"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton
- Name: Robert Spencer
April 30, 2005
Yesterday I heard a television preacher say, "You have to reach down into yourself . . ." He was talking about winning "the victory" over something, I don't even remember what for sure. All I know is he is not correct. When I reach down into myself I only find . . . myself. Which is never enough, I'm afraid. Never strong enough. Never clean enough.
Yesterday evening some of us gathered to pray, and an old friend joined us, someone none of us had seen in a while. She was broken and sorrowful and confessed to some things. She wanted to come back to God but wasn't sure that God could forgive her. She wanted to hear the word of forgiveness and believe it. She wept, and people gathered around to pray, and there was, I believe, the beginning of healing and restoration.
It got me thinking about broken-ness. It seemed to me, as this woman asked me and others for forgiveness, showing us her sense of utter helplessness, that she was showing us "the one thing needful" for all of us. And that the only genuine response that I or anyone could make in that moment was not, I forgive you; but instead, Oh, dear one, I too need what you need. I too am broken. I too have tried to go my own way. I too have strayed. Thank you for showing me how to confess my utter helplessness. May I join you? May we go to the Father together?
How quickly we move from our holy moments of true dependence on God back into self-reliance again. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness." They hunger so because they do not have it. Not only are they unable to find it in the world, but neither can they find it in themselves. The choice at that point, when every option has failed you, is always between despair and God.
I too am the sheep who went astray. I followed my instincts, which seemed right in my own eyes. For a while the grass was green and good, but in the end I came to place of barrenness and darkness, and the wolves surrounded me, and truly I was as good as dead. I cried out at last for my shepherd, though in that moment he seemed so far away. Then all at once my shepherd was there. He leaped into the midst of the pack, brandishing his flaming brand in the faces of the panic-stricken wolves, scattering them. Quickly he hoisted me to his shoulders and carried me home. He saved me when I could not save myself.
April 29, 2005
1) Wish I'd said that: "I think that anything other than a heartfelt ache and longing for Jesus to return is well beneath what God has for us and what we are to embrace in these days." Greg Burnett
2 & 3) I will keep on pointing you to Out of the Bloo until, well, until he stops posting things like this from An Hour is all the enemy gets:
Even when I'm discouraged, tired, and fearful, may the sparks of joy that I feel even now be set ablaze. May I have the same attitude that was in You, and may I rejoice to pour myself out for others, as You did.And this from "he shall be high and lifted up":
I can write these words on a page, on the internet, but may I write on the wall with my blood, 'Jesus is alive'. I can write these words, but will people know that You are my one and only? Do I even understand that?4) Bill Streger features a baseball analogy for the Christian life. Loving baseball as I do, I find it downright irresistible. Also, it makes sense.
5) John at Scotwise quotes Dr. Edwards:
I go out to preach with two propositions in mind. First, every person ought to give his life to Christ. Second, whether or not anyone else gives him his life I will give him mine.6) New to my blogroll, welcome Bryan's Nonsense. Subtitle: "People have problems; God has solutions." Great post: A Peculiar People. I mean, GREAT post!
7) Though Jared is on a temporary sabbatical from Mysterium Tremendum, he's still posting to The Thinklings. Edifying, enouraging, and enlightening! [And no, this is not quid pro quo for Jared's kind words about Mr. Standfast here!]
8) Violet at Promptings links to some fine poetry sites, including one of my favorite modern poems, Jane Kenyon's Let the Evening Come.
9) My son Nate is at Merlefest this weekend. Many of his (and my) musical heroes will be performing there. Amost heaven!
10) Finally, Jenni works on a Mercy Ship in West Africa. She blogs her experiences there in the inspiring Vessels of Mercy. This is kingdom blogging at its finest. Read I once was blind but . . . if you don't believe me.
April 28, 2005
1) Walter Brueggerman's Easter prayer (found at Paradoxology).
2)Not Quite Art, Not Quite Living writes provocatively about the provocative nature of the Gospel message. Something to think about. (HT: Cerulean Sanctum).
2a) and James K. A. Smith writes about the very same thing in an article entitled, Christian Worship as Public Disturbance.
3) Another book to add to my digital to-read list: A Theology of Reading: The Hermeneutics of Love, by Alan Jacobs
4) The creed of the Christian Reformed Church, called Our World Belongs to God. This is a creedal statement that glows with passion. Wonderful!
5) Ryan Spencer Reed is a photojournalist. He has documented the reality of life in the Sudan today. Go to his website, by all means. But be warned. These are not easy pictures to look at. Also, read his personal narrative here.
6 ~ 9) Newcomers to the blogroll: Wittingshire, Semicolon, The Spirit Formed Life, and The Window in the Garden Wall (a C. S. Lewis blog).
