Flunking Elementary School

I’ve reminded myself a great deal lately about a spiritual truth that is echoed in all the synoptic gospels.  In that lifeline to us, Jesus says in no uncertain terms that “unless we become as children, we cannot see the kingdom of God”!  He then adds that the kingdom in fact “belongs to such as these”, while negating the lack thereof in what seems nothing shy of both an inhuman and uncommon characteristic to those who would live as an acolyte in the upside-down kingdom.

And in fact, if I had a dollar for every time I had read these profound words, surely I would dare not work another day.  For they have become commonplace, and as much a part of my daily vernacular as “please” and “thank you”.  In fact, I have often chewed its sagely cud and then tried to swallow long and hard; forever trying to get the spirit of it into the sinews of my spiritual bones so it becomes in fact “who I am” and all that I desire to be.  And yet I have found, as I’m sure perhaps you have as well, this is a children’s class we were actually supposed to somehow graduate from; perhaps even long, long ago.  And yet it’s neophyte and elementary wisdom somehow continually escapes us, so we eternally hit the repeat button on the lecture, while simultaneously being shuffled back against our will into our assigned seats somewhere in the back of the class.

I’ve thought about it a lot lately though.  Especially in the quiet and somewhat somber reminiscence of my recent date with destiny, forced to deal head on with the sheer brevity of life that impolitely asked me to stand to its attention!  And as a result, somehow its now circumspect advice has become all the rage of my life, as I now trade my back seat for a front row closer to the Master, asking him for one more chance to be the boy that finally made good on what has been entrusted to him.  And as always, He is willing to stay after to make sure I somehow start to get it right.  And what I am finding in His special after school class, is that being an eternal child is the absolute best place in the world to be in His kingdom—if we are willing to become one.  And so, as I ponder much more wakefully these days, I’m reminded of several attributes, that in order to graduate this perpetual class, must somehow become the more natural inclination of my life.

Blind Trust

The first thing we notice about small children, although we won’t fall prey to the idea of their impeccability; is that one can’t help but realize that it seems to be in their very nature to trust the adult in the room with the entirety of their lives.  There seems to be a quiet and yet obvious demeanor that all is right with the world.  And all the while, they don’t have a clue yet about their own depravity, much less the entrusted adults in the room; yet they innocently and also somewhat blindly render their cares to a “Que sera sera” notion.  They are totally relaxed in one’s safekeeping who has proven time and time again to be trustworthy; forever throwing caution to the wind to those we might normally find suspicious, especially when there is the distinct possibility that’s its actually the devil in a clown’s garb (IT Part 2).

Is it any wonder then why we can’t become the teacher’s pet, when our “fight or flight” trajectory through life has taught us to always be on our guard and to trust no one, or; shame on us.  For our trust is oftentimes stolen from us by a road of adults that paved our initial way with the projection of good intentions, yet which eventually taught us the cruel truth that came with wounds that last “forever and a day”.  And so, the admonition to “become like a child” scares the Hell out of us quite frankly, when everything we know has taught us that for enlightened adults, this is sheer and utter credulity.

Dependency

The second thing we notice about children is this sense of utter dependency.  In fact, it comes ever so innately, without even a smidgeon of guilt for it being characteristic of them.  That is because this is in the very fabric of their DNA.  It’s their default position.  And to think or feel otherwise is as foreign to them as a day without ice cream.  They in fact know their Father will take care of them, and because of this realization, it never enters their thoughts as to the possibility that something will go awry.

And yet for us, we have become rather stalwart to the possibilities of taking anything for granted in this life.  Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps has long become the obsession of any given day, and to close one’s eye to the outside chance of some chink in our armor invites the incessant counting of sheep, coupled with a myriad of best made plans for another day.  So each new morn, we lambast ourselves in the mirror of the mistakes we’ve made, with a promise to our independence that it won’t happen on our watch ever again.  And so the monotonous cycle keeps us forever in its lair, unable to learn anything of peace and rest, or of a burden that we are told is light and easy.  Though Jesus offers it, we really don’t believe it.  Because in order to do so, it will require our abdication from our self-made throne.  And to add to our dilemma, we must also let go of the never-ending worries that preoccupy each waking hour in order that they will not overtake us, and likewise cause us to skip out on the one who promised that He would never leave us nor forsake us.  The road as we all know is of both winding and long.

Born Again; Again and Again

I guess I kind of understand what Jesus was after when he baffled Nicodemus with the admonition that he must somehow be born again.  We skirt by that not really understanding; that though it refers to our need for change and a new “spiritual” birth, we often miss that this regeneration often needs to be both remembered and perhaps reenacted, oftentimes repeatedly throughout our walk on the narrow path. The reenactment is needed because children more than anything want to grow up, when all the while Peter Pan is whispering to us to instead forever stay a child.  That’s sage advice indeed.  For if indeed the kingdom belongs to such as these, we must grow ever more comfortable releasing our chokehold to the uncertainties of life, and instead put our tiny little hands into the hand of the man who always calms the sea.  For I am quite sure that if we cannot, we will not even begin to ever truly know Him and His actual goodness in the very midst of life’s ambiguity all around us, and as a result, the best we can ever hope for is an elementary deja vu.

Selah

 

The Light in Christendom is But a Flicker Now: Part II

A blast from the not so distant past that seems relevant again today! Part II

The Narrow Path

Hello friends. I left off last week with some thoughts about the concept of Christian exile, and the flicker of light left in the church in perhaps an unexpected tangent: By way of my confession of voting for the enigma which is Donald J. Trump. In fact, after touching on several issues about my ongoing cracked up life in order to get us there, that’s where I ultimately landed; with the overall purpose of getting us to think about exile and the fact that we are most definitely in it, irregardless of who is temporarily in the White House. I tried to do so subtly by interjecting that our vote as Christians was perhaps more out of fear of having to live as exilic people more than anything else. My thesis was that part of the reason that droves of Christians in America voted for the billionaire and chief, is…

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The Light in Christendom is But a Flicker Now: Part I

A blast from the not so distant past that seems relevant again today!

