Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be My disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple.” – Luke 14:25-33

Note that Jesus is much more concerned with quality than quantity. Most of us would think if we had a large following we should be more careful about what we say so as to avoid offending any of them. The Lord, instead, seems to go out of His way to turn people off and thin out the crowds. He says things that are difficult to grasp, esoteric, and controversial – not for the sake of controversy at all but simply because they are true. Some might find it easy enough to get offended by this “preaching hate”, as Jesus is here. Imagine someone today telling our society – its only virtue seems to be tolerance – to hate anything.

Of course, what the Lord is telling us to hate is not our family itself but those flatland aspects of family relations that entrap us and hinder us from entering the kingdom. Detachment – not in an objectified, disinterested sense – but in terms of not deriving our worth and direction from the world system is what He tells us we need. I cannot allow my family to define me. I cannot allow even who I see myself as to define me.

If we are going to build a tower – that is, if we are going to do something vertical, we do need a foundation in the horizontal. But if we are able to lay only the foundation our efforts will appear to be a senseless joke. Foundations – for example, righteous living, corporate worship, and prayer – only make sense if we are building on them in another plane.

Then Jesus asks another question about finishing things. What is the point of fighting a battle you are bound to lose? If the end is death, why cling to your little flatland fiefdom? The lives of far too many people are filled with pretentiousness. They are masks, empty shells that will crumble away, cocoons without a caterpillar. Why would a person struggle to hang onto this imitation life when the real is available for nothing? All one has to do, Jesus says, is surrender. Give up the pretensions and enter the kingdom of God. We may end up not looking like much in this life, but someday we will burst forth in freedom and beauty, a glorious thing with wings, no longer bound to the surface, soaring.

Jesus is not asking us to abandon our families and our responsibilities to go live under a bridge. He is asking us to “give them up”, not get rid of them. We are wont to ignore what is possibly the most obvious thing imaginable. No one really owns any material property, and all that is visible passes away. We may have the privilege of using a possession for a number of years but the day will come when it passes into the hand of another, and there will be nothing we can do about it. In light of this, the Lord says, there’s no point in clinging to the things of this world. Accept them with gratitude, use and enjoy them as one is able, and leave them in God’s possession.

My daughter called last night because she was upset and found herself thinking about taking a drink. She talked about how she had wanted to be successful and not disappoint us. I told her that success is not about what we do or have, but about who we are to become. What looks like a failure is merely a reset, if we can receive it. It is a chance to get back on track, to stop living only on the surface of accomplishments, accolades and acclaim. We are on this long strange trip to unite (or perhaps reunite) with our true being, to become what we really are or what we are really meant to be, and whatever moves us in that direction is good. I’m glad she told me she loves me but if her love for me kept her trapped in notching achievements while living a shattered, inauthentic life, I’d rather she hated me.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

I Know Who Holds My Hand

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. --Philippians 4:6

You will keep in perfect peace the mind that is dependent on You, for it is trusting in You. --Isaiah 26:3

Don’t worry about anything. Pray about everything.

Consider this my Christmas blog entry. It may be my New Year’s entry as well.

There are plenty of things to worry us these days. Given the temperatures here on the Plateau, global warming is officially off my list of those things. In Psalm 37, the Psalmist says that we should not fret or “be agitated” for such a state of mind leads only to harm. Worry certainly comes naturally to most of us, and it isn’t limited to one segment of the population. The rich worry as much as the poor; believers seem to worry about as much as unbelievers.

Why do we worry? Obviously we must get some reward for fretting or we wouldn’t engage in it. We seem to think that worry somehow prepares us or gives us control over a situation. We often actually equate it with being prepared. As humans we are blessed with the ability to enter into a state of altered consciousness, narrow our focus and work through solutions to problems. We can pick up complicated objects and turn them over in our minds without ever putting our hands on them. We can make three-dimensional realities out of two-dimensional pictures. Worry is a kind of trance state where we enter into a situation that is bothering us. We are there looking for a solution, which is not bad in itself. The problem is that we do not know all the factors or what is actually going to happen. We wind up working off expectations, past experiences, or related experiences. We may create multiple scenarios and try to think how we’d deal with each one, or try to imagine how we’d get the best possible scenario to play out.

When we are dealing with concrete situations over which we have control, e.g., building a dog house, such forward thinking is useful and necessary. On the other hand if I am worrying about possible disasters, abstractions, or the uncertain future, it is worse than useless. Not only are most things beyond my individual powers, they probably won’t be even close to what I am projecting. Worry is a waste of time.

The cure for worry is prayer, with thanksgiving. If I am troubled or burdened with cares about the future, I need to pray until the burden lifts. If I am willing to pray and honestly turn my problems over to the Lord – as He desires I should do – I can have and maintain perfect peace. It may take a while to free myself from agitation, but it will be worth the time I invest.

As Paul tells us, giving thanks is a big part of this process. If I relentlessly petition God and try to harangue Him into giving me my way, then I am merely worrying in a different format. Expressing my dependence on the Lord is what will bring peace and rest to my soul. Thanksgiving means that I acknowledge God’s sovereignty, power, wisdom, mercy and grace. Giving thanks is a function of relying on the Lord to deal with the situation as it is rather than whatever I might imagine it to be.

If you are feeling some trepidation when you see 2009 dead ahead, don’t fret over it. Take your burdens to the Lord, and leave them there.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wherein I Set Sail for a Three Hour Tour

Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He dismissed the crowd. After He said good-bye to them, He went away to the mountain to pray. When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. He saw them battered as they rowed, because the wind was against them. Around three in the morning He came toward them walking on the sea and wanted to pass by them. When they saw Him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw Him and were terrified. Immediately He spoke to them and said, “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. They were completely astounded because they had not understood about the loaves. Instead, their hearts were hardened.
-- Mark 6:45-52

The hearts of the Disciples were hardened. They had, during the previous day, seen five thousand souls fed with two fish and five loaves. The significance of that miraculous provision had been lost on them. Despite the fact that they were following the Lord, seeing Him heal and deliver, hearing His teachings, and experiencing His presence, they were still missing the point that He was not merely godly, but God, that all things existed and functioned upon His Being. That He had laid aside His glory and submitted to the limitations of human flesh did not change who He was.

Jesus orders the Twelve into their boat and sends them out to cross the lake while He stays behind. This mirrors our situation as souls coming into the world. We are sent here by God, separated and distanced. As with those in that boat, the situation we find ourselves in is often dark and stormy. There is nothing solid upon which to rest. We are, apart from the Lord, groundless. Or so it seems to us.

“He saw them battered as they rowed, because the wind was against them.” Though we think we are alone, God is watching. He knows where we are and what we are facing. He sees our trials, and He allows us to struggle with the futility of existence. Yet He never loses sight of us in the deepest darkness or the most intense storm.

“Around three in the morning…” – I don’t know what it is about 3:00AM, but we all understand that as being a significant time. It is the deepest dark. The light has long gone from the west. Midnight seems an age behind. The third watch has ended. That membrane which separates the mundane from raw reality is at its thinnest point, and the powers of hell have found their opening. The storm is at its height.

And the Lord comes walking on the sea.

How, then, are we to understand this phrase: “…and wanted to pass by them”? Another translation reads: “…and He intended to pass by them”. I went to Wuest, who gives it this way: “And He was desiring to go to their side”. Jesus intended to walk close enough to the boat so that He could be seen, even in the darkness of the storm. He, of course, had no need of getting in the boat Himself, or for Himself. The crossing, storm or no storm, was not a problem for Him. He comes close to reassure us, to let us know that He is present, watching and in control.

Life is not the maelstrom it appears to the human trying to make headway on an unknown journey. The sea is not the deadly, volatile element into which we fear to sink, never to rise again. Waves are as solid as stepping stones to the Lord. Nevertheless, as with the Disciples, when God does show up in such an uncanny way, walking serenely on storm-driven breakers, He may be the ultimate terror. Storms, we judge, are natural. We are familiar with the dangers of the sea. But One walking where no man should be able to walk, this is beyond our understanding.

As we cry out in fear, we hear, above the roar of the threatening storm, a familiar Voice full of strength and peace and encouragement. We hear, “It is I. I AM here. Your struggles are over.” Unwilling to allow fear and uncertainty to torment us further, the Lord enters into our vessel. The storms cease. The eastern sky shows the first hint of dawn. We know our destination is near at hand, and we will reach it in peace.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Want to See the Manager

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? -- Romans 8:31

Who, indeed? I have thought it was the devil, but the devil is merely a tool. He does nothing without God’s leave. He may be a mighty impressive creature, but he is a creature. He may be a roaring lion, but if the Lord says, “Scat”, the devil flees. James says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Such a thing could not be true of an omnipotent evil being.

“If God is for us” – but what if God is not for me? This is a question I have to settle. John’s first epistle tells us that God is love. The Gospel of John contains perhaps the best-known verse in the Bible which states that God loves the world so much that He gave His only and unique Son so that anyone who believes in Jesus might not perish but have everlasting life. David, in the other contender for best known passage, says, “The Lord is my Shepherd”. There should be no doubt that the Lord is for us in total and individually. This is the reason there is a Bible. A revelation is required for humanity to understand the Divine. Apart from revelation, we may get bits and pieces as mythologies show us, but we will also get a lot of things wrong. God reveals Himself to us so that we may know the truth of His love and care: Yahweh is for me.

