31 January, 2006

Where Are Those Gates of Hell, Anyway?

Next door to me is a cute white cape cod, with blue trim ... and the gates of hell.

What? Are satanists practicing there?

Well, no.

Maybe evolutionists? [ArminiansCalvinists]? Terrorists?




Alright, what then?


It's a young man, his younger wife, and a baby of a couple months old at most. There's a Pearl of Great Price in a field right nearby to them, but they cannot get out past those gates. The gates of hell surround them. There's a kingdom of God waiting to be revealed to them, but the gates of hell prevent the kingdom's entry.

No, no, no. The gates of hell are out to destroy the church, but the church will prevail against them.

Well, I already dealt with this one, so it is something of a straw man for me to talk about it again, but I will repeat myself just a little. Gates don't attack. They stand there and prevent. Gates prevent my young neighbors from finding God, and the kingdom of God from finding them. Those gates will not prevail when the church attacks them!

The gates of hell are not simple, either. Hell practices "defense in depth." That is to say that you cannot just pray that the eyes of the lost will be opened, or that their consciences will be pricked. My neighbor might be entrapped by any number of things. He might be cynical about the church, worried about debts, running with "the boys," obsessing over a woman at the office, ashamed of an addiction, too proud to hear that he has need of God, too worried about missing the start of his favorite TV show, and/or just plain too tired to talk about anything tonight.

The gates of hell are built around the human heart, and built from the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The gates of hell stand there like an evil declaration that God is only God in heaven, not here on earth. Here, men reign as gods to themselves, and no hypocritical church is going to tell them how to live. The gates of hell tell God, "No trespassing allowed" and "Keep your laws off my life".

The kingdom of God is not impressed.

Upon the Rock of Christ, His church is built to go forth like an army with banners, and those gates shall not prevail against it.

1 Cor 15:32 If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.

Paul went to Ephesus to pick a fight. He planted the church there, not as a tender reed, nor as a gentle rose, but as an outpost of empire. The wild beasts of Ephesus were on the defense! The church was advancing!

2 C0r 10:4&5 (For the weapons of our warfare [are] not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

Need I say it? Paul and the Spirit do not say that our "defenses" are mighty to withstand the attacks of satan. No, our weapons are mighty to pull down the strongholds of satan, the imaginations that sin and lust have formed, and every thing that stands against the Truth. Our weapons bring destruction to the gates of hell, not the other way around. Even the armor of Ephesians 6 can be read to be attacking, rather than defending.

When you think of the gates of hell, don't think of Somalia, or Tibet, or Planned Parenthood.

Think of your neighbor.

Think of the treasure of a heart imprisoned by devils, chained to lies that purport to shame the Living God. Think of the glory that angels sing when such a heart is freed! Think of sharing the love of a brother or sister for eternity when those gates fail before the mighty weapons of Christ.

Then think about how to knock those gates down.

I'll share my first thought with you. Tracts ain't knockin' down no gates of hell. They hardly knock at the door.

30 January, 2006

When is a War not a War?

I am not really up to posting this now, but I have some time to call my own, soooo.

I have stated that the war against hell is won, but also that the church needs to attack the gates of hell. How do I reconcile two such statements? More importantly, how do I reconcile them with reality! Most importantly, but saved for a fourth post, where are these gates of hell, so that we can begin the job?

Forget for a moment your feelings about the war in Iraq, because I am going to use it as a neutral illustration.

Months and months ago Saddam Hussein was deposed, and his army ceased to exist. The fighting was not over then, and it is not over now, but the war against Saddam Hussein was over. The fighting will not be over until everyone agrees it is over, but even though Saddam still breathes curses out on us he is master of nothing.

Likewise, the spiritual war is won.

The war being won, though, is not enough. If the American army sits on its haunches, the insurgents will slowly extract a terrible price from both the army and the innocents they use as object lessons. The army must identify and eliminate those who attempt to vote with explosives. They must seek out the evil, and not just wait for the evil to come to them.

Hence, the spiritual army must attack.

This reconciles completely with reality and with scripture. Christ has bound the strong man, and spoiled his goods. Nonetheless, we must war against principalities and powers in high places. The power of false gods to deceive the nations is broken. Nonetheless, the lies of superstition, false science, and false entertainment continue to deceive the children of the devil.

We must go out, and not just to duck and cover. We must go out to fight.

Immediately after Jesus was baptized by John, the Spirit led Him out into the wilderness.

The Spirit drove Jesus into conflict with the enemy. Though Jesus made an open show of His defeat of that enemy, we still have a place in the battle against him. We should not expect any less than that the Spirit should drive us into battle just like He drove our Captain.

So, where can we find these gates of hell?

29 January, 2006

The Gates of Hell

Matthew 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

I have heard a number of sermons on this verse. I'm sure you have, too. The gates of hell war against the church. Those gates will not prevail, but what does the church do to live out the victory of that verse? How will those gates attack her? How will she prevail?

I was thinking about the church the other night, and praying. I was praying that the church would triumph in a certain area, and an old phrase came back to mind from the past.

Bind Satan.

That's just not right, though. Satan was bound about 2000 years ago.

So what is right?

Why is the church here? Is the church here to step into a vacuum that the Lord creates before her, or is she to carve out a space for herself from the kingdom of Satan?

The church attacks.

Gates do not attack. Gates stand and prevent.

The church finds the strongholds of Satan, the gates that surround the Lord's treasures, and she bursts the barricades to take them. The gates of hell, be they in ancient Rome, postmodern America, or my sleepy neighborhood cannot prevail against the powerful pressure of the Kingdom of God. When the Kingdom fasts and prays and acts with wisdom, the King's treasures are retrieved.

Jesus did not train his disciples and wait for the gates of hell to attack them.

Matthew 10:1 And when he had called unto [him] his twelve disciples, he gave them power [against] unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease...These twelve Jesus sent forth.

Jesus sent them on the attack. He did it again with the 70 a little while later. He sent them to storm the gates.

This is still our calling.

[It sounds to me like another post might be in order soon reconciling my post saying the war is over, and this one saying we must attack.]

27 January, 2006

Baghdatis v Federer!

I would lay money that this is the match of the year for us spectators.

Baghdatis reminds me so much of Agassi it is not even funny. Great returner. Precise baseline stroker. Willing to take that risky down the line shot. Mostly, though, he is just SOOOO light-hearted out there in the best possible way. I have never been a big Agassi fan, but I always loved the way that he was so happy playing the game.

Baghadatis has "happy" going on!

Every time Baghdatis wins a match he looks up to his small but mighty Cypriot cheering section, and smiles a huge smile that asks, "How did this happen to me?! How did I get so lucky?"

Of course luck had nothing to do with him falling 2 sets behind Nalbandian, one of the game's outstanding "grinders", and winning the next 3 sets. You cannot win the last 3 sets of a match by luck. He took Nalbandian out of his game, and punished him for letting it happen. With 3 points left in the match, they were rain delayed and Nalbandian had 15 minutes to pull his head together and come out swinging. Nuh-uh. Baghdatis lost one point, and smashed him.

The kid is hot, and Federer is skilled. It will be passion versus form. My money is on form, but it ought to be a beautiful thing to watch.

Federer in 4 with at least one tiebreak - won by Federer. 6-4, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4.

The Ladies' side.

I hope Mauresmo finally breaks through. She deserves it. It ain't gonna happen, though.

Justine has not impressed me yet with her sportsmanship. She is playing beautiful tennis, and I love to watch her hit that backhand, but I cannot get past the cheating. Of course, in her match against Sharapova she didn't come to net. She just outhit her. It was pretty boring, but it very effective.

I doubt Mauresmo will beat Justine - highly. The knock on Mauresmo is that she chokes, and she does. She choked in two of her early matches in this slam, but they were inferior opponents so she survived. Justine will keep that steady pressure on Mauresmo, and eventually she will cave. I predict straight sets and no tiebreaks. 6-3, 6-3.

26 January, 2006

Sunrise was stunning

Seriously. I don't think it changed my life, but it was sure beautiful, and unique in my experience.

It was a completely overcast morning in Columbus, OH, but somewhere out in the East there must have been a break in the clouds. The sun had not yet risen enough to peek over the horizon, but it had risen enough to cast light on the bottom of the cloud cover. The eastern clouds were pure gold.

All that was beautiful, but the amazing thing was the pillar of light that rose straight up from the place where the sun was preparing to emerge.

