Mr. Standfast

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

December 30, 2003

Coming up to the new year, and I'm actually taking the whole thing seriously this time around. I really do have this sense of something new beginning in my life. "Look, I am doing a new thing! Do you not see it?" These are words that God spoke to Isaiah, and Isaiah to Israel (43:19), and I'm taking them seriously for my own life. The imperative here is, Look! And I intend to.

In the meantime, I pray for many of God's new things for you, too. Amen.

December 29, 2003

Hi, folks! Back from brief holiday excursion followed by a few days of R&R. Saw The Return of the King last night. I think it was wonderful, all in all. Peter Jackson has done something I once thought un-doable. He has, I think, captured the essence of Middle-Earth. Well, I say that, but it's been years since I last read the books. Therefore, I've started reading them again. So maybe, after having done so, I'll be in a better position to say, one way or the other, whether Peter Jackson really has captured their essence or not. But for now, well, I'm swept away. As this article by Rich Lowry states better than I could, it's a masterpiece of pop-culture.


A big thank you to blogging.teen for his kind words. This kid is, well, just a little amazing. Take a look at his blogroll, at his list of favorite websites, and (especially) at the book he's currently reading, and then remind yourself that he is but 14 years old. Jeesh! Not only that, but he's added me to his blogroll, so I do feel honored. Thank you, blogging.teen!

December 19, 2003

Kingdom Kids in the Devil's Playground

Last post before Christmas. Tomorrow I'll be on the road to Grandmother's house with the boys. Time to regroup!


I was thinking today that there must be a "Yes" in our response to each moment of living. Of course that is not an indiscriminate ascent--not Yes to everything--but Yes to that which is good, praiseworthy, etc. You know: Philippians 4:8. This is really an attitude-issue. The disposition of the heart. What are you fixing your gaze on, my friend?

"Think about such things." That's what the NIV says. NASB: Dwell on these things. Amplified: Think on, weigh on, take account of. Fix your mind on.

Fix you mind on. That's the one I like. Fix your mind on the things in life, in the world, in you, that are worthy of this response: YES!

Another thing: Reckon yourself dead to sin, but alive to God. Romans 6:11. Reckon it. Count it up. Tally the sums. Take stock. Yes, take stock. Make an accounting. Sin on the one side, Christ on the other. What do you find? Paid in full? If so (and it is so, if you will only accept it), then you are now alive to God and alive to the things of God. As never before. Alive. Awake. Wide-eyed. Awed. Forgetting the old you are enamored by these new things. Things new every morning. Things of God. Philippians 4:8 things.

So there is this Yes to be spoken in each moment. Sometimes hard to discover, but there. Recently we (L. & me) made a series of decisions, not all of which were "praiseworthy." And for that there will be a cost. Some of that cost could have been avoided if we had only "done the right thing" at a key moment. But another part of that cost is simply, well, the cost of Discipleship. Some are telling us now that we should have avoided the whole business, remained aloof. But to have done so would have been to exempt ourselves from the momentous privilege of saying Yes to God and the things of God. Does any of this make sense?

I pray that I will never stop saying Yes to God as I navigate this life of choices. Surely I will need wisdom, discernment and righteousness in thought and deed. After all, the devil knows that God has made us choosing beings, and so he will inevitably offer us choices, playing to our flesh. Such is nature of our situation: Kingdom kids in the Devil's playground. But please don't ever let me hunker down in disappointment and futility. Though I make mistakes, though I choose wrongly at times, courage is giving God a chance to show you His stuff, His options, and taking the sometimes seemingly great risk of trusting Him and His way.

Well, and now is the time. This is the moment of choosing. Look around you, friend. There is no place in creation that is truly void of God. You can spend your time wishing you'd made different choices yesterday: a dreary, foot-dragging, nail-biting, mind-numbing existence, that. Or you can choose now. For those of you who have not been born again, well, there is a starting place for this life of choosing. There is a first choice. You may think you can't choose Jesus, but you can. You may think you can never turn aside from the things that have enslaved you till now, and yet God has given you, in the midst of it all, this much grace: the grace to choose this day which way you will turn. Back to the things that lead to death. Or to the things that lead to life. That way begins with Jesus. He mastered every enemy you will ever face. He reigns over creation and He is preparing for Himself a people that have his heart and mind, his nature. The vast untapped possibilities of Jesus in your life (sometimes summarized in 1 word: love) lie before you. Saying yes to all the things of God begins with saying yes to Jesus, which is why he calls himself the way.

