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The Great Omission from the Great Commission

It’s been a week since my daughter left for Washington. She texted pictures of the landscape once or twice, and says she is having a great time. Because she is so young, she doesn’t understand that you nearly always have a great time whenever you visit somewhere else — anywhere outside of your normal routine — especially when you are on vacation. Listen to a heroin addict describe his first experience of getting high and he will tell you just how wonderful it made him feel. But it leads nowhere good. And given enough time in any place, the “honeymoon period” wears off and it becomes just another place, because problems exist everywhere and you’re the same person whether you are here or 3,000 miles away.

I had a conversation with Sikki the other day where I wondered aloud how I’m supposed to love our daughter when she comes back, and because we speak English and have only one word for “love” of course I had to explain myself. Love to me means doing and saying whatever is truly in the best interest of another’s welfare, and of course “welfare” to me means more than just physical welfare. Sometimes real love might not appear very loving. Jesus loved the Pharisees when He told them the truth from God even though He knew it would make them very angry. Paul loved the Galatians when he called them stupid, and when he instructed the Corinthians to expel the man in their midst who was engaged in persistent sexual sin.

So here I am wondering: My daughter defied her parents’ wishes, in fact has nearly always dishonored us and preferred her peers, and is now texting pictures. Am I supposed to reply, “Glad you’re having a good time?” If she returns more emboldened in her sin and still expects to live under our shelter as she quarrels and disregards us, should I allow that? I’m not even sure I can. Life is perplexing sometimes.

There is so much that I don’t know. I was listening to an audio sermon by the Christian philosopher Dallas Willard this week while I was driving somewhere. I almost clicked away from it because the audio quality wasn’t great, but I’m glad I stuck with it because he was talking about something that has always mystified me. He mentioned that “the great omission in the Great Commission” is that we make plans to get people saved and baptized, but the church by-and-large is really terrible at actually training people — at making disciples. The church is fractured, for one thing. There’s no sense of cohesion or unity in any of it, really. People tell you they love you but they get mad and leave, and they never tell the truth and say they’re leaving because they’re mad. Most of the time they don’t say anything at all; they just disappear. But if they do tell you why they’re going it’s always because they’re so holy and spiritual and can’t walk with the rest of you duds because you clearly don’t know Jesus as well as they do, or you don’t obey Him enough, or you didn’t appreciate their gift enough, or whatever the speck. So there’s barely anything that approaches real relationship or honesty in Christian life, let alone the kind of training or discipleship that Jesus modeled. So a guy like me just flounders through life feeling like a failure and a perpetual orphan and having no heroes, wondering how to live, and looking to the Lord for guidance to do so, but still feeling alone.

Is there a place anywhere on this earth where a body of believers in Jesus Christ are actually doing the things He told them to do, together? There must be. There must be answers to these questions and longings.

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Refuse Not Him Who Speaks

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. – Hebrews 12:25

I have had many troublesome dreams lately. We retreated to the mountains earlier this week and I had a dream one night of driving my work truck erratically and striking pedestrians and having many accidents. It was like watching a video game, and the screen kept flashing red with a beeping noise to alert me that the authorities were coming to stop me. When you see red in a dream, it is significant (and rare). It symbolizes anger, of course, as we often speak of “seeing red.” But it also symbolizes great passion or energy – as in the blood which is the life.

A couple days later I dreamed I was holding my daughter down with my hands on both sides of her head, trying to pray for her. She kept writhing to get free and I shouted, “No! For once you are going to listen to me!” But it wasn’t effective: it was just a picture of struggle and wrestling.

Then this morning I dreamed I was at the house of a woman I used to know. I was entirely engaged with this woman and her friends until I went to leave, and then I went into a bedroom and my daughter and my son were tucked into bed. They’re both teens now but in the dream they were little again – my daughter perhaps four or five years old with beautiful blue eyes and creamy skin and wispy dark blonde hair. I went in to say goodbye to them, but my son’s face lay in shadow; it was only my daughter’s face I saw. She looked at me and I just wept and held her for a long time as I said goodbye.

Today she is leaving our house like the Prodigal Daughter, believing so many tragic lies about herself and her parents and God and the nature of love. She goes to do irreparable harm to herself and to her lost boyfriend in Washington, and I am powerless to stop it because she has refused to listen to my voice or even look at me.

