Mr. Standfast

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

March 31, 2005

Christian, You Are a Branch of the True Vine

You draw your life, your sustenance, from Jesus. As long as you remain in Him, His substance flows in you. Apart from Him, you have no life.

This is a metaphor that illustrates an imperative: remain in Him! Even as a branch must remain attached to the vine in order to bear fruit, you too are called to remain in the True Vine. Only then can you ever fulfill your true function, which is to bear fruit. Apart from the vine, you will never reach fruition, fulfillment, completeness. You will be like a branch cut off and cast aside. To remain, then, is to be fruitful.

Why does it matter? Simply: only by this means will we be able to love one another. Love is the Christly command, and yet in order to obey, we must remain in the one who is love. And this same love is the means by which, ultimately, God receives the glory he deserves. So remain. Stay attached. Draw life. Then you'll grow, put out buds, flower, bear fruit. This is the natural order of the Christian’s life. And your joy will be complete.

Christian, do you believe it? Are you remaining in Him? Are you continuing, day by day, to draw your sustenance, your nurture, from Him alone? Can you say that your love for God and for others is like His was? Oh, not its same purity and perfection, of course, but bearing the resemblance, as of the same genus. Fruit of the same vine.

And then he says, if you do this, if you remain in me, my Father will give you what you ask in my name. You see, to draw upon Jesus is to draw upon the Father. Then, when your love for others, which is only the love you draw from the Vine, manifests itself in fervent intercession for those you love, the Father will give you what you ask. Result: your joy, His glory.

March 29, 2005

Cross Quote #5

From C. J. Mahaney's The Cross-Centered Life:

The cross is the centerpiece of Paul's theology. It wasn't merely one of Paul's messages; it was the message. He taught about other things as well, but whatever he taught was always derived from, and related to, the foundational reality that Jesus Christ died so that sinners would be reconciled to God and forgiven by God.

Theologian D. A. Carson writes, "He cannot long talk about Christian joy, or Christian ethics, or Christian fellowship, or the Christian doctrine of God, or anything else, without finally tying it to the cross. Paul is Gospel-centered; he is cross-centered."

March 28, 2005

Christian, You Are a Child of God

God says, “I will be your father, and you will be my sons and daughters.” This is not merely his earnest wish. This is his plan, his purpose, his will. It was none of your doing or deserving. In fact, you had run as far from him as you could get. You were living in the streets, homeless, fatherless. Do you remember? Have you come to believe that he called you to himself only for a moment, or only till the next time you falter and fail, or only till his love runs out or his attention is diverted?

His love does not run out. His attention is ever upon you, because he is your perfect father. Do you believe it? Do you believe that the one whom Jesus called Abba, Father, is your father as well? Do you believe that his arms are open wide? Do you believe he longs to comfort you, to shelter you? Do you believe he prizes intimate relationship with you? Christian, he is your loving father. He has declared it so, and he cannot lie. Why do you wonder? Why do you fear?

The Scripture says that it was the Father’s will to make Jesus first among many brothers and sisters. And Jesus himself said, “I go to prepare a place for you in my Father’s household.” These are not empty promises. God Almighty has declared it. He has given you a name, set aside for you an inheritance, and poured into your hands a foretaste of his fortune. Christian, you are a child of God.

Too Long at the Fair

If you’ve been tracking with me for a while, you know that much of the time I’ve been focusing my attention on the cross of Christ and its meaning for our lives. My desire is not to stray from this “one thing needful,” the essential message of the cross. You can read any number of Christian best-sellers in which that message is marginal at best. Christian publishers, hoping to hit upon the next great Christian goldmine, promise again and again that the latest book is the one that will usher you into a life of permanent fulfillment and happiness. The Christian marketplace is a cacophony of these competing promises. The marketing-ethic, which is by no means closely associated with a rigorous honesty, has been adopted wholesale even by well-intentioned Christian ministries.

The Christian life, here in America at least, begins to resemble nothing more than a carnival midway. The barkers compete with one another to grab your attention, making euphoric promises. The colored lights, the jangling music, the cotton candy and the plastic prizes - our senses are filled but our minds are empty. Stay too long, and you begin to feel a little queasy. Your head aches. Your body yearns for substantial fare. But someone just hit the bull’s eye and won a Christian CD. Her face is ecstatic. Surely it’s a God-thing. And someone else just bought a ticket on the carousel of "purpose." He just knows it’s going to change his life. Meanwhile, at the other end of the midway is the big tent where the miracle-workers promise power from on high. You’ll have to wait in line, but that’s okay. It’s all so much like "the world," you feel right at home.

Meanwhile, on a hill far away stand three unattended crosses. If you go there, you go alone. You approach with trepidation. Something inside you says no, turn back, there’s nothing for you here. The silence of the moment distresses you, betraying the shallowness of your own thoughts, and you long for the convenient distractions of the midway again. But you’re a Christian, after all, and there’s something about this place that draws you onward. Once, long ago, you had stumbled on this place, and yes, your life was changed, and given purpose, and given meaning, direction, even power. Almost against your will you fall to your knees before the central cross and weep and weep. Forgive me, you cry, I didn’t know what I was doing.

The cross is not simply a place of beginning, a place you leave from, a place you cherish in memory. It is, strangely enough, a place of life, of possibility, of hope. He that hung there, by God’s design and for your salvation, is not simply alpha, but omega. Not simply source, but destiny. Not simply foundation, but capstone. Not simply servant, but King.

March 26, 2005

Cross Quote #4

From 'It Is Finished' But It Is Not Over, by Stanley Hauerwas:

God has finished what only God could finish. Christ's sacrifice is a gift that exceeds every debt. Our sins have been consumed, making possible lives that glow with the beauty of God's Spirit. What wonderful news: "'It is finished.' But it is not over." It is not over because God made us, the church, the "not over." We are made witnesses so the world—a world with no time for a crucified God—may know we have all the time of God's kingdom to live in peace with one another.

