When America Ceases to be Good

There is an oft repeated quote attributed to Alex De Touqeville, a French historian who wrote Democracy in America in the early 1800’s. The quote says that “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great”. Of course this is where the water gets muddied as fact checkers say they can’t find it anywhere in his writings, and that this is in fact attributed to someone else, and so on and so forth. In other words, the rabbit trail of originality doesn’t seem to have an end in sight. Some argue instead that this attributed quote surmises what De Touqeville said throughout his writings more broadly, and others say it was something altogether different. Irregardless, it doesn’t seem that he actually said it. However, for the purpose of our time together today, lets propose that some frickin-body did say it, or better yet; we can we at least assert that many of us indeed believe it to be true down deep into the very “American Exceptionalism” of our heart of hearts.

Norman Rockwell Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

For the record, I think that we can say there is much to be said about conjecturing about such national sentiment, and the truth about whether or not we are good or ever were. Nonetheless, at least most of us boomers and beyond still passionately believe and remember a time when a Norman Rockwell painting showing the innate goodness of American life was something “not too far a stretch” from one’s actual experience. Many of us in fact remember days when doors were not locked at night and the evening meal could oft be interrupted by caring neighbors who just happened to “stop by” to visit and then graciously received to an open table. It was a time when if you acted up at your neighbor’s house, it was quite possible to get your ass whooped partially there just to warm you up until your father got home, who would then take the whooping to much greater heights. It was a time when traditional families were the ideal to strive for in life, and you could walk down the street with your best girl without “cat calls” by other men. A time when if you backed up out of a parking lot, the person coming behind you waited until you finished and then continued their course. Or when going through an intersection before a light turned yellow was not accompanied by someone else rushing through almost as if trying to hit you before you got through. Somehow ensuring that they would not only teach you a thing or two, but somehow equally justified in your pre-meditated murder should both work out in their favor! A time when Barney Fife and Andy smoking a cigarette on the front porch was about the most risqué thing on television, and the thought of a singer being sodomized by the devil himself for a gullible public’s viewing pleasure would have been a sure sign of the apocalypse before the morning light. So then, if you don’t indulge me in the assertion that the statement “America is good” was written by De Touqeville, or you’re of the contention that America’s goodness wasn’t in fact true. Perhaps one could at least admit that the pondering of a nostalgic yesteryear I have just put before you is now about as out of place as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris showing up at your church for an evangelical Wednesday night prayer service!

The New Morality

Having now explained a little about where I’m heading here, let me just say that regardless of where you stand on the matter (if one is paying attention at all) we now know that there has been a steady escalation in the last 60 years of a national departure of any innate moral goodness that was once interwoven into the fabric of our nation.  For what we now have is a large population of our country assured that the disruption of that fabric in the name of diversity and inclusion should be torn at the very seams and burned to the ground.  And to add to that observation, those who call for this do so under the guise of a “new morality” that some of us used to know as “calling the evil good and the good evil”.  For the new morality is no morality at all, but a slow burn of finally imagining a world with no heaven and religion too now within actual reach.  And to be sure, many who spout off about this type of moral relativism run amuck own at least some of the harm that has been done to cause the vitriol in the very real and virtual air that we now breathe.   A contempt that is about as palpable as the screeching psychoacoustics of fingernails on a chalkboard!  For to not hear it is in itself a contradiction of what most would call “the new norm”.

Nevertheless, I’ve been waxing and waning over this for quite awhile now.   Somehow occasionally pinching myself to see if I unknowingly joined the gullibility of conspiracy theorists, or if this is indeed our new “facts on the ground” that I just alluded to.  And though I’d hope that the larger demographic of this country would be in basic agreement about my rant and rave here, I’m smart enough to know that there are outliers; and as of this moment, they seem to be legion. 

The Real Devil in the Details

So then; Is America Good?  I think that’s a really good question to ponder.  Yet in a world where good has been redefined and the language of goodness itself has been hijacked by deconstructionism of the once accepted terms somehow always lurking below the literary surface, the thickness of the ensuing fog can be blinding to a much larger populace than we before realized.  But at least for those of us in between spouts of worldliness along with regular devotion to the one we believe defines the actual good, it’s not quite that simple.  It’s something we can’t seem to shake.  For as those who lay equally sprawled out on the floor in front of a now antiquated book for sustaining daily bread that once captured a western civilization’s mind and heart, the rottenness in our Denmark seems to be an adjudication of sorts written in permanent ink.  Yet as I look around trying to peer into the whites of people’s eyes searching for a ray of light, I often fear I’m looking into a black hole of sorts.  Almost as if one’s reciprocal humaneness is now not only indiscernible to my naked eye, but also equally devoid of a visible life mutually seeking for any goodness to bestow in-kind.  And in just a generation or so, I think it’s at least safe to say that it’s because no one even knows what the Hell goodness actually means.  And if that wasn’t bad enough, the real fly in the ointment now seems to be that no one seems to care!

Selah

Navigating Through the Land of Sex and Candy

And there she was, like double cherry pie”.  O.K., I know.  This is a startling opening line for even a renegade Christian blogger/preacher-man such as myself.  But now that I’ve got your attention, let me explain.

I can remember when this song came out in 1997 while I was entering into my 33rd year on this earth, already past a time where this type of song would have jostled too much of my attention, other than the catchy beat and some guilty reminiscence of a guy I used to actually know.  Especially now as I was nestled down in Bible College for goodness sakes, learning how to compel a culture wrapped up in well… a “sex and candy” mindset, to somehow look in a different direction for alternative answers.  The song was catchy nonetheless, and I was quite familiar with its word pictures, what it symbolized, and also with whose title had come to epitomize for me an adequate representation of the “sexification” of our American culture.  Or to put it quite clearly, to now bring what happens in our bedrooms out into the public square and standing boldly in front of the door that once used to be at least a partially hidden closet.  And though most of us have had our own satiation of this world on our past resume to which this song implies, those on the narrow path should equally know that it is no longer to be our permanent address.  Something that at least used to be “crystal clear” to our now archaic community of Christ’ followers.  Yet since our entrance into the “free love sixties”, we have been on a mad dash into this “sexification” world.  A world with no apparent lock on this Pandora’s box now unabashedly wide open, which has now become a holy shrined replacement of anything that resembles a heteronormative sexual orientation within the confines of holy matrimony. 

