Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sojourner Magazine's Verse & Voice for Wed. July 29, 2009

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

- Hosea 6:6

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we as Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined.

- Søren Kierkegaard,
Danish philosopher, theologian, and ethicist (1813-1855)

We pray for all first-generation college students. Lead them to supportive campus ministries, Loving Spirit, and may congregations offer hospitality to those seeking higher education

Monday, July 27, 2009


I have a dear friend in Indiana who writes these great short devotions on prayer that she emails out pretty regularly. Being an insomniac myself, I really appreciated this one and asked her if I could share it on facebook.

Today's PrayerPoint~Insomnia

I don't know about you, but there are nights my brain is in overdrive about one thing or another and sweet rest eludes me. During an intense, spiritual battle many years ago, I felt God leading me to pray during bouts of insomnia. Sometimes very specific people would be on my heart so I would pray for them and I would find out later they were going through a very difficult time. Lately, I have experienced probably just regular insomnia but I have tried to keep up the habit. Sometimes I don't know who I am praying for but that never seems to be the point...He just wants me to pray. Praying is a worthwhile activity....and there is always someone to pray for.

Next time you find yourself wide awake at 3am, maybe it is a Divine appointment and God has an assignment for you! (It could also be that late night pizza, BUT, you can even use that for God's work!) We are encouraged to 'pray continuously' look for those moments when God places someone on your heart and mind and lift them up in prayer. You may never know the full situation and that's ok. God does. And He delights in our communication with Him!

In Colossians 1:9, Paul (and Timothy) wrote "For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding..." Probably anyone you know could benefit from a prayer like that. Praying through Scripture is a great thing. And remembering that you and I see only a small portion of a situation is important. God always sees the bigger picture. And He does amazing things through very difficult and painful situations. I find it is easier to pray in a more general sense than to get too specific.

God's blessings on your day!!!!

And never being able to shut myself up, I had to reply to her email with my own contribution:

One might assume that the Transfiguration was in the middle of the night or very early in the morning on Mount Herman because the Bible says that Peter James and John were sleeping. Moses and Elija appeared and began speaking with Jesus when Jesus had finished praying.

When He walked on water, He had been praying in the wee small hours of the morning, the Bible says it was the Fourth watch of the night (Matthew 14:25). The fourth watch, as the night was divided by Jewish or Roman soldiers, is between 3:00-6:00. It's always darkest before dawn, right? Quiet, still, lonely. One can imagine that this is the time when God called young Samuel's name in the temple.

PERFECT time to pray... and to listen.

There are those (both Christian and those involved in the occult) who think that this is the time when the spiritual realm is most active, and therefore God's people are somehow mist vulnerable- thus some Christians feel that it is powerful and vital that if God wakes you at this time, you should enthusiastically welcome the opportunity to become a prayer warrior at that time.

I don' t know the particulars to metaphysics here, I tend to either be so theologically conservative that I'd say we should trust God more than to get the heebie geebies about not being able to sleep in the middle of the night. I also tend to be rational, materialist, and of this world enough that I tend to be skeptical of such romantic perspectives on spiritual warfare. Be that as it may, I do know that God does incredible things when His people pray- so whether it's God gently seeking your attention, your spirit being jarred awake by the clashing of angelic swords on demon helmets, or whether it's total coincidence, midnight prayer is meaningful, powerful, and beneficial.

Liz commented on my noncommittal on the metaphysical possibilities here: "I, too, try not to get too wigged out about spiritual warfare, and at the same time, don't want to be disarmed either, if you know what I mean."

It's real, but in God's hands, we can rest in the victory that Jesus won on the cross. Or as the first Veggie Tales cartoon taught us, "God is bigger than the Boogie Man."

I always figure if my insomnia is caused by diet or illness or stress or bad dreams, rather than God's nudging- it's STILL a good idea to pray and nuzzle into God's arms. What better way to seek peace or security. Many's a time when I can finally find sleep, because He grants it while I'm praying.

