I understand this is likely to be a very unpopular post, but I have to be honest. Veterans Day is not a day of celebration, pride, or flag waving to me. This is a day of sadness, regret, and dishonor. And that is not a bad thing.
When I think of my service to my country, I am glad that I served. I am proud to be an American. We live in a world that is dangerous and riddled with violence and I did my job to as best I understood it. I would probably even do it again under certain circumstances. I support my sons decisions to serve, and I pray that will always remember that they serve a broken and hurting world.
But … I am not proud that I am a Veteran. I wish that no one had to serve. Our violent and vengeful natures are proof of our fear, despair and lack of love. I wish that my son did not need to strap on his firearm and don a bulletproof vest each day when he enters his police cruiser.
Last year I explained my feeling about the whole hero thing: You Keep Using That Word Since then I have reflected even more about what really brings honor. Some questions have surfaced I have a hard time answering.
Are the sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen I served alongside the most honorable people I can imagine?
Should taking up arms against other human beings be a source of pride
Why do we place such high value on our ability to dominate in defense of our values?
How is it that despite our nation’s military superiority, we cannot achieve peace?
What does it say about us as a people who no matter how much we evolve as a civilization, we continue to regress back to violence as our measure of strength.
I served our nation for over 12 years. I was indoctrinated into the ways of the brotherhood of undersea warriors. I was enraged by the knowledge that a dirty “Commie” Soviet submarine had passed within our waters and felt the joy of chasing it out again. I slept between nuclear warheads with the capability to devastate large portions of the human race.
I felt the fear and turmoil that surged through me when it occurred to me when during the simulation of a nuclear launch. I with struggled with an anger that began to simmer within as I worked alongside shipmates and people of Kuwait recovering from the atrocities of the Iraqi invasion and subsequent withdrawal.
Five years later, that anger surface on Sept 11th, 2001. I supported our fear driven retaliation. I watched as that fear was covered in nationalistic pride and a resolve for vengeance.
Vengeance is not justice … Vengeance is action driven by fear and hate. I saw that desire for vengeance in the eyes of Kuwaiti children and parents. It is the evident in the desperation of people in our own society caused by perceived or real inequalities. Yes, it is even the same force driving the ISIS conspirators.
I am sad that we have failed to achieve relative peace in our world and that we are a world encompassed by fear.
I regret that I allowed that fear to override my faith and that I could not even effectively love my enemy or even my neighbor.
I find no honor in taking up arms to bring about peace. Although it may protect us for a while and may seem to be the best we can do at this point, I think it is ineffective and frankly the coward’s way.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 ESV
What is that more excellent way?
My son-in-law posted today every veteran signs a blank check. I have to disagree. Each of us signed up With the knowledge that we might die in the line of duty, but that is far from a blank check!
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8 ESV
I did not sign up to die for my enemy.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:12-13 ESV
Laying one’s life down is much more honorable and difficult than dying. Each of us can live a life for others and possibly even defeat some fear and hate.
That not excellent way…
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ESV
I have not written since November. It is hard to write about transition and direction when you find yourself not exactly sure where you are going. I think it is about time I discussed this Vision Correction / Course Correction, for both my old friends and those that are crossing my path.
“Be good to your servant so I can go on living
and keeping your word.
Open my eyes so I can examine
the wonders of your Instruction!” (Ps 119:17-18)
Throughout my time in high school, something was just not right. I was just not comfortable. I noticed it in the classroom … an inability to follow along with teachers. It was evident on the athletic field, mostly baseball … I could not track the ball as well as I always hadl. Without ever really noticing it, I found myself moving to the front half of the classroom. During my senior year it should have occurred to me when I could not see the numbers on the scoreboard from the wrestling mat, but like the proverbial frog in the pot (not familiar with this proverb? Check it out here,) I was oblivious to the change. (I am truly disturbed at how many people have set out to prove / disprove this boiling frog theory … people are really wack!) Myth or truth … you get the point … slow change is often imperceptible.
For whatever reason … I did not notice that my vision was deteriorating. In my last month of school a military physical indicated my substandard eye sight. Two weeks later … I saw the individual leaves on the trees.
It is unclear (see what I did there) when I began to experience spiritual squirminess. One could argue that this was just a mid-life crisis since it started around my 40th year and about the time the oldest of our seven offspring began to move on to bigger and better things. I was busy with work, church and had begun coaching regularly, but that notorious question began to roll around in my head … is this all there is? I began to believe that I had buried my talent in the ground: that God was about to take it away and give it to the one with ten. When I voiced my own disappointment in myself, most people gave an answer that did not sit well with me; “there is no higher calling than being a father and a husband. You have raised great kids and that will have impacts way beyond your lifetime.” Something about the self-centered nature of that statement just rubbed me wrong.