The Narrow Path

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written last, and the time passage has been missed, at least by me. It has also brought with it a bewilderment of what to actually say worthy of your ear’s attention. Call it “writer’s block”, or chalk it up as “when you don’t use it you lose it”; it really doesn’t matter. The point is, and what I’m really straining to say is, that I’m somewhat at a crossroads these days about what I’d like to talk about…again.

But then, like the surety of a daily problem to solve or survive, there it was, just this morning. As I poured through John chapter 3 for perhaps the millionth time in my life, the thought occurred to me for some reason as I meditated about the need to be born again by the Spirit and not the flesh, and the vast ramifications and theological…

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Jesus: The God We All Imagine to Be True

It was about 20-years ago now that I walked away from what they call “full-time” ministry in order to take a much-needed sabbatical.  The break was also necessary for me to lick my gaping wounds from the continual attack from preacher-biting sheep!  Equally, this detour gave me the opportunity to dissect my own naivety as to what the ministry was actually supposed to produce both in them and myself, but also in simply putting the pause button on what had become akin to my own personal purgatory in a valley of very, very dry bones.  I realized then rather acutely that this was not at all what I had bargained for, and definitely not what I had envisioned as a preacher of the gospel with what felt like an actual call to do so.  And so in the aftermath of my last gig on the preacher circuit, the only thing that made sense was to tuck tail and run as far away as I possibly could.  It was at that time that I got a different call: an invitation of the world into the land of sales and business.  The shift was not what I had expected, or had wished for up until that point, but the hopes of actually providing for my family and then landing somewhere on the actual food chain sounded like a feast we’d all been missing.  And of course, for a while, it was indeed that.

God Conversations

Since I took that leap, traveling from week to week to a new city, a new hotel, or wining and dining those who would buy what I was peddling, I pondered time and again on the actual “why’s” of my exit from being a man of the cloth.  And though that is still somewhat an experience in progress, I learned a lot about people outside of the four walls of the church in my exodus.  And the eye-opener was, that the people I encountered and had conversations with, by and large, were really intrigued and secretly both loved and desired to talk about the man we call Jesus.  Now to be sure the times have shifted as we continually become far beyond anything Post-Christian used to mean, but the fact remains that people in general know down deep inside of their heart of hearts that this man Jesus (or the very idea of Him) is the very God they imagine.  A God they wish were true as they sleep at night when one else but them and the God they don’t believe in are paying attention.  It’s as if somehow, they almost instinctively know that this mysterious figure in history is as close to a God they could potentially follow as anything they have ever come in contact with, even as they shuffle on from day to day pretending that it’s actually too good to be true.

The Upset Applecart

There are some reasons for this indecisiveness on their part of course.  But before we touch on that, the holy scriptures actually tell us that He is indeed the God they secretly admire from afar in the entirety of its story.  Yet it also states that Jesus is not only God, but that he is the exact representation of His nature (Heb. 1:3 NET), and that if we have seen Him we have indeed seen the Father (John 14:9 NET); and that this same Father has made Him known in space, time and history (John 1:18).  So bottom line: Jesus “is” the God you and I in the choir know, and indeed the God the world covertly longs for.  So that seems like really good news at the outset doesn’t it?  Of course the problem comes in when the same conversations I mentioned earlier lead to a conversation about the church that is to be at least some representation of that same God we wish to be true.  All of a sudden, the waters gets really muddied.  And as you probably already know, their admission is that they really like the idea of Jesus (what they think they know about Him), but as far as the church goes, they have a hard time distinguishing whether or not they are indeed one and the same.

The Problem is Nothing New…But

This problem I’ve described is of course no new story.  Many have in fact ranted for a couple of decades now about the supposed decline of the church and how secularists (the nones) and those who have left the church (the dones) have opted for a day at the beach or to be “home-churched”.  But this brings up something that I want to begin to wrap our talk up with today.  In fact, a guy by the name of Michael Lewis (internetmonk.com) who passed away several years ago now, hit a nerve with a book he wrote called Mere Churchianity.  The book really changed my life and ruined me more than I already was quite frankly.  But his overarching thesis was the gaping difference between what most of us have been eternally baptized in (what he calls a “Church-shaped spirituality”), and the one he rightly says we should have instead that he called a “Jesus-shaped Spirituality”.  I mean after all that makes sense doesn’t it?  I mean if Jesus “is” the exact representation of God, and he’s the God we imagine, then those of us who truly know him should probably look like and act at least like a distant cousin.  But hang with me for just a moment longer.

Jesus-Shaped vs Church-Shaped Spirituality

 Now again, you might be saying, “I get it”.  We’ve all heard this before Mark.  But I think if we stop long enough to think about it, it deserves meditation beyond the typical defense posture we posit with such things as “I’m not perfect, just forgiven”, or, “It’s all about grace brother”.  Or the one I like the most which says: “Be careful talking about the Bride of Christ man”.  And in all fairness to those church defenders, we know to some degree that all those rebuttals have their credible merit but have also become far too “Christian cliché” if I may.  But the truth is, I have long believed that Michael was on to something that is just as relevant today for our equal musing.  Because the fact is, that the ones who walked and talked with Jesus for 3 ½ years, and who mostly were murdered for holding on to this very unpopular belief, remind us that “the one who resides in God ought himself to walk just as Jesus walked” (I John 2:6 NET).  And though this seems obvious to the point of being overly cliché again, I ask you, “Does Michael have a point here”?  Does there not seem to be a stark difference in what you observe from what he called “churchianity” and what instead exemplifies a little more in the way of Jesus”?

 If It Was a Snake, It Would Have Bit Us

 The truth is, we all know that if this was a snake it would have bit us by now.  But perhaps we have become the Anti-Venom.  Yet surely we all know (myself included) that somehow deep inside ourselves, we are often more shaped by American values (enculturation) or the values and agendas of our favorite church, more than we are by the values of Christ himself.  The reason of course is because they are often polar opposites, or still yet to be deciphered by wood, hay and stubble that Paul warns us about (I Cor. 3:12-15).  And of course it doesn’t take even an amateur theologian to inform us that to not live by the values that the world and society says we must somehow operate under for our survival, is to bring about additional pain and suffering to what is already natural to the collective human experiment.  Yet somehow, we must secretly also know, that as we sheepishly negate the spirituality of Jesus rubbing off on us too much, we must also recognize that our watered down version of that same otherworldliness will indeed continue to thwart the impact of the gospel upon those who are secretly wishing for Jesus to come walking through their front door in some kind of shoe leather.

