Mr. Standfast

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

March 29, 2004

Notes on Biblical Hope (1)

Hope is closely associated with trusting God: His promises, His nature.

Hope is closely associated therefore with knowledge: knowledge of God, His nature, His reliability, His history with men.

Hope is closely associated with, indeed, nearly synonymous with, salvation.

Therefore, hope is closely associated with Jesus Christ.

Hope is closely associated with the Holy Spirit, who is called the Encourager, and who's ministry is to point the way to Jesus Christ.

Hope is future-oriented, looking forward to a crown.

Hope is also past-oriented, looking back to a Cross.

And yet hope is present-oriented, trusting God for every necessary provision of the moment.

Hope is closely associated with the word glory.

Hope is closely associated with the word foretaste.

Hope is closely associated with the Resurrection. "If Christ is not risen . . ."

Hope, Biblical hope, the hope of glory that is firmly anchored to the Cross, has a powerful shaping influence on our present condition. Therefore: live in hope.

Encouragement (5)

How to give hope. How to encourage.

There's a lot of false hope out there. That is, a lot of hoping in that which is false. Hoping in that which will not avail. There's a lot of leaning on broken reeds, even within the church. There's a lot of faulty encouragement, empty words intended to boost confidence but providing no real ground for it. Words. Words that seem to lose their significance in a moment, petering out with a woeful flicker.

Some assumptions:

1) We all need real encouragement. That is, we need encouragement, and we also need the encouragement to be real. Please, don't just tell me everything's going to be okay, or that God loves me just the way I am, or that my sin is not really sin and God doesn't really care about it anyway, or I can do anything if I just put my mind to it, or don't worry, be happy.

2) Real encouragement, no matter what the context, is grounded on Jesus Christ. It is not grounded on ability, or heredity, or intelligence, or self-discipline, or optimism, or meds, or the right friends, or the right diet, or the right books, or the right spiritual guru, or the right thoughts, or the right church. It is based on Jesus, the Alpha and Omega. "Just give me Jesus," is more than a pious slogan. It's a cry for real encouragement.

3) Nevertheless, real encouragement is not simple. It does not make glib promises. It does not take sin lightly. It does not take trouble and distress lightly. It is not a "quick fix." It is offered in the context of relationship, and it therefore requires commitment to the person needing encouragement. The encourager must be with him, must walk beside him, must face that which he faces, must hold him up when he is about to fall. No, please do not be a glib, happy-talking out-the-door-walking see-ya-later encourager.

More later.

March 27, 2004

Well, hey!

I've had a very busy week. Just in case anyone thought that a librarian's work could never be backbreaking and exhausting, think again. Our library is in the midst of a major reorganization, and so I have spent the week moving books. Actually, I've enjoyed it thoroughly.

It has also been a spiritually interesting week for me. First, there was a little matter in which I needed to be corrected. I won't go into detail here, except to say that correction, when it is in the Lord and under His grace, is a wonderful thing and we need to cherish it. What does Proverbs say about correction? "He who hates correction will die." And also, "whoever heeds correction gains understanding." In fact, we cannot expect to grow, to overcome our sin-nature, to walk the God-pleasing walk of faith, if we refuse correction!

But I was speaking of my week. Next, I received a very wonderful word of exhortation from my friend Susan in Australia. Susan is one of those people whose essential beauty and heart just shine through her writing, and her word for me really came at the appointed time. Thank you, Xiuxin.

Also, this week I began jotting down some initial thoughts for my book on spiritual encouragement. I think this writing process is going to work as follows: during these early stages I will be doing a lot of scribbling that may seem almost random. A lot of snatching at passing thoughts before they get away! Some of these scribblings will undoubtedly make their way onto the blog, which is in part my electronic scratchpad anyway. This stage will in fact be one step beyond scribbling. An attempt to refine a thought, to mine it for all its worth, or (changing the metaphor) to pursue it to its natural conclusion.

At the same time I will be developing an outline for the book. This outline is actually well on its way, but will need tweaking and enhancing as I go along. The process of scribbling and refining described above should result in my being able to see clearly the essential trajectory of the book. The next stage of refinement will follow from that, and I imagine will be done off-line, however, some of this too will make to the blog, I hope.