A golden beacon the width of the sun split the sky and outdazzled every other bit of gold in view. This pillar of fire almost begged me to turn my car due East, and follow it wherever it might lead.

If I had not been praying just last night about going East, I might not have been so moved. As it was, it sweetened an already beautiful sight. May the Lord grant wisdom.

25 January, 2006

James: One foot on the shore

I love James. He doesn't coddle a brother on the wrong side of the facts.

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all [men] liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man [is] unstable in all his ways.
James 1:5-8

I don't really have a thought here, but I more want to think about it out loud. A wave of the sea is driven by the wind. That's true. Sea waves are different from those waves that crash on the shore. This is not a wave trying to find a home on solid land. This is a calm sea whipped into a frenzy by invisible forces.

I would like to think James is going to blame the devil for the fight inside me, but he isn't. James keeps on refering to the lusts that war in our members. It is those lusts that seek to whip my soul when I am seeking wisdom.

So, the double minded man is the one who wants wisdom, but who also wants to satisfy his lusts.

Interestingly, it is not enough to simply control my lusts. I have walked the road of stoicism for stretches of my life, but it was not sufficient. James says as much. When your mind is single, it only opens the way for God to grant liberally. We still cannot get wisdom except from God. Praise the Lord.

One of the things I want to learn as my little group goes through James is how to become single minded in the moment of crisis. James will blast us for allowing lust to drive us, but what will he say about how to quell that lusting influence.

OK. Good stuff.

On Art

This was too long to post into a comment on a post about art over at Thinklings (the excellent brothers who fielded my comments on their site for 2 years while I was deciding that I had better get my own blog.)

The following quote is from about 90% of the way down this page. The original page contains some little pictures of the sculptures described in this excerpt.

Ben and Jubal are both "good guys" in the book, but Jubal is older, wiser, and more in touch with life. Jubal explains 3 of Rodin's masterpieces in a way that makes you want to understand them. I think Heinlein hit the truth square on the head here. If hearing these descriptions doesn't tug at your heart, then I don't know what to say. Art can tear me up, and this is why.

from Heinlein, Robert: Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) Berkley Medallion Books
..."Please, Ben. ‘Statues’ are dead politicians. This is ‘sculpture.’ Please speak in a reverent tone lest I become violent. Here are replicas of some of the greatest sculpture this naughty globe has produced."

"Well, that hideous thing I’ve seen before...but when did you acquire the rest of this ballast?"

Jubal spoke to the replica La Belle Heaulmière. "Do not listen, ma petite chère—he is a barbarian and knows no better." He put his hand to her beautiful ravaged cheek, then gently touched one empty, shrunken dug. "I know how you feel...it can’t be much longer. Patience, my lovely."
He turned to Caxton and said briskly, "Ben, you will have to wait while I give you a lesson in how to look at sculpture. You’ve been rude to a lady. I don’t tolerate that.

...Attend me, Ben. Anybody can see a pretty girl. An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl she used to be. A great artist can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is ...and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be...more than that, he can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo see that this lovely young girl is still alive, prisoned inside her ruined body. He can make you feel the quiet, endless tragedy that there was never a girl born who ever grew older than eighteen in her heart...no matter what the merciless hours have done. Look at her, Ben. Growing old doesn’t matter to you and me—but it does to them. Look at her!"

Ben looked at her. Presently Jubal said gruffly, "All right, blow your nose. Come sit down."

"No," Caxton answered. "How about this one? I see it’s a girl. But why tie her up like a pretzel?"

Jubal looked at the replica "Caryatid Who Has Fallen under Her Stone." "I won’t expect you to appreciate the masses which make that figure much more than a ‘pretzel’—but you can appreciate what Rodin was saying. What do people get out of looking at a crucifix?"

"You know I don’t go to church."

"Still, you must know that representations of the Crucifixion are usually atrocious—and ones in churches are the worst...blood like catsup and that ex-carpenter portrayed as if He were a pansy...which He certainly was not. He was a hearty man, muscular and healthy. But a poor portrayal is as effective as a good one for most people. They don’t see defects; they see a symbol which inspires their deepest emotions; it recalls to them the Agony and Sacrifice of God."

"Jubal, I thought you weren’t a Christian?"

"Does that make me blind to human emotion? The crummiest plaster crucifix can evoke emotions in the human heart so strong that many have died for them. The artistry with which such a symbol is wrought is irrelevant. Here we have another emotional symbol—but wrought with exquisite artistry. Ben, for three thousand years architects designed buildings with columns shaped as female figures. At last Rodin pointed out that this was work too heavy for a girl. He didn’t say, ‘Look, you jerks, if you must do this, make it a brawny male figure.’ No, he showed it. This poor little caryatid has fallen under the load. She’s a good girl—look at her face. Serious, unhappy at her failure, not blaming anyone, not even the gods...and still trying to shoulder her load, after she’s crumpled under it.

"But she’s more than good art denouncing bad art; she’s a symbol for every woman who ever shouldered a load too heavy. But not alone women—this symbol means every man and woman who ever sweated out life in uncomplaining fortitude, until they crumpled under their loads. It’s courage, Ben, and victory."


"Victory in defeat; there is none higher. She didn’t give up, Ben; she’s still trying to lift that stone after it has crushed her. She’s a father working while cancer eats away his insides, to bring home one more pay check. She’s a twelve-year old trying to mother her brothers and sisters because Mama had to go to Heaven. She’s a switchboard operator sticking to her post while smoke chokes her and fire cuts off her escape. She’s all the unsung heroes who couldn’t make it but never quit. Salute as you pass and come see my Little Mermaid.

Ben took him literally; Jubal made no comment. "Now this," he said, "is one Mike didn’t give to me. I haven’t told Mike why I got it...since it is self-evident that it’s one of the most delightful compositions ever wrought by the eye and hand of man."

"This one I don’t need explained—it’s pretty!"

"Which is excuse enough, as with kittens and butterflies. But there is more. She’s not quite a mermaid—see?—nor is she human. She sits on land, where she has chosen to stay...and stares eternally out to sea, forever lonely for what she left. You know the story?"

"Hans Christian Andersen."

Yes. She sits by the haven of København—and she’s everybody who ever made a difficult choice. She doesn’t regret it but she must pay for it; every choice must be paid for. The cost is not only endless homesickness. She can never be quite human; when she uses her dearly bought feet, every step is on sharp knives..."

"...I feel as if I had had three quick drinks. Jubal, why isn’t this stuff where a person can see it?"

"Because the world has gone nutty and art always paints the spirit of its times. Rodin died about the time the world started flipping its lid. His successors noted the amazing things he had done with light and shadow and mass and composition and they copied that part. What they failed to see was that the master told stories that laid bare the human heart. They became contemptuous of painting or sculpture that told stories—they dubbed such work ‘literary.’ They went all out for abstractions."

Jubal shrugged. "Abstract design is all right—for wallpaper or linoleum. But art is the process of evoking pity and terror. What modern artists do is pseudo-intellectual masturbation. Creative art is intercourse, in which the artist renders emotional his audience. Those laddies who won’t deign to do that—or can’t—lost the public. The ordinary bloke will not buy ‘art’ that leaves him unmoved..." (pp. 306-309)

24 January, 2006

RIP: Serve and Volley Tennis

John McEnroe won 82 of his 85 matches in 1984, and he did it serving and volleying. Wikipedia's who's who of serve and volley is:
Jack Kramer, Pancho Gonzales, Rod Laver, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras and Patrick Rafter - a list of has-been's, and most of them from long, long ago. Even Federer, who has a beautiful serve and a fabulous volley, and who took the baton from Sampras, is an all-court player, not a serve and volleyer.

Why did serve and volley die?

Easy. The governing body of tennis didn't like it, and they regulated it away. They tired of watching McEnroe, Edberg, Becker and their friends win entire games with 8 strikes of the ball. They wanted to see the ball spend more time in the air than in the winner's pockets, so they changed the game.


All the governing bodies of tennis needed to do to end serve and volley was make the ball bounce higher. Racket technology enters in, because the baseliners can put power on the ball very easily. Racket size enters in, because you can take a huge crack at the ball when your "sweet spot" is the size of a small melon instead of a half-dollar. But it's the combination of making the balls bouncier and the courts slower that make the ball bounce higher. Also, making the balls larger and slower also tends to defuse the serve just enough to give the returner a chance to return aggressively, instead of desparately.

