Sunday, December 23, 2012

Im Coming Down

G. K. Chesterton has written a two-act play entitled The Surprise, one of only two plays he composed. Its virtually unknown and rarely enacted.

The play is cast in the Middle Ages and opens with a friar wandering through a forest. He sees a large rolling caravan (a trailer with a stage) with handsome life-size puppets lying about on the stage. The puppeteer stands above the structure.

The friar asks where the puppeteer is giving his show for he would like to see it. The puppeteer tells him to sit down and he will give him a private performance.

The man picks up the puppets strings and begins to spin out a romantic tale in which a swashbuckling hero and his friend determine to rescue a fair damsel in distress. They carry it off with a certain amount of panache, and the play ends.

The friar applauds, but the puppeteer confesses that he is very unhappy because he loves his puppets and they cannot reciprocate his love. He can only manipulate them from above. If only they were alive, he muses. The friar falls to his knees and prays that the puppeteers wish will be granted. The curtain falls on the first act.

The second act begins with the puppets lying on the stage amid their loose strings, but then the characters begin to stir on their own. They rise and start reenacting the play.

But this time everything goes wrong. The hero and his friend get drunk and quarrel; they show jealousy over the heroine; they arrive too late to rescue herat which point, the puppet master stands up on the roof of the caravan and shouts, Stop! Im coming down. And he drops down onto the stage to save his puppets from themselves.

The play ends at this point, and Chesterton offers no explanation.[1] 

I leave that to you...


[1] Good metaphors need no explanation. George MacDonald said, “If I draw a picture of a horse and must explain, “This is a horse,” I have not drawn a very good picture of a horse.”

Thursday, December 20, 2012


“When (the Magi) had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).

I read the story of the Magi this morning and recalled a Christmas episode of “The Simpsons,” in which Professor Frink, playing a would-be wise man, admits to regifting the myrrh he brought for the baby Jesus. "Because,” he explained. "Who needs myrrh?” 

Exactly. Myrrh is a gooey, gummy resin used for the most part to embalm the dead, an unlikely gift to give or receive. Who needs it?

Wise Men know: myrrh was something this child one day would need.


Friday, December 14, 2012

An Exceptionally Good Christmas

"I think we're going to have an exceptionally good Christmas."

If I had written these words I would probably have been thinking that our family would all be together for a white Christmas. I would probably imagine that well ahead of time all the cards had been mailed, all the preparations made and everything would be "just so." We would have a brightly lit tree and lovely red and green decorations, filling my heart with good memories. There would be the just-right presents to bring delight and joy to each one. There would be singing and laughing, playing games and a festive meal, with everyone decked out in their Christmas finery and caring for one another.  And I would find a fresh way to present the Christmas story at just the right time, which would be meaningful to all. There would be no worries, no loneliness, no health issues, no one missing from our family circle, either spacially or emotionally. At our house Evie would be singing "Come On Ring Those Bells" to welcome everyone in!

"I think we're going to have an exceptionally good Christmas."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote those words to his fiancée while he was isolated in a dark, cruel Germany prison as World War 2 was raging. He went on to explain:

"The very fact that every outward circumstance precludes our making provision for it will show whether we can be content with what is truly essential. I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious, the emptier our hands, the better we understand what Luther meant by his dying words: "We're beggars: it's true." The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ's home on earth."
Letter to fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer, December 1, 1943

Because of God's priceless gift of His Son, may each of us have an exceptionally good Christmas, content with what is truly essential. Content whatever our Christmas looks like this year.

Carolyn Roper

The selection from Bonhoeffer comes from the work, God Is in the MangerReflections on Advent and Christmas; compiled by Jana Riess.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bad Days

 “Some days you tame the tiger; and some days the tiger has you for lunch.”
 —Tug McGraw

My father was a stoic man who had little patience with complaint, thus I learned to play down the intensity of my feelings and hide behind a facade of dead calm. I became a strong proponent of the stiff upper lip.

But as I’ve grown older I’ve become a complainer.  I’m learning to grumble and pour out my grievances to God. Complaint, I’ve come to see, is better than stoicism, for at least it draws me toward my Lord.

But grumbling is not the last resort. My agitation sometimes leads me to look deeper inside to see the realm from which my frustration and anger come. Feelings lay bare my inmost desires, like the lights on our automobile dashboards that indicate what’s going on under the hood. The way I respond emotionally when God and circumstances don’t match my expectations reveals the condition of my heart.

The reason for so much of my anguish, it seems to me, is that I’ve set my heart on the here and now and have completely lost sight of the realm that is timeless. Deprived in the present I decide there’s nothing left for which to live. But that’s a serious error. There’s more to life than this.

The purpose of life is not to be happy, I’ve finally discovered, though there are plenty of serendipities and blissful occasions along the way. No, everything in life works together to move us toward intimacy with God and to make us more like him. That’s what this life is for.

But that lesson can only learned by those who are “trained” by affliction and difficulty.[1]  We must let adversity do its work. We must know that we’re greatly loved by God even when circumstances suggest otherwise. We must know we’re in these straits, not by accident but by God’s appointment, and humble ourselves under his mighty hand. We must seek to manifest the specific grace for which this trial calls. And we must accept our sorrow as the means by which we are drawn into the heart of God.

