Living Without a B Plan

I would like to take a brief bit of your time today to sort of piggyback on last week’s blog: It’s Not Called Faith Until It’s Hard.  We wrapped up things, reiterating our main focus of the fact that faith is often times “hard”, yet we have been guilty many times of packaging the gospel in a more palatable fashion that harms more than helps.  The result has been massive attrition (some of which is natural), but that could be avoided at least partly by a presentation of the gospel that includes the costs associated should one give wholehearted alignment to it.  A case in point, and perhaps an addendum to our previous talk worth additional ponderance, comes from Peter himself.  A serious disciple of the Lord known for often getting it wrong, but who often got it “spot on” while the rest were simply trying to catch up.  Our text before us today captures this in a monumental way I believe.

Some Hard Pills to Swallow

Our story comes from John chapter 6, and particularly starting in verse 25, where Jesus begins relating the manna that was given to the Israelites in the wilderness as in fact “Himself”.  In other words, Jesus says He is the “bread of life” that in fact came down from heaven.  This of course starts an immediate ruckus among the crowd, with them first of all calling out his humble and unimpressive lineage from their perspective.  The additional gag reflex was in trying to get their arms and minds around Jesus asking them to “eat his flesh”.  And if that were not bad enough, Jesus seems to be commissioning them to drink some of his “blood” to wash it down with.  And as a result of this “hard teaching”, in verse 66 we find the words, “After this many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer” (John 6:66 NET).  And I find it interesting to note here that there were many “disciples” that were following Him besides the 12, but it was at this point when the gospel and it’s “hardness” began to separate the men from the boys shall we say.  In fact, you can bet your bottom dollar part of this crowd that bailed as a result were also some of the same ones who later hollered “crucify him” and also chimed in “Give us Barabbas instead” assisting Pilate in deciding His fate.

But in light of this, understandably, Jesus looks out at the 12 and says these somber and profound words that I would suggest He is still asking today to those of us for whom the good confession we made before many witnesses is starting to lack any visible “benefit package”.  Additionally, for those of us who at a pivotal point in our walk begin to also wrestle with the things “hard to understand”, or in the navigation through times of difficulty that seem to have no current expiration date.  The stuff of which Jesus beckons us to not only file away until a later time of revelation, but to also embrace in patient waiting along with the more genteel admonitions that give us epiphanies of glorious light along the way.  And so He says to them, “You don’t want to go away too, do you”?  And I’m guessing at this particular instance you could have heard at least 12 pins drop!

Peter Graduates to Class 201

In fact, it is here that I envision all the disciples looking at each other, wondering who has the correct answer to this haunting question.  Or perhaps they in unison are contemplating whether there is even a right answer to give at this point.  Perhaps they were looking at each other much like you and I might do as schoolchildren when the Principal asks a suspicious looking group of us for an answer to a question that could incriminate the whole lot if answered incorrectly, and so no one lets out a peep; or else!  And yet Peter has already sifted this uncomfortableness through his own mind and heart proven by his epic response. For he has, if you will, already “burned all the ships” and “cashed in his chips”.  And his reply is captivating to say the least. Our text says, “Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom would we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God”.  And from my perspective, never have more profound words been uttered for our instruction to those of us trying to make it to second base on the oftentimes lonely narrow path of which we are embarking upon.  For Jesus’ question will continue to be one we also need to answer on the long trek homeward, and our needful repetitive answer will demand the basic tenets of Peter’s reply all over it.

