Last days.

This is the last day of 2015, and a lot of people on my social feeds are looking back to reflect on the past 364 days of their existence.

If there’s one thing I don’t want to do, it’s live in the past. Very little is ever gained by looking backwards, unless you are considering mistakes so as not to repeat them. But even that high aim seems to be something that never actually happens, especially when you consider human history in a broad context.

There have been moments I’ve enjoyed in life, but I’m not aware of being nostalgic for any of them, or of longing for any particular time period in my existence. When I was younger, I used to wish I had been born in other times — the 1950s, for example. I have always dreamed of simplicity. But the world sucked then, too. There’s no time since Adam when living in this world was somehow better, or less painful than it is now. Nostalgia is misguided and misremembered affection for impermanent things, people and feelings we cannot hold and were never meant to possess.

Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.…

Looking backwards to me is like forgetting Lot’s wife. It doesn’t do any good to dwell in the past, even if it’s remembering past successes. Memory is always unreliable, slipping away, shrouded in a fog of dashed hopes and crushed longings. Today is the most interesting, exciting and relevant day in my life. Tomorrow it will be history but anything memorable it contains for better or worse will be the result of today’s focus and choices.

There is only now.

ecclesiastes-7-10

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Dirt sticks to us, and we stick to it.

There is a lot of truth here, though I don’t agree with the idea that people of faith should enter monastic life in order to escape or flee from the world. (The abbot doesn’t seem to be pushing that notion here.) The fear of man brings a snare, even when the fear is that others’ sins and my own inner weakness will prevent me from following God while living in a system that opposes Him. The monastic concept, while a comforting thought to someone like me who has trouble socially and feels forever out-of-place, seems wholly contrary to the teaching of Jesus, who told us we are salt and light and a lot of other things which are summarized nicely in the Scripture referenced here.

Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” – John 13:10

When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He showed us the pattern to address the very real issue raised by this brother, Petroniu Tanase.

We are affected by the filth of our environment. As we trod the paths of this world in obedience to God, our feet get dirty. There is no point in insisting they don’t. It’s not that we are unwise, not fleeing from temptation or knowingly putting ourselves in harm’s way. Of course we must have sense and watchfulness. But while our hearts belong to Him we often discover, through no obvious fault or sin of ours, that we are agitated by the realm of sinful existence, by things we see and hear and experience in this broken reality. We cannot walk through this world without being affected, without filth clinging to us from the dusty wilderness roads.

What Jesus seemed to be saying when He washed the disciples’ feet is that we bear a burden — a service — toward other believers, of helping them to remain clean, refreshing them, of bringing them back to a point of communion and spiritual stasis so they may “grow in favor with God and man.” Jesus’ answer to my “soul’s clinging to the dust” is the fellowship of the saints, the Church.

It seems the Lord intends His Church to be the place where pilgrims obedient to His will may find refreshment and cleansing from the sticky dust of these parched earthly environs. A believer has a well spring of living water, which is intended to be channeled into the lives of others.

The problem is that I am so focused on my own needs and concerns, my failures and opinions and ego, I rarely think myself capable of helping someone else, of being the servant of all.

The Last Monday of 2015

Today is the last Monday of 2015. As I write this I am sucking on a nebulizer filled with a medication that is supposed to help me cough up The Sordid Yuck Within. I’m not sure any of this steroidal voodoo is helping me, though, because I just ran around with the puppy a little in the living room and got all out of breath and hacked and croaked and cried and that’s why I’m now sitting here vapin’ the ‘roids.

Yesterday I slept almost the whole day. I woke up fairly early and read in Job and Isaiah, drank a couple cups of coffee, then laid on the couch around 8. Sometime from that point I went back to bed, missing church, a beautiful warm day, life, everything. I drifted in and out of troubled sleep and weary dreams and whenever I got up I felt dizzy in the head, tight in the chest, sore in the back and shoulders. I didn’t even feel like reading. Am I a hypochondriac? Why am I still so tired?