Add to all this the fact that in general, a serve and volleyer takes 2-4 years longer to develop than a baseliner. So, if two 16 year old kids are playing, the baseliner is going to kill the volleyer. You've really got to want to serve and volley to play it, because all your peers are going to kick your butt for a while.

The serve and volley technician's margin of error is rapidly approaching zero, but it's still not there yet, especially at the garden variety level at which I play. A serve and volleyer at my level can have a pretty strong advantage.

So, why is a high bouncing ball the death of serve and volley? (Only the brave need continue.)

The serve and volleyer trades time for space. He takes away that big oval space just above the center of the net that his opponent would usually hit through. His opponent must either hit the ball very low, very wide, or very high and still get it in. Furthermore, the attacker gets a huge advantage in opening up the opponents court for near, far, angle or straight shots. Space belongs to the attacker. The opponent, however, gets the advantage of time. He can hit the ball so hard, and so fast that the attacker simply cannot respond.

The attacker's approach shot must disarm the defender, or he will find himself watching balls zip by him all day long.

Weaknesses in an approach shot that empower the defender are:
  • High bounces - This is the #1 hope for the defender. The higher the ball, the more he is hitting down on the ball, and the harder he can hit it and still count on the ball to drop into the attacker's court.
  • Slow balls - A slow ball is hard to hit hard with accuracy, but in this case, having time to see which way the attacker is leaning offsets that risk.
  • Short balls - A short ball allows the defender to take away even more time from the attacker and to have more angle options.
  • Light spins - The more spin a ball has, the harder it is to aim.

So, the perfect approach shot will be low, fast, and deep with backspin.

One more point.

A short approach shot down the center of the court with no backspin will usually work just fine, though, if it is only low enough. Why? Because the defender has to generate all of his own power, and still make it drop down into the court. He cannot put a big topspin on the ball to draw it back down, because there is no room for his racket to get under the ball. The defender has to hit a soft lob to have any chance of a winner, and that is a crap shoot - advantage attacker.

Given the high bounce of the Rebound Ace surface in Australia, and the power and accuracy of Federer, Max Mirnyi never stood a chance. 10 years ago, Max might have been able to touch Federer, but 10 years ago Federer would have been a serve and volleyer. ;-)

The best proposal I have heard to give serve and volleyers a chance is to require smaller racket heads.

Either way, I'll tell you this for sure. I play a couple months with a wooden racket every year, just because that is how I learned, and I love to do it. If we went back to wooden rackets, the serve and volley would come back. The baseliner needs that sweet spot a lot worse than the volleyer, and knocking 25 mph of every shot makes a huge difference.

23 January, 2006

James: Faith, ______, and Love

The greatest of these is love, but it's hope that we need now, desperately! And it can be had.

Faith and love seem to invite discipline. I know that I have to do those things that build faith, and that deepen my love. But hope is just so, "wishy." I wish that one day those good things that God has promised might happen, but it doesn't happen that way. Despair, discouragement, and weariness sneak into the door of my heart before hope is even out of the starting gate.

James knows all about this, and he reminds me that hope is not a gift, but a discipline.

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing [this], that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have [her] perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. ... Blessed [is] the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
James 1:2-4 & 12

Patience makes us perfect and entire. The gaining of patience even qualifies us to receive the crown of life. Knowing this is a fountain of hope.

Paul makes it even more clear:

And not only [so], but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
Romans 5:3-5

It is on experience that hope is founded, and experience comes only by tribulation, and by patient endurance thereof. Discipline is the theme again.

Hope does not come from endurance alone, though.

Hope comes because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. There is something life-giving about suffering when it is mixed with the love of God in our hearts. The reception of love mingles with the acceptance of pain, and a strange alchemy happens. Those two do not belong together. Pain and love are not natural partners, but God makes them work.

Of course, the worst of our pain does not come from God.

Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
James 1:13&14

The worst of pain is that which springs from within, when our old nature fights against our new nature, and against the One we love. It is not when my children push me and challenge me that I hurt the worst, but when I want to lash back. (Single parenting is not for the cowardly.) It is when the lust within me rises up against the quiet voice of the Spirit that I almost give up. Nothing hurts like suddenly realizing that all these years down the Road I am still the same cowardly child I always was. I still want my petty wishes above any needs of those around me. I am still lazy, and still pretty easy to live without.

It is into that void, into that reality that only Christ can change, that His love is shed abroad, and abounds. It is with that suffering that His love is mixed to yield the precious fruit of Hope. James starts his book by talking about divers temptations, and ends this little section by promising a crown. Between the two there is a world of hurt, but that hurt is mixed with His love.

There, I might be able to find the joy of the Lord, and it will be my strength.

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
Romans 15:13

Somebody has some explaining to do

Where's MY flying car?

21 January, 2006

Seeing is believing


I got to watch Hingis last night, and Federer this morning. Hingis looked strong, though she needs to look stronger. Federer, of course, is almost bored in his match with Mirnyi. Anything can still happen in that match, but it's not going to. Mirnyi started the match playing above his level, and he will have to come back to earth at some point.

Hingis is a little more interesting to analyze. She started her match last night by falling behind 1-3. That is a bad thing. I could call the match, though, when it reached 3-3. By that point, Hingis had gotten into Benesova's head. Benesova's serve was broken to bring them back on serve, and the service was back in her hands. She immediately started serving inches down into the net.

Hingis had not done anything impressive to that point, but she was totally in control of the match.


Benesova jumped out to her 3-1 lead by hitting the lines. She was tossing in amazing shots. Guess what? You cannot do that for very long.

That's how a thinking player makes her opponent lose.

Her opponent cannot win with merely excellent shots, they must be amazing. Hingis hits the top, flat, and back spins to her opponent's strengths and weaknesses, and each of those spins causes her opponent's shot to be a little bit harder to aim. The same shot that puts away a topspin, puts a backspin halfway down the net. It is hard to keep hitting amazingly when so many little adjustments mess up your calculations.

Hingis just kept adding adjustments to Benesova's shot calculations, until she cracked. She literally could not keep up the mental effort of figuring out how to hit the next ball for another winner.

From the point Benesova had her 3-1 lead, she only won 2 more games.

Unfortunately, I don't think Hingis has enough going on to confound Sharapova or Davenport, but it's only the first major of her new life.

20 January, 2006

Idol Mockery

We need more average people willing to stand up in front of the body of Christ, and sing average songs with average skill, right from the heart. I'm afraid that after an exposure to American Idol, we will have fewer!

Yes, I got to watch half of an episode of American Idol last night. And I got to see my first DVR in action. Both were pretty entertaining.

That, of course, is the problem.

It is really entertaining to see people face their fears, and triumph. The vaudeville-like performance of the girl who sang Quiet by that Norwegian girl, for example. It was cool to see her get the ticket to LA. She actually performed. The cowboy kid who had only sung to a turkey was pretty awesome. He had a voice, and so they gave him a shot. He will profit for life from the lessons he takes preparing for this chance.

The doofs are entertaining too, but in a different way. We are amazed that they think they are fully functioning people. What doofs! Not only can they not sing, but their "flawless" thinking is shot full with holes. A nice guy might wish that he didn't want to laugh at these hapless souls, but who can resist? It's hilarious.

Both extremes cause problems for me. Granted, on a scale of 1-10, these problems rate about a 3, but I am bothered by them, so I will open the ol' mouth.

The doofs cause me to be afraid to stand up in front of the people of God and share from the heart. Who am I to say that I am not the doof? Am I boring everyone? Amusing them? Who wants to be embarassed like that before God or man?

The winners cause me to be afraid to stand up in front of the people of God too! They tell me, "We are trained professionals, don't try this at home."

Sometimes, too, I channel Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul (though I might be too decent to do it aloud). My flesh either criticizes or flatters everyone. After I do it, though, I'm always just that little bit more afraid to share my heart. I suspect that Simon and Paula are lurking in the hearts of my brothers and sisters, because I sure know they're whispering their observations in mine!

Ah, it's probably just me.

19 January, 2006


The small group I attend (with my current church) is going to take on the book of James.

You could not guess how excited that makes me.

I spent a decade too arrogant to teach, another focusing on Paul, and a third focusing on the experience of loving God as a small group. For whatever reason, all that has left me hungry for James. I had decided a couple weeks ago that James was where I was going to go for the next couple of months.

And then whammo! My group is doing James.

Too cool.

