The Poor Still Sit On The Back Row With The Baptists

I’m pretty sure that my Baptists friends (if I still have any), don’t always appreciate my affectionate humor when it comes to them.  However, in my defense, since I am an ordained Baptist preacher (I know, I know), I feel like I can poke fun at the “fan damily” and hold my head high while chewing gum at the same time.

You see in America, Baptists get pegged as being the group that sits as far in back of the church as humanly possible, thus we call them “back-row Baptists”.  Yet the truth is, this is a tendency of American Christianity I think as a whole.  The reason is, that most of us are eternally inoculated to any chance of catching the real stuff of Christianity, so sitting on the back row suits us as the perfect way to get just enough of something churchy without getting the real thing.  It’s safe there, no one is really going to call us out, and we can exit out the back door before the preacher finishes the closing prayer without anyone giving us a passing glance.  It’s like we really do have a cloak of invisibility.  I guess that’s why I decided to sit the poor on the back with us for this short visit to church, because they too hardly get a notice anymore inside of an institution that used to be notorious for championing their cause in the world.

Back In The Day

Now as one can imagine, this is much too broad of a subject to unpack rightly in a blog post.  But hopefully, I can at least chime in on something that I think we should be able to notice readily.

Of course, it’s no secret that the church in its early beginnings was one that attended to the cause of the poor, the widows, the sick and dying; and took in all of the dregs of society the roman world deemed expendable.  In fact, several of the Pauline epistles were written in the context of Paul and others collecting funds to give to the church in Jerusalem for a famine that they were experiencing.  In addition, the book of Acts tells us that the early apostles had to appoint men for outreach to the poor because the need had become so great; and as they took up the quandary of the poor, the watching world took eye-dropping notice, which is documented historically ad nauseum.  In fact, even as the apostle Paul was coming into the faith after his persecution of Christians, biding his time till he would be released to the gentiles in full measure; in the book of Galatians, he reminds us that he was given the “right hand of fellowship” by the other apostles, and was simply asked to “remember the poor”.

And the truth is, the old testament also bleeds care for the poor and the needy, and it’s obvious extension into the new testament adds to the already exhaustive case for it being one of the people of God’s highest priorities in complementarity of taking the good news to those who have not yet had the chance of either accepting or rejecting it’s truth claims.  And yet, if this is the case, one wonders if we are by and large now still known for being those with this task as our chief modus operandi.

Part of the Problem

And of course, you can bet dollars to doughnuts, that the first rebuttal in questioning my brief thesis here are accusations of the church not wanting to be accused of a mere “social gospel” stance, where we give people a sandwich as a cheap substitute for the “good news” as if the two were somehow mutually exclusive.  The truth is, as lines are drawn in the sand, one can’t help but notice the irony, in that the more conservative branch of the church (who actually still believe the scriptures) have a tendency to err on the side of rejecting the social gospel’s implications, as the mainline branch of Christianity (which seems to believe anything the cultural wind now blows up their skirts) seems to be holding up the biblical standard of ministry to the poor as the only thing that now keeps their skin in the Christian game. And as I contemplate this with a watching eye, I wonder how we have come so far as to separate two things that seem to be a part and parcel of the same gosh-darn message.  As a result, I think those looking in at what we’re up to these days are rightfully bewildered.

Equally problematic, is the fact that part of our hesitation in aligning our cause to the poor is due to not wanting to be guilty of helping those who should have been helping themselves all along (we’re almost sure there is a verse that says that somewhere). The equal faulty logic is that of lumping all the poor into the same basket, which causes us to overlook or simply ignore the obvious casualties that living in a capitalistic economy (the best we’ve come up with yet) can leave lying on the ground all around us unawares.   This includes those of us who can no longer continue to adapt and reinvent ourselves vocationally, or who have no support network to help us pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps; and as a result, can be left holding up a sign clearly visible on our way to Walmart.  This is not to mention the vast number of poor children and the elderly who are the real tragedies of the never ending story which is simply not accurately told by left or right leaning pundits, and whose book has been shut and simply tossed into the “Obama phone” basket.

The Expediency that Crept In

 O.K. I realize we all know these things, if we are at least honest with ourselves a little longer than a nanosecond, but for those of us who call ourselves Christ’s followers, our reaction should not be so simplistic and superficial.  You see part of the problem is that the church, who was once known as the defender of the true poor caught up in the tailspin of this thing we call life, has turned what was once a calling and apprenticeship to Christ as true followers on a mission, to a career path whose specializations have choked out the remaining month at the end of the money.  And in this current hour of the mass marketization of the franchise of the church and its mavens in tow, what we find is that sometimes 80 to 90% or more goes to the upkeep of the now finely oiled machine.  As a result, very little is left to send true pioneer missionaries to unreached lands, or to help subsist the poor in the household of God (whom we’ll always have with us); or to also reach out and own the cause of the homeless and poor just outside our stain glassed window.  It is of course no secret that with a church on every corner, and some that span the circumference of a city block, the church collectively (Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants) could solve the problem of homelessness in mere seconds flat.

At the very least, we could do so among those who failed the “dog eat dog world” of our American experiment, and simply need to buy much needed time to reengage in a world that virtually ignores their true existence on any given day.  To be sure there are multiple variables in this equation for consideration outside the scope of this blog.  However, the fact remains, that while the church by and large will continue to bypass the implications of my brief critique and other voices like it, those we are supposedly called to reach with our “good news” secretly know that we are the last true beacon of hope for those who have no power and no voice, and yet they sit back and wonder why we’ve abdicated our one last true apologetic in this late hour.

