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Theological, Doctrinal, and Spiritual Musing - and whatever other else is on my mind when I notice that I haven't posted in a while.
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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
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His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
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[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
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This post contains nothing that is of any use to me. What were you thinking? Anyway, it's probably the best I've read all day.
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Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
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There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
- Carla Rolfe
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Thursday, January 28, 2010
Yeah, But What I Wanna Know is....
Like most people whom the Lord graces with eyes to see and ears to hear; I came to realize early on in my faith, that sin was not something I did, but something that defined who I was. I came to see that sin began, not in the things I did, but in desires that were welling up from within the deepest recesses of my soul. I came to realize that these desires were not alien to me, but were definitive: they defined who I was at the core - a man of sin. If I suppressed all sin for an hour, a day, or a week, all that would have happened is that I would have suppressed who I *really* am, but nothing would have been done to dent the nature within.

This is a hard lesson for anyone to learn, but a necessary one also, if one has any intention of living the Christian life that God calls us to live.

Consider this: our first impression of "sin" comes from being corrected for disobedience in our childhood. Whatever discipline we received as children will obviously influence our initial understanding of sin, and for some, it will flavor their initial understanding of the Fatherhood of God as well.

Thus most of us have learned that we are expected to behave in one way, and that when we fail to behave in that way we are "bad" and when we behave appropriately we are "good". If we were told that it was our behavior that was good or bad, as is typical in a non-christian home, then the logical presumption would be that we are basically a neutral party. Perhaps our personality inclines us one way or the other, but by and large we regard ourselves as good if we do good, and evil if we do evil. This is one of the ways that "seems right to a man" - meaning it is commonly a primary foundation for all kinds of works righteousness schemes in all kinds of religions.

When I became a Christian, I was quite influenced by this pre-existing (and mostly subconscious) conviction. The end result, of course, is that when the Holy Spirit convicted me that some thing I was doing or failing to do was sinful, I would think it was this failure to obey that produced the evil in me - the very evil that the Holy Spirit was convicting me of. Of course anyone who experiences the conviction sin under the ministry of the Holy Spirit knows that the ache in your heart is to pursue righteousness instead which is really the other side of the Holy Spirit's ministry. Yet because of the way my thinking was wired, what I wanted was to be holy in order that I might be "good".

Pay attention here: I am describing how a predilection to "works-righteousness" plays out under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Divine conviction doesn't simply and immediately inform (and thereby correct) our pre-existing errors so that we regard our own righteousness as rubbish; instead we filter conviction through the pre-existing framework of our works-righteousness system - carrying on as before, but with far more guilt and sensitivity to sin.

Whenever we are (however fleetingly) obedient, we feel like we are accepted by God, and whenever we sin we feel like we are being thereby and therefore rejected by God. We are "positively" motivated to obey then, because we see that as a way to secure (by personal merit) God's favor, and we are "negatively" motivated to obey because we see that as a way to avoid God's disfavor on account of our sin.

I believe that many Christians are stuck in that kind of system. They are rats on the same old wheel, so busy trying to stay in God's good books, that they have no time for anything else. They are like the one who knows his master is a severe man, and therefore are so afraid of spoiling what he has entrusted to them, that they bury it in the ground. They are so afraid of losing what was given, that they spend all their energy simply trying to keep it. Christianity for them is nothing more than a daily attempt to "do the right thing" as they live their own lives separated from God in all but the rule keeping. They are like little children: they know the rules, and obey them in order to attain to some reward, or to avoid some punishment. Their endeavor may look right from some external vantage, but anyone whose vision penetrates the outers shell will see and know that everything they do is actually self serving and empty. They are convicted, but they continue on as before, only moreso now that they have dressed it up as the Christian religion.

But as I said above, some will rise above this and see that they are not merely neutral parties who become good by doing good, and become evil by doing evil, but will see something in themselves that those in the former group have failed to see: they will note that no matter how much good they do, their every inclination remains evil; and conclude that evil resides in them no matter how much good they do, or desire to do.

They will see that they are trees that can only produce bad fruit; fountains that only produce corrupt water. It is at this point that they are most likely to pursue the various "perfection" doctrines.

If you are not familiar with the various doctrines on perfectionism, I will give you the briefest of summaries: perfectionism teaches that the death of Christ can set a believer free from sinning altogether.

That's right; perfectionists teach that Christ's death not only accomplishedis our justification, but also can sanctify us entirely, bringing us to a place where we no longer sin, (i.e. give in to sinful desires) at all, because we no longer desire to sin, or because our desire for obedience is so profound it swallows up entirely (by virtue of magnitude) our desire to sin.

