Mr. Standfast

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

July 31, 2004

Saturday This and That

This morning Laurie and I picked up some coffee and bagels and went down to the bay at a place called Spring Point. Sunshine, sailboats, people walking their dogs. We whiled a lovely hour away talking about the things of the Spirit.

We talked about the problem we all have in loving each other. In loving, and in receiving love. It's the problem we're born into, the problem we all spend our lives trying to solve. We talked also about the need for "crying out to God," the need for brokenness. Do you remember when you were broken? When your heart cried out in unpremeditated longing. That was your holiest moment, your "drawing near" to God. That was your purity of heart.

Oh, yes, and the bagels were just fine.


Just read The Five People You Meet in Heaven. What a lovely book. A book about desperation. A book about, yes, the trouble we have loving one another. I know that World Magazine said that it was dripping with cliches, but while it's true that the author's frequent stabs at "wisdom sayings" often fall short, the story itself is wiser than its wisdom, if you know what I mean. I highly recommend it.

I've also been reading, and am nearly finished with, Washington's Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer. What a remarkable story that is. This book recreates not only the absolutely harrowing "crossing," but the three significant military engagements which followed. It's difficult to read this book without being awed by the character, the moral stature, of George Washington, and the incredible bravery of the men who fought under him.

July 29, 2004

Rummaging in the Puzzle Box

Sometimes I feel like I've got this box of jigsaw puzzle pieces. I rummage about, pick up a piece randomly, glancing at it, putting it down. On good days, I manage to fit a few together, begin to build a picture. It's beautiful, satisfying. But on other days it seems like nothing fits. It's a very large jigsaw puzzle, you know. And you don't ever get to the end of it. Not in this life.

Just for the record: I'm trying to look at blogging that way. It's the beginning of the process, not the end. It's trying one piece after another to see if they fit, rather than displaying the finished puzzle, a beautiful picture of a mountain or a lake or a box of chocolates. It's rummaging, guessing, figuring, trying out, stumbling on the happy accident that gives you a slightly larger glimpse of "the big picture." It's writing out of your unknowing, not your knowing. It's plodding ignorance on display. I think maybe that's all we ever do in any case.

I so appreciate Lucy's comment yesterday. I'll quote it in full: "What about other people's role in enabling our freedom? I fully agree that it comes from God, but the Christian life is threefold isn't it, with other people as well. People can help or hinder our freedom."

A major yes to that! People enlarge our space. Relationships help us escape the limitation of self. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of people in redeemed relationships. Amazing! Everyone, Christian and non-Christian, essentially understands this, however difficult we tend to make it.

Jesus put mud on a blind man's eyes, and he was transferred from a kingdom of darkness to a kingdom of light, from a narrow and confining place to a broad and spacious and light-filled place. From near despair, to joy.

"Love one another, as I have loved you." When you love someone, you lift them up, you fill their world with light, you redeem a relationship from ordinariness, even possibly from enmity. You take this colossal risk in faith, because it's doing what Jesus did. People, when they've loved you, have in doing so reached into your cage and beckoned you toward freedom. God has arranged things this way. He gives us his Spirit so that we can be enabled to bring redeeming love into the circumstances, the makeshift arrangements, even the broken relationships, of this fallen world. Brothers, Sisters, we are not meant to travel this path alone.

July 28, 2004

Living Large

The spacious place is the place of safety. The place of deliverance. It's the feet-on-a-rock place. And it seems to me that so many are not sure that they're really in that place. I'm speaking of believers. For so many life just doesn't feel like a spacious place. They feel hemmed in, surrounded by the bulls of Bashan. The slightest move can start a stampede. Or they're caught in the fowler's snare, or lingering dejectedly in a slimy pit.

Tony Evans tells the story (in his book, The Promise) of buying a dog at the local pound. It had been mistreated by its previous owner, and when after having purchased it they tried to remove it from its cage, the poor pup cowered away from them, not wanting to leave its captivity. Evans likens this state to that of many believers. Their freedom has been purchased, but they cower in their cages, though the doors have been flung open.

We long for the outside. For freedom. For romping. For "living large." But can we trust this new owner? Is the offer for real? Because trust is the issue at the heart of all this, isn't it? Shall we trust God, or the lies of men?

More later.

July 27, 2004


I was blogging along quite happily this morning, when the power suddenly went out (only for a moment) and I lost everything I'd written. Dontcha hate that? Anyway, so much for blogging. Now it's the end of the day and I thought I'd just stop by to explain--just in case anyone's losing sleep over the matter. :-) Ta-ta!

July 26, 2004

The Spacious Place

I ran into an old acquaintance recently, a guy I hadn't seen in a while. He's a troubled fellow, angry and cynical. He said, "So, are you still reading all the time?" Probably he had seen that I was carrying a book, and that's what prompted him to ask. He was just making conversation. "Oh, of course," I said, remembering that he too was an avid reader. He said, "It gets you out of yourself, doesn't it? It gets you our of your own little world. It's good for you that way." I said, "Yeah, I guess so."

A few days ago Jared at Mysterium Tremendum wrote that the Gospel was good news because, among other things, it promises "life outside of ourselves."

That really struck me. It reminds me of the verse in Psalm 31, "The Lord has placed my feet in a spacious place." It reminds me of what my friend, Tom, said to me, explaining his depression: "It feels like the four walls are closing in on you and there's no way out." It reminds me of a TV commercial for a car, some big expensive SUV, where the car is cruising along on a vast flat expanse, no road at all, like the salt-flats, only wet and dark and glistening, and the driver is doing 360s and splashing up elegant slow-motion sprays of water.

Because the manufacturer of the car knew that vastness, open-ness, the broad place, that's part of an ancient dream, deep-seated, Biblical, emotional. A place without restrictions, a place to drive fast and wild in your incredibly expensive car. Elbow-room. Space. Wide-open places. The West. Freedom.

The Psalmist says, "You have set my feet in a spacious place." The Image recurs in Psalm 18, Psalm 31, and Psalm 118. In opposition to that are the images of confinement: the miry pit, the fowler's snare. The four walls that my friend speaks of.

It occurs to me that all of us long for the spacious place, and just as with every other longing, we often try to satisfy it in sinful ways. Many, with drugs. With money. With cinematic fantasies. Or with simple refusal to accept the ordinary limitations of life. "Don't fence me in," as the old song goes.

I'm going to be thinking about this for a while. I'm going to be blogging about it. About Life "outside ourselves," and about how the Kingdom of God is that spacious place. This is, for me, an investigation. A pondering. Come along with me, if you like, and we'll ponder together.

July 25, 2004

Extreme Mission 2

A few days back I posted a lengthy report from the Mexican mission field. I don't know how many of my regular readers are interested, but I feel led to post a second report. This is a very lengthy but fascinating glimpse into what has been going on down there.
Wed night we went to a park to minister to the people of the neighborhood around the park. We went house to house inviting people to the park where we gave our dramas and preached to them. We had 15-20 people saved. The real important thing that happened there was that a couple of the girls went against our instruction and brought a puppy they had found on the street back to the church. We had told them no but they smuggled the dog onto the bus and brought him back. The pastors of the church here had said explicitly that they did not want the dog brought back. The puppy was sick, infested with fleas and ticks. He was so sick that he could not even hold his head up and was barely breathing. When the pastors discovered the puppy at the church they were upset and after examining the dog decided it probably would not live through the night. There were lots of tears and the pastors said they would have to dispose of the dog. The girls and boys bathed the dog, and tried to feed it but it still looked dim. They prayed for the Lord to spare the puppy. We had our evening devotions and talked about the problem that had come up with the dog. The kids thought about it and said they realized they had more compassion for the dog than for the people of Mexico. While we were not excited about the kids not obeying us it was a kind of turning point in our mission. To make a long story short, the Lord spared the puppy. It was fine the next morning and has grown stronger and is now a very healthy puppy that our bus driver has decided to keep. The kids are overjoyed.

