Rainy Days and Mondays

I Don’t Do Mondays

There have been many songs, quotes, sayings and general universal disgruntlement lamenting the fate that is the “Monday” certainty in all of our lives.  And of course once Monday’s tedium comes to it’s stark reality by around 10:00 AM, we’re already drifting off into dreams of “hump day” (yeah), and then quickly on to “weekend getaways” and excursions filled with addictive overscheduling of massive doses of a blissfully long weekend, which by design is meant to delay the ever so punctual and “matter-of-factness” of, well…Monday.  In fact I’m sure most of us would vote to take Monday out of the 7-day week all together, but then of course we’d have a new nemesis by the name of “Tuesday” in short order.  This should serve to remind us that the issue we have is not Monday at all, but rather the humdrum characteristic that it has come to represent driven by our own brand of the “tyranny of the urgent” that comes with it, and of that which baptizes us rather quickly into the dreaded ordinary that comprises most of our lives.

Dreams

And the truth is, that if you add to this global phenomenon a big dose of the American Dream relentlessly interwoven into the tapestry of our lives, well then Monday is synonymous with “messing with our mojo”, or better yet, something akin to yet another brutal awakening to a dream that we surmise has somehow passed us by altogether yet again.  And the more we numb it’s “un”-accomplishment in our lives with toys; cocktails; action-packed weekends; and another self-help book sure to get us to our dream, the more Monday comes in like a freight train inviting us “all aboard” of which we are powerless to not simply fall in line.  And of course, the devil for each of us is in the myriad of Monday details.

I’m a big dreamer too, and always have been.  In fact, if ADHD meds had been available to me in my school days, I’d already have reached my American Dream, because I’d be the “poster child” for whatever drug company had the best bang for the buck!  By the time I got to middle school however, Mary Jane would take it’s place, and my entrance to class was an open invitation to “yours truly” to lay my head on the desk and drift to wherever my rock and roll dreams would take me.  Which at the age of 16, usually consisted of some Island full of beautiful girls, where I was of course the only guy, and where (you guessed it), a limitless supply of more Mary Jane; and well…more girls, etc., etc., etc.

Now fast forward then to the age of 27, when I finally quit running from the hound of heaven, my dreams started to mature somewhat.  They now were God-sized dreams, but I found out rather quickly, that Christendom has it’s own subculture of the American “Christian” Dream, which for someone on the way to seminary was filled with becoming the next Billy Graham, or the Apostle Paul if it wasn’t too much to ask; or perhaps somewhere in between.  Little did I know, that was not the path I was to take, at least for such a time as this.

There were some accomplishments though I suppose.  A high-school dropout made good on gaining a couple of degrees, but after a short period, walked away from the climb up the ecclesiastical ladder already full of hairy priestly butts above me, and into the sales world of “coffee is for closers”, where at least some aspect of an economic dream started to take shape and put my family slightly higher on the food chain.

Still Restless and Crazy After All These Years

And now, as 54 is just around the corner, I’m still dreaming a bit quite honestly.  I’m still on the food chain, but hanging on by a slight tether. And my dreams now are mostly about writing a blog everyone will want to read, or finally writing that best selling book.  Yet also perhaps more simple things like being the best disciple I can be (with a very distinct limp), loving my wife in such a way that she actually misses me when I’m gone, and being a voice of reason and spiritual insight to my sons and to any other wayward soul who longs to know the method to my slight madness.  And since they typically don’t pay respect until you die, and I’m not dead yet, I still want to be all God wants me to be; don’t want to miss an opportunity that’s truly from Him; and I strive to be my best at what I do; yet all the while, like you perhaps, I’m plagued with waking up to another Monday morning on this increasingly difficult narrow path, often still very restless indeed.

For instance, I go to church and wonder why I’m so cotton-picking bored out of my mind.   I keep looking for someone to walk out of a wheelchair, or to hear a sermon that knocks me off my feet, or encounter a brother or sister in Christ who looks and smells exactly like a Christian of old, and who then actually wants to do life with me.  But then I wake up, and I realize that God and I have more work to do, on me I suppose–something akin to my spiritual Monday if you will.  After all, training in righteousness is really super-duper hard work, especially with what the Lord has to work with and everything.  And yes there are bills to pay; April 15th; deadlines looming; kids that still need braces, and well…the damn trash still needs taken out too.

