How to Save a Life

An Encounter

 In one of those rare moments of late, this week I had the great privilege of witnessing humanity at it’s best at just about the time I had concluded western civilization’s (and more specifically America’s) fall into the abyss as an ever increasing and most imminent certainty. This series of episodic events over the course of the last few months started with my brief encounter with a homeless man whose morose and disheveled appearance struck me to the very core, much as the plight of the forgotten and dismissed in our society always has. Yet this man’s humble and yet acutely saturnine eyes began to tell me a story that I needed to hear for myself.

It started as an occasional dash to the golden arches on a Saturday or Sunday morning for a satiating sausage McGriddle for my wife and I after a weeklong observance of abstinence from life’s fonder pleasures. As I entered the drive-thru, I saw him out the corner of my eye, sitting there like someone uninvited yet nonetheless out front and center lingering abashedly for a few morsels from any rich man’s table. Then, as I ordered my food, I said to the drive-thru attendant, “make that a double order please”, as I then moseyed my way back around to roll down my window with his bag of food and drink with a simple “God Bless” as I then skirted by. This is of course something very easy to do, which at least bespeaks of a heart headed in the right place I suppose. However, it is as also an all too easy “pass” for most of us to skate by the obvious plank in our society’s eye that we like to pretend is simply not there while the time-release nature of our increasing desensitization capitulates once again. And then as I ride off into my middle-class coastal weekend of sunbathing, cold beer and a Sabbath observance and rest on Sunday, I begin to contemplate about what I have witnessed as I often do; and yet again to what the Lord himself would have me do about it.

After guilting myself about my own lack of response to simply open my doors to one such as he, I am quickly reminded of all of societies justifiable reasons one cannot open up his home with a wife and kids to a stranger of his kind. This of course is all quite evenhanded in both a protective and financial capacity; and yet at the same time a very clear watering down of a gospel that once upon a time was the church’s golden rule rather than a now more normal exception to it. And the thought occurred to me that it seems that it must take just about 2000 years or better to go from losing our lives to saving it again. And I’m also reminded very quickly why nothing much happens worthy of a powerful notation to a people who have somehow now lost their first love, and who have clearly forgotten that Babylon is not their home.

A History of College Tries

Nonetheless, on another note, I guess you could say I have been an advocate of the poor and downtrodden for most of my life, to at least give myself a grade on the curve. And throughout the course of my life, on any given day, our family was joined with weary life travelers who stopped in for a time of rest and a little helping hand. Of course I’d like to say that as a result of this ongoing practice I’d have an entourage of successful stories of how my rescue resulted in some “happily ever after” for those in my care. However, the truth is that most accepted my help, all the while rejecting my offer of the one who could really help them, and who then exited out my door to either an untimely death; a trek deeper into their favorite mire; or with a contumacious resolve to simply do it their way yet again. Perhaps the messenger was not as good as he should have been, or perhaps what I learned is that it’s mostly about our obedience to an open-handed life rather than the possession of a pragmatic catalog of “winning” at any heroic rescues to speak of which sell books and ushers one into some church hall of fame. Many who watched as result were sure that we were fools full of naiveté and grandiose ideas in trying to make this wretched world some better place, while others chilly obtuseness resigned them to a comfortable and lingering judgment of our endeavors, towering behind a infectious and rampant belief that “there but for the grace of God go I” applied to everyone but their miserable selves.

Yet even as a person with a track record of at least playing at “losing one’s life” for the sake of the gospel throughout the last 26 years of my life, I’ve gone through periodic bouts of joining the ranks of the naysayers, and then back again to someone who increasingly scratches his head as to why those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ have softened so much of the gospel’s loudest commandment’s around wealth and money to a very sanitized and distant undertone. And as I muse through these things, I make my way back through the drive-thru line again for a fast food fix; drop off another bag of goodies to my new and comfortably detached acquaintance; and off to my next first-world excursion.

And then the day came when I finally decided to engage him. I asked him about his story, and where he’d been in his life. He then proceeded to tell me as a man in his late fifties to early sixties about a family that had all now passed away, and about multiple heart surgeries that left him as someone with already limited skills incapable of full sustainment in this “swimming with the sharks” economy. In addition, he told me about countless tries to gain consistent employment yet continually being let go as a result of his obvious health liabilities to his employer. I then gave a feeble smile, told him I would be praying, and casually mentioned that I wanted people in the community to know about his plight. And then, like a well-intentioned do-gooder, I whisked away to yet another fantastic distraction until this week brought his memory again to my mind.

The Ray of Hope

 It seemed that someone posted something on our community Facebook site inquiring if anyone knew the story of this humble yet familiar untouchable of our seaside community. Then within moments, many began to chime in along with my wife and I about our individual interactions with him and the desire to help in some way. These comments continued amidst an occasional stone cast from Scrooge-like posts bidding us to in essence allow the decreasing of the surplus population to take its evolutionary course. All the while, one brave soul took it upon himself to start a “GoFundMe” page for our new nomadic friend. Within hours, a large sum of money was raised to help get a myriad of essentials this man would need to at least have a chance to breathe but for a moment. All the while, many more have pledged to give longer term support to a man who found himself caught up in a tailspin of life of which he had no ability to recover from. Many more have vowed to work with him to chip away at the barriers in his life preventing him from any type of hope or survival in this dog-eat-dog world of which we are all but a paycheck away from homelessness inside of ourselves. And I’ll have to say that this old dog has been given a new found faith in humanity this week, and with a new resolve to constantly be wiling to speak out and for the vulnerable of our world that the scriptures uniformly and exhaustively compel us towards. So I guess you could say that this week I learned firsthand again how you actually save a life; which most always comes by being wiling to lose some of it first of all.