Did not our hearts burn within us!

Mostly I don't yearn for you, God. Mostly, I yearn for a thousand things first, before I ever yearn for you. Let there be no pretending now. Although I can truthfully say, "I was lost, but now I'm found," the reality is that very often I still feel lost. Very often, I still let go of your hand and chase after deceitful things. Illusions. Beguiling lies.

But now it is the day they call Holy Saturday, the day after the cross, the day before the empty tomb. Yesterday, after having pronounced your benediction on the very men who were murdering you, you cried out in a final spasm of pain and "gave up your spirit." At that moment the very universe seemed to go black. The earth shook. Ancient graves were thrown open and the dead walked abroad. Witnessing all this, hearing the words you spoke, seeing how you died, one of your murderers, a grizzled centurion, veteran of many wars and participant in many official executions, cried in wonder, "Truly this was the son of God!"

What can it mean to have killed the son of God? What did it feel like to watch him die? How can good come of this, we wonder. How can the Father redeem such evil, turning humiliating defeat into glorious victory. No, it is inconceivable.

And yet, truly this was the son of God. Loved of the father before all time, the spotless lamb, infinitely worthy, staked to a tree and left to die before a crowd of mockers. What can it mean? Who can fathom it? Who can say with the centurion that this nightmare is in fact a revelation of the goodness of God? Who would be so foolish?

The next day, among the crowds streaming from Jerusalem (the Passover now completed), will be two men who knew you, Jesus, and called themselves your disciples. Men who had seen, that very morning, the tomb where your corpse had been laid, its great stone rolled away, your winding sheet lying neatly on the slab. What could it have meant? What can anything, at this moment, mean? All now is fear and confusion. What to do? What to say? What to think?

So they're heading home, these two, full of uncertainty, trapped somewhere between despair and hope. And along the way they meet another traveler, a teacher. They tell him all about you, and what had happened on Friday, and also what had happened that morning, but they will never dare to call you son of God, like the centurion had. They will not go so far as that. For do they not recall the Scripture: "Cursed is the man who hangs on a tree." They will call you prophet, they will call you mighty in word and deed, but, no, not son of God.

The stranger tells them they are "slow of heart to believe." But who would not be so? Having witnessed the unspeakable brutality of Friday, they cannot yet credit the Sunday ray of hope. Yes, they are slow of heart. Slow to believe. Slow to take in, to receive, accept, and live the Kingdom of God. All of us, how slow we are to see the Lord's new thing, though it breaks forth before our eyes like the dawn!

So this stranger, this teacher, he unravels the Scriptures as he walks with them, tracing a golden thread of redemptive hope from Genesis to Malachi, and showing that all that had just happened was in fact necessary and right. At evening they stop for the night at a roadside inn, these three travelers, and there, like old friends, they break bread together. Solemnly the stranger blesses their communion, but when the two look up from their praying . . . he is gone.

And the world is new!

A Few Good Friday Posts

Another Think
The Thinklings
Under the Acacias
Author Intrusion
The Irvins
Eternal Perspectives
21st Century Reformation
Reasons Why

March 25, 2005

Comment Maintenance

I've gone and done a drastic thing! I've switched back to the Blogger commenting system (now that the system no longer requires a Blogger i.d.). This means that most of the old Haloscan comments will not be showing. I'm going to spend some time tomorrow re-posting those from the last few days at least. So if you don't see your recent comment there, have patience. I intend to put them back!


This week's slate of nominees for Mr. Standfast's Gospel Blogger Award (VIII) could not be more outstanding. The whole point of the GBA is to credit those bloggers who take the time to transmit the message of the Gospel--it is none other than the Good Friday message and the Easter message--and who do so with skill, vigor, creativity, and a sense of relevance. I am going to include a brief descriptive remark and a quotation for each of the runners-up, saving the "winning" post for last.

First then, the runners-up:

Tod Bolsinger, he of It Takes A Church, has written a post entitled By His Wounds We Are Healed.

Holy Week is where we remember the length to which God has gone to bring healing to our broken places.

Holy Week is where we focus our attention on the God who does for us himself what we cannot. In Jesus, the God of all power and strength becomes the man of suffering. HE has borne our infirmities, HE has carried our diseases, HE was wounded for our transgressions, HE was the one wounded, striped and bruised so that we may be healed.
Next up, Mark Loughridge at 3:17. His post is called, Your God is Love, and it's actually the fourth in a series. I choose this one only because it's the latest; all of them are excellent.
His love for you is based on Christ, not on you. He loves you because of Jesus. And his love for his son will never change. So you are secure. Do you struggle to accept that God loves you? Its not because you're lovely, it because Christ is. And because Christ will never stop for a moment being lovely then you are secure. Utterly secure.
Our third nominee is a former winner of the GBA, David of Jollyblogger. David's post, called Michael Schiavo and the Gospel, applies the good news of Jesus Christ--his death on our behalf--to a contemporary situation of wrenching significance. I speak of course of the Terri Schiavo case. Bloggers everywhere have weighed in on this subject, but only David, that I know of, has asked the centrally important question: What is the properly "cross-centered" response to this situation?
If you have read me the last couple of days you have seen that I have gotten pretty worked up about the whole Terri Schiavo situation. I think it is unconscionable what is being done to her by her husband Michael and by the courts of our land.

Yet, with all of my moral outrage on this, I have to stop and ask myself if I am viewing this situation, and Michael in particular through a gospel-centered lens, or through a cross-centered lens?

Viewing Michael through a cross-centered lens won't change the sinfulness of his actions. Viewing Michael through a cross-centered lens won't change our obligation to rescue those being led away to slaughter. Viewing Michael through a cross-centered lens won't change our obligation to voice our opposition to the laws that make the starvation of a person like Terri possible.