The Work Still At Hand

 And then there is that time with the Lord I spend everyday, doing my best to allow more of Him to show up and a whole lot less of me.  There’s the time spent uninterested in church still; the uneventful acts of kindness done to people who will mostly forget; and forget about me as well.  There are also the good deeds that will no doubt go unpunished if I continue to live long enough.  There is the time in prayer when God seems to be playing extremely hard to get, and the times when His still small voice is clearly saying “Here is the way, walk ye in it”.  And then there are rainy days and Mondays where rather than purposeful living, I feel as if I’m that damn hamster on that blasted wheel thingy!

And then I realize, perhaps these daily practices really are the stuff of life, and are eternally worth waking up for, even on Monday.  Because as I look out the window of this rainy-Monday world, I still believe the dreams of God fulfilled in the shoe leather of His people are exactly what the world still has just too little of I’m afraid.  I guess that means I’ve got more work to do.  After all, it is Monday.

Selah

Finishing Well Inside of a 50 Shades of Grey World

From Stalwart Allegiance to a Slip, Sliding Away

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

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

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

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

The World’s Definition

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

The Good and Faithful Servants of Yesteryear and Today

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

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

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

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

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

Selah

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

The Dilemma

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

Building Bigger Barns and Eternal Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eureka!

Money as a God

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

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

Again, the apostle Peter writes,

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

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

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

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

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

(Hebrews 13:5a ESV)

Christian Compartmentalism

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

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

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

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

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

Selah

An Afterword for your further Contemplation:

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

 

 

 

 

The Cure for Rollercoaster Christianity

I’ve been moving at a snail’s pace through John chapter 15 this week, and its’ kind of ironic being that it’s message is on “abiding” or “staying” or “remaining” in Christ. And after all, the majority of this mind-blowing piece of scripture is perhaps the key to consistent navigation on the narrow path called the Christian life, and thus somewhere I need to camp out for a while; and perhaps never leave. Perhaps you’d like to nestle up by the campfire and stay with me for a while.

And you see the reason I’m staying here besides the obvious, is because I think it is where we find the cure for what I like to call “Rollercoaster Christianity”. Now I won’t call that phrase my invention (though I certainly wish I had), but I do believe that most of us have bought a perpetual ticket on this not so amusing ride.   In addition, to the curious observer, perhaps you’ve noticed that most of us have a short attention span for just about everything. Very few of us anymore read like we should, and we want our news and information in short sound bites with all the color and pizazz we can get, or else we’ve moved on to the next quick and cheap thrill. To add to our fluidity in what gets our attention, we have incorporated it into our faith as well. As a result, we have very little stickiness within us, and commitment and stick-to-itiveness through the long haul is dependent on a list of variables that are checkered with conditions that most of the time are keeping us from experiencing anything “next-level” that God may have for us.

Oh No, The American Dream Again

 And to add to this puzzle, most of our conditions and barriers to abiding have to do with our unquenchable quest for something I write an awful lot about: The American Dream. And the reason that I do is because I feel that it plagues us an awful bit more than we want to give it credit for, and in one sense, who can blame us for succumbing to it’s pull. After all, we have been sold on its importance since we were old enough to ponder anything of significance that relates to our life on planet earth. We get little nuggets through various stages of our growth into adulthood, and by the time the final piece of the umbilical cord under our parent’s care has been cut, the dream is now front and center of our lives. And the dream goes something like this: We get a good education, we get a good job or open our own business, we work harder than most, and we live “the good life” until death to us part—though many don’t give much thought to that piece soon enough. Many of us then continue this march and have the good fortune to either amass a good bit of wealth while we are here and begin enjoying some of the dream or even all that it perpetuates much earlier out of the gate. These are the people we then idolize. We read their books on the 5 steps to success at this, or the 7 steps to success at that, and we watch them and we seek to emulate their path in hopes of our American dream that will soon come knocking eventually–if we just work hard enough. This chase of course drives us even more as we have kids. For now the dream has to get much bigger to include not only what utopia we can provide for them here, but what we will leave them when we’re gone. And of course we must then pass on the dream to them as well, and so on, and so on and so on.

