gratitude & hoopla: March 2006

gratitude & hoopla

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


Stables Will Be Temples

Here's something from The World as I Remember It, by Rich Mullins.

"When we were kids we sang for the joy of singing, we colored and cut and pasted for the fun of doing it. We ran for the love of running and laughed and got scared and saw the world as a real place full of real dangers and real beauty and real rights and wrongs.

"And if the cross is more than a symbol (and it is), and if grace is more than a sentiment (and, thank God, it is), if Jesus Christ is really God's revelation of Himself and not the product of human imagination (and He is), then we will become the children we once were and must become again. Stables will be temples, stars will be guarantees, 'the trees of the fields will clap their hands and the mountains and the hills will break forth in singing....' We will pray and run and work and give ourselves over to faith. And God will be our Father and His Kingdom will be our home, for we will be those children we once were, and 'of such is the Kingdom of Heaven....'


This Fearful, Sin-scarred State & the Wisdom of Tenderness

When my son Nate started blogging at Eight Strings, I didn't realize that he would quickly become one of the most eloquent gospel-bloggers in the whole dern blogging universe. Don't believe me? Check this out:
Not to receive(respond to) the unconditional love of the Father is to live in fear...crippling fear that one will not be accepted by his/her peers, him/herself, and finally God. It is to hopelessly and endlessly scrub one's actions, beliefs, and worship toward the end of approval and acceptance by others, rather than to genuinely respond to the Famous One's overtures of love. How then, do I deal with this fearful and sin-scarred state, which has and continues to characterize me? Well, having ruthlessly taken stock of myself in terms of sinful motives and desires as well as actions, I am to "be gentle with myself, as the Master is, humbly acknowledg[ing] that the Word hasn't taken sovereign possession of my life, accept my own need for further conversion, quickly repent, ask forgiveness, waste no time in self-recrimination, and smile at my own frailty."
He's quoting Brennan Manning's The Wisdom of Tenderness, by the way. You can read the entire post here.


Prayer Request

Emlyn Hart is a missionary with Iris Ministries in Mozambique. She was a member of my church before leaving for this long-term mission trip, so I have a particular interest in what she's been up to. The following are quotations from the last two postings to her website:
Subject: Maria has Arrived!!!

As if monday weren’t exciting enough - the rest of the week continued to surprise me. After a few meetings with Heidi and the addition of kitchen chefe to my titles, the baby house seemed to be put on hold. Well, at least for a couple days.

Mid-morning on Wednesday an elderly woman arrived at the toddler house with a baby wrapped in blankets. She wished to leave her here. Born on Monday and still unnamed, her mother had died during childbirth.

Rabia, one of the children’s center directors, and I called Heidi and asked what we should do. We had no place to put a baby - plans for a baby room had been put on hold - and no one to care for her. Heidi’s response was immediate, “I will be over as soon as possible to sign the papers.” What has just happened? What does this mean?

I sat in Heidi’s office with Rabia, Tanya and Maria, the woman who brought her. We quickly decided several things. Cribs would have to be made, a couple educators would have to be hired and the baby girl would stay with me. I becam an instant mom. We named her Maria Esperanca. Maria after the woman that brought her and Esperanca becasue it is portuguese for hope.

The doctor that comes to our clinic a couple times a week is the same doctor that did the cesarean at the hospital. I found out that Maria was born on Tuesday, not Monday. She was brought to us when she was less than 24 hours old!

She has been here one week. I am leanring more each mintue. i am thrilled to report that she is thriving. One of my educators provides her with breastmilk during the day and I give her bottles at night. She sleeps constantly, waking mostly to eat. She still has her nights and days confused. When she is awake she is extremely alert and expressive, making all sorts of noises. I think she is perfect.
That report from a month ago is followed by this one, from just last week, psted not by Emlyn but by the webmaster:
Subject: Em is Sick...

Hello to all of Em's Spiritual Supporters . . .