We may not have the good life —struggle, pain, disappointment, vexation, opposition, loss may be our lot —but we have God forever and he is our good. As the psalmist concluded: “The nearness of God is my good” (73:28). God himself is our joy. “Happiness is neither outside nor inside us,” Pascal said, “it is in God, both outside and inside us…. Our only true bliss is to be in him, and our sole ill to be cut off from him.”

Life’s disappointments—and they seem to come in waves—strip us of our earnestness with everything but God. When we begin to see how empty life is, when it ceases to have it’s attraction on us, then we begin to move toward God as our good. As we come to him again and again—listening to his word, meditating on his thoughts, following him in the path of obedience, tasting of his goodness—he makes himself increasingly known. We enter into intimacy with him and come to love him for himself.

“The most fundamental need, duty, honor, and happiness of men is…. adoration,” Fredrich von Hügel said. In adoration we enjoy God for himself. We long for the Giver rather than his gifts. We ask nothing more than to be near him and to be like him. We want nothing but the hunger to give ourselves to him. In adoration we learn why every other chase has left us breathless and restless, worn out and wanting for more.

And so, though it’s hard to accept, we need nothing more than God. Our “toys and lesser joys” can never satisfy; they are a small delight. God alone is the answer to our deepest longings.

So, the only thing left for us to do is to turn our energies toward him, giving him our full attention and our heart’s devotion, asking him every day to bring us to the place that we find him more interesting than anyone we know, anything we do, any place we go, or anything we possess.

Then we will have all we can ever expect to have in this world, but it's enough. As a beleaguered friend of mine once said, “You never know how much you have until all you have left is God.”


[1] Hebrews 12:11

Sunday, November 18, 2012


"Life is mighty chancy at any kind of trade..."
Rudyard Kipling

I don't wade swift streams any more, if I can help it, even when the best fishing is on the other side. The rocks are too slippery, the currents are too strong, my balance is too uncertain, and my old legs aren't what they used to be.

I see it as a parable: so many challenges I once took on readily are now too challenging for me. Like the psalmist, I lose sleep at night wondering how I can negotiate them (77:1-4).

But then I remember the "deeds of the LORD." I read that his "path led through the sea, his way through the mighty waters." He surged through the Red Sea as I would wade a tiny brook.

Furthermore, he "lead his people like a flock." Like a good shepherd he brought all Israel safely through the Red Sea to the other side. No one was left behind, no one was abandoned, no one was swept away.

All of us face difficult and dangerous crossings in our life-time-a transition to a new place or position, a decision to abandon a sinful practice and make a new beginning, a choice to walk a way we would rather not go, a call to venture ourselves in untried service, a retirement that takes us from prominence to a lower profile, or our final crossing through the river "bitter and cold." Yet we need not fear the dark currents for God does not fear them. His strength and courage are infinite. He will see us through.

Yet, the psalmist observes with some wonderment, he "leaves no footprints" as he accompanies us. Just as the sand in the bottom of a stream hides our footprints as soon as they are imprinted, so God's presence, as real as our own, is hidden from us. He is with us, "walking incognito," as C. S. Lewis said, and thus we may not realize he is present. But, Lewis continues, "the incognito is not hard to penetrate. The real labor is to remember, to attend," to make ourselves think about his presence; to acknowledge that he is at our side.

Furthermore, though we cannot see God's footprints in our crossings, he is incarnate in human agents that we can see. At the Red Sea he led Israel "through the hand of Moses and Aaron." Now, he leads us in the wise counsel of a mother, in the strong grip of a father, in the urgings of godly brother or sister, in the quiet encouragement of a caring spouse, in the gentle touch of a child.

How many hands have reached out to us-guiding us, encouraging us, strengthening us. In them we perceive the hand of our Lord leading us through deep and dangerous waters to the other side.

Hard crossings are inevitable, but our Lord has promised: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you" (Isaiah 43:2).

I came to the swift, raging river,
And the roar held the echo of fear; 
"Oh, Lord, give me wings to fly over,
If You are, as You promised, quite near."

But He said, "Trust the grace I am giving,
All-pervasive, sufficient for you.
Take My hand-we'll face this together;
But My plan is not over, but through."

-Lee Webber


Friday, November 16, 2012


Corinth was a sick city, corrupt even by Roman standards, so sex–saturated that Aristaphanes the Greek poet made up a verb to describe it, “to corinthianize,” was to engage in lewd, licentious conduct. 

It’s against that setting that Paul writes:

“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).

Paul starts where the Corinthians were by quoting two of their stock clichés. First, they were saying, “Everything is permissible for me (1 Corinthians 6:12),” by which they meant that sex is good and anything goes.

Not exactly, Paul responds. Sex is good! God created sex and sexuality, not Madonna, Lady Gaga or Scarlett Johansson. (Would that we could get that one back from the world!)  But it doesn’t follow that all sex is good. Sex is like fire: it must be contained or it becomes a terribly destructive force.) Our sexuality must be contained or it will master and eventually destroy us. As for me, Paul says, “I will not be overpowered by anything.”

