Lessons from Mrs. McCarthy

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35, NIV).

My wife and girls like this BBC show, Father Brown. It is a mystery show based off of The Father Brown Mysteries written by the famed by G.K. Chesterton. As the title suggests, the sleuth of the series is Father Brown; a Catholic Priest with a penchant for solving mysteries and murder.

One of Father Brown’s “sidekicks” is one Mrs. McCarthy. In the TV series she is excellently played by Sorcha Cusack.

One of the reasons I say she is excellently played by Cusack is that I can’t stand her! She drives me nuts! Cusack’s performance totally nails the persona of the quintessential old church lady. Prim, proper, and excellent at baking. She sees herself as being kind, pious, righteous, and as a woman who should be respected. But the reality is that she often comes across as very self-righteous, judgmental, and given to gossip, and she has no problem jumping to negative conclusions about people who don’t live up to her expectations. If the elder brother in the parable of the Lost Son of Luke 15 were a sister, she would be it.

To me she represents what many think of when they think of what a “Christian” is. One of the reasons that perception exists is because there are more than a few Mrs. McCarthys in the church. I know. I have run across many myself. I tell you, sometimes I have wished that these people who tell people that they are atheists and help us in reverse!

It is next to impossible to expose one of these Mrs. McCarthy types to themselves. They are often so convinced that they are right they can’t see their hypocrisy.

What can you do?

You need to show them some Father Brown.

No, I don’t mean the TV show or the books, I mean you need to treat them like Father Brown treats Mrs. McCarthy.

Father Brown loves her and is friends with her knowing full well who she is, and loving her anyway.

He does not always respond to every jab or dig or insinuation he makes. But when he does it is never a put down.

He is very forgiving of her.

More than once when Mrs. McCarthy was in the wrong because her wrong thinking or conclusions, or attitude, she nevertheless led Father Brown to a break in the mystery and so he responds by thanking her for helping him so much.

In a word, he does not give up on her. He loves her in spite of her blemishes and failures. Not because he does not see them. But in spite of the fact that he does. He knows that he can’t change Mrs. McCarthy. But he knows that is not his job. That is God’s job. His job is to love her as best he can….and to solve the disturbingly high number of murders that take place in the tiny English countryside village of Kembleford!

Father Brown represents what we Christians should be. Out for the truth, but to build people up and bring them closer to God, not to simply show them how they fall short or to expose them when they sin for the sake of exposing them. It takes no special talent or spiritual acumen to do that. But to do what Father Brown does? That takes spiritual maturity! We could all do well be channel a bit more of Father Brown…including myself.

Love in the Dark

God in His sovereign wisdom has had me walking through dark, dank, and deep places of late. While I would not say that I myself am experiencing a dark night of the soul, I have family and friends who are; and in a real sense I am in those dark nights with them.

It is easy to say “I love you” and to believe that you mean it when things are pleasant and fun and there is a lot to look forward to. But what about when the green pastures and quiet waters of life are no longer in view; when life becomes arid and barren, or dark and foreboding, unsafe even, where those warm and happy feelings that we often equate with love seem so few and far between?

Ironically, it is not in the light but in the dark that we tend to see the pain and brokenness of heart and soul, both in ourselves and in the people we are walking with. It is in these seasons and circumstances where love is needed the most, that it is the hardest to give and is the most costly.

It is hard because when people are hurting or scared or hopeless they sometimes want to push you away; they will say they do not want or need you, that helping them is pointless, or that things will never change. It is hard to love people when they don’t want it, are unable to acknowledge or accept it, or cannot return it. But it is in these times—more than any other—when love is so hard, that we see just how important love is (even if those we are trying to love can’t), and how badly we need to be loved.

Loving into or out of these difficult places is not only hard but costly. It can be extremely exhausting. It can be heartbreaking. It often costs time that you would normally give to other things. It can cost financially too. It can be isolating because often other people do not understand why it is worth the effort. It may require putting dreams and aspirations on hold. And if you are not careful (and sometimes even when you are) the stress, exertion, and pain can drag you down too.

Love, if we are at all honest with ourselves is far more than just peasant feelings. It is more complicated than that. Just look at 1 Corinthians 13:7 (NIV), It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. The Greek word the NIV translates as “always” literally means “all.” I think the NLT catches the meaning best, Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. A love that lives up to such a description is more than fluffy feel good stuff. Love is fierce, tenacious, strong as steel, and hard as diamonds. Love certainly involves our lighter emotions, but it cannot be simply reduced to them either. For love to never give up, to never lose faith, to always hope, and to endure through every circumstance requires that love produce a loyalty and commitment that makes us want to act on behalf of the people we love. Love without action is nothing more than a shadow of love; it is an empty profession apart from the fruit of action and commitment that proves we truly possess it.

Certainly there is no clearer example of this than the cross, where Jesus was willing endure such extreme pain and humiliation at the hands of men and the omnipotent wrath of His Father for the sins of people who pushed Him away, who thought they did not want or need Him or knew they needed His help, who didn’t want it, were unable to acknowledge or accept it, and could not return it. His love did not shy away when it is hard or costly. I am so thankful that He is willing to love even when it is hard and costly. Where would I be without it? Surely nowhere good. That love breathed light and life into my cold and broken heart. And when His love is in us, our love will prove itself with like fruit.

