Crosses and Resurrections: A Juxtaposition of How Christians Ought To Live

The Narrow Path

I’ve thought a lot about the cross and the resurrection lately—two very distinct but cataclysmic events that also have their mystical place in the outworkings of our very real and daily lives. My contemplations have not been because Easter and its emotive reminders of both events are a few short months away; nor is it because we’ll celebrate the birth of our Lord lying in a manger in just a matter of weeks. Instead, I’ve actually deliberated about it primarily because my experience has been that living in either extreme somehow has not served me quite well–nor has it served others of which I’ve had the opportunity to walk down the path of life with thus far. Let me briefly explain.

First of all, living a cruciform life has been somewhat easier for me than most. That is of course not to say that I know it better than many…

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The Sad Man Behind Blue Eyes

It was the early spring of 1969, and the shot heard around our microcosm of the world caused the Prince family’s life to abruptly happen while we were clearly making other plans. We stood frozen and painfully awake to its unwelcome attention. And within a camera flash, our family photograph was minus one, and the sad man was left to pick up the pieces with no idea of how to put his family back together again. Friend and familial speculations and conspiracy theories were forthcoming, and yet a wise and solemn few simply wept, listened and poised for the gap they would now need to fill in the aftermath. My older brother of 12 and sister of 10 were robbed at gunpoint forever of a Mother’s love, and this child of almost 5 would never know what hit him until the later discovery of a void the size of Texas. I guess you could say that for us, this was the day our music died–somewhere between The Yellow Submarine and Abbey Road.

 

Many months’ later there were mixed emotions at some unwelcome wedding bells in the air, and the young bride that joined the sad man in holy matrimony had no idea what “I do” would cost her in the way of mostly sickness rather than health–with death’s parting to be postponed until much further notice. And with three orphans and a beautiful baby boy on the way, they would now embark on new beginnings, and thus the abrupt pause hit play for the Prince family once again. Then one day it happened, and the sad man would surrender and give his life to the one who had promised beauty for his ashes, and strength where fear once took up residence and stayed for far too long. And thus he would put his hand in the hand of the man from Galilee, and they would walk together for the rest of his days–even through the valleys and the shadows of a certain kind of death. And he was indeed the sad man behind beautiful, loving blue eyes.

 

His life started in 1937, right before the final curtain was pulled on the great depression. He was the baby of a family of four children, with two sisters and a brother to guide him along the way. After all, his Papa was a rolling stone who often forgot to make their house his permanent home. And Mom, well…she just kind of rolled with the punches, and there were more than a few of those so I’m told. His Dad and he would later reunite in a common salvation that restored some years that the devil had stolen from them, but the sad man admitted that he never really knew his Father. He wanted to though. Man, he wanted to so very, very much. And so the dreams of his Father’s vacancy and the family that never truly was filled his lifetime of mostly sleepless nights.

 

The sad man made a startling discovery sometime during my turbulent teens however. It was a new medicine that helped with an imbalance that many were sure defined his sadness to the core. And they were of course partly right. The progress that he made was nothing short of miraculous I was told, and it showed in his life in almost every way. He became a wonderful Christian man who would give the shirt off of his back to any lost soul, as well as someone who was a wonderful teacher and indeed a fisher of men that would shame most of us. Through all my years, I remember his faithful attendance and leadership at men’s prayer breakfasts, prison ministry, and his constant work in the church; and witnessed firsthand the growing reputation that the sad man had in our community for being someone that I truly believe was a man after God’s own heart. But like all men with that gift, he had his demons too; and at times they were Legion. And yet it was through those episodes manifested before me that I witnessed equally a brokenness and humility that had to make Jesus awfully proud. I just don’t know that he ever really believed it.

 

During my time as a prodigal son, while his demons were at bay, the sad man did everything he could to have a relationship with me, and to somehow not repeat the sins of his Father. He also tried desperately to connect with me about what was going on inside this troubled head of mine, but the generation gap was a class that he had just missed. And though sadly, in many ways the die on our relationship was already cast, I remember his continual pursuit of a son whom he thought might not make it to see his 18th birthday. He even made time for family devotions, even when he probably knew I’d rather cough up a spleen than to join in! I also witnessed many, many times, finding him on his knees in tears, pouring over the scriptures with his pocket protector pen kit not far beside. And I knew that on that day when he first saw the light of Christ, that part of his burden did roll away; and admittedly, though in the strangest of ways, he infected me with a heart after God that is also unquenchable, yet with my own demons of various shapes and sizes lurking in a dark corner nearby.