The Corinthians had another motto: “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food (6:13),” by which they meant that nature demands satisfaction. The implied comparison is that a man’s sexual appetite is like any hunger. Feel a Mac–attack? Binge. Feel a sexual urge? Merge.

Once again Paul agrees with the basic premise: food is made for the stomach and the stomach is made for food, but it’s faulty reasoning to argue that the body is made for fornication. That’s what a logic professor would call a “categorical error”—comparing apples and oranges. The stomach is one thing; bodies are another. God designed the stomach for food and satisfaction. A man can satisfy that hunger with impunity. But our bodies are more than their hungers, an idea that Paul elaborates by insisting that our bodies have a unique purpose which we may forfeit through sexual immorality.

The Lord is for the body

First of all, Paul writes, the Lord is for our bodies. That would have been a staggering thought in Paul’s day. Back then, most people believed that only the mind mattered, or more precisely, the things on which you put your mind. The body was base and either you got it in line (Stoicism) or you gave up and went for all the gusto (Epicureanism).  Monk or a drunk; it was all the same: the body was bad. Paul disagreed: bodies are good. God is for our bodies.

That thought appeals to me as I get older and fewer of my body parts work and those that do work don’t work very well. I once thought I’d never grow old.  Perpetual youth, like hope, sprang eternal in my breast.  I jogged, lifted weights, tried to eat right and stayed more or less in shape, but time caught up with me. Saint Francis was right:  “Brother Ass” is exactly the right name for my body—often stubborn and always absurd. Yet, Paul insists, no matter what shape it’s in, God loves my old body! That’s something to write home about!

The body is for the Lord

Paul then inverts the argument and insists that the body is for the Lord.  God not only loves our bodies, but he has a purpose for them: the members of our bodies are the actual members of Christ! (6:15)—the means by which we make visible our invisible Lord!  We are “little Christs,” made to manifest to the world around us the grace and beauty of our Lord’s character.

Furthermore, our bodies are designed to manifest God forever: “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also” (6:14). When our bodies are redeemed and perfected, they’ll display his character to all the universe and throughout all eternity. God has determined to invest our bodies with endless significance.

That’s why Paul calls on the Corinthians to “flee from sexual immorality—All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body” (vs. 18).

Interpreters struggle with this verse because it clearly states that sexual indulgence is unique in its effect upon us. Yet other sins do affect our bodies. Drunkenness, drug abuse and even gluttony can turn it into an ugly caricature of what God intended it to be. So what does Paul mean when he states flatly that other sins are “outside the body,” but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body?

The answer is given in verse 19: “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you… (1 Corinthians 6:19). Human beings are different from other created beings in that our bodies are designed to be containers for God. Our members are his members by which he manifests himself in the world. That is our greatness.

So what should we do? Don’t take chances! If you happen to be in a woman’s apartment and you find yourself becoming aroused, take a hike. If you’re in your automobile and desire awakens start the engine and drive away. If you’re reading a magazine and come across something sexually stimulating toss it away. If you’re watching a movie and it begins to arouse you, get up and walk out. If you’re watching television and it turns toward the prurient, change the channel. If you’re in a hotel room and you’re drawn to the porno flicks ask the desk to block them or as a godly friend of mine did, leave your room and sleep in your truck. It’s better to lose a night’s sleep than lose something far more valuable.
Sex is nothing to play with. It is a subtle, powerful force, and the havoc it wreaks is ample reason to fear it and run from it —like Joseph who gave the empty sleeve to Pharaoh’s attractive, seductive wife.

A piece of work

Paul closes with this remarkable conclusion: “you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).”

Our bodies don’t belong to us; they belong to God. They are his by right of creation and the cross. The only reasonable response we can make is to give them to him so he can do make something worthwhile out of them.

God’s work is always good. He makes us what we’re intended to be. He imparts beauty of character and strength of will. There is about that person a subtle fragrance of grace and truth, a gentle wisdom that is pure and peaceable, reasonable, full of mercy and goodness. He has integrity: what you see is what you get. There is no hypocrisy. Wherever that man goes others sense that they have been in the presence of a rugged righteousness, hard to put into words, but one that leaves them longing for something more. That is our greatness.

Paul writes, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness” for all tiume. (Romans 6:12,13). Why sell out for anything less when vast and eternal glory awaits us.


Friday, November 9, 2012

A Wandering One

                               They felt good eyes upon them
                               and shrank within—undone;
                               good parents had good children
                               and they—a wandering one.

—Ruth Bell Graham

Manoah prayed: “Teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born” (Judges 13:8). This is the earnest and often anxious prayer of every good parent.

“The boy” was Samson, Israel’s prankish Hercules, who “pillowed his great head upon the lap of sin” and squandered his God–given strength away. One wonders how often Manoah and his wife awakened in the dark, sleepless hours of the night and asked themselves, “Where did we go wrong?”

When our children make bad choices—when they abuse alcohol, do drugs, get pregnant, drop out of school, turn their backs on God and their family, we ask ourselves the same question. We blame ourselves and see our children as the tragic victims of our ineptitude.

