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.

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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.

Continue reading “The Church’s Trump Dilemma”

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.

School Daze

It is a Friday morning and this is the 14,971st day of my existence by God’s design, calling, choosing and favor, and I awoke at 5 AM to thank Him for life. This has been an eventful week in our household, as all three boys are going to public school this year, especially for Garrett and Winston who are attending regular classes for the first time ever.

Both of them fussed about wanting to stay home today, Garrett saying he had a sore throat, and Winston saying that he “didn’t want to go to school every day.” We sent both of them to school: Garrett didn’t have a fever and Winston – the kindergartner – has to learn that school happens every weekday. It’s a big adjustment.

One amusing thing is that Garrett has said that for three days he’s sat down at a corner of an empty table for lunch in the cafeteria — at a different table each day — and the same group of girls has followed him, sitting themselves down wherever he has chosen to sit. Garrett is tall for his age and spent the summer lifting weights, and he also has a sense of style and likes to look nice. (He takes after my dad that way: my father never looked like a slob like I often do.) Garrett has just entered 8th grade, and since he is new to the school it adds an element of “bright, shiny and new” in the eyes of his onlookers there. It amuses me that Garrett seems mostly unaware of how attractive this might make him to girls at the middle school; when telling us about the “moving girls” he seemed to regard it as a total mystery. Of course I haven’t said a word to expound the mystery to him. I hope that as he becomes more aware he will continue to focus on his academics and personal growth and not get distracted by the wild drama that always plagues teenaged “romantic” relationships. I’ve been praying that God will send him a friend or two of the male persuasion, boys who have some background in families with morality, stability and good sense. I have talked to my children often of being friendly to everyone, but not getting too intimate or close to people that are plainly following a different path.

At the same time, I’ve told them their attraction to the opposite sex is totally natural. It’s just a question of proper timing.

Throughout my mid-to-late teens, I was interested in the Bible and pursuing God, and I sluffed off a couple of girls at church because they did not share my passion. There was one in particular named Jenny: she was even my “type,” a cute little thing. She was the most persistent, but eventually I told her I just wasn’t interested in a dating relationship because I was in school and wanted to build the foundation of my life before getting into anything like that. She quit calling. I never dated or got romantically involved with anyone until I was twenty years old, and that was with Sikki who is now my wife.

Sikki and I met at work: she was 15. I thought she was really strange and she felt the same about me. (In my case it was quite justified: my weirdness has been consistent.) Neither of us had any thoughts of romantic interest until three or four years later, when I sent her a bouquet of flowers as a graduation gift. Shortly after that, I nervously asked her out. She had three boyfriends before me, I think, and I believe I met all of them. In our many talks since then, she has expressed some regret about dating, but in our culture it is just taken for granted that you should spread yourself around quite a bit before settling down.

Some of the Christians I’ve known have an axe to grind about dating, being critical of it or disallowing it altogether. I’ve never been on board with a legalistic approach. I don’t think there’s a “right” or a “wrong” way to get to know people. (But that is the goal: getting to KNOW them, not getting attached and THEN finding out who they are.) There are three main dating dangers in my mind: being “unequally yoked,” spending a lot of time alone, and accepting without question everything that is “normal” in our culture. Our culture’s shifting expectations have led to nothing but busted relationships and people, so those accepted norms should not be leading believers around by the nose.

I’ve had three teenaged offspring who have started some exploration into relationships with the opposite sex, and Sikki and I have tried to guide them through it while at the same time making them aware of the inherent dangers and distractions of those relationships, but without uttering a commanding and absolute No. As their father, I try to make it a conversation and a learning experience, but I’m not interested in preventing their every pain and mistake. Otherwise, they’ll never learn how to function as adults in this world.

Another thing I try to emphasize is that they should take things very slow. It’s important to learn how another person reacts under STRESS. That is absolutely key to knowing someone. It’s all fine and dandy to date and have fun, but lots of people get into serious trouble because they don’t find out how the other party handles life when it’s adverse and painful.

Then there’s the question of “pressure” from the other person: if you’re telling them to take it slow and they’re rushing you into commitments or physical interactions or acting generally clingy and needy, you should move on. They don’t care about you or respect you; they’re trying to use you to meet some unmet need of their own. You’re worth waiting for, kid, and in the sphere of relationships, haste really does make waste.

