Mr. Standfast

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

April 30, 2004


Not much time for blogging today. Tonight we have our first PDL group meeting. I'm looking forward to this. The group is really where the rubber meets the road (as they say). I'm finding the book pretty weak, but obviously there are many people who would disagree. I just pray that Laurie and I can help them along. I'll report in greater depth when the whole thing is over, but suffice it to say that this book is not going to be the focus of my morning devotions.

Also: I've discovered the haibun. For those of you not interested in poetry, least of all in Japanese poetic forms, this will perhaps be a big yawn. But I find it intriguing. I'm going to play around with it myself, I think. Maybe . . .

April 29, 2004

Got my glasses!

Yessiree, bifocals! Now I'm certifiably DETERIORATING! Honestly, this is going to take some getting used to. I mean, walking down stairs is really weird. And in conversation, when I shake my head in agreement--something I do quite routinely, it seems--the speaker goes in and out of focus. Of course, people say that's what I do . . . all the time. Go in and out of focus, that is. And they don't even wear bifocals!

April 28, 2004

Nate's at Merlefest!

Son Nate, the brave and true, is flying down to Merlefest this evening. If you like bluegrass, you'll wish you were there too. He came by the house last night and played us a sampling from his latest CD buys: Sean Watkins' 26 Miles, and an amazing bluegrass/classical fusion set from Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Mark O'Connor called Appalachian Journey. We also watched a bit of Chris Thile's (of Nickel Creek fame) instructional video for mandolin players, Essential Techniques for Mandolin. Amazing! Breath-taking! All that. And to think he was only, what, eighteen at the time! In case you don't think there's a "Christian" connection here, well, check out his Dad's website. He's a prof at Murray State. Son Nate once walked past the band bus after a concert and saw young Chris chatting with fans. Somebody asked him about sex while "on tour." (I can't even imagine how the question was phrased). The musician answered, "Well, actually, I'm keeping myself pure for my future wife." Pretty cool, huh?

April 27, 2004

Some Purpose Blogs

I've said I don't intend to dwell at length on 40 Days of Purpose, but I do want to feature some bloggers who are blogging their way through the 40 days. You'll find them on my sidebar--just scroll a little. If you're interested, you'll get a good sense of what the book is all about and the kind of thought-process that it encourages.

Knowledge as Foretaste

Every year Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, puts on something called A Festival of Faith and Writing. Books and Culture reports from the festival here. I especially wanted to draw your attention to the final paragraph.

On Saturday afternoon, I was talking with a friend who had come to the festival for the first time. It was good, he said, very good; and yet, he wondered, what finally was the point of it? What was the mission statement? I told him I thought the mission statement (if there has to be one: in heaven, you can be sure, there will be no mission statements) was contained in the name of the event: it's a feast of faith and writing. On these feast days we celebrate together, as if around a table (anticipating the great banquet that will mark the restoration of all things), and then we return, enriched, to our "ordinary" lives.

Yes, in Heaven there will be no mission statements. I like that. Just now, in this life, we see as in a darkened mirror, but in Heaven we will know better, and fuller, and more vividly, things we cannot yet even imagine. So much so that we won't need mission statements, or conferences, or even 40 Days of Purpose, in order to figure out what to do. We'll just know.

Of course we'll not possess all knowledge, mind you. We will not be infinite beings, with infinite minds. We'll not be little Gods. But in our finitude we will be, even as Paul prayed for the Colossians, filled with knowledge. Until then, I suppose we stumble our way toward paltry scraps of knowing. Truth now is a foretaste of the truth-feast that is yet to come for those who are in Christ. But we shouldn't spurn the gaining of knowledge simply because our knowing will always be imperfect. Knowledge as foretaste of Heaven--knowledge of the true, the good, knowledge of God and of Godliness--is a gift from God. He makes it available to us, His children, even despite our sinfulness. Is He not a truly generous Father?

April 26, 2004

Haiku Heads-up!

What do you know. Another Christian blogger (and a brilliant one) who occasionally posts original haiku! Gotta love it!

Notes on C. F. D. Moule's The Meaning of Hope (5)

Previous Posts in this Series: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4.

And so we arrive at the fifth and final chapter of Moule's brief but powerful book. The previous two chapters have dealt with the past and present aspects of our hope, and so naturally this last chapter deals with the future aspect. This chapter is called, "The Wider Hope."

Moule begins by pointing out that even the dominant pagan culture of Bible times often cherished a wishful vision paradisial vision of the future. He cites Virgil's 4th Eclogue as a prime example. The question Moule poises here at the outset is this: Does this hope of ours have "breadth and length"? Or is it only for a special few, a "chronic minority"? Does it provide a "wider hope" for humanity corporately, or only for "the little church, riding the deluge in an ark while the cosmos is drowned in disaster"?

These questions stir the suspicion in me that Moule, here in his last chapter, is opening the door to some sort of theology of universal salvation, but let's read on. Moule says he recognizes that freedom of choice is a reality, and that freedom can only have meaning if it includes the freedom to reject the love of God. He admits this "theoretically," but he has trouble with the real implications here. "Would it not mean that God's love was defeated?"

In answer to this question, Moule quotes another writer, named George Adam Smith. This quotation is from Smith's commentary, The Book of the Twelve Prophets. Here is the last part of that rather lengthy quote:

"Men say they cannot believe in hell, because they cannot conceive how God may sentence men to misery for the breaking of laws which they were born without power to keep. And one would agree with the inference, if God had done any such thing. But for them which are under the law and the sentence of death, Christ died once and for all that He might redeem them. Yet this does not make a hell less believable. When we see how almighty was that Love of God in Christ Jesus, lifting mankind and sending them forward with a freedom and a power of growth which nothing else in history has won for them; when we prove again how weak that Love is, so that it is possible for characters which have felt it to refuse its enduring influence for the sake of some base and transient passion; nay when I myself know this power and this weakness of Christ's Love, so that one day being loyal I am raised beyond the reach of fear and doubt, beyond the desire of sin and the habit of evil, and the next day finds me capable of putting it aside for the sake of some enjoyment or ambition--then I know the peril and the terror of this love, that it may be to a man either Heaven or Hell."