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the need for prayer on behalf of Em and her ministry is now critical. Please bear with me as I attempt to recount some of the details of what Em has communicated via phone over the past coupla weeks.

Approximately 2 weeks ago, Maria, the baby that Em was caring for came down with an infection, was hospitalized and died a few days later. Em is still grieving this loss and attempting to come to terms with the dying process, something that she is dealing with for the first time in her young life.

This morning I spoke with Emelyn who appears to have contacted malaria. In her softly spoken words:

"I feel too poorly to travel to the hospital to receive the actual diagnosis, but I have all of the common symptoms. I am being cared for by my fellow ministry workers and taking medication which my body is not taking very well.

There has been an overwhelming amount of illnesses amoungst the children that we care for, not just malaria. Please ask everyone to pray for our ministry and our children."
I quote these excerpts in the hope that you will remember Emlyn in your prayers.

On Stripping the Gospel of its Power

As I've mentioned numerous times before, I'm presently using D. A. Carson's devotional, For the Love of God (volume 2). Most contemporary devotionals are, to my tastes, insipid. They quote a verse or two of Scripture, then proceed to illustrate the point with an "inspiring" story from "real life" (as opposed to the Bible). One puts them down feeling as if one has just been patted on the head by a kindly uncle.

With Carson, on the other hand, one feels as if one has just had a conference with a wise professor. Encouragement is good, but even encouragement can be shallow, even evasive. I like Carson's devotionals because they quietly accept the challenge of the Scriptures.

All that having been said, I want to quote from today's entry. Carson is commenting on 2 Corinthians 9, where Paul urges the Corinthian Christians to be generous in their giving by reminding them that their giving is nothing more than a response to the grace of God. When people see their generosity, Paul says at 9:13, they will "praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the of the Gospel.... " Carson writes:
So much of basic Christian ethics is tied in one way or another to the Gospel. When husbands need instruction on how to treat their wives, Paul does not introduce special marriage therapy or appeal to a mystical experience. Rather, he grounds conduct in the Gospel: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Eph. 5:25). If you are looking for maturity, beware of any "deeper life" approach that sidesteps the Gospel, for Paul writes, "So then, just as you received Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness" (Col. 2:6-7)....

We must avoid the view that, while the Gospel provides a sort of escape ticket from judgement and hell, all the real life-transforming power comes from something else--an esoteric doctrine, a mystical experience, a therapeutic technique, a discipleship course. This is too narrow a view of the Gospel. Worse, it ends up relativizing and marginalizing the Gospel, stripping it of its power while it directs the attention of people away from the Gospel and toward something less helpful.


Book Joy!

I received a shipment of 6 books yesterday (joy joy joy) which I'd ordered at deep discounts from CBD. In the evening I tore through much of John Piper's Counted Righteous in Christ. This is scholarly exegetical stuff, and I'm not sure I'm "getting" everything here, and yet I can't put it down.

Another book that came with this batch is Michael Card's A Violent Grace. I'm going to use this little book for devotional purposes, reading a chapter a day, which should take me right up to Easter (so you see it arrived right on schedule!). I'll be sharing more from this book in the coming days, but for now, dwell for a moment on this wonderful quotation from Charles Spurgeon:
If you reject Him, He answers you with tears.
If you wound Him, He bleeds out cleansing.
If you kill Him, He dies to redeem.
If you bury Him, He rises again to bring resurrection.


Checking In

Spending the Lenten season (so far) being mostly quiet. I've just finished reading a little book called Cross-shattered Christ, by Stanley Hauerwas. It consists of seven short "meditations" (otherwise known as chapters) on "the seven last words of Jesus." I don't know that I would recommend this book, but it's got me thinking, anyway.

Another little Lenten project of mine has been to memorize some longish passages of Scripture: Isaiah 53, Mark 15:22-39, and Psalm 22. I've never done this sort of thing before, but I was inspired to do so (in part) by this post. It's going quite well so far. I think I'm going to keep it up.