While we were in the mountains, we took a hike in Shenandoah National Park called the Bearfence Mountain Trail. It contains a fair amount of rock scramble that requires some thought and dexterity to pass safely, and at one point I noticed the trail led up a steep incline with a stooped fall directly behind it, a kind of crucible where one misplaced hand or one slipped foot would lead to absolute, certain death. My daughter had already gone up ahead. She hadn’t observed the sheer drop at all.

It was her 18th birthday three days ago, so I purchased her a card and put $200 in it and left it on her packed suitcase as she was in the shower. I wrote “Hebrews 12:25” in a corner of the card. I suppose I will close to go mow grass or wash cars or something mundane that keeps me physically occupied so I don’t spend this day through a blur of tears.

catcardBearfence2_smaller

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If Need Be

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:6-7 KJV

Only the Holy Spirit would dare to speak of multiple distresses and jumping for joy in the same sentence. It is exactly this sense of irony and mystery that has always drawn me to His personality and Word. Especially now that I am experiencing so many points of trial and seemingly endless wars in this mortal flesh.

In the body: tired, listless, beat-down. I don’t know what’s happened to my energy these past couple of months, but I just feel like sleeping. I wake up early and go for walks or runs, or I lift weights, and I go to work and try to be as productive as possible but every bit of my day – every step, every turning of the head, every task – is taking twice the effort it used to. I crave sugar. And by two o’clock in the afternoon I just want to go to sleep. For months now, I’m too tired to even read anything substantial. I get home and watch TV until I fall asleep.

Rejoice greatly…

In soul: tormented at night by thoughts of failure at work, or dying an early death, or feeling like everyone will abandon me. Beleaguered by constant lies – knowing they’re lies, but having to deal with them anyway – you’re not where you should be, you’re not going to succeed, you’ve failed as a husband, you’re not a good father, your kids won’t even remember you, you haven’t achieved anything and most of your life is over.

These are wars of the soul and the mind: the spirit is well, as always, but the body just seems to go along with whatever the soul whines about. I can’t even rule over the trinity of my own being.

Count it all joy…

I go places and minister the Word of God to people and they are encouraged. They cry, they say Amen. God is known in Zion. But I go home and feel empty and sick.

Our younger daughter will turn 18 in a few days, and she has already bought a plane ticket to go to Washington State and stay with her boyfriend for two weeks, against our council, against her conscience, against all we raised her to believe, in spite of her poverty, in spite of all our efforts to help her and prevent her from sabotaging her own life. It seems like all I can think about for hours a day and it is such a source of bitterness and sadness. Sadness turns to anger. Anger turns to imaginary declarations of actions I’ll take, and dire consequences I’ll warn about with flailing arms and upraised fingers, and judgments and wrath that will surely be meted out. But I just bite my tongue and tell my mind to shut up and leave the whole thing – especially the consequences – up to her more loving Father. But on the practical side, what do you get a girl for her 18th birthday when she is quietly defying you, treating you as if she wishes she didn’t have you as her father to begin with? And how do you quell the thoughts of imagining a spiritual enemy ravage her and steal the joy of her future when you can still remember how she walked and talked and felt in your arms as a little toddler?

I look at Facebook and just about all the Christians I know have allowed themselves to become so distracted by politics and arguments that they don’t testify anymore. Where is the presence of the Church? Its conversation is an onslaught of negativity and opinions spewing like cleft rectums, everyone preaching to their side, no clarity, no glory, no inspiration in the true meaning of the word. It’s all become a distraction away from Christ. Even what’s good and interesting can distract us from what’s best and necessary.

Long story short, there are manifold trials here, and for the most part, this is a private battle. I’ve talked with the pastor and my wife and one or two others, but no one else can really know where I am or what’s going on or why this happening or what the outcome will be. You can’t talk to most people, because they are immature or stupid, or maybe God can’t trust them with any suffering or fire, I don’t know. They’ll say you’re not really saved or feel obliged to offer some ridiculous platitude or soft-serve religious falsehood like “God never gives us more than we can handle.” No, there’s not really anyone who know what’s going on — especially not me. Only Father God knows. So to Him I close my eyes and raise my hands each morning as I cry for mercy and help, and place my hope in the promises of Him who is faithful. I can’t see how right now, but I know this period will prove to be necessary someday, looking back.

