Daily thoughts on aesthetics and theology, and the entire world in between.

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As we picnicked at St. Ignatius

We picnicked under shade trees on the grounds of

the St. Ignatius Mission. We were about a 45 minute drive north of Missoula.

Our friend had not attended "regular church" for years. (By regular church I mean the kind that meets in a church building on Sundays). But later, after goodbyes, Valerie and I both reflected on how spiritually vital she was.

"So how do you stay healthy and growing?" I asked her as we ate our homemade sandwiches. Earlier in the morning she and her husband had marched us through a makeshift buffet line in their kitchen so we can make our own lunches to bring along.

As we ate, a few others strolled the St. Ignatius grounds. The weather could not have been more beautiful under the big Montana sky.

"Well," she answered, "what does it say?: 'He has showed you ... what is good: ... To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Her husband sat next to her. He is retired and drives a school bus. (And he does attend regular church). He is filled with stories of how he shows the love of Christ to the children on his daily routes. He sat next to her, munching his lunch, and doing a crossword puzzle.

"I feel like I'm having church now," I said.

"Well, there's that other passage: 'Where two or three are gathered together, I am in the midst."

The St. Ignatius church was built in the 1890's by native Americans under the supervision of Catholic missionaries. They fired their own bricks, and there are over one million bricks in the building. The sanctuary windows alone are over 30 feet high. This was in the 1890's, with none of today's construction equipment. And with an "unskilled" work force.

To see the church is to understand -- or to not understand -- what spiritual commitment can produce. How it makes the impossible possible.


Micah 6.8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Matthew 18.20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.

Matthew 17.20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

The wonder of God's relationship with Abraham was ...

The wonder of God's relationship with Abraham was that there was God ... and Abraham. That is the wonder of it.

And because Abraham is the father of all who have faith in Christ, the wonder of God's relationship with us is that there is God ...

... and us. That is the wonder of it.

Theologians have long struggled to understand this question: If God is complete; if God is the very essence of Completeness, what room is there for Us?

Put more classically: if God is indeed The ONE, what room is there, why is there, how come there is ... the Many?

You have heard the saying: "There is a God, and you are not Him." How true.

In other words, there is The ONE, and this ONE is Complete and has no Lack. He has no need for anything.

But somehow, there is you, and you are not in this ONE -- (who is Complete, remember?, So where do You fit?) -- and yet this ONE made you and wants a relationship with you.

Abraham was put into that impossible quandry. And he believed. And it was counted to him as righteousness.

And then the Scripture says that this was not only Abraham's quandry. It is our quandry as well.

In a decisive sense we have it easier than Abraham, because we stand on this side of the advent of Jesus Christ, God come as man.

God's explanation for the paradox of the One-and-the-Many; God's explanation for the One (God) and the Many (who needs the Many?) is ... ... that the Many is ultimately made one IN Christ.

This does not make us God. It just makes our relationship with God so intimate that somehow the One includes us.

Jesus is God's solution to the paradox of the One and the Many. And if we don't get it, that just proves we are dealing with God, with a Wisdom that is beyond us.

And then here is another way we have it easier than Abraham: we find that the faith that enables us to believe is itself a gift of God the One.

Today I face some hard-to-solve riddles in my walk with Jesus. Hard to solve. I really don't know what to do.

But I am encouraged that all of it just means I am gaining on-the-ground experience in believing in the God of Abraham the same way Abraham believed in Him. And in Christ, it will be counted to me as righteousness -- I know not how.

Abraham may have had MANY sons, as that song "Father Abraham" intones. So he had many grandchildren.

But every one of Abraham's sons in faith is directly a son of God, because God has has no grandchildren.

And if we don't get that, it just means we are dealing with a Wisdom that is beyond us.


Romans 4.19-25 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 Therefore his faith "was reckoned to him as righteousness." 23 Now the words, "it was reckoned to him," were written not for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

Ephesians 2.8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God.

Five reasons why we cuss

While pounding a nail, you hit your thumb.


The other guy rushes through a yellow light and almost hits you.


You find cat poop on the carpet.


Why do we cuss?

First of all, definitions:

A curse is an imprecation. Dictionary.com calls it "a formula or charm intended to cause ... misfortune to another."

Cuss can be the verb of which a curse is the noun.

But we are more comfortable using cuss as a noun because a cuss is somehow taken to be less serious than a curse.

In short, a cuss to a curse is something like a white lie to an outright lie. If someone curses, wow that's serious; whatta bad guy. But if he just cusses, oh well... he just hit his thumb with a hammer...

OK, so let's just use the euphemism "cuss." Here are 5 reasons why we cuss:

1. It is an expression of autonomy: I am my own power, so I can vent that power any way I want (for example: &%!0#! that stupid cat).