The ESV intro to James is pretty cool too. I bet everyone else has heard James called the "Proverbs" of the New Testament, but it was new on me. The one thing I do know going in is that James is probably the first surviving piece of Christian literature. The upshot is that it is the piece with the least formulaic doctrine, and that appeals to me greatly. It is raw common sense in the spiritual realm.

Looking forward.

18 January, 2006

Waiting for the plane

Catherine Seipp wrote a cool piece on Richard Feynman. It's kind of a grab bag about him, but one of his stories really caught my eye.

“Cargo Cult Science.” The title comes, as Feynman explains, from primitive people in the South Seas who’d experienced airplanes landing with useful things during World War II and wanted this to happen again.
For years afterward, they would station a man in a wooden hut next to an abandoned runway, with wooden pieces on his ears like headphones and bamboo sticking out like an antenna. But even though he looked just like an air-traffic controller, and fires burned as guide lights just like they did before, still no planes came.

Here is the crux of the Cessationism debate, in my opinion.

God once did amazing miracles. He does not any more - at least not in my town, and in none of the towns in which I have ever lived. We read about them, but they are not happening here. I grew up Assemblies of God, so I know ALL ABOUT how God's miracles are happening now. Sorry, but they are only happening for the truly deluded.

On the other hand, I have heard about ongoing miracles in third world nations from people who have seen them, and for whom I have deep trust. I believe that *name deleted*'s stories are 100% true, because I have verified that he is a man of honesty and discernment.

To be clear, I believe God still does amazing miracles for people in other cultures. I am not a cessationist, and don't believe that scripture will support cessationism. I am, however, an American cessationist by degrees. God is not performing amazing miracles in America. He is still interacting with His people directly, but not by growing their feet or curing cancer dramatically.

Which brings me back to Feynman's story.

I believe that American charismatics are standing by a runway with a tiki torch, trying to lure God to bring back the airplanes. The point they are missing is that those airplanes came for reasons, specifically reasons of war. The war is over for those islands, and the war is over for America. The church is established here, and now she endures by other means than the dramatic miracle.

As in Iraq, once the battle was over Shock and Awe was put away, never to be heard from again. Now the Iraqis are working toward normalcy. America is in the same position, as is all of the Christian West. There is still a battle with the insurgency, but these are not the days when anyone's handkerchief is going to heal everyone whose shadow it touches.

Of course, as we drift back toward the darkness of atheism, maybe we will give God reason to bring out the heavy artillery again, but we should take care what we ask for!

17 January, 2006

Sentimental Favorite at the Aussie Open

Hingis is back.

I like Hingis for the same reason I like Federer - she plays tennis.

I know - she had the maturity of a 12 year old when she quit in a huff because the Williams sisters were beating up on her. I know, she threw tantrums on the court. I know she made excuses for everything that ever went wrong.

I don't care.

She has more strokes than, "hit it harder," and more ideas than, "hit it even harder." She spins the ball, she drops it, she places it, she will even moon-ball it. She needs the power to hit back at the Williams's, Davenport, and their ilk, but she is capable of finding that weakness in their games and exploiting it. I know she can.

She just needs to face her demons.

She has mental troubles when she is on the court. She likes to play from in front, and when she is behind a Williams-type player, she begins to doubt herself.

Take a quick look at Anna Kournikova. You know how she never made a splash in a major, right? She was all looks, and no tennis, right? Did you know she was the world's #1 doubles player for quite while, and that she was the strong half of the team?


Her mind feeds on itself.

Singles is a very lonely sport, and much more so when things quit working. You are out there on the court, alone, and the ball is not doing what it does in practice. No, instead it is doing what it always does when you are having a meltdown. That ball just keeps sailing and falling. Deep. Net. Wide. In your mind, the conversation begins, right where it left off last time you drummed yourself off the court. The conversation is already half over before you notice it is eating your mind away.

A doubles player looks at his (or her) partner and says something stupid, and he says something stupid back. The demon conversation is over.

A singles player says something smart to himself. You don't have time to be stupid when you are out there alone, watching the match slipping away. But saying something smart doesn't end the conversation. You're dying out there, and you know it.

On a really good day, I quit thinking. I just feel my body uncoil itself and wrap itself around the ball, grab it with the racket, and set it anywhere on the court my subconscious desires.

Then two or three balls sail long, when they should have gone for easy points.

When the conversation starts, instead of feeling my body, I feel that little spot on the handle of the racket just past my forefinger - just out of my reach. I can't play from my bellybutton any more. I have to play from WAAAAAaaaayyyyy out there past my finger tips. I swing the racket, and I hope that I can put the head of the racket somewhere near the ball, and I aim for the center of the court. It's like writing in cursive without letting either hand touch the paper. You can do it, but every shot is filled with fear.

It's called choking.

Kournikova never had the whole game. I sympathize with her, but never cared to watch her play. Hingis has got it all, plus my sympathy vote.

Good luck.

16 January, 2006

Morality came from somewhere...

My son seems to be the lone voice of Christian thought on his AP Lang forum. It makes for some interesting discussions here at home. :-)

Evidently a militant Hindu attempted to disprove Christianity to him on the basis of the origin of morality. My son asked me, "Why did God create morality?"

Now that is a cool question.

I thought about it for a second, and told him that God did not invent morality. Sitting there at the dinner table with him, I was amused at myself, because I don't know how many other Christians would say those words. I have been around a number who would consider that almost blasphemous.

Anyway, God did not invent morality. The man and the woman were naked and were not ashamed until they disobeyed God. When they disobeyed God, they did not just disobey Him, either. In doing so, they took into themselves the "knowledge of good and evil."

God forbade morality to Adam and Eve.

God made us to live by love, by His love. Morality was introduced in the tree of knowledge, but it was forbidden to us. It is only in the fall that morality became a thing of value to us. In the same spirit that God blocked Adam and Eve from the garden with that flaming sword, He set morality before fallen man to protect us from our dying natures. Now our consciences speak a truth to us that we would never have needed had we learned to love instead of trying to ascend to be equal with God.

We wait now for the day love again makes morality extraneous.

15 January, 2006

Debate anyone?

I complain a lot that doctrine stands between us as brothers and sisters, but at the same time I deeply value accurate doctrine. In my opinion, doctrine is like style in tennis. Style does not win tennis matches. Hitting the ball into the court wins tennis matches. Still, the better your style, the more balls you will hit into the court, and the less you will injure yourself. The better your doctrine, the less pain you will cause yourself in trying to survive life.

So, if you would like to try something new, let's debate something!

Now, the blogosphere is infamous for its nasty debates, so I would like to suggest a small format, with definite objectives. This format is based upon formal cross examination debate. Both sides know that the "winner" will not necessarily convert the other side, but know exactly what to do to "win".

Each side will choose a couple of judges. The winner will be determined by the judges, and exactly half of them were picked by your opponent. Everyone knows that you are not trying to convert your opponent, but to sway a judge picked by the other team (without losing the ones you chose!)

Across 6 days, each team will make 2 strong statements, cross examine the opponent's statements, and make one final rebuttal. The non-judging audience will shout encouragement through the comments, and make statements about who won, but the debate will be limited to the competitors and a single proposition. Judges will say nothing during the debate, but on the 6th day will cast their votes for winner of the debate in the comments of the last post.

If these rules seem silly or unnecessary to you, that's cool too. I'll play without them, but it seems a little cleaner to me this way.

Here are my proposed rules.
  • Both sides agree on a subject (like "Stewardship".)
  • A general call goes out for judges. Anyone who wants to judge can say so in the comments of the these posts. Each side will choose the same number of judges, (whether one, two, or three, as long as both sides end up with the same number of judges in their camps.) The judges will have to sit quietly during the debate. People not chosen to judge can holler from the sidelines all they like!
  • One side is determined to be the "radical" position, and the other is the "status quo" position. The radical group will submit a proposition. The status quo will mount an opposition.
  • The radical proposition will be a very specific recommendation for something that can be done in the real world. In a stewardship example, it might look like, "We propose that the church throughout the world require that all members in good standing tithe 10% of their gross income, or not be allowed to vote in any church decision."
  • The radical/proposition group will win if they can convince a majority of judges that this rule addresses a real problem effectively and can be enforced. The status quo wins if it can knock down any one of those parts of the argument.
  • Day 1 - Radical: Submit a "constructive" argument of 1250 words or less.
  • Day 2 - Status Quo: Submit a cross examination of the argument of 300 words or less, and (later) a constructive argument of their own of 1000 words or less.
  • Day 2 - Radical: Answer the cross examination questions in 300 words or less (quoting the questions does not count against the 300 words).
  • Day 3 - Radical: Submit a 300 word cross examination of the Status Quo constructive and a second 1000 word constructive.
  • Day 3 - Status Quo: Answer the cross examination questions in 300 words or less.
  • Day 4 - Status Quo: Submit a second 300 word cross examination, and a second 1000 word constructive.
  • Day 4 - Radical: Answer the cross examination questions in 300 words or less.
  • Day 5 - Radical: Submit a last 300 word cross examination.
  • Both sides submit their final summaries of 500 words or less.
  • Judges render their votes.