A Flunky Disciple’s Pilgrimage

I concluded last week’s blog with a short video about the story behind the song I sung as a child, still wrestling then with what it meant to be a follower of Jesus and what that would look like in Mark Prince clothing.  And though I wouldn’t totally embrace the narrow path until the age of 27, I would spend the next 28 years afterwards learning what that continual decision would cost me personally.  And though I skinned my knee many times throughout that journey through my own spiritual clumsiness, by God’s grace I have been able to say, “I have decided to follow Jesus” and “though none go with me, still I will follow”.  In fact, that has often been the case in moving pictures so to speak.  For I have watched many of my friends who were once “brothers in arms” in the fight of faith on this narrow road become casualties of that same raging battle before my very sad blue eyes.  Men and women who because of trials, toils and snares and a variety of brokenness are those who finally call it quits and say, “enough already”.  For the road is much, much too difficult.  Those costs have also included God’s very own churchmen treating me as an outsider, part of the rebellion, or as someone simply unwilling to kiss their ecclesiastical ring.  A ring of whose glitter did not reflect the gold that had once been projected as a given.  It’s also cost beloved friends and family who both quietly and even boisterously conjured up spells given spiritual names for my demise.  Added to these were my own flaws being worked through cruciform necessities to drive my roots deep and wide and ready for a later more worthwhile rumble with the demons just outside my door.  And then not to be excluded were the loss of all things often unequally mixed with restoration and hope, along with “dark nights of the soul” that lasted more akin to days, weeks and years; along with dates with death to then be postponed until further notice.  And yet here I am, still talking about and walking with Jesus, albeit with a very distinctive limp.

The Decision to Abort Plan B

And as you guessed it, all of us face this same pivotal moment in our lives if we dare to dream about walking on the path of our Lord and what it might entail for us.  For there are a plethora of never-ending options alluring us to its beck and call, all the while making continual boasts of its cure to whatever currently ails us.  And yet sooner or later like Peter, and like the rest of any would be disciple who endeavors to embark on that self-same path, we’ll have to answer a difficult (yet with God’s grace and help) life altering question.  And the answer has only one reply once we have been beat up one too many times with the pleasures of sin for seasons, and man’s endless tirade of pragmatic plans that promise to lead us anywhere but a cross that will need to be carried.  And it is at that time as we stand watching the crowds teeter-tottering between this way and that, sifting through the vast array of best made plans, that we finally understand that He alone has the words of eternal life.  And then consequently resigning to the fact that in light of that stark and yet beautiful reality, there simply is nowhere else that we can go!  And when that happens; when we finally “fish and cut bait” for the last time, life without a B plan becomes the absolute safest place in the world we could possibly be; and one in which we finally begin to actually live!

Selah

I Can Never Be The Same

 

 

 

It’s Not Called Faith Until It’s Hard!

I guess at times over the years many either overtly or secretly considered me a prophet of doom.  Perhaps now looking back it wasn’t totally unwarranted.  Not because I ate locusts and wild honey, saw apocalyptic visions or preached imminent doom before sundown “lest ye repent”.  However, I guess in a way I just continually felt that many of us (including yours truly as a much younger man) somehow didn’t get the memo that the walk of faith is well…hard.

Yea, there it is; I said it.  Now take a deep breath and then exhale.

The Bitter Revelation

And now that we have collectively had our breathing exercise, I guess you could say I’m at least fortunate to have grasped this very central core of the Holy Writ’s teaching early on, although it didn’t serve me well in ministry very much.  After all, nobody likes a “Debbie downer”.  And though Eeyore is cute and all, you wouldn’t invite him to do a self-improvement seminar.  And I get it, I get it.  But I was a little troubled in my spirit I guess.  For while it seemed most everyone else was preaching “God wants you to be happy and fulfilled”, I seemed to always emphasize the “yeah, but”, or, “maybe not so much”.  You see because as I read the ancient writings, what always seemed to rear its ugly, yet substantiated head was the message that perhaps we either missed or simply tore it out before it had a chance to get into us. And the message is, that life is not only difficult sometimes, even many times; but if you decide to add Jesus to your life-cake mix, man oh man; you’re going to have you some TROUBLE!  That is, if you actually “believe” and stick around long enough to let that active decision run its course.