The Show is Sold Out Folks

Again, though the song remains the same here, it seems nobody is really listening or wrestling enough in most circles as to what a “Jesus-shaped spirituality” is to look like amidst the upstream current we will be swimming against should we decide to change our course.  But I ask you dear friend, “Will all of our reasoned discourse, homiletical precision, multiple church services, and rock and roll worship bands begin to turn the tide of those secretly wishing the Jesus we herald is the God that they imagine”?  Or, is the form of godliness we currently possess just shy of the power both to walk as He walked and to do what He did?  And if the demon now is so deep in the culture (Martin Lloyd Jones), which any thinking Christian must readily admit is the case, will anything but little Christ’s in some form of distinct saintliness and power be able to have the potential to expel it from our midst as we are now in the outskirts of what feels like our final hours?  If we still think so; somehow, perhaps we will forever be doing nothing more than playing musical chairs with the same choir we’ve always been preaching to–shuffling in and out to our same song and dance.  But for those who still wish for the God they have imagined, well; I guess there’s always another show!

Selah

 

 

When Someone Takes You Where You Don’t Want To Go

The concept of being taken where we don’t want to go or being forced to do what we don’t want to do is anathema to those born and bred in the land of Stars and Stripes.  Although we might concede to that arrangement as a child with no current bargaining chips, to be sure our goal as we exit the tutelage of our mothers and fathers is to never, ever do so again.  The ability to choose what we want when we want, akin to a never-ending seafood buffet line, is something most of us have been burdened with since we first put our foot on the floor.  In fact, it’s really not that beneficial, though it is not my purpose to explore that outside of setting the stage for our talk today.  Yet I’m told by many from third-world countries that this is in stark antithesis to their everyday experience.   The ability to choose, or to perhaps “pull oneself up by their bootstraps” even, as a matter of choice, is a far-off and even grandiose idea.  For on the one hand too many options brings with it great confusion; and on the other, changing one’s “caste” so to speak is not only impossible for them, but somehow a disruption of some reincarnational destiny baked into their subconscious.  And even though this “I did it my way” philosophy seems to be the entitlement of those of us in the land of plenty, my “spidey-sense” tells me that we ought not get used to it all the way to four score and ten.  In fact, my dear friend and spiritual mentor Peter the Rock had a conversation with Jesus one day about this very thing.

Breakfast On the Beach

It was shortly after the resurrection, when the disciples gathered together with Jesus in Galilee, that Peter; perhaps reminiscent of previous days, decided they would rondavu for some good ole night-fishing.  And yet as is often the case, on this night, the fish weren’t willing to join the party, and so they caught nada, zilch!  Then in a flash, equally similar to those miraculous days before the crucifixion, Jesus, who now affectionally called them “children” (I really love that by the way), asks them to throw their net on the right side of the boat.  By this time of course, they have at least learned to do exactly as he says it seems, and faith having now taught them these valuable lessons, now yielded so many fish that they could not pull them all in.  And so it was, right before the fish fry, that Peter and the true love of his life were to have their most difficult, and at the same time transformational conversation.

It started out as John realizes that the guy who tells them to throw the net on the right side is of course the Lord (duh).  It is then that Peter ditches the fish cleaning duty and jumps into the sea in order to beat the rest of the gang to the shore where Jesus is already serving up a morning breakfast of fish and bread.  He then shoves a few more on the grill from the morning catch and invites the rag-tag fisherman turned disciples to join him for a sumptuous breakfast on the beach.  And our text tells us in John chapter 21, that though the disciples know it is the Lord, something inside tells them that he is different now in both the strangest and magnificent of ways that they cannot quite explain.

A Class We’d Like To Miss

And now, as is often the case, the conversation turns to Peter; perhaps somewhat still dejected and reluctant to offer much busy spiritual talk in the aftermath of his utter denial of the man he walked and talked with for three years of his life.  Jesus of course knows this, and so He asks him a rather pointed question as he often did when he says, “Do you love me more than these do”?  Peter’s normal tendency, as is still the case here, is to be the best in the class as he retorts “Yes, Lord, you know I love you”.  Peter figures they can now move on to other things, but Jesus is not ready to concede yet, as he asks him yet two more times if he loves him, adding the admonition to “feed or shepherd my sheep”.  And it is here that we see that Jesus seems to be giving him a hall pass for the utter denial at Jesus’ darkest hour, yet as Peter perhaps reluctantly accepts this, he also begins to feel that maybe Jesus is sticking in the knife further by asking him “3” times just as he denied Jesus in the same progression.  Yet what we find is that Jesus is doing nothing of the sort, but lovingly letting him know that He has not given up on him, but is yet again commissioning him to take up the towel and serve in the way of the Master, and to equally love and shepherd those like you and I, who need this broken shell of a man to lead us down our own broken and sometimes cruciform road.

And I mention cruciform because it is to be both Peter’s and our own in some form or fashion if we take seriously the call to love, to serve, to feed and to shepherd the stubborn sheep of God until He returns again.  You know…people like us.  Yet it is here that our lesson comes into clear view.  Jesus tells him ever so generally, yet prophetically nonetheless, that though in his reckless youth he has been used to calling the shots and marching to the beat of his own drum, that there will come a time when this will not be the case.  He reminds him that when he is old, he will be taken outside of his own will, and outside of the purposing of his own life, somewhere that he doesn’t want to go at all.  We are then told by Jesus in a somewhat cryptic form what church history seems to confirm–that Peter would suffer the same fate as his Master.  And yet, Jesus still says to him the same words, “Follow me”.

Can I Just Be Like John for Goodness Sakes?

