Sunday, December 11, 2011

Casabianca

(Young Casabianca, a boy about thirteen years old, son of the Admiral of the Orient, remained at his post (in the battle of the Nile) after the ship had taken fire and all the guns had been abandoned, and perished in the explosion of the vessel, when the flames had reached the powder.)

The boy stood on the burning deck,

Whence all but him had fled;

The flame that lit the battle’s wreck

Shone round him o’er the dead.

Yet beautiful and bright he stood,

As born to rule the storm;

A creature of heroic blood,

A proud though childlike form.

The flames rolled on; he would not go

Without his father’s word;

That father, faint in death below,

His voice no longer heard.

He called aloud, “Say, father, say,

If yet my task be done?”

He knew not that the chieftain lay

Unconscious of his son.

“Speak, father!” once again he cried,

“If I may yet be gone!”

And but the booming shots replied,

And fast the flames rolled on.

Upon his brow he felt their breath,

And in his waving hair,

And looked from that lone post of death

In still yet brave despair;

And shouted but once more aloud,

“My father! Must I stay!”

While o’ver him fast, through sail and shroud,

The wreathing fires made way.

They wrapt the ship in splendor wild,

They caught the flag on high,

And streamed above the gallant child,

Like banners in the sky.

There came a burst of thunder sound;

The boy – oh! Where was he?

Ask of the winds, that far around

With fragments strewed the sea ---

With shroud and mast and pennon fair,

That well had borne their part ---

But the noblest thing that perished there

Was that young faithful heart.

Felicia Hemans.

Faithfulness, it is of all the virtues to be sought, I'm sure that is why Jesus said, "Go and learn what this means..........faithfulness......."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Whenever I see Harriet Beecher Stowe is the author of a piece, I read it eagerly. Her book ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ was a mighty tool to help bring an end to slavery and her insights are so sharp, my admiration wells up whenever I read her words.

Now this piece on sorrow is penned when the horrors of slavery and the sorrow it brought, and still brings, caused her world to spin. She entered that world of sorrow and did battle there. Better for all the world she was in that “house of mourning”, and though principalities and powers had the world in the throes of evil, and she suffered much in battling those powers, she was used mightily by the “Infinite Sovereign”.

The battle rages on today with child trafficking, extreme poverty, substance abuse and oppression of every kind.

The good soldier called for these battle fields will doubtless find sorrow an important ingredient for preparation.

Sorrow

Sorrow is the great birth-agony of immortal powers, sorrow is the great searcher and revealer of hearts, the great test of truth; for Plato has wisely said, sorrow will not endure sophisms, -- all shams and unrealities melt in the fire of that awful furnace.

Sorrow reveals forces in ourselves we never dreamed of. * * * Behind every scale in music, the gayest and cheeriest, the grandest, the most triumphant, lies its dark relative minor; the notes are the same, but the change of a semitone changes all to gloom; -- all our gayest hours are tunes that have a modulation into these dreary keys ever possible; at any moment the key-note may be struck.

And yet sorrow is godlike, sorrow is grand and great, sorrow is wise and far-seeing. Our own instinctive valuations, woven into the laws of nature, show us that it is with no slavish dread, no cowardly shrinking we should approach her divine mysteries. What are the natures that cannot suffer? Who values them?

From the fat oyster, over which the silver tide rises and falls without one pulse upon its fleshy ear, to the hero who stands with quivering nerve parting with wife and child and home for country and God, all the way up is an ascending scale, marked by an increasing power to suffer; and when we look to the head of all being, up through principalities and powers and princedoms, with dazzling orders and celestial blazonry, to behold by what emblem the Infinite Sovereign chooses to reveal Himself, we behold in the midst of the throne, “a lamb as it had been slain.” Sorrow is divine. Sorrow is reigning on all the thrones of the universe, and the crown of all crowns has been one of thorns. There have been many books that treat of the mystery of sorrow, but only one that bids us glory in tribulation, and count it all joy when we fall into diverse afflictions, that so we may be associated with that great fellowship of suffering of which the Incarnate God is the head, and through which He is carrying a redemptive conflict to a glorious victory over evil. If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him. Even in the very making up of our physical nature, God puts suggestions of such a result.

