Him in the crosshairs of those who were plotting to remove Him from the scene.

I am constantly in need of reminders that I can trust God’s delays as much as I trust His action, and that the best consolation for my grief is to turn my attention to Christ.  Jesus models a perfect response to grief, death and disappointment:  tears and outrage.  The final surprise in this miracle is the surrender of the Life-giver to death so that life may finally win.

V.   Doubting the Resurrection of Jesus — John 20:24-31
After an analysis of six forms of doubt, D.A. Carson enters into the cognitive dissonance that accompanied a crucified messiah.  The fallout of that all-important weekend in Jerusalem, at least from the disciples’ viewpoint, was disappointment and despair.  Therefore, the second Sunday after the resurrection, Thomas is still determined not to be taken in by rumors of a living Jesus.  His utterance of faith, “My Lord and my God!” is part of the “these” that were written so that we who only read of Christ’s resurrection may also believe.

Recalling this scene behind the locked doors of the upper room, poet Edward Shillito underscores the importance of the wounds that testified to Thomas:

“If when the doors are shut, thou drawest near,
Only reveal thy hands, that side of thine.
We know today what wounds are, never fear:
Show us thy wounds:  we know the countersign.
The other gods were strong, but thou wast weak.
They rode, but thou didst stumble to thy throne.
And to our wounds, only God’s wounds can speak —

And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.”

May the outcome of all our ponderings during this season of Lent be a stronger belief in the resurrection and a deeper following of our wounded God.


This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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