These are majestic words. This is why we are to work out our salvation in "fear and trembling," for as Moule says, "The more loving Love is seen to be, the deeper is the horror of rejecting it, even for an instant." And so we have here a depiction of God's love as both strong and weak, as both gentle and tenacious. Moule in this section approaches the idea of universalism without actually endorsing it. The call that God makes upon us is urgent, and requires a response. It "makes no promise to the procrastinating sinner." But, says Moule, nevertheless we must recognize that God's love is a tenaciously pursuing and overcoming kind of love. Hosea's love for his wayward wife was not more loyal than God's. Moule sees this two-sidedness of God's love as a paradox that must be kept in mind.

Remember that Moule is approaching the issue of the "wider hope," the breadth of God's hope. In what way can it be said that the hope offered by God is applicable even to the unsaved. Quoting James 1:18, he speaks of the church as the first fruits of God's creation. He then goes on to Romans 8:19f, which speaks of the entire universe yearning, straining, in eager anticipation of "the revealing of the sons of God." Why? "Because creation itself is going to be released from its servitude to decay into the freedom which belongs to the glorious destiny of the sons of God." (8:20-21)

Now, Christ is the first fruits of this. And the church itself, in this present age, is also in its way the first fruits of a greater harvest. Moule writes: "In short, the very realization of hope within the Body of Christ only finds its meaning as a foretaste of something greater still. Hope ceasing to be hope unless it becomes itself an outward turned and missionary calling, driving us out to be mediators and ambassadors. It would be meaningless if it were intended only for those already saved."

Hope of this kind is, then, active and practical. It is not simply that we long for the harvest. We work for it, as God's ambassadors. We are "bringing it in." Our calling is not one in which we escape from the tumult of the world to ease and rest: it is a call to action. This is the nature of Sonship and what is meant by "the cost of discipleship."

We are now to the last pages of The Meaning of Hope. Moule writes:

We [the church] are called to be the growing-point of a new human society, by being united in the obedience of sons. One perfectly obedient life we claim has actually been lived--the life of the absolute Son of god, Jesus Christ. We have already recognized that the supremely victorious quality of that life and death and resurrection constitutes the anchor of our hope. It is clear from our present line of study that this is not merely a historical anchorage in the past, but, more organically viewed, a representative principle of obedience at the very heart of things--a cell of life and health at the center of a sick organism: 'As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.' And it is this vital growing-point, and its growing Body, the church, animated by the Holy Spirit, which gives ground for hope and a final redemption of all things. . . .

For Christian hope is emphatically more than a doubtful wishing--more even than expectation of good: it is trust in God and in his family; it is securely anchored in the triumph of Christ's resurrection; it is exhibited in the community in which the Holy Spirit lives and acts. But it is not confined within the circle of believers: it is, by its very nature, inclusive. The Christian hope cannot be itself without being evangelistic, and it cannot be itself without concerning itself with the whole of life.

"Therefore, my beloved brethren" (and here is the imperative which springs from, our hope's indicative) "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (1Cor 15:58)


This concludes my series on this book. The fifth chapter, despite many fine passages, was in some ways the weak spot of an otherwise very interesting and helpful book. I am going to continue to think about these issues, with the intention of in the end writing a summary of Biblical hope "in my own words." Keep your fingers crossed!

Odds & Ends

Rainy Monday. Rain feeding the four transplanted pines that Tim and his friend Chris put in our yard on Earth Day. And I sit here blogging, and listening to Into the Worship Circle, which I still haven't grown tired of. This week's big event in my humdrum life: I get my first pair of reading glasses! Yippee! The doc couldn't believe I was 47 and having my eyes checked for the first time in over 30 years!

I'm going to get to the last chapter of Moule's book today, but first I want to mention a few things more about The Purpose-Driven Life. I don't intend to blog intensively about this program. I'm only two days in, and will withhold evaluation till the end. Yesterday pastor Mario gave the first sermon in the series. I will say that I think so far that the fundamental message of the book is a sound and solid one. It is a good thing to think about our God-ordained purpose. On the other hand, like some others, I have an innate reaction against parade-following and slick marketing, so, yes, I am not totally enthused about everything to do with this book. But I also trust my church's leadership, so I'm happy to participate in the project. Oh, but I do think that the paraphrases used by Warren are just fundamentally inadequate. They serve the book's purposes well enough, but they often badly miss the point of the original passage. It's not so much that they express unbiblical ideas, only that they seem to drain the depth and complexity, whole realms of meaning, out of the verse. So I'm taking Tim Challies' advice and keeping my Bible handy as I read. Thanks, Tim.

April 24, 2004

40 Days of PDL

This morning our church gathered for the "kick-off" of its Purpose Driven
program. I'm very excited to be finally getting started with this. I've read some highly-critical things (as noted here) and while some of it is fair, some has seemed to me to be of the hypercritical sort so common in the church. You know what I mean: He didn't say the words exactly as they must be said, he left out that which must never be left out, etc.

I'll just say that I thought Rick Warren's opening message this morning (simulcast live from Saddleback Church) was outstanding. There may have been two statements along the way that I thought somewhat off-base, but these did not detract from his essential points, which were in my opinion entirely sound. The "40 days" begin tomorrow. I'll keep you posted.

April 23, 2004

Notes on The Meaning of Hope (4)

Previous Posts in this Series: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.

Chapter 4 of The Meaning of Hope is called "Hope within the Christian Fellowship: The Present Tense." When I first picked up this book, this was the chapter I couldn't wait to read. The reason is, the present is really where the rubber meets the road when it comes to encouragement. When I talk to someone who is going through a hard time, I can talk about what has been accomplished for that person in the past, and I can talk about what is awaiting him or her in the future, but what the hurting one really wants to know is, What about now? What about this moment? Because, truth to tell, they need some of that future bliss right here and now.