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10 Days of Hurricane Florence

On Tuesday, September 11th, several of us gathered at the church to pray for God’s mercy on the people of this area. Our area was where Hurricane Florence was predicted to make landfall and hover – perhaps for a couple of days – and at the time of our prayer was a Category 4, very nearly approaching a Category 5. The storm was moving toward us over warm water, and anyone with knowledge of hurricanes knows that they generally get more powerful over the water. We prayed for the storm to diminish and be still that night.

Sikki seemed worried about the impact of the storm and told me the next morning that she wanted to flee the area. I told her I would not leave southeastern NC. I have a conviction that God called me to this area, and I did not feel right about leaving it in a time of trouble, especially when many were staying. However, I told her she had my blessing to go to Delaware if she wished, and take the kids and pets with her. My sister in New Bern NC was also considering moving further inland, perhaps to my mother’s place in Kernersville NC. I told Sikki I would go and stay at my sister’s house in New Bern with my brother-in-law, and we decided that I would take Garrett with me.

We boarded up the house on the oceanside and did all we could to get our few possessions up as high as we could, anticipating that the garage at least would flood, and praying that the flood waters would not reach the house itself, which would most likely leave us homeless. Sikki left for Delaware, and Garrett and I headed to New Bern.

My sister decided to stay as well, with her seven children. I watched and listened to news reports when I could and, “inexplicably,” the storm was lowered to a Cat 2, and then a Cat 1. No one – not even the oldtimers in our area – could ever remember a hurricane diminishing in strength over open water. It was the goodness of God answering our prayers, and the prayers of many others who remembered us. As it turned out the storm surge hit New Bern very hard and the entire downtown was flooded; several people had to be rescued. But at my sister’s house we simply lost power for three days. The winds weren’t bad enough to even keep us from going outside. The kids played and laughed in the rain. My brother-in-law had borrowed a generator and we were able to have running (cold) water, refrigeration, and lights for a few hours each day. At night I slept in a puddle of sweat, and everything inside was humid and sticky, but we were all safe. I saw my brother for awhile on the second day.

The storm dumped an immense amount of rain because it moved very slowly over the region. On the fourth day, I was reading news reports that the rivers near the coast were expected to flood and overflow several roads as the water from inland moved toward the ocean. A family friend left a message on my phone not to attempt to return to Brunswick County – he said it was impossible to get back. My brother-in-law also advised against me and Garrett trying to go home.

So of course on the morning of the fifth day Garrett and I left to try and get back where we belong. It is typically a 2.5 hour drive from New Bern, but the trip took us 11 hours. I was trying to make a swoop from the Raleigh area down into the western part of the county, but the roads were just an impassable mess. It was like being a rat in a maze. I used two navigation apps and a state website that was supposed to have current road information with closures, etc., but all of our information was faulty and incomplete and it just became an endurance task. We came down in the central region and met failure. So we moved west. Then we came down in the western region. Again, everything was blocked. Finally I told Garrett we were getting the heck out of NC completely and set a route for Myrtle Beach SC. We had to cross a couple of roads with moving water, and at one time I disobeyed a “Road Closed” sign to get us out of the gridlock. Throughout the journey it was tough to find food, open gas stations, and gas. But eventually we made it to SC and drove north into Brunswick County without any problem. We had encouraging news when were an hour from home: a neighbor texted that the power had been restored. Perfect timing. As soon as we got home, we walked around the property with flashlights, looking for damage. There was an immense amount of tree branches and leaves, and two large trees were down in the yard, but nothing had hit the house and the flood waters had not risen very far at all. Not a single window was broken and everything was in order inside and out. We had a ton of cleanup to do, but I was really glad to be home.

On the first day back, Garrett and I went shopping and bought a lot of canned goods. There was no cold product of any kind at our local grocery stores. We took down the plywood from the windows. I cleaned out the fridge, which had been left with food and milk in it – all too gross and horrible to recount here. I bleached the shelves. We swept and vacuumed and straightened the house. There was so much debris in the yard that the driveway was impassable, so we raked and picked up all around the driveway. We cleaned up the garage. Then some friends from church came over for dinner and brought hamburgers, which was nice because we couldn’t buy meat.

The second day we spent 8 hours in the sweltering heat trying to repair our driveway, which had a massive trench caused by the erosion of water. We laid bricks and concrete and toted load after load of wet sand up the hill to put it back where the waters had removed it. We were both pretty beat afterwards, but we went to a “thanksgiving service” that night at the church to thank the Lord for His goodness.