A Plea to the Church Idea I Love

I’ve been an advocate for some time now of the church taking one homeless person, or family at a time, and to go beyond “feeding the homeless” to actually doing what I witnessed this week in “homing” the homeless; since that is clearly what they need. And as I say this, I know many individuals have actually done this, and many more have spawned organizations that do their best to take many off the streets who have no hope unless a truly good Samaritan should pass their way willing to stick it out over a much longer and messier haul. Yet the truth is, that most of us would not give to organizations that expend most of their resources to the machine itself, with very little left for the propagation of the gospel and to the poor Jesus said he came specifically for. And yet even as I say this, I know that the church has done more to alleviate the ills of society than any other organization known to man “hands down”. Yet somehow I believe that we have allowed the professionalization of the ministry and the needs of those within it’s comfortable and long-term ranks to supersede the needs of the one’s Jesus said were “the least of these”, and to whose humble care is sure and eternal criterion for sitting on his right hand. By choice, however painfully, I finally chose to be an unsuccessful minister in a system that many times fails to read the so obvious writing on the church wall in regards to this fly in its ointment. And to a system that actually once turned a watching world “upside down”. And yet even as I say this, I know that the hope of the world still remains with the church; or at least by those within her ranks. I only mean to say that this week, I learned how to save a life from the roadies and not the boys in the band.

 

Selah

 

 

Finishing Well Inside of a 50 Shades of Grey World

From Stalwart Allegiance to a Slip, Sliding Away

 It was 26 years ago, that at the age of 27, I finally fell down at my dining room table and conceded to the great hound of heaven. The one who had watched me run so long and so hard away from His loving arms till exhaustion finally took its inevitable toll. I had finally gotten “sick and tired of being sick and tired” as they say, and he knew it—and all I could do was say, “Here I am; please do something with this mess I’ve made of my life”.

You see though I grew up in the church and “gave my heart to Jesus” every other Sunday night; up until this point, something in that process had not yet “taken” shall we say.  For shortly after my commitment to forsake all for the cause of Christ, I was only a short mini-skirt or bong hit away from becoming a casualty in the spiritual war in the heavenlies. To be sure part of it was due to my family dysfunction, an additional portion was the rejection of an evangelicalism that I could not measure up to, and yet a vast percentage was simply due to two competing loves you might say. There was of course the love of the world I was caught up in that I could at least touch, taste and feel; and then there was the promise of a love and a home that was eternal, but yet somewhere beyond the horizon of my current ability to experience all that it had to offer. And to be sure, for most of us, this is indeed where the rubber meets the road.

Nonetheless, at the age of 27, the aspect of what it meant to hear the Lord say “Well done, thy good and faithful servant”, and this facet of what it means to truly “finish well” gave me new aspirations from which to strive and set my face like flint towards. And for quite awhile, even amidst many failures along the way to be sure, I felt that my roots started to go deep; and that a faithful tree with a promising future started to sink down by streams of water with some visible fruit for the world around me to pick from. Through a daily walk and later years of theological study, as well as a brief stint in pastoral church ministry; though difficult at times, the eternal love started to win the battle of my allegiance more times than not, and I was perhaps the happiest I had ever been.

Fast forward through my personal battle with what in my minds’ eye the church was becoming and heading towards, I eventually took a sabbatical that has lasted some 16 plus years now with perhaps no end in sight. During that time, I felt that I was still “walking the walk and talking the talk” for the most part. For instance, I was still a family man; I still read my Bible everyday and prayed; I gave to those in need around me to a bloody fault; and reasoned that for the most part, I was still on the straight and narrow path. During this time, I also shucked off most of the stifling restraints that evangelicalism sought to impose upon me to “not smoke, drink or chew and run with those who do”, and set out to explore what the church world outside of evangelicalism’s doors had to offer someone looking for a much deeper and vibrant faith–one capable of real answers to questions the church no longer seemed to even desire to answer. Yet though I had periods of great faith during this time; like the frog in the kettle, I too slowly had the “finishing well” cooked out of me, and much of who I had become looked an awful like the world I had told God so many years ago I would never fall in love with again. And as I looked around, I realized that the church had joined me in this great falling away. And it seems that now, this characteristic of “finishing well” has become at least “50 shades of grey.”

The World’s Definition

The world has its various ideas of what it means to finish well to be sure. Many believe that it has to do with dying with the most toys, which typically boils down to the acquiring of houses, cars, stocks and bonds; retirement by the sea, and a solid inheritance for our progeny as the epitome of a successful life. Others search for power, prestige and fame that equally come with spoils that can afford whatever the heart desires. Some seek to live on the edge, and get their kicks in jumping out of soaring planes, climbing the highest mountains or swimming on the ocean floor—or slowly but surely checking off a bucket list that defines and gives their life the greatest possible meaning.   Then there are others who look for various social-justice causes to give themselves to with a view to making a name for themselves as well; yet also no doubt in order to leave the world a little better than the way they found it. And it would seem that for others, to finish well apparently means to waste away in front of a television set until the undertaker finally pronounces us DEAD, whilst others don’t give it much thought at all it seems. But the crux of the matter is that most of us live by Paul’s nihilistic synopsis without something like the resurrection’s implications to really sink our teeth into: that of eating, drinking and being merry; since tomorrow we all die.

The Good and Faithful Servants of Yesteryear and Today

 I reminisced a bit lately about many who led the charge of bidding others and myself to the cause of Christ in my young tutelage. The sad state of affairs is that many of them too have become casualties of war, and are no longer finishing well or even on the path striving for it. They are spiritual MIA’s that no one can find remotely near the battlefield anymore, and who seem to be stoically pursuing it’s logical ends. Many also divorce pretty much the same as everyone else; watch the same movies as everyone else; look out for themselves pretty much like everybody else; and are doing their level best to pretend their former self was perhaps misguided or perhaps credulous. Let’s just say that there aren’t many heroes left from the good ole days anymore, and it doesn’t seem that new one’s are about to cause much of a fuss in this “50 shades of grey” world continually knocking just outside their front door.