The Lord is the Source, the Fountainhead of life. All things that come to me come by the hand of God. Normally we see intermediaries, agents, “second causes” for things that happen. If a cop pulls me over for speeding, I may blame the cop and the radar gun for my ticket. The officer is not acting as an independent agent. He has a system and laws behind him. We’ll ignore, for the moment, the fact that the cause of my ticket is my own heavy foot. A traffic cop is merely the agent of enforcement.

It’s the same when we have troubles and trials in life. If we focus on the immediate agent, we are only seeing the secondary cause. It is hard to accept some humiliating defeat from the hand of man. Fires, floods, and storms all seem unfair when they strike us or someone we love. Mechanical failures and glitches are frustrating. Diseases, physical handicaps and weaknesses may be hard for us to accept. As long as I am considering the second cause as the source, I am going to be unhappy and probably angry. I have trouble trusting God in my trial because I am not seeing it as ultimately from His hand. I may say, “Why did You let this happen?” What I may be thinking is that if God were really good and all-powerful, this wouldn’t have happened to me, or it wouldn’t have happened unless I “deserved it”. I wind up dealing with guilt – though I can’t see what I did wrong – or anger and frustration.

No, I need to forget the second cause. The virus, the cancer cell, the hurricane, the drunk driver, the Democrats, the economy, my wife, my neighbor, my kids – none of these are the Cause. I can surrender and fully accept what comes to me when I see that the Lord Himself has ordained and arranged it. My defeat is His will, and it will lead to my ultimate victory. I do not need to worry about revenge because vengeance belongs to the Lord; He will repay. All I need to do is accept the situation as being completely under God’s control. In weakness and loss, I can trust the Lord because these are according to His will. Whatever happens, whether I live or die, the Lord is for me and with me. I can trust Him.

Surrender is not passivity. I need to face my trials and troubles, fight through them and deal with them to the fullest extent possible. Nevertheless, I do all with the full assurance that the outcome is up to the Lord. I may witness a miracle or things may get much worse. Regardless, I still trust God because it is all from His hand. As the song says, God is good – all the time. God on the mountain is still God in the valley. Actually a miracle is guaranteed, even if it is only that I can still smile through tears. Surrender does not mean I won’t feel pain, or that I don’t need to grieve. Stoicism is not required. I will be much better able to deal with my emotions when I understand God’s place in my situation.

In a couple of weeks we will begin a new year, and it will be like no other for some of us. Some of us will see answers to prayers. Some will see troubles carry over from the past. Some will face unimagined challenges. Whatever comes, the Lord is in it. Look past the agents and focus on His hand. You will find that the all-powerful, the gentle hand of God holds your trial, and you are sheltered in His arms.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Shopping Report and Catalogs

I went Christmas shopping Saturday, so I am now officially in the spirit.

It was clear from our excursion to the Holy City that America is held hostage to the worst economy since the Great Depression. One exit from the freeway was completely blocked with traffic – no accident, just lots and lots of cars – probably lined up for baloney sandwiches at the Salvation Army several miles away. People were actually eating at Wendy’s and Taco Bell. There were also quite a few cars at the Starbuck’s next to Wendy’s. I’m sure they were probably homeless families who had their houses repossessed by Dick Cheney and are reduced to living in their vehicles in the parking lots of overpriced coffee shops.

We had trouble getting into the Target parking lot. It took about ten minutes to get across the lot to the store entrance where I let my wife out and immediately lost sight of her in the crowd. Ten minutes later I found a parking spot in the overflow area – as far from the door as you can get and still be on the same block. I couldn’t see any Social Services employees handing out day-old bread, so I’m not sure why the crowd was so large. Once in the store I tried to get to the digital cameras but the crowd in the electronics section was so massive that I gave up. People must be buying cameras to take their passport photos so they can immigrate to Venezuela.

The mall was even worse. We spent fifteen minutes getting to the light in the left turn lane to get to the mall parking lot. There were no parking spots. There were lines of cars waiting for departing shoppers to back out. I wonder if the food court was giving out free meals. Another odd thing I noticed while walking around the mall is that no one looked like those Ethiopian people – though some did have distended bellies – most actually looked – well, well-fed. I guess the “new starvation” has a different look than the old starvation.

Anyway, that’s enough of that. What I really wanted to say was that, since I am in the Christmas spirit, I thought I’d give my reviews of some stuff I’ve run across.

A couple of weeks ago Lindsay’s Technical Books popped up on Cool Tools. If you follow the link, you will be able to order the catalog of “Exceptional technical books for experimenters, inventors, tinkerers, mad scientists, and ‘Thomas Edison-types’”. I am ordering three books for Christmas: Blacksmith Shop & Iron Forge, Teach Yourself Electronics (going out as a gift to a family member), and Peak Oil Survival. Frankly these are not Lindsay’s most interesting titles.

Check out: Home Cheese Making, Secrets of Building a Plastic Injection Molding Machine, How to Build and Fly a Glider, I Just Love to Fart Cookbook, A Practical Treatise on the Raw Materials and the Distillation and Rectification of Alcohol, and Deep Hole Drilling to name but a few. By the way, in case you are wondering, the last title is next to a related book, Making Rifle Barrels.

You can get a free catalog and then order all kinds of cool books about building steam engines and making tools to make tools. By all means ask Lindsay’s for their catalog if you are interested in buying a book or two.

They have some books that are dangerous for kids. If you have kids or grandkids, buy some of those dangerous books and hand them out to the younger generation. With ten days to go, it’s mostly too late for getting them anything by Christmas but there are always birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, weddings, MLK Day – which coincides with Robert E. Lee’s birthday in 2009, etc.

The other catalog that showed up in the Cool Tools shuffle was Cabela’s. They do have some things that you are unlikely to find just anywhere. I think they are a little pricey – not unlike their chief competitor, Bass Pro. Visiting a Cabela’s retail store – I’ve been to the one in Austin – is much like visiting my own local Bass Pro. They are big. I think I bought a little waterproof bag that has a zipper closure and a clip lanyard. It is good for sticking stuff in when canoeing. I also carry my wallet in it at amusement parks for the rides where you get wet.

I do buy stuff at Bass Pro, occasionally. I bought a canoe there. I have bought reloading supplies from them, but they don’t have much anymore. These days I only show up for sales or to buy bulk ammunition. Bass Pro is one of the few local retailer locations carrying Number 2’s – that is, Remington Nitro Express shotgun shells with the all-important #2 shot. It’s good stuff.

But the stores I like are the little gun shops where there are lots of used guns and guys in boots that look like they’ve been out in the “br’ers”. Something just bugs me about standing in line to buy shooting supplies behind a dude in Calvin Klein’s with tassels on his loafers. In the little stores you are more likely to get an honest answer than a sales pitch.

There is one mailorder company where that’s also true: Midway USA. Larry Potterfield is the company’s founder and president. They are located near Columbia, Missouri. Midway is strictly mailorder – their catalogs are great, or you can order off the website. If you’re an occasional customer like I am, it is nice to talk to knowledgeable people when you call in your order. They know where I live and how much shipping will be. They can answer questions, and they will ask if I want to “round up” and donate to the NRA, which I always do. I have never met Mr. Potterfield but I understand you can see him on one of the “critter-killing channels”. He and his family are hunters and shooters. If Midway has it in their catalog, it will probably work like it’s supposed to.

Friday, December 12, 2008

God Sticks

And after him came Shamgar the son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad; and he also saved Israel. – Judge 3:31

Shamgar saves a nation and he gets a single sentence -- though it is a sentence in the Bible, a pretty rarified Who’s Who. He acts openly, boldly, and heroically. He kills six hundred of the enemy – whether at once or cumulatively is unclear – with a sharp stick. Even assuming it was an assault oxgoad with a tactical iron tip, it’s still impressive. His efforts rallied the Israelites to return to the Lord and resist oppression.

The unlikely hero is God’s man. That doesn’t mean he is a particularly good man or a wise man. He may be a glorious loser like Samson – and a large subgroup of U.S. presidents.

The thing about the oxgoad or the jawbone of an ass is that these things are, in themselves, humble and inglorious.

But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are – 1 Corinthians 1:27,28

A sharp stick indeed seems foolish as a weapon of revolution and liberation, as foolish and weak as the stick Moses carried to humiliate Pharaoh. It is as insignificant, well, as a child born in a stable.

It is a good lesson for Christmas. The Almighty came in the most helpless package imaginable, a tiny baby born in obscurity and poverty. God made Himself completely dependent on the faith and goodness of Mary and Joseph. He trusted them. When it came time to establish His kingdom, He gathered to Himself a few unlearned fishermen in a backwater country. He depended on them to carry His message. He trusted them.

God depends on you and me today to do His will. He does not have a backup plan. He doesn’t need one. He trusts us. Now that might be all right, but for the fact that I know I’m not trustworthy, and I am deeply suspicious of just about everybody else except the Pope, Billy Graham, and my dog. The Lord must know something I don’t.

Don’t let anyone lead you astray. The future does not depend on what happens with the Federal Reserve or the Bank of England, in Congress or Hollywood. It depends on weak, foolish, mostly unknown people in Podunk.

We have sharp sticks, and we’re not afraid to use them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. – Romans 14:7,8

Not one of us lives for himself? Surely Paul would change his view if we could parachute him into just about any locale in America. From ordinary citizens to Wall Street to politicians, everyone seems to be out for himself or herself.

