The Spirit of the Age is Patricide

America is polarized between two dominant camps. The liberals see America as evil, and they are especially frothy-mouthed and tearing their eyes out over the election of Donald Trump. They are champions of “identity politics,” they want to see America radically changed, and more and more their vision is a socialist America where the state exerts supreme authority over the citizens.

I used to consider myself a conservative. I was raised by Republicans and around Republicans. In the minds of the liberal media, liberal academia, and even among most conservatives the Republican party remains tied to (what is supposed to be) a Christian worldview. Indeed, 81% of evangelical Christians voted for Trump.

As I have grown in understanding of God’s Word (and hopefully appropriation and application of it in my life) I have come to see that most Christians are not very thoughtful. These folks – some of whom I know to be genuine in their faith in Christ – will defend police even when they are brutalizing ER nurses and shooting unarmed citizens. They will not see the evidence that the War on Drugs has failed. They insist on receiving their Social Security checks even though Social Security is a failed socialist program. They do not, by and large, exert much effort in outcry to defend the unborn or prevent divorce or pay off debts, but they will crow hysterically about gays or missiles targeting Israel. They don’t seem very consistent. If the colonists of America had the attitude of conservatives today, there would have never been an American Revolution.

But both of these factions have elevated the role of the state to a level that would have shocked our Founders. It is interesting to me how apolitical Jesus and the apostles seem to have been, and where the emphasis of their doctrine lay. I ask myself, Do we American Christians have the same emphasis?

Once or twice among a few friends, I have asked this question: Was the rebellion of the colonists against the king justified? I mean from a Scriptural perspective, was it proper? No one has really answered me. I normally get a “Hmm” in response. They don’t seem to know or care.

I am glad to have been born in America, and I still think America is the freest nation on earth although no one alive today has experienced the freedom our founders fought for and enjoyed. Yet I don’t see myself as superior to a believer living in China or Iraq or on a native reservation. I’m torn whenever July 4th rolls around, because I stopped pledging allegiance to our flag and the republic for which it stands when I became a Christian. My citizenship is in heaven, and I am subject to my King. But I honestly don’t know if this is true of most of my fellow believers. I grew up hearing the words sung in church, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free,” and even at a young age the strange brew of an “American Gospel” struck me as missing its aim concerning the truth.

Wherever there is much surplus, excess, materialism, consumerism, lack of hospitality, and injustice – as in America – it fosters an environment that produces lackluster, lukewarm believers. The heirs of the American blessing – of which I am a part – have simply stuffed themselves. They have never suffered, or sacrificed, or even been inconvenienced to bring freedom to others, and they don’t seem willing to do so now.

Christ rebuked the Laodiceans: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”

And elsewhere: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.” (Ezekiel 16:49-50). The explosion of sexual sin and confusion we see in America, and the tepid, dispassionate faith of the Church, are directly related to an atmosphere of wealth and prosperity and abject apathy.

Sometimes I wonder what benefit patriotism (or is it nationalism?) has in the midst of a people whom the Scriptures call “sons of God.” We know we are Americans. But do we know we are sons of God?

Talking with my wife recently, I expressed the wish that I might travel the world someday. Not necessarily to see any sights, but to visit with the churches and observe whether they are as lacking in godly order and passion as the churches in my country. Regardless, I am seeking greater dependence upon the Lord. As a son of God, called before the foundation of the world, I do not want to be a self-made man. I don’t think I have “American values,” though with all my heart I wish for God’s kingdom to come to my nation. But today I’m experiencing the loneliness of feeling “out of place” in the world, and even in the church. Who could even utter these things out loud without being thrown off a cliff?

“By faith he dwelt in the promised land as a stranger in a foreign country. He lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” – from Hebrews 11

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It is a Terrifying Thing to Fall into the Hands of the Living God

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

I know this passage from Hebrews 10 has mostly to do with apostasy, of turning away from Christ and returning to Egypt. But I find it compelling in the sense that no one simply “goes back to the world.” An expanding series of thoughts, false beliefs, detrimental actions and neglectful inactions leads one step-by-step away from Christ. In fact, the writer of Hebrews expresses this thought in chapters 3 and 6 as well, with this passage being the third admonition, emphasizing the need for believers to stimulate one another toward good works and greater devotion in order to keep themselves in the Way. The first step in the Hebrews’ encounter at Sinai — and even while they were still slaves in Egypt — was an awesome, terrifying display of raw power and holiness.

