Mr. Standfast

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

January 31, 2004

I've just read a wonderful little book by Calvin Miller, Called The Power of Encouragement. As my loyal readers well know, I've been thinking a lot about encouragement lately. It is among the Spiritual gifts listed by Paul in Romans 12. But it is the one among them that we most often take for granted. We may think a lot about teaching, or prophesy, or mercy, and we recognize those who clearly have that gift. Much thought, much ink, much prayerful longing, has been devoted to these gifts. But encouragement? Everyone knows what that is, and everyone agrees that it's a good thing, and of course we all try to be encouragers, right? So what's there to think about?

But I've been wondering if we're not short-selling one of the Father's most important and fundamental gifts. So I decided to do a little admittedly un-scientific research. A keyword search in produced some interesting results. Plenty of encouraging books, but only a few that were really about encouragement. Switching over to Books in Print (hey, I'm a librarian, after all), I did find a few more, but I also discovered something else. Books in Print includes each book's subject heading, which is assigned by the Library of Congress. BIP lists 269 books under the subject heading "PROPHECY--CHRISTIANITY." All well and good, but when I tried "ENCOURAGEMENT--CHRISTIANITY," nothing!

Well then, Miller's book appears to be one of the few. Not a text-book, not a hermeneutical study, not a solemn Biblical tome, but a little book intended to encourage encouragement! In fact, here's a book so short that I was able to read it aloud to my wife one evening, with only a few stops along the way for sips of water. Miller's fundamental presumption is that we can all encourage. He says it's our commission from the Lord. "Use your life to build others up! Each affirming act or word must issue from our need to be like Jesus. Each time we bless a hurting soul, we act as good stewards of Christ’s love, so freely given to us. Our encouraging words are kudos from our King. They are a serum of grace for the plague of self-loathing. We can and should do something to help color our drab world with beauty and truth. We are sent to demonstrate to our isolated world that God has not left it friendless."

Miller proceeds to lay out a simple 3-step blueprint for understanding encouragement.

    Holy Involvement. "We must learn the art of seeing inside the needy without violating their sacred inwardness."

    Diagnosis. "What does this person need me to say right now to heal or give hope?"

    Playing the Role of Christ. "The giving of the Bold Blessing."

Miller's Biblical example of all this is, of course, Jesus. Specifically, His dealing with the woman at the well at Sychar, John 4.

First, the holy involvement: Jesus speaks to a woman to whom, according to the lights of that cultural moment, He should not have been speaking. Even she is astounded that He, a Jew, should be asking her for water.

Next, the diagnosis. Jesus is able to see into this woman and understand the root of her isolation: at both the level of the personal (v.16), and of the spiritual (v.21).

Finally, the blessing. He offers her that which will change her life forever (v.26).

The Power of Encouragement is by no means the last word on this subject, but it is not a bad starting point. And it is, in its own right, a beautifully encouraging book.

January 30, 2004

Last night the small-group leaders of our church met and heard more about the upcoming Purpose-Driven Life program. Something like 13,000 churches have been through this, by the way. Some who read this have probably been through it already. If so, and if you'd like to share your experience of PDL with me, please drop me an email. We presently have about twenty home groups at our church, but we will need fifty to accommodate the increased participation that's expected. So it looks like our group, which has been meeting for some time, will be splitting up. That's a shame, but also a very good thing. It feels like God is really shaking this church spirituallly. I'm very excited.

January 27, 2004

Anselm's Prayer

We bring before you, O Lord, the troubles and perils of people and nations, the sighing of prisoners and captives, the sorrows of the bereaved, the necessities of strangers, the helplessness of the weak, the despondency of the weary, the failing power of the aged. O Lord, draw near to each; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

BTW, if you'd like to read more about Anselm, click here.

January 26, 2004

A Root of Bitterness

This morning I've been thinking about my friend, R. She's come through a major trial lately, and now that the worst is over, she has allowed herself to dwell on the many injustices that have been done to her. She has been wronged often, and she knows it. And it galls her heart.

