Mr. Standfast

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

May 31, 2005

Portrait of a Friend

I got a call last week from an old friend, Tom. He was walking around in a Walmart with his kids (in a town about 2000 or so miles away from here) and decided to call me. Well, it wasn't quite as simple as that. You see he'd had a dream about me. In the dream he sees me just sort of standing there, and he walks up to me and gives me a big hug and weeps to see me again. The next morning he told his wife, "Honey, I think I must be missing Bob big time!" You see, we were good friends, but then he moved away, and we just sort of lost contact with one another. Anyway, his good wife says, "I think you better give him a call, don't you?"

So, the Walmart call. And it was wonderful. And I feel like a friendship that we had allowed to lapse has been restored. Tom and his family have been through a lot, as they say, in the past year. The last time I saw him he was deeply depressed. Laurie and I were at a concert in the park, where another friend of ours was playing. That's where we saw Tom and his wife. I knew something was wrong when he didn't leap out of his chair as soon as he saw me, didn't wrap me in his big arms and give me one of those passionate laughter-filled bear-hugs that are his trademark.

I should tell you this much about my friend Tom. He is the most passionate, most sold-out God-loving man I have ever met. His is an out of the closet kind of faith, boisterous, joy-filled, rumbling up from deep within. I knew him as an acquaintance before I first came to his church. When he saw me that Sunday morning he just lit up. He came to me and gave me one of those trademark hugs, and he was laughing and crying at once, and all because I'd showed up at his church.

Anyway, there at the park we got to talking, and he told me about his depression, about how the world had closed in on him and he felt squeezed in by four dark walls, and there was no way out. All this talk was simply shocking to me, for it was so not-Tom. Well, we walked together in the park, and I felt totally inadequate to help him, to speak words of hope to him. We bought ice cream cones. We talked. And then, with darkness falling, the four of us stood together in a little circle, holding hands, and we prayed. Not long after that Tom and his family moved away, looking for a new start. Looking for hope again.

So that's the background. It was just about a year ago, I guess. And now he calls me from the Walmart, and he tells me about his dream. He says, "Gee it's good to hear your voice, Bob." He tells me he's off the anti-depressants that the doctor had prescribed, praise God, and he tells me he's working for a Christian pest control company now. Here's the funny thing about that: though he had actually landed a job with another firm, and was due to start in just two days, it just didn't seem right. So when he heard about an opening at the Christian firm, he went in for an interview. Anyway, after the interview, the owner walks around his desk to shake Tom's hand and says, "Tom, do you believe in divine encounters?" Tom says, yes, I do. And the fellow says, "Well I believe we just had one. When can you start?"

So you see God has made a way where there seemed to be no way. Tom told me this story in an email. He wrote: "The stress level here is very low. We meet every Monday as a management team and have devotions and pray. Glory to God!!!!!!!!!! [See, that's Tom all over, he's a walking exclamation point!] Our God can take the roughest of situations and turn them into a lesson in his faithfulness and mercy. Blessed be the name of the Lord!"

I asked Tom if I could tell his story here at Mr. Standfast, and he said that would be fine. It has always been Tom's way to live out Romans 12:1 with reckless abandon, and in this, though we are in many ways of a quite different temperament, he is a model to me. Thank you, Tom. I'm so happy you called. You ministered to my heart. Your living waters refreshed me. I love you, Tommy. You're awesome!

May 30, 2005

A Memorable Sunday

I've been doing what red-blooded Americans are supposed to do on Memorial Day weekend: taking it easy! Yesterday was a simply wonderful Sunday, for which I thank God. After a stirring service at church, a bunch of folks, mostly friends of my two boys, congregated at our house and we just sang worship songs all afternoon, then feasted together on a corned beef and cabbabe dinner. Later on, after most of the young people went off to other pursuits, our good friends Dave and Todd stayed on and we just talked and prayed together all evening. I'm telling you, the whole day felt like a gift from God. There was the aroma of eternity in the air!

I'm planning to return to the "Christian's Identity" series in the days ahead, and also to blog more about the "armor of God," along with whatever other unexpected themes come knocking. We'll just have to see. Thanks to all those who have dropped by to comment, and thanks to Broken Messenger for the kind trackback. See you tomorrow!

May 28, 2005

Just Checking In

A beautiful Spring morning in Maine (after a just about a month of rain, it seems). The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and it's the start of a long weekend. I and my Honey are about to take a walk to the coffee shop down the road, so I'm only stopping by to say I love you, and God is good. Simple as that. I leave you with a poem called "The Thorn" [HT: Aron of Some Thoughts], Martha Snell Nicholson:

I stood a mendicant of God before His royal throne
And begged him for one priceless gift, which I could call my own.
I took the gift from out His hand, but as I would depart
I cried, "“But Lord this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart.
This is a strange, a hurtful gift, which Thou hast given me."
He said, "“My child, I give good gifts and gave My best to thee."
I took it home and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore,
As long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more.
I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace,
He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face.

May 26, 2005

The Full Armor of God

I've been thinking about the "armor of God" lately. I know people who insist that we should pray the armor-prayer (Eph. 6:10-20) every day. Now, to me that seems just a little, I don't know, superstitious. It's not that I don't think we ought to put on the armor of God, but I'm just wondering how we do that? In some cases it's obvious. If you want to take up the sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God), for example, you've got to be in the Word often, imbibing its principles, understanding its precepts, encouraged by its wonderful portrait of the grace of God in Christ. If you do these things, you will be able to apply those principles and precepts to every situation in which you find yourself. Isn't that what wielding the sword of the Spirit is all about?

Well, whatever it's about, it's surely about more than simply the ritualistically repetition of Ephesians 6:17 ("Lord, I'm taking up the sword of the Spirit now, which is the Word of God.") Repeat those words if it helps, of course, but the key thing is to know the Word. To be thoroughly engaged with it day-by-day, allowing it to challenge you in every aspect of your life.

