Mr. Standfast

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

June 30, 2004

Christian Carnival

I've been a part of the weekly Christian Carnival for, oh, about a month or two I guess, and have benefited from the exposure, but as yet have not done the Carnival the simple courtesy of linking to it each week when it comes around. Now, that's just how thoughtless I can be sometimes. Rebecca does it. Jollyblogger does it. Probably every blogger who's any blogger does it. So why not me?

So I suggest that you go see, and read, the Christian Carnival. It's a great way to discover new and interesting bloggers. Plus, it would make me feel a little less guilty about not linking up till now. [insert silly frowny face here]

Seen Yesterday

A man is walking along Congress Street (that's my town's main drag). He's a dapper old fellow, slim. I've seen him before, many times in fact, and always here, walking along Congress Street. He's wearing a brown sport coat and a string tie. Jeans. His hair is greasy, slicked-back, so he looks like somebody from another place and time--say, a small Arizona town in the 50s. The expression on his face yesterday was, as usual, intensely inward--the look of someone engaged in a heated internal monologue. He passes me--I'm waiting at the bus stop--and he gets just about to the entrance to Starbucks, then stops suddenly and seems to stare out across the intersection. Then he shakes his head slowly in arrogant disgust and says, loud and distinct, "NIG-ger heaven!" Then he turns around and walks back toward me, passing me again, still shaking his head and muttering, "NIG-ger heaven!"

How very sad.


"To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul's paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily-satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart." From The Pursuit of God, by A. W. Tozer

June 29, 2004

Just a Thought

Jesus says, Take the lowest seat at the table, and the master may call you forward to take the seat of honor. (Luke 14:10) Jesus, as I've said, erased the salt line. In fact, Jesus erased many lines.

There's a story in Messy Spirituality about a group of soldiers in WW II who wanted to bury their friend, who had been killed in action, in a nearby churchyard. But the sexton at the little church said, Sorry, but we can only bury those of our own faith here. So the soldiers buried their friend outside the fence. It was the best they could do.

The next day, they received their marching orders. They would be moving out within hours. The soldiers returned to the grave to pay their last respects. They went to the place outside the fence where they thought they had buried their friend, but couldn't find the grave. Confused, they went back to the elderly sexton.

He said, All night I couldn't sleep. I knew what God wanted me to do. So I got up, went out to the graveyard, and moved the fence!


By the way (which is long for BTW), this is my 200th post. I thought I should mention that. It's really pretty amazing. 200 posts, and over 70,000 words. And now my brother even knows I have a blog, and is calling me "my brother the blogger." Jeeesh! I guess that's me!

June 28, 2004

Way Cool Weekend

Have I ever told you that I sing in a local interdenominational choir? It's called Choir for Higher. Well, on Saturday we went to the choir director's wedding. She and her new hubby have their own website (here). Anyway, that was just a beautiful celebration and lots of fun.

And yesterday the choir sang at a special worship celebration at a local African church. This is the second time we've sung there, and I want to tell you, it's always powerful and inspiring. These people really know how to make a joyful noise. I think that most of the members are from central and western Africa. Rwanda, The Congo. Burundi. The service started at 4:00pm and it was still going strong when we left at 8:30. I mean, the place was rocking.

Remember my hermit-crab mentality? Well, I think God pulled me out of it this weekend. Isn't He good? The service on Sunday morning was just very powerful. There was a lot of prayer, a lot of mininstry in the Spirit, a lot of awesome testimony. This is what the Vineyard church is supposed to be all about, but what we got away from during the vaunted 40 day thingie. The Lovely L. and I came away saying, "Ah, now that's more like it!"

June 26, 2004

City Life

One nice thing about living in a city: if you should get caught in a sudden downpour, you can always duck into a nearby art museum. That's what happened to me yesterday. I got caught. And I ducked.

Now, when I go to an art museum, I like to walk around quickly at first, just glancing at the pictures, until something positively leaps off the wall and grabs me, saying, "Stop and look, you fool!" This is one that did that to me yesterday:

It's by Robert Henri. Of course it's much more beautiful in the real. I found it here, by the way. And that's also where I found this quotation:

"Kids: they dance before they learn there is anything that isn't music." William Stafford

Cue the Comments

I've switched to the Haloscan commenting system. I was never happy with the Blogger version, which should have been seamless for the user, but wasn't. And when Jollyblogger urged me to get Trackback, well, that was that. The unfortunate thing is that all the previous comments are now lost (or bound and gagged in a Blogger basement somewhere). That's too bad, because I enjoy comments a great deal. I mean --hint, hint--I really enjoy them. My heart leaps when Jim, Paul, Susan, Peter ("Good on ya, Mate"), Rebecca, David, Elizabeth or Ruby (among others) drop a word in my Internetized ear. And I get even more excited when it's someone from whom I've never heard before. A Newby. A Fresh voice. So by all means, take a moment to say hello, wouldya?

June 25, 2004

Won't You Be My Salty Blog

[This post is the 4th in a series. Parts 1 thru 3 are: Salt, More Salt, Please, and If the Salt Should Lose Its Savor. Go ahead, pour it on!]

I've been blogging for three days about salt, and I'm not through yet! As Arlo Guthrie used to say, "I'm not proud . . . or tired!"

If you've been following along, you've noticed perhaps the recurrance of this phrase: "to share bread and salt together." It's symbolic of unity, of a kind of sharing that's goes far deeper than food, like the more common variant, "to break bread together."

I mentioned Anwar Sadat meeting Menachem Begin as the Israeli prime minister set foot on Egyptian soil, and offering him bread and salt. This was a vow of protection. In a relationship that had long been marked by extreme mistrust, Sadat was saying, "I will not, I cannot, betray you now. For we have shared bread and salt together."

There's another English phrase, not very common, but you may run across it from time to time, that uses salt in this same symbolic way. Have you ever heard it said that someone was "below (or above) the salt."

This is interesting. In medieval times, it was typical for commoners or servants to sit at the same table with the "high-born," but the two groups were differentiated according to where they sat. The salt-cellar was place at the middle of the table, and the guests of higher rank sat "above the salt," while those of lower sat "below the salt." In time these phrases became euphemisms for their associated social groups. Thus, to say someone was "below the salt" was to cast aspersions on his or her social status. It's the kind of phrase you might expect on the lips of someone from an episode of Jeeves and Wooster.

But what does all this have to do with Paul's injunction, "Let your words be seasoned with salt." Well, one way we might think about it is this: Paul is warning against Christian elitism. We've already seen how the salt imagery connects up with grace. The sharing of salt is an act of graciousness. That is to say, Jesus erased the salt-line!

Think of Christ's parable of the wedding banquet. Or think of Jesus saying, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

So, yes, let your words and all your interactions with others, even with those outside the faith, be marked by grace. Let there be no snobbery, no self-righteousness, no looking down at the miserable sinners, as if you were not one yourself, and as if you were not after all saved by grace alone. Those others, the addicted, the prostitutes, the homosexuals, they too will be saved, if they are to be saved, by grace alone. Even perhaps by God's grace working through you.

Now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)

"If the salt should lose its savor . . ."

Over the last couple of days I've been blogging about salt, and about some of the connotations of that word for people in the Middle-East, both in Biblical times and even today. And by the way, there are some pretty interesting websites about salt. One that's particularly interesting is from The Salt Institute. And Mark Kurlansky has written a book called, Salt: A World History. Here's the description from
Mark Kurlansky, the bestselling author of Cod and The Basque History of the World, here turns his attention to a common household item with a long and intriguing history: salt. The only rock we eat, salt has shaped civilization from the very beginning, and its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of humankind. A substance so valuable it served as currency, salt has influenced the establishment of trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars, secured empires, and inspired revolutions. Populated by colorful characters and filled with an unending series of fascinating details, Kurlansky's kaleidoscopic history is a supremely entertaining, multi-layered masterpiece.
I may have to get hold of that one: after I'm done reading the three or four I'm working on right now.