How to tell her--or even if it's my place to tell her--that she is only setting herself up for worse still. What does Hebrews 12:14 say? "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully . . . lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled."

We are deeply interested in the injustices done against us, and desire that the wrongs be righted. We measure each one with precision, and dream that our enemy may one day pay an equal price. This is the bitter dream of the victim. A justice that is not beautiful and peace-making, but that engenders strife, resentment and lasting malice. A justice motivated by the thirst for revenge. Justice of this kind only nourishes the root of bitterness.

Worse, when we fail to achieve our vengeful goal, when society does not restore what we'd lost, then we turn bitter, envious and cynical. Our life becomes one long belabored complaint. Everyone must know that we have been wronged. Our friends begin to disappear, and the old wounds fester.

Through it all we justify ourselves by reminding everyone that we were innocent from the start, merely a victim. We congratulate ourselves for being realistic--for bravely facing up to the bitter truth of things--but the fruit of all this bitterness will taint every relationship, every person we love, and our final condition will be worse than when we began. We have done ourselves more harm than ever our enemy could have done, and we have only ourselves to blame.

I looked over at Henri Nouwen's meditation for today, and found it incredibly appropriate to all this. Here it is in full: "To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation. We set that person free from the negative bonds that exist between us. We say, 'I no longer hold your offense against you.' But there is more. We also free ourselves from the burden of being the offended one. As long as we do not forgive those who have wounded us, we carry them with us or, worse, pull them as a heavy load. The great temptation is to cling in anger to our enemies and then define ourselves as being offended and wounded by them. Forgiveness, therefore, liberates not only the other but also ourselves. It is the way to the freedom of the children of God."

Father, I lift up R. to You. Take her into Your arms and remind her that You love her. Cleanse her of all bitterness, pulling it up by the very root. Make her satisfied only in You. Come, Holy Spirit, and blow a fresh wind through her life. Amen.

January 24, 2004

I'm sure my readers (you know who you are!) have noticed that a few decorative photos have made their way back onto the blog. I thought it could do with a little visual livening up! (But just a little!)

During a recent visit to our local Border's (which happens to be, oddly enough, the best "Christian" bookstore in our area), I noticed a whole raft of books (well, perhaps a small dingy of them) on the Christian aspects of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Now that I'm reading these books again (and for the first time as a Christian), the issue is on my mind. It's a subject worth consideration, but the matter is not in my opinion nearly as clear-cut and obvious as with, for example, the Narnia series by Tolkien's friend Lewis, which is much closer to pure allegory. In any case, an interesting review of one of those books I saw at Border's (The Gospel According to Tolkien, by Ralph C. Wood) can be found over at First Things.

By the way, the review includes this quote from Tolkien himself: "I don’t feel under any obligation to make my story fit with formalized Christian theology, though I actually intended it to be consonant with Christian thought and belief." And that, for what it's worth, is "consonant" with my own impression of the books now.

January 23, 2004

Doug over at is the first to take up my invitation to report on the books you're reading. Doug's is called Gettin' There, by Steve Farrar. Doug says he's reading it for the third time! That right there is high praise. Then again, C. S. Lewis said that any book worth reading once is worth reading again. Farrar, by the way, is a men's ministry guy. His own website is here.

I am suddenly glad to be alive this morning. Not that I was morose or down before this. Perhaps I was just "mucking along." "Hanging in there." "Getting by." This morning, though, I want to pile the rocks like Joshua's tribe beside the Jordon. This morning, faith seems as natural and gentle as a freshening breeze, as real as roses. Lord, You are so good to me!

January 22, 2004

The following link (The Fire Ant Gazette) will get you to a just-plain astonishing photo. Not for the squeamish, but, well, for me at least, eye-opening!


Colossians 1:27 "...Christ in you, the hope of glory."