But before we unpack this (and I’ve always been able to relate to Peter’s response here) he then turns and looks at his spiritual rival (John), and essentially asks Jesus, “Well, if I’m going to die like that, which I don’t even want to think about right now, then what about John boy here”?  And it is here that Jesus says to Peter something that I have often heard him similarly saying to me, and perhaps on your walk on the narrow path, you’ve heard it as well.  He tells him to quit worrying about John, Paul, George, or even Ringo for that matter, but gets right back to the most important issue at hand for us all.  And that is to answer the question correctly and most decisively whether or not we will accept the call to follow, though none go with us or not.  Because to be able to answer the question rightly is the only thing that really matters.  And Jesus is confronting Peter head on with this, even as he tells him that there will be a time when he will not call the damn shots at all, but will instead give up the ghost in the fight of faith.  And so there remains before us a similar and yet equally important reminder before we take another step, that whatever our lot in this life; whatever our achievement or not; our legacy or not; or inheritance we leave the ones we love or not, answering whether we have decided to simply follow is the watershed issue of our lives!

The Answer That Is Still Blowing In My Wind

It was September the 12th, 2019 when I wrote, Forever Trying to Graduate from the Incredible Sinking Class https://marknealprince.com/2019/09/12/forever-trying-to-graduate-from-the-incredible-sinking-class/ where again I attempted to instruct myself and others in the Petrine class of failures, hard knocks, and lessons we must learn if we are to walk on the narrow path Jesus is always guiding His own towards.  In my conclusion, my analysis was that sometimes, and even oftentimes in this life, it is not until we are truly sinking, and the one thing left visible of us out on that big ocean called life is one lone eyeball sending out one last S.O.S. right before we drown!  It is then, and many times only then, that faith comes in like a tsunami and yet actually saves us (even from ourselves) so we can finally be useful in the Kingdom of God, and so we can finally have the kind of sight that can actually guide us and others the rest of the way.

Now though I’m not Peter by a long shot, though in some ways we all are, on Friday, September the 13th, I was taken where I did not wish to go.  As I lay on the cold operating table still awake to the sights and sounds of men and women with masks deciding my fate, inserting long tubes into my heart to mend what I had for so long ignored was broken, I longed for someone to tell me it was finally over.  From the days hence, I’ve sought the Lord and waited like a dog longing for a long-lost bone for a word from Him.  And like Martha, and like Peter even, I am worrying about many things and wondering what is to yet to be made of my life in the grand kingdom story, or if I still have a shot like John and others seem to have.  I’m still waiting, and waiting for some epiphany, for some silver bullet, or perhaps a still small voice would be nice.  But there is one thing that keeps coming back like a resounding gong in my ear that I have a tendency to ignore due to its utter simplicity, since I too have heard it time and time again.  And like Peter, I’m a little perplexed and perhaps a little sad at its eternal repetition throughout my life, somehow waiting for something more.  Yet here it is again, and yet now it is so much sharper in my ear.  I hear him saying to me, “Mark, my dear, dear child, just follow me”!

Selah

 

 

 

 

Forever Trying to Graduate from the Incredible Sinking Class!

A Willing, yet Gullible Spirit

 If there is one thing I know in the marathon called life on the narrow path, it is this: When Jesus said, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”, He was telling the sho’nuff truth yall.  Just saying.

Interestingly, he made that pronouncement when He was getting ready to have his life handed over to be brutally murdered while His best homies were found sleeping on the job.  Instead of praying, they were catching some Z’s!  Boy can I relate.  And consequently, if it wasn’t for the comfort of the disciple’s blunders as an exemplar of what “not to do” making me breathe a sigh of relief, I would have ditched this narrow path thing a long, long time ago.  Can I get an amen up in this joint?

Peter seemed to be the ringleader on this kind of shenanigans as a matter of fact.  You know, like when he got the brownie points for getting the right answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am” that Jesus asked the class rather pointedly.  Peter states with a shit-eating grin on his face (paraphrased), “Well, everyone knows Jesus that you of course are ‘The Christ, the Son of the Living God’” (in an operatic tone) as he then drops the mic!  Booya!  So, in essence, Peter gets the star for the day in class.  Two stars in fact.  But of course moments later, in what he thought was an equal star-worthy moment, as Jesus lays out the trajectory of his trip to Jerusalem and getting crucified plan, Peter has now received just enough accolades to instruct the teacher apparently.  So he basically looks at Jesus and says something like, “Never Jesus, ain’t gonna happen on my watch”! To which Jesus quickly deflates Peter’s balloon of a growing big head ego with something only your mama could get away with saying and your dignity to still remain intact.  He says, “Get Behind Me Satan! You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s”.  So yeah, the Spirit is indeed willing, but…let’s not move the tassel to the left just yet for the one with the keys and all!

The Reality of Weakened Flesh

I mean when that happened, you would have thought he would have had that Deja vu moment right? I mean when the class that keeps most of us from ever graduating took place, you would think he would have at least had some cliff notes somewhere.  But no.  He is so eager to please, and yet complimentarily, is also so smitten with Jesus more than most at the same time to be sure.

But the scene is set for us.  Jesus, as he often does, goes to pray alone somewhere (subliminal alert to all flunky disciples like me).  And while He does, and since evidently doing other things rather than praying when Jesus does is more important, like for instance “fishing” (during a storm), they spot this figure on the water coming toward them.  And as they wipe their eyes and pinch each other to make sure this is real, the scene changes to a Stephen King novel come to the big screen, and they see dead people (wrong movie), or rather what looks like a ghost I mean.  Well we all know the story.  And Peter, simply trying to graduate with honors again, gets this bright idea that if that’s actually Jesus, which they now recognize it is, perhaps he will really show up the rest of these rag-tag fellows by walking right alongside Him and “be the man” once and for all.  And of course, as Jesus often does, he commends his effort and says, “Sure, come on down Pete”. 