Yes, I hope. And hope is the thing, isn't it? Hope is the spirit in which I approach this process, and hope is the very subject of the process. Hope, Biblical hope, is the first focus of my musings now. I want to think about it, pray about it, and write about it. First of all, what is it? How is it different than the ordinary way we use the term? Why is it important? How might we, as Kingdom people, offer it to others? To the lost who do not know Jesus as their Savior, yes, but also to people who know Him, but who nevertheless continue to struggle under crushing burdens? The fundamental question is (well, I'm sure if you give me a moment I can think of yet another "fundamental " question, but this will do for a start), how can Biblical hope make a difference now in the lives of those people? Answering that question is, I suppose, what enables true Biblical encouragement.

Well, such has been the drift of my thinking this week, as I've lugged books from one place to another. I've done a little research to see what's been written about the Spiritual gift of encouragement, and found only two that really focus on it. Calvin Miller's The Power of Encouragement, and David Jeremiah's similarly titled The Power of Encouragement: Lift Up the Defeated. Miller's book I read last month, and found it fine though a bit slight. Jeremiah's I've just sent for. He's become a personal favorite of mine as a preacher, so I'm particularly looking forward to reading this book.

Let's see, what else? Also this week I've begun each morning by writing out a prayer that is based on one of Solomon's proverbs. This has been fruitful for me, because it has tended to focus my mind on the confessional aspect of prayer, which I often give short shrift. Here's one example:

Proverbs 11:1 "The Lord abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are His delight."

Lord, I confess that I have often measured men by a measure of my own devising. I have valued them according to my own scale of value, calling this one more worthy and that one less based on worldly assessments: intelligence, wealth, beauty, even cleanliness. Father, I'm sorry. Forgive me, cleanse me, and help me to see people with eyes enlightened by Your Holy Spirit. Keep me from measuring men with dishonest scales that in the end only tend to sort people according to how they might meet my needs, rather than according to how You see them. I want to measure by Your measure, Father. Not mine. And You have already declared Your measure on the hill of Calvary. The Cross is Your measure of the worth of Your children. Thank You, Lord. In Jesus' name, Amen.

March 24, 2004

Taking Stock

This morning marks a kind of beginning. Heaven knows I'm enamored by beginnings, but more often than not a stranger to finish-lines, completions. Last-night I did finish something, however. A New Testament survey class. This has been part of a series of fairly rigorous (academically speaking) classes offered at my church. I've decided to suspend my involvement in this program for the time being. I am going to dedicate that time instead to the research and writing of a book on the Spiritual gift of encouragement. I've never written a book before, and don't even know where to begin, but really feel led in this direction. I hope to learn much. I hope to be used by God through this process, to His glory and His only.

March 22, 2004

A Morning Prayer

This is from John Baillie's A Diary of Private Prayer.

Eternal Father of my soul, let my first thought today be of You, let my first impulse be to worship You, let my first speech be Your name, let my first action be to kneel before you in prayer.

For Your perfect wisdom and perfect goodness:
For the love with which You love mankind:
For the love with which You love me:
For the great and mysterious opportunity of my life:
For the indwelling of Your Spirit in my heart:
For the sevenfold gifts of Your Spirit:
I praise and worship You, O Lord.

Yet let me not, when this morning prayer is said, think my worship ended and spend the day in forgetfulness of You. Rather from these moments of quietness let light go forth, and joy, and power, that will remain with me through all the hours of the day;

Keeping me chaste in thought:
Keeping me temperate and truthful in speech:
Keeping me faithful and diligent in my work:
Keeping me humble in my estimation of myself:
Keeping me honorable and generous in my dealings with others:
Keeping me loyal to every hallowed memory of the past:
Keeping me mindful of my eternal destiny as a child of Yours.

Through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.

March 20, 2004

Two Things

First thing:

Do you remember that I told you how four college kids from Virginia came to the USM campus, where I work, to pray for revival? Well, that was a pretty neat thing, and it really blessed our prayer time to have this surprise visit.

But guess what? This week our weekly prayer meeting (generally attended by 3 to 6 people: professors, students, staff) was visited by fifteen students from the Univeristy of Southern Mississippi, who came to Maine on their spring break to pray for revival on college campuses up here.