Speaking of the bus driver, Margaritto, he had been watching all that the kids were doing and on Wed evening he came to us and said he wanted to give his life to God. We had the kids gather around and lay hands on him and pray with him. It made all of the kids realize how much they were being watched and how much their actions effect things. Margaritto has become stronger and stronger in his faith in just a few days. He has bonded with all of us and feels part of our team. He goes to every event with us and participates in praying for people to come to Jesus. Our team has grown from the 24 we started with to over 50 people who go everywhere with us. The people see us coming and say "The people who are turning the world upside down have come here too"

Since that Wed night, things really started happening. Thursday we went to the local jail. We were carefully searched, all of us, and finally we went into the prison and were confronted by some pretty hard men. We performed our dramas and then three of the boys gave their testimonies. It broke the stronghold over that prison and about 25 men came forward instantly to give their hearts to God. While we were praying over them we began to point at men who where holding back and challenging them to come forward and they did. We are not sure but somewhere around 35 total were saved. It was awesome. The boys (only boys were allowed in the men's prison) began to pray in the spirit and lay hands on many of the men. We then played a hard game of basket ball and they won. They played rough but it was real fun for them. They all walked us to the exit gate and kept thanking us and God. When we got on the bus, it would not start. While Margaritto worked to figure out why, one of the guards from the prison came out and said he needed to board the bus. Once on board, he asked if we could pray for him to receive the Lord. Hearts were broken and strengthened. We prayed with him and hope to meet with him again before we leave.

We came back and that night went out to a local park to witness. Many people were in the park already and were preparing for a celebration. It seems they had reserved the park for a fiesta and had bands, performers and other entertainment scheduled. We were a little disappointed but decided to approach the organizers and see if we could join in. They readily accepted our offer and put us on the schedule. We did dramas, preached and probably 40 people came forward. We saw many people give themselves to God. Barry and I talked to a group of 6 boys all at once and they prayed for salvation. Daryll was sharing with two men when a bystander who had been listening came forward and all three prayed with Daryll. Lots of others were saved. We did face painting and balloon sculptures till people had blisters on their fingers from blowing up balloons. The organizers really appreciated our involvement and it made their fiesta better.

Thursday night was not over. We got back to the church at about 11:00. We got together about 11:30 for evening devotions. The kids began to share things on their hearts and like a mighty wind, the Holy Spirit filled the room we were in. Your kids began to preach, Prophesy, see visions, speak in tongues and we experienced deliverance for several of the kids. Robert and Andrew were broken in the spirit and were given visions. Mandie and several others began speaking in tongues. They were not prompted by us but it was spontaneous. Isaiah began to prophesy and continued solid for almost three hours. He was demanding that the powers of Satan be broken over this area and many other things. Kids were slain in the spirit and new boldness was brought out. Brandon, Nate, Ethan were all praying like seasoned prayer warriors. I don't mean to leave any of the others out as all were touched clearly by God but it would take all night to tell it all. This is not the same group of kids we came with. We lost your kids. The team leaders just stood back and were amazed by the work of the Holy Spirit. Actually we tried to pray and help them with what was happening but God was clearly in control. We were just holding on for the ride, and have been ever since.

Things got exciting again on Friday. Lots of hard back breaking work during the day and then in the afternoon we went to a very poor area and went casa to casa to ask if there was anything we could pray with people for. There were lots of prayers put forth by your kids. We also distributed food to these people, the poorest of the poor. It was a real blessing.

Friday night we held a concert in a local gymnasium that was attended by over 300 people. After Music, Drama, Magic, Testimonies, and preaching, somewhere between 50-75 people came forward. The local church was there with counselors to gather info on all of the people so they could incorporate them in their church. It was awesome. Lots of dancing and rejoicing in the Spirit broke out and the kids wasted themselves dancing before God.

When we got back to the church, we had evening devotions and explained that Saturday would be a fun day of museums, swimming and so on. The kids objected and said they would rather spend their last day in ministry. They felt it would be wrong for them to go have fun when there is such a large harvest to be brought in. Yes, that is your kids saying no to fun. We had some kids almost in tears because they wanted to give their testimonies to the People of Mexico. Meagan, the shiest of our group, can boldly stand before a crowd and declare that God Changed Her Life!!! She was upset when we did not have enough time for her to do that.

These kids have experienced something miraculous. They are going to come back changed. They will have an enthusiasm to share God with everyone and most of you back home have never had an experience like this one. You will not understand what has happened. They can hardly wait till August 1 when they get to share with the church all that has happened. At the same time, they do not want to leave here. I believe several of these kids will end up permanently in the mission field, throwing away their lives for God. We told them they had to have the fun day we had planned to help them decompress. They reluctantly agreed and have had a wonderful day but in their hearts, really wanted to be on the streets. They are already planning their attack on Portland.

I am wanting this letter shared with Mario as a WARNING!!!! Next Sunday will be like no other service we have ever had. Please bring anyone you want to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ to that mornings services. Especially teens, and any Spanish people you may know. People will be saved, that is a promise. These kids have a fire and a light like you have never seen.

Tomorrow we began our trek home. We leave tomorrow morning and travel to Juarez where we meet with other teams sent out to other places. Then we go back Sunday evening to El Paso to stay at the Raddison for the night. Monday morning we fly home with plans to break the strongholds in Portland and to see Christ Glorified.

July 22, 2004

The Shelter of His Wings

I've been reading through the Bible again, a few chapters in the OT, one in the NT, each morning. I've settled into a routine of reading two chapters in the historical books (I've just started Joshua), a couple of chapters in the prophetic books (presently into Isaiah), perhaps a Psalm or a chapter of Proverbs, and then one chapter of the NT (currently in Luke). The idea is to finish the OT and the NT at about the same time, which requires about a 5 chapters to 1 ratio. All this may sound rather confusing, but it's really not. And one of the neat things that can happen is that you often get this correspondence of messages from two or more sections of the daily reading. I like to think of this as a divine coincidence!

For example: yesterday I read Psalm 36. There, at verse 7, you find, "How precious is thy steadfast love, O God! The children of men take refuge in the shadow of thy wings."

And I also read Luke 13, verse 34, where we read, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!"

This imagery of wings as a form of shelter does not perhaps come naturally to the modern imagination. It's barnyard imagery, the kind of thing rural people might see pretty frequently. A mother hen, sensing the presence of danger, perhaps a hovering hawk, gathers its chicks under her wings to keep them safe.

The problem is, as I imagine it, that the chicks might not want to stay tucked away there. Chicks, I think, are by nature busy and impatient. Let's suppose the farmer had recently scattered feed all around the barnyard. And there it is, lying on the ground just beyond the feathery shelter of your mother's wings--food!

Temptation works this way. It lures us out from the shelter, the safe place, the refuge of the Lord. Come away, come away, it beckons. There's nothing to fear. By this means the devil leads you on, another step and another step, further and further from refuge. It's the kind of thinking that had lead Israel astray again and again, and that caused Jesus to weep over Jerusalem.

That's why it's always helpful to remind ourselves, along with the Psalmist:
How precious is thy steadfast love, O God! The children of men take refuge in the shadow of thy wings.

They feast on the abundance of thy house, and thou givest them drink from the river of thy delights.

For with thee is the fountain of life; in thy light do we see light.

Report from Mali

A couple of days ago I handed this space over to Johannah, who is a youth leader with our teenagers in Mexico. Well, now we've received a report from another mission field. Nick, who is a good friend of my son Tim, and who lives up in lovely Montreal, has just returned from Mali (West Africa). I'm going to quote his letter at length, because I think it too is very inspiring:
I admit that I had some doubts about leaving. At the time, I wondered what purpose on earth we could serve by going to this climate, this stifling, unlovely, forgotten-by-all-but-God, dustbowl of a land... How foolish. Proverbs 16:3, "Commit your ways to the Lord, and He will make your paths straight." It was the first Bible verse that ever struck me, and it seems I had forgotten it, for this truth shone through with startling clarity during the trip. . .

Yes, I have been to the far reaches of the harsh climes of another continent, held with care then hands of literally hundreds of children, with respect the hands of dozens of adults, seen the beautiful smile of another way of life, spoken languages I did not know I possessed, sweated, pushed myself to the point where I could not hold myself up for fatigue, stepped amongst poverty and there found myself befriended unaccusingly by those within it, prayed with village chiefs for health, food and rain; then seen a massive thunderstorm in the dry season. I have built at least a dozen lasting friendships, seen results where I did not sow seed, played soccer, and experienced such a number of unforgettable moments in the period of three weeks, that I find myself at a loss in trying to remember them all. I shoret, I have been transported by Grace and prayers to another world; by it I was touched, and now I have come back again.