 

My reference to my Father as the sad man, is simply because he was just that for most of his life, and not even his beautiful and contagious smile could hide it from those who knew him best. Though modern medicine, a good counselor and Jesus Christ came in and gave him a new lease on life, the malevolent quasi-deities that lurk in the fallen world’s undercurrent of devastating tsunami’s, dysfunctional families, tragedies that strike unannounced, and repetitive sins of absentee or simply passive Fathers, are deep in the human psyche and make their time-release impressions until we give up the ghost. This of course is not to negate the work that Christ does in a life fully committed to the pursuit of the abundant life he promises, but to simply state that for those who struggle with real depression, theirs is a sometimes endless battle of peaks and valleys, with not much else in between.

 

I can remember many times before his death, as he continued to have periodic overnight visits to the hospital for new tests and new adjustments in supposed elixir that would finally get him back on track, that I felt as if something was still amiss. And as I watched, I continually encountered the sad man behind blue eyes still searching for a good nights sleep, or one day that he could wake up to say that he was truly happy. I could feel him slipping. I knew it when one day I asked him why didn’t he read his Bible and pray much anymore, and I remember him telling me that he didn’t feel worthy to do so. I was taken aback to learn this from a man who all but had a bible as a protruding appendage from his side, nor far from his eyes or spoken from the lips of his mouth for as long as I could remember. And then, the medicine that would ultimately give the supposed initial cure so many years before, now became part of his undoing, which took a man who never drank or smoked to an untimely death at the age of 73.

 

It will be seven years this December since my beautiful Christian father passed away. His last days came in the wake of my own economic tsunami of 2008, when I too wrestled for a smile to cast some shadow to others on what was really going on inside. I felt like he always had something he wanted to say to us during that time, but I think he was in a hurry to go and just leave it all behind and perhaps just get a good nights sleep for a change, and to finally rest in the arms of his Savior and Lord. Jesus of course I believe has now wiped away his tears, taken away his pain, and I’m pretty sure his joy and his smile is now the talk of the heavenly city. And to be sure, his mansion will of course be much bigger than mine ever will. This is of course what he longed for after all, and I think the more we walk with Jesus on the narrow path, however shakily along the way, the longing to fill the eternal void is still always a preoccupation in our souls.  But, while he was here, he was indeed the sad man behind blues eyes, and I guess you could say that I am my Father’s son.

 

Watch over us Dad, because we could use a little help down here. Tell Jesus I said Hello and to save the other hand for me please.

 

 

P.S. Happy Father’s Day!

 

 

Selah

 

 

 

Trump vs. EveryFrickingBody: Our New Mascot for “Sticking It To The Man”!

To be honest, I really didn’t have much I wanted to say today, but then I really did. Nonetheless, I cautioned myself on not doing so. And now here I am doing so and have thus thrown caution to the wind. However, the reason for the betwixt and between is because I mostly focus on writing about spiritual things like how we’re missing the mark in that endeavor, my own struggle with the outworking of it in my own life, the Jesus missing in America, and thus the shape all of the cracked up people like you and I are in. After all, those meanderings can keep a man occupied with a lot to say; at least in my case, and I hope to continue to do so for anyone who actually cares to continue watching me get naked with verbal transparency for your amusement and hopeful catharsis. However, over the last couple of days, as I have watched both the shock value of the enigma that is Donald J. Trump, and the visceral attack of both the left and the right lining up to gut him like a fish in the public square, it has evoked a lot of thoughts and emotions within me that I can’t hold back any longer.

Some of those thoughts are in wondering why in the Hell I ended up reluctantly voting for this bloke in the midnight hour of the election as I wrote about in a previous blog (The Light in Christendom is But a Flicker Now: Part 1 and 2). Other thoughts focus around perhaps still being bloody well glad that I did, and yet more so about the eruptive emotions deep inside that cause me to almost get to the point where I might even want a Trump bumper sticker and one of those damn hats too! In fact, I’m almost to the point that if the election were held tomorrow, I might actually vote for that crazy genitalia-grabbing commander and chief again–and even volunteer to be his campaign groupie! In fact, I’m pretty sure that the more everyone hates him; it just makes me want love this guy even more. And then I ask myself, why is that? Why is it that so many love to hate this man, and so many others of us, though unsure as to exactly why, love him all the way to heaven and back? Why has he caused this “shock and awe”? And why is it that both the left and the right go to bed at night with orgasmic dreams about his eventual undoing, and who are even willing to forgo the cigarette afterwards?