Somehow I know that most of the comfort we can possibly give is wrapped up in the words, "Trust the Lord," and yet these very words, when spoken to a truly hurting soul, often simply fall to the ground like pebbles tossed against a mighty wall. So my question from the start of this investigation has been, what is the meaning of hope for a man or a woman's present distress?

And so, with that introduction, let's have a look at what Mr. Moule has to say about these matters.

You'll remember, if you've been tracking with me on this, that in the last chapter Moule unpackaged the idea that our hope is firmly anchored in the mighty works of Jesus Christ at the Cross. This is the "past tense" aspect of our hope in Him.

Now for the present tense. Simply stated, the present tense of our hope is the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, there is no distinctively Christian understanding of the word hope. Moule says, "The presence of the Holy Spirit is the link between the mighty work of God in the past, in which our hope finds its anchorage, and the future realization of it: it is the present guarantee of a great destiny yet to be entered into."

Take a look at Romans 8, especially verses 26 and 27. This is a passage for people in trouble. This is a passage with the wisdom to know that we seldom really understand the kind of trouble we're in, or what we should ask for relief. We have an enemy, and he is cleverer by far than us. But there is one in us that cries out to God on our behalf: the Spirit.

Do you see what a mighty hope this is? Hope is, after all, for the troubled and hurting, the heavy-burdened. But through it all we know "there is a future." Moule writes, "There is plenty of distress, plenty of agonizing, a keen realization of how groping and feeble the Christian life is . . . but with it all there is the vivid conviction of a divine power already at work in such a way that Christians cannot but be confidant that the Gospel of the past is a present reality, so that the issue for the future also lies in the strong hands of God."

Here's what Paul says at Romans 15:4-- "May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may continually grow in your hope by the power of the Spirit."

Do you see? God wants us to have hope. And not just any fond wish, but the hope that does not disappoint, that is firmly anchored in the past, and certain to be fulfilled in a glorious future, but poured out now in our hearts as a foretaste and guarantee.

I used to think that everything runs down, dwindles, diminishes. Experience had taught me this, and all of nature seemed to confirm it. If you were hopeful today, tomorrow you would only discover how truly fleeting hope is. With Frost I believed that the only real question for life was "what to make of a diminished thing."

But the life in Christ is not at all like that. That life is about growth. Every day brings us a step closer to a wonderful destination, and so hope grows in us, spreading its light like the dawn. Moule: "God is the source of hope; the Spirit is its sustaining power; and hence it is the kind of hope that does not dwindle but gather force."

Is this mere escapism? I don't think so. This story, for instance, about Brother Yun, a Chinese Christian, is really a confirmation of the miraculous sustaining power of God-derived hope.

Moule has much more to say on the subject of hope in the present, but I want to leave you with two final quotation from chapter 4. These are just too good to merely summarize.

The first speaks of Holy Communion as an action that really represents the very focus of hope in the body of Christ.

"For there, taking the common, material things of daily life--food and drink--and dedicating with them our entire life and circumstances to God, we receive back from Him both the power and the commission, not to stand apart luxuriating in the joys of being safe together within the charmed circle of conventionally 'religious' experience, but to go out and get hurt and weary and frayed and rubbed by the surge and tumble of daily life, in the sure hope that through us Christ's healing, transforming power is being brought to bear upon the world He loves. 'The hope of our calling' is the confidence that in being summoned to costly and exacting service we are to find Christ with us in it."

And the second quotation is about the uses of hope:

Our faith "is not a faint religion of 'if only this and if only that'; not merely of aspiration for the future; not even only of exhortation; it is absolute declaration and statement: 'this and this has God done; this and this, by the grace of God, are we.' But the very certainty and security of these great indicative statements . . . are such as to drive us out with an imperative: 'this is what, in Christ, you have been made: now therefore become what you are.' "

And that "becoming" is the life in Christ.

April 21, 2004

I Break for Poetry!


Show me again your snowy egret, Lord,
plumed in the color of an angel's cloak,
high-striding in the little brook
beside the supermarket parking lot,
hunting turtles fresh from winter mud--
peering calmly, keenly, into the stream,
stepping slowly, gently, without a splash--
peering, stepping, peering, teaching
two hungry sea gulls how it's done.


That one's for you, John!

April 20, 2004


Here's something I just had pass on to you. It's the first paragraph of an essay (here) by the incomparable Joseph Epstein.

I was recently asked what it takes to become a writer. Three things, I answered: first, one must cultivate incompetence at almost every other form of profitable work. This must be accompanied, second, by a haughty contempt for all the forms of work that one has established one cannot do. To these two must be joined, third, the nuttiness to believe that other people can be made to care about your opinions and views and be charmed by the way you state them. Incompetence, contempt, lunacy—once you have these in place, you are set to go.

A few days back I posted a question to Jollyblogger, who's been writing quite a bit about Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life. Well, JB has posted a very thoughtful response. I've just now read it, and will probably re-read it (there are not too many bloggers I would say that about). I will simply summarize the post by saying that JB holds that repentance is a fundamental and essential part of Christian growth. Therefore, to the extent that repentance is a missing ingredient in the PDL formula, that formula is seriously inadequate and misleading.

All this is especially interesting to me because I have volunteered to be a "home host" for a PDL group, starting in two weeks. My church is very "stoked" about all this. I should also say that if the Father has been showing me anything lately, it is the need for an attitude of humility and holy fear as I try to walk out my salvation from day to day, so all that JB says resonates deeply with me.

I am going to have more to say on this as I examine the PDL material more thoroughly. In the mean time, I thank Jollyblogger for taking my question seriously and responding with such deep concern.

April 19, 2004

Notes on Moule's The Meaning of Hope (3)

Previous Posts in this Series: Part 1; Part 2.


I'm continuing on to chapter 3 of C. F. D. Moule's The Meaning of Hope. I know this process of note-taking is perhaps a little dry and impersonal, but I'm encouraged by Ganns in his response to yesterday's post. I think Moule's book is profoundly encouraging and helpful, and I am simply trying to read it with care, and then share its insights here. I guess I'm hoping if it floats my boat, it might float yours also! And anyway my ultimate hope is to assimilate some of what I learn from Moule into my own work-in-progress.