10) Well said: "There is always going to be a child who will fish a book out of the garbage heap." Joseph Brodsky (HT: Gary Hyland)
April 27, 2005
My Digital To-read List
I'm getting accustomed to using Furl.net to bookmark pages. This allows you to create an index of "favorites" online. It's especially useful if you frequently use different computers (I'm likely to use 4 different computers in the course of a week). This way, for example, when I find out about books I think I might want to read, I can locate them in a library catalogue or commercial site and "furl" the page. You name the page as you see fit, assign it to a subject category of your choice, and attribute keywords for future searching purposes.
A few days ago Kim of The Upward Call listed the books in her own "to-read list," or what she calls The Horizontal Pile. The following books are just some in my "digital" pile:
Edmund Clowney's The Unfolding Mystery
Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Meditations on the Cross
Tom Eisenman's The Accountable Man
Richard Peace's Contemplative Bible Reading
Jerry Bridges' The Joy of Fearing God
Stanley Hauerwas' Cross Shattered Christ
And two novels:
Marilynne Robinson's Gilead
Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go
April 25, 2005
Since April is National Poetry Month . . . (2)
For me, blogging is primarily about the writing process. That is, the blogpost is essentially a stage in the process, and not really a finished product. It's just that writing happens to be an impulse of mine and blogging is just another kind of "page" to do it on. But it is in the nature of this "page" to de-privatize the process, allowing engagement with others. So while it is true that for me this process is not primarily about satisfying the requirements of a reader-consumer (as say, writing for publication can be), nevertheless "others" are the essential part of blogging that makes it different than keeping a private journal or something.
This having been said, while some of what I do here is intended to engage or encourage others, and so if there were no readers it would fall short of its purpose, other things I occasionally put up on Mr. Standfast are simply things I wrote which really have their purpose within themselves and "stand alone." I am blessed when readers respond, but on the other hand, my purpose was simply to write it out. This would describe the poems I put up here occasionally. They are not usually identifiably "Christian," and they are often quite dreamlike and enigmatic. I often imagine my regular readers simply shaking their heads and clicking "back" as soon as they see one of these things, muttering, "There he goes again," and moving on to something more edifying.
Nevertheless, Mr. Standfast is my world and a reflection of me. Therefore, with apologies to all who were expecting something different, here's my latest:
(a poem intended for two voices)
Somewhere in the world
the red leaves float toward the distant sea
Somewhere in the world
the little boy runs toward his forgotten home
Somewhere in the world
the two canada geese wing toward the undiscovered lake
Somewhere in the world
the hand of the woman moves slowly toward the lips of the man
Somewhere in the world
the grass on the hillside leans toward the fire in the west
Somewhere in the world
the hammer descends toward the spike
Somewhere in the world
the invisible worm bores toward the heart of the blighted rose
the express train races toward the faraway city
the wounded dog limps toward the line of trees at the edge of the field
the little boy runs toward his forgotten home.
April 24, 2005
Since April is National Poetry Month . . .
I thought I'd speak for a moment about contemporary poetry. Many people have told me they don't like it because they don't understand it. It's enigmatic, it doesn't say what it means, and often it doesn't even rhyme or make any sense at all, etc. Plus, many Christians seem to be traditionalists at heart. A poem is supposed to rhyme, gosh darn it! I don't suppose I can ever convince these people that they're missing out on a whole lot when they miss out on the poetry around them. But here's a story that attempts to explain what cannot really be explained:
Lets say you have this cousin who is going through a rough patch (as they say). Maybe his wife just left him or his business failed or he's just trying to "find himself." So you've put him up temporarily in the spare room in the attic. He sleeps on a little cot, his clothes neatly folded in a suitcase lying open on the bare floor. In the morning he takes his laptop to Starbucks and socializes with friends he's never met. At dinner he tells you all about the one in Manilla and how he plans to go there someday, just as soon as he gets things straightened out in his life. Then he reads you the poem he wrote that day, every day a new one, enigmatic phrases flashing a strange light. The kids love him. They tell all their friends about their eccentric uncle. One day you come home to find a note on the refrigerator that says, "Gone to Manilla. Will call." That evening, you climb the stairs to the attic and lay down in the cot just to be far away from everything for a while, and something from one of his poems blinks on momentarily in your mind. Not the words, just the feeling of the words, stark and strange like the look of things when the lightening flashes at night. You have the sense that many thousands of birds are flying southward above your roof, all of them migrating to the Philippines, perhaps. You wish he'd call, if only to read you a poem, any poem, just so you could capture that feeling again. That feeling. Its the feeling of the word Manilla. Not that you want to go there. Just that you want to hear it. You lie in the cot and say it again and again, Manilla, Manilla, Manilla. You think someday you'll write a poem. You think perhaps you already have.
April 23, 2005
I like book lists. Jared at The Thinklings recently asked readers what was the last good book they'd read, and what are they reading now. The responses are very interesting. Meanwhile Kim at The Upward Call listed the books in her "to-read" stack. Whoa! Both these lists are interesting and give me ideas. For example, a couple of Jared's responders mentioned Till We Have Faces, a book I've been wanting to re-read for some time now. That's coming soon.