I could tell you tales . . . tales of riding across arid, red-dirt plains with sparse, green brush, the hot wind rushing through your hair, accompanied by Africans hitching a ride from village to village. Tales of an unexpected African rain falling lightly onto your face as you stand in the back of the truck, sucking up the potholes with bent legs, enraptured by a rainbow shimmering against the background of an ominously (and beneficial) dark bank of clouds. I could tell you of soccer games played with children at rural village cement schools, played on dirt fields with goals made out of tied-together wood, , and of a hed of goats taking the field alongside you. Apparently they wanted to join the game in the second half. Tales of dancing with hands in the air chanting, "Be-yo-bee, be-yo-obee" after you score a goal. I could tell you tales of being surrounded by literally hundreds of African children and villagers in the relative cool of the morning in school courtyards, or in village centers lit by the headlights of our trucks at nightm performing a routine of skits, some humorous, some Biblical, some educational and some melodramatic, about the devastating effects of AIDS. . . I could tell you of meeting a pastor and a lay Christian, two men who had fled the civil war in the Ivory Coast (which is just ot the south of Mali). I could tell you of sturggling to grasp what civil war means through their stories, listening as a respectable man in his thirties matter-of-factly describes a rebel group suddenly appearing out of the wilderness, armed by an unknown source, and operating without any apparent leader. It reminds you of the day before when in amazement you were listening at a church to a young African man who is scarcely older than you, who is working in Rwanda to reconcile the groups that slaughtered each other, and explaining the results he and his group were getting through the blessing of the Holy Spirit. I would tell you of seeing the one Christian in a village you are visiting, a man who became a Christian before a missionary ever visited the village. "How," you might have asked. "He says," comes the careful reply, "an angel came to him in a dream and told him to follow Jesus, and that he would be blessed for it."

A memory of holding hands with a little child poignantly returns to me. He tries to talk to me in a language which I do not know as our team tours a village in the setting sun, picking mangoes, strolling with a procession of African children. We do our best to understand each other, but end simply holding hands in pleasant company, each making the other feel, somehow, of importance . . . perhaps the most miraculous event of all was that I helped someone else feel they are valuable. . . this turly was extraordinary. Yet I think I can safely say it was not me, for I have no ability to create value independently. It was Christ in me. What a miracle, to be a messenger of the love that gives others value. . .

As I look back on what we did and how much we in fact accomplished in only three weeks, I realize that we were in the skillful hands of a local expert, who was guiding our path where He knew it would be most effective for those whom we were going to serve, but most especially where He knew it would change the lives of those traveling along the path most profoundly. My ernest prayer is that He will guide your paths as well, because the benefits of such a good guide are incalculable.

July 21, 2004

Welcome to the Christian Carnival

For some reason I want to be singing that old Neil Young song: " . . . with the barkers and the colored balloons. . ."

But nevermind. On to this week's Christian Carnival postings. We've got a wonderful harvest of wit and wisdom here. I'm going to group them into three broad categories. There are, first of all, "The Pundits." These folks engage in cultural/political commentary. They are issue-oriented bloggers, often brilliant, always opinionated, never shying from controversy.

The second group I'll call "The Theologians." These write finely-argued articles on matters of theology and doctrine. I'm not suggesting that The Theologians aren't often pundits, of course, or vice versa. But for the purposes of the Carnival, I'm going to differentiate these two types of blog-posts.

Finally, there are "The Diarists." It's this aspect of blogging that I personally find most compelling. Their blogs are simply their personal diaries. Their posts are sometimes plainly confessional self-examinations, always rigorously honest. We've got a couple of them at the Carnival this week.

Okay, so here goes. First, The Pundits:

The astonishingly titled blog Brain Fertilizer has a few things to day about same sex marriage.

LaShawn Barber is a pundit alright, and of the first rank. She's writing this time on the question, "What's worth fighting and dying for these days?" The post is called Appeasing The Insane/Dying For Freedom. Hard and provocative truths here.

The always versatile Messy Crhistian is often a Diarist, also at times a Theologian, but her entry this week falls into the Pundit category. She responding to a NYT article on the subject of a particular form of convenience abortions. It's called I Just Feel Sick. Nuff said.

The following post could probably be filed under the "Diarist" category, but My Domestic Church is advocating for something that is quite controvertial in some circles, so it qualifies as an act of punditry in my book!. Oh, and what is the so-controvertial subject: Large Families.

Karen Marie, she of From the Anchor Hold (I just love that title), submits a post concerning the whole matter of whether a politician should be disciplined by his church because of his views on such issues as "pursuing unjust warfare, or allowing procured abortion, or suspending civil and human rights for some, or promoting the exploitation of embryos or the suicides of the ill and handicapped, or oppressing fatherless children and women alone." The post is called Excommunicating U.S. politicians: wouldn't be the first time, and she provides a link to an interesting historical precedent from the civil rights era.

Next up, The Theologians:

Uncle Sam's Cabin contributes a post entitled One Faith, One Hope, and One Baptism and inspired by the the lyrics to the old hymn "The Church's One Foundation." She quotes the song at length, commenting on the divided condition of Christ's church. Her last line says it all: "There is something very powerful holding the faithful together no matter how hard we push and pull at each other."

Jeff Doolittle weighs in with What Does the Lord Require?

Another Think
investigates the differences between the materialistic conception of human life and the Christian in a well-written piece called, Are We Spiritual Machines?

Marla at Proverbial Wife has written a post on the subject of Divorce, Adultery, Remarriage. It's right on the money, as far as I'm concerned. Much like Messy Christian, PW can be by turns the Pundit, the Theologian, and the Diarist, all within the same post. I think she's wonderful.

Lucy Rainbow keeps things very colorful over at Creative Christianity. The title of her post says it all: Fire Your Pastors.

In a timely post, Joe Missionary looks at The Tour de France and the Body of Christ.

Joe Cecil, who keeps a watch on the news from a "liberal catholic" perspective, submits a Very Brief Summary of Today's Readings. You'll have to scroll down to July 11, but take your time. There's lots of interesting stuff along the way.

Joe's a liberal catholic, but Julie is a Happy Catholic. Her post this time around is called Islam Examined. It's an interesting read.

Parableman, who is one of the more profound blogger-thinkers out there, has a brief post addressing some Questions from a Friend. Can hell be an expression of God's mercy?

That's an interesting question. Probably Prableman's friend should also read this week's entry from Rebecca Writes. She's blogging this time on God's Simplicity. In both cases the point is made that God is consistent. Good to know!

Finally, my favorite group, The Diarists:

Susan, who holds forth at What A Beautiful Day, is one of my favorite bloggers. She is as authentic as they come, with a streak of prophetic insight running through her blog. This time she's investigating the spiritual significance of locks. Check it out.

Then there's What If I Stumble? He's blogging about my favorite subject in My Point: Grace. This is a discovery for me. I think I'll add him to my bogroll.

Living on Both Ends
writes about Ambivalence of the Heart. Here's a quote: "My statement of faith is I want to follow Him, He has the words of Eternal Life, and I am human and thus, broken and wanting. But He loves me in my broken places, and I adore Him. That is what I know to be true, I also know that not every broken place always feels His life and Light."

Micah 6:8 has popped up more than once among these posts. King of Fools writes about the death of a beloved pet, and the effect it had on his family. This is a wonderful and intimate story of the true wisdom of the very young, called Art Therapy.

Beyond the Rim
blogs briefly about Small Things. He makes the kind of point that cannot be too often repeated. It is the small gestures, the every-day niceties and "little graces", that solidify personal relationships. So stop what you're doing right now and say thank you to somebody!

Finally, there's Dawn Xiana Moon. I place her post last because it doesn't really fit into any of the above category. She's the Creative Writer. Her post this week is simply An Excerpt from something she's been working on lately.

