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

 

 

 

 

Still Holding On Loosely To Some Fool’s Gold

The Move

It was early October, when although watching the Weather Channel beforehand would have been enlightening to say the least, the Prince family actually loaded up the truck and moved just south of the “Red-Neck Riviera” to the lovely Surfside by the sea.  Yes, that’s right.  We moved smack dab in the midst of the terrible flood of 2015 that took Columbia and much of the country by surprise.  A time at which also marked a new beginning for the 6 of us minus 2 now, just 7 years in the aftermath of the economic Tidal Wave that first engulfed me, and later was to teach me lessons tattooed forever in the very fiber of my being.

Fool’s Gold

The lesson had something to do with the allure of fools gold I suppose.  In fact, in my Full Focus Planner, it’s at least penned as my number 1 “habit goal” for my life at age 53.  It reads, “Settle once and for all the allure of the world’s fools gold”.  I know, I know, you’re probably not that impressed.  But it does look good on paper.  I can show you if you like.  And for me at least, being enamored with fools gold seems to capture what I’m actually trying “not” to be about; given my lesson I supposedly learned and all.

In fact, evidently years ago it was something called “iron pyrites”, having to do with a gold-like mineral that of course is found to be absolutely worthless, thus given the name fools gold.  Many “would be” treasure hunters evidently found this out the hard way after expending all kinds of energy and capital trying to find it, and came up with the bottom of a worthless barrel.  Interestingly however, though the bible warns us that the pursuit of money is synonymous to a “fools gold” of sorts, the fact is, money is real; and it gets you a lot of stuff, and respect, and a whole lot of false friends to boot.  It also functions very much like a god however, and indeed exerts power both for us and in us in exceedingly formidable ways.  And like Gollum, to part with “my precious”is no easy task, and it’s no secret as to why.  Because as the late Zig Ziglar famously said, “though money it isn’t everything, at least in this life, it ranks right up there with good old oxygen”!

But of course you can’t really know any of these things quite honestly until you actually make some of the green stuff yourself.  And though the rich look down on the poor for what they don’t have, and the poor look down on the rich for what they do have, the truth of the matter is that you don’t know its fools gold until you’ve played the fool that a lot of us play sometimes. Just ask any lottery winner!

A Day Late, and A Dollar Short

As I said earlier, I moved here in the aftershock of my economic quake that happened in my life. And as I’ve written briefly about before, my wife and I did so for a number of reasons.  Some of it had to do with giving a little distance between us and our now blossoming young adult sons who were finally “grown and gone” (in theory at least).  It also had to do with extended family ties that no longer were binding; owning nothing of equitable merit; and a job that allows me to live anywhere in the Carolinas. All of this equaled to a risky proposition, but one we gladly took up nonetheless in order to lunge forward, and spread our wings and fly, fly away.  The oasis by the sea also had a nice ring to it as you can imagine, and I vowed that once I got here I would finally begin writing, something to which before I had only given lip service to.

We’ve been here 2 ½ years now, and moved recently to a spacious rented home just shy of two blocks from my refuge of endless sand and waves, and God’s still small voice.  We own a 2002 Honda, I have a company car, and my wife has done a wonderful job of taking the few material possessions on the inside, and has made this ocean sanctuary my favorite rescue mission ever–to the point at which I almost never want to leave.

As I mentioned before, I’m a sales dog.  In fact, if I sucked at pretty much everything else, this is the one thing that I was meant to do, even if that’s as good as it ever gets.  The last 10 years have been a rollercoaster ride nonetheless. I’ve still been in “sink or swim” mode quite a few times, but have had a few “good” years in terms of Benjamin’s, but not yet enough to purchase a home the smart way this time (If I’m to learn from my tattooed lessons), or to re-stockpile any measure of a portfolio that will as of yet put me back on the financial map (Whatever the Hell that is).  Yet I’m still optimistic.  I mean what else can we do with the time that we have other than seek to get better and stronger, still learn from life’s lessons, and hopefully follow the Lord on the narrow path that leads to real life so I’m told.  I still set goals, though if I had to cash it all in today, the social security money the government has probably already spent is about all I’ve got at this stage of the third quarter of my life.  As a result, I’m shopping for my doublewide retirement villa as we speak.  Realtors, no phone calls please.

But oh yeah, we were supposed to be talking about loosely holding on to fools gold.  I almost forgot.