That having been said, we move on to chapter 3. You may recall that in chapter 1 Moule talked about the difference between mere optimism and true Biblical hope. In chapter 2 he continued in this same vein, showing that Biblical hope springs from trust in God. This point is important, because as we seek to offer hope to others, or to grasp onto it for ourselves, we need to know where hope begins. It begins in trust (or faith) in God. And trust begins when we experience the forgiveness of God that is found in Jesus Christ. This is why hope is reborn in us when we recall what God has already done in our lives, and why David, for instance, does just this, time and again, when he finds himself in a dire situation.

All that having been said, let's get back to Moule. The final 3 chapters of this little book look at the past, present and future aspects of hope. Chapter 3 is called, "The Anchor and the Helmet: The Past Tense."

He begins with Hebrews 6:17-20, which is a passage of such richness that it seems to explode from the page. "By two unchangeable things," His word and His oath, God has revealed His unchangeable purpose. How encouraging this is! We can take hold of it, like a drowning man taking hold of a floating spar, only this hope is far more reliable than a piece of driftwood.

No, the author of Hebrews says it's more like an anchor, "sure and steadfast." Though a storm be blowing all around the ship, the anchor will hold. And furthermore, by means of this anchor, which you may recall is the unchangeable character of the purpose of God, we are connected not simply to the seabed, as with a literal anchor, but to the "inner place" [ESV], the "inner sanctuary" [NIV], the area "within the veil" [KJV]. In other words, the very presence of God, where in days of old only the chosen few could enter.

Moule writes that this anchor of hope "somehow connects us with the world invisible beyond the barriers of sense which hang like the Temple curtain to obscure the sanctuary: it connects us with all the verities beyond our mortal sight, where Christ has Himself entered, guaranteeing, as our forerunner, that we may follow Him there."

This is awesome stuff! Moule goes on to ask this fundamental question: "But why is hope like that? What does it mean when we call our hope an anchor to the soul?"

Well, first of all, this hope has been demonstrated, affirmed, by experience. This is the "past tense" of hope. The Good News is not only the story of what God will do in the future, but what He has already done. It is by this means, by the means of looking back at the history of God with and among His people, that we grow more certain of the perfect consistency of His character.

Take, for example, the exodus from Egypt. From that point on God had become, for His people, not only the God who will save, but the God who saved--"Your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." (Deut. 5:6)

Moule writes: "Yahweh had shown himself to be a God with a consistent character--a God with a moral purpose, bent on training his people to share his character; and it was from this conviction about the covenanting God, as a God with a character, a purpose, and a consistency, that the great prophets of Israel set out to interpret contemporary affairs and to predict the future."

Do you see the importance of this? If God is consistent, then the God who once saved will continue to save, and one day our salvation will be complete and perfect. Even if the circumstances of the moment seem to belie that, faith takes hold of this anchor, which attaches us to the very character of God. "In other words, it was the revealed character of God, as consistently moral and unswervingly upright, that provided the anchorage for the prophet's hopes--and not any mere deduction from the apparent direction of the stream of events."

What's more, we of the church age can look back to an exodus greater even than that which Moses led. That is, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. "This was the turning point in the story of hope." Christ has been raised from the dead!

What does this mean with respect to hope? "The claim is that God has so acted in raising Jesus from the dead that we have a clear guarantee in the past--in the facts of history--for our hope of the future."

Here Moule makes an interesting point. He says that when Christ walked among us in the flesh, the forces of evil were called forth "with unique intensity." The Evil One brought to bear the full force of his hatred, but Christ burst the prison of death that Satan had designed for Him and for us. This was Christ's decisive triumph, and now "there is no conceivable secret weapon left to the Prince of Darkness to use."

I want to shout those words from the rooftops. No conceivable weapon! Christ has completely and utterly disarmed the powers of darkness! Do you get it?

It's easy to forget all this when we look at the horrors of this world, and they are plentiful enough. It's easy to lose hope, let's admit it. Yet that firm assurance of God's consistent character, based on what Jesus Christ achieved, remains our rock-solid foundation of hope.

Now here's the chapter 3 money-quote:

"Of course, the enemy can invent new forms of crime and diabolically new shapes of torture and cruelty; indeed, it was regularly part of the expectations of Biblical writers that before the final manifestation of God's sovereignty the manifestation of evil also would reach its climax. In terms of actual show, there may be worse to follow; but I cannot believe that anything is essentially more wicked than when a mixture of jealousy and fear puts to death the perfect man (1 Cor. 2:8); that is, in essence, the sin against the light. At the crucifixion the forces of evil--in Christ's own disciples and in his enemies--conspired to do that; and it did not extinguish him. So we cannot escape the conclusion that the kingdom of Satan has come, and is defeated."

Woh! This is awesome stuff. If we have Christ in us, we have sure and certain hope, no matter what. The Devil has done his worst and failed. "No weapon formed against us shall prosper."

But that's not all. We're getting very close to the essence of hope here. We're talking about the weapons of the Devil, etc., and this brings us to a striking fact. That is, "affliction," "endurance," and "trials" are closely associated with the Biblical concept of hope.

See, for a prime example, Romans 5:1-5. Here we see a hope that is firmly anchored in the past (Christ's death and resurrection), affording us a reality of new birth in the present (our own death and resurrection through Baptism), and a firm assurance of future grace--the realization of God's entire purpose for all creation. And all of this is only strengthened by distress, maltreatment, trouble.

Moule: "Distress engenders patient endurance, and patient endurance yields the tough resilience of a steady character; and that in itself becomes a part of this overarching hope: so entirely realistic is the Christian Gospel! It can afford to be--it must be--because it is a hope wrenched by the love of God from the kingdom of evil."

Get it? If Christ is in you, your attitude toward the things you must endure will change. You will go from utter despair to certain hope, made more certain by the tribulations through which you must walk. The Valley of Achor shall be your door of hope (Hosea 2:15). The Kingdom of evil has met its match!