This Does Not Compute

You know it’s really no wonder that I ran into some problems seeming to always allow the chicken little in me to take center stage.  And I won’t put much fuss up about it.  In fact, I remember as a child growing up at the tail end of the Jesus movement, much of what I heard at least in my circles was the “if you gave your life to Jesus everything would be a breeze” kind of message.  You know, things like “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” and such and so on.  And yet it seemed that every time I decided to follow Jesus and lay myself down and put myself out there, a crucifixion of some sort lay not too far off in the distance.  I could pretty much bank on it.  And, the more I read, prayed and pondered, the more I couldn’t help but see that this is to be the way of those who embark on the narrow path in some form or fashion.   I couldn’t get around it.  And even if I had wanted to, my continued reality of unanswered prayers, disappointments, and knives aimed straight towards my back taught me otherwise.  And then I realized that somehow or another we’d all been duped.  And so, a man named Job became my new travel companion.

So let me just say that I can perfectly understand why no one wants to read Job.  Can I get an amen?  In fact, it’s the same reason everyone echoes Paul’s prayer in wanting to know “the power of His resurrection”, yet sheepishly leave out the “share in His sufferings” part (Phil. 3:10).  It’s tantamount to the Fonzarelli trying to say he’s wrong The Fonz.  Not only does it come out incoherent, but we’d rather not do it at all.  And the devil knows.  That’s why he paid God a visit one day to talk smack about His boy.  He came to the Lord and basically said (Mark Prince translation), “Yo God, I mean it’s no wonder why Job serves you and all bruh.  You know with that silver spoon he has sticking out of his sheltered behind and all, and his smoking hot (but not so wise) wife and Norman Rockwell picturesque kiddos.  I mean come on man.  And don’t let me forget, the dude’s got more money than Kanye, and enough land and stuff to isolate himself from any pain the world gives out in good measure. Of course he serves you.  I mean sign me up for some of that”!   And the Lord said, “it’s your call Lucy; but you can’t take his life”.  And then, the rest of the 40 plus chapters show his utter crushing of all he knew, loved and held dear. And then in a New York minute, everything was gone.  And then my boy Job, for the exception of having to stomach a few “fair-weathered friends”, and a little mirror-check of his own smidgeon of self-righteous narcissism once hidden; always kept his faith. And in the aftermath, true humility before a Holy God became his permanent abode, and he also still ended up with more money than Kanye! But I’ll leave the rest for you to discover for yourself.  Suffice is to say for now, that Job should be Church 101, but instead it is a neglected class whose casualties are far too many to mention here.

The Forgotten Class

Well, wait a minute, before I forget.  The Job Church 101 class was once taught.  Oh yeah, the early church taught it.  They learned it first from Jesus who said, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his own cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34 NET).  And so it would be no real surprise that Acts 14:22 tells us the disciples of Jesus were encouraged to “continue in the faith” teaching them that “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions”.  Class 101 for sure.  And Stephen found out firsthand, and later Paul and Peter, and then the rest of the 12; save John who was exiled to a luxurious vacation spot in Patmos.

But getting back on track here, I’m sure Job was insightful to them as well.   But if they had forgotten, their Lord not only told them what it would require to have faith in Him, but He then laid down the gauntlet with spilled blood and a broken body and drinking that ghastly cup.  We now have a name for that act in commemoration in fact.  We call it the Eucharist, and we are to regularly imbibe it till He come.  Symbolic innuendo methinks.  And well anyway, Paul reiterated what Jesus taught, and what he taught in his class when he instructed a timid boy named Tim to pass it on to his parishioners when he reminded him, “Now in fact, all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 2:12 NET).  And I could go on, but O.K., O.K.  Here I go again.  Old habits die hard I know.  I didn’t mean to bathe you in it.  Really, I didn’t.  Class dismissed for now.