You can try warm milk or hot tea, Tylenol PM or Benedryl, but there's nothing quite like prayer to get you back to sleep.

Click here to read a post I wrote about Fourth Watch Prayer a few years ago

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

VBS 09 Day 3- God 's Word grows in you and in me


  1. I have found (it): believed to have been uttered by Archimedes when he discovered a way to determine the purity of gold by applying the principle of specific gravity
  2. I've got it; yes; that's it: used to express triumphant achievement, success, or discovery

We've been shouting "Eureka!" as part of our program whenever the leader (Bethany) announces the key idea for each night. I explained to the 5/6 graders how in African American churches there is often a call-and-response interaction between the preacher and the congregation. When he wan't to know that they understand what he is teaching, he asks them to shout "Amen." Amen, is a Hebrew word which means "may it be so, so it is, let it be so, or, this is true." (Lutherans read "this is most certainly true" a lot in the chatechism.)

Both Eureka and Amen might be great ways to say "I GET it!" when you understand what's being talked about. That fit with the night's lesson because it was about whether you "get it" or not.

The Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:1-15) is the one parable that Jesus told which He went so far as to spell out and explain to His diciples peice by peice, which is ironic because the whole point of the story is that a lot of people miss the point.

Steven Corbert is actually a fairly liberal comedian, but he's become famous by satirizing ultra conservative pundits who take themselves too seriously. Ironically, there are tons of far right-wing Republicans and Libertarians who think he's for real. They love him and believe much of what he says... they don't seem to realize that he's making fun of them.

Similarly, British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has had two movies (Borat and Bruno) in which he pretends to be hopelessly clueless stereotypes of characters making a serious as a heart attack doccumentary. He's then able to record ordinary people responding to his characters either with ridicule and intolerance, or by revealing themselves to be just as clueless as his characters are. Some people just don't get it.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus is warning us that sometimes we just don't get it. And sure enough, the original 12 disciples didn't get it so He had to spell it out for them.

The seed is God's Word.

Some of us are trampled down paths (verse 5). We've been walked on and worked over, so no sooner do we hear God's Word than the devil snaches it away and it's as if we never heard it.

Some of us are shallow, rocky dirt (verse 6) (more like the deserts of Phoenix where I grew up than the deep, dark, nutrient rich top soil here in Iowa). We get all excited and seem enthusiastic about this great new thing; "Jesus" or "Faith" or "Christianity" and it sprouts up fast- how exciting, the latest Christian book, some newtrend or self-improvement fad, a TV evangelist, or a great Christian rock band or concert--- woo hoo, aint this great? But, once life get's tough (and it always does) then we abandon the faith, we feel like Jesus must've been just another religion, and it comes to nothing.

Some of us are a wild weed patch, full of buffalo burrs or thisles or maybe, lush banks of kudzu or why not- gorgeous rose bushes--- whichever way you dice it, the seed comes and it make grow, but it's choked by what's already growing in us. We may believe and even try to be like Jesus, but life gets in the way. There are just too many things we don't want to give up. Maybe they're actual things (material posessions) maybe they're bad habits, selfish attitudes, patterns of behavior, sins- maybe they're people, toxic relationships, bad influences- somehow or other, the worries and/or pleasures of this world just don't allow our faith to get the sunlight or nutrients it needs to grow.

Ah, but some of us, are decent worm poop. Soft, turned over, cleared off, composted, damp and ready to recieve the seed. And if we do, God can get a great yield out of His seed. 100 times, Jesus says.

And so what? What yield? Sunflower seeds? Corn kernels? Soybeans? Apple trees? Wheat?

Fruit, Spiritual Fruit. John 15:1-3 says that Jesus is the vine, we are the branches and God the Father is the gardener. Remember yesterday he turned us from water to wine, maybe we're wine grapes. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us the kind of fruit we are to produce, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. THAT is some good fruit.

It almost makes you wonder if in Genesis 1:28, when God told us to "be fruitful and multiply," He wasn't really talking about having babies, at least He wasn't JUST talking about having babies.

