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.
Stay tuned for Part 4
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.
Stay tuned for Part 3
I’m not a Politician
I’ve been cautioned in my own spirit as a given rule not to write about anything political in nature. My reasons are manifold. One has to do with the fact that I am not a political pundit, nor do I have a degree in political science, and neither do I sit around reading news articles all day for fun. This of course led to my decisive resolve to simply heed the “stay in your lane bro” advice and talk about what I might know a thing or two about. You know, things such as talking about my cracked up American life in search of the Jesus missing in America and all that. And this indeed could be sage advice.
On another note, I did have at least one friend that encouraged me to write about hot-button issues that people were actually interested in. His analysis was that nobody really cared about what kind of day I was having, or about Jesus and the narrow path and all that. I tried to tell him that though I’d love to be known for my writing, I really just want to write about what actually moves me, with the hopes that maybe that in itself would be enough to gather a few readers. With that being said, and with much trepidation, I took his advice a couple of times after writing “The Light in Christendom is But a Flicker Now” parts 1 and 2, when I wrote one blog in particular entitled: “Trump vs. Everyfrickingbody: Our New Mascot for Sticking It To The Man” https://marknealprince.com/2017/06/09/trump-vs-everyfrickingbody-our-new-mascot-for-sticking-it-to-the-man/,and one more a little later entitled “As It Turns Out, Freedom is Not Actually Free: On Flags, Freedom and Racism in America https://marknealprince.com/2018/05/28/as-it-turns-out-freedom-is-not-actually-free-on-flags-freedom-and-racism-in-america/. And the truth is, it felt really good to write those pieces at the time.
Fast forward till now, and I of course survived unscathed and even got some positive responses, even though I’m sure my liberal friends either unfriended me or put me on a long snooze vacation. Although sadly, as my friend and I continued to have discussions, mostly about our Christian faith and encouraging one another in it, our clear political differences became a topic he most wanted to talk about. And as usual, I tried to do so by allowing myself to both be challenged by his thought process, and to likewise challenge him with my rebuttal. He came to the conclusion that Fox news had blinded me to the light, concluding that was responsible for my total thoughts on these matters, and that every black person on the planet that had views even similar to mine (honkey that I am) were mere “Uncle Tom’s” or “house niggas”. For him, that was an open and shut case, no matter how I tried to invoke logic and reason into the discussion. He wasn’t having it. And the more and more I tried to bring us back to being brothers in Christ, he decided he could no longer have a relationship with me. I was hurt about this, because I don’t have too many “brothers” as it is, which is all the more reason why politics and religion don’t make good bed fellows. Yet here I go again appealing to both.
Not all Deplorables Are Cut From the Same Cloth
My theory is that it doesn’t take a Rhode’s Scholar after 2 ½ years now into the Trump experiment, to realize that the designation of “deplorables” to half of the voters in this country has not served the democratic party well. In fact, as of recently (enter “The Squad”), my contention is that this type of tirade is the gift that keeps on giving quite frankly. First of all, this is because lumping all people into the same basket of a particular voting block is to have taken one’s thinking cap “off”, which should be a slap in the face to people as learned and intellectual as the other side claims to be. But the truth is, that “deplorables” voted for Donald Trump for a variety of both gullible, selfish and even very noble reasons. Imagine that! Secondly, as any good American knows, when you start the name calling, the “Hatfield and McCoy” gloves come off. And as a result, a fight will ensue until the cows come home, and for many generations hence. So then, what should have been instructive for the democratic party, has instead caused them to dig their roots down deeper into this overarching narrative and ramp it a notch further; by bestowing an equally appealing naming convention to the uninformed masses called “the Dregs of Society”. So to wax Forrest Gumpian here, “I may not be a politically astute man, but I do know what needing a new game plan is”!
How Can Christians Vote for Trump?
