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You Don’t Understand

I visited with a family recently who just lost a dear loved one. The wife of over 50 years kept saying to those of us who tried to comfort her, “You don’t understand.” She was right. None of us understood. How could we? She lost her husband, her friend, her life partner of more than half a century. How could I understand? How could anyone understand?

Death is one of the most ugly realities of life. It rips us from one another. It hurts. But it’s not only death that may make us want to scream out, “You don’t understand!” It could be the resurfacing of a past hurt, the hidden scars of an abusive spouse, the crushing sense of inadequacy with a wayward child, or the swirling cocktail of emotions following serious medical diagnosis. You’ve probably been there at some point yourself: the brokenness that hurt more deeply than you felt safe admitting, the dulling of your emotions after trying, and failing, again to reach the lost sheep, or the distance from close friends created by rapid life change such as the birth of a child or a career promotion. The truth is, we intuitively understand that others can’t always understand.

I am encouraged as I read the Bible, because I am not sure God ever places understanding on our shoulders.

 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2

“Bear one another’s burdens” means to relate, empathize, and love. It means to come alongside of. It means to share the load. It means to encourage. I am drawn to the freedom God gives in these words. We are to support, not solve. We are to assist, not fix. Our care, concern, and love should gradually and intentionally usher others toward the only One who can understand, the only One who can solve, the only One who can fix. Jesus understands us because He designed us to think, feel, and act just like we do. In His sovereign wisdom, He placed us on this planet just when He did and where He did. He came to live like us and experience emotion like us. He knows what it feels like to be loved, protected, cared for, emulated, hurt, misunderstood, betrayed, doubted, forgotten (even murdered), and countless other experiences this human existence throws our way. In fact, He designed our human existence to be able to feel each experience we have faced. Not only did He make us just so, He is the Healer, the Great Physician, and the Mender of souls. He longs to reach down to His creation and fix what’s broken, bandage what’s wounded, restore what’s been taken, and save what’s been lost.  

So, the next time someone says, “You don’t understand.” It’s ok to say, “You’re right, I don’t. But I know the One who does.” Then, take them to meet Him.

De-Scrooged

Scrooge. That old, selfish, stingy hoarder. In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the miserly man kept everything to himself to the point of pushing everyone away until a series of ghostly encounters ripped his false security from him. He changed. He gave. And quite magically, everyone wanted to be around him. The taker became a giver. The hoarder released his vice grip. Scrooge got de-Scrooged.

I don’t like to admit it, but I can be a lot like Scrooge, setting my peace on what I have rather than what I give. Enter my six year old son Joseph. He just had a birthday and racked up. Kind friends and family gave him lots of toys and lots of cash. A couple weeks after his birthday, the piggy bank sat at $103.00.

As we entered the Christmas season, our family decided to give gifts to some children who have less than most through a local ministry. Joseph told us after we had already purchased everything for two children that he sensed God wanted us to get gifts for one more child. His mom, Diana, and I talked with him that day about him investing some of his birthday money toward this other child. He recoiled. We left it alone. Three days later, he again said we should provide Christmas for another child. We asked him, a second time, to think about putting some of his money towards it (Now, I was thinking $10 or at most $15). We were hoping he would want to have some of his own “skin in the game” so to speak. As we talked it over this second time, he began to think and pray about what to give. I can still see his face as his eyes got big and a little frightened. He looked at us and said, “I think God’s saying for me to keep just $1.” Diana and I looked at each other instantly smiling, crying a bit, and rejoicing inside at what he had said. Frankly, it sounded like something God would say. Seconds later, he began backtracking. He started arguing, and we weren’t even saying anything! We wanted him to wrestle through this on his own. As we neared bedtime, he had retracted his offer of everything but a dollar. We encouraged him to sleep and pray on it.

The next morning, he got up and was readying himself for school. We asked him again what he felt like he was supposed to do. He dropped his head again and whispered, “God wants everything but a dollar.” $102.00 of $103.00! That morning I saw what sacrificial giving looks like on the face of a six year old. I also saw what it looks like to be de-Scrooged. The fix for taking is giving. The fix for hoarding is letting go. The way to de-Scrooge yourself is to do what Scrooge wouldn’t till it was from frightened from him. Give! Give generously! Give sacrificially!