Glory is Paul's one-word summary of all that heaven holds for the believer. Glory is our destination and our destiny, the end of our wandering, the end of strife, turmoil, suffering, sin, and death. It is the inheritance of the saints, the treasure stored up, the peace beyond understanding, and the restoration of all things to their intended perfection. And we shall be there. We shall enjoy it forever. We shall mine the depths of heavenly happiness for all eternity, and yet never exhaust its riches, discovering new treasures every day.

And so important is it to God that we receive all this, that we arrive at our destination, that He sent His only Son to the cross--keep this in mind--for us. This was "the joy set before him." (Hebrews 12:2) Ask yourself, what was the joy that Jesus endured such agony to gain? What was this joy that He was reaching for even as they nailed him to the beams? Was it only that He would soon be returning to His Father? No, not only that. The joy that He kept in view was the reality that, by means of the Cross, we would also one day be there with Him in glory. That was the purpose of His suffering. That was the reason. That's what made it endurable. The most wonderful statement in the Bible is that which Jesus spoke to the thief on the cross beside Him: "Today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43)

With every lash of the whip, every torturous clang of hammer on nail, every cruel taunt and pang of thirst, He kept that joy before Him. For them, we might imagine Him saying. For us the terrible status quo of a fallen creation was there and then forever transformed. For us a new possibility, a new destiny, was made available. For us! Glory!

January 20, 2004

The Keeping Power of God

John 17:11–“Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given me.”
Prov. 18:10–“The name of the Lord is a strong tower...”
Ps. 121:5–“The Lord is your keeper...”

The Lord keeps us. He preserves us. We have only to call His name, for that name is certainly a “strong tower” to which we may run for safety. Through His name, we are kept. There is assurance of safety, there is certain hope, in the name of the Lord. Jude, addressing the chosen of God, refers to them as kept ones. (Jude 1) Though we walk through a world that is set against the faithful, a world of snares and illusions, in which the evil one prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, the Son has placed us in the Father’s keeping. We are guarded. We are protected. Preserved. Covered. Kept. Watched over. Led. Havened. To call His name is to gain the victory. This is a simple and yet profound truth. The Father has assigned us a destiny. The Son, by going to the Cross in our stead, has insured that those who are in Him shall one day come into that inheritance. Until the day He returns to take us there, we may be certain that we shall always be the Lord’s kept ones. Glory to God and hallelujah! Shout, you Saints! You are the kept of the Lord! Amen!

January 19, 2004

Susan (she of What a beautiful day!), commenting on the last post, wondered if we don't sometimes seem to God like demanding children. I think so. Keep in mind however that God, unlike us, is infinitely patient and merciful. So though we may at times become exasperated with our own children when they plead and beg for another toy or more candy (or whatever), God does not become exasperated. Though we sometimes reach the end of our rope, He never does. And just as we would like our children to know what's best for them, to trust us and believe that our care for them (even when we are withholding something) is for the best, God desires that we trust him in the same manner.

Trusting God is the entrance into mature prayer. In the last post I rather misleadingly included Christ's Gethsemane prayer as an example of pleading. That word is not entirely inaccurate, perhaps, but more needs to be said. Jesus only desired to do the will of God. "Take this cup from me, " he pleaded, but only "if it is possible." That is, if there is another way to accomplish the redemption and salvation of the world. "But not my will, but yours, be done." This is trust. Supreme trust. To walk in God's will no matter what. We ourselves will never have to walk into foresakeness, never have to cry, "My God, why have you deserted me," because Jesus endured all that in our place. He trusted in God even unto the Cross. We ourselves have a lighter burden by far, because of Him.