But we are also faced with how we are to respond to Michael as a person. Put more precisely, how does the gospel guide our response to Michael as a person? If all should go his way, how should the Christian community react to him in the future?
I can't help but believe that this kind of thinking is, and shall be in the days to come, of great significance. Few of us do this well. Instead, our reactions are driven by emotion, tainted by self-righteousness and angst-ridden hyperbole. I thank David for simply asking the right questions.

Any of these posts could have been this week's winner, but nobody likes a tie, so I had to pick one. The winner of the GBA VIII is Catez Stevens of Allthings2all. Like David, Catez looks at the Schiavo case in a cross-centered fashion in a post called Report from a Crucifixion. Imagine, if you will, if CNN had broadcast a live report from Golgotha. You can't help but notice the similarities to the reporting of the Terri Schiavo tragedy. For example, the reporter interviews a legal expert:
It's a complicated case. Initially he upset local religious authorities but legally he was charged with treason. He was accused of subversion and inciting tax evasion. The case has been extensively litigated and has been from one court to another. The highest court said his case didn't fall under it's jurisdiction and sent him to a lower court where he appeared on trial. However that court declined to rule and his case went back to the highest court. He was sentenced to death at his third hearing.
And a doctor:
It's important for the families of the crucified to understand that crucifixion can be a painless death. The person releases endorphins in response to stress and experiences a type of euphoria. They are also given a drug to help anaesthetize their senses. So although crucifixion can take a few days before the person is let go, they are at peace during the process. And of course sometimes the crucified have their legs broken so they pass on more rapidly.
A social commentator:
There's no mention of him having a will of course and he has not spoken for himself directly on the death issue. But a person close to him for years handed him to the authorities and had his best interests in mind. I think what people can learn from this crucifixion is that they need to have a will and make their position on crucifixion clearly known.
And a man on the street:
He should die. People are just trying to keep him alive for their own politics. I'm sick of the religious politicos using everything for their own agenda. It's obvious he wouldn't be properly functional after being flogged and he has just caused a lot of hostility.
Catez, this is good stuff. My desire is not only to speak the Gospel, but to demonstrate its relevance. You have done so beautifully in this post.


BTW, the previous winners of the GBA are: 1) Jollyblogger; 2) The Irvins; 3 & 5) Believer Blog; 4) Razor's Kiss; 6) To Be Least; and 7) Another Man's Meat.

March 24, 2005

Thoughts on Being Strong in Grace

Thanks to Paula, Sarah, and Milton for your interesting responses to yesterday's question ("What does it mean to be strong in grace?").

The essence of both Paula's and Sarah's comments (as I see it) is that we can be confident in our salvation. This is an important perception. Simply stated: Jesus Christ is always enough. Meanwhile, my blogger-friend Milton, like any well-trained pastor, looks at the context of the verse in question (2 Timothy 2:1).

When Paul says "be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus," I think he's simply encouraging Timothy to be strong by reminding him of the basis for all our purpose, joy, peace, and power: the grace of Jesus Christ.
Of course Milton is right to look to the context. Timothy, it seems, was going through some stuff! I looked the passage up in Matthew Henry, and found this:

When Peter promised rather to die for Christ than to deny him he was strong in his own strength; had he been strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, he would have kept his standing better.
Yes, but when Peter stood before the Sanhedrin -- remember, these were the very people who had manipulated justice in order to bring about the crucifixion of Jesus -- then he was strong in grace. (Acts 4)

An ongoing theme of many of Paul's letters is perseverence. We must persist, press on, fight the good fight, mortify the flesh, work out our salvation. Paula and Sarah are absolutely right to speak of confidence in this context. In all this we have absolutely nothing to fear. We are called, after all, to be "overcomers." But, lest we think that the Christian is called to be a kind of superman, reveling in his own strength, Paul always reminds us where the strength comes from. "Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power," he tells the Ephesians (6:10). And elsewhere:

He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. (1 Cor 1:8,9)
God does not call us to passivity, neither to self-reliance. But he does call us to stand and be counted, like Peter. Still, whenever we do so, we stand in grace. He is the faithful one. He will not forget you, fail you, or desert you. As for us, whenever we choose the option to respond "according to the flesh," we are responding in our own strength, and implicitly denying the sufficiency of Christ. But when we stand in the sure grace of God, "keeping in step with the Spirit", even in the face of persecution, we can have great confidence. Nothing, nothing, nothing can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus! So go ahead and stand!

March 23, 2005

A Question about Grace

I have a question for you. It's about 2 Timothy 2:1, where Paul exhorts Timothy, "You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." I'd really like to know what people think about that verse. My question is a simple one:

What does it mean to be strong in grace?
I mean, grace is all about a free gift, right? So where does strength come in? Drop your thoughts on this matter in my comment box, or (better yet) post them on your own blog and let me know when you've done so. I'd like to start a conversation about this. Talk to me about strength and grace. I'm all ears!

March 22, 2005


Finally the snow is receding. Last night there was a pungent odor on the air, like something that had gone a little sour in the fridge. "Do you smell that?" I asked Laurie. "What is it?"

She knew immediately, of course. It was only the earth. The ground beneath our feet was thawing, and releasing the pent up odor of decay from last Autumn, odors that had been frozen under a blank of snow till now. Both of us were smiling at once, because we knew this to be a sign and a message and a promise. Even after all these years, it still comes as a surprise:


March 20, 2005

Lonnie Frisbee: Jesus Freak

I’'ve always been very interested in the spiritual revival among young people that swept the country in the late ‘60s. Although the revival is mostly associated with Southern California, its stirrings were felt in every corner of the nation. If you ask the right people, those who are old enough to remember and who were around the church in those days, they’'re likely to tell you a few stories. Within a couple of years the “Jesus People” would make the cover of Time, Newsweek, and Life. They were often maligned, scoffed at, and found theologically wanting (to say the least). My sense of the movement is that it had the characteristics of an un-shepherded flock. Established churches tended to shun them, and in time wolves came in and picked off some of the the best and brightest. But nevertheless it included much that was genuine, and I believe that God used it in many ways and many places to break off the yoke of religious contrivance and bland middle-class pieties that afflicted the church then (and still does).