Back to Business As Usual

And the truth is, the poor really aren’t on the back row though with the Baptists.  That’s my bad.  Oh, they are there with us, but they are in the front and in the middle, desperate for all the hope they can muster before Monday’s realties settle in like an all too familiar friend.  They are there with their predicament, yet afraid to show their true hand for fear of the waxing generalizations of their circumstances, which is always nothing more than a problem of their own making.  They are also down the street, they’re the neighbors who went and took our neighborhood, and to be sure they are also the basket people walking around and mumbling for perhaps some of your loose change.  They are also the kids with a heap of family dysfunction and yet always broken pocketbooks, and those who can’t even buy a job, much less “get” one that can take them out of the “working poor” status.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch; the back-row stumbles in.  Hush now! For the show is about to begin.

Selah

 

Loving the Sound of Our Own Voice

The word narcissism is thrown around a lot these days; and for good damn reason.  In fact, our culture breeds those who exemplify it now like seahorses, yet they all seem to live far too long!  This dilemma is in fact something that anyone, even without a spiritual bone in their body, can easily spot a mile or so away.  And even if they don’t get out much, I’m sure Facebook or Instagram would be a case in point as to their predominance.  Yet, for those of us who add a daily mirror check through the reflection of that outdated book we always hear about, then we should actually be meeting the narcissist in ourselves most regularly–if we allow God’s laser pointer to zero in on that particular bullet point of our lives.  It is no less the case I’m afraid for many who peddle the word of God on any given Sunday in our pulpits across America.  And as much as we’d like to think we are exempt from the analysis; I beg to differ.

A Month of Sunday’s Ago

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 20 years ago now that I served as one of those clerics myself in a local church.  And preaching was of course important.  And it is my humble opinion that it is indeed very vital in the life of the church.  And as much as I used to think that anybody with a “call” could get up and say “thus saith the Lord”, I’ve come to believe that those that do it should have what Stuart Briscoe once suggested, “the heart of a child, the mind of a scholar and the hide of a rhinoceros”!  It is sufficient of course to also add that the preacher’s task is pivotal to aid in guiding the hearts and minds of people towards reshaping the world they are far too often conformed to, and to act as spiritual chisels in the lifetime task of transforming their thinking towards the mind of Christ instead.  This of course is no easy assignment, and the fainthearted and the unqualified need not apply.

Now I for one, though I have preached a good bit in the past, I have for sure sat in on more sermons than most.  And as a result, I would like to think I’m a pretty good guide as to its consequent blunders that cause many people like myself to prefer a root canal instead.  Besides noting the obvious fact that people who cannot take a 2000-year-old book and bring its relevant reality into the life of the average person, which causes them to seriously wrestle with its truth claims should never be allowed to do it, there are other more even weightier issues I’m afraid.  For instance, sometimes methinks, in light of the importance of what we’ve been called to do, perhaps we like the sound of our own voice a bit too much.

Who You Calling a Narcissist?

I think part of the reason we fall prey to this tendency is because though our task is indeed a difficult one for a variety of reasons, it is also equally a vastly rewarding one.  I came to this realization first hand after I finally threw in the towel on the “full-time” ministry (whatever the Hell that’s supposed to mean) and entered back into the world of well…you and me.

First of all, I had the privilege of spending 10 to 20 hours each week immersed in the scriptures and mounds of theology books, which is synonymous to giving a new tool to Tim the Tool man. I loved it! And most pastors with a call towards this task should, or else get out quickly while there is still time for all of us to escape the sermonette.

Secondly, if I was of course doing what Pastors should be doing (no differences of opinion here), I was able to spend the rest of my time praying; doing the work of an evangelist in the public square; trying to help the poor (like pulling eyeteeth!); visiting Aunt Ethel and Grandma Louise, and of course burying Uncle Joe.  Those of course were all things that I actually loved to do by virtue of the call, and in fact the only thing about my job I disliked was getting folks hitched. That’s’ a story for another time.

But imagine if you will, being a Jesus freak, and getting to go to work every day and do Jesus freak stuff. It was the greatest reason in the world to get out of bed.  And yet what I realized once I entered back into the workforce of the average Dick and Jane, was that I had a somewhat protected life.  But let me explain.

Amazing What?

You see what I had so easily forgotten, is that while I was busy week after week trying to get those “unspiritual” people to be committed, and to give Jesus their all, I found out that they were often simply too busy getting laid off from their jobs; losing their homes; having their teenagers commit suicide; and praying to God that their spouse might make love to them again.  You know, the small stuff.

In essence, sometimes, though I would have told you I was giving them a steak every Sunday with the words I had prepared, I was also equally guilty of beating the dogshit out of them at times, totally unawares.  And in that sense, I too was guilty of loving the sound of my own voice given the task I had been commissioned with, more than bleeding with the people who were simply looking for Jesus in some possible shoe leather.  Not some condescending tower of theological certainty and ex cathedra pronouncements upon their life, but an ear to listen to, a shoulder to cry on, and a grace that used to be called amazing.  And in that sense at least, I missed it for a while, much to my great disappointment.

A Solo Pulpit’s Silent Ego

But I think likewise, loving the sound of our own voice manifests itself in another very subtle way that we often miss.

For instance, when Pastors preach every Sunday and yet never equip others to do likewise, people are not able to witness something more akin to something the scriptures actually beckon us to do. As a result, we bypass the exemplification of humility to congregational narcissists who might not yet know what it looks like, by showing firsthand that we’re actually not actually the cat’s meow at all.

Instead, oftentimes we get either the same preacher week after week (who is quite frankly not that good) or we get the golden tongued orator we can’t get enough of, yet the church is built around his persona and magnetism, and thus people tend to worship his reflection right along with him.  And as a result of this gross error in judgement, as pastors exit to “bigger and better deals”, churches fold in the aftermath, having built the church house around a bigger narcissist than ourselves.  And it would seem that even though Paul reminded the Corinthian church (a church sadly reminiscent of today’s) that neither he, nor Peter, no Apollos died for them; they constantly gathered for the smooth operator sermonizers, who could have been banging the church pianist after choir practice, but somehow the fact that they could “preach the word” was the glue that held the whole house of cards together.