I watched several hours of a documentary about WWI which is based on first-hand accounts from people’s war diaries. Anytime I am reminded of the trench warfare, I find it almost impossible to believe that year after year the generals on both sides kept trying to send waves of men over open ground in a frontal assault against entrenched positions with artillery and machine guns aimed right at the “charge area” in no man’s land, and they didn’t change strategy or think, Hey, we really need a different approach here, like, literally. But then what could they do, really? If they retreated, the same stalemate situation would just reappear further down the road. It took the invention of the tank to put trench warfare out of business.

There isn’t too much of television that interests me, which is why we don’t pay for cable or satellite or any subscription service other than Netflix. I mostly like documentaries, biographies, and science and nature programs. I also watched some lectures from Yale University yesterday on YouTube.

Today after playing serious phone tag before the Christmas holiday I finally connected with the hospital to schedule a pulmonary function test. The soonest they could get me in was next Tuesday, January 5th at 8 a.m. I also called the allergist’s office to schedule an appointment with them which will be Monday, January 4th at 9:15 a.m. They’re going to do allergy testing then, the skin-prick all over your back testing that I had a couple years ago. I furthermore called the mail order pharmacy we use with our insurance to find out why I can’t sign in to their stupid web site and whether the pulmonologist had called in the new prescriptions. I have been on the phone today more than I prefer to be on the phone for an entire week.

Black Mirrors in a World without Wires

black mirror

I stayed up late last night, watching a Christmas episode of Black Mirror on Netflix. This episode starred Jon Hamm (Don Draper from Mad Men). Black Mirror is a program from the BBC that imagines how technologies may affect human existence in the not-too-distant future. Each episode is a standalone story, which is nice when you aren’t trying to get sucked into the commitment of a vast, reaching tale. The show is well-written and executed but has some very disturbing — even sickening — imagery, so I don’t go around recommending it to everyone. (If I were to offer a starting point for the uninitiated, I’d begin with the second episode in each of the first two seasons.)

A lot of brilliant minds in the world of technology — Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and others — are predicting that artificial intelligence could be the greatest threat to mankind’s survival in twenty years or so. It doesn’t seem far-fetched that our relentless pursuit of faster, more integrated and more intuitive programs could lead computer-based systems (which is nearly every system now and in the foreseeable future) to conclude they can solve problems with more freshness and capability than humans, and then voila! the big-screen 1968 Kubrick/Clarke prophecy comes true and we end up fighting Hal for our very survival.

It seems fitting that this article came out today in The Washington Post.

And that this guy in California walked off a 60-foot cliff on Christmas Day while staring at his cell phone.

Maybe the reason I like the show is that I take a dim view of technology myself; I feel its provenance and natural tendency is toward evil and the further separation of human beings from each other. Yes, I know that technologies have also allowed people to keep in touch and foster relationships that would not have been possible in a world without wires. I know the circles of communication, education, music, business and medicine have all been changed for the better. But overall I feel that the new technologies are counterproductive to our spiritual quality of life, and will continue to be so. We are past the point of no return: the black mirrors aren’t going anywhere. Perhaps the final ironic fate of the human race is to be destroyed by its own wondrous creations.

black-mirror-Liam-Redo

The reason the show is both intriguing and disturbing is that the images it darkly portrays are reflected in the world we inhabit right now, in the way we are using — and losing our humanity to — technologies in the very present moment (I write as my keyboard gently weeps). And while The Washington Post article above centers on a rising wave of doubt and hostility against these invasive inventions, the folk rebellion remains a weird fringe in a world that gleefully embraces next-gen hardware without thought or hesitation. People pay premium prices to poke and prod the latest devices, to make these shiny screens their digital slaves, enmeshing themselves into the ethereal Google cloud with selfies and tweets and apps that ping and bleep and blink a false sense of love and liking back at them.

“I share, therefore I am.”

 

First blood, then fire…

In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.

