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

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 implications of that in light of our current milieu of a postmodern world now come of age, something else came to me that felt I desperately needed, or at least wanted to say to you. And that certain something that I would like to briefly speak about today is the further digression of the light in Christendom that I have felt for some time is indeed now merely only somewhat of a flicker.

But before I attempt to continue to unpack that thought just a bit, let me just say that I’ve been on a positive kick since my last post or two, which of course have been just a little darker, and of course quite frankly, most like me. Oh but you would be proud of me to be sure though. In fact, I’ve been “speaking the word” into my life each morning, going to a church that believes in the same, and grasping and hoping each day for brighter tomorrows. I’ve also been looking forward to victories that God is merely waiting on me to simply believe in order for me to claim so that my life experience echoes it’s reality that’s been waiting for me to get on board.   It’s all really good stuff to be sure. Oh I know, I know. You sense the sarcasm already I can tell; so now a brief explanation.

You see for most of my life I have been exposed to a particular version of Christendom that by and large, and I think rightfully so, prides themselves on being cruciform, or what Luther would call a “theology of the cross”. That is to say that the cross is most acutely reminiscent of our daily experience in this life, and the self-identification with Jesus on our own road to Calvary is of not only a tremendous truth with ample biblical support, but also brings with it the equally comfortable spiritual and emotional salve in assisting us in living in a world that tends to give us more thorns and thistles than roses if we’re honest. In light of that, understanding the fall’s consequences and correlation to our own experience in the constant battle over sin and the war of good and evil, the need for Christ to come to die, and our own necessity from time to time to do so as well in the cusp of human relationships and encounter with worldly gods, gives us at least some “aha” moments. The flipside of that cruciform life of course is what many call being “theologians of glory”. They are those who in a nutshell seem to emphasize the good news of the resurrection that resulted for Jesus, and that will surely also result not only for us in the sweet bye and bye, but also even here and now. And there is biblical support for that as well.

In addition, there is overwhelming support from those of us who perhaps have not experienced too much of the victorious Christian life, or any life for that matter, and who long to put forth a resolved faith in a God they cannot see who will nonetheless spur them on to victories that as of yet have constantly escaped them. The temptation for the earthy reality of the one, and the hope of the triumphant other, do constant battle in the war within our very souls from dusk till dawn. And so we are betwixt and between. We long for the presence of Christ in our lives, and claim we would like to be like him, yet, when the reality of His cross coalesces with the lives of our own, like everyone else, we are longing for Easter instead; with a side order of “six-pack” abs, an eternal and bulging bank account and nightly euphoric sex if you please until we meet on that beautiful shore.

But getting back to my first diversion from the topic at hand. I have decided for now until I change my mind again by next Tuesday, that I want to live harmoniously somewhere in between both of these two worlds if only in the sense that somehow, some way, if Christianity is true and everything else is a lie, God has to be the God both of the cross and the resurrection in our lives, or the vast majority of us simply won’t make it! And of course this explains why an increasing majority of us are indeed NOT making it. The reason is of course that eventually, if a dog gets beaten up enough, he or she loses the wag in its tail and thus the will to fight anymore. And as you already know, or at least imagine where I am headed, in the world of which we are currently apart, the casualties of those dogs have become the new norm rather than the exception; and they either jump from bridges, hold up signs on our street corners or stand impatiently day after day in the line at your local CVS. The culture is having its way with us, and we seem neither to blush or take notice. And we all struggle with it. But the truth is, more and more, we are also losing our numbers inside of Christendom as a result. And we’re not simply losing those who have married the spirit of the age, but equally to those who have given up the fight due to eons and eons of not winning at anything, including the Christian life anymore—and I for one have no stones to throw. So I say, bring on the resurrection!

This is of course a perfect transition into Christendom’s now flickering light I mentioned in the beginning. And this of course will also no doubt take me into some cursory mentioning of the political climate that I typically prefer to avoid. I avoid it simply because I’m not an expert (Social media addicts please take note), but also because it shows my hand and invites in the haters. Nonetheless, in the way that I will briefly speak of it, it is only with a purpose to help describe the flickering light and the realization of Christendom’s own incumbent exile, and that though many have been writing about this for some time now, perhaps the chariots coming to take us to a more permanent Babylon are just outside the front door of our ever present American Dream. So here we go.

The recent election of President Donald Trump is an anomaly on many fronts. First of all, he is not like our recent “intellectual and chief” Barrack Obama by a long shot. Nor perhaps is he like any President we have ever had, although many are looking for comparisons everywhere these days. They do so to remind everyone that the sky is indeed not falling even though Chicken Little pundits assure us in endless sound bites that the ovens of Auschwitz are just around the bend. We also have learned from those “in the know” that the reason President Trump won (Yes Joe Scarborough, he really is your President) by that faulty and outdated mechanism called the Electoral College. is because the middle class have been neglected for far too long, their voices have not been heard, and thus the call to “Make America Great Again” won the day for those forgotten masses. I could go on and on, and to be sure there is much more to be said. However, from what I have heard and read thus far, it at least seems a plausible explanation to the present mystifying conundrum our country finds itself in: That of President Donald Trump.

True confession. I for one pulled the lever for Trump late in the midnight hour. Yes that’s right I finally admitted it. I was part of the secret Trump vote nobody knew about. After desiring from the beginning for John Kasich to be the nominee and then realizing the world didn’t find him sexy enough or boisterous enough, I then skipped “Lying Ted” and moved on to “Little Marco”. I saw some redemption there at least. I thought he had something to say, was a man of some conviction, and seemed to be able to articulate it well in public debate. I even got excited when he “stuck it to the man” Trump in the debate and felt at any minute the billionaire giant was about to come tumbling down. Then of course once Little Marco lost Florida, I realized he too was a defeated foe and I applauded him for finally realizing as much. From there I really didn’t know what to do. I thought about voting for Donald Duck (seriously), but then later capitulated to the fact that it was either Donald Trump or “Crooked Hillary”. After I thought about that for about a second and a half, I then drank a bottle of Holy Water and cast my vote for Hitler; I mean Trump. So there you have it. I won’t go in to all the reasons behind that just now, but just getting it off my chest makes me feel better. I guess you could say I’m a Trump voter, and I’m quietly watching with prayers and my fingers crossed behind my back!

But there is of course another group of voters that were the forgotten in my humble opinion. They were of course those of us in Christendom, which used to be comprised of predominantly the Western world and the “moral majority” of these United States of America. Those of us including myself as the last of the baby boomers, who have quietly and sometimes unfortunately not so quietly, watched as the moral values held dear for two millennia taken from a Judeo-Christian worldview, slowly erode into nothing but a vapor. Values that at once were recognizable to nearly everyone on Norman Rockwell Street, and who by and large believed were the way the world worked and how we should then live. Ideals that most would agree were the underpinnings and bedrock of a democratic anomaly in the world: The United States of America. These same folks (myself included) have also watched sex come out of the closet and into our living rooms, boardrooms and chat rooms. They’ve watched schools become war zones and state sanctioned indoctrination stations. They’ve had marriage both redefined and declined; gender identities never before questioned now becoming a shade of gray or whimsical preference; history continually rewritten; and the churches and churchmen that were pillars in the public square become court jesters or consenters to whatever is blowing in the cultural wind. And so then, just about everything Christendom once knew that was as sure as death and taxes has now become a flickering light that almost no one even recognizes anymore. And as a result: those people , people like me, voted for Donald J. Trump. Yes that’s right. Christians like me voted for a narcissistic, female genitalia-grabbing billionaire for Commander and Chief, because well…we’ve never had to live in exile before.

Selah

Lost In This Masquerade

It is one of those particular days when I’ve not much to write about specifically, other than about what I’m feeling at this very moment. I guess you could say that many times how deeply I feel about things in this life has plagued me somewhat, yet it’s the only thing that truly makes me know I’m breathing, and that the creator is somewhere close by. It’s a slightly overcast day with gentle breezes blowing to and fro, and with a slight mist in the air that as you breathe takes the oceans not too distant scent into your very pores. So I inhale. And as I do, it conjures up a lot of thoughts and emotions as I sit here staring out the window of my local library where I often go to write and work. And so with nothing particular to say that has kept me up this week, I am again acutely aware of how often I feel lost in this big ole globalized world, and how often I’ve been here before. Surely my name is carved in a tree somewhere not too far from this familiar setting. So while I slip away into this imaginary space, I take out my pocketknife and cross out the “wuz” and put “Mark is here” instead.

 

And I guess I’m lost for a lot of reasons, but I’ll let Leon Russell explain today. You see Leon wrote the song This Masquerade that George Benson then made famous. Its words are about two lovers unsure of where their relationship is headed or what to really do about it, and so they feel lost. However, its first lines seem to accurately depict what I feel at this moment in this world, and in this space and time. It says:

 

Are we really happy here

With this lonely game we play

Looking for words to say

Searching but not finding

Understanding anywhere

We’re lost in a masquerade

 

Now I’m not sure if Mr. Russell meant anything of what I take from these words, but at least today while I’m reaching for straws from which to write, it seems to echo continually in my mind of a reality that is increasingly mine, and I wonder secretly if any of my Christian brethren feel it just a smidgeon. And now as I exhale, I am sending out an S.O.S. today for anyone who might be listening.

 

And I think the reason I feel this way and have for some time now is partly because, though America’s lonely game of the pursuit of happiness is constantly played out around us by those caught in it’s subtle grasp, I wonder as Christians if a holy sadness is not more the norm for us now than the exception–and perhaps it is even becoming a spiritual discipline, if it wasn’t already.

