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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Daily Grind

Therefore we do not give up; even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-17

Even though our outer person is being destroyed, as Paul understood, that is the whole point.

Our troubles are meant to peel away the old man, the shell, like husk from corn. Remember what Jesus said to Peter in speaking of his coming denial? Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. Jesus said He was praying for Peter, not that the sifting would not occur, but that Peter’s faith would not fail. Do not fear the adversary. Let him do his job: separate the inner wheat from the outer chaff.

When Paul says the inner man is being renewed, he is not talking about growth in the sense of maturity. We require a daily renewal of the new man and a day-by-day shucking of the old man. The outer person is dead, but, zombie-like, he just can’t seem to grasp the concept. The Lord uses the trials, temptations, failures, and stresses of the daily grind to continually wear away the natural self, to reveal my hopelessness and vanity.

Does it sound like I have this all figured out? Do not be deceived. I am the world’s worst whiner most of the time. I completely lose sight of the truth on a regular basis. I am writing it down here in the faint hope that I might be reminded the next time – probably later today – that I run into something I can’t handle, something that humbles me, that forces me to acknowledge I am not “all that”.

What is it that the old man operates on? What is it that keeps him going? Why does he have to be knocked down day after bloody day? The life of the zombie has its own ghoulish rewards. We get recognition, gratitude, plaudits, and plasma TV’s -- feedback, positive reinforcement. The outer person can achieve a lot in the material world. The old man can have most anything if he is willing to work at it – except true peace and contentment.

It is this conflict, this continual stripping away of that which is dead and insensitive to the Spirit that confuses many people – both those who are seeking after Truth and those who are trying to keep as far from it as possible. Peter’s denial of Christ was not the end for him. It was merely part of the revelation he needed.

I say, if I could just find the right teacher I would be able to get it together. Jesus taught Peter for three years. You can’t do any better than that. Until he denied his Lord, Peter still relied on his own great strength, his own fleshly power to get things done. Yes, he had worked miracles through the authority of Christ, but he still argued with his wife; he still clung to his status among the other disciples; he still lost his temper because he did not realize that the outer person cannot be reformed by all the spiritual teaching in the world. A hog returns to the wallow. The failure of his most cherished virtue, his courage, was necessary to show him he had to let the old man go. He had to deny himself if he didn’t want to deny the Lord.

That’s how “our momentary light affliction” works for us an eternal reward, in part at least. If we are going to live in the light of truth and the overwhelming rush of reality as it is, the inner person has to be renewed, strengthened, and trained. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom. Caterpillar and cocoon must be left behind.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sit down. Shut Up. Hold On.

Wait on the LORD;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the LORD!

-- Psalm 27:14

God is never in a hurry. Nobody in heaven ever panics.

We are made in the image and likeness of God, but we are differentiated in this movement, this dance of time. Our hearts do grow weak, and our courage does fail us. Fear grows in us, and we say with Jeremiah: Harvest has passed, summer has ended, but we have not been saved.

I might fake bravery when I don’t have time to think about it. Fearlessness in the split second it takes to act can be beneficial. Waiting, though, takes the starch out of us; we wilt in waiting.

I am sure when Lazarus lay sick and dying, he and his sisters sent for Jesus in great faith and fortitude. Their hearts were strong and filled with hope. But the days dragged on as Lazarus grew weaker physically. Those standing by felt their faith grow weaker. When he died, their courage might have lasted for a few hours – Jesus had raised the dead before. The fourth day dawned. The sisters were no fools. Decay had set in. Lazarus had not been saved.

It did not mean that they were without some hope of resurrection and heaven. When Jesus challenged Martha she acknowledged that her brother would rise with the righteous at the last day. Like the grieving sister, most of us still manage to say the right words, even the profound and truthful. We know we must get up in the morning and go on. If our strength is gone, we can still stumble forward, keep breathing in hope of something -- though it maybe no more than a few hours of unconsciousness in sleep. The truth is that a distance hope of grand realities may be less sustaining, at times, than a near hope of a cup of coffee.

How often do I look at one thing or another and say it is too far gone. It can never come back. My inclination is to give up and turn away. Or just give up and embrace the hell of hopelessness. Wait. If I can’t keep from crying, I’ll cry -- and I’ll wait. If I am angry, I’m angry -- and I’ll wait. If I don’t understand, I’ll wait in ignorance. If I don’t know what to say, I’ll wait in silence. That’s always a good idea: shut up and wait. If I can’t wait another hour, I’ll wait five more minutes.

Wait, I say, on the LORD!

He doesn’t call us to have momentary, acute courage. We have to have chronic courage, sometimes for days, weeks, or grinding years. God is hushed; hushed is not silent. God is not rushed, but He is not unmoved.

It is the grinding pressure of time that makes a diamond -- and it is not done yet, for it must be cut. He doesn’t hurry, and He always gets it right – right on time.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Diversion -- Mizzou March Madness

It was obvious that the Tigers were going to win last night. I had predicted it for days. Except, I must admit, I predicted it would be the Memphis Tigers instead of those black-and-gold guys. Disclosure: I and at least three other family members are MU alumni.

This is the first time Missouri has been in the NCAA Tournament since 2003 when Quinn Snyder finally succeeded in destroying what was left of Norm Stewart's program.

The Tigers have twice before made the Elite Eight (in the 64-team era) -- 1994 under Stewart (losing in OT to Arizona), and under Snyder -- with the remnants of Stewart's efforts in 2002 -- losing to Tiger-nemesis Oklahoma. If it sounds like I am disdainful of Snyder, that is misleading. I actively despise Quinn (or possibly Quin) Snyder.

Stewart was a great coach during the season, and he always knew his conference opponents well. He never seemed to take the Tournament as seriously, and the Tigers lost a lot of first round games most fans thought they should have won. The alumni respected Stewart because he brought in genuine student athletes and knew how to get the most out of mid-range players -- 'Moon' McCrary, who eventually became the police chief of Columbia, MO, is a good example. Stewart generally ran a good program, and, most importantly, he usually managed to beat Kansas at least once a year.

Mike Anderson, who apparently was paying attention when he worked with Nolan Richardson, came in 2006 and has quickly rebuilt the program after Snyder's recruiting violations and indiscretions. Anderson seems like a very decent man, and I am happy for him and for the team.

Now Missouri is set to play UConn. I am not hopeful. I do have a fantasy, however. It is one that many Mizzou fans would donate a kidney to see. No, not Missouri winning a National Championship. That would be really nice, and we would be thrilled. In our fantasy, the Jayhawks beat Michigan State tonight, and Missouri manages to get past an extremely good Connecticut team Saturday.

There is no rivalry in sports like MU-KU basketball. The football Sooners and the Longhorns -- interesting, but not in the same league. Redskins and Cowboys? Ha. Alabama vs. Auburn? Who?

Nope, the Missouri-Kansas conflict has roots that go back 150 years to the real Border War. It's not even fair to call it a rivalry. Missouri graduates who have married KU grads know that it doesn't matter how sweet, kind, and loving your spouse is every other day of the year, when Mizzou and Kansas meet on the court, it's time to hide the sharp implements.

Just imagine the horror and dread that will haunt the minds of the Jayhawks and their adherents for an entire week, knowing they have to face the Tigers in the FINAL FOUR. [Insert maniacal laughter here]. Unless you have seen Missouri and Kansas play, you cannot appreciate the intensity of this potential battle. It won't be a game. It's never just a game even in the regular season. We are talking blood-on-the-floor intense. We're talking about people being thrown out of the game for vicious fouls -- heck, that's just in the bleachers before the clock starts.

And then, imagine if Kansas is knocked out of the Final Four by Missouri. Ho, I can hardly type for the sheer joy of the thought. My fingers tremble. My eyes are blinded by a golden cloud of glory. Should that unlikely event transpire, undertakers around the country would experience a huge run on funerals -- not from the heartsick Jayhawkers, but from Mizzou graduates who would die happy.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reflections on Reflections

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror; for he looks at himself, goes away, and right away forgets what kind of man he was. – James 1:22-24

Many years ago Mack Davis sang about how hard it is to be humble when one is “perfect in every way”. The subject of the song asserted that he could not wait to look in the mirror because he got better looking each day. For many of us, holding in our minds an image of what we look like in the mirror, especially first thing in the morning, is probably not a good idea. The looking glass on the bathroom wall is not a true reflection of who I am. (Thank God!) One obstacle is that the reflection is two dimensional. I have learned, over the years, how to interpret the flat image so I can see the depth, but I can be fooled, just as we are often fooled by movie model-makers and their sets. But the mirror image is deceptive in more important ways. The mirror shows only the outside, which is getting a little time-worn, as I mentioned yesterday. In fact, I’m glad I didn’t have to pay a security deposit on this body because I don’t think I’d be getting it back.

If I want to see a true reflection of who I am I need to forget the mirror and go to the Bible. Often we talk as if the Scripture presents an ideal, a very lofty perfection which we should strive toward but never expect to really achieve “in this life”. I suppose that is true, in a way, but it is misleading. Instead, as we study the Word we see ourselves as we are in reality, or, Reality. We are not being saved; we are saved – we just haven’t fully realized it yet. We know that Christ is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Colossians 3:1), and, if we are in Him, we are right there as well.

I am not what the mind parasites or the devil says I am. I am not what the world says I am. I am not even what my reflection in the mirror, my friends, my family, or my spouse says I am.

