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Sunday, September 29, 2013

She Yelled and Called Me Names


Pulling my car into the drive-thru line at Starbucks, I wondered why it was a dozen people deep. It wasn’t raining, yet it seemed everyone was driving through today. I was transporting three dogs to the groomer, and there was no way I could leave two wild Shih-tzus and one crazy Bichon alone while I went inside for my daily dose.
Millie, the Bichon, sat on my lap licking the window.
As I peeled her away from the glass, I saw the woman.
She sat across the parking lot, leaving just enough room for a thoroughfare, as she too was waiting in the Starbucks line. I smiled, and gestured to her. It went something like this: “Are you next, or am I?” Really, I was fine either way.
She was not.
Thinking I was trying to snag her spot of next up, she gunned her Suburban, rolled down the window, and let out a string of expletives that made me blush. Millie barked back a retort.
“Go ahead, please,” I said. “I wasn’t sure who was first.” I pulled Millie back onto my lap, so she could see I had been dog-distracted and truly didn’t know who was next.
She didn’t buy it. She continued with the name calling without taking a breath. I won’t write them down here, but the main mantra shared initials with the number one social networking site.
Then something really strange happened.
Instead of getting mad or yelling back at her, a sense of empathy invaded me. I looked at her again, and this time I saw someone different, someone who wrenched my heart. Her eyes were red and puffy. Her hair was pulled back in a natty ponytail. She held her phone in her palm, glancing down at it every few seconds. And she was driving that big ole’ gas hog of a Suburban, my own car of choice when I had three kids at home and a carpool.
Dear God. I was looking at myself ten years ago. Same car, same ponytail. Same frustration.
We’ve all been there. Dog vomits on the sofa. Both kids have strep throat. The garbage disposal chooses today to break, when you are trying to disintegrate moldy fridge leftovers.  Husband is mad because you forgot to pick up the dry cleaning and he’s going on a business trip. Sound familiar?
And by the way, was that him she had been talking to or texting?
She gunned forward, just to show me that she could.
I left her a wide berth, smiled at her splotchy face. She shot me a sideways scowl, mouthed the mantra again.
Pulling up to the loudspeaker behind her, I said “I want to pay for whatever the woman in front of me has ordered. And please tell her I hope she has a better day.” I meant every word.
The woman idled in front of me for a good four minutes, talking to the barista who had leaned out the window. She shook her head and handed over a bill. She drove around the side of the building slowly, this time no gunning. Hmmm.
“No takers, huh?” I said to the barista as I pulled forward.
“Nope. She said she couldn’t believe you wanted to pay for her drink after all the names she called you. She said she couldn’t allow it, and said to tell you she was sorry. She felt really bad.”
“Did you tell her I hoped she had a better day?”
“Yep. She said thanks— that she already was.”
“Good to hear.” I smiled and handed her a dollar to put in the tip jar.
As I drove away, I began to cry. Not because I had been called so many terrible names, but because God had answered my very recent prayer—which was that He would allow me to see people as He sees them, not as I see them.
That I might be able to see the hurting inside, instead of just the hurtful outside. And maybe a few tears were of gratitude and amazement that He always shows up with an answer when I sincerely ask.

Found on

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Fed Up with Life and Ready to Write


Ink is the great cure for all human ills.

So wrote a young C.S. Lewis to a childhood friend. 
Lewis was only seventeen years old when he penned such a claim, but he has proved wise beyond his years. 
Here’s the full statement from his letter of May 30, 1916:

Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills.

Whether we think of ourselves as writers or not — and we are all writers to some extent, even if it’s just email and social media — we should be willing to admit that “all human ills” may be an overstatement. 
But the adolescent Lewis is onto something profound here about the discipline of writing.

Writing is a help for a great many ailments, both in ourselves and in others. 
It is, perhaps, one of the quintessential ways of making sweet drinks from life’s sour fruit.

Writing is readymade for those with some great angst. 
It’s appropriate for the anxious and the angry. 
Writing is for the lonely and the depressed and the misunderstood. For the frustrated and the fearful. 
For the poor in spirit and those who mourn.