2. But it is also an expression of an essential lack of power: Existence is not how I'd like it (otherwise I wouldn't have hit my thumb with that &%!0#! hammer).

3. It betrays that, for me, angry is more primordial than happy: I'm chugging along under the illusion of #1 (I am my own power) when the reality of #2 hits me (things aren't the way I want).

4. Therefore cussing is impatience with this creation, fallen as it is, and with God's program in recovering it.

5. All of the above is why cussing is fundamentally a complaint against God.

That's why repentence is needed.


Matthew 5.37
But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

Romans 12.14 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.

At the moment when it's right, you've got to write

That moment usually -- not always, but usually -- is NOT when you think is right. When you think it's right to write, that's when nothing comes.

I know that feeling.

I also know the feeling when, after writing something good, you wonder where it all came from, and you fear it'll never come again.

Then there are other times when you write something you think is junk. But it grows on you, and it grows on you. And finally you realize that, hey, when I wrote that, it must have been the right time ... you just didn't know it.

It must have also been the right material ... you just didn't know that either.

As far as I was concerned, I was writing out of obligation. And for sure, most of the stuff written during obligation is just that -- obligatory junk.

Then there are times when I write something I am so pleeeeeeased with myself for writing. Pleeeeeeased. I just feel good all over. I read it and I'm so happy at how clever I am ...

... only to feel a sense of embarassment upon reading it a day later. Is that what you want people to be reading, you jerk?

You know what Wang? You're a jerk.

That's how I feel at those times.

And this may be one of them. It's just never quite clear ...


1 John 3.2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

1 Corinthians 13.12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Odds and ends and a day of small things

Someone sent us a cartoon of a kid who bragged he only worked two days a week for his summer job. When asked why only two days a week, he said "I'm training to be a professor." Ha Ha.

Michael Jackson passed away today. As his body was transported to the LA Coroners office, a commentator on Fox News said something to the effect that, "Wow, after all that star power, all that's left is just a human body ..." How true.

Farrah Fawcett passed away today too. She can't get attention even in passing ...

Jeremy texted last night and said somebody called him to say how much he enjoyed the tape of my message at this year's Men's Retreat. It was on stress in marriage. I texted back and said: "Tell him thanks -- that message took me 30 years to prepare."

Today I just couldn't get it up to do much of anything at the office. (Must not have been one of my two days this week). Here I am getting published and all, and putting in another book proposal. But I just can't get motivated. I feel sluggish. And probably depressed.

I've been depressed enough to know the first antidote when depression is coming on: Remember that other people do not see you the same way you see yourself. They think better of you than you do. And they're probably right.

I was stung by some kind of bug two days ago while working in the yard. The thing bit me right on the leg. Couldn't walk yesterday without pain. Today it's a little better. It just made me feel really old.


The passage I read this morning is below. It's all about how I am getting old; and how God never does.


Isaiah 46.4 ... Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

What is an idol?

Based on the passages below under Logos2Go, we can conclude these things about what idols are:

1. An idol is made from commonplace material -- wood, for example.

2. A disproportionate importance is placed on this material.
For instance, idol worshipers burn half their wood for fuel, but the other half they craft into idols.

3. The importance placed upon this material has to do with it being able to shape one's life history. That is why it is worshiped.

4. But as a matter of fact, an idol is by nature lifeless. It is mute and blind to the needs of anyone worshiping it. Ultimately it is blind to itself. It is just wood.

We are much too sophisticated to worship figurines crafted out of wood, clay or metal. That would be primitive. That would be idol worship. But let's try the following on for size.

How about a career?

A career is a commonplace thing: people live off of it for wages to buy fuel. But many also worship the other half, as it were. When we meet a person we often think of what his career is. And if he has a good career, that's the way he wants to be known. As if the career can tell one's life story: his past and his future.

But the career itself is actually lifeless; it is mute and blind. If you let up one day and not work from morning til night, the mute career won't lift a finger to help you. It has no fingers. It has nothing. It's just wood.

How about a nice car? How about a nice house? How about a nice vacation? How about some other thing, anything, that is common to this world?

Does that dream house you worship and work endlessly to support ... does that house even know who you are?


Isaiah 44.19 Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meet and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left?

Isaiah 41.22-24 Bring your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were ... Do something so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing ... he who chooses you is detestable.

Isaiah 41.7b ... He says of the welding, 'It is good.' He nails down the idol so it will not topple.

The scale of our excitements

It was many years ago -- well, about a half century ago. I was only a few years old and living in Taiwan, my native country.

My sister and I would wait eargerly all day for a 15-minute radio program. It was a story told in installments; I've long forgotten what it was about.