This morning while reading I was struck – once again – by the fact that I feel I am missing the experience of these sentiments in my life. I don’t think I really understand the fear of the Lord, and therefore I don’t think I understand much of anything. I’m not speaking of mental assent or acknowledgement of the truth – I think I could explain it quite well biblically, from a doctrinal standpoint. But I mean that the fear of the Lord isn’t always an active deterrent to sin in those areas where I “willfully” sin. When I overeat, I typically do so without thought of God. If I waste time, I often do so without consideration of Jesus’ lordship. Throughout my life, this is a problem.

I’m not really interested in getting to all the particulars of why I have this problem. Perhaps it is because there is so little instruction in “the fear of the Lord” in church, or maybe I never had a role model who demonstrated it for me. I just want to be delivered from my ignorance. And so I prayed this morning.

Bow Your heavens, O LORD, and come down; Touch the mountains, that they may smoke. – Psalm 144:5

Give Me This Hill Country

This past week something has occurred every day around four in the morning which compels me to get out of bed, and on this day, #15,492, it was an upset stomach. Yesterday it was a child with an ear infection. And so on for the past week. Perhaps I should just prepare on getting up at four for a while as it seems the Lord desires my attention and I might save Him the trouble of coming up with new ideas for getting me out of bed. After I was awakened, I spent time with Him, and then from 5-9 I took my children to the bus stop and read the entire book of Joshua.

The words of Caleb in chapter 14 were personally significant as I read. He details his strength and past faithfulness in following the Lord and the promise of Moses to him, and then he says, “Now then, give me this hill country about which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day that Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; perhaps the LORD will be with me, and I will drive them out as the LORD has spoken.” My eyes were fixed on the words: Give me this hill country. I prayed: Give me this hill country…give me this hill country…give me this hill country…

In a flash I thought of the people — unrelated and independent of each other, except by the bond of the Spirit — who spoke prophetically of my future and my calling in God in the days of my youth: Jack Buskey, Joanne Picataggi, Wade Taylor and Dennis DeGrasse, and in more recent times Bobby Norton and Scott Stimson. I thought of the first thing God ever showed and quickened to me in His Word when I began seeking Him for myself in earnest: the past, present and future implications of the story of Eli, Hannah and Samuel and what it meant concerning my service to the Body of Christ. Give me this hill country.

Give me this hill country. Let everything God has promised and declared over my life come to fruition, in spite of the giants. And may the Lord find in me a willing and obedient heart that trusts that what He began in me, He is also able to finish.

A Fruitful Season, Pt 2

It has been seven months since this prophecy was given, and I previously recorded my cursory recollection and the significance of these words here, but I just received the audio and wanted to transcribe it verbatim for remembrance. These words were spoken to me by a total stranger.

I see you standing before a large tree with many leaves, with the branches hanging down low. And I see you coming to this tree, and I see the tree has had the buds, and it’s had everything that would look like “this is the year.” And then I see you going through a year saying I’m not sure why the fruit never did come then. And then I see you going back again and looking at it again and expecting, because everything looked right. The tree looked healthy, the tree looked like it was ready to produce, but still there was no fruit, the fruit that you were looking for.

And the Lord is just saying to you that this is the time that you will begin to produce the fruit that you’ve been waiting for, that you’ve been looking for. And where you’ve known seasons of disappointment, it’s not because of anything that you’ve done wrong, it’s not because of anything that’s happened to you or anything anybody else did to you. It’s just because of the season, the timing of the Lord.

But now’s the time where you will produce that which is in your heart. God’s put some big dreams inside of you and He’s just written them in you. He wrote them in you from an early – from your early teens, or even pre-teens – where God began to put some dreams inside you. And now He’s started to bring those to life in you. They’re not impossible. They’re not too difficult.