As for my current reading, I find myself in a familiar predicament. I'm reading too many books at once. A biography of Puritan leader John Winthrop, a new baseball book, a Stephen Lawhead fantasy, and now, just arrived, John Stott's The Incomparable Christ. I have high expectations for this one.
Out of the Bloo is wonderful. Want proof? Here's a recent example:
God means what He says. He swears to it by His holiness (what greater thing could He swear by?). I praise Him for that iron determination of His, established in beautiful, beautiful truth, and for the sovereignty and Lordship that God exerts over His creation. There have been times in my life when the thought that God really is in control seemed an unfair thing. I can't fathom now what I was thinking - what a comfort it is to know that He simply will not lose, He will not let His promise return void.Aslan is On the Move is new to my blogroll. You gotta like that title! Recently he quoted Patricia Heaton, who stars in one of my favorite TV-shows, Everybody Loves Raymond. Heaton said,
I can only believe that salvation is a processfrom our perspective I mean, from God's view it's been done. It was finished on the cross. From our view, it's a process. You know, you have a great day one day and the next day you're really struggling. To me, the Christian life is a journey, and thank God that he is merciful to us. I mean, his mercy is the only thing we really have.Finally, I direct your attention to another fine post at 21st Century Reformation. Brad's preparing to preach from Romans 6, and in doing so he has allowed the text to read his own heart. This is an example of encountering the Scriptures as they were meant to be encountered. Even as we study the Word, the Word shines its piercing light deep into us. Specifically, in Brad's case, Romans 6 has prompted a key question:
This morning I was contemplating my next sermon on Romans 6 and "no longer letting sin reign in your mortal bodies". My sermon is on the "How to do this".
My thought was that the church doesn't teach often how to do this putting off. Paul later explains the process as "if we by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh". The question is:
Has anyone ever explained this process to you? Do you think the leaders in our churches know how to teach others how to do this putting off and ultimately bring others to victory? If an addict came to you, could you lead him to victory and liberation? If a person was struggling in their marriage with arguing, could you teach them, over say 6 months, how to find self-control and the means to be delivered from the impulse to anger?
If we can't do these basic discipleship tasks, are we making disciples?
April 22, 2005
The GBA X
Who is talking about the cross of Christ? Who is blogging about it? Who is meditating on the cross, wondering about the cross, imagining its reality not simply as a fact of history (although it is certainly that), over and done with, but as a reality that invades the present moment? These are the questions I ask as I scan the blogosphere in search of nominees for the Gospel Blogger Award? Where is the blogger for whom the cross of Christ is, as the apostle Paul says, "all in all"?
That would be the ideal GBA candidate. Broadly speaking, it's a post that names the Name, a post that recognizes from Whom our blessings flow. In my thoroughly un-exhaustive search for candidates I have discovered two outstanding examples. One of them is apologetic in approach, while the other is a meditation or testimony.
First off, the apologist. I nominated the highly esteemed Brad Hightower of 21st Century Refomration. The post is entitled Our Identification with the Resurrection of Christ and Our Sense of Ourselves. I like the way Brad emphasizes personal identity here. Who are we in Christ? This has been an issue close to my own heart lately. It's hard to select a brief passage to quote, there are so many to choose, but here's a powerful excerpt:
To follow after Christ and enter into His life through our identification with His cross and resurrection is to "take up our cross". We are called to display this moral distinction in our ability to love and love while we suffer. This love while suffering is what is impossible in the flesh. Love of friends and fellow-thieves is easy. Even Mafioso's and gangsters do the same. But love of those who get in the way of our quest for personal power and success, this type of love is a daily battle.But it will not do to simply read this quote and move on. Stop where you are and read the whole thing!
The other nominee is, as I mentioned, more in the personal testimony or meditation style. It is the work of one of my favorite bloggers, Ragamuffin Diva. Why do I love Ragamuffin? Precisely because there is a personal and heartfelt quality to her writing that I value highly. Diva's post is entitled Kyrie Eleison, which of course means "Lord, have mercy." Diva says,
Let me tell you something wondrous about the word mercy as it's used here. Mercy is the English translation of the Greek word eleos. The root word is the old Greek word for oil--olive oil. Way back in the day, and even now, pumpkin, olive oil was used as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. We are all wounded dear one. Mercy is the warm balm that God gently, lovingly massages into our hurting places. As he soothes us, He makes us stronger, and ultimately whole.That's simply awesome, which is why Ragamuffin Diva is the newest recipient of the Gospel Blogger Award. She's pouring out the oil over there at her blog. Go and get some right now!
April 21, 2005
This Just In!
