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

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Cash for clunkers

Put yourself in the clunker's position.

Once you were a new rig. But now you are a clunker.

They're paying money for you not out of love or respect, but because they want to get rid of your toxic influence on the environment.

Once I myself was a new rig.

But now I am fast becoming a clunker.

Yes sometimes I wish I was young again.

But I like being broken in. I like the dents and dings on me.

And when I'm on the road, nobody lusts after me. They just pass me by.

What I have left is only for use, not for show. And not for speed.

My concern now is how to be useful.

Help me not to be jealous of other old clunkers because I see they are so much more useful than me.

One day I will indeed be traded in.

But I don't think anybody knows what that will be like.


2 Corinthians 5.4 Our dying bodies make us groan and sigh, but it's not that we want to die and have no bodies at all. We want to slip into our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by everlasting life. (NLT)

1 Corinthians 15.52 ...in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

John 12.24 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.

The burden of being an introvert

Introverts often aspire to be extroverts.

It's never the other way around. Can you imagine an extrovert thinking: "Oh, if I can only be an introvert! Think of how fulfilled my life would be!"

I can't imagine extroverts ever thinking that. They're too busy being extroverts: you know, being out there, mingling, networking, organizing, doing all of the things introverts live in mortal fear of doing ... and they're enjoying it! It's rejuvenating them!

I on the other hand am an introvert.

Once I went on a week-long retreat with a bunch of academics. It was in the mountains outside of St. Lake City. (In other words, I was stuck big time; no other place to go). The week was packed with wall-to-wall people obligations: meetings, encounter sessions (yuck!), dinners, cocktails, small talk, yak yak yak. Hikes in the snow!

I almost died.

One evening I simply disappeared into my room and shut the door. They didn't know what happened to me.

Oh, if I can only be an extrovert!

Today my friend Dan cited me a statistic that 75% of the US population is extrovert; only 25% are introvert. So you know who's running this joint.

Dan told me this tidbit in his study, which is a small wood frame shed -- oh, it must be no more than 10 x 10 -- on his 20 acres of land. We were holed up in there having fellowship, prayer, conniving to write a book entitled Christianity for Introverts.

Dan, you see, is an introvert.

"This is not a book," said Dan in his thoughtful way, "that will encourage introverts to be extroverts. This is a book that will encourage introverts to rejoice in just how God made them."

"Amen," I said, chomping down on his home-grown strawberries. "Amen!"

Outside several goats were lounging in the shade. And grasshoppers were all over the place, popping out of the grass like coiled springs.


Psalm 139.14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

On giving money to strangers: a confession

The other day we were in the parking lot at Lowe's. A young man met us and asked for money to buy gas "for me and my father." I refused him by saying he should ask inside the store. He walked away dejected, muttering, "But I've already tried that ..." And we drove off.

It felt so not-right.

But what to do? These days many ask for money for help, only to spend it on what they actually need help for: addiction to drugs and booze. But do I hide behind this excuse, and end up not offering help of any kind?

The incident stirred two other memories:

Years ago when we were young, Valerie and I were in Seattle for the first time. Outside our hotel a man asked for 20 dollars for an emergency, promising he'll repay it by leaving it at the front desk for us later in the day. I gave him the 20 dollars. (We were young). Of course nothing turned up at the front desk later on.

That incident had a formative influence on me with respect to strangers asking for money. The young man at the Lowe's was the unfortunate recipient of that influence.

Also some years ago we were touring in China; I forget which city we were in. But again it was in a parking lot: a small girl came up to me and begged for money.

I've never forgotten how dismissive I was in turning her down. I've prayed for forgiveness many times since then. Of course I would give her money now. And I would speak kind words to her.

But in this life you never step into the same river twice.

And apparently my regret wasn't enough for me to come up with a better way to treat that young man at the Lowe's.

Again I am sorry, and wanting to respond correctly (righteously) the next time something like this happens -- the instant it happens.

Not that I know what I would exactly do or say.

But I don't want to just ruminate about it afterwards on a blog.


Matthew 25.43-45 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' 44 Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' 45 Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'

The fair at God's fence

My friend Brad writes that God's holiness is like a security fence that surrounds Him. He put it there for our protection.