Of course, among other things, one of the questions on everyone’s mind has been, “How can those who claim to be Christians vote for Trump”? And though there are a myriad of reasons why voters who have no faith to speak of have also cast their ballot for the Tweeter and Chief, I’ve been somewhat desperate to expound further on why many Christians have actually done so. And though it will take several blogs to attempt to unpack my thoughts on Trumpism, my explanation for the Christian part in it are fourfold.
First of all, it was due to a reaction to the current vitriol against what made the West great in their eyes. And as a result, like other people who also love their country, the Christian vote was for “Trumpism” and not necessarily for Donald Trump. Now to be sure there are many who actually now like the guy in spite of himself (myself included), and who will again vote for what he represents. And so for them, Donald Trump is a “middle finger” to the liberal mayhem and the now popular hatred of America among our own ranks! And yes, even Christians, for what they would call “Just war” reasons, signed off on the not so affectionate hand gesture! And like other voters in this block, they cast their silent Trump vote in a reaction to this vilification of what they believe has made the West great, and in the judgements of many (both foreign and domestic) who have studied its history. The West of course also includes the American Republic experiment and “idea”, whose founding documents have equally been both admirably studied, wrongfully canonized, and painstakingly scrutinized by those near and far as well. In short, their concern is that the ideals of reasoned discourse in the market square; freedom of religion; the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of any kind of happiness they can find; free market capitalism that either makes or breaks us; taxation with representation from a government that stays out of our business and our pocketbooks; and one who also protect its country from those who mean it harm have fallen on very hard times.
Now it is not in the scope of this blog to deliberate on all the explanations of all these things while equally positing their opposition, nor is it in my time allotment or particular pedigree to do so from a purely academic sense. Nonetheless, it is these particular things that grateful Americans are in a fuss about. And this includes those born on our soil, and those red, yellow, black and white grafted in by becoming its co-equal citizenry. Those who are still just deplorable enough to believe that these principles and what once made America great is actually a big frickin deal, and those of which are currently under blatant attack by spoiled-rotten, postmodern anarchists! And though admittedly America is not without her faults and colorful past, I would like to propose that those of us on this side of the isle would like to know what nation we are being compared to as the standard in course correction. So yeah, we get that people have the right as America’s sons to whine and complain about everything under the sun that was provided for them with blood, sweat and tears. But just like an ungrateful teenager gloating in parental provisions, we think perhaps the time has come for someone to send them to their damn room without any supper. Which could also be another phrase for “go back to where you came from” from someone caught up in the continual insolence in the current national room.
Stay tuned for Part II
You know they say that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, and I’m sure whoever’s grandma coined that term, it is just as true today as it was then. But from a Christian perspective, I’d like to suggest that the mind is in and of itself the devil’s workshop, and being industrious at the wrong things, and thinking the wrong things, are equally deadly culprits inside the lair that the devil makes his permanent home in. History has indeed proven that purposeful zealots with the wrong ideas have had devastating consequences that still speak to us from their ideological graves. And it is no less true of little ole “you and me”. For our daily thought patterns can lead us further into the black hole of despair; and either progressing us into creatures of ghastly malevolence, or forging us ahead into the light of goodness, peace and hopeful possibilities. The difference of course is as obvious as the nose on our faces to anyone who gives a damn about actually taking a little look see.
In fact, I know a little bit about this from a lifetime of fighting my way outside of a burrow of which I speak. For instance, my own family of origin has been riddled with clinical depression which has left scars of which still have not been repaired, nor has any glimmering hope as of yet blown any smoke up our derrieres as to its possibilities. And the consensus coming from the glaring “peanut gallery” still lingers on like a good dose of indigestion, woefully concluding that the plague is pervasive throughout the entire gene pool. This has caused many to assert that there’s just no getting away from the “que sera sera” of our family tree. In other words, “it just is what it is”. And I would be ever so bold as to say that this viewpoint about our own “day to day” movie-screened lives is prevalent among the vast majority of those we bump into, more so than we would like to admit. Thus, we often forget that the devil had his minions long before Felonious Gru, and they are also equally legion and parasitic.