The third day Garrett went to work for his employer and I stayed home, putting things away and working on fixing my chainsaw, which wouldn’t start. I did laundry and went sort of easy that day, as I was sore from the driveway work the day before.

The fourth day, I worked on cleaning the front yard. Garrett went to work on the island again with his employer. I spent the whole day piling up branches and still didn’t finish even the front yard.

The fifth day home, Sikki set out from Delaware to return home. It took her over 16 hours to get back, but she made it. I spent the day working on the front yard, cleaning the bathrooms, organizing the garage, doing laundry and dishes, and generally preparing space.

Sikki and I lost eight days of work from the storm and its consequences, but our family was kept safe throughout the time of Hurricane Florence. There is massive flooding in the interior of NC – just as there was with Hurricane Matthew in 2015 – but I cannot imagine the devastation we would have seen if the Lord had not been merciful and “shortened the storm.”

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Psalm 5:12

Eighth day on the job and I sold a $5000 piece of equipment. It was a bit of shock, even to me. But the Lord brought a scripture to mind after I’d sold the machine. It was quickened to me as I read it this morning, by which I mean my attention was drawn to it and I took special note of it as being significant, though I didn’t know why at the time:

For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O Lord,
You surround him with favor as with a shield.

The Lord is good and gives us little reminders sometimes that our lives are in His hands and He knows our situations. About six weeks ago, after I lost the dispatcher job with the trucking company, I woke up one morning with an old Pentecostal chorus in my head:

Jehovah Jireh
My provider
His grace is sufficient
For me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh
My provider
His grace is sufficient for me

My God shall supply all my needs
According to His riches in glory
He will give His angels
Charge over me
Jehovah Jireh cares
For me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me

Throughout that day the Lord sent me several confirmations that He is my provider, and that I needn’t worry about how I will feed myself or my family because His economy is different than this world’s. So I didn’t worry (though I did wonder) and now looking back I see He had everything well in hand. He is my father, and I’m His son. That means He has certain responsibilities and I have certain privileges. We don’t usually understand where He’s leading us until we arrive.

Anyway the boss was really pleased and perhaps it bodes well for my future at the company. I told Jessica when I was looking for work that whatever the Lord led me to would probably be temporary, because I think eventually I’m supposed to be in full-time ministry. The laborers are few, but I am one of them, and Father knows I would like to have greater influence and reach in service to the Body of Christ. (But of course I don’t know His definition of “temporary.”) For now at least this job affords me the opportunity to get acquainted with all of southeastern North Carolina.

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Here As In Heaven

When I picked up the kids from the camp in Virginia, I had to take the little boys with me because it was early Saturday morning and it didn’t seem necessary to get a babysitter to watch them. We left around 5. I thought they’d get antsy on the ride but they slept for four hours on the way up, and when I stopped for gas I got them some breakfast sandwiches. We arrived at the ranch around 10. Catherine spotted us first and ran out to greet us. She and Garrett walked us around the ranch so the boys could see the animals. They had goats, pigs, chickens, sheep, donkeys, little horses and big horses. Winston liked the goats best, and the boys kept pulling grass to feed them. The kids were all fairly quiet on the way home: the older ones had been up late so they napped. My concern about the little boys was unwarranted, as everyone behaved and there was not a single argument.

Rebekah and Garrett had good things to say about the experience, but Catherine was still in a mood, as she was when I dropped her off. That bad attitude carried over to the next morning, when we were supposed to lead the worship service. During practice her negativity was so obvious I had to take her in a back office and chat with her. “You need to make a decision,” I said. “Standing before God to worship Him is always a decision we make – it’s an act of the will, separate from our emotions or whether we FEEL like worshiping.” I told her we could talk about whatever was troubling her later, but I couldn’t have her up front with us if she wasn’t going to participate from her heart. I told her to take a few minutes to decide, then I went back out to finish practice. I saw her walk toward the back of the church somewhere and figured she’d decided to sit one out. After the service one of the deacon’s wives told me that she talked with Catherine for about 45 minutes, and she hoped it was helpful. I didn’t even ask her what was said because I trust that woman.

