Mr. Standfast

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

May 27, 2004

An Early Memorial Day Salute

This will be my last post for several days, for various and sundry reasons. Therefore, since Memorial Day is coming up here in America, I thought I'd post a brief note regarding a couple of soldiers I have known.

One of them was Robert "Bud" Flynn, who lived most of his adult life in Rochester, New York. He was my father-in-law. I only met him once, because he died soon after Laurie and I began dating. He was known by all as someone who was quietly but thoroughly reliable, the kind of man that one would call "respected," but with a memorable streak of Irish wit. He was also a veteran of the 2nd World War.

In August of 1944, attached to the 112th infantry, 28th division, he and his peers took a little jaunt across the whole of France, chasing the German army all the way. There was the deadly Bocage fighting, the Falaise pocket, the march into Paris (his was the first American unit to do so), and finally the bloody contest in the Hurtgen Forest and then the Battle of the Bulge. I will say only this: he fought for his country in some of the most gruesome and harrowing places of carnage in modern warfare. Then he came home, got a job, raised a family. In all the years he spoke very little of those days in '44. But there was the time, soon after his return, when his sister-in-law (whom he was visiting) saw him standing over the bathroom sink, mixing his shaving cream in a bowl (the old-fashioned way) and crying his eyes out. We will never fully-appreciate the price that men like him payed for the sake of others. All I do know is that he and his wife went on to raise three children, all of whom are outstanding people with a deep and abiding sense of honor. That's no small achievement either. I salute Bud Flynn on this Memorial Day.

The other man I want to mention is my own father, Robert Cornelius Spencer. He joined the Navy right out of high school, in 1950. He served in Korea, and later in Vietnam, as well as various as "police actions" that never made the papers. By the way, concerning the now rather quaint phrase "police action," he once told me with a wry grin, "Funny thing, they sure felt like wars to me!"

In the early days he worked in underwater demolition. Later, the Navy put him through engineering school (Purdue). He worked with Naval Intelligence in Vietnam, and after that served at Los Alamos and at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

I can tell you many stories about the man. He was in no way an ideal, by no means a model family man. But he was a brave man, and a man who late in life repented of many things and attempted in his last years to make them right. For that reason alone he is a hero to me. He retired at the rank of Commander after 32 years, and bought an old sailboat. He refabbed the boat and planned to sail it to China (for reasons that escape me now). But he never got the chance. Sailing in the Florida Keys with his fiance, the boat crossed over a submerged rock jetty, ripping a hole in its hull. His fiance was thrown overboard. My father died attempting to save her life.

On this Memorial Day, I salute him.

May 26, 2004

A Question from Susan

Here's the comment from Susan in response to yesterday's "last ever" PDL post:

"Just another question, if you don't mind, if the whole church is built on PDL foundation, and they ask you to leave if you don't join their purpose, but they do have other strong anointing, would you leave or stay?"

That's a very good question, Susan, and I really think that the answer depends on the particular situation you're in. Over at you can read some real horror stories in which people felt "driven" out of their church because they weren't supportive of the PDL program (scroll down to the long comments section at the end of the review). My quick answer is, watch and pray. It should be noted that Warren's 5 purposes (worship, fellowship, discipleship, service, and evangelism) are not in themselves a bad template for understanding the Christian life. However, speaking as one Charismatic to another, Warren's take on these things leaves out the Holy Spirit almost entirely.

I myself have "belonged" to only two churches in my Christian life. Leaving the first one, the church in which I was baptized and discipled, was very difficult. I do not encourage people to make that step lightly. In my current church, we have gone whole hog for the PDL program, and yet I have no thought of leaving it. In the four years I've been there, I've been in step with everything they've done and have grown in the Lord in many ways, and I have been pleased with the maturity of the teaching and leadership. PDL does seem to me to be a step backward for us, but I'm not going to abandon them because in this case I can't agree.

Maybe I should put it this way: If the church resorts to Warren's extremely watered-down message regarding sin, his vague and vacuous understanding of God's plan of salvation for your life (which includes the Spirit dwelling in you in power), and his shallow and self-serving use of Scripture, I would definitely consider moving on.

The purpose of PDL is growth, and its success is measured in numbers. The purpose of the Spirit's anointing is not measurable that way. The Spirit's whole purpose is to point people to Jesus and to His cross. Since PDL does not do that, I cannot imagine the Spirit's anointing continuing for long on that church. Watch and pray.


By the way, now is a good time to point my readers to the relatively new blog of Susan's husband, Peter. His blog is called JC's Apprentice. And while we're at it, have a look at another new blog from an old blogging friend's very close relation. Blogging-teen's Mom is now getting into the act! Her new blog is called Blogging Truth. Have a look.

May 25, 2004

The Last Ever Purpose-Driven Post

As I've mentioned before, I admire Rebecca's promise never to blog about the war in Iraq, the election in America, or "anything purpose driven." That last item is actually a more recent addition to the list. And I completely understand. I think it must be a very tired subject to some. And yet . . . and yet . . . it's too late in my case. I've posted several things about it, because I've found myself in the thick of it, as they say. I very unwisely agreed to host a small group to read and discuss the book and watch the accompanying video series. So that's been, well, an experience.

So here is, I promise, my last post on the subject. After this, I will join Rebecca in purpose-free blogging. I had once thought to do a thorough review of the book, but it's just too tiresome. As it is I'm skimming the book now, scanning the week's-worth of daily readings in one sitting, just getting the gist of it and moving on. The great thing is, there's only one week to go!

So they'll be no review. All I wanted to do here was perhaps make brief note of a few things I've learned from the whole sorry business.

1) Don't commit to leading a discussion-group before you've assessed the material. Silly me!

2) Church bandwagons are not the same as Church-unity. Or, in other words, peer pressure is no substitute for discernment. Or, in other words, if the whole church is going to jump off a bridge, that doesn't mean you have to join them. Even if they assure you that they're "getting a lot out of it" as they go down.

3) The book that quotes the Bible the most is not necessarily the most Biblical.

4) Good writers never presume that their readers are mostly ignoramuses.

5) Finally, some books seem to have been written around a marketing-plan, as if the marketing-plan came first, and then the book was written to suit the plan. PDL is one of these. Never trust a book that promises to be "life changing", or that bills itself a classic even in the first edition.

Okay, that's five. A good number. I know I have learned a few other things, but that's all I can think of at the moment. Now I'm going to get on with my life, which shall not be purpose-driven at all, I promise. And neither shall my blogging. I'm with ya, Rebecca!