Time To Get Down To The Heart of the Matter

So back to where we started.  I was trying to make the point that it’s not actually called faith if it’s not hard.  In other words, the expectation that we can inoculate ourselves from either the world’s pain or the pain of carrying our own cross in this world for this noble cause we profess is a misnomer.  It’s gotten us nowhere, and fast.  And I don’t mean to say that many good things will not come on the path, and we should pray and believe to that end “always”.  And we can encourage each other with much emphasis from the scriptures on this aspect of the Christian life, and we must.  I’m simply saying that we must no longer commit the treason of false advertisement when we sell the gospel cheap!  Or better yet, when we don’t lay the “good news” out warts and all for people to consider first and foremost.  For there was once a man that came to Jesus who blurted out, “I will follow you wherever you go”.  And he got an A for that.  But Jesus reminded him that “Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has not place to lay his head”.  To which he retorted something along the lines of “Let me go bury my pops first”, and Jesus, being seeker-sensitive as He was (sarcasm alert) said, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God”.

So what we learn is that Jesus told people to “count the cost” of discipleship.  Yet from my estimation, it seems we have been guilty of gross misrepresentation for “not” imploring people to do just that.  We haven’t told the whole story.  And consequently, churches full of “Humpty Dumpty’s” are unaware of the great fall that is to come, or that has already been played out for our viewing displeasure!  They are unprepared for the “faith that is hard” phase of their walk that upon navigating through can only then lead them to the forty, sixty and hundredfold of fruitfulness.   And because of this much neglected class, perhaps you and I are watching the movie reel of both others and ourselves played out before us right now, quarantined away here in contemplative Coronaville.  And just maybe someone forgot to tell us what we needed to know; found both in the scriptures, and also in the sage and timeless words of G.K. Chesterton when he wrote, “The Christian life has not been tried and found wanting but has been found difficult and left untried”. 

Selah

I Have Decided to Follow Jesus

 

 

Flunking Elementary School

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

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

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

Blind Trust

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

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

Dependency

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

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

Born Again; Again and Again

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

Selah

 

Trumpism, Not Donald Trump: Part 3

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

An Understanding of Two Kingdoms(continued)

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

     Slow to Learn

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

     The Pillars of the Faith Guide Us Onward

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

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

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

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

     A New Understanding

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

Selah

Stay tuned for Part 4

 

Settling Into The Old Man’s Skin

I have had a hand full of people that actually care about me, start to look at me with an edge of concern lately.  In fact, I can almost feel them whispering to themselves as I walk by, secretly saying to themselves, “Is he O.K.”?

Changes

 And I understand that a little bit I guess.  After all, they see this once enthusiastic and extroverted guy transform into an introverted hermit type of fellow, and watch from afar as old blue eyes has been walking lately with a little less spring in his step.  I also refuse to “Grecian formula” things up, and so this increasingly graying beard, and once somewhat chiseled frame has started to show signs of budding atrophy–despite my still quasi-consistent attempts to keep everything from falling down altogether on a fat boy treadmill nearby.

They equally scratch their head as they see a chap who was once a movie aficionado grow increasingly frustrated at the morally inept and purposeless selection, and similarly irritated at Christian movie production attempts to “VidAngel” the unadulterated reality out of life that we all know and experience from day to day.  As a result, turning the “boob tube” off as my old man used to call it, often seems the correct order of the day.

These same people no doubt likewise stop to reflect on someone who is now almost positive that nothing good happens after 10:00 PM at night, and who would just as soon pass the time reading a good book or in finding an old empty church to sit and pray in, than to do just about anything else.  This is also the same person mind you who loves a huge mug of Belgium beer, or a glass of exquisite bourbon as much as anyone with half a pulse; and who puts an occasional premium cigar in the same category as filet mignon and a baked potato–hopelessly drowned in limitless butter and sour cream. To add to this complexity, this ever-evolving patriarch can occasionally be seen with the likes of Chicken little, and one of whom has correspondingly grown pretty damn sure that the sky is actually falling all around us.