 

In fact, I’ve seen a real shift in the last decade or two in the toll that the need for more and more things and information has taken on all of us, but specifically those who are to somehow emit some kind of light from a city set on a hill or a lamp out from under the basket of our lives. One cannot help but notice that the light in the American church seems to be now diminishing underneath the basket of the daily grind beckoning us to work, buy, sell and trade until we give up the ghost–as well as the bad news that now comes in pixel droves across our screens like a flood from dusk to dawn. If we add to this the layers of secure red tape we must now be experts at administering in order to protect our private castles, small fortunes and our families, we’ve no time anymore it seems to spend on weightier matters of eternal value, and the wolf is of course always at the door. And he has no goodies for Grandma, but is simply there to eat you my dear! And as I see people each day, and even those of us who call ourselves followers of the Way, I see them walking around with what looks like tombstones in their eyes. They are dead men and women walking. And then I ask “Are we really happy here…I’m looking for words to say”? For people are searching, but not finding, or understanding anywhere.

 

In the first three chapters of the book of Revelation, John the revelator speaks to the seven churches and refers to them as lampstands ironically. Many commentators have various takes on who John is talking to specifically. My personal analysis has led me to believe that though he is talking to specific churches, he is also in the Spirit speaking forever to all of the universal church who by proxy carry a lampstand for the world to see whether they realize it not. I wonder what the world is seeing right now, and whether or not our lampstand will one day be removed altogether? Or has it already been removed, but we didn’t get the memo? The Catholic and Orthodox churches seem to be the last beacon of torchbearers that any of the Western world is even remotely listening to, while the Protestant church has by and large done a prick-tease with the Spirit of the age for the last 100-years or so, fully preparing to bend over any day now. And I for one am continually lost in this masquerade.

 

And so for those of us who however feebly attempt to walk on this narrow path, we are now increasingly the aliens and strangers the apostle Peter warned us we’d be…again. And I also feel that the heat is getting turned up as we speak in a furnace somewhere, preparing for torches to light some new Nero’s garden. For we now live in a world where to speak absolutely about any issue in matters of faith is often met with laughter and contemptible discounting. One wonders when the great restrainer of carte blanche evil (the U.S. armed forces) is finally removed, if we won’t all be bearing a cross of closer proximity to our Lords once and for all. Protesters cause riots to state their case, and the rights of individuals have now become our nation’s only Holy Writ. All the while, the Protestant church has now resorted to doughnuts and coffee, designated parking spaces and free t-shirts to get people to peak inside. And if that wasn’t bad enough, we now have CEO’s disguised as pastors in skinny jeans with accentuated packages, telling everyone exactly what our itching ears have been dying to hear. Is anyone still listening?

 

So admittedly I’m searching and not finding, and I’ve had a tough time finding a place to call home in preparation for the coming Eschaton of God; though increasingly I’m once again more and more inclined to believe the oldest church on the block has the only resounding clarity. Uncertainty in my secure footing in this world is about the only thing I can truly count on, and more and more a steady dose of Jesus and an occasional shot of whiskey is about the only thing that gets me through the day. I also love my lovely wife and children, and would give my eyetooth for their joy and ease in Zion, but increasingly I come up with the short end of the stick in their behalf. Nonetheless, off I go to the next hotel, and to the next presentation where I pull out my bag of products and services to sell so I can keep the lights on, and perhaps get one nostril above the water that all but engulfs me on any given day. Oh I know the message sounds bleak today, but don’t worry, I’m as stable as a guy can be even without a straightjacket, a rubber room or a bottle of Prozac. And no, I’m not Falling Down…really I’m not. And “no”, quite frankly, I still just prefer my life straight up and then on the rocks if you please. Oh, and I do love Jesus with all my heart, I really do. It’s just that today…well…I feel kind of lost in this here masquerade.

 

Selah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isn’t It High Time the Older Generation Taught the Class?

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[1].

 

I had thought very deeply about this very text over the years, and it’s lofty premise taught in the whole of scripture. I was then encouraged to hear this now very aged man now in his 70’s, of whom I had respected and admired over the years, take this subject where it needed to go: right into the hearts and minds of those his own age who by now should be teaching the class on things pertaining to an exemplary life on the narrow path, yet instead were found missing in action. I knew where he was headed. For he too had now also graduated from his own school of sufferings, and yet continued in dogged persistence and unshakable example of the Christian life to us all. And it is to this topic that I would like to talk about briefly this morning.

 

Reminders That Assist in the Haunting

 

What jarred me back into pondering this evocative issue is three-fold.

 

First of all, I live in a tourist area, but also a retirement community for the most part; where those in the coattails of their life are not in short supply. Many are snowbirds and fly south for the winter to a comfortable oasis of some kind they’ve been able to acquire over years of hard work and savings. Those same birdies many times in their twilight years decide to take the leap and make it their permanent getaway. Others have built it from of a life of affluence that peacefully ends here with the house by the sea filled with great views, great restaurants, golf-cart living and an occasional hole in one. And who can blame them? After all, it’s a great place to be! And I guess I should also say that some of these birds are the salt of this particular part of earth to be sure, but mostly I’m afraid are far too consumed with the tail end of their American Dream to notice any fuss I’m trying to make here.

 

Secondly, now at age 52, though my elderly friends even occasionally still tell me “I’m wet behind the ears”, I am now beginning to at least prepare for what the “back 9” of my own life is to look like. And though I cannot relate to those who have acquired this life for themselves in terms of dollars and cents and a life that has gone according to their financial plan, I am beginning to see that age bracket and the variety of difficulties and also opportunities it brings just outside my rear-view window. In light of that, I’m contemplating a lot of things. Things like whether or not I’ll be able to take care of my wife and I in the final years; if I’ll have anything at all to leave my children; whether or not I will be a mean old cuss or grow old gracefully; will die of cancer; and at least for me more importantly I’ve been asking: Will those I have known and loved pay true respect finally once I’m gone? And of course, for the purpose of this blog, I am also questioning if I will be a good teacher of a class to the next generation of what it means to walk with Christ with my eyes, mind and heart wide open in a world increasingly becoming hostile to it’s proposed peculiarity? It seems that since Rome, we have now come full circle. Perhaps the lions are now grazing outside.

 

And to be sure, I also think about the view, the great restaurants, my own golf cart (minus the hole in one), and other things that run through our minds when we think of how we’d like our life to be topped off, cherry and all. Yet as I mentioned last week, I’m learning to confront the phase of growing old early on. This way for me, I’m more prepared for it’s unwelcome entrance into my life, and so that perhaps if I have no money to leave after all, a spiritual legacy of some kind is perhaps still achievable. I think about that a lot. I reflect like the elderly Private Ryan, as he looks across the graves of the men who saved his life asking if he was indeed a good man, and if likewise his life has counted for something. It is somewhat of a continual diversion in my thoughts these days to which I reluctantly escape.

 

And of course there is the third reason. It happened just the other day as I came around the corner of the last isle in the grocery store to grab some sour cream for the dish my wife was feverishly finishing up at home. As I turned the corner, I saw a lady in her late 70’s or early 80’s, and her activity arrested me for a moment. As I looked out the corner of my left eye, I noticed her going through a carton of eggs feeling each egg with her fingers to check for the best ones. She would then pick up other cartons and do the same and pick some from one batch to put it in her crate, and then transfer others to another. I then had visions of her itching the crack of her butt or perhaps picking her nose just moments before, and this of course didn’t help where my smoldering frustration would then take me.

 

Now though I am not a germophobe per say, what I saw disturbed me, and my only proclivity was to look at her pointedly to let her know that someone saw what she was doing in broad daylight! As I gave my pointed stare, I then shook my head and walked towards the sour cream and then came back by her, this time not making eye contact with my new archenemy. And then as providence would have it, as I went to the checkout line and as I was making small talk with the person at the register about to slide my card and be on my way, I looked behind me and there she was warts and all in the same checkout line. Yes indeed. The lady that I had stared down now faced me head on like a boss! It was then that Cruella looked at me and said with a slithering tongue, “Do I know you”?

 

And so, here it was. The gloves were off, the cage was locked, and it was just me and Miss Deville–naked and unafraid. I then looked at her and said, “No ma’am”, to which she then said, “Well I thought you did by the way you looked at me”. I then retorted, “I don’t know you, but I did see what you did with the eggs”, as I then went back to my business at hand. It was then that she said something that wouldn’t have been so sad if it weren’t all too predictable nowadays. She said with all the selfish Grinch-like smirk she could muster up, “Well you know, you gotta look out for yourself”! It was then at that moment, totally unable to shut my big old mouth, that I quickly replied, “Well perhaps we are supposed to look out for others instead”. I then picked up my bags and walked away feeling the sharp edge of her death stare marking its spot on my juggler as I exited the store.

 

Answers that Lead to More Questions

 

Once in the car, I judgingly surmised that she was probably at church every Sunday, with her own seat named after her to be sure. I realized I shouldn’t go there, but the temptation was already too great to resist and had taken its own wings to fly. And then I thought to myself: Where are the older women and older men around me to show me the way as I soon enter into their place in this thing called life? Oh to be sure, there aren’t as many Christians around anymore in some circles of our country, but in my town they fill up pews everywhere in mega church fashion, and silver hair is the color of choice. And of course it got me to further ask: What kind of old man will I be? What kind of growing old-fart am I now, and am I teaching the class to my kids and to those who discern and critique my life as to what it means to live for Christ and for others?   And for that matter, does anyone attempt at all to live as Christ walked anymore, and is anyone even listening to the conversation?