It certainly seems to me that having the Holy Spirit produce this kind of fruit in us would lead to doing a lot of good works and following good paths that God prepared for us in advance (Ephesians 2:10).

But, you have to have ears to hear. Amen? You can't just half listen or treat God's Word like it's just more background noise. That's the difference between just hearing and actually listening and paying attention. The only way to be good soil, is to till up the trampled path, to pick out the rocks and pull out the weeds. The only way to produce good fruit is to commit to seting aside time to spend with God, reading His Bible, praying to him, worshiping and listening. If we refuse the seed, how can we expect to produce any fruit? He who has ears, let him hear. Amen?

In light of that important lesson- would you please consider making time to get into God's Word? Plan on coming to HS Bible Study this fall. Our theme's going to be "you, like living stones, are being built into God's house" 1 Peter 2:5

We'll use Room 101 off the Church Lobby instead of the kitchen in the basement. Let's really try to get into Gods Word in a major way before you all go to New Orleans for the National Youth Gathering next summer.

And since it's still a month and a half away, why don't you start praying that all the kids in our congregation will start coming to HS Bible Study on Sundays this Fall too. Nobody wants to be alone. Jesus tells us, where two or more are gathered in His name He is there with them (Matthew 18:20)!

Monday, July 20, 2009

VBS 09 Day 2

The first day of Vacation Bible School, Sun 7/19:
Bible Story: God made the universe
Main Idea: God made the world for you and me

The Second day of VBS, Mon 7/20:
Bible Story: Jesus turns water into wine
Main Idea: Jesus transforms you and me

This night used another one of my all time favorite verses:
"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." 1 Corinthians 5:17

In John 2:1-11, Jesus performs His first miracle, He changes water into wine at the wedding in Canaan. This whole story is one big analogy. Verse 11 calls it a miraculous "sign." Signs point the way to something. They use an picture to represent something in real life.

In ancient Palestine, they didn't have indoor plumbing, paves roads, air conditioning, or water treatment plants. At a big wedding reception, they'd keep these 20-30 gallon jugs so that people could wash their hands and feet before eating.

But it wasn't just washing your hands before you eat. Today we understand about germs and hygene. Back then the water wasn't processed or filtered, or hot. If everybody used the same water to wash, there had to be a lot of gunk in that water. Really, it was just for show. In Mark 7:1-23 , the Pharisees get on Jesus' case because He and His disciples didn't follow all of their rules for ceremonial cleaning all the time-

14"Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.' "

No amount of being good or following ceremonies could ever make us clean from our sin.
In our story in John 2, Jesus has the servants gather six of these 20 gal jars of washing water (in those days most water wasn't safe to drink). Then He had one of the waiters/bar tenders/whatever draw some out and take it to the host (father of the bride? matradee? wedding planner?) this guy was amazed. He congratulated the groom, usually people start with the champagn and open up the cheap junk once everyone's too drunk to notice, but you saved the best for last! (which is where we get that phrase)

The SIGN is, that Jesus will do the same for us- WE are the filthy water that He transforms into the highest quality wine. Only HE can transform us from the inside out. (Mark 7:14)

Once we weren't even good for washing people's hands and feet because we're too full of bacteria (sin), but thanks to Jesus, we are delicious, potent and powerful, full of antioxidents and vitamins and instead of septic (dirty and poisonous) we're antiseptic (clean and germ-killing).

Not just useful, but set aside as special. ("you saved the best for last".)

How wonderful to be transformed by Jesus.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

VBS 09

This year instead of being the "Bible Story Teller" for PK-6 for Vacation Bible School at our church, my wife asked me to be the Bible Study Leader for 5-6. This is a... challenge. Even though I've taught 7-12 for 16 years now, this age level is a classroom-management... challenge.
Somehow, God will get us all through it.

The Concordia Publishing House (CPH) material this year is called "Gadget's Garage," because God's Always Doing Great Exciting Things (G.A.D.G.E.T.) Gadget is a slightly nerdy teenager who makes a robot named "Gizmo" out of spare parts in his garage.