Speaking of Wall Street and politicians, remember a month or so ago when it seemed everyone was crying out against the greed of Wall Street? Government needed to crack down on Wall Street greed. Is it now OK for Wall Street to crack down on government greed? This is like setting two coyotes to watch your chicken flock thinking that one will keep the other honest. The coyotes won’t get into conflict until they get to the last chicken.

So what Paul means is not that Blagojevich, Spitzer, Frank, Clinton, Stevens, Obama, the UAW, and Trump are altruists who act without self interest. He means that in reality our lives are not our own. We may not understand that. I may think and act as if I am the center of the universe, but I am not. I was designed and built for something that transcends my individual life.

Now we come to a sticky point. There are many passages that could be pulled from the Bible which would seem to indicate I should live for others. I am to be concerned for my fellow man and willing to sacrifice for the good of those in need. While that is true, it can easily miss the point and do more harm than good. The foundation of all good works needs to be faith. I don’t live or die for another human. I live and die for the Lord because I belong to Him. My good works are a manifestation of that understanding.

As an example take Oprah Winfrey. Please. Here is a woman who wipes her butt with hundred dollar bills. I don’t recommend this -- apparently it makes your ass really big.

Eeow. I have to go to my happy place for a minute.

Ms. Winfrey has the girls’ school in Africa. She gives away cars. She donates to charities and does all kinds of good works for other people. I assume the recipients of her largesse (happy thought, hap-py thought!) sometimes benefit and experience a better life. But it doesn’t seem to help Oprah. Here is a woman who has wealth, fame, power, personal trainers, chefs, body slaves, whatever, and she cannot stop eating. She announced this week that she has now reached the two hundred pound plateau once again. And that’s probably two hundred in dog pounds. I’m not sure plateau is the right word either.

She has no husband, no children, and apparently no life – if we don’t count destroying America by promoting bad diets, pop psychology, spiritual frauds, crappy books, Obama, and emotion-based value systems.

People like Oprah are not necessarily bad people. Their intentions are good. They are trying to help others. They are concerned about what they perceive as righteous causes. The problem is their works have no foundation. They are building upon sand because they are not living first in obedience to God. They do not recognize that they and those they are trying to help belong first and foremost to the Lord. He is our Father. He is the Good Shepherd. Acting without that understanding of the nature and truth of God leads them into many errors.

God is not a genie in a bottle or the fairy freaking godmother. We live for Him. That’s what Paul is telling us. If you read in chapters fourteen and fifteen of Romans, you will see the quoted verse is in the middle of a treatise on tolerance for the purpose of maintaining unity in the Church. Paul warns us against judging our brothers by what they eat or don’t eat and varying opinions about non-essential practices. He asks: “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).

Intolerance is one of the hallmarks of the left and those do-gooders like Oprah and Obama. They want to standardize us. They want us to fit the mold. They want us to be as miserable as they are, or at least for “the little people out there” to be equally miserable. The collectivist seems to think that virtue can be institutionalized and imposed on people from above by the supreme state – their god. And the first problem is who gets to define virtue?

It is not so with us. I was talking yesterday about God doing His work in us and respecting our individuality, and here it is again. We should respect the individuality of the brother who eats and the brother who abstains. The Lord, as far as we can know, is telling the one to eat meat and the other to be a vegetarian. All I can really know is what the Spirit says to me, which is usually something like “why don’t you worry about your own ass instead of Oprah’s”. And I understand that.

Or, as Micah 6:8 puts it: He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness [mercy], and to walk humbly with your God?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Big Wheels Keep on Turnin'

I’ve switched to the New American Standard, primarily because it’s the one on my desk right now. Covered in antique red leather, mine is well broken in, as it should be after seventeen years. It lies flat, stays open where I want it, and is a good translation.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10

The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD saying, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I shall announce My words to you.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. – Jeremiah 18:1-4

Yesterday I commented on Isaiah 27:1 about the creative potential of the chaotic and of all the stuff that is not-God, or not-yet-God. I guess I’m continuing on the theme today with some variation.

When Paul says “His workmanship” he is not talking about the quality of craft seen in construction or cabinetry, but about the efforts of an Artist. God does not rely on formulas. He laughs at the systematic approach -- no standards and practices for the Almighty. In the sense of being merciful to all, He is no respecter of persons; however, in the sense of meeting us where we are, He very much does respect individuality. His work in our lives is guided only by wisdom. It is all art – meaning that He uses the raw material at hand in a unique and specific way.

The potter sits down at his wheel and begins to work on a lump of clay. He has in mind a vessel, but the clay is not cooperating. Perhaps it is too wet, or too dry, or maybe there are some unusual elements or impurities in its composition. Instead of taking the precise and beautiful shape the potter envisions, it is uneven, warped, or otherwise marred.

But this potter is wise. He pulled this lump out of the great chaos of the claypit himself. By his effort to shape it, he has found its limitations and weaknesses. A lesser craftsman might toss aside this flawed material and seek better, but the master does not do so. In his eyes, everything drawn out of the pit has its unique flaws, as well as its unique capacity. He does not destroy the beauty of this lump by forcing it into an ugly imitation of what it can never be. Instead, he takes the marred vessel and reworks it into what it is meant to be, and what pleases him.

In the end, it is not just a vessel for common use, but a work of art that brings light and joy to those who behold it.

Sometimes the chaos seems threatening and fearful. We wonder how much of this surreal weirdness one is supposed to endure. How can there ever be beauty again? All is disorder. The landmarks have been moved. The foundations are shaken. Life makes no sense, and all we feel is pressure and despair.

It is just the hand of the Master. He has found our flaws, and He has folded us back into the shapeless blob He first carried out of the pit. Yet even as we despair, He begins to smile as He causes us to take a new and perfect form – perfect for that raw essence that is the individual.

That odd streak of blue just needs to be in the right place. The too dry and the too moist will be fine once reworked together. What looked like not enough will be a delicate, soaring thing evoking heaven, and drawing gasps of admiration from the angels.

And so the wheel turns.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Out of Order, and Order Out of

Come, my people, enter into your rooms,
And close the door behind you;
Hide for a little while,
Until indignation runs its course.

For behold, the LORD is about to come out from His place
To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity;
And the earth shall reveal her bloodshed,
And will no longer cover the slain.

In that day the LORD will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent,
With His fierce and great and mighty sword,
Even Leviathan the twisted serpent;
And He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea.

--Isaiah 26:20,21; 27:1

Though the first two verses caught my attention, I don't really have any comment on them. There may be difficult days ahead, but I'm certainly not predicting anything or raising any prophetic flags. If anything, I would think God may be calling His people to private prayer, intercession and soul-searching. The passage sounds remarkably like Matthew 6:6, as Jesus said, "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you."

Leviathan is usually seen as something like chaos, something that rises in opposition to God. The sea is also viewed as chaotic and primordial.

We see horrible events, sometimes perpetrated by humans, sometimes random natural disasters. Christians are fond of saying, “God is in control.” We build all kinds of explanations for why God allows evil to exist. I don’t have any answers, just more questions.

For example, consider if God is still creating. We know the Genesis account says God completed His work and rested on the seventh day. Yet, after the Fall, God rose up and by His own hand shed blood and provided a covering for Adam and Eve. He intervened in purging evil from the earth with the flood of Noah. He spoke with Abraham and established a covenant, and He called out Israel.

Speaking of Noah, it may be significant that God used the chaos of flood waters to cleanse the earth.

I get the impression sometimes that the sixth day lasted a long time. The book of Hebrews describes Jesus as finally sitting down at the right hand of the Father, but, according to 1 Corinthians 15, He is still in the process of conquering enemies. Perhaps in our timeline, the seventh day has not yet come. It exists, and we draw toward it, but it’s like the “Rocky Road to Dublin” and may require a right good fight to clear the way.

There is still unconquered chaos that wars against us. We are of God, seeking rest and order. It is randomness, disorder, and destruction, seen in loss, decay, and deterioration. You don’t even need to assume a malevolent intelligence, though it seems obvious that it has its own agents. You could look it as just “stuff” that is still potentially a part of the creative process of building the kingdom. It kind of makes sense, for we are not generally in the business of creating ex nihilo. We take iron ore and refine it, and we make plows or swords.

They say that when it is time for the marriage supper of the Lamb, a great pavilion will be needed. So the Lord will slay Leviathan, and we will sit in the shade of that adversary’s skin and celebrate the consummation of the kingdom.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Prayers of the Ringtailed Saints

Thanks to all the Saints of the Ringtail who have been praying for my daughter. She has made some progress, much of which I attribute to your intercession. We have already seen some good things happen, but she has a long and tortuous ordeal ahead. If any of you are familiar with the Dragon of Fifths, you know he is a vicious invader. He employs a scorched earth approach, not just to win, but because it is his nature.

We'll beat him, though. We'll gut him and nail his sulfurous hide to the barn door.

Thanks again.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Exit Strategy

Then I heard another voice from heaven: Come out of her, My people, so that you do not share in her sins or receive any of her plagues. --Revelation 18:4

Earlier today, the Quiet Pot posted an excerpt that shows somebody is paying attention, and it got me thinking along these lines.