I am what the word of God says I am. And the best reflection of who I am can be seen in the Gospels – not in Peter, not in John or Andrew, Philip, or even Judas, but in Jesus. The Lord came and said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Whose life? Not God’s, but man’s. Though He was God before, during and after the Incarnation, He became a man, referring to Himself most often as the Son of Man. Jesus reveals to us the truth about ourselves. He shows us humanity’s true way of life. Jesus says that for us to live as He lived is to be true to ourselves.

We have, as James points out, forgotten what we are. The world is full of distractions to keep us from remembering. Some would have us believe we are mere animals, or even less than animals. Some will tell us we are slaves. Our addictions and our habits whisper lies to us day and night. Intense emotions and passions course through us reinforcing illusions – both fantastically fair and frightfully foul. If we want to stay in bondage to the material world, we’ll get plenty of help.

But if, one day, we wake up and decide that freedom is better than slavery, that reality is preferable to illusion, there is a Way home: Live the Life of Jesus.

Do what Jesus did.

Not in some maudlin, sappy, melodramatic, in-His-steps-WWJD attempt to “please God” or “do the right thing” or “help others”. That is stupid socialist religious bullshit.

Do it because that is by God who you are. Do it so you won’t forget who you are.

But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who acts – this person will be blessed in what he does (James 1:25).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

There's a New Sheriff in Town

A devious heart will be far
from me;
I will not be involved
with evil.
I will destroy anyone
who secretly slanders
his neighbor;
I cannot tolerate anyone
with haughty eyes
or an arrogant heart. …

No one who acts deceitfully
will live in my palace;
no one who tells lies
will remain in my presence.
Every morning I will destroy
all the wicked of the land,
eliminating all evildoers
from the LORD’s city. – Psalm 101:4-8

A walk in the Holy Spirit is not only not committing sin but also not allowing self to abide. The Holy Spirit can manifest His power solely in those who live by Him. Whoever walks by his natural strength cannot expect to witness the mighty realities of the Holy Spirit. We need to be released from everything natural as well as from everything sinful. If we insist in walking according to man – not just the sinful, but the all-inclusive natural man – we reject the rule of the Holy Spirit in our lives. How can He exhibit His power if we are set free from sin and yet continue think as “men”, desire as “men” desire, live and work as “men” do? We are not leaning entirely upon the Holy Spirit of God to work in us. If we genuinely desire the fullness we first must break the all-pervasive influence of the soul. – Excerpt from The Spiritual Man by Watchman Nee (emphasis added)

The quote from Psalm 101 sounds like one of those good old Old Testament theocratic, social conservative rants. The nutroots might read that and think it is exactly the mindset of Mike Huckabee or Alan Keyes or the Mormon hordes threatening the Great Ball of California. Of course, we are learning that it is really the Collectivists of the left who can’t tolerate disagreement or individuality, but that’s not my topic for the day – except maybe indirectly.

Psalm 101 is the song of a righteous king determined to drive out the lying and the deceitful, the wicked and arrogant. OK, what better place to begin such a purging than my own self? I look in the mirror and am reminded of the blues song that says, “I’m built for comfort. I ain’t built for speed.” My “palace” may be a little weather-beaten and rundown these days. I can’t do much with the exterior; it’s keeping the rain out at least. I can still keep up the interior, knocking down the cobwebs and mopping the floors.

My greatest struggle within my own quaint little city of Mansoul is with those denizens who lie and deceive. When Nee talks about the natural man and the self, he is talking about that which is derived from the Real. It is a mistake to take the self seriously. By doing so, destructive illusions and great confusion are wrought in the world. The soul will be a pompous ass, if allowed. The self has a purpose, but it is not to rule. The soul is meant to serve the spirit, not the other way around. The natural usurps power over the real by deceit. Like the king in the Psalm, I need to get up every morning and run those liars out of town.

If I would walk in the Spirit and live in peace, I must embrace truth, and it is sometimes blunt and brutal. I can give deception, or the deceptive self no quarter. Since by the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:17). There is, in Christ, life-giving justification for everyone, power to live the abundant, Spirit-ruled life free from the strangling lies and murderous pride of the natural man.

Here comes the Son.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Peace Inside Out

They have treated superficially the brokenness of My dear people, claiming: Peace, peace, when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they acted so abhorrently? They weren’t at all ashamed. They can no longer feel humiliation. Therefore, they will fall among the fallen. When I punish them, they will collapse, says the LORD. – Jeremiah 8:11-12

Americans are nothing if not shallow. It’s almost a badge of honor these days. Skin-deep relationships are considered normal and acceptable. The effects of our rampant superficiality range from religion to education, politics to medicine.

Education is shallow because it is about graduation rates, competency tests, and SAT scores rather than teaching citizens to think and grow intellectually. Politicians refuse to govern by principles, focusing, instead, on polls and short-term fixes. Responding to the current problem is much easier and more lucrative than addressing the underlying cause. The same is true of medicine which finds there is more money in treating symptoms than in curing people or preventing illness. Religion, too, has abandoned foundational issues to work on creating positive results.

Pragmatism is misleading. A few nights past Larry King was talking to Donald Trump about Bernie Madoff – an unholy trinity if ever there was one. King was complaining that he had lost money in Madoff’s vast Ponzi scheme. Trump was almost mocking the fact that Larry had invested in the scam. Larry’s response was: “He never had a down month.” Trump gleefully countered, he never had an up month either. The collapse of Wall Street was the result of “pragmatic” investment strategies. The current bankrupting of the United States government is a “pragmatic” response to the economic collapse.

A steroid user looks like a robust, strong, healthy person – for a while. Someday the price must be paid. Pumping chemicals into the body or surgically enhancing it seems practical. It appears to have the same results as clean, healthy living. It appears to prolong youth and beauty.

When the soul is seriously diseased and deeply wounded, the inclination is to seek immediate relief and salve over the problem. If we follow the pop culture, and even pop religion trend, we will ignore the depth and seriousness of the injury. We will fool our friends, and perhaps even ourselves with happy self-talk and a cleaned up appearance. Like the Black Knight we insist it is a mere scratch – merely a flesh wound. The wound it covered over with positive thoughts, television trances, incessant activities, achievement, and good deeds.

Prayer and meditation are shunned because they will show us the malignancy of our condition. There is nothing pragmatic or practical about spending time, alone and silent, in the presence of God. It seems pointless at best. It may even be painful. Who wants to dredge up faults and flaws and failures? It sounds like the old joke. If it hurts when you do that, then don’t do it. If it hurts when I thoroughly examine my heart, then skip the examination and go on as if I were all right.

But God says I am not all right. Saying, “Peace” does not give me peace. Look, God is the Healer. That’s what He does, but He cannot heal where I do not allow Him access, if I do not allow the probe to go all the way to the festering rot at the bottom. The Lord heals from the inside out. As long as my “religion” is external and practical, results-oriented or performance-based, I will remain mortally wounded.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Mountain I Will Show You

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he answered.

“Take your son,” He said, “your only son Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” -- Genesis 22:1-2

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; he who had received the promises was offering up his unique son, about whom it had been said, In Isaac you seed will be called. He considered God to be able even to raise someone from the dead … -- Hebrews 11:17-19

We could ignore unanswered prayer. We could assume that whatever it is we are praying for is not according to God’s will. We could move on and if not forget at least learn to live without that answer. Abraham had believed God and seen the promise fulfilled. He had obeyed the Lord in disinheriting and sending away Ishmael, the son of flesh, Adam in type, the old man. Now, here was Isaac, son of the spirit, son of obedience and faith, and God tells Abraham the only son whom he loves must be given up.

I would complain. I would say, Wait, this is not what I created out of my own power and ability. This is what You gave me, Lord. If You didn’t want me to have this, why give it in the first place? Why allow me to possess, cherish, depend upon, and love this gift then demand that I give it back? It is incomprehensible.

Though it seems reasonable to question such a demand, we have no record of any struggle Abraham had. He got up early in the morning and set out. Surely that must have been a trip that was both too long and too short. Traveling with his son by his side, Abraham would have listened to the young man’s pleasant voice talking about one thing and another, knowing there was a hill yet unseen they would have to climb, knowing the knife he carried would spill his own son’s blood, not in anger but in obedience. I can’t imagine the torment. He was a better man than I.

Abraham understood God as almighty, the One not hampered or hindered by anything. But, it is equally true, the One who cannot be helped by anything. It had finally come home to Abraham that he was not able to do anything, either good or bad apart from his God. We can cooperate with God’s will or oppose it. He will get the job done regardless. Our opposition will cause us pain, but it cannot alter His ultimate purpose. No matter how much our assistance or resistance appears to accomplish temporarily, in the end we have not moved anything.

It is easy enough for us to understand the need for purification from the lusts of the flesh, for separation from the world, the flesh, and the devil – easy to understand, not so easy to do sometimes. Sending Ishmael away makes sense at least, no matter how painful it may be for us. In place of the flesh, the Lord gives us gifts of the Spirit. He gives us peace and assurance. He brings people into our lives. We have love and joy and fellowship.

The thing is, at some point, we must choose between the gifts and the Giver. If we walk with the Lord long enough, we will endure the long, dark night of the soul. We must be willing to relinquish the gifts and blessings of the Lord, even His presence for a time. We will find ourselves in a valley facing a long, steep climb to a place we do not want to go. We believe in God the Creator, who calls things into existence that do not exist. We must learn at last to believe in Him who is the Resurrection, who gives life to the dead. Then, like Abraham, we will cling to nothing except Him, and we will face, not only our own death, but every little death, and death itself without fear.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Playing With Fire

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his own firepan, put fire in it, placed incense on it, and presented unauthorized fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them to do. Then flames leaped from the LORD’s presence and burned them to death before the LORD. – Leviticus 10:1-2

This is one of those Old Testament stories many of us find disturbing and perhaps a little bizarre. What does “unauthorized fire” involve? Some translations use profane instead of unauthorized. The firepan held coals or embers. They were supposed to take coals from off the altar of burnt offering, then sprinkle incense over them to create an aromatic smoke, representing prayer offered to turn away the Lord’s judgment upon sin. Instead, the priests took coals, perhaps from a cooking fire or some other source on which to offer the incense. No big deal, right? Apparently it was a very big deal. Additionally, I have been told, the phrase “which He had not commanded them to do” is somewhat idiomatic and the meaning is closer to “which He had strictly forbidden them to do”.