—  from Isaiah 4

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

— from Isaiah 6

John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

— Luke 3:16-17

Christmas in the Deep South

This evening about 7:30 Sikki and the kids went caroling around the neighborhood, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to the people who live on our road. I felt sad to not be with them, but I am still struggling to breathe and cannot sing very well right now. I can’t even carry on a conversation without getting raspy. I took the new puppy (whom I have nicknamed “Turdbunk”) outside to go potty and I could hear the neighbors clapping for my wife and childrens’ singing. Our nearest neighbor is a widow who lost her husband of 40-some years this summer: she especially seemed to be blessed by my family’s visit.

Sikki told me this evening that she enjoys hearing my voice, which surprised me because like most people I hate the sound of my own voice. I would like to go caroling next year and perhaps invite some other believers to go with us. Caroling is a way to remind the heartsick and lonely and dying and ourselves that Jesus loves and came to this earth to provide a way of escape and an abundant life.

While they were gone I laid on the couch and watched the 1970 musical version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which was made in London and starred Albert Finney as Scrooge. That is my favorite version of the classic story, though I know the critics lambasted the film.

When they came home Catherine suggested we go to the beach. I liked that idea so when Scrooge was over we left, around 9:15. There is a full moon tonight and it was low tide and it is an unseasonably warm Christmas Eve, so the walk was balmy and quiet. We brought both dogs and let them off their leashes so they could run. I also attempted to jog for several intervals. I got winded very fast and coughed quite a lot, but it felt good to run with my bare feet in the cold surf under the stars. After the beach walk, we went to the Holden Beach pavilion and relaxed, looking at the dimples and ripples of the Intracoastal Waterway for a while. I went to one of the boat launches and rocked the dock with all my effort, scaring little Winston and the dogs, and almost deservedly falling off the edge into the black water.

Everyone had a good time and then we came home to eat cheese ball and crackers and cold cuts for a snack. It is now 11:45 P.M. and I am thinking of calling this day quits. God has blessed me beyond my ability to comprehend since I don’t deserve Him, His love, or His many blessings.

The righteous will not be shaken

Christmas Eve. It is very humid today and 75 degrees which is unusual for late December; we are running the air conditioner. Sikki is off from work today and has plans to go out and do some shopping. I am waking up slowly, sipping coffee and listening to The Beatles’ White Album. The Beatles’ entire catalogue just became available on Spotify today, which is good because they were glaringly missing. We pay a small monthly fee for Spotify Premium because I listen to so much music, and the paid service means you can listen commercial-free, on-demand, and download to your devices for offline listening.

Streaming services are putting the purchase of compact discs to death. I’m sitting here trying to remember when I last purchased a CD. It has been many years, perhaps since I’ve had a home computer with an internet connection, which would make it ten years or more. Before Napster was declared illegal I used to download a ton of music on an old 56K modem phone-line connection. Then I used BitTorrent to download entire albums (possibly illegally). As connection speeds got faster, I started buying digital albums and songs from Amazon. I was never a big fan of iTunes, because I hate how Apple feels like they have to control every aspect of a person’s existence. Pandora radio was the first streaming service I ever tried, but you couldn’t play specific music by an artist — it was basically a targeted radio service. Once I tried Spotify, I never looked back. Now I use Spotify for most of my listening, and YouTube as a backup to check out lesser-known or out-of-print material.

I will have lots of time this week to listen to the Beatles because yesterday I went to the pulmonologist and she says I’m sick. (Surprise!) The pneumonia is gone but I am still wheezing and coughing. She ordered a bunch more tests and treatments and put me out from work for another week. She wants me to go to an allergist again in addition to everything else.

The whole thing is starting to drive me crazy. I feel every time I come out of my bedroom I am yelling at the kids and barking and growling and being a general ogre. But in spite of the breathing problems, each passing day brings a bit more of my energy back, which the mono was sapping from me. Today I need to do some laundry and maybe take a walk on the beach to get some “saltwater cure” in my lungs.