Let's face it. That is certainly more attractive to the anguished sinner than the idea that we will sin until the day we die no matter how "holy" we are or try to be. Doesn't every heart that has seen its own sinfulness desire to be set free from the presence of sin? Of course it does. The question is whether that is supposed to happen on this side of the grave, or not.

The perfectionist says that we are supposed to be free from sin's power right now, after all, Jesus died to save His people - not from "hell", but (as the scriptures say) - from sin (c.f. Matthew 1:21). I know my own heart burns at the thought! Man, what I wouldn't give to be perfected in that way right now.

Yet, it seems plain from scripture that this level of perfection was not enjoyed even by Peter the Apostle, who clearly sinned at Antioch in perverting the gospel in order to secure the respect of certain Jews who came from Jerusalem. I can't even begin to imagine this man whom God personally singled out with the ministry of bringing the Gentiles into the church (read Acts 10 etc.), suddenly playing the "Jew" at Antioch to the detriment of the gospel of Grace, and yet there it is. Paul had to rebuke Peter before the whole church. Surely, an honest inquirer will reason that if perfection comes on this side of the grave, Peter should have attained to it, and hadn't.

John writes that if we say we have no sin, we lie and do not practice the truth (see his first epistle). Some might argue that he is speaking about unrepentant people who have joined themselves to the Christian faith without having repented from their sin on the grounds that they presume themselves to be without sin, or some such thing - but I take it to mean what it says - that anyone (believer, or unbeliever) who imagines that he doesn't sin is entirely deceived in the matter.

Indeed, some perfectionists would agree with that.

They would argue, given that scripture shows Christians (such as Peter the apostle) committing sin, that what perfectionism does is not keep you from all sin, but only stops you from doing something you "know" is sin. You might sin ten times unknowingly, but never knowingly.

I think that's a rather fanciful, intellectually dishonest dodge no matter how you dice it. If, in the new covenant, the Holy Spirit is given and if it is the ministry of the same Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, then this rests on the notion that the Holy Spirit is failing in His ministry to us on some level. Seriously, I -know- when I sin and so do you. The only time I sin "unknowingly" is when I have so hardened my heart against the conviction of the Holy Spirit in some matter (i.e. when I have formed a long standing habit of ignoring -or justifying- some sinful behavior) that I simply act without thinking about it. It isn't that I am ignorant, it is that I have become so calloused in my sin, that I sin without even thinking about it anymore.

I think that is a common enough experience, that by mentioning it, you (the reader) can affirm by your own experience that I am not speaking of things that are up in the sky and beyond our undertstanding, but am in fact speaking of things near to our own walk.

Now. My point in writing this post, is not to simply draw attention to my opinion on the teaching of perfectionism (that it is well intentioned, but bunk nontheless), but rather to wonder at the experience of those who imagine themselves to have arrived at a state of perfection in this life.

What I want to know is if these guys are [1] merely overstating a normal Christian experience; that is, are they experiencing genuine spiritual maturity - the kind that attends those who truly deliver themselves entirely to the cross daily, and are simply using the vocabulary of "perfectionism" to describe this state.

Again, are they just reinterpreting their present experience so that whatever they are experiencing they interpret it to be perfection? They have a perfectionism mold, as it were, and they are simply pressing all their experiences into that mold until they convince themselves that they fit the picture?

Again, are they just liars? Hucksters? Opportunists hoping to make a buck off the gulliblity of their disciples?

I mean, Wesley believed in perfectionism, and he died about as poor as you can be, so I don't believe that these people are all hucksters. In fact, I am not concerned at all with the fakers and opportunists at all. My interest lies in those who are sincere.

It isn't that I want to debunk the claim, as I think it has been debunked elsewhere with far greater rigor. Rather I simply wonder how those who earnestly make this claim about themselves can do so. It is one thing for the conquistador Juan Ponce de León to be so entirely convinced of a "fountain of youth" that he commits his life and fate to finding it. But quite another to be convinced that he has found it and has stopped aging.

Apollos was preaching Christ with fervor and zeal before his understanding was made more clear by Priscilla and Aquila. I see in this that our zeal and zest for the Lord is not tied to the accuracy of our knowledge. Spiritual maturity cannot help but benefit greatly from sound theological, but it is certainly not limited to those whose theology is perfectly sound. Because spiritual maturity flows from surrender to God, and not from doctrine (per se), it is not only possible, but patently obvious that even people with bad theology can be spiritually mature.