Words on the Wind
In the "life-imitates-art" department, I had an experience yesterday not unlike this fanciful description of a certain dramatic way God sometimes intervenes in our daily lives. I was walking over a bridge, maybe 60 feet up from the street below, when I spotted a rectangle of paper pressed against the outside of the chain-link fence that runs along the edge of the bridge. The stiff wind had plastered it there, twitching helplessly like a small bird. I reached through the fence, plucking it from the wind's grasp. It was a little bigger than a baseball card. On one side, in elegant script, was the following message:
The Blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit descend upon you and grant you everlasting life. Amen.I'll take it!
April 20, 2005
Say 10 things About Water Without Using the Word "Wet"
1) Flat on top (except in the mountains).
3) The colors change--right now, a sort of bluish gray.
4) It pulses, like a heart. Pushing, pulling.
5) "No man knows its secret springs, or has walked in its hidden places."
6) On the other hand, you can always play like mad in the shallow parts: jumping, plunging, splashing, etc.
7) BTW: you don't go under it, you go into it.
8) But always be careful. Don't get carried away!
9) The big waves are sometimes called "grinders."
10) Giving, withholding.
Cross Quote #9: A Simple Question
In your own times of severe distress, which are you more aware of--your suffering or your salvation?from C. J. Mahaney's Christ Our Mediator
April 18, 2005
A Tragic Nostalgia: Robert Frost and the Longing to Return
The Israelites always wanted to go back, but God wanted them to go through.
Me, I've never been to the desert. I've never wandered in a dry land, unsure of where the next watering-place might be. Of course, if I'd twice seen God produce water from a stone I might be relatively unconcerned, but then how can we really know whether God will do again what he has done before?
Yes, I'd probably be longing for the last good place. The last place of refreshment, with shade and good clean spring water. That, after all, is most definitely there. But the next spring . . . how do we even know there is a next spring?
Well, that's how our minds work. We hang on to what we know for sure. There is an instinct for going back. A yearning, when we come into a place of dearth, a place of hunger and thirst, for yesterday's provision. The trouble is, as Robert Frost knew well, our "deserts" are mostly within.
They cannot scare me with their empty spaces(From, Desert Places, by Robert Frost)
Between stars--on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
Frost was mostly skeptical about God. His poetry reveals an inclination, a longing, to go back. In his poem entitled Directive he distills this longing into a work that is both sublime and sadly wishful. He begins, "Back out of all this now too much for us." Frost's "back" is the place of his childhood. It's a long-abandoned farm in the hills of Vermont, and more precisely, a stream that provided the water for the farmhouse there. Frost's adult life was one of much tragedy and loneliness, and perhaps that stream was his last oasis, his last place of refreshment. And yet Frost's hopefulness seems fancied, a cover for despair. He says, if you go back to that stream, you'll find hidden beneath the over-hanging roots of an old tree, "a broken drinking goblet, like the grail." Then he ends:
That is Frost's longing, and it is often ours. To go back to the last good place. But this longing to return is always tragic, it seems to me; a tragic nostalgia that blinds us to the present provision, and to the promise of the future. In the second chapter of Jeremiah God speaks these words to wayward Israel:
Drink and be whole again, beyond confusion.
We see here that God is not against looking back, and encourages us to learn from the past. But God is calling us to go through, not back. Wholeness was never back. Wholeness is ahead, when we will one day drink from the stream that flows from a throne. Each step of the way there is an act of faith, and will seem reckless to some. Yet God is faithful to provide. Thank Him for the last refreshing, and then walk on in confidence to the next, for He has not forgotten His promises to you.
I remember the devotion of your youth,
how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert,
through a land not sown.
April 16, 2005
Do not abandon the work of your hands, O Lord.
Do not leave me half-formed on the potter's wheel.
Design me, Lord, and skillfully craft me.
If your were to turn your attention from me,
If you were to leave me unfinished,
I would be fit for nothing,
and object of scorn, without grace or beauty,
a potsherd on the rubbish heap.
Finish me, Maker.
I am yours.
April 15, 2005
A Question of Light
My post entitled Christian, You Are the Light of the World prompted interesting responses both from Brad at 21st Century Reformation and Milton at Transforming Sermons.
Now, although I'm content with most of what I said in my post, Brad's response has caused me to wonder if I have not inadvertently misused Matthew 5:14. There is just no doubt that Jesus is speaking of behavior ("good deeds"), not words. What I have written about the importance of a sincere confession as the starting place of Christian living is not, it still seems to me, untrue. It's just not the point Jesus was making.
So, I think what I'm going to do is go back to the drawing board. I'm going to reconsider just what I want to say about what it means to be "the light of the world," and rewrite the piece entirely. Meanwhile, because I do stand by the essential points of the original post, I'm going to incorporate them into a new post, one that does not rest its case on Matthew 5:14.
I want to thank both Brad and Milton for their helpful interaction here. Re-thinking and re-writing are a valuable part of the blogging-process, and your comments have helped to stimulate that process for me. More later.
April 14, 2005
The God of the Second Chance
Acts 15:38-40 (circa 50 AD)
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.2 Timothy 4:9-11a (circa 65 AD)
Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.