Last week a neighbor's cat was hit by a car. It crawled into our driveway and died. We went to the neighbor's house to break the news, Laurie and I. This is a young couple with a young daughter, maybe eight or nine years old. The husband came out to have a look. He stood sighing over the dead cat. I have never seen anything quite like it. He just stood looking down, seeming unresolved as to what exactly to do. Just when it seemed he was about to bend over and pick it up, he would "heave a sigh" (that old cliche describes it exactly), and hesitate longer. Once. Twice. A third time, then quickly he stooped, petted the cat's head once in a somewhat embarrassed manner, sighed deeply yet again, and then picked up the cat (which was by now quite stiff) and carried it home.

The next morning, passing their house, I saw the little girl out in the driveway. She was looking all around. Then, as if struck with a new idea, she suddenly ran to the open garage and looked about in there. I suppose she was looking for the cat. Probably the parents hadn't had the heart to tell her yet.

May 24, 2004

A Visit to Williams Temple

Just a brief post today. Yesterday Laurie (the Lovely) and Nate (the Brave and True) and I went to a special worship service at a local COGIC church called Williams Temple. They'd just completed a three or four day workshop on praise and worship, joining forces with a couple of other local churches. They had a visiting "evangelist" from Chicago, and the music was just wonderful. This was a great experience for us. Part of the appeal has to do with just enjoying the diveristy of worship-styles within the Body of Christ. Another part is the refreshing fervor of this brand of worship. I had thought my VCF church was pretty ecstatic at times, but we're quite tame compared to these folks. I will tell you plainly that I live in an almost all-Caucasian state, and in case you're wondering I myself am about as white-bread as they come, so it was just plain refreshing to worship God in this (mostly) Black congregation.

May 23, 2004

A Footnote to Yesterday's Post

Consider this post an addendum to yesterday's most-influential-books list. Judging by Jollyblogger's question, I may have left the mistaken impression that Thornton Wilder's Our Town influenced my faith. I suppose it may have, but only in a very roundabout way. Wilder's play has a rather cold universalism about it (with regard to the afterlife), and God is a stoical New England character, more or less a deistic conception, although with a tinge of affection. But I didn't think of these things at the time. No, it's just that this play kind of shook me awake. Its message is that life is precious, and creation is more unimaginably glorious, even at the small and the ordinary level, than we realize. It made me want to shout to the world, Wake up everybody! We're all going to die soon! Love each other while you can! The funny things is--come to think of it--I fell asleep too, before long. The next shaking-awake would not be by Wilder or any other human hand, but God's own. But that would not be for some years.

May 22, 2004

My Most Influential Books (Maybe)

Kevin Young, a very serious seminary student and blogger, names the six books that have influenced him the most (here). Interesting list. Packer's Knowing God is there. I've been very gradually sipping from that one lately, savoring a page or two here, a page or two there. Of course Young puts the Bible on his list. I don't think I'd do that. Not that's it's not the most influential book I've ever read (or ever will read), but somehow I don't like including it on lists like these, as if it were just one of several very influential books.

So I'm asking the question of myself. What books have influenced me the most? Other than the Bible. It's the kind of question that might provoke one list today, and a wholly different list tomorrow. But for what it's worth, here goes:

The first three are books that greatly influenced my "formative years." [By the way, what years are NOT formative?]

  • Our Town, by Thornton Wilder. This little play had a huge impact my understanding of life before I was a Christian. I still see great value in it. As a teenager I read it and re-read it.

  • In a similar way, Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury. Like the Wilder play, the message here is, Value life. It's gone in a moment. I think this message powerfully influenced my life and made me desire something more than simply "three score and ten" and then sayonara.

  • The Poetry of Robert Frost. America's greatest poet. For a while his world-view seemed to me like wisdom itself. Much misunderstood by English teachers throughout America, his poems asked essential questions. The sad part is, he didn't seem to know the answer.

  • The Brothers Karamazov, by Dostoevsky. A challenging book in more ways than one. A beloved English teacher in high school told our class it was the best novel ever written. I have no doubt she was right. It also challenges the Christian reader to walk out his faith in fear and trembling. Alyosha is without a doubt the greatest fictional Christian in all literature. Due for a re-read!

  • The Screwtape Letters
    . Probably needs no introduction. I read it first as a thoroughgoing skeptic, yet I took Lewis' bait, hook, line and sinker. Respecting him as a literary figure first and foremost, his writing stirred things in me even against my will. His other books were not far behind. I can remember reading his Reflections on the Psalms and thinking with a shock, Wait a sec! This man is brilliant, AND he believes the Bible is true! It was a noteworthy moment.

  • Allright, so I guess I have to put some theological type books on here. I'm tempted to include Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy, but I can't really remember why. Something about living out your faith, undoubtedly. I read it at a time when I especially needed to hear that.

  • A. W. Tozer's The Pursuit of God. An eloquent challenge to serious discipleship. Faith is something more than doctrinal assertions? Imagine that!

  • George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom. Little book, big impact. It changed the way I think about, well, the gospel of the Kingdom.

  • Gordon Fee's Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. A compliment to Ladd's book, this one helped me to understand the Holy Spirit's part. This book and Ladd's broke off preconceptions, shattered illusions, pointed the way to a fresh understanding of their subjects.

  • Well, I'm sure--I mean, I'm REALLY sure--that I've left off some very important books. But I wanted to get a list up as a means of stirring my readers (you know who you are) to think about doing the same. I'd really like to know what your most influential books have been. Oh yeah, other than the Bible! Cuz that's a given.


    By the way, here's yet another blogger with a "most influential books" list.

    May 20, 2004

    On Satan's Scylla and Charybdis

    I know of a man who feels responsible for his own mother's death. It seems she had a heart condition of some kind, and he recommended that she undergo surgery. This particular procedure had a high success-rate, but there was some small risk of death. Unfortunately, in this case, the patient didn't make it, and the son is burdened with guilt.

    I don't know much else about this fellow. I know he's angry much of the time. I imagine him trapped in an interior web of claims and counter-claims, of self-recriminations and self-justifications. He reconsiders, again and again, the good sense of that advice he gave, and he hopes that this might somehow assuage his guilt. But, of course, it doesn't. No, no, it was clearly very bad advice, and there is no justification. And so he swings between futile attempts to justify himself on the one hand and a helpless sense of guilt on the other.

    But he's really not so different in kind from the rest of us. I've been talking a lot about poverty of spirit lately, and I keep coming back to the idea that poverty of spirit is exemplified by the words of the famous hymn, "Nothing in my hands I bring." In this fellow's case, I think a lot of people would try to encourage him by telling him that the advice he gave his mother was essentially sound, and it wasn't his fault that his mother turned out to be one of those few, those one in a hundred, that don't make it. In other words, his would-be comforters, seeing that he hovers between self-justification and self-condemnation, throw their weight behind the former, for it seems much the better alternative.