If their punishment seems a little harsh, it should be kept in mind that these were the priests who entered into the sanctuary before the Lord – a position of both high privilege and high responsibility, and not something to be taken lightly. Reading further in Leviticus 10 we find a suggestion that Nadab and Abihu may have been drunk and acted recklessly, perhaps even attempting to enter the Holy of Holies counter to the Lord’s command. In any case, God required that His symbols not be treated lightly, without respect and understanding.

Like the wayward priests, many of us give little thought to the foundation of prayer. Under the prior covenants, the basis of prayer was the altar, the place of sacrifice where man acknowledged that the flesh was dead and nothing more than fuel for the fire. The old nature is symbolically consumed in the fire of the Spirit, and prayers rise as smoke from that fire. In fact I suspect that if I am indwelt by the Spirit of God, I can no more refrain from praying than fire can fail to produce smoke. The more of my old life I am feeding to the flames, the more intense will be my prayers.

The basis of prayer today is not a temple altar on which dead animals are offered, but the Cross. Christ’s offering of Himself produces, we might say, the coals that burn in our hearts, on which our prayers are offered before the Lord.

As Nadab and Abihu learned, prayers offered apart from the life-giving Spirit are dead and worthless. Yet there is no need to offer “strange fire” to God. When Jesus instructed us on prayer, He cautioned: don’t be like the hypocrites, praying to be seen or to impress others. Instead we should pray in private, recognizing the presence of our Father and relying on Him alone. We are not to babble like the idolaters. We’re not flattering some weak, fickle human monarch. Our heavenly Father cares for us. He permeates our lives by His Spirit. He is aware of our needs and waits only for us to express our dependence upon Him and our willingness to be shaped by and in His will.

When Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal, he said, “The god who answers by fire, let Him be God.” Yes, it is a dangerous proposition. It’s playing with fire.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An Interpreter of Life

This is from the introduction to an old anthology of poetry. It struck me as being quite coonish and as expressing what used to be fairly common knowledge but now seems almost wildly radical.

Poetry, music, and painting are three correlated arts, connected not merely by an accidental classification, but by their intrinsic nature. For they all possess the same essential function, namely, to interpret the uninterpretable, to reveal the undiscoverable, to express the inexpressible. They all attempt, in different forms and through different languages, to translate the invisible and eternal into sensuous forms, and through sensuous forms to produce in other souls experiences akin to those in the soul of the translator, be he poet, musician, or painter. That they are three correlated arts, attempting, each in its own way and by its own language, to express the same essential life, is indicated by their co-operation in the musical drama. This is the principle which Wagner saw so clearly, and has used to such effective purpose in his so-called operas, whose resemblance to the Italian operas which preceded them is more superficial than real. In the drama Wagner wishes you to consider neither the music apart from the scenery, nor the scenery apart from the acting, nor the three apart from the poetry. Poetry, music, and art combine with the actor to interpret truths of life which transcend philosophic definition. Thus in the first act of "Parsifal," innocence born of ignorance, remorse born of the experience of temptation and sin, and reverence bred in an atmosphere not innocent yet free from the experience of great temptation, mingle in a drama which elevates all hearts, because in some one of these three phases it touches every heart. And yet certain of the clergy condemned the presentation as irreverent, because it expresses reverence in a symbolism to which they were unaccustomed.

But while it is true that these three arts are correlative and co-operative, they do not duplicate one another. Each not only speaks in a language of its own, but expresses in that language a life which the others cannot express. As color and fragrance combine to make the flower, but the color expresses what the fragrance cannot express, and the fragrance expresses what the color cannot express, so in the musical drama, music, poetry, and painting combine, not by duplicating but by supplementing each other. One may describe in language a symphony; but no description will produce the effect which the symphony produces. One may describe a painting; but no description will produce the effect which the painting will produce. So neither music, nor painting, nor both combined, can produce the same effect on the soul as poetry. The "Midsummer Night's Dream" enacted in pantomime, with Mendelssohn's music, would no more produce the same effect on the auditors which would be produced by the interpretation of the play in spoken words, than would the reading of the play at home produce the same effect as the enacting of the play with what are miscalled the accessories of music and scenery. The music and scenery are no more accessories to the words than the words are accessories to the music and scenery. The three combine in a triple language to express and produce one life, and it can be expressed and produced in no other way than by the combination of the three arts in harmonious action. This is the reason why no parlor readings can ever take the place of the theatre, and no concert performance can ever take the place of the opera. This is the reason why all attempts to suppress the theatre and opera are and always will be in vain. They are attempts to suppress the expression and awakening of a life which can neither be expressed nor awakened in any other way; and suppression of life, however successfully it may be accomplished for a time, is never permanently possible.

These arts do not truly create, they interpret. Man is not a creator, he is only a discoverer. The imagination is not creative, it is only reportorial. Ideals are realities; imagination is seeing. The musician, the artist, the poet, discover life which others have not discovered, and each with his own instrument interprets that life to those less sensitive than himself. Observe a musician composing. He writes; stops; hesitates; meditates; perhaps hums softly to himself; perhaps goes to the piano and strikes a chord or two. What is he doing? He is trying to express to himself a beauty which he has heard in the world of infinite phenomena, and to reproduce it as well as sensuous sounds can reproduce it, that those with duller hearing than himself may hear it also. Observe a painter before his easel. He paints; looks to see the effect; erases; adds; modifies; reexamines; and repeats this operation over and over again. What is he doing? He is copying a beauty which he has seen in the invisible world, and which he is attempting to bring out from its hiding so that the men who have no eyes except for the sensuous may also see it. In my library is an original sonnet by John G. Whittier. In almost every line are erasures and interlineations. In some cases the careful poet has written a new line and pasted it over the rejected one. What does this mean? It means that he has discovered a truth of moral beauty and is attempting to interpret his discovery to the world. His first interpretation of his vision did not suit him, nor his second, nor his third, and he has revised and re-revised in the attempt to make his verse a true interpretation of the truth which he had seen. He did not make the truth; it eternally was. Neither did the musician make the truth of harmony, nor the painter the truth of form and color. They also eternally were. Poet, musician, painter, have seen, heard, felt, realized in their own souls some experience of life, some potent reality which philosophy cannot formulate, nor creed contain, nor eloquence define; and each in his own way endeavors to give it to the world of men; each in his own way endeavors to lift the gauzy curtain, impenetrable to most souls, which hides the invisible, the inaudible, the eternal, the divine from men; and he gives them a glimpse of that of which he himself had but a glimpse.

In one sense and in one only can art be called creative: the artist, whether he be painter, musician, or poet, so interprets to other men the experience which has been created in him by his vision of the supersensible and eternal, that he evokes in them a similar experience. He is a creator only as he conveys to others the life which has been created in himself. As the electric wire creates light in the home; as the band creates the movement in the machinery; thus and only thus does the artist create life in those that wait upon him. He is in truth an interpreter and transmitter, not a creator. Nor can he interpret what he has not first received, nor transmit what he has not first experienced. The music, the painting, the poem are merely the instruments which he uses for that purpose. The life must first be in him or the so-called music, painting, poem are but dead simulacra; imitations of art, not real art. This is the reason why no mechanical device, be it never so skillfully contrived, can ever take the place of the living artist. The pianola can never rival the living performer; nor the orchestrion the orchestra; nor the chromo the painting. No mechanical device has yet been invented to produce poetry; even if some shrewd Yankee should invent a printing machine which would pick out rhymes as some printing machines seem to pick out letters, the result would not be a poem. This is the reason too why mere perfection of execution never really satisfies. "She sings like a bird." Yes! and that is exactly the difficulty with her. We want one who sings like a woman. The popular criticism of the mere musical expert that he has no soul, is profound and true. It is soul we want; for the piano, the organ, the violin, the orchestra, are only instruments for the transmission of soul. This is also the reason why the most flawless conductor is not always the best. He must have a soul capable of reading the soul of the composer; and the orchestra must receive the life of the composer as that is interpreted to them through the life of the conductor, or the performance will be a soulless performance.

Into each of these arts, therefore--music, painting, poetry--enter two elements: the inner and the outer, the truth and the language, the reality and the symbol, the life and the expression. Without the electric current the carbon is a mere blank thread; the electric current is not luminous if there be no carbon. The life and the form are alike essential. So the painter must have something to express, but he must also have skill to express it; the musician must have music in his soul, but he must also have a power of instrumentation; the poet must feel the truth, or he is no poet, but he must also have power to express what he feels in such forms as will create a similar feeling in his readers, or he is still no poet. Multitudes of women send to the newspapers poetical effusions which, are not poems. The feeling of the writer is excellent, but the expression is bad. The writer has seen, but she cannot tell what she has seen; she has felt, but she cannot express her experience so as to enkindle a like experience in others. These poetical utterances of inarticulate poets are sometimes whimsical but oftener pathetic; sometimes they are like the prattle of little children who exercise their vocal organs before they have anything to say; but oftener they seem to me like the beseeching eyes of a dumb animal, full of affection and entreaty for which he has no vocal expression. It is just as essential that poetical feeling should have poetical expression in order to constitute poetry as it is that musical feeling should have musical expression in order to constitute music. And, on the other hand, as splashes of color without artistic feeling which they interpret are not art, as musical, sounds without musical feeling which they interpret are not music, so poetical forms without poetical feeling are not poetry. Poetical feeling in unpoetical forms may be poetical prose, but it is still prose. And on the other hand, rhymes, however musical they may be to the ear, are only rhymes, not poetry, unless they express a true poetical life.