Others caught up in the Fifty shades of the church’s “redefining” of what it actually means now to follow on the narrow path have surmised that it must mean merely “going to church” and dropping their weekly fire insure premium in the plate, while then scurrying off to continue to build their treasures and enjoy their pleasures right here; again, pretty much like everyone else. Christian Smith coined the dilemma among young people as a moralistic therapeutic deism, which resigns the Christian imperative to nothing more than being a good person; calling on God when one is in need; the pursuit of the betterment of oneself; and that all good boys and girls go to heaven when they die. My personal belief is that it is not just the young; but also that the old alike have now taken the ball and ran with it and made it a life science. Yet this description to me also amounts to a practical atheism among the frozen chosen who keep the external forms and trapping of their religion, while it’s real substance is discarded from their lives all together. It is in this present condition that we find ourselves, and perhaps I am also one of its imprisoned disciples. My only question is whether or not anyone else recognizes that the narrow path has now been redefined as the broader one, and whether or not we in the church are even letting the prospect interrupt our dinner plans.

What Does It Mean To Finish Well in a Fifty Shades of Grey World

 So what does it mean to finish well in a fifty shades of grey world? To be sure the devil is somehow mixed in with these details. What does it mean to walk the life of faith while the church and the world are at the same dinner party? For those who recognize the snake in the garden, perhaps it means sometime walking alone with God in the cool of the day. Perhaps it also means walking sometimes in a quiet sadness, not only at our own falling short of the high calling, but in the lack of finding real communal companions who increasingly also recognize we’ve drastically veered off of the narrow road that leads to life. I think it also means the willingness to become a little weird to those at the dinner party, and that perhaps our dance card is increasingly wide open. I believe it also means the embracing of what the scriptures call becoming “strangers and aliens” in a world that is most definitely not our home, and that we must learn daily to loosen the choke-hold it unremittingly has in our lives. I believe it also means the world’s grasp will not go quietly without much prayer and fasting, and that it will increasingly mean loving and being willing to lose to and in a world that will continually reject our walking to the beat of a different drum. It must also mean becoming people whose influence means more than words and repetitive bible studies, as important as they are, but that also comes with power to heal and to save, and that has the ability to transfer people from the darkness into his marvelous light, even as the lions lick their chops in a den somewhere still down the road that only the Father knows of.  And while the party guests scoff and ask “Where is the promise of his coming” since the world tick-tocks on as it always has, the disciple whom Jesus loved does not stutter as he reminds us what it means to truly finish well in a “50 shades of grey” world. He writes:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever”. (I John 2:15-17 ESV)

Selah

The Futile Search in Finding Christ’s One True Church

At the outset, let me say that I mean no disregard for the church or one’s individual slant of it in the above statement. And I certainly have the utmost respect for the rich panorama of diversity of thought and practice that makes up the Christian church for the last two millennia. And so when I say “the Christian church”, unlike some; but hopefully like a whole lot of others; I mean the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant expression–even with the checkered history all of them carry along as their preferred but often discounted baggage. I of course did not come to this supposition by upbringing or choice, but rather by dogged compulsion. The compulsion came from a lifetime of pouring through the texts of Holy Scripture, which attempt to speak for itself through the Spirit if we will but let them. Yet it also came from being a lifetime bibliophile that has wolfed down books from each side of the church isle, longing to hear some kernel of truth to help a poor beggar trying to find his way, ever searching for the crumbs around God’s vast church table. This has been for the purpose of mining the reservoir of particular richness that is the universal church, and to the otherwise exclusion that we would have all missed had we not settled down with our hearts, the Holy Spirit, and with our thinking caps, particularly in order to linger long and hard into what they had to show us should we care to give a little listen.

An Acquired Taste

This view has come from a church-school of hard knocks, and has carried a very high cost for me personally, as one who set out many years ago with a “calling” to “preach the gospel” in a setting that for me was the Protestant-Evangelical church. At the time, I had no idea how very much I would be the “square peg in the round hole” there, all the while struggling persistently to call it my home; even amidst sheep in wolves clothing who had no other intention than my demise and hopeful resolve to finally call it quits–or to simply sit down and shut up! And in the first chapter of that journey, the wolves had the sheep by one as I exited the “call” with a mound of school loan debt and a waning belief in a system that for me had far too many casualties than successes to increasingly speak of. And though my experience hemorrhaged out in everything that came forth from my lips and broken heart, not too awful many were listening; nor do they still at the time of this writing. And in fact, this snubbing of my damaged heart and prophetic desire to allow my life to be an open book everyone could read in regards to my reaction to my particular experience with the church was typically met with disdain, contempt, and a place on someone’s permanent “we’ll be praying for you” list, while equally waiting for me to eventually “see the light” and fall back in line. And though I never did, it wasn’t for the lack of umpteen years worth of a serious college try.

An Angry Lad

I’m sure part of the reason I was unsuccessful in making the trek back was because at first I was angry. Anger is hard to hide even when we speak with a s____ eating grin on our face. The Grinch towards church in us cannot be hidden behind it, and most can spot our “accident waiting to happen” in a few seconds flat. In fact, I can remember the time that a dear friend of mine had asked me whether or not I would like to help him start a church shortly after I had waived my white flag in my last pastorate, to which I simply replied, “If you want to see it fail miserably, then I’m your man”. Fortunately for me, this particular churchman and friend saw me for who I really was, and who imputed unto me what he alone could see, as he extended his graceful hand and listening ear with a continual push for me to give it another go and even share his pulpit. Perhaps he was on drugs, or perhaps he was the one light on a dark path the Father above allowed to remind me, that perhaps I still had something to say. And he was the someone who saved my life that dark night, and I thank God he had the discerning and sensitive eyes from which to see me with at that time.

Sad and Alone on the Journey

My anger eventually subsided and turned to one of sadness you might say. For one, I was sad for what I was now “relearning” again in the business world and in my travels, as I constantly met people who were enamored with the prospect of Jesus but no so much from the institution associated with his namesake. And although it is all too unsurprising now in its familiar sound to our ears, it is still increasingly #1 on the top 10 list of barriers to the gospel, and one that has caused me many a sleepless nights and a proverbial scratching of the head.