In the Old Testament, cross that fence and you die.

In the New Testament, there's actually a gate that allows you to go through that fence, in effect, and not face immediate extinction: the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

This is why Peter in the New Testament, for example, can challenge Christians to "be holy, as God is holy."

But this fence of holiness around God is still very dangerous. Yes, Christ is the gate into His holy presence, and this Gate takes away the barrier.

But it does not take away the danger.


In reading Brad's post, I see another fence in my mind's eye, a second one. This fence surrounds the fence that is the holiness of God.

Around this second fence I see ... I see something. In fact I see lots of things:

I see festivity; I see commotion; I see lots and lots of people milling around, most of them -- the overwhelming majority of them -- dressed casually. And having a good time.

It's a fair!

Over there is a booth selling buttons with "WWJD" designs on them. (That would be What Would Jesus Do? buttons).

There are many booths selling self-help books: Christian investing, Christian dating, Christian this, Christian that.

And then there are booths where experts sit and speculate on the future: there's a Pre-Mil booth; a Post-Mil booth; one is a Preterist booth that's getting lots of attention.

And look! Over there is a booth selling a big ticket item: jumbo-trons!

I see in my mind's eye the people getting hungry and looking for food.

And all they seem to be served are hot dogs and mustard.

Hey, by the way, where is that gate?

Where is that dangerous Gate?


Exodus 19.12 Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, 'Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.

John 10.9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.

Matthew 7.14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

1 Peter 1.15-17 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.

A kaleidoscope of sons

Often in my mind's eye I see my adult sons as if through a kaleidoscope:

There they are 10, 15, 20 Christmases ago, right next to how and what they are now.

I hear their childhood voices in harmony with their men's voices now, sounding at the same time. Somehow the chords make sense.

I see Jeremy diving for second base in sandlot baseball; I see him playing makeshift hockey with a milk carton as goal; I see him graduating with his masters degree.

I see Andrew so disappointed that his matchbox car wouldn't go down the slide. I see him exulting at his first strike after many gutter balls.

I hear baby Josh trying to say "ice cream"; I see him reading Reformed Theology.

I see pieces of me mixed right in there, pieces good and not so good.

In the kaleidoscope, time goes away. It is all happening now.

Only somehow it is decidedly not-now. I can't ever have any of it back.

And I wonder if God sees things this way. Except through His kaleidoscope, all of it is still actual, in actual time. He knows ends from beginnings; and He does what He will.

In my case, I also see the stupid things I did; I still hear the stupid things I said in anger. There it all is, in the kaleidoscope.

I hope my sons don't see and hear them now. But somehow I suspect they still do.

How is it that God entrusts young men with fatherhood? Young men who themselves are still trying to figure things out?


Matthew 7.11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

Isaiah 46.9-10 Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, 'My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure...'

Swine and convenience

The men asked Jesus to go away.

They saw what He had done: the demoniac that troubled their town was sitting there, the demons taken out of him.

But where are the swine?

Where is their livelihood?

What? The swine rushed into the sea and drowned? All 2000 of them?

How can they live?

Jesus' actions had just taken away their source of income.

How can they live?

Their answer: let's ask Jesus to go away.


Mark 5:3-17... He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7 and he shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me." 8 For he had said to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!" 9 Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion; for we are many." 10 He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12 and the unclean spirits begged him, "Send us into the swine; let us enter them." 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned in the lake. 14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.

Raised beds and covering

The other day I built tented coverings over our raised beds, and it occurred to me that I had not written about them for a while.

The previous owners of our property had left tomato frames in the garden area. These are hinged wire-frame sections you can bend to make box-like supports. My architectural instincts led me to make cathedrals out of them.

That's an overly generous description of course; I simply bent the sections into little greenhouses with gabled roofs. I used metal wire for the structural ties.

But as I worked, cathedrals were on my mind because of what the English writer
John Summerson once said: the sublime vaulting of the Gothic cathedrals were spawned by the universal human desire to be covered.

Security comes when you are covered.

As little children, Summerson said, we all played "house" by getting under a table or some other piece of furniture. And we'd feel secure.

From that need for security came the great cathedrals.