    But the thing is, he will never be convinced. A death like this haunts us. Accuses us. And we cannot battle the Accuser with self-justifications, no matter how much encouragement our friends give us. All that is nothing more than red-meat for the Evil One. He loves it. There will always be a chink in that armor that he can take advantage of. I am not for a moment suggesting that this fellow's advice to his mother was sin for which he needs to repent. I am saying it is an instance of the bind that life puts us in--our best intentions seem to lead astray, even cause hurt, and we are left with this turbulent struggle in our conscience between the will to justify ourselves ("But I meant well . . .") and the consciousness or our failure ("But look how it's turned out . . .").

    I'm calling this the Devil's Scylla and Charybdis. No victory, no life, can come by either of these routes, and we cannot deftly steer a course between them. We cannot navigate these waters. We are not legendary Homeric heroes. What then are we to do?

    There is another way. It is simply to stand before the Cross and say with the centurion at Golgotha, "Surely this man was the Son of God." (Mark 15:39) This is the breakthrough, the breakout, the victory. The way up is the way down.

    Chapter 8 of Romans describes a life we would all like to live, a life of ultimate triumph, a life without condemnation, a life of walking in the Spirit, in which all things actually work together for good, and in which nothing can separate us from Christ Jesus our Lord. But it should always be remembered that this pinnacle Christian life begins with the heart-cry of Paul at the end of the previous chapter. "Oh who shall save me from this body of death?"

    And it should also be remembered that this cry is not simply a description of the "starting place" of our salvation, when we were born again, but for Paul it is a description of the Christian's properly continual mindset. The re-recognition, every day, that without Jesus we are done for.

    Somewhere else (1 Corinthians 1:18) Paul describes the people of God as "those who are being saved." Not, you'll notice, those who are saved. Those who are being saved. It's a present-tense, day-by-day reality. Our salvation is worked out every day. We go back to the cross, claiming no right, making no plea, in recognition that only here is freedom. Only here is the turbulent interior storm settled. Only here is peace.

    May 19, 2004

    A Good Word

    By the way, as you would have learned (if you hadn't already known it) by reading The Boundary, a flock of starlings is a murmuration. Such a very good word. Such a perfect word.

    John Stott on Spiritual Poverty

    I continue to think about poverty of spirit. Struggling as I am through The Purpose Driven Life, I am struck by how busy and complicated its author would have our lives become. On every page there is at least one to do list, a series of essential steps, or five (or seven, or three) things that we must remember. There are key points and supposedly momentous truths and even secrets of happiness. None of these keys are in themselves very complicated, but taken together they give the sense that the Christian life is all about getting our many ducks in a row.

    And maybe that's why, as I've cast about for an antidote to these glib Warren-esque truisms, the beatitudes of Jesus have begun once again to speak to my heart. This was the starting place of my faith, and the place to which I must again and again return: the place of spiritual poverty. It is here that I see myself as I truly am, and God as He truly is.

    Yesterday I came across an article by John Stott called Naked Pride. I'm going to quote both the introductory paragraphs, and then the finish. Here then are Stott's opening words:
    The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives that belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man alone.

    As we stand before the cross, we begin to gain a clear view both of God and of ourselves, especially in relation to each other. Instead of inflicting upon us the judgment we deserved, God in Christ endured it in our place. Hell is the only alternative. This is the "scandal," the stumbling-block, of the cross. For our proud hearts rebel against it. We cannot bear to acknowledge either the seriousness of our sin and guilt or our utter indebtedness to the cross. Surely, we say, there must be something we can do, or at least contribute, in order to make amends? If not, we often give the impression that we would rather suffer our own punishment than the humiliation of seeing God through Christ bear it in our place.

    And now here's the finishing up:

    But we cannot escape the embarrassment of standing stark naked before God. It is no use our trying to cover up like Adam and Eve in the garden. Our attempts at self-justification are as ineffectual as their fig-leaves. We have to acknowledge our nakedness, see the divine substitute wearing our filthy rags instead of us, and allow him to clothe us with his own righteousness. Nobody has ever put it better than Augustus Toplady in his immortal hymn "Rock of Ages":

    Nothing in my hand I bring,
    Simply to your Cross I cling;
    Naked, come to you for dress;
    Helpless, look to you for grace;
    Foul, I to the fountain fly;
    Wash me, Savior, or I die.

    May 18, 2004

    A Brief Aside

    Just a quick note this morning to point my readers toward a conversation that's been going between two of the finest bloggers out there, Adrian Warnock and Jollyblogger. This refreshingly polite debate is over the issue of spiritual manifestations or charismatic gifts on the one hand, and what has been perhaps misleadingly called cessationism on the other. In Jollyblogger's latest post on the subject he gratiously invites my comment, but I think that Adrian is holding up my team's side quite nicely, thank you.

    All I wanted to do here, however, was to emphasize that charismatic gifts do not undermine Scripture or "add to the Biblical canon," as is often insisted. For me this is quite obvious. Here, by way of answering Jollyblogger's invitation to comment, is a quote from Ernest Gentile, who has written a good deal about the prophetic ministry in the church. This is from p. 239 of his fine book, Your Sons and Your Daughters Shall Prophesy.
    The text of both testaments was inspired prophetically by God's Spirit. In addition, a unique, common prophetic ministry was taught and experienced in the New Testament that, because of possible fallibility, required testing and approval. . . . Although it can be 100% accurate, it is not considered canonical. . . . [It] is subject to and evaluated by the supreme standard: the canonized Scripture given by divine revelation to the prophets and apostles. The Bible text is exalted over local prophecy, which can never substitute for or add to apostolic doctrine and Scripture.

    Personally, I do not want my theology to depend on experience rather than Scripture. The thought that a spiritual experience can alone validate itself is repugnant to me. Certainly personal experience is important, but prophecy is safeguarded by the sanctified biblical thinking of the rest of the local church--and above all by the Word of God.

    May 17, 2004

    Prayer Request

    Yesterday Laurie and I took the dog for a walk. We passed by the tree with the woodpecker's nest and stopped to listen to the peeping. Clementine is now 13 years old, diabetic, and doesn't sustain long walks like she used to. So we brought her home and decided to put her back in the house and then go on with our walk. We were only going to be in the house for a minute, less than minute, but God had put it into the heart of our friend Judy to call us right then. Judy was in trouble.