You Don’t Even Have to Put on the Red Light

My first reminder of where America was headed was when in 1995 on my way to India, when we stopped off in Amsterdam for a couple of days.  As I checked into my hotel room (thank God with a roommate) and set my bags down, I reached over to cut the T.V. on to see what Amsterdam might have to say on its “boob-tube” as my dad “not so affectionally” used to call it.  And as I did, lo and behold, the first channel I came to “proved” he had been on to something as its content included the most “down and dirty” pornography that one could possibly imagine.  As I looked at my roommate (both of us now embarking on a mission to “save the world” in India) we both realized collectively at that moment that we were definitely not in Kansas anymore.  This was equally confirmed as we headed into the city (not even in the “red light” district), where we passed by the likes of intravenous drug users and free-fallen dope smokers, and into the local markets where this same “sexploitation” was out front and center as you passed by each venue.  The “shock and awe” of it all to me however (to which is my main point) was that men, women and children marched along almost “oblivious” to my opposing view of it being somehow “out of place”, and at which to them had become a very comfortable desensitization to it all.  And as I noticed these sights and sounds of the city alongside its picturesque beauty, I was reminded what it might have been like for Paul walking around in Ephesus near the shrine of Artemis some 2000 years ago.  A place where sex and religion were mixed together like, well… “sex and candy”, and offered to anyone who cared to stop and take a bite of both!  And though in many ways Paul knew exactly what my roommate and I were going through that day, I would guess that he would not even begin to imagine our ability now to enter into a virtual world of this same experience with the mere click of a button, and somehow usher in sexual nirvana right into the privacy of our very own homes.

Just Trying to Say Something

Fast forward to 2021, and I’m quite sure Amsterdam and Ephesus are somewhat jealous of our adoption and noted perfection of their sexual deviance that has become so commonplace that even the church has forgotten to blush!  In addition to being in a world where the so-called “patriarchy” were once the ruling class of sexual predators, yet who have now been replaced by the matriarchs who now threaten to usurp their lofty position!  But in the name of diversity and inclusion, let’s not leave out the “sweet transvestites”, the “pansexuals”, and everything in between.  After all, homosexuals and bi-sexuals are so “yesterday’s news” aren’t they?  But before everyone presumes a judgmental tone in my sexual sarcasms they would label as stereotypical of the Christian community, let me say I mean it not as such here; but rather to illustrate my original point.  In other words, as a Christian, I wish to simply state what is the obvious “elephant in the room” of the world’s oversexualization of which you and I are now called to navigate through on the increasingly narrow path.  All the while with equal sensitivity to a myriad of other ills that seek to now militantly call into question everything that has a hint of an absolute once binding on the average Tom, Dick and Harry.  Yet as someone who claims to be a Christian, and who is to love the very types of people which I sought to identify here by their own classification of such terms, I also want to say that a Christian “has” to part ways with this pervasive narrative of sexual “indifference” from any sexuality outside of the confines of marriage between a man and a woman.  To not say so in fact, is to not only deny one’s desire to disagree agreeably, but also the capability to believe in anything outside of that which has been marked as a now accepted “national orthodoxy” without threat of our outright dismissal of any participation in the discussion. 

Sex Education

Now to be sure, as we navigate along this Brave New World as those who still claim to believe what the church and the scriptures have always believed about these things while still trying to love those who differ, our path has become even more claustrophobically narrow it seems.  For as I write this (as I alluded to in my opening) more and more of those who “used” to believe these very things within Christendom either no longer do, or have totally forgotten that the scripture says a whole lot about these very things in addition to the corresponding result of a culture whose sexual diversity becomes sanctioned with a legislative hammer.  And yet even so, the Shepherds who “used to know” what we all knew, somehow; with a faulty hermeneutic sleight of hand and arguments from “nothing-burger” silence, have convinced us of the need to “get with the times” on what the culture has already decided for us.  And if this wasn’t bad enough, we have now concluded (also in the name of diversity and inclusion) that our sexual orientations and the free expression thereof should be taught in the textbooks of kindergarteners and prepubescents, right alongside Are You My Mother and the frickin Pythagorean theorem! 

The Pogo Blues

But in the end, I don’t propose there is anything more we can say on the matter.  For the culture has now tried us, and in case you haven’t noticed, we have been found perniciously wanting.  Along with the fact that there aren’t any more “phobe” terms left they can attach to our outdated constituency of an antiquated religion evidently long overdue for a makeover.  Meanwhile, if that wasn’t quite enough, in the land of “sex and candy” it appears that the culture has indeed found its enemy, and in case you were wondering; it most definitely seems to be you and I.

Selah

Still Playing Hard to Get

I used to know something in my heart a long time ago.  Somehow innately, I knew that though the Lord loves us all unconditionally through grace alone, but that He actually searches “to and fro” for, and thus more readily “strongly supports those whose heart is completely His”.  We find this recorded in II Chronicles 16:9 when we hear the continual sad story of Israel’s history of Kings exemplified by Asa in this case, who only occasionally “relied on the Lord” (vs. 8), yet more often than not did what was expedient and right in their own eyes. Of course, the real travesty is, that in the regular nature of their apostasy towards God, even on their death bed they “did not seek the Lord, but the physicians” (vs. 12).  And though Asa’s name is written down for us to reflect upon, no one will remember his name as someone who’s heart was completely God’s by any stretch of the imagination.  As is the historic story of God’s people.  As is the story sometimes as I look in my own mirror and perhaps even yours.  And though like Achilles, the prospect of someone not “remembering my name” causes me to be less squandering and unwasteful with the remainder of my days with the actual “shipping” of some form of art, the only thing that really concerns me now in the stillness of the night watches is that God knows my name; and that he no longer need look “to and fro” for my enduring allegiance.  This is nothing less than “real” faith and in stark antithesis of more regular encounters of “religious” child’s play.  It is the stuff of “taking the faith thing seriously”, and also one of constantly being reminded as to the reason there are only few who acquire the “Saint” status.  And even so, this has caused me no less sleepless nights with periodic awakenings of being at least one who has now caused God’s search to be finally over, honing down like a laser beam on my specific “heart’s cry” address. 

Where Else Can We Really Go?

I’m also reminded of another passage found in John chapter 6, where after the Lord has been repeatedly laying out one difficult saying after another, the crowd starts to quickly diminish.  These were sayings that were hard for them to both bear or understand, thus causing many to turn and walk away from any future potentiality of faith.  And yet in the closing scene, Jesus then asks his twelve the question I think He asks all of us as we eventually find out the way is indeed narrow and hard, causing few to actually find it.  He says, “You do not want to go away also, do you”? (John 6:67 NASB).  And then my boy Peter, who occasionally gets it absolutely right and does not disappoint here, puts forth a line that I have kept before me often as I continue to trek along this oft lonesome road where he says, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (vs. 68 and 69).  Mic drop of silence please!