And as the plot then thickens, Peter steps out of the boat and walks on the water to Jesus.  And by then, he must have been saying, “Jesus, I think I am now ready to teach the class on ‘How to Follow Jesus in Just Three Easy Steps’, and then join Enoch and Elijah for that chariot that awaits to escort me to heavenly bliss”.  So he’s walking, with that strut and all (on the water in a storm mind you), and then it happened as sure as the damn dew in the early morning, the text says that “he saw the strong wind and he became afraid”.  And I’m like, “No shit Sherlock”, welcome to the long line of flunkies who always have to repeat this same class!  And as the disciples collectively sing in the background “Never gonna get it, never gonna get it”, the comedy becomes all too hauntingly familiar and up close and personal. At least to those of us who can admit that the flesh cannot and will not EVER get the job done!  And all of a sudden, if we’re honest, we no longer hate Peter for his continual “sucking up”, and instead, we like him…a lot.

 The Audacity of Faith Called into Question

And so rather than over spiritualize this difficult lesson in faith, to be honest, I get a little miffed that Jesus says to Peter, “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”, don’t you?  Because it is at this point that I more identify with Peter here.  Truth serum injection alert!  I mean you and I get the picture.  It’s dark, there’s a storm, and the waves are about to engulf him, and all his posse is laughing and talking about his mama all at once!  Who wouldn’t’ be afraid?  Who wouldn’t call everything into question?  Who wouldn’t begin to sink under those circumstances?  Let’s do a go fund me right now!

Well the sanctimonious among us like kicking Peter types when they fall or drown most of the time.  Doesn’t really matter though.  From the safety of our current “non-storm” in our lives we say, “Dude, Jesus is with you, all you had to do is keep your eyes on Him and you would have been just fine man”.  And, they get a star for that.  I mean after all, it’s the truth.  Really it is.  But does it also not make you scratch your head and wonder, “If the Israelites, and all those jive turkeys in the New Testament saw the hand of God, and even God himself, and His only son actually “do” miracles in front of their faces, why can’t you and I just walk on the narrow path with our chest out like a boss man”?

I’ve often wondered that myself, especially, even today; perhaps like most of you.  But you don’t have to raise your hand or anything.  But just between us, here’s a newsflash: Life is fricking hard as Hell, with or without Jesus!  And it doesn’t matter whether he’s in the boat, out of the boat, all up in your grill, or whether he just finished calming whatever storm in your own life.  It just doesn’t matter.  Because first of all, whatever victory you did have, you have probably by now written off as coincidence or donated it to science.  Or, better yet, if it was the failure and the sinking and not the victory you experienced (more often than not by my terms), the rub is this: Sometimes even when Jesus is there for real, or by faith, we cannot for the life of us see Him anywhere!  Because after all, we are sinking!  And it’s not imaginary, it’s not our abnormal psychology kicking in, or our imaginary freakin friend.  Hell no, it is for real OK!  So let’s just call it out can we?

 The Other Side of Fear

George Addair is accredited with the famous quote, and one that I both love and hate because of its truthfulness and difficulty in actually carrying out.  He said, “Everything you have always wanted is on the other side of fear”.  Moment of silence please.  Let that sink in and breath slowly!  And in this case, the devil, or “Mr. Frenchy”, or whatever you desire to call him, specializes in fear.  It’s his favorite my precious.  And you guessed it.  He is behind all that blocks us from the way of “real” faith.  He keeps us petrified in fear, and his primary job it seems, is to lie to us; and just for kicks and giggles, I’m told he likes to steal, kill and destroy too!  Just watch the evening news and you’ll get it immediately.

Stephen King in fact, seems to also know, as in the case with the reboot of his recent films (parts 1 and 2) of IT from his earlier novel.  Now I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it.  But every one of the cast of characters, from the first movie to the one just released last week, has come from some depravity and fear in their life for which they feel that cannot ever escape.  Whether it be falling victim to an overprotective and hypochondriac mother; owning the guilt of a brother who was tragically murdered; caught up in the crutches of a pedophilic father; or as a fat kid who’ll probably never be kissed by the girl he loves; the song remains the same.  IT knows what they fear, and he can transform himself into whatever that is, with all the guilt to boot.  Ironically, he’s a clown, which kids (most) would normally trust and love, but IT is also the most hideous beast one can imagine with an evil bite! Or, if you’ll have it, he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or for our purposes here, maybe even and angel of light!

But here’s the point, and I know it took me awhile to get here.  The charismatics, or perhaps we’ll call them “people of faith”, can teach us something here.  They’ve been teaching me a lot lately (though I’m very slow at this), as I still remain cautious, probably to a fault.  But the truth is, that Jesus and George Addair (not necessarily the same) are right.  Everything we want, everything God can and apparently wants to do both for us and in us, is on the other side of fear–which is the hardest class if you haven’t gotten it by now.  It’s the Mother lode I’m telling you.

Because you see, faith only comes through when you’re drowning, and there’s only one eyeball left on top of the water that anyone can see coming out of your nappy head!  It seems to only come then.  And it doesn’t matter whether you see Jesus like Peter did, or whether you can’t always see Him like you and me.  And it doesn’t matter if you’ve been there time and time again, and so you just think, “God, why don’t you stop picking on me while I’m dying over here.  And why then do you have the audacity to ask, ‘Why did you doubt’”?  What matters is simply this, as I’m sure Peter finally realized as that last bit of blood rushed to his head on his upside cross as he finally graduated the incredible sinking class: Faith only comes through once you die, or you drown, and not a moment before!  And the good news for us is, you don’t always have to die or drown, but you sure as Hell will feel like it and experience some of what it might feel like, time and time again.  Because after all, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things that are currently unseen—while you are drowning.  For in that moment, and only through the Spirit of God, faith speaks things that are currently not as if they actually are.  And no, Dale Carnegie is not getting ready to walk in.  And No, it’s not Norman Vincent Peale or Robert Schuller either.   But I will tell you this:  He that comes to God, must not only believe that He is God, but continually (every single day, while you are in fact drowning, I’m afraid), that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.  Because faith is a full contact sport my friend.  And getting your ass kicked from to time, and I mean like Mike Tyson, ear-biting ass kicked, is the only way we’ll ever graduate the incredible sinking class!