    I should tell you just a little about her. She is living with an alcoholic boyfriend who is mistreating her badly--mostly emotional abuse of the worst kind. People have given her all the right advice, but something seems to drive her into making bad decisions that only lead to hurt. And Judy has had a life of hurt. She struggles with depression. She goes to church and goes forward for prayer at the end of the service. People lay hands on her and pray and she shakes, cries, and when it's all done she says she feels better. I'm not sure that she ever thinks about sin.

    Anyway, last night she just needed to get out of the house, to talk to someone. We met her and walked with her for a while and just let her talk. Laurie hugged her and cried with her while I did the male thing and stood aloof. We took her back to our place and got some food in her and then we prayed for her and finally took her home.

    I didn't intend to write about Judy this morning, but there it is. Susan in Australia, if you're reading this, please pray for Judy. I think you would like her and care for her if you knew her. Many have tried to help her, and many have given up in despair. When I prayed with her last night, I prayed that God would open the floodgates of heaven for her. I prayed for major transformation, for God ushering her into a whole new life. And I had a vision of a girl in a hospital bed. She'd been in the bed for a long time, and had almost forgotten how to walk. Now she was taking her first steps, and it was like learning to walk all over again, but there was a friend with her holding on and not letting her fall. And that friend was God.

    Please, if you are reading this, and if you are a Jesus person, pray for my friend Judy. Please.

    May 16, 2004

    Kingdom Promises for the Spiritually Impoverished

    I'm still thinking about spiritual poverty. I'm thinking that this, the first beatitude, is the umbrella under which all the rest gather. So, if you ask yourself, just what is spiritual poverty, you might look to the other beatitudes for insight, as if each beatitutde were but a unique facet of the same beautiful diamond.

    Similarly, the second half of each verse, which describes what the blessed one will receive, how he or she will be blessed, are also of a piece. They all describe the Kingdom of God, which is to say, the Kingdom of His Blessings, forever and ever to those who have been called.

    So let's ask ourselves this double question. Using the first beatitude as our starting point, we will look to the rest to elucidate the answers. First question: Just what is spiritual poverty? Second question: Just what does Jesus mean by "Kingdom of heaven," which the spiritually poverty-stricken, He says, will one day possess? Let's look to the ensuing verses for light:
  • First (v. 4): The spiritual impoverished mourn. They realize that life is difficult and the world is for many a terror-filled place, a place were every day much that is good and from God is lost, wasted, or trampled. Including people. So they mourn. And Jesus guarantees, they shall be comforted. And that's a Kingdom promise.

  • Second (v. 5): The spiritually impoverished are meek. They have seen enough of the headstrong types, the get-it-done-at-any-cost crowd, the get-it-right-or-you're-toast crowd, the pushing-to-the-front, cutting-in-line, pick-me-first crowd. Patience is more than a virtue. The patient, the tolerant, the ones who choose the last place, not the first, these will be called forward to take the place of honor. It's a Kingdom promise.

  • Third (v. 6): The spiritually impoverished hunger and thirst for righteousness. This is a hunger and thirst born of having once tasted the good things of God, who alone is righteous. It is a longing deep within that nothing in this world can satisfy. It is, at its base, a hunger for God. Those who have this kind of hunger will one day feast at a sumptuous banquet of righteousness that will know no end. It's a Kingdom promise.

  • Fourth (v. 7): The spiritually impoverished are merciful. Could that be because they know that mercy is their fundamental need? They're own, and also the world's. They have come to understand, once and for all, that they can make no claim on justice--before that bar they stand condemned. And so they have cried to God for mercy, and mercy they have received. Yes, and shall receive, in full measure, in the Kingdom. It's a Kingdom promise.

  • (to be continued)

    May 15, 2004

    Remembering Jack

    We washed our hands with gasoline,
    and then Lava Soap. You and me
    hunched over the basement sink,
    surrounded by tools, nails.

    This was special knowledge,
    I presumed--a secret, between men--
    and I wondered what Mom would think.
    Though you hadn't said so,

    For once, we were brothers.

    A Few Good Posts

    I thought I should try to be a little more frequent and deliberate about pointing to the interesting posts I've read lately, so here goes.

  • Yvonne Parks writes about the differences between male and female bloggers. I couldn't find the permalink, but scroll to the May 10th post. By the way, providing an interesting counterpoint to her view is Jollyblogger's comments on the Feminization of the Church.

  • The always engaging Messy Christian has been writing about her search for a new church (she fled her old one because of some pretty twisted teaching). Interesting reading as usual.

  • Also leaving his church is Joey, he of The Land of Joey. I've just run into this blog, and I really like the kid's attitude. He's earnest, funny, and on fire for God. Gotta love it.

  • Adrian Warnock has had a series of posts regarding the charismatic vs. cessationist (and everything in between) debate. Adrian is nothing if not level-headed and courteous as he addresses such sometimes-controversial issues; no ranting and raving here. I'd especially like to direct your attention to a particular post in the series, mainly because it quotes Martyn-Lloyd Jones (one of my heroes) at length.

  • Finally, Matt Sturges over at correction has a wonderfully eloquent piece, lucid and full of keen observation, called The Boundary. This one is worth reading more than once. Oh, and I learned the word for a flock of starlings from this post. And it's just a really good word!
  • May 14, 2004

    A Nest

    A few weeks back, walking my dog Clementine through the little suburban woodlot across the street from my house, we came upon what seemed a scattering of fresh wood-shavings, as if someone had stood on that spot, leaning his back against the dead maple tree just beside the path, and whittled a stick. That was my first thought anyway. My second thought was, woodpecker! I looked up along the trunk of the dead maple and sure enough, about 15 feet from the ground was a perfectly round hole, maybe three inches in diameter, and clearly freshly "dug." It amazed me that the woodpecker could have chipped out a hole that deep, but I suppose that's exactly what it did. A little later I brought the Lovely L to see it, and the woodpecker was actually inside. We could just see her face as she gazed curiously and steadily back at us. And then this morning, walking Clementine again, I heard a commotion of peeping coming from the hole, and saw the mother (or was it the father?) on a nearby trunk, keeping a close eye on things. That non-stop frantic peeping, that just brought a smile to my face and also to L's. New life does that.

    May 13, 2004

    Bird on a Wire

    A Common Sparrow clings to a wire,
    twitching nervously and glancing
    this way and that. For her,
    all roads lead back to the sky,
    but just for now she can't decide.
    Which path will she choose to take?
    Into which winding invisible way
    will she suddenly leap,
    chirping wildly? That one!