Well of course by now, some 5 months into his dark horse Presidency, most of us have already theorized as to why. We’ve read no shortage of blogs and articles from our favorite spin doctors, and maybe even a book or two. Others have chosen to strictly force feed ourselves with the steady stream of media overload piping into our phones, computers and TV screens from our favorite left or right leaning news outlets, and have formulated our opinions there. And though I realize we all think we know a little something about it, my contention is that most of us really don’t know “diddly squat”– which of course is a big part of the problem.   But I do think that one thing we should all perhaps agree on by now is that part of “The Trump Factor” is due to (as we’ve heard about relentlessly now) the fact that a large population of America has been forgotten about, laughed at, put down and compartmentalized into a now popular category of “deplorables” resigned to classroom Dunce cap status, with nothing to say that the teacher or the elitist class cares to listen to. And yet the amazing thing is, now all of us who have gotten sick and tired of the way the world has been heading from what they say is our own particular shade of grey glasses, we now have a new mascot: And his name is Donald J. Trump.

And so now, on any given day, as we reminisce about days gone by when we wanted to tell our boss to “take this job and shove it”, or when we wanted to ask questions in that dumb and severely boring company meeting as to why we still do it “this way” and refrained because we didn’t want to upset the applecart or lose our job, we now have a new hero and villain all in one who has come to save the day. And though some might think he’s a fool to do our dirty work, he has nonetheless volunteered to do the job for free.  And so, Donald J. Trump is none other than our “altar ego, who “sticks it to the man” for us when we really can’t afford to. He’s Buddy Love who lives out everything Professor Clump wishes he could do, say and look like. He’s Jerry “Freakin” McGuire who writes his life mission (or a tweet) and sends it out without a thought or repercussion. He’s the imprisoned Andy Dufrane who locks the doors, turns the music up as loud as he can and kicks back in his chair like a boss. He’s the big brother that goes out and kicks the school bullies ass and dares him to ever mess with us again. Or if you will, he’s our John Wick, and he’s pissed off about us killing his dog and stealing his car, and thus; he “is” our Bogeyman n Chief!

And so when people ask me how I could vote for such a man, or why when folks on the left and right both disdain him with vitriolic fervor that knows no bounds, the more I actually like him and want to say, “Thank you sir, can I have another”, I now know why. And the more jokers to the left and jokers to the right say “he’s done”, the more I want to lift him up.  And the more I want my altar ego to wipe the floor with the whole lot of them bitches, and perhaps “drain a swamp” or two while he’s at it. And part of the reason that I feel this way is because of the postmodern conspiracy theorists that run amuck in the American political system and in the culture of which we are apart. Every Tom, Dick and Harriett has an opinion that should be heard regardless of whether it’s true or not, and rather than argue through the vehicle of reason, logic and skillful debate we deconstruct everything into oblivion and instead “lawyer up” or launch ad hominem attacks. Instead, if we can’t win, we just won’t play at all, or perhaps we’ll just burn the damn playhouse down!

Now enter, Donald Trump. Everyone is so sure that he’s the Anti-Christ, or Hitler, or Mephistopheles perhaps; and on and on it goes. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Absent from the discussion is that instead of those things, it’s plausible that he’s actually crazy like a fox, and quite frankly refuses to play the same games we’ve all been playing–win or lose, sink or swim. In fact, if they say po-ta-toe, he says po-ta-to. If they say up, he’s says down. If they say you can’t do that, he says, “Why the Hell not”? And as we sip our non-fat latte’s, eat organic food, and claim to be “in the know” about almost everything, yet we are appalled at steaks eaten well done with ketchup, or disgusted with the lack of etiquette of a tweeter n chief, or someone who quite frankly my dear couldn’t give a good damn what any of us think! And perhaps that is exactly what the Dr. ordered in order to cure our disease that is wasting us away.