I have so much more to say. Suddenly I'm on a roll! But my time is up. I hope you celebrate Jesus Christ's birthday as never before. God bless all have ventured this far with me. See you in week or so!

December 17, 2003

Hello, old friends. I don't expect to be around much in the next 10 to 12 days (vacation and all that), so I'm just checking in for a quick note. I'm just now finishing up Steven Foster's Streams of Living Water (yes, I can be a very slow reader), and I must say that Foster simply amazes me. Rarely have I read an author at once so wise, so carefully observant of his subject, and yet so humble. Humility in an author shows itself, I think, in an insistent lack of dogmatism. Foster pulls this off with ease, or so it seems, without ever seeming to be wishy-washy or "tolerant" in the modern, relativistic sense (in which tolerance is seen as a higher value than truth). This is a rare achievement.

By the way, Foster heads up a ministry called Renovare, which looks very interesting to me. Dallas Willard, another of my favorites, is also involved.

What do I hope to accomplish in the next couple of weeks? Well, I want to continue to work on an overall plan for establishing a ministry of encouragement. This is something I've been scratching away at lately. I think I've settled on a name for the ministry: Many Sparrows. (Faithful readers will understand!)

I also want to work on a mission statement for our small group. I'm hoping to present this to the group for discussion in two weeks.

Meanwhile, a significant crisis has erupted in our household. I'm not going to go into details here, but only ask that you would pray for us.

December 12, 2003

Hey, I just checked my email and found a nice word of encouragement from Nagid Ben Chesed (aka Don Curtis). In the course of correcting my spelling (ack!), Don also explained the unusual name. It's the Hebrew equivalent of his real name.

Don = leader = Nagid
Curtis = lovingkindness = Chesed

Thus: Don Curtis = Leader Son of Loving Kindness = Nagid Ben Chesed.

Well, cool. Thanks, Don, for the kind words.

And BTW, don't you just love kind words? In fact, that's what we did last night in our group meeting. We practiced kind words. The idea was for each of us in turn to encourage the person to our left. To tell them why they're worth more than "many sparrows." This turned out to be a great blessing. I think God created us to need this kind of thing and revel in it. To need "building up." And so we practiced giving and (equally important) receiving just that. After we'd completed the circle, we threw open the floor (thanks to L.'s suggestion). Now the kind words were flying back and forth. Some that do not often speak up were positively eloquent. It was a wonderful thing to see and hear. Thank you, Father. Your blessings are new and new and new, each and every one.

This one is from The Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis:

You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys. On one journey, even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind. We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre; rather, in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two and each of those into two again and at each fork you must make a decision.... I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. I suppose all this has to do with choices.

December 11, 2003

Lately I've been toying with the idea of developing some sort of ministry of encouragement. I mean by that, I've been deliberating about what such a ministry would be like. The bottom-line is, I'm trying to be more intentional about my own role in God's plan, the use of my own gifts and talents for the purpose of the Kingdom.

So, encouragement. Of course I've had something to say already on this score (see Sat. Dec. 6 post). And will have more. In the aforesaid post I discussed the meaning of both the English word and its Greek counterpart (paraklesis). Now I want to move on to the Biblical model of encouragement. I want to answer the question: where does encouragement stand in the grand design of God to bring all things into submission to Jesus? This blog is going to become, I think, a notepad for this investigation. So hold onto your hats, dear Readers (and I know who you are!).

Rainy Thursday, blogging on my lunch-break. Not that I'm above blogging at work, but I'm trying to overcome that urge.


A few notes: This blog continues to be a place in which I can stretch myself as a writer, discover what I'm capable of, and simply keep the urge to write mildly sated. It seems to be a way for me to get my thoughts in order. And it keeps the juices flowing! Also, it helps somehow to imagine one has readers, or to know that there is at least the potential for readers. That knowledge provides just the degree of responsibility that I need to keep from, well, "mumbling" in print.


I've been reading J. I. Packer's book on the Holy Spirit, called Keep in Step with the Spirit. It's just wonderful. I'm reading a library edition, but there's no doubt I will have to own it someday. So rich is this book with wise insights that it would be difficult to choose a single representative passage. But here's one:

The journey of our lives is a double journey. There is an outward journey into external confrontations, discoveries, and relationships, and there is an inner-journey into self-knowledge and the discovery of what for me as an individual constitutes self-expression, self-fulfillment, freedom, and contentment within. For the Christian, the outward journey takes the form of learning to relate positively and purposefully to the world and other people--that is, to all God's creatures--for God the creator's sake, and the inward journey takes the form of gaining and deepening our acquaintance with God himself and with Jesus the Son.

