Southborough L'Abri

Southborough L’Abri Autumn 2017 Newsletter

Greetings from L’Abri in Southborough,

When was the last time that you asked God to answer your prayers for His name’s sake? I confess, I do not often pray using these words. Neither do I often pray with the attitude that should accompany them. In scripture this is a common phrase used by the people of God particularly in the context of supplication. The people give God a reason why He should deliver them and it is for the sake of his name (see Psalm 25:11, 31:3, 79:9, 109:21, 143:11). In Exodus 32 when Yahweh considers destroying His people for their idolatry, Moses makes a request of God, which in essence is asking much the same thing:

11 “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.

(Exodus 32:11-12 NIV)

It seems that Moses is comfortable pointing out to God why it is in his own best interests to save Israel from calamity. Moses knows that it matters to God what the Egyptians think of him. What if the Egyptians attributed ‘evil intent’ to God for his mighty acts in the Exodus? After the assault of the plagues, Pharaoh would be only too happy to believe this lie. In his attempt to save the Israelites Moses presents this hypothetical to God and amazingly God relents!

To our modern ears this might sound like an audacious bargaining strategy; like theological haggling. But in reality it is a profound and appropriate way to approach God. Moses is asking God to defend God’s own reputation to the world by showing mercy to Israel. He sees the life of Israel as a stage on which God is performing, revealing his power and goodness not just to Israel but to the rest of the world as well. Moses has a concern both for his own situation and a concern for the name of the Lord among the nations. This dual concern is in line with Israel’s calling which was to be a nation of priests, blessing the other nations by showing them how to worship Yahweh. Although he does not use the exact phrase, Moses talks to God with a ‘for your name’s sake’ mindset.

There are many reasons why it is difficult (though necessary) for us to pray in this way today. Here are three that seem very prevalent:

First, we all have a tendency to view God as an instrument for getting what we want. All of us are in danger of mentally replacing the real God with a god whose sole purpose is to make us happy. This false god is no longer the object of our desire, but a means to achieving other desires. But to pray ‘for your name’s sake’ requires us to see past this narcissism and acknowledge that there is much more at stake in our prayers then getting the outcomes we want. God’s fame is at stake and God’s fame is more important. God’s first priority has always been the display of his good character for the whole world to see. In Ezekiel 36, the Lord says: “It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone” (Ez. 36:22 NIV). This does not cheapen God’s love for his people, as if his only motivation is self-promotion as we understand it. Rather, it means that his faithfulness to us is anchored in the solidity of is own character and not in our loveliness (which could never offer us any hope). This display of his character is what draws people to him. Our hope is not that we will successfully use God, but that God will use us for the glory of his name.

To pray ‘for your name’s sake’ shifts the focus away from ourselves in a second way. Implicit in the phrase is a notion of the watching world. It is in the minds and hearts of people (people watching us) that God’s Name is either exalted or denigrated. Our lives should be demonstrations of who God is to anyone who is looking; friends, neighbors and even enemies. Francis and Edith Schaeffer’s conviction that L’Abri should not advertize or raise financial support was a strategic attempt to show God’s reality to a skeptical culture. Even today, when we explain to neighbors that we pray for money and that L’Abri is largely financed by unsolicited gifts, this witnesses to God’s reality in a way that is difficult to dismiss. All Christians should pray with the hope that the name of God would grow in beauty and relevance in the eyes of their neighbors. How can God’s action even in difficult times help to promote His name and advance his kingdom?

Lastly, we live in a culture that has imbibed the belief that all publicity is good publicity. To be a celebrity has become a virtue in itself regardless of what sort of character is in the spotlight. Being infamous is as good as being famous as long as people are talking about you. Sadly, President Trump is the very embodiment of this false belief; an attitude that is better suited to reality TV hosts than to high ranking elected officials. But Donald Trump does not stand alone! He is a caricature reflecting the culture around him, with all of its idolatries. It is clear that we live in a culture of people who are desperate to be noticed, recognized and talked about. People are willing to sacrifice privacy, dignity and many of their moral principles in the hopes of being widely known. But when it comes to the particular content of our reputations our culture offers no clear guidance. If scripture is any indication, God does not view all publicity as good publicity. It actually matters whether his name is exalted or profaned. It is the particular content of his character that God wants to display to the world; his reputation as the mighty, holy and merciful Creator who has come to redeem a rebellious people. Christian people should have much the same attitude towards reputation, because our characters will often form our neighbor’s view of God. What are we known for in the world? Do we display the love, truth and distinctive unity of Christ to the world? Do we resist the obsession of publicity in any substantial way?

It is comforting to know that God ultimately cannot be mocked (Gal. 6:7) and that at the name of Jesus every knee will one day bow in heaven, on earth and under the earth (Phil. 2). The excellence of his reputation will finally be undisputed and his fame will be without rival. In the mean time let us keep praying that God would use our lives to show himself to the world.