And as a result of this pastor worship, everyone now goes to the biggest and best show in town to hear the guy with the tightest skinny jeans and the best three-point sermon. All the while people shuffle out and shake their hands as they exit unchanged; and yet it seems in America we love to have it so.

Hello, My name is Mark Prince, and I’m a Narcissist

So, I guess you could say I’m a recovering narcissist, simply calling shots now from the sidelines as I see them.  And though I still revere the task of the preacher and even the foolishness of its message to the Greeks and the stumbling block it still is to the Jews, I sometimes wonder if us preacher types have stopped to realize that we may not be that big of a deal after all. And maybe, just perhaps; our own reflection has blinded us to the fact that what people are most in need of is one who simply looks a little more like Christ.

Yep.  That oughta do it I think.

Selah

Reading From the Wrong Script

A Bad Funeral

It’s been several years ago now that I had the grave misfortune of attending a funeral none of us ever want to attend.  It was the service of a once precious little girl that grew up way too fast in a mad, mad world, assimilating all too naturally from her life’s’ pedigree into the all too predictable “fast lane”.  A lane we’re told is sure to make anyone lose both their mind and life—and yet the latter was to come to her first.

I had a brief smidgeon of time to be involved in her life before the end of her innocence, and my wife and I bumped into her again as a girl all grown up with babies of her own; extremely lost, but continuing the fight that was hers since the day she first put her foot on the ground.

As we plopped into our seats that somber early afternoon, one could not help but notice the clientele by the litany of escalades in the parking lot–and by the clear demarcation of illegal apothecary types dispersed among the audience.  It was a population riddled with those who were living on life’s jagged edge, and yet ripe for hearing a message in this captivating hour that pointed to some north star of truth and hope for those with ears to hear. Or shall we say, it was an audience prepared for a preacher of good news.  Yet as the minister began his message, after a few quite interesting eulogies and the like, the hopefulness I had for help to be forthcoming for this audience that were lost in a masquerade of their own making, was quickly drowned out by words of a man holding the wrong script.

Who Stole the Pastor’s Lines?

It seems that the pastor, though not really having a precedent from the lips of Jesus nor his apostles, felt that the majority of his homily should be focused on the fact that they were all…well, sinners.  I guess he figured that somehow they were unaware of this fact.  And though I believe there is a time and a place in a message for this reality to come to bear on an audience, due to the travesty of this particular moment in time, the need of the hour seemed to be in pointing them to an absolute in a way that they could both understand and receive.  A truthfulness that would lead them to begin asking the deeper questions and wrestling with their life as a “to go bag”, rather than “preacheresque” dreams of an altar call of nothing more than jailhouse religion at a bloody funeral for goodness sakes!  But my analysis of the necessity at hand would not have its day, the true gospel was not preached, and I’m quite sure most business was carried on as usual as everyone exited the missed opportunity.

Christianese

This led me to ponder the fact that this is all too characteristic in Christendom even today, where we speak in “Christianese” rather than in the language of the kinds of people we are engaging.  And the reason is, because we are merely reading from a script we have well-rehearsed after eons of bad Sunday School, a faulty hermeneutic, and best-selling books by those who assure us that the gospel absolutely has to beat the Hell out of you before you can even begin to have hope for that uncloudy day.  And there is indeed a grain of truth in every lie, so let me briefly explain.

Read the Book Man!

 Jesus himself gave us some examples of knowing your audience.  For instance, when talking with Nicodemus, the Pharisee who was also a curious seeker of the truth, he chided him a bit, but was gentle in getting him to understand why there was a need to be born “again”.  Yet with the merely religious and patronizing scribes and pharisees, his patience wore thin; as he riddled them with questions they could not answer, and diatribes of which they would not soon recover from.  Yet all the while, it was the sinners who in fact “knew” they were that he gave the greatest freedom and latitude.  It was an open invitation to walk with him for a little while and take a little look see, and perceive if perhaps there was a way, a truth and indeed a life they should follow other than the false gods of their own making. He brought the best wine to their parties, healed their lame and dying, and once they took it upon themselves to actually decide to follow the man from Galilee, he implored them to “go and sin no more”.  In short, Jesus patiently loved people into the kingdom starting with where they were at. He was not in a hurry to count the “decisions for Christ”, because he wanted to make sure that people were “all in” for the long haul, or not at all.  In that sense, everything was black and white for Jesus.

We then have some examples from others, although the greatest soul winner of the last two millennia, the apostle Paul, gave us the insightful lessons in “non”-scriptedness. It was instead a speech rooted in none other than the law of Christ, that reminded us in I Corinthians chapter 9 that he became “all” things to “all” people in order to win some.  To the Jew, he became like a Jew, to those without the law he became as one without it, and to those who were weak, he became as weak.  This should cause those of us who call ourselves heralders of the gospel message to retune the antennas of both our ears and our speech.

Again, Paul reminds us in Colossians 4:3-6, as he asks for their prayers for himself as a communicator of the gospel where he writes:

At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a doorfor the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.  Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (ESV)

I’m going to go on a limb here and resign to the fact that some things are as plain as the nose on our faces, and thus need no further explanation.  But I do think Paul even gives us an actual example many times of what this might actually look like.  His most famous one of all however would have to be his sermon on Mars Hill where he engages every Tom, Dick and Harry wannabee philosopher in Athens who constantly gathered to hear the next “new thing”.  He does so by at first quoting from their own poets whom they respect, gives a passing credence to their own belief system, and then used a tangible bridge builder by talking about an “unknown” god they perhaps seek but know nothing as of yet about, in order to begin an exercise in winsome conversation.  He reminds them that it is indeed man’s quest to both seek and even find God, and then assures them that even in their sinfulness, God is so very near to them, and indeed can and will be found if they so desire.  And in fact, it is not until he has done a lot of fancy footwork in laying out the gospel, that he politely reminds them that God is most emphatically calling them to repent.