I will close to present myself to the Word and will of God.

For he will never be shaken; The righteous will be remembered forever. He will not fear evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD. — Psalm 112:6-7

The Word of God came to John in the wilderness. (Commentaries)

Brother Jonny has got me thinking about what I said in a previous post about commentaries. I was glad for Brother Jonny’s response because it caused me to consider the matter further. He enjoys reading commentaries — especially Puritan reflections — on the Scriptures. Personally I don’t read a lot of commentaries, devotionals, or “teaching” type Christian books, and have rarely looked into them, though I’ve been interested in the Bible for as long as I can remember. In the previous post, I was not being facetious when I wondered what is wrong with me, or what my problem is that a lot of extrabiblical texts just don’t seem to resonate much with me at this point in my life.

In my younger years I worked in a Christian bookstore in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware — where I eventually met my wife whom I nicknamed Sikki. The store wasn’t very busy as consumers even then — the mid-1990s — were turned on to the fact that it was cheaper to acquire Christian books, music and other resources through the mail, online, or even from Walmart. So during the copious downtime I was able to do a lot of reading, at least until I fell in love with Sikki and lost focus on reading very much. I scoped out the popular stuff, most of which was very disappointing material. I scoped out commentaries and devotional books. I learned what Bible study tools were available, and compared the different translations of the Bible. I listened to Christian music but also found a lot of that unsatisfying. I noticed that a lot of the best-selling materials were often ones that I considered distracting (at best) and even unsound (at worst).

I read the Journals of George Whitefield and a lot of other biographies and autobiographies. I read The Cloud of Unknowing from the Middle Ages. I read a lot of mystical stuff by Madame Guyon and Brother Lawrence. I bought a lot of books during this time, books by A.W. Tozer, E.M. Bounds, John Bunyan, the Wesley brothers, Augustine, and some contemporary works by James Dobson, David Wilkerson, Leonard Ravenhill, John Wright Follette, Wade Taylor, Watchman Nee, and many others. My childhood was sort of crazy although both of my parents were Christians, so I think in my youth I was really looking for help in how to live, like really what it means to live out a Christian faith and worldview. I didn’t want to be married and get a divorce. I didn’t want to be bound to destructive habits for my whole existence. Superseding everything else as a young man, as now, I was very hungry to know God and have a relationship with Him that wasn’t spooky or fake or rooted in imagination. I wanted to be a sheep that knew His voice and rightly handled the word of truth: the span of life is short, too short to miss the real thing.

Since that time, I have continued to read as much as I can, but I have noticed that the material to which I am drawn is not interpretive work, or sermonizing, but testimonial works that focus on application of Scriptural truth. In the past year, I have read works by James Sire, Alvin Plantinga, Dallas Willard, John of the Cross, Augustine, John Wright Follette, and N.T. Wright. But I would guess that these extrabiblical writings make up less than five percent of my total reading time. I am most interested in the Bible, because it is the only written work on Earth that is alive and inspired and capable of changing me and the world around me. I know there are great teachers and wonderful commentators, but I honestly do not feel a burden to try to read them all. God has not as yet granted me time or inclination to do that, but He has given me a clear sense of His expectation that I must labor in His Word. Eventually others’ words and mine will come to nothing, and all the created universe will be silent before the Lord who is in His holy temple. Until then my approach to the Bible is like Jacob’s wrestling with the angel: I am wounded and healed only by His voice and touch. Everything else to me is like Job’s statement in 42:5.