Years of teaching the parables of Jesus and the sermon on the mount in children’s church just made me feel like I was missing something major. Jesus was pressed from every side by the consequences of a fallen creation – His creation. He directed His anger at those who should have known His love for the down-trodden sinner and grieved along with Him; those who should have been first to jump in and work to restore a broken world. About two years ago it occurred to me that I could be more closely identified with those Pharisees than with the crowds of sinners to whom He poured out His grace. How could I so readily lose the big picture? Although I will get into that much more in detail in future posts, I am convinced that I allowed subtle (some not so subtle) influences to draw me away from the Kingdom work that was started by Jesus and concern myself with the work reserved for the one who sits on the throne. False battle lines were drawn between “us” and “them” and the pride of a soldier just out of boot camp coursed through my being. A spiritual equivalent of the “let’s go kill some Commies” that I heard during my time, serving in the Cold War, poured across the conservative air waves and blanketed my Facebook newsfeed. (Note: the “other side” had their hate whisperers as well which of course justifies our own position advancement)
Any of you who have followed my blog may have recognized when I began to hear that small still voice. I realized that I was not a sheep, but a goat. The fire under the pot was lit and I either needed to jump out or become Frog Soup. Since I have abused my body so badly over the years I determined I was not fit to become a meal so I jumped out With my vision clearing, it was obvious that a course correction was in order.
It has been a process that included a great deal of study, observation and prayer. I sought sources outside my comfort zone and ones that would have been considered blasphemous to me a few years ago. I am learning to look past the behaviors and history of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-26) and to look at her as Jesus did. It is unnatural to picture a resurrected creation, but I believe that it is possible. I have a long way to go.
I left the tradition that I had been associated with for 30 years: not because of the people or the teaching. They have been a loving people who fed us, took care of us, and helped us raise a family of faith. Through corporate worship and Spirit led preaching, I developed an unquenchable longing for God’s presence. The power of the Holy Spirit worked in and through me. I witnessed powerful miracles. Over 30 years, scripture has become a natural part of who I am. God has been sovereign through out and I was exactly were I need to be.
Despite all of that God has directed me in another direction and removed me from some life patterns that prevented me from maturing and moving on. I have developed a love for liturgy and many of the lessons-learned by the early church and throughout history. I have realized that even when I don’t agree with everything another tradition believes does not mean that I cannot worship alongside them and learn from them. Movements that have been scoffed at by traditional evangelicalism (Emergent, Progressive, Missional), main line “liberal” denominations, and Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches all offer insights and are a part of God’s plan to bring about restoration to His Kingdom. At this point, Lynn and I have committed to worshiping as part of a “three streams” Anglican Church (ACNA). We like it because we can grow and serve and not “sweat the small stuff”.
Now that I have gotten this out of the way, hopefully I can start writing consistently about where I see God taking me now.
This was somewhat inspired by a Twitter buddy Chad West ( @MisterPreacher) (http://misterpreacher.com) I think I also can be labeled a “Recovering Pharisee” In light of this new found label, I would like to leave you with the story of a couple of accounts of some other “Recovering Pharisees” with whom you may be familiar. Nicodemus – That creepy night stalker that sought out Jesus to avoid being called out by his “buds.” & Gamaliel – Who utilized his wisdom and status to not only influence the counsel, but later on prepared Saul of Tarsus for ministry as the Apostle Paul. They were associated with exactly the people they needed to be around to be developed and utilized by God without becoming clanish and hardened.
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him,“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8)
“When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:33-39)
Now before you get your panties in a bunch, I am not saying elections are not important or that we should not be involved in the political process. In our country, that is a civic duty (Hee Hee … he said duty) and must be taken seriously. But … How much do the election results really matter? Are societal changes going to come through politics or through relationships?
My point is that I have a higher call than that, if I take seriously and pour my passion into, will make a bigger impact on society than anything that our government will be able to accomplish. I have a responsibility to my neighbor that is significantly more important and exponentially more effective than what happened in that voting booth yesterday.
I could get to know my neighbor. Yes, even if they are not like me #samaritans, do not share my values #greeks, or are not even legal #aliens #mothman.
What could happen if I get to know my neighbor?
I might just start to like them or at least understand them. I might be able to meet a need or point them in the right direction.
They might even impact me and change me.
We might even have a relationship that could grow into a friendship.
And what if you did the same thing with your neighbor? Could it be more effective over the next and a better investment than $460 million dollars in attack ads? What if our government reflected a nation of people who cared about each other instead of a nation that is concerned about gaining and maintaining “my rights.?”
Some of you may be celebrating today the outcome of the elections and ecstatic that your guys are gaining power. “Finally, we can get something done and get this country moving in the right direction”
Some of you are angry, frustrated, or saddened that those guys will stop all the progress that has been made. “Can’t they see that we were on the brink of something great!”
There is no cause for celebrating. The hearts that have brought us to this point have not been changed and an election is not going to suddenly make us a “moral” nation. There is also no reason for anger, frustration, or even sadness. The opportunity we had to touch the hearts of those around is the same today as it was yesterday.
Greed, bigotry, violence, family values, work ethic, fairness, equality, freedom, liberty … whatever you see as the foundational ills of our society are not going to be changed through legislation.