The God of the Living?

I am reminded of these clear signs from both the Master and His most successful missionary, and yet one wonders if any of us have been listening at all.  And as a result, I secretly weep for those who continue to have to listen to a script nobody is even remotely paying attention to anymore. It thus becomes evident to me, that the ones doing the preaching no longer read the headlines, and that to most truly lost people, God is still dead indeed.  And it’s not the overabundance of Nietzsche’s disciples who are still killing Him I’m afraid, but rather the evangelists who have clearly disregarded how to actually raise him from the dead!

 

Selah

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Where’s Your Homeboy Now?

 In St. Peter the Rock’s 2nd epistle and chapter 3, the edgy disciple-prophet pens a verse in the middle of a lengthy narrative on the so-called “negligible” signs of Christ’s coming, from scoffers who prognosticate that the jig is up on the Christians once and for all, for the “so-called” Messiah has no clothes.  In a nutshell, it’s time to stop the babbling and go home. In essence they say that first of all, God doesn’t judge anyone (though ironically they don’t believe He exists), and secondly, that if we are still taking a can of whoopass through life down here and waiting around for a trumpet from the sky to come at any minute, we are indeed the gullible and thus deplorable Christians the “educated” masses think we are.

In fact, the verse says exactly what they are still saying some 2000 year later:

They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4 ESV)

In other words, science now “knows” the better order of things, and that what goes in a test tube always then comes out of it in predictable fashion, and the “sign” theory is outdated, along with the good book and its people; and so it’s now time to shut the whole thing down.  Even though of course, both the might of the Romans and the “fine-tooth comb” of the religious establishment were unable to do so by simply producing a very dead body about 20 years earlier.

Yet Peter then first of all reminds them that God’s judgment is not only a surety at some point off in the distant future, but that it’s track record is also certain for those who want to take a trip down memory lane: perhaps starting with, I don’t know…the flood maybe?  He then builds a case by saying that just as that was evident when the time came, it will be undeniable again, and he uses that to build a case for the reason for the apparent stall out.

Is God Being Slack Concerning the Promise?

 In essence, Peter says that God is giving all of us, including the scoffers, time to perhaps take a double take and relook at this whole Christian thing with new eyes again.  And he suggests that by turning our glance away from merely the truth of the particulars, that instead; as Jordan Peterson has at least partially reminded us, we should spend more time in the realm of the universals.  His admonition in turn, though still conceding to us the tangible truth of real matter and all its boasts, is to equally compel us towards the spiritual truth that hangs in the balance in the grasp of the whole truth, and nothing but the truth–so help us God.  A realm of truth, even with its now “multi-millennia” of signs for inquiring minds wanting to know, that the culture writ large has long thrown out with the baby, and the bathwater.

Dooms Day Preppers

I can remember like it was yesterday back in the 70’s, when the runaway best seller The Late Great Planet Earth was released.  At that time, along with the overabundance of cheesy movies low budget filmmakers produced in its aftermath, churches (including mine) were sure we were in the cross hairs of the end of days, and that the eschaton of God would be imminent.  Fast forward to 2019, and like me, I’m sure most who call themselves by the name of Christ now feel that if Jesus isn’t now on His way in short order, we secretly wonder if Peter’s nemeses were on to something.  Perhaps He is not coming like we thought, or like the Thessalonians, maybe we fell asleep and somehow missed the whole shebang.

Jesus talked about some signs too in Matthew 24.  Things about false messiahs; wars and rumors of wars; nation against nation; famines; pestilences and earthquakes.  He would then add that this was only “the beginning of sorrows”.  He would go on further to say that all of us who called ourselves by His name would be hated to be sure, something about the “abomination of desolation” (with varying interpretations of what this was or would be), and the gospel of good news being taken to all the nations (of which Paul made boast of being completed even in his own time).

He also talked about the parable of “the fig tree” (which most believe referred to Israel becoming a nation in 1948).  Many would also talk about “this generation not passing away” until it was fulfilled to mean, as many dooms-day prophets heralded, that sometime around 1988 was to be the final curtain call.  He then went on to give many other signs–yet assured us that not even He knew the day or the hour.  Instead he uttered that this particular occurrence was strictly in His Father’s timetable, but assured us that alertness, attention to holiness and preparedness for the hour should be the state of the church at all times.  And so still we wait, while the volume of the scoffers has now reached colossal proportions in every market square and computer screen.

Is the Enemy Us?

And yet I wonder.  Smack dab in the middle of Jesus’ signs for us to pay attention to, he mentions something that I feel bears ponderance now more than ever.  He says that during these times, “that because lawlessness increased, the love of many will grow cold”.  And the apostle Paul seemed to be echoing Jesus sentiment again, when in 2 Thessalonians, he speaks about “the great falling away”, which almost every Tom, Dick and Harry soothsayer agrees refers to the state of the church at that time as becoming corrupt, irrelevant and chameleon-like in perfectly blending in with the scoffers themselves.  And of course, that is where I begin to have a sort of out of body experience that sure as Hell feels like the real thing from where I’m sitting.

For instance, does anyone still called by the name of Christ doubt that lawlessness has increased calamitously in our now “global village”, and even in our own lives–thus causing our love for Christ to, I don’t know…grow cold maybe?  And is that not also what John the Revelator is alluding to when he reminds the church at Ephesus that they had “lost their first love” before he lays out the apocalyptic time clock?