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.’ There are victorious powers in our nature which are all the while working for us in our deepest pain. It is said that, after the sufferings of the rack, there ensues a period in which the simple repose from torture produces a beatific trance; it is the reaction of Nature, asserting the benignant intentions of her Creator. So, after great mental conflicts and agonies must come a reaction, and the Divine Spirit, co-working with our spirit, seizes the favorable moment, and interpenetrating natural laws with a celestial vitality, carries up the soul to joys beyond the ordinary possibilities of mortality. * * * * It is said that gardeners, sometimes, when they would bring a rose to richer flowering, deprive it, for a season, of light and moisture. Silent and dark it stands, dropping one fading leaf after another, and seeming to go down patiently to death. But when every leaf is dropped, and the plant stands stripped to the uttermost, a new life is even then working in the buds, from which shall spring a tender foliage and a brighter wealth of flowers.

So, often in celestial gardening, every leaf of earthly joy must drop, before a new and divine bloom visits the soul.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, photo by Bader Al Obaidly

Still water - clear skies

He that attends to his interior self, --
That has a heart, and keeps it, --- has a mind
That hungers, and supplies it, -- and who seeks
A social, not dissipated life, --
Has business; feels himself engaged to achieve
No unimportant, though a silent task,
A life all turbulence and noise may seem,
To him that leads it, wise and to be praised;
But wisdom is a pearl with most success
Sought in still water, and beneath clear skies.

William Cowper, photo by Sally Mann

Sunday, August 28, 2011


"Not to be unhappy is unhappyness,
And misery to t'have known miserie;
For the best way unto discretion is
The way that leads us by adversitie;
And men are better shew'd what is amisse,
By th'expert finger of calamitie,
Than they can be with all that fortune brings,
Who never shewes them the true face of things."

It is natural to wish for the best of things for our children;
and we find ourselves hoping they will not struggle.
But as I have watched my children and grandchildren grow,
I see the truth in the above quote. Wish it were not so, but
depth of character and learning oneself, can not come in shelter.

Quote by Daniel, photo by John Fisher

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The following quote is from a poem by James Whitcomb Riley, a contemporary of Mark Twain and known for his poems in "Hoosier Dialect". In this poem he is describing a man, Doc. Sifers, whom he looks up to above all others and this little piece describes Doc. Sifer's impression after meeting a man of great notoriety and prominence......
"I met a great man onc't," Doc says, "and shuk his hand," says he,
"And he come 'bout in one, I guess, o' disapp'intin' me ---
He talked so common-like, and brought his mind so cle'r in view
and simple-like, I purt nigh thought, 'I'm best man o' the two!"

It's a rare thing to meet someone whom the world gives great applause to and find them humble. In this meeting Doc. Sifers found this man so genuine and humble, and willing to talk and share that he not only felt the man's equal but the man was so humble he left feeling like he was the better man.
I have to admit I have met many men but most I have left feeling as though I were in some sort of contest of wits. But truly great men need not prove anything, their praise comes from others and they became great by learning from everyone they come in contact with.

Photo from the Internet

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Character

I'm reading in my new old book by Samuel Smiles titled "Character". It is rich in illustrations and guidance about character. In the following piece he tells of Edward Freer, a French soldier and the power of his influence. It picks up with a narrative listing the many who died in the battle.

"In so doing it lost many brave men, and of two who fell I will speak.

The first, low in rank, Edward Freer, being but a lieutenant, was rich in honor, for he bore many scars and was young of days. He was only nineteen, and had seen more combats and sieges than he could count years. Slight in person, and of such surpassing and delicate beauty that the Spaniards often thought him a girl disguised in man’s clothing, he was yet so vigorous, so active, so brave, that the most daring and experienced veterans watched his looks on the field of battle, and would obey his slightest sign in the most difficult situations. His education was incomplete, yet were his natural powers so happy the keenest and best-furnished intellects shrunk from an encounter of wit. And all his thoughts and aspirations were proud and noble, indicating future greatness if destiny had so willed it."

I like this illustration of the power of character and Smiles goes on to say that – “Character tells in all conditions of life. The man of good character in a workshop will give the tone to his fellows, and elevate their entire aspirations. Thus Franklin, while a workman in London, is said to have reformed the manners of an entire workshop”.

I have certainly seen this play out over and over at Teen Challenge, where one man who is serious and devout sends ripples across the entire men’s population for good.

The above picture is of a young girl who just recently gained access to an education and is eager to help those who struggle as well.

Photo by Matt Blauer

"You insist," wrote Perthes to a friend, "on respect for learned men. I say, Amen! But, at the same time don't forget that largeness of mind, depth of thought, appreciation of the lofty, experience of the world, delicacy of manner, tact and energy in action, love of truth, honesty, and amiability ---
that all these may be wanting in a man who may yet be very learned." Samuel Smiles

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Be encouraged


In William Gurnal's book titled "The Christian In Complete Armour" he is talking about King David and his optomistic spirit in spite of all his deficiencies.