It should be no secret then that this sort of deterministic prognostication of fate set its path in order to define my own destiny of capitulation to this reality becoming the final curtain call of my life. And to make matters worse, I often listened to the lying, slithering tongue; reminding me each waking hour that I could not rise above both familial and environmental circumstances. It also gladly replayed for me that the trajectory of my life had already taken its turn for the worst, and that the best that I could do was buckle in for the long and bumpy ride. And were it not by the grace of God in introducing me to the discipline of ingesting the word of God like Pavlov’s dog , as well as the consumption of books by others who fought their way out of the false and final prediction of their lives, I too would have become a casualty of war that far too many believers have somehow forgotten we are in. And to say that time spent with God and becoming a bibliophile has transformed the way time outside of the devil’s workshop taught me to rethink, is to agree that the Pope is indeed Catholic, and it is a debt to which I can never repay. And yet even so, the workshop never closes, and it constantly vies for a subtle takeover of our minds; and before long, we’re caught up in a web that is slowly but surely preparing us for a slow-cooked dinner. And the sad part is, even those of us who know better, can on any given day just as easily consent to its bidding for control of how and what we should think.
In fact, this reluctant surrender day after day to the lies that often come in different packaging can carry us away by stealth, and before we know it; we’ve kicked the dog, filed for divorce and told the boss to take the job and shove it! And then for the umpteenth time, once the pieces have been dusted off and picked up from the ground, we forge ahead again, vowing in some epiphanic moment to pick up some deaf ears to the lies that went and sidetracked us again. And that’s for those of us who have already taken the class, and who have already spent a lifetime attempting to bend the knee to the one who has whispered to us too many times to count, that this can only be corrected when we die(both then and now). But who the Hell wants to do that? Death to self won’t sell any tickets to the show these days I’m afraid. No one is lining up for self-mutilation, and we can’t resurrect Simon Stylites from the dead and live vicariously through him. And the truth is, continual dying to one’s self as a step forward in thinking rightly, if we’re not careful, can turn one into a visual zombie of sorts. We can become a walking dead man in desperate need of a Joker’s smile painted onto our face. It can leave us broken and bruised, notwithstanding becoming an ornery ole cuss to be around. And the irony is, the very (partial) answer to our dilemma can also make us bitter inside. We walk around carrying our real and self-imposed crosses, all the while secretly hoping for our public martyrdom so that we can watch people at our wake self-flagellate in tandem at the deeds they’ve committed against us.
Or we can go another route. We can buy into “name it and claim it” motif, which starts off as a pretty good remedy for what ails us. We have our Bible promises that we can recite reminding us that “we are more than conquerors”, and “we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us”. We can also tell ourselves rightly that the devil seeks to kill and destroy, is the father of all lies, and even add a little “God don’t make no junk” to the equation for good measure. If we add to that a good charismatic church; the latest Joel Osteen book; a sprinkle of Tony Robbins; and a circle of friends that will walk this path with us, it can be really good medicine–for a while. Yet the truth of the matter is, at the point at which our new found lamp doesn’t yield the genie often enough, we find the minions have merely been biding their time and they still have our mind’s address in their rolodex. And though there is great truth in both of these measures to be sure, we find that the cure for lingering and tinkering too long in the devil’s workshop is actually a two-edged sword, and one that seems to cut us either way we turn.
The Devil Is In The Details
The more I have walked on this narrow path however, I have come to the conclusion that the truth for us from the mouth of God is usually “both-and” and not “either-or”. God’s ways are indeed past finding out, and yet He also lets us in on His general secrets. For instance, there is both a cross and a resurrection, and a time for this and time for that. We have also grown in our walk, yet we are childlike in so many ways still. And thus equally, we are daily reminded that the heart is desperately wicked, and there are not many who can ever really know it—particularly, and most importantly, in ourselves.
