“Stop Crying or I’ll…”

The Night My Father Gave Me
Something to Cry about
© 2017 Gordon Dalbey

…he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse. Malachi 4:6
My father and I never had many personal conversations, but I’ll never forget the one when I flew across the country to try and change that.
Years earlier in 1967, after returning from the Peace Corps in Nigeria, I had left my parents’ home on the East Coast for graduate school in California. Enjoying the West Coast’s more open atmosphere, I stayed.
As the Vietnam War exploded amid the civil rights, feminist, and peace movements, I began to question my childhood worldview. Dad was a career military officer, and we struggled to entertain each other’s differences. Increasingly, we found ourselves on opposite sides not only of the country, but in our social and political views—until finally, he disowned me.
Eventually, after years of bitterness and anger, I came to see how my rebellion against Dad was sapping my energy and distracting me from my own sense of calling. As a boy, I ran toward him; as an “extended adolescent” I ran away from him. But I had no real sense of who I am because I had never run into the “Father from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth receives its true name” (Ephes. 3:14,15NIV).
I knew that somehow, in order to enjoy fully a life of my own, I would need to make peace with my father.
Maybe, at least, I could forgive him.
When Mom was alive, Dad and I never seemed to find time to be alone together. A year after she died, however, I knew that time had come; girding my loins, I left my wife and son in California and flew out alone to see him—even as Jacob went down into the river gorge to wrestle with God (Gen 32:22ff.).
One night soon after I arrived, the two of us were sitting quietly beside each other on the couch watching basketball on TV. When the halftime horn blared a halt to the game, silence fell between us.
Glancing uncertain at my father, I saw his face from the side, and was startled to notice his sloping forehead—just like mine! I shifted uneasily on the couch and my shoulder touched his—the very flesh and bone from which I was formed, the genes which infused my own!
Who is this man? I thought—not scornfully as a rebel, but at last humbly, as a son.
Amid the ballgame halftime chatter, I knew the time was at hand. Drawing in a breath, I turned to Dad—and thought to begin with my grandfather, whom he’d told me had died of cancer from factory work when Dad was 21.
“Dad…,” I offered hesitantly, “tell me about your father.”
Dad sat uncertain before the TV, so I tried to be more specific. “For example, what did you and your father talk about together—you know, when you were growing up?”
At that, Dad turned to me quickly and knit his brow. “My father was about your height,” he noted, “but he weighed a hundred and ninety pounds.”
All five-foot-ten, 160 pounds of me drew up. “So your dad was pretty fat?”
“Not at all,” he said shaking his head and spreading his arms wide. “In fact, he was solid muscle, especially in his shoulders, from working at the steel mill ten hours a day, six days a week. His job was to grab the red-hot block of steel out of the furnace with big tongs, pull it out, and shove it back and forth in the rollers to flatten it and stack it on the trucks.”
Fixing his eyes on mine, he hesitated, then went on. “One day, when I was in my early teens, my father got mad at me. I don’t remember what it was that upset him, but he came over close in front of me, furious. I was taller than him at six-two and played linebacker on my high school football team. He looked up at me, then suddenly, he reached out his arms, grabbed my elbows, and lifted me straight up off the ground, shook me hard, and set me down.”
Spellbound, I sat speechless. Holding my eyes on Dad’s, I waited for him to continue with what he and his father had talked about, as I’d asked him. But he said no more.
Then it struck me: the seize-and-shake story was his answer!
After a moment, Dad’s eyes narrowed. “My father was a hard man,” he declared finally, burning now in anger and looking me square in the eye. “When you did something he didn’t like, he hit you!”
Lifting his hand, he made a tight fist. “And when he hit you,” he declared, punctuating his story with a sharp jab, “it hurt!”
Immediately, I reached out and put my hand on Dad’s fist. “Dad…,” I managed, struggling for words, “that…must’ve hurt you terribly!”
Silently, awkwardly, we held our gaze.
Then fearfully, wonderfully, it happened.
All at once, I burst out in tears. Deep, bottomless anguish erupted from my gut and gushed out of me. Shamelessly, my body shook til my heart broke and generations of dammed-up pain flowed freely at last. Grasping my father’s fist, I fell forward choking, convulsing with sobs.
Moments later, a voice broke in: “OK, fans, it’s time to get back to the game!”
Catching myself, I sat up hastily and wiped my eyes. Confused, Dad and I looked at each other, then turned back to the TV.
Later, after the final buzzer, we said Goodnight and went our separate ways to bed.
No more was said.
Closing the bedroom door behind me, I fell on my knees. Father! I prayed. What just happened out there with Dad and me?
In that moment, I knew. Dad had answered my question clearly: he and his father hadn’t talked about anything together. When his dad communicated, mostly it was just via physical force.
Years later, as a father himself, he would spank me when I did something he didn’t like. Naturally, I would cry. But my tears dried quickly when he warned, “Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about!”
Kneeling there on the bedroom carpet, it occurred to me that as a boy I had two options before my father’s anger: 1) to stop crying, or, 2) to be spanked again and suffer more pain “to cry about.”
That night, as a man, I faced Dad’s anger as fierce as ever I had seen it in my childhood. In fact, I stood up to it as I had never before dared. But when I broke out crying and couldn’t control my tears, option #1 was gone.
Option #2, however, awaited.
Tonight, I sensed God was telling me, I opened your heart to where you could not “stop crying.”
And so I, your Father, gave you “something to cry about.”
Your dad’s awful wounding in his boyhood is indeed something to cry about, especially when no one else on this planet has dared to feel his pain—not even himself. That’s what the cross was about–and, as I discovered, what empowered the resurrection.
After that night, in fact, I forgot about forgiving my father. Not because I stuffed the pain of our relationship deeper in my heart, but because at last, I had poured it out to Father God, and thereby let Him remove it altogether.
In my pride, I had vowed to reconcile with my father only if he asked me to forgive him. But all bitterness and judgment was washed out of me by Father God’s flood of tears for His two wounded, stubborn, but yes, beloved sons.
To my joy, what remained in my heart after that was a genuine love and appreciation for Dad which I had never before imagined, deeper and more authentic than any heroic boyhood fantasy. In fact, before leaving him on that visit, I asked Dad to forgive me for not appreciating all he sacrificed and overcame in order to give me so much, and for not respecting him as he deserved.
Thankfully, he forgave me on both accounts.
The father of Lies tells a man, “See how your father hurt you. That shows you he didn’t love you.” More often, however, it just shows how badly he himself was wounded by his own father, and how that wound shut down his heart and kept him from expressing his love for you.
“Honor your father and your mother,” as the Commandment declares; “if you do, you shall have a long, prosperous life in the land (the Lord Your God) is giving you” (Deut. 5:16).
A boy cries from his father’s pain; Dad hurts you, and you cry. But a real man cries for his father’s pain: God shows you Dad’s wound and you feel it as your own, even give it at last to Father God. That way, you no longer carry it around in bitterness and anger that shut down your heart and steal your future (see “Hippies, Fathers, and Forgiveness” in Sons of the Father: Healing the Father-Wound in Men Today).
As a man today, I grieve for the awful pain which my male ancestors carried bound and unspoken in their bodies—and too often displaced onto their sons. At times, in fact, I need to feel it yet again, and pour it out in tears to the Father—if only so I don’t pass down that wound to my own son.
In that place of grace, you can honor your father, as the Commandment, and receive its promise of a blessed future. You can ask Father God, “Show me my dad the way You see him”—and not only feel the pain of his wounds, but indeed, receive the blessing of his good qualities as your inheritance. What’s more, you can respect manhood—even your own—as you respect his (see Galat. 4:1-7).
I must confess here one final, embarrassing detail in my story: when I cried for my dad that night, I was 55 years old.
My brothers, please: don’t wait that long. Don’t let your anger co-opt your energies and short-circuit your destiny. Release it to your Father God, and let Him wash it away in His love for you both.
You’ll live longer that way.

How a White Man Earned a Black Man’s Respect

–from Justice to Reconciliation

from Fight like a Man: A New Manhood for a New Warfare
by Gordon Dalbey
(Paperback/cd/mp3 at www.abbafather.com)

African-American Ben Kinchlow, former co-host of The 700 Club, describes in his autobiography his rage at the racism he experienced as a young man.[i] One evening years later, a friendly white minister John Corcoran invited him and his wife to dinner and during their conversation Kinchlow began talking about those experiences.
Soon his anger morphed into fury:

I clenched my fists in a final spasm of anger and, breathing heavily, stared hard across the table into the face of Corcoran, this nondescript, sandy-haired young preacher with the long nose. He looked into my eyes. I wanted him to feel my hatred, my contempt, my anger, my pain. . . . Several seconds went by, and I found my rage subsiding, like a storm that had blown itself out. . . . Suddenly it dawned on me. John was crying.

Later, Kinchlow reflected on that upending experience:

He was crying–not because he was embarrassed or angry with me, but because he cared. He cared for me, the angry, overwhelmed, black young American. In that instant I knew somewhere inside that he loved me with a love that exceeded anything I had ever felt for anyone or anything. That man loved me.