January 17, 2004

The Potter and the Clay

We have so much, so many, to pray for, sometimes our going before Abba is simply a time of extended pleading. How patient He is with us! We say, "Father, there's Jimmy, Janey and little Jack--I lift them up to you. Jimmy needs a job (close to home, with good benefits and room for advancement), Janey has a nasal infection and a sore back--would you heal her please?--and Jack would truly like to prophesy--please anoint him, okay?" And then we move on to our own particular wants and needs. And of course we assume God will notice and approve that we have saved ourselves for last in our prayers.

I think we can all recognize ourselves in this picture. Well, most of us, anyway. And over time we begin to lose our fervor. It becomes a trial to plead so, morning after morning. We try to drum up the fervor. We chide ourselves for a lack of discipline. We remember the parable of the bold friend, or that of the persistent widow, or we think of the disciples falling asleep while Jesus "pleaded" with His Father at Gethsemane, and we begin to wonder about our own faith. Are we "spiritual" enough? Should we feel guilty about all this and ask God to forgive us? Should we ask Him to restore the fervor of our pleading?

But in these situations God wants to tell us, Be still. Be still and know that I am God. Be still and realize that I know your needs, and the needs of your friends, and I am in control. I've got it covered.

I am not suggesting that there is not a time for persistence. I'm only saying that there is also a time for stillness. For letting God be God. Sometimes our interceding can shade into a list of requirements. And sometimes it can even shade into that which Isaiah spoke of here.

We are the clay, He is the Potter. We are not to draw a picture of the vessel we would have Him mold us into, saying, "Here's the model, God. Make me into a pot like this." No, it is the Potter that in His mercy shows us the picture of the vessel He is making us into--it's a picture of Jesus, and its contained in the Potter's book. And the Potter is saying, "If only you knew how wonderful this is, your only desire would be to cooperate with Me in this molding and shaping. To align your will with Mine. You wouldn't worry about how you felt from moment to moment--you wouldn't be wishing for more of this or that spiritual gift--you would only desire to draw near, and to be moldable. In my book I call this righteousness, and I say, Blessed is the one who hungers and thirst for it. Then your prayers would no longer be frantic pleading masquerading as fervor, but fervent thanks to me, your Lord, your Provider, your Abba.

January 15, 2004

Here's a link to Steve Brown's January letter. You know I love to listen to this man, and if you don't get his daily broadcast on your local Christian radio station, well, you're missing something. Here's a quote from the letter:

As I was saying, I'm getting better and, believe it or not, I can't help it. The whole "getting better" thing sort of snuck up on me. I was doing something else and, all of a sudden, I realized that I was loving people I didn't want to love, being obedient in places where I didn't want to be obedient and showing compassion for people when I didn't have time to show compassion.

That's just a sample. The Gospel is love, of course. I'll never know how I missed it for so long. Yes, long after I'd become a Christian, and even agreeing to all the right and proper tenets of Reformation theology. This "getting better" that Steve Brown talks about is really another way of saying (in fact, Paul's way of saying) "remain in my love."

My wife (the lovely L.!) and I have been working our slow way through an Andrew Murray devotional called "The True Vine." You can find it online right here. This is another author I highly recommend, by the way. Anyway, here's an excerpt from the entry we read yesterday:

The love of the Father to the Son is not a sentiment--it is a divine life, an infinite energy, an irresistible power. It carried Christ through life and death and the grave. The Father loved Him and dwelt in Him, and did all for Him. So the love of Christ to us too is an infinite living power that will work in us all He delights to give us. The feebleness of our Christian life is that we do not take time to believe that this divine love does really delight in us, and will possess and work all in us. We do not take time to look at the Vine bearing the branch so entirely, working all in it so completely. We strive to do for ourselves what Christ alone can, what Christ, oh, so lovingly, longs to do for us.

Now this is truly a good word, is it not? That Christ longs to work in us, and through us. Making us more like Him, our hearts breaking with what breaks His heart, and rejoicing in the things that bring Him joy. This is another way of looking at our "getting better."