You’ve had the structure in place for it to happen. You’ve had a healthy tree. But now’s the time for the fruit to begin to come forth, and the branches that have hung down will begin to stand up straight. So new life is flowing to you. And you’re going to look around you and you’re gonna see that He really has made all things new. Some people say, “I don’t know how that suddenly happened,” but you will know that He’s been preparing it all along, and now’s the time for it to come forth. This is your season. A fruitful season. A fruitful season. A fruitful season. Hallelujah. Thank you Lord.

A Stranger’s Prayer

It is Day 15,163 and I am stopping in for a short visit to record something that happened after church this morning. There was a guest speaker from another local church, but I didn’t get to hear his message because today was my day to speak to the young teen group; Sikki and I are scheduled to be with the teens once a month. But after the service, I was hunting down my little children and the visiting preacher called me over and said he wanted to pray for me.

I found his prayer noteworthy because it wasn’t your usual run-of-the-mill generic stuff. It seemed like his prayer for me matched so many of my own prayers on a day-to-day basis that it seemed to have prophetic, affirming tone. He prayed for increased effectiveness in my service to the Body of Christ, for ideas and imagination to take ministry outside of the four walls of that church to reach young people specifically, and for protection from temptation and despair. He called me a “choice tool,” which when I write it here makes me chortle because I am a smart aleck, but I also appreciated the prayer and spontaneity of the thing.

I haven’t written much here in the past few months because I’ve been very busy and haven’t felt like writing. My health continues to improve. Last time I went to the pulmonologist she told me I could probably come off Xolair injections if I lost 30 pounds, which as it turns out is about what I gained in the past year. So I’m not sure how losing weight will help me breathe better, but at the same time I’ve always wanted to lose weight.

On March 1 (Ash Wednesday) I started an Alternate-Day Fasting approach, which I am documenting on another one of my old blogs here. I’d heard about intermittent fasting from a number of sources in the past couple of years, but I decided that since I’ve been dealing with tendinitis in my right heel I’d give the fasting a go for a couple weeks and re-evaluate after that. Even if I haven’t lost weight yet, I do feel better.

Last week I took steps to go back to college. After talking with a vocational rehabilitation counselor from the disability insurance company, I found out they might pay for some of my tuition if I can prove that my degree major will lead to a good job. I’ve got the time, I love to study, and I have always wanted to finish my bachelor’s degree. So why not try? I’d like to get into the Communication Studies program at Appalachian State University if I get accepted. I figure Communication Studies is somewhat in line with what the preacher prayed this morning.

John 15:2

It is Day 15,047 and I awoke early with an upset stomach. My stomach has been troubled for the past couple of days for some reason, with not like constant sickness but a churning. I intended to take a jog this morning but because I felt weak I ended up just walking for a couple miles. As I went I listened to an old sermon by John Wright Follette, and somewhere he said, “I’m a realist. But I’m spiritual.” He talked about the need for honesty in our relationship with God and that we can’t know the truth apart from knowing Christ, because Jesus said “I AM the truth.” Jesus wasn’t like other teachers in religious traditions who offer some little slice or perspective on the truth: He IS the truth. So to pursue the truth is to pursue Jesus Christ. I too do my best to be a “spiritual realist” and be honest, not judging myself or this world or its situations as they should be, but as they are.

There has been some strife in my family and a couple of other relationships because of my conclusions about Donald Trump. One spirit in particular has been very insistent that Trump’s ascension is directly tied to God’s will for the Church – he has kind of an “Onward Christian Soldiers” mentality that is bound up in the leadership of Trump over our nation. This fellow has drawn his sword against my positions and me personally without telling me how I have gone astray from the truth, even after my repeated requests. I am reminded of Jesus’ words after He was struck by the high priest’s servant: “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?” Job told his friends, “Teach me, and I will be silent; And show me how I have erred.”