For Private and for Public

But Lewis wouldn’t summon us to just be a writer, but two. 
It’s a kind of literary christology: two writers in one person. 
The first writer flows from Lewis’s counsel above about writing as the antidote for whatever it is that is ailing you. 
When you’re fed up with life, start writing
There is healing power in getting your passions onto paper. 
This is a call for the private writer.

But Lewis also would suggest that you see yourself as a second writer: the public writer. 
One writes for the self; the other writes for others. 
One expresses himself in some secret journal — better that no one poke their nose into it. 
But the other embodies another way in which the fed-up soul cures human ills, not just our own, but those of others. 
Public writing is its own distinct species.

To the Private Writer

Lewis’s counsel for the private writer is plain enough. 
Just write. 
Get it out there. 
Break all the rules. 
The blank page is your soul’s canvass; letters are your paint. 
When you’re anxious, sad, lonely, or depressed, express yourself.

Write your way through life’s worst days, and best. 
Get your hidden thoughts into the light on the page. 
Spread out the embers of your anger, and let them begin to cool with the air of hope. 
And if you have no hope of your own to bring to them, at least turn them Godward in a prayer or psalm of lament, and let the very act of writing them to God be the distant glow at the tunnel’s end.

To the Public Writer

But it’s quite another thing to give counsel to the public writer. 
Some clear and sharp distinctions must be made. 
For Lewis, what passes as good public writing is fundamentally different than much of what may be permissible and desirable as private writing.

Writing for others, at its best, is not an exploration of our own selves, or peeling away the layers of our onion. 
Rather, it is catching some great glimpse of objective reality, outside ourselves, and laboring to enable our readers to enjoy this reality with us.

The poet is not a man who asks me to look at him; he is a man who says ‘look at that’ and points; the more I follow the pointing of his finger the less I can possibly see of him. . . . 
To see things as the poet sees them I must share his consciousness and not attend to it; I must look where he looks and not turn round to face him; I must make of him not a spectacle but a pair of spectacles. (The Personal Heresy, 11)

This is the heart of good public writing. 
Not burrowing deep inside the writer’s own subjective psyche, and basking in ego-stroking self-disclosure, but straining to open the readers’ eyes to observe wonders in God’s created world — and doing the hard work to put on display some objective reality outside of us.

Love Makes It Readable and Clear

In public writing, don’t just write to give vent to your own soul, but apply the balm to others. 
Let your personal pining get your car to the track, but run your laps on love and the desire to help your reader. 
Don’t fixate on how you want to say it, but how to make it readable.

A great humility stands behind such writing — and makes us free from the need to draw attention to ourselves, and eager to point to God and creation and humanity and sin and Jesus and salvation and the dynamics of everyday life and faith, and do so with clarity.

This is what made Lewis such a good writer, and why we have so much to glean from him for the 21st century — whether it’s his mingling of long and short sentences, or his attention to cadence and rhythm and how his sentences sounded when read aloud, or his relentless use of illustration, or his own manifest interest in every subject on which he wrote and his ability to be so contagious about it.

The Word As Great Cure

Which bring us back around to Lewis’s claim about ink being “the great cure for all human ills.” 
All human ills? 
Lewis might agree that it’s an overstatement. 
But he might respond by saying that it depends how flexible one is willing to be with the image of ink on a page.

It is, after all, a Word who is, in fact, the great cure for all human ills — the Word who didn’t stay in the Writer’s head, but is eternally spoken, and was subjected in history to the criticisms and pains of taking shape in our world. 
God wrote this Word on the page of our story, and the spilling of his ink became the great well for curing every ill and righting every wrong.

If God himself, when fed up with sin, and ready to apply the great cure, did so with a Word, then perhaps you and I — whether we self-identify as writers or not — should give some serious thought as to what ills we also might cure with our words.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Don’t Do God’s Will Like an Atheist

by John Piper 
September 24, 2013

After my message to the Liberty University student body last week, a perceptive student asked this clarifying question: So you don’t believe that altruistic acts are possible or desirable?

I asked for his definition of altruism so that I could answer what he was really asking. 

He said, “Doing a good deed for others with no view to any reward.” 

I answered: that’s right, whether or not it’s possible, I don’t think it’s desirable, because it’s not what the Bible teaches us to do; and it’s not what people experience as genuine love. 

Because it isn’t genuine love.