Believing, While Asking Help for My Unbelief

So I guess you could say these two passages have consumed my thoughts quite regularly after thirty-years of stumbling along trying to be more like Peter, or the man that God was looking for that He couldn’t actually find.  And as I occasionally look to guides along the path to steer me towards this type of Holy grail discovery and still occasionally gleaning a morsel of crumbs to add to the daily bread, I increasingly become exhausted with Job’s friend’s matter-of-factness of the way forward; added to a mixture of my own default to pragmatism and seemingly empty promises of victory and power with more effort and stalwart faith.  As a result, I am somehow simultaneously entangled and surrounded by Asa’s who still seek “the physicians”, pretty much like everyone else.  All the while, we continue to hear from men and women talking and speaking of true miracles that few of us rarely see, yet who contend that if we can just get the water right in the pool of church theatrics then the miracle is just a moment away.  And though I believe in miracles and hear tell of amazing things that happen outside of my particular home of origin, I often wonder if God spreads his “strong support” much thinner than we might propose.  And one wonders whether or not any of us can still seek it with all our hearts, yet often walk alone amongst a crowd of mere “spectator sports”, yet likewise recognizing that “though we have not seen Him, we love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls” (I Pet. 1:8,9 NASB).

God Plays “Hard to Get”

I’ve often likened God to Rich Mullins’ interpretation of Him in one of his songs (and I think scripture bears this out) as one who often plays “hard to get”.  In fact, if I were quite honest, I would have to say that this has been my experience most of the way along this narrow path.  Nonetheless, like my best girl who still sticks around after all these years; it is that very nature of her (and thus God) that kept me hard after her in constant pursuit.  To be sure there have been ups and downs, but the chase has been equally as worthwhile as when she finally turns to me with the intimate embrace I’ve been longing for. 

I think God is an awful lot like that.  Yet He seems to make me wait a good bit longer. And though as one who occasionally peddles the gospel before an unsuspecting crowd, my own desert wanderings and doubt of His abiding presence and “strong support” in my life still often keep me feeling about as vulnerable as unsuspicious deer on the first day of hunting season.  And so like Asa, I’m often prone to looking for a self-help book, an unholy alliance, or in resorting to “the physicians” instead of forever resting in the fact that “sink or swim” I’ve made the decision to still take the low and narrow road till death do us part.  In fact, that is one thing that seems to be as constant and steady as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.

Nothing Else Will Do!

So I guess you could say God is still looking “to and fro”, and I’m still hoping he finds me running headlong towards him with everything I’ve got. I still come to his word each day like a salivating dog hoping for his daily bone from one whose scriptural promise of such a tasty treat is freely available, even though the “still small voice” often seems to remain affectionately “one-trick shy”. I also occasionally steal away into my own prayer closet with the bread and wine, or to the closest sabbatical of a dimly lit church or an oceanic shrine not far from me, hoping for the epiphany of “this is the way Mark, walk ye in it”. Hoping to somehow jar Him from His busyness of running the world in order to bend down and give me an affectionate “attaboy” as well. Yet as I search for Him and somehow never truly find all of Him that I long for, I’m still forever stubbornly resigned to the fact that without His touch and without His “strong support”, not only will “I” not make it, but the world cannot possibly know and take notice of His power that we are told once “turned the world upside down”! In fact, even now I am more convinced that at this very moment, nothing less than this will ever do.

Selah

What’s Hiding Behind Our Masks of Slavery?

Just the Facts Ma’am

It was Sergeant Friday who coined the phrase “Just the Facts Ma’am”.  It stuck in our minds as something that should be quite obvious to anyone.  If you just produce the facts, then the truth easily becomes “incontrovertible”, as Churchill would add.  To be sure Postmodernism (which has been with us for quite some time now), has questioned the possibility of truth outside of a given community’s interpretation thereof (identity groups).  Thus in the modern world, where we once upon a time could actually “know” things, we have now long lived inside a world whose ethos is that “truth is relative” and merely a shade of grey in the eye of the beholder; unless of course your particular community now says it isn’t.  So to be sure, Sergeant Friday would have a tough time around these parts and would have surely turned in his badge and gun to open up a cleaners or something.  Anything pray tell, but “pose” as someone who could ascertain something once called truth, or ever be on the right side of it.

Conspiracy Theories

COVID-19’s true death toll, cure rate and classification as a true pandemic that could be the undoing of us all fits quite nicely into this reality of relativism gone amuck (irony of ironies).  The “party of science” is sure we’re just one sandwich shy of a domestic terrorism picnic, calling any such questioning of their data as a conspiracy theorist dreams.  The “anti-science” party of Donald Trump (dumbasses to be sure) “tweets” before it ponders, and in the oppositions’ eyes, the mere questioning of their talking points are now labeled conveniently in the realm of “hate speech,” and thus are “de-platformed” and thrown into the dustbin of those who rightly now deserve “zero” runway in the marketplace of ideas.  Yet, it seems quite apparent to many inquiring minds that the conspiracy theories that used to be called into question have now become a higher modicum of truth “not” so easily found on anybody’s favorite evening news? 

Prophetic Alert

It was the late Francis Schaeffer, who in his book written in the 1970’s called “How Should We Then Live”, sounded an alarm, at least from a “so-called” Christian West perspective, that he said would be the one thing that would ultimately do us all in before we even knew what hit us.  He rightly reminded us that the values of “personal peace and affluence” and not “In God We Trust” were the real faith and doctrines that we held dear, and that once those values were threatened, coupled with a culture now bereft of anything called “right or wrong”, in his words; in order to keep both, we would gladly render ourselves as willing slaves to whomever promised the continual primrose path. 

In the height of the COVID-19 pandemonium, with a church virtually shut down (numerous puns intended), and vast industries of economic significance to the people who have not yet survived its new restrictions on their “inalienable rights”, it still seems as if Francis is speaking to us about a day still not yet in front of us.  However, it does appear as though it is one whose surety seems as real as death and taxes for us all.  For at least for now; like 9-11, the economic downturn of 2008 and the likes of the COVID-19 crisis, at least some of America’s more middle- and upper-class population have bypassed yet again the opportunity to see if what Francis said is indeed true and taken to its logical outworking in our country.  All the while vast markets and myriads of unseen people disappear from our masked view and find their places among the trash heap of economic Darwinism and under the bridges where they now settle in for the night.  Tsk, tsk.  Meanwhile, those leading us commend us to “masking” and “vaccing” this inconvenience to our personal peace and affluence out of our lives and have resigned to “tipping” the American populace by direct deposit, while simultaneously bankrupting us and our children into oblivion.  They are our pied pipers who have now called the tune, bidding us to simply sing in unison with the added refrain, “Thank you sir, can I have another”.

Masks of Slavery, Fear or Business as Usual?

To say that the majority of people we pass on the street or see in our favorite stores from week to week “masked-up” are in any way taking these things quite as serious as I am is to affirm the obvious.  They are not by and large.  My brief observation about the predicament as it relates to the vast American populace is simply that the mask itself is representative of a couple of things.  First of all, the mask now hides what the average Joe and Mary were hiding along: who they really are behind their face façade, behind their wall of privatization and their desire to simply get what they need and move on without human engagement.  Secondly, for the church at least, despite decades of mass irrelevance and with nothing to say worth listening to from a majority, those we pass in our favorite stores with bumper stickers that show “fish” and “God is my copilot” have equivalently shown that they are just as scared of dying as the rest of us.  They are also those who can continue to shuffle in and out of their virtual sanctuaries (occasionally), or after a year now, are found shuffling in (properly social distanced and masked of course) to the beat of the same predictable “church as services only” drum (3 songs, prayer, announcement, sermon, prayer and we’re done).  And the world spins madly on.