April 13, 2005
Be Who You Are!
I've been posting a series of meditations on the Christian's identity according to Scripture. That sounds a little pretentious to me, but that's what I'm calling this series for now: Meditations on the Christian's Identity. I simply want to take up some of the Scriptural statements about who we are - we believers - and, well, blog about it. So far I've done four:
Christian, You Are a Child of God
Christian, You Are a Branch of the True Vine
Christian, You Are a Friend of Jesus
Christian, You Are the Light of the World
This writing-program has served as a kind of spiritual discipline for me. These are "meditations," not acts of thoroughgoing Biblical scholarship. I don't pretend to have said everything about these passages, of course, or even necessarily the most important things, but I simply wanted to use them to speak a word of encouragement to believers and to myself.
Yesterday I listened to John MacArthur on the radio. He was speaking about 2 Peter 1:5, explaining Peter's use of the Greek word arete, translated "goodness" in the NIV, "moral excellence" in the NASB, "virtue" in the ESV. Drawing on extra-Biblical sources, MacArthur showed that, broadly speaking, the word can be applied to anything that fulfills its function with excellence. Thus, a knife that cuts well, a horse than runs fast, an actor who performs brilliantly, these things have arete. So to call a Christian to "arete" or virtue, is to call him to live out or fulfill his God-assigned purpose. Or, to put it another way,be who you are!
This imperative - to be who God says we are - runs throughout the Scriptures. Think of Paul saying, "for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light . . ." (Eph. 5:8) Or: "How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:2)
I was born into darkness and continued in it far longer than I have lived in the light. My self-identity, complex and deep-seated, was formed in that darkness, and so I often continue to think of myself in the old way, as I was before the new birth. These are habits of thought that one can only deal with by taking in the truths of God in His utterly trustworthy Word. If you face the same predicament, then ask yourself, who does God say that I am? And then believe it!
Here's the application. When facing temptation, do we have an expectation that we are bound to fail, because that's just how we're wired? We've always failed in the past, after all. We've been doing that particular thing for as long as we can remember. The flesh is strong, and we are so weak in the spirit, we tell ourselves. Hey, it's just who we are! But God says, Christian, you are who I say you are. And I call you my children. Jesus, my Son, has made it so. Christian, I am for you! And I have not given you a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom you cry, "Abba! Father!"
When you're facing that temptation, that pain, that enemy, that voice of condemnation that speaks the old damning lies of the evil one into your soul, remember who you are, child of God, and cry Abba, Father. He will rescue you!
[BTW: another blogger posting recently on this same theme is Brad Hightower at 21st Century Reformation]
Cross Quote #8
"Now, Jesus makes the extraordinary claim that I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh (John 6:51). Eat my flesh and drink my blood, he goes on to say, and the narrator reports that these remarks were so offensive that even some of Jesus' followers left him, partly because he sounds like a suicidal cannibal, partly because he makes his own death and our participation in it the key to life. God save us from communion bread disguised by silver platters and lace doilies. We eat raw chunks of him, together, or we die alone. The words of Jesus and the thoughts behind them are too grisly and too deep and too unsafe for a disciple to invent. Jesus clearly thought that people could only thrive in this life if they joined together continually for this relentless absorption of him, piece by piece."
from Thomas Schmidt's A Scandalous Beauty.
April 12, 2005
An American History Reading Plan
Here's my American history reading plan. The idea is to read through the nation's history by reading a series of overlapping biographies of key persons. For example, to start out, you might want to read a biography of, say, John Winthrop, who died in 1649. Your next biography should take up the life of some representative figure who was born around that time (give or take a decade or two). For example, Increase Mather (1639-1723). After that, maybe Ben Franklin (1706-1790) or Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). I have always believed that one of the best ways to get a sense of a past time is to see it through the "window" of biography. Now, this is obviously a long-term project that will perhaps take several years to complete (including the predictable interruptions, of course). But I'm kind of liking the idea. Life and times of John Winthrop, here I come!
[UPDATE: Okay, I've chosen the first in the series: The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop, by Edmund S. Morgan. Looks like a good one!]
Thomas Schmidt's A Scandalous Beauty
C. J. Mahaney, whom I seem to be quoting an awful lot lately, believes that one helpful strategy for keeping the Cross of Christ the central thing in your life is to frequently read good books about the Cross. I've taken that to heart, which is why I wanted to read Thomas Schmidt's A Scandalous Beauty: The Artistry of God and the Way of the Cross. I first heard of this book from Jared at The Thinklings. The book is essentially a series of meditations, sometimes humorous, but in the end very serious indeed. Like Jared, I highly recommend this one. Here's an excerpt from a review I found at SpiritRestoration.org:
God is out to draw near to people and to woo them to Himself through the horrific death of Jesus the Christ. What Schmidt seeks to persuade the reader of is that God does not do this only (or even primarily) through propositional truths but through the flesh and blood of the Logos, the Word who comes with poetry and story, with images and word pictures to help us understand that His death, while scandalous and filled with pain, is also beautiful, not only for its sacrifice but also for the artistry of God in executing it and proclaiming it.Schmidt starts out in a rather whimsical tone that leaves you somewhat unprepared for the deeply personal turn in the last chapter. Here the book moves from merely interesting and readable into the realms of art. Exceptional.