Pay Attention Sucka

Well it started with a brief and acute reminder about that very thing this last Saturday.  My wife and I went for the first extended time at the beach in awhile due to a surprise winter that has had us spoiled Americans pretty ticked and ready for some “fun in the sun” baby.  It was such a joy to be down there again, though I spend at least 15 minutes a day there in reflection just about every time I’m in town. We drove our golf-cart down there, and that is so cool you know.  I mean after all if your going to live less than two blocks from the beach you gotta have a golf cart man!  It took us two years to save for it, and it was a joy back in August to finally stroke that $3200 check for a used one that we were so ecstatic to finally have.  So on Saturday, we parked our official beach bum statement at our favorite beach access, walked about 50 feet, and then gazed at the ocean’s splendor for about an hour or so.  We talked again about our dreams and plans, the children and others we love, and the God we are desperately trying to follow in the midst of the world’s rigamoro.

It was just a short hour, but so exhilarating.  And then we packed everything up and started to walk back to our golf cart.  And as I got closer, I realized I didn’t see it, but I nevertheless ignored that unwelcome thought until I got closer, until of course it was all over but the crying. My wife was so torn up about it. More for the fact that she knew money is hard to come by, and remembered how thrilled I was to finally get it for everyone, and for the guests that come to see us often.  But as she was rightly torn up about it for the both of us, I just sighed and let my words be few.  We walked back to our short distance home, made our trek to the police station and filed the report with the local police, and then numbed ourselves with a couple of Saturday cold beers until night came briskly by, with another day and another negative dollar waiting on the horizon.

Achieving At Least One of My Goals

I haven’t said much since then about it, because after all, it’s G.O.N.E.  But somehow, I knew immediately in my spirit, that though the Lord didn’t steal it, and I’m sure He was equally sad for me, it was His gracious reminder yet again to hold on to the things of this world loosely; for they are indeed fleeting and truly are (like us) “dust in the wind”.  And then all at once, I was quickly reminiscent of verses etched in my memory and in my soul, such as “whoever loves money, never has enough”, and others such as being free from the love of money, and the very truthful fact that it is nearly damn impossible to serve two masters, since we no doubt will love one and give nothing more than a month of Sundays here and there to the other.  And then I thought about that gosh-darn rich fool who looked at all his barns, quite satisfied with his accomplishments, his multiple streams of income and diversified portfolio; yet who like the late J. Paul Getty when asked how much money would be enough, he replied, “a little bit more”.  And that night, as the story goes, his soul was required of him.

The truth is, I’ve always held on to money and things loosely for as long as I can remember. That can be both a good and a bad thing, at least in this life.  At one point and time, I was like Erasmus, who once said, “When I have a little bit of money, I buy books, and afterwards I buy food and clothes”.  Other times, if I’ve had two dollars, it was a dollar too much when someone else has needed it.  And on other occasions, no matter how hard I’ve tried to accumulate some in my older and wiser years, in life it seems there’s always a golf-cart thief lurking somewhere beyond the dunes.

And then all at once it has occurred to me yet again, that though money has an immense power both for us and in us I’ve already mentioned, and Lord knows we need some of it.  Yet I don’t know if we’ve paid much attention lately or not, but the truth I’m told, is that wherever our treasure is, there will our heart be also.  And so at least for now, I’m thankful for that blasted stolen golf cart, and that it didn’t up and take my heart along with it.

Selah

How to Save a Life

An Encounter

 In one of those rare moments of late, this week I had the great privilege of witnessing humanity at it’s best at just about the time I had concluded western civilization’s (and more specifically America’s) fall into the abyss as an ever increasing and most imminent certainty. This series of episodic events over the course of the last few months started with my brief encounter with a homeless man whose morose and disheveled appearance struck me to the very core, much as the plight of the forgotten and dismissed in our society always has. Yet this man’s humble and yet acutely saturnine eyes began to tell me a story that I needed to hear for myself.