Corcoran wept not fearfully, as a child, because Kinchlow’s rage had frightened or hurt him, but faithfully, as a mature Christian. That is, he saw with the compassionate eyes of Jesus the terrible pain in his guest that had prompted that rage.
What if Corcoran had chosen to suppress his tears–and instead defended white people, quoted Scriptures on controlling anger, or jumped on the bandwagon by condemning racism in other whites? Clearly, this momentous opportunity to witness the transforming, victorious love of Jesus would’ve been lost.
Kinchlow later talks about that experience as “the night John Corcoran saw the real Ben Kinchlow and cried”:

I encountered at that dinner the sort of compassion Jesus spoke so much about and that his followers later wrote about in the New Testament. I know now that John was living out Paul the apostle’s appeal to the Christians that they “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2RSV). Although I was not yet a Christian, he actually had taken upon himself my suffering and frustration, thoroughly identifying with me.

Over 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, amid today’s yet-racially-troubled times, the call for economic and social justice for people of color perseveres. Reconciliation, however—that is, healing the hearts of both wounder and wounded—struggles to find a clear focus.
That’s because only God can do this heart operation, and we His people have not allowed Him to do it.
Civil rights, that is, are necessary to God’s justice but not sufficient to His reconciliation. Neither rational understanding, political correctness, nor religious dogma can reconcile human hearts.
In fact, as John the Baptist proclaimed, victory for God’s justice and reconciliation in this broken world belongs to those who “Prepare a road for the Lord, make straight a path for him to travel” (Matt. 3:3).
Thus, John Corcoran’s surrendered, heartfelt compassion opened the door for Holy Spirit to enter not only his own heart, but Ben Kinchlow’s as well. That’s how wholly justified anger was transformed into wholly genuine love.
On the Cross, Jesus demonstrated that those who would fight genuinely to alleviate others’ suffering must identify genuinely with their pain. But there’s the rub: no white person can grasp fully the wounding and shame which people of color endure.
That’s why we need Jesus to mediate it for us–as for example, in John Corcoran.
In fact, that’s the true meaning of compassion, from the Latin com=together and passio=suffering. It’s the hallmark of those who join with Jesus to bring God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
But maybe all this anger and crying seems to you like a lot of useless emotion. I can only report that God used it profoundly in reconciling Ben Kinchlow and John Corcoran. `
For others who read this and wish, on the other hand, that you could have such compassion and the freedom it bestows, I have Good News: God hears you. In fact, He longs to give that to you and is just waiting for you to ask.
Don’t bother worrying whether you can make it happen, because you can’t.
But you can get on your knees before the God who has already done it in Jesus, beg Him for mercy, and thereby make a highway for His grace to enter your heart.
Search me and know my heart, as King David prayed, find out if there is any evil in me and lead me in the everlasting way (Ps. 139:23NIV, 24).
Specifically, you can ask God to reveal the racism in your heart and humbly ask Him to forgive you for it. If you’ve grown up in Western culture, don’t waste your time and mine telling me you don’t have any. A fish that swims in a polluted stream gets contaminated by the pollution.
Get real with yourself and with God, and as David cried out, let Him “guide (you) on the road to eternal life” (vs 24TLB).
If the thought of such disclosure makes you feel shame, then you understand in some small measure what we white people have displaced onto those of color. If actually doing it makes you cry, then you know how Jesus feels about that.
In any case, the history lesson is clear: if you don’t give your shame to Jesus and let Him eliminate it, you’re likely to dump it on others and spread it.
Those with faith and courage to be so real will discover that racism is not just a way of thinking, but an evil spirit designed by the enemy of God and humanity to separate you from Him and from others. Take the authority Jesus died to give you and in His name cast that evil spirit out of your heart and into His hands (see Luke 9:1). Ask Father God to replace it with works of His Holy Spirit instead: compassion and respect for your fellow God-created human beings. (see “How Demons Enter—and Leave” in No Small Snakes: A Journey into Spiritual Warfare).
My chapter “Victory over Racism” in Fight like a Man tells the story of how I struggled to face the racism in myself. I learned then that casting out an evil spirit may not stop it from speaking to you, but more important for a mature Christian, it frees you to choose whether to listen to the evil spirit or to God’s Holy Spirit.
Meanwhile, our human sin nature means none of us can measure up to God’s standard. This universal inadequacy leaves us saddled us with unbearable shame. Jesus died on the cross to bear that shame for us, drop the scales from our self-focused eyes, and let us see ourselves at last as Father God’s sons and daughters—and thereby, as brothers and sisters.
While you’re at it, therefore, ask God to show you the shame in you which fuels racism. Unmask its “I’m OK, because you’re not OK” ploy to fabricate righteousness. Ask Him to forgive you for not letting Him make you OK in Jesus, bind and cast the spirit of shame out of you, then pray for Him to replace it with His grace and the dignity of son/daughtership (see Romans 8:1, :14-16). Such security in your own heart will enable grace in you to see that dignity in others.
This can happen. Not because we’re so righteous, but because Jesus has for some unfathomable reason died to save us self-serving posers with a share in His righteousness. It’s called grace.
There is no difference at all, as Paul declared; everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence. But by the free gift of God’s grace, all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free (Rom. 3:22-24).
“But,” some white people would protest, “now that we have the Civil Rights Act and a Black President, racism is a thing of the past and the pain is gone.”
If you believe that, my Christian brother or sister, dare to ask a black person—and get ready to listen, not just with your ears but with your heart. In fact, our country and this world yet labor under the heavy yoke of racism—from color-coded neighborhoods and officially sanctioned shootings to deliberate indifference.
Even now, even among us, God is advancing His Kingdom, calling for a change among us not only of law and politics, but of heart—the likes of which John Corcoran displayed, which Ben Kinchlow embraced, and which only God’s Spirit can accomplish.
To be sure, racism—as sin—infects human beings of all colors; the devil is an equal opportunity destroyer. As a Christian of European ancestry, however, I would urge others of my faith and racial heritage to own up to this evil among us and go to Jesus to remove it from within us. With that humble honesty and deliberate faith, we can join God’s next move against racism from justice to reconciliation.
The Father of us all has done His part. In Jesus, He has issued a manufacturer’s recall on our shame-bound human hearts.
I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed, He promises. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you… (Ezek. 26:26,27TMB).
For God’s sake, my Christian brothers and sisters, let Him do that in you—indeed, for the sake of your own heart and for others whose hearts and lives have been broken by our racism.
i Ben Kinchlow, Plain Bread (Dallas: Word Books, 1985) 20, 154.

at www.abbafather.com
“Overcoming Your Racism” cd/mp3
“Victory over Racism” in Fight like a Man: A New Warrior for a New Warfare
“Spiritual Imperialism: Secularism and White Racism in Religion vs Reality: Facing the Home Front in Spiritual Warfare
“The Mirror of Prejudice: Overcoming Personal and Corporate Racism” in Broken by  Religion, Healed by God