Murray continues:

And how to come to this faith? Turn away from the visible if you would see and possess the invisible. Take more time with Jesus, gazing on Him as the heavenly Vine, living in the love of the Father, wanting you to live in His love. Turn away from yourself and your efforts and your faith, if you would have the heart filled with Him and the certainty of His love. Abiding means going out from everything else, to occupy one place and stay there. Come away from all else, and set your heart on Jesus, and His love, that love will waken your faith and strengthen it. Occupy yourself with that love, worship it, wait for it. You may be sure it will reach out to you, and by its power take you up into itself as your abode and your home.

Father, may my face shine with the light of your love today. May my words and deeds reflect your heart. Make your living water flow from me to others today, in Jesus Christ's name. Amen.

January 09, 2004

Remaining in the Love of Christ

Jesus says, "Remain in my love." [John 15:9] A good word that. Remain. Continue. Stay. Stand firm. And the implication is, no matter what. No matter the circumstances. No matter that it may seem like folly. Remain in the love of Christ. Do not be dismayed, distracted, or discouraged. But remain.

And then Jesus says, "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love." Ah, commands. That's tricky. I don't generally take very well to commands. What are these commands of yours, Jesus?

"My command is this: that you love one another as I have loved you." See, He circles back again to this love-business. First: Remain in my love. Next: Obey my commands. Then: My command is that you love one another. The beginning and the end of your salvation walk is love. Loved walked-out, its consequences accepted.

That's it. I'm to accept the consequences of loving. Some of these might even be painful. I might want to turn back. I might want to shuffle this burden onto the back of another. But remaining in the love of Jesus no matter what is staying the course through every trouble and trial, and the course is love. And isn't that the cross Jesus speaks of here? And the burden he speaks of here?

Now flip over to Hebrews 12:2. It says that Jesus, "for the joy set before Him, endured the cross." Oh my, there's so much here. What was that joy, do you think? I think it was the prospect, the eternal prospect, of what He would achieve by going to that cross. That is, the salvation of many who had been lost. Victory over darkness and death. Forever. For you and me. This was the joyful prospect that Jesus had in view.

And, secondly, it was an act of obedience. Go back to John 15:10--"If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love." Then see what He says next: "Just as I have obeyed my Father's commands, and remain in His love." His trust in the Father was so steadfast, so complete, that He was willing to endure even the Cross. He "remain in His Father's love."

This is really wonderful stuff. God says, Remain in my love. No matter the obstacles, hang on. Yes, it's going to hurt at times, but please trust Me on this. Keep a heavenly perspective. Paul said, "I consider that our present suffering is not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us."

Yes, and that how Jesus thought. And that's why He was able to endure. To remain, right to the end, in the love of the Father. His point of view was consistently heavenward. He always kept that big picture in mind, that eternal perspective, and no amount of present suffering could turn Him aside. He remained in His Father's love.

All suffering is not cross-bearing, but when your suffering is a consequence of love, that's a cross. But it is not a burden you cannot carry. It is a suffering that will result in joyful outcomes. Not just momentary joy. Not joy followed by disappointment. But joy forever. Joy eternal. Pleasures evermore. This is the marvelous and miraculous translation that goes on always in the Kingdom of God, as things intended for our harm our changed into things that produce eternal consequences for good. Amazing! But true!

Hallelujah! Praise Him all you saints! He gives us beauty for ashes! He is a steadfast God!

January 08, 2004

Not much time today for anything but a quick hello. Started my new class on Tuesday night: New Testament Survey. This is through a program offered at my church. Our reading material includes the following three:

Talk thru the Bible, by Bruce Wilkinson and Ken Boa
The Message of the New Testament, by F. F. Bruce
The Story of the New Testament: Men with a Message, by John Stott and Stephen Motyer

I'm very excited about this course. I'm going to be steeping myself in the NT for the next 12 weeks or so. In addition to writing a ten page paper, we're to choose a single NT book to read in-depth, explaining at the end of the course how the book impacted our lives. I think I'll choose Colossians for that. I'm psyched already!