When God Is Glorified

I had said in the convocation message: Doing right for right’s sake is atheistic. 

Christians should do what’s right for God’s sake; because the Bible teaches us to do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). 

But God is not glorified if we leave him out of account, and say that doing a right deed is its own justification. 

Nothing is its own justification, if God is left out.

Christians should do what God says is right because in doing it we enjoy more of God. 

Jesus was motivating us to be generous to others when he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). 

I’m simply saying that this motivating, promised “blessedness” is not mainly more money, but more God. 

God delights to reveal more of himself to the generous than to the stingy (John 14:23).

This motive glorifies God. God is glorified when he is desired as a treasure. 

If we want a deeper fellowship with him because he makes us happier than anyone else, we glorify him. 

So to be motivated to do right by the desire for more of God glorifies God.

How Jesus Motivates

Jesus said that when we are slandered as Christians we should rejoice (Matthew 5:12) and love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) “for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12), and “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:45). 

The motivation he appeals to is that the path of sacrificial love leads to an increase of joy in our relationship to God as Father.

Jesus motivated us to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” to our feast “because they cannot repay [us].” 

Then he added: “For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:13–14). 

In other words: Be generous; make sacrifices in this world; because great is your reward in heaven.

This reward, of course, includes everything in God’s inheritance. 

You will be an “heir of the world” (Romans 4:13). 

“All things are yours” (1 Corinthians 3:21). 

The meek “shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). 

Yes, the reward includes earthy things. 

But in that day there will be no danger of idolatry. 

The earth and the heavens and all things will declare the glory of God, and the essence of our joy in them will be joy in him. 

What makes our reward truly great is the greater fullness of our fellowship with God: “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

This “fullness” and this “forever” are behind the motivation of the early Christians when they did what was right and suffered for it. 

They visited fellow Christians in prison because they saw this reward: “You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34). 

They rejoiced in persecution because their reward was great in heaven. 

That’s where they got the courage to risk their lives: It “had great reward” (Hebrews 10:35).

So I answer again: “Doing a good deed for others with no view to any reward” is unbiblical and atheistic. 

It dishonors God. 

He offers more joy in his fellowship to those who do right “for his sake” than “for right’s sake.” 

If we don’t embrace the offer of this reward in doing good, we belittle him. 

But if do embrace the offer, we show him as our supremely desired treasure — above all the rewards of doing wrong.

Our Joy in Loving Others

Finally, I said to the student’s good question: Not only does trying to do right for right’s sake dishonor God, it doesn’t show love to others. 

People don’t experience it as love. 

But why would they experience the good we do for them as love, if we are seeking our greater joy in God? 

Aren’t they just being used?

No. It’s because part of the greater joy we seek in God, by doing them good, is the inclusion of them in our joy. 

Our joy in God would be expanded by their joy in God. 

We are not using them for our greater joy. 

We are wooing them into our greater joy, and desiring that they become part of it.

But doing right for right’s sake does not have this effect. 

Suppose I go to visit Ethel in the hospital, an older lady who just had a heart attack. 

I lay my hand on her tiny arm and she opens her eyes and says, “O pastor, you didn’t need to come.” 

Suppose I respond, “I know, but it was my duty to come. 

It was the right thing to do for its own sake. So I came.” That answer does not make Ethel feel loved.

But suppose I say, “I know, but it always makes me happier in God, Ethel, to bring some encouragement to you, and lift you up into what the Lord has promised.” 

Ethel would never say, “You are so selfish. All you ever think about is what makes you happy.” 

She wouldn’t feel this, even though I did say, “It always makes me happier. . .” 

And the reason she wouldn’t is that my pursuit of more joy in God by doing good to her, and wanting her to be part of it, is what genuine love is.

May God protect us from the atheistic notion of doing right for right’s sake. 

And may he make us into the kind of strange and wonderful lovers who deny ourselves the “fleeting pleasures of sin,” and “choose to be mistreated with the people of God,” because we “look to the reward” (Hebrews 11:25–26).

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Want the Spirit? Go to Jesus

 by John Piper

You want the Spirit ? You go to Jesus. 
You want power ? You go to Jesus. 
You want relief from your burdens by the Spirit ? You go to Jesus. 
Jesus baptizes in the Holy Spirit. He's not available from anyone else.   