The verse quoted above is speaking in reference to the great whore of Babylon and the fall of Babylon. This Babylon is a universal archetype, which may, along with the Beast of Revelation and the Antichrist, point to some ultimate antitype and complete fulfillment. I think that is the case, because, though history is cyclical, it does not repeat infinitely. Rather, it spirals toward Teilhard de Chardin’s Omega point. I do not know if the Babylon of our time is that ultimate one – it likely will be for me.

Babylon seems to be related to Babel. Whether the tower named the place or the place named the tower matters little for they are associated in the Hebrew mind. It is a place of deviltry, of pandemonium where sense is lost and we no longer understand one another. Man rebelled at the Tower of Babel. Instead of seeking God, he sought to overrun heaven and overthrow God. And who would he place on the throne? Babylon then is a city, not of libertine morals but of a false religion, following false gods. When John speaks of adultery and fornication in the Apocalypse, he is referring primarily to turning away from a relationship with the true God and a worship or exultation of a false god.

Part of the Tower of Babel’s purpose was to unify all people. Like the tower and the assault on heaven, commerce can unify. Trade and the chance to enrich or increase wealth bring us together. We unite in worship of that god which Jesus called Mammon. In our day we have reaped what appeared to be significant material blessings from our affiliation with this system. I have given myself over to -- perhaps you could even say I have devoted myself to the accumulation of money and goods, to the status symbols and the counters of the Babylonian game. While I have been successful in only a very modest sense, it is obvious what my priorities have been.

Daniel saw the world system and the historic empires as an image with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. Though this, according to Daniel’s interpretation, was a depiction of kingdoms arising on the historical time line, in the end, the Babylon system can always be said to have “feet of clay”. It is vulnerable, and it will fall.

Even if the current system is not the antitype, it will fall. Its weaknesses have been exposed. For one thing the image is upside-down. Gold, the heaviest, densest, most stable material is on top. Gold is identified with divinity – it should be the foundation. What Daniel shows us looks more like devolution or degeneration from the divine to the animalistic human (clay). This will be crushed by the kingdom of God and overthrow the entire inverted structure.

So, the voice from heaven calls God’s people to leave Babylon behind. Flee, not to Galt’s Gulch, but to the Rock.

“But those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength; they shall soar on wings like eagles; they shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

Someone turned the King James Version of that into a chorus, and it remains one of my favorites. I wish I could let you hear it as I do in my head right now with a sweet and righteous woman singing in a rich, warm alto, just like she believed every word.

They that wait upon the Lord
shall renew their strength.
They shall mount up
with wings as eagles.
They shall run,
and not be weary.
They shall walk,
and not faint.

Teach me, Lord,
Teach me, Lord,
To wait.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Enough is as good as a feast

What then can we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? If Abraham was justified by works, then he has something to brag about – but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness. Now to the one who works, pay is not considered as a gift, but as something owed. But to the one who does not work, but believes on Him who declares righteous the ungodly, his faith is credited for righteousness. -- Romans 4:1-5

That’s all well and good, I say, but how much faith is enough? Jesus said if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.

Many years ago, a couple of my friends were discussing a situation where someone was gravely ill. One of them said to the other, “I want you to pray for this sick person. I’ve got Volkswagen faith. You’ve got Cadillac faith.” Perhaps today he would say Hyundai faith versus Lexus faith, but the thing is either one will get you where you want to go. I used to drive all over the country in a ’72 Chevy Nova with a straight six, three-on-the-tree, and no AC. I always made it where I wanted to go and back – not in style, but I made it.

If you have a generator, a source of power, a dynamo, all you need is the connection. You can have one of those big forked switches with a handle, a rocker switch, or a cheap little black plastic thing hanging half out of the wall. It doesn’t matter. If the juice is there and you can close the circuit, you get the job done.

On/Off. Pregnant/Not-pregnant. Do/Not-do.

If you have enough faith to worry about having enough faith, you have enough faith. You are connected to the Almighty.

Over time it is true that faith grows and develops. It matures. Yet, in a way, it is perfect and complete at any point in time. I think of my granddaughter who weighed less than five pounds when she was born, literally fitting in my two hands. Nevertheless, she was perfect. Friday, she put her arm on my shoulder and called me, “Shorty”. I am still a little taller than she is, but she’s still perfect. Her development is built into her DNA, programmed at birth to unfold like a rose. So, too, is faith. It matures and develops as any living thing, according to the plan of God. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17), and, in explaining the Parable of the Sower, Jesus says, “The sower sows the word” (Mark 4:14).

I receive the Word, and I have faith. I can nurture it, let it take root, and cultivate it. It will grow and become great faith, producing more seed. I never need to worry that I don’t have enough.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Beware of Insidious Increments

Lead bullet bravo sierra

Lead bullet truth -- from the CDC, no less

One reason I am linking to the two articles above is to demonstrate the desire in some circles to create a panic. Scared people, as the left has told us for the last seven years, are easier to control. Never mind that they were talking about real events, the terror attacks of 9/11, versus stuff the Democrats want us to fear, e.g., the terrorist myth of global warming or climate change or Algore Farted or whatever they're calling it now.

The first article is designed to get questions stirred up about using traditional lead projectiles in hunting ammunition. Waterfowl hunters are already banned from using lead shot and have to use steel -- which frankly sucks -- or some other expensive non-toxic alternative like bismuth. I suppose I can believe that lots of lead shot over heavily hunted waters could increase lead levels in ducks, geese and other wetland inhabitants. I have a lot more trouble believing that the amount of lead in the wound channel of a deer is going to result in increased lead levels in consumers of venison.

The second article confirms what I suspected: the first article is horse pucks.

Let's think about what you can expect for at least the next couple of years from those who just can’t stand the thought of the Second Amendment. Democrats have learned the hard way that running on gun control is a losing proposition, so they campaign by saying they do not want to take guns away from hunters. This sounds all right until you think about it. From whom do they want to take guns? It’s not from criminals because criminals don’t buy guns down at Bass Pro, or even at gun shows. Criminals buy guns from other criminals. Criminals steal guns. Criminals get guns even though it is illegal for them to possess firearms.

See, here is the problem. The Second Amendment does not give me any rights. It confirms a right possessed by every human born on the planet. A free man or woman has the right own weapons to defend himself or herself. I’m going to say something a little controversial, but it is what I believe. I have been in law enforcement, and I respect law enforcement officers in general. They do a tough job and do it well the vast majority of the time. Nevertheless, agents of the government should be just a little bit afraid to kick in an honest man’s door. Government, by its nature, is hostile to freedom. Governments are a necessary evil but still an evil. It is good for a government to fear its citizens.

Leave me alone, let me do my work and raise my family. I will pay my taxes and defend my family and my land if it comes to that. The state exists to provide sufficient security for me to live peaceably. From my point of view, that is the only reason it exists.

The conflict over weaponry comes because, as far as the collectivists in this country are concerned, I exist only to support the state. I should do, not what is in my own interests, but what most benefits the world as a whole. If I am reluctant to lower my standard of living to benefit some inbred, ganga-smoking jackass in a mudhat in Lower Bangagong then it is up to the government to force me to comply “for the greater good”. As some point this compulsion gets a little sticky with an armed citizenry.

Therefore, for the greater good, the private citizen’s access to weaponry needs to be limited, so says the collectivist. To translate what Obama and his ilk believe, modern weapons should be limited to agents of the government. You peons can keep your flintlocks, your fowling pieces, and your bows and arrows. You can hunt with those until we have complete control and you aren’t allowed out of your yard without our permission.

The collectivists plan to forge my chains by increments – one link at a time. They have discovered that threatening guns stirs up the masses and causes a loss of power. So they will try first to restrict ammunition. I would not be surprised to see attempts to add onerous taxes to firearms and ammunition, similar to the “sin” tax on liquor and cigarettes. It will, of course, be a public health issue. It might even be under the guise of providing universal health coverage, since we all know firearms are a major contributor to the rise of healthcare costs. Don’t worry. If you haven’t seen it already, there will be a study to prove this point touted by the MSM very soon.

As illustrated at the top, another point of attack in making ammunition prohibitively expensive could be the “dangers” of lead bullets. Lead is cheap and plentiful. It is malleable and easy to cast into precise, repeatable shapes and weights. For centuries, it has been the very effective projectile of choice for firearms. Banning lead bullets for hunting would seem minor enough, since most hunters fire only a few rounds in the course of the season. But what about practice? Won’t there be “toxic” deposits of lead at shooting ranges? As with all government regulations, the potential for an avalanche is always present. At best, with the introduction of new laws, manufacturers and shooters will find themselves facing higher costs, more restrictions and more twists and turns than a bucketful of snakes, or a dump truck full of lawyers.

We have to be ready to squash these attempts at the outset. There is no reason for further regulation or taxation of weapons and ammunition. Join the NRA and any other group supporting the Second Amendment. Get the names and numbers of your Congressmen and Senators, especially if they are Democrats. It is already time to start letting them know how vehemently you oppose any attempts to increase taxes on sporting goods, ammunition, and weapons, or to restrict the right to keep and bear arms.

Keep an eye on your state fish and game department. Missouri has both a Conservation Department, which handles wildlife regulations, and a Department of Natural Resources which is more in control of ground water, waste disposal and such. New regulations curtailing the use of lead bullets could arise from either of these agencies. I’m sure there are similar agencies under different names in all the other states. This may well be the first line of attack by collectivists of the watermelon* variety.

*Watermelon – for those who might not know, refers to those who are environmentalist green on the outside and communist red on the inside.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Driven by a Dove

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. As soon as He came up out of the water, He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending to Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: You are My beloved Son; in You I take delight!

Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. – Mark 1:9-12

I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with My eye on you, I will give counsel. Do not be like the horse or mule, without understanding, that must be controlled with bit and bridle, or else it will not come near you. – Psalm 32:8,9 (The phrase “with My eye on you, I will give counsel” maybe be better in the King James Version, rendered as “I will guide thee with mine eye”. )

If you want confirmation of your identity, your calling, or a life mission statement, having the heavens rent and hearing the audible voice of God is fairly certain.

I am reminded of the young hillbilly who went to the church board and told them he thought he was called to preach because he had seen the letters “P C” in the clouds over his field and he took it to mean he was to “Preach Christ”. After a careful examination and prayerful consideration, the board called the young man back in, and said, “Son, we believe you saw P C in the clouds and we agree it was a message from the Lord, but we think He was telling you to ‘Plow Corn’.”

Unlike Jesus and our plowboy, most of us will never receive such a dramatic testimony of our destiny.

As Jesus was baptized, we see that the Holy Spirit descended to Him “like a dove” – that is, gently, quietly, and delicately. The dove is depicted in the Bible as “harmless”. Yet this gentle, harmless, dove-like Spirit then drove the Lord into a place of isolation and desolation. Being obedient to God means that we could find ourselves in a difficult place of trial and testing. Though this is a very traditional and orthodox view, it doesn’t find much room in some of the more modern, profit-oriented spiritual teachings.

When you change your belief system and begin to trust in Christ Jesus, your spirit – your human spirit is renewed, given life, and liberated. There is a new awareness that accompanies this awakening. You are now capable of following the subtle urgings of the Dove. You have understanding and a new insight. Certainly God can and does use those without understanding, but that is not His preference. The mule-headed will have the bit put in their mouth and they will go where He wants, however reluctantly. There is no spiritual will involved. Even in doing good, they remain creatures without understanding of the spiritual reality they serve.

If you are going to be driven by a dove, you will have to keep your eye on it. You will follow its flight, the inclination of its head, and the direction of its gaze. The Psalm expresses this idea as well. You watch the Master. He glances in a direction, and His gaze lingers there for a moment. You get up and walk that path.

Anyone can follow orders. Anyone can respond to pressure, punishment, and reward. Anyone can follow signs. If we insist on following our own way, we will remain in spiritual bondage. “We too all previously lived … in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature we were children under wrath …” (Ephesians 2:3). We are not meant for this. Harsh discipline and a heavy hand are not what we need expect. We can obey willingly and purposefully, delighting in the Lord. As we immerse ourselves in this relationship that is open to us, we increase our understanding – we have the mind of Christ as Paul says. We think like Him, have His attitude. And attitude is closely related to “spirit”. Here is transformation: having our minds renewed.

Is there discipline? Yes. Is there sweat and effort and struggle? Yes. It happens in breaking free of the deceptions of "the prince of the power of the air". We will agonize over what we must lay aside. That is the weight room, the training room, the wilderness. But we live in grace. Jesus accepted His trial in the wilderness. When He returned from the testing, He maintained His close relationship with His Father throughout His journey while doing the impossible, without once going into a panic or breaking a sweat. Only when He came to Gethsemane and the ultimate trial of being separated from the Father did He again agonize. There He overcame and then endured the most extreme test imaginable -- with grace.

We see someone accomplish some difficult thing with what seems to be little or no effort at all, and we call that grace. The realm of God is the realm of grace. Children of the kingdom are children of grace. If we keep our attention on the soft, subtle leading of the Spirit, our obedience will be full of grace, freedom, and joy.

But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved! (Ephesian 2:4,5)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Shout triumphantly to the LORD,
all the earth.
Serve the LORD with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs.
Acknowledge that the LORD is God.
He made us, and we are His –
His people, the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him and praise His name.
For the LORD is good, and His love is eternal;
His faithfulness endures to all generations.

Psalm 100

These two polar bears walk into a Japanese zoo...

Zoo solves mystery of celibate polar bears

Puzzled zookeepers in northern Japan have discovered the reason why their attempts to mate two polar bears kept failing: Both are female.

Top ten responses from the zoo officials:

1) Not that there's anything wrong with that.

2) Well, the water is really cold.

3) Do we have any bi-polar bears?

4) It worked at the San Francisco Zoo.

5) Our DVM is an Aggie.

6) Maybe if we give her a crewcut ...

7) Think it would work better with two males?

8) Icicles

9) Don't Ask, Don't Tell

10) They're polar bears, would YOU want to check?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jesus Practices Affirmative Action

By the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool, called Bethesda in Hebrew, which has five colonnades. Within these lay a multitude of the sick – blind, lame, and paralyzed [-- waiting for the moving of the water, because an angel would go down into the pool from time to time and stir up the water. Then the first one who got in after the water was stirred up recovered from whatever ailment he had.] One man was there who had been sick for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the sick man answered, “I don’t have a man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I’m coming, someone goes down ahead of me.”

“Get up,” Jesus told him, “pick up your bedroll and walk!” Instantly the man got well, picked up his bedroll, and started to walk. – John 5:2-9

The bracketed part about the angel is missing from some manuscripts. Whether John wrote it or it was added as a commentary doesn’t matter, for we can see that those sick people who lay in the porches around about the pool were there waiting for something to happen. According to the text that is in all the manuscript versions, the man explains to Jesus that someone always got into the water ahead of him, thereby denying him the opportunity for healing.

“Do you want to get well?”

The wisdom of Jesus is such that He does not simply assume a sick man wants to be healed. I wonder what I would say if Jesus walked up to me and asked, “Do you want to be whole? Do you want Me to break that chain? Do you want to be free of that habit? Do you want liberty? Do you want peace?”

God is not going to push His favor upon us if we prefer something else. If I want ugly ersatz instead of the genuine for the same price, He will not snatch the imitation from me and force me to embrace the real and the beautiful. Some of us seem to like being victims. After all, we can’t all be here to “help others” – some of us have to make the sacrifice and be helped. Children will sometimes have a problem that gets them more attention and special treatment. Why get rid of it? Adults often do the same thing in relationships. Some groups take advantage of their special victim status on a national scale.

This man’s answer to Jesus’ question tells us about expectations, “I don’t have anybody to help me. Somebody else always gets there first.” There are many who think because they don’t have the “advantages” they cannot overcome their difficulties and circumstances. Jesus says this is not true. To overcome I do not need someone else to help me – I need to respond to Jesus.

If you read on in this passage you will find that Jesus commanded this man to get up, pick up his bed and walk on the Sabbath. The healed man was then confronted by the religious authorities, and, when asked who had told him to “work” on the Sabbath, he admitted he did not know. In fact, only later was the man able to positively identify the Man who had healed him as Jesus.

If you’ve ever heard Christians who believe in healing talk about it, you will hear a lot about faith, and seeking and fervent prayer. This man had no faith in Christ; he had no idea who He was. The sick man was not seeking God – he was hanging around in the shade waiting for another person to help him get into the water. I suppose you could say he was seeking a healing and had some faith in the miraculous nature of the pool, but it was not necessarily a belief that looked to God.

I have never understood why Jesus picked this man out and healed him. Neither have I ever understood how this person who comes off as rather indolent and dismissive of God received a healing.

The man is questioned by the authorities, says he doesn’t know who told him to get up and walk, then look what happens:
After this, Jesus found him in the temple complex and said to him, “See, you are well. Do not sin any more, so that something worse doesn’t happen to you.” The man went and reported to the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

Can you believe that? He had to know that this would cause Jesus trouble. I don’t like this guy. I never have. He wallows in his victim status. He whines that he doesn’t get any help. He is miraculously healed without really any effort on his part, and then he rats out the Healer. What an ingrate!

As far as I can remember this is the only time the Gospels report Jesus seeking someone out after the fact and telling them to be avoid sinning, and tied sin to physical disease in just this way. He did tell the woman taken in adultery in John 8 to “go and sin no more”, but the circumstances were vastly different.

Like this man beside the pool, people hear God’s voice all the time. They benefit from responding, but they have no idea who is talking to them. People are directed by God, blessed by God, and even do God’s work without ever realizing the Source of their inspiration. For His part, as Jesus demonstrates here, God is no respecter of persons. He is good to everyone, even those who do not know Him.

The man at the pool of Bethesda did not even give a straight answer about wanting to be healed. The only thing he did right was stand up. When he heard Jesus tell him to get up, he got up. He obeyed.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

Bathroom Break

Space Station Urine Recycler Passes Key Test

That's the headline from All I can say is, "Ouch."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Put the Load Right on Me

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30

I want to say that is my favorite verse in the Bible, but I’ll probably say that about another passage sooner or later, so it seems kind of silly. It is a comforting statement. It is a distillation of the mission of Christ.

Imagine living before Christ. Whether you lived under the demanding but clear constraints of the Law as the Hebrews, or under the capriciousness of the pagan gods as the Greeks, what would it have meant to hear someone say, “Come and rest your soul.” This rest is what we all seek. Atheists seek rest for the soul. They do it by denying the soul, by saying that what we call “soul” is some sort of brain-body gestalt, a sort of simulacrum, perhaps, but still and all an illusion is still an illusion even if it is useful. Their rest is the rest of the paralytic, if not the rotting corpse, an illusion of rest for the illusion of their soul.