Now, just let me say that the people I know who repeat the armor-prayer each day are people who do that. I'm not suggesting that their faith is shallow or something. I'm only saying that putting on the full armor of God means much more than reading the armor passage. Putting on the breastplate of righteousness, for example. What's that all about? What does it mean to put on that particular piece of armor? How does righteousness defend me from the enemy? And whose righteousness? And how do I put it on?

I'm asking these questions this morning without having formulated anything but the shadow of an answer to some of them. But I do know one thing. At the beginning of the armor-passage, Paul says, "Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the full armor of God." Note: it's in His strength that we are strong. It's His armor we're putting on. If righteousness is to be our breastplate, protecting us from the attacks of the enemy, well then we must first remember that it is God's righteousness that protects us, not our own. In fact, every piece of the armor is His.

Maybe I'll get back to the armor passage at some point. All I know is, we need that armor, because we truly are in a battle. The enemy is firing those flaming arrows even now. How shall we extinguish them, if not by the shield of faith?

May 25, 2005

A Thousand Birds in a Tree, by Miranda Stone

A few years back I saw Canadian singer/songwriter Miranda Stone in concert. I really like her songwriting, her voice, her general approach to music. Recently I came across her website. That's where I found the following poem (at her website, click on "Dangerous Writing" for more like this). Anyway, I liked the poem a whole lot and wrote to Miranda for permission to quote in full, which she graciously gave. So here it is:

A Thousand Birds in a Tree

A thousand birds in a tree
do something humans can't do.
They sit there in the leaf-less grove making a big racket
as if the winter tree has gotten tired
of looking so depressed
that it decided it would go out
and party in a brand new sequined dress.

One of those birds makes the secret sign
that every bird knows
and then there's the sound of two thousand wings
all getting up to go,
followed by the miraculous,
the silent freeze into the gliding pose.
They move in airborne one-ness
so few of us individualist humans know.
So I practiced praying like this today.
It's like super graceful tai chi;
this body moving in a language of longing.

I thought I would try this
when I was praying for you
because I saw the birds doing it
and they know how to pray
better than I do.

May 24, 2005

Working the Blogrolls

So yesterday's post, which featured Panda's Ponderings, drew a response from Julianne, who blogs at Semper Reformanda, and who found me through Aron's Some Thoughts. She's got a good thing going over there at "Semper Ref". She says of herself:

"My mission statement would follow that of John Piper's (well, really Paul's): I exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God, in all things, for the joy of all peoples, through Christ Jesus."
At Julianne's blog I discovered Micah's, called Resolution 57. Why does he call it that? Well, because Jonathan Edwards' 57th resolution was:
"Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether I have done my duty, and resolve to do it; and let it be just as Providence orders it. I will, as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin."
Ah, two clicks, and two mission statements. From "Res' 57" I clicked to Abundant Life, where Jessica holds forth:
"a girl on a quest to draw nearer to the heart of God, and in the process people as well!"
and then to Journey of the Heart. That's the blog-home of Gayla, who says of herself:
"Daughter of One King; wife to one man; mother to one son; owner of one dog. On the journey to find my way, follow Christ, and finish well."
Voices of clarity, of purpose, of hope. Jesus followers. Darn cool stuff.

May 23, 2005

A Silly Love Letter

Sometimes, usually, I go into a week with a blogging-plan of sorts. Not a watertight plan, not a strict blueprint or scheme, but a rough idea of what I'm going to be posting here through the week. This week, though, I've got no plans, no ambitions, no goals. I think I'm just going to follow the lead of good Milton at Tranforming Sermons, who often just "hat tips" the websites and blogs that have grabbed his attention from day to day.

Okay, so then I do have a plan. This week (or until further notice) the name of the game is, "Hey guys, look what I just found!" I'm going to pass them on as I find them and hope someone somewhere receives a blessing.


Hey guys, look what I just found! It's a love-letter to God! It just sort of washed up on my little Internet beach! Do you remember Paul McCartney's '70s hit, Silly Love Songs? Well, here's another Paul, this one a blogger at Panda's Ponderings, who has written a self-confessed silly love letter to God. Here's a brief taste:

First of all, I often feel very uncomfortable and out of balance because of You. I know You love me whatever I do or say, but how can I do something in return for what You’ve done for me? It feels like going to the love of your life without buying a nice present first. It also feels like being a vulnerable child all over again – like a kid that has made a nice colourful drawing or a sweet little poem – in a very childish way, of course. ‘Look, father, this one is for you. I hope you like it!’
Paul is Dutch, and English is not his first language. No matter. He expresses his love in rare and beautiful eloquence. Go see for yourselves, and I'm sure you'll agree.

Monday Check-In

Wow, a whole day away from the Internet. And I survived!

God has really blessed us this weekend. We're seeing a friend finally disentangle herself from a dreadful relationship. Her name is Judy and her faith is very weak. She has a history of being quickly turned aside, so if any of you feel anointed to pray even for people you don't know, I would ask you to remember Judy. Right now she is living temporarily with a friend, an elderly woman who has opened her home to Judy, but within two weeks she will have to find a place of her own. She has little money and has never lived on her own, so she is afraid for herself. I fully expect to see a breakthrough in her life and faith in these next two weeks, and will keep you all posted. In short, I'm expecting a miracle!

May 21, 2005

A Quiet Place

I'd been wondering when Jared of Mysterium Tremendum would get back to blogging (he'd taken some time off, saying he'd be back someday, who knows when). Well . . . he's back allright, but at a whole new locale called Shizuka Blog. Jared says:

What I want Shizuka Blog to be is a place of meditative calm (prompting rest) that is nevertheless consistently rooted in the Word of God (providing edification). In this Zen garden, the fruit of the Spirit grows. Every post will be specifically designed to encourage or edify, or to provoke meditation on the Word, or to in some other way bless you. This will be a matter of discipline and ministry to me, even as I am trying to minister to you.
I intend to stop by Jared's quiet place frequently. As the Lord has told his people often and in many ways, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength." (Is. 30:15) As for me, I will seek the Lord, even in the blogosphere. Thanks, Jared, for a quiet oasis.

