“Whoever wants to have fellowship with Christ and be a partaker of his Kingdom must also do like him here on this earth. Whoever would inherit with him must have much pain here for the sake of his name.” – The Earliest Hymns of the Ausbund
The Conditions of Discipleship
When writing to the servants of God, one should begin with our God and King Himself, the good, the supremely good, the all-good. Of all created and rational beings, endowed with the dignity of free will, some are friends of God, some are his true servants, some are useless servants, some are entirely estranged, and there are some who, for all their weaknesses, take their stand against Him. We simple people assume that His friends, O holy Father, are properly speaking those intelligent and bodiless beings who surround Him. His true servants are all those who have done and are doing His will without hesitation or pause. His useless servants are those who think themselves as having been worthy of the gift of baptism, but have not guarded their covenant with Him; while, it seems to us, the strangers from God, His opponents, are the unbelievers or heretics. His enemies are those who contravene and repudiate the commands of the Lord, but make stern war against all who obey Him.
Each of the above has his own special character and is deserving of fitting analysis. But for ignorant people like ourselves there is nothing to be gained by investigating them now. So, then, with unquestioning obedience let us reach out our unworthy hand to the true servants of God, to those who devoutly urge us on and in faith compel us by their commands. Let us make a treatise, with their knowledge as the implement of writing, ‘a keyboard dipped in their subdued yet glorious humility, applied to the sleek electric monitors of their hearts,’ or rather resting on ‘the tablets of the Spirit.’ Let us write on it divine words, or rather seeds, and let us begin like this. – John Climacus, the Ladder of Divine Ascent
The King’s Way to Gaurd the Convenant
Jesus (the King) says, “Simon (the King’s people), stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I’ve prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.”
Then Jesus called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
The Reward of the God’s Covenant Gaurded
“Sing, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband,”
says the Lord.
“Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities.
“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
For your Maker is your husband—
the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.
The Lord will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected,” says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord your Redeemer.
“To me this is like the days of Noah,
when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
never to rebuke you again.
Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
“Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted,
I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise,
your foundations with lapis lazuli.
I will make your battlements of rubies,
your gates of sparkling jewels,
and all your walls of precious stones.
All your children will be taught by the Lord,
and great will be their peace.
In righteousness you will be established:
Tyranny will be far from you;
you will have nothing to fear.
Terror will be far removed;
it will not come near you.
If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;
whoever attacks you will surrender to you.
“See, it is I who created the blacksmith
who fans the coals into flame
and forges a weapon fit for its work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc;
no weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and this is their vindication from me,”
declares the Lord.
If you’re still under the curse of Islamophobia, or any kind of rage, then you’re going to miss most the messages God’s Spirit gives you, here and anywhere else. If you still hate, then you still sit in the darkness without a light. If you are saved, then the only thing you need in your life is the sactifying work, the fired hammering, of his Spirit upon your soul. I try to hand it over to him every morning for that work. But if you hate, then you can’t even read an email from him. Hate is spiritual blindness. Hate is the primary spiritual difference between faith and religion. I could recount all the things Jesus said on this issue, but I don’t want further shame the already shameful.
Hate is nothing but an expression of fear. It’s flaccid spiritual impotency masquerading as strong and effective power, or worse, feigns authority which should be legitimately exercised power. Remember the lesson to the willy-wavers. They and their hate were hallow brags that murder. All of that will be annihilated in the end. And believe me, at that point, it is the most fearful event a creature could ever witness. So dump it all now, while you might. Oh, man… I already know many— from neocon-puritans to anything-goes universalists— will say, “But certainly it is written that God and Jesus hate, and the psalmist brags on hating God’s enemies!” We will get to that down the road.
For now, if you’re in that dying state, as all were, then study what Jesus said about love and hate. He’s still saying it now! Live up to your name as a wise primate, learn God’s discpline by applying it only to yourself. Stop staring at everyone else, like a bunch of chatter-box apes fighting over a watering hole. It’s shameful, and it’s the season for it. Luther proclaimed, “I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, Self.” If I may be so bold, I say, I fear my hate towards any other flesh more than Saladin’s, or any other army, because I desire to fear only my Lord and my God. Yet I have their enemy within me, my self. I only need a faith that seeks love as I am freed from hating others. That is the realization of the people, the Kingdom, Jesus desires. Make no mistake… peace with God, service to the world, and justice in creation all mean vigilant war, in-turn, on self, selfishness, and self-centeredness.
There will be a kingdom of conscience now or nothing now, because every other thing is already in line for ultimate annihilation. As that Church grows, so will everything else. But today, in the land of Elmer Gantry, it’s less of a tent revival and more of a three-ring circus tent on fire with drunk clowns and merchants clogging the exits… mostly personalities on display and few principles at work. If you really knew that, then you couldn’t hate and you’d appeal most firmly for love’s sake to those on their way to destruction. There is no terror or oppression, no worldly rule of any sort, by a people intimate with Christ.