A Delightful Paradox

Oh, and don’t get me wrong, I like to be around people (in small doses now I’m afraid) but am equally content with solitude that causes me to habitually reflect and write about the sky I just mentioned.  I also grow increasingly content with a mixture of both a holy sadness and an equal zest for what God has left for me and my beautiful bride in the days that lie ahead–despite not knowing heads or tails of its sure footing anymore.  And for sure, that has taken some reluctant getting used to.

In fact, I’ll go so far to say that I believe that this contrast I just described should be somewhat normal for those of us who are still faithfully pulling out eye-teeth in their pursuit of a God who often plays hard to get, and those who also grow increasingly wary of the endless “grasping for straws” for some eternal bliss in a home down here; when all the while we innately know that we were created for a city whose builder and maker is God.  And the truth is, I’m now actually OK with this beautiful contradiction. But it’s taken quite a country mile to get here into my skin.

Death and Taxes

I can remember hearing Billy Graham say one time something that I found rather profound.  He was asked that if he had it to do all over again what he would do different.  He mentioned several things, but the one that stuck with me, that did not make a lick of sense until recently, was when he said, “I would have prepared more for growing old”.  And this insightful thought has stayed with me ever since.  You see because the fact is, that one day, just as certain as April 15th, the grim reaper will come to do his bidding, and I’m convinced more than ever that preparing for this certainty is singularly what has the distinctive power to catapult us into living a more purposeful life, rather than stoking the continual restlessness of having not yet achieved a life of perfect ease and comfort—a rose garden of which God never promised to those of us who voluntarily still walk on the narrow path. But I think perhaps we have forgotten.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have done things in life to try and “get ahead”.  I’ve worked hard, pursued advanced degrees, tried to be the best at a thing or two. And in that quest, I have experienced some of the euphoria of accomplishment, and the equal sharing of the spoils that come with it.  I still pursue this, simply because I want to be as great as I can be with the talents I’ve been given.  And somehow, someway, I believe there’s a best-selling book somewhere in my repertoire that still causes me to not go gentle into that good night.  All the while, I am now equally comfortable with being a normal guy who has also abysmally failed, yet who simply loves his wife and family, and who makes at least a feeble attempt to walk on this broken road. All the while, I am in constant hope for the daily bread and wine given from a Father who loves to give good gifts to his children–even when the battle rages on for the true fallen sons of God to at last be revealed.

Settle Down and Settle In

In conclusion, the reason that I write this, is not to give those concerned more reason to fret about my current metamorphosis; nor do I wish to become an old man before my allotted time.  But what I do want to do, is to find a way to settle into this old man’s skin in such a way that enables me to offer hope and guidance to those who increasingly engross themselves in a never-ending discontentment from a life that they feel has passed them by, and instead embrace a life of child-like faith and trust in the one who has promised to never leave us or forsake us.  To continually walk hand in hand with the one who longs to give us peace and rest even in the valley of the shadow of our inevitable death, yet most readily in the daily grind of peaks and valleys, highs and lows, and the ever constant “in-betweens” and “still not yets”.  For this is the path for all who dare walk on this road less traveled, and I simply pray that you don’t have to become an old man before finally getting it into your skin.

Selah

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Where’s Your Homeboy Now?

 In St. Peter the Rock’s 2nd epistle and chapter 3, the edgy disciple-prophet pens a verse in the middle of a lengthy narrative on the so-called “negligible” signs of Christ’s coming, from scoffers who prognosticate that the jig is up on the Christians once and for all, for the “so-called” Messiah has no clothes.  In a nutshell, it’s time to stop the babbling and go home. In essence they say that first of all, God doesn’t judge anyone (though ironically they don’t believe He exists), and secondly, that if we are still taking a can of whoopass through life down here and waiting around for a trumpet from the sky to come at any minute, we are indeed the gullible and thus deplorable Christians the “educated” masses think we are.