I think what a lot of folks who’ve heard me don’t understand is that my foremost concern is not about politics at all, but about the state or condition of the Church. In Follette’s sermon, which was probably recorded in the early 1960s, he mentioned that the Body of Christ had a sickness, like mumps. He was referring to the outwardly emotional expressive displays that were going on in Pentecostal churches and meetings in his day, and even also to people’s reading of the Word, things which appeared very spiritual and “powerful” but did not lead to an enduring awareness or knowledge of Christ. I witnessed and even participated in some of these when I was a child. Perhaps they are a necessary step in our growth in Christ, but if they don’t lead to deeper understanding or fuller outworking in daily life they are inherently worthless. I think that’s what Follette was getting at – that the majority of Christian experience was wrapped up in “externals.”

That got me thinking about how the Church today is different than the Church of forty or fifty years ago. Many of those “swing on the chandelier” holy-roller antics have disappeared from the Church, replaced by mostly passive observation on the part of the congregants. Most congregations have a concert atmosphere, and the “show” is conducted by professionals who have polished their message to be seeker-friendly and inclusive, where no outward expression is required whatsoever. I wonder what Brother Follette would say about the things we see today.

Those dynamics – the forsaking of pursuing truth in real relationship to Christ, the dismissal of God’s Word as a standard, and our watering down the expectations of a real life of faith – directly relates to our thinking, behavior and speech in the world of politics and every other sphere in which we move. Last Sunday I mentioned to my local church that when we don’t listen to God or remember His Word we are in danger of misinterpreting the events of life: we rejoice when we should be weeping and weep when we should rejoice. In this past year, the world of politics is the latest place where this could be plainly observed, just another fruitless branch on a tree that needs pruning. It has been disheartening to watch, but only the revelation of God can bring change. That’s what I’m seeking in my life, in my family, for my church, for the nation and for the world.

The Interpreter Shows Christian a Stately Palace

From The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan:

I saw also, that the Interpreter took him again by the hand, and led him into a pleasant place, where was built a stately Palace, beautiful to behold; at the sight of which, Christian was greatly delighted; he saw also upon the top thereof certain persons walking, who were clothed all in gold.

Then said Christian, May we go in thither?

Then the Interpreter took him and led him up toward the Door of the Palace; and behold, at the Door stood a great Company of men, as desirous to go in, but durst not. There also sat a man at a little distance from the door, at a table side, with a book, and his inkhorn before him, to take the name of him that should enter therein: He saw also that in the doorway stood many men in armor to keep it, being resolved to do to the men that would enter what hurt and mischief they could. Now was Christian somewhat in amaze: At last, when every man started back for fear of the armed men, Christian saw a man of a very stout countenance, come up to the man that sat there to write, saying, Set down my name, Sir; the which when he had done, he saw the man draw his Sword, and put an Helmet upon his head, and rush toward the Door upon the armed men, who laid upon him with deadly force: But the man, not at all discouraged, fell to cutting and hacking most fiercely. So after he had received and given many wounds to those that attempted to keep him out, he cut his way through them all, and pressed forward into the Palace; at which there was a pleasant voice heard from those that were within, even of those that walked upon the top of the Palace, saying,

Come in, Come in:
Eternal Glory you shall win.

So he went in, and was clothed with such garments as they. Then Christian smiled, and said, I think verily I know the meaning of this. Now, said Christian, let me go hence. Nay, stay (said the Interpreter) till I have showed you a little more, and after that you shall go on your way.

The Church’s Trump Dilemma

INTRODUCTION

I’ve decided to lay out the foundations of my claim that Donald Trump should never have been unquestioningly supported by Christian believers in the American Church, and how that support has damaged the veracity and witness of the Church in the eyes of the world, perhaps for many years to come. I did not draw these conclusions with flippancy or haughtiness, but I read, listened and wrestled with various viewpoints and information about this issue for nearly two years. While I could have written an even longer discussion on the unacceptability of the Church’s supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016, for the most part I know Christians did not do so, which makes that argument unnecessary. Suffice it to say that many of the cautions and points I raise about Mr. Trump could also be applied to Mrs. Clinton. My goal in writing is to show the workings of my thought process and the conclusions I reached, both for my own sake as a kind of record, and in an effort to teach my children the necessity of a faith that asks pertinent questions and searches for answers without fear and, once those answers are discovered, applies them to real life, “knowing” them in the biblical sense of the word, letting the chips fall where they may.