This sadness continued for quite some time in my life and I checked out for a time to lick the remainder of my wounds before this little engine that thought he could would get back into the church game. Yet I increasingly ran up against brick walls of all shapes, sizes and colors that I couldn’t get around, nor would it’s clerical cronies and guards allow me an alternate route. For while I thought these barriers were of my own making alone, yet as months turned into years with no end in sight, I began to realize that much of my struggle was an honest angst that I shared more with those on the outside looking in than those secure within the cozy womb of the institution of which they were apart. The sadness for me then easily mutated into aloneness, and both seemed to set up camp and stay for at least a month of Sundays.

This aloneness then led to a resolve to perhaps go solo this time around and break new ground. You see I increasingly struggled with the model of the church that I saw that seemed to expend most of it’s resources on itself and the professionals that would administer it; particularly when there was not much from a pragmatic standpoint to show for its efforts when all was said, and not much done. I peeked in, and besides looking at my own imperfect limp on the narrow path, I increasingly saw people take classes in evangelism, yet who still didn’t evangelize. I saw those who were commissioned to take up their cross and follow, but who preferred to simply wear them around their necks. And I increasingly witnessed a church that continually resorted to speaking a language to a postmodern world that no one even understood anymore, much less gave an honest listen to. And evidently, someone forgot to tell the church this was going on, as they stood continually stalwart and entrenched for battle against the very ones Jesus called us to eat, drink and die with and for. I waited and I waited, and then I decided to take the plunge in my own church planting effort, all the while fully expecting failure, due to the historic dark cloud of my former clergy existence.

Put Me In Coach

Yet deep inside of me, I long envisioned a church that might actually be both distinct, and yet at the same time attractive to people who were truly lost, and who occasionally peeked around the corner to listen and see if anyone could perhaps point the way forward. A year and a half later; after much prayer, tenuous effort, and thousands of dollars spent, I was unable to find those who were willing to be peculiar with me for a short time in order to see something so obviously true and right become a reality for those outside Christendom’s stained-glass door. I knew many were secretly hoping and patiently waiting for my failure, while a few really broken people who actually knew they were, longed to see something they too no longer believed in. And then one day, I decided to pull the plug. I tapped out again. Perhaps it was not the fish, but the fisherman with the problem. I could vaguely hear my mentors from afar assuring me of this all too predictable fish story.

A Recurring But Ever Evasive Dream

It’s been several years later now and I moved to an eastern shore to forget about it all for just a smidgeon, and find God somewhere in the crashing waves right down the street and inside my restless and wayward heart. I pretty much lost everything the world holds dear in this thing called life, partially by trying to serve up my family some version of an American Dream. But I mostly lost it due to the willingness to give whatever I had for a chance to see God show up to validate my tenured thesis, and who would perhaps once again “call” me to say “Thus saith the Lord” behind a sacred desk of a local church. So far the day has not yet come. Yet even through all the dangers, toils and snares I have already come from, trying desperately to fit in and be loved by the bride of Christ as she played hard to get, I too have many times left her at the altar for another time and place, or another bride altogether. All the while, the Lord has never let me shake the constant desire to see the bride become beautiful again, while longing for her to admit her ogre tendencies in the night. I have also never ceased wanting to bring my Shrek self along with her, knowing that somehow, someway, God needs me to bring my brokenness alongside to perhaps tease her hair and make here a little more desirable to the sinners in such desperate need of her loving touch and embrace.

Through some 16 years now since my exit stage left from the one thing I just knew was the reason I breathed for besides my wife and children, but that I ultimately walked away from, I have looked high and low for the one “true” church that I could finally call “home”. The one place where I would finally become one of it’s own, and yet still be an inquisitive gadfly in continual search of God’s whole truth and nothing but the truth. So far, those teasing wolves are now up by two.

A Quick and Fantastic Distraction

 I must say however that for a long time now the sacramental church of the Orthodox and Catholic variety has sure got my wandering eye. At times they sure are “smoking hot” compared to the anything goes, fly by the seat of your pants rock n roll shows of protestant-evangelicalism. For sure their mystical and ancient beauty has caught me looking hard and long a time or two. And yet, increasingly; as I watch each of these wonderful traditions not even begin to be able to (within themselves) “un-schism” what was once the one holy catholic church, and who swear by the necessity of uniformity and conformity of their own expression as being the “one true church”, I am increasingly left no longer holding my breath–nor desire to be left holding their bag. That is not to say they don’t shine a compelling light though, especially among a protestant-evangelicalism that seems always ready to take up occasional allegiance with the cultural Joneses, and still have no idea who they want to be when they grow up. And they are a light we still all need, but nonetheless one which is I’m afraid only a microcosm of the kaleidoscope of light that is “the church”, and one that God seems to use, even as we squabble amongst ourselves as to who actually has the damn keys! Perhaps we have forgotten that we still all ultimately see through the glass darkly, and when all is said and done, the church exists for others and not ourselves as to what really matters. Or perhaps we’re also too busy trying to be the victor in the fight, forgetting that our faith was founded by the one who willingly threw in the towel.

A Child in Search of…

At present I’m hanging out with a bunch of Calvinists these days, and they certainly have something as well to bring to the table. I’ve been attending quite regularly, and though I don’t put all my eggs in their basket either, I haven’t told them as of yet. Because for now, I’m too smitten yet again with the prospect of a beautiful bride that extends the invitation of a permanent “family” in the making, with a lifetime of loving commitment to lost souls just like myself, and to those outside looking for a place to belong and extra room at the family eucharist table. And though I have ended my search for the one true church, I must say, I have yet to cease longing for and belief in a place that I can call home. After all, isn’t everyone?