The theme verse is Ephesians 2:10, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." This is one of my personal favorites. I've written about it on this blog before. I like it because I think it explains the meaning of life. Eph 2:8-9 explain that we are saved only by God's grace through faith in Jesus, but verse 10 explains why God created us in the first place.

Our first Bible Study was on the creation story in Genesis 1-2. The memory verse that night was Psalm 139:10 "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; works are wonderful"

The challenge from CPH was, how does God show His love for us in the creation story?
Whew, it never really occurred to me. I figured that this story was narrative, not Gospel.

I thought about explaining C.S. Lewis' 4 Loves; Storge (affection), Philia (friendship), Eros (romantic), and agapē (unconditional)- but I thought that might be a little complicated for 5th & 6th graders and still had no clue how to fit it into Gen 1-2.

Then it hit me Christian author Gary Chapman wrote a huge best seller called 'the Five Love Languages.' Words, Time, Touch, Service, and Gifts.

The CPH materials helped with this a little (even though they never mention the 5 Love languages directly). For one thing, they pointed out how God created everything except man and woman. Gen 1:3-25, every time He made something He used words, "let there be," and once He's made anything He used words again, "it is good." But then when He made us, He was hands on, you could say He used touch. It took time to do all this, 6 days and then He rested on the 7th- He took time to enjoy what He had made. That took care of three of the five love languages.

I also had the kids consider the order in which God created things. Humans were last. When you buy a new pet and bring it home from the pet store, what order do you do things? Generally people set up the aquarium before they go get the fish or turtle or lizard or snake, right? You may or may not bring a cat or dog home without setting up a bed and litter box first, but few people go get a hamster, rat, gunea pig, sheep, pig, horse, or cow without having a stall or corral or box or pen or hutch ready to go first. This may be arrogant, but I think the God started with the end in mind. I think He made all this night and day, heavens and earth, plants and animals stuff for people. That's service- come to think of it, it's also gifts. (Gen 1:26-29)

As a parent, I get frustrated when my kids leave their bikes out in the rain. I worked all those hours to earn the money and then we spent all that time picking out just the right one that you fit on just right and liked the looks of, then we spent all that time with the training wheels and running along side teaching you how to ride it and this is how my time, money and effort is repaid? Sitting there out on the sidewalk getting rained on so it can rust? Not to mention out in the open where anyone could steal it?

God must really be hurt and offended when we squander His gifts be being such poor stewards of His creation. Our first job was to take care of it- Gen 2:15 "God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it."

I think that being created in His image, His likeness (Gen 1:26-27) fits great with Eph 2:10, being created to do good works which God prepared ahead of time for us to do. He does great, amazing things, He made us to do great amazing things. He loves us in what He says to us, what He gives us, what He does for us, and by being with us and we should live our lives sharing out time, encouragement, service, and resources with others. That's what we're here for.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Strange request

"Just as you drew near to us, Incarnated Christ, draw us into relationship with our enemies. May we see your Image in them and love them as you do."

(from the July 10, 09 "Verse and Voice" from Sojourners Magazine

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The first "Activist" Judge... NOT

Every Fourth of July all we ever hear about is Thomas Jefferson this and Thomas Jefferson that. Oh, sometimes you’ll hear a little bit about John Adams and Ben Franklin, but it’s as if the other 56 guys who signed the Declaration of Independence didn’t exist. I hear you shouting out the names of George Washington and John Hancock, but Washington was off fighting some war, too busy to even show up for the vote on the resolution to declare independence. And Hancock may not have become president of the second Continental Congress if the previous president, Peyton Randolph from Virginia hadn’t gotten sick and died (at the ripe old age of 54).

John Adam’s cousin Samuel Adams has become better known in recent years because of the premiere beers which bare his name. But in actuality while he was an excellent politician, in his time he was an unsuccessful brewer, and a poor businessman. It’s actually pretty ironic that he became such a rabble rouser for the cause of independence and “no taxation without representation” even leading the Boston Tea Party. You see, his first job was as a tax collector.