[BTW, hat-tip to Bill at Out of the Bloo for tipping us off to Jared's new digs.]

May 20, 2005

Friday Furl-for-All

Things I've appreciated lately:

First off, 21st Century Reformation has a nice post called The 20th Century Two-Step. In post after post Brad turns a sharp eye on the practice of discipleship in the modern church. He's lovingly and constructively critical, which must be our starting place for change, methinks. This has been an excellent series.

2) Another of my favorite bloggers, Rebecca Writes, that light-hearted Calvinist (!!!), has just completed a five part series called His Workmanship. These are good. No, I mean really good! Read 'em, will ya? [Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5]

3) Eucatastrophe is new to my blogroll. BTW, in case like me you didn't know, a eucatastrophe is a revolutionary turning point in history for the good. The tagline here is a quotation from Tolkein: "the Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history." Here I discovered the lyrics to an old hymn with which I was unfamiliar:

Weary, working, burdened one, wherefore toil you so?
Cease your doing; all was done long, long ago.

Till to Jesus' work you cling by a simple faith,
'Doing' is a deadly thing -- doing ends in death.

Cast your deadly doing down -- down at Jesus' feet;
Stand in Him in Christ alone, gloriously complete.
By the way, through Eucatastrophe I happened upon a link to Gospel-Driven Sanctification, by Jerry Bridges. As if that wasn't enough, Daniel's most recent post kind of unpacks Bridges' insights in a long but rewarding post entitled Real Men (and women) Are Gospel-Driven. Good words.

4) On a different note, I draw your attention to a recent column at the Washington Times by Victor David Hansen: What Happened to History. Hansen is a refreshingly against the grain historian. Here's a sample:

To appreciate the value of history, we must also accept that human nature is constant and fixed across time and space. Our kindred forefathers in very dissimilar landscapes were nevertheless subject to the same emotions of fear, envy, honor and shame as our own.

In contrast, if one believes human nature is malleable -- or with requisite money and counseling can be "improved" -- history becomes just an obsolete science. It would be no different from 18th-century biology before the microscope or early genetics without knowledge of DNA. Once man before our time appears alien, the story of his past has very little prognostic value.
5) I've discovered in the past year or so that, for me at least, keeping a daily journal requires a writing instrument and a blank notebook that are both aesthetically satisfying. No more sputtery ballpoints or spiral-bound cheapies from the drugstore for me. My utensil of choice is now the Staedtler Remedy. As for notebooks, now that my current book is nearly full, I've sent for my next Moleskine. Ah, the simple pleasures!

6) Aron at Some Thoughts has a a good post on the sometimes contentious subject of Eternal Security. Sample:
If someone told you that you were guaranteed to win a footrace, would you loaf, or would you run all the harder? I think it would depend on the prize. If the prize was glory, you might start basking in it early–and loaf it. But if the prize is Christ–if you know that Christ Jesus the Lord Himself is waiting for you on the other side, that He himself is the prize that you’re guaranteed to win, how hard would you run? How much incentive would you have to persevere on the long upward climb? No matter what our theory, if we’re not ‘running so as to obtain the prize,’ then we have not truly known the value of the prize. If we’ve seen him, we’ll run with our all.
7) Finally, do check out some of the newcomers to my blogroll: Broken Messenger, Miscellanies of the Gospel, and Fire and Knowledge.

May 19, 2005


I pulled the following quotations of John Owen, the 17th century Puritan divine, from

It is not the glorious battlements, the painted windows, the crouching gargoyles that support a building, but the stones that lie unseen in or upon the earth. It is often those who are despised and trampled on that bear up the weight of a whole nation.


I will not judge a person to be spiritually dead whom I have judged formerly to have had spiritual life, though I see him at present in a swoon as to all evidences of the spiritual life. And the reason why I will not judge him so is this -- because if you judge a person dead, you neglect him, you leave him; but if you judge him in a swoon, though never so dangerous, you use all means for the retrieving of his life.


It is not the distance of the earth from the sun, nor the sun's withdrawing itself, that makes a dark and gloomy day; but the interposition of clouds and vaporous exhalations. Neither is thy soul beyond the reach of the promise, nor does God withdraw Himself; but the vapours of thy carnal, unbelieving heart do cloud thee.


See in the meantime that your faith brings forth obedience, and God in due time will cause it to bring forth peace.


Let our hearts admit, "I am poor and weak. Satan is too subtle, too cunning, too powerful; he watches constantly for advantages over my soul. The world presses in upon me with all sorts of pressures, pleas, and pretenses. My own corruption is violent, tumultuous, enticing, and entangling. As it conceives sin, it wars within me and against me. Occasions and opportunities for temptation are innumerable. No wonder I do not know how deeply involved I have been with sin. Therefore, on God alone will I rely for my keeping. I will continually look to Him."


If we do not abide in prayer, we will abide in temptation. Let this be one aspect of our daily intercession: "God, preserve my soul, and keep my heart and all its ways so that I will not be entangled." When this is true in our lives, a passing temptation will not overcome us. We will remain free while others lie in bondage.


To believe that He will preserve us is, indeed, a means of preservation. God will certainly preserve us, and make a way of escape for us out of the temptation, should we fall. We are to pray for what God has already promised. Our requests are to be regulated by His promises and commands. Faith embraces the promises and so finds relief.


Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, if it has its own way it will go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could, every thought of unbelief would be atheism if allowed to develop. Every rise of lust, if it has its way reaches the height of villainy; it is like the grave that is never satisfied. The deceitfulness of sin is seen in that it is modest in its first proposals but when it prevails it hardens mens' hearts, and brings them to ruin.


Your state is not at all to be measured by the opposition that sin makes to you, but by the opposition you make to it.


Let no man think to kill sin with few, easy, or gentle strokes. He who hath once smitten a serpent, if he follow not on his blow until it be slain, may repent that ever he began the quarrel. And so he who undertakes to deal with sin, and pursues it not constantly to the death.