And so I have found that much of our misery on this planet comes from lingering far too long inside of the devil’s workshop. That’s a truism you can take to the bank. Yet also like a hotel I once heard of; it is also a place that you can check out but can actually never leave this side of heaven. For each and every day, like Peter, the workshop longs to sift us as wheat. Or like Martha, cause us to be concerned about many things, except for what really, really matters in light of eternity. But never fear, God has prayed for us both, and He has left us some final thoughts. And like the Gambler who once said you have to “know when to hold em” and also “know when to fold em”, I think the Nazirite summed it up best when He said: “I have said these things to you, that in me you might have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world”.
A Text That Should Haunt Us
I can remember many years ago now, the late David Wilkerson, preaching a message from this particular text from Hebrews chapter 5 which says,
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
I had thought very deeply about this very text over the years, and it’s lofty premise taught in the whole of scripture. I…
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I have had a hand full of people that actually care about me, start to look at me with an edge of concern lately. In fact, I can almost feel them whispering to themselves as I walk by, secretly saying to themselves, “Is he O.K.”?
And I understand that a little bit I guess. After all, they see this once enthusiastic and extroverted guy transform into an introverted hermit type of fellow, and watch from afar as old blue eyes has been walking lately with a little less spring in his step. I also refuse to “Grecian formula” things up, and so this increasingly graying beard, and once somewhat chiseled frame has started to show signs of budding atrophy–despite my still quasi-consistent attempts to keep everything from falling down altogether on a fat boy treadmill nearby.
They equally scratch their head as they see a chap who was once a movie aficionado grow increasingly frustrated at the morally inept and purposeless selection, and similarly irritated at Christian movie production attempts to “VidAngel” the unadulterated reality out of life that we all know and experience from day to day. As a result, turning the “boob tube” off as my old man used to call it, often seems the correct order of the day.
These same people no doubt likewise stop to reflect on someone who is now almost positive that nothing good happens after 10:00 PM at night, and who would just as soon pass the time reading a good book or in finding an old empty church to sit and pray in, than to do just about anything else. This is also the same person mind you who loves a huge mug of Belgium beer, or a glass of exquisite bourbon as much as anyone with half a pulse; and who puts an occasional premium cigar in the same category as filet mignon and a baked potato–hopelessly drowned in limitless butter and sour cream. To add to this complexity, this ever-evolving patriarch can occasionally be seen with the likes of Chicken little, and one of whom has correspondingly grown pretty damn sure that the sky is actually falling all around us.
A Delightful Paradox
Oh, and don’t get me wrong, I like to be around people (in small doses now I’m afraid) but am equally content with solitude that causes me to habitually reflect and write about the sky I just mentioned. I also grow increasingly content with a mixture of both a holy sadness and an equal zest for what God has left for me and my beautiful bride in the days that lie ahead–despite not knowing heads or tails of its sure footing anymore. And for sure, that has taken some reluctant getting used to.
In fact, I’ll go so far to say that I believe that this contrast I just described should be somewhat normal for those of us who are still faithfully pulling out eye-teeth in their pursuit of a God who often plays hard to get, and those who also grow increasingly wary of the endless “grasping for straws” for some eternal bliss in a home down here; when all the while we innately know that we were created for a city whose builder and maker is God. And the truth is, I’m now actually OK with this beautiful contradiction. But it’s taken quite a country mile to get here into my skin.
