Tag Archives: Lyrics

90 M.P.H. Down a Dead End Street

Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.
Romans 6:19 (NIV)

It is one of those moments in life that is indelibly etched in my memory. Madison was about six years old or so and was sitting next to me as I shuffled through some new photographs that I’d just picked up from being developed (before digital cameras, we had to take rolls of film to get developed and wait for them). There was a photograph of me in the stack and Madison picked it up and held it up with a loud giggle. “Look,” she said. “It’s FAT DADDY!”

Ugh.

Throughout this life journey I have warred with my natural human appetites like every other human being on the face of the planet. I have lost many battles along the way. As a child I was exposed to pornography, and it secretly fed the seemingly insatiable cravings of a young man’s sexual appetite for many years. As a young husband and father trying hard to suppress and control my sexual appetites, I began feeding a different appetite. This time it was my craving for food and for sweets in particular. The result was Fat Daddy.

Through my battles with personal appetites I’ve experienced the reality that the pleasure from indulging my appetites is subject to the law of diminishing returns. I’ve observed this to be true no matter which appetite I indulge: my taste buds, my sex glands, my adrenaline glands, my need for security, my desire to control, my need to be loved, or any other appetite known to humanity.

I start with a craving. I indulge that craving and I feel a burst of pleasure. My craving is satiated for a moment. Slowly and subtly, the law of diminishing returns set in. What was such a blissfully guilty pleasure for a moment now feels, well, normal. My natural craving ups the ante. My brain and spirit collude to agree that if a little guilty pleasure didn’t do that much harm, then just a little more can’t be that bad for me. This cycle slowly repeats itself until I find myself way down the road in a place I never expected, nor wanted, to be experiencing really negative consequences for myself and the ones I most love in the world.

This is the very thing that Paul is addressing in today’s chapter of his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome. He uses language and an analogy that all of his readers could understand. Slavery was a common, everyday reality in the world at that time. It was an essential part of the economy in the Roman Empire. There were even “white collar” slaves as former soldiers, physicians, and accountants were often slaves. One could even offer oneself to any number of slave positions in order to have work and the security of basic needs met. All you had to do is give up your freedom and subject yourself to being the controlled property of another. Of course this included your master’s legal right to punish you, torture you, sexually exploit you and summarily execute you at will. A person offering themselves into slavery would end up in very different circumstances depending on the master to whom they offered themselves.

Now Paul tells his readers “you’ve offered yourselves as slaves to sin and to ever increasing wickedness.” There’s the feeding of natural appetites and it’s law of diminishing returns that I have experienced multiple times with very different appetites. Every person I’ve ever known who has followed the path of indulgence and addiction will also tell you that they ended up enslaved to their appetite(s). One of my favorite lyrics is from Bob Dylan describing a person following their amorous appetites into a marital affair:

I took you home from a party and we kissed in fun
A few stolen kisses and no harm was done
Instead of stopping when we could we went right on
Till suddenly we found that the brakes were gone.

You belong to someone else, and I do too
It’s just crazy bein’ here with you
As a bad motorcycle with the devil in the seat
Going ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street.

There is “the cycle” speeding me down the road to a place I never expected, nor wanted, where I will experience really painful consequences for myself and the ones I most love in the world.

Paul now urges me to make a different choice. He urges me to offer myself to God to be controlled by righteousness which leads to increasing measures of Life.

This morning in the quiet I can’t help but find myself looking back with regret at the foolish ways I have repeatedly “offered myself’ to my appetites along my life journey, and the dead end streets where I crashed. But, it doesn’t end there. I am also looking back at the crash sites where there stands one of those little wooden crosses to mark the spot. This cross marks the place where I followed Paul’s words from today’s chapter: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

To what, or to whom, am I offering myself?

Featured photo courtesy of Bob Dass via Flickr

Carry On

From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. Acts 17:26-27 (NRSV)

A few weeks ago Wendy and I were driving through Des Moines and she was handling the DJ duties on the radio. Carry on My Wayward Son by Kansas came on and we rocked out to it together. A flood of memories came rushing back to me. As a boy, Kansas was my favorite rock group and I wore out the needle on my cheap record player with their albums and 45s.

One of the things that I remember loving about Kansas was the meaning I found in their lyrics. Kansas was the first group that I remember truly paying attention to the lyrics and in Kerry Livgren’s spiritual groping I found a kindred spirit.

Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man,
Well, it surely means that I don’t know

On a stormy sea of moving emotion
Tossed about, I’m like a ship on the ocean
I set a course for winds of fortune,
But I hear the voices say

Carry on my wayward son
There’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more no!

As I read Paul’s message to the people of Athens, my memory was suddenly stirred to my days of spiritual groping, setting my soul’s course to seek after God in song lyrics and wherever else I might find a hint of God’s presence. As Paul testified, I eventually found that God was not as far from me as I thought. It was a cold February night in 1981 that I opened my heart and began my relationship with Jesus. I stopped groping for Him and started growing in Him. I’ve been carrying on ever since. At times I merely stumble along, but I keep pressing forward none the less.