By the way, it was a Jesus Freak in 1971 that was the first person that ever spoke the Gospel to me and prayed for my salvation. I think he might have been a member of the Way International, a briefly successful cult of that period, but nevertheless he gave me the Gospel straight and I repeated after him the words of the prayer of salvation. We were standing on the Market Street Bridge in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, looking down at the dark swirling water of the Susquehanna, and after I'd prayed he said, “"Do you feel any different?”" But I had only been humoring him. I shrugged and said no. He said confidently, “"Oh, You will. It may be an hour from now, it may be tomorrow, or it may be in twenty years, but you will."” I wonder where he is today. He might like to know that it was twenty years later that I did get saved.

Anyway, back to the Jesus Freaks. If you study the movement, you’'ll undoubtedly come across the name of Lonnie Frisbee. He was a charismatic hippie believer, associated first with Chuck Smith and the Calvary Chapel movement, then with John Wimber and the Vineyard movement. His story seems at first like that of some strange medieval wonder-worker, showing up on the village green one fine morning, shouting the Gospel and healing people right and left. The stories about Lonnie Frisbee are simply too numerous to take lightly, although of course people like Hank Hannegraff dismiss them out-of-hand.

Nevertheless, Frisbee was an intriguing character (at the very least) whose latter life was marked, it seems, by tragedy. Now David Di Sabatino has produced a documentary about Frisbee, called Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher. Di Sabatino is an historian who has compiled the comprehensive "Jesus Freak" bibliography, called The Jesus People Movement. The film hasn't yet been released for widespread distribution, but I’'m keeping an eye on that. You can watch some clips an the website, and get a sense of the kinds of controversy that swirled around this man’'s life.

For more about the Jesus movement, try By the way, I hesitate to ascribe to Di Sabatino's thesis that Frisbee's part in the history of the Vineyard movement has been overlooked or somehow intentionally "erased," since I've heard numerous stories about Frisbee from Derek Morphew at a Vineyard conference, and nobody seemed to think it disturbing or controversial to speak of him. Still, I'm eager to see the film. If you're in the Newport Beach area on April 24, you can see its debut at the Newport Beach Film Festival. Check the website for more details.

March 19, 2005

Poetry Saturday

Something a little different today. A poem by Robert Lax, who was a monk and a minimalist poet and friend of Thomas Merton. He spent the last half of his life living on the Island of Patmos. If you like coincidences, you should also know that he died on the feast day of St. John. The following poem, with its overtones of God's questioning of Job (Job 38) is my gift to you today (HT: In a Dark Time):


Have you seen my circus?
Have you known such a thing?
Did you get up in the early morning and see the wagons pull into town?
Did you see them occupy the field?
Were you there when it was set up?
Did you see the cookhouse set up in dark by lantern light?
Did you see them build the fire and sit around it smoking and talking quietly?
As the first rays of dawn came, did you see them roll in blankets and go to sleep?
A little sleep until time came to
unroll the canvas, raise the tent,
draw and carry water for the men and animals;
were you there when the animals came forth,
the great lumbering elephants to drag the poles and unroll the canvas?
Were you there when the morning moved over the grasses?
Were you there when the sun looked through dark bars of clouds
at the men who slept by the cookhouse fire?
Did you see the cold morning wind nip at their blankets?
Did you see the morning star twinkle in the firmament?
Have you heard their laughter around the cookhouse fire?
When the morning stars threw down their spears and watered heaven …
Have you looked at spheres of dew on spears of grass?
Have you watched the light of a star through a world of dew?
Have you seen the morning move over the grasses?
And to each leaf the morning is present.
Were you there when we stretched out the line,
when we rolled out the sky,
when we set up the firmament?
Were you there when the morning stars
sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

March 17, 2005


I've chosen two nominees for the GBA VII (for those of you not yet in the know, that stands for "Gospel Blogger Award"), which is of course my rather feeble attempt to recognize the best Gospel blogpost of the past two weeks. I look for posts that features the essentials of the Gospel message. What are these essentials, you may ask? Well, in the interest of brevity, how about this:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. . . .
That's 1 Cor 15: 3-4. Of course much more might be said, and in fact Paul goes on from there at some length. But you get the picture.

The runner up for the GBA VII is Bill Streger, for his post entitled Focusing on the Cross. I'm grateful to Bill for this post, because it simply gets the focus right, which happens to be a much-needed service these days. Money quote:

As I've been studying, I've been convicted of the state of the Church at large, especially here in America. We boast in our numbers, in our budgets, in our staffs, in our worship services, in our technology, in our discipleship... in countless things. But do we boast about Christ above all... no, make that instead of all else.
And now for the winner. It was a close contest this time around, but I'm giving the edge to my old friend Phil Dillon of Another Man's Meat, for his recent post, Crouching at the Door. Phil begins his post with a discussion of the apprehension of Denis Rader, the infamous BTK murderer. And here's the thing: Phil recognizes something that many of us simply fail (or refuse) to see. That is, that there is no great difference between Denis Rader and ourselves. Now here's the money quote:

I know, even in the midst of confusion, in trying to understand how and why such evil can overtake any of us, that there is a clear message for me. There is nothing in my genes that makes me better than Dennis Rader. The same propensity that caused his heart to wander from the good and embrace the evil, passed down through the ages, resides in me. My only escape lies not in guarding my eye, but in guarding my heart, trusting the age old message of God’s grace demonstrated by Jesus. When temptation, sin, and evil crouch at my door I must not harden my heart and give in to the impulse of evil. I must cling to Him who saved, and will by His grace, continue to save me.
Gospel truths. Thanks, Phil.