And there you have it. I even think I hear Neil singing, " . . . though you're thinking that you're leaving there too soon . . . you're leaving there too soon . . ."


July 20, 2004

Report from the Mission Field

About 16 teenagers from our church have gone to Mexico on a missions trip with a group called Extreme Missions. I thought some of my readers might like to hear a report from the mission field. One of the youth leaders, Johannah, sent back this report via email. Johannah writes:

On Sunday we spent most of the day in worship and prayer with the larger group. We awoke to find Isaiah Bennett quite sick with headache and cramps. A bunch of kids went right to his room and laid hands on him. I knew in my heart this would be the first miracle we would see on our trip. Within hours Isaiah was up and dancing around in worship. It was incredible.

We really noticed a difference in the kids on Sunday. They seemed much more relaxed and released, especially in worship. They were dancing, clapping, shouting, laughing... even the quieter ones were coming out of their shells. It was awesome.

During ministry time, the kids were always looking around for who needed prayer. On many occasions, someone in our group would go up for prayer and immediately 4-5 team members followed that person to the altar and laid hands on them. I won't forget Meagghan Sparks, after praying for Isaiah one night during ministry, got up, looked around, and said to me "Well I guess I should find someone else who needs prayer.. " and she walked with her sister over to a girl and prayed for her. It was one of those moments that I won't forget.

This continues to happen. The kids are rallying around each other and seeing themselves as a team, and as ministers of God. We are praying about everything we encounter.

Yesterday we left El Paso and headed to the border. We heard that getting across the border could take up to 3 hours, just with paper work and the possibility of having to go through every bag and box. We prayed that once at the border the guard would just let us go through and not feel the need to check our boxes and luggage. (it is custom to search all bags when crossing) Sure enough, we pulled up, Daryl got out to see what we needed to do, and the guard simply waved us on. It was a miracle. Even the busdriver was shocked!!

Our busride to Casas Grande took 6 hours. As we neared the city, we knew we'd have to stop at a check point to pay a fine for traveling in the interior of Mexico. Once again we prayed that the right guard would be on duty. If we didn't have to pay we'd save $500. As we rolled up to the check point I started praying that the guard would see angels around the bus and that he would simply let us go on. Sure enough Daryl started to get out of the bus to talk to the guard and before he reached the last step the guard was waving us on... The busdriver turned to us all and said "amazing.." Daryl got back on the bus and shouted- yes Lord!! Thank you for allowing us to keep $500.

These things we know will continue to happen. The kids are catching on to the idea that Jesus has gone before us on this trip, that He is in control and paving the way for us here. With every miracle, their faith and ours has only increased.

We are here to love and to serve the people of Mexico. I am continually reminded of Gideon's army, a rather motley crew of people that really didn't want to fight. But because of their obedience, God was able to demonstrate His power and nature through their victory!

May it be so with us, a pretty motley crew of young people, just following the orders of our Master.

We love you all and thank you for your prayers. It's because of your faithfulness that we are here!

Who knew serving God could be so much fun?

In His grip,
Johannah and the team

My Summer, So Far

It's been a cloudy summer here. Day after day, rain, mist, a glimpse of sun, then clouds again, more rain, the occasional downpour, another glimpse of sun, more clouds. What have I seen so far this summer? Well, I saw a live garter snake on a pile of grass clippings, during one of those brief sunny interludes, lifting its head to the light and just bathing in it. A few days later I found a dead snake, maybe the same one, curled up in the road. Its surprised almost comical face, gaping. Also, I saw a boy riding his bike up the street, coming back from the library, reading his book as he rode along. It made me laugh, and remember. Also, this summer I saw the mist slowly engulf the islands out in the harbor, and then the nearer woods. The picnic-ers with their children gradually deserted the park, and then there was silence, but for the calm lapping of the waves. And once this summer I watched the sun go down. No, twice. The first time silver, the second time gold. And I'm still waiting for the blue heron that comes to visit our neighborhood each year. So there you have it. That's my summer, so far.

July 19, 2004

Christian Carnival: My Turn

Oh, by the way, I'm hosting the Carnival this week. So please, dear readers, feel free to contribute one of your own blog posts. It simply has to be from the week of the 14th through the 20th. Let me know by writing to me at rspencer at gmail dot com.

Here' what you do. Simply let me know these 5 things:

The name of your blog.
The URL of your blog.
The name of your blog post.
The URL of your nominated blog post.
A brief description of the post. Why is it important to you?

And that's it. Send me the info by Tuesday evening (that's tomorrow, the 20th) and the Carnival will set up shop here at Mr. Standfast on the next day.

Thanks a bunch.

Fallen Mansions, Hard Hurts, and Love Turned Sour

I told you about my friend Tom here. Yesterday we got together with him and Leah and their boys Judah and Micah. We just hung out all afternoon at Fort Williams Park. It's a beautiful place, and boasts one of the most photographed and visited lighthouses (Portland Head Light), or so I'm told, in the world. Judah, who is 6, and I took a little walk together. On the grounds of the park is an old burned-out mansion, just the shell of a once lovely house. Here's a picture:

Well, as Judah and I were walking up the path to this house, Judah said to me, quite matter-of-factly, "That's Ninevah."

What did you say?

"I said, that's Ninevah," in the tone of a teacher trying to be patient with a thick-headed student. "You know, where Jonah brought the message."

Ah, yes. Ninevah.


That was a lovely moment. It was a lovely afternoon. Then, in the evening, the fog roled in off the Atlantic. It was very beautiful, and we were all very tired. We had talked away the hours. Tom is a man of God who has always personified for me a kind of reckless abandonment to the Lord; Leah is a woman of steady faith and Godly wisdom. But these two have just been dealt a hard blow. Tom's other son, Greg, from a previous marriage, who had been living with them for the last three years, has chosen suddenly to stay with his mother instead. He won't say why, won't talk about his decision. This hurts in a very deep place in Tom especially. This is a hurt that cannot be spoken, cannot be put into words, and everything else can seem very unimportant beside it. So again I ask my friends to intercede for Tom.


Finally, a quote. This is from Oswald Chambers. I just think it's right on the money:
In the spiritual domain, criticism is love turned sour... If Criticism becomes a habit it will destroy the moral energy of the life and paralyze the spiritual force... whenever you are in a critical temper, it is impossible to enter into communion with God. Criticism makes you hard and vindictive and cruel, and leaves you with the flattering unction that you are a superior person. It is impossible to develop the characteristics of a saint and maintain a critical attitude.

July 18, 2004

Encouragement at the Toll-booth (just yesterday)

The toll-taker was an elderly gentleman. The Lovely L was behind the wheel. She hands him a bill.

Toll-taker: Thank you, ma'am. And I want to thank you also for that great big smile of yours. That really does help me out.

The Lovely L (blushing): Oh, well, thank you . . .

Toll-taker: No, I mean it. It helps me get through my day. And you know what? Only God can make a smile like that.

The Lovely L: You got that right!

Is that cool or what?

July 17, 2004


Have you ever noticed that everyone, absolutely everyone, needs and craves encouragement? And have you noticed that it's the devil's scheme to discourage you. Let me say that again: the devil's scheme is to discourage you and discourage you and discourage you, by one means and then another, relentlessly, stealthily, by one lie after another, until you finally live in a climate of discouragement, with despair looming ominously in the distance.

Long time readers will remember that I blogged at length about encouragement, back in the early days of Mr. Standfast (all those months ago). I'd gotten it into my head that I was going to be an encourager. That encouragement was my gift. Right about then God started sending people into my life who desperately needed encouragement. As if to say, "Okay, fella. Give it a go."

Hmmm. What I discovered was that encouragement is not always easy. There are people, believers, who just can't seem to receive the good news of freedom and grace.  It could be they're just plain frightened, like Peter when he looked down at the water.  Or perhaps they're in a kind of bondage to lies that were spoken into their lives long ago, and that they can't even identify now, but that keep them in a state of hopelessness.  
The fact is, the reasons why are legion, but the truth is one.  The reasons are monumental, imposing, overwhelming, but the truth is the intimate voice of one who loves you with an eternal love.  In other words, we think way too much of the lies.  We think too much of the discouragements.  We think too much of the chains.  And too little, far far too little, of the the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Back when I walked in darkness, I didn't even know how dark it was. I didn't know how close to the precipice I was walking. I didn't need encouragement, because I had convinced myself that I was a paragon of self-sufficiency. And that's one of those devilish lies, of course. It leads inevitably to discouragement. And it works like a charm.