Victory is not easy to judge, in my experience, but the status quo has the advantage. The radical team's proposition should only win if it can prove 1) that it is within the theme agreed upon, 2) that there is a real problem that needs solving, 3) that their solution addresses the problem, and 4) that their solution will work. If the status quo team can prove that the idea fails any one of those four standards, the proposition fails.

What makes judging so hard is that both sides make compelling arguments!

So, there it is. Let me know if you'd like to try a game.

Good tennis news (personal, not the Aussie Open)

I hope everyone who minds these little asides can just skip them. I'm just excited over this bit of news, and someone out there may show up for tennis some day.

I have loved tennis for 30+ years now, and have injured myself more times than I care to count (stitches twice - not everyone plays the game the same way!) For the last couple years, my shoulder has given out half way through the season. I have to drop my serve to about 60% except on critical points, just to play out a match. I even went to see a doctor about it, and that is wierd.

No help.

I believe I have figured it out!

I have looked for 2 years for a rehab exercise that would hurt the muscle that keeps letting me down. Every exercise I tried seemed to exercise the wrong muscles. The other day, I accidently lifted the trash can in a funny way, and bingo! It hurt!


That's what you need, something to hurt the right muscle, and then you can strengthen it slowly. I can start a program that will have me ready for the spring now, so I am happy.

But, there's more.

The thing that struck me as oddest of all is that the exercise I found has me holding my arm straight in front of me, and lifting a weight straight up and down. If you can picture that, you are picturing the opposite of the service motion. Really. On a serve, you are moving your hand forward. In this exercise, I am moving my hand backwards.


Well, it took me a day to figure this out, but my shoulder is not failing on the serve, but on the follow through! It is the muscle DEcelerating my arm that's suffering! I knew something had to be wrong with my motion to be causing me an injury. Now I know what to look at to begin the healing process.


14 January, 2006

Review: The Gift of Fear

By Gavin De Becker

Alright, reviewing this book on this blog is probably out of character for me. I haven't been doing this long enough to be sure, but let's assume that it is. The Gift of Fear was a wake-up call for me, and made a big impression. I am going to review it here because I think it is highly important at one level, and pretty important at another.

The highly important level is that most men I know believe women are a little paranoid. If you are a man, and you have had that thought, you should read this book. It profoundly changed my views on female paranoia. (I cannot find some of the quotes I am going to give here, so they might be from memory.) When a man and a woman meet in a parking lot at night, the man is afraid the woman will laugh at him. The woman is afraid the man will kill her. I know De Becker's right, and so do you. The bottom line is ...women visit emergency rooms for injuries caused by their husbands or boyfriends more often than for injuries from car accidents, robberies, and rapes combined.

Guys, we need to start taking the fears of our sisters to heart. They are founded fears. There is a section in the book that explains how the "interview" process of a criminal sizing up a victim works. De Becker briefly mentions that these same techniques are also used by men trying to introduce themselves to a women. Can you imagine the confusion this must create for the woman trying to figure out what "this" man is doing?

Women, reading this book will help you, too. There is a certain creep-out factor in hearing that bad things really do happen, and how, and why, and when, and how often. I found that the book made me paranoid for a little while. That wears off, though, and what is left is good information. The book will tell you how to dump an overly persistent man, (A man always hears less than is said, and a woman always says less than she means. Is it any wonder that "letting him down easy" never works,) how to know when you are being sized up for a crime, and how to let your fear tell you what to do when it matters. It is not a book on self defense, though. It is a book that will free you to do what you already know how to do.

The second level at which this book is important is that it explicitly rejects denial as a life-strategy - for everyone.

The underlying foundation of De Becker's book is that you were made [by God] with a brilliant, intuitive gift of fear. You know when and how to be afraid, and fear can give you the strength to react correctly when violence threatens. You know when and what to do, but you don't want to, so you deny your instincts. You don't want to sound silly, or to take an action that might look wrong, so you tell yourself whatever story you need to hear to feign an excuse to ignore your responsibility. You deny God's gift of fear, and you willingly place yourself or others in the path of violent men. (And, yes, it is violent men. It not violent women, so to say anything less is yet another denial.)

... the reporter ends with: "Officials concede that no one could have predicted this would happen." That's because we want to believe that people are infinitely complex, with millions of motivations and varieties of behavior. It is not so. ... We want to believe that human violence is somehow beyond our understanding, because as long as it remains a mystery, we have no duty to avoid it, explore it, or anticipate it. ... but in service of these comfortable myths, victims suffer, and criminals prosper.

It is by our collective denial that violence continues to increase.

I would argue that this kind of denial is at work in many, many areas of our lives. We deny that our church is headed for a crisis. We deny that our marriages are headed there. We deny that a brother or sister is depressed, and needs someone to spend serious time with him or her. We deny that a child is at risk in a family.

Denial works. We use it as a strategy in our lives, because it delivers what we are seeking. We seek a feeling of wellness, and denial provides it, at the cost of 1) background stress in our lives, because subconsciously we know better, and 2) actual damage when whatever we are denying comes to pass. Of course, even then the strategy works, because we can say, "Nobody could have guessed this was going to happen," implying that had there been any way to know, we would have gotten up off our butts and done something about it.

It is time we accept responsibility for the things we see and fear.

When you are done with this book, you will know what the precursors to workplace violence are, why school-place violence happens, why women are victimized, how stalkers and assassins think, and why restraining orders often have the opposite effect of that desired. You will also know which anxiety signals your mind sends you can safely ignore (and why it might be sending them) and why you must attend to true fear signals when they come.

It is not gifted prose, but it is an interesting read. The middle third of the book slogged pretty badly for me, but the beginning and end were both excellent.

12 January, 2006

What will happen?

Rich, over at Realm of Possibility, posted about movie moments that really moved him. As I stated in my comment there, the one movie moment that crushes me is in Braveheart. William Wallace is explaining to Hamish and Stephen (the crazy Irishman) why he is going to ride off to meet with the Bruce, who has already betrayed him once. It is seems like suicide, but there is nothing left to try. Hamish and Stephen protest, and Wallace asks,

Wallace: Do you know what will happen if we don't try?


Wallace: Nothing.

Wallace did not fight for security. The English guaranteed their subjects security. Wallace risked and lost his life for freedom.

After nearly 500 years, the church has forgotten that it ever had a freedom to lose, but things were not always so. Once, every saint brought a psalm, a hymn, or a spiritual song. Once, the prophets had to wait turns to share what the Lord had laid upon their hearts. Once the apostles had to go house to house to see an entire church.

Once the believers owned the church.

I have proposed a plan to take the church back to freedom. In this proposal the path to freedom goes through service, instead of doctrine, instead of policy, and instead of money. As I rework the proposal, I will have to make clearer that service is the path, and not the goal, because it is all about freedom.

The house of God must live free.

If brothers and sisters have something to do, besides listen to sermons week after week, and if the "thing" that they do is managed by them instead of a clergy, those brothers and sisters will begin to take back their ownership in the body of Christ. When that happens, we may again see a day when brothers share more than a Sunday handshake, and when the kingdom of God can turn the world upside down.

But it won't happen by itself. We have to try, and that is scary.

I know that nobody is going to gut me while I shout, "Freedom!" The worst that can be inflicted on me is embarassment at being wrong and/or the pain of loving brothers and sisters and losing them. I bear those scars already, so I know they are not trivial, but they are not fatal either.

I will try, because I have tasted freedom. Not many of my brothers and sisters have been so blessed. I have seen that freedom in the house of God is worth every price. I lived 4-hour meetings in which every member of the body brought something of praise to the Lord. I have been enriched when one sister shared something beautiful and sparked another sister to start a song that a third had introduced to the church a year before - and the song fit that moment like a glove. The weakest brother can move everyone to tears when he shares something he grasped in prayer.