But these two elements are separable only in thought, not in reality. Poetry is not common thought expressed in an uncommon manner; it is not an artificial phrasing of even the higher emotions. The higher emotions have a phrasing of their own; they fall naturally--whether as the result of instinct or of habit need not here be considered--into fitting forms. The form may be rhyme; it may be blank verse; it may be the old Hebrew parallelism; it may even be the indescribable form which Walt Whitman has adopted. What is noticeable is the fact that poetical thought, if it is at its best, always takes on, by a kind of necessity, some poetical form. To illustrate if not to demonstrate this, it is only necessary to select from literature any fine piece of poetical expression of a higher and nobler emotion, or of clear and inspiring vision, and attempt to put it into prose form. The reader will find, if he be dealing with the highest poetry, that translating it into prose impairs its power to express the feeling, and makes the expression not less but more artificial. If he doubt this statement, let him turn to any of the finer specimens of verse in this volume and see whether he can express the life in prose as truly, as naturally, as effectively, as it is there expressed in rhythmical form.

These various considerations may help to explain why in all ages of the world the arts have been the handmaidens of religion. Not to amplify too much, I have confined these considerations to the three arts of music, painting, and poetry; but they are also applicable to sculpture and architecture. All are attempts by men of vision to interpret to the men who are not equally endowed with vision, what the invisible world about us and within us has for the enrichment of our lives. This is exactly the function of religion: to enrich human lives by making them acquainted with the infinite. It is true that at times the arts have been sensualized, the emphasis has been put on the form of expression, not on the life expressed; and then reformers, like the Puritans and the Quakers, have endeavored to exclude the arts from religion, lest they should contaminate it. But the exclusion has been accomplished with difficulty, and to maintain it has been impossible. It is neither an accident, nor a sign of decadence, that painting and sculpture are creeping back into the Protestant churches, to combine with poetry and music in expressing the religious life of man. For the intellect alone is inadequate either to express that life as it exists, or to call it into existence where it does not exist. The tendency to ritual in our time is a tendency not to substitute aesthetic for spiritual life, though there is probably always a danger that such a substitution may be unconsciously made, but to express a religious life which cannot be expressed without the aid of aesthetic symbols. The work of the intellect is to analyze and define. But the infinite is in the nature of the case indefinable, and it is with the infinite religion has to do. All that theology can hope to accomplish is to define certain provinces in the illimitable realm of truth; to analyze certain experiences in a life which transcends all complete analysis. The Church must learn to regard not with disfavor or suspicion, but with eager acceptance, the co-operation of the arts in the interpretation of infinite truth and the expression of infinite life. Certainly we are not to turn our churches into concert rooms or picture and sculpture galleries, and imagine that aesthetic enjoyment is synonymous with piety. But as surely we are not to banish the arts from our churches, and think that we are religious because we are barren. All language, whether of painting, sculpture, architecture, music, poetry, or oratory, is legitimately used to express the divine life, as all the faculties, whether of painter, sculptor, architect, musician, poet, orator, and philosopher, are to be used in reaching after a more perfect knowledge of Him who always transcends and always will transcend our perfect knowing.

-- From “An Interpreter of Life” by Lyman Abbott, the introduction to a 1904 collection called The World’s Best Poetry, Volume III

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


So they sent this message to Joseph, “Before he died your father gave a command: ‘Please forgive your brothers’ transgression and their sin – the wrong they have caused you.’ Therefore, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when their message came to him. Then his brothers also came to him, bowed down before him, and said, “We are your slaves.”

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result – the survival of many people. Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. --Genesis 50:16-21

This is a theme that I come back to time and again. Understanding this concurrence between the will of man and the will of God was vital to me early in my life as a Christian. Yet, as convinced as I am of its truth, I still find myself struggling with it in daily practice.

It’s not the power and foresight of God that trouble me. I can believe that the manager of a baseball team will make the right moves, but there remains drama in the execution because, when it comes right down to it, it must be up to the hitters, the pitchers and the fielders. An analogy to baseball is inadequate but it illustrates the aspect that bothers me. When you think about it, how often has God’s plan through the ages hung by a thread? We have no idea how many times history has turned on a single decision by a single individual.

What if Joseph had been sold into slavery and decided to give it all up? What if he had abandoned his principles and taken advantage of the opportunity offered by Potiphar’s wife? What if his years in Egypt had left him callous and vindictive? What if being the prime minister of the most powerful empire on earth had gone to Joseph’s head? Does God have Plan B?

When Mordecai spoke to Esther about her role in delivering her people, he believed that if she failed to fulfill her purpose, God would raise up another deliverer for the Jews. Perhaps that is true. Certainly it appears that God has worked this way in times past, through the many dead-ends of evolution and the cyclical failures of human history. In the long run, God’s plan and purpose cannot be thwarted, and while that is reassuring in a general sense, it is less satisfying from my limited perspective.

If we consider the current state of the world, we realize that momentous decisions are being made by people who are apathetic or even antagonistic to the One True God – not in some limited sectarian sense, but they simply do not value absolute truth, and thus the foundation of that truth. Their decisions are based on political expediency and personal gain. This is nothing new. God must always work with such people, from Pharoah to Nero to Bozo. The scary thing is that I can fulfill my destiny regardless of how badly the politicians and the journalists screw things up.

Why is that scary? Consider that, however unlikely, we could find ourselves following the Lord through collapse and chaos, poverty, persecution, even unto death. At best we are likely to become more “European”, less free and independent, saddled with inflation and higher taxes. But our call to obedience will not lessen. I will still be able to pray and seek God. I will continue to be His child. I will still love my brothers and sisters. God isn’t going to change. Even if our branch of history has hit a wall, even if we have to take some steps back in terms of liberty and prosperity, the kingdom of God will move on.

It may seem that we have dead-ended. If that happens, the temptation will be great for me to say that my individual decisions no longer matter. And they may not. That’s the mystery of concurrence. But what I say, what I do, how I live, and my attitude toward God may, on the other hand, be some obscure, but pivotal point on which the doors of history swing. From inside I have no way of knowing. Could Joseph have seen his positive and godly attitude in Pharoah’s dungeons would save a nation? Could an unknown Roman soldier have understood the significance of plunging his spear into a dead man’s side? Could the individual soldiers of the 20th Maine have realized the weight of history that turned on a little rocky hill that 2nd of July? While I will never be in as significant a position as these people, I have no way of knowing how or where the little ripples that go out from my life might strike someone who does have a critical role to play.

Not knowing, I trust, and obey.

Its a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken,
Perhaps they're better left unsung.
I don't know, don't really care
Let there be songs to fill the air.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

From “Ripple” – The Grateful Dead

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Of Mice and Men

Paul Coughlin discusses the fact that masculinity is unwanted. Read the whole thing (and see the references to thumos below), but he concludes:
All of us—and especially men—must lay claim to thumos so that God’s grace in us can construct a new and dynamic person. Most of us will never fight a physical battle against an enemy; we will use our thumos, or not, for moral courage against both the evil spirit of the age that erodes human dignity and also against our own tendency to take the easy way through life, which halts spiritual growth. We must harness thumos to rise above the mediocre, trivial, social-club Christianity in which we too often find ourselves, shaking off the fearful and uninformed critics who worship comfort instead of truth. Because a shift is taking place: God is calling his people to fight for justice, and more and more of them are answering the call.

We have flexed compassion the world over to combat poverty and disease. But one of the most underreported reasons people’s lives are so desperate isn’t that they don’t have the ability to feed and educate themselves—it’s that others oppress them, rob them, maim them, and enslave them. Many don’t need more bags of rice—not ultimately. They, like the estimated twenty-seven million people in actual slavery, like the 160,000 kids who stay home daily from American schools for fear of being bullied, need justice to rain down upon them from the hands of righteous people who will fight on their behalf. That’s right, fight—one of evangelicalism’s most feared words and even more feared actions. We need the men to move first—that’s almost always how it works.

The concept of thumos is explained here, and in this Weekly Standard review of Harvey Mansfield's book Manliness:
"Manliness," [Mansfield] says, "is a quality that causes individuals to stand for something." The Greeks used the term thumos to denote the bristling, spirited element shared by human beings and animals that makes them fight back when threatened. It causes dogs to defend their turf; it makes human beings stand up for their kin, their religion, their country, their principles. "Just as a dog defends its master," writes Mansfield, "so the doggish part of the human soul defends human ends higher than itself."

Every human being possesses thumos. But those who are manly possess it in abundance, and sometimes in excess. The manly man is not satisfied to let things be as they are, and he makes sure everyone knows it. He invests his perception of injustice with cosmic importance.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Left Turn at Albuquerque

After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in every town where we have preached the message of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul did not think it appropriate to take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work. There was such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark and sailed off to Cyprus. Then Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers. He traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. – Acts 15:36-41

When we reach a certain level of spiritual maturity and see ourselves, correctly, as children of God in whom He dwells and through whom He expresses and experiences His will and purpose in creation, we are still apt to have disagreement and contentions from time to time. It may seem odd to us that there could be saints and sages who do not see eye-to-eye. There is only one Holy Spirit. Could He be in conflict with Himself? I once thought the answer simply was, No, He could not. If I knew I was walking in the Spirit and doing the Lord’s will, and I came in conflict with a brother or sister in the Lord, I assumed they were out of the will of God, backslidden, deluded, etc. To my credit, I suppose, I usually wasn’t so pig-headed that I didn’t at least question my own motives and direction. Still, if I appeared to be doing the right thing, I knew that anyone disagreeing with me had “missed God”.