Who Killed Jesus? Receiving the Grace and Power of Easter

by Gordon Dalbey

YEARS AGO AS A PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER, I was accosted in a local marketplace by an angry villager. “We hate you Americans,” he snapped. “You killed Kennedy!”
I had enjoyed enough local hospitality to be more puzzled than indignant. President Kennedy himself was an American; without Americans, he would never have existed. Still, others around the world clearly felt that Kennedy had participated so essentially in their identity and aspirations that he belonged to them.
To condemn the Jewish people for the death of Jesus, as many Christians have done over the centuries, is just as baffling. Jesus himself was a Jew; without the Jews, the Messiah would never have existed. Still, non-Jews around the world clearly have felt that Jesus participates so essentially in their identity and aspirations that he belongs to them.
            Biblical history records that Jesus’ fellow Jews did in fact facilitate his death at Roman hands. Rather than sanitize that fact with politically-correct fabrications, Gentile Christians must dare to ask why that happened—not in order to blame others, but in fact to revitalize our faith at its roots.
If our faith is alive, that is, the Bible stories which include Jesus’ rejection and murder are not about some ancient, distant people, but about us. To point a self-righteous Gentile finger is to refuse to identify with the people of the Bible, and therefore, miss its essential message for us all today.
In Jesus’ time, Rome had conquered and brutalized Israel. Centurions (Roman police) menaced on every street corner, and even in the sacred temple. For those who protested, Roman law was swift and deadly; well-traveled roads were lined as telephone poles with crucified dissidents.
As resentment simmered, Jesus and his fellow oppressed Jews were approaching the Passover—which recalled for them a similar historical ordeal, when their ancestors were slaves in ancient Egypt. Passover celebrates the God of the Exodus, who intervened miraculously against overwhelming military odds to destroy the Egyptian oppressor and deliver His Chosen People into freedom across the parted Red Sea.
When a hopelessly powerful and viciously ruthless enemy stands in your backyards and even in your sacred temple, all this remembering freedom and your God’s saving power stirs not only hostile resentment, but violent reprisal. Passover in Jesus’ time would be like celebrating Fourth of July with foreign armies occupying America. It was a virtual mandate for revolution, and the air in Jerusalem was electric with anticipation for yet another dramatic, saving act of God.
Into this hair-trigger atmosphere came a man who promised to set his people free from their fear of death—the very fear which oppressors bank on for their power (see Heb. 2:14,15). This man Jesus preached that death has no power if you trust in the God of the Exodus. If you’ve lived in the shadow of crosses hanging with your brothers in faith, you know that such radical talk can turn an angry people into a mob ready not to only to kill but to be killed.
“He stirs up the people!” as the chief priests agonized (Luke 23:4).
“So the Pharisees and the chief priests met with the Council,” John noted, “and said, ‘What shall we do? Look at all the miracles this man is performing! If we let him go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Roman authorities will take action and destroy our temple and our nation!’” (John 11:47-48TEV).
Similarly, Mark records that two days before the Passover festival, the chief priests “were looking for a way to arrest Jesus secretly and put him to death. ‘We dare not do it during the festival,’ they said, ‘or the people might riot’” (Mk. 14:1,2).
Thus, the anguish of Jewish leaders under Roman rule. Yes, Jesus’ demonstrated power threatened their authority. But Rome demanded civil order and was prepared to crush the nation to enforce it.
Not only would outward rebellion against Caesar’s battalions be suicidal, but in fact, any disturbance or rioting at all among Jews could spark a holocaust. Such fear was no demented paranoia; this very cataclysm had befallen Israel centuries before, at the hands of the Babylonians.
The dilemma was as clear as it was agonizing. If Jesus refused to shut up or get out of town, people would gather, tempers would flare—and the people chosen to reveal God’s love and power to this broken world could get wiped out by Caesar’s jittery battalions.
If you want your people to survive, as a Jewish leader you must be prepared to compromise your anger, if not your faith itself. Thus the High Priest Caiaphas exclaimed to the other leaders, “What fools you are! Don’t you realize that it is better for you to have one man die for the people, instead of having the whole nation destroyed?” (John 11:49-50 TEV).
The common sense choice was clear: Jesus must go.
I wish I could say, “If I were a Jewish leader in Jesus’ time, I don’t know what I would’ve done.” But I do know what I most likely would have done—and it would not have been to risk the life of my entire nation for some carpenter from far-off Nazareth, no matter how impressive his miracles.
Today, some 2000 years later, in our comfortable democracy occupied only by stoplights and convenience stores, it’s easy for Gentiles to scoff, “Shame on those Jews! Of course, we would never have given Jesus over to be killed!”
Yet Jesus himself excoriated the Pharisees for that very same self-righteousness: “You hypocrites! …You claim that if you had lived during the time of your ancestors, you would not have done what they did and killed the prophets” (Matthew 23:29,30).
The Story says that the people of God chose apparent worldly security over Jesus. Do we? For all the leaders’ attempts to save their nation, not long after this in 66 AD, Israel rebelled openly; the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans, and the land was taken from the Jews until 1948, almost 2000 years thereafter.
Christian Gentiles would do well to heed the lessons of history: Insofar as we value our security over the call of Jesus to save a dying world, we will exclude His Holy Spirit from our churches and thereby leave them lifeless.
In fact, when the people of God chose life in this world rather than to risk their lives for Jesus, they abandoned themselves to the powers of death. This is the very real and very terrifying choice facing the followers of Jesus in every country, in every generation—even our own today.
If indeed, the God of the Bible is our God, then His story in the Bible is our story. As Gentiles, therefore, we can never celebrate ourselves as having the whole part in Christ’s life while scorning the Jews as having the whole part in his death. After all, the disciples themselves—not just the Pharisees—denied and disowned Jesus (see Mark 14:50, 68-72).
In fact, it was precisely these unfaithful disciples to whom the Risen Lord first returned, and empowered to bear God’s forgiveness to an unfaithful world: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:22,23).
Only those who have abandoned Jesus to die can appreciate the awe-full grace in this act—and the responsibility it bears.
That is, only insofar as you have inflicted the pain of Good Friday and thereby know its shame, can you treasure the humbling grace of Easter and thereby know its power.
Whenever I fancy that I don’t feel any particular need for repentance, I remember this: when my pagan Gentile ancestors were worshiping blocks of stone, Jews were worshiping the God of Jesus—and likely being murdered for it by my ancestors.  In fact, anyone who testifies that “Jesus died for my sin” is thereby an accomplice in his death.
The Good News is that God sent Jesus so we could all participate in His promises to Israel–and thereby, work together to bring His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus. therefore, did not come to make Gentiles out of Jews, but rather, to make Jews out of Gentiles–as He did first with Abraham. Through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, as Paul put it, “You Gentiles (Christians) are a wild olive tree,” grafted onto the original (ie, Jewish) tree–“and now you share the strong spiritual life of the Jews” (Rom. 11:17).
“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” as the marvelous African-American spiritual agonizes. “Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble/Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
To be a Gentile Christian is to know that we, too, handed Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified. If you didn’t–if you weren’t there at His crucifixion—you can’t know the full blessing of His resurrection. That is, if you can’t confess times in your life when you’ve chosen your comfort over Jesus’ suffering, then you can’t fully appreciate His immeasurable love and wield the power of His victory.
Insofar as you were there, however, you’ll fall trembling on your face grateful for His grace—and rise determined to proclaim the life-renewing  power of His Spirit among us even today.
That’s the blessing of Good Friday–and the promise of Easter.

at abbafather.com

“From Jackass to Warhorse” in Fight like a Man: A New Manhood for a New Warfare
“Who Is Holy Spirit? Meeting the Active Presence of God Today” in Broken by Religion, Healed by God
“How Demons Enter–and Leave” in No Small Snakes: A Journey into Spiritual Warfare
“Overcoming Spiritual Denial” in Religion vs Reality
“What God Has Joined Together: Spiritual Consequences of Sexual Union” in Pure Sex: The Spirituality of Desire

How to Fight Together (on the Same Side): A Valentine’s Gift to Couples

from Pure Sex: The Spirituality of Desire

by Gordon Dalbey
with Mary Andrews-Dalbey, PhD

Not long into our first year of marriage, Mary and I got into it over something—I don’t even remember what set us off. After trading shots for some time, however, it became clear we’d gone down a rabbit hole never to return unless some power greater than the two of us entered the fray.
Yes, we’re each highly educated, but sometimes that only means our barbs become more intelligently crafted.
Frustrated and scared—how in the world were we going to get out of this dark place together?—I sighed deeply, un-grit my teeth and girded my loins.
“This argument is over,” I declared, taking Mary’s hand.
In previous generations, this announcement commonly meant that both partners stopped talking and went their separate ways as the man disappeared behind the newspaper. Of course, because everyone was now quiet, peace was restored and everyone lived happily ever after.
They don’t call the devil the prince of Darkness for nothing. As the Destroyer of God’s work, he thrills to see couples withdraw from communicating and seethe quietly amid thoughts of self-justification and vengeance.
So I pressed ahead. “I’m tired of hurting each other,” I urged. “Let’s pray.”
With that, I drew Mary with me into our bedroom and invited her to kneel down beside me at the foot of our bed.
Forgive me if this seems elementary. If you and your spouse do this together all the time, give me some grace. This approach to “conflict resolution” was not in my hard drive before that time. I never saw it done anywhere in the culture—not at home growing up, not between other married friends, not in any Hollywood film, not in my seminary curriculum, nor even in any of the many churches I attended growing up and since.
Today, since our wedding in 1990, I haven’t seen anything better.
Indeed, this wasn’t the only time Mary and I knelt together. In that first year together, we wore four holes in the carpet.
It’s worth noting here that the word “kneel” comes from the root word for “knee.” That’s the joint between your ankle and your hip. When it bends you get smaller–and that’s the idea.
In any case, as the two of us knelt side by side, I took another measured breath and led the way. “O God,” I cried out, modeling after King David in Psalm 139, “search my wife’s heart, and find out what wickedness there is within her!” (Freely translated from  THB–The Husband’s Bible).
OK, actually I didn’t say that—though I confess the thought did cross my mind. With a nod to David’s asking God to “search my heart” for evil, I struggled to give it my best shot.
“OK, Father,” I sighed out loud, still holding Mary’s hand tightly, in order not to run. “We give up. To you. We’ve done our best and we only keep hurting each other more. We can’t seem to stop it. It’s getting to where we don’t even want to. Please come and speak to us, Father! Lead us out of this place back into the love we know you have for us.”
“Yes, Father,” Mary agreed. “That’s what we really want.”
In spite of my righteous intentions, I confess I knelt there fuming. Come on, Father! I prayed quietly. You’re the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. You were there–just tell her the truth! Hopefully, I waited—but heard nothing either from the Father or from Mary.
            And then suddenly, three words popped into my mind: “Listen to her.”
“Listen to her,” Father? I echoed in silent frustration. What do you mean? I’ve been listening to her for half an hour! You’re all-knowing. You know it didn’t happen like she says.
Frustrated, nevertheless I’d already exhausted all my intelligent and insightful options. Father,You know I love your Word! I prayed righteously. Please, give me a Scripture to get us out of this mess.
The word I did not love, however, returned: “Listen to her.”
Struggling, I tried another avenue. Please, Father—how about a rhema word of knowledge? Yes, come Holy Spirit!
 “Listen to her,” I heard yet again.
Exasperated, I cut to the chase. Father, look:You know I’m right. Mary hears from you–just show her that.
“I never said you were wrong,” I sensed. “I said, ‘Listen to her’.”
Amid the frustration, my beloved’s voice suddenly cut in from beside me. “I’m not getting anything from the Lord,” Mary said, confused and shaking her head in dismay. “Are you?”
I drew up. “Well, of course,” I offered–humble Christian that I am—“I don’t know if it’s from the Lord or not. I mean, you know, it could be just me.” After all, the Bible says we see only as ‘in a mirror dimly’ in this present age—right? (1 Corinth. 13:12).
“OK…,” Mary offered, genuinely at a loss. “But if you’ve got anything at all, let’s try it anyhow and see.”
Apparently the dim mirror was about to become more clear—and uncomfortable. OK, Father! I prayed quietly, walk me through this!
“Well, OK. I mean, the gist was kind of like…, maybe I haven’t been listening to you very well.”
That got Mary’s attention. Straightening up, she looked me in the eye, focused and intense.
“Maybe” I allowed, “if you could tell me once more what you were saying, I’ll try my best to listen.”
A tentative squint of Mary’s eyes said, Do I dare trust this dude one more time? After a significant pause, however, with measured breath she began talking to me about her being afraid, including something painful that had happened to her before we ever met.
Minutes later, we were in each other’s arms, asking forgiveness for hurting each other.
I could almost hear the Father huff in disgust, “And you wanted to be right!”
That day, I learned a simple but powerful lesson: There’s something better than being right. It’s being real–before God and the one you love, trusting Him to draw you back together for His larger purposes.
“When couples fight,” as my seminary pastor Rev. Herb Davis used to say, “they always think the question is, Who’s right? But each one already knows the answer to that question: ‘I’m right! Otherwise, I wouldn’t be fighting.’
“Instead, The Question for couples who want to grow up is, What’s God trying to teach us here?”
You just have to give Him a chance to answer.

