Tinkering Too Long Inside the Devil’s Workshop

You know they say that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, and I’m sure whoever’s grandma coined that term, it is just as true today as it was then.  But from a Christian perspective, I’d like to suggest that the mind is in and of itself the devil’s workshop, and being industrious at the wrong things, and thinking the wrong things, are equally deadly culprits inside the lair that the devil makes his permanent home in.  History has indeed proven that purposeful zealots with the wrong ideas have had devastating consequences that still speak to us from their ideological graves.  And it is no less true of little ole “you and me”.  For our daily thought patterns can lead us further into the black hole of despair; and either progressing us into creatures of ghastly malevolence, or forging us ahead into the light of goodness, peace and hopeful possibilities.  The difference of course is as obvious as the nose on our faces to anyone who gives a damn about actually taking a little look see.

Family Tree

In fact, I know a little bit about this from a lifetime of fighting my way outside of a burrow of which I speak. For instance, my own family of origin has been riddled with clinical depression which has left scars of which still have not been repaired, nor has any glimmering hope as of yet blown any smoke up our derrieres as to its possibilities.  And the consensus coming from the glaring “peanut gallery” still lingers on like a good dose of indigestion, woefully concluding that the plague is pervasive throughout the entire gene pool.  This has caused many to assert that there’s just no getting away from the “que sera sera” of our family tree.  In other words, “it just is what it is”.  And I would be ever so bold as to say that this viewpoint about our own “day to day” movie-screened lives is prevalent among the vast majority of those we bump into, more so than we would like to admit.  Thus, we often forget that the devil had his minions long before Felonious Gru, and they are also equally legion and parasitic.

It should be no secret then that this sort of deterministic prognostication of fate set its path in order to define my own destiny of capitulation to this reality becoming the final curtain call of my life.   And to make matters worse, I often listened to the lying, slithering tongue; reminding me each waking hour that I could not rise above both familial and environmental circumstances.  It also gladly replayed for me that the trajectory of my life had already taken its turn for the worst, and that the best that I could do was buckle in for the long and bumpy ride.  And were it not by the grace of God in introducing me to the discipline of ingesting the word of God like Pavlov’s dog , as well as the consumption of books by others who fought their way out of the false and final prediction of their lives, I too would have become a casualty of war that far too many believers have somehow forgotten we are in.  And to say that time spent with God and becoming a bibliophile has transformed the way time outside of the devil’s workshop taught me to rethink, is to agree that the Pope is indeed Catholic, and it is a debt to which I can never repay. And yet even so, the workshop never closes, and it constantly vies for a subtle takeover of our minds; and before long, we’re caught up in a web that is slowly but surely preparing us for a slow-cooked dinner.  And the sad part is, even those of us who know better, can on any given day just as easily consent to its bidding for control of how and what we should think.

A Paradox

In fact, this reluctant surrender day after day to the lies that often come in different packaging can carry us away by stealth, and before we know it; we’ve kicked the dog, filed for divorce and told the boss to take the job and shove it!  And then for the umpteenth time, once the pieces have been dusted off and picked up from the ground, we forge ahead again, vowing in some epiphanic moment to pick up some deaf ears to the lies that went and sidetracked us again.  And that’s for those of us who have already taken the class, and who have already spent a lifetime attempting to bend the knee to the one who has whispered to us too many times to count, that this can only be corrected when we die(both then and now).  But who the Hell wants to do that?  Death to self won’t sell any tickets to the show these days I’m afraid.  No one is lining up for self-mutilation, and we can’t resurrect Simon Stylites from the dead and live vicariously through him. And the truth is, continual dying to one’s self as a step forward in thinking rightly, if we’re not careful, can turn one into a visual zombie of sorts. We can become a walking dead man in desperate need of a Joker’s smile painted onto our face.  It can leave us broken and bruised, notwithstanding becoming an ornery ole cuss to be around.  And the irony is, the very (partial) answer to our dilemma can also make us bitter inside. We walk around carrying our real and self-imposed crosses, all the while secretly hoping for our public martyrdom so that we can watch people at our wake self-flagellate in tandem at the deeds they’ve committed against us.

Or we can go another route. We can buy into “name it and claim it” motif, which starts off as a pretty good remedy for what ails us.  We have our Bible promises that we can recite reminding us that “we are more than conquerors”, and “we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us”.  We can also tell ourselves rightly that the devil seeks to kill and destroy, is the father of all lies, and even add a little “God don’t make no junk” to the equation for good measure.  If we add to that a good charismatic church; the latest Joel Osteen book; a sprinkle of Tony Robbins; and a circle of friends that will walk this path with us, it can be really good medicine–for a while.  Yet the truth of the matter is, at the point at which our new found lamp doesn’t yield the genie often enough, we find the minions have merely been biding their time and they still have our mind’s address in their rolodex.  And though there is great truth in both of these measures to be sure, we find that the cure for lingering and tinkering too long in the devil’s workshop is actually a two-edged sword, and one that seems to cut us either way we turn.

The Devil Is In The Details

The more I have walked on this narrow path however, I have come to the conclusion that the truth for us from the mouth of God is usually “both-and” and not “either-or”.  God’s ways are indeed past finding out, and yet He also lets us in on His general secrets.  For instance, there is both a cross and a resurrection, and a time for this and time for that. We have also grown in our walk, yet we are childlike in so many ways still.  And thus equally, we are daily reminded that the heart is desperately wicked, and there are not many who can ever really know it—particularly, and most importantly, in ourselves.