"How did David get this holy greatness of spirit as displayed in this scripture -- 'As for me, thou upholdest me in mine integrity, and settest me before thy face for ever.'Ps. 41:12

It is as if he had said, 'Lord, You do not treat me the way my enemies do; if there were only one sinful sore in my life, they would light on it like flies. But you overlook my stumbling feet and pardon my sin. You see my uprightness and hold it up amidst all my many infirmities. You set me before Your face and communicate love and favor to me even when sin is mingled with my obedience.'

The word picture of flies lighting on a sore is so vivid; I remember seeing hundreds of flies swarming on a sore one of our horses had; and isn't it just the way we do when we see the flaws in others. But God overlooks our many infirmities and holds up the good we do though even that is flawed. He is a merciful God.
It reminds me of Matt. 23:23 and Luke 11:42 "you overlook justice, mercy or sometimes rendered compassion, faithfulness, and the love of God". When we worship God exercising these virtues of His spirit he is quick to overlook our weaknes in doing so. Thank God!

Photo from the Internet

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Unsociable



“A man that is out of humor when an unexpected guest breaks in upon him, and does not care for sacrificing an afternoon to any chance comer; that will be master of his own time and pursuer of his own inclinations, makes but a very unsociable figure in this life.” Addison

“Unsociable tempers are contracted in solitude, which will in the end not fail of corrupting the understanding as well as the manners, and of utterly disqualifying a man for the satisfactions and duties of life. Men must be taken as they are, and we neither make them or ourselves better, by flying from or quarreling with them.” Burke

I ran across these two quotes in my book “Gems of Great Authors”. I think they really go hand in hand; when we spend too much time in solitude we can easily become fussy and used to having our own way. So much so, that the simple distraction of an unexpected guest becomes a burden; we want to be the ‘master of our own time and pursuer of our own inclinations’. Often when children come into a family there is a huge adjustment as we learn to sacrifice our time that was once our own and now duty and sacrifice become the norm. I’ve known some that could never make the necessary adjustments. It is a pity because we gain our time but lose the deepest satisfactions life has to offer.




Top photo by Alexander Ch, bottom photo by Gary Ian Young

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The following quote presents some very insightful and useful principles regarding success in whatever arena applied. It is an encouragement to those who may think they don’t have all it takes.

"We see other men, who, with comparatively slender talents, are the instruments of achieving more important results than are effected by men of far greater endowments. They know precisely the extent of their faculties, and never aim at objects beyond their reach. They carefully survey their means of success, and never fix their attention so strongly upon one point as to overlook others equally important. Never struggling obstinately against the stream, they are constantly ready, as the aspect of things changes, to vary their plans or remit their exertions, yet in all their variations they keep one object steadily in view. Preferring to play a small game rather than to stand out, and content with petty advances when a more rapid progress is impossible, they quicken their pace and enlarge their schemes as fortune favors, and, though unnoticed by the world, exert a more important influence over its destinies than many who have filled a larger space in the eye of mankind. "

Two of my sons are engaged in missionary ventures and both would tell you they have developed in ways they never foresaw. They had one object steadily in view but God brought twists and turns never imagined requiring nearly all of the principles above.

Photo I took in Thailand, quote from Getting On In The World by William Mathews, LL.D.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Modesty


"It has been remarked that the modest deportment of really wise men, when contrasted to the assuming air of the vain and ignorant, may be compared to the difference of wheat, which, while its ear is empty, holds up its head proudly, but as soon as it is filled with grain bends modestly down and withdraws from observation."

Golden Gems of Life, photo from the internet

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Educating ourselves

“Any and every legitimate means of acquiring information is to be pursued, and all the odds and bits of time pressed into use. Set a high price upon your leisure moments. They are sands of precious gold; properly expended they will procure for you a stock of great thoughts; thoughts that will fill, stir, invigorate, and expand the soul.

We should esteem those moments best improved which are employed in developing our own thoughts, rather than in acquiring those of others, since in this kind of intellectual exercise our powers are best brought into action and disciplined for use. Knowledge acquired by labor becomes a possession: a property entirely our own. A greater vividness of impression is secured, and facts thus acquired become registered in the mind in a way that mere imparted information fails of securing. A habit of reflection and observation is well-nigh everything…….