December 09, 2003

Back again. Shoveling that white stuff gets harder every winter! I think I'm turning into a real wuss in my old age!


The Inward & the Outward

The outward is deteriorating, wasting away, but the inward is being renewed day by day. That's what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16. Elsewhere: Jesus says, it's not what you take in that stains you, but what you put forth--what comes out of you (Mt. 15:16-20).

I've been thinking about the inward and the outward. The inward I will define as, well, the soul--the ineffable me (if you're looking for anything more precise, you've come to the wrong place). The outward: everything else, including my own flesh. Now, the outward has a formative effect on the inward. This is of course a commonplace notion. The way I think and feel, how I interact with the world, who I am, is to some immeasurable extent a product of these influences. This is the presupposition of behavioral science.

The Romantic poets, prizing the inward above all else, saw that influence as entirely deteriorative. The original self, at birth, is unsullied. The wasting process has not yet begun. Ah, but shades of the prison house descend around the growing child. That's life, my friend! Get used to it.

I think just about everybody labors under some form of this presumption. We do assume that the outward wastes away at the inward. We never "get over" this. The impact of childhood abuse, for example, lasts forever; or so the assumption goes. Victimhood, according to this mindset, inevitably becomes our definitive status. Life is simply a series of action and reactions which have a text-book certainty of outcome.

Here's an example. Somebody does something to harm us. We react, naturally, with anger. We begin to shy away from that person, even to despise him. Or perhaps we strike back. Or smear his good name. In any case, if the act was terrible enough, we will never quite forget it. Every time we think of it, the old anger returns. And it's all quite natural and understandable. The act was, after all, sheer evil. No one can blame us.

Now, this distortion of the self by the world, the inward by the outward, is the basic blueprint for our understanding of life on earth. It's how we see the world. But is it really inevitable? I am not suggesting that the Christian can or should simply rise above the world like some sort of Zen-master. But there is this thing called redemption. The closed system of action/reaction has been broken open and a new power has entered into the equation, making all things new.

You see, everyone understands and agrees that the world is fallen and sinful, even if they use different descriptors. The question, then, is how do we who live in the world overcome the world? Jesus answers, I have overcome the world (John 16:33). It's not your job at all. Please trust me on this.

So when Jesus says, the world can't stain you, only you can stain yourselves by what comes out from your heart, he is announcing the release of the self from the bondage of the world. The point is to see to the disposition of the heart. To partake of the cleansing power of the blood and live a different kind of life altogether.

Go back to Paul. He claims there was a significant change in our standing vis a vis the world when we were born again. The whole trajectory of life has changed. We are renewed inwardly. We go from dark to light, from a life that is essentially a downward spiral to death, to one that is upward to light and life. If this is true, it is a fact that cuts across the text-book certainties of the behaviorists. If this is true, then the wasting effects of the world are essentially temporary and superficial, because that which is within is being renewed day by day, is growing in grace, and is moving always from responses of faith and trust to yet more responses of faith and trust (Rom. 1:17).

This is life in the Spirit. This is being saved. Living as children of light. It is not pie-in-the-sky be-happy-ism. There is still the outward wasting away that Paul speaks of. The world is still the world and the flesh still the flesh. But the evil one is not battling for the outward. It is primarily a spiritual warfare that has engendered this state of things, because Satan is a spiritual being who is after our souls. Thank God that we do not fight with merely human weapons!

December 06, 2003

On Encouragement

I've been thinking a lot lately about encouragement as a spiritual gift. That's what Paul called it. A gift from the Holy Spirit for the building up of the children of God. It seems that God understands that since the Fall we have had to live out our lives in the threatening shadow of hopelessness, and that this problem persists well into our salvation walk.

Therefore, He tells us, encourage one another. You're going to need it. Build each other up. Think the best of one another. Because discouragement is going to be a problem for you. That sense of hopelessness and helplessness under which you labored so fruitlessly before you came to know Me is going to continue to bedevil you.