Selah

 

 

 

Trumpism, Not Donald Trump: Conclusion

As is often the case when a thought is stretched out over time, as in the occasion with this blog of several parts now, it loses its oomph if you will.  I mean that in the sense that it’s now time to move on to bigger and better things that I typically write about, even though I felt it necessary to at least attempt to explain from the perspective of a Christian who walks on the narrow path with a distinct limp, as to why one could even vote for the current Nemesis and Chief.  However, to wrap things up, I want to refer those who have not read the first three parts to this drama to please do so, and then pick it back up here.  Equally insightful I pray, are the two blogs that kind of evolved into me eventually seeking to explain the quandary of thinking and believing Christians in regards to Trump entitled, The Light in Christendom is But a Flicker Now: Part 1 https://marknealprince.com/2017/02/24/the-light-in-christendom-is-but-a-flicker-now-part-i/ and The Light in Christendom is But a Flicker now: Part 2 https://marknealprince.com/2017/03/03/the-light-in-christendom-is-but-a-flicker-now-part-ii/.  I did so in my own unraveling in regard to this oxymoron of a President, as I reluctantly pulled the lever as one of the “secret Trump votes”; all the while praying that lightning would not strike nearby in the aftermath.  So far, so good.  Nonetheless, it’s off to the finished line!

     Who Will Fill the Vacuum of World Leadership?

 As I began in Part 2, and finished off in my last blog (Part 3), I attempted to give a microcosm of an explanation of how Christians could vote in large masses for Donald Trump by seeking to give a proper explanation of an “understanding of the two kingdoms” (The world and the church).  I’ll leave those blogs to speak for themselves.  However, in addition to this understanding, there is an overarching fear of friend and political foe alike as to who will rise to the vacuous rift in leadership on the world stage if the United States is found MIA?  What country’s globalist values will rule the day or call the shots; and one with the equal ability to back up, or better yet “stand up” to the bullies longing to have their shot at being the new “big dog” on the block?  For many, this is an overarching question that causes much chagrin and consternation that equally factors in our current and thus necessary allegiance to this President.

To be sure, we are not so gullible as to think that the U.S. does not have it’s on “blood on its hands” from its past, present and in the foreseeable future.  But as I have always reminded my sons: To whom are we being compared to in the final analysis?  And it is the answer to this question that our country’s own constituents, like never before, seem to be having a difficult time answering, as many of us secretly wonder whose history class they actually took notes and listened in.  We talk about being the world’s police and the desire to rid ourselves of this nickname, but since hating America is a new world sport (now from within its own ranks), most of us fail to realize that we are both damned if we do and damned if we don’t.  As Condoleezza Rice once said in her speech at the Republican National Convention in 2012, “Either no one will lead and there will be chaos, or someone will fill the vacuum who does not share our values”.  However, fast forward to 2019, and it becomes sort of obvious to insightful onlookers that the problem is that our once commonplace values from the greatest to the least of us have fallen on serious hard times!  That of course is why most who still think that discussion is a big frickin deal are scared as Hell as to where this brave new world will take us, and I think rightfully so.  For when the thought of God and the accompanying ethic permanently leaves the public square among the plausible considerations, then Dostoevsky’s words have come to pass, and indeed anything and everything is now permissible.

     Roll the Dice Again Please

And so our country rolled the dice on a classic narcissist, quite frankly like all the rest, yet with one stark difference: A narcissist who doesn’t hide behind politically correct language that disguises this obvious fact, and also one who actually sought to represent the people who voted him in office.  Go figure.  And rather than a globalist agenda, he is one who put forth the agenda of and for the working man of his own country.  For the people who can’t buy a job and for whose voice had long been forgotten, and whose values had been repeatedly trampled on as having no justification in the public domain of ideas.  A President who relentlessly and tirelessly put forth those ideas, making them once again a mainstay in American public life with equal footing to the ones that if not for the 2016 outcome, would have closed the coffin and nailed the lid shut to the future possibility.  All the while, these policies for the common man are continually being put forth, while relentless attacks are hurled at a man who will respond to each one with an equal left jab or uppercut, much like you and I would if someone was attacking us at every move we made.  And while all this was being done, we finally realized that people don’t like the President, much like they don’t care for deplorables like us.  After all, he’s not “Presidential”, and for once in our life, or maybe twice, we have someone in the office who cares more for his own country and its values which supersede what the entourage of globalist nations incessantly mutter on about.  A concept the left equally finds akin to the unpardonable national sin.

And That’s a Wrap

 And so, for once we have a nation that desires to get its own house in order before it seeks to help the rest with checks that the (unemployed) working man has been forced to write for far too long.  A country that is seeking to make peace with its enemies as a new strategy or experiment for prosperity for all, as opposed to one forever in a battle to tell everyone else to do with their own country with the threat of war looming not too far in the distance.  And so as one looks out at this now going on three-year experiment we’ve entered into, we realize still that it was and perhaps still is a risk; but a calculated one, nonetheless.  A businessman rather than a politician for a change.  Crazy right?  But its kind of got a nice ring to it don’t you think?  Worth a college try we still think.  And of course, the reason is, that when something is broke, sometimes it takes a billionaire narcissist who can’t and will not be bought, to finally “stick it to the man” for us and finally fix it.  Donald Trump, or Trumpism, is just that experiment; and for most of us in the “Dreg” camp: so far, so good!  But for those who can’t wait for the well done with ketchup steak-eating Commander and Chief to once and for all leave Pennsylvania avenue on the horse he rode in on, I only hope everyone is ready for what comes next.  As I once heard someone say, “Be careful what you wish for, because sometimes you just might just get it”.