Gordon Dalbey books (signed paperbacks, CD and mp3 reading),
DVD, cd/mp3 teachings at www.abbafather.com.

Why We Still Ban Carols: Recovering the Joy of Christmas

Gordon Dalbey

A friend of mine in England recently emailed me this startling note about the history of Christmas carols:

Carol singers going from house to house is a result of carols being banned within churches in medieval times due to them disrupting the service. The word “carol” means to sing and dance in a circle, deriving from the ancient Greek ‘choros’, which means “dancing in a circle,” and from the Old French word ‘carole’, a song to accompany dancing. Carols were introduced to Church services by St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), and the tradition spread through Europe; however the intrusive nature of the singing and dancing led them to be banned from Church…. Carols, alongside other traditional celebrations of Christmas, were banned completely from 1647-1660 by the Puritan government. (The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies in Canterbury)

Apparently, the medieval Church never got the Scripture memo, when the Ark of the Covenant (read: Presence of God) stolen by Israel’s enemy was at last recaptured and restored to His people with a joyous parade of  “shouts and the sound of trumpets”:
And David danced before the Lord with all his might (2 Sam. 6:14RSV).
Other translations note “with great abandon” (TMB), “with all his might to honor the Lord” (TEV), and “whirled with all his might before the Lord” (Judaism: The Tanakh).
Christmas, that is, heralds the return/coming of God’s presence among His people in Jesus the Messiah–like the return of the Ark in David’s time. Honoring God with joyous abandon in carols and dance would therefore seem natural for those who worship Jesus, the Son of David (Luke 1:32).
It makes you wonder: Whatever might possess Christians (literally) to believe that singing and dancing to honor the Lord is disruptive?
Certainly–like Jesus among the Pharisees and Holy Spirit moving among us unto today–such joyous celebration can pre-empt and disrupt religion’s ordered script. You can get crucified for doing things like that.
It’s too easy, however, to criticize our medieval Church forebears and uptight Puritans from almost a thousand-year distance. When was the last time you saw anyone today singing carols and dancing with all their might to honor God? I confess that, like most of us, I haven’t done that myself in a let-it-fly way that would meet the original definition of “carol.”
But I’d like to.
So why do we balk at that even today?
A major clue for me lies in the ancient songbook lyrics, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:5). That is, we modern, well-provided Western Christians simply haven’t sown enough tears to beget joy. To us, such emotional display can feel weak, and therefore shameful.
Often out of our own childhood wounding, we’ve learned not to reveal to anyone our deepest needs, much less to a God called Father.  We just don’t trust this God will listen to our cries and respond to save us. And so we haven’t experienced His overwhelming love, power, and deliverance that would prompt us to dance and sing with all our might.
The best of carols, meanwhile, proclaim the joy of Christmas. They spring from the heart of a Father God who has come in Jesus deliberately to disrupt our most cherished—albeit self-destructive—schemes to control our lives, look good, and save ourselves.
From that perspective, our Western churches still ban caroling—at least, as it was originally defined. Sure, we all sing Christmas carols freely now in church. But how long would we tolerate everyone pouring out of the pews, twirling and dancing mightily with abandon at a chorus of Joy to the World?
Sadly, our largely subdued Western worship betrays the same denial and shame as that of our medieval ancestors. But at least, they were honest about their ordered intentions and kicked the carolers out.
Our modern, more sophisticated sensibilities prefer to eviscerate the experience and domesticate the Spirit who inspires it. We permit the carols, but not the active, heartfelt worship which they, like us, were created to express—and which indeed, defines them.
The spirit of religion has possessed us, even as our forebears. As the entertainer Bono has famously noted, “Religion is what’s left when the Spirit leaves the room.”
Who, in fact, can sing with abandon “Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her king!”? Only those who have sown in tears—that is, who have cried out deeply this past year for God’s saving presence in their lives. The Good News of Christmas is designed for those who have tried to be king of their own lives, failed miserably, and are now desperate at last to receive the King of kings.
But maybe all this dancing with abandon at Christmas strikes you as unseemly and embarrassing, if not shameful. Maybe this past year you’ve managed your life quite well by yourself, thank you.
To whatever extent that’s so, you’ll see the birth of God among us like the Pharisees and our medieval church ancestors, as a disruption rather than a blessing. If you haven’t faced your own hopes and fears deeply, you can’t know, as the carol O Little Town of Bethlehem declares, that “the hopes and fears of all the years are met” in Jesus even this Christmas, even in you.
If you’ve read this far, however, maybe you haven’t wholly forgotten the longing for joy in your heart and the impulse to express it outwardly. Maybe for too long you’ve told yourself, “It can happen for others, but not for me.”
I can only tell you that the God revealed at Christmas is a God of resurrection power who promises us “the same as the mighty strength which he used when he raised Christ from death” (Ephes. 1:15-20). He specializes in rekindling dreams that have died and in restoring a “joyful and triumphant” heart, as the carol O Come, All Ye Faithful invites.
And so, like that carol, I would invite you this Christmas to give yourself another chance to receive God’s blessing—and discover the answer to this question in Angels We Have Heard on High:
Shepherds why this jubilee, Why your joyous songs prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be/Which inspire your heavenly song?
A good way to do that is to find a quiet place and get real there with “the Father from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Ephes. 3:14NIV).  Tell God openly about your hopes and fears—like Jesus, with “loud cries and tears” if necessary (Heb. 5:7NIV).
Then wait and listen for your Father to respond.
When you’re ready, try singing “O Holy Night”—and listen to your heart for “the thrill of hope” as “the weary world rejoices/For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
Just make sure there’s room to dance.
                                                               Other Resources
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* “Getting Ready for Christmas:

Understanding the Bible from Creation to Easter”
4 cds or mp3 download http://store.abbafather.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=3
1. The Problem with the Creature                   4. The Advent of Grace
2. Who Are the Jews?                                     5. Is Jesus the Only Way?
3. Rebellion and Return                                  6. What Makes Jesus Different?
7. The Fallout from Easter
At http://store.abbafather.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=1 :
* “Jesus, the Warrior King” chapter in
No Small Snakes: A Journey into Spiritual Warfare
* “Christmas after 9/11: The Birth of Jesus, the Death of Religion”
 chapter in
Religion vs. Reality: Facing the Home Front in Spiritual Warfare
Knowing Jesus More Completely:

Broken by Religion, Healed by God: Restoring the Evangelical, Sacramental, Pentecostal, Social Justice Church

A Biblical Thanksgiving: From Civil Etiquette to Sacred Memory

By Gordon Dalbey
at www.abbafather.com

Popular images of Pilgrims and roast turkeys make it easy today to believe that Thanksgiving began at Plymouth Rock in 1621, and is simply about civil etiquette to appreciate the good things we enjoy in this country.
Not so.
In fact, our American forebears modeled their celebration after a far earlier Thanksgiving—one hosted by another people who were similarly oppressed by a tyrant ruler and fled across a vast emptiness to a new land of abundance, there to establish a nation which would reflect God’s ways to other nations.
What’s more, these very first pilgrims worshiped the God of Jesus and indeed, were our Hebrew ancestors in faith. They were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt just as the “Americans” had been spiritual slaves to the King of England; they set out across the desert wilderness to Palestine like the “Americans” who crossed the vast and empty Atlantic Ocean, and they understood themselves to be a “light to the nations” (Isa. 49:6), even as the “Americans” sought to be a beacon of religious freedom in an otherwise repressive world.