What are actual Christians supposed to do?

But the real question for all of us who are attempting to get back up on the narrow path day after day and to at least give a “college try” to this thing called the Christian life is: What is our response to be as image bearers in light of this challenge? One thing is for sure, as Christians in a country that at least used to ensure “inalienable rights” for the collective whole, if the bible is any record of how we might then live in response, the answer to this looming question is something we should consider with deeply.  This takes real work to be sure.  Yet some overarching themes for our consideration are at least striving to live authentically before God and others (possibly without masks); real thoughts around how the church has biblically and historically responded to crises such as these; and additionally, as characteristically prophetic people “pushing back” on the pervasive narrative that our culture is selling us ad nauseum.  In addition, speaking authentically and Christianly as a “free” citizenry to the power brokers of the world and the church who now seem to be cooperatively asking us to become chameleons, blending in with whatever the latest cultural talking point is, rather than as those who called to be “salt and light”.  Those who will speak prophetic truthfulness regularly as our posture in an increasingly nauseating and tasteless world that will predictively have an autopilot gag reflex to most everything we are saying.  At least then we’d again be known for obeying God rather than men when it actually counts, in the anomaly of a free Republic; with a voice of reason and salvific counterpropositions amidst a noisy and insubstantial public square.  A square that has surely now become mere tales told by a mass of village idiots, full of sound and fury, all the while signifying absolutely nothing!

Selah

When Sheep Eventually Come Back to Bite

To be sure, pastoral ministry has some wonderful perks. After all, a pastor makes their living (or should) in much prayer; laboring over the word and its correct exposition; administering soul care to the flock; and doing their best to do the work of an evangelist in the culture they find themselves in. In addition, if that high calling is done well, the now occasional “Atta boys” can add to the benefit package while also being given the gracious privilege of earning a living from that calling. And to be sure, these are gracious gifts that no pastor can either deny or be truly worthy of. But perhaps what goes unnoticed by most is the reoccurring fact that the myriad of sheep one is called to care for and feed; after being done licking their chops, can also come back to bite the hand that fed them–and often with a “sheep-eating” grin to boot! This is a memory that I recall quite well, and one of whose scars for a long, long time were lined up and down my back and where the sun does not typically shine. The scars are now fully healed, but their lessons have come full circle with nightmarish flashbacks, yet now also with a newfound discernment as to how to both navigate through it while also coming out on the other side equally instructive to the flock in its aftermath.

Re-Education

At the time of this writing, it has been 20 plus years since I too had the “perks”. I never made the living some do in mega-church land, though the educational expectation was the same for the hire. But to be sure the daily sense of calling in the administration of the actual biblical tasks still have not lost both their nostalgia and equal longing in my heart. Yes, even through the multiple back and “back-side” surgeries, I have learned so very much. And yet even through the reeducation of Mark Prince, like a moth forever drawn to the flame, it still beckons me to its promises of fulfillment, holy service and a privilege that comes with gracious honor. And so once again, now having forgiven both myself and the sheep administering the fileting of my back side, that longing has again taken center stage as I contemplate the now informed prospect of again taking up this sacred mantle. As to how in these uncertain times I can even remotely hope to mix both the call and the ability to feed my family still remains a mystery. Even so, the prospect of what God has before me occasionally brightens my dreams often in the prayerful night watches.

Precious Haunting Memories, How They Linger

But perhaps I got a little ahead of myself. You see the fact is, that even after two decades have past, I once again find myself at least as someone who preaches and teaches on a semi-regular occasion, and even serves as an imperfect elder among a local congregation. Yet as you can imagine, and just like most families (which the church is supposed to also be), after the honeymoon is over and the lights are now on, we begin to truly see our beloved–warts and all. And this is of course the gift that keeps on giving the longer we continue to stay as the willing sucker for the inevitable punishment. And the truth is that part of the problem is “you and I”. That’s a given. The box is checked. Sin is not prejudice, and there’s plenty to go around; including that which resides in “yours truly”. Nonetheless, through lots of time and spiritual maturing in the ways of the Lord (much like families and long-term marriages), we learn to stay; admonish; encourage; love, and a lot of times by being willing to disagree agreeably. One can hope at least.

Sheep Stages

The majority of the problem in American churches is simply the fact that most who attend as they see fit are not on a narrow path to speak of at all.  In addition, most are never tired of attending the church buffet line to find out who has the best show in town, enough benefits for the kiddos, and the necessary extra contacts to grow their business, while adding to their resume a little “do-goodism” as some icing on the cake.  For this demographic, the teeth that come out and latch hold of us, and then the reason they exit boldly out the front door are due to the fact (and thus proven to be so), that they never were of us to begin with.  We get it.  The casualties of this war never fail to deliver on that spiritual front. 

Others however are not quite as overt.  They are those who love the grace of God and have come to rely on it, and yet due to equally taking part of the buffet line that is American Christianity they come as well with their baggage.  For after having survived a few “bad-church” experiences themselves, the lack of a daily diet of the good book in their own lives, as well as their fill of teachers having tickled their itching ears for as long as they can remember, they just aren’t so sure who’s actually “on first”.  As a result, they too shuffle in and out the multitude of feeding troughs, eternally never finding what they’re actually looking for. 

And of course, we mustn’t forget those of us who should and actually do know better, but still refuse to teach the class.  Those who are somewhat spiritually mature and who have also been sheep-bitten; yet as a result, they have become “sick and tired” of the feeding frenzy and thus begin to show their teeth as well.  And who can blame them.  For just like families, the novelty of the familial institution is still there, yet they resign to the fact that no one really enjoys living in an institution anyway, and so the local bar again has an equally attractive and often magnetic pull that often wins the day.

A Sheep With No Name or Teeth

And well, then hopefully there are a few of us left who have been through the stages, now teach the class, keep the bar in close sight just in case; and who finally figure out what we should have always known. We find out that just like real families again (especially our own toxic ones), so is the church. Families full of toxic people being weaned and patiently prodded slowly but surely out of their toxicity with the hope of eventually morphing into the promise of wholeness and healing–though always with a distinctive limp. Families who desire accountability to others and being told what they should probably do about as much as they like root canals! Those prone to wander and always feeling it. And yet also those who finally pull their old teeth, set them on the nightstand for safekeeping, but who finally refuse to graze with the rest of the sheep for too long. Finally deciding to let the grass grow healthy in its proper time, with the weeds inevitably growing right along with it. Once and for all resting in the fact that even when the sheep come back to bite the shepherd that feeds them (as they will inevitably do), he finally remembers he purposefully left his teeth on the nightstand.