My wife and I are so proud of our son’s sensitivity to obey God and give so generously. We haven’t stopped bragging on him and to him. As I have looked at my son and back at myself since his generosity, Scrooge’s hold on my own resources became much easier to see. So you know what I did? I went to the checkbook prying that old miser’s grip on my own money. Do you know, it sure did feel good in that moment to be de-Scrooged! And I have a little generous giver by the name of Joseph to thank.

Mercy Raindrops?

“What if your mercies come through raindrops.” That’s a question Laura Story asks in her popular song, “Blessings.” Sometimes God’s blessings take on unique forms. I was out driving the other night, in the pouring rain, and my car quit working. Stopped. Died in the middle of the road. As I was getting in touch with AAA, a kind Good Samaritan stopped and helped me get the car off the road and also managed to help get it started again. Then, he followed me while I drove it down to a local auto repair shop. As I was pulling in, it died again. The nice guy proceeded to take me home.

A number of things went wrong. But so many more could have. My family could have been in the car with me when it died, but they weren’t. It could have locked up on me while on the interstate, very likely causing an accident, but it didn’t. It could have happened hours away from home on a trip, but it happened only minutes away. A car could have been right behind me when my car cut off, causing a wreck, but no one was there immediately behind me. The passerby who helped me could have passed on by, but he stopped. The car could have quit on me again in the road rather than the repair shop, but it got me just there.

Turns out, I got a little wet in the rain and the Good Samaritan got home a bit later than usual. And the car? A battery bracket worked loose and shorted the battery out. What I was thinking could be a rather extensive and expensive repair only ended up requiring a tightened bolt and a new battery.

It occurred to me: if my car hadn’t quit, I never would have realized all those bad outcomes that could have happened or experienced the good ones that did. “Mercy raindrops”? God sends those. Dead car deliverances? God’s in that business too. He’s also been known to tamper with battery brackets. Keep your eyes open. God may just send you your very own, specially designed strange blessing. And if he does, why don’t you thank him for it.

TYPESTRY

binding the ideas of typed words and the beauty of a tapestry.

That’s my attempt at cleverness. You may not find it inventive. You may find it annoying, or corny, or poor use of the English language. That’s OK.  Even if you aren’t found of my mad word creation skills, I do want to explain why I have chosen this title.

Typestry represents two images: the written word and woven art. The Bible is God’s revealed message in words to us. Have you stopped to think that God has told us everything he wants us to know about him in the words of the Bible? Language is his gift.  Words are his tools.  They do his bidding.   And in the written pages of the Scriptures, he tells us what he is able to do by the power of his words.  He created the world by simply speaking: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).  He divides language (see Genesis 11:1-9) and binds them back together (Acts 2:3-13). He rebuked, “Peace! Be still!” (Mark 4:39), and wind ceased and waves stopped.  He commanded, “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home” (Mark 2:11), and weak, lame legs instantly strengthened and straightened, obeying their creator.  His words surge with great power!

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than
any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of
soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and
discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

When I consider the other image, I am taken back to a visit to the Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina.  In the Tapestry Gallery of that grand estate hang magnificent 16th century tapestries, “The Triumph of the Seven Virtues.”  These tapestries tell the tale of the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity) along with the four cardinal virtues (temperance, prudence, justice, and fortitude) through various allegories taken from the Bible and other sources. As I pondered those intricately designed works of art, I found myself mesmerized by the woven story they told.  You might think of these displays as “Pre-computer PowerPoint for the Extremely Rich and Famous,” or “The Original Flannel Graph for Kings and Princes.”  The designers of those beautiful displays saw a finished work in their mind’s eye, from beginning to end, and set about to tell history and truth through the weaving of mere fabric.  As I contemplate the parallels between those majestic displays of woven artwork and God’s moment-by-moment life weaving process in the lives of his children, my mind races to Romans 8:28.

And we know that for those who love God
all things work together for good, for those
who are called according to his purpose.

The Language Giver is also the Grand Weaver (to borrow from Ravi Zacharias).  He can take your worst moments and your best, your ups and your downs, your twists and your turns,  weave them into a beautiful tapestry and call it your life.  For those of us who follow him, he takes his Word and weaves it into, around, and through our everyday experiences to make us into a beautiful work of art, similar to those 16th century tapestries, but so much more valuable.  As a pastor, professor, and writer, everything in my life revolves around studying, meditating, applying, and communicating the words of the Word.  As my life meets that book, God intertwines his words with my life turning who I am into a typestry for his glory.

Typestry. Language and life.  The words and the walk. I like it. What about you?

Grumpiness a sin? Really?