The 1st "R" [2]

A couple of days back I asked people to answer this question:

If the next book you read had to be one that you've already read before, what would it be?
Well, here are the votes so far:

1. The Silver Chair, by C. S. Lewis (nominated by Milton)
2. Winnie to Pooh, by A. A. Milne (nominated by Rebecca)
3. That Elusive Thing Called Joy, by Calvin Miller (nominated by Violet)
4. Beloved, by Toni Morrison (nominated by Michelle)
5. Men who Met God, by A. W. Tozer (nominated by John)
6. Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C. S. Lewis (nominated by Kim)
7. Christy, by Catherine Marshall (nominated by my lovely wife)
All of them great choices. Which leads me to realize that I haven't answered the question myself. Here are a few books that I really do intend to re-read someday.

1. The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis (of course)
2. The Man Who Was Thursday, by G. K. Chesterton (just a fun read)
3. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy (no kidding, it's really great!)
4. Till We Have Faces, by C. S. Lewis (because I didn't get it the first time)
5. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (because nothing else has made me laugh as much)
6. Our Town, by Thornton Wilder (I try to read this one every now and then--it just moves me!)
There you have it. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comment box. But now I have another question:

What's the one book that you know you should have read by now, the one book you've always wanted to read, but you just haven't yet? Perhaps you've even started it once or twice, but just haven't been able to make it through to the end? Think about it, then let me know. I'll be waiting for you!

March 16, 2005


I may have mentioned before the family of Rwandans that have been members of our church for the past year or so. The children, all of them young adults, are seeking permanent status here in the states, but the father, Mischak, who has been visiting for the past two months, will soon be returning to Rwanda, where he pastors a family of churches. These churches are trying to provide care for the many orphans and widows in their midst, but it is a daunting task. They are also leading a ministry of reconciliation among the Hutus and Tutsis.

I was priveleged to watch a video of one of these reconcilation meetings. The speaker was a Hutu woman, addressing a group of mixed Hutu and Tutsi Christians. After a time of fervent preaching, and recalling the horrors of the genocide ten years ago, she called upon the Hutus in the audience to come forward and repent of the violence they'd been a part of. This was not easy for anyone, as was very clear, but in time a significant number were knealing in front of the church. The preacher then called for the Tutsis to come forward and speak forgiveness over the knealing Hutus. This was perhaps even more difficult. Everyone in that audience had lost loved ones, some of them whole families. Although the video was without subtitles, and the preaching was entirely in the Rwandan language, the Spiritual power of that moment was palpable. Most of us can't even comprehend the level of violence these people were witness to, and yet the Spirit was leading these former enemies into reconcilation. You could sense the heavy yokes of hatred and fear falling away. Only the Lord our God can begin such a work, and only He can see it through to completion.

BBC News has an informative retrospective on the Rwandan genocide. Read especially the testimony of a Hutu killer (here), and another of a Tutsi survivor (here). For more information on current conditions in Rwanda and its neighboring nations, have a look at the website of Central Africa Vision.

March 15, 2005

The 1st "R"

As I approach the final pages of any book, I inevitably begin to think about the next one. What shall it be? Fiction, biography, theology? I dislike not having a book to read (at least one), and I usually begin the next book shortly before finishing the last.

And yet I don't have a strict reading plan, or a books-to-read stack waiting beside my bed, as some do. I simply ask myself what sort of book I am really thirsting for at the moment, then seek one out that I think seems best suited to quench that thirst.

Just now I've picked up George Marsden's recent biography of Jonathan Edwards (check out this fascinating review from I'm enjoying it a good deal. Marsden is able to do what any good biographer should: recreate his subject's world, both the one surrounding him, and the one within.

I like to read history, of course, and I have resolved myself to read at least one or two biographies this year. I have also resolved to re-read at least one book each year. It was C. S. Lewis, I believe, who said that if a book is worth reading through once, it will surely repay reading through again.

Speaking of which, here's a question: if the next book you read had to be one that you've already read before, what would it be? What would quench your literary thirst just now? C'mon, don't be shy!

March 14, 2005

Snow, the Cross, and Celtic Music

Blogging has been very light lately. No particular reason. Meanwhile, here in the American northeast, yet annother snowstorm has put us over the 100-inches mark for the season. The piles beside my driveway are now officially higher than they've ever been. The world was certainly beautiful after the storm, the air crisp and clean and the trees all snow-laden, but nevertheless I'm longing for the beauty of Spring, rather than the beauty of Winter!

I've finally finished Stott's The Cross of Christ. What a wonderful book. His last chapter, entitled "The Pervasive Influence of the Cross," based entirely on Galatians, is a masterpiece. He lists seven cross-centered "affirmations" from that epistle. These are:

1. The cross and salvation (1:3-5)
2. The cross and experience (2:19-21)
3. The cross and preaching (3:1-3)
4. The cross and substitution (3:10-14)
5. The cross and persecution (5:11, 6:12)
6. The cross and holiness (5:24)
7. The cross and boasting (6:14)
Stott's elucidation of these 7 points is just marvelous and inspiring. To give you a sample, I just want to focus for a moment on #3, the cross and preaching. Stott draws several basic conclusions from the text. First, "gospel-preaching is proclaiming the cross." This is so relevant in our time, when many popular preachers seem to be proclaiming nothing more than self-love (HT:

Second, "gospel-preaching is proclaiming the cross visually." He bases this on Paul's use of the word "portrayed" in 3:1, which is the NIV translation of the Greek word which means in this context to "put a picture before your eyes." Paul presented to the Galatians a vivid word-picture of the cross.