But I didn't want to leave this subject without looking once again at Paul's instruction to the Colossians:
Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. Col. 4:6
Now, it looks to me as if Paul is explaining, with the phrase "seasoned with salt," his use of the word grace. Or, as Matthew Henry comments: "Grace is the salt which seasons our discourse, makes it savoury, and keeps it from corrupting." And I think if we hark back to yesterday's post, where I explained that the sharing of salt was symbolic of a covenant of hospitality, then I think it becomes clear that our conduct and interaction toward "those on the outside," that is unbelievers, must live up to a very high standard. The offer of salt, the instruction to season all our interactions with others with the salt of hospitality, of graciousness, is a seriously high standard. It is the grace-filled standard of Jesus himself.

Now, we're usually okay with this, we Christians, until we run up against behavior that is clearly sinful. I know a man, a dear Christian brother, who cannot find it within himself to be gracious with homosexuals. This is not an uncommon problem among Christians. This fellow finds it necessary to "confront" the sinner with his or her sin. But I don't consider this sort of thing gracious, hospitable, or effective. These words are not, in my opinion, seasoned with the salt of kindness, which is a standard even many Pagan people hold high.

Now, I realize that this is a complex issue, and my intention is not to tackle the homosexuality problem in this post (or any other). All I really want to suggest is that we take this standard very seriously and check our own behavior against it. One way to do this is to compare our behavior with the standard that Jesus laid out in the beatitudes, which is where the Savior spells out what it means to be "the salt of the earth."

Why is all this so important? Jesus answers, "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other." (Mark 9:50) And Peter, for his part, adds: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect . . . ." (1 Peter 3:15)

Lord, let me be salt today. Let there be the savor of salt in all my conversation. Let graciousness, gentleness, and respect be the marks of my faith today, the outworking of what you have placed in me. Even from the Cross you offered peace. By your grace, and in your name, may I also be gracious. Amen.

June 24, 2004

Silver: A Palette-Praise Update

It took me forever to find silver. I let whole days go by without even thinking about it, which is not a very disciplined way to pursue a spiritual discipline. And then there were other days when I would think about it for a moment or two, look around for something silver, look skyward for a cloud with a silver lining, and then forget about the whole thing.

So then last night I ran into my friend Todd. Todd was going to the beach. Old Orchard Beach, as a matter of fact. He invited me--or did I invite myself?--to join him. It was a cool evening, and the beach was almost deserted. The sun was going down behind us, and the North Atlantic was shimmering. Todd's first question for me was, "So how's your walk?"

And so that's what we talked about. My walk. And it was good. It occurred to me that the chance meeting was not chance. Todd, you see, is the epitome of the encourager. Twice as we sat and talked and gazed at the sea he broke into sweet spontaneous prayer for me. And it was just good. And did I tell you the sea was shimmering? I have never seen it so . . . so shiney! Shining like . . . like SILVER!

Thank you, my loving Father, creator of all colors!

(By the way, if none of this makes sense to you, then you probably need to read Palette-Praise: A New Spiritual Discipline.)

And now: on to bittersweet!

More Salt, Please

I think one problem we might have with fully-understanding salt from a Biblical perspective is that for us, salt is so extraordinarily commonplace. I mean, it's everywhere, it's in everything, and it's relatively cheap. It seems, therefore, an insignificant thing. It connotes flavor, and that's about it.

But for people in Biblical times the word salt prompted a set of associations that were quite precise. Salt brought certain things to their minds that it does not bring to ours.

Here's an example. Let's take Paul's words in Colossians, "Let your words always be seasoned with salt." Now, for us moderns, salt is all about flavor. We can try to get our minds around Paul's idea of salt-seasoned words by reasoning, "Ah, so Paul must be saying that our words shouldn't be bland. After all, how could we ever hope to make disciples, how could we evangelize, if our speech is dull and insipid, lacking flavor?"

All well and good. But still we're missing out on the full range of Biblical connotation here. In those days, according to Smith's Bible Dictionary, there was something called a "covenant of salt." Such a covenant betokened "an indissoluble alliance between friends." This phrase, covenant of salt, turns up in 2 Chronicles 13:5, which says, "Do you not know that the LORD God of Israel gave the rule over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt?"

Indissoluble. Get it? A bond of friendship that cannot be broken. These are some of the connotations, the aura of meaning, that surrounded the word salt for people in Palestine in Biblical times. And not only the Jews: for instance, the Bedouin (at least according to this website: "To the Bedouin the crime of bowqa or 'treachery' to a traveling companion - once you have 'eaten bread and salt' together as the saying goes - is an unspeakable disgrace."

Another modern example had historic implications. "When President Sadat of Egypt greeted Prime Minister Begin of Israel as he set foot on Egyptian soil, the two men stopped to take bread and salt together. They entered into a covenant of protection. Sadat was saying, by his actions, that Begin would be safe while visiting Egypt and that he was willing to guarantee that safety with his life." [This quote is from an online article entitled The Salt Covenant.]

So let us return to Colossians 4:6. "Let your words be always full of grace, seasoned with salt." Remember that in this passage Paul is speaking to church members about their relationships to those on the outside. Your words to them, he is saying, ought to carry with them the offer of friendship very much like God's to David. This is grace, and it is abounding grace. It has been poured out for us, so that we may abound in it toward others. Offering peace, this is what the covenant of salt is about, and that is what our words should savor of when we speak to outsiders. So that "thanksgiving may overflow, to the glory of God." (2 Cor. 4:15b)

June 23, 2004


This morning I'm thinking about salt. That's because I've been reading in Leviticus, and there I read that the burnt offerings are always to be seasoned with salt. And I wondered why. The NIV Study Bible footnote suggests that salt was costly, hard to come by, in that era. So to season the offering with salt is not only to add flavor, but to add a very costly flavor. Perhaps to demonstrate, thereby, the seriousness of the offer.

Let's say you have invited a passing traveler into your home to spend the night. Who knows, it may be an angel of light. It may be God himself, as happened to be the case with Abram. Do you take out the salt, which you'd perhaps been saving for a special day, a special meal, and do you offer the stranger a meal seasoned with this salt? Or do you say, I don't even know this man. I will probably never see him again. Why don't I save the salt for my own loved ones, my own people. Surely I have done enough by offering this man shelter and food. I'll save the salt for another day.

Jesus says that our very lives and our witness ought to have this kind of savor--the savor of an offering that has been seasoned with salt. Paul says, Let your words be always seasoned with salt. To offer salt is to treat with honor. It is a gesture of respect. Even of love. To offer the salt is to not hold back.

Once I read a book about some men who escaped from a Russian gulag. This was in the 1950s, I believe. They traveled southward on foot and made it all the way across the Tibetan plains, across the Himalayan mountains and down into India. Quite a trek. In Tibet they spent a night with a poor peasant woman. She lived in a hut and owned almost nothing, but she offered what she had to these ragged strangers. She made them tea and served them rice. Then she went to her cupboard and pulled out a jar. In the jar was something wrapped in a cloth. She laid this on the table proudly and unwrapped it for them. It was a solid chunk of salt. For her this was extremely valuable. It was really like gold. Once she ran out, there was no telling if she'd ever be able to get more, since she would have to wait for a caravan of traders to pass through, and that only happened once in a great while. So here was an offering of high honor. This was "entertaining strangers" as God Himself directs.

I want to think about salt a little more. I want to think about the reasons we might have to withhold the salt. I want to think about words and deeds that have no savor. About what they are, and what causes our lives and witness to lose that savor of salt. And I want to think about how we get the savor back. More later.

June 22, 2004

What Weird & Inbred Dog Am I?

I often take those quiz thingies that other bloggers point to, but the result are seldom 1) rediculously funny enough, or 2) uncannily accurate enough for me to want to post the results. Not so this time. Still, I'll not tell you which of these two requirements has been met in this case. You'll just have to guess!

What weird and inbred dog are you?

English Bulldog

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
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June 21, 2004

Crazy Church: The Afterward

I've been blogging lately about my personal church-history. It's been helpful for me to do this, in that it's caused me to refocus on the essential things. Reader-comments have been especially rewarding in this regard.