    Culm Banks, Coal Slides, and the Cry of the Poor in Spirit

    I grew up in an around Wilkes-Barre, in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal region, and scattered around my town were mountains of slag-coal, called culm banks. As kids, we used to have fun running up the sides of these things. They were very steep, and you couldn't take a single step without starting a small avalanche. The coal slipped away beneath your feet, and then the coal above you started sliding, and pretty soon you were climbing against a downward conveyor-belt of dust and rocks. Sometimes you just gave up, sat down, and let yourself slide back to the bottom.

    There was something fun and exhilerating, not to mention incredibly dirty, about all that, but I wanted to use it as an illustration of the human condition. I think that human history is really the story of the children of Adam struggling against the remorseless avalanche of decay to which the world has been subjected since the Fall. What we call "civilization," with all its obvious benefits (for which I thank my God), is still nothing more than a vast tower of Babble. For all these years we've been trying to regain paradise by our own will, ingenuity, strength.

    That's the macro-level, I guess you could say, the micro-level is in our own personal lives and circumstances. Trying to beat the rap, come out on top, look good, stay young, prove ourselves right in all cases. Trying to command respect. Trying to win, and if we can't win, trying to look like a winner anyway.

    Just like me and my friends trying to climb to the top of the culm bank (and by the way, if you've ever seen one of these, you'll know that paradise is not at the top, but nevermind), we're not getting anywhere but the bottom, covered with black soot and dirt.

    What does it mean to be "poor in spirit"? It means, to give up this fruitless and hubristic struggle to "reach the top," to be as gods. To give up, to sit at the bottom of the culm bank and cry out, "God, save me, for I cannot save myself."


    Click here to see The Miner's Prayer.

    May 12, 2004

    Report from the Front Lines

    This is simply a must read. A personal letter to Susan at What a Beautiful Day, from a friend in Beijing. This is merely a glimpse into the reality of being a Believer in China. Thanks for sharing this, Susan.

    Spiritual Poverty

    I've been thinking lately about poverty of spirit. Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This verse, the first of the "beattitutdes," is Christ's opening remark for the Sermon on the Hill (as I think Eugene Peterson calls it) beginning at Matthew 5.

    When I think of this verse I can't help but think also of the old hymn, "Just as I Am, Without One Plea", which is as fine a synopsis of spiritual poverty as we can find outside Scripture itself:
    Just as I am, without one plea,
    But that Thy blood was shed for me,
    And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    Just as I am, and waiting not
    To rid my soul of one dark blot,
    To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    Just as I am, though tossed about
    With many a conflict, many a doubt,
    Fightings and fears within, without,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
    Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
    Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
    Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
    Because Thy promise I believe,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    Just as I am, Thy love unknown
    Hath broken every barrier down;
    Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    Just as I am, of that free love
    The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
    Here for a season, then above,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

    May 11, 2004

    Crossing the Fore River on a Foggy Morning

    and then the lonely squawk
    of a passing gull, just over my head,
    its single flat note like a sonar ping in the mist.

    For once I stop thinking.

    Blogroll Review

    Wow, this new Blogger thingie (that's techie talk for this new Blogger thingamajig) is going to take some getting used to. I am downright delighted with the new look, though. Hope you are too.

    Now that I've got the new look, I thought I'd step back for a moment and take stock. In fact, there are many things I'd like to comment on--more on PDL (yes, I know I should just let it go, but hey, I'm a blogger, and real bloggers never never never "let it go"), more Scripture meditations, even more poems! Just in case you're having trouble dropping off to sleep, these poems of mine work better than a mallet to the head.

    But what I really want to do just now is review the blogroll. These Bloggers are actually very important to me. Some, like Mike at Blogging Teen and Susan at What a Beautiful Day, have been with me since the beginning. I have a soft spot in my heart for both of them, and visit them frequently.

    Other favorites are Jollyblogger and Rebecca Writes, both of whom manage to be good-humored Calvinists, which I used to think was an oxymoron! [:=) But these two have set me straight!

    I don't often read Real Live Preacher, only when I'm in the mood for something startling, insightful, and status-quo challenging. RLP does not talk the talk, nothing about him is quite "by the book," but he is simply a very fine creative writer (who also happens to get the liveliest feedback around, every bit as good reading as the blog itself).

    If you've been paying attention (but why would you be?), you may have noticed that blogs sometimes drop off my list. Sometimes a particular post will really grab my attention, and I'll add the blog to my roll, only to discover later that the blogger is an infrequent poster, or (worse) a political junkie, or (even worse) an "emerging church" guru. These blogs tend to get the ax after a while.

    But in the meantime I'm always looking for interesting blogs to add to my list. Here are a few recent arrivals that show much promise:

    harmless thoughts is the blog of Matt & Charity Harmless. I mean, they just make the roll because, hey, in this world it's really good to be harmless.

    A couple of new pastor-bloggers have recently joined us, both Southern California dudes. They are Steve at Porch Pondering and Craig at tabletalk.

    Mark D. Roberts is, well, brilliant. So is, as a matter of fact, Peter Leithart. Justin at Radical Congruency is always worth a visit.

    Ultimately, the blogroll is a source of inspiration and encouragement for me. One final mention should go to a new guy on the list, Matt Sturges of correction, who recently offered up this little parable about surrender:
    But you don't have to hit bottom befure you reach for the lifeline of surrender. All it takes is a willingness to recognize and release the stones that are pulling you down. Those enormous rocks that you cling to because they have your name on them and for no other reason. The ones you grip so tightly out of spite and anger and fear and greed. Sins are stones that drag you under, nothing more, nothing less. Holding onto them is vastly stupid and yet so common that it has become an integral part of the way we live our lives.

    Part of the religious dialogue between God and humans is God saying, "I'll take those stones from you now," and the person saying, "No thanks. Not today. I'm holding onto these; they're all mine. They're keeping me stable."

    And God sighs and says, "But they're also dragging you down and drowning you." and the person says, "Oh, I know. But I've still got a little air left. I'm cool."

    Oftentimes the moment of transcendental epiphany comes when your head says, "Why am I holding these giant rocks?" and your heart says, "Help me please, I'm drowning!" All of a sudden, these precious stones become lead weights; you look down and you see the abyss beneath you, growing and growing, you struggle for air and realize that your head is under water. And then, as if it were the simplest thing in the world, you



    And as you rise joyfully to the surface, you look down at those stones, sinking to a vanishing point and realize how small and worthless they were. You rejoice! Your head clears the surface and you take a deep breath. The sky is so blue, the sun so bright and clear! You've never felt so weightless, so free.

    And then, the next day, or the day after, you're walking along the beach and something catches your eye. You look down at it, and almost without thinking, you turn to the person next to you and say, "Hey, look! A rock!" And you snatch it up, and off you go.