January 06, 2004

Received a brief but very sweet note from Susan over at What a beautiful day! She's got a wonderful blog that is very intimate and encouraging, very friendly. I'm happy to add it to my little blogroll on the right. And Susan, thank you for your comment. It is where God seems to be leading me, for sure. And keep on blogging!

January 05, 2004

Encouragement (2):

To encourage is to give hope. That's the nuts-and-bolts definition, and it works for me. We know that encouragement is important not only because we have experienced its virtue in our own lives, but becaue the Apostle Paul includes it on a by-no-means comprehensive list of Spiritual gifts in Romans 12:3-8. The gifts listed in are: 1) prophesy, 2) service, 3) teaching, 4) encouraging, 5) giving, 6) leadership, and 7) mercy.

Now, this is lofty company. Paul obviously regarded encouragement as a high calling indeed. Although it may well be said that all believers should be encouragers, some (this passage implies) are specially called and anointed for the role of encouragers. The members of the body were going to need encouragement, it seems, every bit as much as prophesy (the revelation of the mind of God) or service or mercy or any of the others. Encouragement! The giving of hope.

Another way that we can be sure that encouragement is important to God is by recognizing the importance of hope. It doesn't take a Biblical scholar to see that the Bible is essentially a book of hope. A book of assurance. From first to last, God's intention throughout His Word seems to be to remind us that He is who He says He is and will do what He has always said He would do. Paul's letters often have multiple agendas, but one that is primary is the giving of hope.

In 1 Corinthians 13:13 Paul says that three things abide--that is, while everything else will have its season and pass, these three things will last--"faith, hope, love." Again the lofty company. To be givers of hope, then, is something not to be taken lightly.

I would like to spend some time in the coming days speaking more about encouragement. Looking more closely at key Biblical passages, and perhaps considering in a more deliberate fashion just how we might "walk out" the gift of encouragement.

January 03, 2004

Book chatter:
Note please blogging.teen's response to yesterday's post about Anthony DeStefano's book, A Travel Guide to Heaven. This book is published by a big secular publisher (Doubleday) which is apparently trying to score with a message that is faintly "spiritual," even vaguely "Christian," but without offending anyone by actually mentioning the name of Jesus. No, I haven't read the book, but it does seem noteworthy that in the rather extensive promotional material on the book's website there seems to be no mention of the Savior. Still, what intrigued me was its description of heaven as a dynamic place. This is a useful lesson, and something that can be inferred from Scripture. For example, while we will see God face to face and know Him as never before, we will never reach the end of learning more about Him, simply because we will remain finite beings, while God is infinite. This means that every moment we share with God in heaven will be a new revelation of His goodness and glory. This "learning" will go on forever.

I did notice, by the way, that DeStefano mentions on his website [here] that the ticket to heaven has already been purchased for us by God. So maybe he does get around to mentioning the Redeemer after all.


By the way, thank you blogging.teen and for your responses to yesterday's post.


This morning my devotional (Amy Carmichael's Whispers of His Power) led me to Hebrews 6:16-20. Here the author assures us that the promises of God are utterly reliable and immutable, and that we as believers have fled to the hope held out to us in the form of those promises, so that we may be "greatly encouraged." It is very important that we don't "encourage" people with a groundless hope (you know: "Cheer up, things'll get better!") but with a hope grounded in the sure promises of God.

Then, in v. 19, the author writes: "We have this hope as a anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf."