I cannot give up on this freedom, and I cannot gain it back alone. We have churches, and we have brothers and sisters, but now we have to grasp the kingdom - together. We have to fight for freedom - together.

Do you know what will happen if we don't try?

10 January, 2006

RFC: Proposal to transform a steeple church - Draft 1

RFC means "Request for Comment". I am not educated in the official RFC process - just using the term. This is a proposed plan of action, and VERY MUCH a rough draft. It is in need of revision in concept, execution, and details. Should any comments come in, we will discuss, modify, and repost for further comment.

This document assumes buy-in has been obtained from the elders, pastor, and members of a church, and answers the question, "What do we do now?"


  1. An established, local church.
    I believe the optimal church will have a membership that lives close to the building, and already be trying to move in a small/cell group direction.
  2. Leadership buy-in for low-profile community service.
    The objective will be to serve within the communities in which we live. Nothing dramatic.

Preparatory steps:

  1. Set up a list of services that community members might require. Use that list to generate an enrollment form.
  2. Use the enrollment form to gather a list of church members who might be willing to offer their services, and what services they would be willing to contribute.
  3. Geographically map all the volunteers and their skills.
  4. Identify a few groups of volunteers clustered in neighborhoods. Assign all the volunteers to a cluster.
  5. For each community cluster, order a phone line, set up a website, and obtain an email address. Community members will use any of these methods to reach the cluster with requests for assistance, or to volunteer their services .


  1. Advertise the start of a new community service.
  2. Advertisements should be written by each community cluster. The point is to not appear to be a city-wide thing, but a neighborhood thing.
  3. Advertising should seek both people with needs, and people with talents.
  4. Advertising is never fun, but it should hit from a number of sources. Posters, bulletin boards, flyers at the corner, rec centers, porch drop-offs all come to mind.
  5. The main advertising should be neighbors talking to neighbors. That cluster of believers in the neighborhood should knock on doors of houses that they live near, shake hands, and leave fliers. Some people are much better at this than others!
  6. Anyone who receives help should receive a pack of business cards or fliers to hand out to their neighbors.


  1. The community outreach is just one goal.
  2. Gathering in people with talents to offer is another big goal. Some of these will be unchurched Christians. Some will be unsaved. (Some may be members of another, established church.)
  3. Sheep-stealing is not a goal. Converting people, and giving unchurched Christians a home is a goal.
  4. Meet weekly. The first half of the meeting is dedicated to bringing everyone up to date on progress in the cluster's service of the community. The second half of the meeting is dedicated to prayer and ministry of some sort. Some people will leave after the first half. (Food = good.)
  5. Maybe someone should keep a map of all the people in the neighborhood with special needs, and check up on them regularly? During weather emergencies?
  6. Get to know every Christian in the neighborhood. Sponsor events in the community to get Christians of every stripe together for fellowship.
  7. Long-term goal: These community clusters should look to each other for support before they look to the church as a whole.

The long, long term goal might be a full-fledged Familyhood Church. Or, by the time we get to that point I might have learned the error of my ways and no longer even wish to see such an animal (don't count on it, though.) The main goal is to get beyond "non-denominational", and actually have Christians serving, fellowshipping, and even worshipping above their denominational differences.


Addendum 1: May as well mention early on that we will need to do something like background checks on people that we are going to be sending in to help other people.

Addendum 2: Great activity for youth.


I know a geek with too much time on his hands when I see one. I had to post this:

Miniature V8 engine.

And a video of it running.

This guy has built a supercharged V8 engine just a little bigger than a hand drill. It weighs 25 lbs, and spins 12,000 RPM. He made every part himself from plain metal stock. The hours involved must have been phenomenal.

Meekness of Wisdom Over Strength of Doctrine

Who [is] a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
James 3:13

That phrase, "meekness of wisdom," arrested me instantly. There are a number of people in this world, and in the blog world, who show this trait, but I have never seen it put this way.

There are also a number of people who seem to have missed the next verses.

But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but [is] earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife [is], there [is] confusion and every evil work.
James 3:15 & 16

I love debate, though it seems I am not very good at it. I believe that the church needs debate - and that within the body, not just with the world, or with "other" denominations. Edifying debate won't happen until we are willing to accept those brothers with whom we disagree, and we learn how to respect each other's positions while maintaining fellowship. Agreeing to disagree and going our separate ways ain't good enough.

Maybe it would look like this:
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, [and] easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
James 3:17 & 18

We need each other's wisdom far too much to let our doctrines define our relationships. We could use more righteousness sown in peace.

09 January, 2006

Shorthand away!

For the approximately zero of you who care (rounding errors aside), my shorthand system v2 is ready for testing. I seem to be averaging about 5 million keystrokes a year, so knocking that in half is a big deal to me.

08 January, 2006

BCM: #1, Step 5 - A Strait and Narrow Trust

This is really the 5th post in the first Blue Collar Meditation. This step is "Do something with what you found." I wrote a song with this one.

Here is the Table of Contents to the whole thing.

Verse 1:
I thought that I could earn my way
Your holy law I'd obey
But then Your Spirit moved
He my heart reproved
And showed me the Savior by faith
I fled my sin, kneeling entered in
and started

Trusting only You
only You
Your Way brings me home
And You’re my hope alone
So I keep

Verse 2:
Now when the rain on the Pathway
I get so tired and the darkness galls
I turn my heart to You
And I speak what's true
And answ'ring, Your Shepherd voice calls
Up the path You lead
I find all I need
and I keep

Verse 3:
And when the sun on my way shines
It's then Your grace lights
my eyes
I run along the Road
Dashing toward Your Throne
Eagerly watching the skies
I'll see Your Face
Fly to Your embrace
and I'll be

Chorus with Coda:
Trusting only You
Trusting only You
Your Way brings me home
And You’re my hope alone
So I keep
trusting, trusting,
trusting, trusting
By faith we find the Gate
And with You learn the Way
I'm trusting, trusting
Oh-oh-oh-only You

(Anyone care to guess to what tune this is written?)

07 January, 2006

BCM: #1, Step 4, Aha! - The Narrow Way

Check out Blue Collar Meditation for background.
Here is the first post in the series.
Here is the second post in the series.
Here is the third post in the series.

I have to agree with Rich's comment a couple posts ago. The journey was better than the "Aha!" moment for me, and praise the Lord for it. The Aha was beautiful, though.


How could a person seek the Lord, find a gate, and it be the wrong one? What would cause the Lord of Glory to reject a man who was trying to find his way to heaven?

That man would have trusted himself instead of God.

Our God is jealous, and He is offended by those who trust in their own righteousness. He is our Bridegroom, the Eternal Lamb, and the Mighty One of Israel. He has declared Himself to be for us, and to have prepared a Way - The Way - for us to enter into His Holy Presence.

A man who falls in love with his own religious attainments will gain nothing from the Lord.

Is 50:10&11
Who [is] among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh [in] darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God. Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass [yourselves] about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks [that] ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.

The whole thing is there. These men are trying to find God, but finding a way to make Him angry instead. Men who actually find the narrow path, even when it is hidden, don't do it by lighting fires and seeking out logical answers. They trust in the Name of the Lord, and stay themselves upon Him. There is one more clue, though. It is hidden in the first verse of Is 50.

Thus saith the LORD, Where [is] the bill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors [is it] to whom I have sold you?

It's about love.

Love vaunts not itself, and these men with their sparks and torches are impressed with the religion they have wrought. They think they have made a perfect way to God, and they trust the work of their own minds, their own hands, and their own hearts.

They don't love God.

He will not reward their works.

The rest of Is. 50 tells how much the Messiah will suffer for love of His people. Is. 50:10 refers to a voice, the voice of "his servant." That verse should really be written, "His Servant", because the voice is that of Christ in His work as Deliverer.

The Gate is Strait, because only one who loves with abandon can fit through. The Way is Narrow because Jesus only lights the littlest portion of it for us as we walk. Jesus does not hesitate to tell how narrow the gate is, because He sets very high standards for His bride. Anyone can pass through, though, because once we leave off our own righteousness, we can finally accept the righteousness of Christ.

Love and trust are the things we need to pass through this gate, and He is the One Who will walk with us all the way to the Throne Room.