    May 10, 2004


    I saw you, hawk,
    poised on an updraft,
    your dark eye
    peering downward,
    your blade-like beak
    chiseled for prey,
    steely, still;

    and that was a moment
    of dread, of death
    in the heart,
    before you dipped a wing
    and tilted away
    to a far field.

    May 09, 2004

    Pat: A Mother's Day Meditation

    Her name is Patricia Imogene. She was born on a farm in southern Indiana. Like many people who grow up on a farm, she has always been both gentle and tough--soft, but stubborn--like saddle-leather. When she was a girl, her father died, and her mother moved the family into town. That would be Columbus, Indiana. This must have been a very hard time in her life, but I'm only guessing, because she never spoke of it much. She has never been one to speak of such things, except in the most matter-of-fact way. Later, she married her high-school sweetheart. I don't know, maybe he reminded her of her Dad. He was smart, funny and ambitious. He joined the Navy. They moved a lot. Home was always very far away. After a while things began to turn very bad. Rotten, that's her word. She learned to curse like a sailor. When it was all too much, she divorced him and moved to another state. Three kids. No job. No friends. No child-support in the mail, as promised. But she kept everything together. She held on. She did the best she could. She poured herself out for her children. That's a cliche, but that's what you really need to know about her. She worked as a seamstress in a factory, sewing cushions. Eventually she married again. She learned to drink like a truck-driver when his shift is done. Her kids grew, and had the usual troubles, some of them quite bad. She made mistakes, but she kept on pouring herself out. It was just a matter of fact. Her mother-love was stubborn, unpretentious, unassuming, sacrificial, and overcoming. She loved when it didn't seem to matter or make sense. She kept on and kept on and kept on.

    Now she's taking care of her husband, who's in failing health. Her children have scattered. They write, they call, but they seldom visit. The farmland of her childhood is all paved over. The place where her dog went to die, after it had been kicked by the horse--paved over. If you ask her how she's doing, she says, "Oh, fine, I guess. Can't complain. It wouldn't do any good anyway."

    Listen. Here's all you really need to know about Patricia Imogene. She drank the cup she was given. Sometimes it was sweet, sometimes bitter, but she drank it up. She lived her life.

    May 08, 2004

    On Worship

    You know, it's funny. We had our second PDL meeting last night (remember, don't say the P-word!), and though we all seemed to agree (with varying degrees of intensity), that the book was not everything it's cracked up to be, we had a really helpful discussion of some of the Warren's fundamental points concerning worship. So it's definitely reassuring that some really fruitful conversation can come out of this. I was a little worried that I might have to hide my own dissatisfaction with the book--not wanting to rain on anyone's parade--but another group-member started off the conversation by saying, when I asked what he thought of the book so far (and with a tone of trepidation, as if he thought he might be booed from the premises), "It seems pretty shallow to me." Ah, honesty! How you do refresh us!

    Then, after briefly discussing the shortcomings of the book, we were able to move on to the general topic of worship. I found the group's attitude regarding worship to be more mature and inspiring by far than that displayed in the book. Warren likes to keep things "pat" and simple, often to the detriment of his subject. Here are the three things you must know about this or that, he is continually saying, and you can't help but wonder if he has not counted up and carefully organized every need-to-know fact in the universe. But the group members were quite willing to question the text, and in doing so they sometimes found it wanting. For example, when Warren writes, "Worship must be complete" (one of the three things that worship "must" be), implying that an incomplete worship is not worship at all, the group questioned whether we ever really worship God completely, and therefore whether Warren's "must" was not more than a little overwrought.

    Concerning all this and more, Nancy Scott, in an article entitled True Worship, writes: "According to Paul, true worship is not a particular practice or a right religion, but rather, it is a posture or attitude of our lives that understands grace; it is living lives that 'betray' our deep, inward belief in God."

    Here's another excerpt:
    Furthermore, it makes sense that any practice or any experience—whether planned or unplanned—can have a role in growing our faith. It does not have to be "religious," because often God uses the mundane experiences of our lives to grow our faith. We do not grow our faith by observing a particular practice or seeking a certain experience of Him. We do not grow our faith at all. God grows our faith.

    Paul's emphasis in Romans is this: we can't gain favor with God; we never could, and we never will. If we understand the gospel of grace, we understand this. The whole point of Paul's explanation of law and grace is that God is committed to us, not on the basis of our accomplishments or practices, but because, in His mercy, He has decided to be committed to us, and He will finish what He has begun.

    Our fallenness, however, inclines us to want to make sure we are "okay" with God. Too often, this desire for security motivates our practices. But our faith and our sanctification—the fact of God's commitment to working in our hearts—are the work of God. And the result of His work is seen in our choices, as we live our lives in light of the change deep within us.

    This is, I think, a much more useful discussion of worship (and of Romans 12:1-2) than that presented by Warren. When the Kingdom comes, our worship will truly be complete. Until then, as Nancy Scott says so refreshingly, "in the midst of mundane or ceremonial life, as we stumble around and try to seek God, God Himself breaks in and does His work."

    May 07, 2004

    A Good Word

    This morning, intending to read the Psalm that I'd heard quoted yesterday at a National Day of Prayer meeting, I misremembered the Psalm-number and wound up reading this instead:

    By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
    There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
    for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"

    How can we sing the songs of the LORD
    while in a foreign land?

    That's the start of Psalm 137 of course. It wasn't the right Psalm at all, and yet perhaps it was. Later in the day, I opened up my Bible during my break and read this:

    When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion,
    we were like men who dreamed.
    Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
    Then it was said among the nations,
    "The LORD has done great things for them."
    The LORD has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.

    That's the start of Psalm 126. And I felt as if God were showing me, in these two Psalmic snapshots, a composite picture of where I've been these past few weeks. In a kind of exile from my true home. Far from life and health. "We were like men who dream," says the NIV, but in a footnote we have the alternative: "We were like men restored to health."

    Yes, restored to health. That's exactly right. That's how I'm beginning to feel. A funny thing. I have done nothing to come by this restoration. I simply kept on praying and waiting, and I didn't worry that my prayers seemed at times hollow and perfunctory. It was the best I could manage, and so I just kept on.

    So I think I'm learning. I think I'm actually growing. Is this not a wonderful gift? "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." Always this is my concern: spiritual formation (to call it by its au currant label). That is to say: growth. Getting rooted. Being that tree planted by the water (Psalm 1):

    Blessed is the man
    who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
    or stand in the way of sinners
    or sit in the seat of mockers.
    But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.
    He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
    and whose leaf does not wither.
    Whatever he does prospers.

    In this life there will be days of weeping in Babylon, and there will be rejoicing in Zion. But through it all, the Savior teaches us that word of steadiness and rootedness: "Abide in Me." And that is truly a good word.