But the point is, when I came into the light, when I finally knew how dark was my darkness, I learned that I needed help. I needed, craved, encouragement. A strong hand. Because I saw that often, in my words and my deeds I was drawing dangerously close to that same old precipice again. Which is why a heartfelt cry for help is one of the best and purest prayers anyone can offer up.

What am I getting at? Believers, maybe even especially believers, need encouragement. Sometimes, desperately. This is a crucial part of my view of the church--believers helping each other along the narrow way. God has put you beside another today, at your particular place on the path, so that you can offer the strong hand of love and encouragement to that person. I want to live this, and I want to be around other people who are willing to live it too.

I've been going on about brokenness lately (ad infinitum, some might say). And I think these two matters are closely related--brokenness and encouragement.  When we have experienced the strength of God in our own brokenness, we can speak authentically about that strength to others in their brokenness.  Also, knowing and confessing our brokenness, we can finally accept the encouragement of others. We can trust it. Walk in it. Thanking God because it's him loving us--it's always him loving us--through people. 

Here's how Henri Nouwen draws the same connection:
Jesus is given to the world. He was chosen, blessed, and broken to be given. Jesus' life and death were a life and death for others. The Beloved Son of God, chosen from all eternity, was broken on the cross so that this one life could multiply and become food for people of all places and all times.

As God's beloved children we have to believe that our little lives, when lived as God's chosen and blessed children, are broken to be given to others. We too have to become bread for the world. When we live our brokenness under the blessing, our lives will continue to bear fruit from generation to generation. That is the story of the saints: they died, but they continue to be alive in the hearts of those who live after them - and it can be our story too.

July 16, 2004

Mr. Standfast Takes a Quiz!

You are Ephesians

Which book of the Bible are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

July 15, 2004

Hmmm . . .

I subscribe to a daily email quotation from the writings of Henri Nouwen. Earlier this morning I wrote a quick post called On Brokenness, quoting a couple of other bloggers on that theme, but if I had read my email I would have also included this from Nouwen:
Jesus was broken on the cross. He lived his suffering and death not as an evil to avoid at all costs, but as a mission to embrace. We too are broken. We live with broken bodies, broken hearts, broken minds or broken spirits. We suffer from broken relationships.

How can we live our brokenness? Jesus invites us to embrace our brokenness as he embraced the cross and live it as part of our mission. He asks us not to reject our brokenness as a curse from God that reminds us of our sinfulness but to accept it and put it under God's blessing for our purification and sanctification. Thus our brokenness can become a gateway to new life.

A Proposal

for Laurie

Let's you and I go walking.
I promise to match my pace to yours
this time, not rush ahead
impatiently, nor keep talking
so we miss the colors and the flowers
and the sound of birds.

We'll stroll down to the corner,
and I'll say, "Which way now?"
And then you'll take my hand
eagerly and say, "This way!"
And I'll follow you.

Well, that's how I imagine it,
but that's just me.
Let's you and I go walking,
and we'll see.

On Brokenness

A few posts having to do with brokenness:

Lucy at Creative Christianity says, among other things:
Brokenness is essential to power in the Lord. Many want the power and victory of the Lord, and make altar calls to receive power, but it would be more advisable to make altar calls to pray for brokenness, for only when we are broken do we realize our need for God, and his reign in our lives, and give him the way to do as he wishes in us.

While Lucy makes the connection between brokenness and power, Ray Pritchard says,
God will do whatever it takes to get us to deal with our sin. First we are broken, then we are blessed. This is how God moves us from where we are to where he wants us to be.

And finally, Karen Marie at From the Anchor Hold quotes Richard Wurmbrand at length. Wurmbrand was held in a concentration camp by the Communists. This quote cannot be excerpted, but must be read as a whole . . . you will not regret it.


Evenstar has really got me thinking about Bali. I have often heard people say that they had a burden to pray for certain countries. I don't know for sure that that's happening with me, but I do know I was deeply moved when I began to pray for Rita in Bali, and so I continue to do so, and for the nation of Indonesia, but especially the state of Bali. I've been learning a little about Bali from the Internet. Here's a very informative page, a prayer profile for the Balinese people of Indonesia. In this article you'll find the following list of prayer needs for Bali:
Pray that God will send additional Christian laborers to work among the Balinese of Indonesia.

Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the believers living in Bali.

Pray that the Balinese believers will have opportunities to share the Gospel with their own people.

Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Balinese so that they might receive the Gospel when it is presented to them.

Pray that the Lord will reveal Himself to these precious people through dreams and visions.

Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Balinese bound.

Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through intercession.

Pray that strong local churches will be raised up among the Balinese.

July 14, 2004

Let's All Go to the Carnival!

The Christian Carnival has come 'round again, this time hosted by the exquisitely titled From the Anchor Hold. Have a look. It's always an interesting read, and there's usually a surprise or two in the deal.

Praying for Bali

The responses to the last two posts have been very gratifying. They're a glimpse, I think, of the Kingdom of God in action. At 1:00 pm (my time) on the 12th Evenstar posted a prayer-request for her friend Rita in Bali. Now, around that time I was sitting and reading God's Relentless Pursuit. I was reading about the need to be watchful for what the Lord is doing around us, and to seize the opportunity to join in. Feeling somewhat restless, I decided to check the blog again, and at 1:50 I read Evenstar's prayer request. As I began to pray for Rita in Bali, I had a tremendous sense that it was the ripe time for this particular prayer-need. In a word, I was filled with awe. Then, within a half-hour, two more people, Paul and Ruby, wrote to say that they also would be praying for Rita. Later in the evening, Elizabeth added her voice to the chorus.

So it seems that God wants us praying for Rita and for Bali. At least that's what I'm thinking. I know I'll be watching the situation there more closely from now on. Evenstar mentioned the recent elections. Click here for a brief overview of the situation in Indonesia (of which Bali is a part), and here for a look at the persecution that's been going on there. Go here for the National Geographic photogallery of Bali. Or go to Google News for the latest word from that part of the world. And if your Southeast Asia geography is a little fuzzy (like mine), have a peak at this map. Please ask God whether He would have you, too, praying for Bali and Indonesia.

July 12, 2004

Mighty in Spirit

Keeping on with the theme of my recent post, Perspective, here's a relevant and inspiring quote. It's from an article called "Mighty in Spirit" (found linked at Creative Christianity), from Charles Stanley's In Touch Ministries:
In your own life, you may find yourself feeling disappointed, depressed, desperate, disheartened, disillusioned, or even feeling as if parts of you are dead. Your valley of dry bones may represent a great loss: a failed relationship, an illness that consumes you, or a circumstance which is beyond your control. Trials will come throughout your life which seem impossible to overcome. But Jesus said, "In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

There is life in the valley. The same God who breathed life into the old, dry bones, sustains you today. He is able to infuse you with new life and hope. He is able to make a new creation out of you and restore your hopes and dreams. He is able to take your valleys of pain and defeat and fill them with victory. To be mighty in spirit is not to live a perfect, trial-free life. It is to face your trials with the knowledge that the Lord is mighty to save and able to bring life where there was only death. He works in miraculous ways for each of His children.


Let Me Tell You about My Weekend

First of all, on Saturday night, there was the 4th annual New England Christian Arts Festival. This was at our church, and it was very cool. All kinds of artists--painters, poets, dancers, musicians--gathered to display their work. It was inspiring to see the many ways people have to express their love of the Lord. One of the highlights was Stephanie Powell's In the Spirit Dance Ministry. For the first time I saw dance as a powerful expression of worship. I mean, I’ve known in theory that it could be, but this was the first time I’ve really recognized it. It was powerful. It was anointed (and that’s a word I don’t just toss around randomly). I’m telling you, "there was a sweet aroma in the sanctuary" on Saturday night.

