Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

October 30, 2003

Only time for a brief report today. Last evening N. and I sat down together and listened to a recording of Brennan Manning speaking at a weekend conference a few months back. He was talking about the extravagant love of God. Stretch your minds, he said, beyond the limits you have heretofor allowed, in order to comprehend how wide and long and high and deep is the extravagant love of God. The whole talk was a fleshing out of this imperative. Much good.

October 29, 2003

The Cross. Yes. If I were to begin again, it would have to be hear. Seeing again, hearing again, receiving again.

I want to talk about receiving the grace of God. I am thinking out loud here, not sure of myself, but bear with me. The New Testament presents a picture of life "in Him." It is a life primarily described or defined by the word "grace." "The grace in which we stand" is Paul's matter-of-fact description of that life. I'm suggesting that most of the time our relationship to it is very much like that which we have with our natural environment--the air we breathe, say. In other words, most of the time we're completely unaware. We take it for granted.

Do you remember the scene in Wilder's Our Town, where the daughter, returning to her old life from the grave, asks beseechingly, Is there anyone who goes through life really appreciating it. Really knowing what they've got, how precious and brief it is?

Well, grace is like that. So often lost on us. Appreciated in theory on Sunday mornings, but only really glimpsed (received, felt, known) on rare occasions.

And so we come again to Calvary, the holy place. The throne of grace. "Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:16

The author of Hebrews is writing to Christians and instructing them to draw near to the throne of grace. But not as an hireling or peasant coming into the presence of authority, hat in hand, but boldly (KJV), or with confidence (NAV). And remember, he's not writing to non-believers, but to believers. He is calling them to return, again and again, in every time of need, to the One who is the source of grace.

There is much more I want to say about all this, but I'm running out of time. Grace and peace to you. Back soon.

October 28, 2003

A really excellent message from Joel today at Meditatio. What he says about the role of confession and forgiveness in the church is, well, what I wish I'd said.

I have been thinking about the Cross. You know, I get the feeling sometimes that I really have nothing more than the vaguest notion about what the Cross really means to my life today. I want to investigate that possibility. I want to discover my ignorance and rejoice. I want to "get a clue" as to the vast richness that flows like a river from the foot of the Cross. I want to move in the direction of knowing. Stumbling, no doubt. But thirsty. More on this next time.

October 25, 2003

Saturday. I should mention something about our small group meeting on Thursday. It went really well, with a good frank discussion of "temptation." We had a newcomer, T., who seemed to really enjoy the time, and it was a great blessing having her. She suffers from cerebral palsy and had to be carried down the stairs, which was a little awkward. She says that next week she'll let us know exactly how it ought to be done, so I'm looking forward to that.

For the last few weeks we've talked about forgiveness and about confession. I've tried to emphasize the importance of "walking in forgiveness," which is of course easier said than done. This has just been the particular facet of the kingdom of God that He has been emphasizing to me lately. To harbor unforgiveness (that phrase may be a churchy cliche, but it's useful) is literally to walk away from the blessings of God. Obedience to God, who calls us to forgiveness, is not an out-moded standard. It is, or should be, our heart's desire.

What I think is that there are many people who are not enjoying the freedom and joy that could be theirs simply because they continue (in some portion of their lives) to cherish some form of disobedience.

And the same goes for confession. I wrote a few days ago that I was going make a point of incorporating confession into my daily quiet time. I think this has been really good for me. And it's not only confession of sins in the strict sense, but talking to God about the temptations and inclinations that I carry about with me and that, when the time is right, seem to spring up like an unruly garden after rain.

I am talking mostly about thought-life here. Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart offers a good understanding of the relationship between thought and action. I don't mean to be prudish or overly-sensitive here, but thoughts very often are forerunners to deeds and like dreams they indicate an inward reality. Perhaps you have not called your boss an idiot to his/her face, but in your mind you've done so a thousand times. What thought-seeds have you been planting in that potentially unruly garden? Seeds just waiting for the proper time to spring up into a corresponding deed.

Well, I had not intended to go on about this: I'm kind of imagining someone saying, Oh come on, Bob, to merely think a thing is not a sin. But I just don't think that's Biblical. Our sanctification takes place on all levels, certainly not least of all on the level of the mind.

Here's an example of the importance of the thought-life in God's perspective: "And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever." 1 Chronicles 28:9

Our deeds, our seeking or rejecting, are closely-tied to our thought-life. So much so, that God knows the man by his thoughts, or such is the intimation here of David's warning to Solomon.