The Quest for God’s Tabernacle

To say I’ve been in search of God’s true presence all of my life would be a gross understatement. It seems that ever since I was a child, whether it was watching my late father painstakingly read and underline the holy scriptures or being ushered into the meeting house where God supposedly dwelled, I have been enamored with what it all meant. More importantly what it was to mean to me. And though I got drastically side-railed from this a time or two in my life, there lingered within this desire to find God’s true tabernacle. It was as if I somehow knew innately that this was the very key to my being; my sustenance; and my survival in this world; albeit a world that I somehow never seemed to actually belong to. And even today that yearning is ever present, as I’m constantly reminded that without it, I won’t make it past the weekend. And so, as the years have passed, I too have painstakingly wrestled with those same scriptures with paper, pen and tears as my father did, seeking to intimately know the one who it is said once and for all “tabernacled with men”.

One-night Stands

And yet it seemed from the beginning it was always his offer to man since he put his foot on the ground.  Ever since the regularity of God’s desire to walk with Adam in the cool of the day, to an Ark of His covenant-presence going before his called-out people, and on to a permanent but incomplete structure representative of that desire for God also to be intimate with us.  And because of His longing, His tabernacle has not been far within our desired reach.  And yet equally so, like Adam; like the Israelites; and like you and I; we never seem to be too far from abandoning the quest altogether in search of a quick fix to usher in some Nirvana experience.  And like the first rush of cocaine through an aficionados nostrils, it’s never as good as the first time.  But even so, man’s historical record shows a persistence to satiate that which cannot ever satisfy us, while the offer of His tabernacle waits patiently by the phone like a patient lover longing to be invited to the Homecoming dance.  I see God that way.  And I believe the words He wrote down bear apt evidence that He has always desired to be betrothed to us regardless of our wayward heart.  Even as he full well knows we will run about forever willing to find contentment in the fool’s gold of perpetual one-night stands.

Learning from the Movies

That seems to be the shape we’re in as I see it.  For some of us, even as we age, we continue to buy in hook, line and sinker to the promise of some exotica somewhere over the rainbow.  Even while owning our own mirror, we buy the tighter jeans, cake on the make-up and pay the personal trainer, only to cover-up the bags under our eyes and our nakedness until the lights are finally on.  Many of us never waking up to the one that we left at the altar in our youth until all that’s left of us to offer Him is left-over promises and a body that bears the scars of what our frequent lovers stole from us.  And the story of the Old Testament is ripe with movie reels even YouTube can’t censor if we care to see and learn from it.  Yet at the stroke of my pen, even the sincerest of us are satisfied with brief one-minute devotional encounters with the divine, rather than falling headlong for the one who has built a house for us to dwell in with Him forever, and who offers it now for those willing to do the patient work a faithful marriage requires.

But to be sure the struggle is real, and the toil for our daily bread and survival of the fittest is always the order of the day.  Yet through this struggle, the offer for God to tabernacle with us is as sure as summer coming after winter and just as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.  It is constant.  It is ever available.  And it lies ever so conveniently always between two trees of which we may always choose from, and each with it’s accompanying result.  The continual choice in life between the flesh and the spirit wars within us as sure as a torrential rain, and the woeful tale is that most of us are caught in the downpour long before we ever saw it coming.  As sure as death and taxes, our choice of presence in our lives beckons to be the first order of the day, yet so often becomes the money left after the bills and the dues have been paid and has become just too tight to mention.

The Elephant in the Room

However, misery indeed loves company, and even I will in no way disappoint. For I too often teeter-totter between gods long proven are no gods at all, and the one who promises to be the way, the truth and the necessary life.  The one who promises water in the desert, the calm in the storm, and the resurrection beyond the life that we cling to with what seems like an eternal vice-grip.  Yet as I age, my mirror reminds me that sin really has led to death, including my own.  A realization that the world around us has redefined as mere syndrome and something that science will eventually cure with a session, a pill, or a now legislated hall-pass.  And as I reconcile my own depravity with the world’s just outside my door, the ray of light is still that tree of life’s offer of rest and peace, along with the abiding presence of His tabernacle that once experienced we will never want to leave.  The quest is still there for this lone beggar, and I’m still learning.  Learning to finally look askance at the glitter once disguised as gold, and instead lean head-long into the still small voice and arms of the one who has built his tabernacle for this grateful doorkeeper.

Selah

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Pause Button Alert

To say the Republic is in trouble I think is to now say that “the sky is blue”.  In fact, the two sides of the political spectrum seem to both know something is wrong yet residing in the fact that it is not them, but instead: the other guy.  Conventional modern knowledge from the “party of science” would bid us to simply understand one another and now come together right now, even though it has not been in their playbook since Methuselah roamed the earth.  But if it were not so and the cancer of a nation was not hanging in at Stage 4, that particular rhetoric would certainly have its place in what was once our public square.  However, the real wisdom that comes only from God might ask for a pregnant pause on that strategy, in what is now a nation’s Issachar moment.  In fact, it’s a pause that for the longest time has not been tried, and now it seems the lack thereof has been found sorely wanting.  So, what I am therefore asserting is that not only is this pause in order, but that what is now needed is a shared wisdom from the sons of Issachar in all of us who love not only the ancient paths, but also the old-fashioned thing once called logic and reason employed as to what to now “do” about it.  I say this because, as I said at the outset, the Republic is now in jeopardy!  The sky is indeed falling. And I know that the chicken little in at least half of us know this should be front page in a paper we once also participated in writing.

History Lessons

Part of the reason for this stark analysis is because the rules have changed in the Republic, in that even though most of us “domestic terrorists” have been nominal Christians at best, there was once a secret code we all knew and adhered to.  The code was one of an essential goodness and a standard morality most at least strived for, but for which now has been thrown out with the baby and the bathwater.  The new morality is instead one with no prospect of heaven or religion too.  It is defined only by science, that as one often forgets, though having brought much to change the world for the better, left unchecked and unchallenged has brought stark-raving madness and brutality such as the world has ever known.  And if not learning from history means we are destined to somehow and often repeat it, then get ready for most unwelcome reruns in the new TV guide.  And to be sure, you won’t hear this trumpet sounded across the land for all the villagers to hear anymore, since deplorable trumpets have now been deemed “hate speech” and thus melted in the fire before their very eyes as the new trumpeters guide us to our re-education.

The Waiting Line

And so, we’re waiting and waiting.  And it’s really the hardest part as Tom Petty once told us.  Waiting for both what we know and what we do not yet know.  Half of a republic will now glory in a victory taken by stealth, while the other wonders if the victory procession will not include the whole lot of us paraded on the losing team.  Marching to the very public death of their freedom and ideas, while a Brave New World has now taken center stage with a bully pulpit and a microphone that even the losers will not be lucky enough to ever have again. 