Hardly anyone remembers Pennsylvania’s John Dickinson. Probably because he didn’t sign the Declaration and in fact tried several times to stifle debate over the resolution. In fact, much to Ben Franklin’s chagrin, he split the Pennsylvania delegation on the issue. His object had always been reconciliation, not independence or revolution. He loved his country and had always been proud of his country, love her or leave her. Of course, his country was Great Brittan. Ah, a regular Benedict Arnold you say? Not at all, he served in the militia as both a private and as a brigadier general. He moved to Delaware and in 1777, while Delaware's wealthiest farmer and largest slaveholder, he free all his slaves.

So Dickinson turned out to be a decent person after all. He was so decent, that in 1781 he became the President of Delaware (under the Articles of Confederation, governors were called “president”). This was complicated by the fact that he became President of Pennsylvania in 1782 without resigning from the Delaware presidency. State presidents weren’t directly elected by the people, but appointed by the state legislatures. Needless to say, Delaware was really irked.

Josiah Bartlett was the first to sign the Declaration, after John Hancock. Bartlett served on the Supreme Court of New Hampshire. He was elected the first (and presumably only) president of independent New Hampshire, and then its first governor, under the U.S. Constitution.

Another New Hamphirean was William Whipple. He lead the successful battles of Stillwater and Saratoga against General “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne. Nothing to sneeze at, but I still get a kick out of the name “General Whipple.” I imagine him ordering his troops not to squeeze the Charmin.

Speaking of grocers, they plaid a vital role in the revolutionary war. Roger Sherman started out as a humble cobbler from Connecticut. But eventually his business wasn’t limited to selling shoes, he was appointed commissary for Connecticut troops, which meant he provided groceries to military personnel. He served on the committee to write the Declaration, along with John Adams, Phillip Livingston of New York, Franklin, and of course Jefferson.

There may not have been a Declaration of Independence without Jefferson, but Congress may never have declared independence if it hadn’t been for another Virginian, Richard Henry Lee. It was Lee who actually offered the Resolutions for Independence to the committee of the whole in 1776. John Adams had tried repeatedly, but he was obnoxious and disliked, did you know that? History is stranger than mythology sometimes because this man, to whom the United States owes its birth, wound up being the great uncle of a certain Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general who nearly brought about its demise.

Finally there was Judge James Wilson from Pennsylvania. You’ll remember that John Dickinson opposed declaring independence; well Wilson was the swing vote. Despite Ben Franklin’s best efforts, Wilson rode the fence so long, he got splinters. Pennsylvania was divided on the issue of separation, and Wilson refused to vote against the will of his constituents. He had spoken eloquently for independence so long as he never had to vote on it. He didn’t want to be famous. He wanted a quiet, simple life. He didn’t want to stand out as a radical. He claimed he had to consult with his constituents. He managed to stall for three weeks. Dickinson urged him to vote in the people’s best interest, which was to reconcile with Mother England.

In the end, he sided with the majority in Congress and so faded into obscurity. Sometimes swing votes are the most important.

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Friday, July 03, 2009

For the Fourth; Think about Lincoln's words

One of the best things about the 4th is that you get to here the Gettysburg Address recited. I must have read these words hundreds of times, yet they never fail to make tears well up in my eyes and my throat clench up.

Nov. 19, 1863, the incredibly unpopular and decidedly divisive Abraham Lincoln traveled to a town in Pennsylvania to participate in the dedication ceremony of a new cemetery.
This is what Lincoln said:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Liberty is another word for freedom, it means having the right to make choices, to make decisions that effect your life. The Declaration of Independence stated that ALL men were created equal. Of course, to Congress at the time, that probably meant male, white, registered as church members, who owned their own land.