Death and Taxes
I can remember hearing Billy Graham say one time something that I found rather profound. He was asked that if he had it to do all over again what he would do different. He mentioned several things, but the one that stuck with me, that did not make a lick of sense until recently, was when he said, “I would have prepared more for growing old”. And this insightful thought has stayed with me ever since. You see because the fact is, that one day, just as certain as April 15th, the grim reaper will come to do his bidding, and I’m convinced more than ever that preparing for this certainty is singularly what has the distinctive power to catapult us into living a more purposeful life, rather than stoking the continual restlessness of having not yet achieved a life of perfect ease and comfort—a rose garden of which God never promised to those of us who voluntarily still walk on the narrow path. But I think perhaps we have forgotten.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have done things in life to try and “get ahead”. I’ve worked hard, pursued advanced degrees, tried to be the best at a thing or two. And in that quest, I have experienced some of the euphoria of accomplishment, and the equal sharing of the spoils that come with it. I still pursue this, simply because I want to be as great as I can be with the talents I’ve been given. And somehow, someway, I believe there’s a best-selling book somewhere in my repertoire that still causes me to not go gentle into that good night. All the while, I am now equally comfortable with being a normal guy who has also abysmally failed, yet who simply loves his wife and family, and who makes at least a feeble attempt to walk on this broken road. All the while, I am in constant hope for the daily bread and wine given from a Father who loves to give good gifts to his children–even when the battle rages on for the true fallen sons of God to at last be revealed.
Settle Down and Settle In
In conclusion, the reason that I write this, is not to give those concerned more reason to fret about my current metamorphosis; nor do I wish to become an old man before my allotted time. But what I do want to do, is to find a way to settle into this old man’s skin in such a way that enables me to offer hope and guidance to those who increasingly engross themselves in a never-ending discontentment from a life that they feel has passed them by, and instead embrace a life of child-like faith and trust in the one who has promised to never leave us or forsake us. To continually walk hand in hand with the one who longs to give us peace and rest even in the valley of the shadow of our inevitable death, yet most readily in the daily grind of peaks and valleys, highs and lows, and the ever constant “in-betweens” and “still not yets”. For this is the path for all who dare walk on this road less traveled, and I simply pray that you don’t have to become an old man before finally getting it into your skin.
I’m pretty sure that my Baptists friends (if I still have any), don’t always appreciate my affectionate humor when it comes to them. However, in my defense, since I am an ordained Baptist preacher (I know, I know), I feel like I can poke fun at the “fan damily” and hold my head high while chewing gum at the same time.
You see in America, Baptists get pegged as being the group that sits as far in back of the church as humanly possible, thus we call them “back-row Baptists”. Yet the truth is, this is a tendency of American Christianity I think as a whole. The reason is, that most of us are eternally inoculated to any chance of catching the real stuff of Christianity, so sitting on the back row suits us as the perfect way to get just enough of something churchy without getting the real thing. It’s safe there, no one is really going to call us out, and we can exit out the back door before the preacher finishes the closing prayer without anyone giving us a passing glance. It’s like we really do have a cloak of invisibility. I guess that’s why I decided to sit the poor on the back with us for this short visit to church, because they too hardly get a notice anymore inside of an institution that used to be notorious for championing their cause in the world.
Back In The Day
Now as one can imagine, this is much too broad of a subject to unpack rightly in a blog post. But hopefully, I can at least chime in on something that I think we should be able to notice readily.
Of course, it’s no secret that the church in its early beginnings was one that attended to the cause of the poor, the widows, the sick and dying; and took in all of the dregs of society the roman world deemed expendable. In fact, several of the Pauline epistles were written in the context of Paul and others collecting funds to give to the church in Jerusalem for a famine that they were experiencing. In addition, the book of Acts tells us that the early apostles had to appoint men for outreach to the poor because the need had become so great; and as they took up the quandary of the poor, the watching world took eye-dropping notice, which is documented historically ad nauseum. In fact, even as the apostle Paul was coming into the faith after his persecution of Christians, biding his time till he would be released to the gentiles in full measure; in the book of Galatians, he reminds us that he was given the “right hand of fellowship” by the other apostles, and was simply asked to “remember the poor”.
And the truth is, the old testament also bleeds care for the poor and the needy, and it’s obvious extension into the new testament adds to the already exhaustive case for it being one of the people of God’s highest priorities in complementarity of taking the good news to those who have not yet had the chance of either accepting or rejecting it’s truth claims. And yet, if this is the case, one wonders if we are by and large now still known for being those with this task as our chief modus operandi.