We have had a restful and productive break time this August, but as we prepare for our fall term we are reminded that we are still in a season of transition.

Liz Snell who has been with us for a year, has returned to Vancouver Island to re-join the work at the Canadian L’Abri. We thank God for her contribution to the work in Southborough. We are also thankful that God has provided a new property for the Canadian branch after a long season of praying and searching. Pray for them as they prepare for their first term in their new location just outside of Victoria.

With Liz’s departure we will be one ‘worker unit’ down this fall. In addition to this we have no helpers returning. Given this, and after much prayer and debate we have decided to have a shortened 5-week term (Sept. 7th- Oct 12th). We are thankful for the willingness of many friends of L’Abri who have offered to help with meals during our understaffed time. We take this as a sign of God’s faithfulness to us.

Mary Frances would appreciate prayer for Park Street Church in Boston, where she has been a member for many years. Park Street is in the midst of a challenging transition of leadership. Please pray that a new pastor would be found soon and that there would be unity and strength in that body of believers. Please also pray for a L’Abri conference at Covenant College that will be in late October. This has come about in part through the many Chattanooga connections of Mary Frances Giles!

Joshua and Sarah Chestnut are doing well. Jacob (7) is heading in to the 2nd grade at The Imago School and Lily (2) is talking more and more! Join us in thanking God that Sarah’s parents are safe after the recent fires near their home in Mariposa California. Their house has been spared at a time when many houses were destroyed. Unfortunately new fires have broken out not far from Sarah’s sister’s house. Please pray for her protection. The Chestnut’s church has merged with a local High Rock congregation and all seems to be going well! This is significant in a time when churches are better known for splitting then for coming together.

Ben and Nickaela are also gearing up for the start of their children’s school year at The Imago School. Ellie and Abby (age 10!) are entering the 4th grade and Noah (6) is starting Kindergarten.
Please continue to keep Nickaela's mother in your prayers. Linda has been battling cancer for years and is quite weak right now. We are thankful that we had a good visit with her earlier this month. Please pray for Ben’s involvement (representing L’Abri) in an appeal to stop a large housing development very near to our property.

Dick and Mardi are doing well. Give thanks that Dick’s two speaking opportunities at conferences run by the Charlotte Mason Institute went very well. Dick’s lectures on heroism sparked lots of good discussion. Give thanks that their oldest son Chris (Ben’s brother) is cancer-free after radiation treatment for Lymphoma. Please pray that it does not return.

We are grateful that Dave and Anna Friedrich (with their two boys Cole and Adam) will be joining our team as workers in December! This decision has been the result of much prayer and discussion, as well as a visit from the Friedrichs in July. Please pray for their transition to Southborough, for a smooth moving process and for our ability to complete some carpentry projects that will improve their living space. Dave and Anna will be joining us from the Swiss L’Abri where they have been workers for many years. We are excited for what God will do through them in our branch, but also concerned for the ‘hole’ that they will leave on the Swiss team. Please keep our Swiss colleagues in your prayers.

Thank you so much for joining with us in prayer. God continues to sustain us and we are grateful for the part you have played in lifting us up before him!

Ben Keyes

Southborough L’Abri Spring 2017 Newsletter

Greetings from the Southborough L’Abri,

In the last year we have gone through several significant transitions in Southborough. We are now entering our third term without Joe and Sue Morrell on our team. Nickaela and I are also entering our third term as co-directors since Dick stepped down from that role. We are still adjusting to these new realities, but we already have a short history of God’s faithfulness to encourage us. We add this to the much longer history of God’s faithfulness to L’Abri over the years. As a team we are praying that God would guide us toward new and fruitful ideas for the work. But we also pray that He will preserve and strengthen the good things He has already established here. We are utterly dependent on the Lord in both senses; for the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ of this ministry. This kind of double dependence is captured by the imagery in Psalm 127:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
(Psalm 127:1-2 NIV)

The twin images of the builder and the guard complement each other. They symbolize two very different kinds of human effort and two corresponding kinds of dependence on God. The builder is constructing something new and as yet unseen, giving physical form to a mental vision. While Solomon’s construction of the Jerusalem temple comes to mind as the context, the builder’s labor can be understood broadly to mean any human endeavor that aims to bring about something new. All the designs, planning, labor and finishing touches of every human project great and small are ‘in vain’ if the Lord is not at work in them. It is the Lord who brings new life and enables new ideas to take shape. Whatever plans we make that dishonor God or reject him as architect and builder are in vain. Even if they seem to succeed, they have no eternal future.
It is extremely easy (almost without noticing) to treat God as our assistant who exists to help us achieve our goals. We set the agenda and then ask God to come along to ensure our success. Psalm 127 offers a stern warning to this mindset. The love of innovation for its own sake, the vain desire to be on the cutting edge of whatever field we work in, the longing to bring about newness for our own glory, are all ways of excluding the Lord from the building process. The only building projects worth working on are those in which God is the planner and architect and we are participants. If we are participating in God’s work we can be encouraged that all of our ‘rising early’ and ‘staying up late’ (v. 2) will not be in vain. We will be working on a building that will actually last. The Apostle Paul links this great hope to the resurrection of Jesus Christ: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58). This will be true even in situations that by human standards look like fruitless failures. We may not be able to see what God is building, even if we are participating in the work.