And in hobbling along this narrow and sometimes lonely path, searching every so anxiously for the Jesus missing in America and in my own life, perhaps the signs we should be looking for have been building a barricade from our eyes in our own back yard for some time now.  And all the while, the myriad of money changers we gave the new keys to have now reentered our various temples, as we shuffle in week after week for the show that must now begin.  But perhaps, just maybe; the signs are indeed everywhere now, except we have become the church-going, therapeutic, moralistic and deist scoffers, who no longer live like they are leaving at all.

 

Selah

 

 

Sin as Syndrome

I can remember now for damn near close to 50 years of my life, stumbling across the phrase from the disciple whom Jesus loved in chapter 1 of his gospel, “Behold the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world!”.  And I guess I knew what that meant to a degree, even in my earlier years of being enamored with this incredible and inexhaustible book.  And so, in a very real sense, I have always “gotten it” you might say. At least enough to admit I am also “a chief of sinners”, and to recognize why iniquity is actually a watershed issue in my own being.  But let’s just say that the older I get, and the more I people-watch, including myself; it’s a really, really, really big deal man.  But hear me out.

I recall it like it was yesterday several years back now, hearing an old preacher describing an absolutely horrific event that occurred to some small children in a flat in New York City, that would make your skin crawl right off your body and into the nearest holy water for full immersion.  After mentioning this story, that was hard to even fathom with a straight face, he then said, “If you knew what happened each night in even one city block of your cozy little life, you wouldn’t even be able to sleep at night”.  I paused, and then wept bitterly like a kid knowing his Dad’s ass whooping was imminent. And the harshness of that truth hit me like a freight train ran out of station, and I have never forgotten it to this day.  But I think we as a people, or at least those who still call themselves Christian, may actually have.

Sin…You Talking to Me?

In fact, if you’ll indulge me a bit, I think sin used to be language that even the most nominal of Christians talked about in our culture.  Oh sure, some of it was “much ado about nothing” as they went on about their day, but it did make for enlightening conversation that was somewhat culturally accepted as a universal truth one could agree on.  Yet I think it is safe to say that the concept of sin has actually fallen on a bit of hard times though don’t you think?  Sin as syndrome I like to call it.  We are now born, not with sin per say, but rather a syndrome that God himself interjected into our DNA that we can’t actually help, and is something that requires a pill, or perhaps a simple waiving of a magic wand as to our exception to what once was a rule for all of us fallen creatures.  Not anymore. It seems we all get a hall pass for whatever feels intrinsic to us, whatever our dispensation is, or whatever tickles our particular fancy. After all, God would want us to be happy at the expense of some minor detail that killed His son.  And that narrative is now no longer blowing in the wind, but in fact “is” the wind itself.  And so, the road has gotten even more narrow I presume, and few there be that will ever find it.

A Case in Point

I’ve always been intrigued by the story of the woman caught in adultery in John chapter 8.  Some question whether it was in the original manuscripts and rather inserted later, while others speculate as to who it was, what Jesus was writing in the sand, etc;–but one thing is for sure: it speaks profoundly to Jesus’ response to SIN.  The part we love of course is that there were no jive-talkin Pharisee’s left to throw any stones, while we postulate it primarily had to do with the fact that they had each had their own taste of the woman in question.  We are then contrarily endeared to Jesus instead, who we envision rolls away the stones of accusation into our own drama—and that he does it “seventy times seven” or so. But perhaps, just perhaps; what we miss, is that His admonition to her is to “Go, and sin no more”.

Now we are not given any details to sew this story up tightly afterwards either, as to whether the woman ipso facto was then ushered into a life of fidelity with no further mishaps. We’re not given this info.  I’d like to think if the woman is anything like me, soon afterwards, when she had one too many drinks, she sought relief again in even some bad sex for goodness sakes.  Or perhaps, she was a woman caught up in a tailspin of survival of the fittest, and the prospects of a few mouths to feed led her back to the hope that maybe “this is the one”.  We just don’t know.  But what we mustn’t miss is the fact that on the narrow path, though God understands our susceptibilities, and our predicament, His desire is never to leave us where he found us on the road of no more sticks and stones–but to change us from the inside out into a microcosm of Himself! And the most difficult thing for the gag reflex of American Christianity to now take in, is that it has much more to do with Godliness than our endless pursuit of life, liberty and ever elusive happiness. And this central truth of Christianity, is currently now on a slow morphine drip, awaiting the final pulling of the plug!

Did we Pull the Trigger?

I was reading John chapter 19 the other day as Jesus is in the crosshairs of his fate.  And as I read about the soldiers, Pilate, the chief priests, and even the people that watched and benefited from his miracles, yet who later called for Barabbas instead, I was reminded that we’re all caught up in the story really.  We all have our own stones, our own nails, and our own repulsion to someone, anyone, who would dare ask us to be anything but “me”.  And as I contemplate the drops of blood and the cup of sin he imbibed, it all of a sudden means the world to me.  And again I suppose; if we really imagined our own part in handing down Jesus’ verdict, what goes on any given day in our day to day relationships, or what goes on just on our own city block–we might just begin to see why this is actually a big, hairy, frickin deal.

Love Hurts

John the Baptist told us this too don’t you know.  In fact, he was the one who prepared the way of the Lord you might remember.  He was the one called to get people’s hearts ready for real faith, instead of merely following for the perks, but rather for the purpose of becoming image bearers, created in the oftentimes crucible of our own suffering of sorts.  But who the Hell wants that?  Nonetheless, it was he who once said to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance”.  And keeping with repentance, no matter how you slice it, even still being expounded from this archaic book, has fallen on the hardest of times in the cultural milieu; and yet it beckons us to constantly be about it.  Summoning us to look into the mirror of our lives asking God for holy fashion tips, even when our tainted view of our narcissistic reflection motions us to forge the road of holy enlightenment alone.  Meanwhile, the God we were told is to be the one true love of our lives, simply has to be demoted to second fiddle; when after all, He seems to be eternally playing hard to get.