Or how about this one: "O Jerusalem, wash the evil from your heart and be saved. How long will you harbor wicked thoughts?" Jeremiah 4:14

Evil begins in the heart, that is certain. If our thoughts reveal a sinful inclination, whose truth but our own do these thoughts expose? We need to bring our thought-life to God, even those fantasies we've enjoyed so much over the years. We need to reach a point where that which offends God offends us also. Surely the Lord desires truth in the inward parts, says David (Psalm 51:6). We need to lay these things down before the Almighty and ask for cleansing. And indeed ask, with David, that the Lord teach us wisdom "in the inmost place."

October 23, 2003

A cold morning, with a nasty wind, freezing rain and even a few flakes of snow. Ah, Maine! The way life should be!

Our small-group meets this evening. Our practice is to worship together, then to talk a little (about our week, or about the way in which God has moved in our lives during the past week, or about some truth from the Word) and then to pray a lot. Last week we talked about forgiveness, and how it's the starting point of the Way of the Lord. This week I think I want to bring a message regarding the flip-side of repentance, which is confession. Confessing our sins to the Lord is a practice that gladdens His heart, because by it we show that we are indeed His children. I'm just going to bring a few passages of Scripture for us to read together. I pray that the message I bring be truly the Lord's message for our hearts.

N. is still struggling (see Oct. 21 entry), but I do believe that God is drawing him through this turmoil. Please, any who read this, do keep him in prayer, and I will keep you posted as to his progress. God is moving in this young man's life, of this I have no doubt. I just pray that after the sowing in tears there will come the reaping with songs of joy!

October 22, 2003

I've been wondering about how to improve my morning devotional time. Lately it's been kind of drifty and unfocused. My mind wanders. And my prayers generally lack fervency. I've noticed that the quality of my devotional life seems to rise and fall like the tide. Sometimes I just need to kick-start it by making a change in the pattern; breaking the mold.

Here's what I think I'm going to do. I'm going to sit down with my journal and make note of my God-sightings from the previous day. This is a practice I learned from Mark Fee, a Vineyard pastor. Bring to mind the times in the previous day in which you can see the evidence of God's hand at work in your life, either in the words or actions of others, providential circumstances, outright miracles, whatever. I used to do this regularly and found it quite helpful, but somehow drifted out of the habit. Bad on me.

After making written note of my God-sightings, I'm going to do the same for the things I need to confess. Again, scrolling back through the day and making deliberate note of them, and then asking forgiveness. This kind of practice will, I think, sharpen my spiritual senses as I go through the day. Also, writing them down will help me to focus on spiritual things, Kingdom matters, and kick-start my prayer time with praise and thanksgiving.

Anyway, that's the plan. I'd like to hear from you, my myriad readers, as to other ideas for energizing your devotional life. Write to me here, and I'll share the best ones in a future post.

October 21, 2003

Prayer Requests:
N., who has suffered from depression and social anxiety in the past, is going through a "rough patch." I won't go into the details, but I believe that a sense of hopelessness has descended on him with regard to a certain aspect of his life. Please pray for him. Pray for the return of hope. Pray for real, hearty and overflowing joy.

Also, an effort is afoot at the university where I work (USM) to establish a Campus Crusade minstry. Initial response was good. Please pray for the harvest!

October 18, 2003

I wrote yesterday about the importance of forgivenesss. God's forgiveness of us, our acceptance of that forgiveness. What do I mean by acceptance?

Well, I think that there are plenty of Christians out there who remain locked into patterns of sin (and therefore, whether they admit it or not, deep shame) because they have not really trusted that through Jesus and the cross God has removed their condemnation. Entirely.

I am suggesting that when we really do accept the reality of God's forgiveness we can begin to really speak of "the grace in which we stand." I am suggesting that we have many stunted Christians for whom growth in the Lord seems a strange concept. They may have a rudimentary kind of faith, they may love Jesus and like to hear that he died for them, but they haven't fully imbibed this reality and thereby experienced its drastic impact on their lives. They don't realize growth and progress in their walk because they continue to doubt its possibility. That's for super-Christians, they suppose. When they read Romans, their minds drift as they scan chapter 6 with its call for holiness, chapter 8 with its obligation to the Spirit rather than to the flesh, but endless affirm chapter 7 (out of context), because there Paul describes the one aspect of the Christian life that they can truly relate to.

[By the way, I should say here that I don't mean to seem condescending, or like I'm some sort of super-Christian harshly judging the inferior "stunted" Christians. In a real sense we are all stunted Christians to one degree or another, and I have spent years laboring under that burden of half-knowledge which accepts, I am a sinner, but not, I am a saint, set apart by God for holiness. And I am only just beginning to see how splendid are God's promises for us here and now, as we live our lives from day to day. The Father is for us, and that should be an effectively transformative reality.]