And the church waits also.  Though not nearly as vigilantly as it could be or should be.  Many of us are still waiting for QAnon to jump out of the birthday cake like Gomer Pyle and say “Surprise, Surprise, Donald Trump is the 46th President of the United States”.  Others await the vast line of prophets for hire to tell us our best days are still ahead, that victory will be ours, along with even fatter bank accounts just around the corner. While still others mask-up in their domicile’s, frantically doomsday prepping while occasionally streaming in their favorite court jester preacher, biding their time until the roll is called up yonder. And then there are at last a few who are watching and waiting for perhaps something both them and others are not yet ready for, and that waiting is indeed the very hardest part.

Where are the Sons of Issachar?

This of course brings up an interesting point to ponder: Where are the Sons of Issachar now?  Those who that ancient and outdated book once said were those who, “discerned the times and knew what to do about it”.  Where are they in the mountains of influence out in the public square, and where are they now in the church once again in the unfamiliar terrain just outside of Constantine’s edict?  Or were we all so busy getting “fat and sassy” that we slept when we were to be watching and waiting?  Were we at ease in Zion while we were building our treasures in the earthly heaven now being imagined for us, rather than the one that though we cannot yet see we are told robbers are unable to ever steal it from us?  And perhaps the real question to answer is, “Did we really believe those comfortable nursery rhymes anyway”? 

The answer to this question is one at this very hour we must properly and matter-of-factly discern, both as a nation friendly to the thought of it, and to a church that for two-millennia convinced them of its truthfulness.  For if we do not stand up in the body and national collective regardless of our brand which will inevitably be cancelled when we do, our mutual curtain will have now been called.  And should we refuse to “not go gently into that good night” before the torches for Nero’s garden are once again beckoned for and the lions are released for nightly entertainment, it will then be a time when we had wished we had something worthwhile to say.

Money for Nothing, Lobotomies for Free

On January the 6th, 2021 I said my final goodbyes at the graveside to my dear brother who was also my hero in so many respects.  We carried each other through different facets and phases of our lives, and even so, the heaviness of the weight was never felt for either of us.  Then, just two days later, Mike would have been 64. And though I won’t be feeding him as I and others did at times in the last stages of the dreadful demon of cancer that latched ahold of him without rhyme, reason or prejudice; in my heart of hearts, I will forever be needing him, and I will miss him far more than I can yet imagine.

Demons; Where?

In irony of ironies, on that same day of January the 6th, 2021, disenchanted and perhaps misdirected patriots (so we’re told) others often called deplorable, stormed a state capitol signifying they had enough!  As we now wait for the truth of the episode to weigh in, those in attendance believed (what seemed to be rightfully) that their election had been stolen and thus should be given its day in court.  They also stoically adhered to the belief that the Republic they celebrated as their birthright was on the fringe of dying, much like my dear brother.  Riddled likewise with a cancer that had taken over and was now merely hanging on by morphine drip. 

Now to be sure, many caught up in the twice-baked spirit of the age would read such sentiment as credulous; unthinkable; misguided; and perhaps even seeing demons under a bush that do not exist.  However, in the minds and hearts of over half of the American populace, the depth of the demonic cesspool in a swamp called Washington, D.C. seems to be obvious to inquiring minds who actually wanted to know.  Equally are those who believe that now, to deny the existence of these sea monsters and their lobbying gods in the netherworld called the U.S. capitol, and to merely acquiesce; is equivalent to, as Winston Churchill once opined, “trying to negotiate with a Tiger while our neck is sitting conveniently in its mouth”.

A Republic to Which It Stood

As we watched the skirmish of mostly concerned patriots amidst the current narrative of the misdirected few who gave our cause a bad name (at least to the tech giants that control the information), it resulted swiftly in a successful “spin” of a broad pronouncement of domestic terrorism to the whole “kit and kaboodle”.   We then watched as genteel and spineless senators and house members condemned in front of their “back room dealmakers” this brief hiccup of violence.  They did so devoid of any contrast with the litany of riots, looting and mayhem from the other side of the room that lasted forever and a day, and the final dye is now cast seemingly in their convenient favor.  And as this room full of entitled, cultured and totally irrelevant swamp creatures on each side of the pond slithered their empty rhetoric; the rest of us settled back into our easy chair, biding our time until Big Brother suddenly becomes a work of non-fiction.  Everyone is crying “Peace, Peace” when there seems to be no Peace; especially when there is not a willing prophet among them except “Orange Man Bad” who will soon (quite possibly) exit stage left.  All the while everyone now gleefully lobbies for “reaching across the aisle” and “bipartisanship” in a once known Republic, whose desired goodness Gentle Ben once told us was the only glue that would help us keep it in what is now a generation of a Mayflower-paradise now lost.  Meanwhile, if you listen closely, one can hear the “Happy Days are Here Again” warm up, when the order of the day is a song of woeful lament.

Asleep in the Light

We also now live in an era of the church where pastoral psychologists and CEO’s for a generation or more have agreed with those who call the evil good and good evil, attracting all the itching ears to their lair of homilies pregnant with irrelevance, balderdash and God-mockery.  And if you listen closely, you can still hear God opine through the weeping Jeremiah, “the prophets prophesy lies, the priests exercise power by their own authority, and my people love to have it this way”.  And even so, at the sound of those haunting words, there is much more than a remnant who have not yet bowed the knee to Baal.  There are many rightly dividing the word of truth, and those whose knees are battle worn with prayers both for the victory, and equally for the strength to accept a larger God operation we are as of yet not privy to.  Somewhere in between are those who sleep while a battle rages for the soul of a nation, somehow certain that neutrality, prophetic indifference and settling for the new masters of our destiny has a “chapter and verse” ignored by the gullible MAGA masses.  Yet perhaps the truth is that we won’t know who’s right until “it’s all over but the crying”, somewhere over the rainbow in a soon to be forgotten national idea, that once sang about stars and stripes forever

Free Money and Lobotomies Anyone?

One thing is certain however, and that is that the next 8 days of this once great Republic will be waited on with bated breath.  Will the so-called patriots have their day to be heard, only to find that their hopeful and colorful hero couldn’t get the job done?  Or, will the once genitalia-grabbing, twitter ‘n’ chief ride in on a white horse with Sydney Powell with the enemy’s head on a Supreme Court verdict platter; proving in one fell-swoop an election was in fact stolen behind closed doors?  And will a nation of free men and women exercise their right to stand up and let their voice be counted ready to fight with a once beloved Common Sense voice and pen? Or will the ones who own the information emerge victorious by shutting down the dissent before the tea is again thrown in the harbor, quietly escorting us to our lobotomization, forever to become loyal subjects to the new Father-Kings who always knew what was best for us?  Somewhere where we’ll all at once get our money ration for nothing, and the lobotomies; well, they’re also for free.