 

I then flashback and reminisce of the few choice words I’ve used in the presence of others that are now carved in their memory stone, or the occasional moments, that instead of avoiding a marital fight that I instead walk away from, I resort to finishing it instead and prevail the victor. Or perhaps the times I could have taught my child a valuable lesson from a lectern of graceful strength and wisdom, but instead choose to give him the chalkboard instead and take a seat in the back of the class. And then it occurs to me: What can I now do to prevent myself from feeling up on all the world’s eggs for my own benefit? And of course the logical accompaniment: Will I teach the class both now and beyond the grave of what it means to be fully engaged in this big world, yet clearly and refreshingly not of it?

 

As I deliberate more, I realize that though I have built myself a wall of stones for any passerby to pick up and throw at me from time to time, perhaps I am growing older and wiser just a wee bit. Perhaps I am also cognizant of my own human frailties, yet also seeking daily to build my treasure somewhere that both moth and rust do not exist. My heart also continually breaks for the poor all around me, both for the one’s whose fault is their own and the one’s that are not. In fact, I have many times squandered my own belongings on their and other’s welfare, though with none of these deeds still going unpunished. I’m then reminded that the Father desires obedience and there is often not a pragmatic happy ending for every gift I lay on the altar of sacrifice. The burning embers left in my hands are often the only reminder.

 

And as I muse a bit further, I also realize that I have given love to the unlovable many times, and I’ve never chosen to associate one’s holiness barometer by what they eat or drink, how many times they go to a church service, or how much they put in the offering plate–but rather in terms of what the eyes they look out at this bleeding world through cause them to be and do for it’s sake. I am also doing my best to love my wife and my children, and to be gentle and kind; and of course wish that it would be said of me that I am a man of humility and grace, and that my former sins will be forever drowned in the Ocean of the Father’s great love. And yet, to be sure, I have not yet graduated in order to teach the class I speak of I suppose just yet. Yet I do increasingly wonder as I look around me: Are there many left who are even on the path to persistently give it a college try?

 

Selah

 

 

[1] Hebrews 5:11-14

Prone to Wander, Lord I Feel It

Surviving Christmas

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last wrote anything about my cracked up American life. And now that I have finally survived Christmas and lived to tell about it, I’ve only New Year’s resolutions left to keep and break sometime before Valentine’s Day I suppose. I pondered long and hard about why as a Christian I loathe Christmas so much here in my beloved America.   Perhaps its because it brings melancholy memories of my late Father (who I now identify with), walking around like a chicken with his head cut off trying to get enough presents under the tree so that his conscience could ease his guilt of being a subpar Santa for his kids. I remember hints of joy, but mostly seeing the strain in his eyes of all that he would have to do in his and others eyes to bring Christmas joy to his children. All the while, the one who came to bring hopeful joy free of charge was at last given homage for a hasty reading of the Christmas story before we tore open the gifts. He would not get much runway on His birthday after that, and as I sit here today and recall these moments, I fear not much has changed. And so, I guess you could call me Ebenezer for short.

 

Reasons for the Old Man and the Sea Thing

So at 12:01 on December 26th, when I pinched myself and realized I had indeed outlasted the hoopla of ole St. Nick, I was reminded of a couple of things about my life as of late. First of all, I reminded myself as to why this growing old man moved by the sea in November of 2015. I had already had several people ask me, curious about why I had uprooted what was left of my family and moved to this beautiful oasis; especially now in my 50’s. Their curiosity stemmed from the fact that most have by now grown out of the move left in them, and have settled into some secure form of an American dream perched behind a Norman Rockwell painting of their making. A dream now full of houses, stocks and bonds to begin sorting out, all the while preparing for a grand ole thing called retirement just down the road a stone’s throw or two. Of course that first curious question was easily answered back in 2008 and again in 2014, when I began to realize that my dream would take a much less predictable turn. You see for me, there were no longer any of those things to sort out in the cards for my family and I, so I guess you can say, “I now had options”. Since I owned nothing, and had lost most everything materially that one holds far too dearly to, the sky began to be the only limit as to where I could go. In a sense, I guess you could say I was finally free.

 

That of course led to my second reason for looking for the answer by the sea. Because from the time I have been a child, the ocean has been a happy place for me. I had dreams as a younger man of owning a house on the ocean where I would write and then take breaks to play with my grandchildren, and then snuggle up to my wife with my favorite pipe and hot cocoa on our back deck as the waves quietly roared to the beat of the moonlight. Though this has not yet come to fruition, I was able to find a place about 4 blocks from the ocean, and so a quick six-minute walk almost any given day takes me to my Shangri-La, if to only have five-minutes to remind myself that I’m not that big of a deal, and that He really, really is. Just five or ten minutes to breathe in and hopefully take with me a morsel of what really matters in the world, when everything else I encounter tells me a I’m a fool to think it for too long. It has indeed given some sense of calm to my life, and if I know nothing else, for now, I know it is where God has me–yet for what I do not know.

 

The third reason we ran to the ocean was familial and social in nature–both good and bad. The good side of that decision was simply to give my older sons, who had now gone off in quest of their own version of some dream they possess in their beings, to do so without Mom and Dad just around the corner to catch them if they fall in pursuit of it. It was to give them some space to be free, to finally cut the umbilical cord, and to finally give them wings to fly solo. All the while with Mom and Dad a short 3 hours away with an extra room for their needed getaway, or perhaps a Mom and Dad fix as often as they could ever want. I miss them dearly, but these things have their time and place, and the time for us was now. It felt good and right, and I am very much at peace with the decision we made. The bad side of the decision to leave was that even though we were older and wiser, and knowing full well that you can’t run from your problems, we did decide that sometimes you can at least move a little further down the road from them so it takes a little longer for them to show up at your doorstep. This is in regards to my extended family I might add. A family for whose guilt, manipulation and exploitation was merely a phone call, an episode or a gossip column away. It also had to do with the network of true, Godly, and “real” friends, that seemed impossible to find after a decade and a half, and the lack of friendships for my last young son, for whom parental love needed to be coupled with friends he too could call his own. That of course has gone amazingly well, and ours; well…we’re still working on that.

 

And About the Wandering Bit

Well now that I’ve told you a little of where I’ve been lately and why I’m here, I guess I should say something briefly about my title today. The words come from perhaps my favorite hymn called Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, written by Robert Robinson in the mid 1700’s. And in that blessed hymn these particular words lately have caused me to ponder their depth and reality for me, and hopefully for all those who call themselves by the name of Christ. The words are:

 

O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,

Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,

Seal it for Thy courts above.

 

These words have often brought me great comfort, not only because of their rootedness in the gospel of God, but also because of their being true to my own life and experience of walking with Christ on the narrow path. For in so many ways, I know I have grown and bear some fruit that resembles Christ, and yet…still today, I’m prone to wander, with so many distractions that beckon me for their attention and importance, and sometimes I feel it for far too long as I’m derailed from the path I’ve been called to travel. And not only do I feel it, but unfortunately; others from time to time have to see it.

 

I’m reminded of the disciples when Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane. He says to them several times in essence, “Could you not watch and pray with me for an hour”. We also are told that each time he came to ask this, he would find them asleep. Now for sure sleep is a natural bodily function, yet in a person’s horrific hour of grief one would think we could put some toothpicks in our eyes or something to refrain from the temptation to sleep on the job. I’m reminded equally of the beloved big fish magnet, Jonah, who while on the boat to Tarshish away from the call of God, while everyone else is frantically trying to find a way to save themselves from the boat’s impending doom, he is asleep to it all. Yet he is especially asleep to the plight of his fellow man, and the call of His God upon his life. Or how about good ole Peter, who gets it right so many times and two seconds later denies His Lord, not too awfully different from one betraying with 30 pieces of silver and a kiss, yet who never lived to tell his own repentance tale.

 

As I have been contemplating these things as 2017 is knocking at the door for me to invite him in, I see more and more of this dichotomy and pull from both the world and my Lord raging within me now at 52. To be sure I’m smarter and wiser now, and also farther along the narrow path. So I’m not as sidetracked by youthful things such as wine, women and song; and have now long ago realized that a fool and his money soon depart, along with any friends they may once have brought. Yet I feel the difficulties of life bearing down, continuing to seek to fashion me into it’s mold and to distract me from what’s eternal and to saddle up with what’s temporal instead. The reason is because as we age, we are more and more aware of our finiteness, and death’s door; though we hope is still a country mile or two away, it nonetheless whispers to us of it’s sure certainty of which we must soon pay attention. This causes us to grasp with all we’re worth for our mortality rather than to pursue with a vengeance our promised immortality. And we begin to see that if the modern adage is indeed true, that “he who dies with the most toys wins”, then we’ve more striving to do and best get on with it. And if we surmise we’ve already lost that game, we can be inclined to resort to a slow easy chair death, where we rock our way into acceptance of a failed and wasted life, content to decay away with a self-injected slow drip of “coulda, shoulda, woulda”.

 

I recall reading one time that Billy Graham had said, if he had it to do all over again, he would have prepared much more for getting old. I was perplexed by that; wondering what exactly he meant. It’s now starting to settle in. For instance, if I had a dollar for every one of my 50’s friends, who when I speak about getting old, they say the typical things such as, “You’re only as old as you feel”, or “50 is the new 30” or something of this nature, I’d surely have a chunk of change. And to be sure, I get exactly what they are saying, and I’m not dead yet, and so I intend on continuing to push forward to greatness in whatever big or small way God has for me. However, I am no longer looking for “6-pack abs”, I don’t and can’t wear skinny jeans, I’m not searching for any fountain of youth, and I don’t think anything good now happens after 10:30 at night:).  I can rock your world till then baby, but after that, I now have to pass the baton.