And yet there is of course something deeply habituating about sin. The shame of sin that drove Adam and Eve into the shrubbery has worn its deep grooves in the human psyche, and so it is difficult to consistently affirm and believe that Jesus really did take away the condemnation. That is, to really trust it. To walk in it, unburdened, disentangled. And this is freedom indeed. "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (2Cor 3:17)

Brennan Manning said something about this (you can find the interview in the articles list at right):

I believe that the real difference in the American church is not between conservatives and liberals, fundamentalists and charismatics, nor between Republicans and Democrats. The real difference is between the aware and the unaware. When somebody is aware of that love, the same love that the Father has for Jesus, that person is just spontaneously grateful. Cries of thankfulness become the dominant characteristic of the interior life, and the byproduct of gratitude is joy. We're not joyful and then become grateful, we're grateful and that makes us joyful.

October 17, 2003

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

It's just now beginning to occur to me what these words from Nehemiah 8:10 really mean. What did the author of Hebrews say? "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb. 12:2) So precious are we to the Lord that He could look at the Cross "set before him," He could clearly foresee the pain and suffering of Calvary, and yet He could see through all that to the joy beyond. Not only the joy of returning to the Father, but the joy of winning us, by means of the Cross, back to the Father also.

And here's my point: this was His joy, and His joy can be my strength and your strength. Got that? My strength for today, my strength for the troubled relationship, my strength for the fear in the night, my strength for overcoming addiction or painful memories or the scourge of self-loathing, my strength is His joy and His joy is the Cross.

How can this be? I'm guessing that Romans 5:1-5 goes a long way toward explaining it to us. "Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God's glory. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us – they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation. And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love." (NLT)

Now, there's a lot there, I know, but do you see? Do you see how we too can look beyond the pain to the glory, because of Jesus? Do you see how that's a privilege? A glorious and imponderable gift? And do you see that it was Jesus Christ's joy to give it to us, no matter the cost? And that His joy, His giving, has become our strength? I don't know if I've made this at all clear, but for me it's pure freedom. Hallelujah!

I received an email from Mike Todd today, who is the mind behind Waving or Drowning? He welcomes me to the blogging world, and says thanks for linking to his blog. My pleasure, Mike. And since you seem to be a Cubs fan, and as I am a Red Sox fan, I just want you to know that today I definitely feel your pain!

This is probably a good time to explain those brief lists of links to the right of the screen. I'm just beginning to sift through the blogging world, at least the Christian blogging world, and when I find something I really like, something that really stimulates and encourages and is not merely chatter (in my opinion) and is not merely theological debating, well then I might add it to my "Blogs of Note" list. Same with the websites list and the articles list. These will grow with time, but don't expect any long lists like those you find on some other blogs. It's just a selection of things that have caught my attention and that my many readers (yuk! yuk!) might also find interesting.

Small group went really well last night. We talked about forgiveness. How it's hard sometimes to forgive, very hard. Nevertheless, the grace of God begins just here, I think. This is all a matter of the Cross, of course. Through faith we receive the forgiveness that Jesus bought for us there. And when we do, when we know and experience the lifting of the burden of condemnation and death, we are standing in grace. We are for the first time really alive. And we can, for the first time, begin to forgive others.

This is, well, massive. This is comforting others with the comfort with which God has comforted us. This is the transforming power of the Gospel as a "hands on" experience. This is walking out the grace of God in the day to day, "between the stop signs," as Phil Strout used to say. This is even, I would say, the "obligation" (NIV) or "debt" (NKJV) that Paul speaks of in Romans 8:12. This is how we live the gospel. There is more, of course, than forgiveness, much more, but I don't believe any of the rest will follow unless forgiveness is the starting place. It was our starting place wiht God, and He calls us to make it the starting place, the foundation, of all our other relationships. That's what I think, anyway.

The quote of the day comes from Brennan Manning: The splendor of a human heart that trusts and is loved unconditionally gives God more pleasure than Westminster Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Van Gogh's Sunflowers, the sight of 10,000 butterflies in flight, or the scent of a million orchids in bloom. Trust is our gift back to God, and he finds it so enchanting that Jesus died for love of it.

Wow! That is just so cool!

October 16, 2003

Hello, friends. What do you know, I said I was only going to post to this blog once or twice a week, and here I'm at it nearly every day!

We'll be having our small group tonight, and I really think God has given me a Word for the members, so I'm excited about that. Pray for me please that I would speak in boldness and love, and for the Holy Spirit to be present at work in all of us.