And the results of covering are palpable. I built those tents two weeks ago before our trip to the Midwest. It was because the plants were wilting, their leaves pecked at by birds and bugs. They were generally not doing well. But when I checked under the tents yesterday, our vegetables were thriving.

Security comes when you are covered.

There is an obscure passage in the Bible that often crosses my mind as I go about my day. It makes reference to an ancient angelic being as "the anointed cherub that covereth." Many commentators hold that this being was none other than Lucifer, more commonly known as Satan.

He was once the anointed cherub whose responsibility was to "cover" the entire creation of God. When that covering was in place, Beauty was in place. But for some reason beyond our present ability to comprehend, he decided to rebel. When he did rebel, the creation of God became uncovered.

And so the world today is what we see: it is generally not doing well.

Except, of course, we now have our Covering back. Remaining under His covering brings forth much fruit.

These thoughts come to mind as I look at those tents.


John 15.5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing..."

Psalm 61.4
I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. (KJV: I will trust in the covert of thy wings).

Ezekiel 28.12b-15
... Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. 13 Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the
sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. 14 Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. 15 Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.

John Summerson, "Heavenly Mansions: An Interpretation of Gothic" in John Summerson, Heavenly Mansions and Other Essays on Architecture (New York: W.W. Norton, 1963), 1-28

The pedicure craze

Before we left for our trip to the Midwest, Valerie came home with a pedicure.

A what?

A pedicure. This is where a woman gets her toenails painted. I hear they do other things to "prep" your feet, but, bottom line: she comes home with painted toenails. Red. Blue. I've even seen a kind of silvery-green shade; reminds me of cat barf.

Valerie's toenails are now red-magenta.

"How much did it cost?"

"I'm not telling you."

This is when you realize that sensitivities are involved. My ever practical wife is participating in a necessary activity the importance of which she knows I could not grasp. She simply said:

"It's the thing to do these days."

So I decided to keep my eyes open on our trip for other instances of this kind of behavior. At airports. Art fairs. The wedding reception. The sorts of places where you see women milling around.

The trick is not to stare. Just swipe your eyes downwards while running your hand through your hair; that sort of thing. It's easy with a little practice.

The results of my survey: I would say nine out of ten women had pedicures.

NINE OUT OF TEN -- it's a downright pedicure craze! All kinds of painted toes running around out there!

I am happy to report that Valerie's painted toenails are growing on me. (Isn't the English language funny: "growing on me". Not growing on me; just growing on me. You know what I mean -- we are all English speakers).

I am relaxed about it. Because after 30 years of marriage, I know my wife's beauty is not skin deep. Her beauty is much deeper. She's a rare find, and she's evidence every day that God loves me beyond what I deserve.

And if she wants to paint her toenails red-magenta, I say go for it.


Proverbs 5.18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.

God and man without words

God created all things simply with words. For example, He said: "Let there be light." And there was light.

Just with words, God brought reality to be.

Except when He created man. In this case, God used the dust of the ground. In other words, God did not use words to create man.

The same with woman: When He created her, God did not use words; He used a rib from Adam.

God created all things with words; but when He created the human being, He did not use words. Unlike the furnishings of nature, we humans came to be without words.

In this difference Robert Meagher sees a similarity between man and God, namely, both exist without beginning in word. Certainly God was not created with words; God is the Un-created; God is the creator of words, not the other way around.

In that man is not created by words; he uniquely bears the image of God. It works in this way:

GOD WAS NOT CREATED BY WORD / man was not created by word

Meagher underlines how this similarity is the basis for man's dominion of the created order: God and man, or God through man, uses words to rule this creation.

This places great weight on what we do and say (or better: what we say and do). What we say with words creates realities.

Are the realities our words create the realities we want to create? Somewhere it says that the tongue is the hardest thing to control.

And somewhere it says of Samuel that none of his words "fell to the ground."

What would it be to live a life in which my words do not fall to the ground? Instead, they create the realities that should be created? My life would look more like Jesus' life.

Jesus the uncreated Word. When He spoke, realities came to be. Even the winds and sea obeyed him.


Genesis 1.3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.

Genesis 2.7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

Genesis 2.22 Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.