What prompted all this was an attempt to deal with this business of being out-of-step with my church. I've been using that rather innocuous phrase, out-of-step, because I wanted to avoid over-stating the problem. It's not a breach, a conflict, a going-of-separate-ways. Nothing like that. It's simply not being in-step, and I've been wondering why it's bothered me so much.

And the reason is that from the time I first started coming here, I've been delighted. In my three-plus years at this church I've learned to expect good things from the leadership. I've been greatly enriched by every program that's come along, every retreat, seminar, or weekend conference. So I think this being out-of-step, as I call it, is simply an unpleasant reminder, however faint, of the much more serious unpleasantness of my previous church-experience.

But I should hasten to add that there is really no comparison. And in the past few days, especially after thinking about and writing about the old bad church days, I've come to realize that I've got nothing to worry about here. Maybe I've been brought back to the basics--I'll call it, trusting God.

Here's how I see it: I started my Christian walk with a vividly personal experience of the reality of God. Seeking to understand what I had experienced, I drifted from there into a very programmed and traditional church that overlay a thick and ornate liturgical wet-blanket on the personal and relational aspect of faith. The personal and experiential was deemed insignificant. All that mattered was the proper dispensing of the means of grace by a called and ordained minister of the Lord, in accordance with the Scriptures as interpreted by Martin Luther. Say no more.

Well, I suppose I could have thrown up my hands, after leaving that church, and decided to be my own pastor, my own congregation, dismiss churches as bastions of hypocrisy, and settled on a private exploration of Scripture, as one of my good friends seems to have done. In other words, I might have opted for the private as opposed to the corporate. In my fear of mishandled church-authority I might have dismissed all such authority and become a lone-Ranger Christian, as they say.

But I was never inclined in that direction. The Vineyard has been an answer to our prayers, because it has provided a corporate setting for the shared aspect of worship, while respecting and encouraging a rich personal devotional life. In other words, the two ends of the spectrum, the personal and the corporate, are kept in balance. Now, there are other things that drew me to the Vineyard, doctrinal issues, even style issues, but there is a sense here that the personal abiding in Christ, the devotional practices of the believer, strengthens and enhances the corporate aspects of worship and service, of body-life, while body-life in return nourishes and informs the personal. Does any of this make sense to you?

What has been worrying me of late is the programmed boosterism, the purpose-driven rah-rah stuff. The PDL program applies it own over-sold template for personal devotions to all individual believers and small-groups in the church, and in this way it reminds me of my old church, where the personal was submitted not so much to the Scriptures (which is proper) but to the liturgy, which was idolized as the true shape of the experience of God.

The moral of the story is: programs, I don't like 'em. I guess I'm just not a lock-step sort of guy. But you know what, I'm realizing its okay to be a little out-of-step. Not so terrible. The thing is to continue to pursue a personal devotional life that enriches each and every day, to continue to pursue relationships within the body of Christ, and to serve the church in whatever way that God leads. But it's not a crisis, just a learning experience. I'm out-of-step, but so what? I'm not out of the parade!

June 19, 2004

Mr. Standfast's Crazy (former) Church: Part II

You know what, I was going to go into all kinds of detail on my crazy-church experience, and I even began the post and spent a good deal of time on it, but I soon realized the whole process was kind of distasteful--like remembering dysentery or something. Also, I started losing sight of the whole purpose of the post to begin with: which was to explain why I don't like feeling out-of-step with my church.


I'm going to give you a nuts-and-bolts version of the story. Suffice it to say that the congregation I entered into was soon to undergo a factional battle of epic proportions. At least that's how it seemed at the time. Since then I've discovered that nearly every long-time Christian has a horror-story much the same as mine. Sad but true.

There was a pro-pastor faction, and an anti-pastor faction. I don't even remember the points of contention, but they were many, and it seemed to me mostly trivial. The pastor was a headstrong little fellow, and this was his first "call" after leaving seminary. He had all the finesse of a bull on steroids. He had no trouble depicting his opponents as enemies of the Church (yes, that capitalization was intentional). His sermons were often nothing more than thinly-veiled screeds against these "dissidents."

Of course, I didn't catch on to any of this at first. I took the appropriate catechism classes. I got baptized. As far as the pastor was concerned, I was the 6000-dollar man. That's because the church had spent that much on a big evangelism program, with ads in the paper, evening services, and I was the only newcomer to join the church during that entire period. I didn't know that the whole program had been pushed through (by the pastor) over strenuous objections. But as long as one soul was saved as a result--meaning me, of course--it was all worthwhile. So you see I was the pastor's justification for the expense--his ace-in-the-hole. Still, the opposition grumbled.

Well, I don't want to bore you with the details, but you need to know that through a convergence of unexpected circumstances I came to be president of the church council. That's right. The 6000-dollar man was suddenly the council prez. Nothing to it, they said. Just run the meetings. You know, Roberts Rules of Order, all that.

Telescoping events quite drastically here, the next thing I knew was that the dissident-faction went into open rebellion. Well, not exactly open. It seems they'd held a meeting. At least that's what the pastor said. Their intention was to discuss some sort of formal complaint-procedure with the goal of ousting him, or so the pastor told me. He seems to have had a stool-pidgeon "on the inside." Anyway, they had to be stopped.

The next three or four years were simply consumed in this battle. The "dissidents" never admitted to any such intention. Meanwhile, the pastor denied communion to any congregation-member who had attended the meeting. Now, this is a big-deal in the LCMS. "Where the body and blood of Christ is rightly distributed," that's practically what defines a church for these people. Its a "means of grace" after all. These folks would have to repent of their actions before the entire congregation, if they wanted to ever receive communion again. They remained among us, but they were outcasts. Few even spoke to them, especially in the pastor's presence. They came and went from Sunday services in stolid silence, even as they pursued a complaint procedure against the pastor.

Now, as I've said already, this leaves out lots and lots of details. For example, I forgot to mention that the pastor induced his fiercely-loyal secretary to file a sexual harassment complaint with the local police against one of the leading dissidents and council members. The police-order effectively banned the man from church property except on Sunday mornings. Meanwhile, the beleaguered pastor grows more and more combative, even as his allies gradually fall away. His secretary is calling me frequently to commiserate, to blow off steam, and to check on my own loyalty. Just to make things more complicated, you should know that she's a closet alcoholic, and is often three-sheets-to-the-wind during these conversations. In one conversation she admits to me in anguished tones that she's in love with the pastor.

Well, this is where the story gets even more ugly. One of the leaders of the dissident faction dies while under "the ban." Meanwhile, the pastor tries to coerce the council into filing a civil lawsuit against a high denominational official who seems to be siding with the dissidents. Here's where the dewy-eyed young Christian, me, begins to "fall away." Isn't there something in the Bible, I say, about not taking brothers to civil court? No, I will not support it. I'll resign first!

This is a serious blow. His hand-picked council president, his fair-haired boy, has turned on him. The pastor's sermons now are nothing more than declarations of his own martyrdom. One Easter he takes to the pulpit with a full size cross-beam strapped across his shoulder-blades, a real crown of thorns pressed into his brow. There's blood running down his face. He is truly inhabiting the role. I well remember him shouting, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" The implication was clear: his opponents were not simply opposing a mere man: they were re-crucifying Christ by coming against His duly-appointed under-shepherd.

I'm going to wrap this up now. It's all very distasteful to me, but I promised I'd tell it. In the end I did resign the council position. The pastor stopped speaking to me, along with his remaining cohort of loyalists--mostly women who seemed to hold him in awe. He also turned on the secretary, firing her. She seemed to be falling into despair. Once she told me on the phone that she wanted to kill herself.

I'm only skimming the surface here, but you get the picture. It's one big religious mess. I wonder why day-time television hasn't done a soap-opera about church-life. And this was my introduction to "organized Christianity!" I was ashamed to invite anyone to my church. Meanwhile, my children, who had once seemed so on fire for God, so faith-filled, stopped attending. The darkness of those days was worse even than before my fondly-recalled front-porch experience.