Rebekah and Garrett shared some of their testimony from the camp. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place, including mine. The audio link is here: https://app.box.com/s/t1xb7j0plfs2h0iy8g9dz0qf3jqu0dej

I wrote Catherine a long letter this week before I left for Raleigh, just trying to express my love and concern for her and hopefully get her talking to her mother and I. We did talk yesterday and a lot of what I hear her saying is stereotypical “middle child” stuff. She just doesn’t know who she is, and she has an iron will. I told her that will can either be a blessing or a curse to her life, depending on how she focuses it: I mentioned Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, and the fact that sometimes our emotions and natural proclivities run contradictory to our Father’s will. She said the problem was drama with her boyfriend, and that she dumped him and has already started setting her affection on another boy, a dude I know was raised as a Mormon. I told her she needs to learn discernment. She will only receive hurt and disappointment as long as she is focused on boys rather than on the healing and wisdom she needs to receive from the Lord, and a real relationship with Him – especially if those boys do not share her faith. But even though she’s listening, I feel like my words are just splatting on the ground. It pains me to think she might be one of those people who just has to learn truth the hard way – by having it fall on her in its awful crushing power.

Yesterday and today I spent some time cleaning out the work truck. It wasn’t super-dirty, but I am averse to putting my hands on other people’s sweat, oil, and sneezes, so I wiped out the interior surfaces really well and threw a bunch of junk out, organized tools and papers, and generally put things where I’ll be able to find them quickly. The training in Raleigh was very useful, but I have to apply myself to serious study in the next couple of weeks as I need to become an expert about pressure washers in order to answer questions and sell them effectively. Everyone is off from school and work tomorrow, which is Labor Day. So hopefully we’ll have some family time together.

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Better Covenants

I’m writing this in a hotel in Raleigh because I had to come to the main office for work to get some personal training from the owner of the company, who is also my direct supervisor. Throughout my working career in various places, I have often heard from long-term employees that “this used to be a good place to work.” For once I think I finally got in on the ground floor of something before other people come along and ruin it.

The owner is a very smart guy, probably in his early 60s. He has a fast way of talking and I can tell his mind moves from one thing to another quicker than he can get the words out. I think he might also be a little OCD…like, legit OCD. He has the worst dipping habit I have ever seen, and has an entire box of Grizzly Wintergreen snuff in a cabinet of his office. He’ll put a big ball of dip in his mouth and talk with ease, spitting occasionally into a trash can. He uses the f-word in nearly every sentence. Apparently he noticed that I don’t cuss too much, and said he could switch to Spanish if I preferred. I didn’t tell him that I don’t really believe there’s any such thing as a bad word – only bad uses for words – because people just get weirded out when I say things like that. Anyway he spent 20 years with Pepsi, took a year off, and then started the current business with a couple of golfing buddies back in 1998. But the venture based in Wilmington targeting southeast NC has only been going since January of 2017 and I am the first person with a sales background that’s been on the job. There is only one other competitor in the area and I have some strategies in mind for how to get their established customers to switch to our company, but the first thing to do is raise awareness and let them know we’re there.

He walked me through some of the product lines, talked about pricing and financing, and showed me how to access various selling tools online. We went to a Verizon store and he purchased a new iPad for me to use. He also gave me a stack of polo shirts with the company logo and a 2013 Dodge Ram 2500 ST, which is an enormous pickup truck that I’ll use for toting machines and chemicals to prospective customers and doing demonstrations. It will take some work to fit that thing in our garage back home. He also gave me a company credit card with a $30,000 limit to buy gas, keep the truck maintained, purchase anything I need to get the job done, buy lunch for customers, etc. It’s a report-from-home deal with a lot of freedom to figure things out and go get the business. I’m looking forward to learning the job and the area, and there’s a lot of potential to make good money. So far it seems promising. He said, “I don’t want your effing head to explode, but you’re the best sales candidate I’ve ever hired.” Anyway I feel very supported and I hope I can do a good job in growing his business. I work for the Lord, really, so I’ve tried to do my best for every employer, but after a decade of mostly thankless, back-breaking labor for Pepsi and the bad experience at the trucking company, it’s nice to think maybe this job will be one I actually enjoy. When I told Pastor what happened at the trucking company on that Wednesday evening, he just said, “Well, I guess the Lord has something better for you, like it says in Hebrews.”

I want to write about the things that transpired with the big kids at their camp, but I don’t have time right now. I’ll do that when I get home and can upload an audio link of Beck and Garrett’s testimony about the event that they shared with the church last Sunday. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the building. But Cath is still presenting some challenges.

The family and I lead worship on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of every month now. This past Sunday we just worshipped for nearly the entire service: it was pretty amazing. More later.