I'm sorry for the length of this post, and I expect that most of my readers will not have made it this far, or will have taken one or two siestas along the way, but there is just a little more to go, and it's very important . . .

God's defeat of Satan at the cross was an act of love. But love cannot compel a response. Do you get it? The response to love must be free and uncompelled, or it is not love at all. Therefore, we are free to reject the love of God. In other words, "although the Prince of Disobedience has been vanquished, sin is still with us. And consequently the hope which offers so firm an anchorage in the mighty acts of God in Jesus Christ only becomes hope in actual fact to us if we are penitent and trustful."

Do you get it? There is still disobedience. There is still sin. The Cross redeemed sinful humankind, but we must respond. The community of the Church is the community of those who have done just that, entrusting their lives to the hope that is in Jesus Christ. In who He is, and in what He has done.

"The very first step, therefore, is acceptance of the situation created by sin--by our sins and the sins of others. If we try to escape the burden and the suffering, and side-step the pain of salvation, we are pursuing a false hope. But if we recognize that hope lies in trusting God for the forgiveness both for ourselves and for others, which we could not win for ourselves but which he freely offers us in Christ, and entering thus with Christ into all the costly self-giving which this involves, then hope immediately shows its beacon-light. If we are to see that light, we must have faith and humility enough to look steadily at even the bitterest thing of all--the remorse that we feel, when true penitence is aroused in us, for all the injury which our selfishness has caused to God and to others. We must accept the pain of it all, not sparing ourselves a moment of it: but to accept it with Christ is to have found hope."

"Hope does not mean escape--either from the spiritual pain of remorse or from the physical sufferings entailed by sin. It means an acceptance of all this pain, in the confidence that as Christ faced the absolute suffering of the burden of the sins of the world, so he came triumphant through them, to be our Savior and pioneer and to take us through them with him."

Do you get it? We are approaching great truths here. What Christ has done allows us to endure suffering because we know something that others don't know. 1) This current sufferning is only for a little while. It is not the whole picture. 2) God will turn it to something glorious.

Go to Romans 8:29f. "Those He called, he also justified. Those He justified, He also glorified." "If Christ is for us, who can be against us?"

Go to 1 Peter 1:3, where Peter speaks of "a living hope." And then in v. 13: "Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

And there it is. Our hope is founded in the past, preserves us in the present, and directs our attention to a future consummation that can only be called glorious.

Finally, Moule once again: "In 1 Thessalonians 5:8, St. Paul bids his friends put on the breastplate of faith and love, and, as a helmet, the hope of salvation. Faith, love, and the hope of salvation: there is the divine triad again. And it is with such a helmet that we can afford to lift up our heads in the battle of life, no matter how thick and fast the blows rain down upon us. Will you have it all gathered up in a few words? Will you accept the central guarantee in a Person? Here, in 1 Timothy 1:1, is the sum of the matter: 'Christ Jesus, Our Hope.' "

April 18, 2004

Notes on Moule's The Meaning of Hope (2)

See Part I here.


In the first chapter, Moule was careful to show the difference between secular optimism (which is essentially vacuous) with true Biblical hope, which is the believer's confidence in God Himself.

Now, in the second chapter, "Hope, Faith, and Love," Moule looks more closely at this confidence in God. He says that "a truly Biblical hope is bound up, not only with trust in God, but with the experience of forgiveness."

This is really his fundamental point here. Then he writes, in what I think is the "money-quote" of the chapter:

""Obedience in the acceptance of His verdict, penitence, and trust in His goodness and His readiness to enter with us into the wilderness into which our sin has turned us--these are absolutely basic to any hope worth calling hope."

So the hope dawns in us when we, having accepted God's verdict concerning our sinfulness, recognize that we are forgiven. Our hope cannot come, is not hope, if it does not begin here, at the harsh reality of our sinfulness, and then the gracious gift of His forgiveness. This is presaged in Hosea 2:15, where the valley of Achor, a place of bitter defeat, is promised as Israel's "door of hope."

And this is why Romans 8, which is Paul's great chapter of hope (Moule calls it a chapter of "glowing expectancy"), begins with forgiveness. "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus . . ."

Moule writes: "So penitence, obedience, the dutiful acceptance of God's ways is the very heart of hope."

From this understanding spring three "momentous thoughts."

1) "Biblical hope is entirely realistic: it reckons with the worst." God has made a way for even the worst, our own personal valley of Achor, to become our door of hope.

Christian hope starts with the fundamental understanding that the worst that could have happened has. As a result, even creation itself has been subject to frustration, and yet God will make a way through this wilderness. Moule: "Such hope is essentially a stable one, because it is grounded in nothing so fluctuating and uncertain as circumstances, still less in moods, which change, but in the undeviating reliability of God's character."

2) Biblical hope "is essentially moral." It is concerned with "obedience and disobedience, repentance and forgiveness--relationships, not things."

The Christian understands, or should, the basic problem is not simply that life is short, or that bad things happen, but that sin has alienated us from God. But, "once fellowship has been restored by the divine forgiveness, then hope lives. The essence of hope is not that we may, with luck, escape, but that although we are going to go through the agonies caused by sin--our own and others'--yet it will be with Christ who has himself been to the nethermost hell for us." Christ has made a way!

3) "It is closely allied with trust (or faith) and therefore with love." This is an important point. There is no hope without trust in God. Here Moule must be quoted at length:

"Hope is not a calculated security. On the contrary, the first requisite if we are to possess hope is that we should be dispossessed of security, and instead should daringly and at absolute risk cast ourselves trustfully into the deep which is God's character. To hug the shore is to cherish a disappointing hope; really to let myself go and to swim is to have discovered the buoyancy of hope."

Hope is a "flimsy and transient thing" when it is devoid of this kind of trust. Hebrews 11:1 says, "It is trust [in God] which forms the foundation to our hopes."

Looking at this wondrous sequence more closely, we see that the Father's forgiveness leads to our response of love; trust springs from this love, naturally. Trusting God, we are able to risk the deep water, rather than hugging the shore, and in the act of trusting hope is born.