May 18, 2005

Christian, You Are Complete in Christ

I'm convinced that we routinely and consistently underestimate our full potential as believers. Jesus says that through faith we would be able to move mountains, but I must confess that I have not often prayed with that kind of confidence. There are mountains I should have removed by now, yet they remain standing, rock-like, immovable, casting their shadow over my days.

Paul says (Col 2:9) that we have been given fullness in Christ. In a parallel verse in Ephesians (4:13) he speaks of the church growing in unity and love until it "[attains] to the full measure of the fullness of Jesus Christ."

In the Colossians passage, that "full measure" is dependent on the sovereignty of Jesus. Because he has disarmed the "principalities and powers, making a public spectacle of them at the cross," those powers now have no authority to prevent our attaining "the full measure" of our destiny in Christ. Not the eternal full measure, but the full measure that God has ordained for our present circumstances.

You see, I believe that this word, like so much else in the New Testament, has both a future (or "eternal") and a present aspect. There is a "full measure" of Christlikeness that shall not be fulfilled in us till the Kingdom comes in "fullness." [Note: The Kingdom's fullness is our fullness, in the same way that the corporate fullness that Paul speaks of most clearly in the Ephesians passage possesses nevertheless a personal aspect or application.] Nevertheless, there is also a "full measure," a completeness of grace and provision, which God has measured out for us today. This measure is not but a shadow of the measure yet to come, and yet it is truly "grace upon grace," "one blessing after another." (John 1:16)

Christian, do you believe it? I ask this in all humility, as one who has often fallen short of the full measure of what God has on offer. Not unlike Peter, I suppose, who might have taken more than just a step or two on the surface of the Sea of Galilee, had he continued in faith. What was the "full measure" of God's intention for Peter that night? Or think of that other night, the dreadful night of Christ's arrest, when Peter denied knowing his beloved Master three times. Was there not a "full measure" that Peter in that moment fell far short of, even if out of understandable fear? But was it not this same Peter, many years later, who wrote, "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness . . . that we may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption that is in the world through evil desires." And yet, we are more often like the lame man who has asked Jesus to heal him, and to whom the Savior has spoken the words, "Rise and walk," and yet we will not do so (such is our fear and unbelief). In other words, we are more like the early Peter than the late.

Now, keep in mind, this "full measure" is not every blessing you can possibly think of. It is every blessing God has prepared for you for today. And that is of course more than enough. And yet we often push ourselves away from the banqueting table of his grace as if we were afraid of receiving too many of his blessings at once. The Psalmist says, "in your Presence God is fullness of joy." Have you known such fullness even for an hour? It is God's will that you remain in Him and He in you. It is God's will that you cup your hands and receive his gifts even unto "overflowing."

Without fullness, how shall we overflow? Christian, you have been given fullness in Christ, who is head over every power and authority. Only one who is truly "all in all" can offer such fullness, one grace after another. Only one who is both alpha and omega can complete what he has begun in you, believer. Fullness is your destiny, and by the grace of the one who conquered the last enemy, death, your "full measure" of that fullness is available even now as a foretaste of His gifts to come. Cup your hands and say, "I wish to receive and walk out even the full measure of your grace today, Lord; renewing my mind, empowering my prayers, inhabiting my praises to you, my Father and King."

Christian, there is a measure of grace for today that you have not even begun to imagine. It is measured out by God, it is his free gift to those who believe, and its purpose is to empower you for the works he has prepared for you to do today. In him is fullness of joy. Believe and receive.


Previous posts in this series:
Christian, Be Who You Are
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
Christian, You are the Salt of the Earth

May 17, 2005

Sufficient in Christ

I continue to dwell on Paul's use of the word "fullness" as it relates to the Christian. I'm thinking especially of his use of the term in Colossians 2:10, where he says that those who are in Christ (in whom "all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form") have themselves been given fullness. This word in verse 10 is the Greek verb pleroo, which in this context probably means something very much like "to render full or complete." So we might say, paraphrasing, that out of the fullness of Christ we have been given a fullness or completeness of our own. The Geneva Study Bible says in a note here, "the union of God in man is substantial and essential." I think of Peter's words (2Peter 1:3), "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness."

Indeed, life and Godliness is the focus and concern of Paul throughout the rest of chapter 2 and on into chapter 3, as he unpacks this concept of the fullness of the believer. He seems concerned to show the extensiveness of this gift. It is not a small thing, not merely a "warm fuzzy," it is salvation and freedom, dying to the basic principles of the world, putting on Christ, etc. In short, Paul exhorts the Colossians to live in a way that reflects the reality of their new birth. "Since you died and were raised to new life," he says, "then . . . [insert Pauline imperatives here]."

In his excellent commentary on this passage (IVP New Testament Commentaries) Robert Wall says that Paul "links the fullness of God with the newness of life; thus, as we become alive through faith in him, our humanity is made more complete. By the work of grace, every good intention of the Creator for the creature is realized in Christ."

The point is, we are not insufficiently equipped to obey these imperatives. As Peter said, "We have all that we need for life and godliness." We have completeness in the One who was completely God, and who made a public spectacle of all our enemies (the powers and authorities of this world) at the Cross. These enemies, which once ruled over us, would have kept us in incompleteness forever. But they lost the battle at Calvary in a most humiliating way! (2:15)

So we are speaking here of the gift of sufficiency. What we have been given through Christ is "enough." It is all we need. It is offered from the bounty of Christ, and for this reason (and for this reason alone) we are capable of doing what we could never have done under the old covenant or in our own power. In sum, we are capable of the following:

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (3:12-17)

May 16, 2005


This morning I am thinking about the Scriptural term "fullness." I don't have much to say about it yet, except that it is a marvelous term. We find that Paul uses the term, among other places, twice in Ephesians (3:19, 4:13), twice again in Colossians (1:19, 2:9), and that John uses it in the first chapter of his Gospel (1:16). It is a daring word to use of a believer. In fact, Matthew Henry says, "It is a high expression: we should not dare to use it if we did not find it in the scriptures."