I think we notice it more during this season of the year, when we are harried by the hounds of the holidays. We need this promise. Rest for the soul means deliverance from fear, the meeting of every need, and the fulfillment of every desire. The promise Jesus makes is immediate, “Come to Me ... I will give you rest.” He offers those who would trust in Him relief right now, release like the flipping of a switch. In a moment, the believer can go from restless to resting.

There is another aspect that is delayed. “Take My yoke … learn from Me … you will find rest.” In the Gospels we are told of those like the woman with the issue of blood who merely touched Jesus and were instantly healed. Yet there were others who followed Him every day, abiding with Him, sharing His life, and learning from Him. Jesus gave those who touched Him rest; those who followed Him found rest.

He calls us to receive from Him immediate rest, but He also calls us to be His disciples. He calls us to wear a yoke and bear a burden, to work. Yet in that we find an abiding rest that will not depart.

The difference between working for the man and working for the Man is in the yoke and the burden. For man, everything is one-size-fits-all, and you are on your own, baby. With Jesus the yoke is tailor-made, perfectly fitted, just your size, and, if you look to your right, you will see that you have a partner. Yes, you still have a burden to bear, but it, too, is perfectly sized for your frame. A well-fitted harness and an appropriate load are not hard to bear. I think, in fact, we need a burden.

I see the Amish going along the roadsides. Most of the time the horses have their heads up and seem to be enjoying the trip themselves. A hound on the trail, no matter how hard the run or elusive the quarry, is a happy hound. The hound is not content in the pen. A horse is not content in the pasture. A man is not content without a burden, a purpose, a reason for being here.

Rest comes first from the yoke. Put a poor-quality, ill-adjusted pack frame on and you will suffer carrying ten pounds. With a good pack, well-adjusted, I might carry five or even ten times that and not suffer as much. God knows not only what we can bear, but how best for us to bear it.

Next we learn from Jesus. This is not a singletree, it is a doubletree, and on the other side, helping us pull the load is Christ Himself. He says, “Learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart.” Team the wise horse with the one you want to break to the harness – let the knowing one gently instruct the inexperienced not to fight the yoke, not to get too far ahead, not to overreach, but settle in to the pull, be steady and patient. To learn from Jesus, we need to abide in Him. Partake of His nature. He’s not going to push us too hard. He’s not standing behind us with a whip. He’s right here beside us. Our difficulty and pain come from our own failure to emulate Him, to be also gentle and humble in spirit.

It requires a certain amount of surrender – no, that’s wrong. It requires a full surrender. Surrendering some of my life to Christ is worse than surrendering none.

My granddaughter has become a fan of rollercoasters. I ride them with her because her grandma just can’t handle it. The first thing you learn about a rollercoaster is that you are not in control. You can’t stop it, and you can’t get off. The next thing you learn is that as long as you stay where you are until the end, you will be fine. Sure, you may puke up a corndog, but it’s not fatal. Just hang on and enjoy the ride. In other words, surrender.

Probably no one else is stupid enough to have tried this, but I know from painful personal experience what it is like to do some things my way. Not that I was ever an especially agreeable person, but struggling to run things myself makes me even more irritable and unpleasant than normal. I am mean, ugly and in a rage – all the while claiming to be a Christian. It is not a pretty sight.

Far better to trust God completely, to be – not indifferent, but accepting. That’s an important distinction. God does not want me to say, “I don’t care.” He wants me to say, “Thy will be done,” and to believe that it will. God forgive me for the hours I spent trying to change His mind and get Him to say, “Your will be done.”

No, prayer is to lay out my situation before the Lord and say to Him, You do what’s best. This is my prayer of rest:

Lord, this is what I’d like to see happen, but, I’ll happily (honest, Lord, happily) accept what You do. And now that I have prayed, I am confident that what comes to me will be, indeed, Your will. So that’s cool.

I don’t think you have to add “in Jesus’s name” because I’m fairly sure if you can pray like that with sincerity and a straight face, it is in His name. You can leave the “amen” to Him as well.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear (but it scares you to death in the process)

Nothing is inexorable but love. Love which will yield to prayer is imperfect and poor. Nor is it then the love that yields, but its alloy. For if at the voice of entreaty love conquers displeasure, it is love asserting itself, not love yielding its claims. It is not love that grants a boon unwillingly; still less is it love that answers a prayer to the wrong and hurt of him who prays. Love is one, and love is changeless.

For love loves unto purity. Love has ever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds. Where loveliness is incomplete, and love cannot love its fill of loving, it spends itself to make more lovely, that it may love more. It strives for perfection, even that itself may be perfected – not in itself, but in the object. As it was love that first created humanity, so even human love, in proportion to its divinity, will go on creating the beautiful for its own outpouring. There is nothing eternal but that which loves and can be loved, and love is ever climbing toward the culmination when such shall be the universe, imperishable, divine.

Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love’s kind, must be destroyed.

And our God is a consuming fire.

If this is hard to understand, it is as the simple, absolute truth is hard to understand. It may be centuries of ages before a man comes to see a truth – ages of strife, of effort, of aspiration. But when once he does see it, it is so plain that he wonders how he could have lived without seeing it. That he did not understand it sooner was simply and only that he did not see it. To see a truth, to know what it is, to understand it, and to love it, are all one. – George MacDonald, excerpt from sermon, “The Consuming Fire”

I’m a little short on time for the next few days, so, like yesterday, I may not be blogging much.

A short description of MacDonald might be to say he was a person who had rejected Calvinistic determinism but clung to the beautiful truth of God’s sovereignty. Here he is depicting the Lord as that perfect Bridegroom, likewise described in Ephesians 5:27, as presenting his Bride “to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, holy and blameless.”

God will never give up on us, but that also means He will never really let up on us. In the end we will get right. Can something be absolutely terrifying and joyously hopeful at the same time?

Well, there was this Cross …

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In Search of Martyrdom

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:7,8

A witness is a martyr, or it might be better to say that our word martyr meant witness. This is just a guess on my part, but I doubt that there is a similar word in the Islamic lexicon. The West has adapted martyr to fit the perversion that is suicide/homicide bombing, but such actions could only in the most inverted sense have anything to do with the word as Jesus used it.

The association between being a martyr and dying came about because of the persecution of the early Church. It was necessary as a part of being a witness for Christ to endure suffering, imprisonment, torture and even death. Frankly I find it offensive, not just to myself, but to God, to call some half-wit who blows himself up in order to kill innocent little children a martyr. He is a murderer. If he is “witnessing” for his god, then his god is a murderous and despicable entity. In fact I would equate such a god with “the god of this world” of whom Jesus warns us.

Let me hasten to add that not all of Islam holds to such a belief any more than all Christians are like Jim Jones. The terrorist thugs of Syria, Palestine, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are likely as much an offense to the decent Muslims – Sufis and others – as they are to me.

Jesus said that the believer will be clothed and infused with a spiritual power, like plugging a light into an electrical outlet. It is this power than enables me to be a martyr – if I might be allowed to reclaim a valuable mot. This goes beyond any kind of formal or traditional “testimony”, beyond preaching or public displays. To be a martyr in the sense Christ intended is to illuminate my own soul and the spiritual environment wherein I live and move and have my being.

To be a martyr is to bring God into contact with the world.

I don’t get extra credit for this. I don’t get special privileges in heaven, or a heavenly maid who looks like Ava Gardner. It does not involve going out and provoking persecutory responses from the heathen. Being a witness does not necessarily mean that I hand out tracts in the promenade or pester passers-by by singing into a bullhorn. I don’t have to annoyingly knock doors on Saturday mornings.

A martyr’s calling is to live. “The one who believes in Me,” Jesus told those at the graveside of Lazarus, “even if he dies, will live.” The zombies and the vampires won’t like him, and may well make his life tough, attempt to kill him, or even think they have killed him. Nevertheless, he lives.

The martyr’s reward is life – real life, the life of God, being eternal or everlasting in quality and nature.

Church is not the place where Christian salesmen gather to learn the latest marketing scripts. It is the place where martyrs gather to celebrate and renew life in communion. To use the image from the Motel Zero link, it is where we mend our broken cords if need be and get plugged back into the power.

This next point seems important to me, but it may be important only to me. I don’t think the martyr needs to concern himself with who might be watching him. Hebrews chapter 11 talks about the many faithful who had gone before: the patriarchs, the judges, and the prophets. The chapter concludes with these words -- “All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.” Then the twelfth chapter begins with this:
Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us …

Sometimes I feel just like that light in Robin’s picture. I am forgotten, stuck to a lost wall and useless. Why should I bother? How is my light going to benefit anyone here?

The martyr’s calling is never to the derived temporal world, but, always, his witness is to the eternal realm of the spirit. It may be reflected in the world, but the reality is always a heavenly one. This journey is of necessity one of separation and isolation to a degree. I think if we could see behind the veil it would be a great and terrible sight. Where we walk in shadows there is a blazing light. Where we stand alone there is a vast host.
When the servant of the man of God got up early and went out, he discovered an army with horses and chariots surrounding the city. So he asked Elisha, “Oh, my master, what are we to do?”

Elisha said, “Don’t be afraid, for those who are with us outnumber those who are with them.”