 

What I have been reminded about in wrapping up today is what the Monk at Mepkin Abbey said to me when I asked him what he had learned in the Monastery that he felt he could not have learned from life on the outside. He told me that for years he had served as a Priest in parish ministry, and of course spent a great deal of time ministering to the sick and dying. He said one of the overwhelming things he picked up on in ministering to the dying is that in their last days they became the most selfless human beings he had ever witnessed, and that all they cared about was knowing God and serving and loving others. He then looked at me and said, “That’s what I learned in the monastery that I do not believe I could have learned otherwise: how to be more like those people”. I’ve never forgotten those words and have etched them in my journal perpetually so I never forget.

 

So Yes, I am prone to wander and Lord I feel it, prone to leave constantly the one I am to love first and foremost. Yet more and more each day I am reminded that nothing else outside of knowing Christ and serving others really matters, and I know that I must not let this truth wander away. In fact, I think I’d rather not die first for it to be true of me.

 

Selah

 

 

 

What Has Christianity Cost Us Lately?

An Observation

I’ve been pondering the topic above this weekend at great length. What spawned my brief fixation was the observant mutual back and forth between my wife and I, that by and large Christianity no longer costs very much to the average Joe or Suzy Churchman or woman.  Nor is there a sweeping rebuttal from it’s men of the cloth that this is much cause for concern. Oh some do, to be sure. But they are constantly tempted to quickly change the topic for lack of interest from their hearers. It gives a sort of “yawn” effect to it’s American congregants, and quickly leads to shopping for a new teacher to scratch the itching ear somewhere down the road of buffet-line Christianity.   It’s a problem to be sure, and there are no short answers or long ones quite honestly to fix it I’m afraid. This is what our devolution of the faith has brought us to you might say, and we all share a collective ownership of it.

 

The Organism Suffers

 

And as I’m sure you’ve noted by now, if you have taken the time to read anything I have written of late, you realize that for the most part when I speak of church positively, I am from my heart of hearts speaking as to what I feel that the scriptures emphasize the most; that of the organism rather than the organization—though I am apart of both. But leaving the organization aside for a moment, in fairness to the organism (you and me), I realize that many today sacrifice much.  Not only in the everyday crosses they bear due to living on planet earth, but who add to their cost daily by continuing to fill up what lacks in Christ’s sufferings here on earth, in order to further allow the world to see Golgotha up front and center everyday on their own street corner or on a hill far away. And there are those who suffer not only in this country for their faith in some ways to be sure, but more acutely across the globe in the least concentrated areas of Christianity. Those who suffer in their own bodies and pocketbooks in ways we cannot know, and to whom everyday is a constant test as to their unwavering belief or conceded apostasy. They too are our brothers and sisters, and we mustn’t forget to remember their chains and mistreatment (Heb. 13:3) that is felt as if it were our own.

 

Now the church organism in the West suffers too as I mentioned. For instance, if we have somewhat individually clung to the old rugged cross with all it’s foolishness that the world has attributed to it, and to it’s increasing unpopularity of thought in the public square, this comes with it’s own brand of persecution. And of course despite whimsical and momentary elections that offer the believing masses rays of hope that we’ll be great along with God again, the trajectory of the western world is moving away and not toward anything that we have or have had to say I’m afraid. This is partly our fault, and partly due to the man of lawlessness (II. Thes. 2:3) that has already settled down in the both written and unwritten code of our culture. I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but I believe inquiring minds have to know this is the new norm if anyone is paying attention; all the while still keeping hope that the church will hold it’s ground and the gates of Hell will not in the end prevail.

 

And so if we are picking up our daily cross, we should also wrestle with what we see everyday that comes at us now in a pop-up window across our various screens waiting for us as we awaken each day. Things such as another police officer being shot, racial tensions mounting, refugees who haven’t anywhere to go, and the President-elect’s new cabinet member that many speculate is sure to do us all in. These are all collectively cause for concern and discussion, but closer to home I think we have bigger fish to fry. And we are in information overload to be sure, which brings about not only opportunity, but I think increased sadness; easily explained by the Prozac nation of which we are apart of now. Nonetheless, we are perplexed as to what to do about that, and not sure we are big enough and bold enough to do much about it other than pray and send an occasional guilt-ridden check or a like on Facebook. However, within our own families and street corners, as we open our eyes for a brief moment, we struggle with what to do about the countless ills that are within a stone’s throw of our own private castles: things like kids with broken homes; homelessness; and Single Mom’s who haven’t a prayer unless someone sees the face of Christ in their hopeless eyes. We struggle with what part we are to play, all the while trying to cut off just a sliver of an American Dream for ourselves and our families, and yet…the two are very strange bedfellows indeed aren’t they? Oh yeah, the struggle is for real isn’t it? Or should I ask, “Shouldn’t it be”?

 

The Organization, Maybe Not So Much

 

I can remember about a year ago talking with a pastor friend about my wrestling with the question I’ve put before us today.  I unpacked my life before him about my struggle with these things, and about my experience in opening up my home and pocketbook for many years to the face of Christ I have seen in my own life that were hungry, in prison, naked, or needing some cold water. I remember the conversation and sharing the mêlée I had in my own ability to achieve both the juggling act of trying to lose my life and gain it at the same time—an enigma indeed. His reply was staggering, and I haven’t forgotten it. He said, “Maybe Jesus didn’t want you to do all those things you did”. In other words the quick translation was: Jesus would have preferred I gain my life rather than lose it. I refrained from the chuckling that would have possibly disguised my uncontrollable sobbing just behind my sad blue eyes, and perhaps even scoffing at the stereotypical response by well meaning Christians who believe that if we don’t have a savings account, a 401K and own our own home, we’ve missed God somehow, and simply need a Dave Ramsey class! Its unwritten prose, but its lines are there nonetheless to be seen and read, and many of us in the organism have now memorized their response verbatim. And it is this problem that I believe comes first from the organization at large, and from the broader culture that we are all much more affected by than we are perhaps willing to admit.

 

I’ve done quite a bit of reading in my day, and for those who know me, they would probably say that is an understatement. Nonetheless, most of that reading has been devotionally and as a discipline in the scriptures themselves, but also in reading very broadly in all areas where the church is concerned; and also historically–particularly honing in on its infancy. One thing is overwhelming clear in this practice that I can’t shake out of my head and heart and it is this: The church understood it’s call to reach out to the have not’s; the have nones; the crippled and the lame; the sick and the dying; and the mentally disturbed, and brought them into their care. This was often accomplished with the extension of the healing touch of Christ’s power from their hands to restore, and the equally therapeutic power of love, a place to stay, with food and a warm blanket to ease their continued pain and suffering–as well as from the stigma of their vulnerability from a world that would just as soon find a way to decrease their surplus population.

 

Now to be sure, the organizational church has been known for its outreach in these areas that should not be underestimated in the least. In fact, almost everywhere there is suffering in the world, some branch of both the organizational church and individuals that make up the organism will be the first ones on the front line of offering a cup of cold water and some sort of assistance to the disenfranchised that our world periodically spits out of it’s evolutional system of which they cannot thrive in. Yet what has caused me a slight relapse back into questioning the church’s overall approach, is the fact that most of it’s population in America that I am constantly bumping into seems to be mostly concerned with their own self-preservation and achievement of the American Dream.  To a point that the calling to sacrifice has become almost a faint whisper that almost no one is even straining to hear anymore. It has been drowned out I’m afraid by the scream of cultural inconsequentialities and a familiar call to compete with new sets of Joneses.

 

Cost is Caught and Not Taught

 

One reason I think in particular, and this is sure to get me into trouble with the “I love my church” crowd, stems from the amount of money that goes into the maintenance and upkeep of the machine that is the organizational church. And though many of these same churches have ministries and programs that assuage the picture given that they are involved in the things the church has always been noted for; the truth is: compared to the actual money that comes in the door, 95% in most churches are going to the solemn assemblies and programs we provide the saints– whilst the percentage left to the lost and least of these is negligible to say the least. Part of the reason is because we have become too dependent on paid professionals to do for us what the organism we should be doing for ourselves. And though it is not my purpose today to unpack too much of this, it is simply to point out that this is attributable to a problem I am seeking to highlight–of a Christianity without a cost, where we learn from those who should be exemplars otherwise that self-preservation is to be preferred over giving sacrificially. And while we are commissioned to give more and more to the upkeep of the machine through various tactics and campaigns, we are rarely allowed to peel back the financial statement onion.  Yet when we do, we find that perhaps the church needs financial accountability as well to correct this malaise among itself that has also infected its constituents. As the old adage suggests, “Monkey see, Monkey do”! For if I as a minister of the gospel do not by my own example and admonition to my congregants allow Christianity to cost me something and to wrestle with the various faces of Christ I see each day, then how will I truly teach aside from practice. The devil is in the details I assure you. This to me seems to be a huge problem that should not be overlooked.

 

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

 

As I write this today, I am again asking these huge questions in my own life as an individual. Is my sole purpose to provide for my family, leave them an inheritance and provide them the best life now? Perhaps this is the case, but perhaps not. I struggle with this conundrum of late, and it sometimes keeps me up at night. It does so because of the rightful tension it should have in each of our lives as Christians, as well as my own failure to measure up to a Daddy Warbucks expectation. And how will I be sized up as I leave this world if I continually fail in the eyes of the ones I love and in the eyes of others that will no doubt forget me shortly after my body hits the cold, dirt floor? Or did Jesus perhaps really mean it when he said that though the heavenly Father knew we had need of such things as basic to our human survival and well being, that he really did want us to seek first his Kingdom and righteousness? A Kingdom, that while other kingdoms rage all around us and are concerned with their various agendas, should characteristically be concerned with that one that was lost, and the least of these that may knock on your private castle door today. I submit to you that if we call ourselves Christians in any form or fashion, what our Christianity costs us must go outside of our intimate family circle, what’s left at the end of the month, and not to the exclusion of the five loaves and two fish we already have. Until Christianity passes this litmus test, its doubtful that anyone will make much of a fuss about us in the not too distant future. And for a church that once turned the Roman world upside down in just 3 centuries, we have now in just 17 since then turned it back right-side up…and perhaps the writing is now rather chiseled on the church wall.