Third, "gospel-preaching portrays the cross visually as a present reality." To quote Stott: "What Paul did by his preaching (and we must do by ours) was to bring that event [the crucifixion] out of the past and into the present.... Paul's preaching brought it before their eyes so that they could see it, and into their existential experience so that they must either accept or reject it."

Fourth, "gospel-preaching proclaims the cross as a visual, present and permanent reality." Referring to the word "crucified" in 3:1, Stott writes, "The tense of the verb emphasizes not so much that the cross was a historical event of the past as that its validity, power and benefits are permanent. The cross will never cease to be God's power for salvation to believers."

Fifth, "gospel-preaching proclaims the cross also as the object of personal faith." In other words, Paul's purpose was to persuade them to put their trust in the crucified Savior. This would preclude all boasting, all pride, and all reliance on law-keeping to impress God and win his mercy.


Saw a wonderful band over the weekend, called Leahy. Kind of Celtic fiddle music, but with other influences as well. They feature step-dancing, too (think Riverdance). Wonderful, high-energy band of eleven brothers and sisters, if you can believe that. Among their repetoire are some lovely worship songs, as well. Beautiful!

March 12, 2005

Cross-Quote #3

Sin is the dare of God's justice, the rape of his mercy, the jeer of his patience, the slight of his power and the contempt of his love.
John Bunyan

March 09, 2005

The Standfast Interview

Okay, I'm doing the interview-thingie. I've always wanted to be interviewed, just as if I were a very important person or something! Lo and behold, M.B. of Testimony and Truth was willing. So, fulfilling a long-cherished fantasy, here goes:

M.B.: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Well, fireman passed through my mind from time to time. Astronaut too. Major-league baseball player (Willie Mays was my hero). Rock star. You know, the usual. But the persistent one, the one that kept haunting me, was writer! Yes. The name on the book. One of those mysterious makers whose works lined the shelves of my town library. And the dream lives on, too. Maybe someday!

M.B.: Are you introverted or extroverted? What's the best part of being an introvert or extrovert (whichever one you are)?

Here's the thing. Most of my life I've been an introvert. Had trouble making friends, tended to hole up in my room and read, felt incompetent in many common social situations. But since the day God "called me from darkness" I've become more and more the extrovert. I guess that's because there is no fear in love, right? And my introversion was a product of fear. But the process of conversion is not yet complete. At this point I think I'm kind of a 'tweener. I empathize with introverts and am made uncomfortable by the "aggressively sociable," and yet I truly enjoy the company of others and seek it out regularly. The best thing about being a 'tweener is that no one is truly a stranger to you.

M.B.: You've written a book comprised of the story of your life. Will it be a best-seller and wildly popular, or a classic little 'best kept secret'? Why?

No way will it be a bestseller. Although I've had my moments of high drama, of course, and some unpleasantness, my autobiography would probably be entitled, "A Quiet Life." Hey, I'm a librarian after all. Still, my book would be written with exquisite grace, and from time to time an introverted library-lurker would happen upon it, blow the dust from its cover, crack the pages, and be entranced!

M.B.: Name three of your deepest passions.

1. Showing the glory of God in Christ
2. My wife and children
3. (tie) the Boston Red Sox / settling into a good book

M.B.: What do you imagine your friends say about you behind your back?

Oooh, the trick is, I think, not to ever try to imagine this. If I knew, you see, it would almost definitely be a blow to my pride. On the positive side, I do think everyone says I'm a nice guy. I'm sure you know some of those "nice guys" yourself. We're a quiet little brotherhood, very loosely organized, unprepossessing, unheroic, easily overlooked. Kindness, that's our byword. That's what I hope people would say about me, at least, but I'm not asking! It's too risky!


Okay, so there you have it. It felt really cool being interviewed. M.B., picture me bowing a deep bow of gratitude in your direction.

Now, if any of you would like to be interviewed by me, let me know. Here's the deal:

1. Leave me a comment saying "interview me"
2. I will respond by asking you five questions.
3. You will updated your blog/site with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions. (Write your own questions or borrow some).

And have fun!

March 07, 2005

Knowing It, Walking It

Under the influence, I suppose, of John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, I’ve been blogging an awful lot about the cross lately. Kind of a broken record, eh? What has always concerned me, really ever since I first heard about the cross of Christ, was essentially the question C. S. Lewis once asked of Tolkein: "What does all this have to do with me?"

I too asked that question back in the days of my unbelief. But in truth I continue to ask it now; the difference is that now, rather than asking in skepticism, I ask in prayerful faith. My experience of salvation has simply caused me to rephrase the question a bit. Now what I ask goes something like this: "Father, now that I believe, what does it mean to live a cross-centered life?"

The answer, for me, must begin with the understanding, and then move to the enacting of that understanding. In other words, know it, then walk it out. I am not suggesting that this sequence is always the way of things for everyone, but with regard to this matter of the cross, it is the sequence for me. Knowing it, then walking it out. Knowing is the necessary precedent for doing. That is the sequence in many of Paul’s letters, in which the first half is an explanation of certain spiritual truths or doctrines, and the second part is advice or instruction for walking out that truth. Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians all divide quite nicely down the middle into these halves.

Reading Stott’s book has helped me much in the "knowing" part of that formula. But not only that. In the latter part of the book he begins to flesh out the connections between the cross and a new way of living. Stott says that "the community of Christ is the community of the cross." But what does this mean?