Now, I mean, this is amazing. These kids could have been doing any number of other things on their break. Instead, they came, oh, 1200 miles or so, to pray for college kids here!

For those of you from "distant climes," like Susan, my Aussie reader, Virginia and Mississippi are very much in America's Bible Belt, while Maine most definitely is not. So it's just so encouraging to know that we are in the prayers of far away believers. Very cool!

Second thing:

I did something really uncharacteristic . . . I bought myself a musical instrument. A Bodhran, to be precise. Ever heard of it? It's a Gaelic drum. Here's what it looks like:

Now I've just got to learn how to play it!

March 19, 2004


The years go by.
The window that had framed a tree
Now frames the sky,
Now frames another tree.
The years go by.

March 18, 2004

Yesterday someone asked me to be his friend! Is that not just about as cool as it gets?

March 17, 2004

Oh, yeah, it's St. Patrick's Day!

Which means it's time to pray the Irish blessing for all my readers:

May those who love us, love us
And those that don't love us
may God turn their hearts;
and if He don't turn their hearts
may He turn their ankles
so we'll know them by their limping.

March 16, 2004

What, me prophesy?

What a Monday morning! After posting to the blog about the Men's Retreat, I sat down to read The Revelation (a class assignment), but all at once God showed me a picture of the members of my small group and commanded me to write. This is certainly not a typical experience in my case, by I picked up my pencil and started scribbling. I wrote a brief exhortation for six different people in the group.

The first one was fairly straight-forward. It was simply an assurance that God was going to use this person, especially her speaking-gifts. Then, after I'd written a few sentences, the phone rang. The caller happened to be the very person I'd been writing to, and she was calling to tell me that she'd just spoken to an old friend, and that this friend had told her that (you guessed it) God was going to use her speaking-gift! This came as a tremendous affirmation to me, as well as being a great encouragement to her, and so I immediately set about writing the others. These were similar prophetic exhortations, but using widely varying imagery. The theme of each was something like, God is getting ready to do a new thing in your life.

Now, I realize how totally unimpressive this must sound. But, the four people who have seen their own exhortations have been, well, more or less blown away. One in particular was brought to tears and told me it had a very specific application to his life. I don't want to quote these exhortations directly, but they seemed to have a powerful impact. I myself would have chosen to write one for each member of the group, but for some reason after these six I felt as if God wanted me to go no further. I actually tried to write one for another member, someone whom I'm particularly close to, but my mind went blank. I could write nothing.

So: that's my report. It seems as if God has chosen to use me phophetically. It's really exciting, especially since I have often prayed that God would use me in just this way. Thank you, Father!

March 15, 2004

Men's Retreat & More

Aaah, home at last. The men's retreat was Friday evening, all day Saturday, then Sunday morning. It was a rather small group this time, 27 or so. In the past we've been around sixty or seventy. So the group was smaller, and the program for the retreat was minimalist. That is, it was less about program and more about letting the Spirit lead.

I myself went into this retreat without any expectations one way or the other, but just at the very start, after our initial time of worship was over, but before Mario (our pastor) stood up to give his introductory welcome, God spoke this question to my heart: "Have you seen my bounty?"

Now, I wondered what God meant, and I asked him right then and there, and immediately he showed me the Cross, but not as if the Cross alone was the answer to my question. It was of central importance, yes, and whatever else constituted God's bounty was going to flow through that Cross, that was my sense, but my distinct impression was that God's answer to my question was simply "wait and see."

So then the retreat unfolded. I spent time with many brothers that I'd never yet gotten to know. I spent more time with Mario, in fact, than ever before. The weekend included two sessions that involved breaking up into small groups. One had to do with reading a Scripture passage (Is. 55:6-11) and then spending some time meditating on that passage, letting the words dwell in us richly, and sharing in a small group what the Lord had shown us during that time. The other had to do with meditating on the period in our lives when we first came to the Lord, and thinking of that time as a kind of path along which God had led us, and then writing down some key impressions that came to us as we thought about the stepping stones of this path. Again, we shared our thoughts and impressions afterward in a small group.