And the elitists on both sides hear Trump scraping his nails down the chalkboard on any given day, and the sound is starting to deafen them in more ways than one. And while everyone is fighting and protesting against someone who neither gains or loses sleep regardless, we are oblivious to the fact that our land, our children, our institutions and our world is about to fall off into the freaking sea with California! And on any given day, many might think our toleration of Trump is somewhere between the Scylla and the Charybdis, but never ponder the thought that our big brother might actually be the good guy who’s in town for a short while to stop the bleeding of an American experiment that almost no one who’s truly looking recognizes anymore. A quick history of leadership should awaken us to the fact that one would have to be a narcissist to actually want the job in the first place, and that if we are going to measure our particular brand of character as the sole arbiter of who is fit or not to hold the office, we might ought to look back into our very checkered Presidential history with a keen eye. And for those of us with the dunce cap hat on, and who’ve been drowned in political correctness enough to upchuck a political party, we have grown just deplorable enough to roll the dice in favor of someone who actually wants to do what he’s promised, even though his medicine may taste like milk of magnesia at first; rather than placing our bet again with those who simply want another vote just so they can get reelected and leave their “so-called” legacy. Pardon me, while I vomit and have diarrhea at the same time if you please!

Oh I get that our world now prefers truth as an opinion poll; and like buttholes, everybody’s got one and all but theirs stink real good. But have we now become so sure that our particular community of victims is right about whatever freak flag we’re flying that particular week, that we can no longer see anything that looks like truth even it walked up and slapped us upside the head! Can we not see that the British are coming? Can we not see the smoke on the horizon? Do we not believe that perhaps Chicken Little is right, and the damn sky is actually falling in some form or fashion? Can we not be still and quiet enough to listen or to ponder, or to truly think? Can we not read and search and question to find some beacon of truth? Can we not study the past or look into the future; or better yet; to see our own relativistic dust blowing in the wind?

In my previous blog that I mentioned earlier in my post, I declared that perhaps Trump is nothing more than a speed bump to curtail, but for a moment, the prophetic outworking of the writing that for most of us dunce cap alumni has long been written on the American wall. I’m smart enough to know that he probably won’t be able to save us from oblivion, even though I get a sneaky suspicion we should probably give him a college try. After all, it can’t hurt to roll the dice one more time while we still have a few chips on the table. Of course the truth is, no one who owns the information we gullibly digest each day is bound to let that happen I’m afraid. Meanwhile, if only for a moment however, it sure is nice “Sticking It To the Man”!

Selah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep Your Soul Diligently

A Refresher

I guess you could say the focus of our time today is really a Part II of what I wrote last week https://marknealprince.com/2017/05/26/remember-so-you-dont-forget-part-i/. In fact, in that excerpt, I mentioned the exact words of our title taken from the mouth of Moses himself. I also mentioned that it is both simple and complex in the doing of what it suggests. One thing is for sure though; it is a recurrent theme throughout the book of Deuteronomy and the canon of scripture, and also something that we would do well to ponder long and hard over–as it is the stuff of life itself. And of course just as I say this, in chapter 30 of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses then says these words just to throw a little fly in the ointment where he writes,

 

[11] “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. [12] It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ [13] Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ [14] But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14 ESV)

 

And then again in verses 19 and 20 he tells us in essence what I have taken now two blogs to try and say and hold out for our serious contemplation,

 

[19] I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, [20] loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:19.20 ESV)

 

Simple and Complex

 

So it is here that I think we can see both the simple and complex tied up in knots together. It is simple because of course as Christians, we know that we simply have to open up ourselves to the divine takeover of our lives and can rest in the fact that His righteousness and not ours is what gets us over the hump. God then, unlike our teachers, grades us on the curve. Whew! It is also at least at face value simple because the Lord himself has said through Moses that it is not far off in the heavens or as far as the eye can see over the ocean like we sometimes make it, but in fact it is near us, if we keep it diligently, in our hearts, and that we can actually do it. OK, done right? Well not so fast. Because the complex part is of course the very contemplation of the divine itself, and better yet, the part I have been yapping about incessantly: that keeping your soul diligently is backbreaking work!

 

So God says we can do it, and that it’s near us. And if we have been remembering all the things he said so we don’t forget, it should be like, “Open Sesame” right? And in all fairness, he tells us ways to do this with things such as the need to:

 

  • Get rid of Idols in our life
  • Keep God’s commandments
  • Raise our children in the fear of the Lord
  • Stand up for Justice
  • Be openhanded and non-condescending to the poor and needy all around us
  • Love God with all our heart, soul and mind
  • Not live in fear
  • Trust in God’s power to save and to heal
  • Have a humble heart and attributing everything we have to God
  • Not being deceived and ensnared by the myriad of false God’s all around us
  • Consider all the things the Lord has done for us in the past when we are wrestling with problems in the present

 