There is, however, no absolute correlation between the way people parent and the way their children turn out. Good parenting makes a difference, but it does not guarantee that the product will be good.

We’re all are acquainted with families where neglect, violence and substance abuse are the norm, yet the children turn out remarkably well. They have good friends; they do well in school; they hold good jobs; they end up in stable marriages and handle their parental responsibilities with wisdom and love.

On the other hand there are families where the parents are warm, nurturing, kind, firm, wise and giving and yet there’s at least one prodigal in the family and sometimes more than one.

It’s certainly better to be one kind of parent than the other, but the fact remains that despite our best efforts our children sometimes go wrong.

But, you say, what of the proverb: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6)? It sounds like a guarantee.

Not exactly. Proverbs are not promises, but premises—general rules or axioms­—statements of broad truths much like the saying: “As the twig is bent so the tree is inclined.” A proverb sets forth a truth applicable in most cases, but not necessarily so. There are exceptions to the rule.

The reason there are exceptions is that children are not mindless matter that can be shaped at will, but autonomous individuals who may, with the best of parenting, choose to go their own way. Even God, the perfect parent, has had trouble with his children—Adam and Eve to name two, and me, to name one more.

We cannot produce good children and if we believe that by the simple application of a few techniques and rules we can secure good behavior we may be in for bitter disillusionment and heartache. No one can determine nor can they predict what their offspring will do. (It was Joaquin Andujar, poet and pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, who said you can sum up baseball in one word: “You never know.” His word count was off, but he captured the essence of life as well as baseball.)

Given that uncertainty the question is not “How can I produce good children?” but rather, “How can I be a good parent?” The two questions appear to be the same, but they’re not. The first has to do with the product, over which we have no control, the second with process, over which we do, by God’s grace, have some measure of control.

If our focus is on process, then the questions are about me: “How can I deal with my impatience, temper and rage, my selfishness, my resentment, my stubbornness, my defensiveness, my pride, my laziness, my unwillingness to listen? How can I deal with my addictions? How can I strengthen my marriage? How can I develop my parenting skills? How can I build bridges of grace, forgiveness and acceptance that will make it possible for my prodigal to come home. These are the matters that must occupy me, and then I must leave the outcome to God.

Ruth Bell Graham has written again,

Lord, I will straighten all I can and You
take over what we mothers cannot do.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Home Before Dark

Most of my boyhood in Texas was spent in the cedar breaks south of Dallas. The countryside is built up now, but back then it was mostly ranchland—rolling chalk hills redolent with cedar trees and junipers. The woods were a small boy’s paradise with wonderful places to explore and pretend. At night, when I was in bed on our screened-in-porch, I’d listen to the coyotes howl and other noises in the woods and exult in the fact that I was home rather than out in the dark where the wild things were.

One of my favorite daytime pastimes was walking the creek. It was a special stream, an oasis in a dry land. The brook ran clear most of the year and supported lush stands of cottonwoods and willows. When I think about that creek today, I think of deep shade, solitude and friendly dogs. I have memories of leaving home early in the morning with my yellow hound, my single-shot .410, a bag lunch that my mother made, and walking to the springhead or downstream to where the creek emptied into the lake.

Those hikes were high adventure for me—at least I made it adventure. There were rocks to skip, birds to watch, dams to build, tracks to follow, squirrels to flush along the way. And then if I made it to the mouth of the creek, my dog and I would sit and share our lunch while we watched the biplanes land across the lake.

We’d linger as long as we could, but only so long, for my father wanted me home before the sun went down. The shadows grew long and the hollows got dark fast in the cedar breaks. I’d be wishing along the way that I was already home. Though weary, I’d hurry on. It was the hope of going home that kept me going.

Our house sat on a hill behind some trees, but I could always see the light on the porch as I made my way through the woods in the gathering dusk. The light was always on until all the family was in. Often my father would be sitting on the back porch, reading the newspaper, waiting for me. “How did it go?” he’d ask. “Pretty good,” I’d say. “But it sure is good to be home.”

It’s been a long time since I walked that creek, but the memories live on and they fill me with what Mole in called “divine discontent and longing” (The Wind and the Willows ).They make me think of another long and sometimes difficult journey, the one I’m making now. But I know that at the end there’s a caring Father and my eternal home. It’s the thought of going home that keeps me going. It sure will be good to get there.

As I look back on my life I must say that it’s been a good journey, though it’s had its ups and downs. Like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim, I’ve gone on “sometimes comfortably, sometimes sighingly,” but taken as a whole my journey has been a pretty good trip. One of these days, though, it’ll start to get dark and then I’ll head for home. I’m expected there. The light is on and the Father is waiting for me. I suppose He’ll ask, just like my father used to, “How did it go?” “Pretty good,” I’ll say. “But it sure is good to be home.”