But maybe, just maybe, that’s what all worthwhile lovers do.

 

Selah

There’s Something Wrong With the Ground: Part II

Well, I don’t guess I need to spend too much time on why it’s been over two gosh darn months since I last wrote to you.  After all, you know me by now, and well, this ADHD has really got to stop!  I was however excited about my last post, particularly because I was feeling that I was getting ready to live through it in a whole new way—again, and therefore thought the “experience” would be ripe with fresh and smelly insight for your spiritual aromatic pallet.  And let me just say that I really do hate it when I’m right. OK, well…maybe not. Anyway, in this case, I could really do without the rightness of it all. But let’s get on with it shall we.

In my last blog, I wrote https://marknealprince.com/2019/02/28/theres-something-wrong-with-the-ground-part-i/, introducing the soil problems we all experience in living the Christian life.  I set up a good deal of introduction there as to what was happening in the story, but ended it with the tip of the iceberg in the obvious observation, that the devil often times “is” the guilty culprit of seeking to, often successfully, steal what little meager faith we have.  I gave some description here, so I encourage you to go back and read so it will be fresh in your thoughts.  But the fact is, part of what’s wrong in our soil is our worldview, and the overabundance of lies written into the culture that Mephistopheles himself has been transcribing into the ethos of mankind for eons, ever since man put his first foot on the dust that he came from.  And so then, the “Thief and Chief” quite naturally, and ever so effortlessly, “steals” the morsel of faith that seeks to penetrate the layers of man’s plausibility structures intrinsic within us, that simply will not allow mere natural men (I Cor. 2:14)to believe for any longer than a really bad weekend.  But the plot again thickens.

More Funky Town

Jesus then explains something else funky going on with the ground of our potential, yet seldom ever achieved fruitful faith.  In vs. 20 and 21 of Matthew 13, Jesus gives us another issue to chew our cud with. He says essentially that this ground is called “rocky” for a reason quite frankly.  And it is because though it finally breaks through the impenetrable wall of the devil’s lies with an outburst of initial joy even, because it has not been able to yet sink down some initial rootedness resulting in an actual resoluteness of personal faith, once tribulation as a result of this new-found conviction comes (as certain as death and taxes), it lasts for about as long as jail-house religion, and thus fizzles out like a cheap box of sparklers. And it isn’t pretty.

In fact, I’ve had this conversation many times with would be inquisitors into the Christian faith. And I often implore, and even beg them to please consider the fact that life is hard enough as it is, and thus it is equally not prejudice when it comes to the pain and suffering it can and many times does dish out.  So then, I very clearly state that if they want a nice cozy religion that suits all their needs, Christianity is not, let me repeat: “not” the religion for them.  For in fact, if one adds “true” and unwavering faith in Christ to their already existing topsy-turvy life, they will by nature of the faith’s essence, invoke even more “tribulation” and “persecution” into the mix.  And sadly so, it can come, and often will come from their own families, from the ever so faithful wounds of friends, and from a world system that only loves its own (John 15:19) and punishes the bastards it finds with excommunication–thus the often lonely narrow path comes into full focus. And for most, this is a hard pill that they cannot possibly swallow.

But then sadly, there is where actually most of us live. Even those of us unfortunately, who have added just enough inoculated conversion in our lives so as to not get the real thing. Of course mixed in with some tithes and offerings, some good ole faithful church attendance, and an occasional good deed with our retirement package smiling back at us as we await our celestial shore.  But make no mistake about it friend, this soil is the soil with all the damn thorns in it, all of them, and the one that keeps us all from the forty, sixty and a hundred-fold fruity pebbles from being descriptive of our lives.

The Perfect Storm

And Jesus finally explains it, so we need to listen.  He tells us that his particular ground is the one ripe with “the deceitfulness of riches” and “the cares of this world”.  Mark chapter 4’s rendition adds “and the desire for other things”.  Luke 8 then piggybacks on this with “cares, riches and pleasures of life”.

So, there you have it.

The trifecta of a daily and always dependable ass-kicking on the Christian path.  We’ll just call it the cares of life (and there are many), the pursuit of money and happiness if you will (deceitfulness of riches), and; if we have done everything right (so we think), will then equal to “the pleasures of life” that will hopefully continue until we break on through to the other side (Doors).

Cares

Both Jesus and Paul talked about one of our nonstop daily cares which no doubt creates so many others. That wonderful care known as marriage or familial relationships.  Yet Jesus and Paul were both in cahoots in saying that though marriage is wonderful and God’s design and all this and that, however, the care of a spouse can and often is a competing care against fruitfulness in our lives, especially if both are living on the same stinking thorny path.  For in the end, both will choke each other to death!  So to care about one’s wife or husband, or children, or extended family, is to add a heaping amount of “care(s)” that can and often does war against the spiritual life of fruitfulness, especially if they are all also simultaneously choking on the thorns, and equally asking, “Thank you sir, can I have another” day after day after day. It’s a never-ending street ripe with everything but…well “fruit” I’m afraid.

Stuff

Those particular cares of course necessitate the other ones, which is the need for “stuff” (George Carlin-google itJ), which then breeds into the American Dream of what can be the “deceitfulness of riches”, because after all, more is never enough.  And the funny thing about it is, in a free-market capitalistic society, some version of “rich” is what we all need now so it seems, not necessarily to keep up with the Jones anymore, but just to bloody survive!  And so even you and I who are immersed daily in the scriptures (assuming there are still some of us out there), daily crying out in prayer of either a purposeful or more desperado kind, are equally those now, teeter-tottering back and forth from the promise of fruitfulness or not, because if we miss a beat, the world system will eat us up and spit us out while no one is even fricking watching or giving a good damn. Oh yeah, we get the deceitfulness of riches part, but what we can’t get away from, what we can’t escape even by swearing by the hair of our chinny, chin-chin, is the fact that we’re caught up in a web that has us all one move shy of being served up as Spidey lunch on any given day!  That’s our address.  This is where you and I live.