 

Selah

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crosses and Resurrections: A Juxtaposition of How Christians Ought To Live

I’ve thought a lot about the cross and the resurrection lately—two very distinct but cataclysmic events that also have their mystical place in the outworkings of our very real and daily lives.   My contemplations have not been because Easter and its emotive reminders of both events are a few short months away; nor is it because we’ll celebrate the birth of our Lord lying in a manger in just a matter of weeks. Instead, I’ve actually deliberated about it primarily because my experience has been that living in either extreme somehow has not served me quite well–nor has it served others of which I’ve had the opportunity to walk down the path of life with thus far. Let me briefly explain.

 

First of all, living a cruciform life has been somewhat easier for me than most. That is of course not to say that I know it better than many more who have suffered far greater than me in this life, and certainly not to the exclusion of our Lord himself whose Passion speaks for itself. However, I would have to say that the cross is what most coalesces with my feeble existence on this earth. In other words, it’s easy for me to believe that a man dying on the cross and saving a world is good news. And as far as I can tell, the gospel has always been better news to the poor, the downtrodden, the broken and battered; and to the spiritual misfits to whom life has given them it’s daily cross to carry. Jesus said that, Paul and Peter repeated it, and it blends in perfectly with the tapestry that is and has been my life-a life of carried crosses more than glorious resurrections. That is not to say that I have not had great seasons of life, some noted successes, and some say I even have a talent or two that the world has yet to stand up and take notice of. However, let’s just say that the cross to me makes perfect sense. And though the resurrection might be good for Jesus and those of us who await the sweet bye and bye, for me the cross has always been a sentiment that has been easy to stick like glue, and through it I make the most sense of my fragile reality in this world, and to those to whom my misery brings familiar and good company.

 

Now I know, I know. Already you’re starting to slip off because it looks like there isn’t going to be good news to this short story. That’s the resurrection in all of us quite frankly, and to the world of which we are apart. And the truth is, we as Christians are at somewhat of a disservice talking about crosses in a resurrection world are we not? And it’s not hard to believe; as history bears this out repeatedly in the blood of martyrs, and the accompanying growth or decline of the church as a result. It is equally not hard to believe in our own daily experience if we take notice. For each and every time we attempt to give a cross response to a resurrection belief system, it is often met with opposition and checkered results. I for one have experienced this time and time again in my own life; when sacrificing something for someone else (a cross), was somehow mixed in with the hope of a good outcome in the end (resurrection); yet like Waiting for Godot, its actualization never came. And this same repeated story has been written in my own blood, sweat and tears; and in forever missing dollars and cents. So yeah, I get the cross; and you could say it gets me–a little more than I would care to be familiar with. And so, it’s equally not hard for me, like Paul, when I am with you, to preach nothing but Christ and him crucified, to the exclusion of the rest of the (resurrection) gospel story. In fact, throughout my short tenure in ministry as a Pastor, I preached this message, and saw a cross under just about every bush and around every corner. Not only did it make sense to me, and echoed from the unity of the book to which I’ve spent my life’s attention to; but as I mentioned earlier, it made sense to my own daily experience and to the via dolorosa of those who were attracted to my message—those to whom the cross was something they could identify with, and to whom it had become a close and endearing friend.

 

But secondly, what of this mysterious resurrection? This experience that only Jesus himself has achieved in the natural order of things, but to which we only aspire to in the kingdom somewhat here, but still not yet. What of the victorious Christian life to which we are given admonition week after week in our Sunday worship services, to whom many claim they have a stake on, but to which many of us are always a day late and a dollar short? We are suspicious of their claims, and yet equally we know somehow that we are to live somehow juxtaposed between these two worlds; with the cross in one hand, and the rolled away stone in the other. I’m familiar with the former, but uncomfortable with the latter–and so are all my rowdy friends. I realize there is no question as to what we are to become, yet like Paul, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep doing”[1]. Or perhaps it’s not the missing of the virtuous mark, but achieving the promise on the other end of my periodic obedience, to which my life may very well depend on; yet seems to be stuck in transit somewhere outside of my experience. Do I live in taking up my cross and bearing it as my daily modus operandi, or do I hold out hope that my resurrection of triumph awaits; or do I experience madness somewhere in between?

 

My take on these things as of late is that they are not an “either/or” but rather a “both/and”; a reconciliation of paradox’s of which I am no one’s expert.   I know that God answers prayer, but the answers seem to be slow and at a snail’s pace in their delivery to my inbox, while others boast of a God who speaks and answers before the clock strikes dawn. I step out in faith with everything on the line, but God often seems to be busy with world wars, or perhaps the election; or a million other things instead of meeting me halfway into the next thing I have endeavored to do for him. I’ll settle for the sun will come out tomorrow, but often it’s anything but. As a result, I’m inclined to nestle back up to the cross (splinters and all), awaiting the roll that is called up yonder, rather than holding real faith and God’s occasional silence in a delicate tension. I must learn to live in plenty and in want, and also know that God is still very much in control and attentive to the needs and cry’s of His children. I can ask for the moon and stars, all the while in full recognition that sometimes my same old address is all I might expect today. Meanwhile, tomorrow is another day of hopefulness, another day of faith in the unseen and yet eternal one who knows my name, and who loves me warts and all; and who even says I can call him Father. I can lay hands on the sick and pray to remove mountains, and accept when mustard seeds weren’t quite enough this time around. I can believe in victory, even when sometimes my failure is my more constant companion. More and more, I can continue to walk with my hand in the hand of the man from Galilee, aware of Golgotha’s nearby hill, but equally engaged in the possibility of a miracle happening somewhere along the way. It is into both of these worlds that I must equally pay attention to; never letting either one this side of heaven define who I am for far too long; and yet always holding out for the resurrection of hope that the world also so desperately needs to know and see fleshed out in mine and your shoe leather.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Romans 7:19 ESV

Why Some Of Us Find Community Almost Everywhere but Church

A Caveat

 

I know at the outset, the words in the title above before good and noble churchmen and practitioners teeter-totter on the precipice of sacrilege. In fact, if you have spent more than a day exposed to your version of Christendom, a sort of immediate gag reflex kicks in based either on what we’ve heard in those circles; what we’ve been taught; or even more subtly, what we have come to fervently believe and teach ourselves. But what of experience of the “some of us” in my title we might ask? What of the pew jumpers, church hoppers and those who choose to do some form of church almost anywhere but the building on main or church street in your given town or city square? Does that count for something to get at a broader picture of the truth? Or, is their experience totally suspect here, and more akin to some sort of blasphemy worthy of contemptible discounting, or perhaps just shy of inquisition-like reactions?

 

Now before I attempt to explain briefly what I mean by my subject this morning, let me also blurt out an agreed upon qualification to those well-meaning keepers of the magisterium who stoically and eternally disagree, or who would claim to have the opposite experience, and of course a church or two to in their experience toolbox to prove it. And to that I would say, “I understand”. I also appreciate the disclaimer and the modicum of truth that it has to add to this discussion. There is no argument here, except to say that perhaps our disagreement, belief, or experience is well known only to us: the faithful; the paid players; or those who tend to have learned to sort of…fall in line with it. However, equally plausibly perchance to everyone else outside the fold, is that it is not that cut and dry, and also to an increasing amount of church ragamuffins like me who would wish they were found holding different cards.

 

In fact, there has not a day gone by in the last 20 years of my life that I have not wished to become permanently apart of a communal sheep fold that I could bring my Socratic inquiries and still graze in, only to have been increasingly set out like a goat on my own often lonely path–just left of the right side of the Lord to many I’m sure. And though I’ve longed to bring my honest questions and concerns to the Eucharistic table, and to the potluck or small group meeting, I’ve mostly been met with those who would simply wish that I would finally get the memo, kiss the ring, and drop my 10% premium in the offering plate and shuffle along. Well perhaps more later. For now, let me share just a couple of reasons why goats like me with sheep-like dreams never find that sheep-connection that they long for, but who are still very much trying.

 

Some Reasons Why

 

            The Church with a Big C Instead of a Little c

The first reason that I have observed, is not only why I and countless others find it hard to uncover real community in the church, but also relates to why it is no surprise that I also hold to a much looser view as to the scope of the church’s authority in my life–which has to do with the church’s continual bargaining to the broader culture for it’s importance as a Big C instead of a little one. Again, I can feel the knee-jerk reaction to that statement; and to many, they would surmise it is due to my left over 60’s rebellion, or the spirit of the narcissistic cultural age of which we are all immersed in. But please hear me out, and for a moment, I’ll let someone like Paul F.M. Zahl with church “street creds” add to my introductory commentary, and to what many other beleaguered Christian nomads along the church path have felt for sometime now where he writes:

 

 

“Ecclesiology (the study of the church) is an actual ill! By definition it places the church in some kind of special zone—somehow distinct from real life—that appears to be worthy of study and attention. The underlying idea is that the church is in a zone that is free, or at least more free from original sin and total depravity than the rest of the world, but the facts prove otherwise. The facts of history run counter to ecclesiology. They reveal a grim ersatz thing carrying the image of Christ but projected onto human nature and therefore intrinsically self-deceived. The gospel of grace, based on relational love that is entirely one-way, is at odds with ecclesiology…Because we believe in the depth of sin and in the impossibility until death, of any “original sin-free zone” in the world, we are skeptical of any church idea that ascribes to church a distinctive authority that it must be obeyed. A systematic theology of grace is, in respect to the church, irreducibly Protestant. The Protestantism of grace’s church idea, which is church by negation and church from suspicion, is important for all Christians to come up against, because it delivers them from the skepticism and finally the voluntary abandonment to which all church fealty finally leads when the lights go on…I can write this in my own blood. Disenchantment with my own branch of the institution has not affected my conviction that Christ is the light of the world and that God’s grace is the way of human freedom. Had the ecclesiology of grace been higher than the anthropology of original sin and totally depravity permitted it to be, the result of the loss would have been a loss of a hope in God. The negation of Ecclesiology from grace permits the survival of faith in Christ as the Wound of the World to heal the wounds of the world”[1].