The point that Lincoln was trying to make was that black, African-Americans, including slaves were equal too and entitled to the same liberties as the rest of us. I contend that every human being is endowed by our creator with the same certain inalienable rights, not just men, not just Americans, but all of us were meant to be free.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

Remember, at Lincoln’s time the U.S. was less than a 100 years old, the rest of the world was keeping their eye on us- we were an experiment in democracy and since we’d fallen into civil war, it looked like the experiment was about to fail. Just think about how people today watched the elections in Lebanon, Iraq, and most recently in Iran.

We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who died here that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have hallowed it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

To say something is Holy, consecrated, or sacred simply means to set it aside for God’s use, to dedicate it for His special purposes, if you will.

It didn’t matter if the President of the United States or all the important dignitaries you could drag out conducted any kind of a ceremony at all. What made that place special was the blood of all the servicemen that was spilled there. Their deaths and sacrifice made that plot of ground forever important and unique. Lincoln pointed out that the people who didn’t die there had something else that they needed to be doing:

It is rather for us the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion-

We too, should constantly be re-dedicating ourselves to what those veterans were dedicated to. This is why it’s so important to support our troops, even when, like me, you don’t support the politicians and their misguided policies.

Sure, there’s been wars we shouldn’t have gotten into. Maybe some of them were motivated by interests that weren’t as well examined or scrutinized as they should have been.

Since America IS her people, and people are fundamentally flawed and sinful, America has made, does make, and is bound to make mistakes. But as long as American soldiers served to protect freedom and fought to establish and maintain justice, no American soldier ever died in vain.

Lincoln urges us from 1863 to be dedicated to preserving liberty and promoting equality. When we fail to, then it’s like letting them die in vain.

Each of us can do this in our own way. For some, it is by serving in the armed forces, for others it is by standing up and speaking out. We do it by exercising our liberties and by treating each other fairly and justly, as equal human beings, worthy of dignity and compassion. We do it by volunteering and participating in our communities.

Perhaps the simplest, easiest and most important way each of us does it, is when we vote.

that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Once someone asked the age-old philosophical question, “why are we here?” And someone else answered, with both sarcasm and wisdom; “God put us here for each other.”

229 years later, (142 since the Gettysburg Address) this experiment in democracy still struggles, but it’s endured. So, let’s be dedicated to the motto on Iowa’s state flag, let’s prize our liberties and maintain our rights, otherwise what is there worth fighting for?

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Think about what the 4th really means

Virginia Delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution calling for independence from Britain on June 7. The Congress passed another resolution calling for independence on July 2 already. The Declaration was really just a formality, after all a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that you should declare the causes which impel you to separation from your mother country.

John Hancock, as president of Congress was the only delegate to really sign it by the Fourth. Most of them didn’t sign it until August 2. Thomas McKean of Delaware didn’t get around to it until 1781. The first newspaper to print the Declaration was the Pennsylvania Evening Post on July 6, 1776. On July 8th the Declaration had its first public reading in Philadelphia's Independence Square.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration, it was 1,817 words; Congress made 68 changes, killing 480 words- far be it from the patriots to criticize King George for the practice of slavery. Many have called this omission America's "original sin." On the one hand, if we hadn't made that compromise, half of the 13 colonies would not have gone along with Independence, on the other hand we still struggle with inequity and racism to this day.

Why do I love this crazy, uncouth, 231 year old amalgamation of people and cultures from all over the globe, ideas, hopes, dreams? I think it’s because it at least used to be founded on principles drawn from the philosophies of the Age of Enlightenment that promised fairness and honor.

That core second paragraph says it all;

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

In other words, it ought to be obvious that no one is better than anyone else because of where they come from. Every human being on Earth is entitled to certain God-given rights. Since it’s human nature to trample on each other’s rights, we establish a system of laws in order to balance all of our competing interests and make sure that the playing field is evened out for everyone.