I tell my kids a good rule of thumb is to try and find someone who loves Jesus more than they love you — you’ll recognize them because they will talk about Him all the time in regular conversation — preferably someone who could get along fine without you in their life. That will be a pretty complete, mature person. Or at least it will be someone who has a solid foundation when the storms of life hit.

It’s an ongoing process and I don’t have an action plan or divine directive except for some principles of Scripture that apply to all relationships. Me and Sikki are trying to figure it out, but the responsibility to train them is on me primarily since I’m their father. I pray for strength and guidance every day to accurately represent life in God to my children. I hope to inspire them to pursue Him on their own.

I just received an automated call from the school district that they will be closing early due to Hurricane Hermine, which is passing us today. I will close to address the concerns of life.

A Fruitful Season

Last night Pastor Bobby took me and Jerry up to Love Faithfully Ministries, a black church in Leland, to hear a visiting minister Pastor knew back in the day and hadn’t seen in over ten years, Scott Stimson. Apparently this dude was involved in the early days of NLCF. I felt quite comfortable in the place because the people that were assembled had a passion for God, and since they came out on a Tuesday night they also obviously had an availability to His purposes. Passion and availability mark the ground that God walks and works in.

The praise was very vibrant, the speaker’s teaching was challenging, and he also spoke prophetically to several people. It just so happened he started with me. I don’t have the exact transcript (the church pastor said he’d send the recording to our church, since Jerry and Pastor also received prophetic words), but the gist of the thing was this:

He said as he looked at me he envisioned a large tree that looked as if it was about to bear fruit. Though all the conditions were right for the fruit to grow, and my expectation was that the fruit was forthcoming, the fruit had nevertheless not materialized. He said he saw the branches hanging low with many leaves, but the fruit had not come, and I had been disappointed. He said it was nothing I had done or not done that had caused this situation, but just the timing of the Lord – it was simply not time for the fruit to come. But he said I was now entering “a fruitful season,” and that I would begin to see the fruit I had expected and longed for. He said God had given me “big dreams, even in the time of your early teens” and that God would accomplish those things in His time. He repeated the phrase “a fruitful season” four or five times as he spoke to me, indicating that it was present. Now.

I will transcribe the message if I ever receive it, but that was the crux of the message. I try to pay attention to both the written and the spoken Word of God. There was just no doubt that the word was from the Lord’s mind and knowledge.

I began seeking the Lord in earnest when I was a teenager, after hearing the ministry of Wade Taylor one evening. Brother Taylor was not a particularly good speaker in terms of organization and his manner of speaking, but when I first heard him something was ignited inside. It was somewhere in Maryland, and he was speaking exegetically from the passage in Exodus about Moses and the burning bush. I remember excitedly going home and telling my Dad how he was saying “all these profound things” and Dad smiled. It was a seminal moment because I realized that the Word is more than just a story, or a philosophy, or mental assent to certain truths: it is alive, it speaks to our real lives as we find ourselves in this present age and reality, and it is limitless in depth and scope. But it cannot be successfully or helpfully approached apart from connection and relationship with its Author.

Not long after hearing Brother Taylor for the first time, I went to a conference at the Bible school he founded, Pinecrest Bible Training Center in Salisbury Center, NY, and God visited me and helped me during that time through various ministries. That is where many of the “big dreams” were imparted to my spirit with the laying on of hands and prophetic utterance, and where I began learning how to pray, how to worship, and how to read the Bible. I view that weekend at Pinecrest as the start of my “path” in the Way (and ways) of the Lord. So when Brother Stimson mentioned “big dreams from your teens” that period is what flashed through my mind.