Quoting Moule once more: "Thus we are confirmed in our conclusion: the qualities of an essentially religious hope, as contrasted with a shallow optimism or even a deeply rooted but inarticulate instinct, are realism--facing the worst; morality--the recognition that God's character is constant and undeviating; and trust in that same God, who is a God of forgiveness as surely as he is a God of righteousness."

April 17, 2004

Saturday Pot Pouri

Well, after all that serious scribbling yesterday . . . but you can't call it scribbling when it's done on a keyboard . . . how 'bout "plunking" . . . after all that serious plunking yesterday, I thought it would be nice to ligthen up a little. So today, a small grab-bag of goodies:

Lately I've been listening to Enter the Worship Circle. This is very refreshing stuff, not at all slick. Son Nate calls the singing "vulnerable," and that really is the right word. Fine, meditative worship music.

Have you seen Augustine Interviews God? I like it a lot. Whimsical, touching, at times profound. All this in an online comic strip. Cool! That's the first five "interviews," but number six, fresh from the pen of creator Natalie d'arbeloff, is at her blog. Scrounge around in there, too. It's an interesting place. Oh, I really like The Lesson.

Speaking of art (oh my!), I spent some time today looking at Escher online. Do you like Eshcer? I certainly think you should. If you do, have a close look at this.

harmless thoughts is a new addition to my bloglist. I like his ten tip for bloggers (here) very much.

Jollyblogger is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. He's very "teacherly," and I like that. Plus, he quoted me! Imagine that!

April 15, 2004

Notes on Moule's The Meaning of Hope (1)

The Meaning of Hope is a little book originally published in 1953, subtitled, A Biblical Exposition with Concordance. My edition was published in 1970 by Fortress Press. It author, C. F. D. Moule, was an English scholar of the middle 20th century, a contemporary of Lewis, Barclay, & J. B. Phillips, who specialized in ancient Greek and Hebrew. This book is only 72 pages in length, with the last dozen or so dedicated to the listing of all the Biblical occurrences of the word hope.

The five chapters are titled:

1) Assorted Hopes
2) Hope, Faith, and Love
3) The Anchor and the Helmet: The Past Tense
4) Hope Within the Christian Fellowship: The Present Tense
5) The Wider Hope: The Future Tense

In chapter 1, "Assorted Hopes," Moule dedicates himself to explaining the meaning of the word in both Testaments. In so doing he is first careful to show what it does not mean.

Biblical hope, Christian hope, is not "expectation strongly tinged with doubt." That's the way we often used the word today. "I hope" is something we say when we are anything but certain. It's is a kind of desperate wishing, even as we expect the worst. We look at today's cloudy sky and say, "I hope it doesn't rain tomorrow." But the Biblical word is much stronger, much more full of assurance than that.

A more positive meaning of hope in modern usage is "the expectation of future good." This is the optimistic and anticipatory sense of the word. Moule writes, "The object of hope is still in the future, but deemed to be attainable." But even this sense is not characteristic of Bible usage (although certainly not non-existent: see Romans 8:24-25, Titus 3:7).

So if Biblical hope is neither "expectation tinged with doubt," nor "expectation of future good," what is it? To answer that question, Moule looks to the object of hope; that is, to the thing hoped for. When the Bible uses the word hope, it is not talking about just any hope, but the hope of salvation. Eternal life. Eternal fellowship with and worship of God. It is the object of hope which fundamentally separates Christian hope from all others.

Moule spends some time investigating this idea. He seems to want to show the importance of differentiating merely hopeful thinking from the firm assurance based on the clear revelation of God. As an example, he cites ancient Israel during the time of Jeremiah. The people were confidant that their nation would stand forever against all enemies. After all, hadn't Isaiah said, "Behold, I lay a sure foundation in Zion." (28:16) Surely the Temple itself was that foundation, and would forever remain inviolable, even as it had in the days of the Assyrian invasion, when the enemy had reached the very gates of Jerusalem before turning back. Now, this is certainly "hopeful" thinking, but it is not an example of true Biblical hope. It was, instead, false hope, leading to a bogus optimism, a misplaced sense of security against which the prophet Jeremiah was forced to contend (see Jer. 28). Moule says, "These false prophets were not primarily interested in God and His will, but in securing a comfortable expectation of prosperity on the material level."

You can see how an example like that provided in Jeremiah 28 really accentuates the difference between mere "positive attitude" or wishful thinking, which can be self-serving and ultimately misleading, and a truly God-focused hope. What makes hope truly hopeful then, is its object: that in which one's hope is placed.

Moule provides another interesting example to elucidate this point further. In Matthew 16:21-23, "the Apostle Peter himself goes down a similar false trail of material expectation." Peter is not able to accept the necessity of Christ's death, and speaks words of apparent hopefulness in response. "Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!"

What Peter was not yet able to understand was that his true hope and ours is in just the very thing he wanted most to avoid: Christ's death. His words presaged complete despair, not hope, and Jesus had to sharply rebuke Peter, for he was going seriously astray here. Moule writes: "In many ways such as this, God is continually weaning us from our false hopes, in order to lead us instead to the One Hope, which is--Himself."

But it's interesting that, many years later, writing his first epistle, Peter should cite Isaiah's prophecy: "Behold, I lay a sure foundation in Zion . . . and the one who trusts in [or, hopes in] him will never be put to shame." Peter had learned, you see, the meaning of the Cross, and in so doing he had learned that real hope must be centered on the source of all hope, Jesus Christ.

To summarize, Moule has laid the groundwork for his discussion of Biblical hope by making three fundamental points about the word as it is used in Scripture.

"First, that the Biblical writers, generally speaking, kept their words which are rendered by the English 'hope' for something better than doubtful and misgiving wishes."

"Second, that the Bible shows that hope in the sense of confident expectation of future well-being proved to be ill-founded whenever it was divorced from the perfect and upright character and will of God and applied instead to merely self-regarding matters of well-being, escape from distress, and so forth--even when these were dressed up in respectable, religious phrases."

