Southborough L'Abri

Southborough L’Abri Winter 2017 Newsletter

Greetings from L’Abri in Southborough, and Happy New Year!
In a recent prayer meeting, the day before our general election, I tried to offer the assurance to our students that whatever the outcome of the election, Jesus is and will always be the King. By the next evening when the election results were coming in, I was in need of being reminded of this great hope all over again. No doubt this would have been the case even if the outcome had been different. The warnings of Psalm 146 are appropriate whatever our view of the election results:
2 I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
3 Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.
 (Psalm 146:2-5 NIV)
This passage is worth some reflection given all of its implications. It is not a plea to be less concerned with our leaders and their policies. Neither is it permission to distrust or despise all government. The warning has to do with where we place our ultimate trust, and what we expect even the best leaders to deliver. Notice that we are not warned against putting our trust in bad princes but in princes in general, because all princes are mortal and finite. We should resist placing our hope in the capabilities of our leaders who, the psalm reminds us, are human beings who cannot save (v. 3). We are always in danger of expecting our leaders by sheer talent or force of personality to deliver our nation from all its problems. Psalm 146 also warns us against placing our hope in the policies and political visions of our leaders, which the psalmist calls “plans” which “come to nothing” (v. 4). Perhaps we view our leaders as means to an end of some great political future. Even so, we are cautioned that a political vision is no more secure an object for our hopes than an individual politician. Neither can bear the weight of human longing.
The warning to watch where we place our hope is really a protection against the despair we sometimes feel because of our human leaders. Total despair, just like inordinate hope in princes, is inappropriate for us as God’s people, no matter how bad our leaders might be. Elevating human rulers to ‘saving’ status is simply despair in its infancy. The more we allow our hope to rest on their personalities and policies, the more disillusioned we will be when they disappoint us, which they inevitably will. The psalmist wants to spare us the end result of ‘putting our trust in princes.’
The alternative is to look to the God of Jacob as our help, and to trust Him with our deepest hopes. But why should we do this? Where is the wisdom in trusting God over the expedience of politically savvy leaders and their plans? The psalm answers this question with statements of God’s greatness (vs. 6, 10) and a summary of His chief concerns. The rest of the psalm can be read as implicitly contrasting the priorities of God’s Kingdom to the kingdoms of this world.
6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
   he remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
8     the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
10 The Lord reigns forever,
             your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.
The most striking thing that sets the everlasting King apart is His special care for the needy, the lost, the defenseless, the disabled, the imprisoned, the poor and the foreigner; all the people most likely to be overlooked or exploited by the princes of human history. This righteous King sees the invisible and remembers the forgotten, and his Kingdom is marked by a special concern for these people. This is the standard by which human leaders and their kingdoms are to be judged. It is also the standard by which we should measure our deepest hopes. Do the longings of our hearts align with God’s priorities of strengthening the weak?
The ‘righteous King’ in Israel was the one who would make God’s priorities his own.  Only with the coming of Jesus Christ was this vision of the good King finally embodied. In Christ, the Lord Himself has become the perfect human King. To affirm that Jesus is King means to make the priorities of Psalm 146 our own and to work for them in the world now, no matter who our earthly leaders happen to be. To affirm that Jesus is King means refusing to expect human leaders to deliver the changes or indeed the redemption that only the true King can bring. Equally, it means stubbornly refusing to give up hope when we are deeply troubled by our leaders. Wherever we fall politically; whether we hope Donald Trump delivers on his campaign promises, or whether we hope he fails to do so, we have to remember that presidents can neither provide us with our hope nor rob us of our hope.
In the past few weeks many of us have probably sung the Christmas carol O Little Town of Bethlehem.  In it we sang the easily overlooked line that addresses Bethlehem itself: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in you tonight.” With the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, God has met the hopes and fears of the whole world. May He help us to respond by trusting Him in 2017.
News and prayer
We had a wonderful autumn term here in Southborough. As is often the case we could see God’s wisdom in bringing each individual to our door. We had a core group of students who were with us for the whole term. This consistency was a sign of God’s gentleness to us as we adjusted to the new arrangements on our team.
The fall term was our first without the Joe and Sue Morrell. This has been a big change, and we continue to feel their absence in different ways. They are missed and loved. Joshua and Sarah Chestnut have moved into the main apartment and have taken on the responsibilities that come with living in that space.  Their gifts in hospitality, tutoring, teaching and maintenance continue to be a blessing to this branch.
Nickaela and I have completed our first term as directors of the branch. Things are going well so far, but this is a weighty responsibility that we will be growing into over time with God’s help. We are thankful for Dick’s many years of faithful leadership and for his continued insights. Dick and Mardi remain involved in the work of the branch.
Join us in thanking God for Liz Snell, a worker from the Canadian L’Abri who has been with us this fall and has agreed to return for the winter term. Liz has been an invaluable addition to our team. She has connected well with our students and helpers.
Our Seminar weekend was on the topic of Tolerance: An Idea in Transition.  It was quite well attended and there were some good discussions, which were heated at times. We were reminded how important it is to keep providing a space where people can voice differing opinions in an environment of civility.
We had a wonderful and well-attended campfire gathering in November for people from our neighborhood, most of whom knew nothing about L’Abri. Many of the people we have recently met through a neighborhood effort to stop a very large housing development. It was a pleasure to talk to people in a different context from town meetings! We gave tours of the main house and of Dick’s cabin (both a big draw). As usual the first question that most people asked was how L’Abri is financed. This was an immediate opportunity to talk about God’s provision and the reality of prayer. There is simply no other way to explain L’Abri!
Just before Christmas, we had the opportunity of hosting an art and craft sale made up of local artists.  Sarah decorated the house beautifully and coordinated all the vendors. We were thankful for another chance to connect with local people and to ‘de-mystify’ what happens in the big white house. Please pray that these new friendships will grow.
Mary Frances spoke at a one-day conference at Covenant College in Chattanooga, TN which went very well. There are many connections to L’Abri in this area and we may continue to look for speaking opportunities there.
Over the break I had the opportunity to speak to a group of interns and doctoral students at the Center for Multicultural Training in Psychology (CMTP) in Boston. I spoke on the music of the Civil Rights Movement with a particular focus on the role of music from the black church.
Three out of four of the churches that we attend are in the process of searching for new head pastors. In particular pray for Park Street Church in Boston, Trinitarian Congregational Church in Wayland, and Redeemer Community Church in Needham. This is a time of many unknowns and potential upheavals. Please pray for peaceful and fruitful transitions so that the work of the gospel can continue to be done in these congregations. Pray also for the Chestnuts who will each be preaching at their church this winter, and for Nickaela who is serving on a search committee.
The children of L’Abri are doing well. Ellie, Abby and Noah Keyes and Jacob Chestnut all attend the Imago School and are growing and thriving each in their unique way.
Lily Chestnut (2 years old) is talking up a storm and putting a smile on all our faces.
We are heading into our winter term with what looks like good student numbers. We continue to be humbled by the way God spreads the word about His work here.
Thank you for lifting us up in prayer and please continue!
Ben Keyes and the team at Southborough