"This is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit" (John 1:33). 

So what does that mean? 

It means, first of all, that from now on, now that God has become man, from now on the Holy Spirit will come to people through Jesus Christ alone.

It takes residence on Jesus, so that Jesus is now qualified to be the one who baptizes his people in the Spirit and they get it no other way.

You don't go to a seance for this. 

You don't go out into nature for this. 

The buzz you get out in nature without Jesus won't be the Holy Spirit. 

You don't even want to know what it might be, if you reject Jesus. 

It comes through Jesus. 

The Spirit came upon Jesus, remains upon Jesus, and because of that, Jesus is the baptizer of his people with the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus will be the means by which the Spirit comes to anyone who gets the Spirit.

You want the Spirit ? You go to Jesus. 

You want power ? You go to Jesus. 

You want relief from your burdens by the Spirit ? You go to Jesus. 

Jesus baptizes in the Holy Spirit. 

He's not available from anyone else. 

He's the means. 

He takes away sin. 

And because he takes away sin, we may now be treated with this glorious mercy: the Spirit comes upon us. 

That's the first thing it means. 

Jesus is the only means by which the Spirit is mediated to us.

Read, watch, or listen to the full sermon, "This Is He Who Baptizes with the Holy Spirit":

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The X-Factor in Bible Reading

The Bible is no magic book. 
But saying it that way might give the wrong impression.

A strange, enigmatic power stirs when we reach for the Scriptures. Something influential, though invisible, is happening as we hear God’s words read or spoken. 

Something supernatural, but unseen, transpires as we see the text in front of us and take it into our souls. Someone unseen moves.

He is a personal force, fully divine and full of mystery — more a person than you or me, and yet no less an indomitable and ultimately irresistible power. 
He makes the seemingly simple into something supernatural, as reading the Bible transports us beyond the realm of our control. 
There is an x-factor when we read the Book.

More Than Cause and Effect

He loves to strengthen human souls in obvious and subtle ways as they encounter God’s word — whether that Word is the incarnate Christ himself, the gospel word of salvation for sinners, or the written word in the Scriptures.

As much as we may want to master the discipline of Bible intake, to trace the lines of cause and effect from some action we take to some resulting satisfaction of our soul, the Helper resists our efforts to objectify grace. 
He lingers in silence. 
He labors mysteriously. 
He imperceptibly shapes us this morning to make us into who we need to be this afternoon. 
His hands act untraceably as he molds our minds, hews out our hearts, whittles at our wills, and carves at our callouses.

Beyond Our Control

Not only does he hover over the waters, over all created space, standing ready to execute the Father’s will and extend the reign of the glorified Son. 
But he hovers all the more over the divine word — whether incarnate, spoken, or written — standing ready to awaken dead souls and open blind eyes and warm cold hearts.
It was in him that the gospel first came to us “not only in word, but also in power” (1 Thessalonians 1:5), and it was with his joy that we “received the word much affliction” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). It was by him that “God chose [us] to be saved, through sanctification” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

More Than We Can Muster

With the Helper in view, Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24).
He is the one through whom now is revealed to us the “secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7–10). 
Our helper is the one who searches everything, even the depths of God (1 Corinthians 2:10). 
No one comprehends the thoughts of God, except our aid (1 Corinthians 2:11). 
He is the one whom the truly born again have received “that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). 
And so when we — not just apostles, but we Christians — communicate the Christian message and teaching, we “impart this in words not taught by human wisdom,” but taught by him, “interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:13).
He is the promised one, with whom we were sealed when we “heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in [Jesus]” (Ephesians 1:13). 
The word of God is said to be his sword (Ephesians 6:17).

More Than Meets the Eye

When we get alone with the Bible, we are not alone. 
God has not left us to ourselves to understand his words and feed our own souls. 
No matter how thin your training, no matter how spotty your routine, the Helper stands ready. 
Take up the text in confidence that God is primed to bless your being with his very breath.

There is more than meets the eye to this spiritual discipline. 
A variable we can’t control. An enigmatic power we cannot command. 
A mysterious goodness we can only receive.

The x-factor in Bible reading is the Holy Spirit.

by David Mathis | September 11, 2013