There are at least two reason for this, I think. One, of course, is indwelling sin. We are, at some level, keenly aware of this. This awareness bursts out even in Paul at times, as the sheer helplessness of his situation vis a vis sin come clear to him. "So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me." That's Romans 7:21. A few verses later (v. 24) he cries out, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" There are times when this simple ineradicable (in human terms) fact just overwhelms us. And suddenly we lose sight of the rest of God's truth for us. We take our eyes off his love and mercy and our attention is focused on our own sinfulness. And we cry with Paul, I'm such a fool. So helpless inadequate to resist temptation. So stupid. So lost. This would be a sad state indeed if there were no way out, no adequate answer from the Father. Paul's question is the right one: Who will save me from myself? And the answer: I will. I have, yes, and I will. My grace and mercy is longer and wider even than your sin, child of mine. I've got it covered.

The second reason that we continue to need encouragement is the fact that the world is fallen, surrendered into the hands of the evil one, and set sternly against the pilgrim church. Perhaps it can be stated this way: the greater the good that we might do, the greater the opposition the world will bring against you. Many actual passages of encouragement in the epistles are offered in the context of persecution. Not only in Paul's letters, but Peter's too, and in those of the Lord Jesus to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation. This combat has a tendency to wear us out. To weaken our faith. To make us vulnerable by taking advantage of our weakness. And this is why we will need to encourage one another. This is why the strong must support the weak and bear with them and nurture them. That's encouragement.

Now, I want to take a closer look at the word itself. The Greek word is paraklesis, and it means, among other things, to strengthen through consolation. I want to take a closer look at that, but first I want to look at the dictionary meaning of the English word. It literally means to give heart. The word courage was once synonymous with heart (that is, the seat of feeling, the spirit, disposition, nature). Later it came to mean "that quality of mind which shows itself in facing danger without fear or shrinking." That's why, I suppose the song You Gotta Have Heart from Damn Yankees is truly a song of encouragement. Now, the prefix en- essentially turns the noun into a verb. Now it means, to give heart or inspire with courage. To animate. To inspirit. The OED says, "to inspire with courage sufficient for any undertaking; to embolden, make confidant." And: "To allow or promote the continual development of (a natural growth, an industry, a sentiment, etc.)."

That enough for now. I have to get going. Will return in a few days, I hope, with more on this. In the mean time, COURAGE!

December 04, 2003

The Weeds in December

Even now--
stiff, glistening
and frail--

they quietly proclaim
their long lost

Small-group Report:
The small-group re-gathers tonight. After having two weeks off! Until last night we actually didn't know where we would be meeting today, if at all, due to crises in the household first one host, then the next. So we've moved on to "plan C."

The last time we met together we prayed a lot for healing. Since then one of our members had a heart attack, another one a near drug-overdose (long story, that) and another has come down with a serious staph infection (or something). I dunno, maybe our prayers were "reversed" by some evil genie!

Or not. Hey, I get to be funny about once a month on this blog. It's in the contract!

December 03, 2003

At the age of 47 I think I have finally resolved to be deliberate and steadfast in my pursuit of the destiny to which God has called me. Does that sound funny? I have been a Christian for 12 years. I have "sat under" (there's that Christianese again) many Sunday morning sermons in that time, and undoubtedly learned much. But only lately have I really understood that to walk in the Spirit is not simply incidental. Not simply the serendipity of God-appointed encounters when by the grace of God you were able to minister to someone in need. Those moments are wonderful, but I have come to believe that these foretastes are meant to be pursued, engaging as we do all the faculties with which God has gifted us. We should not think we are infringing on the sovereignty of God by deliberating seeking to minister. This is the working out of Paul's advice to the Romans (6:13)--that we should offer our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness.

I have always loved that verse, but only lately have I realized that to do what Paul suggests (to offer ourselves to God) is more than a devotional act, although it is certainly that first of all. It is more than simply saying yes to God. It is engagement with His plans for your life by every means at your disposal.

I'll have more to say on this. And I've not forgotten Colossians. God bless you, stranger, if you have come to this blog by chance. May the Lord truly have His way with your heart.

December 02, 2003

Just stopping in for a brief visit.

First snowfall of the season last night. A light dusting, but the world is white, the footing treacherous. Winter!

The blog has been very serious lately, very dry. I am going to continue with the Colossians notes, but perhaps not today. All I want to do today is invite you to read the following sonnet (also serious, but hardly dry) by the English poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Here's his picture, by the way.

[The poem is untitled.]

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim and roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves- goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is--
Chríst. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.


Later, perhaps, I'll sully the poetic moment by attempting to transcribe my thoughts about this poem, but not now. Gotta go.

Oh, and thanks, Sandy, for your kind words. Yes, I think about it all the time.