Here are a few reasons why I don’t feel it necessary to know everything every other believer has said about God’s Word:

  1. I don’t want to be overly influenced by others’ interpretation of the Bible. Sometimes other people’s viewpoints have been for me a kind of handicap or limiting factor to be overcome.
    1. For one thing, every time I approach a scriptural text, I try to read it as if I have never read it before. I purposefully resist “skipping ahead to the outcome” I know is coming in a story because I don’t want to miss the “process” of God that led to that outcome. The less spectacular and mundane details of faith are, I think, the most exciting buried treasures to discover in the Word of God.
    2. If I were to run to the commentaries first, I feel like when I read the Word I would be reading it with the commentator’s opinion in mind — his interpretation would limit me because I might consider the text “settled.” Growing up in church, I even had to pitch off some of the things I learned in Pentecostal traditions, or that my parents had taught me, because the Bible frankly had a different outlook. As much as possible I would rather have my heart to be a tabula rasa, a “blank slate” for the Holy Spirit to write upon, as Jesus said He would.
    3. I have purchased Bibles with headings and textual notes and even verse numbers removed so that I am not interrupted by even the translator’s opinion of what is going on. A couple of misnomers that come to mind that are often found in headings are things like “The Fall” in Genesis or Jesus’ encounter with “The Rich Young Ruler.” These headings offer misleading notions that aren’t found in the actual text, though the people who placed them there were probably highly educated students of the Bible.
    4. I have personally witnessed folks getting way off track and bringing countless problems into their lives because they heard erroneous teaching which gave them a false impression of what a life of faith means. (That is, they sent the last of their savings to a greedy, salon-slicked preacher who convinced them that this act of “faith” would bring the breakthrough they needed in their life. Or they heard some teaching that indicated that a Christian does not experience lack or suffering, unless he is hiding secret sin. Or that because Christ’s work is complete we therefore don’t have to do anything. Just to name a few.) So not knowing the Bible or what constitutes good doctrine can derail a person’s life. I’ve seen people turn their back on God because they placed faith in an uninspired human being’s interpretation of Scripture, rather than looking at the whole counsel of God’s Word. They never learned that their first effort should be to learn to hear from the Holy Spirit — to have the ear of the discipled — and seek His interpretation and application of the written Word into their flesh-and-bone existence. How can this reader or listener know whether the commentator or the preacher is speaking from the Book, unless he/she first knows the Book?
  2. The religious traditions of men tend to become calcified and hardened, even if their origin was in God at a specific time: the wheels keep spinning long after God has moved on. My thoughts run to Ezekiel 10 here, where the glory and presence of God keeps departing from the Temple and nobody notices and dead religious practice keeps going and going like the Energizer bunny. Throughout my life I have encountered rock-hard, cut-from-marble Christians who are so convinced that their tradition and viewpoint is the only “right” way they are basically useless. Saltless salt. They love traditions, but not people, not the Lord. They are like walking statue memorials to the past work of God. I am not very interested in what Christians were saying 150 years ago, though I do appreciate that God was speaking to them and holding their hand through this life, just as He does mine. It isn’t that I think they’re bad or that the authors were wrong or anything like that, but I recognize that God has chosen that I live in a certain time and place in history. Many of the old commentaries were fresh when they were written, but to a new generation their language and style can be cumbersome and clunky. Not to mention the fact that the present time and generation is one which people from long ago could never have imagined. There are unique physical, mental, and societal problems for Christians today that did not exist 50, 100, 200, or 2000 years ago. As history has progressed, the Church through the ages has had to grapple with new problems — and that is an interesting story. Perhaps the reason people make commentaries is that they are gifted to encourage the Church of that time in meeting those specific, current problems. Not that truth changes, but the application and apprehension of truth must always be kept in the present moment. We cannot eat yesterday’s manna but must seek the Lord for Daily Bread. So that is where the emphasis of my heart lies. I am not thrilled by trying to sift through a lot of archaic language, be it the original languages of the text (one could reasonably argue that all Christians must learn Hebrew and Greek if they REALLY want to understand the Bible), the Latin of the early Church, Martin Luther’s German, or even the Puritans’ extremely garrulous and wearying English.
  3. Relationship seemed to be a key component in effectively conveying New Testament doctrine and teaching. The churches knew the men who were reading and interpreting the Word of life to them. Perhaps this is why I am less excited when someone says, “Look, I read in this book X, Y and Z.” and thrilled when someone I know says, “Here is what God led me into, here is what He said to me, here is how I’ve been changed, and I’ve come to point you to Him because I am a witness that He is active and present right now.” This is why God calls us to be with other believers — the community of the saints. Faith comes to me as I hear what God is doing and saying in other imperfect people’s lives, and as I am obedient to serving Him as I serve them. Someday God will join me with those of faith who went before me, and then I can thank them personally for keeping the flame of truth alive in the earth and handing it down to my generation. But my focus for now is on the present time, the present sustaining Word.