Selah

Trumpism, Not Donald Trump: Part 3

For the last two weeks, I diverged off of the beat and path of my usual meanderings of this cracked up American life in order to talk about something that had been on my mind for some time now.   I had been desiring to first of all introduce the idea primarily as to why Christians showed up to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, but also speak to the fact that it has more to do with “Trumpism” and not necessarily a vote for Donald Trump.  I introduced that thought process in the blog entitled https://marknealprince.com/2019/07/18/trumpism-not-donald-trump-part-i/as well as last week’s post https://marknealprince.com/2019/07/23/trumpism-not-donald-trump-part-2/.  I left off last week beginning to unpack why Christians actually voted for the avant-garde Commander and Chief, speaking along the lines of understanding the difference between two kingdoms; the world and the church.  I’m going to pick back up where I left off as we plundered the narrative of the scriptures as a whole from the Old Testament, and this week I hope to zero in on how that progressive understanding also further shaped the sentiment of the New Testament writers.  Hopefully, as we progress a little further, we can at least get a better understanding as to how people who claim to be about love, care for the poor and needy and the alien and the stranger, can also be for their own country’s kingdom and values simultaneously.

An Understanding of Two Kingdoms(continued)

As we enter into the New Testament world with the introduction of Jesus on the scene, the consensus of “kingdom” and what it means to the Jews is still on the minds of everyone.  Mostly, that idea of kingdom is very wrong in that the majority of the people, as well as the disciples at first, still think prematurely of a Kingdom of power that will come and rightfully restore the Jewish people  to a renewed Davidic kingdom, finally free from their oppressors and a force of both good and strength for the world.  Others such as Simeon and Anna (Luke 2), who hang around and pray in the temple all day, know this is indeed not the case.  Ironically, as we fast forward to Jesus’ ascension at the birth of the early church (Acts 1) we still find many of the Lord’s followers asking basically, “Is this the time that you will establish your kingdom on earth”?  Jesus reply is both telling and frustrating to his hearers, as Jesus has been speaking about the kingdom to them for days and yet they still don’t get it.  He essentially lets them know that this time of which they speak is only for the Father to know, but for now His kingdom will enable them to receive power to be “witnesses” of a kingdom that will instead be one of a reordering of the heart.  And also, one that empowers those who heed its message to be a transformative “salt and light” in how they live their lives, show love and compassion to others, and who also speak kingdom truths regardless of the costs associated with doing so.

     Slow to Learn

It would take both Peter and Paul a little later on, as the New Testament was being penned and circulated, to help the early church broaden its view on this subject.  However, it was Jesus that first homed in on the differences of the two kingdoms people thought they knew something about; many of which had forgotten their very costly Old Testament lessons.  The first case we’re given for our instruction is when Jesus is taunted by the Pharisees in an effort to catch him in a trap, where they ask him whether or not it is lawful to give taxes to Caesar or not (Luke 22:19-26). And here it is that we have the statement that has no doubt changed the world that we exist in, and that is equally educational in this tale of two kingdoms, where Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”.  The clear idea here that Jesus wants to get through people’s heads first of all, is that the kingdom of power they envision now is not the one He has come to set up.  His synopsis for the crowd is that governments have a job to do in that they render law, order and protection; and as a result of that representation, taxes are due to them for that service they provide.  Likewise, Jesus is stating that the Kingdom of God is a different matter altogether, but that is also has things (time, tithes and talents) that it also will require of us, but that are to not to be confused with what Caesar is about.  But stay with me here.  Let’s fast forward now after Jesus has been arrested and taken to Pilate, where we witness another teachable moment to the inquiring minds who truly want to know that is put before us regarding this two-kingdom motif.  Pilate in essence asks who Jesus is and whether or not he is indeed King of the Jews.  Jesus’s reply is that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), and that if it were, His servants (like all worldly kingdoms) would be fighting forcefully to overthrow it, and because they are in fact not fighting, this explains that the kingdom He proclaims is not a worldly kingdom. Case in point: The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world are two kingdoms with vastly different agendas and purposes.

     The Pillars of the Faith Guide Us Onward

From here, gleaning from the pen of the two most famous apostles who laid down what the church was to believe and practice in these matters was both Peter and Paul.  And ironically, both in fact took these same things to mean a clear distinction between the two kingdoms, both positively and negatively.  Negatively in the sense that we are to be separate in terms of our values from the world’s, and rather to instead of conforming ourselves to them, be transformed by reorienting our minds to thinking Godly (Rom. 12:1,2).  Positively, in the sense that we are compelled to pray for all people, including our rulers and those in authority. Timothy in fact tells us this, under the tutelage of his mentor Paul, by admonishing us that we are to do this so that we might have the possibility of having quiet and peaceable lives, even in the midst of an ungodly society (I Tim. 2:2). Peter in fact tells us in I Peter. 2:13-17 this very thing as well where he writes:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (ESV)

And for those who might be inclined to think he said this because they had such a well-mannered Emperor in office that everyone simply adored, we need to be reminded that Nero was his name-O!  And far from “liking” Christians as a people, history tells us that he did however appreciate their usefulness for lighting up his gardens at night, and the very pillars that gave us these instructions were both “given the ax” under his reign!  And yet Paul nonetheless correspondingly tell us this in Romans 13:1-7:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.Therefore, one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (ESV)

     A New Understanding

And it is here that we begin to see the formulation of the church’s two kingdom variances.   And through the teaching of the scriptures, the church begins to understand that though they are to speak boldly as to the truth they have been commissioned with, they are likewise; where it does not conflict with thwarting the preaching of the gospel, to be the best of citizens.  They do so by cooperating with the worldly kingdom in the good that it does and the order that it provides, and which is indeed sovereignly set up by God to enact justice for their specific kingdom of which they are residents.  Conversely, this does not mean that all kingdoms are good, and in fact many throughout history have wreaked havoc on their constituents in the most brutal of ways.  In this case, the early church always used its influence to speak in the right way to power, trying to change the things they saw as grave injustices, even at great cost to themselves.  Some such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, went so far as to join a band of Christian brothers to assassinate Adolph Hitler, however unsuccessfully.  And yet even Paul in Acts 22, uses his own rights as a citizen of Rome that he was indeed born into to stop the powers that be from treating him like and dog and beating him unjustly.  The term “wise as serpents, and gentle as doves” is pregnant with meaning in order to discern the right approach in our day to day lives here, however it will always be done so with both pluses and minuses along the way.