“Governments can do lots of things, but there are a lot of things they cannot do. A government can pass good laws, but no law can change a human heart. Only God can do that. A government can provide good housing, but folks can have a house without having a home. We can keep people breathing with good health care, but they still may not really be alive. The work of community, love, reconciliation, restoration is the work we cannot leave up to politicians. This is the work we are all called to do. We can’t wait on politicians to change the world. We can’t wait on governments to legislate love. And we don’t let policies define how we treat people; how we treat people shapes our policies.” – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/election-day-dialog-political/#sthash.6EqxV5sr.dpuf
I will admit … I straddle the political line. I know my heart and see how little I have done to change my world. I am getting old, but it is not too late to make a difference. There is still hope, but that hope is not in political … it is personal.
Last night, a FB friend posted a picture with a question. I will copy it here for you with my answer.
Will you step up and be the great men and great women that will lead us to something great or will you leave it to people who to others that you do not even really know? Will you answer take up the responsibility that is yours to love your neighbor, or will you allow defeat to answer the call with cynicism and rob you of a victory and the joy that only comes through serving?
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6:7-10)
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to do it.
Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again,
tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.
Do not plan evil against your neighbor,
who dwells trustingly beside you.
Do not contend with a man for no reason,
when he has done you no harm.
Do not envy a man of violence
and do not choose any of his ways,
for the devious person is an abomination to the Lord,
but the upright are in his confidence. (Prov 3:27-32)
“Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Prov 26:12)
“I’m in my bro’s church, broom, broom … get out of me church …awe!”
An acquaintance posted the following scripture on FB with not comment. I don’t know why, but it set me off a bit.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-13
There is nothing wrong with this scripture. Jesus died to free us from our sin and it is important that we follow His example into a resurrected life. It is quite an appropriate scripture for a people who have gotten their priorities really messed up to look closely at themselves and hold each other accountable to the mission that is set before us.
The problem I have is that many believers in our church have looked at the words of these verses to use as a weapon to use against the sins that they find most appalling. As I scan my Facebook news feed, many times the same people who rant against sexually immorality (outside the church … btw, the government is outside the church not matter how much we want to claim that this is a Christian nation), are the same people who espouse ultra patriotism/nationalism (idolatry) and support unregulated capitalism (greedy swindlers). I love my country and appreciate the economic and religious freedoms that it affords, but morality is more than sex and social failures. We like to quote the fathers of our nation to prove that we are a Christian nation, but even John Adams saw early on that it was not necessarily so. He foresaw the problems inherent to our form of government and when he spoke of the morality that would doom our way of life, he was looking into many of the problems we face today.
While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence. But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practicing iniquity and extravagance, and displays I have received from Major-General Hull and Brigadier, General Walker your unanimous address from Lexington, animated with a martial spirit, and expressed with a military dignity becoming your character and the memorable plains on which it was adopted. in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the World; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, • would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. (Message from John Adams to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts 1798)
He was not concerned so much with sexual morality, drinking, language, or the sins that bring down individuals. It was the issues that subjugate the weak that worried him. Avarice (extreme greed for wealth or material gain), ambition, revenge, or gallantry … sounds eerily like the drivers of our current economic social climate. This falls right in line with the moral concerns that Paul mentioned above. How is it that many conservative christian people have aligned themselves with political movements that support and encourage legislation that gives advantage to those which best utilize these immoral characteristics? Those political movements shrewdly also aligned themselves with the conservative church on social issues to ensure the unrestrained exercise of their avarice.
Morality is much more about the heart and the way we look at the world than it is about many of the things we get bent out of shape over. (Comment from Twitter “I don’t see how someone can use that kind of language and call themselves a Christian) Maybe we should try to see the Epistles and the OT from the perspective of hills from which Jesus viewed the world. Take a peek from the highest point on the temple and the mountain where He was tempted and rejected the treasures of this world; from the mount where he gave the masses the beatitudes and the rest of that great sermon of love and mercy; from the mount where he was transfigured and received His last moment of encouragement before taking that final road; and from Calvary where He not only looked upon our sin, but took it upon himself. Maybe … if I can see from the heights that Jesus viewed the world maybe I can find a way to judge but do it as he did and “judge rightly” and free my brothers and sisters from my selective grace.
Over 30 years ago, I became a part of our Creator’s plan to rescue His world from our sin inspired abuse. Overly dramatic way of saying that? Maybe, but it seems to me that His word is pretty clear about His coordinated effort to restore the creation that He entrusted to us. What is important is that He gave us a responsibility over His creation; not a responsibility as enforcers of law, but as shepherds and stewards of His grace and love. “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. ” The only thing I really know of Jesus is the grace, love, and mercy that He has shown to me. If this is the part that He has shown to me and modeled in His Son, then that is all I can share with a world that needs it as badly as I do.
[Note: I know I used the word creation. Please do not get hung up on this. I don’t really care how important you think it is, how stupid or blind your think the opposing side is, how you interpret scripture, what you think the humanist agenda maybe … blah, blah, blah … let’s just leave it at once there was a different existence (or lack of existence) and now somehow we are here. Yes, I believe that there is a God that has a plan and had the plan from the beginning and brought all this into being. You may not believe that and that is fine, you can read all this and chuckle at my ignorance, I am OK with that. You may believe in a miraculous literal 6 day creation and a day of rest or you may believe something in between. Origins may be important to you and think I am compromising the truth. OK that is fine too. Feel free to shake your head and pray for me if you do that sort of thing.]