But I remember the anticipation. When the time came, we'd sit on the tatami floor, tune the radio as best we can to reduce the static, and listen intently.

It was the high point of our day.

In 1950s rural Taiwan, rice paddies were just down the unpaved road from our house. Chickens clucked around outside. Inside, if you wanted a bath, you went to the kitchen and got out a metal tub, and filled it with buckets of water ...

Going to school was when Lao Shan picked us up in a rickshaw and pulled us, like a mule, to the school in town. There'd be several of us kids sitting in that thing, and he'd be huffing and puffing uphill. How I wish I could pull with Lao Shan now to relieve him!

Nowadays the remote control for my color TV hasn't worked for weeks and I can't be bothered to go out and buy another one.

Between the two of us, Valerie and I have three laptops within 20 feet of each other, all streaming news, games, email. No doubt I can get a few stories too at the click of a mouse.

Even books -- books that a young kid named Abe Lincoln living in the woods of Illinois would walk miles to borrow, read, and return -- books are everywhere in our house. You name it we've got it. Or we'll just order it on line from Amazon.

I'm reading a dozen books at once these days, and each night I can't make up my mind which one to read for five minutes to fall asleep by.

Up in my attic sit two radios (that I know of), collecting dust because they don't fit with our current decor.

Increasing secularism may or may not be a threat to Christian faith. But abundance surely is.

Abundance that reduces the scale of our excitements.

When angels get more excited than we do, something's awry.


1 Peter 1.10-13 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Phone calls on Father's Day

In the afternoon on Father's Day, my cell phone was in my pocket, but I forgot I had turned it off.

We were out working in the garden so we didn't bother with the house phone when it rang.

It was drizzling. I was putting down landscape fabric and then hauling pine needles to place on top. Valerie was weeding near the raspberry bushes. The drizzle was ideal for what we were doing; better than working under a hot sun. The tap-tap-taps on the brim of my hat, and getting slowly wet all over, made me feel closer to nature.

"You should get the phone," she said. "Why?" "Your sons might call on Father's Day." "If they call, they'll call my cell." "I don't know about that." "I do." I was privately amazed she still thought young people would call on a land line. Gosh, get with the times man.

Later, she came back from taking a break in the house. "Mr. Frantz passed away." Mr. Frantz is her brother-in-law's father.

The tap-tap-taps on the brim of my hat made me feel closer to nature. The wet pine needles. The musty earth. The cycles of nature. The dust from whence we came.

"And turn your cell phone on because Josh called."

Good grief, my cell phone was turned off. I felt mildly sheepish. Sheep-ish.

Of course there was a message on it. It was Andrew, so I called him back. He had flown from LA to Houston; he and Lydia were deciding on engagement rings. "Did your books come?" Andrew asked.

For Father's day, I had asked for Volumes 6 and 7 of Hans Urs von Balthasar's The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics.

"Not yet. Hey it's not every dad who'd ask for obscure theology books for Father's Day."

"Yea, but you're one of a kind," Andrew said.

The rain got more intense but I was one cartload of pine needles away from covering the area. (Is that like one knife short of a full set in my drawer?). The tap-tap-taps on the brim of my hat made me feel closer to nature.

Josh calls back from Seattle. The next day he starts his job painting houses. "You know where to go?" I asked. "I call my boss after I talk to you." "You got that Garmin nuvi all set up?" I asked. "Yes its working fine." "If that summer job doesn't work out, you know where you can come," I said.

"I know exactly where I can come," he said. "Love you Dad."

Later I talk to Jeremy; he had called earlier too. He and Ivy bought a car. They were driving it home from the Tri-Cities. He told me I was a great dad. I said I didn't know about that, but I have great kids. He said even if I didn't believe I was a great dad, I was.

That morning on Father's day, I spoke at church on Jesus' prayer for Peter: I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. I spoke about the faith that did not fail Peter, and would not fail us.

Before I spoke, I had turned my cell phone off.


Luke 22.31 "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."

1 Peter 1.5 ... who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time ...

Jude 1.3 ... when I gave all diligence to write to you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write to you, and exhort you that you should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints.

Good marriages are made on earth

I don't think good marriages are made in heaven. That's because they don't marry in heaven.

Good marriages are made on earth. A man and a woman are put together, and then through the grindstone of life, through the potter's wheel of life, through the trek across life -- use whatever metaphor you wish -- a marriage is made on earth. It is shaped, it is hammered out ...

... it is seasoned and aged like a bottle of good wine. On earth.

And good wine takes time.

Recently I bought a bottle of Merlot from 2005 and that already cost a pretty penny (for my budget).

My marriage was bottled in 1978. And with Valerie's recent cancer, it's struck me just how absolutely irreplacable it is.