John Mark had set out with Barnabas and Paul on their first journey, but he had not been able to endure. He had left them and gone home. When they prepared to set out again, Barnabas (his name means “son of encouragement”) wanted to give John Mark -- who was his cousin -- another chance, but Paul was unwilling. Perhaps Paul thought it unwise to rely on someone who did not stand up well to hardship. Even if he stuck it out this time, Mark might prove to be a burden or a hindrance to their work.

Barnabas was not the kind of man to see things that way. Keep in mind that after the dramatic conversion and calling of Saul of Tarsus, not everyone had welcomed Saul into the fold. He had gone down to Jerusalem but the disciples were afraid of him, thinking, reasonably, it might be a ploy to infiltrate the church. But someone stepped in: Barnabas, however, took him and brought him to the apostles and explained to them how, on the road, Saul had seen the Lord, and that He had talked to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus (Acts 9:27). Paul may have been the greatest Apostle and authored most of the New Testament, but only God knows how much the Church owes to the compassion, courage, and kindness of Barnabas.

With regard to John Mark, possibly Paul was a little harsh in his attitude. Perhaps he was the one who was wrong in this case. Or, perhaps both Paul and Barnabas were right. Looking back on it, we can see that Barnabas’ work with Paul was done. He had accomplished the Lord’s purpose. Now it was time for them to part ways. Paul needed to go on, to take Silas with him, to encounter Dr. Luke, to add Timothy to his company. Meanwhile Barnabas had work in Cyprus, and Mark had a gospel to author.

Jesus cautions us not to judge lest we be judged. This is a warning crucial for the Body of Christ. The life of God is, by design, filtered through human clay. Each of us fulfills a particular calling in the multifaceted purpose and plan of God. Even if we are all perfectly obedient we will never be a clone of anyone else. From physique to brain capacity, from emotional makeup to life experiences, God built each one of us as a carrier of His life and consciousness without equivalent. All rivers carry water but no two cover the same ground or are configured in the same way.

Our eccentricities and our weaknesses are as much a part of God’s intent as our talents and strengths. Anything that hinders the Spirit must be removed, but not those things that – for want of a better word, filter God’s pure and limitless potential. We will not lose our personalities.

I am reminded again of the passage in chapter 21 of John’s Gospel where, after Jesus has restored Peter and told him something of his destiny, Peter asks about John, “And what shall this man do?”

Jesus replied to all of us, “What is that to you? As for you, follow Me.”

Too many of us almost cannot help ourselves. We think everyone should follow our path instead of following the Lord. Sometimes the fundamentalist will deride the concept of “many paths, one light”. We’ve probably all heard about the hillbilly giving directions who says, “You can’t get there from here. You’ll have to go some place else and start over.” Each one of us starts from “some place else”. If Jesus appeared in Dallas today, we would all have to take different means and different roads to get there (and hope it doesn’t involve 75/Central). It’s not the road we take it’s where we are headed that counts. Certainly if I meet someone here headed to Las Vegas, I can tell them they are on the wrong road. But from somewhere else a person might have to pass through there.

I should do what I can to help -- strengthen the weak, sustain the weary, and share a flashlight and a map with the lost, but I have to be careful about judging and trying to direct the lives of others. It is usually best to leave someone else’s route and itinerary to the Lord.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Live Hard Or Die Trying

No disaster overcomes the righteous, but the wicked are full of misery – Proverbs 12:21

That is obviously not true. We all know, don’t we, that doing the right thing is no guarantee of success or of protection from evil. Good people are murdered in their sleep. Bad people get MBA’s and law degrees.

At least that is what I think at first glance, especially if I read it in the King James -- There shall no evil happen to the just. If, though we consider the second phrase which states that the wicked are filled with trouble and misery, this is true. I hope I don’t know what goes on in the mind of a psychopath, but in general, the wicked are miserable. One look at the face of Bill Maher (reputed bastard spawn of Marty Feldman and Hooker Smurf) should convince most anyone of that. Since I use Maher as an example, you can understand that by wicked I am not talking about some kid smoking reefer down on the corner, or those who make mistakes and do things that are foolish. The unrighteous are possessed of a filthy, degrading spirit, a warped, self-aggrandizing sense of justice. They are hate-filled bearers of false witness, mockers, and traitors.

Among the wicked are those who purposely remove all the old landmarks because they do not like boundaries. They reject the foundational moral truths of society as hindrances to their desires. They do this not realizing these delimiters create the patterns for deriving meaning from life. By casting away the markers they become lost in a pointless world of excess and emotion. Liketakingoutallthespacesbetweenwordsandthennotcontentwiththatfurthergimnorzadni.

And we wonder why they are petty, ugly, confused, and crazy.

OK, so the wicked are miserable losers. What about the righteous? Does disaster or evil overcome the just?

As Petey often says, there is none good but God. Jesus, the Righteous One, was crucified by the sins of man. Yet He overcame evil. In Romans 12:21, Paul tells us, Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good. I know I reference this verse frequently, and I repeat so often because it is possibly the most difficult for me to internalize. I want to overcome evil the way John McClane did in Die Hard. I want to beat it at its own game. I want to smack it down and gloat over it. And sometimes it is necessary to fight back in a physical way when the innocent are threatened. When a person with a weapon goes berserk, the proper response is to put him down as rapidly and efficiently as possible.

By far, though, most conflicts with evil are not like that. Wickedness takes many forms apart from bloodshed and death. Far better, on a personal level, to respond to slights, insults, and unfairness with truth, love, and forgiveness – not necessarily in that order – than to climb into the pit with one’s attacker.

So once again God is right and I am wrong. The righteous are never conquered by evil for they see beyond today's trials and failures. At the end of the road is another road. We trust in the ultimate justice of God, in His wisdom, grace, and power, first to see us through this life and enable us to overcome in Christ, and then to ultimately set things right where "the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest".

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Truth Has A Depth Charge

Teach me Your way, LORD, and I will live by Your truth. Give me an undivided mind to fear Your name. – Psalm 86:11

The talent of the illusionist is to hold the attention of the audience and focus it where he wants it. An illusion is effective because what we see is more convincing than what we know.

Even as we seek the truth, we find what our eyes see so convincing that our mind is too often divided. James reminds us: For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. I have more than once gained some insight only to be overwhelmed by the winds of circumstances, driven away from a solid anchorage in a gale of doubt when it came time to live by the truth I knew. Knowing the truth will set us free when we know to the point that our mind is undivided.

The illusion today is that things are out of control. This is the case for me personally, and, I suspect, for many others on a grander scale. It appears that chaos reigns, from senseless acts of violence to crashing financial markets to incompetent, power-hungry politicians. Who can but wonder: is anyone at the helm?

On a personal level, I see the people around me, the people I love, trapped in illusions. They are cast about from one crisis to another, suffering, yet refusing even the attempt to live by the truth, saying, in effect, there is no reality beyond the shifting relativity of the surface. I am rejected because I refuse to agree with their point of view and offer them, instead, a place to stand on the solid Rock. They would grasp the wind in their defiant fist as they are blown they know not where.

The psalmist called on the Lord to teach him His truth. The writer may have regretted that prayer, for when the Lord sets out to teach us, He teaches by trial and experience. James reminds us again: Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work … (James 1:3-4).

Endurance, patience, perseverance – to be tried is to be delivered from a divided mind.

Why am I caught off guard or surprised by the trial that follows my insight? Of course if the Lord is teaching me He will send the trial to make the new understanding real, to incorporate the truth in my very being, my heart rather than in my head.

Do not be surprised. Each time the low gong sounds it calls us to the arena. It is the shallow intellectual in me that fails to realize grasping truth is a little like Bilbo taking treasure from the dragon’s lair. It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations.

It could be that we have the beginnings of an awakening, both of truth and the trials that accompany it.

I been standin’ on the rock
Waitin’ for the wind to blow.
I been standin’ on the rock
Waitin’ for the wind to blow.
I been standin’ on the rock
Waitin’ for my seeds to grow.

--“Standin’ on the Rock”, John Dillon (Ozark Mountain Daredevils)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What the Pimp and the Philanthropist Have in Common

They are fierce and terrifying; their views of justice and authority stem from themselves – Habbakuk 1:7

Because they disregarded the righteousness from God and attempted to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness – Romans 10:3

Just as God hates unrighteousness, so He abhors self-righteousness (Watchman Nee).

I looked toward God and saw that I was far from Him. I thought I could do better. I read. I studied. I taught. I instructed the weak and stumbling. I became a pretty good person, certainly I was vastly improved over the way I had been before. I could see where other people were missing it, and I used my experience to help them.

One day the devil’s own Chaldean cavalry rode up in a cloud of dust, and, because they were more powerful, looked to no authority higher than themselves, and judged themselves by human standards, they took me captive. I prayed to the Lord, called upon His Name, and questioned why this had happened to me. Had I not been faithful in giving? Had I not been doing the Lord’s work? Had I not served? Had I not done beautiful things?

There I lay in a dark hole, trussed up like a hog for butchering, helpless. The Lord came to me. ‘What do you think is the problem?’ He asked.