Part of the Problem
And of course, you can bet dollars to doughnuts, that the first rebuttal in questioning my brief thesis here are accusations of the church not wanting to be accused of a mere “social gospel” stance, where we give people a sandwich as a cheap substitute for the “good news” as if the two were somehow mutually exclusive. The truth is, as lines are drawn in the sand, one can’t help but notice the irony, in that the more conservative branch of the church (who actually still believe the scriptures) have a tendency to err on the side of rejecting the social gospel’s implications, as the mainline branch of Christianity (which seems to believe anything the cultural wind now blows up their skirts) seems to be holding up the biblical standard of ministry to the poor as the only thing that now keeps their skin in the Christian game. And as I contemplate this with a watching eye, I wonder how we have come so far as to separate two things that seem to be a part and parcel of the same gosh-darn message. As a result, I think those looking in at what we’re up to these days are rightfully bewildered.
Equally problematic, is the fact that part of our hesitation in aligning our cause to the poor is due to not wanting to be guilty of helping those who should have been helping themselves all along (we’re almost sure there is a verse that says that somewhere). The equal faulty logic is that of lumping all the poor into the same basket, which causes us to overlook or simply ignore the obvious casualties that living in a capitalistic economy (the best we’ve come up with yet) can leave lying on the ground all around us unawares. This includes those of us who can no longer continue to adapt and reinvent ourselves vocationally, or who have no support network to help us pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps; and as a result, can be left holding up a sign clearly visible on our way to Walmart. This is not to mention the vast number of poor children and the elderly who are the real tragedies of the never ending story which is simply not accurately told by left or right leaning pundits, and whose book has been shut and simply tossed into the “Obama phone” basket.
The Expediency that Crept In
O.K. I realize we all know these things, if we are at least honest with ourselves a little longer than a nanosecond, but for those of us who call ourselves Christ’s followers, our reaction should not be so simplistic and superficial. You see part of the problem is that the church, who was once known as the defender of the true poor caught up in the tailspin of this thing we call life, has turned what was once a calling and apprenticeship to Christ as true followers on a mission, to a career path whose specializations have choked out the remaining month at the end of the money. And in this current hour of the mass marketization of the franchise of the church and its mavens in tow, what we find is that sometimes 80 to 90% or more goes to the upkeep of the now finely oiled machine. As a result, very little is left to send true pioneer missionaries to unreached lands, or to help subsist the poor in the household of God (whom we’ll always have with us); or to also reach out and own the cause of the homeless and poor just outside our stain glassed window. It is of course no secret that with a church on every corner, and some that span the circumference of a city block, the church collectively (Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants) could solve the problem of homelessness in mere seconds flat.
At the very least, we could do so among those who failed the “dog eat dog world” of our American experiment, and simply need to buy much needed time to reengage in a world that virtually ignores their true existence on any given day. To be sure there are multiple variables in this equation for consideration outside the scope of this blog. However, the fact remains, that while the church by and large will continue to bypass the implications of my brief critique and other voices like it, those we are supposedly called to reach with our “good news” secretly know that we are the last true beacon of hope for those who have no power and no voice, and yet they sit back and wonder why we’ve abdicated our one last true apologetic in this late hour.
Back to Business As Usual
And the truth is, the poor really aren’t on the back row though with the Baptists. That’s my bad. Oh, they are there with us, but they are in the front and in the middle, desperate for all the hope they can muster before Monday’s realties settle in like an all too familiar friend. They are there with their predicament, yet afraid to show their true hand for fear of the waxing generalizations of their circumstances, which is always nothing more than a problem of their own making. They are also down the street, they’re the neighbors who went and took our neighborhood, and to be sure they are also the basket people walking around and mumbling for perhaps some of your loose change. They are also the kids with a heap of family dysfunction and yet always broken pocketbooks, and those who can’t even buy a job, much less “get” one that can take them out of the “working poor” status.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch; the back-row stumbles in. Hush now! For the show is about to begin.