 

In essence, Zahl reminds us that to not have an ecclesiology is actually to have one, but it’s not what we expect, or perhaps want to hear. Yet our new ecclesiology puts first things first.  In other words,

 

“It puts Christ over the human church. It puts what Christ taught and said over the church. It puts grace over the church. It puts Christ’s saving work and the acute drama of the human predicament over the church. It puts the human hope of change over the church. It places the Holy Spirit over the church”[2].

 

These are words of fresh air for both weary church neophytes and aficionados alike who are constantly on probation in their mind, and perhaps in the minds of other good church goers pertaining to the fact that the church struggle is real–particularly evidenced by a theologian and churchmen of high rank who has also experienced the struggle acutely on the inside. It is at least one of the reasons, that though we know we are to be with the people of God regularly somewhere, we hold up a Great Wall to block us from conceding to a popular view of church (Protestant or Catholic) that shuns or disregards our voice and questions as valid to the church conversation and participation, without it being a mere apostate affront to the institution itself.

 

            A Lack of Grace That is Palpable, Yet Also Underground

 

The second reason most find community almost everywhere but church is because grace, the thought that changed the world (Bono), is oftentimes the missing ingredient in a church service setting, the potluck or the small group—and it doesn’t really matter which. For instance, as soon as a question is asked; a taboo broken; a snotty nose kid goes unattended; or a pregnant teen emerges, all bets are off! We drop what we were doing to answer; to repair; to wipe; and instead are more prone to pass judgment before offering graceful love. I can’t explain it in others and much less myself, but it is further proof that though the church is comprised of good that we all need to be apart of, it also; when it begins to see itself beyond the humble and broken stewards and faithful sowers of it’s gospel truth, to instead titles of spiritual fathers who know best–it oftentimes throws the possibility of real community amongst the broken and spiritual misfits out the door. This is especially so for those who not only do not know what a good Father is, or a family; but who come from a lineage and a past or present for whom life may have dealt very different cards—or for whom there are no simplistic answers for the realties that are their constant companion. The church often cannot make room for unsuccessful Christians for whom the victorious Christian life constantly escapes them, even though they follow silently, yet unwaveringly—and often even more so than the ones with standing white-picket fences.

 

I can remember years ago the theme song from the hit TV show Cheers, whose line added, “everyone wants to go where everyone knows your name”. I thought it ironic then that the bar behaved much like a family–a dysfunctional one, but a family nonetheless. Fast-forward many years later, I too more often found solace in a bottle or possibly a friend (Indigo Girls) at the local saloon than anywhere else. The truth is, community is difficult in an age when individualism runs amuck, and “me, my and I” have taken precedence over the others found in community, and to be sure I can be part of the problem. But it should also then be no surprise that we reproduce that spirit in the church when it engulfs the broader culture of which we are also many times brazenly apart of as well. For just as the church affects culture, it is also affected by it; much as we would like to think we are exempt from the disease our culture oozes in flickering pixels across our screens of various shapes and sizes.

 

The truth is that we cannot have real community until grace takes precedence over spiritual, political or social correctness that seems to be endemic among us all. For unless we are led by a starkly different kingdom value-set, we are prone to wander, and the non-going church culture feels it! In fact, we can tell a lot about who we have true community with by who we can’t wait to hang around with on the weekend, rather than who we sit behind every brisk Sunday morning. The bottom line is: We love being around people who love us back, just the way we are (Billy Joel).  And to those who expect or exact nothing from us other than our company, our being, and our mutual offertory cleansing of shared successes and failures walking along the narrow path–albeit with a distinct and communal limp. This kind of community is perhaps better shared with the real life of bread and wine, or beer and hamburgers on the grill, rather than the manufactured world of quick Sunday morning coffee and doughnuts, with three worship songs, an offering plate and an altar call–with an ensemble conclusion of “yall come back real soon ya hear”. And though I am not necessarily advocating we replace the coffee pots with cabernet or Stella on Sunday morning, what I am advocating is the necessity for church to go beyond the common call for meeting in small groups, to a more human call to living real life together in and out of the context of Bible study and prayer, yet also not to their exclusion. This will take risqué thinking that will no doubt be met by good churchmen, yet who may also look at us with frog-eyes and begin looking for new lily pads down the road. Nonetheless, it is a journey worth taking; especially as the “rise of the nones[3]” are increasingly comprised of the “Christian dones[4]”.  They are those who would rather stay at home alone rather than subject themselves to the same graceless, monotonous, and artificial activity; and yet that still expects different results from parishioners who have long shown signs of Rigor Mortis.

 

At least some of this decay in our parishioners is due to being constantly oppressed by the preaching of a law or spiritual prescriptions no one can ever keep or fill, but who get it handed to them sanctimoniously on any given Sunday. Dr. Zahl again adds keen insight here where he writes,

 

“Preachers require a history of grace in relation to their own personal sin and sorrows. Unless preachers have individual knowledge of their own form of original sin and total depravity, they have nothing to offer to which anyone else can relate. Grace has to be the core of a preacher’s own story in order for their sermons to carry any impact. If this is not so, they will preach the law and exhort. Then they will become angry at their dispirited and paralyzed listeners. Ministers who start to despise their own congregations—and many do—do so because ‘their’ people are not doing what the minister is telling them to do. The minister assumes they have ‘free will’ because he thinks he does. Therefore, when they exercise their ‘freedom’ in not doing what he preaches he starts to dislike them”[5].

 

I learned this the hard way from my own experience as a former preacher who held the law up every Sunday, although I would have prided myself as a graceful person in most other aspects of my life. I never understood why, that though people liked my sermons because of their bible saturation, three logical points and eloquent delivery; yet they also seemed to be shaking my hand every Sunday, ever so quietly whispering in my ear “Great sermon Mark, but I’m going back to sin now”. And they were, and so was I. Not always consciously, yet sometimes very much so–simply because we really can’t help ourselves without daily divine intervention.

 

I finally realized grace was the answer to all of life’s problems years ago when by happenstance I picked up the book What’s So Amazing About Grace by Phillip Yancey, and then overdosed on a follow up called The Ragamuffin Gospel, by the late Brennan Manning. Through those pages, I finally realized most find community everywhere but church and determined to change my tune and course. At that time, I never realized the cost of Zahl’s advice for a spiritual misfit like me: that of being transparent and preaching grace to religious people. Jesus results should have been a case in point! What I found out the hard way was that the Bible belt likes pastors as church mascots more than someone with a holy calling, yet who also sits on the sidelines with the rest of the sinners and shuns sitting in the “Holy man” chairs. Good churchmen also prefer being told what to do sometimes even more than being freely given the scandalous license that grace appears to provide: for others to simply be who they are–sinners, saved by the matchless grace of Jesus, and those who rest and walk in that awareness each and every day. No instead, I found that we like our preachers on pedestals rather than like the most prolific writer of the New Testament; the Apostle Paul, who said, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness”.  For me, this proved to be rather risky behavior for the frozen chosen, but I discovered that the broken and bruised couldn’t get enough.

 

A Humble but Familiar Reminder

 

I realize that my brief musings have opened up some “cans of worms” and left some questions unanswered. And to that I would say, “This is a blog, and I don’t want to keep you too long, and I’ll be back”. And perhaps I would also say, “it’s also a lot like life, and also unavoidable in meditations about the deity”. Nonetheless, I believe these two things I have outlined this morning should be a clarion call to church leaders and good churchmen alike to take a look around and pause for reflection and introspection. It’s not because I have said it to be sure, and it’s certainly not because they are new admonitions. But rather its because it’s actually being said and has been said all around them, much like leftover landmines from a previous war that they seem to strategically still avoid. Landmines that have now erupted, resulting in an exodus from church–whose results are still mostly brushed off as a cultural problem (the world), rather than an actual subcultural one (the church). All the while, the flames and broken bodies are all around with their own fate still off in the smoky distance.

 

And yet meanwhile…the broken and spiritual misfits are still dying to get in.

 

Selah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Zahl, P. F. (2007). Grace in practice: A theology of everyday life. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub.

[2] Zahl, P. F. (2007). Grace in practice: A theology of everyday life. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub.

[3] White, J. E. (2014). The rise of the Nones: Understanding and reaching the religiously unaffiliated. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

 

[4] Packard, J., & Hope, A. (2015). Church refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are done with the church but not their faith. Loveland, CO: Group.

 

[5] Zahl, P. F. (2007). Grace in practice: A theology of everyday life. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub.

Broken Into Disbelief

A Revelation

 

As I was reading through the book of Exodus the other morning, though not my run of the mill experience, I came upon a verse that literally stopped me in my tracks. Like a hungry man in clear view of something simmering on the stove, I sniffed further to see what awaited me. Yet at further glance, it’s promise of immediate gratification of my appetite for what God had to say was instead struck with an illumination to be sure, but one that would be of a much more somber bite—even bitter at first, and one which all at once brought sadness and profound understanding. Understanding into something that many of us on the other side of salvation have forgotten about. It’s called true brokenness, and it often times stifles permanently any craving and invitation for many to walk with God on a new path of hope after so much disappointment and disillusionment. I then leaned in further.