There is another chapter to this story, the happy-ending part. Happy for me, but not for everyone. After Laurie and I finally left the church, we got a call from the secretary. She had filed a complaint (within denominational channels) against the pastor, charging him with attempted rape. High mucky-mucks investigated. Her case was dismissed for lack of evidence, but since then a few more women have apparently come forward, or so I've heard.

A new chapter in my spiritual life began when I walked out of that church for the last time. For that story: stay tuned.

June 18, 2004

A Brief Visit

I won't have very much free time today, so I don't expect to get to the next crazy church installment. Reader-comments have been very heartening lately. Indeed, I'm truly getting lots of spiritual nourishment by way of the "blogosphere."

So, anyway, given that I won't have much time to blog, I thought I'd just take a moment drop a little Matthew Henry quote in your lap:
Many can easily prognosticate the dismal consequences of other people’s sins, that see not what will be the end of their own.
Something well-worth contemplating, no?

June 17, 2004

Mr. Standfast's Crazy (former) Church: The Back-Story

I've only been a member of two churches in my life. The first was the LCMS kind, very liturgical and even slightly high-churchy. It was in my neighborhood, and it offered evening services. It kind of embarrassed me to go there at first, because I'd spent my life scoffing at church-goers, but something had happened to get me turned around. I suppose I should tell you about it, since it provides some explanation for how I wound up in this crazy church for eight years. So:

Funny how God apprehends us when we least expect it. Kind of runs us down. No, that's not right, we're running, but he's not. We run and run and run, and he remains right there beside us, not even winded. Anyway, I had this experience. I used to call it my conversion experience, but now I think it was only the start of that (I did my conversion on the installment plan). Anyway, this God-thing happened to me on my front porch one day, and for me it was utterly convincing, powerful, unquestionable.

Actually, I had been getting ready to curse God. I was steeped in frustration, unhappiness, the usual stuff-my kids weren't speaking to me, my wife had about given up on me, I was angry all the time and didn't know why. So I guess I'd come to the end of my rope. Although I'd scoffed at Christians for years, and considered myself an agnostic--God, if he existed at all, which I doubted, was certainly unknowable--I opened my mouth to curse this unknowable and probably non-existent God for all I was worth. And as I did so, as my tongue began to form the words, the unknowable God decided to make Himself known. And all at once I found myself in a very unusual position--on my knees. How did I get there? Next, the curses that my tongue and vocal chords were just then forming had turned to the words, "I'm sorry, God." And at the same time I had the sensation that light was flowing down from heaven, throwing through the very walls of my front porch--not through the windows, mind you--through the walls as if they weren't there, although I could still see them.

Well. when this experience was over--I think it only lasted a few seconds--I understood a few new things about God. First, simply that He was. Next, that He was concerned for His name and didn't like it to be smeared in the mud, as I was about to do. Also, that He loved me nevertheless, and was concerned about me. All that kind of implies another thing that I immediately understood about God--I didn't use these words at the time, but in retrospect I would say that I understood that He was holy, that He was all-knowing (after all, He knew that I was about to curse Him), and that He was a kind of person. That is, He had a personality. He was knowable! And He had deigned that day to show me something of His character.

Well, some time went by after this. I kept the whole episode to myself, but walked on air for a week or two. The special feeling faded, though, and things got back to normal. My kids still weren't talking to me. Frustration settled back over my life. But now I knew there was something I could do. Secretly, embarrassed to admit it to even my wife, I began to investigate churches. I took opportunities to attend weeknight services, not letting on to my wife. I started reading the Bible a little. At this point I really didn't know what Jesus had to do with anything, but I felt sure He had somethingto do with everything. What I had had was an experience, but my faith was very small, very uninformed, almost non-existent. The only difference for me at this point was that instead of fleeing God I was seeking Him. Or at least I'd stopped running. So in much ignorance I stumbled on, trying to get back to that moment on the front porch, and that feeling as if I myself was of central concern to a God who was pure light and pure love.

Well, so that's the back-story. Eventually I would suggest to the Lovely L. that maybe we should go to church together. She said, Funny, I've been thinking the same thing. And I grab a phone book, pick a nearby church that offers evening services--and voila! We are church-people!

Providence: A Story (and a Question)

Do you remember something like this? Let's say you're walking along the street, just sort of getting some air, and let's say it's a windy day. I mean, it's a really windy day. Chicago-like. And there's a sheet of newsprint blowing toward you. It's coming along, sweeping and swooping and tumbling. And it swoops right up to you, and it sweeps around your legs like some sort of newsprint-dervish, and you seem to be at the center of some rare weather-occurrence, a little vortex all your own, for the wind is whirling the paper around and around you, as if you were standing in the eye of a little tornado, and the whirling paper sweeps around and around your ankles, your knees, your waist, and it's like you're in some sort of supernatural grip as it whirls around your head now, around and around and around, and all you can see is a blur of newsprint, and then suddenly the paper is plastered to your face. With difficulty you peal it away, and then before you know it the wind has literally torn it from your grasp, so that all that's left in your hand is one small scrap of paper as the rest of the page sweeps on past you along the avenue.

My God, you wonder. What on earth just happened? And you look down at the scrap of paper in your hand, and your eyes go wide, for there it is! The news! The news meant only for you. The news you'd dreamed about as a child, but finally given up on, and even learned to doubt, to scoff at, to feel superior than, and there it is in black and white, plain as day, just in time to change the course of your whole day, your whole life.

So: was it like that for you, too? Or was it like something else entirely? Do you remember?

June 16, 2004

Desert Places

At the beginning of this month I started to read through the Bible again. One chapter of the NT, 4 or 5 of the OT each morning. More or less. So far I'm ripping right along. I'd forgotten what great story-telling can be found in Genesis and Exodus. This morning I read about the crossing of the Red Sea. Just at that point when the Israelites felt hemmed in, the sea before and the Egyptian chariots behind, Moses said:
Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.
Now, I've been blogging lately about this little "crisis" of mine. Susan said it might be a desert season. And that puts me in mind of a poem by Robert Frost.

You cannot scare me with your desert places
between stars, or on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
to scare myself with my own desert places.

Well, and Frost had it right of course. The exterior desert is nothing compared to the inner desert. Messy Christian blogged about this a while back. And yet I don't want to ennoble this experience of mine with so grand a metaphor as that. I've been wondering why I'm feeling so dry, and I do think the PDL program has something to do with it. As I've said, it left me feeling out-of-step with my church. Jim (of Brainwaves, I think) said that he hasn't felt in-step with his church in years. This was an enlightening comment for me. To explain why, I'm going to have to tell you about my past church experiences. This could take a while, though, so sit tight. In fact, I don't have time to even begin this morning. Coming with the next post, the first installment of Bob's Crazy Church.

June 15, 2004

Commenting on the Comments, and More

Wow, my last post prompted some interesting responses. After rereading the post itself, I am not surprised that several of the responders felt a little confused. The post is, well, let's just say it's a little enigmatic. I guess what I'm trying to do is get to the bottom of this hermit-crab feeling, and I'm writing out of my own confusion. So the post is, yes, confusing.

"Writing out of my own confusion"--perhaps those words require explanation. I think most of us try to write (or blog) from a position of authority. Nothing pompous about it, just writing about what we know. And in the process we even come to know it a little better. This is normal procedure. Jollyblogger, Rebecca Writes,, and are all excellent examples from my own blogroll who do this kind of thing regularly.

Another way to write, a way that's common in private diaries and such, is to write out of our lack of understanding, and to seek understanding through the process of writing. One blogger who does this kind of thing very well is Messy Christian. Another is What a beautiful day!

For some reason, women tend to be more likely to write in this second mode (sorry, Rebecca, I'm only generalizing here). But that's what I was trying to do yesterday. Work it out. Write through the issue. Thus, writing out of my own confusion. Or weakness. Or whatever!