I also don't think there is love at first sight. There's something at first sight, but whatever it is, it's not love. Maybe in the better cases it is the beginnings of love, maybe the seedlings of love. But as with any seedling, you don't know what the mature glory will look like until much later.

Good marriages are like lost and found. You lose yourself. And you find something much better.

And that something much better is a small echo of Something Much Better.

And so a good marriage is like a little sounding box -- like the sounding box of a violin.

In it, you hear just a hint of the music of the spheres.


Mark 12.25 For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.

Ephesians 5.30-32 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

Just what kind of rock was Peter?

When I visited St. Peter's in Rome, it was hard for me to imagine that this was what Jesus meant: "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church."

St. Peter's is so massive my head was only level with the base of the columns. And when I sat down on the marble floor to rest my weary feet, a uniformed guard dressed in a costume Shakespeare would have loved scooted me away. I think Peter the fisherman would have been a lot more gracious.

Protestants have long objected to the Catholic interpretation of "upon this rock I will build my church."

It's a play on words, we Protestants protest.

Jesus said: "You are Peter (petros = a small rock, a pebble), and upon this Rock (petra = a massive, immovable rock cliff) I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

Peter, we Protestants say, was the small rock you can kick around. That's not the rock Christ builds his church on. That rock is Christ himself, the petra, the massive immovable rock cliff.

And this remains obvious to me as the main thrust of what Jesus said.

The main thrust.

But in my old age I am more attracted to the subtlety of the play of the words. Jesus didn't have to use this play on words that has stirred so much controversy.

(By the way, for all the hoopla about church-this and church-that over two thousands years of church history, Jesus himself only used the word "church" two times) ...

Anyway, Jesus didn't have to use this play on words when he said what he said about his church.

No, He didn't mean for them to go and build an edifice like that thing in Rome.

But by the end of his life, Peter was one solid guy, with a faith that did not fail, and a joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Maybe that transformation was included in Jesus' vision for all who are in his church: small pebbles coming into their own in the immovable Rock which is the Christ.


Matthew 16.18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, καὶ πύλαι ἅδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς.

πέτρος (petros 4074) stone [noun] a piece of rock;

πέτρα (petra 4073) the rock itself, which is Christ.

1 Peter 1.6-8 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, [being] much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see [Him], yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory ...

The only other recorded time Jesus used the word church is found in Matthew 18.17.

Why must our faith be tested?

It says clearly that the faith that saves us is a gift of God: "For you have been saved by grace through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God."

But if saving faith is the gift of God, then why does it have to be tested?

I can think of two reasons.

One is simply that false understandings of faith may be refined away. If I live by a faith other than saving faith, then I can say such and such a faith delivered me. Faith in my good works. Faith in my good upbringing. Faith in my education.

God says through Isaiah: Behold, I have refined you ... I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake ... I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.

So the first reason why this faith that keeps us must be refined is so that we know it, and we value it, and God (not something else, like good education) is glorified.

The second reason has to do with beauty. Here is a principle: anything that is material is shape-able. That is at once the glory and the risk of God’s creation. To reveal himself and his purpose, God did not only use concepts; he created a material world. And that world, because it is material, has to be ruled, which includes being shaped. Again, anything material is shape-able. And through being shaped, the beautiful emerges.

We all have worked on things we take pleasure in: a table setting, a flower arrangement, a poem, a drawing, putting siding on a house. Stuff needs to be shaped in order to get the beautiful result. And shaping is a kind of testing. It is a principle of this creation.

And so in both of these senses of testing – testing to rid us of dependence on false faiths, and testing so that we can be beautifully formed – our faith is proved to be genuine. And that results in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.


Ephesians 2.8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God ...

1 Peter 1.6-7 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ

Isaiah 48.10-11 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do [it]; For how should [My name] be profaned? And I will not give My glory to another.

What I am hearing in my heart this morning

… it is not that others are in the circle of God’s will more than you because they are “full time” – while you spend your time in a secular job.

If you actually went and did “full time work” it may be following after a caricature of it rather than actually doing it – and you would not be satisfied. For example, to find yourself, say, a full time missionary in China because you saw it as “full time.” You think: “now God would be pleased with me.” But you won’t be any happier. In fact then you might feel really trapped.

It may just be that your full time work is to get words in your spirit and disseminate them. That may actually be your real full time work. Just do it, and accept it. If you do it out of obedience and faithfulness, and no one hears, that is not your worry.

You need to do what you do, but do it with your eyes on the Lord and not on yourself. As if it is you who generates the life. As if it is you who gives yourself the words to say.

Logos2Go, your message this Sunday – both of these will have life if the Spirit leads, which is only possible if you let go and learn again to be the conduit.