Otherwise, I'm just reading lots, watching a little basketball, and generally keeping a weather-eye for signs of Spring.


Nepotism forever!

No, I am not completely out of the loop. Just not posting much. It's the longest voluntary blogging-break I've taken, and you know what? It feels good.

But I did want to come back to plug my son's recent blogging at Eight Strings. His last few postings have been quite interesting. Together they're called "Is God Listening?" Nate attempts an answer in three parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Good reading!


The First Day of Spring

I went for a walk yesterday down along the beach. The wind was out of the north and cold, pushing up white caps on the bay. But it was good to be out in the sun. I walked farther and longer than I'd intended, browsing the crooked streets down by the water, where the houses seem to jostle one another for a sea-view. I kept thanking God for cozy little back yards, picket fences, brightly painted porches. The beach was empty and cold, of course, but the view across the water was incredibly clear. Your gaze wandered among brown islands, rugged old forts guarding the narrow passages, and far out, glimpses of open water, a distant horizon. Later, coming home, I stopped to watch a couple of mockingbirds flitting about in a tangled patch of bittersweet. One of them surprised me by lighting on a near branch and staying quite still, as if to give me a good look. The bead-like black eyes, the downy breast, so white and soft, and the long pert tailfeathers. This intimate glimpse was the last and best of the many blessings of the day, our first day of Spring, and I walked the rest of the way home praising the Lord of all seasons.


Memo to g&h readers

Needless to say, I've been out of the loop for a few days. Will be so for a while longer, it seems. Call it a hiatus, or say I'm blog-fasting for Lent! See you when the fast ends . . .


Random Thoughts on Job

I've been reading Job lately, a chapter per day. This story remains for me difficult and problematic, but I benefit greatly each time I read it. I have not often heard it "preached," and never so as to do it justice. I have a feeling that the reason it is so much ignored by our preachers is that it is not conducive to a quick uplifting message that will leave people clicking their heals and shouting hallelujah!

What I like about Job is that he will not be silenced by his miserable comforters. He doesn't settle for their glib tit-for-tat view of God's justice. He has a bone to pick with God and although his understanding may be "darkened," in the end only God's voice can cause him to put his suffering into its proper perspective.

We in the church today are not so much plagued by miserable comforters as pre-occupied with positive-thinking. Today's Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar would not be judgmental cads, but glib positive-thinkers, with a message like, "Cheer up, Job. God's got a wonderful plan for your life, just you wait and see." It's a message no less inappropriate. I have a feeling that Job would have found it every bit as unsatisfying as the dour message of his three so-called friends. God's response, on the other hand, might have been exactly the same: "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?"


Saturday Rewind: Broken

This post orginally appeared at Mr. Standfast (4/30/05):

Yesterday I heard a television preacher say, "You have to reach down into yourself . . ." He was talking about winning "the victory" over something, I don't even remember what for sure. All I know is he is not correct. When I reach down into myself I only find . . . myself. Which is never enough, I'm afraid. Never strong enough. Never clean enough.

Yesterday evening some of us gathered to pray, and an old friend joined us, someone none of us had seen in a while. She was broken and sorrowful and confessed to some things. She wanted to come back to God but wasn't sure that God could forgive her. She wanted to hear the word of forgiveness and believe it. She wept, and people gathered around to pray, and there was, I believe, the beginning of healing and restoration.

It got me thinking about broken-ness. It seemed to me, as this woman asked me and others for forgiveness, showing us her sense of utter helplessness, that she was showing us "the one thing needful" for all of us. And that the only genuine response that I or anyone could make in that moment was not, I forgive you; but instead, Oh, dear one, I too need what you need. I too am broken. I too have tried to go my own way. I too have strayed. Thank you for showing me how to confess my utter helplessness. May I join you? May we go to the Father together?