In fact, the verse says exactly what they are still saying some 2000 year later:

They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4 ESV)

In other words, science now “knows” the better order of things, and that what goes in a test tube always then comes out of it in predictable fashion, and the “sign” theory is outdated, along with the good book and its people; and so it’s now time to shut the whole thing down.  Even though of course, both the might of the Romans and the “fine-tooth comb” of the religious establishment were unable to do so by simply producing a very dead body about 20 years earlier.

Yet Peter then first of all reminds them that God’s judgment is not only a surety at some point off in the distant future, but that it’s track record is also certain for those who want to take a trip down memory lane: perhaps starting with, I don’t know…the flood maybe?  He then builds a case by saying that just as that was evident when the time came, it will be undeniable again, and he uses that to build a case for the reason for the apparent stall out.

Is God Being Slack Concerning the Promise?

 In essence, Peter says that God is giving all of us, including the scoffers, time to perhaps take a double take and relook at this whole Christian thing with new eyes again.  And he suggests that by turning our glance away from merely the truth of the particulars, that instead; as Jordan Peterson has at least partially reminded us, we should spend more time in the realm of the universals.  His admonition in turn, though still conceding to us the tangible truth of real matter and all its boasts, is to equally compel us towards the spiritual truth that hangs in the balance in the grasp of the whole truth, and nothing but the truth–so help us God.  A realm of truth, even with its now “multi-millennia” of signs for inquiring minds wanting to know, that the culture writ large has long thrown out with the baby, and the bathwater.

Dooms Day Preppers

I can remember like it was yesterday back in the 70’s, when the runaway best seller The Late Great Planet Earth was released.  At that time, along with the overabundance of cheesy movies low budget filmmakers produced in its aftermath, churches (including mine) were sure we were in the cross hairs of the end of days, and that the eschaton of God would be imminent.  Fast forward to 2019, and like me, I’m sure most who call themselves by the name of Christ now feel that if Jesus isn’t now on His way in short order, we secretly wonder if Peter’s nemeses were on to something.  Perhaps He is not coming like we thought, or like the Thessalonians, maybe we fell asleep and somehow missed the whole shebang.

Jesus talked about some signs too in Matthew 24.  Things about false messiahs; wars and rumors of wars; nation against nation; famines; pestilences and earthquakes.  He would then add that this was only “the beginning of sorrows”.  He would go on further to say that all of us who called ourselves by His name would be hated to be sure, something about the “abomination of desolation” (with varying interpretations of what this was or would be), and the gospel of good news being taken to all the nations (of which Paul made boast of being completed even in his own time).

He also talked about the parable of “the fig tree” (which most believe referred to Israel becoming a nation in 1948).  Many would also talk about “this generation not passing away” until it was fulfilled to mean, as many dooms-day prophets heralded, that sometime around 1988 was to be the final curtain call.  He then went on to give many other signs–yet assured us that not even He knew the day or the hour.  Instead he uttered that this particular occurrence was strictly in His Father’s timetable, but assured us that alertness, attention to holiness and preparedness for the hour should be the state of the church at all times.  And so still we wait, while the volume of the scoffers has now reached colossal proportions in every market square and computer screen.

Is the Enemy Us?

And yet I wonder.  Smack dab in the middle of Jesus’ signs for us to pay attention to, he mentions something that I feel bears ponderance now more than ever.  He says that during these times, “that because lawlessness increased, the love of many will grow cold”.  And the apostle Paul seemed to be echoing Jesus sentiment again, when in 2 Thessalonians, he speaks about “the great falling away”, which almost every Tom, Dick and Harry soothsayer agrees refers to the state of the church at that time as becoming corrupt, irrelevant and chameleon-like in perfectly blending in with the scoffers themselves.  And of course, that is where I begin to have a sort of out of body experience that sure as Hell feels like the real thing from where I’m sitting.

For instance, does anyone still called by the name of Christ doubt that lawlessness has increased calamitously in our now “global village”, and even in our own lives–thus causing our love for Christ to, I don’t know…grow cold maybe?  And is that not also what John the Revelator is alluding to when he reminds the church at Ephesus that they had “lost their first love” before he lays out the apocalyptic time clock?