If you have read all the way to this point, I have three hopes for you.
  1. That my writing did not bore you stiff. I have learned that my level of excitement does not always translate to the written word.
  2. You enjoyed taking a long look at that verse.
  3. Maybe you even like idea of letting a hard question drive your meditation on the Word, and will try it yourself sometime!

I solicit comments on all three hopes.

There is one more post in the series, but this is the last post of the actual study.

Night Sky

Wow. I don't think you could look up in Ohio tonight, and not know there is a God. It was just too beautiful.

At 6:05 the sky was completely overcast, except for 2 streams of clear sky that converged at a point in the southeast. The sun had fallen such that the clouds were midnight dark, but the sky above them was an irridescent, twilight blue. So, there were 2 streams of blue flowing through a solid blackness and converging just beyond the line of sight.


Practical Familyhood

Over at Cerulean Sanctum, Dan asks:
Any single moms and dads out there who need someone to watch your kids so you can have a date or just some time to yourself? Are there any elderly people who have housework they just can't do because they can't find anyone with a few hours and a strong back to do it? Anyone with a special needs child who is looking for a friend for that child? Any prisoners who need someone to send you hard-to-get Christian materials? How can we Christian bloggers serve you?

As for us bloggers, we could start by putting together a Google map that places each of us and our respective churches on the map. From there we could start directing people to places they can get the help they need. If someone needs a Christ-honoring church, we could direct them to a blogger. That blogger could then pair up with him/her/them at the blogger's church and start making a difference to real people. This is just one way that we bloggers could meet a pressing need. Millions more exist.

Having only had this blog up for a couple of weeks, I have not posted on this yet, but I believe there's a practical way to answer that need. I would not modify Dan's suggestion at all, except to say that a normal, modern church probably cannot do what he is suggesting.

If it existed, a Familyhood Church would be a Christian body comprised of everyone that lives in a given neighborhood. Nobody drives across town. Everyone knows everyone, and deals with their neighbors/brothers outside of the 4 walls of a church. They know each other's daily at-home struggles.

Outreach to the neighborhood is a slam dunk.

2 things are needed to make this work.
1) Prepare the Familyhood Church to serve.
  1. First, start a Familyhood Church (Still working on this one).
  2. Collect a list of skills held by the members.
  3. Create a way of requesting help easily.
    It's no fun to call a stranger to ask for help as a mechanic. But, if there was a number you could call for generic "neighborly" help, it would be less threatening.
  4. Publish our availability.
    Yard signs, posters at well-traveled intersections, neighborhood advertising newspapers, etc.

2) Do exactly what Dan suggests. Create a way to link churches to local resources.

Most church membership rolls are spread across a vast area, with only one or two people in each neighborhood. I just don't think that will work. When the first step to helping someone is driving across town, it's harder to get started. And when you do manage to get someone to drive across town to provide the needed help, it's still tougher to keep that connection alive over time.

I am a mechanic by former trade, so let me focus on that for a second. If helping someone means driving 2 blocks, it's easier to just throw a couple tools in the truck, and see what I need when I get there. I don't need to bring tools for 50 possible problems if I can narrow the problem down, and get what I need after I get started. The easier it is to help someone, the more likely I will do it! I can usually bring their car to me, and have all my tools available. And when the fix is done, I will be able to wave at him every morning for the next couple years. I won't have to make a special trip or phone call to make contact with him every month or two to remind him to visit a church somewhere.

06 January, 2006

BCM: #1, Step 3, Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge - The Narrow Way

Check out Blue Collar Meditation for background.
Here is the first post in the series.
Here is the second post in the series.

Having a pretty good idea what I was confused about, I went in to find how other scriptures would relate to this one. The Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge is a fun little tool. I probably spent 4 hours digging through it, writing down notes about each linked verse. Imagine my ironic delight when I found out that I could have gotten it all from the web in 2 clicks.

Matt 7:13
Matt 7:14

The TSK gives about 60 passages related to the different phrases in these two verses. Seeing them all was a fun little journey. (Some of it was done sitting on my front porch, handing out candy to trick or treaters. Pretty cool.) Remember that I was seeking verses that reinforced the strong statements of Jesus here.

Here are the 8 that seemed like they might relate:
Jn 10:9 - I am the Door. Door/Gate? OK. The strait gate should probably be capitalized as "Strait Gate".
Jn 14:6 - I am the Way. And cap the Narrow Way, too.
I Jn 5:19 - and we know we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. WOW! John was NOT afraid to speak confidently.
Prov 25:25 - There is a way that seems right to a man... Obviously, this is the wide way, but the thing that grabs me is that it seems right to this man. He is not picking courses out of a desire to sin. He is deceived but trying to choose rightly.
I Pe 4:17&18 - Judgement begins at the house of God. In keeping with my questions about myself being nervous, the house of God is not exempt from something.
Is 30:21 - You shall hear a voice behind you saying, "This is the Way" This is encouraging!
Matt 20:16 - So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen. So much for encouraging! None of this is surprising, but it is heavy. Many who are called to God believe that they have found Him. They see a way that seems right to them, and even are seeking the Way, but somehow they find the wrong gate, and pass along a broad way to destruction.
Rom 9:27-29, 32 - Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved ... Because [they sought it] not by faith. How frightening is this?! I fear that the same judgement must apply to the church as well. Peter seems to say so in so many words. How many people faithfully gracing our pews are on the wrong pah?

The one thing that I was sure of at this point is that Jesus did not sell Himself short. Sometimes we want a person to believe, so we simplify things to make it easy for him to believe in Jesus. Jesus had no such concern, as near as I can tell. He laid it on the line from day 1.

Next I sought out verses that seemed to contradict Jesus's words about the Strait Gate, verses that seemed to make it sound like Christ would save anyone.
Jn 3:16 - Whosoever believeth on Him...
I Jn 2:2 - And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world.
Jn 1:29 - Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
II Cor 5:19 - To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them

And the biggie
Rom 10:13 - For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved

Could all these people who went through the wide gate, and who traveled the broad way have failed to call on the Name of the Lord? How many of them are in our churches? How could they find out that that they were wrong? What could they do that would be right? What is the missing step?

At this point, let me remind you of the exercise. Answering the questions is not the exercise. They can all be answered with the verses above. Some people are foreknown by God, and some are not. Some believe, and the ones who believe are saved. Some people choose to make their own way to God, and resist the way of the cross.

As I'm asking these questions, all those answers spring to mind - maybe a little too quickly. They are really not answers to me any more. They are assumptions, so I struggle to get past them, and find fresh thoughts about the infinite God. It's like an artist doing a still-life. He's painted an apple before, but this time he's trying to find just where the shading changes, and just how to show that out-of-round spot at the top.

That can be hard to remember.

I spent several days on this. I pushed myself to lay down my assumptions, and to challenge verses that I had memorized decades ago. I wanted to see this Strait Gate in a new way.

And it happened for me. Is 50:10&11 opened it all up in a new way.

That's where I'll pick up next time.

05 January, 2006

BCM: #1, Step 2, Ask some questions - The Narrow Way

Check out Blue Collar Meditation to figure out what I'm doing.
Here is the first post in the series.

I do have trouble with this verse, but that is not enough to work with. I need to work out what my actual problems are. Over 2 or 3 days, these were the questions I thought of around this passage.
  1. The verse says that many go in at the wide gate, and that few find the strait one. The people going in at the wide gate seem actually to be searching for a gateway to heaven. Who are these people who seek the gate, and don't find it?
  2. Verse 7 actually says that you have but to ask and seek to receive. Who is it that asked, sought, and found the wrong gate?
  3. Whom is Jesus addressing? Is He only speaking to His disciples, or is He speaking to a large crowd?
  4. Do I need to be afraid that I have personally found the wide gate?
  5. Jesus Himself said that there were few. What does "few" mean? There's an awful lot of us calling ourselves Christians in America. What is "few" in a place like America?
  6. Jesus is not unhappy about the gate being strait. It scares me, and it seems harsh to me, but Jesus is happy about it. What could I learn that would make me happy about the gate being so small?
  7. Jesus is not afraid to say these things that offend so many. What makes Him so confident?
  8. Finding a gate sure sounds like works salvation. Where is the grace in this?
  9. Mostly, what is Jesus telling me about Himself in this saying?

With these questions I am not seeking an answer to the question, "What is the correct doctrine of salvation as taught by this verse?" I am seeking something I can embrace about my Lord. I am seeking Him, not answers.