As for the issue itself--the hermit-crab mentality--I do think it's kind of a "battlefield of the mind" thing with me. It's an old familiar response of mine. I think what I should do is write about that some more, but with more clarity. Thanks very much for all the very helpful comments, and they do inform my thought-process on this matter. More later.

June 14, 2004

Hermit-crab Christianity?

Lately I've been feeling like a hermit crab which, having poked its head out of its shell for a while, looked about, chatted with a few passers-by, but now has suddenly decided to draw back into its private shell again. I mean, I suspended my participation in my church's leadership institute, and now I've stopped leading a small group. This has not been a concerted thing, not a planned thing, but along with my dissatisfaction with the PDL program, it's caused me to feel kind of out-of-step with my church. I really don't want to be a loner, but that's kind of how I feel right now.

What I know is that throughout this time I need to be seeking God. Yesterday in my prayers I felt as if God asked me this question: How much grace are you willing to offer? Have you measured it out--this much for so-and-so, and even more for good measure--I tell you it's not enough. More will be required. I am calling on you, son, to offer more.

Now, I have no idea what this applies to, or exactly what it means. But I'd been reading in Genesis that morning, and I'd been dwelling on 15:6, "Abram believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness."

Well, somehow I think these two issues, the grace that is required of God's children as they walk through this world, and the faith to trust God even when His promise seems absurd, are both bound up together. And I think that in this time of withdrawing that I am going through right now, the devil has been very quietly digging under the walls of my faith, seeking by slow degrees to undermine them. And I also believe he has a timetable, the devil does, and he needs to complete his work by a particular day and hour in order to have the maximum effect. That time, that day and hour is coming, it is the time of faith-testing. In that time, so he hopes, my faith will crumble.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not afraid of him. But I do think that these times of faith-testing do come in our lives, and we come through them stronger in our faith or perhaps weaker for a time. And as I thought about these things, I just knew that if such a time should come, it will be the grace I offer another that will get me through. More grace, God seemed to be saying, than I have yet imagined. And this is how my faith would stand. This is how it would be "walked out." When that time comes, I wrote in my journal, you will learn the true length and breadth and height and depth of love. Is this what it means to stand in grace? Not only the forgiveness of God for us, but the forgiveness we offer, in the power of the Spirit, freely to another?

And you know, as I said, I don't know what any of this has to do with me. But I'm looking for it now. And I'm wondering about it. I'm staying watchful. I would value your responses here.

I continue to meander verbally around the theme of . . .

. . . spiritual poverty. The phrase itself has a certain harshness, a jarring quality. We're not used to speaking of "poverty" in any but a very negative light. Who wants to be poor, after all? Even in the material sense, though I may not consider myself a materialist, I sure am fond of having a roof over my head.

And what about the "spiritual sense"? This theme seems to overflow the Bible's pages. It is the theme of losing oneself and gaining Christ. It is the theme of weakness instead of strength. It is the theme of humility, of sorrow for sin, of understanding our fallenness, and the depths of our sinfulness and need.

In my last post on this subject, I said I wanted to think about how this kind of poverty is lived out. I'm really blogging from a place of ignorance right now, so bear with me. It is in my nature to want to explain things, to be clear and comprehensive, "teacherly" as friend Lois once said, but on this matter that all-knowing stance just won't do. And I have a feeling that this is a lesson the Father wants to be teaching me from now on, the application of this principle. I know that at least two of my readers, Susan and Ruby are definitely, like me, meandering around this same theme in their blogs, each in their own way.

Well, so here's the simple place I wanted to get to. We are, all of us who walk by faith, working out our own salvation. Jesus accomplished it and it is a done deal, yes, but the Bible also says that we "are being saved." It is proper to think of our walk of faith as a working out, a process. And this process is worked out under the sovereign hand of God. There is truly cause for humility, indeed, for fear and trembling, as we work it out, because as we do so we are very likely to mess up. Spiritual pride is the great enemy here, the temptation that has tripped up many a so-called "leader" in the body of Christ.

So how do we work it out? Here's an example from the sports world. I watched the Olympic trials in women's platform diving on TV yesterday. The winner of this event, Laura Wilkinson, was expected by everyone to win, since she was the gold-medalist at the last Olympics, but she was given a real push by a 17-year old high-schooler named Brittany Viola who was quite new to the sport and seemed to have nerves of steel. Anyway, Wilkinson was a little off on her first three dives, allowing Viola to creep very close in the points. Then, when the pressure was on, the champion stepped up. She really nailed her final two dives. Afterward, when asked how she was able to do it, she said, "I was trying to control the first three dives. But on the fourth dive I just decided to walk by faith and not by sight and dive for the glory of God."

Get it? She was trying to control the outcome on the first three. She was trying to be the boss of her circumstances. On the final two, she "gave it to God." She dove for His glory, not for points or championships. It was a different mindset altogether, and you could see it in her eyes as she stood on the platform. Though her ticket to the Olympics was on the line, she was totally relaxed, even had a little smile.

To end, here's something from Dallas Willard's Hearing God. This is about humility. Willard says there are three ingredients to "a fail-safe recipe for humility." He suggest that we should refrain from

1. pretending we are what we are not,
2. presuming a favorable position for ourselves in any respect, and
3. pushing or trying to override the will of others in our context."

Good advice, methinks.

June 11, 2004

Blogger Word of the Day (1)

(The first, perhaps, of a series)

I came across this word in Peter's blog: scerrick. I know for sure I've never heard that one in all my days. I looked it up in OneLook and found that it means "a very small amount." The Oxford English Dictionary says it's "the smallest bit." I suppose, therefore, that a skerrick makes even a smidgeon seem huge. BTW, the OED identifies the word as chiefly Australian, so it makes sense that Aussie Pete would use it. Thanks, Peter, for the good word!

June 10, 2004

Spiritual Poverty (Again)

I'm still thinking about spiritual poverty. I know I kind of drifted away from blogging about it this past week, but it's still on my mind. What is it? What does it look like as it is lived out from day to day? The first question is one of definition, and the second of application. I want to investigate these matters, and I really don't think I'm going to stray very far from these questions, not for a while.

I'm taking as my starting point Christ's words, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:3) One conclusion that might be drawn from these words is simply that spiritual poverty is closely associated with our salvation. I do want to delve into that point, but I still haven't answered the fundamental question of definition: What is spiritual poverty?

Looking up the word in's Bible Study Tools, I found the following definitions for the Greek word for poor (ptochos) used in Matt. 5:3.
1. reduced to beggary, begging, asking alms
2. destitute of wealth, influence, position, honour
I think words like totally dependent or helpless would also be appropriate. A sense of absolute helplessness where salvation is concerned. A knowing, like the Psalmist, that "our help comes from the Lord" and only from Him. This attitude is modeled throughout the Psalms, of course. It is modeled also in the many who came to Jesus for healing. It was modeled by John the Baptist when he said of Jesus, "He must grow greater, and I must grow less." It is modeled again and again by Paul, but most eloquently in his cry of Romans 7, when he says, "Who shall save me from this body of death?"

And it is modeled, in Matthew 18:3-4, by little children. This is where Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

I see this passage in a very close relation with Matthew 5:3. But it may be important to note, first of all, that the quality that Jesus extols here was not some sort of idealized childlikeness or innocence, but simple dependence. Children are dependent. And it is in their dependence and need that they were coming to Jesus. And Jesus, as he did so often, used what was at hand to teach a spiritual lesson. In these children Jesus saw a mirror-image of the spiritual condition that he wanted to encourage in us. Humility. Dependence. The recognition, simply put, that our help--our safety, our provision--is in Him, and that in coming to Him, like those children, we find life.

So the fundamental principle is, spiritual poverty is dependence on Jesus. A recognition that we cannot survive on our own resources. We are weak. Without Jesus, we are sheep without a shepherd, prey to wolves. We are orphaned children, prey to the world's evils. Spiritual poverty is knowing we need Jesus absolutely, in every situation.