I’ll tell you the truth, I thought I was hallucinating. Why would the Lord ask such a question? But I replied with respect, ‘As You can see, I have been taken captive, bound, and thrown into a dungeon. I should like very much, Lord, to go free.’

The Lord is a light unto Himself. I could see that He pressed His lips together and nodded. ‘I am trying to free you, son.’

I thought to myself, He’s God, ain’t He got a pocketknife? But I said calmly, ‘Since You are here anyway, couldn’t You just untie me and carry me out of this hole?’

He smiled. ‘No, son. You see, I’m the One who sent the devil after you in the first place.’

‘Pardon me, Lord, I am afraid I misunderstood You. You make it sound like You want me in this filthy hole. I could die down here.’

Again the Lord smiled, ‘That’s the idea.’

[A]nd be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:9).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How to Light a Candle with a Lightning Bolt

Right away a leper came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

Reaching out His hand He touched him, saying, “I am willing; be made clean.” Immediately his disease was healed.

Then Jesus told him, “See that you don’t tell anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses prescribed, as a testimony to them.” – Matthew 8:2-4

Perhaps God can meet our need, but will He? We do wonder for the mind of God is mysterious beyond our understanding. Experience leads us to think that there is some unknown – a constant, perhaps, that we must factor in to get the equation to work for us. One side of the equation is my lack. On the other side is the creative, wonder-working power of the Almighty, El Shaddai, the All Sufficient One. In a way it seems like there is almost too much on God’s side. He is transcendent, the great Creator; I and my problem are so tiny and insignificant. It would be like trying to hook your hairdryer into a line coming straight off the dynamo. Too much of a good thing. How can we balance things out? What makes it work for the lepers, the blind, and the lame of the New Testament, but not for me?

I can see one element that must be added in on my side: humility. Pride will get nothing from the Lord for it will never really ask anything of Him, truly. Walking in pride, I might demand of God, say to Him that He ought to do it for me or that He owes me, because, after all, look how wonderful I am. Surely if anybody is worthy of a blessing it is me. The leper came in humility, kneeling at the Master’s feet, feeling unworthy to even stand before Him.

Another factor must be that recognition and acknowledgement of the efficacy of God’s power in our particular situation. We believe, perhaps, that God can do “anything”, but do I truly believe that He could heal, deliver, or provide for me right here and now? The leper had no doubt that Jesus could make him whole. The poor man might have questioned if he was worthy to receive the blessing, if his sins would come between him and his healing, if he had brought this thing upon himself and so deserved to suffer on in loneliness, pain, and torment. But he was clear that he believed Jesus had the power to change his life.

Jesus. The constant that makes the equation work is the Constant One, Jesus -- the same yesterday, today and forever. The leper received a healing because he took the one all-important step: he met Jesus. Jesus is the Transformer, the Great High Priest who can be touched with the feelings of our infirmities. He modulates the raw power of God that causes mountains to melt like wax because He understands our weaknesses. We are the bruised reed He will not break. He is gentle and humble in heart. We find solace and help in Him.

I need to meet Jesus.

…the one who loves Me will be loved by My Father. I will also love him and reveal Myself to him. (John 14:21)

If I recognize something lacking in myself, I can be made whole by meeting Jesus, but Jesus reveals Himself only to those who love Him. It is something of Catch-22. How can you truly love someone that you do not know, when you can only see Him if you love Him?

It depends on how you define the word “love”. If by love we mean a feeling, an emotion, or an affection, that’s one thing. Yet there are many that have a “soft spot”, sympathy, or “warm feelings” for Jesus who do not appear to know Him, to whom He has never been revealed.

If we look at the first part of John 14:21, Jesus tells us this: The one who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me. As the song says, love is not a feeling, it’s an act of the will. I do what Jesus tells me. If I do that, by His definition – the only one that counts, He says that I love Him.

OK, so, Lord, what are Your commandments?

This is My commandment: that you love one another just as I have loved you (John 15:12).

I was afraid of that.

I was kind of hoping it would be something grandiose and spectacular. I was also hoping it would be easier than loving my neighbors. Crawl up a flight of stairs on my knees. Go on a three day fast. Sit in a sweat lodge. Lay off cookie dough ice cream. Vote Republican. Run a marathon. Build a skyscraper. Pass some laws. Give up television.

I’ve actually done a couple of those things anyway. Can I get extra credit?

Love one another just as I have loved you, Jesus says. To love as Jesus loves us we, too, must be willing to lay down our lives -- not necessarily to the shedding of blood, but to the setting aside of our own desires, our own dreams sometimes. Love is expressed in sacrifice: giving for the benefit another what I wanted for myself, whether material or energy, treasure or time.

In that obedient love, though, Jesus will reveal Himself to us. We will see Him – perhaps when we least expect Him, in the least of these.

When you gonna wake up,
When you gonna wake up,
When you gonna wake up,
and strengthen the things that remain.

-- Bob Dylan

Monday, March 9, 2009

Wind Chimes

My heart is confident, God;
I will sing;
I will sing praises with the whole of my being.
Wake up, harp and lyre!
I will wake up the dawn.
-- Psalm 108:1-2

Last week we talked about complaining to God when we are pinched and strained by what we encounter day to day. There’s nothing wrong with petitioning the Lord and crying out to Him from the depths of our sorrows. My heart has been broken. He does not expect me to deny the hurt and pain I feel. But that is not the end of it.

One Saturday morning I had volunteered to clean the church sanctuary. I was running a big vacuum cleaner up and down the aisles and between the pews, bellowing some hymn or other as I worked, thinking there was no one within a hundred yards of me. When I turned the vacuum off and looked up, I saw that the pastor and his wife had entered the building and were standing in the back. They were wonderful singers, musicians, and songwriters. The pastor called out to me, “I think you’ve found your key.” The Lord made me loud but He did not make me melodious.

And don’t get drunk with wine which leads to reckless actions, but be filled with the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ … (Ephesians 5:18-20)

Singing really isn’t an option for the New Testament believer. It is very much a command. I often don’t care for the music in churches, the so-called worship service that precedes the preaching or teaching in the typical evangelical Sunday morning meeting. Most of the time, I could skip the endless repetitive choruses and the strained, amateurish solos. Sometimes I enjoy the big orchestrated choir pieces, but all too frequently it seems that it’s all meant to entertain the audience or, possibly worse, create a sort of trance state so everybody is on the same wavelength and more suggestible.

When I am not so cynical and a little more receptive, though, nothing matters except the fact that God hears my voice. I may know a song by heart, or I may be reading words off the wall, but my heart is open to Him. It really is a “sacrifice of praise”. Music has an effect on the soul, sensitizing it. That’s what the psalmist is talking about when he says, “I will wake up the dawn.” It’s not the dawning of the day, but the soul being stirred by the light of the Spirit.

I confess that I used to sing more, and I think I got along better when I did. I suspect that my feelings of emptiness and futility would be mitigated and lessened by singing a song to the Lord. The truth is that sometimes words just aren’t enough, and we need to music to praise the Lord with our whole being. When you are in the shower, alone in your car, out in the backyard, you know any place where others won’t suffer – or more importantly, where you will not feel self-conscious -- sing. It’s not a psychological trick but a magical fact.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Guest Blogger

Hidee – my fren the Muchroom is not arownd kaws this uz the wekenned. But he laft his labtub on sow I thawed I wood say hidee.


I rekken I awt to idenchurfy misef. I grode up with the Muchroom ann my Pap he rayzed livur spoted ann limen spoted poinur burd dogs. Pap had a hart fer em air poinurs and traned em two hunt. They wuz all rejusturd and had grate long names like Duke Red Elektrik Korkur the Thurd. Pap wuz parshul two Duke Red Elektrik ann he named my olis brother aftur that Dog. Good thang air last name uz Jones. Ha ha. We allwees tell that fer funny. Enfakt Pap named all uv his yungens after his favurit burd dogs.

Us boys dud not mine two much but it wuz hard fer Sis. Pap named her after his favurit beech, the Walleyed Arkansaw She Devil. I thank that had sumthen to do with her abekomen a purfourmens artust.

My Christchun name uz Thunduren Whurleeburd Uv Tasmeneea.

They wuz anuther brother, but he dud not half a name fer Mam hed him like Mosus when the Bulls Rushed.

Now Pap he had allwees ate er sevun dogs atter time with em air grate long names plus 3 yungens not kowten the Un Noed. You mite onedur howd he keep em strayed. That uz a rite tore heel kweschen if you wuz oneduren kaws I aim to tell you.

Pap kalt evur body Joe.

I onest ast him if that bothured the dogs. He sed as fur as he noed dogs dud not nevur kalt erry nuther by name. He sed dogs go prymerlee by the old fokkery cents.

Now I alwees onedured how that idenchurfyed the rite dog. But they uz still a lot uv thangs bout the cents uv fokkery I do not undurstan.

I no it nevur dud us yungens ennie good. You cud sum daz tell Joe not me my brother from Sis Joe deepenen I supoz on the fokkery cents. But it wudden nevur a shore thang.

It wuz bad in skool kaws they wuz uselee 3 er 2 Joe Jones in ennie klas ennie ways. Ad two that thut Joe my brother not me wuz in Thurd Grayed untell I kawt up with him. Thurd Grayed wuz hard ann I hunged up thare two untell Sis Joe kawt up. It wuz all full konfuzen untell Joe my brother not me wuz drafded by the Soonurs fer two play fudball and Sis Joe druped out fer to be a purfourmens artust. I mooved on to Ford Grayed befour kompleten my edjewkashun.