"And thus, thirdly, in a word, that expectation only becomes justified and sound when it is reposed in God Himself--God who, for the Christian, is perfectly revealed in Christ . . . The only hope worthy to be entertained is in terms not alone of material and spiritual salvation or progress, however idealistically conceived, but of these as viewed in relation to the Person of God himself who is revealed in Christ, and as worked out in the Body of Christ, the church."

April 14, 2004

Still thinking about hope. It's just something I want to work out for myself, and express in a unified and consistent way. Biblical hope. Christian hope.

I mean, the nature of Biblical encouragement is the offer of hope. Not just any hope, of course, and not simply hopeful sounding words (Cheer up, Big Fella!), but the only legitimate, believable, and life-saving hope. Jesus Christ.

Now, there's a little book on this subject, long out of print, called The Meaning of Hope, by C. F. D. Moule. This is perhaps the only book of its kind, a careful and reasoned exposition of the Biblical meaning of hope. What I think I'm going to do in the next few days here at Mr. Standfast is summarize this book, chapter by chapter. Keep in mind that I, like the great English historian Paul Johnson, write to learn. And there's just a remote chance that some of you might find this process of writing and learning reasonably interesting. So I'm going to use this blog to record my notes on Moule's fine book, The Meaning of Hope. Coming soon, chapter 1!

April 13, 2004

A drizzly day here in northern New England, as you can see by the Portland Harborcam. I'm just getting my ship righted after a week or two of floundering. I don't know what this was all about, but I think the word for it is ennui. It latches onto me every now and again, especially if I'm embarking on a new project or something. A kind of oh-what's-the-use feeling sets in. The trick, I think, to overcoming this sort of thing is to take some small step toward your goal, then another. There's nothing like a sense of progress to lick the doldrums.

I continue to ponder the next chapter of my book (it still feels funny, and a little presumptuous, to say that), which is an overview of Biblical hope. This is the "project" mentioned above. Meanwhile, I want to take this opportunity to make note of a few new additions to the sidebar. Not only some new Bloggers (The Happy Husband, Jollyblogger, among others) but some new 'zines also (Commentary, Common-Place, First Things), as well as, under the "Odds & Ends" heading, Verse Daily, which is not a Bible verse but a poem per day.

And here's something neat. Artcyclopedia, which bills itself as a "Fine Art Search Engine," has a wonderful page of classic artistic representations of the Christ's Passion (here), as well as an interesting article on Mel Gibson's visual inspiration (Carravaggio). Great stuff.

Finally, how about a J. I. Packer quotation. I've begun re-reading Packer's great book, Knowing God. This book is so very quotable, I choose the following lines from the third chapter almost at random:

Knowing god is a matter of grace. It is a relationship in which the initiative throughout is with God--as it must be, since God is completely above us and we have so completely forfeited all claim on His favor by our sins. We do not make friends with God; God makes friends with us, bringing us to know Him by making His love known to us. Paul expresses this thought of the priority of grace in our knowledge of God when he writes to the Galatians, "now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God . . ." (Gal. 4:9). What comes to the surface in this qualifying clause is the apostle's sense that grace came first, and remains fundamental, in his readers' salvation. Their knowing God was the consequence of God's taking knowledge of them. They know Him by faith because He first singled them out by grace." p.36

April 10, 2004

Proverbs 12:23

"The prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly."

I've been wondering about this proverb. Why would someone conceal knowledge, after all? Knowledge is a good thing, and we should all desire more of it, right? The Proverbs themselves speak much of this. These nuggets of wisdom, the book's introduction tells us, will give "prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young." (1:4) Fools despise knowledge, but the righteous value it and are always willing to be corrected by it. "For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding." (2:6) I could go on and on: taken together the Proverbs are a hymn of praise to true knowledge, and the lack of same is associated with immorality and degradation. Ignorance, my friends, is not bliss.

Which brings me back to my question, why should a prudent man conceal knowledge? I suppose this proverb could be referring specifically to a certain kind of knowledge. In other words, Don't be a talebearer. (see 11:13) It could also refer to the very human tendency to be puffed up by knowledge. In such cases we are talking about knowledge without love, as Paul makes abundantly clear.

So let's look at what the great Matthew Henry had to say about all this:

He that is wise does not affect to proclaim his wisdom, and it is his honour that he does not. He communicates his knowledge when it may turn to the edification of others, but he conceals it when the showing of it would only tend to his own commendation. Knowing men, if they be prudent men, will carefully avoid every thing that savours of ostentation, and not take all occasions to show their learning and reading, but only to use it for good purposes, and then let their own works praise them.

I think we're getting close here. This Proverb is obviously not for blanket application, or the fundamental human activity of teaching and learning would grind to a sudden stop. But, as in all things, we must look to the state of our hearts, the root of our motivation. But I would add a point that Henry misses. Not only should the motive of self-promotion or "ostentation" be guarded against, but also the likelihood of ill-timed correction to do more relational harm than intellectual good. It is possible to be forever teaching (that is, imparting knowledge), but never building up. It is also possible not only to be "puffed up" by knowledge, but to use knowledge as a kind of distancing mechanism, keeping others at arm's length.

Knowledge, then, can be misused, abused, and misconstrued. There is a saying, I think of the Buddhists, that goes something like this: "Let no words pass the portal of your lips until they have first passed three essential tests: they must be loving, they must be kind, and they must be true." This is a worthwhile discipline, I think. The perpetual corrector understands perhaps the importance of truth, but often misses the requirements of love and kindness.

I think, then, that there must be a right motivation, and there must be a right time, for the "revealing" of knowledge. It's not that the prudent man always and in every situation conceals it, like a magician concealing the true nature of his tricks, but that he exercises discernment as to the manner, and also the time, in which he "reveals" what he knows. As Solomon said elsewhere, "There is a time to be silent, and a time to speak." (Ecclesiastes 3:7)

April 09, 2004

Last night the small group celebrated Rick's birthday. The Big 5-oh, as they say. The group is kind of winding down, with only one meeting left before we morph into our PDL groups. This is going to be rather interesting, as the Lovely L and I will be hosting a group in our home for the first time.