And so I have found that much of our misery on this planet comes from lingering far too long inside of the devil’s workshop.  That’s a truism you can take to the bank.  Yet also like a hotel I once heard of; it is also a place that you can check out but can actually never leave this side of heaven.  For each and every day, like Peter, the workshop longs to sift us as wheat. Or like Martha, cause us to be concerned about many things, except for what really, really matters in light of eternity.  But never fear, God has prayed for us both, and He has left us some final thoughts.  And like the Gambler who once said you have to “know when to hold em” and also “know when to fold em”, I think the Nazirite summed it up best when He said: “I have said these things to you, that in me you might have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world”.

Selah

 

 

 

 

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

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

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christ(X)mas

Cynicism Alert

Well if it isn’t that glorious time of year again!  And no, there is absolutely no hint of sarcasm in my pen!   Seriously. I kid you not.  You know, it’s that wonderful time when parents glee with snap-happy anticipation about spending a shit ton of money they actually don’t have, and then counting down the moments until everyone tears open their presents.  And afterwards, the “fan damily” then scurry about to some in-laws or outlaws to once again get through the heart attack-ridden gluttony without having to call 911; a couple of more mandatory presents in between, and just for good measure; we’ll throw in a little bit of all too familiar ungraciousness, relational trepidation, and a good dose of leftover familial guilt just to close out this blessed day! Ah, there’s nothing quite like it. In fact, one can hardly wait till next year to do it all again.

But wait, did I just say, “Bah Humbug”?  Well kinda. But at least I didn’t add “decrease the surplus population”to it.  I’ll leave that to God.  But just for the record, there is no way that I should be in charge of the zapper button that obliterates people out of existence on any given day.  God in his infinite wisdom stores up his wrath for another day and keeps me out of the consultative loop.  Be thankful. No, but seriously, be thankful.

Genes are a Bitch

My disdain for Christmas is complicated, so let me explain.  I guess after all I inherited it from my old man.  I used to see the look on his eyes every Christmas and it literally scared the shit out of me, kind of like Clark Griswold finally unhinged in the aftermath of surviving an insane family for the holidays, and an equally negligible Christmas bonus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQXuazYI_YU, or like Neil Page finally unglued at the airport counter https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWRxPDhd3d0 if you get my drift . In fact, you could see his eye veins pulsate as he looked at you, and coupled with the tone of his voice, it was a sight so palpable that you could cut it with a freaking butter knife. In fact, to this day, I swear if that ole boy didn’t have a flask stationed in every room of the house during Christmas, he missed a good damn opportunity!  And I know for sure that whatever smidgeon of joy he experienced couldn’t have lasted more than a millisecond on Christmas Day, seeing the ecstasy in our entitled little bug eyes, saving just a bit more to be sure when he opened his one damn present with everybody’s cheap ass name written on it, that ended up being a frickin tie or some generic cologne that couldn’t get you any action with two out of work hookers and an American Express black card for goodness sakes!  His response was like, “Oh gee, thanks everybody, you really shouldn’t have”!  In fact, I’m quite sure that the 26th couldn’t come soon enough, and I imagine him and Mrs. Claus partying like it was 1999 as they ushered in their new, but only temporal freedom from the sheer agony of it all.  But I digress.

To get deeper into the heart of the matter, I guess it’s summed up quite nicely in my title with the sheer “X-mas” of it all that we have come to know all too well.  In fact, though raised in a home that took fairly seriously the customary reading of the Luke 2 Christmas story, our culture had successfully conditioned us to tolerate the moment in order to get to the real shindig. The bliss of discovering whether or not we got everything we had on our list, concluding that we were more nice than naughty, and breathing a sigh of relief that Santa or Dad, or whoever the Hell it was, somehow graded on the curve.  There was also the token Christmas service, the watching of “A Christmas Carol”,“Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman”, and then a stark reminder from “It’s a Wonderful Life” to get at least somehow close to the sheer meaning of it all not a moment too late for possible bargaining chips down the road at the pearly gates.  But Jesus, you know, “the reason for the season” and all, got somehow lost in the periphery; and by the day after, had come up again a day late and a dollar short of truly gripping us with the ultimate gift that longs to continually give year after year–if we but allow it.  And somehow, I guess you could say I’ve at least somewhat repeated the cycle, though in James Dean like defiance, left to my own contemplative thoughts once the trash bag of endless wrapping paper is nestled where the soon to be memory of fleeting present glory also rests: in the garbage can of grasping for meaning straws, and coming up with the same vanity and emptiness before the hysteric flimflam began.  And as much as I long to extract significance from this blessed day amidst the rigmarole of what we’ve made it, I often find myself most of the time waiting for the again depressing climax of December 26th as well, with the temptation to then light up a smoke and perhaps even bathe in the ambiance.

Let’s Commiserate

Well, perhaps you’re like me this Christmas, and you’re one who has to survive it rather than experience the magic and thoughtful exuberance of it all.  A magic like the star that guided wise Magi a couple of millennia ago to gaze upon a face and a meaning that’s only response to it was to give every bit of gold, frankincense and myrrh they could lay down at His feet of soon to be glorious good news. And a child born with the power to save mankind from both his perpetual capacity for sin, and the slavery-like oblivion to repetitively put all his eggs in a basket of smoke and mirrors, continually hoping for left over manna instead of the daily bread of contentment proceeding out of that precious mouth of God that man surely should not live without. And likewise, for a gift that is wrapped in love and peace, forgiveness, and good will toward man.  Something to which we many times have left time and time again wrapped under that oft forgotten tree.  But in the meantime, it’s beginning to look at lot like Christmas.

 

Selah