April 11, 2005
Christian, You Are the Light of the World (Matthew 5:14)
The Bible tells us that God is light and “the father of lights.” Then again, Jesus is the light of men that shines into a sin-darkened world, and the darkness cannot overcome it. How then, can it be said that you and I, Christian, we who are so easily "overcome," are nevertheless – like Jesus – the light of the world?
When Jesus spoke those words to his disciples, near the start of his “Discourse on the Hill” (Matthew 5-7), those disciples were not a particularly impressive bunch. They certainly hadn't accomplished much yet. They were merely the ragtag crew–rather disreputable, in fact– that followed Jesus around. And not only ragtag and disreputable, but soon to have their character-flaws and weak spots exposed for all to see. Sometimes they would sorely lack meekness, and sometimes they would not be particularly pure-hearted. Some of them would be a little too ready to “draw the sword,” and at other times their hunger would not be so much for righteousness as worldly honor. Yet these are the folks whom Jesus calls “the light of the world.”
To walk in the light, Paul says, is no longer to be associated with “the things that are done in the dark.” He goes on, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”
To be children of light is to be so closely associated with light as to share its characteristics. God is light. We are children of light. Jesus, God’s Son, is the light of the world. You, Christian, are also the light of the world. Are you getting it yet? Being light has something to do with being attached to the source of all light. Do you believe it?
Jesus knew that in time His disciples were going to become vessels of truth, carriers of a glorious revelation, walkers in the way of God. But before all this, they would have to come to terms with thee difficult question that Jesus once asked: "Who do you say that I am>" Pater's example, in fact, is a very good one. When was he the light of the world? Well, first off, when he confessed to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the son of God.” That was surely a good start, but soon afterward he was hiding his light under a bushel. You remember the three denials? Three times someone thought they’d spotted a glimmer, but Peter kicked dust over the fading sparks and said, “I’m telling you, I don’t know the man.” You've never done anything like that, right?
The light you shine, Christian, is first of all (though certainly not last of all) in your confession. Answer the following questions: Who is Jesus? Why did he die? What happened after that death? Where is he now? Finally, what does it all matter?
Christian, everything depends on your answers. You cannot "walk as children of light" until you come to terms with these. In this world we like to devalue words in favor of actions. We think it a wonderful thing if a man can “walk the walk” whether or not he “talks the talk.” But your walk begins in your confession. I hasten to add that it doesn't by any means end there. Nevertheless, what you believe, that’s what you walk out. So shine your light, Christian. Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks you, “How shall the world know who you say that I am, and also why it matters, unless you both talk it and walk it?” Word and deed, enabled by the Holy Spirit, this is the light of the Gospel shining through men.
Christian, you are the light of the world.
April 09, 2005
Being Saved (1Cor 1:18)
We Christians would truly like to be the kind of people for whom the cross is no longer necessary. I mean, wouldn't it be nice if we could simply please God? Shouldn't He have designed things so that, once we believed, we could simply graduate to deeds of love and grace and power, victory upon victory. Long after we've become Jesus-followers, we are still more like the disciples at the beginning of their journey with Jesus--awed by this gifted teacher and miracle worker, willing to follow him, eager to do what he does, but essentially oblivious to the necessity of the cross--than like, say, these same men as we see them in the Books of Acts, who know that everything that had happened was in fact the plan of God. They had watched the good teacher expire on the "scandalous tree," and now they knew why. For these men, the lesson was never lost on them. It never got old or inappropriate.
The learning experience of the disciple is really just this--learning that the cross of Christ is never merely a memento, never simply a landmark event of the past. Instead, it towers over our present moment, eternally relevant, eternally sufficient. Blessed are the poor in spirit, even those that are "saved," for they shall remember that they are still in need of "being saved."
April 08, 2005
I recommend . . .
Peter Leithart says that the Gospel of Matthew recapitulates the periods of Israel's history in the life and ministry of Jesus. Maybe this is old news to Biblical scholars (I guess Irenaeus first noticed it), but it's not something I've ever come across before. Fascinating.
The GBA IX
It’s been 2 weeks since the last Gospel Blogger Award, and during that time I’ve not exactly been scouring the blogosphere for more candidates. It’s okay though, because something cool has begun to happen. People are starting to send me their own personal picks (the green invitation on the sidebar seems to be having its desired effect). This is a really nice development, and I hope it continues. Ideally, each GBA would be selected from a slate of candidates mostly chosen by you the readers.