From Strength of a Man

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Inquiry

“I have been like a little child, uneasy, feeling about in the dark after something, but not knowing what...”—Nez Perce Chief

“(God) has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him...” —Acts 17:26,27

 In 1833, four Nez Perce Native Americans journeyed from what today is Northern Idaho to St. Louis. Missouri—over 3000 miles—and petitioned General William Clarke (of Lewis and Clark fame) to send someone to their people teach them about God. They reminded Clarke that their fathers had heard of God’s book through him many years before when he and the Corps of Discovery wintered with them (1805).

Tradition has it that as early as 1820 Iroquois Indians, educated in Catholic schools in the East, had visited these tribes. Other Christians—voyageurs, trappers and explorers—had contact with the Nez Perce. Benjamin Bonneville, Peter Steen Ogden, David Thompson, Simon Fraser and others that passed through the region in the early 1800s, though rough–cut, were God–fearing men who prayed, read the Bible and conducted worship services for their men while the Nez Perce looked on. These “brushes” with faith only heightened their desire and eventually drew them to send the deputation to St. Louis to Clarke, who was then Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

One of the best sources for this meeting is William Walker, an interpreter for the Wyandott Indian Nation, who wrote the following letter to a friend, G. P. Dishoway of New York. It was later published in The Christian Advocate and Journal of the Methodist Episcopal Church, in January 19, 1833.

Immediately after we landed in St. Louis on our way to the west I preceded to Gen. Clarke’s, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, to present our letters of introduction from the Secretary of War, and to receive the same from him to the different Indian agents in the upper country.

While in his office and transacting business with him, he informed me that three chiefs from the Flathead Nation were in his house and were quite sick, and the one (the fourth) had died a few days ago. They were from the west of the Rocky Mountains…The distance they had traveled on foot was nearly three thousand miles to see Gen. Clarke, their great father, as they called him, he being the first American officer they ever became acquainted with, and having such confidence in him, they had come to consult him as they said, upon very important matter…

Gen. C. related to me the object of their mission and, my dear friend, it is impossible for me to describe to you my feelings while listening to his narrative. I will here relate it as briefly us I can. It appeared that some white man had penetrated into their country, and happened to be a spectator at one of their religious ceremonies that they scrupulously perform at stated periods... He informed them that men toward the rising of the sun had been put in possession of the true mode of worshipping the Great Spirit.

(He informed them that) they had a book containing directions how to conduct themselves in order to hold converse with him; and with this guide no one need go astray, but everyone that would follow the directions laid down there would enjoy, in this life, his favor, and after death would be received into the country where the Great Spirit resides and live with him forever.

Upon receiving this information they called a national council to take this subject into consideration. Some said, “If this be true, it is certainly time we were put in possession of this mode and if our mode of worshipping be wrong and displeasing to the Great Spirit, it is time we had laid it aside. We must know something more about this, it is a matter that cannot be put off.”

They arrived at St. Louis, and presented themselves to Gen. C. The latter was somewhat puzzled being sensible of the responsibility that rested upon him; he however proceeded by informing them that what they had been told by the white man in their own country was true. Then went into a succinct history of man, from his creation down to the advent of the Savior; explained to them all the moral precepts contained in the Bible... (and) informed them of the advent of the Savior, his life, precepts, his death, resurrection, ascension, and the relation he now stands to man as a mediator, that he will judge the world, etc.

Poor fellows, they were not all permitted to return home to their people with this intelligence. Two died in St. Louis,[1] and the remaining two, though somewhat indisposed, set out for their native land. Whether they reached home or not is not known… If they died on their way home, peace be to their manes. They died inquirers after the truth.

Yours in haste,

Wm. Walker

In the spring of 1832, the two survivors took passage for home on the steamboat, The Yellowstone, and George Catlin, the celebrated explorer and artist, who was a passenger on this boat, painted portraits of the two men, the originals of which now hang in the Smithsonian.

One of these pilgrims, the man known as "No Horns on His Head," died en route. Only the young man, "The Rabbit Skin Leggings," lived to reach his home on the Clearwater.

Catlin remarked on the occasion:

“Hee-oh'ks-te-kin (Rabbit Skin Leggings) and H'co-a-h'co ah'cotes-min (No Horns On his Head) are young men of (the Nez Perce) tribe. These two young men…were part of a delegation that came across the Rocky Mountains to St. Louis, a few years since, to enquire for the truth…

Two old and venerable men of this party died in St. Louis, and I traveled two thousand miles, companion with these two young fellows, towards their own country, and became much pleased with their manners and dispositions. The last mentioned of the two (No Horns on His Head), died near the mouth of the Yellow Stone River on his way home, with disease which he had contracted in the civilized district; and the other one I have since learned, arrived safely amongst his friends, conveying to them the melancholy intelligence of the deaths of all the rest of his party; but assurances at the same time, from General Clark, and many Reverend gentlemen, that the report which they had heard was well founded; and that missionaries, good and religious men, would soon come amongst them to teach this religion, so that they could all understand and have the benefits of it.”

To be continued...