 

The backdrop is this. We all know the story. Moses has been told to rescue the people of Israel from their enslavement to the Egyptian people. He is at first continually reluctant, and retorts to God both reasonable and unreasonable excuse after excuse. God then tells him in chapter 6 that with a strong hand He will deliver the people of Israel, and he will use Moses and Aaron to do it. Moses is not convinced himself, but he listens on. After all, it is a daunting task he has been given. God then assures Moses that just like he walked with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and was in a covenant relationship with them–promising that they would be much more than sojourners in Canaan as before, that they would now truly have a land of their own. God declares to Moses that the time is indeed at hand, and he needs to strap his seatbelt on for what Moses knows will be the ride of his life. God then goes on to pledge to Moses that the people will be delivered from their slavery, and he makes the additional promise that He will be their God, and they will be His people, and that better days are just upon the horizon for this 400-year long, oppressed people. The curtain closes for a moment, and then reopens again for scene 2, and the people’s reaction to Moses “word from the Lord” is not what we expect. Yet maybe it actually is, that is, if we’re listening and still leaning in. And then there it is, like grannies vittles on God’s revelatory grill, it hit me where vs. 9 tells us:

 

“Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery[1].

 

As I read that, and I looked twice to make sure there was no ground about to open up to have them for lunch, or any snakes poised and ready to strike, not only do I see their true plight, but I also sense at this point that God does as well. And after all, why wouldn’t he, and why, as God’s very own people, wouldn’t we also understand?

 

The Problem

 

You know brokenness has become a chic word in the church in recent years. It’s now popular and trendy to say that we’re all broken, and to be sure, it is also a truism that the denial of, will in a new york minute prove its axiom to any watchful eye. Yet also, this side of heaven, we dance back and forth between being theologians of glory (hope for consistent and evolving virtue towards the divine in this life) and theologians of the cross (the reality that too much hope in this will meet with continuing failures that will leave us exhausted and even more broken). But back to our story for a moment. When I read that verse of scripture, without any need of a commentary or outside help, all at once it came to me what all of us should already know, but perhaps have now forgotten. You see the people that we would reach with God’s hope, and many times ourselves, have been broken so much that quite frankly, we have lost our ability to believe anymore. Or, for purposes of this blog, many are I believe “Broken into Disbelief”.

 

Imagine if you will 400 years of now generational slavery. Its’ all we know, it’s all our kids’ know, it’s all the grandchildren know, and books on our shelves speak of the permanent reality that is our existence that our forefathers (you guessed it) also knew. Perhaps its what I like to call “stinking thinking”, or a sort of caste system built now into our DNA fabric of our lives that says whatever we are, we shall always be. In short, there is no hope. In fact, any quick jolt out of our reality to chase a pipe dream such as Moses was selling was quickly met with the deer in the headlights look of “What you talking about Willis”? Nobody’s buying, and to be sure nobody’s selling. The words from the people should not surprise us however, because they are oftentimes our own—even very consistently my own. So I have no stones here.

 

But first about people who don’t know God at all. We often wonder why they teeter totter back and forth as to whether there is any need for Him in their lives. We marvel why the truly lost are not knocking down our church doors to get in. We speculate and ruminate about their rejection as mere rebellion, lack of commitment, and the fact that they’re all pagans after all, and settle down into smug acceptance of the impenetrable wall of the unbeliever as the rise of the none’s (no affiliation to God or church) that we evidently think we have (none)thing to do with–or rather, we have simply grown too insular inside the cocoon of safe Christianity to remember when we ourselves were as the Apostle Paul reminds the Ephesians:

 

“For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light”[2].

 

But what I really saw as I was pondering these words was the understanding of the true raddled state of people that can’t quite make the leap with God yet because brokenness and slavery is all that they know. Their brokenness has become like a comfortable salve to a consistent wound that though not alleviating the pain has taken them into a place that is “comfortably numb”. Like the woman who has for far too many times gone down the path of loneliness in search of a knight in shining armor to be kissed and then crowned queen, only to be left with crying babies, welfare lines and sneers from those who have either forgotten or will never know what it’s like. And then as to the junkie’s “needle and the damage done” (Neil Young), hers is a that of being caught up in a system for which she finds no escape, and the news of a pilgrim traveler that tells her “God wants to save you” sounds an awful lot like blah, blah, blah mixed with a heavy dose of smoke and mirrors, or better yet–a path that will get a whole lot tougher before they see any hope of any promised land. Thanks, but no thanks Moses, or whoever you are!

 

But wait a moment. Before we are too quick to escape the easy task of associating the lost, or the “riff-raff” of single mothers, junkies and hoods of generational poverty in any given city center on our main street, the truth is that it happens to us all even within our white picket fences, dogs named blue, apple pie and a Chevrolet or two. For you see, we are all prone to brokenness and enslavement, most of which is our own continual making as Bob Dylan once eloquently crooned:

 

“You’re gonna have to serve somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody”[3]

 

That’s right.   It’s you and I. It’s either the Lord of right beliefs or the devil of wrong ones. It’s what separates the wheat from the chaff, the goats from the sheep, the enslaved from the free, and the lost from the found. Oh our enslavement varies, but it comes with the beliefs or non-beliefs we give voice to everyday, and then let them have their permanent podium in our lives. And the microphone is always on in our head. I know it all too well.

 

For instance, as a man who after years of trying to climb my own version of a corporate ladder of some sort that continually escaped me, I’m often then left only with the Jones I’ve been subconsciously trying to keep up with, who stare back in unison contemptuously at my lack of a stable economic portfolio. Thus the ability to find community in my current state becomes problematic among those who have forgotten their own version of brokenness and enslavement. Or then there are those of us who resign to the belief that any word of God’s goodness and his desire to give us a future and a hope sound an awful lot like Moses going off at the mouth with this “God wants to deliver you” bit, and because of our brokenness, we find it hard to believe anymore–in fact we haven’t the ability to as I said earlier. In fact, we let it sink in and take root, and even coddle and nurse it like a baby.

 

And there are also those who have enslavement to a belief that a marriage is what it is, and happiness and fulfillment in it has become a joke told by “college buddy” to remind us what fools we were for believing in such an institution. So we don’t strive anymore with it, and like brothers on a hotel bed (Death Cab for Cutie), we settle for the fatalism of things and try to simply cope with the settled nihilism. Or, for the children who’ve been raised by absentee parents, or abusive parents, who continue to believe the comfortable slavery that no one can be trusted, and who are afraid they are now genetically predisposed to merely rinsing and repeating the sins of the fathers and mothers–and for whom there is no love for them truly to be found. It’s a gaping hole in their life that only God can fill.  As a result, the drinking never stops because the drinks absolve their victimization and quietly numbs the pain.

 

Or perhaps it is the daily beliefs we accept each day that we’ve have all too acceptingly come to regard as our lot, with no desire to even think contrarily anymore. Fill in the blank with your numbness, your disbelief, your enslavement, and your perpetual hopelessness. You get the picture. We are all broken into disbelief. We’re not in Kansas, or Disneyworld, and we’re not sure dreams of any shape or size come true anymore.

 

A Grasping Of Hope in God’s Goodness

 

I want to conclude my thoughts today with an invitation for you to go on a journey I have now hesitantly taken as a result of my own battle with enslavement and brokenness, which many times, even today, has kept me from believing my hope of a promised land. It is a journey into the goodness of God as his primary modus operandi. It’s a shift to the belief that when God says: Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen”[4], that he really means it, and he means it for you and me that He calls his very own.

 

You see my friends, it is so easy to resign to this belief, which is actually unbelief, and thus the acceptance of our enslavement to things that are contrary to God’s word and good intention for us. Instead, we would rather resign to the belief which comes from the castles of impenetrable walls we’ve built with our slavery bricks and straw. Oh I get that your bondage is like a 400-year old zit with hair on it! I’ve got two or three. And I get that slavery has taken up residence in the broken dreams that are now stacked up like dominoes in a free fall all around you. And I get that we can never know a man or a woman until we walk a mile in their worn out shoes. Catharsis accomplished! However, what I’m really trying to say today as a former and recovering enslaved person myself, is that God is calling, and he’s heard your cry, and his desire is to deliver you, and He desires to be your God and for you to be His people! It’s time for the renewing of our mind to transform the way we think, that has within it the very real power for you and I to believe again, and that God is indeed calling us into His goodness, and into a land of peace and blessing, even while sometimes in the midst of life’s many storms. We must fight for it, we must believe it is possible again, and we must let hope always have the last word in our lives. Your parting of the Red Sea awaits you!

 

Selah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Exodus 6:9 ESV

[2] Ephesians 5:8 ESV

3 Dylan, B. (n.d.). You Gonna Have To Serve Somebody. Retrieved from https://www.bing.com/search?q=you+gonna+have+to+serve+somebody+lyrics&form=APMCS1&PC=APMC

4 Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV

 

 

The Pain, and Yet Consequent Freedom of Being Ordinary

The Narrow Path

I can remember, every since I was a very young lad indeed, this idea that would often well up inside me and overtake my thoughts regardless of what activity I partook in. Whether it was playing with my friends atop their tree house fort, stuck at a purgatory-like family reunion lunch, asleep inside my favorite math class, or while I watched Pastor Bob say “thus saith the Lord” every Sunday and Wednesday; I couldn’t escape this overpowering dream, that somehow one day I was “gonna be somebody”. And I believed it truly.