If you try to make things up, the conduit will clog up, and you will be spiritually plugged up.

Know the difference between making things up versus letting the life come and go in the conduit.

Start with the Word. If you do not start with the Word, but with your mind, the conduit will clog.

Even in writing secular books and articles, the conduit will clog if you take these upon yourself. Wait for the words to come through the conduit. It is the same conduit. There is not a conduit for the Word, and another conduit for secular words. If God is over all, he does not make an exception for you -- or for the cultural distinction that some do full time Christian work while others do secular work but are sometimes doing Christian work.

Christian work is a misnomer.

As for Logos2Go, know that you have different voices, and not all of them are of equal value. There is good writing in which the Spirit speaks, and is an encouragement to some. That is different than you trying to be funny, which characterizes some of the Logos2Go pieces. Then there is writing that is more you trying to show your academic dexterity; probably no one will read those anyway.

If you struggle in writing so that you think you are sounding grave and relevant, those pieces are probably the ones worth deleting. If you think you’ve come up with a piece that is witty, funny and oh so much you … wait a day or two before posting it; you might feel otherwise when you realize it is just witty, funny and -- oh so much you.


These thoughts came, with minimal editing, while reading this lectionary selection :

Psalm 97
Psalm 147.12-20

1 Samuel 2.27-36
Acts 2.22-36
Luke 20.41-21:4
Psalm 16
Psalm 62

The erasure of personal kindness by technology

A Jewish man was walking to another town. He was accosted by robbers and beaten severely. A priest walks by and ignores him. A Levite walks by and avoids him. Then a Samaritan -- and Samaritans and Jews don't get along -- comes by and helps him to an inn, pays for it out of his own pocket, and tells the innkeeper he'll take care of any additional expenses on his way back some days later.

So goes the story of the Good Samaritan.

Nowadays the guy would probably be making the trip in an SUV, so it would be a little harder for robbers to get at him.

And he won't get lost because he's got his Garmin nuvi GPS wizard. No need to roll down the window (or push the button to do so) to ask passersby for directions. Naw, that would be imposing.

If robbers did try to get him, he would have a cell phone to call the cops. Actually, the road would be well-policed anyway, so the chances for trouble are really very slim. Robbers? Come on. Once in a blue moon.

But let's say the guy did get hit by robbers; let's say a crime did occur. (Stupid!). He wouldn't be taken to an inn. He'd be rushed by ambulance to a hospital. And for all the hubbub about people not having medical insurance, at least here in America, the emergency room would be obligated to treat him.

In none of this is a Good Samaritan needed.

Other than the fact that the hospital might be named Good Samaritan Hospital; that may be a possibility.

Because, you see, we are a Christian nation. Our institutions, like schools and hospitals, were once started because of the Christian gospel. And at least the hospitals are still acting like it.

But the irony is that our technology has largely erased the need for us to PERSONALLY be good Samaritans.

Help that old lady neighbor down the street? Well, I don't know. If she falls, she's wired to services where they'd come running at the push of a button. She's got Meals-on-Wheels coming to give her supper. Her adult kids are a cell-phone call away.

She's sitting there on watching her HDTV, which is better than the one I have, for crying out loud.

I'm gonna work on my garden ...


Luke 10.25-37 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’a; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’b” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coinsc and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Cubist grace; or what grace looks like in process

On Friday we drove two cars to Seattle to leave one of them for our son Josh who is staying there for the summer.

"I should get him a lug wrench just in case he has a flat," I said before we left.

300 miles later, right before the 520 bridge into Seattle, kaboom, I get a flat. Cars backed up to kingdom come.

"Go on ahead," I cell-phoned to Valerie in the other car, "I'll take care of this..."

Two hours, 1 kind policeman, 400 bucks and 4 new tires later, we're eating at the Ram restaurant near the UW campus (students these days much be rich). "How would you like your meat done?"

"Medium rare," I said.

Big mistake.

On Saturday, between barfs, I was flat on my back in a friend's house, having displaced them out of their master bedroom (we protested but it was no use) -- while Valerie and Joshua spent the day out. Some weekend with our son. They brought back Chinese food. I wasn't able to eat any of it.

Today (Sunday) we went to Mars Hill Church and saw Mark Driscoll preach on a big video screen. The live Mark was at the Crystal Cathedral. The Crystal Cathedral in California.

The church is massive, and growing. It's one of the happening places in American evangelicalism. Josh is really into it. It's the reason he's staying in Seattle.

I've never been in a sanctuary all in black, with black chairs, atmospheric lights, really loud electric music. And grungy graphics. In fact, there's an overall grungy-ness to it.

But deep inside I sensed I was seeing the Message framed appropriately for this demographic.