Now let me just say that dreaming in and of itself is not a bad thing. In many ways, the God of this world has put dreams in our hearts and minds to not only fulfill us and give us purpose while working on this earth, but also to fulfill the mandate to be good stewards of the earth, and those who make mankind’s stay on this earth a bit more cozy and functional. We are also born in many ways with this sense that we were put here to do something significant, and much of our life is spent seeking to find what this is. The late Mark Twain captured this sentiment when I believe he accurately opined that, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why[1].” I believe much of this seeking and searching is therefore God given and not to be equated with the problem the American version of our dreams proposes to solve for us. For instance, as we discover our identity in Christ and His love for us, as well as His continual reminder that the dream inside us must first of all be in light of the dreams of God for the world and for us, we are then commissioned and are welcome to build from there. And therefore when Jesus says that He is “the way, the truth, and the life”, then the dream for the Christian must be constructed from that premise first and foremost; and when we deter from that, it is then that the dream becomes askew for us. Particularly it becomes lopsided when the quest for perpetual comforts in this life take precedence over the call and quest for the comfort, peace and eternality that can only come from knowing Christ himself: our real answer to life’s “sixty-four dollar question”. And if we are truly seeking for the Jesus missing sometimes in America, then this is something that we should be constantly wrestling with, and hopefully coming down on the right side of that conclusion.

Life As It Is For Most of Us

But then there is the “rubber that meets the road”. For after all, we are only human. And as a result, we must live on this earth and we must have certain things in order to merely survive. It is also natural that we want to enjoy the comforts and pleasures that the Lord has given us for our good. And because we live in America, the possibility of acquiring those comforts more frequently is a titillation that at least seems to be within most of our reach. Having said that, the problem comes in when the seeking after and acquisition of these things have escaped our grasp thus far as we move beyond middle age and look out in an almost full crystal ball that gets misty as we look into the near future. And though we are now currently in our quest to “make America great again”, the truth of the matter is that there is only so much room for the “have’s”, and some of us will have to be some of the “have not’s”. And if we didn’t yet believe it, if we are honest, we are finding it to have a grain of truth sketched already into the canvas of our lives. And we secretly wonder how long this old ball called earth can withstand our quest for more and more prosperity for the bigger, better deal. Equally, we also secretly imagine as we run around this hamster wheel of our life if we might eventually get caught in the cross hairs of its threshold. This alone adds an anxiety to our life that for us as Americans seems to be the Achilles heel that keeps us from the abundant life Jesus said he had to offer. It causes us to dread Mondays, and if we’re not careful, to either fall in love with our beds or succumb to an endless cycle of a liquid and sedative weekend.   We then add to our weightiness that the dream has heaped on us the likes of things like cancer; the loss of loved ones; wayward children; and the endless sound bites of bad news that we are forced to digest as it pushes its way into our smart phones for what seems like a 24/7 wakeup call–all the while skirting by the guy with the sign begging for some of our spare change.

The Minister’s Confession

I can remember years ago when I was a minister, I used to preach to these types of people on any and every given Sunday. I spent most of my week in study, prayer, the visitation of the sick, and attempting to fraternize with and evangelize those lost from the hope or current desire of the gospel. In addition, my time was spent trying to convince people caught up in the American dream to give more and more of their time and money to help in the quest of spreading the good news, and in outreach to the poor all around us. I often grew weary and tired, because I felt that the task was next to impossible. So while I was growing weary and frustrated with the people God had given me to shepherd, I had forgotten that the people he had called me to were just like I myself am today, trying to figure a way out of a rollercoaster Christianity life we know is not God’s desire for us, yet all the while caught up in the midst of our struggle to “make it”, while life is many times dealing out a steady dose of difficulties–sometimes discriminately so. And though I am still a minister at heart, I am now one of those same people, and I consistently feel that perhaps others are frustrated with me, secretly haranguing from afar about my need to “get it together” and “straighten up and fly right”. I find that Job’s friends are never in short supply.

In fact, I also think sometimes well meaning ministers of the gospel have forgotten the daily anguish of the common man. And though their lives are filled with countless demands and struggles like us all, many are caught up also in a bubble of privilege that perhaps they don’t even realize they live in. For in essence, they are paid to be an exemplary Christian so to speak. A mascot we can all get behind and follow. Many, out of their sincerity nonetheless, tell us their own version of the 5 and 7 steps to a successful walk with Jesus. We walk out each Sunday with a new admonition to “simply” do this or to “merely” do that and by Monday the weight of life has already told us that it’s just not in the cards for us, and we fall back in line under the tutelage of our American Dream taskmaster and the path back down the rollercoaster begins. I won’t attempt to give you any real answers today, but I do hope to at least be a peddler of a new hope.