 

Selah

 

 

How to Build Bigger Barns, Look Out for Number One and Still Take Up Your Cross

The Dilemma

 For those of you who know me and the things I write about, you should immediately get the blatant irony and sardonicism in the above title. For those who don’t, let me spend a few extra minutes this week unpacking it for you. Drum roll please! I mean after all, my blog is called: The Narrow Path: The Daily Meanderings of a Cracked Up American Life Looking for the Jesus Missing in America. So immediately you are probably suspect given the title itself (a novel idea). But what I want to write about today is certainly some more of that, but particularly of how the Jesus I’ve been looking for is not only missing sometimes in me (crystal clear), but unfortunately, how He is missing in most of the people I bump into who eagerly and persistently claim His name, and who propose they are at least attempting this narrow path thing. And I mean this unambiguously as it regards our predisposition towards greed as our favorite doctrine (why capitalism works), that is pretty much lock, stock and barrel a carbon copy of every other Tom, Dick and Harry pagan we claim are devoid of the truth we hold so dear; or at least we have a bumper sticker or a t-shirt that says we do. The paradox in all of this is that we float along every day of our lives from one church meeting and bible study to the next, knowing the obvious and redundant sarcasm of the above statement, yet we have somehow watered down Jesus’ message so much so that the American Dream and the narrow path almost sound the same to our itching ears; even though they are very strange and polar opposite bedfellows indeed.

Building Bigger Barns and Eternal Life

But let me outline the problem for us a little bit for those who like me, claim allegiance to the man from Galilee. For instance, in one particular parable entitled The Parable of the Rich Fool, we are introduced to a man who has done pretty darn well for himself. He’s a businessman extraordinaire. No harm, no foul. But before we get to the crux of the parable, a question from someone in the crowd is posed to Jesus about helping him figure out how to get his greedy brother to divide his inheritance with him. Now right there, you and I know we have a serious problem. First of all, we don’t know “Jack” about this guy; like whether or not the inheritance in question is rightfully his, or any of the other myriad of issues around that which makes splitting money with family members after a death in the family akin to wrestling with demons who have names like brother, sister and Aunt Linda Lou (fill in the blank). Secondly, I’m sure Jesus is smart enough to know that getting involved in family business as an outsider is also risky business. Perhaps we see this, as well as Jesus moving away from being merely a Biblicist with a specific chapter and verse for every problem under the sun where he says,

“Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”

Instead, Jesus uses this interaction to speak about a much greater issue, that quite frankly, he speaks about ad nauseam throughout the gospels and the whole of scripture, and that most would have to poke both of their eyes out, or simply not read it (a blog for another time) to not see it. The text reads:

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:14-15 ESV).

Also, words such as “taking care” and “being on your guard” against a thing called “covetousness” in our lives should sound like a megaphone within us and remind us that as humans caught up in the race for whomever has the most toys wins mindset, we must constantly be aware of the power that either the acquisition or preservation of money has upon us. Like the shiny ring that has Gollum in daily torment and as mere milquetoast to its illustrious power, the love of money has the ability to produce the greatest of evils and distractions warring against the quest for the divine life we mostly give lip service to. And admittedly, in the words of the late Rich Mullins, It’s Hard to Be Like Jesus. But Jesus seems pretty clear here that our life does not (even though everything we see around us says differently) consist of, or is not complete or totally fulfilling or “abundant” in the mere consumption and stockpiling of things. Of course as I say that, we all know that we need “things” in order to live, although I’m equally sure as perceptive beings we would also equally know that the defining of the things we actually need is the real crux of the matter, and thus requires a lot of “taking care” and “being on guard” about since the devil is always at the door.

But of course Jesus doesn’t just say it here. In fact, we see it resounded in the story of the Rich Young Ruler, where even though we have danced around the demands or implications of this passage as not really applying to us, Jesus’ educational lesson for the day for the distressed man in search of eternal life he assumes he already has dibs on, is that he give up everything that he has, give it to the poor, and then follow him on the narrow path. The text then tells us that,

“when the young man heard this, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matt. 19:2)

And it now that you hear the mic drop! And It’s almost as if we are back in the same parable of the Rich Fool with a twist now, yet with even more clarity to the rich, young ruler; to the rich fool; and to us in America; who like it or not, share in their bewilderment like a deer in the headlights in the extraction of what Jesus is truly saying to us here. We surmise, I thought we were supposed to save our life instead of lose it. Oh, wait a minute; perhaps it’s the other way around. Ok, I’m confused. Can I get a hug? Could it be that it is plain as the nose on our face? Oh I know, I know. We have all kinds of legitimate rebuttals to the demands or application to us, in that after all, everybody knows we have to build a retirement; it takes a ton to “make it” in this world; the baby needs a new pair of shoes, and “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” kind of stuff. And I truly get it, painfully so. However, Jesus doesn’t mix words here, and he doesn’t stutter when he reminds us:

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 19:24 ESV)

I think a further explanation of what he means is explained where he says in Matthews’ gospel that:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matt. 6:24 ESV)

Eureka!

Money as a God

Now we see the real problem here starting to surface, and it is this: Money functions very much like a god and in fact is god-like in that it gives us the ability to do amazing things that we couldn’t otherwise do without it. The Fab Four also said it can’t buy you love, but there are a lot of butt-ugly hombres with tons of money that would beg to differ! And after all, the juxtaposition is that the pursuit of Christ is about abundant life here, but the real payoff is in another one. Dissimilarly, the pursuit of money is all about life here and now.  And I’d be the first to admit that we do need some of it in the hear and now, and increasingly more of it, because we are constantly “another day older and deeper in debt” simply trying to keep the lights on, put food on the table, and find some personal tranquility and enjoyment this side of heaven in world gone buck-ass crazy! Calgon, take me away! Calgon for dudes of course.