One of the thoughts that recurred to me over and again was that my questions were too simple, and that this BCM stuff was not going to work - that I was going to fail at it. There was not really much to do, but just keep at it in faith. Jesus promised that those who diligently seek Him would not go away empty.

I need to see Jesus much more than some technical answer about this scripture, so I kept after it. I could not quit doubting, but I kept bringing my mind back to Him, and sometimes I even forgot my worries.

If you are enjoying this, check back, and I will share some of the stuff I found in The Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge.

Illness an Annointing Fire

The weaker I get the tighter You hold~
No one loves me Lord like You.
You are my very present help in trouble~
Lord, Your provision will see me through.
I trust You, Lord when no answer comes~
That You have not forsaken my cry.
When I can't take any more - and another arrow comes~
Lord, I trust You have a good reason why.
Lord, You have allowed this sickness in my body~
For many years now it has had its stay.
Lord show me how to make the most of these circumstances~
In this confinement Lord, I pray.
My desire, Lord is to glorify You~
I am confident that for my life You have a plan.
Though my body be in chains of limitations~
Super-naturally, Lord, I will stand.
Lord, bind the enemy that says I'm unworthy~
False guilt - yes, I recognize these lies.
I know Lord, my life is important~
That I am precious Lord in Your eyes.
'Tis in Your arms I fall my Lord~
Your secure, accepting arms of grace.
When I am weak and cannot stand~
I feel Your holy breath upon my face.
Lord, I have found through my body tested~
Sometime the physical pain has been hell.
But Your peace and strength and presence abound~
And shine a bright light in my prison cell.
Be joyful rejoicing always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD - "plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."
Jeremiah 29:11

04 January, 2006

BCM: #1, Step 1, Pick a verse - The Narrow Way

Mat 7:13 & 14
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide [is] the gate, and broad [is] the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait [is] the gate, and narrow [is] the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

If you would like to play along for the first Blue Collar Meditation, this is the verse I chose.

At first glance, it may not seem to be a verse I would have trouble with, but it is. I don't see how God could write that all you have to do is confess with your mouth to be saved, and then write that the gate is strait. How can both things be true?

The next step will be to come up with some questions about this verse. I'll be back in a day or two with my questions.

BCM: #1, Table of Contents - A Narrow Way

Here are quick links to all the posts of the first Blue Collar Meditation. The subject was the Strait Gate, and the Narrow Way, Matt 7:13&14.

Introduction and explanation: Blue Collar Meditation
Pick a Verse
Ask some questions
Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge
Do Something with what you found

03 January, 2006

What would you think of this ad?

In the spring of 2006 or 2007, depending upon the alignment of the moon and a couple other things, I hope to start advertising in my neighborhood for a Familyhood church. What would you think of this ad idea?

Remember, critique the idea, not the execution ;-)

Anyone looking for a car near San Antonio?

I own old Mercedes Benz diesels, so I keep tabs on a mailing list for those models. There is a great Merc diesel on eBay right now if anyone is looking. The price is low, but the reserve is not met yet. Looks impressive.

02 January, 2006

Peace In Pain and Suffering

God, He has allowed~
this cross that I am to bear,
it's filled with pain and suffering~
from my feet to the top of my hair.
It is not a punishment~
for something I've done wrong,
It is to shine a light on God's holiness~
and fill me with a song.
I can sing when it makes no sense~
with dark skies and rocky seas,
when downcast or emotional~
I know God is holding me.
God may not ease my burden~
but He will take away my fears,
and I will grow in my dependence~
as He comforts me in my tears.
God sits with me through the nights~
and greets me at the dawn,
He kisses that very first tear~
so it is in Him I will rely upon.
Where else could I find peace~
in such a supernatural way?
I would not trade my suffering~
for any ordinary day.
This does not mean I don't get tired~
and some days I've had my fill,
it means I know that quiet place~
to enter in and be still.
For indeed God's grace is sufficient~
no matter how heavy I'm tried,
for I'm learning to run straight to "Papa"~
for His arms are open wide.
"Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him,
for He shields him all day long,
and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders
Deuteronomy 33:12
By Donna McGinnis

Confounded by the Scriptures

I can think of 4 ways to meditate on the scriptures. 3 of them I like.

My favorite is to wrestle with something I disagree with. I started doing this about 3 months ago, and it is working well for me.

OK, so I don't actually disagree with anything God says, but I do have to settle back and wrestle a good bit with some of His statements. I am calling this little experiment Blue-Collar Meditation, because it is not mystical, and it is not scholastic.

Imagine you're a mechanic, and your personal car is making a funny noise. Off in your shop, you have hundreds of tools that you can use to fix the thing, but you're not at your shop now. You're at home, like everyone else. It's also your money, and there ain't much of it.

The usual solution is to start replacing parts until the problem goes away, but you don't do that. You think about it. You don't spend all day, every day thinking about it, but it comes back to mind 3 or 4 times every day, and each time it does you have a new thought on the subject. After a week or so, you're ready to dive in and try something. It may be that you figured it out, or that you ruled out another wrong guess, but your work is better because your brain gnawed on it for a while before just jumping in and fixing at things.

I do the same thing with these scriptures. I spend a little time with them, and let my brain gnaw at them. Pretty soon, something good floats to the top. I don't solve any of the great problems of theology, but that was never my goal. I just enjoy the process.

The underlying assumption is that God wrote these verses to tell me something about Him. God confused me so that I would seek Him. He wants to make something about Himself known through it, and if I diligently seek Him, I will find Him. The bad habit I fight is assuming that I can work out a theological question. If I let the theology stuff get into my head, I am wasting my time trying to meditate.

Here's the process:
  • Grab a verse somewhere that causes me angst.
    This is not a verse that causes everyone else angst. It has to be one that troubles me. I need to care about it.
  • Spend 3 or 4 days coming up with questions that I wish I could ask God about it.
    The key question is what this is going to open up about God Himself for me.
  • Use the Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge on the verse I have chosen.
    If you have never used this tool, go there and learn about it now! It is a free-association set of cross-references for every verse in the bible. It's a pretty quirky set of references. There's no telling where it may send you.
  • Put together a list verses that seem to contradict the verse I am looking at.
    I usually know which verses contradict this one, and studying them is illuminating. All of the scripture works together, and if it doesn't look like that, I am missing something.
  • At this point, I have usually been at this verse for a couple of weeks.
    I have been thinking about this verse in the back of my mind for a while, and the juices are flowing. I have opinions of my own now, so it is finally profitable to....
  • Read my commentaries on the subject.
    I don't like to clutter my mind too early with the "set" opinions of learned divines, but I don't like to form final conclusions without some guidance, either.
  • Form final conclusions.
    Formally write down what I learned about God from this exercise. So far, it has never been "nothing"! All those questions I wrote down in the first few days should come in handy at this point.
  • Do something with them.
    No kidding. I believe it is foolish to learn about God, and do nothing with what you learned. I wrote a song with my first verse, and a skit with my second. The song I shared with the church I attend, and they are going to perform the skit in a month or two. I am on my third verse now, and am leaning toward another song, but I might come up with something original. (The other thing I am going to do is publish them here on this little blog experiment.)

I might ought to call this Blue-Collar Cogitation, but I'm not sure anyone would even know what that word means any more.

2 years on Mars

Can you believe these two jokers are still crawling around on Mars?

In two years, they have traveled a total of seven miles. Not impressed? Try keeping your car running in a climate where the average temperature is 67 below zero and where dust devils can reach 100 mph.

2 years. Pretty amazing.

01 January, 2006

Would you believe ...?

That I am the only Google blogger who does gregg shorthand for a hobby?

I know! Me neither!

Oh well. Google must not have many bloggers.

Anyway, if anyone is interested in a gregg shorthand system that works on your PC, feel free to respond to this post. I should have it ready for public consumption by 1/9. It works with your keyboard, but after you learn it you can use it with standard longhand as well. And if you want to make the jump to actual Gregg (so that no one will have a foggy clue what you are writing about them), it's reasonably easy once you have the system down.

The program you need to make my dictionary run costs money, but I will charge you nothing for the dictionary.

Across 4 million+ characters typed, I only had to type 2.1 million of them. And I just upgraded my system, so I expect to see even better numbers (and it is easier to learn). On 1/9 I am going to reset my counters again, and see what my new percentage is. I suspect it might over 50% saved.

We all have our little amusements. Mine are just less likely to make me popular :-D