As rich as these times were, the best was Saturday evening, when we simply prayed for each other. This went on for two hours or so and seemed to be the real purpose of the whole weekend. As if all the rest had simply been preparation for just this. Oh, and God spoke a second time to me just as this evening session was beginning. This was Saturday night, and we began with a good humored "talent-show" which brought much laughter into the room, then worship, then the gathering together in small groups to pray. But right at the beginning of all this, God spoke these words to my heart: "The shadows fly way."

There is much more that can be said about this weekend. I am really joyful because God chose to use me to minister to several people. There was still more God-stuff at church the next morning, with Jonathan giving a message of edification on the subject of prophecy, and then inviting people to come forward if they sensed God speaking to their hearts. In the first service Lance was one who spoke, and he talked about marriage, and loving and serving our wives, and he used the image of a blossoming flower to describe what would happen in our wives as well as our church. In the second service, Jeff brought a very similar message about marriage, only he didn't use a flower image. But then his wife Susan followed him (neither of these people have ever spoken up like this, to my knowledge), and she said that she had an image in her mind of a bud which then blossomed in an instant, and became a beautiful flower.

So: I think God showed me His bounty this weekend, just as His question to me implied that He would. And the bounty was "through" His children, and it seemed to be an almost constant flow of refreshing.

Finally, This morning, as I meditated on the whole weekend and asked God what one thing above all else I was to learn from the experience, this is what He gave me. He said:

I have used you, and I am going to use you. Don't think I will have to wait for your heart to be pure, for your motives to be un-mixed, for your foolish self-consciousness to go away and for every hint of pride to be scourged out of you. I am going to use you despite your sin, so don't reject my grace. I showed you the Cross of Christ because it alone is sufficient to take care of your sin and release my bounty. You are washed in the blood of the Lamb, and when I look at you I see Him, my Son, and I see not your sin but His righteousness, and so I choose to treat you as if your heart is pure already. This may not make sense to you, but this is my plan, whether you understand or not. I am willing to accept you, love you, and use you right now. Do not think your sin can bind me. And yes, I do desire that you hunger and thirst for holiness. But don't think I'm waiting for you to achieve it. You see, it has already been achieved on your behalf, therefore be ready. Gird up you loins, man of God. I will do what I will do in you and through you for the sake of my Kingdom.

March 11, 2004

Tomorrow I leave for a two day men's retreat. This is a happy circumstance, because I really didn't expect to be going, simply due to cost issues, but some unnamed benefactor put up the money, so to the men's conference I will happily go. As usual, it's going to be held at a conference center in the Lake Ossipee area (New Hampshire). My next post may well be a report on this meeting. Bye for now.

March 10, 2004

The Virginians

I had a really wonderful experience today.

Our Wednesday prayer group here at USM was visited by a band of roving Christians! They represent a group called Students for Christ. Four young men by the names of Joshua, Brian, Micah, and Donald. These guys have traveled from Virginia to Presque Isle, Maine (on the Canadian border) along Interstate 95, visiting and praying for university campuses along the way. Now, for those of you not familiar with the Eastern United States, that's close to a 1000-mile journey.

Here's the story. Two groups of four men, supported by their home church (Beulah Tabernacle in Newport News, Virginia), were sent on an I-95 prayer-tour. One group went south to Miami, the other north to the far-reaches of Maine, stopping at every college campus they could find, praying for revival. We met them after they'd made the turn-around at Presque Isle and were headed south again. Our prayer meetings usually consist of one professor, one student, the IVCF representative, and me. But these four visitors really lit a fire under this rather subdued academic bunch. They were enthused (Greek, en-theos, "from God"), they had a missional-mindset, and they were eager to intercede for us personally and for the campus as a whole.

I'm telling you, they just rocked our quiet little weekly prayer-time. Think of it. Four strangers just walked into the room and said, we've traveled from Virginia to pray for the colleges on the east coast, and we're here to pray for you. All I can say is, "God, you amaze me."

March 09, 2004

In need of prayer rehab!

Wow, I have really got to bring some focus to my morning devotional routine. I find lately I have been very digressive, very uninspired, with my mind wandering routinely, with little thought of God or of any plan of prayer. This just will not do.