Just a note for those who of you who might be encountering the GBA for the first time. I'm simply seeking to honor those Bloggers who have written a post that captures the beauty and glory of Christ and his Cross. Oh, and please feel free to nominate your own recent favorites. It really helps!
So, without further ado, let’s move on to the candidates themselves. Matthew Hall, inspired by Jonathan Edwards, has written a soaring rhapsody entitled Prizing Christ. Much of the post is taken up with three lengthy quotations from Edwards himself, but here is Matthew's summation:
The problem is not that I, as a creature, desire happiness - God put that desire in me. The fight of faith is that I am blinded by sin and seek to derive happiness from everything but the one true fountain of delight. I daily need to test my heart’s direction in this regard. If I am happy, is it tied to Christ? If I am low in melancholy, is it because I am seeking joy, pleasure, and delight in religious exercise rather than in Jesus himself? But who or what else is as excellent as Jesus?Moving right along, BearyAnn of Bear Witness has nominated a post called How to Prevent Faith Decay from Doug at Dawg Blog. Doug expands upon the following four elements of "faith-decay prevention": 1) Remember your salvation story and remember Jesus Christ; 2)renew your mind; 3)respond to God's deeds and promises in faith and trust. Finally, Doug adds this word of encouragement:
Then finally remember this. When you falter and fall, Biblical faith is a rebounding faith. Abraham did not live a perfect life of faith but he did rebound. How about you? Are you living by unwavering faith? If not, isn’t time you to rebound?In addition to these two excellent nominees, I've selected Greg Burnett, who writes beautifully and imaginatively about Simon the Cyrene, the man who was chosen to carry our Lord's cross to Golgotha. Greg imagines meeting him someday in Heaven.
So my question, waiting for you, is what you saw when you looked upon Him to pick up that cross. Did the Father grace you with understanding of Who you were helping? Did you look upon that Lovely Face and see His determination to save us? Did the confession surge from you that you might someday shout (as did Thomas after Jesus' resurrection in John 20:28): "My Lord and my God!"?The hardest part about these GBA posts is picking a winner. These three bloggers are all imminently deserving, but the standout for me this time around comes from Bill at Out of the Bloo. Nominated by Jared (Mysterium Tremendum), the post is entitled The Fear of the Lord. That's certainly a neglected doctrine in our time, but its integral to the Gospel. I am reminded that the Psalmist's frequent remark concerning those in rebellion against God is, "There is no fear of the Lord in them." Now here's a quote from Bill's excellent post:
A possible answer comes to me. Fear of the Lord is - in part - the knowledge of how completely helpless I am without Him. Do I understand that? I'm an American, with a checking account and a college degree and a 401k and a house and three (three?) cars. It's easy for the well-integrated unbelievers among us to not "feel" helpless. Our physical circumstances are not desperate.Yes, I like that. That represents perfectly the spirit that I want to honor with the Gospel Blogger Award. Therefore, the winner of GBA IX is Out of the Bloo. And thanks, Jared, for bringing it to my attention!
Yet, without Christ we are helpless. There is no "pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps" in the Kingdom of God. We have so little power on our own. Christ died for us while we were dead in our trespasses and sins. You can't get much more helpless than "dead".
April 07, 2005
Cross Quote #7
This one's from D. A. Carson:
I fear that the cross, without ever being disowned, is constantly in danger of being dismissed from the central place it must enjoy, by relatively peripheral insights that take on far too much weight. Whenever the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far removed from idolatry.from The Cross and Christian Ministry (p. 26)
April 06, 2005
Speaking of Books
Now that I'm nearly finished with Jonathan Edwards, I've already picked up my next read. It's called A Scandalous Beauty: the Artistry of God and the Way of the Cross, by Thomas Schmidt. I just read the first chapter and liked it a lot. It's called "What Luck." Here's a quote:
Maybe the difference between people is not their luck but their seeing. Maybe that still small voice you are waiting to here is already whispering in the details of your life.Cool, huh?
What is it whispering? I can hardly hear it for me, and I certainly can't hear it for you. It whispers so close to your ear that no one else can hear it. You know your pain, or whatever it is that fills your mind in quiet moments. I only know that there are some circumstances in your life, like there are in mine, that you could see as "unfortunate," or your lot in life, or something you are stuck with, or somebody else's fault, or just a bad break . . . or the love of God who is whispering for you to look, look again, look harder, and see something new. Some new opportunity to know God's infinite and infinitely complex and amazingly individual grace. Some new chance to forgive and be forgiven. Some new possibility to learn love, especially for someone who doesn't see the least bit lovable. Something extraordinary God has in mind.
April 05, 2005
The 1st "R"
I like to ask people what they're reading. You know, at that point in the conversation when most people ask, "So what do you do for a living?" I ask instead, "Read any good books lately?" It seems to take people aback. It's an unexpected question. I don't ask just anybody, mind you. Only people who I think might have interesting answers.