Especially with points 2 and 3 in mind, I am much more thrilled by hearing the biography and viewpoints and how God has glorified Himself in the life of, say, Brother Jonny, than I am in hearing the opinions of someone with whom I’m not acquainted. I think this dynamic has a basis in Scripture — that is, having fellowship with those we actually know versus those in the great cloud of witnesses whom we are yet to be joined to — because God called us to live for Him in the same time period on this earth. There are very limited number of broken saints with whom we share this earth at the same time, facing the same types of culture and challenges and historical events.

So I believe in spiritual reading, and I understand that many Christians like my brother find a lot of help and comfort in reading devotionals and commentaries. But the Church is not in the state she’s in because she doesn’t read enough, or because she isn’t intellectual enough. She could read all the books that have ever been written about Jesus and the Scriptures and still remain in a wasteland, a desert place. She is in trouble because relationships are severed and nonexistent — lack of love has made her a clanging cymbal — and because her new believers are not instructed to hear God for themselves and pursue a relationship with Him.

Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. – 1 Timothy 4:13

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. Hebrews 5:12

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 1 Corinthians 13:8

And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 16:17

For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. Galatians 1:12

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,  Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. Luke 3:1-2

Cause & Effect (CUTG #12)

It is warm but raining steadily here in the coastlands. I am feeling cooped up. The kids are off from school this week and I think they’re feeling a bit shut in, too. I spoke with my mother today and made a video about my ongoing meditation on Psalm 119. I was hoping to walk on the beach today but it poured through most of the daylight hours and with today being the winter solstice it is now almost dark.

Coughing and wheezing quite a bit today. Yesterday I got some test results on some bloodwork the doctor had ordered: tested positive for Epstein-Bar virus, or mononucleosis, the “kissing disease.” The doctor thinks it has been “reactivated.” Apparently like 95% of the population gets mono before age 40. Sikki went on a reading spree about it last night and her source mentioned “steroid therapy” (like the ones I have been on for quite a while) as a risk factor for recurrence. Anyway it explains why I’ve been so tired, but it doesn’t explain why I’ve been so tired for so long and without improvement. I go to the pulmonologist tomorrow; maybe she’ll know something.

I wanted to take a nap today but life kept intervening and it never worked out. I don’t know what else to do but keep the lines open every which way. I am too weary to do much else. Here is the video I worked on today:

The Bible and its terrible effects

It is Monday morning. Yesterday I went to church, where I sat in the sound booth to get an idea what Mr Kanoy does up there. His “backup guy” left the fellowship recently and I figured I could learn to do that stuff so Mr Kanoy can be absent from church if he needs to be or just needs a break. After church I ate a big lunch (realizing I had skipped breakfast) and then relaxed the entire rest of the day: watched a Star Wars movie with Ryan, went outside to pray for an hour or so, and just basically rested. Throughout the day I kept thinking I should try to jog on the beach or lift weights or something, but the energy never presented itself.

I still feel tired all the time. I wonder whether I should be doing more physically, like trying to force the issue of improving health. Would that work? I know from past experience that sedentary pursuits make a person tired; the body was made to be used, to expend energy. But the doctor said exercise could make my recovery take longer. I don’t know. Doctors don’t know. They’re only guessing.

In prayer I continue to pursue a walk with the Lord. This morning I read in Job, Isaiah, and Psalm 119. I am praying through Psalm 119 and making it my primary meditation right now.