Now I haf to stop kaws the Muchroom uz bak ann halfen a fit bout me usen his labtub. He uz sayen thangs thut uz konfuzen me on the cents uv fokkery aggen. Shute far fer I wuz aimen to tell you bout hunten em air zhumbees ovur to Jurktale way. The Muchroom sed maabee nex wekenned.

Friday, March 6, 2009

And the Walls Come A'Tumblin' Down

For although we are walking in the flesh, we do not wage war in a fleshly way, since the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

The essence of the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Recognizing that the Lord was wise, good, and kind in a human sense is not transformative. That is what Paul defines as “knowing Christ after the flesh”. Jesus does something only He can do -- something only God can do. He identifies with us, taking our sins upon Himself, and paying for them with His own blood. But there is more. The Last Adam also gives the old Adam what he had had coming for a long time. When Jesus was nailed to a cross, He took Adam with Him. After all Adam was created in the likeness and image of God, he did not go down easily. It was mano-a-mano. The only way to do it was for Jesus to embrace Adam so closely that they could not be separated in life. It was risky business, but it meant they were nailed hand-in-hand to the same cross. They came down together. They were buried together. But only One came out alive.

Every battle we face as believers involves a meta-battle. Fortunately for us it is a battle that has already been won by Jesus. By faith we can appropriate the spiritual victory the Lord gained in crucifying the old nature.

We’re walking through this world looking like everybody else. I, for example, am saddled with a particularly rough looking tent. I’m pretty sure that, not only did it come off the slightly irregular rack, but it was probably a return after somebody used it to camp out in a weekend hailstorm. The flesh we walk in puts some restraints and limitations on us, no doubt. To overcome, we reject the weaponry and power of the old nature which is rendered inoperable, put out of commission through the power of the Cross. Instead we take up the weapons of the Spirit and His power.

With the meta-battle behind us, we are enabled to come against, and potentially demolish strongholds in our lives -- those things that hinder, block, and entrap us. And of what are these high-walled fortresses constructed but arguments and thoughts. Wait, I believe they use some hubris in the mortar mix. There we go: arrogance, pride, fleshly wisdom, and carnal philosophy are the walls, and they are defended by fear.

Someone may say that, yes, some people may be battling mind parasites, but my problems are real, external threats. It may be true enough that the psychotics, the neurotics, and the delusional need to take “every thought captive”, but that does not apply to me. Whatever you think. I believe that argument is itself something of a delusion.

I believe that I do not war against flesh and blood, but against rulers, authorities, world powers of darkness, and spiritual forces of evil. I believe that most, if not all the fighting, takes place upon the field of the human mind.

God created this world and He owns it. It is derived. We readily acknowledge that. As a creation, it is subject to physical laws. Our outward physical forms must, in general, conform to the rules of biology and physics. But we, the rightful lords and stewards of the cosmos, are spiritual beings first and foremost. Robin’s sidebar quote of St. Francis is applicable here – change worlds. The high ground is ours. What are the towering walls of a fortress when you’re flying at 30,000 feet? Relatively speaking, the walls of Jericho weren’t even a speed bump.

The flesh attacks from the ground in a frontal assault. It builds siege machinery and ramps, attempts to scale the walls, and laboriously, day after bloody day, prosecutes the same battle over and over. The walls never fall. The stronghold is never surrendered and the enemy is never taken captive. The unhappy paradox is that we strengthen the walls by fighting in this fashion.

Paul says add a dimension. Move the fight from the flatlands to the heavens, and throw in some shock and awe. The battle is the Lord's, and the victory is ours.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Of Zombies, Scorpions, and Honey

They will throw their silver into the streets, and their gold will seem like something filthy. Their silver and gold will be unable to save them in the day of the LORD’S wrath. They will not satisfy their appetites or fill their stomachs, for these were their stumbling blocks that brought about their iniquity. -- Ezekiel 7:19

In these days of a battered stock market and a dollar that would look anorexic in a family of Ethiopians, we are tempted to turn to other forms of wealth. Some advocate the purchase of precious metals like silver and, especially, gold. An ounce of gold will buy about the same amount of bread it always did.

But there has to be bread to for sale.

The Bible warns that there can be a famine, not of bread, but of hearing the Word of God. No currency, nothing the world values, nothing that bears Caesar’s image can save those who come to that day. Hollow-eyed forms, the living dead will walk the malls staring at the plenty that stares back as useless and pointless as more sand in the desert. They waste away for the lack of they know not what. Their souls wail and cry but find no relief, for, as Jeremiah says, they have abandoned the springs of living water and sought to drink from their man-made cisterns which are broken, empty, and dry.

They were told to trust in gold, in bank accounts, stock portfolios, and retirement accounts. It only made sense to gain as much as they could. If a little was good, a lot was better. The scientists and the economists assured them that they had no soul, and if they did, it was not worth troubling over. Sell it for what you can get and put it in equities. Tear down your houses and build bigger. Trade your cars for newer models, and your spouse, too, while you’re at it. There’s no reason to be unhappy when you have no fault divorce, five hundred channels, the Blue Pill, and Prozac.

The poet called them hollow men and prophesied their whimpering end. They did not die on their feet in battle, but on their faces, clinging to a dunghill.

On the other hand: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

Those who will hear, not the jangling and clanging of the words, but the melodious song of the Word, the chanting Spirit, they will have their souls satisfied, their spirits fed and made strong. They will not faint in the day of battle, nor lose their footing and fall. Having done all to stand, they will stand clothed in the Lord’s own armor with the shield of faith and wielding the sword of the Spirit.

The world’s great motivator is fear. It is filled with fear and dread. If I listen too much to it, sometimes it makes me afraid. I start counting my bullets and sharpening my knives. Then I get this nudge, and I have to smile. Terror on every side, you say? Weren’t you told about this when you signed on?

”But you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words, though briers and thorns are beside you and you live among scorpions. Don’t be afraid of their words or discouraged by their faces, for they are a rebellious house. But speak My words to them whether they listen or refuse … And you, son of man, listen to what I tell you: Do not be rebellious like that rebellious house. Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you … Eat this scroll, then go and speak …”. So I ate, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth. (Ezekiel 2:6-3:3)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Some Really Practical Instruction About Prayer

As for me, I shall call upon God, and the LORD will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, And He will hear my voice -- Psalm 55:16-17 (NASB)

I have heard people say, “I don’t know how to pray.”

Everybody knows how to whine and grumble and complain. That will do. The key is realizing God hears your voice. I am reminded of the scene in that excellent Robert Duvall film The Apostle where Sonny is upstairs at his mother’s house, shouting at God to the point that the neighbors are awakened and call to protest. His mother answers and says something to the effect of, “Sometimes he prays and sometimes he yells. Tonight he’s yellin’.”

God hears us. He hears me when I cuss and scream about something. He hears me when I cry out in anguish and despair. He hears me when I just whisper a prayer. He hears me when I subtly mislead my fellowman. Oops. He hears me if I am on my knees, on my butt, on my feet, in the closet, or under the bed.

Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing”. Go ahead. When you have a broken heart, put it in words. God will hear you. When you are unhappy about the state of the world, tell God how you really feel. Tell the Lord when you think you’ve been treated unfairly, when you feel shortchanged and shut out. One thing is certain: you are not telling Him anything He doesn’t already know.

The concept that God already knows about my problem may be my biggest hindrance to prayer and faith. I mean, if God cared about my situation, why did He let it happen in the first place? If He is aware of it, why do I need to pray about it?

Prayer is not giving God information. Let me repeat that. Prayer is not informing God about the situation. God may speak to you, but He will never say, “Thanks for letting Me know about that. I had no idea what was going on.” He knows already!

Instead, I am to think of prayer as a concrete expression of my dependence upon my Father. It is recognition of His love and power, His mercy and sovereignty, and His care for me, His child. The very act of praying is an act of faith. To pray is to believe that it will have some effect on me or upon my situation. Throw out the idea that you aren’t praying “in faith”. Of course you are, by definition.

(Caveat: the exception being if I were praying to be heard by or to impress the people around me rather than the Almighty. I don’t count that as prayer. That’s acting. Or politics.)

Another thing that prayer does is open my heart toward God. As I am praying or complaining and murmuring, I have opened the door of my heart willingly. While the grumblings pour out, the Spirit pours in. The Bible tells us that Jesus stands at the door and knocks, and if we will open the door – if we will pray – He will enter in and commune with us. He will give us understanding, peace, joy, and strength.

If prayer is so simple, yet so powerful and beneficial, the question is not why would we pray, but why would we ever want to cease from praying? The next time you feel inclined to whine and gripe about something, I encourage you to go ahead, just acknowledge that your complaint is offered to the Lord Himself. Don’t worry about your wording any more than if you were venting to your best friend. You are.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and grief to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Ev'rything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Ev'rything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer:
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus Knows our every weakness,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge;
Take it to the Lord in prayer:
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He'll take and shield thee;
Thou wilt find a solace there.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Imagining Utopias And Other Gehennas

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

repeat chorus

“Imagine” – John Lennon

It doesn’t take much study of John Lennon to realize that he was gifted with wit and intelligence while at the same time troubled and confused. From his earliest childhood Lennon was a person without moorings, a situation to which he adapted and a style he adopted until coming under the even more negative influence of Yoko Ono about 1968. Until his death twelve years later, Lennon’s talents were under the destructive dictates of Ono.

