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Disruptors

There has been some pressure at work and at home this week. I have had a sales slump which I am working hard to overcome. For a couple of weeks I was distracted by the problems at home and a sense of foreboding concerning my daughter, as well by some sadness or maybe depression about the general situation of this world and my part in it. I put in long hours this week and traveled many miles as I missed some work last week because of the hurricane.

On the surface of things, my daughter is not doing well. She returned from Washington emboldened in her rebellion and hostility towards Sikki and I. I suppose she intends to relocate to Washington as soon as she can. For my part, I am trying to treat her with patience, with the patience of God if that is possible. The Lord is gentle and kind, and has compassion on all that He has made.

I’ve been tossing around the idea of starting a podcast and spent some time researching what equipment is necessary. I think the planning and writing that would be required for a 15-minute episode each week would help to keep my mind focused on things above. I am tired of feeling like I am just slogging through life in survival mode, without a sense of transcendence over my body, mind, emotions and circumstances. Most of my prayer life in the past year has been marked not by a sense of joy and ecstasy in God’s presence with the discovery of truth, but by distraction and general sighing in my soul. This isn’t what Christ died for.

The called-out ones are supposed to be challenging and disrupting and bringing divine order to the natural environment, not getting tossed around by blowing winds and stormy seas. We are supposed to be proactive agents of change, not reactionaries. There is something missing. I need grace, and vision. Humility, faith and hope are what open the doors to the supernatural and extraordinary life. I realized this week that there is much in the Word of God that I’m not hoping for, that I’m not expecting to see at all.

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:24

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44

Hurricane Dorian demolished the Bahamas early last week and reached our area as a Cat 2 storm on Thursday night. We fared extremely well in NC compared to Hurricane Florence last year and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, with the exception of Ocracoke island on the Outer Banks. A lot of Christian acquaintances of mine here in NC think it is because they prayed hard for the storm to move out to sea. One person on Facebook posted these words: “I don’t believe the meteorologists got it WRONG…I believe our FAITH filled PRAYERS got it RIGHT! Don’t discount the miracle!!!” But I had seen a video of a woman praying for her household in the Bahamas as the storm was wreaking havoc, and let me tell you, she was praying:

Prayer in the Bahamas

I can’t help but think, what about the Bahamas and the people of faith who genuinely put their trust in God there? As she prayed I noticed that she cried out for God to be a refuge. Not to save her landscaping, or home, or things, but for those around her. I wonder if our attitude might sometimes seem somewhat proud to our fellow believers around the world. Sikki and I talked about it last night. She was actually mad about what some of her acquaintances were saying. I told her part of the problem is that most people — even most Christians — are not very global in their thinking. They live in tiny bubbles of existence. Many of the people of the rural area we live in may have traveled a little, but their consciousness is still embedded in what is familiar and peculiar to southeastern NC, and it is natural that they have trouble thinking “outside the box” of what they know and love.

I have never had a sense that any patch of ground on this earth was my home, perhaps because my family moved so often when I was little. Anyplace I am is only an extension of “this world” to me. I am a sojourner. I could sojourn here, or in upstate New York, or in Timbuktu, though I notice and am aware of the cultural differences of every locale. But this is not most folks’ experience or maybe more specifically their feeling.

It so happens that I am reading Job right now. The central question of Job is not how much faith he had or his opinion of things, which basically matched those of his friends and the entire perspective of the ancient world for that matter. One moral lesson of Homer’s Odyssey is that Poseidon punishes Odysseus for his lack of humility before the gods. The Babylonians and Persians had tales similar to Job, arriving at similar conclusions: that good people do not suffer, only someone who has offended the gods by acting immorally will suffer pain and catastrophe. But the story of Job is different because that is exactly what the adversary says to accuse Job: “God, Job is only righteous because You bless him. If you took his blessings away he would be different.” Really, this is still how people think.

It is not Job but God Himself who is on trial in the story. And God doesn’t answer to any of the charges. He just says, “There’s a lot you don’t know, Job. I have responsibilities and things in play in the world that would never even enter your mind. You can’t begin to imagine them because you are too small and finite. Too small even to have them explained to you in a way that you could comprehend at all.” In the end, Job places his hand over his mouth, which in the ancient world was a way of showing great respect (and of course, sweet silence.)

I wish that attitude of humility was a hallmark of believers in Christ.

Today marks the beginning of the 44th year of my pilgrimage.