A Lesson In Stone Theology

Some 15 years ago now, I preached a message with the above title.  Fast forward to the last couple of years, and I have searched high and low for the archived copy either in my electronic files or in printed ones lying around in various places; and you guessed it: nada; zilch.  And yet even so, this wonderful passage and its ongoing application and relevance in the life of the church is still sorely needed; perhaps especially right now.  So, let’s take a little look see.

The Woman, The Mansplainers and The Rebel Jesus

The passage comes from John 8:1-11.  And in our story, we find Jesus in the temple courts early in the morning right after prayer on the Mount of Olives, as was His custom.  And in the courts, he sits down to start teaching, and as sure as death and taxes, the “experts in the law” and the “Pharisees” our text says, brought a woman “caught in adultery” and “made her stand in front of them”.  And their challenge for Jesus was this: “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery.  In the law Moses commanded us to stone to death such women.  What then do you say”?  We then find out (duh) that they ask this question because they want to “trap Him” and by doing so add to their catalogue of charges against Him.  And yet interestingly, Jesus at first appears to ignore them and bends down and writes on the ground with His finger.

Now as you can imagine there are many speculations and commentary from the earliest times around this event, with certain scribes mentioning that Jesus was writing down particular accusations of the would-be accusers themselves.  But it causes me to wonder, and of course none of us really know, if that’s what He actually did; because vs. 7 then tells us that “When they persisted in asking Him, He stood up straight and replied, ‘Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her’”.   And our text then tells us that “Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground”.  And though I am not a big commentary consulter when it comes to my own study of the scriptures (though the thesis of others is very plausible), I tend to think that Jesus’ two-fold “gotcha” is enough to cause them to drop the charges and go hide in yet another humiliation by Jesus to these inept spiritual leaders.

Jesus’ One-Two Punch to the Heart of the Matter

 The first “gotcha” moment to the entrapment dummies is in letting them know that they need to get up a little earlier in the morning than Jesus did to know that by them stating that women such as her should be stoned was missing a small little detail.  For instance, in Leviticus 20:10 (the book everyone just loves), it clearly states that “if a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death”.  And then again, we find in Deut. 22:22, “If a man is discovered in bed with a married woman, both the man lying in bed with the woman and the woman herself must die; in this way you will purge the evil from Israel”.  Bam!  A little male chauvinism twist at its finest wouldn’t you say?

Now it won’t be our purpose today to get into “why” that was a justifiable practice in purging the evil from Israel, or anything else.  But the point is that these so-called experts in the law had built an awfully good fiefdom for themselves in adding a whole lot of extra gobbledygook to what God “actually” said in order to keep people both oppressed and subservient to their “all knowing” exposition.  Meanwhile, they were always left standing securely in their ivory tower of condescension missing the very texts that would incriminate themselves first and foremost.  And of course that is a convenience many graceless church men and women still allow for themselves as well, much to our continual sorrow.  For as the preacher said, “there is nothing new under the sun”.

But in addition, as our case in point here, in the “so called” experts and Pharisees effort to purify their people after their previous exilic history resulting from their gross disobedience to what God had commanded them under the covenant; they went a bridge too far!  And as Jesus would remind us in a couple of other passages in the gospels, not only did they proselytize and convert people into being monster judgementalists like themselves, they also were actually unwilling to lift a finger to ease these extra-biblical burdens on their followers (Mt. 23:4).  And as a result, not only were they still utterly lost, but they had become wandering sheep with no real shepherd in sight (Mt. 9:36).

And of course, the second “gotcha” is simply this, if we look at our text purely at face value.  Once the mansplaining chauvinist pigs realized not only their obvious inability to get things in the scripture right, they were also faced with the fact that not only did they now know this to be true, but also the whole crowd watching them now came to the stark realization as well.  For they now know in unison that these blind guides don’t know “diddly squat”, and thus were incapable of boxing their own way out of a wet paper bag to find the truth, much less the situation they know found themselves in!  And as a result, this awareness caused all of the lost sheep’s eyes to be fixed on Jesus as to what would be His next move and wondering: Could he be the one that we’ve been looking for?  The one who would guide the least and the greatest of us into real graceful righteousness (Jer. 31:34) coupled with a spirit of grace that gives life; rather than the letter that only seems to kill (2 Cor. 3:6)?  And you could cut their hopeful revelation with a knife, while one by one the prophets of woe and dread exit to lick their wounds and regroup for a meeting of entrapment for yet another day.  And that’s the wonderful thing about the legalists.  They are the gift that keeps on giving.  And both them and their progeny will go to their grave having been right about everything.  Right up until the final shovel of dirt pats their eternal ground!

A Sinner Confronted With Just the Right Amount of Grace and Truth

And now for the moment we’ve all been waiting for.  The women caught with her pants down and shamed before the masses, recognizes that her male accusers are now GONE.  And though there are those still lingering around with just enough popcorn left for the climax of the show, the woman has her moment with Jesus; the gamechanger par excellence!  The man of the hour has come to her address. It’s as if there is no one else in the room.  And our text says that he again “stood up straight” and says to her, “Woman, where are they?  Did no one condemn you”?  And I for one find his questioning utterly pastoral and healing.  For if knowing the history of women in this culture, with the added baggage of adultery as the perfect ammunition to churchmen’s stares everywhere, the question I would imagine also caused her to “sit up straight” for just a moment herself.  Perhaps it was the first time in her life she did so in fact.  For it was a time when there were no pointed fingers, no threats of male exploitation hiding behind the “cat calls” that would come her way.  And instead, there was nothing but reassuring eyes staring back at her waiting for her serendipitous reply.  And so she says, “No one Lord”.  And the answer that would come back to her was so full of dripping grace and truth that I would bet my last negative dollar, caused her to never, ever be the same again!  For the revolutionary Jesus said to this precious would be child of the King, “I do not condemn you either.  Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore”.

The Two-Edged Sword of Abiding Stone Theology Applied

And there is in this wonderful story a two-fold reminder to the woman, that then by proxy we are to take and hold in justifiable tension on our own path with Jesus of Nazareth.  I know you thought we would never get there.

First of all, I find that most people currently outside of the faith, and even those of us who have had our halo slightly bent most of our lives, really love this story.  I mean after all; it is great news.  Because the concept of grace is indeed the “thought that changed the world” (U2).  And in addition, if there is one verse both the lost and those of us who walk with a limp on the narrow path know, it is something along the lines of “judge not”.  Consequently, it is the national anthem of those still keeping God at least a stone’s throw from having any jurisdiction in their lives, and the anthem of those still forever trying to get it right.  And well, the point is, in a sense we all are.  Even though many like the “experts in the law” try to remind us that they have somehow bypassed these experiences. And so, it is a need of continuance.  It is of a “time-release” nature.  It is grace on top of grace, and more grace besides; even through the dark glass until He come again.  We’ve all needed it.  And we must endeavor to keep the cupboard full of such gracefulness, as our both “necessary” and “daily” bread.