So we’ve been given a gift, some time, to make changes to please God alone. It always starts as an inside job. But I see, the whole world sees, a hell of a lot of hate and terror, lies and fear about the most ridiculous garbage, from many who were called by Christ but now just promote their dark revelries with his name. Jesus sees it too, or else I wouldn’t be here involved in this jacked up operation. For me, for years, I’ve “detached in love” and cried “send the Fire!” perfectly willing to let the Judge sort out everybody. As usual, the joke’s on me… but that’s much better than shame on me. Our Father desires different, and I enslaved myself to his orders without contingency to his End… not my fear’s daily provocations of hatred or self gain.
The Trustworthy Sing
Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.
He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
His ways are always prosperous;
your laws are rejected by him;
he sneers at all his enemies.
He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”
He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.” His mouth is full of lies and threats;
trouble and evil are under his tongue.
He lies in wait near the villages;
from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net. His victims are crushed, they collapse;
they fall under his strength.
He says to himself, “God will never notice;
he covers his face and never sees.” Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
“He won’t call me to account”?
But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked man;
call the evildoer to account for his wickedness
that would not otherwise be found out. The Lord is King for ever and ever;
the nations will perish from his land.
You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror.
A Trustworthy Response
One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
One of My “Light Afflictions” for ” a Peculiar Glory.”
Mercedes will always be one of my favorite people. She was the abjectly poor mother of three in Mexico City, who was abused, periodically and savagely, over years by a man who pretended to be a husband. She saved and borrowed just enough money to take her kids to San Cristóbal de las Casas and then to a tribal village near the frontier with Guatemala. She said angels gave her the money and Jesus told her where to go. And man, I believe her. She followed them to a place she had never been and where she knew no one. Once there, she worked to give a better life to strangers, and by doing so built a community that would support, foster, and defend a better life for her children. The newness required faith. He did amazing things with her to help other single aboriginal mothers and widows and orphans to organize and build a thriving crafts trade. That’s faith, all-the-while she never sat in a pew, better to obey Jesus and serve others… he sat on the ground mostly with people like her. Apparently he still does.
She did so well that the male elders of the village made her the first female elder. I hope there’s been more since. And you should see how fat and happy her kids were! You know how the Mexican government responded? They labeled her a communist, and threw her in a marked category. They treat drug lords better. Truth is she couldn’t tell me Marx’s first name and never heard of Engels. She said that she learned her techniques by asking shop owners back in the city what to do. The truth is the government burned Chiapas trying to destroy an independent people’s way of life in an impoverished land. (Why is a story for another day, just know for now we’re all accomplices, imputed with somewhat lesser corporate guilt). Even if they got her, Jesus will hold her closer than I did on that day, with my most polite brotherly side hug.
I don’t display pictures of target sites as a rule, suffice to say it was difficult. We were prepped with antibiotics and a few primitive antivirals (a rarity in the early 90’s). The toughest part of any assignment is step one in the protocol, after initial assessment. It is borrowed from basic battlefield triage when you don’t have superior facility back up. To save as many as possible, you must first cut out those who are beyond help, “breathing DOA’s,” from the very sick who might make it with the treatment at hand, critical cases. I never thought it would happen in hospitals here, but it did. I simpathize deeply with all the shot-callers, because this step, more than any other one, will determine the success or failure of the mission when supplies are limited. It’s also the step that leads many heroic women and men of good conscience to quit or worse.
In that step, the full range of emotions is on display before you from the people, praises to curses. In that moment, you know the bigger picture and you must act compassionately yet decisively, while you are terrified and sick with grief. It’s a beating that clears the soul of delusions and the mind of distractions, while the people and the staff are all “out to lunch” on their delusions and distractions, hopes and dreams, fears and resentiments. You only need to do it once to figure yourself and this world out. I am better for having done it a handful of times. I finally got to a place of gratitude with it, but I never wanted to do it again. That was my cup. God and my Lord know I would have preferred their innocent scourging and rugged cross to picking it up again.
I had good news for the community and bad news. The good news was obvious but the one’s who didn’t agree, well, they tried their best to make it bad news for everybody. The shamans or curanderos could be great allies or turn into murderers very fast. They had long and involved relationships with the public that were useful. Part of the village wanted to throw us a party, while others wanted us gone or dead. The ones that cared about the people were angels, but the ones in it for their own gain and prestige were different characters. I had superior situational awareness of reality on my side, but for most proud people that ain’t enough. I tried to describe the “unseen realm” that Western medicine mapped out, but it’s completely alien and therefore strange and dangerous fire to many. I mean, it’s hard enough to get country club folks to take the full course of antibiotics. Time is an ally, if novice staff can keep their wits. Over time the weight of the war shifts, as reality makes itself more apparent day after day, week after week. The winnowed come to the light, while others retreat, in ever increasing dishonesty and hatred, with the shadows and die with their gods in hand on the threshing floor.