Having been brought into being by the cross, it [the community of Christ] continues to live by and under the cross. Our perspective and our behavior are now governed by the cross. All our relationships have been radically transformed by it. The cross is not just a badge to identify us, and the banner under which we march; it is also the compass which gives us our bearings in a disorientated world. In particular, the cross revolutionizes our attitudes to God, to ourselves, to other people both inside and outside the Christian fellowship, and to the grave problems of violence and suffering.
I hope to continue with more on these matters in upcoming posts. As I have often said, it is as much for myself as for others that I compose these thoughts, because in writing them out I seem to be able to assimilate them best. Still, my prayer is that they will bless others also. Back soon!

March 05, 2005

Cross-quote #2

Then there is the argument which says that surely God’s love is enough. The argument is put like this. It says, ‘We forgive one another without any substitution and without any punishment, and if we, in our love for one another, can do that, surely God, whose love is still greater, should be able to do it with still greater ease.’ To which, of course, the reply is this: If God were only love there might be some force in that argument, but God is light, and God is holy, and God is just, and God is righteous. Not only that; there is no greater fallacy than the argument that goes from men to God. It is a very common error today. People are constantly arguing like that – if this is true of us, they say, how much more so of God? As if God were in series with us! The truth is, of course, that we are in sin and all our ideas are wrong; our conception of love is more wrong than anything else and if we begin to think of God’s love in terms of what we do and what we think, then – I say it with reverence – God help us! If we are going to attribute our sentimental, loose, unjust and unrighteous notions of love to the everlasting Godhead, then we place ourselves in the most precarious position.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, from his book, God the Father, God the Son

Cross-quote #1

IT will be admitted by most Christians that if the Atonement, quite apart from precise definitions of it, is anything to the mind, it is everything. It is the most profound of all truths, and the most recreative. It determines more than anything else our conceptions of God, of man, of history, and even of nature; it determines them, for we must bring them all in some way into accord with it. It is the inspiration of all thought, the impulse and the law of all action, the key, in the last resort, to all suffering. Whether we call it a fact or a truth, a power or a doctrine, it is that in which the differentia of Christianity, its peculiar and exclusive character, is specifically shown; it is the focus of revelation, the point at which we see deepest into the truth of God, and come most completely under its power. For those who recognize it at all it is Christianity in brief; it concentrates in itself, as in a germ of infinite potency, all that the wisdom, power and love of God mean in relation to sinful men.
From James Denny's classic book, The Death of Christ (1902)

Saturday Hat-tips

Thanks to Rebecca Writes for sharing the best link ever. As you might have guessed, it's a sort of Biblical studies reference shelf. Lots and lots of good stuff.

Stones Cry Out contributed a thoughtful post called Evangelical First Things, answering the question, "What should we be able to expect of evangelical Christian in the public arena?" I like his dodecalogue very much.

How about this from Ragamuffin's Ramblings . . . a retelling of the story of our Lord's encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, only in this version she's a gay muslim man in Chicago. (Hat-tip: Hootsbuddy).

Over at The Irvins you can find a really exceptional series on the names of God. This is a wonderful example of theology-blogging, IMHO. Best of all, perhaps, was the last post in the series, a sort of litany of God's names. Beautiful!

Being touted by various bloggers, including Jordon Cooper, is Christianity Today's interview with Eugene Peterson. This man is so into cutting through the spiritual BS. Makes me want to read his new book.

Finally, TallSkinnyKiwi has just finished his "blogfast." Anyone who has blogged for even a little while has probably experienced the tendency to over-indulge, to obssess. Yes, the blogfast just might be a useful new spiritual discipline. Good idea, that. But not just yet . . .

March 03, 2005


Time for the Gospel Blogger Award again, my little "pet project" aimed at highlighting the blogposts that best represent, in my sometimes less than humble opinion, the Gospel of Christ. I've made a few changes in the procedure. For the first time I've asked for nominations, and in fact I received a couple. Cool! I've also decided to issue the award bi-weekly, rather than weekly. It just seems like a good idea.

Here's the thing: amid all the Christian palaver out there, relatively few posts are truly cross-centered, which is the elusive ideal I'm looking for. Posts that forthrightly confess, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "that Christ died for our sins." Now, I understand that for many Christian bloggers this confession underlies all that they write. But what I'm looking for are posts that make it plain. No blogger can do this sort of thing every day, of course, and I'm not suggesting anyone should. I simply want to recognize those posts that do.

Well, all that having been said, we have several nominees this time around. First, the runner-ups:

Nominated by Milton at Transforming Sermons, is one of the Terri Shiavo posts from Wittenburg Gate. This is really representative of the many posts from many bloggers in support of Terri. Jesus said, "Take care of the weakest among you." The terrible fact here is that there are people who stand ready to do just that, to take care of Terri for the rest of her life, but the state of Florida may not see fit to allow it.

One blogger whom I expect to be nominating frequently for this award is John at Scotwise. John's whole blog is cross-centered, start to finish. He recently featured a sermon by Geroge H. Morrisson called The Offense of the Cross.

It were better to empty a church and preach the cross, than to fill it by keeping silent like a coward. It were better to fail as Paul failed with the Jews, than to succeed by being a traitor to the cross.
You can't get much more cross-centered than that.

Rebecca Writes recently featured a poem by Welsh poet Ann Griffith, called There's an Open Door Before Us. Not to be quoted, it must be read in full. The more poetry in the world, by the way, the better the world.

Maybe it's a mite unfair to include the blog of a renowned scholar among these others. Peter Leithart writes with both polish and passion. A recent post uses a relatively obscure OT moment to point us onward to the cross. I like that a lot.

Now for the winner: there was one post that, while it did not speak the Gospel message outright (see, I can be flexible) represented a living out of the reality of the Gospel. That is, the reality of forgiveness, bought and paid for at the cross. This came from the justly famous Michael at To Be Least. Michael has already won the 1st Annual Evangelical Blog Award for best teen blog, which is a pretty darn high honor in my book. But what I like most about his recent post, Transparency, was that Michael "lived" the truth of the Gospel in that blogpost. It's a short and simple and heartfelt posting of his own spiritual condition, and at its heart is the mercy of God. Michael is the winner of GBA VI.