Let’s consider an overlooked and little thought of sin. It’s brothers are grumbling, spitefulness, and complaining. It is a cousin to envy and greed.  Its father is selfishness.  While you may not see this specific sin in the pages of Scripture, its residue is all over the book.  The sin was likely present when the children of Israel grumbled and complained against Moses.  This sin was also likely expressed by Martha when Mary wouldn’t help her with the kitchen duties.  And Euodia and Synteche in Philippians 4 were both probably guilty of this sin.  And yet, it is not specifically named.

Perhaps that is why we may tend to excuse it.  It remains hidden, elusively and sneakily slinking in the shadows of bigger, uglier, and seemingly more destructive  sins.  But believe you me, its there.  Some of us are more prone to this sin by disposition, but all of us have been guilty of it at one time or another.  We often give this sin control over us when we wake up in a less than pleasant way, hear some discouraging news, or some good news about someone we envy.  When anxiousness gets the best of us and we disappoint ourselves, this sin is right there to turn our attention to something else.  Most often, those closest to us feel this sin’s blunt blows more than anyone else because it shrinks away from the spotlight and eagerly masks itself with hypocrisy and flattery to the faces of those who don’t know us as well.  But our spouse, children, brothers, sisters, parents, and perhaps even coworkers have likely, at one time or another, called us on it.

One morning, I had gotten up, gotten a good start to the day, gone to the gym and worked out.  But in the quiet, short drive back to the house, frustrated emotions and worries had transfixed my attention on “what was wrong” with a certain situation I was facing.   I came home in a less than pleasant way.  And sure enough, there with my wife and son, came out this ugly, deplorable evil.  Oh at the time I didn’t call it that.  I just said I wanted to be quiet.  That I wasn’t in a very good mood.  That I had some things on my mind.  But none of those excuses prevented my sharp tongue from cutting or my ill scowl from pushing those who love me the most away.

Perhaps you have been the conduit for this sin too.  What sin you say?  The sin of grumpiness.  You know.  That sin that’s “not so bad” but in many cases much worse because we excuse it and overlook it and minimize its damaging effects on those God has called us and created us  to care for the most intimately.  That sin that we pass off as ok until we have had “our morning cup of coffee.”  Usually, in a household, one spouse falls victim to this sin more often than the other but all of us are prone to it.  This sin is no respecter of age, financial status, or job.  It does not take prisoners, but only creates victims in its wake.  Sometimes it is most loudly heard in the “silent treatment” thrown at those who have caused some injury.  Other times, it is most painfully felt in icy stares or unfiltered insults.

I am convinced we see grumpiness a lot like “Christian cussing.”  You know what I mean.  We all know the “bad words” that none of us are supposed to say.  You just cussed in your head.   Every one of you.  Now don’t laugh too hard.  I have heard some of you say those out loud.   But we all have a list of “safe” words that are close to cuss words that we freely say to express our frustration.  Yet what we fail to measure is the intent of our heart and the expression of our anger.  Just because I don’t say the “bad word” doesn’t mean I was right.  In the same way, we may not think our grumpiness is as bad as full blown anger, but have you ever stopped to think about its consequences?  Your grumpiness with the slow service at the fast food restaurant for your morning coffee may infect the young girl at the window with your irritability so she proceeds to treat every customer after you with your venom.  Or your grumpiness may steal the innocent joy of your child who comes in to show you their latest creation with the toilet paper and tissues expecting you to be as excited as they are.  Only your grumpiness serves to dim the bright light in their eyes.  Don’t worry.  The next time they wont show you.  Or your grumpiness may exasperate your already on edge spouse to the point of telling you exactly how he or she feels about your mopiness exploding your spark of grumpy behavior into a full blown haymaker between the two of you.  You know, the one where you don’t talk for a while and one of you ends up in the guest bedroom or on the couch.

Grumpiness is a sin and must be confronted directly with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Regardless of how I feel and why I feel that way, He demands that my relational conduct with others be an expression of his holy kindness, love, forgiveness, and patience.  He says as much in Ephesians 4:1-3:

1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy ofthe calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Grumpiness and love cannot be bedfellows.  For that matter, neither can grumpiness and kindness, forgiveness, patience, or gentleness.  The antidote for such a sin is its regular, immediate, and deliberate crucifixion upon the same cross of Christ that paid the penalty for our sins and demands such swift justice against expressions that do nothing but cloak our resurrected lives with the horrid stench of our past deadness.  Deal a death blow to grumpiness today.  Your wife and kids may just thank you.