How quickly we move from our holy moments of true dependence on God back into self-reliance again. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness." They hunger so because they do not have it. Not only are they unable to find it in the world, but neither can they find it in themselves. The choice at that point, when every option has failed you, is always between despair and God.
I too am the sheep who went astray. I followed my instincts, which seemed right in my own eyes. For a while the grass was green and good, but in the end I came to place of barrenness and darkness, and the wolves surrounded me, and truly I was as good as dead. I cried out at last for my shepherd, though in that moment he seemed so far away. Then all at once my shepherd was there. He leaped into the midst of the pack, brandishing his flaming torch in the faces of the panic-stricken wolves, scattering them. Quickly he hoisted me to his shoulders and carried me home. He saved me when I could not save myself.


Subheads from the Christian Blogosphere

I've often thought I'd like to make a thorough survey of Christian blog sub-heads and collect the best of them in a single post. This is not that post, sorry. But here are a few goodies:

: Making the most of the cross and empty tomb

Larry Who
: I am a sixty year old who once thought that he was a classy race horse. Recently, I looked back over my shoulder and noticed a furrow following me. Oh my Lord - I'm a plow horse. A ho hum, run of the mill plodder!

: "The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy." J.R.R. Tolkien

(who, btw, has just celebrated his 1000th post!): "Grace substitutes a full, childlike, and delighted acceptance of our Need, a joy in total dependence. We become 'Jolly Beggars.'" C. S. Lewis

Eight Strings
: "A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word 'darkness' on the walls of his cell." -C.S. Lewis

If you know of any others--funny, deep, or just plain bizarre--why not share them in a comment or at your own blog?


The Good, Good News

Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming the "year of the Lord's favor." Spell that, o-p-p-o-r-t-u-n-i-t-y. In other words, Good news! The time is now. The grace of God has come. Be of profoundly good cheer, my friends. If you believe in the One who proclaimed this message ("he spoke with authority"), salvation has come to you. Go forth singing. There is now no condemnation. It has been taken out of the way.


A few days back one of my readers sent me this article. It's all about preaching the Good News to yourself every day. As you know, that's my thing. It's a great and very practical message. I highly recommend it.


The apostle Paul blesses the Corinthians, at the end of his first letter to that church, with these words:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Note the order of things here. It may be significant.

First, "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ." Spend some time thinking about that, why don't you. The Good News must be received as grace (that is, free of charge and undeserved): that's the starting point. If you receive it as payment, as if you could deserve it, or if you receive it as something you will have to pay for by means of your own future good works, or if you receive it as something that comes by some other means than Christ "and Him crucified," then I'm afraid you have not received it at all.

Then comes, "the love of God." Can you ever truly grasp the love of God if at first you have not considered that it is totally by grace, tested and proven at the Cross? Can you truly comprehend the length and breadth and height and depth of God's love if you have not first settled the fact that it is offered purely and simply as a gift?

And then . . . and only then . . . the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. If you are crying out for power, crying out for the Spirit . . . if you want to be used for the Kingdom and have the gifts of the Spirit stirred up in you . . . perhaps you need to go by way of the grace of Jesus and the love of God. In other words, the good news. When you were steeped in your sin, Christ put off immortality, took on flesh and went to his death at the hands of evil man, so that you might be called a child of God. Glory only in this. And then see what God will do!


Ephesians Every Month

I'm coming in a little late on this, but it's intriguing to me. Chris Hamer-Hodges has begun the practice of reading Ephesians every month. That's right, every month. He doesn't say, "Every month for a year," but every month, period.

The reading schedule looks like this:
Week 1
Monday 1:1-10, Tuesday 1:11-14, Wednesday 1:15-23, Thursday 2:1-10, Friday 2:11-18

Week 2

Monday 2:19-21, Tuesday 3:1-6, Wednesday 3:7-13, Thursday 3:13-21, Friday 4:1-6

Week 3
Monday 4:7-16, Tuesday 4:17-24, Wednesday 4:25-5:2, Thursday 5:3-7, Friday 5:8-14

Week 4

Monday 5:15-21, Tuesday 5:22-33, Wednesday 6:1-9, Thursday 6:10-20, Friday 6:21-24
I don't know that I want to start this just now, but it's an interesting idea, no? I think it might be a good practice for 6 to 12 months.