Back to the story … I stepped into a new culture that was completely foreign to me and I had no idea what this new world should look like or how I fit into it. So like so many of us, I resorted to the same lazy method of learning that I always had … hang with the inhabitants and mimic their behaviors. Oh and at the same time, Lynn and I were starting on that adventure of marriage and parenthood.
Music, prayer, bible study, topical sermons, and fellowship meals. At first, being part of a fellowship with “common” beliefs was great. I was a bit of a love sponge and I was eating it up … for a while. The challenge was that we had been raised with experiences, values, beliefs, relationships, and baggage. What it seemed like we were being asked to do was exchange all of those things for a new set of experiences, values, beliefs, relationships … and baggage. Obviously no one actually said that, but as young people we were all for a radical change and so we bought the whole package, especially the “hot button issues.”
After many trips, falls, failures, stops and starts there was a defining moment that brought a challenge to my belief paradigm. I can’t even tell you what year it occurred. It was a discussion between my Dad and my brother-in-law. They were discussing the inerrancy of scriptures and my Dad asked a simple question, “What in scripture makes you think Jesus would be for capital punishment?” Whoa! I could not reconcile Jesus’s character and teachings in the gospel with the death penalty. I did not mention it at the time, but every year when I performed my annual ritual of reading the Lord of the Rings (Yes it was a book first), this conversation came back to me.
Of course this is not scripture, but it seems much like the conversation that Jesus had with a group of men who were a bit too eager to dole out death.
“The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:3-11)
Admittedly, I don’t read Greek and do not have access to ancient original texts, but as I understand it, pre-Constantine Christians, (through the 3rd century) were pretty consistent in their stands against the taking of lives in any case. As a sailor sleeping between the tubes that held enough power to annihilate millions of lives, this was a problem for me. The thought of being part of a shooting war bothered me more than I ever admitted. As I walked about Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates and met shop keepers and their families, I began to see the world differently. Sitting in a class room of special needs students in Kuwait City and seeing the love and tenderness that those parents had for those children softened my heart. They saw us the same way, but thought of our government and leaders as “Christian Extremists.” I could not imagine being a part of an attack that left these families as “collateral damage.”
This is hard to admit for me all this and I can’t say that I am conflicted about it. I am a veteran. My soldier son-in-law just came back from Iraq to a heroes welcome and my son is a Marine Reservist. It is difficult to be proud and yet so conflicted. I think one of the things about war and violence in general that is a given that the vanquished never love the victor. So is it our job to “defend” our nation and our freedoms or is it our mission to provide love to those who are hateful? I don’t know exactly how to do this, but I believe that even if we think it is an impossible assignment does not mean that it is not our mission. (I am still ruminating on this and I am not looking for someone to help me figure it out. As I hinted to above, I am done with being told what to believe)
So what am I trying to say? Here it comes my liberal friends … I am pro-life. I categorize capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, and war as violent acts that do not seem to fit into the character of a the one who set a pattern of giving second chances and healing. Although I have been accused of being a sexist and woman abuser by a family member because of this stand, I can not reconcile taking a life just because its convenient, unfair, or tragic. Whether it is a result of a violent act of aggression, poverty, or just oops … I believe that the life within is valuable. Now you may be able to justify this by saying that while a baby is inside the womb, that it is not a person and is just a part of the woman’s body. I am not a woman and I have never carried a baby inside of me (although 10 little appendages did carry the Farley gene pool from the moment of conception). Every woman I know that was carrying a child that they wanted, considered it a child, even those who have previously had abortions.
We, (myself include) have this tremendous ability to redefine things in order to avoid the uncomfortable truth of situations.
We raise armies, put them in snazzy uniforms, teach them words like courage, duty, and honor to protect them from the hard truth that they are becoming part of a killing machine. We change the name of the department that they work for from the Department of War to the Department of Defense so that it sounds more acceptable. We glamorize these weapons that are designed to kill massive numbers of people from large distances so that we can comfortably take lives without even seeing the “target.” We come up with slick marketing campaigns that label these with beautiful words like “shield” and “freedom” and dehumanize our opponents with terms like empire of evil. It sounds rather romantic when we are painted with honorable words and the enemy is cast as monsters. Maybe they have been deceived by evil leaders … but who is to say that we have not been deceived as well? How can we avoid the fact that we are killing … people? By redefining war.
We have developed a nation and a society that was founded and has been maintained through violence. It is glorified in our media (maybe with a long face, but glorified all the same). We color manhood with a broad brush of machismo and leave our daughters completely confused by the mixed messages that we send them. Battle lines have been established between the “haves” and “have-nots,” developing extreme arrogance on the one hand and despair on the other. It is no wonder that we have a society with heinous and violent criminals and victims who demand justice. Justice – a redefined name for vengeance? We disguise the vengeful taking of a life, albeit a guilty life, behind “protecting” the public and call it justice? Are we so quick to decide that a person has no worth? Are they beyond healing? Is there no possibility that this person could not positively impact someone’s life in the future? How can we avoid the fact that we are killing … a person? By redefining justice.