It started as an occasional dash to the golden arches on a Saturday or Sunday morning for a satiating sausage McGriddle for my wife and I after a weeklong observance of abstinence from life’s fonder pleasures. As I entered the drive-thru, I saw him out the corner of my eye, sitting there like someone uninvited yet nonetheless out front and center lingering abashedly for a few morsels from any rich man’s table. Then, as I ordered my food, I said to the drive-thru attendant, “make that a double order please”, as I then moseyed my way back around to roll down my window with his bag of food and drink with a simple “God Bless” as I then skirted by. This is of course something very easy to do, which at least bespeaks of a heart headed in the right place I suppose. However, it is as also an all too easy “pass” for most of us to skate by the obvious plank in our society’s eye that we like to pretend is simply not there while the time-release nature of our increasing desensitization capitulates once again. And then as I ride off into my middle-class coastal weekend of sunbathing, cold beer and a Sabbath observance and rest on Sunday, I begin to contemplate about what I have witnessed as I often do; and yet again to what the Lord himself would have me do about it.

After guilting myself about my own lack of response to simply open my doors to one such as he, I am quickly reminded of all of societies justifiable reasons one cannot open up his home with a wife and kids to a stranger of his kind. This of course is all quite evenhanded in both a protective and financial capacity; and yet at the same time a very clear watering down of a gospel that once upon a time was the church’s golden rule rather than a now more normal exception to it. And the thought occurred to me that it seems that it must take just about 2000 years or better to go from losing our lives to saving it again. And I’m also reminded very quickly why nothing much happens worthy of a powerful notation to a people who have somehow now lost their first love, and who have clearly forgotten that Babylon is not their home.

A History of College Tries

Nonetheless, on another note, I guess you could say I have been an advocate of the poor and downtrodden for most of my life, to at least give myself a grade on the curve. And throughout the course of my life, on any given day, our family was joined with weary life travelers who stopped in for a time of rest and a little helping hand. Of course I’d like to say that as a result of this ongoing practice I’d have an entourage of successful stories of how my rescue resulted in some “happily ever after” for those in my care. However, the truth is that most accepted my help, all the while rejecting my offer of the one who could really help them, and who then exited out my door to either an untimely death; a trek deeper into their favorite mire; or with a contumacious resolve to simply do it their way yet again. Perhaps the messenger was not as good as he should have been, or perhaps what I learned is that it’s mostly about our obedience to an open-handed life rather than the possession of a pragmatic catalog of “winning” at any heroic rescues to speak of which sell books and ushers one into some church hall of fame. Many who watched as result were sure that we were fools full of naiveté and grandiose ideas in trying to make this wretched world some better place, while others chilly obtuseness resigned them to a comfortable and lingering judgment of our endeavors, towering behind a infectious and rampant belief that “there but for the grace of God go I” applied to everyone but their miserable selves.

Yet even as a person with a track record of at least playing at “losing one’s life” for the sake of the gospel throughout the last 26 years of my life, I’ve gone through periodic bouts of joining the ranks of the naysayers, and then back again to someone who increasingly scratches his head as to why those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ have softened so much of the gospel’s loudest commandment’s around wealth and money to a very sanitized and distant undertone. And as I muse through these things, I make my way back through the drive-thru line again for a fast food fix; drop off another bag of goodies to my new and comfortably detached acquaintance; and off to my next first-world excursion.

And then the day came when I finally decided to engage him. I asked him about his story, and where he’d been in his life. He then proceeded to tell me as a man in his late fifties to early sixties about a family that had all now passed away, and about multiple heart surgeries that left him as someone with already limited skills incapable of full sustainment in this “swimming with the sharks” economy. In addition, he told me about countless tries to gain consistent employment yet continually being let go as a result of his obvious health liabilities to his employer. I then gave a feeble smile, told him I would be praying, and casually mentioned that I wanted people in the community to know about his plight. And then, like a well-intentioned do-gooder, I whisked away to yet another fantastic distraction until this week brought his memory again to my mind.

The Ray of Hope

 It seemed that someone posted something on our community Facebook site inquiring if anyone knew the story of this humble yet familiar untouchable of our seaside community. Then within moments, many began to chime in along with my wife and I about our individual interactions with him and the desire to help in some way. These comments continued amidst an occasional stone cast from Scrooge-like posts bidding us to in essence allow the decreasing of the surplus population to take its evolutionary course. All the while, one brave soul took it upon himself to start a “GoFundMe” page for our new nomadic friend. Within hours, a large sum of money was raised to help get a myriad of essentials this man would need to at least have a chance to breathe but for a moment. All the while, many more have pledged to give longer term support to a man who found himself caught up in a tailspin of life of which he had no ability to recover from. Many more have vowed to work with him to chip away at the barriers in his life preventing him from any type of hope or survival in this dog-eat-dog world of which we are all but a paycheck away from homelessness inside of ourselves. And I’ll have to say that this old dog has been given a new found faith in humanity this week, and with a new resolve to constantly be wiling to speak out and for the vulnerable of our world that the scriptures uniformly and exhaustively compel us towards. So I guess you could say that this week I learned firsthand again how you actually save a life; which most always comes by being wiling to lose some of it first of all.