As for me, I'm reading George Marsden's Jonathan Edwards: A Life. A very satisfying book that seems to put the Great Awakening into a sound perspective, neither psychologizing the episode, as other historians have done, nor applying some current social theory fad, but simply describing the event and the various reactions and interpretations of Edwards and his contemporaries. Edwards himself comes across as a remararkable figure, not without faults and foibles. This book has stirred a desire in me to read some of Edwards own writings (never have, except of course for the famous Sinners in the Hands . . . sermon) and also to read more about the Awakening.
The Edwards book is serious and stimulating, so my other current read is pure entertainment. Stephen Lawhead's Taliesin. Lawhead ties together the Arthurian legend with that of Atlantis. I'm not familiar enough with this genre to know if that's a highly imaginative idea or just your run-of-the-mill fantasy trope, but I'm thoroughly enjoying the book. A highly-sophisticated and "advanced" Atlantis is the setting for one story-line, while the other is set against a backdrop of pre-Christian Wales. The book is the first of a trilogy (of course . . . it wouldn't be a "fantasy" if it didn't come in threes!). It's too early for me to give it my unequivocal thumbs up, but I'm definitely finding it difficut to put down.
BTW, read any good books lately?
April 04, 2005
Christian, You Are a Friend of Jesus
Friendship is a word of relationship, a word of sharing, a word of intimacy. In the Greek world, it is a word closely associated with brotherly love.
In our world, the word bears a lighter burden. It is often a breezy sort of word, meaning nothing more than "casual acquaintance."
And yet there remains even for us a persistent ideal of friendship. True friends, we like to think, share all things with one another. What belongs to one, belongs to the other. And friends always trust one another. They see the world as if through one another's eyes; they walk in one another's shoes.
In fact, a friend, Jesus says, might even lay down his life for his friend. A friend, in other words, sets aside his own interest and substitutes the interests of the one he calls friend. Even to the point of death.
That's what a friend would do, Jesus says. And then he says, you are my friends, if you love one another. It is not in question whether Jesus himself is a friend to us. No doubt. He demonstrated that once and for all at the Cross. But here he says, "You are my friends." And you think, but have I lain my life for Jesus. Have I set aside self-interest for him? Do I see through his eyes? Walk in his shoes? Can it really be true that I am his friend?
And Jesus answers, Not that you have chosen me, but I have chosen you. I name you friend. I point you out to the father and I say, there, that one, he is a friend of mine!
Here is a word of great assurance. Christian, do you believe it? No, it is not that you have earned this title, "friend." If so, it would be a friendship only as constant, only as dependable, as you are. But this is different. Instead, Christ has simply determined the matter. He has declared it so. He calls you friend.
Jesus was the friend of sinners, but as if that weren't enough, he calls sinners to a life of friendship with him. He calls you, Christian, into an ever-deepening intimacy with him. He calls you friend. He says, trust me. Walk with me. I will show you thing you have not imagined. You are to be, like Abraham, my friend. Not just for a day, but forever. I have made it so.
Warning: Cultural Commentary Ahead
Sometimes it's good for me to remember what this blog is and is not. It is not my own personal soapbox. Although I can pontificate with the best of them, it turns out that my point of view is not particularly uncommon. My position on the Terri Schiavo matter, for example, was well-represented around the blogosphere. Although I was tempted at times to add my voice to the chorus, it would have filled no gap, served no particular purpose. And so I refrained.
The same holds true for the death of Karol Wojytla--aka Pope John Paul II. The opinionators, pontificators, and quick-time cultural philosophers are hard at it. Most of them are graduates of journalism schools, which seems to qualify you as an expert in all things. Down beneath all the babble lie a few simple truths about the man from Poland, but only time will serve to reveal them.
I mean no disrespect to the man. Actually, I find him to have been one of the most remarkable men of my lifetime. But have you noticed that each succeeding death of a famous man or women has prompted a yet more extravagant cultural response? All this is driven primarily by the competition between various media-outlets for the attention of our eyes and ears. I mean, the roar is deafening. Is it really the "greatness" of the deceased one that makes it seem so loud, or is all this simply an "amped up" version of the old time newsboys in the street, holding up their papers and shouting the headlines to the passersby. The loudest or most attention-getting voice sold the most papers. And that was the purpose after all.
So they'll be no plaster pearls of wisdom from me concerning whatever earth-shaking story has captured the media-moment. Such pearls are, in fact, everywhere. The streets are littered with them. Me, I'm just waiting patiently for the parade to pass by so I can cross to the other side.
April 01, 2005
Cross Quote #6
From Advice for Young Converts, by Jonathan Edwards:
In all your course, walk with God and follow Christ as a little, poor, helpless child, taking hold of Christ's hand, keeping your eye on the mark of the wounds in his hands and side, whence came the blood that cleanses you from sin and hiding your nakedness under the skirt of the white shining robe of his righteousness.