Alright. Then there was Sunday morning. Juan Rojas, who is a pastor in the Basque region of Spain, gave the message at church. Our church is part of the International Association of Missions, (IAM, for short), which is planting churches in Spain, and Juan’s church is one of those. His message was so much in line with what I've been blogging about lately, I thought I'd share it with you. By the way, Juan speaks no English, so we heard this message through a translator. Juan told this story:

Once a daughter went to her father and said, "Dad, why is it that, as soon as I seem to get over one trial in my life, another one begins? How come God doesn’t make the path smooth?"

The father answered by taking her into the kitchen and doing a little demonstration. He put three pots of water on the stove, and started them boiling. Into one of these he dropped a carrot, into the second an egg, and into the third, a scoop of coffee grounds. "Take note," he said, "that each of these things, the carrot, the egg, and the coffee, is going to endure the same trial."

After twenty minutes or so, he pulled the carrot out of the water. "Look at this carrot," he said. "When it went into the water, it was hard. Like some people. But now that it's gone through the trial, it's so soft it falls apart in your hand.

"Next, take the egg. When it went into the water it was fragile. Like some people. The slightest pressure could break it. But now that it's come through the trial, it's become hardened.

"But the coffee! Take note of the coffee. Before it went into the water, it had a pleasing but faint aroma. But now that it's gone through the trial, the aroma fills the house and gives pleasure to everyone nearby."

Of course you see the message here. The Father does not take us over the hard times, but through them, and for a purpose. When we come out the other side, we give off the aroma of Christ. That's how even our hard times can work for good, and only God, of course, can make it so.

Finally, on Sunday evening, I went to another Vineyard church and heard Tri Robinson preach. He's the pastor of the Boise Vineyard. This was just a great time of fellowship between several area churches.

Oh, and one more thing: Phil Strout, who has played a significant role in my personal spiritual journey--he was the pastor whose preaching really rescued me when I was drowning--has written a book. It's called God's Relentless Pursuit. I bought it yesterday at church and even got it autographed!

And that's it. That's what I did on my weekend. How 'bout you?

July 10, 2004


Alright, I think if I don't "get happy" pretty soon I'm going to exhaust poor Lucy's patience and lose her as a reader (and I need all the readers I can get!). She wrote this in response to a string of comments t'other day:
Jesus did not come to fill our lives with happiness, but he gives us a joy amidst our sufferings. Does no one here experience joy because of Jesus?

And I think that's an excellent question. I went to a church for a long time where I heard each and every Sunday that I was nothing but a worm. A dung beetle, in fact. Like this one, perhaps:

An old friend of mine used to call it "worm theology," but even that term does not go far enough in describing this man's preaching. He method was, first degrade them, and only then will they really know how much they need the Lord! The pastor took evident delight in detailed comparison of us (that is, the members of his congregation) to the above Scarab Deltochilum gibbosum. How very uplifting!

So when I broke free of that church--and that's exactly what it felt like: breaking free--I was definitely looking for "the joy of the Lord." That pastor probably said I was looking for a feel good-I'm okay/you're okay-easy believism theology. To which I can only respond: Whatever!

So, yeah. Joy, the joy of the Lord, and springs of refreshing, and the Spirit poured out, and the blessed safety of the Christian . . . there are so many ways to speak of it because it's such a wide place, this place of faith.

You have not handed me over to the enemy, but have set my feet in a spacious place. Psalm 31:8

I never want to lose sight of all that. And in Psalms like this one as in so many others David never loses sight of these two realities of our present condition. Yes, he is hard-pressed on every side, he's skin and bones, he's surrounded by stampeding bulls, forsaken by friends, etc., but also, God's love is absolutely reliable. None of these dangers and hardships can ever truly separate him, as Paul would say so many years later, from the love that is in Christ Jesus. And I am safe too, because that same God, the living God, the God of David, loves me.

Springs in the desert, but desert between the springs. I think that real maturity in the Lord involves keeping both these truths in mind. That there will certainly be dark times, but that joy comes in the morning. There will be valleys of shadow, but keep walking because God is with you, an ever-present help, to protect and comfort. To bring you through. I want to concur with my reader Elizabeth that life can be awfully damn hard, and I also want to concur with my reader Lucy that joy is real, and real joy connects us with eternal things, and it lifts us up, and it is beautiful.

A lot has to do with keeping the context, the big picture, in mind. To know, with David, where your help comes from. So it's good, therefore, to surround ourselves with people and things that remind us of eternal things. Which reminds me of Lucy, and Elizabeth, and all the others, and the many Bloggers that keep refreshing me from day to day. They're springs of refreshing!

For example, yesterday there was a beguiling harmony to everything I read in my Internet browsing. There was this, from Henri Nouwen:

Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not "How can we hide our wounds?" so we don't have to be embarrassed, but "How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?" When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

Jesus is God's wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus' suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.

And this from Jack Hayford:

There is a force—a power—in Jesus’ own suffering to break the ability of pain, injury, or sorrow to dominate us, even when these things seem to persist beyond prayer. Christ’s suffering has the power to absorb the most hellish attack, the most tragic grief, the most traumatic pain, or whatever seems more than we can bear.

Jesus has broken the ability of suffering to reduce us to bitterness or disobedience. He wants to fill us with the same life that brought Him through suffering, that kept Him from growing weary in well doing.

And finally there was this quote from Warren Wiersbe, which I found over at Hill Country Thoughts:

When you and I hurt deeply, what we really need is not an explanation from God but a revelation of God. We need to see how great God is: we need to recover our lost perspective on life. Things get out of proportion when we are suffering, and it takes a vision of something bigger than ourselves to get life's dimension adjusted again.

Vision. Perspective. The big picture. Arching over history, over the darkness and the light, over the deserts and fragrant gardens, over the one no less than the other, the tireless love of God for His creation. Us. Now. Forever.

July 09, 2004

1.1 steps forward, 1 step back . . .

A friend from church called me up the other day, ostensibly to see how I was doing. This is the guy that prayed for me at the beach last week (I mentioned it here). But I think he really wanted to tell me just one thing. He wanted to tell me he wasn't doing so okay. He said he was struggling with temptation. And he said he keeps praying that God would take this temptation away from him. But He doesn't. And my friend is "sore afraid."

Well, we talked. I mentioned something about Paul's thorn in the flesh, assuming it to be a temptation (rather than an infirmity, such as stuttering). Remember how God answered Paul: "My strength is perfected in your weakness."

I don't know that my words helped my friend at all. I think he just needed to preoccupy himself for a few minutes. It's people like him who remind me not to be glib about the life of faith. And it's people like him who prompted my recent "life is hard" meditations.

All of which reminds me of another friend. She was a Believer, yes, but the battle was exhausting her. Her husband was out of work and into drugs. She had three kids (one of them apparently borderline autistic), and another one on the way. Well, the DEA raided their apartment. Then her husband missed a court-date and got thrown in the county lock-up, all this during the 7th and 8th month of her pregnancy. And that's only the tip of the iceberg, by the way. During one of her frequent panic-attacks some of us went to her place to pray for her. We said all the usual things, some of the very things that Rebecca and Lucy have been saying in their comments, and indeed our presence and our prayers seemed to have a calming effect. Somebody, probably me, mentioned something about patience and being strong. She said, "Bob, I'm tired of being patient. I'm tired of being strong."

Well, that kind of thing is the context of these life-is-hard posts. And of course, this kind of story is not exactly the rare exception. I mean, if patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit, that's probably because in this life, this walk, we're really going to need it, right?

But hey, yesterday I promised, with reckless abandon, to get to the upside! And as Paul Newman said again and again in Hudsucker Proxy, "Sure-sure." But before I do I just want to say that I really love my commenters. These people form a small band of Mr. Standfast readers, and they always make my day. Greg Burnett stops in every once in a while, and I especially appreciated his brief comment yesterday. So much so, in fact, that I want you all to read it again. Greg wrote:
Hey, let the chips fall when you speak/write from your heart. Following Christ is not the easiest life, but it is REAL life! I had a quote for June 28 that is apt:

"Jesus promised his disciples three things—: that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble." - G.K. Chesterton

Ah, leave it to good old Gilbert Keith! You see, I don't want to just rush to the pat Biblical "God-is-in-control" answer. If you ask me, "How's your walk," well, I just want to be able to answer that my steps-forward number is at least fractionally larger than my steps-backward number. Get my drift?