Be not dismayed at doubts, for remember that doubt is the vestibule through which all must pass before they can enter into the temple of wisdom; therefore, when we are in doubt and puzzle out the truth by our own exertions, we have gained a something which will stay by us and serve us again. But if to avoid the trouble of a search we avail ourselves of the superior information of a friend, such knowledge will not remain with us; we have borrowed it and not bought it.”

I think this applies to our religious beliefs more than any other subject. It is easy to say we believe such and such, when in reality we rarely study out a teaching on our own but rather we “borrow” it from the pulpit, creed or denomination.

The Golden Gems of Life, photo from the Internet.

“Both poetry and philosophy are prodigal of eulogy (give lavish applause) over the mind which rescues itself, by its own energy, from a captivity to custom, which breaks the common bonds of empire and cuts a Simplon (Napaloeon’s pass over the Alps) over mountains of difficulty for its own purposes, whether of good or of evil. We can not help admire such a character. It is a positive relief to turn from the contemplation of those relying on some one else for a solution of the difficulties that surround them to those who are strong in their own self-reliance, who, when confronted with fresh trials and difficulties, only put on a more determined mien, and more resolutely apply their own powers to remove the obstacle so unexpectedly put in their way. There is no surer sign of an unmanly and cowardly spirit than a vague desire for help, a wish to depend, to lean upon somebody and enjoy the fruits of the industry of others.”

I like this kind of teaching and being fatherless at fourteen I was faced with the two options – depend on myself or depend on others. I didn’t have a large pool of “others” running to my rescue, so by default I learned to depend on myself. I may have taken this too far and maybe I still do; but at 23 when Christ Jesus came courting my heart and offering his help I listened, experimented and gave in to what seemed an irresistible offer. That being said, it has always been of some difficulty to know where we let go and where God takes over. Either choice in its self is not the answer, of that I’m sure. We are made with mastery to work, think, reason, endure and strive, as well as many other abilities; not to use them is shameful. To use them instead of faith in God is futility. I’ll let each person determine the balance.

“It has been said God never intended that strong, independent beings should be reared by clinging to others, like the ivy to the oak, for support. The difficulties, hardships, and trials of life – the obstacles one encounters on the road to fortune, are positive blessings. They knit the muscles more firmly, and teach him self-reliance, just as wrestling with an athlete who is superior to us we increase our own strength and learn the secret of his skill. All difficulties come to us, as Bunyan says of temptation, like the lion which met Sampson, the first time we encounter them they roar and gnash their teeth, but once subdued we find a nest of honey in them. Peril is the very element in which power is developed.”

The Golden Gems of Life by S.C. Ferguson and E.A. Allen, photo by Lemon Bartleboom

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Smoking Flax

I was reading out of F.B. Meyer's book "Christ in Isaiah" and ran across the following piece. I can't think of a more important exhortation than what's contained below as he bares his heart for the marginalized.

"So feebly does love burn in some hearts, that only He who knows all things can know that love is there at all. So fitful, so irregular, so destitute of kindling power. Ah me! Reader, you and I have known hours when not the coals of juniper, but the smoking flax, have been the true emblem of our love.

The superficial worker ignores these in rude haste. He passes them by to seek an object more commensurate with his powers. Give me, he cries, a sphere in which I may influence strong, noble, and heroic souls! Give me an arena where I may meet foe-men worthy of my steel! Give me a task where my stores of knowledge may have adequate scope! And if these fail, he counts himself ill-used. “I will do naught, if I cannot do the best.” Oh, foolish words. The best, the noblest, is to bend with a Divine humility over those whom the world ignores, exercising a holy ingenuity, a sacred inventiveness; making of bruised reeds pipes of music or measuring rods for the New Jerusalem; fanning the spark of the smoking flax until that which had nearly died out in the heart of a Peter, sets on fire three thousand souls within seven weeks of its threatened extinction.

This is also the test of true work. Where does it find thee, fellow-worker? Art thou ambitious for a larger sphere; grudging the pains needed to explain the gospel to the ignorant; to cope with the constant relapses and backslidings of the weak; to combat the fears of the timorous and mistrustful; to adjust the perpetual disputes and quarrellings of new-made disciple; to suit thy pace to the weakest and youngest of the flock? Beware! Thy work is in danger of losing its noblest quality; the hue is passing off the summer fruit; the tender tone which God loves is fading from thy picture; the grace of the day is dying. Before it is too late, get alone with God to learn the noblest souls are sometimes found within bruised bodies, and the greatest work often emanates from the most inconspicuous sparks.”