I think I'm going to get back to trying to apply a template or pattern to my prayer time. Obviously, the Lord's prayer is the best pattern out there (coming as it does from one who was in the know). But it's important to personalize it, I think. So, for example, when I pray, "may your Kingdom come," I'm going to think of specific aspects of my own life or the day ahead over which I am asking Christ to reign and rule. This, in fact, was the subject of David Jeremiah's broadcast this morning, and it really got my attention.

I'm also going to get back to keeping 3X5 cards for each person that I regularly pray for. The card would contain the name of the person, perhaps a few known prayer needs, and also whatever Bible verses might seem appropriate for that person and even words or images that might suggest themselves to me as I pray.

I was doing this last year, but have allow myself to drift away from it. It takes some discipline, and it may seem overly-rigid to some, but I found that it kept me focused and even made my prayer-time more fruitful and exciting. Pray for me, would you?

Taking my cue from Rebecca Writes (as usual), I've added J. Mark Bertrand to my blogroll. Take a look especially at this article by Bertrand, called "The Christian Mind Under Siege." Solid. In fact, why don't I just paste a quote:

The bricks and mortar of a Christian’s walls are study and obedience, wisdom and action. Some practical observations: Fill your mind with positive reflections. Meditate on the pantheon of virtues outlined in Philippians 4:8—whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy. There is little strength in being passionately against everything. Be consumed with what you are passionately for.

Also, make temptation hard. To reach Eve with his message, Satan had to sneak into the garden, take on the form of a serpent and engage in what must have been a humiliating piece of sophistry for such a proud being. In Christ’s case, he had to travel to the wilderness for forty days (a journey made all the more disheartening by his certainty failure). These days, Satan might as well set his alarm clock for noon, since we do so much of his work for him.

If you’re going to build up walls of discernment around your mind, make the decision to stop negotiating. Antioch fell to the Crusaders not because they breached its perimeter, but because the captain of one of its towers began a conversation with Bohemond. Your conversations with the old man will deliver your citadel into his hands, so break them off.

March 08, 2004

Savior, Lead on!

Monday morning. Listening to an old Bela Fleck disc (Drive), something N. (who is kind and good) brought by yesterday. Sweet! After this I'll put on his more recent Little Worlds. Triple-sweet!


I've been thinking about growth this morning. About progressing in faith, about the bricks in the wall and the legs in a journey. I've been thinking about "first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head." (Mark 4:28) Often I am frustrated by my own lack of progress, and yet do know that God is refining me, growing me up into the full maturity that he has always planned for me. And I think that I can either cooperate in this learning and growing process, or I can be willfully learning disabled. I do that from time to time, because I don't want to learn what God wants to teach me. Sad but true.

Of course I see all this in others long before I see it in myself. Also sad but true. I think there is a kind of addiction to immaturity built into our flesh, and it manifests itself even in our faith-walk. I'm reminded of the novelist in Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, who all his life worked on his one great novel, but never got past the first paragraph. I think there is a joy in beginnings that the devil uses against our ever progressing. This is why so many believers answer the altar-call again and again, or go from one church to another, getting rebaptized, looking again for that emotional rush, that exciting taste of purity and freedom, that they had when they first were saved. Paul referred to this phenomenon in 2 Timothy 3:17: " . . . always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth."

Well, that's what I've been thinking about this morning. The Bible is really the record of God's call upon His children to grow, and a blueprint for doing that. Frederick Buechner says in The Magnificent Defeat that faith is standing alone in the dark, and then there is a hand, and the words "come unto me," and though you don't really understand, you take that hand.

Savior, lead on!

March 06, 2004

John 9 & 10

Well, this week I've been reading John 10 every day, and about half way through the week I realized that it was, in large part, a commentary on John 9. See, this is why I like re-reading frequently. I'm slow, but I get it in the end.

In John 9 Jesus heals a fellow who has been commonly identified ever since as "the man born blind."Right at the beginning of the chapter some disciples ask Jesus an obtuse question. They have a mechanistic quid pro quo understanding of sin. "Teacher," they ask. "Who sinned, causing this man to be born blind. Him, or his parents?"