The is Good Friday, and for the first time in a few years we'll be attending an evening Good Friday service. Our church doesn't do this sort of thing, I'm afraid, but now and then I do miss the traditional liturgy, especially at Easter. Anyway, I'm looking forward to the service tonight at a local Presby church. Son Nate, the brave and strong, will be plucking his mandolin there. Cool, huh?

Then tomorrow we'll be seeing some friends in concert. Dan Merrill, Johannah Mackin, and Tom Cornwell. All this means mmmmm, good music!

April 08, 2004

A Confession, A Prayer

I had a real Romans 7 kind of day recently. Aaargh! I used to think that Paul couldn't possibly be talking about himself there, at least not about himself as a Christian. Now I know better. Now I know that the life of a Christian is like that, yes, much of the time. Thank God that there is now no condemnation despite our sin, but oh, how I wish I might never have another Romans 7 day again.


Proverbs 12:18: "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."

Father, I confess that I have been reckless in speech. Often I am only serving my flesh, speaking out of anger or frustration or pride, and in that moment I am reckless, heedless, and I don't care that words wound, pierce hearts, hurt souls. I have been a reckless husband, a reckless father, a reckless son. I have been a reckless man.

Lord, I know that You forgive me of these things. I know that I start now from a place of "no condemnation." From this point on, Father, I would that my words be healing, not wounding. Be the Lord of my speech, I pray. Let Your Holy Spirit inhabit my very words, so that by them others might know You; yes, so that my very words might be a foretaste of Your Kingdom. Just as Jesus proclaimed that Kingdom as He healed, let my words heal, and thereby let them be a sign that your Kingdom is among us even now. I pray all this in the mighty name of Jesus, and I thank You, Father, for the Cross. Amen.

April 06, 2004

Lots of chores lately, keeping me away from the computer. Probably a good thing. Our church co-sponsored a conference this past weekend, focusing on Mercy and Compassion. I didn't go for some reason (well, I just felt like chilling out, okay?), but it seems to have been a very powerful weekend for many. The guest speakers were Vineyard pastor David Ruis (who also preached on Sunday morning) and author Don Williams. These conferences always have a tendency to energize a congregation. People on Sunday were telling me how incredible it was, and how the Holy Spirit really moved in power, etc. Why does the Holy Spirit like conferences so much? I don't think I'm going to skip these things anymore.

April 03, 2004

The good news is, son Tim is coming home from Montreal. The Lovely L has worked hard at getting his room in order. After a month he plans to move down the road a piece to Bean-town (that is, for those of you from far away places, Boston, USA). Tim is an artist and one of the few truly cool people I know. Meanwhile, we remain here in relatively unexciting Portland, Maine.

Co-worker Max showed me an Easter greeting card he'd received from his girlfriend, who is Japanese. There are four Japanese characters on this card, which Max had to struggle to translate. The words essentially mean, "Happy Easter," I suppose, but Max's literal translation was quite beautiful: "Honorable restoration-to-life day!" Beautiful, no?

Notes on Biblical Hope (2)

Well, I haven't had much opportunity to write this week. So be it. If God has been teaching me anything at all lately it's that I need to have a teachable attitude, and I suppose that is at least in part with reference to this quest I have set out upon to write a book about encouragement.

Now, this may seem somewhat counter-intuitive. To write a book is, in some sense, to claim the authority of a teacher or master. And yet I will readily admit that I want to write about this subject precisely because I need to learn and understand, rather than because I need to teach. God is saying, Be teachable. Accept instruction. Allow yourself to be molded by this experience. Do not claim the rank of teacher, but of disciple. Learn from me.

So that is going to be my attitude. My project just now is focusing on the subject of hope. I am really just in the "receiving phase" of the process, and want to simply process my thoughts by jotting them down quickly. If anyone else finds them interesting, that's a bonus.

Essentially, I want to think about hope's benefit in the present. I guess that's one way to put it anyway. In other words, I know that my hope, which is the expectation of a promised inheritance in heaven, has everything to do with my future, but I want to understand what it has to do with my here-and-now. The sweet by-and-by is just not enough for me. I know people who are enduring some real trauma and heartache, and if the best I can tell them is, someday all your trouble will be o'er, well, it really doesn't help much, does it?

But David calls God an ever present help. Not only that--I mean, not only is that true about God--but we must believe it's true. That's what hope is. Believing that God is who he says he is, and will do what he say he will do.

So then, hope is an attitude. That is, it is not determined entirely by the circumstances of the moment. I keep thinking about Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. As long as she had hope, her nerve, her courage and resourcefulness, knew no bounds. On the other hand, when her hoped flagged, so did her will. The Tin Man, Lion, and Scarecrow were all transformed from paralysis and gloomy despair when Dorothy brought them reason to believe that better was possible.

So we, like they, must have a reason for hope, and that of course is the Cross of Christ. The Word of God provides, for us, the basis of the hope that is in us.

But again, all this sort of beats around the bush. I know that the Cross is our anchor of hope, and I know that Heaven represents, in a word, all the very sum and substance of that hope, but there remains this time between, which Paul calls this world. Well, one thing we will simply have to do is endure. Endurance, steadfastness, patience. Holding on through thick and thin. Not giving way or giving in or giving up, but believing and believing and believing, straight through the storm.

Yes, yes, but is that all? Just hanging on to our thin strands of hope for fear that letting go would be far worse? Or is Biblical hope about more than this? Is it about power? Is it, in fact, about victory now?

Well, we know that the promises of God have both a now and also a not yet character. Check out blogger Mark D. Roberts for a long and brilliant series of posts on this very subject. Or perhaps you'd like to read the pret' near definitive book by George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom.

The point is, the Kingdom of God in its now aspect is a manifest reality, not simply an attitude. How is it manifested? In power over sin, in spiritual gifts, at times in signs and wonders. For our purposes let us simply say, in a hope that does not disappoint, but provides for our needs, our "help," here and now.

As David said, "I would have lost heart unless I believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." Psalm 27:13