So, you wait and watch more people suffer and die after the first die as others rise and walk out, better than new. As they do, mothers start by bringing their sickest children first and then, more and more come. The day people started coming, some “wise folks” whispered melodic incantations over me as I tried to sleep in my hammock, just like jezebels calling on angels they do not know (actually they are at war with) to keep their status and hate-filled darkness in power, in a mad realm of lies, corruption, and death run on hate, based solely in fear of truth. It’d be hilarious if it weren’t so tragic for the witches and the ones they bewitched. Their curses pissed me off at first, many decades ago, but I prayed and God turned their curses into our lullaby, even when the cycle repeats in new ways… even to this day. So that now, I have never slept better in my life.
It is all a pattern of experience, now a half-life really, that God has burned and hammered into my soul over the years, sometimes very obviously and other times almost imperceptively subtle. And the switch from knowing it in a physical register of others to seeing in a spiritual register of one’s own… That is the most mind blowing and soul cleansing experience a real human can have. My soul went from a cosmological know-it-all with fire in my bones to someone with a little more patience, less co-dependency, and even some appropriate dispassion… finally. The last sounds bad, very bad, but it is the most necessary tool a true healer will ever have.
John Climacus calls it Περί απαθείας. No, I am not being a pedant or showy, but if you just translate “on apathy” you’ll miss the essence in trans-culturating the term; you’ll over essentialize and relativize the term only to recontextualize the concept in error. Climacus describes it as his next-to-last step on The Ladder; it’s a vision of the biggest picture possible: a redisposition within self that can only result from the Spirit resurrecting the soul prior to the body’s physical resurrection. In my experience, it is as painful as it sounds. But in large part, that’s only because it took the measure of my selfishness and depravity, and I had plenty… and I still manage to produce some more every now and then. The air is so rare on that penultimate rung that many Western doctors and professional shaman label it mystic nonsense or worse. I am so freaking tired of being a living and breathing counterfactual to their shenanigans and skubalon, but at least I ain’t hateful like them.
Some of the tenderer hearted maybe asking, “Hey dude, what’s the story of your fiancée? Spill!” Well, long story short, we met in a literal garden and it was “a ton of bricks scenario” at first sight for both of us, but after a time she believed a lie, wouldn’t drop a bad habit, and was murdered.
More? If you are sensitive just leave it at that, and please skip to the next paragraph. She was incredibly brilliant and kind, one of the most philanthropic women I‘ve ever known. When she shone, angels were her only competition. She was born to a wealthy mid-western family, educated, buttoned-down, and proper on Sunday promenades with “good people.” But on every other day, they covered up and reinforced the darkness of sexual abuse perpetrated on her by her grandfather. For their reason she couldn’t quit binge drinking when the pain got too great. Once on a winter home from grad school holiday binge, she was abducted in a parking lot, and was found days later beaten and raped to death in a ditch off a barren state highway.
Her mother told me she never saw her happier than when she was with me and wished I’d taken her away. Her mother was the only family member who ever came close to acknowledging any part in the tragedy. I imagine they’ll all die in denial, but my love suffered and died in large part because of their denial. Don’t be quick to judge because many, even some you may admire spiritually, are playing a significant role in abusing a beloved daughter, the bride of Christ, with their ego-defending selfish denial. For myself, I have learned through years of excruciating pains and humiliations that I alone can’t save any one. So I serve, witness, and follow orders, even when it horrifies me. It takes real faith, and it only comes after my former faith has been tempered in the fire of risk, fueled by truth, and blow by the Spirit… in a drawn-out process.
Thirty years down the line now… and I don’t even count the loss among the five most traumatic events in my life, top ten but not top five. Even among heart-felt attachments, in some ways now, I feel like it is better than my second fiancée who cheated on me when I went to Israel, and we never talk anymore. Or an odd third, a sighted betrothal of sorts, in which I just never was going to be the high-rider she wanted. But those stories aren’t for today, and all that failure got me as close to success as I might ever be with my wife, yes, “my one.” I count it all as gain in gratitude, and I have only the best of will towards the formers. That’s not me being humble or faith-filled, it is honestly how I feel. But that profound shalom didn’t come cheap or easy in a flash of salvation. In fact, I looked ugly hateful and stupid selfish most the way through it.