And of course now the quest for things keeps growing exponentially over the years. It now includes internet for our homes; unlimited data for our multi-phone plans; security systems; surround sound; dance lessons; football cleats and season tickets; investments; multiple streams of income; yearly vacations, and weekends spent on pleasure and entertainment that truly knows no bounds. And if we have enough left over, we might throw a dog, or a church, or a charity a bone or two. After all, this is beneficial once the tax man cometh! But of course also, we end up finding out that the chasing after this so called “dream” is an insatiable, never-ending story and expedition; and simply never, ever enough. Like the gangsta-rich John D. Rockefeller, who was asked how much money it would take to make him happy, to which he said, “Just a little bit more”, it sounds very much like Jesus is right. Life really does not consist in building bigger barns and having abundant possessions, for the simple reason that it ends up consuming us like it’s pawn in an endeavor that is never achieved, and that really doesn’t deliver the goods in order to find the rest for the restlessness deep inside of us. We are searching, but not finding in this lonely game we play. And like the foolish quest for bigger and bigger barns in the parable, we wake up and find we never really lived; and in the end, our life is finally required of us. Is this not the quandary of fools if Jesus words are the way, the truth and the real life?  Do we believe it anymore?

Again, the apostle Peter writes,

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of lifeis not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (I John 2:16-17 ESV)

And isn’t this pride of life tangled up in the web of the love of money that contributes to our nose stuck up in the air towards the “have-nots” to which most of us “know not” anything about, where Paul writes, and your grandmother repeated it,

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs”. (I Timothy 6:10 ESV)

And again, from the writer of Hebrews we are told,

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have… “

(Hebrews 13:5a ESV)

Christian Compartmentalism

So the question for us is this: Are we as Christians not consumed the same as everyone else with the love of money over and above Jesus commission to have it lose it’s luster and grip in our lives in some notable fashion? Have we had compartmentalization Christianity so woven into the fabric of our feeble faith in the American church now to the point that our business life, and the life of me and my things is so detached from our life on the narrow path that the world rightly questions what our true allegiances are?

As a person who has studied the scriptures in both an academic, personal and vocational setting together for the last 26 years of my life, I have searched high and low and cannot come up with any possible way of sidestepping the fact that we are to live “openhanded” towards our brothers and sisters and those outside the faith, even at the expense of our comfortable retirement, as well as to bring the news of grace to every tribe, tongue and nation with good news and good works as the very quintessence of who we as a people are to be. And if this is so, why are we so caught up in the “pomp and circumstance” of church gatherings and so much less in the nitty-gritty of the world right outside our door begging for our change? Do we even know what it’s like (Everlast)? For goodness sakes, we have churches that span city-blocks on every corner, and yet the widow and fatherless, and the poor and needy; like Jesus, can’t find a room in our mega-church inn’s. As a result, the so-called discipleship product of people we are spitting out our church mills have bought in to the overconsumption model we’ve been selling “hook, line and sinker”, and most I encounter still look out relentlessly for # 1 at all costs, and who also have very little left for the vulnerable that got caught up in a social-Darwinian nightmare that has left them finally “high and dry”.  It is indeed the road less traveled; and the world looks, yawns, and then says, its “much ado about nothing” as I supposed.

Of course we’ve looked at a few verses today to try and prove a point, but I have found that most Christian people seem to like other verses better than these I’ve outlined briefly here today. For instance, we like the parable of the shrewd businessman, the book of Proverbs is our true gospel, and we’re very keen on the parable of the talents. In fact, the only other verse beyond John 3:16 we can quote is “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. (II Thes. 3:10 ESV)  Ah, the Holy Grail! And though context should always be king, and the whole of scripture should speak over isolated verses; nonethless, like the candy man, we can mix them all together and make it all sound good, plausible and of course good for the self-centered palate. Oh to be sure the scriptures are not against wealth, and God calls many to excel in business; but the overarching message of the body of scriptures unanimously teaches that we are blessed in order to be a blessing. And like Spiderman’s Uncle reminds him in the movie starring Toby McGuire of some years back, “With great power comes great responsibility”.  And Paul gives us a good idea of what that responsibility might entail for those who have the great privilege of wealth God gives them the power to make where he writes,

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, [19] thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (I Timothy 6:17-19 ESV)

So evidently, life is not about bigger barns yall. This is no doubt something that the rich fool did not consider. The rich young ruler then considered it and found it wanting apparently. And for the rest of us, perhaps we feel that it simply does not apply so we lay our Hall Pass down! Meanwhile, in case you were wondering, until we do apply it, no one is really listening to our endless and all too predictable yapping. In fact, it’s rather kind like an annoying dripping faucet. Everyone can hear it, but no one can turn it off!

Selah

An Afterword for your further Contemplation:

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?  Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose,a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness,to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 58 ESV)   

 

 

 

 

Jesus Freaks

I grew up in the zenith of the Jesus movement. In the blink of an eye, getting “saved” or “born again” became as cool as sex, drugs and rock n roll; at least in my neck of the woods–and we had Jimmy Carter and Chuck Colson to thank as well for that. Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Keith Green and the Second Chapter of Acts were crooning once die-hard rockers and hippies into becoming Jesus freaks, and the world put down their peace pipe and protests for a millisecond and stood up and paid us some serious attention. And then we got Bob Dylan. Whoa! We just knew everyone would take up ranks with us after that. Billy Graham was of course hotter than ever, and a plethora of parachurch organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ were swooning young people from everywhere. As a result, new denominations such as Calvary Chapel and Vineyard became the new instrumental leaders in helping all the tie-dyed, bellbottom hip-huggers grow up in Christ.

 

The church I grew up in was influenced very much by this movement, with less of the Pentecostal slant. My own father was a lay preacher of sorts, and had his hand and heart in just about everything that was going on both inside and outside the church. I can remember tagging along on many such meetings, as we would pick up strange hitchhikers on the way. And though it was scary at times, there was a draw that was almost magnet-like from that movement that has kept me feebly following the Lord Jesus ever since. For the first time, they made me want to put my lot in with them and give it all away no matter what, and go to the “foreign” field. However, at the time, I was a day late and a dollar short, because well…I started to like sex, drugs and rock n roll too–and my weaning would take much longer than I desired or expected.