This thought continued with me through my adolescent and teen years in between zits, botched up haircuts and high-water jeans, and equally through the turbulent 70’s and early 80’s romp through sex, drugs and rock n roll; though not necessarily in that order. In fact, even when I failed to impress too many with my everyday life, the…

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The Pain, and Yet Consequent Freedom of Being Ordinary

I can remember, every since I was a very young lad indeed, this idea that would often well up inside me and overtake my thoughts regardless of what activity I partook in. Whether it was playing with my friends atop their tree house fort, stuck at a purgatory-like family reunion lunch, asleep inside my favorite math class, or while I watched Pastor Bob say “thus saith the Lord” every Sunday and Wednesday; I couldn’t escape this overpowering dream, that somehow one day I was “gonna be somebody”. And I believed it truly.

 

This thought continued with me through my adolescent and teen years in between zits, botched up haircuts and high-water jeans, and equally through the turbulent 70’s and early 80’s romp through sex, drugs and rock n roll; though not necessarily in that order. In fact, even when I failed to impress too many with my everyday life, the two of us (me and my recurring dream) knew that it was just a matter of time when we would show everyone our stuff, and that everyone would take a look at us and say, “Wow, look at him now”! That guy right there used to be Mark Prince who lived on Wilson Street, and now, last I heard, he lives just off Rodeo drive in a mansion somewhere—moment of silence everyone please!

 

And I must say it didn’t stop there either, but would continue on into my responsible years of holy matrimony, diaper changing, and my part in the daily grind that we call this American life. I continued to believe I was bound for greatness, and would show occasional actions beyond my mere words and dreams into a new business venture, a network marketing product that was going to take off, a mission to help hurricane victims get water and supplies they needed, and other grandiose ideas of how I could make my dream come true. My poor wife of course always believed in me, and never stopped me from sticking my neck out there to try and do something I honestly believed in. She rooted for me all the way, though I’m sure at times she wondered when I might at least settle on something.
It was then late into my 20’s, that the God I had continually run from my entire life found me and captured me, as I gladly acquiesced my “sick and tired of being sick and tired” life over to him once and for all. There have been rocky paths along the way, but the constant desire to follow him has been there ever since, which to this day brings me the most profound joy I have found outside of my the precious family He helped me create. Nonetheless, at the time of my entrance into the Kingdom, the dream I had caught some new spiritual winds and resurfaced in the shape of someone who would be great in the kingdom of God. Oh I knew the verses of scripture that said:

 

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 ESV)

Oh yea, I knew them well, and very much believed that the only way to get to greatness was to go down that upside-down kingdom path to be sure. In fact, that was part of my problem—perhaps I believed it too much and others didn’t. It seemed the more I tried to simply allow God to place me where he wanted me, others were pushing and clawing to get their way in or up the ecclesiastical ladder, and being much more successful than I. It seemed after all that much of the church had adopted its own form of a gentile leadership philosophy after all, and if I wanted to get in, I needed to “kiss the ring” too, and fall in line under a certain system, until at last I would get my chance to do what God had called me to do, and achieve my ever illusive, but now God-shaped “dreams”. Now of course that journey and part of my life in ministry is much too long to talk about right now, and therefore it’s not the time and place for any further explanation here, except to say this, “My life otherwise now at 52 years of age, has become shall we say, too ordinary for me to live with”.

 

Now of course part of this problem has to do with my own culture. As the last of the baby boomers (1964), we were the first to be told by our great generation parents that we could be anybody we wanted if we just put the time in and believed it in our hearts. And that’s certainly partially a true American reality (though it’s possibly waning before our eyes), and not a bad philosophy per say; nor is it one I’m trying to kick to the curb today. However, like many philosophies, or assertions of some factualness, there are the “disclaimers” one should also read. And basically, those disclaimers are nothing more than the equal fact that there’s not enough room for everyone to have their own reality TV show, speaking tour, or become a part of their very own Rock and Roll fantasy. And the equal truth is, someone has to work at McDonalds, empty the trash at the church, drop the kids off safely after school, and rake the darn leaves! You get my drift! In other words, some of us, and perhaps more than we would want to admit, need to be comfortable with that nasty word…here it goes: ordinariness. Michael Horton helps us understand the problem when he states:

 

Ordinary has to be one of the loneliest words in our vocabulary today. Who wants a bumper sticker that announces to the neighborhood, “My child is an ordinary student at Bubbling Brook Elementary”? Who wants to be that ordinary person who lives in an                            ordinary town, is a member of an ordinary church, and has ordinary friends and works an ordinary job? Our life has to count! We have to leave our mark, have a legacy, and make a difference. And all of this should be something that can be managed, measured, and maintained.  We have to live up to our Facebook profile. It’s one of the newer versions of salvation by works.[1]

 

As I read those words, I realized that this is something that has far deeper implications into the life of the church in America as well, and that also has become a disease of sorts among us as individuals who have this fear and loathing of the apparent sin of that ugly word: ordinariness. But I think more importantly, for many of us, or at least for me, it is the realization that many times, “the hype of living a new life, taking up a radical calling, and changing the world can creep into every area of our life. And it can make us tired, depressed, and mean”[2].

And as I read that, I see this lopsidedness away from some accepted ordinariness as the cause of much of my own unhappiness in my later years now, wondering if somehow I will measure up, or if like Achilles, becoming very afraid “that no-one will remember your name”[3] in a way that more correctly measures the true value of a man. In other words, and I think here Horton has sounded the gong appropriately and awoken me from my dream rhapsody for at least a true awakened thought, where he writes:

 

Changing the world can be a way of actually avoiding the opportunities we have every day, right where God has placed us, to glorify and enjoy him and to enrich the lives of others. It is all too easy to turn other people in our lives into a supporting cast for our life movie. The problem is that they don’t follow the role or the lines we’ve given them. They are actual people with actual needs that get in the way of our plot, especially if they’re as ambitious as we are. Sometimes, chasing your dreams can be “easier” than just being who we are, where God has placed you, with the gifts he has given to you[4].

 

As those words washed over my soul, I recognized that for many years now, I have been caught in that fear of being ordinary web, coupled with dread that somehow society will finally exercise it’s verdict into my life and say, “you’re toast”, or it will be evident in the fact that I can no longer get a job in my 50’s to make ends meet, because I’m not as “cute and cuddly” as I once was—an increasing American reality for men my age. Or rather, that somehow God will say, “Mark, your dreams really don’t matter”, so just except it and move on into this ordinary path I have chosen for you, and I say, “Yes, Lord”.

 

I’m here today to say that both of these extremes: to loathe ordinariness, and to equally give up on some sort of dream that is truly defined by who we are as a human being, are both equally wrong. There is for sure indeed a truism that when a man’s dream dies, a little more of him or her dies each day as well. I’ve heard that often enough-ad nauseum in fact. The real problem comes in where the dream itself defines us, rather than the fact that God has placed us in his kingdom here and not yet to be ordinary fruit bearers, all the while never giving up the idea of being extraordinary in His kingdom, his way, in his time; and in being true to who we are rather than someone the world is trying feverishly to get us to become. I for one have found it to be a sell-out in the grandest of proportions, and I have many times bought and sold it!

 

But you see the caveat should be this. While we are still dreamers everyday of our lives until the curtain calls, there must also be a holy contentment with life that comes to some acceptance of the circumstances in which God has placed me for such as time as this, or until it should pass, or, even decide to stay. This also means being content if necessary “with my place as an average middle-class guy in an American suburb with a wife and four children — someone with various callings to my family, church, and neighborhood”[5].  This is something too often I have forgotten, and I’m afraid it has brought much sadness of missing the forest of ordinariness for the trees of chasing after the wind many times.

 

What I have come to realize after all of this pondering, is that my life really does matter, unless I choose to let the un-realization of my current dream to continually incapacitate me, and cause me to somehow “disengage”. You see my life, and how I live it each day, matters greatly to my wife; it matters to my dear sons; and it matters to the many lives I have been able to touch throughout my lifetime with a cup of cold water, a blanket, some food, a place to stay, or simply an encouraging word; as well as many lives I still have the opportunity to touch. It also matters when I spend time with my 86 year old neighbor and listen to him, and we share bread and wine and laughs together, for it is then that I become the kind of ordinary that the world has just too little of.  It is I believe, something many of us have sorely missed.   And I believe that is truly the “great” in the kingdom of God.

 

Yet it also means that the Mark Prince, who besides being a salesman, is in fact a writer and a preacher in my soul and in reality, and is someone who’s life will not be determined by whether his writing leads to a book millions or anyone reads for that matter, though it still possibly could. Nor is it determined by a sermon that is piped across the airwaves through a big church that is changing the world, though it also still could—even as I continue to give my free time to endeavoring to do both. And I do so with the same fervor that is mustered within me that I have let for too long keep me from continuing to try, all the while being content with being ordinary, and shucking off the chains of a world’s ethos, who seeks to suck me in to who it wants me to be out of necessity, or survival of the fittest.

 

I pray that my rumination is food for your own thought and contemplation this morning. And though there is an initial pain in the acceptance of the new found beauty of ordinariness, my prayer is that the freedom you find will be the kind of release that causes you and I to say with the apostle Paul:

 

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. (Philippians 1:21-22a ESV)

 

Selah

 

References:

 

 

[1] Horton, M. S. (2014). Ordinary: Sustainable faith in a radical, restless world [Kindle].

 

[2] Horton, M. S. (2014). Ordinary: Sustainable faith in a radical, restless world [Kindle].

 

[3] Quotes. (2004). Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0332452/quotes

 

[4] Horton, M. S. (2014). Ordinary: Sustainable faith in a radical, restless world [Kindle].

 

[5] Horton, M. S. (2014). Ordinary: Sustainable faith in a radical, restless world [Kindle].