Photo by Birte Person

Sunday, April 03, 2011

a century of sleep


I was touched by a simple quote the other day,

“Better a day of strife

Than a century of sleep.”

I’m afraid when I assess the entirety of my life there are far two many seasons of sleep. I decided to share this quote at the center when we all meet in the morning to pray. I kept it as short as what I have just written but as I surveyed the men’s faces and listened to the “amen’s”, I knew they got it.

It burns in me to speak words of encouragement and Godly ambition to the men. Whenever I see a quote or read a scripture that calls for action, I write it down and wait for a timely moment to share it. I have been re-reading a book of mine called “Golden Gleams of Thought”, a compilation of great thoughts from Orators, Divines, Philosophers, Statesmen and Poets. It’s a treasure and in the current chapter I’m in there have been so many thoughts that call to action.

The first along this line is ---

“If you would imitate Christ, take sin by the throat and the sinner by the hand.” W.H.H. Murray.

That immediately brought to mind the verse in Job 29:17, where Job declares he crushed the jaws of the wicked, and snatched the prey from his teeth.

Surely that defines the ministry at Teen Challenge where men are clutched in the gaping maw of drug addiction and we call Christ to them where He can snatch them away.

God always provides a core of devoted students and my hope is to rally them together as much as I can to clearly see the battlefield we all stand in. This quote captures some of that thought, ---

“ I will go forth ‘mong men, not mailed in scorn,

But in the armor of a pure intent;

Great duties are before me, and great songs,

And whether crowned or crownless when I fall,

It matters not, so as God’s work is done.” Alexander Smith




Top photo by Monika Brand, bottom photo by Carol Miller

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Distressing disquise

I was preparing for work the other day and my thoughts went to a fella at the center that decided to quit the program. He has been there about a month and I heard him tell the Staff member in charge that he wanted to go back home to Arkansas. The staff member said, “Ok”, and without trying to talk him out of it, began the procedure.

The man that was leaving was a difficult student; he is early forties, has such a strong southern accent he is nearly impossible to understand, he weighs 500 pounds, and has multiple health problems the least of which is the medicine he is currently taking masks his bodies alarms when he needs to go to the bathroom which has resulted in soiling himself and wetting himself a number of times.

If that were not enough, he has a name that in our neck of the woods, would be reserved for a female. Sadly, he has been teased by some about his weight, name and general demeanor.

I made some effort to show myself friendly to him and I have made allowances for his physical limitations and found him work to keep him somewhat busy; but past that I have kept myself busy when he was around. This, of course, is what the Lord began speaking to me about, and impressed upon me how important it is to do better, and anticipate that He will appear in these “distressing disguises”, so apply a greater measure of love and acceptance if I would truly wear the name ‘Christian’.

When our Morning Prayer time arrived, where we all huddle up and ‘pray in the day’, I told the guys how the Lord spoke to me. I began by saying that Christ visits us at the center in many sweet and wonderful ways; sometimes he descends around the altar and brings the hardest heart to tears, sometimes the pulpit shoots a shaft that hits us directly in the heart and greatly moves us. But more often than not, Christ will visit in other ways. This last month He has been with us in a distressing disguise and some of us have recognized Him and served Him with friendship and love; while others of us have never so much as been aware he was present. Those who saw Him standing in our prayer huddle with His dirty yellow shirt that exposed the bottom of his belly, talking in a way that is nearly impossible to understand and bearing the silliest name, have truly served the living God. As for me, Christ told me in the clearest terms, “You must do better.”

Photo by Teresa Zafon

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Enchantment

The sails we see on the ocean
are as white as white can be;
but never one in the harbor,
as white as the sails at sea.

And the clouds that crown the mountain
with purple and gold delight,
turn to cold gray mist and vapor,
Ere ever we reach the height.

Oh! distance, thou dear enchanter,
still hold in they magic veil
the glory of far-off sail!

Hide in thy robes of splendor,
Oh! mountain cold and gray!
Oh! sail in thy snowy whiteness,
come not into port, I pray!

I like this poem, which brings to mind the joy of anticipation, but often when realized, the romance loses its luster. I wonder how long one must live before we come to realize this and learn to live in the moment and enjoy life's enchantments but keep our feet firmly planted on present ground.