And it is a word well-worth our attention. The Greek word (pleroma) in the NT context is said to refer to "the body of believers, as that which is filled with the presence, power, agency, riches of God and of Christ" (more here).

Fullness. Let's dwell on this for a time. Let's grow in our understanding of this "high expression." Lord help us to understand the fullness that you give us in Christ.

May 14, 2005

Weekend Plans

I'm not really a liturgical-type guy anymore, but I do think that Pentecost Sunday (which is tomorrow) ought to be a more significant event in the Christian year. It ought to rival Christmas as a significant day in Christian culture, with its own special forms and traditions. I kind of like Graham Power's idea of commemorating it as a Global Day of Prayer for the nations. Tomorrow morning, throughout the world, believers will greet the dawn with prayer for the nations, so that a chorus of prayer will sweep around the world with the sunrise. It is worldwide corporate prayer for all the tribes of the earth. Count me in.

This will also be a weekend of celebration for us. Special friend Meghan will be graduating from art school tomorrow, so there will be "a party goin' on 'round here." [Oh my, hyper-creative types in a spirit of celebration--expect the unexpected!] Meanwhile, another friend is graduating from nursing school today, so we'll be heading over to her house for a cookout--and not many things in this world are better than a cookout! Yippee!

May 12, 2005

Quoting Bloo

Bill at Out of the Bloo said something yesterday that is just too good to let pass:

In my observation, living even an intense and God-honoring Christian lifestyle with the focus reversed, with our eyes upon ourselves, leads to burn-out, loss of faith, and disillusion. The self-obsessed Christian begins performing, begins trying to meet an expected standard of behavior and devotion that, without the element of joyous self-forgetfulness that is the very mark of childlike faith, is in the long run impossible, and can only result in a dry and frustrating existence. When one is running in the mud of self-scrutiny, with his peripheral vision constantly scanning the faces of those he believes are looking on, stopwatches out, "timing" him, it's not long before the runner slows, and then stops, and then slowly sinks into the mire.

This should not be! We are called to firmer ground, and to a cloud of witnesses who are cheering, not evaluating. And we are called to fix our eyes on Jesus, not just to glance at Him now and then. When we finally focus, when we truly look to Him, we forget ourselves. And it's then that we run, finally, in the freedom, joy, endurance, and athletic, lithe grace for which we were created.
In a couple of days I'll be meeting with two friends of mine to form a small accountability group. One of the things I'm going to share right at the start is this quote. I think its "the bomb."

May 11, 2005

The Latest Ten

Here's the plan. I just keep furling sites that get my attention, and when I get ten of them I tell you what they are.

But first, I would be remiss if I did not every now and then draw your attention to a couple of my favorite blogs. 1) Out of the Bloo consistently models the quality and character that I want my own blog to reflect. Although you could begin anywhere, because Bill is just consistently readable, you might try Barren No Longer for a sample of Bloo's best.

And then there's 2) Transforming Sermons. Milton is a sort of one-man blog aggregator. But unlike an aggregator, Milton sifts the Christian blogosphere for only the very best. A daily dose will do you good. Start, but don't stop, with an excellent recent post like A Key to the Message of Romans.

In fact, it was from Milton that I learned about 3) Stronger Church. I really like his post of a few weeks back, What's Christianity All About? In a variation on the old Hindu parable about the 4 blind men and the elephant, four searchers go in search of Christianity. You won't be surprised to find they came up with varying conclusions, depending on source of their information.

4) Rebecca Writes has been a blogging friend nearly from the beginning. Blogging technology has made known to the many those excellent teachers whom God has scattered like salt throughout his world-community (his kingdom), and Rebecca is one of them. Her recent series is, as usual, exceptional. It's a commentary on Ephesians 2, called "His Workmanship." Begin here, then move on to here, here, and here. Read and savor.

5) Speaking of "commentary blogging," Broken Messenger (who happens to be new to my blogroll) is doing the same, working from 1 Peter 2:5-8. The series is entitled "Add to Your Faith . . . Goodness." [Part 1, Part 2, Part 3]. Good stuff.

6) Mike of (formerly "Blogging Teen") is another old blogging friend. Early on he wrote to me to give me some basic blogging advice, which was much appreciated. These days he's in the midst of reading the Bible from cover to cover in 40 days! I figure that's about 30 chapters per day. Talk about total immersion! Mike, I pray that the Word would dwell in you richly during this time, enriching your soil.

7) Aron Gahagan used to be an assistant pastor at a church near me. I heard him preach once, and signed up for his mailing list. Next thing you know, the young fella's got a blog all his own: Some thoughts. I recommend it. Postage-stamp bio: he's 30, has been accepted at Wheaton for graduate study, and loves to quote the Puritans. For a good sample of his work, you might start with Why I Read.

8) The Japery is the blog of the online lit-journal, The New Pantagruel. In a post entitled Shock Therapy, they quote at length from Richard Selzer's Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery. There's little I can add, except to say it's a powerful testimony concerning "the culture of death." I simply pray that everyone would read this.

9) You'll find it on my sidebar list of devotionals. It's called Day by Day Grace and is the work of Bob Hoekstra, who is director of Living in Christ Ministries, which is a discipleship program affiliated with the Calvary Chapel churches. I like this devotional a lot. Simple as that.

10) Finally, Craig at Tabletalk has a been posting a series called "Narnian Musings." He's up to #10 at this point, but I want to direct your attention to the seventh in this series, about the dragoning of Eustace. In the course of this one, Craig quotes Eugene Peterson. I love this quote so much, I just want to follow suit:

But the minute we start advertising the faith in terms of benefits, we're just exacerbating the self problem. 'With Christ, you're better, stronger, more likeable, you enjoy some ecstasy.' But it's just more self. Instead, we want to get people bored with themselves so they can start looking at Jesus.