I got to thinking about Mark this morning. Mark, whose mother was yet another Biblical Mary, lived in Jerusalem at the time of Peter's miraculous prison-release. His mother must have been a sort of leader among the Jerusalem Christians then, because her home was where they gathered to pray during that emergency, and it was to that same home that Peter knew to go after his escape.

Later, Mark accompanies Paul and Barnabas (his older cousin) on their relief mission from the thriving church at Antioch to the church at Jerusalem, during a time of famine (Acts 11:27-30; 12:25). And Mark is with them again at the start of their first missionary journey into Asia Minor, although early on he turns back for unspecified reasons.

Mark seems to have been a sort of protege to his cousin Barnabas. It was Barnabas who wanted to give Mark another chance by taking him along on his and Paul's second journey into Asia, but Paul would not hear of it. Paul was not convinced that Mark had become a man who could hold up under pressure, a man who would remain steadfast in the face of adversity. Paul refused to let Mark come along. As a result, Paul and Barnabas part ways, and Mark accompanies his kinsman on a separate mission, of which nothing more is known.

I imagine Mark must have been a little discouraged at that point, perhaps even angry with Paul. But it was probably a good thing that he stayed on with Barnabas, who seems to have been a gifted encourager. Perhaps encouragement was, above all, what Mark needed, for he had reason to doubt his own courage. You see, the turning-back from the first journey must have seemed a disheartening confirmation to Mark of a gnawing self-doubt that had deep roots--roots that went back in fact all the way to that night at Gethsemane, when the mob came for Jesus. That kind of memory never fades. There were flaring torches, angry shouts, the harsh metallic zing of swords from scabbards. And Mark, undoubtedly quite young, simply ran for his life. Someone grabbed for him, grasping at hunk of cloth, coming away with the boys garment only, and young Mark found himself running naked through the cold Judean night.

I see him stumbling again and again in the dark. I hear his choked sobbing, his hoarse embittered breathing. His throat, his lungs, burn like fire. And finally, after what seems like an eternity, he staggers and falls. He is far from everything now, alone in the dark, and he simply sprawls in the dirt, covered in all that darkness, and knows himself to be the greatest coward, the worst disciple, in all the world.

That was years before, of course, but now Paul's rejection may have stirred an old shame. Do you think Mark was angry? No one can say for sure, for we don't hear anything more about Mark until many years later, when Paul mentions his name near the end of his letter to the Colossians. Paul wrote that letter from his first Roman imprisonment, you'll recall.
Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions--if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.
Did you hear that? Mark was a comfort to Paul! Did it take a bit of courage, do you think, to befriend a man in Paul's circumstances? Did it take, also, a nature that was able to let go of the past, looking forward to what lay ahead. I think perhaps it did. In fact, the mature John Mark seems to have been an invaluable man, in his own way. Later he is with Peter, all the way east in Babylon on the Euphrates; Peter refers to him as "my son." Mark is said by some church fathers to be Peter's interpreter, so that Mark's Gospel is the story of Jesus "as told by" Peter himself.

Finally, the last mention of Mark occurs at the end of Paul's second letter to Timothy. Just about everyone has deserted Paul by this time.
You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me--—may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!--—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.
Paul knows he is nearing his end now. This letter represents his final instructions to his beloved Timothy. Be strong he says. Acquit yourself like a good solider in Christ Jesus. Preach the word in all seasons. Be willing to suffer for the Gospel.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
This man of surpassing courage was saying goodbye, just in case, as seemed likely, he would never see Timothy again. But he adds, "Do your best to come to me soon." And then he remembers yet another who has deserted him: "For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica." Perhaps there is an understandable note of Paul's old harshness here. Few men would ever be as brave, as steadfast in the face of adversity, as Paul. But here at the last he remembers Mark. "Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry."