Okay, on to the upside. Let's see, how to do this. I could blog on and on about the incredible and supremely sufficient grace of God. Or I could wax poetic about His awesome sovereignty. Hmmm, let me think about this. . . .

July 08, 2004

In Which I Try to Correct A Mistaken Impression; or, Smiley Faces All Around!

Well, I have reason to believe that yesterday's post left an unintended impression! Come to think of it, that's not at all uncommon with me. Ha! You see, I kind of write these things on the fly. They're not exactly well-considered, carefully planned, pains-takingly crafted little verbal gems. [You may have noticed that!] What I'm trying to do here, very often anyway, is pour out my thoughts in a relatively unedited fashion. I want it to have that in common with a personal journal. Some might call it, ungenerously, spew! [insert smiley face here]

Anyway, I think I left an unintended impression. I think the post struck people as being, well, negative. Maybe even a little depressing. After all, wasn't it entitled, "Life is Hard." Rebecca, who is nothing if not rational, pointed out that "chastisement" should give us hope. And Lucy, well she just laughed at it all. I imagine her saying, "For crying out loud, Bob, it's not THAT bad. Get a life!" She points out that "wilderness experiences" are God's way of training us. [Kind of like an Outward Bound weekend that lasts your whole life!] Lucy also says:
But it's important not to forget that that is not all there is to it. When out of the desert there is much to celebrate as God delivers his people, and uses them to his glory.
And both of these tactful and constructive ladies are right on the money. I know from frequent reading of Rebecca's blog that she is a very teacherly type, and I suspect that Lucy is too. They are able to discern the "lesson" in the storm. And you know what I always say: "Thank God for teachers!"

As for me, maybe I'm less of a teacher than an observer. And yesterday I was not trying to present the whole picture, but doodling around with a few of the darker colors in the palette. Trying to say to myself, Hey, Bobbo, remember this, will you? People really do have a hard time in this life, very often. Even believers.

I said yesterday I wanted to get back to some fundamental truths, and that "Life is hard," is one of them. Of course I didn't intend to leave it at that. I didn't intend to leave the impression that faith doesn't matter, or that joy is only for the next life. And in part I was simply reacting to the wealth & health gospel I've heard from some quarters. But, hey, another fundamental truth is grace. I was getting to that all along, folks.

But not today. I've already used up my blogging time this morning. What I thought I'd do here at the end is leave you with some lines from the poet William Blake. I've got a hunch they're relevant here, and anyway I've been meaning to insert them in my blog for months, and this looks like as good a time as any. I first heard these lines in a song by Van Morrison called, "The Price of Experience." Just something for your consideration:

What is the price of Experience? Do men buy it for a song?
Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No, it is bought with the price
Of all that a man hath, his house, his wife, his children.
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy,
And in the wither'd field where the farmer plows for bread in vain.

It is an easy thing to triumph in the summer's sun
And in the vintage and to sing on the wagon loaded with corn.
It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted,
To speak the laws of prudence to the houseless wanderer,
To listen to the hungry raven's cry in wintry season
When the red blood is fill'd with wine and with the marrow of lambs.

It is an easy thing to laugh at wrathful elements,
To hear the dog howl at the wintry door, the ox in the slaughter house moan;
To see a god on every wind and a blessing on every blast....

Well, it goes on like that for a while longer. Kind of a Blakean Jeremiad. What I was going to say is, even Biblical comfort rings hollow sometimes when you're in the midst of the "wintry blast." Not that it IS hollow, only that it's hard for us to receive in those times. Because of how we are (you know how we are!).

But this portion of Blake's poem, which by the way is quite long and is called The Four Zoas, ends with these words:

How is it we have walk'd through fires and yet are not consum'd?
How is it that all things are chang'd, even as in ancient times?

Grace is how. Grace. God is in the restoration business. His grace is wide, His grace is strong. More on this, the up-side, next time.

July 07, 2004

Life is Hard

I think it was Elizabeth that said it best, in a response to one of my recent posts. She said, "Life is hard, isn't it?"

So obvious. So often forgotten.

For some reason probably closely associated with a latent masochism down deep in my soul I sometimes turn on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. All those people ever talk about is the blessing, and the anointing, and how God is just waiting to pour out bounty and favor and blessing and all you have to do is have faith!

Something's wrong with that picture. Something's terribly askew. Me, I read the Bible, and I get the impression, the very strong impression, endlessly reinforced, that life is hard. Period.

Not just before we're saved. Not hard times for the unbelievers, Easy Street for the children of God. No, hard times, period. Confusion. Sin. Doubt. Messing up. Getting lost. Failing. Being wrong again. Breaking things. Dreams not coming true. Oh my, it must be because I don't have enough faith, right?

No. Not right. Not right at all. It's just the way things are. Ever since the Fall. The way God said they would be. Broken.

Listen, faith is important. Faith is going to get you through all this. By faith you will emerge the victor. And let us not pretend that the Word does not hold out promises for believers. David said, "I would have lost hope if I did not believe I would see the mercy of God in the land of the living."

But let us not pretend, period. The Bible is a book of instruction for people in a hard place. It seems to me that this presumption lies behind every verse. The presumption that life is hard, that we don't get it right, and that there is an enemy who desires only to destroy us.

The way back to the Celestial City is through a valley of shadows. Sure, in the mercy of God there will be springs in that desert, but for now it's no less a desert. Thank you for the springs, Father. Without them I couldn't make it through. But look, people, it's still a desert. It's still the valley of the shadow of death.

I said yesterday I was a perpetual beginner. Often I want to go back to first things, to bedrock principles. I want to reconnect with the basic truths. Maybe that's what I'll be doing in the coming days, here at Mr. Standfast. Reconnecting. Bear with me, please. I'm trying to see in this fog. I've got the wipers on high but the windshield's still blurry. That's how I'm seeing things. I have the Word, I read it and am blessed by it every day. It's like one of those desert springs. And not the only one, either. I've got prayer, and loved ones, and the Spirit, praise God, and all the fruits of the Spirit here and now. Nevertheless, the valley of the shadow is the valley of the shadow. That's how I see things. That's how Paul--even Paul--saw things, I believe. So he just held on to basic truths and trusted in the Lord. Father, me too. Me too, I pray.

The Carnival is here!

The Christian Carnival is in town again, thanks this week to Messy Christian.

I really like the Christian Carnival. I look forward to it every week. Why? Well, because it's a glimpse into the wonderful diversity of voices in Christian blogging. Diversity! Sometimes I use that word and people get all antsy because they figure I must be a "liberal" or something. No, actually I'm quite conservative. But I love the differences between us. Wherever there is tyranny, there is the crushing out of diversity. Enforced sameness. Can you imagine a parade in which all the marching bands wore the same colors and played the same songs? Thanks, Messy Christian, for hosting the wonderful and beautifully disharmonious (or disharmoniously beautiful) chorus that is the Christian Carnival!

July 06, 2004

Morning Meditation

I have always felt a certain kinship with beginners. In the Bible there is all the talk about running the race, and about reaching the goal, but as for me, I have this tendency to want to go back to the start, to wipe the slate clean, to begin again.

I guess I know where this comes from. As a child of divorced parents, I always wanted to go back to the time before the break-up. I wanted a restoration. There was something not right, not natural, without Dad around. I mourned, and I learned the lesson that life was about decline and diminishment and hopes unfulfilled.

If I were to build a house, all the joy and excitement for me would be at the start, with nothing but a grand vision in my head and an assortment of tools in my belt. But in the doing of the thing, that's when the disappointment comes.

Well, that's always been my attitude. I'm not saying it's wise or right. Perhaps it's no more than a stronghold of the mind. But there it is. I can think of times when I stood at at the doorway to a wonderful new prospect, and turned around. And hunkered down in my narrow little world and said, Not for me. Not yet. Not ready.

So I call myself, Beginner. And I don't really know what role a perpetual beginner like me might play in the great dance of providence. Maybe what I've lacked is hope. The expectation of good things. Of growth, not decline. Of presence, not absence.