The Rub

Oh yes.  Constant cares to the left and to the right. Constant quest and pursuit of riches, or at least enough to get us by (whatever the Hell that means).  The constant desire for pleasures to numb us from waking up to the fact that the Lord we proclaim is ours said, and is still saying to us, and especially now to me; that until we give all our cares (I Pet. 5:7), and relinquish our worries (Mt. 6:25-33) to Him, and instead seek first and foremost a kingdom not of this world mind you, then the ground will never yield the fruit that it was designed for before the foundation of the world. The Christian life will die on the vine. The sound “Well done”, will never be heard.  And all for which we have labored both in our inoculated Christian life and in all our cotton-picking cares, in the end won’t another minute buy (Kansas). Nothing left but Dust in the wind, or better yet: unripe fruit that will never see the light of day, nor brighten others.

A little Irony

And I’m wondering just a little bit here.  Perhaps maybe, this gargantuan step between the thorns and the fruity pebbles has to live and grow in the betwixt and between, and the vast uncertainty of life, and come out on the other side both saying and eventually meaning, sometimes again and again,what Habakkuk learned who said (bled):

 

Though the fig tree should not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the LORD;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

GOD, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s;

he makes me tread on my high places. (Hab. 3:17-19)

 

 

Selah

There’s Something Wrong with The Ground: Part I

A Bump in the Road

I’ve been consistently drawn to the passage I want to put before you today for a good portion of my life, and even more so of late, somehow trying to “get it in me” if you will. The synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke each give their spin on the story, and I’ve heard every analysis from preachers to business people, to self-help gurus, who each spin it in a variety of most interesting ways.  Some quite accurate, some, not so much.  Nonetheless, this has never stopped me from periodically coming back to it like a dog continually intrigued to run after the same bone tossed a thousand times, in order to glean from its hidden gold beneath that rather funky ground we often find ourselves in.  And because of that, somehow, I’ve always inferred that Jesus wants this ole dog to set up permanent camp here; put my Martha cap on; sit at the feet of the Master till the cows come home; or until pig’s fly, or, when something starts to actually grow for goodness sakes.  You get the picture.  So, I guess it’s my new address in between life’s hell and high water, even my permanent one.  Perhaps it should be yours too.

The backdrop here is familiar through the gospels.  Jesus is getting slammed with people wanting to touch the hem of his garment in light of their dire straits, get something from him, or perhaps crucify him; or maybe even betray him with a kiss.  But we won’t be picky here.  The names change, but the scenery and the mixture is pretty much the same.  And so Jesus is sitting in his fishing boat looking at the people hanging on the beach gazing back at him with bated breath, and he begins to speak in one of his favorite ways that continue to baffle us all; in parables.  Nonetheless, the passage goes like this:

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear (Mt. 13:1-9 ESV). 

 What you Talking About Willis?

Now interestingly, in between verses 9 and 18, Jesus gets the right question thrown to him by the disciples.  They simply ask what maybe you and I have asked, or are currently asking, “Why do you speak to them in parables”, or, “how about giving the dog a bone here”?  Makes sense. And of course here it is all too easy to skirt by this part and get to his explanation coming up about what the dang parable actually means.  But we want to get to the punchline, we just want to pass the gosh-darn test.  Cliff notes please!  And Jesus gets it.  So he responds basically saying that the understanding usually comes to already spiritual awakened people (not even the disciples yet apparently), and to those who are really seeking what the kingdom is about because they’ve run out of bargaining chips.  This of course is opposed to those who are not so much seeking the life he wants to give, but what they gain if they decided to do it; or perhaps more importantly, those whose hearts are already hardened by what’s wrong in their ground, and as a result wouldn’t see or hear even if Jesus slapped them upside their nappy heads with it! Evidently, it has a lot to do with a lifetime of shutting their eyes and ears to what’s already been said and done all around them, and as a result have missed the proverbial forest for the trees.  Somehow, I wonder if he’s talking to me!

But Jesus doesn’t leave them hanging, nor does he want to.  Because it is now that the kingdom is just beginning to be ushered in.  And so, he realizes that as the Holy Spirit inevitably comes just a stone’s throw down the road, more awakened people will start to get it, and if they do, he knows some kind of “living water” will then engulf them, and they’ll finally graduate from the class, or at least move on to a new class.  And as a result, they’ll get to write a book on 4 steps to Spiritual Gardening or something like that, because there will be fruit-flies everywhere for goodness sakes!  And it is here that you and I need to set up camp for the morning, noon and night.  So, the Master gets right to it.  He says:

Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”(Matthew 13:18-23 ESV)

And the plot thickens.

There’s a Thief Among Us

Jesus opines that the word, His word, actually comes to the lot of us, with often mixed results. No argument there. The first is the majority of us in the vast cosmos so it seems. And in this case Geraldine was partly right, the devil evidently did make them do it.  Jesus says that the evil one can and often does “snatch” away what was initially sown somewhat haphazardly along the path.  We could chalk it up as bad soil, or that it was kind of strewn about by happenstance and not purposefully. The sky is the limit.  There are probably no wrong answers here.  But what we do know, and the synoptics are in cahoots, is that the devil steals some stuff, a lot evidently.  In fact, Jesus reminded us that the evil one came to kill, steal and destroy, whereas Jesus came to give something along the lines of abundant life or something like that.  So we get it I think.  Evidently stealing is one of the extra special aspects of the Prince of Darkness’ MO. And it makes perfect sense does it not?