We've all met a certain type of spiritual person. She's a wonderful person. She loves the Lord. She prays and reads the Bible all the time. But all she thinks about is herself. She's not a selfish person. But she's always at the center of everything she's doing. 'How can I witness better? How can I do this better? How can I take care of this person's problem better?' It's me, me, me disguised in a way that is difficult to see because her spiritual talk disarms us.
Oh, amen and amen and amen. May you, Jesus, take your rightful place at the very center of all my thoughts and feelings today.

May 10, 2005

Christian, You Are the Salt of the Earth (Matthew 5:13)

Ask anyone what salt tastes like and they’ll almost certainly say, “salty.” There is simply no other way to describe it. The saltiness of salt is its definitive property. Although it has other properties--white, granular–-these are not definitive. Saltiness, on the other hand, is so very definitive of salt that we would have trouble even imagining unsalty salt. Salt without its definitive property would be of no value. Salt is defined by, and valued for, its saltiness.

Now, many commentaries on Matthew 5:13 will speak of salt’s use as a flavoring agent and as a preservative. They’ll say that Christians are to be like salt in the world, flavoring and preserving. That’s all well and good, but I want to focus on something even more fundamental than that. Jesus, in using the salt-metaphor to describe his followers, is suggesting that just as salt has a certain intrinsic property--its saltiness--without which it would be of no value, Christians also have certain intrinsic characteristics that are definitive, and without which they would cease to be “Christianly.”

Christian, as salt must be salty, you must be Christianly. There must be something about you, something shared by all believers and followers of Jesus, which is definitive. Something that marks you, sets you apart, identifies you as “one of them.” A Christian without these special characteristics would simply not be “Christianly.”

Do you see? Jesus is calling you to be what you are. To live, to show forth, what He has already made you. This is not something you muster up, not something that comes with training, with education, with erudition, with experience, but it is simply a natural concomitant of your new nature in Christ Jesus.

All of which begs the question, just what are these Christianly characteristics? What constitutes the “saltiness” of a Christian? Well, Jesus had just been pointing out some of these characteristics in the run-up to this verse, where he described eight fundamental traits of the “blessed.”

1. Just as salt is salty, the Christian should be “poor in spirit.” That is, he knows his own absolute poverty of spirit--his spiritual helplessness--apart from God. He is not self-reliant where spiritual things are concerned, but God-reliant.

2. Just as salt is salty, the Christian should be ready to mourn. It well might be asked, for what reason ought the Christian to mourn? My first instinct is to consider what makes God mournful. What breaks God’s heart? The Christian’s heart is broken by these same things. Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He was willing to weep with those who wept. The fallen state of the world caused him sorrow. So should it be among His followers.

3. Just as salt is salty, the Christian should be meek. He is not self-assertive, always claiming his rights and prerogatives. He assumes nothing, gladly taking the lowest seat, having the attitude, in whatever position he finds himself, of a servant.

4. Just as salt is salty, the Christian should be hungry and thirsty for righteousness. It is his all-consuming passion. Righteousness is alignment with God’s will. It is also the overriding theme of the Word of God. Unrighteousness to a Christian is like gall to one who thirsts. It only increases his thirst.

5. Just as salt is salty, the Christian should be merciful. Judgement does not enter into his approach to the world or to sin. He sets aside judgement in favor of mercy, knowing that in the end the final arbiter of all things will be Jesus Christ. Although there will one day be a day of judgement, this is the day of mercy.

6. Just as salt is salty, the Christian should be pure in heart. Another way of saying this would be “wholehearted.” The Christian is not divided against himself. The Christian does not serve two masters. The Christian’s life can therefore be said to be a living sacrifice to the Lord his God.

7. Just as salt is salty, the Christian should be a peacemaker. In a world that seeks not God, a world that has wandered away from the rule and reign of God, a world full of people who lack all of these Christianly characteristics, there will often be conflict. The Christian, then, will find himself in the midst of the competing claims of self-assertive people who are anything but meek and merciful. It is the Christian and only the Christian who can truly and consistently be the peacemaker in such situations.

8. Finally, just as salt is salty, the Christian shall be persecuted. This is just going to happen. The Christian’s meekness and self-effacing behavior will be taken advantage of and ridiculed by the assertive. His mercy will be rebuked and his peacemaking not only unappreciated but actively undermined. Nevertheless, like Paul he will count it all blessing, because he knows that his reward is in heaven.

Now, Jesus says that anyone who has these characteristics is happy (alt. “blessed”). And he goes on to say that such people are the salt of the earth. Salt is drawn from the earth and has a usefulness to people that is pretty nearly essential to civilization. If we think about the usefulness of salt, we get to the business of its preservative and flavoring influences. But the point is, as salt must be salty in order to be useful, Christians must be Christianly in order to be useful in terms of God’s Kingdom plan for the earth. If we are not showing forth these kinds of qualities, we are not being used in his plan.

Christian, you are the salt of the earth. Do you believe it? God in his immeasurable wisdom and sovereignty has chosen to manifest his Kingdom plan in the earth through his called out children, his Jesus people, to whom he has given all that is necessary for life and godliness. Christian, be what you are.

May 09, 2005

Christian Fatalism

Recently I spoke to a man who felt condemned to repeat a particular sin. "Believe me, I know myself," he said, "and it ain't pretty. I just can't help it."

I know what he means, but I just can't accept that this since of fatalism with regard to sin is really what God wants for us. And yet it's difficult to respond to this attitude. You come off sounding like a naïf; like someone who has not yet wised up to the power and persistence of the flesh. Surely it is good to be "realistic" about oneself. Good to face up at last to one's weakness.

And yet . . .

I just don't accept it. In effect, this makes confession and repentance an end instead of a beginning. As if Christ's exhortation, "Get up and walk," was not meant for us today. And this attitude seriously underestimates the power of the Gospel, it seems to me. As if it were only a future hope, but never a present reality. As if Romans 7 were the end of the story, and Paul had never followed his heartfelt confession of weakness with the great encouragement to spiritual victory that is Romans 8.