1 Samuel 3.19 So Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.

James 3.7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

Mark 4.37-41 A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" [39] He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" [41] And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

Robert Meagher, Augustine: On the Inner Life of the Mind (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1998), 19-28

The 5 ingredients of knowledge

Since I fretted about this yesterday, what happens if we just use Paul's one-sentence statement for clues on what knowledge is? Here is his statement:

For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep what I've committed to him until that day.

There are 5 ingredients here for knowledge:

1. Knowledge involves a relationship. Here, Paul is in relationship to Christ, but all knowledge involves some form of relationship either with a person, a thing, or a concept. Without a relationship, what we have is information, not knowledge. For example, I am aware that Mars is out there somewhere, but because I have no first-person relationship with that thing called Mars, I don't really know Mars, etc.

2. In relationship, you come to believe certain things about that person, thing or concept. So, knowledge cannot be separate from belief. Nowadays it is fashionable to separate belief from knowledge. For example, secularists say that if we can only get rid of religious beliefs (which they think are myths), then society can truly advance in the cool assurance that "objective science" will solve all of our problems. But they fail to see that this very position is a form of belief. So:

3. Knowledge involves persuasion. Or more precisely: We cannot know anything unless and until we are persuaded of that thing's truthfulness. And persuasion involves commitments of emotion, affection, preference, hope ... all of the subjective factors that are difficult to "scientifically" measure are necessarily ingredients of true knowledge.

4. Knowledge always entails a commitment. A familiar example: you won't sit on a chair unless you know it's safe to sit on. But when you know it's safe, kaboom, you just plant yourself on that chair without thinking. You've committed yourself to it. Paul knew Christ enough to have committed certain things to him ... things that we frankly do not know about. It would be fascinating to ask him someday what exactly were those things he committed to Christ ... ? So:

5. Knowledge has an end. Paul's knowledge involved awareness of a final accounting of things. This might be the least acceptable part of a definition for knowledge. But look around. All kinds of "knowledge" (read: information) is being developed indiscriminately, with no hint of what all of this information can do to us. But if Paul's statement gives clues to what knowledge is, then true knowledge necessarily involves an awareness of judgment.

For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep what I've committed to him until that day.

There are consequences to what we know.


Daniel 12.5 But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.

Luke 11.52 "Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered."

Romans 1.28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;

2 Timothy 1.12 For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.

Yes, but we have certainties

So the last 10 days I've been with friends and family in the Midwest. Most of these folks I've known for over 30 years.

As I considered how lives have unfolded, I was struck by this thought:

I still didn't know anything.

There they all were: business executives, doctors, musicians, lawyers, nurses, farmers (I'm talking 800 acres), nutritionists, financial people. From wedding reception to backyard barbecue to hitting golf balls ...

... to visiting the prison where The Shawshank Redemption was filmed, I kept having this thought: For some strange reason, compared to the others ...

... I just didn't feel like I knew anything.

What exactly is knowledge? How does having that knowledge shape our lives? What is the difference between having knowledge and having a skill?

Why is it that in almost everything we did I felt like I was outside the body of knowledge that would allow me to really understand that thing?

On the last day of our travels, we went to the Ann Arbor Art Fair on the campus of the University of Michigan, where I earned my PhD. New construction was everywhere so the place looked unfamiliar. (By the way: at least at the U of M, what recession?).

But the new construction was not what made me feel like a stranger. What made me feel strange was this: Here I am a professor myself, and yet...

... I just didn't feel like I actually knew anything.

When we turned the lights off that night, I said to Valerie: "I am still a man without a body of knowledge."

"Yes," she said as she dozed off, "but you have certainties."

I really do love her beyond measure.


2 Timothy 1.12 ... for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.

What Jesus said to Martha about Mary

Martha was rushing all over the place trying to make things work -- after all, this was no ordinary Guest.

And she's FED UP! Look at Mary over there, that little twerp. Playing little Miss Spiritual sitting at the feet of Jesus. Why do I have to do all this work?

"Jesus, make Mary do something!"

"Martha, Martha, you are distracted by much work, but Mary has chosen the better part..."

This historic comment can easily be taken to mean that sitting at the feet of Jesus is always better than actively serving.