Obtuse, yes. Look closely at the logic of the question. The man would have had to have sinned in his mother's womb to have caused, in this view, his own blindness. But so wedded are they to this notion that the malady must have been caused by a particular sin, that they leave all logic behind. But as long as we hang on to this notion of sin, we hang onto the corresponding notion that we can be saved by means of our own righteousness. In other words, if this man's malady could be traced to a particular sin, then all that was needed was to identify the sin and then make the appropriate penance or sacrifice. You see, the question the disciples asked reveals their legalistic mindset and their continuing failure to understand the grace of God on offer from the man they called "teacher."

But at least they asked! Later in the chapter, the Pharisees condemn the same man (now miraculously healed of his blindness) by saying, "Get out of here! You were steeped in sin since birth!" The undeniable fact of his healing was an affront to their whole understanding of sin and righteousness. If this man's healing represented the grace of God to one who must certainly have been a deeply sinful being (for what other explanation for his former blindness could there be), then their whole legalistic mindset was called into question. God's grace to a blind beggar amounted to a rebuke of the Pharisees and their ilk, and they saw that immediately. So in desperation they toss the man out of the synagogue and reinforce their own prejudice with a priestly condemnation. "You may have been healed, but you're still no good. Get out, for your presence here is a challenge to our authority, and that can't be allowed."

Up to this point, the blind man wasn't sure what to think of Jesus. When the Pharisees gave him their ultimatum, forcing him to choose them or Jesus, he refused to condemn the man who'd healed him. Only then was he able to finally draw the last necessary conclusion. Confronted again by Jesus, he worships Him. "Lord, I believe."

Which brings us to chapter 10, or just about. Christ's commentary on these events begins in the last verse of chapter 9. There are those, He says, who can be considered my sheep. They hear my voice and recognize me for who I am. By implication the formerly blind man was one of these. Also, there are those who are in essense false shepherds, usurpers, who "call" the sheep, just as any shepher would, but who are really sheep-stealers. But the good thing is, those who belong to Christ are able to recognize the imposter-shepherds for what they are. This was the situation in the chapter 9 dialogue between the Pharisees and the formerly blind man. In essence, the Pharisees were saying, Quit following that Galilean. He's not your shepherd, we are. But the man did not recognize their voices. They did not sound like the shepherd he knew. Immediately after, meeting Jesus in the Temple court, and hearing Jesus declare Himself to be the Son of Man, the formerly blind man instantly recognizes his true Shepherd. The others, making their rival claim on the flock, came only to kill and destroy. But Jesus, the good shepherd, comes to lead His flock to green pastures, and beside still waters.

And now may I just add, Glory be to God on high! His grace is incredible, is it not?

March 05, 2004

Who is my favorite blogger, you ask? I'm quite sure I heard you ask, so don't try to deny it. My favorite blogger is Real Live Preacher. The rest of us are just hacks compared to RLP. This guy can write! He really demonstrates faith working through love (see Gal. 5:6) in his writing, and that's saying a lot.

Quote of the Day:

I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should have days when you allow what is already within you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It's hollow.

from The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

March 04, 2004

Please note the new listing on my blog roll, BlogJordan, written by two guys, one of them a CBN correspondent (his personal website is here) who are traveling through Jordan and blogging as they go. Fascinating!


I keep thinking about refuge. I keep thinking about the refuge of the Lord. Happy is the man whose refuge is in the Lord God Almighty. I think that from a very early age we know one thing: we know we need a refuge. If we're lucky, our father and mother provide us with a degree of refuge, but we soon learn that even they are not entirely dependable. What about the night, after all, when they go away and cannot seem to be found? Who will be my refuge then?

The point is, there is always this sense that we need a protector, someone or someplace that is safe. Everyone knows this feeling. Whether or not they say, God is my refuge, they know that they do need a refuge, and they seek it in all sorts of places. I believe that what we call civilization is little more than the cumulative effort of men and women to provide for themselves this sense of invulnerability. We must quiet our fears somehow. When we were children, and afraid, we wished we could be fearless like the grownups we knew. Now that we're all grown up, we wonder why it's not the way we imagined. Why we still sometimes get scared, or why we hurt others and are hurt by them.

There's truth in the notion that we lost something valuable when we passed from childhood. I think it was the understanding, the knowledge, that we were weak, and in need of help. Blessed is the man who knows where his strength comes from. Blessed is the man who puts not his trust in chariots, or in money, or in intelligence, or in busyness, or in the praise of other men, or in words, or in schemes, or in politics, or in deeds, or even in religion. Blessed is the man whose strength is in the Lord.