Now, all this raises many questions, and the questions usually have to do with the "working out" of this attitude of spiritual poverty in "the real world." They are questions of application. How does it look? How is it lived? So what I want to do in the coming posts is attempt to answer that question, bearing in mind that I am the one asking. That is, I am the one needing answers. I am the one wondering how to "work out my salvation" from day to day? Come along with me, if you like. The trip will be better by far with companions along the way.

June 09, 2004

Palette-Praise Update

I think I ought to update you on my new spiritual discipline (although in truth it's about as disciplined as a walk in the park), which I am now calling "Palette-Praise" (as opposed to Praise-Palette). By the way, you can read all about it here. So far the plan is just to look for a single color until I see an example that just strikes me as the one. Apricot took a couple of days, and just as I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to find it, I happened to be walking by a small plot of flowers outside the library where I work. Right here, as a matter of fact:

and lo and behold the pansies there were blue and, yes, something very close to Crayola apricot. Discovering them gave me a rush of pleasure, made me feel like a kid. Thanks, Father.

Okay, so the next color was gold. Hmmm. There's always lots of gold around. Gold thingies on cars, on doors, in advertisements. But two particular examples stood out. First, the gold braid on the bill of the cap of one of the soldiers guarding the coffin of President Reagan. And then, a box of chocolate. Tim's friend Annie from Montreal, who has been staying with us for a few days, presented us with this for letting her sleep on our sofa-bed. It was a very sweet and unexpected gesture, and the wrapper was gold!

So for these two golds I do praise God. I praise him for the meaning behind the color in both instances. The one honoring one of the true heroes of our times, and the other representing a gracious expression of thanks. And I thank you, Father, for these things.

Now: on to orange!

Two Women

I've got two people on my mind this morning, one of whom some of my regular readers already know about. Let me tell you about them both.

The first, Anne, is lying in a hospital this morning. She went in yesterday because she seemed to be having a heart attack. Turns out she has blood clots in her lungs. She'll be in the hospital for two or three days as they try to dissolve these clots and keep her under observation. I don't think she knows the Lord. I do know that she's prone to resentment and negativity. There is a root of bitterness in her soul. I am going to visit her this morning. Pray that I can serve the kingdom for those few minutes I will be allowed to see her.

The other woman is Judy. Some of you have prayed for her in the past, and you deserve an update. Her "boyfriend" (let those quotation marks indicate a tone of extreme sarcasm) has given her to the end of the month to get out. Their fights seem to be turning violent at times. She needs, obviously, to get out of that situation, but she also needs Jesus. I'm thinking this morning of Psalm 119:32: "I will run the path of your commandments, for you have set my heart free." And it's just very clear to me that Judy's heart is in bondage. Her boyfriend, who is truly her enemy, has done her a favor by forcing her to move out. That is a step toward freedom in the physical realm, but she is not free, it seems clear to me, at the heart-level that the Psalmist speaks of. She is very near despair right now. She has been homeless in the past, and I think she's afraid that she won't be able to keep an apartment for long and will be out on the streets.

I ask you please to say a quick prayer for both of these women. Also, let me know if God brings any Scripture to mind that might be helpful for either of them.

June 08, 2004

Briefly Noted

In her latest post, Susan writes briefly about her experiences as a Christian in China. That kind of experience is very valuable to us in the West, where we routinely quote Scriptures about persecution, but really haven't the faintest idea what religious persecution is really like. It's not only Susan that's started me thinking about this, but a brief article from Christianity Today, called The Cruel Edge of the World. Of course it's only the "cruel edge" from our perspective (here in the West), but to the Christians in places like China and southeast Asia the cruel edge is the very center, where the battle of the Lord is raging hottest.

Missed the Transit

Well, I was hoping to go to a high place this morning, a place overlooking the eastern horizon, and watch the sunrise. This was the morning of the rarely seen transit of Venus, as that planet passes across the face of the sun. I even bought special eclipse-watching shades for everyone in my family, but unfortunately the morning was extremely foggy, with no sun visible. I knew it was a bad sign when, waking up at dawn, I heard the deep bass-notes of an oil tanker out in the fog. Oh well, they'll be another chance in eight years or so. After that, not again in our lifetime.

A couple of interesting posts that my readers might enjoy. First, Wayne at LifeStream compares settler theology to pioneer theology. I don't think this is necessarily the best way to look at theology (too condescending toward "settlers", in my opinion), but it's interesting. I mean, these supposedly all-inclusive oppositions (you know what I mean--"There are two kinds of people in the world, etc.") always tend to posit the choice with a clear preference for one or the other, ignoring the simple fact that all are fallen and equally prone to sin and pride. The dangers inherent in the attitude of the pioneer are not less than that of the settler, just different. Sin is really the great leveler. Nevertheless, this particular opposition is interesting and also humorous. Especially if you're a fan of old Westerns.

The other post I want to draw your attention to is from Porch Pondering. He suggests a way of studying the Bible that involves asking five questions of the text. He even provides a PDF of the questions, with space for notes. Very interesting, methinks.

June 07, 2004

Monday Morning Report, and a Creative Excursion

Yesterday was our church's annual picnic. This was combined with the celebration of the finish of the 40-day PDL thing, so there was definitely a mood of celebration (or, for my part, relief). At the picnic, which was held this year in the parking lot rather than at a downtown park (as in the past), we also saw 17 people be baptized. That's always very exciting.

I watched Big Fish over the weekend. What superb story-telling. This is one of the finest movies I've seen in a while, and it presents undoubtedly the best death-bed sequence ever filmed (IMHO). I'm a sucker for this kind of magical, fairy-tale storytelling anyway, and I'm also a sucker for stories that investigate the father-son relationship. I highly recommend this one.

In fact, it inspired me to write something concerning my own father. But before I get to that, I want to take a minute to speak of poetry. I read something once about a young college student, an English major, who showed a few of his poems to an English professor. Now, the student was a brilliant young man who would go on to become a well-known author and literary-critic, but I guess his poetry was, well, not very good, and there's nothing more difficult to read than bad poetry. The professor had a private conference with the student. He pulled open a drawer in his desk and showed the student its contents--a mess of paper, scraps thrown into the drawer every which way. He said, "I also like to write poems. I write them all the time. Then I throw them in this drawer and forget about them. I advise you to get yourself a drawer like this."

Well, and I actually think that's good advice. The trouble is, this blog is my desk drawer. I make no claims whatsoever for these little creative excursions of mine, but if someone else likes them, of course I'm pleased. If not, well, it's easy enough to move on to another blog. So this is the prose-poem I wrote after watching Big Fish. It's called, Secret Pocket.
I don't remember Indiana. Not that much. Only the railroad tracks that ran behind the house--that's where my brother fell and cut his hand--and how the trains came through in the night, and the walls trembled. I remember that. And I know from pictures that there was a cat, and a fuel-tank in the back yard, silver like a space ship. And I can still see my Dad standing in the doorway. It seems he's just back from a long voyage, from somewhere far away (although this is almost certainly a romanticizing elaboration of my own). And he says he's brought me something, and it's in his pocket. This is almost where the memory stops. I'm searching your pockets, Dad, one after the other. Not that one, you say. Nope, not that one either. Each pocket is cavernous, is a kind of world, and I must be thorough. I'm on tiptoe, and getting worried. Will I ever find the prize? And then you say, your face flashing brightly, "I know, it must be in the secret pocket!"

Many years later I would come back to Indiana. It was cold and stark. They played a tape-recorded Taps beside your grave, and three men fired rifles in the air. Three crisp pops, followed by an awesome silence. Then they folded the flag in a special way, and one of them brought it to me and saluted. Hesitating, I touched my forehead with the fingertips of my right hand . . . and the train passed, and the walls trembled, and my brother cried, and the cat leapt to the bicycle seat, and you laid down in the silver space ship and it flew away. And so I never found the secret pocket.

June 05, 2004

Praise-Palette: A New Spiritual Discipline?

I've got this idea for a kind of spiritual discipline in which you actively and intentionally look for the most common and everyday thing, the most overlooked thing, and you simply refuse to "overlook" it. You contemplate its beauty and its place in creation, and you praise God for it.