But let's consider the circumstances a little more closely.

Jesus' comment to Martha was prompted by Martha's complaint about Mary. Would Jesus even have said anything if Martha hadn't first complained?

I doubt it. Maybe Jesus was enjoying how Martha, out of her devotion, was busying herself with readying the house. That's the way Martha was wired.

I don't think Jesus was thinking this: "Hmm, well let's see: this one is sitting here listening to me -- good for her! -- while that one, well, I'll just keep silent because, what can you do? Some people just cant help being busybodies..."

I just don't think Jesus was thinking anything of the sort. Again, his comment to Martha was prompted by her complaint, and the attitude driving that complaint. It was not necessarily prompted by what she was doing.

So the "having chosen something better" on Mary's part was the purity of her heart in focusing on Jesus, not the activity itself of sitting there with Him.

Consider: what if the following was what transpired?:

Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, but she's FED UP! Look at that louse Martha. Here is Jesus Christ Himself, in Person, and all she does is broom the kitchen, for crying out loud!

"Jesus, make Martha come and sit here!!!"

"Mary, Mary ..."


Luke 10.38-42 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Grace: a many-colored thread through time

My friend Dan and I ate soft-serve ice cream and reflected over the last, oh, 25 years.  

Back then, we were friends in Philadelphia.  

We were young men, sensitive men, spiritual men, but basically unformed men, looking for a place in the world; seeking to understand how God made us.  

We are now both professors at different ends of the country. Not that being in academia itself is anything (oh no). But for the two of us it has been the unfolding of life tapestries.  

And as I ate my ice cream I realized that grace is more easily seen when the tapestry of many years has been woven.  

Sometimes you can't easily recognize grace up close. It is mixed in with the uncertainty of life and, for us, the heat and humidity of the Philadelphia summers, when wishes and hopes are particularly disheveled and out-of-focus.  

Grace is not a point in time.  

It is a thread through time.  

A many-colored thread through time.  


Proverbs 3.34 Surely he scorns the scorners: but he gives grace unto the lowly.

John 1.16 And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.  

1 Peter 4.10 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

Corn Hole and the image of God

I've just been introduced to the game of corn hole.

The idea is tossing a little corn-filled cloth bag into a hole cut into a plywood board. That's it. Get it in the hole and it's 3 points. Get it on the board and it's 1 point. First to 21 wins.

It's addictive. And it drives you nuts, because controlling the mechanics of the throw is much tougher than appears.

This topic came up:

Given that human beings are created in the image of God, how do our need for games fit this image?

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein found that the word "game" is actually not definable.

Try it: come up with a one-sentence definition for "game." No single definition covers all of the permutations.

1. A game raises issues of unpredictable outcomes -- or in theological terms, of "freedom." This is much like art (whatever art is).

2. A game raises issues of predictable outcomes -- or in theological terms, of selection, or even more potent: of election. Of decree. Of causality. Of rule-based ways of conduct. This is much like science.

3. A game raises issues of skill. This is much related to education and learning.

4. But a game also highlights chance. This is much like everyday life, at least how everyday life is experienced.

And in all of it, a game highlights human limitations in all four of the areas above: we can't control outcomes (1) even though we want to (2); we wish and train for competence (3) even as we come face to face with our lack of it -- so we hope for the best (4).

And then when you lose, you must be kind. This is much like moral cultivation.

Basically, games teach us that there is a God. And we are not Him.


Matthew 10.29-30 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.

Deuteronomy 29.29 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may do all the word of this law.

be yourself / be holy

How many times have you been told, "Just be yourself." (?)

Oh so simple! Just be myself! As if that'll solve the tough situation I'm about to go into: Hey, I'll just relax and be myself ...

... good grief, why didn't I think of that?

But what does "just being yourself" mean? What is "yourself?"

In other words, what is "myself"?

It presumes that I know what "myself" is. But that's precisely the thing I've been trying to figure out for five decades.

And you come along and say, "oh, just be yourself"... (!)

As far as I know, the Scriptures do not place this mysterious burden on me. It doesn't say anywhere that I should just "be myself."

It says to be holy.

Be holy even as your heavenly Father is holy.