I felt old.

Out in the lobby, Bob, one of the many church members, said, "You know, we're the third fastest growing church in the country, and the fastest growing for the 20-45 demographic..."


Driscoll mentioned Noah in his sermon -- who all his life was derided for building his boat. Nobody joined up with him. He went in with 8. He got out with 8. His was not a fast-growing demographic. But he was one BIG life-line in the overall Story.

So there are two kinds of lifelines. The Driscoll kind. The Noah kind. I need to remember that.

On the drive back I read an article by Marvin Olasky on art. The medieval painters painted conceptions rather than perceptions. I need to remember that.

Cubist painters, however, paint scenes juxtaposed together, so you get a face in profile and frontal view at the same time.

This weekend was all in pieces. Cubist pieces.

But maybe that's what grace looks like in process.


1 Peter 3.20-23 God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also - not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand - with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

2 Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; ... (9) if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment ...

Is there a there there over there at the Great Wall?

When you've been to the Great Wall as many times as I have, you start to think about that old cliche: "there is no there there."

Most people would say that the Great Wall would decidedly
not qualify as having no "there there."

Because the Great Wall is there. And clearly the Great Wall is a there there. No?

Well, not for the soldiers stationed there during the Ming Dynasty. In those days it wasn't like serving a term and then you go home. In those days when you're there, you're there. For life. For those guys there probably was no there there at the Wall.

And not for the countless and nameless workers who built the Wall. To say no more: there was no there there for them.

And not for the many hawkers there who try to sell you souvenirs ("I give you best price! I give you best price!") while you're there experiencing your there. For those poor people, there probably isn't any there there over there. At least not the there you seem to think is there.

So how come for all those guys the Wall has no there there?

And what happens to the nature of the there you feel there when you are there, if that there is not uniformly there for all? If it is not there for all, are you sure it's there for you?

I think about these things.

Just what
is the there there in the cliche "there's no there there"? -- when even for places with a there there the there is not there for some?

Is there a there that would be a there for everybody?

And where is that there that would have such a there?

Where is there a THERE to end all theres?

I think about these things.

Logos2Go 2

Corinthians 12:2-4
I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago, (whether in the body I know not, or out of the body I know not, God knows;) such a one caught up to the third heaven. ... he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable things said which it is not allowed to man to utter.

Scribing glory

The days go by and we leave. And the earth remains as a stage for others to live out their uncertainties and passing joys.

How can we make the best of our days? How can I be sure what I do this moment has lasting value?

One answer comes from the Psalmist: "Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name."

How is this the answer?

The Hebrew word for ascribe is also translated as follows:

When God saw the sons of men building the tower of Babel, he said, "Come (ascribe), let us confound their language..."

When Jacob met his end of the bargain, he said to Laban, "Give (ascribe) to me my wife..."

When Moses chose rulers over the people, he said to them, "Take (ascribe) wise men ... among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you."

When David plotted wickedly against Uriah whose wife he had taken, he said to his underlings: "Set (ascribe) Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle..."

So to ascribe involves intentional acts of the will. You can never ascribe unintentionally -- like "Oops! I ascribed (misplaced) by cell phone today...!

No, ascribing involves making something happen, deciding it, determining it, demanding it. And, as in the case of David, it can be making something happen for ill.

It's up to you. What are your intentions today?

Now, our English word ascribe happens to have SCRIBE in it; that is, to write something.

Not just anything. Scribes in the old days were copyists. They copied the sacred scriptures so that generation after generation had the Word of God.

To truly ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name, it has to be scribed into the days of our lives. And that requires making intentional decisions.

Given what I can do moment to moment, this is what I will do because it is more honoring to God. In this way my life becomes an offering. It is the best I can do, even though it is a widow's pittance.

And so glory is scribed onto the fabric of our lives.

We will not last. But glory does. Perhaps by scribing glory, we become part of the eternal story.


Psalm 96.7-8 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.

Psalm 45.1 I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

Psalm 90.12 Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Mark 12.42-44 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, a worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Genesis 11.3-4 GO TO (ascribe), let us make bricks ... GO TO, let us build a city.
Genesis 11.7 GO TO, let us confound their language... Genesis 29.21 And Jacob said unto Laban , GIVE (ascribe) me my wife... Deuteronomy 1.13 TAKE (ascribe) you wise men , and understanding , and known among your tribes , and I will make them rulers over you ... 2 Samuel 11.15 And he wrote in the letter, saying, SET (ascribe) Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle.

Beyond Grace?

Driving around town, I see a church's name: Beyond Grace Fellowship.

Beyond Grace Fellowship?

How does that work?