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Hurricane Dorian

Another year, another hurricane bearing down on us: Dorian. “Dorian” means “child of the sea.” We spent the day boarding up the house and cleaning and trying to make sure we’re up to the task of being without power for a week or so. I parked my wife’s and daughter’s car in our one-car garage by parking them parallel to the back wall, which took some doing. The garage is the lowest point in our home. We moved our mowers to our front porch, hoping to get them up higher. Did the laundry. Showered, taking care to exfoliate. The worst part of being without power is making the transition from having air conditioning to not having air conditioning.

It’s always a crap shoot with hurricanes because no one really knows what they’re going to do. I spent a few minutes looking at hotels out in western NC, but after Hurricane Florence last year it was such a hardship to get back home that I really don’t feel like leaving this time around. We’ve been catching some rain from the outer bands today but the wind and sustained rain aren’t supposed to pick up until tomorrow morning, at which point it will probably be too late to leave. We live with the Intracoastal Waterway in our backyard, surrounded by trees. Hurricane Matthew in 2016 drove the waters up to about 15 feet of our garage. I’m hoping Dorian weakens overnight and that the surge of the water isn’t more than Matthew.

We have plenty of water, two tanks of propane for the grill, and plenty of lights and batteries. Sikki took care of buying the food. We’ve done the best we can to prepare. I’m feeling pretty tired from the day’s activities. There is nothing left but to wait, and pray.

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My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit

Last week I was in Raleigh for two days for product training with my job and to meet my new supervisor: a portly, pink fellow who reminds me of my extended family in upstate New York. (He is in fact from upstate NY.) First daughter went to a youth retreat in Chesapeake, VA, as a counselor and had a productive time learning what it means to serve others and came home with a sense of awe that she could be used by God, as well as making many faith-filled friends. Second daughter returned from Washington State yesterday, not making eye contact with her mother and I, and with not even enough shame to bother trying to cover the ugly hickeys on her throat. Honestly I’m not sure what to say to her. We were hoping that she would be driving herself and her brother to their high school (school started today), but she spent $1100 to go to Washington, not earning for two weeks in the brief summer window, and now she doesn’t have the money to afford car insurance, her cell phone bill, and whatever she will owe the IRS in February.

I’ve been doing a lot of driving lately and sometimes I need a break from music. This past week I listened to podcasts from The Babylon Bee, Michael Malice, and Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. I love history, and Dan Carlin’s podcast is the “find” of the month.

Ezra and Nehemiah have been the Bible reading of the week, along with a snippet from Jeremiah Chapter 2 which came to me one morning after I’d spent two days around my boss, who is an atheist and whose mind is consumed with business, with ways to expand the reach and profitability of his enterprise. I like him, really. We were sitting in a Japanese steakhouse with six or seven other salespeople – one of whom was obviously on cocaine, wide-eyed and sweating profusely – and an old Japanese cook who kept dropping his spatula and eggs and things as he was trying to be all fancy. Those hibachi places are a tribulation because of all the noise and clanging and fear of having a decrepit out-of-practice old chef lob a raw egg at your face, so I wasn’t crazy about the scene but I’m always interested to hang out with the owner of the company I work for, because he is so passionate and focused. He doesn’t have a lot of social grace (neither do I) but he is ultimately a generous man and doesn’t have a poverty mindset. It’s kind of like working in Potiphar’s house sometimes, or maybe for Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar.

I was thinking about my employer’s laser focus on his goals when the phrase came to mind: “My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit.” When I looked it up I was convicted by the ideas expressed in Jeremiah 2, because I feel so distracted and depressed and out of sorts for the past couple months, like I’m in a rowboat full of leaks, and every time I get one plugged two more holes open up. I get frustrated with my “yo-yo” lifestyle: up and down with exercise, up and down with weight, up and down with my pursuit of God and other relationships. I hate feeling inconsistent. I think I could’ve written ten books by now if I could stay focused and disciplined, thinking and writing a little each day. But when I’m off the rails, I’m off the rails everywhere.

I’m reading a couple of books that sparked my interest which I heard about on the podcasts. One is Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter. It’s about the seductions of screen technologies like games, social media, and “binge-worthy” shows. The other is The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power Over Christian Values by Ben Howe, regarding the 2016 election. I ordered these books in part because I feel like my mind has grown dull. I’m having trouble focusing like I used to, and I’ve wondered whether it is because I receive all my news and input through “snippets and bytes.”

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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.