    "It is not a tragedy to die for something you believe in, but it is a tragedy to find at the end of your life that what you believed in betrayed you."
    Joan of Arc (attributed)

    May 06, 2004

    Things I Learned Today (1)

    Introducing a new series here at Mr. Standfast. Very simple and self-explanatory. These are some things I learned today. Perhaps not all the things I learned today, but all that I can think of at this moment:

    1. "Gurry" is the word for fish-guts.
    2. They found St. Exupery's plane.
    3. Adidas is putting microprocessors in sneakers.

    Hmmm, that's all. Not an impressive list, I know. But what about you? What did you learn today, dear reader? I think it might be interesting to do this kind of inventory now and then. Who knows? Maybe it'll turn out to be the next fad in blogging!


    This morning I saw two cardinals, a male and a female, flicking and chittering in a hedge of bittersweet. How deft these small birds are, flitting about within that tangled thorny lattice, stopping suddenly to flirt, then streaking quickly to another perch. And did I mention the deep red feather of the male? So deep, so improbable, it seems the concentrated essence of all the red in creation, and for a moment you even think you might fall in. But all at once he flits away again, chasing his dusky companion, heedless of you and everything else. And so I walk home giving thanks to God, the maker of all red.

    May 05, 2004

    The First Warm Day

    I was walking to work on the first warm morning of Spring. I'd been feeling rather listless and out of sorts, and I was wondering why, and I was wondering when this season in my spirit would finally pass. Not that I was depressed exactly, but I had lost all eagerness to pray for the fallen world. This particular morning, this first warm morning of Spring, as I looked about me at the old brick houses and the broad front of St. Mary's across the street, I knew all at once that Wilbur had been quite correct to say, so long ago, "Love calls us to the things of this world." Yes, I thought, suddenly believing what I'd never understood. And then I heard him--a young man strumming a guitar and singing on his front porch. His scraps of song seemed torn from him by the gusty wind. They flickered briefly in and out of my hearing before they were finally engulfed by the traffic's din. And I said, "Father, bless the young singer. Bless him, Father. Bless him." And it was the first warm day of Spring.

    May 04, 2004

    The Gethsemane Question

    It's always very pleasant to discover that one of your favorite bloggers has left a message in your comment-box. This happened yesterday when Greg Burnett dropped in with a word of encouragement. Both he and Evenstar had helpful comments.

    The question I'd posed was this: Was Jesus surrendering to God or struggling with Him at Gethsemane? This question was prompted by the fact that Rick Warren seemed to answer first one way, then the other, depending on his agenda. On p. 57 of his book (by the way, I've decided never to use the P-word again! Or at least not for 40 days!), Warren says Jesus was struggling against the temptation to live for his own ease and comfort. But on p. 81, quoting from John, Warren says Jesus was completely surrendered to the will of God. My only point was that these two interpretations are at odds with one another, but Evenstar's reply has caused me to want to settle the issue for myself. She says he was struggling with His flesh, so I suppose that's more in line with Warren's p. 57 take.

    Perhaps it would serve to look at the language of Mark 14:33 more closely. That verse says Jesus was deeply distressed and troubled. The Amplified version adds, "Filled with terror and amazement." Jesus himself says, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." (NIV) I don't think that these words indicate that Jesus was struggling against God's will for Him, as if there was some part of his nature that was selfishly-motivated. If Jesus was filled with sorrow and even terror-stricken, it was because he saw clearly the path ahead. Here's what Matthew Henry says:
    The terrors of God set themselves in array against him, and he allowed himself the actual and intense contemplation of them. Never was sorrow like unto his at that time; never any had such experience as he had from eternity of divine favours, and therefore never any had, or could have, such a sense as he had of divine favours. Yet there was not the least disorder or irregularity in this commotion of his spirits; his affections rose not tumultuously, but under direction, and as they were called up, for he had no corrupt nature to mix with them, as we have. If water have a sediment at the bottom, though it may be clear while it stands still, yet, when shaken, it grows muddy; so it is with our affections: but pure water in a clean glass, though ever so much stirred, continues clear; and so it was with Christ.

    I love Matthew Henry, don't you? In regard to Christ's own description of his state ("filled with sorrow") Henry says this:
    He was made sin for us, and therefore was thus sorrowful; he fully knew the malignity of the sins he was to suffer for; and having the highest degree of love to God, who was offended by them, and of love to man, who was damaged and endangered by them, now that those were set in order before him, no marvel that his soul was exceeding sorrowful. Now was he made to serve with our sins, and was thus wearied with our iniquities.

    Perhaps none of us will ever really comprehend or appreciate the full weight that Jesus bore that night. Neither did Peter, James, and John, who witnessed their Master's agony, and yet fell asleep.

    But let's look at the somewhat different but parallel passage in John (12:27-28). Jesus says: "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!"

    Does this passage indicate that Jesus is struggling against the flesh, as Warren suggests. No more than in the previously quoted Mark passage, in my opinion? Jesus says his soul is troubled. Matthew Henry again:
    Christ’s dread of his approaching sufferings: Now is my soul troubled. Now the black and dismal scene began, now were the first throes of the travail of his soul, now his agony began, his soul began to be exceedingly sorrowful. Note, The sin of our soul was the trouble of Christ’s soul, when he undertook to redeem and save us, and to make his soul an offering for our sin.

    I just want to repeat that with emphasis. "The sin of OUR soul was the trouble of Christ's soul." Jesus was not struggling against the temptation to forego the mission for which he had been sent, but he was "troubled," struck with horror, at the depths of our sin, and therefore the depths of the suffering to which he was called. Do not imagine that the only explanation for the sorrow and trouble of Christ at Gethsemane must be that Jesus was divided in his heart. Such is usually the source of our own sorrow and trouble, but not His. Just as The Passion of the Christ helped many to understand the real depths of their own sinfulness, Jesus, seeing the full magnitude of the suffering set before him, was struck with sorrow that our sin was so great as to require such a terrible price. But His love for us did not lapse or waver or struggle against selfish inclinations, as our love often does. No, I think Warren got it right the second time around. Jesus was surrendered to the will of the Father, but this did not make the reality of the cross less horrifying.

    Please let me know if you think I'm missing something here. I do not wish to mislead anyone, especially where Scripture is concerned.