Yes, as I write these words I begin to see. All along, even as a believer, I have lacked the proper expectation. Trusting God is about expecting Him to act, and expecting Him to act in accordance with His nature, which is love and wisdom and might.

In Psalm 27, David cries out to God. It is the song of a seeker. He wants more of God. He wants God's presence, which means also, God's favor. He dreams of it. He cries out for it. And then he says, "I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." You see? He has a sense of sure expectation. He knows--he KNOWS--that God will answer. And then finally he says, "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord."

Expectation always involves waiting. And waiting requires patience. It even requires being strong--that is, I think, holding on to one's hopes. Not being led astray simply because they have not been fulfilled within a certain time-frame. No, it's about keeping on. Continuing. Standing strong. It even requires courage sometimes, because it may seem to fly in the face of all that the world calls reasonable.

So we have here 1) David worshipping, 2) David crying out, and 3) David waiting patiently and with expectation. And he says, Take heart. Don't give up or lose hope. I might add, don't diminish what you expect from God so as to avoid being disappointed. To do so is to prepare your heart for disappointment, and it is to distrust God. Worship. Call. Wait. Hope. Take courage. Keep on. Expect. You too will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

July 04, 2004

When the Mountains Gathered

When I was still very young
these mountains first gathered about my town,
all in a strange and perilous night.
Imagine a boy's surprise
to find the sun not risen at its usual hour.
Or to make his bed in the long shadow
of a new and desolate height.
This was mysterious upheaval indeed.
I who had been a child of the plains,
of straight paths and slowly meandering streams,
now wandered tangled ways.
But what most disturbed and frightened me
was that no one seemed to comprehend--
family, neighbors, friends--none perceived
this sudden circumscription of their daily realm.
Was I just seeing things?
Or truly had some unknown power
cinched up the string of our horizon,
and bundled us into this unaccustomed dell?
And if so, then for what purpose?
To carry us into captivity?
Or to set us free?

Go 4th!

It's the morning of the 4th of July. Good ol' Independence Day. Barbecues. Parades. Fireworks. Son Tim has gone to Boston, where the celebration is EXTRAVAGANT! There will be a million people camped out along the banks of the Charles River, and the Boston Pops will be playing the 1812 Overture "in the rocket's red glare." Which, by the way, will reflect dazzlingly on the glass towers of Boston's skyline.

Meanwhile, up the road a piece, The Lovely L and I will probably be watching all this on TV. It seems we are past the point of desiring to negotiate massive crowds, endure the company of drunken revelers, and be stuck in traffic for an hour or two afterward. Hmmm. Can you tell I have mixed feelings about this day? A far cry from these hopes, expressed in the Virginia Gazette in 1877: "Thus may the 4th of July, that glorious and ever memorable day, be celebrated through America, by the sons of freedom, from age to age till time shall be no more. Amen and Amen."

But in any case, it's worth reading the Declaration itself at least once a year. This brief document gets rather lost in all the revelry. And yet this is what all the fuss was about, all those many years ago. And it's why we have the barbecues, parades, fireworks, etc. For a nice discussion of the drafting of the document, the debates that swirled around it both before and after its drafting, check out this article.

We celebrated the holiday last night by traveling up to Freeport (accompanied by Son Nate), home of a little ol' mom & pop store called L. L. Bean. There we watched a free concert by the awe-inspiring South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Come to think of it, not a bad way to celebrate Independence Day, since their music honors a more recent struggle for freedom, which culminated just 10 years ago. It was a grand evening!

And so, here's wishing all of you a happy 4th. Even if its not your own nation's day of independence, hey, you can still have a barbecue!

July 02, 2004

About Books

Well, I'm a bookish kind of guy, obviously (after all, I'm a librarian). I've probably read more books this year than seen movies. If you scroll down the sidebar, you'll see the list. Kind of interesting (to me anyway). I started the year by immersing myself in Middle Earth (again), then read some Biblical history type things, then some inspirational stuff. Then, thirsting for more fantasy literature, I started rereading Lewis' space trilogy. I'm into the 3rd book now, and I've got to say these are impressive works of the imagination.

I'm pretty cranky in my reading habits, and don't usually like people to give me books. Unless of course the book is SHORT. Which is why I consented to read Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs. It's a hoot. And short enough to read during your lunch break (or two). On the other hand, anything recommended to me by my kids I will make an effort to read. Son Tim, the Strong & Brave, recommended Street of Crocodiles, by Bruno Schulz. A small book with lots of really striking imagery, but strangely soul-less, it seemed to me. A bleak picture, many characters touched with insanity, I put it down half way through and decided not to pick it up again. I asked Tim about it, and the funny things is he seems to have lost interest also.

Tuesdays with Morrie may have been the most powerful book I've read lately. Many of you have probably read or heard about this one, as it was a best-seller not long ago. It is a portrait of a uniquely dying man. That is, a man who has chosen to die uniquely. It is really a book about ethics, about how to live life. Although some of its sentiments would be right at home on a Hallmark greeting card, somehow it manages to fill these commonplaces with new power. I was moved and inspired despite myself. A rewarding book.

Messy Spirituality really did me good. Not that it's a great book, but it recalls its readers to a few fundamental truths. For me it served as the antidote to the programmed-spirituality of The Purpose Driven Life, which depicts itself as a roadmap to spiritual nirvana. The late Mike Yaconelli did the Christian world a favor when he wrote this one.

Yesterday I picked up Washington's Crossing. I really love reading American history, and the Revolution is a piece of my country's history that I haven't delved into in years. This looks like a very good book. Meticulously researched, yet written with panache. That's a rarity in history books.

And there you have it. My book report. Dull reading, I guess, but that's all I've got today. See ya later!

July 01, 2004


Yesterday we went to a concert in the park. At a place called Mill Creek Park, which boasts a duck pond, an arching wooden bridge, and a gazebo. In the summertime, on Wednesday nights, bands play in the gazebo, and people throw blankets on the grass, line up their lawn chairs, and enjoy the summer evening with live music. Last night a friend of ours played. He'’s in a vocal group called Under the Song Tree. This was really cool, because these are three fine musicians, but the best thing was that we ran into Tom and Leah there.

Today I want to tell you about Tom:

He’'s an old friend. He'’s a passionate guy whose exuberance is sometimes hard to take. He hugs you hard and tells you he loves you out loud and tears come to his eyes and this is all quite genuine. Once he stood in front of our men'’s group and preached, and he preached like Richard Baxter said all men ought to preach: as a dying man to dying men.

Watch out if you go anywhere with him. Let’s do lunch, you might suggest. You wind up doing an afternoon, an evening. He waylays you, he reels you in. He says, share my passion. Share my heart. And let me share in your heart and your passion. Come out of your well-worn path, friend. Come out.

That’s Tom. He'’s hard to take sometimes. He'’s a tidal wave. A force of nature. You stop at a gas station or a convenience store with him, and the next thing you know he’'s standing there by the potato chips praying for a guy he’'s just met. He's intense, preposterous, fervent, annoying, and I love the man.

Tom has three kids, another one coming. Of course his love for them is fierce, unrelenting. He’s a musician, too, and a good one. You can listen to one of his songs, "Creator," by going to this website.

Anyway, we ran into them at the concert. I knew something was definitely wrong when Tom didn't leap out of his chair to give me a hug. We sat down with them, Laurie chatting with Leah, me with Tom. And Tom says, I'm in trouble, Bob. And he begins to explain to me that he thinks he's suffering from some kind of clinical depression. He broke down at a meeting at work, started crying like a baby. His boss told him to take the week off, get help. Now he thinks they're going to let him go. He said to me, Did you ever feel like the four walls have closed in tight, and there's no room to move? Did you ever feel like every decision you've ever made was a bad one?

When the concert was over we met some other friends, and we walked down the street for ice cream. I could see that Leah was trying to be cheerful, to keep things light. As for me, I had no idea what to say. I have learned that anything that I can possibly say at times like this just sort of rings hollow.

Later, we walked them back to their car. It was dark by this time, and we stood there in a tight little circle, holding hands, and we prayed for them.

I tell you, my heart is breaking for this man.