The Cross of Christ

Reading Stott's The Cross of Christ has been a real blessing. Although I can possibly imagine a more thorough discussion of the meaning of the cross, I cannot imagine one that was both as thorough and at the same time as readable as this. Stott's prose is not only careful, methodical, and erudite, but also powerfully moving.

The cross of Christ is the crucial thing. My first church after a mid-life conversion (I was not raised in any faith at all) was a conservative Lutheran body in which I heard much about the cross. Other things, both personal and theological, led me eventually to seek a new church, but I am glad for some (though not all) of that Lutheran groundwork. A cross-centered theology, that's the part I still appreciate. One of the pleasures of Stott's book is to display the theology of the cross before our eyes in such a way that it seems almost like the unrolling of a beautiful Persian rug or something. Each new inch of fabric hushes the breath of all who look on. "When I survey the wonderous cross," wrote Isaac Watts. And that's exactly what Stott accomplishes here. He invites his readers into a survey of the cross.

I had hoped to blog more consistently about this book, chapter by chapter, but various circumstances have gotten in the way. I am reading a library edition, and need to be finished with it soon, so I'm beginning to read rather quickly I'm afraid (still a ways to go). What I think I'll do is purchase a copy of my own, and reread it later on, taking my time, outlining, and perhaps blogging about it.

But how about a taste of what awaits you, should you decide to read this book. I find quoting this book difficult, because it's like pulling a strand from that Persian rug in order to admire it more closely. It's beauty is best seen (and best honored) in its "woven-ness," its context (much like the Bible, eh?). Stott's section, for example, on "reconciliation" is simply a masterpiece in and of itself. But I want to quote from a passage I read last night about the love of God that is on display in the crucified Christ. Stott begins by referring to a work by Canon William Vanstone. Vanstone spoke of three marks of false love. Those marks are, "limitation (something is withheld), control (manipulating people), and detachment (we remain self-sufficient, unimpaired, unhurt)."

Now lets contrast that with the love of God. Here I will quote Stott, who is quoting Vanstone: "God's love is 'expended in self-giving, wholly expended, without residue or reserve, drained, exhausted, spent'. That is, in giving his Son, he gave himself. Next, God's love is 'expended in precarious endeavour, ever poised upon the brink of failure ...'. For he gave his Son to die, taking the risk of yielding up control over himself. Thirdly, God's love is seen 'waiting in the end, helpless before that which it loves, for the response which shall be its tragedy or triumph'. For in giving his Son to die for sinners, God made himself vulnerable to the possibility that they would snub him and turn away."

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

Forbid it Lord that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God
All the vain things that charm me most
I sacrificed them to His blood

See from Hid head His hands His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did ere such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown

Were the whole realm of nature mine
that were a present far too small
Love so amazing so divine
Demands my soul my life my all

March 01, 2005

Passion Anyone?

They're doing a Passion Cafe at our church, the Saturday evening before Easter. People bring friends, they have a social hour, coffee and whatever, and then they all watch The Passion. Many people are surprised when I tell them I have not seen The Passion. I'm just not a big movie-goer anymore, and especially when there's a climate of cultural coercion in the air. I do admire Gibson for bringing it off, and I'm glad he made a lot of money doing it. A friend of mine who calls himself "Judeo-Buddhist" says it's both sado-masochistic and anti-Semitic. I kind of doubt both charges, but again, I have not seen it. Why? Well, partly because of the violence, and partly because I was reacting against the absurd praise of the movie as something so momentous, so culture-changing, as to be just short of the second coming itself. One year out, the evidence thus far is not with them.

Another response to the film that troubled me: people were saying, no doubt sincerely, that the movie made them appreciate at last what a high price Jesus paid for our sins. That's all good, but it also points out to us, I think, the glaring lack of Cross-centered preaching in our Evangelical churches. How can it be that a New Testament people, as we say we are, could have so under-valued the Cross for so long? Why do we need a movie to make it real for us, when someone like Martin Luther certainly did not (to name but one among millions of pre-video era Christians for whom the Cross was nevertheless all in all). I had hoped that the film might induce more Cross-talk in our churches, and I think perhaps it did, for a little while. But now it's my impression that we've settled back into the old pattern, showing more the influence of the Joel Osteen approach than the Mel Gibson. Anyway, I haven't ruled out seeing the film on DVD someday, especially if I can get the new edited version. Someday I'll be culture-current at last. Maybe even emergent!



For more on The Passion "one year out," see two informative posts at (here and here).

Finally, it seems as good a time as any to drop in a quote from John Stott's wonderful book, The Cross of Christ.

The doctrine of substitution affirms not only a fact (God in Christ substituted himself for us) but its necessity (there was no other way by which God's holy love could be satisfied and rebellious human beings could be saved). Therefore, as we stand before the cross, we begin to get a clear view both of God and ourselves, especially in relation to each other. Instead of inflicting upon us the judgment we deserved, God in Christ endured it in our place. Hell is the only alternative. This is the 'scandal,' the stumbling-block, of the cross. For our proud hearts rebel against it. We cannot bear to acknowledge either the seriousness of our sin and guilt or our utter indebtedness to the cross. Surely, we say, there must be something we can do, or at least contribute, in order to make amends? If not, we often give the impression that we would rather suffer our own punishment than the humiliation of seeing God through Christ bear it in our place.

BTW, while we're talking about such things, if you come across a truly cross-centered post in your blogospheric ramblings, why not nominate it for Friday's Gospel Blogger Award!


One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, ‘How did you come to be a Christian?’ I sought the Lord. ‘But how did you come to seek the Lord?’ The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that he was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, 'I ascribe my change wholly to God.'
Charles Spurgeon