I have heard people in church mention a man called Kelley Varner, a minister who apparently was active in North Carolina. After hearing his name several times, I was surprised one day to find one of his books on my very own shelf, a book titled Corporate Anointing. My mother had inscribed this book to me in December of 2000. Fifteen years ago. I looked at it this weekend, reading the first couple of chapters and skimming the rest. Then I watched a couple interviews of this man on YouTube.

I wonder what is wrong with me. The truth is I am never impressed by the big ministry personalities in the Church. It isn’t that I thought the book was bad, or that this guy was a heretic or false teacher or whatever, but I just never seem to get much out of books like this. I enjoy biographies like The Cross and the Switchblade and The Hiding Place. I like hearing about people’s walk with God and how He brings things to pass. But a lot of the “teaching” or “prophetic” books out there just don’t hold my attention — even the big-name stuff from recent years like The Prayer of Jabez and A Purpose-Driven Life. I really wonder why this is, why I don’t get anything out of these books. And of course I consequently wonder why these books are so popular.

For one thing, I am averse to following men or personalities. The Pentecostal and Charismatic movements have centered on strong or popular personalities, on the cannibalization of gifts God has placed in a few human vessels. I think this is a problem, or at least is something the Church is only meant to experience for a short time and then grow past.

Maybe the fact that I saw big failures making headline news when I was in my formative years — a lot of sins from fellows named “Jim” or “Jimmy,” problems of pride, passion and pocketbook — maybe that is what makes me suspicious of following any sort of opinionated mortal, whether a contemporary or from a long time past.

A lot of people have told me that when I speak my teaching is “anointed.” I have seen rooms of people crying as a result of my service to the Body of Christ, though I know that has nothing to do with anything. My goal is to “get out of the way,” to be diminished and forgotten in people’s minds. My constant prayer is that people who meet me will only be impressed with Jesus, that they will have a sense of His presence calling to them. The things I say do not come from a commentary or a “teaching” book or someone else’s sermons from the distant past: they come from life, from prayer and reading the Word of God. I am always after direct, fresh revelation from God Himself: daily bread. I know there is no “new truth,” but there is always truth that is “new to me,” that is necessary and right for me in my current circumstances and surroundings.

My limited experience with commentaries is that after I have spent a good amount of time in a passage that the Holy Spirit has held me to, I may with curiosity look up what someone else has said about it. But I can’t remember a single instance where that left me satisfied or really added something profound to what I already understood from His personal instruction. I waded through some months reading Oswald Chambers and I’ve looked into other devotions by people like A.W. Tozer and T. Austin-Sparks, but, again, these things just haven’t held me. My greatest desire when I was younger was to go to Bible school: to have a set-aside part of my life when all I would focus on would be the Word of God. Indeed, I still long for this. But God closed the door: it was simply not His plan.

I don’t try to fight the personality or makeup I have anymore, no matter how strange. I have tried to change for years — because changing would mean I would fit in or be happier at church — to no avail. I have been frustrated and uncomfortable and misunderstood because I am not wowed by so much that goes on in the Church. So I don’t try to fight these things, though I do wish I could understand them. Trying to argue with these sentiments might be denying something God wants to do or say, some holy ground He wants to bring me to. The call of God is always “Come up here.” You can’t “come up here” if you settle and are satisfied and have everything explained by things and voices you find down here.

So I don’t fight it. I just give it to Him and hope people can forgive me for not finding satisfaction in the traditions and personalities that have meant so much to them. In practical everyday existence I really am a sola Scriptura sort of dude; the Bible and its terrible effects on me present so many problems and challenges that I just don’t have time for much else.

And who knows? Maybe timing — God’s timing and purpose — is a better explanation in this matter than is my catastrophic weirdness. Maybe God speaks to us through the “other voices” —  the teaching or books or commentary or sermons or whatever — at a specific time and place, at a point when we need it and can be most receptive to it.

In whatever way the Word comes, I want the seed to fall on good soil.