This is a tough one as well, but it has the look of sounder advice:

It refers to an external standard. There is a role model in Christ. There are many other role models in the lives of people I can look up to (if I just take a minute to look up to them). And then there are guidelines all through the Scriptures. And then there is the empowering of the Holy Spirit. And then there is forgiveness. And then ...


Leviticus 19.2 Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: 'You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.'

1 Peter 1.15-16 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy."

What would a theology of friendship be like?

I have been surprised by how difficult it is to frame a good theological definition for "friend." At stake are the following:

1. Is it possible that friendship can actually hinder fellowship in the Spirit? My sense is yes; at least it can exist independent of it. I know of (and perhaps participate in) several "friendships" between Christian individuals in which nothing of spiritual substance is discussed. The relationship is purely fueled by common interests of an everyday variety: favorite pastimes, same home town, same graduating class.

2. Is friendship only possible between equals? My sense is no; it can be between a superior and a subordinate. But in cases like this, often the friendship seems to take place "unofficially," aside from the "official" hierarchical relationship. What exactly is a friendship between a father and a son like? Between a general and a private? Between a teacher and a student?

3. Then there are relationships called friendships that may actually be something else. Like enabling. Two people are "friends" but in fact they have an enabler-enabled dysfunctional thing going on. Not good.

4. In a good marriage, can husband and wife also be "best friends?" Does this actually take away from meaningful friendships the man and the woman can have separately? Does man and wife also being "best friends" place undue burdens upon the marital union?

5. Among Christians, can fellowship take place and friendship not be in place? My sense is yes. In fact this may be the expected mode of conduct in God's church. I need to maintain fellowship. I do not need to maintain friendship (whatever that is). But like the other items above, I'm thinking this one through.

6. And then there is "friendship evangelism." Within Evangelical circles, universally hailed as a good thing. But I want to understand this more.

The Bible does not use the word "friend" much, an interesting point in itself.

But when it does use it, it is quite striking. Moses and Abraham are mentioned as friends of God. An exclusive club, to say no more.

In the New Testament, Jesus calls his disciples friends because he has shared with them everything He has heard from the Father. I believe this is the only time Jesus uses the word "friend."

So, putting these together, we get something like the idea that friendship with God involves a relationship in which God reveals himself and his ways to people privileged to receive this information. Apparently this involves very few people in the Old Testament. In the New, depending on how you read Jesus' words, friendship can describe his relationship to the first apostles, or to all of us.

But none of this says anything about friendship between individuals.

There is the friendship between Jonathan and David. But frankly, I don't quite get the dynamics of this one. It says their souls were "knit together." Not clear what this means.

It seems friendship involves sharing things in common. But this gets very complicated very quickly. What things in common? And to what extent? And when is this sharing abused?

My son Josh says that friendship is essentially a reflection of the communal aspect of God. I'm thinking through this one as well.


Isaiah 41.8 But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend ...

Exodus 33.11 The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.

John 15.14-15 You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

1 Samuel 18.1 Now when he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.

My sons and their women

The first lesson I've learned is this: The growth of my family in the matter of daughters-in-law is none of my business.

None of God's blessings to me are my business. (That would be the larger application of the above principle).

By the time my sons select their spouses, any patterns of heaven they have seen in Valerie and me have largely been seen, and have largely been embedded into their beings.

They are all at different stages in this process: oldest son married; second son about to be -- we think next year but we have not received the official news release ...

(They seem to know the venue and the menu ... but the proposal, as far as I know, has not yet been proffered).

And the third son is downstream on this matter. But patterns for him also seem discernible. In other words, he's got a girlfriend, and we like her.

The second lesson is this: It is one thing to see the stretch of the earth and know that he made it all. It is another thing to see science confounded by the intricate orderliness of a single cell.

Somewhere on that subatomic scale are also his ways for us.


Psalm 16.11 You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 8.3-4 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?

The space between vision and understanding

Sometimes there is a space of time, and of experiences, before we come to understand what God is saying to us ...

Peter saw a vision of a sheet, filled with unclean animals, coming down from heaven. A voice told him to “Eat!” But Peter replied he’s never eaten unclean food. To which the voice said:

"What God has cleaned don't you call unclean!"

