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

 

When Someone Takes You Where You Don’t Want To Go

The concept of being taken where we don’t want to go or being forced to do what we don’t want to do is anathema to those born and bred in the land of Stars and Stripes.  Although we might concede to that arrangement as a child with no current bargaining chips, to be sure our goal as we exit the tutelage of our mothers and fathers is to never, ever do so again.  The ability to choose what we want when we want, akin to a never-ending seafood buffet line, is something most of us have been burdened with since we first put our foot on the floor.  In fact, it’s really not that beneficial, though it is not my purpose to explore that outside of setting the stage for our talk today.  Yet I’m told by many from third-world countries that this is in stark antithesis to their everyday experience.   The ability to choose, or to perhaps “pull oneself up by their bootstraps” even, as a matter of choice, is a far-off and even grandiose idea.  For on the one hand too many options brings with it great confusion; and on the other, changing one’s “caste” so to speak is not only impossible for them, but somehow a disruption of some reincarnational destiny baked into their subconscious.  And even though this “I did it my way” philosophy seems to be the entitlement of those of us in the land of plenty, my “spidey-sense” tells me that we ought not get used to it all the way to four score and ten.  In fact, my dear friend and spiritual mentor Peter the Rock had a conversation with Jesus one day about this very thing.

Breakfast On the Beach

It was shortly after the resurrection, when the disciples gathered together with Jesus in Galilee, that Peter; perhaps reminiscent of previous days, decided they would rondavu for some good ole night-fishing.  And yet as is often the case, on this night, the fish weren’t willing to join the party, and so they caught nada, zilch!  Then in a flash, equally similar to those miraculous days before the crucifixion, Jesus, who now affectionally called them “children” (I really love that by the way), asks them to throw their net on the right side of the boat.  By this time of course, they have at least learned to do exactly as he says it seems, and faith having now taught them these valuable lessons, now yielded so many fish that they could not pull them all in.  And so it was, right before the fish fry, that Peter and the true love of his life were to have their most difficult, and at the same time transformational conversation.

It started out as John realizes that the guy who tells them to throw the net on the right side is of course the Lord (duh).  It is then that Peter ditches the fish cleaning duty and jumps into the sea in order to beat the rest of the gang to the shore where Jesus is already serving up a morning breakfast of fish and bread.  He then shoves a few more on the grill from the morning catch and invites the rag-tag fisherman turned disciples to join him for a sumptuous breakfast on the beach.  And our text tells us in John chapter 21, that though the disciples know it is the Lord, something inside tells them that he is different now in both the strangest and magnificent of ways that they cannot quite explain.

A Class We’d Like To Miss

And now, as is often the case, the conversation turns to Peter; perhaps somewhat still dejected and reluctant to offer much busy spiritual talk in the aftermath of his utter denial of the man he walked and talked with for three years of his life.  Jesus of course knows this, and so He asks him a rather pointed question as he often did when he says, “Do you love me more than these do”?  Peter’s normal tendency, as is still the case here, is to be the best in the class as he retorts “Yes, Lord, you know I love you”.  Peter figures they can now move on to other things, but Jesus is not ready to concede yet, as he asks him yet two more times if he loves him, adding the admonition to “feed or shepherd my sheep”.  And it is here that we see that Jesus seems to be giving him a hall pass for the utter denial at Jesus’ darkest hour, yet as Peter perhaps reluctantly accepts this, he also begins to feel that maybe Jesus is sticking in the knife further by asking him “3” times just as he denied Jesus in the same progression.  Yet what we find is that Jesus is doing nothing of the sort, but lovingly letting him know that He has not given up on him, but is yet again commissioning him to take up the towel and serve in the way of the Master, and to equally love and shepherd those like you and I, who need this broken shell of a man to lead us down our own broken and sometimes cruciform road.

And I mention cruciform because it is to be both Peter’s and our own in some form or fashion if we take seriously the call to love, to serve, to feed and to shepherd the stubborn sheep of God until He returns again.  You know…people like us.  Yet it is here that our lesson comes into clear view.  Jesus tells him ever so generally, yet prophetically nonetheless, that though in his reckless youth he has been used to calling the shots and marching to the beat of his own drum, that there will come a time when this will not be the case.  He reminds him that when he is old, he will be taken outside of his own will, and outside of the purposing of his own life, somewhere that he doesn’t want to go at all.  We are then told by Jesus in a somewhat cryptic form what church history seems to confirm–that Peter would suffer the same fate as his Master.  And yet, Jesus still says to him the same words, “Follow me”.

Can I Just Be Like John for Goodness Sakes?

But before we unpack this (and I’ve always been able to relate to Peter’s response here) he then turns and looks at his spiritual rival (John), and essentially asks Jesus, “Well, if I’m going to die like that, which I don’t even want to think about right now, then what about John boy here”?  And it is here that Jesus says to Peter something that I have often heard him similarly saying to me, and perhaps on your walk on the narrow path, you’ve heard it as well.  He tells him to quit worrying about John, Paul, George, or even Ringo for that matter, but gets right back to the most important issue at hand for us all.  And that is to answer the question correctly and most decisively whether or not we will accept the call to follow, though none go with us or not.  Because to be able to answer the question rightly is the only thing that really matters.  And Jesus is confronting Peter head on with this, even as he tells him that there will be a time when he will not call the damn shots at all, but will instead give up the ghost in the fight of faith.  And so there remains before us a similar and yet equally important reminder before we take another step, that whatever our lot in this life; whatever our achievement or not; our legacy or not; or inheritance we leave the ones we love or not, answering whether we have decided to simply follow is the watershed issue of our lives!

The Answer That Is Still Blowing In My Wind

It was September the 12th, 2019 when I wrote, Forever Trying to Graduate from the Incredible Sinking Class https://marknealprince.com/2019/09/12/forever-trying-to-graduate-from-the-incredible-sinking-class/ where again I attempted to instruct myself and others in the Petrine class of failures, hard knocks, and lessons we must learn if we are to walk on the narrow path Jesus is always guiding His own towards.  In my conclusion, my analysis was that sometimes, and even oftentimes in this life, it is not until we are truly sinking, and the one thing left visible of us out on that big ocean called life is one lone eyeball sending out one last S.O.S. right before we drown!  It is then, and many times only then, that faith comes in like a tsunami and yet actually saves us (even from ourselves) so we can finally be useful in the Kingdom of God, and so we can finally have the kind of sight that can actually guide us and others the rest of the way.

Now though I’m not Peter by a long shot, though in some ways we all are, on Friday, September the 13th, I was taken where I did not wish to go.  As I lay on the cold operating table still awake to the sights and sounds of men and women with masks deciding my fate, inserting long tubes into my heart to mend what I had for so long ignored was broken, I longed for someone to tell me it was finally over.  From the days hence, I’ve sought the Lord and waited like a dog longing for a long-lost bone for a word from Him.  And like Martha, and like Peter even, I am worrying about many things and wondering what is to yet to be made of my life in the grand kingdom story, or if I still have a shot like John and others seem to have.  I’m still waiting, and waiting for some epiphany, for some silver bullet, or perhaps a still small voice would be nice.  But there is one thing that keeps coming back like a resounding gong in my ear that I have a tendency to ignore due to its utter simplicity, since I too have heard it time and time again.  And like Peter, I’m a little perplexed and perhaps a little sad at its eternal repetition throughout my life, somehow waiting for something more.  Yet here it is again, and yet now it is so much sharper in my ear.  I hear him saying to me, “Mark, my dear, dear child, just follow me”!

Selah