No Easy Answers…But

This is why I’ve recently begun to realize a few things for our brief consideration. First of all, though countless scholarly men and women of the cloth scratch their heads in contemplation of the means of reaching an increasingly antagonistic culture to the gospel, I have resigned to the belief that new methods are not what we lack, and the writing for goodness sakes should have already been on the church wall! Secondly, it is not my belief either that the answer lies in our ability anymore to merely reason our way into the life of the mind and hearts of those who bypass our offer of eternal life; though not to its negation. In fact, as I have contemplated about these very things for most of my life now, both as a once professional clergyman and now as a renegade wandering prophet who walks the life of Christ with a noticeable limp, my conclusion is this: that nothing but the power of God and the Baptism and engulfing of His Spirit in those of us who are called by his name has any remote chance of reorienting our society towards the desire for God and of His Christ. Neither will anything else help us get off the rollercoaster ride of Christianity that we can’t currently seem to escape. And though these are new waters of suppositions for me to traverse in, I am convinced that unless you and I pray continually that God revisit His church with an outpouring not too different than what happened in an upper room over 2000 years ago, you and I are destined for more of the same.

Now to be sure we must continue to abide in the vine of Christ’s love and to surround ourselves with others who are truly seeking to walk the narrow path, and this we must do with reckless abandon. Yet I am reminded of something the late Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones began ranting about years ago that echoes my humble sentiment. His synopsis was extracted from his take on Mark 9 where the disciples could not expel a demon from a boy and Jesus finally has to come in and save the day. Upon expelling the demon, the disciples were somewhat despondent and asked why they could not free the boy from his demonic oppression. Jesus’ answer was that “this kind cannot be driven by anything but prayer” or as Matthew’s gospel states, “prayer and fasting”. Dr. Jones’ interpretation was that the reason we need the baptism of the Spirit is because we now live in a Mark 9 world, and without God’s power through fervent prayer and the Baptism of the Spirit we will continually fail in the ability to live Christ-like lives and to become Christ-like witnesses. His reason: “Because the demon is too deep in the culture”[2]

Some Dylan Theology

As a result of my recent musings, I have begun the voyage of adding several things to my cracked up life. First of all, I am trying to not only pray more in my normal routine of prayer and time in the scriptures, but to also find as many excursions away from the norm of my very predictable life to purposefully get alone with God and cry out to him about these things. Secondly, I have begun saturating my soul with as many books and teachings about the Spirit-filled life as I can get my hands on. And thirdly, I have purposefully put myself in a new and at first uncomfortable terrain of being where people are hoping and praying for these same things in daily practice, and who seek to allow God to move in their everyday lives and give God room to do exactly that in their corporate gatherings. Again, though I am knowingly a man with mere “sea legs” in these things of the Spirit; like Dr. Jones, I am convinced that herein, as unpredictable as the movement of the Spirit is and knowing with zero predictability where its wind will blow in mine and your life, I do however believe that it will not be found in the “sure fire” formulas we have been used to prescribing to ourselves and others ad infinitum and ad nauseam.

In conclusion, I realize most of my conclusions of late are about like “nailing Jell-O to the wall”. I apologize for that. I’ve thrown just about all of my formulas out with the trash a long time ago. But perhaps still like me, you are looking for some gold mine of truth that you can sink your teeth into, because like me you sense something is amiss, and the old ways of business as usual Christianity are no longer working for you, or perhaps they never did. If that is you, I want to simply say that you are not alone, and at the risk of sounding somewhat cliché, let me nonetheless say that Jesus loves you and longs for you to abide and continue on this sometimes very lonely and narrow path. Oh, but one other thing I want you to consider, or rather not forget: Perhaps the answer my friend is actually blowin in the wind, the answer is blowin in the wind!

 

 

Selah

 

[1] “A Quote by Mark Twain.” Goodreads. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

[2] Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn., and Christopher Catherwood. The Baptism and Gifts of the Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996. Print.

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

Hello friends. I left off last week with some thoughts about the concept of Christian exile, and the flicker of light left in the church in perhaps an unexpected tangent: By way of my confession of voting for the enigma which is Donald J. Trump. In fact, after touching on several issues about my ongoing cracked up life in order to get us there, that’s where I ultimately landed; with the overall purpose of getting us to think about exile and the fact that we are most definitely in it, irregardless of who is temporarily in the White House. I tried to do so subtly by interjecting that our vote as Christians was perhaps more out of fear of having to live as exilic people more than anything else. My thesis was that part of the reason that droves of Christians in America voted for the billionaire and chief, is because we are afraid that for the first time in our known history, the Christian value system is becoming extinct both in the American public square, and in the thoughts, minds and overall consciousness of almost everyone we rub shoulders with now. We’ve all felt it, and we secretly know it to be true, but somehow we’ve escaped once more due to an election without having to give it much reflective thought. And I for one believe that this is perhaps the beginning of our undoing.