I want to say something that is going to be disturbing to those who regard theology as greater than they ought to: There are certainly some doctrines that are so heretical they will absolutely destroy a faith. Yet some teachings, even though they are wrong, will press believers unto maturity, for entirely confused reasons. That doesn't justify their errors, but it is to say that even the most perfect doctrine is only every going to be a gold ring in the snout of a pig if it doesn't get put into practice;

Some might argue that if a teaching produces maturity in the believer, it is a good teaching, but I would say that is a misleading conclusion. Better to say that God can do much with little, and that he often produces maturity in believers in spite of (rather than because of) oru doctrines.

So I wonder if the problem in some circles is simply that they mistake maturity for perfection - and having adopted a vocabulary pertaining to (and inherited expectations concerning) perfectionism, they simply misundertand or overstate (as I said way back) their experience.

I have heard some of those who are essentially claiming to be freed from their bondage to sin - that is, freed from the sin nature altogether, say that they still experience temptation, but that the temptation arises from without and not from within. Meaning that they might see something that could induce lust in them, but that nothing from within rises up to desire it - so that the exercise is almost clinically intellectual - here is a temptation, I have no desire for it personally, but I recognize it is something that I am able to do, even though I have no desire to do it. The fact that it is presented to my intellect thus is something I will regard as a "temptation" but I am not going to give into it because I have no inclination in that direction, and instead have a persisting inclination to serve my Lord.

Wouldn't that be nice? Of course it would! But I see nothing like it in the lives of the apostles, nor even in Christ who strove against temptation in the garden of Gethsemane to the point where His sweat turned to blood; yet isn't there is a real hunger in all of us? Do we not imagine that being freed from bondage to sin means that something inside us has to change experientially? How do we know we have been set free from sin's bondage if we never experience anything that testifies to the change?

I think it works this way, though your mileage may vary: As I draw near to God, He draws near to me. Maturity is linked to trust, and as I trust God more, I obey more, and as I obey, I draw close, and as I draw close, I trust more.... so that my walk is like a grand spiritual spiral, drawing closer to God, with Him drawing closer to me. I am not sinning the big obvious sins of my youth, but I am still sinning daily. I am closer to God now than ever before, but I am still separated experientially by my sin; so that I have learned to trust that I am acceptable to God in Christ, and not in my own works righteousness. I have come to believe that the greatest obstacle to my maturity is that I am inclined to believe myself to be in bondage to sin even when scripture says that I am freed from it in Christ.

Yes, Romans 6:6 says that that our old self was crucified with Christ, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin - but John 8:32 balances that thought when it says that you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. Yeah, I know that Jesus says in John 14:6 that He is "the Truth" - but he hadn't said that here, and no one listening would have imagined that He was referring to Himself when He said the truth shall set you free. It is certainly accurate to note that it is Christ who personally sets us free; so that we do not stray into heresy when we insist that Christ sets us free - it is just that this verse doesn't actually have that thrust, and we ought not to arbitrarily read it in just because it fits nice with other doctrine.

Together these verses paint a single picture: We who are in Christ were crucified with Him and that it is through this truth (or trusting in this truth) that we find our liberty. Not that we assent to the facts and the chains fall away, but that, like Peter, as we obey the commands of God (get up! c.f. Acts 12:7) the chains fall away. Clearly, if our experience were not bondage daily, we wouldn't require the truth to be set free from it. The fact is the chains that held us were death and sin, and these have been taken away in Christ - not experientially, just as none of us experience the actual crucifixion that we were *really* made partakers of in Christ, so too we do not experience some sort of "freed from sin" feeling, but it is true nonetheless.

We really have been set free from sin's bondage, but that freedom hasn't been (in my experience at least) some tangible phenomenon, nor do I imagine that it is available to a few gnostic believers who have "truly understood" the scriptures. Rather freedom from bondage to sin comes to us in Christ as it comes as we surrender our will to the Lord. The old man is in bondage, so that everything I do "in the old man" is done in bondage. But Christ has over come sin and death, so that everything done in Christ is free from sin and death.

Thus I am a debtor, not to the flesh, but to Christ. I am a man whose sinful desires are by no means diminished or extinquished but are rather challenged by the indwelling desires of Christ in the person of the Holy Spirit. Where once sin and sin alone influenced my life and so owned me, now Christ, in the person of the indwelling Holy Spirit influences my life. He is the Guarantee of the promise that has begun to be fulfilled, and will be fully fulfilled when this life and this age come to a close. Until then I am free from sin's bondage in Christ, and can experience that freedom as I obey Christ, for when I say I am a debtor to Christ, I mean it in the way a slave is a debtor to his master; where once I was a debtor to sin and through that debt inherited only death, now I am a debtor to Christ, and will inherit life. I am inclined, therefore, as much as I am able, to obey Christ who is working for my benefit, rather than sin which while it is no longer my master, can still displace life in me (produce death) so that the fount within me that ought to be sending forth rivers of living water is stopped up by sin.