Well, I promised myself, and I promise my readers (all two or three of them!) that I will never post to this blog unless I truly have something worthwhile to offer. The desire of my heart is to encourage and build up. It is to speak God's love into your ear. It is to urge you to receive the forgiveness of the Lord and really trust it, walk in it.

Dallas Willard has written (in his boook Renovation of the Heart) that the true purpose of church is to produce disciples (that is, students, followers) of Jesus Christ. More Peters, Pauls, Jameses, Marys, Marthas, etc. People who exude the aroma of Christ in their daily lives.

I will have more to say on this theme, but I am running out of time this morning. For now, check out this article by Willard. This man is right on the money.

In the mean time, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." Ephesians 4:32

Oh, and Con, if you're reading this, have a sweet day! Amen.

October 15, 2003

Speaking of John Piper (see yesterday's quote), I just this morning read an article by him called, "What God Requires, Christ Provides." You can find it here. Now, it is of course an interesting and stimulating piece (as is everything by Piper) about the all-sufficiency of Christ, but what really caught my attention was the way in which Piper tried to demonstrate the relevance of this doctrine to the present moment. I mean, the question that dogs me as I think about these things is, okay, but how do I live this today? How do I walk this out? In answer to that question, Piper takes the example of marriage and says:

Marriage seems almost impossible at times because both partners feel so self-justified in their expectations that are not being fulfilled. There is a horrible emotional dead end in the words, "But it's just plain wrong for you to act that way," followed by "That's your perfectionistic perspective" or "Do you think you do everything right?" or by hopeless, resigned silence. The cycle of self-justified self-pity and anger can seem unbreakable.

But what if one or both partners becomes overwhelmed with the truth of justification by faith alone -- and especially with the truth that in Christ Jesus God credits me, for Christ's sake, as fulfilling all of his expectations? What happens if this doctrine so masters our souls that we begin to bend it from the vertical to the horizontal and apply it to our marriages? In our own imperfect efforts in this regard, there have been breakthroughs that seemed at times impossible. It is possible, for Christ's sake, simply to say, "I will no longer think merely in terms of whether my expectations are met in practice. I will, for Christ's sake, regard you the way God regards me -- complete and accepted in Christ -- and thus to be helped and blessed and nurtured and cherished, even if, in practice, you fail." I know my wife treats me this way. And surely this is part of what Paul calls for when he says that we should forgive "one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph. 4:32). There is more healing for marriage in the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness than many of us have begun to discover.

This is powerful stuff, and it gets to the heart of the Gospel doesn't it? If when we look at others we see a broken and sinful soul who nevertheless has not only been forgiven by God, but who has even been accounted righteous by Him, then who are we to account them otherwise? In an atmosphere of this kind, an atmosphere of forgiveness in which we really do take on the mind of Christ (1Cor 2:16), trust can grow. I will not always be preparing my defense each time I realize I have done something displeasing to my spouse. I will not need to work out a justification, shift the focus, lie, or (if none of this has worked) lash out angrily. I won't do these things because I will have come to know that my spouse is not judging me or condemning, but that she is seeing me as God see me.

This is grace. This is "the grace in which we stand." (Rom 5:2) This is grace reigning in my life through the righteousness of Christ. This is Christ's all-sufficiency. And I can't gin it up through positive-thinking or something. I only get it (know it, receive it, walk in it) through faith--through trusting God and not myself. That is the only way that I can possibly lay aside my fearful self-justification, my shame-faced posturing, and simply say in complete trust, "I'm sorry, forgive me!" And there it is--the grace in which (and by which) I stand, flowing down like rain! Thank you, Jesus!

Well, enough preaching. Maybe next time I'll take up the natural next question. "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?" (Rom 6:15) In the meantime, I just want to say, Grace is delicious. Give it a try sometime!

October 14, 2003

Tuesday, and a fine crisp morning in Maine. Just got an email from C., who loves the blog. Hey, a reader! Thanks for your kind words, C.

Funny, but for about five days running last week God seemed to be speaking the same message to me again and again. Simply this: He is in control. Just as I told R. last week, feeling that the words seemed woefully inadequate, and yet God continued to reinforce the message from day to day, and finally on Sunday morning Pastor M. preached from Luke 8, the story of Jesus calming the storm. Yes, He is in control.