Love is good in the daytime when life is bright and sunny, but it is no less needed at night when life is hard and painful…and perhaps even more so. I have been learning that this is one of the main reasons God brings us to dark places, so we see our need for the light of love and feel its strength, and so we can bring that same light and strength to those who need it most, especially to those who are walking in the dark, and into places where the strength of love is needed.

Why Celebrate?

My daughter Anna struggles with depression and anxiety because of her Non Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD). She was hospitalized eight times within a two year period. It was hard, real hard. Basically every three months she was in a hospital or C-BAT unit. But after that, because of her hard work and the prayers of many friends she started to make significant strides in learning to cope with her NVLD. When we came to the one year anniversary of her being free of self harm and hospitalization we had a celebration going to her favorite restaurant, the China Buffet. When she made it two years, we had a party with family and friends to celebrate her accomplishment.

But three months after the two year celebration, she hurt herself again and ended up back in a C-BAT unit.

The question has come up: what is the point of celebrating such milestones of recovery when there is no certainty that the recovery will continue without times when we fall? Does the fact that she fell again say that our celebration premature?

The reason for celebrating is not about what you are going to do tomorrow. It is acknowledging the work that was done in the past. She worked hard. She accomplished a lot. That was worth celebrating. We weren’t celebrating the expectation that she would never fall down again, we were celebrating the fact that she had gone so long without failing down again.

And you know what? She had a much easier time getting back on her feet this time. She is not the same person she was four and a half years ago. She is in not in the same place she was either. She is stronger, wiser, and more resilient. And so are we and the rest of her support system. Celebrating her milestones is about building her up, giving her hope, and acknowledging her work on her journey, not setting expectations for perfection in the future. She knows that.

I say, yes, it was worth celebrating. It was not a mistake. It was not premature. If I had the chance to do it over again, I would. And when we get to a year from her latest trip, we will all celebrate again. Love drives us to celebrate these milestones with her, no less than it drives us help her up when she falls.

Speaking Well

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:18, NIV).

God wants us to be careful of what we say. He wants us speaking well of others. Easier said than done sometimes right? Let me share some thoughts about what that means.

Speaking well of others does not mean…

  1. Not holding each other accountable. Matthew 18:15-17, If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. The Bible is very clear that we are supposed to hold each other accountable. All of us should want other people hold us accountable. But often what we want to justify as holding people accountable out of love and encouragement for them, is little more than pride wanting to show how good we are.
  2. Saying things are something they are not. Colossians 3:9, Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices. Speaking well of each other is not flattery. It is not telling a person who is constantly griping and complaining that they are a model peacemaker. Speaking well of others must always be based solidly in truth.
  3. Living in denial. Jeremiah 7:9-11, Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”-safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.

Speaking well of others is not living in denial of problems that exist. If a person is a habitual liar is not speaking well of them to say they just enjoy embellishing every once in a while. Speaking well of others will never say a real problem is a good thing.

Speaking well of others means…

  1. Thinking before speaking. Proverbs 10:19, When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. We all give lip service to this truth but we often give ourselves a pass from following it ourselves. About three weeks ago I got an endorsement for my book from a nationally known author and speaker. As soon as I got it I sent it to my managing editor at Harvest House and asked them to let me know if I could use it. I did not hear back from her right away, as I usually do. I started to get annoyed. After a week I was beginning to feel ignored. As I was thinking about writing something to find out what was going on, I thought about how I am not the only project she has and I should be patient. I decided not to write anything and wait a while longer. A few days ago I got a response. She apologized for not getting back to me. She had not been in much in the last three weeks because her oldest sister died three weeks ago and her mother died last week. Boy, am I glad I held my tongue. She did not need to hear from a high-strung, author, she needed love and support. Think, really think before you speak.
  2. Choosing words to build others up rather than words to break them down. 1 Thessalonians 5:11, encourage one another and build each other up. Easy to say, hard to do. Yes. But God is concerned about what is best for the people we are in relationship with, not what is easiest for us. The Holy Spirit’s job is to correct and convict. When we do that, we are putting ourselves in His place. Our job is to encourage and build each other up. That saying in AA is very good Scriptural advice, “Let go and let God.”
  3. Focusing on what is good and positive. Philippians 4:8, Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. Look for the good in others and praise them for it. We are masters as catching people in the wrong. We need to be twice as proficient at catching people doing right. Everyone is a sinner. No one is perfect. But everyone has good qualities that we can highlight. Everyone has talents and gifts that we should admire and thank God for. I know what you’re thinking. You’re saying to yourself, “Yeah, well you don’t know so-and-so, and the sooner God takes them out of my life or out of my church, or out of my business the better.” Bah! That’s foolishness! They are made in the image of God, that alone is praiseworthy. Every person you meet God placed in your life for a reason. And chances are, one of those reasons is to learn to love and appreciate them.

It’s Valentine’s Day, so make it a point to…


I know, I know. Valentine’s Day is about roses, chocolates, special dates, and romantic interludes with that special someone in your life.

Of course that does not preclude telling your special someone that they matter. But I would like to challenge you to expand the playing field for this. Chances are you know a person or two that really needs to hear that today. Let them know that they matter. It won’t cost you much, but it may be one of the most precious gifts that person gets today. And that can make all the difference.

Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up (Proverbs 12:25, NIV).