The guard, in contrast, is not building something new but protecting and preserving something good that he can already see. He is a soldier stationed on a city wall keeping watch for an approaching army, ready to give the warning signal. Even though the city is well established and surrounded by a high and thick wall, the guard is just as dependent on the Lord as the builder. Despite all his efforts the city will never be safe if he trusts in his own alertness and strength. Almighty God who never sleeps must be the watchman or the city will fall.
The image of the watchman is challenging in a different way. Many of us experience our need for God most acutely when we want guidance for the future. We turn to God to give us a vision for the future and open new doors. While this is good, it is easy to forget that God is not just the Creator of new things but also the sustainer of all things. When we forget this we delude ourselves into thinking we have most of life under control. This is a kind of functional Deism in which God initiates new things but then stands back, uninvolved. In reality none of God’s gifts are safe in our hands unless he continues preserving and protecting what He has given.

We will still be called to the task of building and keeping watch, but always with an awareness of our dependence on the God who creates and preserves; God the builder and God the watchman. We see these two aspects of our dependence in every sphere of human life, every vocation, every family, every church and every culture. God calls us to a radical trust in him to guide and protect His own work in the world. The end result of this trust in God is that we can rest: “For he grants sleep to those He loves” (Ps 127:2). May God help us to find this rest!
News and Prayer

We have had a good ‘time between terms’ with a mixture of rest and productivity. Spring has truly arrived along with all of the accompanying outdoor work. Please join us in thanking God for his provision of a new roof for the 43 Lovers Lane house. As I write this, I hear the pounding of the roofers above my head! This is the first necessary step in getting solar panels installed. Please pray for this process to go smoothly.
We thank God for a volunteer work crew from Trinity Church in Bolton that came to help with some large projects on the property this week. We appreciate the help and value the long-term connection with this local congregation.

Dick, Ben, Nickaela and Mary Frances all went to the members meeting in early April, which was held in England this year. It was a joy to gather together with our colleagues and be reminded of the work God is doing in the different branches.
Dick is enjoying (a bit) more free time and as a result has been able to accept more speaking invitations this year. He will be speaking on The Imagination and Heroism at two upcoming education conferences, one in Louisville, KY (June 15-16) and another in Redlands, CA (July 20-22). Please pray for these two events. Mardi has recently joined a community choir (the Assabet Valley Mastersingers) and will be performing a concert with them on May 13. This has been both a joy and a challenge given the difficulty of the music. Both Dick and Mardi are still quite involved in L’Abri life, tutoring, teaching, and coming to meetings.

Joshua and Sarah Chestnut are doing well in the big house. Please pray for their church (Redeemer Community Church in Needham) as it is in the midst of merging with another church congregation. They are thankful for this development. Both Sarah and Joshua have been able to offer their teaching gifts to the church through this time. They are thankful for this opportunity.

Mary Frances would appreciate prayer for her church (Park Street Church in Boston) as it navigates a search for a new senior minister. Park Street is one of the oldest churches in Boston and has proclaimed the gospel faithfully since its founding. Please pray that this will continue under new leadership and that the transition will be smooth.

Liz Snell will be joining us for one more term before returning to the Canadian L’Abri. This winter God answered the many prayers of people around the world and enabled the Canadian L’Abri to buy a new property on Vancouver Island which is ideally suited to the work. We will be sad to see Liz go in August, but are deeply thankful for her contributions in Southborough.

Thank the Lord that Ben and Nicki’s Church (Trinitarian Congregational Church in Wayland) has called a new head pastor after a year-and-a-half long search. This is a particular relief to Nicki who served on the search committee. The new pastor was an Old Testament professor at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. He is a wonderful preacher and pastor. Please continue to pray for Nicki’s mother Linda who continues to battle cancer. 

Please keep the ‘children of L’Abri’ in your prayers. Jacob Chestnut (grade 1), Ellie and Abby (grade 3) and Noah Keyes (Pre-K) have all had a good year at the Imago School. Lily Chestnut (age 2) is talking up a storm and is a source of joy and laughter in the house. Please pray for a good end to the school year as well as a fun and fruitful summer.

We are deeply thankful that for the last two terms we have had very good student numbers (a full house much of the time). For this upcoming term, we still have some space. Please pray for more students to book in for the summer term, particularly during the month of July. Also join us in praying for the right combination of people; that God would bring those of His choosing and keep others away.

We so appreciate you joining us in prayer. It is a huge encouragement for us to know that we are being lifted up before the Lord.
Thank you!

God Bless you,
Ben Keyes and the team at Southborough L’Abri