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.

A False Gospel of Convenience

The morning of Day 15,010 has fallen on a Tuesday. The air is crisp outside and the meteorologists predict abundant sunshine and dry weather for the remainder of the week. Even though I am currently unemployed, I have quite a lot to do today: the yard debris washed in by Hurricane Matthew will take a long time to clean up, and I am working on creating an advertising brochure for a local business. Working in the yard the past couple of days I picked up a couple of fire ant bites: I am highly allergic to fire ants. Fire ants are capable of both biting and stinging. Whatever they do, even one ant’s attack causes significant hot swelling and an oozing, burning pustule, followed by painful swelling and itching which lasts a week or more. I take Benadryl sometimes to try and mitigate my body’s reaction to the little devils, and in spite of doing so last night I still woke up several times during the night with pain and itching on my ankle, where one got me two days ago.

I have not been able to get over to the beach to see the ocean since last week because authorities have kept the whole town off-limits to visitors since the hurricane. Apparently they’re having problems with flooding and the sewer system.

I need to do some quality reading today, as I have not been doing anything but checking the weather and the news concerning the election for almost a week. A lot of people I know are going a little crazy over this year’s election cycle. It’s the Christians I really pity, though. Fear is causing many of them to misplace their faith in a man who is incapable of satisfying their hopes: Donald Trump. It’s really grieved me to see people I respected – people who used to decry the lack of morality in our country – now back an unrepentant, solipsistic, immoral man as their chosen leader. Some are even prophesying in the Lord’s name or saying he is anointed by God, a kind of messiah-figure.

This election cycle has exposed American Christianity for what it really is: a heresy rooted in a false gospel of convenience. Same ancient problem that anyone with a heart to know can read in the narrative of the Scriptures which the Lord has given us for our guidance and edification. But people can’t or won’t see it. Revelation must come from God. Perhaps the Church will turn to the Lord and His revealed Word after suffering dashed hopes and disappointment as a result of this rash and carnal course. That’s my prayer.

I will close to pay attention to the work of the day. I am in Him.

15,000 Days Through Water, Fire & Blood

On October 1 of this year, I quietly celebrated an anniversary of 15,000 days in this reality, thanking God for life and the opportunity to know Him. I thanked Him for His plan and purpose, for His word which sustains me and gives me hope, and for the people He has placed around me: my parents, friends past and present, various servants of God who have touched my life, my precious beautiful wife, and the children He has given me. I praised Him for all the little things in life: a woman who reflects His love and lays beside me every night, hot coffee in the mornings, a body that functions and is recovering, and senses that can perceive and appreciate the beauty of mountains, seas and distant stars. I have never lacked a place to sleep, a place to live, clothes to wear, or food to eat. I took time to appreciate His diversity in creation and in the personalities of people: I thanked Him for giving me a searching heart and a mind that asks questions. I also considered the many experiences and trials I have encountered, the successes and failures of my brief life, and how faithful and unchanging His mercies have been through all of them.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23

I meditated on my travel through waters: from my mother’s womb, from Christ’s side on the Cross, through the flood of baptism and the washing of the water of the Word. I thanked Him for the fires of life: the trials and sufferings through which the Holy Spirit burns the chaff of my existence and disconnects me from the affections of earth to which my soul cleaves. And I thanked Him for Jesus, for His plan of life through the blood and sacrifice of a God who knows suffering, who suffers with me. I thanked Him for repentance. I thanked Him for the eternal Church, a place of rest in His imperishable temple, and for the brothers and sisters to whom He has joined me in these last days in the measurement of time.

I don’t deserve any of it; nothing I have done or not done has merited my standing in Him. It is His good pleasure. From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. If I should live another 15,000 days, I want to live them all in Him.

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. – Revelation 4:11

His Truth is Eternal

Five in the afternoon of the 14,990th day of life in this realm, and I just used the Keurig the girls bought for our household last week to make a cup of coffee. It’s rare for me to drink coffee this late in the day but I’m tired and frustrated, and I figured it might perk me up a little before church this evening. I spent yesterday and today running around, toting people places and doing errands and getting nothing accomplished.

I’ve been jogging or walking nearly every morning for the past two months, along with lifting weights and a little yoga sprinkled in to try and loosen everything up. In the past, exercise would make me feel more energetic but on the heels of whatever’s wrong with me circumstances have changed and I just feel exhausted all the time. Most days I want to take a nap, or at least lie down. When I first got sick last November it turned out I had pneumonia and reactivated mononucleosis, on top of the raging asthma. I felt tired then, too. Now I find myself tempted to drink too much coffee or even dip nasty black tobacco, just to keep going. Stupid. I should just go buy some caffeine tablets, crush ’em and snort ’em up my nose.

It’s exasperating because I really want to get back to work. I’ve been throwing a few lines out into the job market just to see what bites. At this point I don’t know how I would return to work feeling the way I feel, but it doesn’t hurt to scope out the scene in case the long-term disability people decide to cancel my benefits or something. I went to the pulmonologist early this month and she seemed pleased with how my lungs sounded; she said she’d order another lung function test in January. I don’t really understand what her long-term treatment plan is: I can only safely take Xolair for two years because it’s got a lot of side effects, including higher risk of certain cancers. Maybe allergy shots are the next step?

I’ve been reading and praying my way through a study book called The Tabernacle of Moses by Kevin J. Conner. It’s a very enlightening and rewarding study of the Tabernacle. It’s weird that I’ve been in church my whole life and am just now getting around to carefully studying the Tabernacle, but recently I sensed it was something the Lord would have me do, so I ordered the book a couple weeks ago. In the introduction the author noted that in the biblical record God spent two of our “chapters” explaining the creation of the habitation of man, and noted how much we work and delight in studying all that pertains to that creation, but God then went into painstaking detail concerning His own dwelling place for 43 consecutive chapters and made subsequent reference to it repeatedly throughout the rest of the Scriptures. And I have basically ignored it my whole life. Conner mentioned that in the introduction too: that the subject is one of the least studied, explored or understood parts of the Word of God. It just goes to show we don’t value things that God has revealed, we don’t emphasize things that God emphasizes. It is blowing my mind on a daily basis and I find myself praising God as I study. His truth is eternal.