Psalm 46

God is our secure shelter;
he is truly our helper in times of trouble.
For this reason we do not fear when the earth shakes,
and the mountains tumble into the depths of the sea,
when its waves crash and foam,
and the mountains shake before the surging sea. (Selah)
The irrigation canals flowing from the river bring joy to the city of God,
the special, holy dwelling place of the Sovereign One.
God lives within it, it cannot be upended.
God rescues it at the break of dawn.
Nations make a commotion, kingdoms are upended.
God gives a battle cry, the earth dissolves.
The Lord, the invincible Warrior, is on our side!
The God of Jacob is our protector! (Selah)
Come! Witness the exploits of the Lord,
who brings devastation to the earth!
He brings an end to wars throughout the earth;
he shatters the bow and breaks the spear;
he burns the shields.
He says, "Stop your striving and recognize that I am God!
I will be exalted over the nations! I will be exalted over the earth!"
The Lord, the invincible Warrior is on our side!
The God of Jacob is our protector! (Selah)

March 03, 2004

2 Metaphorical Sketches


This morning I was thinking about a fortress. And I was thinking that sometimes I feel like one. Sometimes I feel like a fortress of stone as I read my Bible, and that the words on the pages are like pebbles hurled ineffectually against mighty walls. Tiny pebbles, a great fortress.

I had built the fortress for my own protection. Stone by stone, over the years, I made its walls strong. Or so I thought. Here within my fortress no enemy could harm me. Here within my fortress, I was king. Here, I could shout my arrogant commands from the lofty battlements. Here I was safe. Here I was strong.

What does it mean to seek the refuge of the Lord? It means to admit that your own refuge, your fortress, is a smoke-and-mirrors illusion, and never did protect you from anything. In any case those walls, even had they been suitable to keep an enemy out, were built too late. The enemy is, and has always been, within.

To seek the refuge, the rock, the strong tower of the Lord, is to trade illusions for reality. To place our hope in eternal things. To see ourselves as we really are.


It's like this: I live in a desert. This desert is the world. That's okay, though, because I have my canteen, and it's kind of a special canteen because it never goes dry. It's the water of life, and I carry it with me wherever I go. And sometimes I come upon a thirsty man or woman who doesn't have any water. And then sometimes I think, If I offer him this water, he might think I'm forcing it on him. Better to be polite and wait till he asks. And other times I speak up and say, Keep looking, you'll find it someday. I'll pray for you. But every once in a while I say, Here. I have water that never runs out.

March 01, 2004

It's Monday, and my day off. I spent much of the afternoon working on my final paper for the New Testament survey class that I've been taking at church. Here's a brief excerpt:

In the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus gives sight to a man who had been blind from birth. The Pharisees, eager to put a stop to Jesus, even if they have to kill him (see John 5:18), quickly call the man in for interrogation. I think they wanted to make an example of him. They hoped to intimidate him, and through him also the rest of the Galilean's motley crew of followers. This, I think, is why they badgered the formerly-blind man so relentlessly. Not only because they wanted to gather evidence that Jesus had infringed some point of the Law, but because they thought that if they could hound this man into a declaration of ChristÂ’s Lordship, they would have grounds to condemn him, too. By this means they might put a stop to all such misguided confessions, which in their view was nothing more than blasphemy.

But the man, who only hours before had never in his life experienced the phenomenon of light, was more than a match for these self-appointed authorities. In the end the Pharisees dismiss him with a demeaning insult (“You were steeped in sin from birth!”), but immediately afterward it is Jesus who confronts the man. For very different reasons, He is also interested in the man’s confession. He asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“Who is he, sir?” asks the man. “Tell me, so that I may believe.”

Jesus says, “You have now seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

And now the man states unequivocally, “Lord, I believe.”

And this is the model. All of us enter life blind, like this man, and all of us struggle under that burden of darkness until Jesus gives us sight and we are able to say, even in the face of the world’s condemnation, “Lord, I believe.” The most important question any of us will ever face is, "Who do you say that this man Jesus is."

The answer is: "My Lord and my Savior."