I don't buy the whole perfectionism thing - but I wonder how people who not only buy into it, but imagine themselves to have arrived, deal with the sin in their life - are they blind to it, or do they just ignore it, or do they reinterpret it? I would love to be the recipient of a cosmic zap, but it hasn't happened for me - even when I was pursuing it with all my heart and soul.

Eventually I came to see that Christianity couldn't be, and certainly wasn't the way I desperately wanted it to be. I wanted to be zapped so that I didn't have to deal with sin any more, and I was striving to find out how to make that happen. Like everyone else, I hated my sin, and felt so ashamed by it, and such a hypocrite on account of it, that I was seriously concerned that I had somehow missed the Christian boat. Why couldn't I heal people, and raise the dead? Why was it that God didn't answer my prayers in miraculous ways like I had read in scripture? Why was there no power to affect the changes I wanted to see in my life happening right now!? Did I get something wrong? The wisest course of action seemed to be to just learn as much as I can, and eventually I would "discover" the secret pill that I had been missing. Only the more I studied the more convinced I became that my experience was not the exception, not some shipwrecked faith, but the very struggle of faith that scripture paints for all of us. I was just illadvised and misled by presumptions and misinformation. Once I settled it in my soul and before the Lord to believe whatever His word said, and to discard whatever was lacking that qualification - peace and comfort flowed in where doubt and fear had previously ruled.

Listen: I don't care where you are struggling. Christianity was never meant to be a complex network of doctrines that once learned produce only arrogance and intellectual superiority. Christianity sinks or floats depending on how dependant we are on Christ to do what He said He would do. That doesn't mean you should toss your bible away, but it does mean you should focus on knowing God when you study it. The purpose of scripture is to declare God; you cannot believe a God you don't know, and you will not know God unless He makes Himself known to you - and the way He has chosen to make Himself known to His children (ever since the cross) has been through the canon of scripture. Thus I read the scriptures to know Him whom I am trusting with my life. Whatever my experiences may be, I trust that they are common enough that every believers sees himself or herself in them.

So, if you believe in perfectionism, I wouldn't mind hearing your testimony. I don't want to debate you, but I would like to ask some serious questions; hoping that either all my study of scripture has been misguided and wrong, and that you can by your testimony and lucidly biblical answers persuade me that there is a pleasant zap waiting for me if I can just unlock it in some way; but being satisfied also if the only effect is that I am able to show you that perfectionism is bunk.


posted by Daniel @ 8:26 AM  
  • At 12:47 PM, January 28, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    I apologize if in rambling on I repeated myself a few times. Sometimes I don't care that I am writing a post that is more or less a string of free-associated and contiguous thoughts. What it lacks in polish it makes up for in ... er... length.

    Well, maybe not makes up for, but ...

    Okay, what I mean to say is I am sorry that I am so lazy that I don't feel like revising this post, and have posted what ought to have been the first of perhaps several drafts.

    The world is, after all, the bloggers's proofreader.

  • At 1:46 PM, January 28, 2010, Blogger JIBBS said…

    Nice thoughts, Daniel. I'm on a break from work, so only have a couple minutes right now, but one thing I've been thinking a lot about lately is the relationship between the mortification of sin and obedience to Christ. Are they the same thing?

    I remember the first time I read the words of Jesus and understood what he said. It was like being in the hot desert and having cold water poured on my lips.

    "Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice."

    More later when I have time...

    In Christ,

  • At 2:29 PM, January 28, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    JIBBS (aka Matt),

    In Romans 8:13 we read, "For if you are living according to the flesh you must die, but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deads of the body, you will live."

    Note that the word "flesh" (σαρκα) here does not mean your skin, sinews, blood and bones, but rather the heart of desire that is stamped into the core of your "carnal" being. Thus the command is that those who are living according to (i.e. obeying) the self-serving desires of their their innermost being, that "person" must die. I think this "person" is the "old man" Paul refers to. Not a seperate intellect from our own, but rather our heart of hearts personified - our "default" inclination.

    To mortify "sin" is to mortify this "body of sin", i.e. to regard as already crucified -which is what our Lord surely spoke of when He spoke of us taking up our cross daily.

    It is a call, not to try and "kill" the old man by denying him our obedience - but rather to reckon this same "old man" as having already been crucified with Christ, and agreeing with that verdict in each moment of decision.

    The "you" that must die, therefore refers to the part of you that would decide to obey that which was crucified with Christ.