I have always felt more concern for, and had more interest in, what is happening in the life of the Church than with the United States at large. I am not a nationalist. I’m not even very patriotic. I don’t pledge allegiance to a flag, and I don’t have an “America First” mentality. “Our citizenship is in heaven,” the apostle wrote. While here on the earth by God’s decision I am part of a larger Body of Christ whose purpose is to bring God glory and represent Him faithfully, to be perfected in love and unity, and to seek the good of the land of our sojourn. It’s a place where many different ideas exist and contentions often arise. But the aim of my life is to serve that Body. My allegiance, passions, prayers, energies and thoughts are with the Bride until my Master takes me home. The behavior of my fellow believers – including everything they have said and done in this election year – is of primary interest and concern to me, simply because I am connected to them for better or for worse.

Before I get to specifics, I must first touch on some general cultural dynamics within the American Church community which make this volatile and vitriolic election year a difficult subject to discuss with others, much less come to agreement on. While they may seem unrelated to my declared subject, if you’ll bear with me it will hopefully become obvious why they are pertinent to the larger picture.

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The Fruit of the Land

It is in die Domini 15,037 and for the past several days I’ve been experiencing an unusual amount of fear regarding my financial and work situations. Now that I’m starting to regain strength from a long period of sickness, I find my gratitude for health hampered by the awareness that I must find employment and a means of providing for my family in an area where not much work is available and new medical constraints are a factor.

Last week my thoughts ran to the phrase, “the fruit of the land,” which is found in the book of Numbers, chapter 13. On the brink of entering the country promised to Abraham and his descendants, Moses sent spies – respected leaders from each of the tribes of Israel – into the land to reconnoiter it and its inhabitants. He specifically mentioned that they should “Make an effort to get some of the fruit of the land.” Their mission lasted forty days and they returned saying, “We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there.” Their assessment was that the land was good, but that they were unable to possess it because of the visible circumstances.

Although they had seen God’s power unleashed on the Egyptians, and tread on dry ground through the Red Sea, and witnessed God’s glory on Mount Sinai and in the pillar of fire and cloud, at that moment they turned to accusing God. They said it would have been better to die in Egypt or in the wilderness. They hatched a plan to find another leader, who would take them back to Egypt where food and shelter were provided though they were slaves. “Why is the LORD bringing us into the land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?”

Tomorrow is Election Day. For months I have been hearing the older generation of evangelical Christians declare the necessity of voting for an openly unrepentant and immoral man “for the sake of the children.” Besides that I am personally in a place where the security and provision for my family is in my daily thoughts.

But here’s what I know. I know that God led me and my family to Brunswick County, North Carolina. Through the eyes of flesh, we lost the house we owned and the job which provided insurance and security. I lost my good credit rating as the house sat on the market for a year, unsold. The cause of my illness remains basically unknown, and even now my health is uncertain in the long-term. One after another doors were opened to bring us to this region, with signs confirming and the Lord’s provision and encouragement all along the way. Then a couple months ago, a prophetic word: You’re coming into a fruitful season. You’ve sought the fruit before and wondered why it wasn’t there, but it wasn’t about anything you did or didn’t do: it’s just a matter of the timing of God.

If you be willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land. (Isaiah 1:19)

Because of fear and doubt, the people who accused God would not possess the land, though He had set His affection on them, delivered them from cruel bondage, and even pardoned them from immediate death. But God promised that their children – who must soon bury them – would indeed enter that land of promise. The best course of action for those truly concerned about their children is personal and collective obedience to God.

But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them. (Psalm 103:17-18)

It is one thing to behold and taste the grapes that someone brought back to us. That’s only the first step. It is another thing entirely to obey God’s command to possess the land. The Word must be made flesh. It is sweet to our taste, but bitter in our stomachs. God wants us to participate with Him in the process of unfolding revelation, of truth in the innermost being that is appropriated not just with mental consent or even rejoicing, but in daily experience where walls exist and giants walk.

In this Day I am encouraging myself in the Lord to live a life of expectation and faith, not one ruled by fear and doubt.