The problem with our religious instinct is not that it wants to ignore what Jesus demands. We want to go beyond what Jesus demands. It's not that following Jesus is too hard. Being good religious people, we think it's too easy.

We want to do better. After all, we are eager beavers. We are can-do people. So if Jesus says X, we say X+1!

Hoo-ah! Then he would be really pleased, wouldn't he, wouldn't he?

In our politically correct culture nowadays, there are many rules for, well, let's just call them rules for diversity compliance. I know of an eager-beaver school administrator who likes to say that she always goes beyond compliance. Isn't she just wonderful?

May she find grace.

Actually, may grace find her.

Because anything beyond grace is the Law that grace left behind.


2 Corinthians 12.9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Matthew 11.29-30 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Galatians 2.21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpopse.

Gardens and dying

"We all know we'll eventually die, and yet we all go on with life's things ..."

She said that over dinner. We were talking about someone else, but
... somewhere in the background I sense the breast cancer she struggled with earlier this year. She's cancer-free now, but of course it's left its mark. In many ways.

We're closer now for having gone through it together; that's one way.
But I think another way is you're more aware of just how fragile life is, and you wonder how many years you really have left.

"Are we working in the garden this evening?" I said.

"I guess so."

I'm hauling wheelbarrows of pine needles from our property to use for
mulch between the raised beds. The evening is cool. It's a good time to reflect. What is it about fascination with gardens?

Beans and corn are breaking through the soil in the raised beds. She
just planted them into the black soil several days ago.

Unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone.
But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.


John 12.24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

1 Corinthians 15.35-38 But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.

1 Corinthians 15. 42-49 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”a; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall web bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

Prayer is for forever

Let's face it. This is something we say when we can't think of anything else for comfort. It's almost an admission that nothing can be done. But because no one wants to look into a hopeless abyss, you mutter:

"Oh ... I'll pray for you."

And the other person says -- because it's the right thing to say in polite company:

"Oh... thank you," with the conviction of having just won a make-believe lottery.

And then everybody muddles on; another social politeness transacted without either side losing face. Without either side conceding that prayer is at best incomprehensible, at worst undependable, and always a shot in the dark.

Right after Jesus told Peter he would deny Him three times, He also said, "But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail."

This teaches us several things about prayer.

1. Jesus regarded prayer as the assured solution. And the problem was a nasty one: You are going to betray me Peter but -- here's the solution -- I've prayed for you that your faith may not fail. No shot in the dark here.

On the evidence, this prayer was simply not answered; Peter's faith did fail. Ahh, but here's the second thing about prayer.

2. Jesus' prayer for Peter was for the long run. He saw the end in view for Peter, and the end was a glorious inheritance. Many years later this same Peter would write to others undergoing all sorts of sufferings: "These (sufferings) have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold ... may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."

So there is a way that prayer is like a long-term certificate of deposit. In the short run the market may fluctuate, but the long run outcome is assured.

For a culture fixated on short-run satisfactions (these days if you're computer takes a minute to boot up, it's outrageous -- it's time for a new computer), for a culture with this kind of attitude, waiting for long-run outcomes is not attractive. So...

3. ...The recipient of prayers also has some responsibility. Practice cultivating long-term joys. There is that too.

4. Finally, Jesus' love for Peter was unconditional. One thing about love: it is not utilitarian. If you love someone, getting use out of that person is not foremost on your mind, if it is on your mind at all.

If there is no love there, there just might be no there there ... to prayer.


Luke 22.32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."

1 Peter 1.3-8 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.

Isn't the Holy Spirit just a Garmin nuvi?

Driving from San Antonio to El Paso amidst the endless nothingness of southern Texas, there are no Chinese restaurants.

Unless, of course, you have a Garmin nuvi.

Not only will that little GPS thing tell you there are Chinese restaurants hidden amidst all the tumbleweed and border patrol cars, it'll tell you if they're north-northwest of you, or southeast of you. It'll tell you how many miles away they are. And if you punch the right buttons, it'll lead you road by road, turn by turn, until it says, in that mature lady's voice (with just a little promise of fun):

"Arriving at destination."

Now here's my question: Is a Garmin nuvi really the Holy Spirit?

Don't we ask the Holy Spirit to show us the way? Now we can just program it in! Isn't the Holy Spirit just some sort of top-of-the-line Garmin nuvi?

Let's call it the Garmin HS. Very pricey.

Well, now, maybe some of us would say NO, the Holy Spirit is less than the bottom-of-the-line Garmin, because, ahem, we've programmed in all sorts of destinations and the thing doesn't work. It says nothing.

And many customers have turned away, no longer walking with Him.

Why doesn't it work?

Well, the Holy Spirit Garmin gives the directions, yes, but we don't program in the destination. The unit doesn't say whatever you want it to say; in fact, it can't.