 

And of course in a sense, all of this that I’m speaking about is not a secret as I also suggested last week. The reason is because we have actually been on this moral spiral downward motion for several decades now. However, in the wake of the last eight years of a liberal administration, when we’ve actually witnessed the last of nationally accepted Christian ethics fall like dominoes before our eyes and then actually become new laws in the realms of the definition of marriage and gender identity to name a few, the Christian masses are almost certain that Armageddon is just in sight. And as I mentioned last week, many middle class voters showed up in mass for Trump on Nov. 8th also due to feeling that they had been long left out of the public discussion that would concern them for so long, and are those who have been by and large left out of what remains of the American Dream. In addition, those same people who espoused to many of the same values we mutually as a nation had once held so dear, no longer saw their values represented in the main stream. To add insult to injury, the values they and their families once believed in have now come full circle in being publicly derided and dismissed as poppycock to the liberal elite in the know. As a result, this is the shape and the state we’re in.

 

My brief purpose today to wrap up some of these sentiments is not to continue on a political pathway however. This is the case not only because I am not an expert in the political arena, but also because I want to focus more on why we in Christendom, as our light slowly fades, really voted in the way that we did. My consensus is that the reason that we voted the way we did is more about fear than actually voting for the best candidate. The truth is that we voted because we are afraid of living for the first time as strangers and aliens in a world where Constantinian-like state sanctions and national acceptability of the Judeo-Christian value system is truly on it’s last hoorah. It is also my belief, that though this is not preferred in the natural state of things, in terms of our final real spiritual influence in our neck of the world, its demise should in fact be to us as a bittersweet yet welcome long-lost friend.

 

However, up until now, our only friend has indeed been the world I’m afraid. So for decades now, and as a result, the church in America has lost its cultural influence. And the reason has been two-fold. First of all, as Christians have become more and more equal purveyors and evangelists of the American Dream, and as a result have become non-distinct in the culture at large, to the point that no one is truly listening anymore. To make matters worse, the church, in a mad dash to sidestep its corporate lack of holiness and strangeness in Babylon, decided instead that what the world really needed from us was our relevance. As a result we traded clerical collars for skinny jeans, hymnody for rock n roll shows, and real prophetic pastors with John the Baptist-like backbone for CEO’s who know how to grow organizations.   As a result we saw the masses both come and go over the last several decades, and who are now going, going, and you guessed it…now gone. And yet we continually scratch our heads as to exactly what and why it happened. The second reason we lost our cultural influence is because not only is it by nature of Christianity itself that we become strangers and aliens in a foreign land as God’s people always have been, but also because we have needed to indeed reinvent who we are to actually be in exile before we can again gain any credence again in Nebuchadnezzar’s court.

 

You see the truth of the matter is that we have lived as preferred members of the state for so long, that we have no real experience living as people of exile as our own scriptures propose that we must live as. We have not yet resisted to blood, or lost our property like much of the great cloud of witnesses of the early church did, as well as the countless millions who have suffered and still do suffer as exilic people all across the world. We have lived in a land that respected our clergy, upheld our values as having equal billing on the cultural marquee, and have benefited from living in a country that upholds our right to speak our minds as it’s very own Holy Grail. As a result, I’m afraid we are at a real disservice as to what to do about it. We have now exercised our right as free citizens to vote someone out and someone else in more to our liking, and more akin to our particular brand of the truth. And I think that secretly we perhaps all believe that unprecedented economic growth, prayer in public schools, and the Ten Commandments on the courthouse lawn are indeed just around the corner. We’re also pretty sure that our new commander and chief will fix everything that is broken, and pretty soon our own vision of America will be of course “great again”, and things will go back to being as they always have been. After all, as Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home”.

 

I must conclude by saying that I long for the same primrose path as everyone else, and long for the days when the struggle to make it in this crazy world would yield some sort of final success story somewhere over the rainbow. It’s in our human nature to do so, and the Father of course knows we at least desire and even have some need of these things. But as I look out across the landscape of the culture of which you and I are apart, I can’t help but believe that the trajectory we were headed for has only been given but a speed bump for now. And of course, we voted for that speed bump and it is now very prevalently in the road. Yet the truth of the matter is, that the vast majority of our land and even our world are fast and furiously conspiring in order to ensure that there won’t be a second one. As a result, My only prayer for you and I is that when that happens, and it will; I would wish we’d all been ready!

 

Selah

 

 

 

 

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

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 twilight of their lives 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 sunset 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

 

 

 

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