Anonymous, Photo by Gerhard Fuhs

Thursday, March 10, 2011

" Aristippus, the philosopher, seeing Diogenes washing of herbs for his dinner, said, If Diogenes knew how to make use of kings, he need not live upon raw herbs, as he doth; to which Diogenes replied, that if Aristippus could content himself with herbs, he need not to turn spaniel, or to flatter king Dionysius for a meat meal."

I found this little gem in Thomas Brooks book, 'Apples of Gold' in a chapter on flattery. Diogenes was a third century sage, known for his vow of poverty. He was known to carry a lamp during the day saying he was looking for an honest man. This particular quote tickled me -- calling Aristippus a begging dog with such sophistication, - "turn spaniel". Love it.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Punctuality

This is another piece from my new book Youth And Its Duties. This is on learning punctuality.

"When Washington appointed the hour of twelve to meet Congress, he never failed to be passing the door of the hall while the clock was striking twelve. His dinner hour was four o'clock.
If his guests were not there at the time, he never waited for them. New members of Congress, who were invited to dine with him, would frequently come in when dinner was half over; and he would say to them, "Gentlemen, we are punctual here. My cook never asks whether the company has arrived, but whether the hour has."
In 1799, when on a visit to Boston, he appointed eight o'clock in the morning as the hour when he would set out for Salem. While the Old South Clock was striking eight, he was mounting his horse. The company of cavalry who had volunteered to escort him, was parading in Tremont Street, and did not overtake him till he had reached Charles River Bridge. On their arrival, the General said, "Major, I thought you had been too long in my family not to know when it was eight O'clock".

Picture from the internet

The Fidgets

I picked up this book at an Antique Sale a few months ago titled, Youth and its Duties.
It has many practical things to help parents in child rearing. It's about a hundred years old but the principles are good in my estimation if you don't obsess over them. This piece is about combating the fidgets ---

"Discipline the body to obey the will. You would not think to see some young folks, that the will had any thing to do with the movements of the body; for it moves in all imaginable ways, with all sorts of contortions. First flies out a foot, then a hand, then there's a twirl or a swing, then a drumming of the fingers, a trotting of the foot, or some such odd figure. This arises from leaving the body to control itself, by its own natural activity, the mind taking no supervision of its motions. Now, if you early accustom yourself to exercise a strict mental supervision over the body, so as never to make any movement whatever, except what you mean to make, you will find this habit of great consequence to you; for, besides saving you the mortification of a thousand ungraceful movements which habit has rendered natural, it will enable you to control your nerves, the necessity for which you will understand better hereafter than you do now. Make the will the ruling power of your body, so as to never do any thing but what you mean to do and you will never get a reputation of being nervous."

Now to tell you how relevant this is in a center where nearly half of the guys have used amphetamines, words fail to express. Suffice to say, if they happen to have a pen in their hands, it will soon be reduced to a pile of plastic and springs with there continual CLICKING!

Photo from the Internet

Saturday, February 26, 2011


“A true Christian will readily grant that his God is a good God, and that Jesus Christ is the chiefest of ten thousand, and that the gospel is a glorious gospel, and that the promises are precious promises, and that the ordinances are blessed ordinances, and that the lively communion of saints is the sweetest communion in all the world. But yet he will also say, I have such a proud heart, such a hard heart, such a slight heart, such a carnal heart etc., and I am so vexed and molested with sinful notions, and with sinful imaginations, and with sinful inclinations, and with atheistical risings, and with private murmurings, and with secret unbelieving, and that in despite of all my conflictings, and strivings, and prayings, and mournings, and sighings, and groanings, and complaining, that I am oftentimes even weary of my life. And if this does not speak out of Christ within, and grace within, and the Spirit within such a soul, I know of nothing that does. O friends! Remember this once and for all, viz., that the main battle, the main warfare of a Christian lies not in the open field, it lies not in the visible skirmishes; but his main quarrels and conflicts are most within, and his worst and greatest enemies are of his own house, they are them of his own heart.

A little grace at fist conversion may reform an ill life, but it must be a great deal of grace that must reform an ill heart. A little grace may make a man victorious over outward gross sins, but it must be a great deal of grace that must make a man victorious over inward sins, secret sins, spiritual sins, heart sins, yea, a thorough conquest of these sins will hold a man in play all the days of his life.”