Well, thinking about this led me to think about colors, because colors are very overlooked (at least by me), and to think about praising God for colors! And then I started thinking about picking a single color each day, and looking for that color in the course of the day, and cataloguing the beautiful instances of that color that you come across, making a list, and at the end of the day praising God for that color. One color per day, right through the crayon-box!

What do you think? Have I lost my mind? Well, if I have, a blog is the perfect place to lose it, don't you think?

So I decided to do some research. The first box of Crayola crayons (back in 1903) contained these colors:

Black / Brown / Orange / Violet / Blue / Green / Red / Yellow

I could start with these. But then again, I could get really ambitious. I could expand my praise-palette to include all the colors from the 64-color box introduced by Crayola in 1949 (which is probably the set of colors I used as a boy):

Apricot / Gold / Orange / Silver / Bittersweet / Gray / Orange Red / Spring Green / Black / Green / Orange Yellow / Tan / Blue / Green Blue / Orchid / Thistle / Blue Green / Green Yellow / Periwinkle / Turquoise Blue / Blue Violet / Lemon Yellow / Pine Green / Violet (Purple) / Brick Red / Magenta / Prussian (or Midnight) Blue / Violet Blue / Brown / Mahogany / Red / Violet Red / Burnt Sienna / Maize / Red Orange / White / Carnation Pink / Maroon / Red Violet / Yellow / Cornflower / Melon / Salmon / Yellow Green / Peach (formerly Flesh) / Olive Green / Sea Green / Yellow Orange

Okay. I think I'll give it a try. I'll take the colors in exactly the above order. Tomorrow I hope to be praising God for apricot!

Things I Learned Today

(2nd in a very infrequent series)

The orange (you know: "a globose berry with a yellowish to reddish orange rind and a sweet edible pulp"--thank you, Merriam-Webster) used to be a "norange." How did the norange become orange? By a process called metathesis ("transposition of two phonemes in a word--as in the development of crud from curd"--M-W again). Like so:

a norange
morphed into
an orange

Voila! Thought you might like to know.


Oh, and by the way, since we're having fun with words, perhaps you'd also like to know the results of Merriam-Webster's poll, in which they asked people to name their ten favorite words. And the winners are:

1. defenestration
2. serendipity
3. onomatopoeia
4. discombobulate
5. plethora
6. callipygian
7. juxtapose
8. persnickety
9. kerfuffle
10. flibbertigibbet

Okay, but what about pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis?

Quoting Piper

I'm really enjoying Pierced by the Word, which is a 30-day devotional by John Piper. I like devotionals, but it seems I just can't stick with the same one for a whole year. When I realized that The P-D Life was not going work for me as a devotional, I cast about for an alternative, and found the Piper book. A couple of days back, I read Piper's entry for Day 24, called "The Strange Ways of Our Wonderful Builder." In this passage, Piper is meditating on the overall purpose of Christ to build his church. "I will build my church," he says, "and the gates of hell will not stand against it." Absolutely nothing can prevent Him from establishing His kingdom. His will WILL be done.

Now, of course it's sometimes difficult to accept this. We look around, and we just don't see it happening. And Piper asks, "So then, was this all-ruling Christ building His church on September 11?"

And Piper answers:
What if Christ saw the planes heading for the destruction of thousands and the upheaval of nations? What if, at the same time, He saw 200 million Hindu untouchables in India, the Dalits? What if He saw that His centuries-long work of dislodging them from Hindu bondage was about to come to consummation in our day and they were contemplating embracing Islam or possibly Christianity or Buddhism? And what if He foresaw that this Islam-related terror against civilians in New York would have a mass effect of tilting millions of Dalits away from Islam and toward Christ? What if He withheld His power from stopping the terrorists because (along with ten thousand other hope-filled effects) He had a view to the everlasting life of millions of untouchables in India? And if not thins, perhaps my grandchildren will tell a better story of sovereign grace, which only time reveals?

Interesting, no?

June 04, 2004

Artists Among Us: Ten Telltale Signs

1) They often have paint on their shoes.
2) They carry their work about with them in broad and cumbersome black envelopes, with which even the slightest breeze plays reckless havoc.
3) Consequently, they walk with a strange, lop-sided, against-the-wind gait, even when there is no wind.
4) And as they walk, they seem always to be wondering which way to turn at the next intersection,
5) or to be deciding that a certain thing that they've been thinking about lately doesn't really matter,
6) or that nothing matters.
7) They almost never see you, but if they see you,
8) they see you as an abstraction, either interesting or beautiful,
9) or neither of these.
10) They often have paint in their hair.

for Tim

June 03, 2004

Filthy Rags, Frayed Ropes, and the Otherness of Christ

Well, as I mentioned yesterday, God keeps pointing me in one direction and saying, "Here, look. This is the way. Walk in it."

I want to point out a few things quickly. First, Messy Christian posted on the subject of The Beauty of the Desert. A good read. Second, Ruby says she's broken too. Well, it's a good place. A good place, yes. Susan also has come to the end of herself. She writes, "I only walked half way of the path of faith, and I mixed faith with the good intention of human heart and natural strength. By doing that, I actually created a platform for the enemy and I actually shoveled God out of the whole thing." These are wise words, Susan.

We will continue to hang onto the frayed rope of ourselves for dear life . . . . until we come to trust God completely.

Yesterday I said I was broken. I wasn't trying to be dramatic or anything. I wasn't trying to create a mood of suspense. I'm not even sure how I came to this place. I just know that I have.

I think it's a word that's been misunderstood. It's not a eupemism for sin. It doesn't mean exactly the same thing, although of course these two realities, sinfulness and brokenness, are closely intertwined. It simply means broken. Incapable. Not able to function adequately. Not able. To be broken and know it, that is a good place.

I used to take pride in my prayer-life. I was very organized. I had three-by-five cards with a name on each one. Every day I would pray through my stack of cards. I would write down impressions. I would cry. And I was able to turn all this into a self-affirming thing. I would tell people about it, ostensibly to encourage them, but really to show them what a warrior I was, and how strong my faith was, and especially to win their admiration.

But I think God is washing this desire for the praise of men out of me. It's absence, though, seems a kind of emptiness, but a good emptiness. Like putting down a heavy burden. I pray to God that this is no temporary illusion.

Kenneth Boa writes, "The alabaster vial of the self-life must be broken (Mark 14:3) to release the perfume of the new self in Christ. If we wish to manifest the fragrance of Christ, we must allow God to bring us, in His time and way, to the painful place of brokenness on the cross of self-abandonment to Him." From Conformed to His Image (p. 193)

I quoted Austin-Sparks yesterday. I'm just beginning to discover this man's work. I sort of stumbled over it on the web, you know how that happens. Well, Austin-Sparks talks about a man on a journey coming finally to the end of land and facing the ocean. And this is like coming to the end of yourself. There is no getting over that ocean, there is no comprehending it. It is nothing less than the righteousness of Christ. And it is too vast. It is too mighty. It is too much what it is, while you are too much what you are, and you are struck dumb, you are helpless. The continent of self had been, well, so various, so full of resources, so habitable. And yet you knew it was not your home, and you had even learned that to live there would in the end mean only death, not life, and so you traveled on, and you traveled on, and now you stand at the edge of this ocean, and it is seemingly so forbidding, so other. What are you to do? Who shall save you from this body of death?

Do you understand, Ruby? You are at a good place. To be there, on that shore, with all your self-reliance behind you now, and all the good you'd hoped to do in tatters. Now you are broken. Your cry now is, I am not able! But the Lord, He is able!

John the Baptizer knew this. He said, "He [Jesus] must become greater, and I must become less." John 3:30

Austin-Sparks wrote, "That is the mark of a life governed by the Holy Spirit. Christ becomes greater and greater as we go on. If that is true, well, that is the way of life. If ever you and I should come to a place where we think we know, we have it all, we have attained, and from that point things become static, we may take it that the Holy Spirit has ceased operation and that life has become stultified."