This exchange happened three times.

As he was thinking what this vision meant, some people came to invite him to visit their Gentile master. Peter asked them in.

This was the first bite he took of the “unclean” food.

The next day (what was Peter thinking as he tossed and turned in bed that night?) – the next day he went with his Gentile visitors to their master’s place.

This was the second bite he took of “unclean” food.

When he arrived at Cornelius’ house, he found a crowd of unclean Gentiles waiting for him. And Peter said: "You know, I’ve never been with Gentiles like this, but God has shown me not to call anyone unclean."

By the time of this third bite, Peter had come to understand the “application” of that vision.

And the great Good News was opened to the Gentiles.

May God give us visions. At least may he speak to our spirits by his Spirit.

And then may we go through that space of experience in which what he says becomes clear in our circumstances.


Acts 10. 9b- 28 Peter went up on the roof to pray. [10] He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. [11] He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. [12] In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. [13] Then he heard a voice saying, "Get up, Peter; kill and eat." [14] But Peter said, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean." [15] The voice said to him again, a second time, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane." [16] This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. [17] Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon's house and were standing by the gate. [18] They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. [19] While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Look, three men are searching for you. [20] Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them." [21] So Peter went down to the men and said, "I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?" [22] They answered, "Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say." [23] So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging. The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him. [24] The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. [25] On Peter's arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshipped him. [26] But Peter made him get up, saying, "Stand up; I am only a mortal." [27] And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; [28] and he said to them, "You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.

God's facebook

I'm new to all of this facebook business.

But apparently I've been linked to a pretty big one all along.


Psalm 56.8 You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.

Why I'm not "tracking" you

"I'm trackin' ya"

You hear this expression everywhere these days. It can mean:

1. To be aware of something, as in: "Did you hear about the unrest in China?" "Yea, I'm trackin' it on Fox."

2. To understand something, as in: "To get to the Costco, take a left, then turn right, got that?" "I'm trackin' ya."

3. To follow someone's example: Recently my son said he just might pursue a career in academia after all. Then he said: "I'm tracking ya."

Here is why I'm uncomfortable with "tracking ya":

To "track" something or someone comes from our increasingly cyber-dependent culture. We bomb Afghanistan by toggling joysticks in Virginia. We're tracking it all. See those little blips on that computer screen? They're bad guys, and we're trackin'em.

To ascribe powers of "tracking" to myself is to make me in the image of a cyber-creature. I'm Robo-Man, and I'm trackin' ya. It impersonalizes me. It impersonalizes community.

But I am not made in the image of a cyber-machine; I am made in the image of God. My mode of contact, my mode of awareness, of understanding, is not by tracking.

It is by the Spirit speaking to my spirit. It is not machine-to-machine. It is Life-to-life. Its operation is called fellowship. And its fruit is called communion.

So I don't want to track you. I want to be in communion with you.


Ezekiel 11. 5 ... for I know the things that come into your mind, [every one of] them.

Job 21.27 I know full well what you are thinking, the schemes by which you would wrong me ...

Romans 8.14 ... those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

1 John 1.7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

God speaks once; we hear it twice

The wonder of it all is that God speaks once.

That is infinitely better than him not speaking at all.

Once he has spoken, we can hear it twice. And the second time is just as good, if not better.

Perhaps the first time our hearts were not attentive enough, so we get another chance.

Perhaps the first time we just didn't hear clearly, so we can listen again.

Perhaps the first time -- if it is like all of those other "first times" of earthly experience -- perhaps that first time now seems far in the past; perhaps it has lost some of its glitter.

Well, the second time is fresher today.

Once he has spoken -- and he has; that is the wonder of it all -- we are forever filled with hearing. There is a lifetime of hearing.

A symphony of hearing.

That is why listening is far better than talking.


Psalm 62.11 Once God has spoken; twice I have heard this: that power belongs to God.

1 Samuel 3.10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Hebrews 1.2 ...in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.

Mark 4.23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. (This statement occurs 3 times in Matthew, 3 times in Mark, 2 times in Luke).

Job 42.5 I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You.