Thomas Brooks, photo by Stephane Le Gal

Monday, February 21, 2011

I returned from Thailand on Sunday and after a wonderful visit with my son, daughter-in-law and two wonderful grandchildren, I began thinking about memorable moments during the trip.
I took this photo in a remote Hmong hill tribe village. This woman was weaving on what seemed like an ancient implement. During the flight over I had read from Timothy Titcomb and he included the following quote -- "Get thy spindle and thy distaff ready, and God will send thee flax." After looking up "distaff" which is simply a staff where the flax, wool, cotton etc. is put on waiting to be spun; I began ruminating on the applications for the quote. My mind during this time of my life seems to run first to the Teen Challenge Center and the men there. This is a time in most of the men's life when they have no flax, in fact they have in many cases lost all: worldly goods, faith, hope and often even a bed to sleep on. But we serve a God of might and miracles and he bids us to prepare; get out the spindle and distaff, open the Bible, attend with anticipation the services and see if God will not bring thee flax! May I always be greedy to see God fill the distaffs with flax overflowing! Grown, hardened, abandoned, often hated and rejected men, brought to humility, to a place of brokenness where God's resources are brought to be woven into useful materials. Homes to be restored, restitution to be made, character to be built, and hope in God to abound.
I watched this woman's hands and feet busy at the spindle; may I do the same.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

I hate to admit it, but the older I get the less tolerance I have for people's pets. I know, it's hardly Christian to not be a pet lover, but I seem to focus in more on their bad little habits and shedding hairs than I do on their companionship. It may well be that because I'm in a time in my life when I can hardly keep up with all of life's demands that I just can't bear one more responsibility. That all being said ---- when I see a picture like this one it nearly brings me to tears; the photo's titled, "Saying Good by". The photo captures the years of faithful companionship the two have enjoyed. I'll just stop because the photo says it all..........

Photo by Juan De Santa Anna

Simple Goodness

"After all, there are few ways in which most of us can do better service for Christ in this world than just by being good. Cleverness shines more brightly in society, eloquence makes itself heard more widely, wealth makes a greater show and gets itself talked about by more people, alms-giving is more praised of men; but plain, simple goodness is apt to have as bright a crown and as high a place in heaven as either of her more showy sisters."

I chose this picture because I see more plain and simple goodness displayed by older siblings than just about anywhere else. Here, older sister prepares the food for her brother; a brother who will no doubt revere and love his sister above all.

Quote from "St. Christopher", photo by Yasir Mattoo

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The following is a testimony of one of the guys at the center---

Psalm 139:8 ends by saying "If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there." That is one scripture that my life has put to the test too many times to count. The curtain rose on the stage of my life in December of 84', and what began was destined to be an unpredictable romantic comedic musical tragedy.

For as far back as I can remember, abuse had always played a major role in my life. I was six-months old when physical abuse became a common occurrence for me, shortly after; emotional and verbal abuse became daily rituals that were never skipped. By the time I came to know sexual abuse at the age of nine by a schoolmate, I was completely resigned to the fact that my role in life was to serve as a whipping post for anyone who saw fit. By the age of twelve I was convinced that I would undoubtedly go to hell, I didn't believe there was anything redeemable about a boy who had tried killing himself at the age of six.

My mind and soul were scarred with feelings of worthlessness and self-hate. As if the plot wasn't complicated enough, my same-sex struggle rushed to center stage with the arrival of Junior High. Junior Hell as I like to call it, was the time in which I really began to address the fact that I wanted a leading man in my life...not a leading lady. Now if growing up in a spiritually abusive church had taught me nothing at all, it had at least taught me that being gay was so wrong it couldn't even be talked about. So I stayed silent and began to pray God would take away my homosexual desires.

At age 14 I began researching homosexuality, what it was, what it looked liked, and how I could "conquer it." I had always been a high-spirited tenacious fighter, and this was one battle I wasn't going to surrender in. Little did I know that the most wounded part of my life would prove to be my emotionality, not my sexuality...I truly believed I was unlovable. In between the time High school ended and College began I had raised the white flag of surrender and whole-heartedly embraced the gay identity I had tried so hard to escape. This decision immediately began to devastate every part of my life. When I shared with my Pastor what I was dealing with, he decided to give me three days to change my mind or he would have to expose my sin to the church congregation from the pulpit. Wanting to save my family the embarrassment of public humiliation, I decided to leave the church behind and pursue as healthy a life as possible.

What began to unfold in my life was anything but healthy. I began a lifestyle that selfishly catered to every desire, and every hurt. I quickly fell into a pattern of inappropriate sexual encounters spurned on by a dangerous addiction to pornography. Before I knew it, the lack of self-worth that was nurtured in me from a young age began to push me towards even more dangerous and destructive habits. I began experimenting with drugs and abusing alcohol in an attempt to silence the anguish and pain that loudly echoed in my heart and mind. Through out the next five years I would have many futile attempts to reconcile my destructive lifestyle with the God I still longed to feel connected to. I was clawing around in the dark for any way possible to find the peace that I knew only Jesus could give, but I wanted the way to be one that didn't require me to change the abusive way I was living.