This verse just really bowled me over this morning. I have a couple of sailing-ship bookends that have these words etched in their base: "Jesus, Savior, pilot me." These were given to me by my father, when I was not yet a believer, and the words were nothing more to me then than platitudes. Now I want to quote from the footnote from my "Nelson Study Bible." It's referring to the idea of Jesus as "forerunner." That's the literal translation of the Greek word here, translated in the NIV with the words "who went before us." The footnote says this: "The Greek word for forerunner was used in the second century A.D. of the smaller boats sent into the harbor by larger ships unable to enter due to the buffeting of the weather. These smaller ships carried the anchor through the breakers inside the harbor and dropped it there, securing the larger ship. Forerunner presupposes that others will follow. Thus, Jesus is not only like a runner boat that has taken our anchor into port and secured it there. There is thus no doubt as to whether this vessel is going into port. . . . Believers who have such a hope in the presence of God should come boldly before the throne of grace. (Heb. 4:14-16)"

Yes, Jesus as my pilot, going before me, showing the direction. Jesus as my anchor, steadying me, keeping me from being swept away (or "blown about by every wind of doctrine"). This is just a further illustration of the point blogging.teen made. Jesus has to be at the center of what we say and do. Jesus is the reason we can encourage a brother or sister in distress. Because of what He has done not only to save us (by his death), but to pilot us (by his life of obedience and righteousness). Jesus is the embodiment of all the promises of God, and the reason for our security in knowing that we will reach port safely someday. Amen!


One more thing: I mentioned the devotional I've been using lately: Amy Carmichael's Whispers of His Power. How about you? Do you use a daily devotional? If so, which one? I'd just kind of like to know.

January 02, 2004

Here's a new book: Anthony DeStefano's A Travel Guide to Heaven. Has anyone read this one? If so, let me know what you thought of it, please. In fact, I'd like to post your comments here on the blog. Double "in fact," let me just go a step further and suggest to anyone and everyone reading this post (all two or three of you!) that you let me know what you've read lately, and what you thought of the book, what it taught you, how it was right, wrong, or in-between? Why others should read it, or why the should avoid it like the plague? I would like to hear from you. Maybe turn this blog into an occasional book-discussion page. Come-on now--I'm betting that everyone reading this post has read a book recently, and has a thing or two to say about it!

But back to DeStefano's book. It sounds winsome, perhaps a little (or more than a little) fluffy. See an interview with the author here. Or go to the book's website here. And don't skip the flash intro!

January 01, 2004

Happy New Year!

As I suggested in my last post, I really do feel a sense of newness, something like the feeling of setting out on a journey . . . and is it all because the calendar changed? Or is it because I've just started reading The Fellowship of the Ring? I've been thinking a lot about Tolkien's story lately (as have many others of course). I think that what ultimately makes the whole darn thing so utterly satisfying is the sense one has of the interplay of all things, all events, circumstances, and ultimately every aspect of creation in this great contest of good and evil. One may debate just how "Christian" this story is, but it is in some ways an embodiment of Romans 8:28. In Middle-Earth, despite the constant (and ever-increasing) presence of evil, one has this sense that some power greater even than Sauron's, and greater than the sum of all the "goodness" of good wizards, elves and wandering kings (etc.), is also at work, and ultimately bringing to pass His good ends. And I think this is very satisfying for the reader, and brilliant in its way. Frodo passes through fire, as it were, and so does all of Middle Earth. He is an example of the cross-carrier unequaled in all literature, I think.

But I was talking about the new year. And I think, yes, I have this sense of starting out, this sense that is so exciting and so necessary, I might even say, to our happiness. Yes, I have started out again on an imaginary journey with Frodo and company. And yes, our church will be starting soon with Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven program, which also excites me deeply. And finally, I am starting out also on a path toward developing a personal ministry of encouragement. So all this is working together to give me this sense, I think.

I will end here, but first a quote. This is from Calvin Miller's The Power of Encouragement:

We have a commission from our Lord: Use your life to build others up! Each affirmative act or word must issue from our need to be like Jesus. Each time we bless a hurting soul, we act as good stewards of Christ's love, so freely given to us. Our encouraging words are kudos from our King. They are a serum of grace for the plague of self-loathing. We can and should do something to help color our drab world with beauty and truth. We are sent to demonstrate to our isolated world that God has not left us friendless.