“Imagine” is the leftist utopian anthem. It reflects the disdain of the regressive, pathologically stuck adolescent for all that has gone before, all that, ironically, makes his life possible. It uproots and tears down, but does nothing to plant or rebuild. It merely glories in rootlessness and trusts that the elimination of the boundaries of civilization will free humans to be the meaningless but somehow angelic beings he envisions. The advocates of “Imagine” never seem to wonder how the traditional pillars of civilization came into being or what purposes they might serve. If they consider it at all, they will blame the greedy oppressors, forgetting -- it seems, that those oppressors are members of the same flawed race as themselves.

Indeed, if men and women were perfect, there would be no need of governments, national boundaries, rules or regulations. We could all live in a garden and get along. The reality is that we were kicked out of the Garden for being self-willed and rebellious, and when a perfect Man did show up, we crucified Him.

As far as Lennon’s offhand remarks about the decline of Christianity and the popularity of the Beatles relative to Jesus, I thought, even forty years ago, that the reactions were excessive. What he said was nothing more than the effusions of a typical pop culture icon enamored of his own success. In that, he was no different than a Sean Penn, a Matt Damon or a George Clooney misperceiving fame for worth and substance. In fact, it is no different than the support for Obama – notoriety over substance. Many politicians, from Arnold to Jesse Ventura, Clinton to Obama think that popular appeal equals worth. This is little more than the high school mentality that the popular kids must be the best, that consensus is the same as wisdom and understanding.

The fool says in his heart, “God does not exist.” Even as the fool says it, he glorifies God, once again proving Him right. The fool’s blindness and arrogance in rejecting meaning and purpose leave him free to create meaning based on his own self-centered desires and interests. That one fool’s utopia is another fool’s concentration camp never interferes with the visions of the “Imagine” crowd. I would not want to live in John Lennon’s world, and I probably wouldn’t be welcome.

I suppose the Imagine-ers think I am just not highly evolved, but I want my own space and my own property and the right to worship God as I understand Him, to trust in His revelation and find the reason for my existence through His eternal reality. I prefer to imagine a kingdom where the Lord reigns. To put it simply, I don’t trust anyone else.

Is there really any difference between the bland, leveled, dead world of “Imagine” and the homogenized socialist society of 1984? How would people act if there were no restrictions, no fear of punishment, no traditions or taboos? Some people would behave decently, and they would be the slaves of the strongmen, the tyrants, and the sociopaths. Would not a Big Brother be required? Who is that going to be? Will it be the scientist, the sociologist, the lawyer, the accountant or the psychiatrist? All of the above? Al Gore? Jeremiah Wright? Bill Ayers?

Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll stick with Jesus.

In reality, Lennon and his like imagine a hateful, restrictive, petty little world where, as the kid in The Incredibles said, calling everybody special really means that no one is. Such a world would have had no place for John Lennon. Imagine.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Putting Shame In Its Place

A few people may remember the 1960’s. It is hard to believe that a child born to a hippie or two in 1970 would now be the mythical thirtysomething and approaching middle age.

I remember the sixties and even the fifties. Back in those ancient days it was common to hear parents say to a child: “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” Used in a healthy way by normal parents this meant that the child had done something beneath him or her as a person. If I refused to share a toy, for example, I had done something worthy of shame. I am not interested in going into all the complexities, subtleties, or metaphysics of shame versus conscience versus guilt. Firmly believing that humans are first and foremost spiritual beings, I am convinced that the Creator built a conscience into us just as sure my Chevy trucks all came with thermostats. For my purposes I am just going to talk about shame and you can figure out the rest of it. No doubt the conscience or the sense of shame can be perverted, darkened or scarred to the point it is useless or misleading. People brought up in dysfunctional environments may feel shame at things that aren’t really shameful, or they may feel shame at nothing.

I am not sure when it started, but personal shame has definitely gone out of fashion. No one illustrates this more clearly than the former impeached president, Bill Clinton. If his conscience had been a barking dog, Clinton would have taken it out behind the barn and shot it while claiming it was a chicken-killer. He was apparently never ashamed of anything he had ever done, from betraying his country to cheating on his wife. Mr. Obama’s shameless lies and misdirection reflect the same sort of mindset. Shame’s demise can also be verified in the slobbering abandonment of credibility by Big Media, the lyrics of popular music, daytime soap operas, “reality” shows, the NBA, and baseball, to name but a few offenders.

In fact, according the leftist intellectuals, shame should be relegated to what other people have done, particularly those who used to be thought of as role models or heroes. We are told that we should be ashamed of men like Washington and Jefferson because they owned slaves. Sometimes the academics just play it safe and say we should be ashamed of every historical figure that was a white, heterosexual male – especially if he happened to be a Christian.

Conversely, we should not in any way be ashamed of sexual promiscuity, adultery, diverse and sundry perversions, dishonor, dishonesty, deception, laziness, cowardice, rudeness, and ingratitude. Other things to be ashamed of would include having a strong military, earned wealth, private property, profit, a traditional two-parent family, and patriotism. Additionally, those of us in red states should be ashamed of voting for people who share our religious and moral values.

Perhaps our most shameful trait, though, is our lack of tortuous self-doubt. If there is one thing above all that keeps me from joining the rarified ranks of the true intellectual elite it is my willingness to make a decision and live with it. One of the favorite barbs aimed at George Bush was that he was obviously not intelligent because he was too sure of himself. He made decisions and stuck by them. He should be ashamed. He should apologize for all his mistakes so that the rest of the world will respect us. How many times did reporters and pundits ask a variation of the question, “What was your worst mistake?” Now, of course, one of Obama’s great strengths is his cool confidence. What a difference a letter makes.

Liberals are proud of their willingness to listen to both sides – unless one side is Christian or moral or ethical. They always understand the motivations of the slacker, the criminal (as long as he or she is from an oppressed minority group), the international terrorist, or the socialist despot. For these enlightened folks it is never good versus evil. It is always degrees of goodness. Understanding will always solve the problem. This is why it is now safe to reduce troop strength in Iraq and dialog with the Holocaust deniers in Iran and Syria. Yes, Hamas wants to wipe Israel off the map, but that’s not a problem because all the Jews have to do is convert to Islam and give up their identity in order to have peace. We can work it out.

I think that is the real problem liberals have with Christianity. If only Jesus had not made that exclusionary statement about being the Way, the Truth and the Life. If only He had said, “a way”, as in “many paths, one light.” Of course this can only be the view of a person who has the luxury of believing that truth is neither absolute nor singular. The sophisticated, cosmopolitan Pilate could ask, “What is truth?” That question did not occur to the thief dying on the neighboring cross. It is all well and good for the academics and the social engineers to debate, dissent or even dissemble, to theorize or to simulate. Let the politicians posture. I have to live and die. I cannot afford to be wrong.

For me, a well-developed sense of shame is quite useful. It curbs my insufferable genetic arrogance. It encourages me to keep my word to everyone, from my wife to the waiter at a Mexican restaurant to my employer. Still, I have to be careful because it can be used against me. I have been shamed into doing things I knew were not right. Shame is not infallible and cannot be trusted in isolation. It has to be informed by reason and by principle. No one, not my wife, the waiter, my boss, or liberals in general, should be able to shame me into accepting wrong or doing wrong.

What am I ashamed of? I am ashamed of every convenient lie I ever told. I am ashamed of not being prouder of my parents when I was younger. I am ashamed of being petty, ungrateful, and inconsiderate. I am ashamed of my moral cowardice. I am ashamed of the times I have laughed at a crude joke told at someone else’s expense, and of the times I joined with the crowd in being cynical about truth, righteousness, holiness, and beauty.

Unfortunately, I could easily go on, but you get the idea.

On the other side, I am not ashamed of America, the flag, or the American military. I am not ashamed of the Constitution. I am not ashamed to say that I believe America is the greatest nation on earth, that our civilization, our faith, and our values are better than any other. I am not ashamed of my ancestors, my name, the color of my eyes or the color of my skin, and I am not ashamed to say that I think everybody should be proud of who they are and where they have come from. I am not ashamed of believing in Jesus, or of believing the Bible. I am not ashamed of having a work ethic, or having more or less than somebody else. I am not ashamed that I believe some things are right and some things are wrong. I am not ashamed of being a man, or of treating women as if they were ladies.

I am not ashamed to say that if you want to live in this country, you should respect our laws, our culture and our traditions. Come here legally and learn to speak English, and I will welcome you with open arms.

I am not ashamed to say that actors, athletes, musicians, rappers and others who advocate or model violence and evil, who call women whores and bitches, who glamorize crime, perversion, and drugs are not cutting edge artists exercising their First Amendment rights, but worthless scum who are just out for easy money and a nice life.

I am not ashamed to say that a woman’s “choice” should begin with keeping her legs together, and that if you behave like a cat in heat you should not expect to avoid the consequences or make the innocent pay.

I am not ashamed to call radical Muslims, Marxists, progressives, or socialists the fascists they are.

I am not ashamed to say that I smile every time a missile strike wipes out a few of the throat-slitting cowardly thugs who hide behind women and children to do their vile deeds.

I am not ashamed to say that anyone who thinks there is moral equivalence between Al Qaeda terrorists targeting the innocent and American servicemen targeting Al Qaeda terrorists is the kind of person who gives idiots a bad name. The same applies to anyone who thinks Israeli air strikes against terrorists in Gaza or wherever are no different than Hamas and Hezbollah lobbing rockets or sending suicide bombers into restaurants.

I am not ashamed to say that if you can’t do basic arithmetic, you should buy a calculator, but you should not expect me to pick up the tab for your irresponsible behavior.

I am not ashamed to say that if you don’t work, you don’t need to eat – and you certainly don’t need to get paid for having babies.

I am not ashamed to say that any government that is afraid of its law-abiding citizens owning the same weapons as the military probably needs to be afraid.