    When you do that, i.e. when you make a conscious choice to obey the commands of God that scripture records and the indwelling Holy Spirit convicts you to obey - you are putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit.

    I would say that the Christ has crucified the flesh (old man) already, so that when we obey the Spirit instead of the flesh, we are "mortifying" sin - in that we regard as not only condemned, but in fact dead, that which would rule over us.

    If that makes sense.

  • At 3:09 PM, January 28, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    Oh, and on an unrelated note. I was more than a little underwhelmed by the iPad. No tethering??? GAH!

  • At 4:06 PM, January 28, 2010, Blogger Jim said…

    Amen Daniel, while I don't think many would hold to the perfectionism model, I think most of us are plagued at some level by the good works=favor of God scenario.

    We just can't get our head around the fact that nothing good dwells in our flesh; but as He shows us our complete inability, our trust and satisfaction in Christ increase.

  • At 9:49 PM, January 28, 2010, Blogger JIBBS said…


    I agree with you entirely. I apologize for not being clearer earlier today when I asked the question "Are they the same thing?" regarding the mortification of sin and obedience to Christ. The question was rhetorical, although in my haste to get back to work I forgot to say why I thought they are the same thing. Of course, you said it much better than I could, so AMEN!

    Brother, I can very much relate to your point about "being zapped". (I think I may have told you that before.) I confess I struggle with that everyday. When I think about it though, it really is sinful in and of itself; it reveals my laziness in the pursuit of godliness, a lack of commitment. The truth is, no matter how "good" I could ever imagine I could do, and I know I have a long way to go, but no matter how close I may ever come to "perfection" I know it will never be good enough and that I could always do better. Anyone who thinks they could attempt such an endeavor, it seems to me, will at the very least rob themselves of joy and peace in Christ, at may even have missed the grace of God entirely.

    Isa 6:5 And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"

  • At 6:48 AM, January 31, 2010, Blogger Magpie said…

    Thank you for this. As a parent, I was particularly struck by your comments about parenting expectations of good behavior rather than.... Something else. Right heart attitude? Maybe I didn't read carefully enough, I understand the problem you pointed out with works-righteousness parenting, but what is the believer's alternative? Can you point me to some good instruction on the topic? The last thing I want to do is lead my children into a false understanding of something this important.
    Thank you for all you write. I'm always encouraged, challenged, and instructed by what I read here.

  • At 7:29 AM, January 31, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…


    I received instruction from the scriptures directly, and would therefore encourage the same - the bible speaks everywhere against the idea that men are basically good or even that men are "neutral" - the scriptures teach that men are by nature fallen, i.e. evil.

    If we simply use that information in our parenting, we can avoid all kinds of errors. When my little ones disobey we follow a pattern. I explain to them that they have disregarded my expectation because they preferred their own desires even above my expectations - and this they did knowing that doing so would likely end in some fo of correction if it was discovered. I explain that what they dud was not simply bad, but was an expression of who they really are inside. I then tell them in no vague or uncertain language that [1] we are all like that (self serving and evil) at the core, and that [2] our outward behavior doesn't (and can never, ever) fix that. I then make sure they know that [3] it is this nature within them that God has condemned, and [4] it is this same thing within them that Christ took to the cross in Himself. I explain that to obey to inclinations of this nature is what the bible calls living according to the "flesh" and that all who live like that will face God's wrath on the day of judgment. "For this reason," I explain to them, "I am going to correct you - for how could I love you and sit idle when you choose to live a life that will lead to eternal damnation?"

    The point I labour to get across is that love demands that I act in their best interest.

    The second point I stress is that obedience is not it's own end, and that we are shooting for it for the sake of a more pleasing behavior - rather the goal of our instruction/correction is to teach the child they need Christ. Have we set some law before our children? Then it serves as a tutor to bring them to Christ. For just as the Israelites misundersttod the Mosaic law, in the same way parents mistake their role. We are not trying to produce well behaved children, we are trying to produce a dependancy on Christ by which they overcome sin in their lives.

    Let me know if that helps.

  • At 2:30 PM, January 31, 2010, Blogger JIBBS said…

    Excellent application, Dan. After my wife and I had our 2nd child we joined a fellowship group in our church that focused on godly parenting and mentoring young couples who were starting families. As a curriculum, we used Growing Kids God's Way by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo. I admit I was skeptical at first, but soon realized how awesome it was. It really was great instruction on Biblical parenting and training children to walk in the ways of the Lord.

    Maggie, I would highly recommend that you check it out.


  • At 2:32 PM, January 31, 2010, Blogger JIBBS said…

    Oops. I meant Magpie, not Maggie. My apologies.

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