Anyway, there was a particular point that M. wanted to make, and it was something I hadn't thought about. It was this: The disciples put out on the lake at the suggestion of Jesus. Was not this whole business about the storm and then Jesus rebuking the waves etc. a piece of divine orchestration? Was it not in Jesus' mind to prove something to His friends, something that would stay with them and strengthen them in their times of trial? You will recall the words of Peter, many years later, who wrote about the way that trials are used by God for the strengthening and perfecting of our faith. (1Peter 1:6,7) Isn't that how Jesus used the "trial" of the storm on the Sea of Galilee? Not that god sends us trials and temptations, but that God who is after all in control is able to turn what the devil had intended for harm and discouragement into something that would strengthen and purify. And this is what He did in this case. He strengthened the faith of His disciples by allowing them to endure temptation and then demonstrating His absolute sovereignty.

Well, enough of that. There is much more that can be said about suffering of course. Lord, I want to be able to say, in my time of temptation, "No, I will trust in Jesus in this matter. He will be my strength, my Rock, my strong tower."

But enough. In a couple of days our small group meets again, and I want to be able to bring them a word of encouragement that comes straight from the Lord. Please pray for me to be able to do that.

Todays quote comes from the introduction to John Piper's new book, Don't Waste Your Life:
"The path of God-exalting joy will cost you your life. Jesus said, 'Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.' In other words, it is better to lose your life than to waste it. If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full. This is not a book about how to avoid a wounded life, but how to avoid a wasted life. Some of you will die in the service of Christ. That will not be a tragedy. Treasuring life above Christ is a tragedy."

Oh, and by the way, if you want to read more (lots more) of John Piper's stuff, click here.

October 11, 2003

Hello friends. Second posting, by golly. This Blog's got feet!

My friend R. called last night. The wheels just seem to be coming off her life. She just needed someone to talk to, but it's really hard to know what to say sometimes. Trust God? Pray? Blah blah blah. R. is really just a baby in Christ, struggling to believe. Struggling to trust God even against the evidence around her (or so it would seem). I just told her that despite what she might think, God really is in control, and will bring her through. Pray for her, will you please?

Hey, by the way, I need to figure out how to post a link, so here goes. This one is to Steve Brown's "KeyLife" web site. I have high regard for this man's ministry, for his way of communicating the grace of God. If you can't get his radio broadcasts in your area, well, the web site is the next best thing.

And here's another. It's from Richard Foster (one of my favorite writers) and it's a site devoted to the principles of "Christian spiritual formation" that have been handed down to us through the centuries. It's really for those who are interested in deepening their walk with the Lord through the practice of spiritual disciplines. Find it here.

Finally, here you'll find my personal homepages. The first page is dedicated to encouraging the Christian students at the university where I work (librarian), with links to a number of other pages that recount the WW2 experiences of my Father-in-law, Bob Flynn.

From Stormie Omartian's The Power of Praying Together:

"We must not underestimate the power of group prayer in straightening and clearing the path we are to travel and then enabling us to walk on it."

October 10, 2003

Hello and welcome to my blog. I want you to know, dear imaginary reader, that all this is quite new to me and that I am keenly aware of the silliness of this very project. After all, who am I, and why would anyone want to read my ruminations? I am (or, I have just now become) one of a million bloogers (or is it a hundred million?). I am, in this strange new (for me) world of blogging, a nobody. Without credentials. A mere fool at a keyboard, casting his little words into the nearly infinite muddy pool of the blogosphere, the cacophony of internet mumblers. And yet, this I have chosen to do. Is there not perhaps something disturbingly self-reverential about this process? You know: "Here I am! Here are my thoughts. Here are my opinions. My favorite websites. My pets. My children. Here I am!"

And yet . . . well, yes, here I am. And I think it's possible, just possible, that this could be fun and even in some unforeseeable way, enlightening. And here is what you, dear imaginary reader, can expect from this blog. There is but one way to avoid self-reverence, and that is to reverence another. In this matter I choose Jesus. This will be, then, a Christian blog. It's aim is to exalt the Lord and also to encourage people. Readers, if I have any at all, will find these two aims the consistent and overarching emphasis of this blog. I am not interested in debating matters of theology, Biblical interpretation, or denominational politics (or politics of any kind). I simply want to make this blog a point of contact for the praise of the Lord and the encouragement of people.

To this end, I will be sharing prayer needs, offering prayers to God on behalf of anyone who asks, mentioning websites of interest, and just sharing with others what God has been doing in my life lately. I will update the blog on a more or less weekly basis, but probably more often than that, I suspect.

A final note in this my introductory posting: Be assured that God is good. I cast these words into the muddy stream, the verbal flood that is humanity's vital trait, our blessing and curse. God is good. May they give life to another, somewhere downstream. Joy to you, Friend. God is good. May the Lord prosper you this day.