And in hobbling along this narrow and sometimes lonely path, searching every so anxiously for the Jesus missing in America and in my own life, perhaps the signs we should be looking for have been building a barricade from our eyes in our own back yard for some time now.  And all the while, the myriad of money changers we gave the new keys to have now reentered our various temples, as we shuffle in week after week for the show that must now begin.  But perhaps, just maybe; the signs are indeed everywhere now, except we have become the church-going, therapeutic, moralistic and deist scoffers, who no longer live like they are leaving at all.

 

Selah

 

 

There’s Something Wrong With the Ground: Part II

Well, I don’t guess I need to spend too much time on why it’s been over two gosh darn months since I last wrote to you.  After all, you know me by now, and well, this ADHD has really got to stop!  I was however excited about my last post, particularly because I was feeling that I was getting ready to live through it in a whole new way—again, and therefore thought the “experience” would be ripe with fresh and smelly insight for your spiritual aromatic pallet.  And let me just say that I really do hate it when I’m right. OK, well…maybe not. Anyway, in this case, I could really do without the rightness of it all. But let’s get on with it shall we.

In my last blog, I wrote https://marknealprince.com/2019/02/28/theres-something-wrong-with-the-ground-part-i/, introducing the soil problems we all experience in living the Christian life.  I set up a good deal of introduction there as to what was happening in the story, but ended it with the tip of the iceberg in the obvious observation, that the devil often times “is” the guilty culprit of seeking to, often successfully, steal what little meager faith we have.  I gave some description here, so I encourage you to go back and read so it will be fresh in your thoughts.  But the fact is, part of what’s wrong in our soil is our worldview, and the overabundance of lies written into the culture that Mephistopheles himself has been transcribing into the ethos of mankind for eons, ever since man put his first foot on the dust that he came from.  And so then, the “Thief and Chief” quite naturally, and ever so effortlessly, “steals” the morsel of faith that seeks to penetrate the layers of man’s plausibility structures intrinsic within us, that simply will not allow mere natural men (I Cor. 2:14)to believe for any longer than a really bad weekend.  But the plot again thickens.

More Funky Town

Jesus then explains something else funky going on with the ground of our potential, yet seldom ever achieved fruitful faith.  In vs. 20 and 21 of Matthew 13, Jesus gives us another issue to chew our cud with. He says essentially that this ground is called “rocky” for a reason quite frankly.  And it is because though it finally breaks through the impenetrable wall of the devil’s lies with an outburst of initial joy even, because it has not been able to yet sink down some initial rootedness resulting in an actual resoluteness of personal faith, once tribulation as a result of this new-found conviction comes (as certain as death and taxes), it lasts for about as long as jail-house religion, and thus fizzles out like a cheap box of sparklers. And it isn’t pretty.

In fact, I’ve had this conversation many times with would be inquisitors into the Christian faith. And I often implore, and even beg them to please consider the fact that life is hard enough as it is, and thus it is equally not prejudice when it comes to the pain and suffering it can and many times does dish out.  So then, I very clearly state that if they want a nice cozy religion that suits all their needs, Christianity is not, let me repeat: “not” the religion for them.  For in fact, if one adds “true” and unwavering faith in Christ to their already existing topsy-turvy life, they will by nature of the faith’s essence, invoke even more “tribulation” and “persecution” into the mix.  And sadly so, it can come, and often will come from their own families, from the ever so faithful wounds of friends, and from a world system that only loves its own (John 15:19) and punishes the bastards it finds with excommunication–thus the often lonely narrow path comes into full focus. And for most, this is a hard pill that they cannot possibly swallow.