We are a people devoid of meaningful relationships with few solid role models to teach us the important skill of loving one another. We have defined love as an ideal to be reached or a physical bond that quiets our emptiness if only for a moment. We have lost the concept of love, compassion and grace as a way of life. We strive for the unreachable goal of love and settle for a cheap counterfeit of physical contact. A gift that was created to be the deepest physical bond between loving human beings has been reduced to an instinct driven form of entertainment that instead of developing bonds, creates addiction. The means for lovingly creating life has become a weapon, a crutch, or a poor attempt at imitating intimacy. The life that was intended to bring joy and multiply love has been re-labeled a mistake, a misfortune, an inconvenience. (“religious” families have heaped shame on their children further compounding the confusion) We have redefined an embryo, zygote, and a fetus as just a tissue that is an extension of the mother; therefore not a life with value and a plan (the actual definition calls it an offspring). We use words like reproductive rights and the right of choice to protect women from becoming mommies. In moments of clarity we realize that it might actually be a life, but reason that it would not be fair to bring this child into an “unfit” or “unprepared” family situation or that the child is imperfect and would not have the highest quality of life. We say that we are actually saving lives because women would die in botched attempts to terminate pregnancies. How can we avoid the fact that we are killing … a person? By redefining love.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29;11)
20 years ago, I sat in a rocking chair next to Lynn’s bed at Norfolk General Hospital, rocking and singing to my third son, Andrew Cory, who had passed away before he was born. Andrew’s life, not his death, were a part of God’s plan to renew and restore His creation. Our grief and subsequent healing over the hole that was left in our hearts were the evidence of God’s grace. Our grief counselor at the time told us that the difference in losing an unborn child or an infant is the lack of memories. What is lost is a future and a hope!
The value in any life is that future and hope. When we take a life, we have made a judgement that there is no hope for that person and we reason that we are taking away a hopeless future. God’s plan of rescue is to restore that hope and He wants us to be a part of that.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1)
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrew 10:23-25)
A child of the 60’s and 70’s and a self-proclaimed “lyrics” guy, I was partial to schmaltzy love songs, smooth vocal harmonies, R&B, and soft rock. (Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Manhattans, etc) I never really appreciated the rock we now call “Classic Rock” or the up and coming “Metal”. If I couldn’t understand the lyrics, it was not music. When I became a Dad, I began to listen to that “hellion” music my kids were listening to and, well, I began to like it. About the same time, my friend Mark introduced me to the sound board and I began to hear things I never heard before. All of my children have in one way or another helped to evolve my taste in music. So all of your old fuddy-duddies who are haters of the new stuff (it’s too loud, I can’t understand the lyrics, Rap is not music, blah-blah-blah) … you are only hurting yourself and missing some blessings. (this has little to do with my subject, but if you can’t handle Switchfoot, you are missing some great lyrics not to mention some really passionate musicians)
Several years ago, Josiah and I were driving back from Bowling Green KY. Those long road trips were always special to me. We did not talk a great deal, but we would listen to music and sometime discuss how it affected us. He had just downloaded Switchfoot’s “Hello Hurricane” album and this song jumped out of the speakers and smacked me up-side the head. As a sound guy I was first grabbed by the driving bass line, but then the second or third time through, the lyrics grabbed me. I had to find out mare about this John M. Perkins guy. Here is a good overview of John M Perkins if you are interested. I am reading in Let Justice Roll Down and I highly recommend it) Anyways … This sort of began this Drought Condition series. I had always felt like something out by my faith seemed counterfeit. As I read the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7 and the parable of the sheep and the goats (Why Are We “Acting the Goat”?), conviction began to fall hard. The resurrected life that was modeled by the one who had rescued me was not the one I was living. Although I should not have used this as a justification for living in the Saturday (Sunday’s not coming … it is here ya’ll), I noticed that I was not seeing it modeled by anyone around me … pulpit or pew.
So for two years I have avoided it no matter how many times I have been prodded.
I read the amazing accounts of a young man who I watched grow up with my children touching the lives of the homeless in St. Louis Drew O’Brien. I remember just 8 or 9 years ago when we sat in the ER praying for this young man to survive a catastrophic fall, I am reading about him developing close relationships with the homeless and oppressed in St. Louis and moving on to the (Bethel Dream Center) in Alaska to take God’s love to another people group that are on the outskirts of society. I was touched, but not enough get off the goat list.
I began to see people who were shedding the facade of “righteous” living (goats in sheep’s clothing), stopped waiting for the prodigals to come home, and jumped down in the mud to help them escape life with the pigs. People like:
Jamie – The Very Worst Missionary, who after trying it the “right” way came to a realization that what sets us apart is not our religious affiliation or our empty words, but it is our love. Her stories or social reaching out first into her community, then into the lives of victims of the sex slave trade, and efforts to awaken the christian community to the necessity of being responsible for society as a whole.