But of course in contrast, there is the other side most of those on the outside and us “grace folks” don’t care for too much.  The aspect of which Jesus reiterates to the woman in that she is to “Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore”.  But before we rush to reactionary mode, and as a shot of “shock and awe” to die hard religionists, this must also reside in the time-release category.  It is a work always in progress.  It is the recognition (daily I’m afraid) that with each first light “cup of Joe” and daily bread, it must also lead us to wipe off our tears and our dirty knees to start over again in some form or fashion.  All the while, the cupboard of grace opens to continue to give us what we need to both forgive, be forgiven; and with that vow before us to “go and sin no more”.  And then we rinse and repeat.  Again, and again, and again.

And yet the sad part is, most in the church never seem to get this theology lesson. Even now.  For we either continue to evaluate ourselves by our own standard of righteousness we seem to be getting right and thus constantly stand in judgement of our other brothers and sisters.  Or, we err so much to the side of grace that we expect nothing akin to discipleship and transformational change from those who tip a few dollars week to week to hear us spout of sermonettes of anemia!  And right about now, I’d say we are reaping what we’ve sown.  Obvious it seems to everyone; except for those that have been digesting the idiocy!

But one thing is for sure.  There is a lesson somewhere between the un-cast stones and the “about face”.  I like to call it a lesson in stone theology.

Selah

 

 

The Ecclesiastical Gatekeeper’s Club

An Oft Untold Story

 There’s an untold story in Christendom that doesn’t get much light at the end of the pastoral ministry tunnel.  And it’s a sad one, I think.  Though it doesn’t necessarily start out that way.  For it is the tale of those who recognize the call of God upon their lives and set out as very “gung-ho” vessels eager to contribute to the fight for the souls of men and women.  They are comprised of individuals either privileged to garner support for the preparation they will need for enlistment; those who weather massive school loan debt because of the call that seems like a constant fire shut up in their bones; as well as potential leaders without the academic pedigree, but who have that something special about them that everyone knows just by being in their presence.  And with all three of these shiny new toys in the body of Christ, there is a confirmation from the particular ecclesiastical cloth of which they were hatched that seem to initially both recognize, endorse and even send them off with their spiritual guns ablaze.  But it is here that the story gets somewhat murky along the way I’m afraid.

Failure to Launch

For instance, the now emboldened man or woman of God all of a sudden begins to voice their own thoughts on the spiritual matters at hand.  They are somehow seeking to join the “top brass” in the discussion of all matters that effect the church and to find their place in its noble mission.  And so they begin to “in love” voice their litany of Socratic questioning trying to find answers they assume all are wrestling with.  They are those who simply want to contribute to the collective church conversation and be a part of its universality both as those who are accountable and as those who serve; somehow endeavoring to become co-equal in the journey of faith and and its propagation, so help them God.  Equal at least in the sense that theirs is a voice to be heard; while at the same time understanding their ears need equal attention to others older and more tenured who have journeyed much farther on the most difficult path.  And yet it is at about this particular time that the story often takes a different turn I’m afraid. For many will often be accused of being a novice irrespective of their time in the collective fold, but never quite “ready for primetime” to the one in which they now find themselves as the “odd man out”.  Or better yet, because of their own giftedness, they are cast off as mere rebels and perhaps even uncommitted and bastardized sons.  And yet all the while, there remains hidden the perceived threat among the ecclesiastical gatekeeper’s club.  A hazard to their very own status quo and fiefdom that up until now has kept them somewhat fat, sassy and gainfully employed.  And once the threat finds equally strong voices in unison, these potential powerful soldiers coming alongside the church of Jesus Christ are now cast off; or they simply throw in the towel, give up the fight and say, “I quit”!  And they have found out the hard way that there is not much room for even gracious mavericks in the Kingdom of God (men).

 We Shouldn’t Have Been Surprised

But you know I guess you and I shouldn’t have been surprised really.  Somehow, we think that as the church, we are so much more enlightened than those stubborn Israelites groveling around in the wilderness, or those gosh darn Pharisees and Sadducees missing Jesus by a country mile!  Those of whom never lifted their pointed finger to ease the burden of those seeking to find rest for their souls from the ecclesial intelligentsia who were to lead the way.  And yet oftentimes we scurry off, not extracting lessons from these leaders of what would have been “the church” of Jesus day.  We forget that power timelessly has the wherewithal both to corrupt and to cause narcissistic and even entitled tendencies the masses don’t recognize until the pastor and the choir director have checked into the Hilton for choir practice!  Or when young male and female acolytes are given “extra” duties not listed in the church bulletin!  But perhaps even more subtle and somewhat dicey, are those who continue to bypass the next line of leaders because they think the show couldn’t possibly go on without them.  The result being mass produced imagery of themselves on satellite screens from here to Timbuktu!  For indeed the praise of men is an aphrodisiac gift that seems to keep on giving yet evenly extracting more from them, as well as from the congregants who can’t ever seem to get enough.

While Waiting for the Church World to Change

But back to our oft untold story.  A story whose unfolding chapters continue in tragedy in some, and spiritual retreat in exiled anonymity for others.  Yet the latter are men and women of God who hold on to the hope that while yieldedly resting under the microscope of God on the sidelines, they are still feebly holding on to what was once entrusted.  Somehow quietly refusing to please the ever-visible men, but instead preferring the hopeful validation of their invisible God.  They are those who shun empty flattery or the potential of “ill-gotten gain”, resigned to wait in anticipative uncertainty for a renewed call that has long lay dormant while they watch, wait and listen.  And yet sometimes, like Rip Van Winkle, they wake up 20 years later and something has changed.

The Emergent Anomaly of Humble, Apostolic Leaders

You know a lot of people tend to the throw the apostle word around a lot these days.  Some have scary tones to them, lacking the “small a” in its spelling while also adding “more of the same” to the ground we’ve already covered.  And yet others emerge gifted; yet also broken, humble, and equally holy; ready and able to empower others to exponential multiplication of themselves (2 Tim. 2:2).  They are about the business of the church period.  They are ecumenical and cooperative.  They look for strategic engagement with the world rather than retreat from it.   They look for movements that are as deep as they are wide, while shunning attractional models which only create “mega” spectator sports.  And they are those who care less about a title attributed to them and more about the fruit that comes from their gracious tutelage.   And instead what we find, are men and women who open gates rather than close them, constantly keeping their watchful eye out for the placement of gifted yet broken leaders at their newly appointed battle stations.  And though I’ve often wondered just how I missed these “Johnny come lately” leaders’ existence by virtue of the circles I ran with once upon a time.  Yet in retrospect, I’m glad at least to have finally encountered one who seems to be opening wide the door again.  And so I guess there is at least a modicum of truth here to be learned.  For it seems that time does indeed heal all wounds.  Even the faithful wounds of gatekeepers.

Selah