So there it is. We just do that and we’re good to go–or maybe not. So now let’s focus the rest of our time on the “brass tacks” here. After all, I guess now you see it, the complex is well…really complex isn’t it? Oh, we know we need Jesus to help us do all this stuff, and we’ve got a couple of million sermons in our memory banks somewhere that tell us so with three main points on how to do it before Monday! But the fact is that in one sense, the more we make this task simplistic, the more we actually make it complex. And the more we make it utterly complex, not only do we exclude a lot of people, but also we neglect the simple in our own behalf to boot. And yet the truth is, that these things the Lord has laid out for us are indeed near us and not far off, and as the Lord has said, they are doable. In fact, the apostle Peter reminds us that,

 

 

[3] His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, [4] by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3,4 ESV)

 

It’s Doable, But…

 

So yea, we know that God is not lying here; it is doable, and there are a few saints in the history of the church to attest to that. But I think there is perhaps one thing we are missing which I hinted at last week but want to focus for a little bit more on today: Do you and I live and believe as if God himself is our life, and not the myriad of other things vying for God’s attention? Now I know in one sense that sounds a bit preachy, which is not my intention. What I want it to sound like is simply what it says, that God “is” actually our life! Just let that marinate for a second.

 

You see you and I, and understandably so, go about our lives thinking that it’s just the things we can see, feel and touch that are the bee’s knees in our lives. After all, we live in a materialistic, naturalistic universe that on the average day we believe is really all there is, to the negation of the spiritual realm that is actually even more real, but that we need a special compass to see with. Then for those of us who are barely taking a stab at this Christian thing, primarily because we’ve been told our whole life by Grandma that we should; we then pick up a Bible or a Christian book every now and again, or stumble in a place we call church on occasion, and this jolts us into some reality that this God sidebar is perhaps plausible. It is then very short-lived and easily forgotten; until perhaps we run into grandma again, or that weird Christian friend that walks around with that cheese-eating grin on their face all the time that says they are praying for you, and we think about it some more. We then shuck it off because we don’t want cheese like that on our face quite frankly because we know life is not that simple and “Easy, peaezy, Japanesy” (Shawshank), and the cycle continues every now and again, particularly as life hands lemons with no lemonade; or as old age is setting in with the reality of our finiteness to boot; or when someone we love dies; or when on any given day life just really sucks for whatever reason. Rinse and repeat.

 

Then there are the so called enlightened ones. They are those of us who claim we’re doing the deal man, hopefully without the cheese-eating grin I might add. Oh yeah, we are doing all the stuff God has told us to do, or at least trying really hard. We go to church most of the time, put the check in the plate, read the bible, pray, read all the Christians books, eat fried chicken on Sunday and check off the list. And yet, if we’re honest, like most of the aforementioned grandma Christians, we get an extra shot of lemons too, some people we love also dies, we start to age and no longer turn heads, and life starts to kind of suck on any given day, and guess what: we rinse and repeat too. And everyone is asking, and looking, and trying to find out if the real Christian will just please stand up so they can simply do what you do.

 

A Testimony

 

I went through the cycle myself. Some considered me a great preacher, a compassionate man, a “man of God” if you will, and someone that would perhaps do great things for God in the world of the church. But unlike the expectations that abounded in that anticipation from those who watched closely, they would soon be abated by a man that did not, and still has not in a large part found his sole answer in the four walls of a place we call church–nor among those who claim they have. Part of that reason was and is due to the institution itself, and part had to do with the man (me) himself. For I too, after striving and working so hard to keep my soul diligently; perhaps like you, realized that I too easily forget, am easily enamored by predictable fools gold, and continually allow other idols of the world and my own making to distract and ensnare me from the divine life that is promised. Perhaps the preacher man still has to do a little walking too.

 

And the longer I walk, I realize, that to keep one’s soul diligently, it requires paying close attention to one’s life; I mean really close attention. It also requires discipline of thought and action. It requires serious contemplation; reading the bible and great books; and prayer; and loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls and minds. And again the truth is, He asks for everything, because, well… He is everything. For from his dust you were formed, and from his dust you shall return. But after all, perhaps keeping one’s soul diligently means simply that the life that we think we currently have, are still striving for, or that we believe is constantly missing is not the crux of the answer to our problem after all–but rather that finding a way to make Him our life instead really is. And perhaps the conventional ways we thought would get us there are not getting us very close at all. Somehow, I think falling in love has to be the answer. After all, it always is.

 

Selah