That chapters begins with a verse in which millions have taken comfort over the centuries: "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Does this simply mean that through Jesus we are no longer subject to the judicial condemnation that we deserve? "In the city of refuge," as Matthew Henry says, safe from the avenger. That would be grace indeed, but I do not believe that Paul wants his readers to be satisfied in that. The grace of "no condemnation" is a grace to stand. It is a beginning, not an end. Matthew Henry goes on to say:

It is the undoubted character of all those who are so in Christ Jesus as to be freed from condemnation that they walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. Observe, The character is given from their walk, not from any one particular act, but from their course and way. And the great question is, What is the principle of the walk, the flesh or the spirit, the old or the new nature, corruption or grace? Which of these do we mind, for which of these doe we make provision, by which of these are we governed, which of these do we take part with?
I have never written a purpose-statement for Mr. Standfast, but if I ever do it will bear the message, "Christian, there is an alternative to sin!" We are freed not only from the guilt of sin, but from its binding power.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not a Christian perfectionist. Confession and repentance is going to be a constant in the Christian's life, because sin is going to be a constant. But so is the enabling of the Spirit. Romans 6-8 paints a picture of the Christian life that is, far from being static or fatalistic (as might be assumed by those who interpret Romans 7 as if it stood alone, apart from its context), a thoroughly new way to live. Paul is essentially an optimist about the Christian life. If I have any message to offer my friend, it must share in that optimism. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made [us] free from the law of sin and death."


J. A. Gilmartin at Sheep's Crib is focusing attention on the Darfur situation. So is John at Blogotional, Brad at 21st Century Reformation, and Steven at two and two makes five. Also, Kieth at Under the Acacias. Then there's Catez at Allthings2all. She has summoned all concerned bloggers to write about the Sudanese crisis:

I am inviting submissions for The Darfur Collection, which is open to ALL bloggers, and which may be on any aspect of the Darfur situation. For example, the posts may be on the genocide, the refugee camps, the current food situation, the UN's role, the minimal international response, ways to help, your opinion, and so on. You may find eye-witness accounts which you wish to post and/or comment on.
The deadline is midnight (EST), May 15.

May 07, 2005

Gravikords, Wayfarers, and a Few Haiku

My son Tim, he who stretcheth the boundaries, brought home a book called Gravikords, Whirlies, & Pyrophones. It's a little book about very strange musical instruments, and comes with its own CD. You can hear the music not only of gravikords, whirlies, and pyrophones, but also the photonic clarinet, the daxophone, and (my favorite) the flowerpotophone, among many others. You can listen to a sampling of these at this website. Oh, and if you listen to the daxophone, be prepared to laugh really, really hard. It's a very amusing instrument. Sounds like a bunch of aliens with severe indigestion!

Meanwhile, my son Nate, the nimble and brave, is just back from Merlefest. If you don't like bluegrass music, get outa town, man. Especially if the town is Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in the springtime. Nate came home with a Merlefest t-shirt (of course) and a new band to be way-enthused about: The Wayfaring Strangers. Bluegrass/Gospel/Jazz fusion. Or something like that.

Oh, and getting back to Tim, he also gave me a book this week (such a good boy). It's a collection of haiku by Jack Kerouac. If you don't really "get" haiku, that's fine. Just click onward, friend! But Kerouac happens to have written some very good ones. I'm not into Beat generation poets in general, but he definitely had a way with the haiku form. I have grown to love the haiku over the years, and would really like to write more of them. Here are a few of my own from the dim past.

Blossoming bittersweet--
the old birch, entangled,
slowly surrenders.


September locust--
you keep repeating yourself
under a blue bowl.


Season of mushrooms--
pushing up through the pine straw,
dense brown flesh.


Rainy night, owl-hoot
in the shrowded pinetop--
I stumble blindly.

BTW, I'm not the only Christian blogger with an inexplicable hankering for haiku. The clearly brilliant Peter J. Leithart is another. So, hey, I'm in good company.

May 06, 2005

Rwanda & Darfur

I watched Sometimes in April the other night. My friend Jacques, who is from Rwanda, called to tell me it was on. Jacques has told me before that April is a very difficult month for Rwandans. The awful memories return with increased potency. Drug abuse and suicide rates skyrocket. Jacques says you can feel the darkness over the land in April, a kind of spiritual weather that returns on an annual cycle.

For more about Rwanda today, Jordon Cooper has put together a fine assortment of links. I highly recommend Through the Eyes of Children, and Ghosts of Rwanda. The BBC also has a very informative site called Rwandan Genocide: 10 Years On. Take a look especially at the personal testimonies there of a survivor and a participant in the killings.

Finally, we know that today history is repeating itself in Sudan. Catez at Allthing2all tells the story of The children of Darfur in words and pictures.

Gideon's Ephod and the National Day of Prayer

This morning's OT Bible passage (I'm using the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan) was Judges 8, the story of Gideon's improbable victory over the Midianites. Here's what really struck me this time around:

After winning the victory against the Midianites, the people offer Gideon the kingship, saying, "for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian." But Gideon refuses. Perhaps he understands that the credit for this victory belonged to God, not himself. The Angel of the Lord had commissioned him for a particular assignment; his call was not to hereditary kingship. So this seems an appropriate and commendable response on Gideon's part. But then he says, "Instead of the kingship, all I ask is a share of the Midianite plunder. A gold earring from each man." Gideon then takes his portion of the gold, melts it down, and creates a beautiful ephod, which is a priestly "breastplate." So Gideon eschews political power but claims priestly or spiritual authority. And what do you know: the ephod quickly becomes an idol. Verse 27 says, "And all Israel played the harlot [KJV: "went to whoring"] with it there. It became a snare to Gideon and his house."