I have been confused about this business called sanctification. I had thought that we come to the end of ourselves finally in our days of rebellion, and we repent and return, like the prodigal son, and from that point on we're just living in the blessing of the Father. I didn't know how often I would once again find myself seeking satisfaction among the scraps and fodder of the pigs.

I read something from A. B. Simpson. He said something like this: Too often we're seeking the blessing, but not the Blesser. Too often we're struggling in prayer for the anointing, rather than seeking the Anointed.

But Paul speaks of a different kind of life in Romans 1:17, where he speaks of "a righteousness that is from faith first to last" [literally, from faith to faith]. And Jesus Himself says, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness." Hunger is good. If you think you've had your fill, you're in a very bad place. Let the Father lead you on to hunger, child of God.

It comes down to moment by moment trust. Moment by moment affirmation, with Paul, that as to any good thing, "it is not I, but Christ in me."

It is one thing to know that your sins do not condemn you, and another to know that all your righteousness is as filthy rags to God. If you know that finally, child of God, then at last you are ready to grow.

June 02, 2004


"You see, God has set up a standard, God has presented His model, God has given us His object for our conformity and the next thing we come up against is the utter impossibility of being that. Yes, of ourselves it cannot be. Have you not learned the lesson of despair yet? Is it necessary for the Holy Spirit to make you despair again? Why not have one good despair and get it all over? Why despair every few days? Only because you are still hunting for something somewhere, some rag of goodness in yourself that you can present to God that will please Him, satisfy Him and answer His requirements. You will not find it. Settle it that 'all our righteousness is filthy rags'. . . . We will not find rest unto our souls until we have first of all learned the utter difference between Christ and ourselves, and then the utter impossibility of our ever being like Him by anything that we can ever find in ourselves, produce or do. It is not in us, in ourselves, in that way. So we had better despair our last despair in regard to ourselves."

T. Austin-Sparks, The School of Christ


Read more of the writings of Austin-Sparks at


This has been a time of spiritual inventory for me. A time of reckoning. Working out my objections to PDL has helped me, I think, sort out what is fundamental, what is essential. And it has also helped me to renounce some things, some ways of thinking, that have been detrimental.

So I want to talk about this. No, I want to blog about it. I want to work it out by spelling it out. It may take me some time, two or three posts, or it may be something that comes out all in a gush. Probably, though, in somewhat disorganized dribs and drabs, I think. God has been showing me something in His Word, drawing me to passages that have a single theme or message. Reminding me of something that I don't think I ever fully and deeply understood. Or if I had, I'd forgotten it.

The message: I'm broken.

Consider that the first drib. Not much, I know. Nothing to write home about. But I should remind you who read this that in truth I'm doing this for myself alone. I mean you no disrespect, and I do hope that there might be something in the coming posts for you to latch onto, but if not, my purpose is still served. I only want to say it, explain it, understand it. I'm broken.

More later.


But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 2Cor 12:9

What an important verse this is for us all to remember. If you are a child of God, adopted into His eternal family, His grace is sufficient to you. It is sufficient to cover all your needs. It is sufficient to take away all your sins. It is sufficient. It is enough. It is already more, right now, as you read this, than you can ever accurately comprehend or appreciate. Why then do we chaff? Why do we cry, Lord, open the floodgates!

Perhaps it is lack of faith. Perhaps it's lack of understanding. Is God for you? Has He not promised to take care of you? Does He not love you? Has He not already given you all things through Jesus Christ?

Sufficient. The blood of Jesus, sufficient. Enough and more. Nothing can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus. "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38

The Lord is for us, and His favor is sufficient to cover all our needs. I cannot stray from this shower of grace, now that I am His. When I sin, His grace is mine in the form of forgiveness. When I obey, in the form of joy. And even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, His grace is sufficient. His rod and His staff, they comfort me.

So begin here, Christian. Begin here if you are chaffing under the burdens of the day, and frustrated with your lack of progress, or if it seems that the curses of this life far outweigh the blessings. If you know the Lord, it simply is not true. It is a lie, and it comes from the father of lies. The creator of heaven and earth, who cast the uncountable stars across infinite space, has planned and ordered every blessing. He holds them in store for you even now, and He has chosen the time and the season in which He will pour them out. And all this, loved one, is sufficient.

Praise the Lord!

June 01, 2004

A Meditation on 2 Peter 1:1-11

Gee but it's good to be blogging again. I had a relaxing few days, and it was probably good for me to be away from blogging a bit. I spent a lot of time lazing about, a little time messing around in the yard, and a little more time watching the Indy 500. The funny things is, I don't know a thing about racing, but still there was something hypnotically fascinating about watching the cars go round and round!

This past week I finished up my Bible-regimen of reading a single chapter of The Gospel of John for seven days in a row, then moving on to the next chapter for the next seven days, etc. It's something I'd heard recommended by John Macarthur. So it took twenty-one weeks to read through to the end. It was definitely a fruitful practice, but now I want to move on to something else. Since it's been some time since I've read the OT in any kind of methodical way, that's probably next on the agenda.

As for devotional reading, I've been parked in the first eleven verses of Second Peter, chapter 1. What wonderful words are here. I've got it into my head to try to memorize them, but these resolutions of mine often disappear as quickly as rainbows. We'll just have to wait and see.

But this morning I'd just like to point out one thing. Notice how often Peter uses phrases that begin with the preposition through or by, phrases which indicate the cause or source of something. These are very revealing. So, right in the greeting Peter says of those to whom he is writing that their faith is "through the righteousness of our God and savior Jesus Christ." Then, in the very next verse he says, "Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord."

Notice that: the grace and peace come through knowledge of God. Then, in the very next verse he says that we believers have everything we need for life and godliness "through our knowledge of him who called us by his glory and goodness." In fact, this idea, the importance of the knowledge of God and of Jesus for the stability of our faith and our growth in godliness is the theme of 2 Peter.

In verse 5 to 7 there is a kind of template for Christian growth. "Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly-kindness; and to brotherly-kindness, love." Well, there is much one can say about this wonderful litany, but I quote it here only to give the context for Peter's remarks in the ensuing two verses.

In verse 8 he says, "If you have these qualities in increasing measure they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." Knowledge again. A Knowledge that is effective and productive. A knowledge that bears fruit.

Apparently, there is a kind of knowledge, even if it be a knowledge of Jesus, that is ineffective and unproductive. It is a knowledge without application. Knowledge that does not result in godliness, and is (I surmise) not based on faith. Perhaps it isn't an "increasing" kind of knowledge. Or perhaps its that kind of knowledge that an old friend of mine would have called, disparagingly, "head-knowledge" (as opposed to heart-knowledge). My grandmother might have called it "book-learnin." I might say that it is knowledge for its own sake, or knowledge that only engenders intellectual pride and arrogance, not knowledge for the sake of growth in godliness.

So grace and peace come through knowledge, and all that we need for life and godliness come through knowledge. Finally, in verse 9, Peter adds another brush-stroke to his picture of those who lack such knowledge. They are not only ineffective and unproductive with regard to the qualities associated with life and godliness. They are also "near-sighted." In other words, they see only their immediate or temporal circumstances, and not the eternal context. And they lack this eternal perspective precisely because they lack knowledge. And then Peter says something very interesting. He says that such a person, a person lacking knowledge, "has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins."

Isn't that interesting? If we are not growing ("increasing") in our possession of the qualities listed above, including knowledge of Jesus Christ (and all that he has done for us), we will forget! We will forget the sufficiency of His grace toward us. We will forget what he has done for us. And in forgetting, we become near-sighted, overwhelmed by the immediate circumstances, frustrated and unfruitful in our Christian life.

So what should we remember? We should remember Jesus. What, most of all, should we remember about Jesus? That His death for our sins, in our place, makes a way for us, an entrance into fruitful living now, and eternal glory in the hereafter. These things we must remember. This is the primary content, the sum and substance, of the knowledge through which we are able to grow, to have grace and peace and indeed everything we need for life and godliness.

Praise the Lord!