If you’re groping, carry on. He is not as far as you think.

A Lesson in Asaph’s Unique Lyric Style

But as for me, I will always proclaim what God has done;
Psalm 75:9a (NLT)

If jazz is playing in the background and I hear Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet, I know it. If an electric guitar solo is being played by Carlos Santana, I can tell it’s him. Walk into an art museum and I can tell you immediately the Picasso from the Matisse and the Rothko from the Miro. Ernest Hemingway’s voice as a writer is so distinctive that there’s an annual contest to see who can best parody him, and Woody Allen used Hemingway’s own words to humorously establish the character in his movie Midnight in Paris [see video]. Artists, musicians, and writers have distinctive styles that mark their work. God is an artist, and making us in His image He gave us the gift of being able to express ourselves uniquely. Just as each of our DNA is unique, so our creative expressions (when we honestly express ourselves) is unique.

Psalms 73-78 are a grouping of songs penned by Asaph. As I read through the lyrics of Psalm 75 the phrase in the line above struck me: “But as for me….” That sounds a lot like what I read the past two mornings.

  • But as for me, it is good to be near God.” Ps 73:28
  • But you, O God, are my king from of old.” Ps 74:12
  • But as for me, I will always proclaim what God has done.” Ps 75:9a

As with all artists, Asaph had developed a personal style. He likes to set up a scene with his lyrics and then drive a stake in the ground establishing his faith in contrast to all that he sees around him. It’s effective. It causes me to think about my own personal faith and my belief system in contrast to the world around me. Where do I place my own personal stake in the ground?

  • I see a lot of brokenness, but I believe God redeems broken things.
  • I see a lot that I don’t understand, but I believe God is telling a story that will someday be complete and all will come into context.
  • I see many who give up on the faith journey, but I am going to press on.
  • I observe many self-proclaimed believers who differentiate themselves by what they piously and religiously don’t do, but I want to differentiate myself by being loving, gracious, and forgiving.

Timing is Everything

Joseph interpreting the dreams of the baker an...
Joseph interpreting the dreams of the baker and the butler, by Benjamin Cuyp, ca. 1630. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer, however, forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought. Genesis 40:23 (NLT)

Timing is everything. Over and over again I’ve seen this simple truth bear out along life’s journey. Wise King Solomon put it best in the book of Ecclesiastes (and gave the Byrds the lyrics to their number one hit a couple millenia later):

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace.

The timing of Joseph’s audience with Pharaoh was not yet right and there was a reason the cup-bearer forgot to mention Joseph as requested. Despite Joseph’s series of hard knocks, there was a plan and a reason. God was working His plan to put Joseph in just the right place at just the right time to accomplish His good purpose. Despite the fact that he would have to spend more time in prison, God was looking out for Joseph in the midst of his suffering.

Today, I am thankful for where God has me. It’s not anywhere near where I thought I would be on life’s road. I have only the vaguest of ideas of God’s ultimate plan for me. Nevertheless, the story of Joseph reminds me that even the most arbitrary and negative of circumstances can be threads in a beautiful tapestry and story that God is weaving in and through me.

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. I Peter 5:6 (NLT)

An Iowa Psalm

Iowa annual fainfall, in inches, created in ES...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 65

You take care of the earth and water it,
    making it rich and fertile.
The river of God has plenty of water;
    it provides a bountiful harvest of grain,
    for you have ordered it so.
Psalm 65:9 (NLT)

For the record, I’ve never been a farmer. Though I’ve lived all but four years of my life in the state of Iowa I’ve got the most rudimentary understanding of how farms operate. I was raised in the city and have rarely stepped foot on a farm. Nevertheless, I’ve come to understand that being from Iowa gives you an appreciation for the land and the symbiotic relationship we have with it. You can’t escape it. The land and the people woven together. There’s cadence to life here that begins with planting, leads to harvest, followed by subsequent thanksgiving and celebration of the holidays before it ends in deep winter and the hope of next year and doing it all over again.

I tend to think that this relationship and dependence on the land and the weather is what gives us a rather humble and simple faith. Those whose livelihoods are rooted in agriculture realize our dependence on so much that it completely out of our control. You live life constantly making adjustments to what the earth and sky throw at you and have faith that it’s all going to work out in the end. When harvest does come and the crop comes in, there’s a realization that a large part of your success had absolutely nothing to do with you.

The chapter this morning tapped in to all of those thoughts and emotions. This is an Iowa psalm; A farmer’s psalm. David’s lyrics are full of that humble understanding that God’s creation is immense. No matter how much we strive to tame it, it only takes one massive storm, flood, or drought to remind us how dependent we really are.

Today, capping off a holiday weekend of Thanksgiving, I’m saying Psalm 65 as an extra prayer of gratitude.