Our guide to celebrating Thanksgiving today can therefore be found in God’s directions to those early Hebrews. “When you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heritage, and you possess it and settle in it,” as He instructed His people,

you shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God will choose to establish His name. You shall go to go to the priest in charge at that time and say to him, “I acknowledge this day before the Lord your God that I have entered the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to assign us.”
The priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. You shall then recite as follows before the Lord your God: “My father (Abraham) was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there, but there he became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. We cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery and our oppression. The Lord freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil and which You, O Lord, have given me.”
You shall leave it before the Lord your God and bow low before the Lord your God. And you shall enjoy, together with the Levite and stranger in your midst, all the bounty that the Lord your God has bestowed upon you and your household.  (Deut 26:1-11 Jewish Publication Society translation)

            This definitive biblical Thanksgiving includes three major acts: 1. Give a portion of your harvest/income to the Temple, 2. Tell the story of God’s saving acts among your ancestors, and 3. Eat, enjoy, and share freely the rest of your first fruits! (see Deut. 14:22-26). Most of us today have no problem with the eating and enjoying part of #3, and most Christians donate money regularly at church. Few of us, however, take time on Thanksgiving Day to remember our ancestors, much less how God acted among them.

Years ago while at seminary in Boston, I took a course on Judaism taught by Rabbi Murray Rothman of Temple Shalom, who declared that “Judaism is the only religion with a commandment to remember.” That commandment most often references the pilgrimage from Egypt to the Promised Land, as in Deuteronomy 8:2: “Remember how the Lord your God led you on this long journey through the desert these past forty years….”
The God of Israel is thereby unique among other gods, Rabbi Rothman emphasized, in that He is revealed not primarily in nature, wise sayings, metaphysical consciousness, or even ritual, but rather, in history.
With our Hebrew ancestors, therefore, we Christians worship the God who acts in human affairs, even intervening decisively—as in Jesus. We testify to His power and goodness primarily not by upholding creeds and theological concepts, but rather, by proclaiming what He has done in our lives.
Faith in a living God is sustained not by correct belief, but rather, by vital memory. “Write down for the coming generation what the Lord has done so that people not yet born will praise Him,” as the Psalmist proclaimed (Ps 102:18). “Think of the past, of the time long ago,” Moses declared; “ask your fathers to tell you what happened, ask the old men to tell of the past” (Deut 32:7).
To remember God’s saving acts in the past is to remind yourself of God’s love and power, and thus be reassured that He’ll stand with you similarly in future trials.

We don’t need fortune tellers; we just need faithful story tellers.
The destiny which God has planned for us, that is, unfolds precisely insofar as we’re faithful to what He has done in our past. The biblical faith, as another has noted, moves us into the future much like rowing a boat: facing backwards and gauging direction by sighting along landmarks passed.
We’re naturally concerned about the future. But until we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving in this biblical way, God can only tell us, “You haven’t recognized what I’ve already done for you—how then can you value what I’m going to do?” Any parent knows how to deal with children like ourselves: “You haven’t appreciated what I’ve already given you—how then can I entrust you with more?”
In fact, if we don’t remember God’s work in our past, we can’t thank Him for it. Worse, we’re easily seduced by our self-centered human nature into believing, “I did it all by myself!” But if you gained what you have entirely by your own efforts, there can’t be any Thanksgiving, simply because there’s no One to thank.
Thanksgiving requires the humility to admit you needed help; without that, you can’t celebrate the fact that you received it.
The Bible therefore urges a “sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord,” as in Leviticus 22:29. In order to thank God wholeheartedly, you first need to sacrifice the proud fantasy of your power to the humbling reality of His saving hand.
And so God commanded the Hebrew Pilgrims,

When you have all you want to eat and have built good houses to live in and when your cattle and sheep, your silver and gold, and all your other possessions have increased, be sure that you do not become proud and forget the Lord your God who rescued you from Egypt, where you were slaves …
(Y)ou must never think that you have made yourselves wealthy by your own power and strength. Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power to become rich. He does this because He is still faithful to the covenant that He made with your ancestors. (Deut 8:12-14, 17, 18 italics mine)

         Thus, the New Testament witness affirms, “For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it” (Eph. 2:8). Thanksgiving is not about what you have, but Who provided it.

For Americans, this is a powerful word of correction today, almost 400 years after our Pilgrim ancestors struggled to survive that first Massachusetts winter of 1621. What began then as dependence upon God for life itself has been corrupted through generations of increasing affluence into a national mania for self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and Looking Out For #1, as that popular best-seller urged.
The gospel of the world proclaims, “You’ve worked hard, therefore you deserve good things!” The Good News in Jesus, however, is precisely that we don’t get what we deserve.
A child of the God revealed on the cross dares not pray, “Lord, give me what I deserve!” For God knows—even if we proudly refuse to accept it—that in our hopelessly sinful nature, we deserve death (see Romans 7:18-8:2). In fact, that’s precisely why Jesus came: to save us from the death we deserve for the life God has planned for us. It’s called grace.
“Your father was a wandering Aramean…”
“Do not become proud…”
These texts, and the God of History whom they proclaim, became graphically alive to me at 42, when I visited for the first time my father’s hometown just outside Philadelphia (see “Boots for a Working Man,” in Healing the Masculine Soul). Though as a Navy brat I never lived there, Dad told me many boyhood stories about it, including how his mother and grandmother had worked long hours in the local fabric mills for as little as $3 a (six-day) week.

And then, wonder of wonders! I stood myself before the very steel workers’ house where my grandfather—who quit third grade to work in the mills—had lived with my grandmother after their wedding in 1900. Reverently, I walked up the stairs, by then covered with weeds, to the now dark, soot-stained factory where my grandfather had worked sixty hours a week, coming home at night—as my father told me—with bloody scars on his arms and shoulders from white-hot steel sparks.
Later, I stood before the dilapidated tire and rubber factory where my father himself had worked after high school, breathing its foul air and suffering its heavy loads until he stood up one day and declared, “There must be something more to life than this.”
What’s more, I stood on the platform of the train station, now an antique shop, where my father stood after his factory work, waiting for the train to college night school in the city—the very train, in fact, on which he met the person who introduced him to my mother.
The words you read here almost a hundred years later, are written by the grandson of an illiterate steel worker. Yet I have no burn scars on my arms from factory work.
Before the God of History—even my own history—I can only fall on my knees weeping for those men and women of the past on whose scarred and overworked shoulders I stand today. In that pain, I cry out for God to forgive me for taking so much for granted, and beg Him to show me how I can be faithful in my own life to all that He has done in my past.
I’m thankful that I don’t have to work sixty hours a week beside a blazing steel mill furnace and die of factory-induced cancer at 52. Before the God of History, however, I know that I don’t have to do it because my grandfather did it.
In fact, I have too often assumed, and in that sense abused the freedom others suffered that I might enjoy.

My eyes do not hold enough tears to embrace all the suffering my ancestors endured–nor to atone for my own failure fully to appreciate it. I’m therefore eternally thankful that I don’t have to die for my sin. Before the God of History, in fact, I know that I don’t have to do it only because Jesus did it.
In that thankfulness, in fact, I’m freed to live, even in the fullness of God’s purposes for me.
And so, on this as every Thanksgiving, I bow before the God revealed to the family of Abraham millennia ago, to the world over 2000 years ago in Jesus, unto this very day to me in His Holy Spirit:
“Father, I’m forever grateful to you. And so I will give a portion of my income to your church. Help me always to remember what you have done for me in the past, so I can live humbly and faithfully for you now and in the future. And on this Thanksgiving Day, I will eat and enjoy what you have provided, sharing freely with others as you lead me.”

at www.abbafather.com

1. “With Power and the Holy Spirit” Three podcast links at Home Page
A. Healing Emotional Wounds
B.  Praying for Physical Healing
C. An Introduction to Spiritual Warfare: Facing the Reality of Evil
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3. Pure Sex: The Spirituality of Desire (newest book by Gordon Dalbey, with Mary Andrews-Dalbey, PhD) in paperback, cd reading by authors, and mp3 download

Unmasking Halloween: A Pagan Revival

by Gordon Dalbey
at www.abbafather.com

You yourselves used to be in the darkness, but since you have become the Lord’s people, you are in the light. So you must live like people who belong to the light…. Have nothing to do with the worthless things that people do, the things that belong to the darkness. Instead, bring them out to the light…. And when all things are brought out to light, then their true nature is clearly revealed…. So be careful how you live. Don’t live like ignorant people, but like wise people…because these are evil days. (Ephes. 5:8-10, 15)