Time passed and I continued to seek the Lord. Jess and I were attending Abundant Life Church in Georgetown, Delaware. That is where I took my first steps in writing about the Word and public teaching, speaking with fair regularity on Sunday mornings, leading Bible studies and a men’s group. The pastor, a fine, loving man named John Betts, was also seeking the will of God and mentioned that eventually I might be on staff at the church, or that they might look to establish a Bible school in that county where I should teach. But nothing ever came of anything and I became discouraged. I began to focus on the “darkness” and “lack” that I observed in the church, and I wondered why there was so little desire for the things of God in most of the people. Eventually I quit going after 15 years or so because I felt like the entire thing was a charade for me personally (and maybe for most of them): it all just felt never-endingly lifeless. I started working for Pepsi while at Abundant Life, and my life became more and more consumed by work.

So yeah. A time of looking for fruit and not finding any. In the Pepsi years – nearly a decade – everything seemed to be a dead end. Spiritually (the church/ministry situation), vocationally, financially, residentially (with our house in Laurel not selling for a year), educationally and even bodily (with debilitating sickness), every effort and every righteous desire and the sweat from every pore of my being just seemed to lead to absolute nothing. And the whole time I wondered what was wrong or what I should do differently.

I have much to learn.

Timing. A certain place. A certain man. A certain time. Everything will come to pass. Everything will surely come to pass.

Willing To Live

In modern America you can believe anything you want as long as you don’t take it too seriously. Muslims throughout the world are in the news almost every day because they are willing to die for their beliefs. Most Americans can’t fathom how it is possible that anyone would die for his beliefs because most folks fear death more than anything else. Our colonial fathers and mothers understood, but for the most part their distant children don’t get it.

The disciples of Christ expressed willingness to die for Him – Peter most vocally. People remember Peter’s denial of Jesus and think him a coward, but they forget he tried to live up to his promise. At the point of crisis, Peter went full beast mode, drew his sword, and sliced a dude’s ear off. It was dark and he probably wasn’t aiming for the ear: he was trying to waste that fool and be The Greatest Disciple, Jesus’ Bodyguard & Right-Hand Man. He’d made his decision to make a valiant stand, and just when his adrenaline was up in the red zone and he was ready to pound the next guy, Jesus yelled “NO!” And then He healed the evildoer’s ear.

It was so very deflating when Jesus wouldn’t let him fight. It took Peter from a place of ACTION to a place of helplessness. He just stood there, not knowing what to do or say, breathing hard, falling on the inside. When the rest of the disciples split, he ran too. Later that night, Peter would come to know himself better than he ever wanted to, and he got reduced even further. All because Jesus wouldn’t let him go out in a blaze of glory.

Jesus said, No, no, Peter. If you take this carnal approach, you’ll die by this carnal approach. I’m not having an armed revolt here, so no more slicing and dicing and strong-arming your way through this dark night. Just put the whole thing away – both the sword and your willingness to use it. Get rid of those trappings. I know you’d like to hurry up and die with Me but I’m not interested in your dying right now. I’d really have liked to have you PRAY for an hour with Me, instead of trying to fight and die here. Everything I’ve taught you is about LIVING, not dying. I want You to LIVE for Me, Peter.

Those Muslims I mentioned earlier, I get where they’re coming from, wanting to rush out and die for their false god. I used to have an attitude like poor prayerless Peter in the garden, full of zeal and holy indignation, whipping a sword out to slay any clueless, beleaguered soul who was out of line with the truth and didn’t relate to God the way I did. When I was young I thought myself so full of knowledge and power and wisdom I couldn’t even imagine I’d make it past 25 years, or at the most 30, because I was certain I’d be martyred by the unbelievers and the reprobate Jezebel church before that time. My view of myself did not square with my actual condition: I needed God and other people to help me discover that, and the process was ugly.

What Peter learned – what we have to learn – is that God calls us to LIVE FIRST. The call to live scares us because we know (if we’re honest) we aren’t up to the task of following in Jesus’ footsteps. We’d rather do almost anything other than having to live, because life in God is dependency, not natural strength and cunning. Prayer is humiliating to the flesh, having to ask for daily bread and defense from the power of the evil one. Peter was willing to die, but he wasn’t yet willing to live. Jesus knew that full well when He said beforehand, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

That’s why the call to life is so important, why we have to be awakened to the desire of the Holy Spirit to teach us how to live. Because the way of the natural man with all his striving works death in the situations around him, but one who lives for and unto God brings life and strength and healing to others, and glory to the God whose ways are not our ways.

It is Day 14,936.