Then Elisha prayed, “LORD, please open his eyes and let him see.” So the LORD opened the servant’s eyes. He looked and saw the mountain was covered with horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. -- 2 Kings 6:15-17

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Call of the Hunter

I recommend you click the link and read Uncle Orson's review of the movie Eagle Eye. Card begins by mentioning some films he has watched at home recently, and discusses the advantages of staying home versus going to the movie theater these days. You can skip the first section if you like but by all means read what he has to say about Eagle Eye, surveillance, and computers.

As a software engineer, with databases being my specialty, I've said more or less the same thing to people dozens of times, but Card gives a clear, non-technical, yet correct and compelling treatment of the question.

In a prior review, OSC recommended the books of the author writing under the pseudonym of K.J. Parker. I picked up Devices and Desires, Book One in Parker's Engineer Trilogy, last week and I've had time to read about a third of it. So far I'd say it is well-written and a welcome departure from the typical medieval-type fantasy. The characters and the setting have depth. The conflicts are complex. My complaint is there's a certain flatness of affect that I have been unable to shake -- but it could be a personal problem. None of the characters strike me as particularly likable at this point. I only mention it now because of the following quote:
The truth is, Valens realized, you can only hunt what you love. Chasing and killing what bores or disgusts you is just slaughter, because you don't want to understand, get in its mind.

You only hunt what you love.

No one loves the animal more than a real hunter. Sure, there are people who seem to only care about heads and butchery, but they aren't hunting deer or elk or moose, they are hunting bragging rights, prestige, or status. They are hunting to impress others with their prowess.

The true hunter is hunting for himself, to know himself by knowing and understanding the game he pursues, whatever it might be. Using Parker's definition it is easy to see hunting isn't limited to going after something with a gun, a bow, or a flyrod. The artist, the poet, and the musician are all hunters. They are trying to capture what they love. Inevitably, and necessarily, something is lost in the taking of the quarry. It exists only in that moment when the shot is made or the net enfolds. By its nature it is as transient as it is transcendent.

What is the saint doing except hunting God? As always, there must be loss.
But everything that was gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him, I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ -- the righteousness from God based on faith. My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.

Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I have also been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God's heavenly call in Christ Jesus. -- Philippians 3:7-14

I'm on the hunt.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Thoughts About Bad Investments

We may start hearing more and more about AIG, the insurance giant that needs additional government money to keep it afloat. Michelle Malkin has a roll-back-the-bailout thread going today. Pay particular attention to her quote of a letter from SC governor Mark Sanford, who is evidently one of us.

The federal government is about to dump another $150 billion into AIG to try and save it. This isn’t rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – this is handing out solid gold lifejackets. Think about it.

AIG has been a troubled company for years. Corruption and scandal do not appear to be strange to it. This is from the International Herald Tribune dated Jan 7, 2008:

The billionaire investor Warren Buffett has long been revered in the business world, but his importance at a trial involving the world's largest insurer is hotly contested.

The trial started Monday in federal court in Hartford for four former executives of the Berkshire Hathaway General Re unit and a former executive of American International Group who are charged with participating in a plan to manipulate AIG's financial statements.

Some of the executives say they believe Buffett was involved and supported the deal that led to the charges. Buffett leads Berkshire Hathaway, drawing at least 25,000 people to his annual shareholder meetings.

Buffett, a big Obama supporter oddly enough, is generally viewed positively. He is a favorite of Charlie Rose. He’s got the ‘I’m-from-Omaha’ thing going for him. He has made his money purely by investing. Berkshire Hathaway, like AIG and many other American corporations produce nothing directly. That doesn’t mean they are unproductive because they do provide capital and other services that allow production to take place. The trouble such companies usually get into involves manipulating their stock prices through accounting tricks. The article continued:

Buffett, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing, has said he was not briefed on how the transactions were to be structured or on any improper use or purpose of the transactions. His attorney, Ronald Olson, said in a recent statement that Buffett "denies that he passed judgment in any way" on the challenged deals.

At issue are two reinsurance transactions between AIG and General Re of Stamford. Reinsurance policies are backups purchased by insurance companies to completely or partly insure the risk they have assumed for their customers.

Prosecutors said the transactions were initiated by an AIG senior executive to quell criticism by analysts of a reduction in AIG's loss reserves in the third quarter of 2000. The indictment alleges that the aim was to make it appear as if AIG increased its loss reserves by about $500 million in 2000 and 2001, pacifying the analysts and investors and artificially lifting the company's stock price.

The former General Re executives charged include Ronald Ferguson, a former chief executive. Ferguson and the other defendants have pleaded not guilty.

The trial could shed light on what AIG's former chairman and chief executive, Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, knew about the transactions. Allegations of accounting irregularities, including the General Re transactions, led to Greenberg's resignation in 2005.

This is not, unfortunately, at all uncommon. It very often works and stockholders make a lot of money. As an investor myself I have benefited from it, I’m sure. Accounting is not all that different than witchcraft, except accounting actually works. Both involve selling one’s soul to the devil.

Another problem I have with corporations is that CEO’s and directors are kind of like managers in baseball or head coaches in football. No matter how badly they screw up they can probably hang around and get picked up by some other team. A winning college coach may have a graduation rate of 0%, but if he has more wins than losses in his tally, he will keep moving ahead to bigger schools. Missouri didn’t have a problem with Quinn Snyder’s recruiting tactics or his players’ behavior until they missed the NCAA tournament. The same is true in corporations. A CEO is only frowned upon if he doesn’t make money for the stockholders. He will only be hauled into court when the stock prices fall and the investors lose money.

Even then, they sometimes manage to hang around, as in the case of the aforementioned Hank Greenberg.

Back in April of 2005, CNN Money reported that Greenberg had given his wife a gift of AIG shares then valued at $41 million three days before he “retired” because of accounting irregularities. Those irregularities between the Berkshire Hathaway reinsurance unit and AIG falsely inflated AIG’s loss reserves and boosted the stock price.

Let’s move up to October 1, 2008 where we find reporting that Greenberg is seeking to buy some of AIG’s assets.

Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, former CEO and AIG critic, has asked the company’s CEO for the opportunity to bid on any assets the insurer plans to sell, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Greenberg made the request to Edward Libby, who took over AIG two weeks ago when the government agreed to let AIG borrow up to $85 billion in order to help it avoid a possibly bankruptcy filing. As a result, the United States government will control 80 percent of the company.

In his letter, dated September 29, Greenberg wrote, “now understand that the company has begun to liquidate itself by selling assets in privately negotiated transactions without transparency and without providing the opportunity for the participation of alternative purchasers."

Greenberg added that he wanted to formally request to have the opportunity to submit an offer on any assets that the company intends to sell. Greenberg left AIG amid an accounting scandal in 2005 and is currently fighting civil charges related to his time at AIG.

A spokesperson for AIG said that the company is open to all reasonable expression of interest in the assets AIG plans to sell, according to WSJ.

I have no idea from the story what "assets" Greenberg would be buying. My guess is that it would be one or more specific insurance portfolios. I would assume that Greenberg has some kind of company set up to service these portfolios. Since he was an insider, he is likely cherry-picking in order to leave AIG and, thus, the government -- ultimately the taxpayers -- with the weaker assets.

By the way, if you go follow the link, you will see an ad for a “Boardroom and Economic Forum” featuring Michael Oxley and Barney Frank. It’s the “annual global gathering of leading board directors and corporate governance influentials”. I’m sure Congressman Frank will reassure the corporations that he will help them out, just like he has AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, et al.

Corporations and the federal government have far too much of an incestuous relationship as it is. Does it seem ironic to you that the FTC spends months if not years debating something like the merger of XM and Sirius, but it isn’t even in the loop when Uncle Sam, Inc. starts buying up banking and insurance stock to become the major investor in these companies? If the feds “take over” GM, who is going to be responsible for oversight? Is the buyer going to drive products and services, or will we get what our new Congressional Overlords think best for us to have? Uncle Sam Motors does not have to turn a profit, please the customer, or please its "investors". If it gets in trouble producing crappy vehicles, it just prints more money.

The bailout is a bad idea and getting worse everyday. I would rather have a severe recession than the lifetime of government control that currently threatens us.

Maybe it's time we got rid of the Separation of Church and State and went with Separation of Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Cutting the Devil Down to Size

Vindicate me, God, and defend my cause against an ungodly nation; rescue me from deceitful and unjust man. For You are the God of my refuge. Why have You rejected me? Why must I go about in sorrow because of the enemy’s oppression?

Send Your light and Your truth; let them lead me. Let them bring me to Your holy mountain, to Your dwelling place. Then I will come to the altar of God, to God, my greatest joy. I will praise You with the lyre, O God, my God.

Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God. – Psalm 43

Since there has been some talk of angels on One Cosmos the last few days, I suppose it started me thinking.

Like the Psalmist, I have trouble with trouble. If, like me, you believe in God, then you probably have found yourself wondering, at least momentarily, if God has rejected you. I take things personally. If something goes wrong, I blame myself first. What did I do wrong? Where did I miss it? But it isn’t always my fault. Sometimes it can’t be. So I look around for someone to blame. Maybe it’s my wife’s fault. And so I go down the list.

We are told plainly that we do not fight against mere flesh and blood enemies. The Bible has no problem saying that there is an adversary of the Divine, an accuser of the brethren. We shouldn’t use the devil as an excuse, but we should recognize his presence and resist his efforts. In The Screwtape Letters Lewis warns of the two ways to err regarding the demonic. We can become morbidly obsessed with the devil, which is clearly wrong. It is, however, equally erroneous to dismiss demonic influence entirely.