 

Our church had its problems like any church, but it was vibrant. Pastor Bob brought the word like a “big dog “every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday; and you can bet your bottom dollar my parents had me there at all such occasion’s front and center, even when many times force was absolutely necessary. And when our Pastor wasn’t preaching, Sunday nights were filled with prophecy conferences and Hal Lindsay and The Late Great Planet Earth came second only to the Bible itself. And one was sure to have both in hand and ready, as Jesus would for sure return at any given moment. And of course to court the young people, we went to the Jesus concerts and went through our own list of sexy youth pastors with designer jeans who would woo the girls, who would then of course woo the guys, and so on. Let’s just say I was at least caught up in the lot of Jesus freaks, back when to be a Jesus freak was indeed very cool, and to get high on Jesus and follow Him with reckless abandon was for the first time since Constantine vogue once again!

 

Now back to the future. Many have chimed in on some flaws of the Jesus movement, such as a flawed eschatology and a new form of Pentecostal fundamentalism that had it’s extremes to be sure; though it’s revivalist contribution that drew people to the Savior has perhaps still been left unexplained fully both here in America, and across the world.   In many ways I would go back to those days, and in many others, I would avoid it like a root canal. But one thing that I feel confident we could use again is a comfort in being strangers and aliens again in a world we have become now far too much in love with. Perhaps longhaired Jesus people aren’t the rave anymore, but I feel confident that the willingness to be comfortable letting our Christian freak flag fly should be. And though it would go well beyond the purpose and time constraint for this blog to even make a feeble attempt to explain just how we have devolved since then, several things come to mind which have caused my own share of tears and lament as of late.

 

First of all, the sell out to the god of materialism isn’t even arguable, even to many of those submissively caught up in its web. Christians who once took the commission to sell everything they had and follow the Lord on the narrow path have now watered it’s difficult message down with admonition to give mere tips to church (should they decide to go or become), a blind-eye to rampant poverty now on our doorsteps in any given town (we keep our pocket change and a few George Washington’s in case they get to close with their sign), and the mission of the church to take the gospel to every tribe, tongue and nation is sitting on the backburner and the back row with the Baptists. Perhaps we’ll get to it one day once we get enough programs for those of us who have been sitting on the pews for eons and should know better. 90% of the tips that come in the mega church doors go to ensure we have a motivational speaker, a kicking worship band and plenty of goodies for the kiddos in order to ensure we have the best Jesus gig in town on any given Sunday. As a result, very little is left for the things that matter such as the plight of the poor and the sending out of feet who bring good news. And to be sure, the culture is going “to Hell in a hand basket”, but perhaps we have bought their ticket trying to be relevant while all along they were looking for us to be distinct and even strange in a world that no longer has any truth to sink their teeth into. As a result, they are still asking in Pilate-like fashion, “What is truth”, while we supposedly have dibs with the Master himself. We’ve woken up to realize we’ve been asleep at the wheel all along.

 

Secondly, self-fulfillment rules the day among those of us who grew up and out of being Jesus freaks, and like the rest of the world, our week is filled with longing for the freakin weekend full of concerts, dinner and a movie, and a cold beer in the sand wasting away again in our own secluded Margaritaville, while the casualties of this spiritual war in the heavenlies lie all around us as we’re just too busy being comfortably numb. I too have been caught up in it’s subtle grasp, yet my memory of once being a Jesus freak myself causes me to fight my way out from time to time, only to later slip back into a post Jesus freak coma of regretful forgetfulness.

 

And it seems that now we want a good life that keeps being qualified and quantified above our last debt ceiling, and we now need to throw in the same for our pets as well. Somehow, I woke up from the Jesus movement and dogs now really do have their day. The bible indeed encourages us to give care to our animals, but by the looks of things, they have become more important than our children and people in general. And if we looked at our checkbooks with keen analysis, for sure we’d come away with a surety of where our treasures really lie. The Jesus freaks apparently took the call of Jesus rather seriously. Today, methinks not so much. Following Jesus has never become so easy and equally tried and left wanting.

 

And Thirdly and lastly, I think this bleeds into what Ted Dekker has called The Slumber of Christianity, whereby the quest to live forever has become the Holy grail rather than the longing for our eternal home that causes us to instead always live like we are leaving at any moment. What amazes me the most is that this call from Jesus and the apostles own lips has become almost foreign to our ears. Perhaps since the natural man cannot receive spiritual things because they are folly to him, we have answered our own question as to why this no longer causes us to grapple with the difficult commands of Jesus on what he called a “narrow” path that few would find. I guess broad paths are indeed sexier.

 

And in the end, one would think that we would have gotten more fulfilled by now, with all the time and money we spend on the pursuit to achieve our happiness. Yet if the evening news is not always “fake news”, perhaps the answer is plain as the nose on our face, but our mirrors have gotten awfully foggy or the chemicals from our meds have finally kicked in. As a result, we are more restless now than ever as those who claim to have the truth right along side our lost neighbors and friends, and so we have no abundant life to offer them, so they no longer pay attention; and so we scratch our heads in church planning meetings and wonder why lost people are still…lost.

 

Perhaps the answer to our problem is found here:

 

What will people think

When they hear that I’m a Jesus freak

What will people do when they find that it’s true

I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus freak

There ain’t no disguising the truth

 

–DC Talk

 

My prayer is that we would stop caring a whole lot more. In fact, I think it’s time to get our Jesus freak back on again!

 

Selah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Family Ties Don’t Necessarily Bind

To say I’ve been a little lost since I last spoke to you wouldn’t be an understatement. Perhaps it’s been less depression this time around, and more of an uninspired lost-ness as it relates to the practice of writing something that someone who aspires to be a writer is actually compelled to write, and of course something that has the potential to lift up those who read it. This of course is the plague that all would be writers’ experience, and there are probably more books on attempting to get rid of “writer’s block” than perhaps the craft of writing itself. In addition, every writer knows that no matter how you overcome it, the real daily task is to sit down and just simply write—something I am still struggling to break through in a much more consistent fashion. But now on to the task at hand.

 

I’ve had it in my heart to write a little something about family for some time now, yet for some reason I have avoided it much like a man purposely evades doctor appointments. I guess it’s because I know, and so do you, that though the word family can evoke some of the greatest emotions and happy thoughts, it is also the cause of some of the most gut wrenching pain that this life can dish out—and sometimes mercilessly so.