Yesterday was the National Day of Prayer here in America. At noon in my own workplace, then in the evening at my church, I attended prayer meetings where we lifted our nation before the Lord. It seems to me that America is in much the same situation in which ancient Israel often found itself. Incredibly blessed by God, we nevertheless prostitute ourselves to idols of various kinds. It is interesting to note that Gideon's son, Abimelech, would soon be declaring himself king in Shechem, and perpetrating unthinkable horrors in order to consolidate this claim to power. Idol worship leads ever downward, it seems. I can't help but think this morning that there is a lesson here for America, but I wonder if we will ever learn it.

May 03, 2005

The Christian's Identity Series

I see blogging as a stage in the writing process, as opposed to an end itself. Well, at least sometimes it is that! I've got it in my head, for example, to compose a meditation for all the statements from Scripture which identify the Christian in some way or other. I've written several of them so far, and I'm enjoying the process, but the truth is that they are all nothing more than first drafts. I've got a notion that once I've written all of them--if I ever get that far--I'll go back over them and rewrite them with an eye toward accuracy, consistency of tone, and perhaps establishing a connecting thread to run through them all. I mean, foolhardy dreamer that I am, I'm actually thinking in terms of producing a manuscript that a publisher might be interested in someday.

In the meantime, I'm posting the "first drafts" to the blog because I think people might be blessed by them and, equally important, the feedback of alert and sympathetic readers is always helpful. Here are the links to the four postings in this series so far:

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

As I wrote in a previous post (here), "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."

By the way, I'm quite sure that the final order of these things will be significantly different than the order in which I'm writing them. Next up, Christian, You Are the Salt of the Earth.

May 02, 2005

Christian, You Are the Light of the World (Matthew 5:14)

It is a striking statement, is it not? Are you surprised by these words, or have they become commonplace to you? Easily passed over. I wonder if the people who were gathered around Jesus that day, hearing these words, did not look about themselves shyly, wondering, can he really mean me? Am I the light of the world? Surely he exaggerates. Do you, Christian, feel commended or confronted when you read these words of Jesus? Is you response, "Well of course I'm the light of the world! I'm a Christian, aren't I?" Or is it, "How can this possibly be?"

Jesus said elsewhere that he himself was the light of the world. Yes, we approve of that. It was Jesus who gave sight to the blind, after all. But it is this same Jesus who also says to a group of rather unimpressive followers, "You are the light of the world."

I am one who feels confronted by these words. I need to ask, how can it be? Because I have to confess to you, if I were to say that I am "the light" in my workplace, it would be a laughably inaccurate statement. It would embarrass me to say such a thing in public. Yet, am I worse than these early followers of Jesus. These folks are hardly paragons of Christian virtue. They are, at the most literal level, simply followers of one in whom they have sensed authority, power, wisdom. They know nothing of the cross at this point. Like Peter, they would be affronted by the very suggestion that the Galilean teacher must die for the sins of the world. Furthermore, we readers of Matthew's Gospel also know, as these men and women did not, that it wouldn't be long before every one of them would desert the man they are now so eager to hear. He would be left alone by them. The sun would be darkened, and his blood would be poured out in utter loneliness.

And yet, if the Savior's words are meant for us at all, and if we are essentially no different than the crowds to whom they were originally spoken, then we must confess that we are the light of the world despite our sin, our failings, our faltering testimony and our less than exemplary lives. We are required, I think, to let these words confront us. And so I ask again, How can it be?

I believe that these simple words of Jesus are able to usher us into truths that will quite literally occupy our hearts and minds for all eternity. The Apostle John records Jesus saying, "I am the light of the world." And here Matthew records him saying, "You are the light of the world." The great English preacher D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, addressing this apparent contradiction, wrote, "These two statements must always be taken together, since the Christian is only the 'light of the world' because of his relationship to Him who is Himself 'the light of the world.'" Lloyd-Jones goes on to say:

You remember how the apostle Paul put it in Ephesians v, where he says, "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord". So not only have we received light, we have been made light; we become transmitters of light. In other words, it is this extraordinary teaching of the mystical union between the believer and his Lord. His nature enters into us so that we become, in a sense, what He Himself is. It is essential that we bear in mind both aspects of this matter. As those who believe the gospel we have received light and knowledge and instruction. But, in addition, it has become part of us. It has become our life, so that we thus become reflectors of it. The remarkable thing, therefore, of which we are reminded here is our intimate relationship with Him. The Christian is a man who has received and has become a partaker of the divine nature. The light that is Christ Himself the light that is ultimately God, is the light that is in the Christian. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." "I am the light of the world." "Ye are the light of the world." The way to understand this is to grasp our Lord's teaching concerning the Holy Spirit in John xiv-xvi where He says, in effect, "The result of His coming will be this: My Father and I will take up Our abode in you; We will be in you and you will be in Us." God, who is "the Father of lights", is the light that is in us; He is in us, and we are in Him, and thus it can be said of the Christian, "Ye are the light of the world."
Yes, Christian, you are the light of the world, because the Holy Spirit dwells in you. Of course you are an inadequate vessel, and yet Jesus has put it quite bluntly. You, such as you are, are the light of the world. I have deemed it so. I have sent my Spirit to make it possible.

There is certainly much more to be said about being a light, and Jesus himself does not stop here. Nevertheless, we can say without equivocation, Christ in you, Christian, is the hope for which the whole world yearns. Christian, you are the light of the world! Do you believe it?

[The entirety of Lloyd-Jones' sermon on this passage can be found here--among various other Internet places--and is collected in his wonderful book, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.]

May 01, 2005

Stott's Procrustean Analogy

A while back I was quoting frequently from John Stott's excellent book, The Cross of Christ. You'll remember I couldn't recommend it highly enough. Well, now I'm reading Stott's The Incomparable Christ. I'll be saying more about this equally fine book in the future, but for now, here's just one remarkable quote:

Procrustes, in Greek mythology, was a brutal robber who compelled his victims to fit the dimensions of his iron bed. If they were too short, he stretched them. If they were too long, he chopped off their feet. The Christian Procrustes exhibits a similar inflexibility, forcing Jesus into his way of thinking and resorting to ruthless measures in order to secure his conformity. From Procrustes and all his disciples, good Lord deliver us!
I second the motion!