The abuse I was suffering was no longer at the hand of others, but by my own hand, I was now the most abusive and dangerous person in my life. By the age of 22 I was so deluded into thinking that my end would be destruction that I began to purposefully engage in encounters that would put me at risk for contracting the AIDS virus. I wanted to die, but still so desperately wanted to be loved. In 2007 I entered into a relationship with a man who was HIV+ believing that If I knowingly contracted HIV from him, he would have to love me. I was going to be loved...no matter the cost. Like any unhealthy relationship eventually does, this one came to a bitter end and I was once again left on the empty stage looking for love. By this point in my life I was devoid of any sense of healthy boundaries or appropriate relating. My main objective was to seduce people into loving me, and my body was my currency. My attempts to find love and acceptance became a means to feel alive and continued to perpetuate a cycle of constant danger and self-debasing behaviors.

Life continued to spin me and in a last ditch effort to try to find some sense of solace and peace, I cried out to God one day and said, "If I’m meant for more than this, show me a way out." That day I came across the Portland Fellowship website and began to entertain the idea that this could be a door of opportunity that would lead to a better life. That fall I began the two-year Taking Back Ground program. I wish I could tell you that my life changed overnight and that I entered into a perfect relationship with Christ; but this was not the case. After finishing my first term in the TBG program, I dropped out and went back to pursuing dangerous encounters and crumbs of affection.

My tenacious attitude, which during childhood had kept me alive despite my abusive upbringing, had now turned into a disobedient, defiant and prideful spirit. Without humility and acknowledgment of my sinful nature, all the "programs" in the world wouldn't substitute a life changing encounter and sustaining relationship with God. I didn't want to accept the fact that the hardships I had experienced in life could not serve as an excuse for me to blatantly live outside the will of God.

Almost a year had passed and I found myself once again praying, "If I’m meant for more than this, show me a way out." With a broken heart, and a wounded spirit I began an authentic journey of seeking wholeness and restoration. In humility I returned to the TBG program and allowed it to serve in my life as a means to draw closer to God and encourage me to keep pursuing a life changing relationship with the Lord. While some of the horrific experiences I have been victim to and/or allowed myself to be part of may appear to be the most monumental parts of my story; I assure you they are not. The Lord has been present with me from before I was conceived; he was there every time I was being abused, and every time I tried to destroy myself. God made himself manifest to me through the prayers of a faithful Mother & Father who have been able to walk along side me in my journey to wholeness. The Lord was with me the day I took my last HIV test, and found out that I had not contracted the virus, despite my self-debasing willfulness. He is with me now as I share my story with you, and he has continued to order my steps. The Lord has begun a process of redemption that permeates every aspect of my life. Broken relationships have been mended, I have been granted the strength to accept the things of my past that cannot be changed, and most importantly I can finally see myself as Christ sees me...worthy of love, flaws and all. A major part of my healing has come from the chances I have had to share my experience with others, and to encourage others to come to know Christ in a life changing way.

I am currently working for a non-profit ministry that offers a faith based solution to men wanting to overcome substance abuse, and am serving as an intern with The Portland Fellowship. I no longer have to settle for crumbs of love, but I can now accept the lavish love of Jesus that knows no end, and has the power to change us all. The most monumental parts of my story are not the experiences that have scarred my soul or the times that I have made my bed in hell, but the times that I have made my bed in hell...and the Lord was there, which has been every time.

"God is a free agent to work by law or gospel, by smiles or frowns, by presenting heaven or hell to sinners’ souls. God thunders from Mount Sinai upon some souls, and conquers them by thundering. God speaks to others in a still voice, and by that conquers them…… Some are brought to Christ by fire, storms, and tempests, others by more easy and gentle gales of the Spirit. The Spirit is free in the works of conversion, and, as the wind, it blows when, where, and how it pleases, John 3:8. Thrice happy are those souls that are brought to Christ, whether it be in a winter’s night or in a summer’s day."

Thomas Brooks, Photo by Cindy M. Diaz

Christ never spoke with a prostitute. Oh, but you say ‘He did’. No, Christ never spoke with a prostitute because he never saw a prostitute, only His child.

Shane Claiborne, photo by Bian Lorenzo Bernini