There's Something Else hidden in the tumbleweed of this world. Blessed is he who sees and hears. And follows.

And I hear there is food involved when we get there. And I'm betting at least some of it will be Chinese.


John 16.12-15 I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.16 In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.

John 6.65-66 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

Luke 24.40-43 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

Revelation 19.9 And the angel said* to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”

The life of a drawing

Lijiang in southern China is a little like Venice. Winding alleyways. Curving waterways. A splash of the medieval, except everybody has cell phones.

It's December 1, 2004, and I'm at Ma Ma Fu's restaurant in Lijiang, doing what I do best while in China: eating.

But I get the urge to draw.

(Ma Ma Fu means "Mother Pays" -- fu meaning to pay. And mama means mother in any language). So I'm at Mother Pays restaurant in Lijiang and I get the urge to draw.

Not finding a pencil, Lunch at Ma Ma Fu's was drawn with a ball point pen. So: ball point pen on paper.

Since then the drawing has been with me to Tibet. In fact it's been all over China and Japan with me. It was with me while I was sick as a dog in a rural Chinese hospital: no water to bathe in for three days; no food served; I had to get the nurses to go to street vendors for soup ... with a quarter inch of grease floating on top.

It's moved two homes with me. It now sits on my desk still in its temporary frame.

It's by far one of my favorite drawings. Not just because of the strokes falling in the right places. But because of the strokes of life it has shared with me. And I look forward to more.

Maybe someday I'll actually frame it. But I'm reluctant to, because that'll take something away.

What a heartache being the creator of drawings! Once they are birthed into the world, they have a life of their own. And yet there is a sense that I am still in them, and they are in me, because whatever made them came from me.

It would be difficult to part with Lunch at Ma Ma Fu's for any price.

What must the heart of God be like?! God, the creator of men.

Surely he would pay an enormous Price to save us.


Psalm 16.6
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

Ephesians 28-10
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

John 17.23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

John 15.4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

John 14.2 In my father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.

What happened today at the Starbucks

"I'll pay for that guy's order too," I said to the middle-aged barrista at the Starbucks.

My son was in town for business and stopped by for coffee after his power lunch. So here we were waltzing into the Starbucks.

He was dressed in his business best.

My attire was summer professor casual: frumpy polo shirt, second-day khakis, and I happened to be wearing my Airwalk sandals: you can see the toes squirming inside. Add to this my graying Chinese head of hair.

"I'll pay for that guy's order too," I said, as he ducked into the men's room.

"OK, we'll do," she said as we waited.

Then to pass the time, I ventured: "He's my son, you know."

You can see the gears turning as she did the mental assessment -- something like: That sharp guy is this jerk's son, yea right ...

"You're pulling my leg," she finally muttered, lower jaw not moving.

"He is," I said. "When he comes out take a close look, and then tell me if you see some of me in him."

So he comes out and places his order. But she's glancing from him to me to him. To me to him.

"Ten percent," she finally said. But she's still thinking I'm pulling her leg.

Then Jeremy gives me a big hug. And that settled it.


Psalm 128. 1. Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways. 2. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours. 3. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. 4.Thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord. 5. May the Lord bless you from Zion all the days of your life; may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem, 6. and may you live to see your children's children. Peace be upon Israel.

Yummy and recipe are two

"Oh I must have that recipe!" We have all said this when something yummy is served.

So you get the recipe. But when you follow the recipe, the dish is not so yummy. Why?

Because yummy and recipe are two, not one.

We live in a world of recipes, because we think recipe and yummy are one.

But recipes are attempts to reproduce yummy. The yummyness is not in the recipe.

The yummyness is somehow in the first-hand experience of the original cook. That you can't capture in a second-hand recipe.

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem (see post May 27, 2009). His disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven to wipe out villages that spurned them. Is that the recipe, huh, huh, Superman? No, says Jesus.

Others wanted to sign up and be disciples -- so they can get his recipes. They must have his recipes! No, says Jesus.

For Jesus, it was not about second-hand recipes; it was about life lived first-hand. He was going to Jerusalem to lay down his life. Not to act it out in a movie, but to lay it down first-hand. Out of that came resurrection life.

So here is the message: to really produce anything that is yummy -- filled with life; filled with beauty; filled with taste -- a life must be laid down.

In the giving of a life, recipe and yummy just may become one.


Psalm 116.15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints

John 12.24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

Psalm 34.8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Luke 9.51-62 [51] When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. [52] And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; [53] but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. [54] When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" [55] But he turned and rebuked them. [56] Then they went on to another village. [57] As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." [58] And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." [59] To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." [60] But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." [61] Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." [62] Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."