Is The Enemy We’ve Found in Lock-Step With Us?

For instance, we see people get little morsels of the word thrown on them in a multiplicity of ways, and all at once, they start to take it in.  However, in the blink of an eye it seems, the habitual lies and isms and survival of the fittest mantras that have been on autopilot most of their lives, rush in and talk them off the edge of their merely circumstantial naivete back to the safety of popular consensus and comfort zones.  And then “poof”, it’s as if nothing ever happened.  Business as usual.  Case closed.  The curtain is now pulled on what coulda, shoulda, woulda been.

But perhaps before we move too fast and put all the lost in this prayer list bucket, maybe the devil still steals from the enlightened of us too I suppose before we get a block down the road.  For the same family traditions, worldly indoctrinations and our own eternal struggle to somehow finally listen to this still small voice more readily while simultaneously seeking to pull our own bootstraps up somewhere I guess, causes us all to buckle, and shuck it off as working perhaps for some; but maybe, just maybe, it’s really not for the likes of us after all.  So we dodge the fish, and cut the bait instead; again and again, and again.

So yeah, the devil steals stuff like I said, well like Jesus said.  And it’s kind of sad don’t you think.  Perhaps we need an alarm or something, or a wall, or maybe there’s something in our ground I suppose.

Selah

Stay tuned for Part II

When the Light In You is Actually Darkness

Deja Vu

I stumbled across a portion of scripture for about the umpteen millionth time this morning.  It’s one that indeed struck a chord within me that has been perhaps longing to be strummed for some time to in order to awaken my own calcified heart to its melodic revelation.  And as I polished off that last slug of morning Joe before entering into morning prayers, it occurred to me that in Christendom, this illumining disclosure I stumbled upon, that was once so blatantly obvious to the whole damn lot of us, has become shall we say somewhat “passé” and rather obsolete to us now.  A fact at which should cause even the most confident extraverts to blush as one caught with their pants down just before the lights go down.

The scripture I am referring to is found in the gospel of Luke in chapter 11, where in verses 34 & 35, from the mouth of Jesus himself, He states the following:

“Your eye is the lamp of your body.  When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness”.

 And as I mentioned earlier, though I have read this scripture time and time again, it occurred to me that its incontrovertibleness somehow now seems to have escaped both the church’s and our individual brotherhood and sisterhood in the community of Christ’s own mortification of it all.  And, if it were not yet clear what Jesus was trying to say to us, the Apostle Paul, like many other of the authors of the New Testament, no doubt explains this verse rather unmistakably when he writes in Ephesians 5:8-12:

“for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true) and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret”.

 So here we have it.  Both Jesus, and now reiterated and explained in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we find that whatever light or “worldview” if you will that we have, that guides our day to day goings on, is in fact either light or darkness.  And it seems crystal clear again as Paul reminds us, since we as brothers and sisters are now “light in the Lord”, that we are in fact to walk (yes that’s correct) as “children of light”, and that this is descriptive and representative of all that is “good and right and true”.  He of course adds to that narrative that discerning whether we have light or darkness requires a judgement of sorts on our part, that then sifts through the numerous or oppositional false lights that come at us each day through the flickering pixels of our lives, in order to now find “what is pleasing to the Lord”.   Paul takes it even a step further for us and says that we are not to take part in those “unfruitful works of darkness” and instead should expose them, which causes most of us “non-offense” postured Christianity-light Christian hearts’ to skip a beat, or perhaps even the whole bloody drum solo!

Standard Bearers?

Nevertheless, I say all of these things, not because I too am not at fault at coming short at observing the standard put before us.  However, more importantly, I am also increasingly aware that it is the standard itself that is now in question and has now fallen on the hardest of times.

And of course, we all know acutely well I’m afraid that the light in the world that represents itself as luminary to us is off kilter and off its rocker so to speak.  And that likewise, it is also the ever-prevalent light of the god of this world, and to those who “buy in” to its modus operandi; forever drawn like moths to a flame to its attractive gaze.  Or at least, we should know this.

And perhaps that is my ever so observable point.  And it is that when those of us who are called “the light of the world”, or those who are to be “light in the Lord” are no longer even able to discern what the “unfruitful works of darkness” are that we are participators of, you can bet “dollars to doughnuts” that we will come up a country-mile short in having the ability to light anything for people to truly see with.  And that as a result, the light we now are purported to have, like the world around us, will now also be in fact truly darkness!

Don’t Fear the Reaper?

And of course it then occurred to me, as I hope is also at least obvious to those of us with a smidgeon left of spiritual acumen in our hearts and minds as to the current balderdash being pumped into us both with and without our invitation on any given second, that this is indeed a watershed issue!  And it is so both in the visible church, who by their own self-promotional appointment to the role of knowing better have incessantly and yet now hypocritically remind us, and to the rest of the church invisible who are unreluctantly following suit. Those of us who have almost flagrantly conceded to the god of this worlds’ false light bearers, and have now like Pavlov’s fricking dog, salivated their way into convincing us to mix both lights together like the candy man can, hoping somehow to make it all taste good for us to drink with our Kool-Aid cups, as if the Grim Reaper is not now at our own front door!

And so now, the thought occurred to me in that epiphanic moment of which I spoke, that if the light that is now in the church and in us has also become darkness, and if the road to the “fruits of darkness” as opposed to being “light in the Lord” has become mere indiscernible shades of inevitable gray, then perhaps a day of reckoning is indeed upon us. And maybe, just maybe; it won’t be far too long in the prophetic, yet not much paid attention to distance, that we’ll look up, and as all is now verifiably trampled on the floor before us, we will actually then finally wish that we’d all been ready!

Selah