What do you do when you loved ones just aren’t themselves? Let’s say someone in your family is acting different, maybe due to mental illness, or someone’s diet has them headed for complications of diabetes or high blood pressure? How about when a friend is in a destructive relationship, or has started abusing drugs or alcohol? Do you hold an intervention? Do you try to talk with them, lovingly yet honestly? Do you confront them? Do you abandon them? The least you can do, which sometimes ends up being the most powerful, is to pray for them.

So here we are, 232 years after dissolving our bonds with England, I wonder if we aren’t more like the old British Empire than we care to admit. Does everybody have to turn into their parents? When I read through the long list of offenses that make up the bulk of the Declaration (that most of us never bother to look at) I wonder how many people around the world could accuse us of.

Secret prisons, secret “courts,” torture, spying on our own citizens, reversing desegregation, a regressive tax structure, staggering trade deficits, and lest we forget, using false intelligence to justify unilateral and preemptive invasions of countries that don’t have weapons of mass destruction and occupying them for years.

With Jefferson, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

But he provided the solution; “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Here's my own personal paraphrase of the first part of the Declaration:

Sometimes as life goes on, you need to cut off your political connections to a group, and take your place in the world as God and nature intended. When that happens, it’s only fair that you explain why. That’s what the Continental Congress did 230 years ago this week.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that everyone is created equal, and have God given rights, including the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Everyone agrees that the pursuit of happiness is pretty vague and that that one can be interpreted differently by almost everyone.

Life ought to be self explanatory, but of course two centuries later, there are issues of “quality of life,” end-of-life, of course abortion and don’t forget capital punishment.

“Pursuit of happiness” has to be the one that is the most subjective. What if my pursuit impedes yours? What if yours violates my religion?

Government exists to protect our rights, and it’s a trade-off, they exist because we allow them to. We forfeit some of our rights and privileges in order to, preserve and protect others. When the government stops protecting our rights, “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government,” and fortunately for us, we don’t have to fight a war for Independence every time we need to do this. Instead, every two years we elect new Congressmen, every four years we replace the President, and every six years we decide on new Senators.

We hope that they’ll look out for our safety and happiness. Unfortunately all experience “hath shewn,” that voters will put up with an awful lot before they finally get fed up and tend to prefer the devil we know over the devil we don’t know.

For the sake of unity, justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, everyone’s best interests, and to guarantee freedom for us and for future generations, made this a nation of laws, not of men.

Last October I had the humbling privilege to narrate a piece of music at our high school's fall concert.

The piece was 'A Jefferson Portrait'* - by Elliot Del Borgo. We practiced for at least a month or more. It was challenging to try to count and listen to the band and watch for the director's cues. It was a fun challenge to read dramatically for fluency and expression, and yet be careful not to be over dramatic so as to respect the dignity of the words.

It was a moving experience for me because I love Jefferson's words so much and they are so important and valuable to us, even more so facing such an important election. Several teachers and parents who were there complimented me and of course that felt good. One parent even said that I should consider working in radio- so I had to try not to let myself get a big head.

But the most meaningful part was when a disabled Vietnam veteran thanked me because he felt like we had a government that had become "destructive of these ends," and needed to be altered or abolished. I knew that he blamed our government for the Agent Orange which had destroyed his life and pursuit of happiness. You can blame both Democrats and Republicans for that war (Johnson first, then Nixon). He went on to say that he feared another revolution was on it's way if things didn't change dramatically in the next few months. I didn't ask if he supported McCain or Obama ("leave a tender moment alone" Billy Joel always used to say). I thanked him for his service to our country and agreed with him that Jefferson's writing meant as much or more to us today as 230 years ago.

Just as pastors have to give credit to God for words form the Bible, I know that it was these words and these ideas that have the power, not my reading or our bands performance (although they did a supurbe job). I know it's October, not July but I hope that people will remember and meditate on the meaning of Jefferson's words before they vote on Tuesday- whether they are liberal, conservative, moderate, or undecided.

*In case you follow the link and listen to 'A Jefferson Portrait,' you should know that this is not a recoding of our performance tonight- just a sample from some music company that I found on the web to halp me practice.

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies;...

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."