AMID BLACK WITCH HATS AND PUMPKINS, the darkness of fall crept in with the trembling voice of a pastor, calling me from his hospital bed the morning after Halloween.
The night before, Jeff’s (not his real name) church was “celebrating” their annual “Haunted Sanctuary Night.” As part of the “decoration,” he had been tied up and hung in a fake noose from the rafters. Below, church members and their children stepped warily through a black-walled “graveyard” maze of pews while costumed skeletons and ghosts jumped out at them. Amid spooky howling and morbid organ music, suddenly Jeff’s supporting noose rope inexplicably snapped and he fell twenty feet, striking his head on the concrete floor and narrowly escaping death.
During our phone conversation, I told him how thankful I was that he survived his fall. As I realized how much I cared about Jeff, however, I knew that brotherly love required truth as well as grace.
“As a Christian leader,” I urged him, “the enemy of God, who animates Halloween, is after your life. Please, brother,” I begged, “don’t hand it to him on a silver platter. This is not a matter of entertainment but of life and death!”
From drugstore racks to office parties, this annual invasion of sinister masks and images heralds a showcase for evil, as deliberately dark spirituality takes center stage among us.
The graphic contrasts frame the contest here between Halloween and Christmas, that is, between the gods of the world and the God revealed in Jesus: death, dark masks, and the effort to conceal vs. birth, bright lights, and the effort to reveal; “pranks” and bad deeds as powers of destruction are given rein vs. gifts and good deeds as the saving power of the Creator is extended.
Pastor Jeff’s fall reveals the Great Lie of Halloween: that within its costumes we can reflect the persona of evil, but evil spirits cannot reflect from within us. The Great Truth of Christmas, meanwhile, is that by the light of Christ in us we can reflect the Holy Spirit of God.
Not long ago, Halloween was seen simply as an occasion for children to have fun dressing in costumes and hitting up neighbors for candy. More recently—with its office parties, racy outfits, and even parades—adults have taken over the occasion, co-opting its innocence and fostering a pagan revival in these times.
The word Halloween comes from an abbreviated “all Hallows Eve,” the day before All Saints’ Day, instituted when the early Church decided to commemorate past Christian heroes of the faith. Bowing to pagan sensibilities—even as Jeff to his spiritually blind congregation—the nascent ancient Church coordinated All Saints Day with November 1st, New Year’s Day on the ancient Druid calendar in Western Europe.
On their October 31st New Year’s Eve, Druids extolled the “Lord of the Dead,” who was believed to summon on that night the spirits of all wicked persons who had died in the previous year and been condemned to live in animals—as the proverbial black cat. On this one night, it was believed, those departed spirits returned to their original territory expecting to be honored by the living with gift offerings. Otherwise, those evil spirits would spread curses, cast spells, cause damage, and torment the populace.
Hence, “trick or treat.”
In a secularized culture like ours, this shameless concession to make Christianity more palatable to pagans has only accomplished the very opposite, making pagan spirituality more palatable to Christians. Saints, it would seem, are not as much fun to emulate as demons.
Entities in the spirit realm are not subject to human agency. They don’t cease to function simply because our Western materialistic worldview can’t accommodate them.
At its root, therefore, Halloween is a wolf in sheep’s costume, an occasion which purports to honor Christian saints but which in fact pays homage, even extortion, to the evil spirits which animate the occasion now as then.
God’s plans are not achieved by placating evil, nor did Jesus negotiate with demons. Today, however, our blindly secularized, materialistic culture effectively does this—even as churches like Jeff’s—in denying the active reality of evil among us (see “Overcoming Spiritual Denial” in Religion vs Reality).
Yet the greatest of our natural human powers is no match for the least of spiritual powers. We all know this because we all experience it, from unbidden nightmares to death itself (see No Small Snakes: A Journey into Spiritual Warfare).
The shame of our primal inadequacy stirs an addictive denial that can keep even the most sincere Christians from facing the presence and power of evil—and thereby, from recognizing its handiwork in Halloween unto today.
Intoxicated with worldly conceit, we dismiss it all as “nothing but superstition”—and then we’re startled when “treats” for children dressed as witches and demons begin to include razor blades in apples and drugs in candy.
Thus, we sacrifice our children’s innocence on the smug altar of human pride and control. In fact, we’d rather abdicate ultimate, supernatural reality to the devil than face our desperate need for God’s saving power.
As the “Son of God,” that is, Jesus “appeared for this very reason: to destroy what the Devil had done” (1 John 3:8b), and to demonstrate thereby that “the Spirit who is in you is more powerful than the spirit in those who belong to the world” (1 John 4:4).
Blackmailed by shame, the enforced ignorance of our “modern” secularized worldview offers neither protection nor excuse. Those who fancy similarly that smoking is just a harmless pleasure, as the early tobacco company ads assured, nevertheless contract lung cancer—and infect others with their second-hand smoke.
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord,” as Paul exhorted the early Christians, then immersed in a pagan culture not wholly unlike our own today. “Live as children of light…. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephes. 5:8-10NIV).
Those called to reflect God’s Light in Jesus, that is, ultimately face greater consequences for accommodating the darkness—as Pastor Jeff discovered in his Halloween brush with death.
Granted, it’s hard to maintain Christian boundaries in our spiritually blind culture, which cannot recognize the need for protection. When that culture pressures children to engage in Halloween’s evil charade, even knowledgeable, sincere Christian parents can yield.
Years ago, when my son was around four, I taught him about the “bad angels” who “make Halloween scary.” He still wanted very much to participate in the costumes and parties, so I said I would take him to a local church for a suitable alternative: a “no bad guys” party to celebrate historic Christian saints and other heroes.
Very early that evening, however, he was already dressed in his Peter Pan outfit, and begged to go trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. I balked, but he persisted.  “It’s not even dark yet, Daddy!” he pleaded. Eventually, I relented and agreed to let him visit only our two closest neighbors “and no more!”
What could possibly go wrong? I rationalized. We’ll only be there out for ten minutes and Mary and I will be right there with him.
Later, after the second house, he clutched his bag of candy happily. Mary and I hustled him past the cobwebbed porch and piped-in howling sounds, down the sidewalk toward our home next door. As my son examined his bag, for a brief moment the two of us pulled a step ahead of him and sighed.
Suddenly, we were startled by a dull THUNK behind us, followed by a loud scream. Turning, we found our son sprawled out on the concrete. Puzzled how he might have tripped, nevertheless we rushed to pick him up and saw his upper teeth had cut into his lower lip, which was now bleeding profusely.
Quickly, we dashed him home and into the bathroom. I had barely wiped the blood from his whimpering mouth when it hit me like a ton of bricks. As Mary—a nurse, thankfully—took over, I ran out to the living room and fell to my knees, crushed.
Oh, Father, please, please heal my son, I begged, and forgive me for not maintaining safe spiritual boundaries for him!
The enemy of God hates children because, like Jesus, they restore innocence to this fallen world (see “Can Daddy Come out and Play? The Ministry of the Child” in Do Pirates Wear Pajamas? and Other Mysteries in the Adventure of Fathering). But in order to destroy the children, the enemy must first deceive the adults.
The Bible was written for “evil days,” even our own. The unholy spirit which animates Halloween today is the very enemy of God portrayed in the Bible: hostile to His Holy Spirit and determined to destroy His works unto today—even ourselves. Let’s stop promoting these “things that belong to the darkness.” Like “wise people,” let’s “bring them out into the light” of Christ to renounce them and focus instead on Him.
This blog excerpted from Gordon’s book Religion vs Reality: Facing the Home Front in Spiritual Warfare, which includes other chapters Secularization and White Racism, Homosexuality: Outing the Man-Hating Spirit, From Dinosaurs to Demons: Hollywood’s X-Rated Spirituality, Ball Games and the Battle for Men’s Souls, Is Jesus the Only Way?, Delivered from Abortion, Better Fat than Sad, and From Obedience to Trust: Slavery or Sonship?