[1] The two men who died were buried in St. Louis. Their burial records read:

The 31st of October, 1831, I, undersigned, did bury in the Cemetery of this Parish the body of Keepellele, or Pipe Bard of Nez Perce of the tribe of the Chopoweck Nation called Flat Heads, age around 44 years, administered Holy Baptism, coming from the Columbia river beyond the Rocky Mountains. Edm. Saulinier. Priest

The seventeenth of November, 1831, I, undersigned, did bury in the Cemetery of this Parish the body of Paul, savage of the Nation of the Flat Heads, coming from the Columbia River beyond the Rocky Mountains. Roux. Priest.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Lord is at Hand

Let your moderation be known to all men; the Lord is at hand. (Philippians 4:5)

I have a friend who always reads the last chapter first when she starts a new thriller.  “Takes the anxiety out of reading,” she claims. So with us: If we know the end of the story, we can be centers of peace in the midst of utter chaos, calm in the face of disaster. 
Paul calls that attitude, “moderation”—a term that’s difficult to translate into English, but one that implies “peace under pressure.” It refers to the calm and deliberate strength with which we meet the disquieting circumstances of our days. Kingdoms may fall, friends and spouses may falter, churches may fold, the “wrong” party may win the next election, oceans may rise and mountains may crumble, but we can be at peace.
And how do we maintain such composure? By remembering that, “the Lord is at hand. At any moment our Lord may burst through the door and turn everything right side up. Then this world and all its troubles will become the kingdom of our Lord, and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of His glory as the waters cover the sea. 
Jesus said it could happen very soon! Today could be the day! It’s the very last thing he said, in the very last chapter of his book (Revelation 22:20).  
There’s an old saying: “If you can keep your head when others are losing theirs, you don’t understand the situation.” There’s another saying that’s equally true: “If you can keep your head when others are losing theirs, you do understand the situation.” You’ve read the last chapter in the book!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Old Joe Meek

Recently I read the diary of an old Idaho mountain man, Osborne Russell. Russell trapped beaver for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company from 1834-1843. His diary is fascinating to me because he traveled through areas I'm familiar with here in Idaho and describes these sites in graphic, poetic detail. 

In a diary entry dated August 9th, 1836 he notes that he met Marcus Whitman, one of the first missionaries to the region, during the Rendezvous at Jackson Hole in 1834. The fact that he mentions Whitman suggests that he was impressed with the man, not a small matter when men like Jim Bridger, Joe Meek, Kit Carson, Jim Beckwith, Isaac Rose, Jedediah Smith and a host of other well–known mountain men were also at the Rendezvous that year.  

Later Russell settled in Fort Hall, Idaho and read extensively from a library made available by the Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company there. In the process, he came across a Bible that he began to peruse. This led to his conversion and commitment to Christ. (In the forward to the diary the editor remarks upon his reputation among mountain men as a man of great courage, but also outstanding integrity and honor.) 

Russell mentions that one of his close friends during that time was Joe Meek, a notoriously profane fellow-trapper. Some years ago I came across a letter from Meek to a family member in which he wrote, "Well, old Joe Meek has finally come to Jesus." I can't help but wonder if Russell's life influenced him in that decision. 

What fascinating stories we shall hear in heaven!


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Beautiful People

Her mind is Tiffany twisted; 
                                       she got the Mercedes bends.
            She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys; 
                                        that she calls friends

—The Eagles

I ambled into Sun Valley the other day and looked at all the beautiful people. I must confess that my mind works in strange ways, but it came to me that I’m glad I’m not a woman, cause if I were a woman I’d be ugly and ugly is out in Sun Valley. 

I was reminded of an old Janis Ian song:

I learned the truth at seventeen,
That love was meant for beauty queens,
And high school girls with clear–skinned smiles,
Who married young and then retired.

The valentines I never knew;
The Friday night charades of youth,
Were spent on one more beautiful,
At seventeen I learned the truth.

And those of us with ravaged faces,
Lacking in the social graces,
Desperately remained at home,
Inventing lovers on the phone,
Who called to say, “Come dance with me,”
And murmured vague obscenities…
It isn’t all it seems at seventeen.

Nor at twenty–five or thirty-five, it seems…

The problem, C. S. Lewis says, is that people read the wrong books—literature full of terrible lies that fix on beauty of face and form as though that’s all a woman is meant to be. It can only lead to deadly comparison and despair. 

The Wise Man, on the other hand, insists that glamour is evasive and beauty ephemeral, “but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised up and down!”
 (Proverbs 31:30). Put another way, the meaning of a woman’s existence is not found in being outwardly decorative, but in adorning the “hidden person of the heart” (1 Peter 3:4). Therein lies a her true beauty. 

Some years ago a friend of mine told me of a conversation he had with a lovely, self–assured young woman. 
“You’re very self–confident,” he observed, “Can you tell me why?” 
“Yes,” the young woman answered, “I’m pretty.”
 “Oh, I’m sorry,” my friend said with great wisdom.
 “Why?” she responded in surprise. 
 “Because,” he replied, “You won’t always be pretty.” 

That’s something to keep in mind. 


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Legacy of Lust

 “I polluted my life with the sewage of lust.”


The last chapters of 2 Samuel are a doleful chronicle of David’s affair with Bathsheba and the subsequent deterioration of his family. The record is presented in chronological sequence and the incidents are related by cause and effect. Wrong follows wrong like the tolling of a bell.