But then sadly, there is where actually most of us live. Even those of us unfortunately, who have added just enough inoculated conversion in our lives so as to not get the real thing. Of course mixed in with some tithes and offerings, some good ole faithful church attendance, and an occasional good deed with our retirement package smiling back at us as we await our celestial shore.  But make no mistake about it friend, this soil is the soil with all the damn thorns in it, all of them, and the one that keeps us all from the forty, sixty and a hundred-fold fruity pebbles from being descriptive of our lives.

The Perfect Storm

And Jesus finally explains it, so we need to listen.  He tells us that his particular ground is the one ripe with “the deceitfulness of riches” and “the cares of this world”.  Mark chapter 4’s rendition adds “and the desire for other things”.  Luke 8 then piggybacks on this with “cares, riches and pleasures of life”.

So, there you have it.

The trifecta of a daily and always dependable ass-kicking on the Christian path.  We’ll just call it the cares of life (and there are many), the pursuit of money and happiness if you will (deceitfulness of riches), and; if we have done everything right (so we think), will then equal to “the pleasures of life” that will hopefully continue until we break on through to the other side (Doors).

Cares

Both Jesus and Paul talked about one of our nonstop daily cares which no doubt creates so many others. That wonderful care known as marriage or familial relationships.  Yet Jesus and Paul were both in cahoots in saying that though marriage is wonderful and God’s design and all this and that, however, the care of a spouse can and often is a competing care against fruitfulness in our lives, especially if both are living on the same stinking thorny path.  For in the end, both will choke each other to death!  So to care about one’s wife or husband, or children, or extended family, is to add a heaping amount of “care(s)” that can and often does war against the spiritual life of fruitfulness, especially if they are all also simultaneously choking on the thorns, and equally asking, “Thank you sir, can I have another” day after day after day. It’s a never-ending street ripe with everything but…well “fruit” I’m afraid.

Stuff

Those particular cares of course necessitate the other ones, which is the need for “stuff” (George Carlin-google itJ), which then breeds into the American Dream of what can be the “deceitfulness of riches”, because after all, more is never enough.  And the funny thing about it is, in a free-market capitalistic society, some version of “rich” is what we all need now so it seems, not necessarily to keep up with the Jones anymore, but just to bloody survive!  And so even you and I who are immersed daily in the scriptures (assuming there are still some of us out there), daily crying out in prayer of either a purposeful or more desperado kind, are equally those now, teeter-tottering back and forth from the promise of fruitfulness or not, because if we miss a beat, the world system will eat us up and spit us out while no one is even fricking watching or giving a good damn. Oh yeah, we get the deceitfulness of riches part, but what we can’t get away from, what we can’t escape even by swearing by the hair of our chinny, chin-chin, is the fact that we’re caught up in a web that has us all one move shy of being served up as Spidey lunch on any given day!  That’s our address.  This is where you and I live.

The Rub

Oh yes.  Constant cares to the left and to the right. Constant quest and pursuit of riches, or at least enough to get us by (whatever the Hell that means).  The constant desire for pleasures to numb us from waking up to the fact that the Lord we proclaim is ours said, and is still saying to us, and especially now to me; that until we give all our cares (I Pet. 5:7), and relinquish our worries (Mt. 6:25-33) to Him, and instead seek first and foremost a kingdom not of this world mind you, then the ground will never yield the fruit that it was designed for before the foundation of the world. The Christian life will die on the vine. The sound “Well done”, will never be heard.  And all for which we have labored both in our inoculated Christian life and in all our cotton-picking cares, in the end won’t another minute buy (Kansas). Nothing left but Dust in the wind, or better yet: unripe fruit that will never see the light of day, nor brighten others.

A little Irony

And I’m wondering just a little bit here.  Perhaps maybe, this gargantuan step between the thorns and the fruity pebbles has to live and grow in the betwixt and between, and the vast uncertainty of life, and come out on the other side both saying and eventually meaning, sometimes again and again,what Habakkuk learned who said (bled):

 

Though the fig tree should not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the LORD;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

GOD, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s;

he makes me tread on my high places. (Hab. 3:17-19)

 

 

Selah