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    Don’t let your past hurts define you. Instead, let Jesus show you His perspective and the truth will set you free. Healing stories of an insecure woman longing for her father’s blessing, a self-destructive son whose alcoholic father shamed him, a man’s fear of women from being almost aborted.
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    Pure Sex: The Spirituality of Desire
    Do Pirates Wear Pajamas? and Other Mysteries in the Adventure of Fathering

Woman up, Moms! Dads with Daughters Need Your Help

by Gordon Dalbey

My grief is beyond healing, my heart is sick within me. Hark, the cry of the daughter of my people from the length and breadth of the land: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?…. For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded. I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.  Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored? (Jeremiah 8:18-22 RSV)

“What does a girl need from her dad?” a puzzled father in his late 30’s with a daughter 7 and son 10 asked me during my men’s retreat. “I was a boy myself, so I know what works with my son. We go fishing together, read Robinson Crusoe, build our tree fort and all. But with my daughter…” His voice trailed off as he shook his head in frustration, “…most of the time I’m in the dark.”
Not having a daughter myself, I hesitated—and then a flash of insight struck me. “You’re married to a daughter,” I declared confidently. “Your wife was once a little girl with a father—ask her!”
The next day, the man returned with his brow knit. “I asked my wife what a girl needs from her dad,” he reported, then dropped his eyes and fell silent.
“So…what did she say?”
Looking up, he sighed. “She said, ‘I don’t know’.”
I sighed with him. “What does that tell you, brother?”
“I guess,” he offered sadly, “she never got it herself.”
Affirming this brother’s heart for his wife and daughter, I then urged him to pursue his wife now even as when he first courted her. “Ask her to tell you what it was like for her with her dad when she was growing up,” I suggested—then added, “Just remember to leave your tool box outside. You’re not there to fix her, just to listen.”
Even as I sensed the appropriateness in my advice, however, I knew even then that it wasn’t enough. That encounter, in fact, revealed the average woman’s wounding today as so deep that she can’t provide her husband with the wisdom needed to help him father her daughter.
Nevertheless, I remain hopeful, because this dilemma is all too similar to the problem we largely unfathered men face today as well. My “Sons of the Father” men’s conferences, in fact, focus on helping men confess what our dads didn’t give us and go together to Father God to get it–and thereby, be empowered at last to forgive our dads and get on with fathering our sons.
Over the years, however, I’ve seen the deep wound in women as well (see “Of Fathers and Daughters” in Healing the Masculine Soul). And so, ever since that encounter described above, at every local church where I minister to the men I urge the leadership to schedule my “Daughters of the Father” event for both men and women, where I focus on healing women.
My wife Mary, a psychologist, tells me for example that when a girl is born, her father may wish she were a boy instead. That disappointment from Dad wounds her femininity. Later, as a woman, it can lead her to choose destructive male relationships which reinforce this negative view of herself.
At the event, therefore, I remind that Father God gets what He wants, and pronounces His creation “very good” (Gen.1:31). I then call upon the men there to give manly voice to this divine truth and the Father’s joy by together shouting out as the heavenly hosts when each of our sisters there was born:
                                                  “HALELUIA! IT’S A GIRL!”
As that deep, booming masculine chorus shakes the sanctuary, the women’s tears begin flowing—a palpable witness to women’s wound and the power we men have to help Father God heal it.
In closing the evening, I’ve challenged the women to gather at their churches and talk together to determine what in fact a girl needs from her daddy and how he can give it to her. As at the men’s conferences, I warn that such truth-telling will likely stir deep pain and shame, but urge the women to persevere in behalf of their daughters.
I tell them to take as much time as necessary and assure that they will gain much healing themselves in the process. Then, I tell them to set a time when they’re ready, and invite dads with daughters to come and learn.
“The men I meet around the world at my conferences want to be good fathers to their daughters,” I tell the women, “but we just don’t know how. We need you to help us.”
I write this blog because, as Jeremiah quotes the Father, “dismay has taken hold of me.” After issuing this challenge to women at scores of churches worldwide for almost thirty years, only two fellowships have responded.
Maybe many women have tried individually to talk to fathers about this and felt unheard. If so, I believe a church/community effort could bear greater authority and opportunity for both men and women to listen to one another and work together for our daughters.
Or maybe it seems too painful for a woman to face her daughter’s wound because it reminds the woman of her own unmet longing for Dad’s love.
As a man who knows that fear of facing his own wounds and ministers to it in other men, I can understand your balking. But I encourage you, sisters, that if you talk to Jesus about it He will remove your shame, overcome your fear, and restore you to true dignity as a daughter of the Father. (see “Healing Emotional Wounds: Seeing the Past as Jesus Sees It” in Broken by Religion, Healed by God).
I just want to see women healed–now and in future generations. I want men and women alike to know that the Father “from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth receives its true name” (Ephes. 3:14NIV footnote) hears the cries of His daughters now even as when the ancient prophet Jeremiah gave words to His pain. I want us to rejoice that Father God has come in Jesus to declare a resounding “YES! There is indeed a balm in Gilead. I remain on the job and am working steadfastly to restore the health of my daughters!”
Increasingly, the dads I see in my ministry want to do their part in rearing daughters who are both confident in their femininity and competent in their gifting. I’m sure moms want that, too.
None of us men or women, however, are in ourselves adequate to this altogether essential task–which can only be done working together as moms and dads in the guidance and power of the Father’s Spirit. The shame of our human inadequacy as parents must not deter us from that goal, simply because Jesus bore it once and for all on the cross–and through His resurrection has released His Holy Spirit to empower us.
Meanwhile, to do nothing amid the raging current of pop culture is to be swept away by it. The rising tide of celebrity bad girls and prime-time promiscuity is pre-empting the precious grace of our daughters’ femininity and seducing them into the world’s cheap shame. An entire generation of girls–that’s half the world’s population–is being infected with the lie that their ultimate value lies in their ability to stir lust.
Sure, men and women have wounded each other. But the time of angry finger-pointing between genders is gone. Mature adults value their children’s welfare above their own hurts. Today, before our very media-driven eyes, the father of Lies is stealing our daughters’ feminine soul.
This loss and its terrible pain wounds Father God’s heart–even now as in Jeremiah’s day. It’s time men and women began to bear that wound together with Him, unto a fierce determination to rescue our daughters for His healing and fulfillment (see “Identity Theft: Beyond Performance and Perfectionism,” in Mary Dalbey, PhD, The REST of Your Life).
I’m not looking here simply for comments to boast a lively blog. I’m looking for action. I want to see men and women in churches do what I’m suggesting. I welcome comments, questions, and suggestions from those who are sincerely determined to do it, and especially from those who have done it.
At my men’s events, I lead dads to the cross toward a humble openness before God and such faithful tenacity before this broken world. We’re learning to fight for our families. But we need women alongside us in this battle for our daughters’ hearts.
Sisters, please, help us do our part.


                                               at http://store.abbafather.com/
by Gordon Dalbey

“Of Fathers & Daughters,” in Healing the Masculine Soul
“Healing Emotional Wounds,” in Broken by Religion, Healed by God
“Fathers & Daughters: Healing the Father-Wound in Women” (Gordon DVD, CD, mp3)
                                                       by Mary Andrews-Dalbey, PhD
“Sexual Bonding and a Woman’s Heart,” in Pure Sex: The Spirituality of Desire
The REST of Your Life: Discovering God’s Rest in a Driven, Demanding, Distressful World
 (10-week small-group workbook)
“What’s Sex Got to Do with It? Every Woman’s Desire for Love and Significance” (DVD, Mary to college women)
Healing Fathers & Daughters: A Woman’s View
Healing the Feminine Soul (A Time to Dance + Mothers’ Day: A Mother’s View)
From Romance to Love: A Woman’s Guide
What Families Are For
Restoring Family Value—and How to Value Yours
From Religion to Life: Learning to Live Freely in God’s Grace
                                                          Gordon and Mary
Passions & Priorities: Singles Conference Album #1
Single Minded for God’s Purposes: Singles Conference Album #2
Addiction: Beyond Shame and Denial