Cathleen Falsani – A journalist and long time conservative religion writer for the Chicago Sun-times wrote about the skepticism that as she encountered a church that had abandoned the most urgent physical and spiritual needs of a world that desperately needs our help. She found that she had a love for mothers and that all mothers, despite their social setting want to love their children. She used this common bond to begin touching lives.
These people and their views would not be welcomed in the churches I have attended. They do not align their views with a political party. Patriotism does rival their devotion to God. They do not have love litmus tests like abortion, homosexuality, addictions, and other “serious sins.” Concern for the decay of our christian society and our christian nation are not filling the news feeds of their Facebook pages. Life for them does not revolve around church events and productions. Their hearts are not broken by the moral decay of our nation, they are broken for broken individuals whose lives are wrought with the decay that is brought about by living in a society that does not place the same value on them that Jesus did. The realization that we are not a church that is characterized as peacemakers brings them to their knees.
If all there is to life as a Christian is going to church, ranting about the injustice of our government towards the church, demanding 2nd Amendment Rights, worrying about the inability of our government to keep itself from reflecting the greed and immorality of our society, honoring our heroes who we send off to “defend” our freedoms, putting on dramatic and musical productions, and pray about our own sicknesses and misfortunes, then maybe this is not for me. Fortunately, this is not the pattern that Jesus and the early church set for us, so I am not quite ready to bail just yet.
This all may sound rather self-righteous, harsh, and maybe even bitter. That is not at all my intent. I love my church friends and appreciate all that they have poured into me. If it were not for the love poured into my family over the years and miraculous moves of God that I have seen, I would have abandoned my faith years ago. I just have come to a realization that maybe Jesus has a better plan for me. My Pastor Jim Johnson in Georgia used to say over and over, “Love Jesus, Love People … it is that simple.” I always loved that. It might be that simple but simple does not mean easy. Loving is much harder and requires a lot more effort than we are putting forth. Pastor Terry Sikes here in Lexington painted a beautiful picture of the church being a center of ministry that reached out into the community being Jesus in a hurting world. That is exactly what I felt that God was wanting to bring about a resurrection of His creation. I am longing for more than words and tire of being a goat.
So over the past year I have begun to run across the writings of others with the same longing. N.T Wright, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Shane Claiborne, Tony Compolo … and the early church. I don’t know how to go forward, but I can’t go back. I think I will start with Paul’s words to the Romans who were dealing with integrating a diverse society, full of sin, that was threatened by the appeal of the love that exhibited to “the least of these”.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”(Romans 12:1-2)
So I have a goat brain that is in desperate need of renewal. Not sure how a guy that is afraid of talking to his neighbors is going to move on to touching the lives of people in need, but I am confident that He will bring about the changes He has planned.
Any of my Christian friends that are still my friends, come back and see how it goes. Any of my more liberal friends, I will be offending you as well here shortly, so don’t get to excited.
Drought produces very little except … a fantastic supply of tinder.
Initially, the onset of drought is slow and almost imperceptible. In humans, studies have shown that a person often mistakes signs of dehydration for hunger which even further confuses matters. As the dryness advances though, it is difficult to deny the overpowering thirst that inevitably comes when cut off from the source of life giving water.
As one might expect, I have gathered the following quote from the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (via wikipedia) “Controlled or prescribed burning, also known as hazard reduction burning or swailing is a technique sometimes used in forest management, farming, prairie restoration or greenhouse gas abatement. Fire is a natural part of both forest and grassland ecology and controlled fire can be a tool for foresters. Hazard reduction or controlled burning is conducted during the cooler months to reduce fuel buildup and decrease the likelihood of serious hotter fires. Controlled burning stimulates the germination of some desirable forest trees, thus renewing the forest.”
My own spiritual dehydration so to speak was no different. Idleness grew into discontentment; discontentment to doubt; and doubt to despair. Actively participating in the stagnation of God’s people has stacked a good supply of dry tinder for quick ignition.
For you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water. And the strong shall become tinder, and his work a spark, and both of them shall burn together, with none to quench them. (Isaiah 1:30,31)
Fortunately we have a Father in heaven Who has a controlled burn plan. Despite our apparent failure in providing proper stewardship for His creation, He is faithful to consume us with His cleansing fire. All that is required now is a spark to the tinder.
So we have established the fact that conditions are perfect for fire. We are no longer bearing fruit, the wood is dry, and the leaves are turning brown. (Intermission – this is where I stopped writing in 2012)
It seems ridiculous that I am picking this up nearly 2 full years later … and it is still applicable. I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking back then. I know that I was fed up with my own stagnation. I was disillusioned by what I was seeing in the world and in the church. An overwhelming feeling of internal pressure was building within me and I just knew that I was about to lift a relief valve. (The fire was already burning)
Any who followed this blog or on Facebook may have noticed that I stay away from controversial topics. This is not because I don’t have strong opinions. Amazingly, even the few friends I have don’t really know where I stand on many issues. How could that be if these are really strongly held opinions?
Let me ‘splain. When I write procedures or directions I often like to “bullet” them out for clarity so let’s just do that with a passage of scripture, Romans 12:9-21. I think this is well within the purpose and context of this passage.