In the midst of this narration a horrific rape takes place—the violation of Tamar, David’s daughter by her half–brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13:1–22). It is a lurid portrayal of the effects of lust and stands as a vivid example of the ease with which it can pollute our bodies and ruin the lives of others.

Pascal pointed out that we have two problems: pride and lust. Pride makes us think we can find answers to life by ourselves and lust makes us look for answers in all the wrong things and in all the wrong places. Amnon’s story amply illustrates Pascal’s dictum.

The principal characters are Absalom, Tamar and Amnon. Absalom and Tamar were brother and sister, the children of Maacah, one of David’s wives. According to rabbinical tradition Tamar was the older of the two. The text says pointedly that she was a very beautiful woman.
Amnon, the third person in the story, was David’s first–born, the son of Ahinoam, another of David’s wives and thus Tamar’s half–brother.

“In the course of time,” we’re told, “Amnon…fell in love with Tamar.” It wasn’t love. It was lust. And with Tamar it was nothing doing.

Tamar was, as the text puts it, “a virgin”—a chaste young woman and therefore Amnon couldn’t “do anything to her.” He made himself sick lusting after her because she was “impossible.” She was, with Shulamite of Song of Songs fame, “a closed garden, walled all around.” 

Amnon had a friend named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother. (With a friend like that Amnon needed no enemies.) Jonadab was a very shrewd man. He asked Amnon, “Why do you, the king's son, look so haggard morning after morning? Won’t you tell me?”

Amnon told Jonadab of his yearnings for his sister, whereupon Jonadab proffered a scheme: “Go to bed and pretend to be ill. When your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so that I may watch her and then eat it from her hand.’”

So Amnon did as he was told: he pretended to be ill and asked his father, the king, to send his sister Tamar to feed him by hand. David indulged him compelling his daughter, the princess, to go to Amnon’s house, prepare a meal and feed it to him.

She went with some reluctance, it seems. She was, after all, a princess and the job she was assigned was beneath her. Also, she must have had some inkling of Amnon’s intentions. Men always signal their lust in some way.

Nevertheless, she did not disobey the king. She gathered up her cooking utensils and went to Amnon’s house. She wisely stayed outside his bedroom—within sight but not in his bed chamber—baked a couple of pancakes and “shook them out” for him as the Hebrew text indicates. (Do we detect a note of petulance here?)

Amnon refused to eat and sent everyone out of the room. Then he commanded Tamar to bring the food into his bedroom so she could feed him by hand. But when she got close enough, he grabbed her and said, “Get in bed with me, my sister.”

“Don’t do this, my brother. Don’t force me. Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing,” she begs, using a word for wickedness that in Hebrew refers to acts that only unbelievers would do. Immorality may be acceptable among the Canaanites but not for God’s men.
What about me? “ she cries, “Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you. But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.”

Then, “Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her.” And he said to her,  “Get out of here!” “No,” she cried, “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.” To throw her out would further disgrace her, making it seem that she had seduced him.

But Amnon’s own shame overwhelmed him. He could not listen to her. He called his personal servant and told him to throw her out: “Get this woman out of here and bolt the door after her.”
Our English versions don’t and perhaps can’t capture the deep contempt expressed in the Hebrew text. The phrase “this woman” is simply “this!” referring to a thing and not to a person. This dehumanizing demonstrative is follow in the Hebrew text with a contemptuous expression, me’alai, used to dismiss those whose presence is offensive and obnoxious.

Odd, isn’t it, how quickly lust turns into revulsion. One rabbinical commentary notes that Amnon simply “projected on to Tamar the hatred which, now that the fever had left his blood, he felt for himself.” There’s wisdom in those words. Lust defiles us and we project that defilement onto others.
Shakespeare makes the same point in one of his sonnets,

Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action, and till action, lust
Is perjur’d, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoy’d no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had,
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad. . .

            —Sonnet 129, 1—8

Shakespeare breaks lust down into its “before” and “after” components and concludes that lust leads to actions that deplete us of “spirit” and then to shame and self–loathing. It’s that blame that we redirect at others. We despise ourselves and detest the objects of our lust.

So, at Amnon’s directive, Amnon’s servant threw Tamar out and locked her out, even though “she was wearing a richly ornamented robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore.” In other words, though she was a princess he treated her like a tramp. Tamar went out weeping aloud, shamed and broken, her life entirely ruined.

Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? (He uses a diminutive form of his half–brother’s name, “Aminon,” to express his contempt for this “little man.”) Be quiet now, my sister; he is your brother. Absalom’s primary concern was to keep the scandal quiet lest it bring reproach on the family. Absalom, it must be said, is revealed in scripture as an utterly self–centered man, dominated by selfish ambition.

He speaks in character when he dismisses her heartbreak with a curt, “Don’t take this thing to heart,” and then moves on to his own agenda—revenge. Absalom did, however, provide a home for Tamar: she “lived in her brother Absalom’s house,” but she lived “a desolate woman.” Though she later married, her life was ruined.