In the end he was the kind of man that an old apostle, nearing his death, would remember in writing as one who was "useful." One who could be depended upon. One who would not cut and run. That's Mark. A man of God, a gifted comforter, a useful servant. We find him first at Jerusalem, then years later in Rome with Paul, and teven in Babylon with Peter. So this one who turned back from that first journey with Paul and Barnabas would become a great journeyer for God.

I thank God for the Biblical portrait of Mark, for it reminds me that we we are all, like him, growing Christians. May it be said of us in the end that we too were used of God for the sake of the Kingdom.


The Power of the Gospel

Jesus Christ strengthens us by means of the Gospel. Paul says that in his closing Doxology in Romans. In First Corinthians he says that he was called by God to be a messenger of the Gospel, which he summarizes succinctly as "Christ crucified." He says that this message is "the power of God and the wisdom of God."

The Gospel strengthens. The Gospel is wisdom and power. On a similar note, Laura at A Practice in Belief explains her blog's name this way:
I've re-titled this blog "A Practice in Belief" to reflect how I've come to see the absolute necessity and centrality of the continual preaching of the Gospel even within the body of Christ. Generally we see the Gospel as the thing that we present to nonbelievers, trusting that by means of that message the Spirit will effectually call those whom God has elected for salvation. But the fact is, we humans are sorrowfully forgetful. Luther said that the "default mode" of our heart is self-salvation - living as if we must add our own good works to Christ's in order to be made righteous in the sight of God. Following the example of Paul, who repeatedly tells us that this is not the case, we in the Church have to keep preaching the gospel to each other. Our once-for-all belief is kept for us in heaven (1 Peter 1:3-5), but at the same time, we have to exercise that faith - we have to practice living according to that belief.
This is the point that God seems to be bringing home to me again and again. It's all about the Gospel, son. The Gospel of Christ crucified is the one infinitely applicable message. It is the source of your strength in all things. Whatever your situation, search out the proper application of the Gospel message to that situation. You will never graduate to higher things or deeper truths than this message of Christ crucified.


Everything We Need

Not much time for expiatin' today, so let me just point you to three stirring posts from John at Scotwise: the theme is, We Have Everything We Need to Lead a Godly Life, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. It all comes down to this:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence . . . 2 Peter 1:3
Do we really believe it? Or are we looking for "other things" than those that pertain to life and godliness? As Jim Elliot said: "God deliver me from the dread asbestos of 'other things.'"


Whatya readin?

That's the question I like best. I like it when people ask me, and I like to ask it of others. Not that anyone has asked, but here's my answer:

Sherwood Wirt's Jesus, Man of Joy. I highly recommend it. This book made me aware that I've been short-changing the second fruit of the Spirit, joy. When joy is absent, the kingdom we preach is but a pale and wavering mirage. Let me just say that this book changed me some. I don't think I'll ever forget it.

If you saw The End of the Spear, you may have been prompted to find a book about the events dramatized in that movie. I know I was. So I made use of my local public library and came away with Jungle Pilot, by Russell T. Hitt. A fine book, this. It's a biography of Nate Saint, who was the central character in the movie, of course. A remarkable man, he reminds me in many ways of my own father. Not that that should mean much to you, but it did to me.

Of course the best-known book about those events is Elizabeth Elliot's Through Gates of Splendor. I've just started it. Here's a paragraph from Jim Elliot's journal, quoted early in the book:
'He makes his ministers a flame of fire,' Am I ignitable? God deliver me from the dread asbestos of 'other things.' Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be a flame. But flame is transient, often short-lived. Canst thou bare this, my soul--short life? In me there dwells the Spirit of the Great Short-Lived, whose zeal for God's house consumed Him. 'Make me Thy Fuel, Flame of God.'