The Marbles of Manhood: From Shame to Sonship

In my boyhood as a Navy brat, I moved to a new school for 5th grade and was excited to see the other boys playing marbles during recess.
A history lesson for younger men: marbles were round colored glass balls about the size of a dime. To play, you set a white string in a circle and each player would put an agreed-upon number of his marbles in the circle. Then each would take turns firing your “shooter” marble at the pack, hoping to knock another guy’s marble outside the string—which entitled you to pocket it.
“Can I play?” I asked, walking up to several boys as they knelt preparing their circle.
“Sure,” one of the kids said. “Put your marbles in.”
“Uh, well, I don’t have any marbles,” I stammered.
“Then you can’t play,” the kid said matter-of-factly, and the others proceeded to shoot.
Quickly, I turned away as a hot flush of shame seared my heart. Later at home, I went straight to my father. “I need some marbles, so I can play with the other boys,” I told him. After dinner, he took me out to the “Five & Ten” store—younger men can read WalMart—and bought me a bag of marbles. The next day, I couldn’t wait for recess—when I happily tossed my marbles into the circle and shot away, certified as one of the boys.
Today, a generation of men—both young and old—have not been given the marbles by Dad to play the game of life. We don’t have the stuff of manhood, and we know it. Worse, we fear that other men will know it—and we’ll be kicked off the team, cast into outer darkness forever. A hot flush of shame has swept over manhood in our culture, and we’ve become desperate for any means of deliverance to prove we measure up.
We turn first, of course, to women, because we learned as boys to turn to Mom when Dad wasn’t there. But in spite of our “modern gender sensibilities” dulled by denial, no woman can make you into a man. The woman can confirm manhood when she sees it, and that’s great. But she can’t make it happen. That’s men’s work.
And so, fearing men and even our own manhood as we feared Dad, often we chase woman after woman, seeking the elusive manhood that she can’t give us. Sadly, women have also suffered a destructive father-wound, which draws and traps them into this familiar girlhood pattern of abandonment (see “Fathers and Daughters” in Healing the Masculine Soul).
Meanwhile, dancing to the tune of billions of dollars, the pornographic woman beckons the saving grace—albeit counterfeit–which unfathered men long for. Whether from magazine or website, she accepts you just as you are and never leaves you. She doesn’t care how you smell, where you leave your dirty clothes, how you spend your money–makes no demands, appears whenever you want, and gives whatever you want of her.
When sooner or later a man realizes that no woman can overcome his shame—when Mom can no longer save him from Dad’s wounding–he faces several choices.
First and most often, he can mask his shame with pride, trying to cover it up with performance-based achievement, from sports to overwork to politically- or religiously-correct thinking, which both emphasize right belief over authentic relationship. If only when he gets too old to run with the younger guys, however, the truth of his shame intrudes–and the man burns out.
At this point, he may turn to substance abuse—such as alcohol or drugs–or let his “mid-life crisis” draw him into sexual indulgence.
When eventually he discovers that no activity or substance, no matter how compulsive or deadening, can kill his shame, the man may kill himself. In over 30 years as a clergy, I have encountered numerous male suicides, and in virtually every case the overwhelming sense of no exit from his shame lay at the root. The awful statistics are gender-specific: women attempt suicide twice as often as men, but men succeed five times as often as women.
But there’s another choice, as terrifying as it is promising. The man can make the courageous, manly choice at last to get real and face his shame. He can confess his inadequacies and shortcomings to himself, and then, to “the Father from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth receives its true name” (Ephes. 3:15NIV). On his face before God, he can declare, “I don’t want another woman, more money, another drink, more work, another A on my political or moral report card. I want a father. I want to feel like a real man.”
At last, he can get so real before a small group of trusted, like-minded brothers (see “The Wolf Loves the Lone Sheep” in Sons of the Father: Healing the Father-Wound in Men Today).
To men, that is, wounds feel shameful, and none can match the father-wound in its power to cripple and destroy. In my 25 years of speaking to men’s conferences around the world, I’ve found that as few as 1% of men have been taught about sex or about fathering by their dads. But once we get real together, we discover that we’re all wounded, that we’re all in this together—and the roaring lion of shame begins to lose its teeth.
Out of this freedom to see ourselves as we really are, we can turn our energies away from hiding toward stepping out after our giftings and destiny. We can begin to see Dad as he really is/was, in all his human faults and strengths, his fears and hopes, his wounding and accomplishments—and forgive and honor him. And here’s the best part: we can see our children as they really are, and become the fathers we want to be.
A real man, after all, is a man who’s real. He’s tired of wasting energy living a lie, playing an endless game that just saps his good energies and leaves him not only losing, but lost.
For too long, like our fathers and generations before us, we men have been letting our shame define us. In sending Jesus, Father God has removed our shame and revealed the avenue to His definition:

Getting real is not the end of your manhood.
It’s the beginning.

(see “From Shame to Sonship” in Fight like a Man)

After Charleston: For God’s Sake Christians, Get in the Battle!

Emboldened, the enemy has now invaded the sanctuary.

By no coincidence, after Charleston the best of secular pundits are lost and out of words.

“I have nothing for you but sadness,” as comedian Jon Stewart confessed with commendable honesty—dismayed that amid the nationwide explosion of murderous acts among us, “we still won’t do (anything) about it.”

After the anguish, the disgust, the anger, the dismay, the grief, even the forgiveness, the world is left with nothing in its reserves of intelligence and industry. Lurking beneath whatever satisfaction in our very best, even humane efforts, lies the terrifying reality that we can mourn the destruction, but we can’t stop the destroyer. We can even catch and punish the criminal, but we can’t stop the crime.

Like the carnival game Whack the Gopher, we kill or lock up one murderous gunman only to see another pop up elsewhere. After awhile, it makes you want to unplug the game.

–Doesn’t it?

Amid the ongoing carnage, what astounds me as a Christian is not the bloodshed but our utter blindness before the power of evil–clearly described in the Bible–which perpetrates it. Christians believe that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God established a beachhead for His Kingdom rule in this world. In fact, He poured out upon us all His very Spirit that animated Jesus—and has thereby not only overcome the dominion of evil, but extended that power to us.

“The reason the Son of God appeared,” as John put it simply, “was to destroy the Devil’s work” (1 Jn 3:8NIV).

What’s more, Jesus gave His disciples “power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:2; see “Jesus the Warrior King” in No Small Snakes: A Journey into Spiritual Warfare.)

Meanwhile, as we cling to the fantasy of our control, the enemy of God and humanity is controlling and destroying us.

Of course, such “primitive” and “medieval” references to demons and devils offend our spiritually challenged Western sensibilities. Indeed, our conceit makes us more offended by the concept of a devil than by his murderous violence among us. This reveals our spiritual denial as patently irresponsible—and leaves us with nothing but sadness in the face of his destruction.  (see “Overcoming Spiritual Denial” in Religion vs Reality)

We’ve become too good at civic mourning. A year ago, the University of California in Santa Barbara where I live held an evening memorial service for seven students killed in the campus community by a crazed gunman. Over 20,000 mourners attended. Sincere eulogies were offered, comfort was preached, candles were lit, families were embraced, tears upon tears were shed.

Then everybody went home into the darkness.

It’s good, even necessary for our sanity, to grieve the afflicted–but not sufficient to stop the afflictor. What redeems our awful loss is a renewed determination to destroy the evil perpetrator whose work is destroying us.

“Peace is what I leave with you,” Jesus promised his followers–then qualified that gift by adding, “It is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does” (John 14:27).

The peace of Jesus is neither quiet nor gained without a fight. “For though we live in the world,” as Paul explained, “we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we use in our fight are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretense that sets itself up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinth. 10:3-5; see “Jesus Is Our Peace: The Alternative to Warmaking” in Broken by Religion, Healed by God.)

To recap: Jesus did not protest the power of evil. He destroyed it.

How then, can we join Him in that victory?

Here’s my vision: What if twenty thousand Jesus-believers in Santa Barbara, and thousands more in Charleston, in Sandy Hook, in Littleton, in the now countless sites of destruction decided literally, “To hell with this killing!”? What if after caring for ourselves by grieving we cared for others not yet shot by responsibly taking up the sword of the Spirit released in us through Jesus? What if we marched through our campuses, communities, movie theaters, churchyards, and cities throughout our country and in the name of Jesus commanded the Destroyer out from among us?

What if Christians went on the offensive so boldly before any occasion to grieve?

Apparently, it’s easier for a blindly secularized culture and a divided, anaesthetized Church to suffer senseless deaths over and again than face the reality of evil, confess the shame of our own powerlessness, and wield the power God has given us in Jesus to defeat it.

We’re out of words because the only way we can cope with evil amid our limited natural resources is to deny it.

Maybe it’s good that we have nothing more to say.

Maybe it’s time for us to stop talking and let God speak.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power,” as Paul exhorted the church at Ephesus:

Put on the full armor of God so you can stand up against the devil’s evil schemes. For your struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms… This is for keeps, a life-and-death struggle to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. (Ephes 6:10-12NIV, 13TMB).

Certainly, the killers must be caught and held accountable. Until Jesus returns, we will need police and soldiers. But if we want to offer something more than sadness in the face of evil, for God’s sake Christians, get in the battle with Jesus!

If indeed, anything redemptive is to come out of our culture’s insane violence, it must be to force us out of denial and humbly to face the reality of evil—and drive us thereby on our faces before the God who has overcome it in Jesus. There, at last, we can cry out not only our grief but also, like Jesus, our fierce determination to destroy the works of the enemy who is now so freely scourging our land.

As on cue, the media is busy psychoanalyzing the Charleston killer, even dignifying his hateful message by publicizing his “manifesto” and thereby giving the enemy an international stage. Meanwhile, the world denies Jesus a stage—often because Christians offer no palpable alternative. “More guns in church could have stopped Charleston shooting,” as one news story headlined this week, paraphrasing a current avowedly Christian Presidential candidate.

“The only problem with Christianity,” as once said, “is that nobody’s ever tried it.”

The world has understandably framed the Charleston murders as a racial event and focused its counterattack on a racist culture which fostered it. Certainly, racism is among the enemy’s works which Jesus has come to destroy, and we are rightly compelled by such  events to challenge and overcome it (see “Victory over Racism” in Fight like a Man: A New Manhood for a New Warfare).

But could this terrible loss be further redeemed by an even larger takeaway?

As bearers of God’s Holy Spirit, Christians are uniquely empowered to take out this spiritual enemy. Until now, he has apparently respected that and focused rather on secular venues; his agents have balked at actually entering American churches.

Could Charleston, like 9/11, be a watershed event in the battle to establish God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? What if until now the enemy has been testing the waters, waiting to see how Christians respond to his destruction in the world—even as Hitler invaded Czechosolvakia in 1938 to test European resolve?

Very soon, the world will dismiss the Charleston murders as outdated news, and once again we’ll all go home into the darkness. What if the enemy is hoping we’ll all thereby miss the more strategic lesson—as England’s appeasement encouraged Hitler’s larger aggression?

If so—if indeed, the enemy can now enter God’s house with impunity–no church is safe, no matter what color its worshippers.

If that leaves you with nothing but sadness, you need to read this again.

Gordon Dalbey