 

Now I understand that for some of the lucky few, mostly the happy thoughts I spoke of, as wells as concepts of things like “home” and “warmth” and “peace” and “tranquility” are the feelings that come to mind; and for good reason. For instance, if you have been privileged as my wife and I have to actually put a lot of thought and focus into building a family like that as a result of our own childhoods’ lack of familial bliss, even if you’ve been successful at nothing more, these are sensations that should be hopefully normative. Having said that however, I also realize that we’ve had our share of failures in that purposeful endeavor, and that if we live long enough; both history, our own sanctification process, and perhaps our own children are bound to let us know where we too have erred.

 

Others however know nothing of this experience of which I speak from their own background as a child, and as a result, the sins of the fathers and mothers procreates on through them in such a predictable fashion that Hollywood makes billions of dollars each year showcasing its sadness for our viewing pleasure. Abysmal dysfunctionality is the norm, and one would have to channel surf until the cows came home to find it’s corrective opposite. And so ultimately people find themselves on one of two sides of the equation; or perhaps like me, they find themselves somewhere a shot or two shy of the middle. The miracle of it all is that in spite of my own dysfunctional familial background, through God’s grace, I have been privileged to have a very wise and patient God give me some insight on how to “undo” some of the curse of families like my own from Cain onward, and alongside a loving wife with the same vision for saying “no” to the worlds terrible example of how to do so. It’s also the same emphatic “no” to many “family worshipers” who put family above all else with the accompanying guilt-mongering and “my kid is an honor student and yours isn’t” that goes with it; and to the exclusion of the loving compulsion Christ bids us to embark on for others outside of our families, which sadly also includes most Christians. And it is also a final “no” the incessant deification of the self that causes both rich and poor mothers and fathers alike to take a back seat on child rearing all together, and who gladly surrender them to educational institutions, social media and Tinseltown, who have been more than happy to take up the task for them. The results in my humble opinion rival sins equivalent to the holocaust, in that resultantly, we are slowly killing them in ways some of them don’t even uncover until much later in life. The body bags for now are slightly hidden or perhaps tucked away in prison cells, failed marriages and Xanax bottles, but they could fill up a Normandy-like battlefield in no time flat.

 

Jesus and the apostles of course had some things to say about family, mostly none of which we actually remember I’m guessing by what’s blowing in the wind these days. They mentioned things like the particulars of the sexes and roles within that make up an actual family, and the fact that “putting it asunder” was not in the original design despite our whimsical wishes, and how we are to train our little rug-rats in the way they should go–all the while not exasperating them in the process. And of course they said a whole lot about that thing called graceful love being permeated throughout and thus characteristic of those families that the world I’m afraid is still waiting in an endless line to see.

 

Yet we are also taught another side to family from the scriptures that we also forget that should be good news for those somewhere in the middle or on the lower spectrum of experiencing what this kind of family can be like. In fact, on one particular day Peter himself said these words to the Master. He said:

See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:28-30)

As I read that passage, and as I have studied others and read countless books about the concept of family as it relates to the Christian’s task in it, I realized that there is often a time on the narrow path where one is called upon to sometimes “leave” family and friends to answer this call to a higher love. Though many Christian parents understand this conceptually, most recoil at the prospect once they are faced with letting one go to in fact embark upon it. Jesus’s promise however is that by following Him we also take up another family (the universal-organic church) that will give us more brothers and sisters and Moms and Dads than we can shake a stick at (a blog for another time). This is of course is really good news to those who accept the call, but equally good news to those of us who never knew what family was like until we step into God’s much bigger, much more loving and inclusive family. In fact I can remember time and time again reminding my sons that no matter what the world would dish out during the day, that once they stepped into the threshold of our home, it was to be a place of sanctuary and peace, and where absolutely everyone belongs. There were of course times when the devil would attempt to have his day, but we all became trained exorcists with stock piles of holy water, who each knew exactly when it was time to cast the demon out of our loving, yet imperfect home–and we did so expeditiously.

 

The scriptures as a whole also teach us that when our biological families and friends become more of a curse than a blessing, or who become cancer-like in their toxicity to our own families that we are now trying to raise, despite the admonition to still honor them rightly defined, there are times when those ties must be somewhat loosened, and thus given less prominence in comparison to our own call on the narrow path, and to which many times are in stark competition with one another. Something about “leaving” and “cleaving” also come to mind. Nonetheless, this however is a “tough row to hoe” when it happens; as the demons of guilt, manipulation, sibling rivalry, family money and power, and self-projected allegiances are asserted as nothing shy of how God himself would have it. The painful betwixt and between many times are enough to become a “no win” scenario that requires a partial divorce of sorts that pours time-release salt into an almost endless wound. And as I’ve been know to say time and time again, “there’s nothing like frickin family”, and often times they are the ones who run the damn salt factory!

 

This reminds me of the admonition from the apostle Paul on how to live Christianly in our relationships in the tail end of Romans chapter 12 where he writes,

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all”. (Romans 12:18)

In my own experience with family relationships, I have found that most specifically here, many times the possibility of peace becomes an impossibility for those who simply will not allow the peace of Christ to pour on the healing oil and let go of the gripping hold they have on various family members, and their hold of choice is not sticks and stones regrettably, but the venomous words that indeed always hurt us. This scripture tells me that we must let go and forgive, but this does not always mean our bestowal of peace will be reciprocated, especially if it comes with a heavy dose of speaking the truth in love towards those who’ve been used to their job as a Geppetto-like puppet master over our lives. But our Lord has not mixed words here. He will have no other Gods before Him, and unbeknownst to some, this includes the ties that were initially designed to bind. And the truth is, sometimes God is all we’ve got while we wait for our families to take up the task of peacemaking with us, confession is made, and the relinquishing once and for all of their power-wielding sword is finally put in it’s sheath–but we mustn’t hold our breath. However, we must realize that even as we wait, the one who holds your hand will always most definitely be enough, and He is a good, good Father.

 

Selah

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