When King David heard about the rape of his daughter “he was furious, but he did nothing.” The Septuagint adds, “He did not trouble the spirit of Amnon his son because he loved him.” I wonder. Perhaps he remembered his own virtual rape of Bathsheba and was paralyzed by guilt. Conscience, as they say, makes cowards of us all. 

Absalom also did nothing for a time, but his brooding hated of Amnon grew with every passing day. He bided his time and two years later he killed him an act of treachery for which David banished him, but that’s another story.

A lesson to be learned

Unbridled sexual passion brings ruin to us and to others. Unless it is checked it will work tragic loss. We have to deal with it.

The way to begin is to confess your trust in God and make a vow—as the patriarch Job did:  “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1-4).
Make a covenant; write it down; give it to a safe friend; stick it on your shaving mirror; tack it on your wall; type it into your computer and back it up.

Then trust God to carry you through because otherwise your vow will go right out the window. “To promise not to do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing,” Mark Twain discovered. Unaided effort never lasts.

God takes our pledges seriously because he sees the intent of our hearts, but he knows they’re short–lived. He has a way of seeing to it that they come true. Take, for example, his covenant with Abraham.
Abraham was an moon–worshipping Chaldean when God called him out of Ur and sent him off to Canaan. “I will make you a great nation,” God promised, “and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you; and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2,3). “Now you go out and be a blessing,” he said.

God then wrote a contract with Abraham: He said, “Bring a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon”.  Abraham brought all these and “cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other” (Genesis 15:11).

That’s the way contracts were made in those days—they were “cut” as the Hebrew idiom puts it. Animals were killed and cut apart and the partners to the contract walked together between the two halves of the dead animals to seal it. No one knows exactly why it was done that way, but the covenant was as binding as any contract we make today.

Abraham did what he was told: he killed and arranged the animals and waited… and waited…and waited. But God didn't show. Finally, “as the sun was setting, Abraham fell into a deep sleep…a smoking fire pot with a blazing torch (symbols of God's presence) appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham” (15:17).

God put Abraham to sleep and then walked between the animals. He negotiated the contract alone.  Abraham had nothing to do but believe.

That’s the way it is with God. We make deals with him to do better, but he knows the failings of our flesh. He alone will see to it that the agreement is kept. We vow, but everything depends upon him.

It’s all in your mind

The next step in overcoming lust is to ask the Holy Spirit to purify our thoughts. As sin originates in the mind so the solution originates there.

Our predominant thoughts determine our ultimate actions. Everything comes out of the mind: “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matthew 12:34,35). Or, as the old proverb has it, “As a man thinks in his heart so is he” —all of which means that we must do something with our thoughts.

Sexually stimulating images abound in our world—impressions that prompt instantaneous, spontaneous sexual reactions. It’s impossible to evade them. Even when we do, our memories conjure them up. As the old woman in one of Aesop’s fables reminisced, “Ah, what memories cling ‘round the instruments of our pleasure.”

Simon Stylites, an early Christian monk, spent several years of his life perched on top of a fifty–foot pole to avoid the temptations of the flesh. It was a well–meant but meaningless exercise. He was tormented at night by mental images of dancing girls. C’est la vie!

Initial sexual arousal is not sin; it is temptation to sin.  I find it important to say that again and again because many are guilt–ridden by reactions over which they have no control. It’s impossible to avoid the initial reaction to sexual stimuli. Libido is part of our God–given make–up and God doesn’t condemn us when it’s awakened. That’s the way he has wired us.

We will be stimulated through the day, but we can respond to all stimuli by slowing down our thought processes before they become sin. A sexual thought only becomes sin when we bring it into sharper focus, fix on it, imagine it, reflect on it, fantasize about it.

We have sinned only when we have looked at a woman “in order to lust after her.” Martin Luther pointed out to his young men that we cannot stop birds from flying over our heads but we can keep them from building nests in our hair. Here’s where our imaginations come into play. We must have grace to frustrate the thought before it grows into sin.

“Grace” is exactly the right word, because our only course is to turn our thoughts toward God and yield them up to him. Another way of stating the process is to turn temptation into prayer, thanking God for the gift of beauty, giving him the praise for all the lovely things he has created, turning our thoughts into intercession for the woman who captured our attention—that God will protect her from harm and fill her life with beauty of soul and spirit. Prayer changes us: it converts primal lust into a purer love.

Sexuality and spirituality

But perhaps, of all means, the pursuit of God serves best to quiet our more insistent sexual drives. Worship and adoration of Christ sublimates our other passions and begins to subdue them. There’s a close relationship between human sexuality and spirituality. Charles Williams observed, “Sensuality and sanctity are so closely intertwined that our motives in some cases can hardly be separated until the tares are gathered out of the wheat by heavenly wit.”

Sexual passion is in some small way a small representation of our spiritual passion for God, our urge to merge with him. Devotion to Christ serves to assuage our other passions.
Jesus said we cannot serve two masters; one or the other will dominate us. Uncontrolled sexual passions quell our love for God, whereas love for God diminishes lust’s power.
John Donne wrote,

Take me to You, imprison me, for  I—
Except You enthrall me—never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.


Ferns Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the sh...