The devil is real. You can call him an archetype; you can say it is a function of the human psyche; you can call it a mind parasite. It is real, and it is an adversarial force bent on destruction. No less an authority than Jesus Christ said that the devil was a liar and the father of lies. He compared him to a thief, coming to steal, kill and destroy. In fact, Jesus spoke about the devil and demons frequently. He told us that the devil not only deceives us but even attacks us physically.

The poet and artist William Blake did not believe that the soul and the body were really separate. He thought the body was a manifestation or emanation of the soul. The philosopher Anaxagoras said, “Appearances are a glimpse of what is hidden.” What happens, what we see in the physical realm is intimately related to what goes on in the spiritual. If that is the case, it is not surprising to find a physical disease or disability result from the enemy’s attack on the soul.

When we find ourselves laboring in darkness and oppression, what should we do? First we should call out to God. Come into the light and understand that in Christ we are released from all Satan’s accusations and indictments. Jesus paid it all. While I must deal with the consequences of my sin, there is no additional redemption in me suffering for my sins. I am no more delivered because I wallow in sorrow and suffer under demonic attack than if I stand upon my salvation in Christ and fight the devil. That is the whole point of Ephesians 6 as Paul tells us to deploy the shield of faith lest we be pierced by the fiery darts of the adversary.

I may chose to endure suffering and hardship, or I may make a sacrifice to benefit another person, but I should give no ground to the devil. God has not rejected us any more than He has rejected Christ the Son. We need not “go about in sorrow because of the enemy’s oppression”. Instead, light and truth can lead us into God presence where we find genuine acceptance and joy. The writer of Psalm 43 touches on one, possibly the primary way to throw back the assault of the enemy, and fully enter God presence: praise.

To me, that has always sounded like pure cornball flakiness. Yet, the longest book in the Bible is the book of Psalms. David, called the man after God’s own heart, with all his faults, was above all a man of praise, a singer of psalms. Before Jesus went up to pray on Gethsemane on the night of His betrayal, He and the disciples sang a hymn. In heaven, the redeemed will sing a new song.

Hey, it’s worth a try.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Few Points Toward A Conservative Manifesto

One of the problems we have is what Lady Thatcher referred to as the “ratchet effect”. When socialists gain power, they move the country toward the left. When power is returned the conservatives, they hold the line. We never move back toward smaller, less intrusive government and more freedom.

Reagan did do some deregulation, but government still grew between 1980 and 1988. It has grown tremendously in the last eight years. It will likely grow more in the next two to four years. If conservatives -- as opposed to Republicans, if conservatives regain control to any extent in Washington, there are steps that need to be taken to restore the foundation of our Republic.

Since I generally agree with George Bush, I have not been bothered by his communication skills, but that is not the case with his critics. The left has used Bush’s inability to articulate his position to vilify him and make it stick – something that was impossible to do to either Reagan or Clinton. So far the evidence indicates the same armor for Obama, though I am not sure his teleprompter platitudes won’t get old in a hurry.

It is vitally important that we have leadership that can understand and effectively advocate for the conservative view. There needs to be a solid conservative manifesto that all of us can agree upon and reference. This manifesto, rather than a party platform, would be our defining document. A conservative would be someone who adhered to the principles espoused in such a document.

In any case, conservatives and libertarians need to come together and develop a plan to get America back on track. My problem with the big ‘L’ Libertarian Party is their lack of understanding with regard to national security. We no longer live in a world where our oceans protect us from foreign attacks. We cannot afford to simply pull back and do nothing in the rest of the world. Our enemies need to be afraid to attack us by any means. Threats need to be eradicated at their point of origin – as that great philosopher and statesman Barney Fife once said, “Nip it in the bud.”

On the domestic front, a top priority for a new conservative movement is to push for term limits for Senators and Representatives. This will do more to reform government and reduce corruption than any other single measure. Gingrich should have continued to press for this in the 1994 Republican Revolution. I think Americans will support candidates who are willing to relinquish power voluntarily. It has worked very well on the state level for Missouri.

Next, we need to reform the tax code. The Fair Tax seems like a very good option which would be a huge boost to the economy, investment and savings. This has to be coupled with a repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment and the complete elimination of the income tax. We need to educate the public on the benefits of the Fair Tax. Want to limit the federal government’s power? The Fair Tax would be a virtual coup against the Beltway Monolith.

It’s more than possible that people will have trouble understanding and embracing the Fair Tax, and it might be too much all at once. If we can’t get the Fair Tax, then we should push for a flat tax. We should also eliminate the capital gains tax and permanently drop the Death Tax. Elimination of the capital gains tax would be more beneficial to the economy than wasting $700 billion nationalizing the banks.

Conservatives need to quit supporting the current education regime. We have been sabotaged for at least the last 30 years by the education mafia – the NEA. These people are not our friends and they are never going to come over to our side. They hate us, and they always will. Get rid of the Department of Education. Break the NEA. Destroy the education monopoly. And that is exactly how we need to put it. Competition: Good. Monopoly: Bad. It needs to be hammered on every radio show, on every television show, in every speech and on every blog. “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, the NEA had got to go.” Make education funding a local issue. Get rid of the layers of bureaucracy that soak up money like a giant sponge. We are spending tons of money per student and we can’t compete with other developed nations because we have – pay attention now – too many administrators and too many bureaucrats. Return control to the parents. Make the schools answerable – not to Washington, not to the state capitol, but to the local citizens whose children attend the school. The Great White/Black Father in Washington is not going to make the best decision for your kids. You are.

If it is not too late, we need to make reform of the healthcare system a big issue. The worst thing – the absolutely worst thing Bush and the Republican Congress did was pass the Medicare drug benefit. Medicare and Medicaid have done more to drive up the cost of healthcare in America than anything else. They need to be eliminated altogether. Health insurance should be private and not obtained through an employer. For the poor, the government can give health insurance vouchers, but get the government completely out of the healthcare/health insurance business. If the government does want to do something, they should keep insurers from penalizing pre-existing conditions, either by jacking the rates or denying coverage. Medical savings accounts are good, but the Fair Tax would make them unnecessary. Put in tort reform to limit malpractice payouts.

Do away with the freaking Department of Homeland Security. We have the FBI. Expand their capacity. Clean out the moles and commies in the CIA and replace them down to the janitor with patriotic Americans.

Close the borders and send all the illegals back where they came from. Do it today. Close the borders. You want to come here, you play by the rules. Their attempts at immigration reform have damaged both Bush and McCain. And guess what? Hispanics still voted for Obama. They are never going to support us, so why play the game?

Oppose all hate crime and hate speech legislation. I don’t care if it’s the Aryan Nations or Louis Farrakan, in America, you get to say what you think without fear of reprisals by the government. The First Amendment is not to protect speech that doesn’t offend people. It is there so we can say unpopular things without being thrown in jail or fined. I don’t care if someone is advocating disgusting, despicable acts, they should be free to voice their opinions.

Renounce judicial activism. There are issues that can and should be removed from the purview of the court. When it comes to voluntary prayer in schools or crèches or crosses on the courthouse lawn, it should be a matter of local preference. The federal courts have no business stepping into situations where no one’s rights are being violated. The establishment clause of the First Amendment says only the Congress shall make no law establishing religion. What municipalities and even states do in that regard should not be of interest to the courts.

Return control of abortion regulation to the states. Striking down Roe v. Wade would in no way eliminate abortion nationwide. States should be able to decide whether abortion should be legal within their borders. We don’t have to get into a big debate over pro-life versus pro-choice. Just take it out of federal jurisdiction.

At this point I see no reason to push for a federal marriage protection act or amendment. As long as states like mine are not forced to recognize gay marriages performed in other states, it is no big deal. The moment that a federal judge steps in and strikes down a state law defining marriage in the traditional mode, then we need to push for an amendment to the Constitution. I hope that won’t be necessary. There is no reason gays and lesbians can’t be part of the conservative movement. We should fully support civil unions and state laws that deal with any discrepancies in the treatment of homosexual couples. We should still oppose adoption of children by homosexuals through any government agency. Private or international adoptions are none of the state’s business.

Affirm that rights do not come from the government. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are limitations on the government’s capacity to infringe upon individual rights. Rights come from God, or if you are an atheist, from one’s nature, they are not doled out by the government.

Emphasize personal responsibility. The mortgage crisis really drove home the point that, as bad as Obama and the Democrats are, the Republicans are, for the most part, almost as bad. You don’t have sense enough not to buy a house you can’t afford, it’s your problem, not mine. I might have had to suffer because of the economic downturn, but at least I could have taken solace in the fact that the idiots who caused it were living under a bridge, and I would still have the money that the government is forcing me to turn over to bail you out.

Bow out of the United Nations and kick their corrupt, scurvy butts out of New York. We don’t need those jerks, and they are nothing but trouble.

Require picture ID's for voting, and do away with the unconstitutional practice of early voting.

Oppose and expose the climate change hoax. This was another of my gripes about McCain, and coupled with his amnesty stance, it made his defeat a lot more palatable.

I'm sure I haven't covered everything or said what I have covered very well, but this is the direction we need to go. Half measures and trying to win over the media and Hollywood by acting like half-assed Democrats hasn't and won't work. We do not need to move to the left. We need to stand up and say who we are and what we stand for. If we win, great. If we lose, at least we won't be wondering why.