Let love be genuine.
Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
Love one another with brotherly affection.
Outdo one another in showing honor.
Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.
Never be wise in your own sight.
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Summary: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I am not the first to load my weapon with these bullets. Although it is sometimes useful to identify points in this manner it can also be rather dangerous. When reading a list I believe that we often infer the conjunction of our choice. Is it and or is it or? Let me make this clear, these are not meant to be bullets to be loaded as we see fit, one at a time, to pick of the target of our choice. If this was a multiple choice question, the answer would be all of the above. It is and not or!
So what does that have to do with me keeping my mouth shut even though I supposedly have strong opinions? “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” I have used this to justify my idleness and compromise. Ironically (I sure hope I am using that correctly), it is the use of the “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” bullet to justify actions, attitudes, and rants that are, in my opinion, not scripturally justifiable that had me ready to lose it.
So how do we find this balance? When and how do I speak truth and still live peaceably with all? Well, I don’t know, but I am going to give it a shot over the next few weeks. Fortunately, I have not done very good at developing my SEO so I will hopefully only offend a few people. (which could be everyone I know)
My blog no longer has anything to do with its original intent (journaling my first marathon) and I really need to either start another blog or put some time into a revamping this one.
That my running experience has brought out some of the initial signs of the drought condition in my life.
Before I can discuss my world perspective and the path I believe that God is opening before us, I need to reconcile the last few years of drought that have brought me to this place.
Attempting to paint pretty nature metaphors is not my forte.
Another Disclaimer: Today’s entry is not for you. After observing this past season of agenda driven manipulation, I feel that it is important that I establish in my heart just where I stand, what agenda and motivation might be driving me, and whether I have any business moving forward with any thoughts that might be considered persuasive or argumentative. If I continue with this series, this journal may have no bearing whatsoever on discussions that are ahead. Feel free to stop reading now and save yourself a boring read.
Good Bye Daddy: In the fall 2007, life revolved around our first experience of giving away a daughter in marriage A wedding is obviously a very emotional time. For me it turned out to be an Alpha/Omega moment. Obviously, it was the beginning of a new life for Sarah and Michael, but it signaled to me the beginning of the end for me (Daddy). During Sarah’s wedding I removed a white linen scarf from my neck and placed it on Michael’s to signify the passing of my fatherly covering on to her new husband. Though out my adult life, I was able to hide behind the noble pursuit of marriage and fatherhood; now I began to realize that I could no longer cower behind my role as Daddy. God had an identity that He had established for me from the beginning; A purpose much bigger that I was willing to accept, but I could no longer hide from it. So what does one do when he is exposed? … obviously one runs!
Enter the Maraman: After the wedding, Taylor, a friend at work handed me a book, “Ultra Marathon Man” by Dean Karnazes. As the book was passed around the office, a group of us decided to sign up for the Louisville Derby Festival Marathon in April 2008. I won’t go into the rest of that story since this site was created for that purpose. If you are still reading (God love you) and are interested in that journey you can start with, About – Just a Footman and 1st Marathon. It was a fantastic experience that I would not trade for anything. I thought during that training that maybe this was a direction that I might want to explore. I made some attempts at gathering some people together to form a runners fellowship, but after the race the race that fire quickly died. Unfortunately, although I can run pretty well, I have no passion for it. As a matter of fact, if you read many of my blog entries you will find that I actually despise running. Since that time I have completed a sprint triathlon and some long over night relay races, but nothing has ignited any new interest.
Who the Heck You are Ithink? Late 2008 brought another wedding (My oldest son). Having not reconciled the first wedding, this one was more than I could handle. The fall and winter brought maybe the lowest point in my adult life. I believe that depression is often brought on by a complete lack of purpose and I had abandoned my search for purpose for a season. Suddenly I was questioning everything I had ever believed. Although I felt like my life was spinning out of control, somehow, through God’s grace, steadiness began to take control again, but not after I had made many bad decisions and hurt many people. Still confused, without a passion for much of anything, I sunk into a stagnant pool of muck. Although many major life events would occur over the next couple of years that should have brought great joy, my shoulders remained bent and I could not lift my gaze above the horizon.
New Titles / New Realizations: The Spring of 2010 brought the birth of our first grandchild and another wedding (My oldest Daughter) that brought a halt to the slide. I bore a new title, Poopaw, but it did not take me long to surmise that this new role as grandfather and associated awesome title did not give me purpose or the passion that would be required to pull me out of this self-inflicted hell-hole. Additionally, in the Spring of 2010 a glimmer of something began to grow deep down. A talent and gift that had always been evident started to emerge again out of the shadows.
Pressing Toward the Goal: Coaching had been a part of my life on and off as far back as 2005, but in 2006 I started as an assistant soccer coach. My knowledge of kids and love of sport seemed to be a enough to help out despite my complete ignorance of soccer. In 2007 I began head coaching and in the Fall of 2009 I obtained my first certification. My youngest son had moved beyond my level of coaching, but the love of these young boys and girls compelled me to continue. It became increasingly clear to me, that combining sport with character and relationship building was something that I could do that might make a difference. The Fall of 2010 brought a group of young men into my life that altered my whole view of coaching and began to give me a glimpse of the purpose that God might have for me. As I sought ways to instill character, leadership, and unity in these you men, God began to pull me out of the despair that had for so long enslaved me and set me on a path toward the goal.
