From as long as I can remember I have been a devoted student of the holy scriptures and have been at least a half-hearted enthusiast of the church once formed from its vast body of work. In fact, even as a child I knew instinctively that there was something about this book that was both unique and even supernatural, more so than anything else I had ever encountered. And to this day, I am still keenly in agreement with the world in which we live that it so accurately explains, and even more doggedly so with the one it promises for those who with faith and hope long for all the sons of God to finally be revealed; even as we groan inwardly with its persistent delay. And though I have ventured off a time or two trying to find my own way in this world gone terribly awry, the door to the way of the master has always been open, beaming with its most glorious light. One that is always calling me back to the stark realization that without this holy and mysterious story, we are truly nothing more than dust in the wind as some prophetic boys from Kansas once reminded us.
Our Naïve Entrance Exam
It was some 31 years ago now, though being raised “in the church”, that I relinquished my teenage and early twenties rebellion from what all this story demanded from me and gladly wedded myself to it, vows, and all. My wife and I embraced it together. We sought to raise our kids under its timeless tutelage. And for quite some time, we even devoted ourselves to imagining what the church could be as those who felt, though perhaps naively, to lead it in that same direction.
To be sure a lot has changed since that 27-year-old whippersnapper knelt at the kitchen table asking God to do whatever he had to do to turn my life permanently in His direction. And as I write down these words, the thought occurs to me that though I am still here limping along on His narrow path, I never fully understood that what got me into the fold of Christ, could not possibly keep me here. And even more so, how my lop-sided eschatological hopefulness would often detour me from my original understanding of a world that delivers far more thorns and thistles than we would care to admit. Oftentimes, even with our best foot forward on a road paved with nothing but good intentions.
To this day, I am currently no longer a leader in Christ’s church, nor presently seeking to fill any of its current vacancies. For now, at 58-years of age, I’ve tried much too hard and long to fit in to its holy club(s), which has left me tired and much more in need of a long nap than anything else. And though I still believe in the church idea and the community it claims to offer, I have grown increasingly suspicious that either of the three branches of Christendom at present can teach it well, at least under its current leadership forever in love with the current zeitgeist more so than its Lord. And to be truthful, in a country whose people carry a ready middle finger to any establishment claims, the temptation to simply resort to two or three gathered in his name sitting around a living room table comes with its own cautionary note. Trust me, I get it. And yet, I still hope those branches of the church I speak of can somehow metamorphosize. To somehow be the beautiful church butterfly it once was and can be again. I do indeed long for it. I pray about it often. While I also bemoan my periodic contribution to its lack of influence. I search and I seek for any word I may have missed. And I often wonder if perhaps God will still yet take this unlikely renegade and use him somehow in its needed rebirth.
The Senior Class
Yet not to get sidetracked here. When I say that what got us here (into the Christian faith) won’t keep us here, I simply mean that following Jesus is a full contact sport. And to stay on the path of Jesus while a myriad of worldly swamp creatures await their time to gobble us up, will take all the fighting gear you can muster up! And we will indeed be forced to watch endless casualties along the stick-to-itiveness path by those we love, that throughout our pilgrimage here will also begin to test us at the very core of the faith we have long professed.
And then, here’s a newsflash. As we grow older, life gets harder. Eureka! Can I get an amen up in here? And as life inevitably does this, we are much more aware of our innumerable frailties that we once thought were foreign to us. And yet is also here that we find they are most definitely not.
In short. The routine of life bears down on you. And in this US of A, if you have not been strong, industrious, damn lucky, and resilient enough to accumulate some manner of wealth, this reality becomes exponentially greater. And if so, you can tend to look as if you have a plague that others can catch, which also explains the dwindling down of your once “so-called” friends list.
And of course, the questions of life also linger. Questions of worldly regret such as “What if I coulda, shoulda, woulda” all too often become the devil’s continuous elevator muzak awakening you in the night as to the hopelessness of any noble cause you may still aspire to have. Bear in mind that these periodic refrains also have a day shift, and nothing but prayer; good friends; feebly standing on God’s remaining promises; and a cold craft beer (or two) can get you back to the next dreaded recycle!
Yet another difficulty in navigating on the path as we age comes when the children we raise, as wonderful as they are, make their own way in the world. A way that can come with an outright rejection of the values you once taught, and a growing temptation to comply to the spirit of the age you find in them, in order to somehow make peace and to “go along to get along” in their brave new world that aggressively cancels those who do not. In addition, the relative soup being dished out free of charge in endless sound bites from pixels of all shapes and sizes can sift even the best of us like wheat. Peter’s own denial is instructive here. And it is also here that we look around and see once stalwart people of faith no longer believing in anything anymore, all with a straight face and the projection of some newfound spiritual nirvana in the aftermath. And if we are not paying attention, their supposed freedom and spiritual rebirth can beckon us to follow suit.
The church can do it to you as well if we’re not careful. In fact, we can become a cynic to the point that we discount its ability to any longer guide us in a sure-footed way. Trust me I know. And before long we no longer risk the messiness that is the American church because afternoons at the beach seems a much safer and more peaceful prospect. As a result, we become lone-ranger Christians with nothing more than an ax to grind, devoid of any purposeful salve to the church’s gaping wounds it sometimes faithfully ignores. Of course, afterwards, the only path left for us is to drift along aimlessly on a horse with no name, full of sound and fury yet signifying absolutely nothing. But I digress.
The Way Forward
So, what are we to do with this conundrum we face? That’s a good question methinks. And in one sense, I guess you could say that I don’t know, since I haven’t yet reached the proverbial finished line. Yet there are a few final scoobie snacks I can offer up.
One such morsel is somewhat oversimplistic, yet equally true. We must hold on to Jesus for dear life! With a freaking vice grip in fact! We must reject everything that exalts itself above, and in replacement of the knowledge of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4). And, as far as I can tell, we must sever all ties like a boss with that which deviates us from this painstakingly purposeful exercise. These two alone will take everything we’ve got. So, linger long here, and act right now.
There is another hint though. Paul reminds us in Colossians, writing to the believers in that region that “all” the wisdom and knowledge to be had in this world is found in Christ. Read that again and again. He then warnsthe believers that our culture’s plausible arguments that come through philosophy, empty deceit and according to human traditions of men, must indeed be quickly sifted through, taken for the minority report they offer, and then outright rejected as a substitute for getting us to that same finished line.
And then, through Paul’s utter brilliance in this letter, he gives us the most simplistic answer for getting there that often escapes us by order of its sheer elementality, where he tells us, wait for it: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in him, established in the faith, just as you were taught” (Col. 2:6,7).
So, there it is folks. As you received, so walk.
So the entrance to Christ is through faith, and guess what? The walk-through faith as we age is a constant rinse and repeat of the same. From faith to faith.
In essence, what got us here won’t keep us in the sense that as we enter, we are not full prepared for what the childlike entrance couldn’t fully show us. We will be tested on every front. We will be tempted to abandon ship. We will encounter the silent God, the playing hard-to-get God, and simultaneously; we will encounter the God who is so ever near to us, if we will hang on for dear life!
So then, stay thirsty for Him my friends!