The danger of giving sermons

The Didache is part of the body of writings by the early Church Fathers, meaning church leaders who lived in the first through about the third centuries, AD.

It is good to read these writings because, basically, they show how much better the inspired writings of the Bible really are. Sometimes you wonder how people in the early church decided which writings to include as part of the Bible and which to exclude. One way to know is simply by reading the excluded works. The difference in quality, and in Spirit, is obvious.

For example, the Didache (which means "a Teaching"), draws from many passages of the standard Bible. But the way it adds nuances to some of them is not only awkward, it underlines the dangers of sermonizing. Consider:

Didache 1.24 says: "Happy is the man who gives, as the commandment bids him, for he is guiltless!"

As best as I can determine, this is a vague reference to 2 Corinthians 9.7: Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. But notice the nuances and twists:

1. "God loves a cheerful giver" (Corinthians) is different than "happy is the man who gives" (Didache) The latter makes the happiness dependent on giving, which is not the biblical sense.

2. "...as the commandment bids him" (Didache). What commandment? By this small phrase the Didache adds a commandment to give -- and implies that you'll be happy if you follow through with this commandment.

3. "... for he is guiltless!" (Didache). Really? So guiltlessness is now dependent on giving.

All of this sounds biblical; none of it is.

The danger in giving sermons is to take a passage of the Bible and, rather than expounding it, using it as a springboard for additions and nuances that the passage really does not permit.

I had this in mind as I was preparing a sermon for this morning, and it altered several things I was planning to say.


2 Corinthians 9.7 See above

James 3.1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

Spokane versus Philadelphia on the 4th of July

Here is one difference between Spokane and my other home town, Philadelphia.

On the 4th of July, everybody GOES to Philadelphia. The city is, after all, the seat of Independence: "We the people ..." That was written a bus ride away from my first apartment.

Never mind that I lived in Philadelphia five years before bothering to visit the Liberty Bell. The point is, all that 1776 stuff was just a bus ride away. My first job out of college was a 5 minute walk from the Bell.

It used to blow me away that tourists actually came to Philadelphia... ("Where are you from?" "Oh, we're from Tennesseeeeee." And I would think: Good grief what are they doing here ...not humid enough in Nashville? That sort of thing).

But come they did. And come and come.

And now I appreciate the difference, because ...

... On the 4th of July, everybody LEAVES Spokane.

It happens a day or two before. You're minding your own business, checking off your to-do list. And suddenly it dawns on you: where is everybody?

It's not like they've declared a holiday at the office. It's just taken for granted that, a day before, you slip away.


Nobody gives a hoot. In fact, it's the cultural thing to do. Go fishing. Go boating. Go golfing. Go camping.

Go to Coeur d'Alene.

If you're in the office at 3pm on the 3rd, for example, you feel like you're one dedicated guy. At least a lonely one. What's the matter with you?

Jeremy and Ivy came up yesterday from Pullman (that would be a tiny town 70 miles south of here -- nothing much going on there either). They are spending a day with us before, ahem, GOING TO THE LAKE.

After dinner we took a walk.

And nobody was around.


Acts 17.24-26 The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.

Fame, Fog, Fall

God does not allow many of us to be famous because, if He did, we would be more vulnerable to a fall.

In anonymity, in days of small things, He gradually stitches together his work in us.

You would think that as God Almighty, He would welcome prominence and fame.

But just because he is God Almighty, He has no need for prominence.

With fame, a man becomes exposed. He is moved outside the covering of simple (and anonymous) friends of like mind and heart, and placed under the covering of, say, a security detail.

I am thinking of that governor in South Carolina. He espouses a Christian worldview, but somehow this husband and father of four managed to slip off to Argentina for a tango on the sidelines.

A standard response might be: but for the grace of God, there go I.

Well okay, I guess I wouldn't want some pretty thing to take a shine to me. Stay away.

But when something this big happens to one who supposedly follows Jesus -- I mean, flying from South Carolina to Argentina to mess around takes a bit of planning and bravura -- constructions of the heart must have been going on for quite some time.

And the fog of fame made him think he can do it.


Matthew 20.23 So He said to them, "You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give ..."

Proverbs 16.18 Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.

1 Corinthians 1.26-29 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, [are called]. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.