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
The Drought is Not Over: “I do not consider that I have made it my own” Roots are still anchored in hard and cracked ground, leaves are brown and brittle, and there is little or no fruit of any type hanging from the branches. I do not know the anguish that God feels when He looks at His creation and I am not driven by a passion to share His love, compassion, mercy and grace with a world that so desperately needs Him.
Father, drop a spark into this weed of a man and burn up all that does not bare fruit. Make real to me your anguish for a world that knows despair far beyond anything that I have encountered over my short time on earth. Set me ablaze with a passion for your will and set a clear purpose before me. If it is Your will use me to ignite a forest fire in those who are called by Your name.
Winter rolls into spring ushering in the hope of new life. Fresh green sprouts explode out of ground and branch, combining water and nutrients energy provided from above during the lengthening days, begin the annual process of replenishing the fruitfulness of the land. Surrounded by new life, an abundance of sunshine, and rivers flowing with fresh stores of water do not foretell the season to come. Nature considers not the slow approach of summer.
Bathed in clear bright days of early summer, leaves and grasses rejoice in the light. They reach up to absorb every bit of light and energize the reproduction of species. Simultaneously, roots extend deep to draw in the cool life-giving water below. Long gone are the sounds of swift creeks swollen by the melting snows. Oblivious to the higher clouds and lower water tables, photosynthesis marches on. The once supple soil becomes a cracked and broken battleground the moisture starved and wind whipped atmosphere battles thirsty roots for the last bits of surface water. Finally, with no means of cooling and transport green begins to make its retreat.
I remember a newness of life. God’s love was so real. Everyday I was seeing new ways that he cared about me. Well aware of the garbage that was inside of me, He saw fit to reach out to me and give me a new life. Soaking in the compassion and grace that He afforded me I sought after more and more. I loved the Spring and it seemed that so many around me were basking in His love as well. Live was pretty awesome.
So what is the point? Have we remembered the point? God made us for a reason and He is perfecting us for a purpose. He planted us in a field to bring forth fruit. Am I content with soaking in the warmth of His love and grace, soaking up rivers of His joy and peace, and consuming the nutrients of His Word and Holiness? If this is the extent of my existence, then I am just a weed producing nothing but ground cover, squandering the resources intended to bring life to a sin and death stained world.
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?” He said to them, “An enemy has done this.” So the servants said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he said, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”” (Matt 13:24-30)
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matt 7:19-20)
I have spent most of my adult life sucking up moisture and producing very little. Observing the life of the church, I see much of the same condition. God created us for a purpose that is being strangled by weeds that we have sown.
It appears to me, Jesus is issuing a warning to His disciples and to us. The Good News is here and even though it is being revealed privately at first, it cannot be contained and it is going to be heard. We need to proactively hear the News and then apply it. Then what? … well go back and get some more.
Back in 2007 when I started this blog, it was intended to be a training journal and now that I have revived it from near extinction, it still is a journal of sorts. From January to April of 2008 I trained consistently to overcome years of neglect with the hope of improving my physical form. In actuality, I was trying to shake this mid-life cloud of discontent that had settled into my heart. My goal however was to run 26.2 miles. Training included short early morning runs and weekend long team runs. The blog allowed me to share my adventure and share the things that God was showing me through the process. On the surface, it seemed that this was just the ticket to get me back on track. It did not take long after the marathon to find that I had missed something significant.
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—” (2 Cor 13:5)
My blog entries were filled with scripture and encouraging thoughts. I was actually picking up that bible more than I had in years so obviously I must have been growing stronger in my faith … right? In retrospect, I can see that it was all a bit of sham. I was pulling out scriptures I already knew and applying them as best I could to the situation at hand. After all, I had been a Christian for over 20 years. I had a wealth of knowledge to draw upon. The whole thing was an act of pride. I never examined myself and was not chasing after God. It was actually acceptance from others that I was chasing. Once the race was over, I fell deeper into the abyss.
We are not camels. Most runners that fail to finish long races can trace the problem back to dehydration or some nutritional deficiency. Even if one is well hydrated before a race, the race itself deletes more than our bodies store.
Over the years, my live has had periods of great spiritual growth; times when I could not get enough of the Lord. It is a great mistake to think that once we find salvation, put some Jesus into our lives, and take an occasional drink of Living Water that we can just coast to the finish line.
Yes, I know Jesus … but not enough. What makes me think that I do not need to experience more of Him? The truth is, that I need more of Him and that if I do not seek him continually with all of my heart, I might find myself as the one who has notand ” even what he has will be taken away.”
“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” (Rev 3:15-18)
“Don’t let your special character and values,
the secret that you know and no one else does, the truth
– don’t let that get swallowed up by the great chewing complacency.”