A Plea to the Church Idea I Love

I’ve been an advocate for some time now of the church taking one homeless person, or family at a time, and to go beyond “feeding the homeless” to actually doing what I witnessed this week in “homing” the homeless; since that is clearly what they need. And as I say this, I know many individuals have actually done this, and many more have spawned organizations that do their best to take many off the streets who have no hope unless a truly good Samaritan should pass their way willing to stick it out over a much longer and messier haul. Yet the truth is, that most of us would not give to organizations that expend most of their resources to the machine itself, with very little left for the propagation of the gospel and to the poor Jesus said he came specifically for. And yet even as I say this, I know that the church has done more to alleviate the ills of society than any other organization known to man “hands down”. Yet somehow I believe that we have allowed the professionalization of the ministry and the needs of those within it’s comfortable and long-term ranks to supersede the needs of the one’s Jesus said were “the least of these”, and to whose humble care is sure and eternal criterion for sitting on his right hand. By choice, however painfully, I finally chose to be an unsuccessful minister in a system that many times fails to read the so obvious writing on the church wall in regards to this fly in its ointment. And to a system that actually once turned a watching world “upside down”. And yet even as I say this, I know that the hope of the world still remains with the church; or at least by those within her ranks. I only mean to say that this week, I learned how to save a life from the roadies and not the boys in the band.

 

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)   

 

 

 

 

Jesus Freaks

I grew up in the zenith of the Jesus movement. In the blink of an eye, getting “saved” or “born again” became as cool as sex, drugs and rock n roll; at least in my neck of the woods–and we had Jimmy Carter and Chuck Colson to thank as well for that. Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Keith Green and the Second Chapter of Acts were crooning once die-hard rockers and hippies into becoming Jesus freaks, and the world put down their peace pipe and protests for a millisecond and stood up and paid us some serious attention. And then we got Bob Dylan. Whoa! We just knew everyone would take up ranks with us after that. Billy Graham was of course hotter than ever, and a plethora of parachurch organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ were swooning young people from everywhere. As a result, new denominations such as Calvary Chapel and Vineyard became the new instrumental leaders in helping all the tie-dyed, bellbottom hip-huggers grow up in Christ.

 

The church I grew up in was influenced very much by this movement, with less of the Pentecostal slant. My own father was a lay preacher of sorts, and had his hand and heart in just about everything that was going on both inside and outside the church. I can remember tagging along on many such meetings, as we would pick up strange hitchhikers on the way. And though it was scary at times, there was a draw that was almost magnet-like from that movement that has kept me feebly following the Lord Jesus ever since. For the first time, they made me want to put my lot in with them and give it all away no matter what, and go to the “foreign” field. However, at the time, I was a day late and a dollar short, because well…I started to like sex, drugs and rock n roll too–and my weaning would take much longer than I desired or expected.

 

Our church had its problems like any church, but it was vibrant. Pastor Bob brought the word like a “big dog “every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday; and you can bet your bottom dollar my parents had me there at all such occasion’s front and center, even when many times force was absolutely necessary. And when our Pastor wasn’t preaching, Sunday nights were filled with prophecy conferences and Hal Lindsay and The Late Great Planet Earth came second only to the Bible itself. And one was sure to have both in hand and ready, as Jesus would for sure return at any given moment. And of course to court the young people, we went to the Jesus concerts and went through our own list of sexy youth pastors with designer jeans who would woo the girls, who would then of course woo the guys, and so on. Let’s just say I was at least caught up in the lot of Jesus freaks, back when to be a Jesus freak was indeed very cool, and to get high on Jesus and follow Him with reckless abandon was for the first time since Constantine vogue once again!

 

Now back to the future. Many have chimed in on some flaws of the Jesus movement, such as a flawed eschatology and a new form of Pentecostal fundamentalism that had it’s extremes to be sure; though it’s revivalist contribution that drew people to the Savior has perhaps still been left unexplained fully both here in America, and across the world.   In many ways I would go back to those days, and in many others, I would avoid it like a root canal. But one thing that I feel confident we could use again is a comfort in being strangers and aliens again in a world we have become now far too much in love with. Perhaps longhaired Jesus people aren’t the rave anymore, but I feel confident that the willingness to be comfortable letting our Christian freak flag fly should be. And though it would go well beyond the purpose and time constraint for this blog to even make a feeble attempt to explain just how we have devolved since then, several things come to mind which have caused my own share of tears and lament as of late.