Selah

Stay tuned for Part 4

 

Trumpism, Not Donald Trump: Part 2

Last week, I wrote a piece entitled: Trumpism, Not Donald Trump: Part 1 https://marknealprince.com/2019/07/18/trumpism-not-donald-trump-part-i/.  In that piece I spoke briefly about my normal apprehension in writing posts that are political in nature.  I’ll urge you to read that piece first if you missed it, and simply jump right in to what may take another post or two to complete.  However, just to have some cohesion to what I began to introduce, I opened my thoughts on the matter with an explanation of the danger of putting all “deplorables” and “Dregs of Society” in the same basket.  Afterwards, I also wanted to talk a bit more about giving genuine inquirers several reasons why “so-called” Christians voted for Donald Trump, or what I like to call Trumpism instead.  My first reason was due to the fact that it was a reaction to what they and others like them believe is a now full-scale attack on what made the West great, which I gave some very brief thoughts on.  The second one is this:

An Understanding of Two Kingdoms

 By saying two kingdoms, what I simply mean is that the vast majority of Christians, I believe rightly understand the difference between the Kingdom that is of God, and the one that is of this world.  In fact, they understand it properly only from mining the whole of scripture to do so. As a result, one emerges with a clear and glaring difference between what the church is supposed to do and teach, and what the government is to be about; and how they differ.

     The Anomaly That is America

It is of course no secret then in saying that, as we discuss America, we rightly understand that we are somewhat of an anomaly in the world as a true Republic.  A Republic in which all citizens (red, yellow, black, white, Christian, non-Christian, etc.) are protected by law in being able to both speak freely, and more importantly; in being given the great privilege of the right to vote.  And of course it should be no surprise to anyone, that regardless of the country’s now militant desire to eradicate religion from public life altogether, it is virtually impossible (even for those who want to rid us of it) to exercise our free speech and cast our vote without also bringing our worldview to bear on the decisions that we make.  To deny that this is the case, or that it should not be the example at all times is not only preposterous, but a clear denial what has always been—which applies to both sinner and saint among us.  Equally worth noting, is that to live in stark opposition to what we say we believe, no matter who we are, is to in fact believe nothing at all.

     Failure to Legislate a Religion

However, since blogs are to be “short and sweet”, I want to explain briefly what I mean by the difference of which I speak in these two kingdoms.  For instance, if we (speaking of Christians here) take an honest look at the entirety of scripture as I said earlier, we understand this distinction all too well.  This is after all why true thinking Christians do not wish for a theocracy as some might think, like many of our Muslim friends, due to the fact that a full legislation of morality or a religion is a failed experiment time and time again in the kingdom of this world.  For it underestimates that it is indeed the law that gives sin in us the opportunity to further enslave us, thus stoking our “middle finger’s” defiance towards it, as well as our continual failure to meet its holy demands (Romans 7:8-25). For indeed it is the letter that kills, but only the Spirit that gives new life a fighting chance to actually desire from the heart to do the right thing (2 Cor. 3:2).

     The Kingdom of God on Earth Begins to Crumble

 But back to the division of kingdoms.  We begin to see this dichotomy most clearly in the life of Samuel (I Sam. 8) where he is rightly upset that the Israelites have rejected God as their King, yet who instead desire a human king like the rest of the nations “to judge for them” and to “fight their battles”.  Samuel is of course taken aback by this and inquires of the Lord about it, at which point the Lord simply says for him to go back and let them know what they are getting into.  In other words, he wants them to understand that having a King and a Kingdom will require their sons and daughters, money, land, and taxes–as well as their full devotion to his and his kingdom’s service.  He concludes by reminding them that the byproduct of this wish fulfillment of theirs, is that a people called by God to be free moral agents, will in fact be enslaved to their King instead.  This is of course the history of most of the world until the radical idea and experiment of self-government was introduced by our founders.  Of course one would think that once they heard this, they would relinquish their naïve request, and ask God to put the crown on instead. Nothing happening.  The people replied to Samuel that this slavery stuff actually sounded pretty good and cried out nonetheless, “Give us a King”. As Samuel then reports back to God, the creator lets him know to go ahead and give them what they wish for. The Kingdom of God is not yet to be ushered in.  In other words, God sovereignly allows it, and the rest is in the annals of history.

     Still Giving It a College Try

As a result of this track record, also like other nations, they were continually enslaved to both good and bad Kings, all the while over and over claiming to want to put God somehow back on the throne (Judges).  Afterwards, as Kings were commissioned to at least stand in proxy for God as administrators of righteousness for the public good, everyone from wicked Saul to righteous David, and from the virtuous reforms of Josiah to the decadence of Ahab and Jezebel, each failed abysmally.  The irony in all of this is that even the most righteous King David, who it was said was a “man after God’s own heart”, during his reign of office, cut down a man in cold blood on the battlefield in order to cover up his romp in the sack with his wife while he was out fighting for his country.  This is of course not to rule out all the good that was done in the Davidic kingdom, nor is it the purpose of this blog to go all the way down memory lane of the good, bad and ugly of Israel’s leadership.  However, suffice is to say that God himself begins to separate the idea of permanent shalom and his righteous kingdom this side of eternity, even while calling his remnant of good men to continually speak out and fight for what is right to have its place in a continually rebellious, idolatrous and degenerate culture.  In fact, even during Israel’s deportation under mostly oppressive Kings who initially raped, pillaged and enslaved their people, the remnant of God’s people were still asked to buy, sell and trade and seek the welfare of their particular city as they assimilated in a foreign land that was not their own.  And in fact, even under such oppressive Kingdoms, two Kings (Cyrus and Artaxerxes) actually gave their blessing and funding both to rebuild the holy temple and also to build a wall.  And without going into a much longer discourse on the Old Testament’s obvious teachings around the distinction of the two kingdoms that God is historically fleshing out before us, as well as the fact that both his chosen men and men of the world are often in place both for good and for ill, God in fact also uses even men who eat their steak well done with ketchup in order to accomplish His purposes in the world.  In fact, as a Christian, to not believe so is to either be asleep at the biblical wheel, or to not give a rat’s ass as to what we find behind it.

Selah

Stay tuned for Part 3