    May 03, 2004

    Warren's Contradiction

    Well, I know I've said I'm not going to blog incessantly about Purpose-Driven, but I wanted to make just a few more observations about the book. I've just read through the second section, by the way. This is the part about worship, which is the first of God's five purposes for our lives. This section is fine, more or less, although the reader must slog through Warren's incessantly pithy writing style. Still, I have no major complaints. However, there is a passage here which provides a rather interesting and unintended contrast with another passage from the previous section of the book. I'm going to quote the two passages at length. The first, which occurs on page 57, is the same that I mentioned in yesterday's post:
    Living the rest of your life for the glory of God will require a change in your priorities, your schedule, your relationships, and everything else. It will mean choosing a difficult path instead of an easy one. Even Jesus struggled with this. Knowing he was about to be crucified, he cried out, "My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Thy name." Jesus stood at the fork in the road. Would he fulfill his purpose and bring glory to God, or would he shrink back and lead a comfortable, self-centered life?

    See yesterday's post for my objections to Warren's misreading of this Scriptural passage (John 12:27-28), which is John's parallel to the Gethsemane prayer in Matthew 26 and Mark 14. But here's a funny thing. Warren, in his chapter on the subject of surrender to God (p. 81), quotes the parallel passage in Mark (14:36) in order to support a quite different interpretation:
    The supreme example of self-surrender is Jesus. The night before his crucifixion Jesus surrendered himself to God's plan. He prayed, "Father, everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine."

    Jesus didn't pray, "God, if you're able to take away this pain, please do so." He had already affirmed that God can do anything! Instead he prayed, "God, if it is in your best interest to remove this suffering, please do so. But if it fulfills your purpose, that's what I want, too."

    Now isn't that funny? Though his Scriptural references are to different Gospels, they refer to the same episode in the life of Jesus, and Warren comes to very different conclusions about what was going on in the heart of Jesus.

    Hmmm. . . . Was Jesus struggling with God at Gethsemane, or surrendering to Him? Warren says, depending on his agenda, either/or.

    May 02, 2004

    I Think I've Got the Purpose-Driven Blues

    Well, after a week of reading The Purpose Driven Life I'm ready to throw in the towel. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm not exactly enamored by this book. It's as if Warren were taking scores of Scripture passages and squeezing them through his "purpose" template, so that their essential truths come out looking skewed and off-kilter. And you know what? It gets old fast.

    Here's an example. Warren chooses to use the TEV translation of Isaiah 26:3. Most real translations have it something very much like, "You, Lord, will keep in perfect peace the one whose mind is stayed on you." But the TEV translation fits perfectly with Warren's theme. "You Lord give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in you."

    See what I mean about elevating "purpose" to an almost iconic status. In this rendering, "purpose" has shoved aside God as the focus of the verse. By the way, Susan left a similar observation yesterday in my comment-box. She wrote simply, "I tend to think that too much purpose can become an idol for life." I think she's right on the money, and I see this danger swirling about the whole purpose-driven concept.

    Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of home-truths in this book. But Warren has elevated his theme almost to a status synonymous with salvation itself. And when I say "almost" I am probably erring on the side of under-statement. In fact, in the first video lesson of the series he invites the unsaved among his audience to pray a prayer that will make them members of God's family. And it turns out to be a prayer for--you guessed it--purpose! "God, I want to know the purpose of my life!" Never once mentioning the little matter of repentance! Hmmm . . .

    Here's another example of truth-skewing in this book. Warren says, "Living the rest of your life for the glory of God will require a change in your priorities, your schedule, your relationships, and everything else. It will mean choosing a difficult path instead of an easy one." Okay, plenty of truth here, I suppose. But then Warren says that JesusChrist's prayer in John 12:27-28 shows that "even Jesus struggled with this." He goes on to say that "Jesus stood at the fork in the road. Would he fulfill his purpose and bring glory to God, or would he shrink back and lead a comfortable, self-centered life?"

    Now, does this accurately summarize the issue that Jesus was struggling with that night? Was he crying out to God, "Father, I can't decide whether I want to live for your glory, no matter how difficult, or if I want instead to lead a comfortable, self-centered life!"

    This is a great example of Warren's skewing of Scriptural truth to fit his purpose-template. It seems like something much worse than an over-simplification. Naturally, Jesus was horrified by the death that he was going to have to die the next morning, but does this really equate to a temptation to comfort and self-centeredness? This depiction of Jesus is really a different Jesus than the one we meet in the Gospels. Please let me know if you think I'm missing something here, or if you think I'm making a mountain out of a mole-hill, but this passage seems very toxic to me.

    Finally, I also want to draw your attention to Rebecca's comment in yesterday's reply box. This was in response to my question about the issue of control. Rebecca wrote: "What do they mean by uncontrollable? Do they mean disorganized or chaotic, which I guess I could understand then? But I question that we really have much control at all over our own lives--too many factors in our lives are not ours to control. We shouldn't feel out of control though, because we ought to be trusting the One who does control all those things."

    This comment goes well with Susan's. It's worth noting that Paul was not exactly in control of his life, but through ship-wreck, beating, imprisonment, etc., he was simply convinced that nothing could separate him from the love of God. This brought him--not "control" of his circumstances--but peace in the midst of them.

    Rebecca continues, "When I read this I could only think of that verse where Paul says that he's learned to be content in whatever state he finds himself--don't know the reference, and don't know exactly how it applies, either, except I think that's one of the keys to not feeling out of control--contentment in our circumstances."

    So I'm kind of in a quandary. I don't think I can read this book through to the end as a devotional exercise. On the other hand, I'm committed to reading the book and leading a small-group through the video series. I'll just have to emphasize what is right about the book and try to lead the discussion toward a more Biblically balanced approach. But in truth I'd much prefer to just move on to something else!

    May 01, 2004


    Last night we hosted our first PDL small-group meeting. It turned out that for various reasons several people wound up attending other groups (closer to home . . . different night) and one, son Nate, was off on a trip. That meant a cozy little group of four, which worked out just fine.

    I'm not all that delighted with the book, I must confess, but I'm trying to give it a fair chance, and in fact the discussion engendered last night was definitely useful. As for what I don't like about "Purpose," I'll save that for a later date.

    Anyway, last night we talked about the three problems that flow from (according to Warren) not knowing your purpose in life. Life becomes tiresome, unfulfilling, and uncontrollable. I don't know that I buy the proposition to begin with, but still we can all relate, I think, to those three issues. In fact, Warren's study-guide asks which of these three we were best able to "relate to." Three out of the four of us voted for, "uncontrollable." I suppose they felt like Winston Churchill when he said, ". . . the terrible ifs accumulate." I, the lone dissenter as usual, cast my vote for "unfulfilling."

    Anyway, this was a good discussion, that seemed to get people thinking about the kind of life they would prefer. A life that's under control, I guess you could say. Thoughts, anyone? What Scripture verse, for example, would be applicable here?