 

First of all, the sell out to the god of materialism isn’t even arguable, even to many of those submissively caught up in its web. Christians who once took the commission to sell everything they had and follow the Lord on the narrow path have now watered it’s difficult message down with admonition to give mere tips to church (should they decide to go or become), a blind-eye to rampant poverty now on our doorsteps in any given town (we keep our pocket change and a few George Washington’s in case they get to close with their sign), and the mission of the church to take the gospel to every tribe, tongue and nation is sitting on the backburner and the back row with the Baptists. Perhaps we’ll get to it one day once we get enough programs for those of us who have been sitting on the pews for eons and should know better. 90% of the tips that come in the mega church doors go to ensure we have a motivational speaker, a kicking worship band and plenty of goodies for the kiddos in order to ensure we have the best Jesus gig in town on any given Sunday. As a result, very little is left for the things that matter such as the plight of the poor and the sending out of feet who bring good news. And to be sure, the culture is going “to Hell in a hand basket”, but perhaps we have bought their ticket trying to be relevant while all along they were looking for us to be distinct and even strange in a world that no longer has any truth to sink their teeth into. As a result, they are still asking in Pilate-like fashion, “What is truth”, while we supposedly have dibs with the Master himself. We’ve woken up to realize we’ve been asleep at the wheel all along.

 

Secondly, self-fulfillment rules the day among those of us who grew up and out of being Jesus freaks, and like the rest of the world, our week is filled with longing for the freakin weekend full of concerts, dinner and a movie, and a cold beer in the sand wasting away again in our own secluded Margaritaville, while the casualties of this spiritual war in the heavenlies lie all around us as we’re just too busy being comfortably numb. I too have been caught up in it’s subtle grasp, yet my memory of once being a Jesus freak myself causes me to fight my way out from time to time, only to later slip back into a post Jesus freak coma of regretful forgetfulness.

 

And it seems that now we want a good life that keeps being qualified and quantified above our last debt ceiling, and we now need to throw in the same for our pets as well. Somehow, I woke up from the Jesus movement and dogs now really do have their day. The bible indeed encourages us to give care to our animals, but by the looks of things, they have become more important than our children and people in general. And if we looked at our checkbooks with keen analysis, for sure we’d come away with a surety of where our treasures really lie. The Jesus freaks apparently took the call of Jesus rather seriously. Today, methinks not so much. Following Jesus has never become so easy and equally tried and left wanting.

 

And Thirdly and lastly, I think this bleeds into what Ted Dekker has called The Slumber of Christianity, whereby the quest to live forever has become the Holy grail rather than the longing for our eternal home that causes us to instead always live like we are leaving at any moment. What amazes me the most is that this call from Jesus and the apostles own lips has become almost foreign to our ears. Perhaps since the natural man cannot receive spiritual things because they are folly to him, we have answered our own question as to why this no longer causes us to grapple with the difficult commands of Jesus on what he called a “narrow” path that few would find. I guess broad paths are indeed sexier.

 

And in the end, one would think that we would have gotten more fulfilled by now, with all the time and money we spend on the pursuit to achieve our happiness. Yet if the evening news is not always “fake news”, perhaps the answer is plain as the nose on our face, but our mirrors have gotten awfully foggy or the chemicals from our meds have finally kicked in. As a result, we are more restless now than ever as those who claim to have the truth right along side our lost neighbors and friends, and so we have no abundant life to offer them, so they no longer pay attention; and so we scratch our heads in church planning meetings and wonder why lost people are still…lost.

 

Perhaps the answer to our problem is found here:

 

What will people think

When they hear that I’m a Jesus freak

What will people do when they find that it’s true

I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus freak

There ain’t no disguising the truth

 

–DC Talk

 

My prayer is that we would stop caring a whole lot more. In fact, I think it’s time to get our Jesus freak back on again!

 

Selah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost In This Masquerade

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

 

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

 

Are we really happy here

With this lonely game we play

Looking for words to say

Searching but not finding

Understanding anywhere

We’re lost in a masquerade

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Selah