What matters today, as I looked back on these memories, is they make almost perfect sense, after not making any sense for too long. I understand more fully what God was doing all along. I don’t ask “why?” anymore, but upon the tides of pain that evoked all my “whys?!,” I learned to love better, faster, and as long as possible, until God says “release,” even though it is still a daily struggle. Most importantly, I learned beyond the pain of a tortuous death, many times over, what my God and my King want and how I must respond. Now, I simply praise God for the gift of each minute under fire that formed their real faith in me, by God, for the service only he’s called me to (more on that next post). I do fear how well they’re teaching me “release,” but I know that’s a righteous fear of God because we’re usually alone when I feel it.
A couple of faithful events occurred soon after she was finally relieved of her pain and madness. A Jewish teacher named Shlomo, a friend that I’d never met but seemed somehow failiar, walked up to me in Half-Price Books in Rice Village and told me to read Job. I said I had. He told me, “No read it every year as you feel G-d’s refining cycle through you and out into the world. After a time, he’ll tell you what you need to know for the next year.” He was right, so I have been faithful in that practice, but never perfect, and God has keep his messenger’s end of the deal. It is kind of God’s thing: faithfulness. He tries strenuously to impart as much as he might to all those he calls. But the might depends on the person’s daily “yes.” And because, in return, he sees widely differing results, only a few are chosen. He even gave us a few pointed stories on the subject, but they’re hard to hear, so many ignore them or discount them. Again, I won’t insult you with a list of retellings. You really ought to let him tell you personally by reading them yourself.
The second event was somewhat more peculiar and difficult. It was one of the “why nights” that I could not find peace or sleep. Two very solemn angels came to me while I was face down on the floor. They silently put their wings over me, tip to tip, and then a voice said, “I will darken your eyes, so you may find peace and draw out others to my peace from their darkness.” It was not the answer that I was looking for, but the pain was so great I accepted just hoping for a change. And sister… change I got. I studied chaos math to find cosmic order in the late 80’s, and then I studied broken human systems in the early 90’s, but it all came together in that pit. I’d like to share what I saw later, but we’d lose the point today.
The point is it happened twice more, over decades, once in late ’99 and again in ’06 during my own Mark 3:21 experience… and that’s a whole other story, and a half too. I even tried to blind myself in ’03-’04, but that’s a bad, very very bad, idea. I do not grasp, nor would I recommend soliciting God to do it apart from his way, the recovery is not easy any way that it happens. Even in God’s way, when handed to me, I had to watch people I love die, and most others be misled by the simplest of demonic or selfish tricks. People will not like you, and those more spiritual folks you want to help and lift up too may accuse you of the greatest abominations, because self (their selves) is the greatest enemy to their own spiritual growth, in general, and faith, in particular. I had to learn to stand and watch, and only serve when and how directed.
God is as serious about our choices as he is our faith, because they are one in the same, one maps and reveals the other. It is one of the few certainties I know to be orthogonal to faith down here. In practice, it is a rocky row to hoe in quiet service that costs everything ultimately. It is not a parade of personal beliefs screamed out time and time again for personal gain or advantage, regardless of your self-perceived intellectual knowledge or spiritual maturity. It is a terror and glory of a whole different order, because the process sets you apart. I like the term, “a separate peace.”
God is the only one who can darken a human’s eyes to see more, when men do it with drugs, teachings, or traditions people always see less. Just consult Paul, he knows too, all too well. And the enemies of God’s process have been hard at it a minute now, 1700 years this last cycle. But a few with a little light made it through. That’s faith verses religion reiterated, in nuce… the takeaway for me… through the process and pain and recovery our Father himself enabled me to see stones, “more stones both bright and dark,” entire cities of stone that cast shadows into the darkness of this world. And there’s lots of folks that can preach to the choir, but He, through his process with my daily consent, taught me to speak even into the rejection and silence of men.
The Spirtual life, a faith-filled life, is not a static vision.
“I love everything that flows,’ said the great blind Milton of our times. I was thinking of him this morning when I awoke with a great bloody shout of joy: I was thinking of his rivers and trees and all that world of night which he is exploring. Yes, I said to myself, I too love everything that flows: rivers, sewers, lava, semen, blood, bile, words, sentences. I love the amniotic fluid when it spills out of the bag. I love the kidney with it’s painful gall-stones, it’s gravel and what-not; I love the urine that pours out scalding and the clap that runs endlessly; I love the words of hysterics and the sentences that flow on like dysentery and mirror all the sick images of the soul…”― The Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
When Faith and Love which parted from thee never,
Had ripen’d thy just soul to dwell with God,
Meekly thou didst resign this earthy load
Of Death, call’d Life; which us from Life doth sever.
Thy Works and Alms and all thy good Endeavor
Stay’d not behind, nor in the grave were trod;
But, as Faith pointed with her golden rod,
Follow’d thee up to joy and bliss for ever.
Love led them on, and Faith who knew them best
Thy handmaid, clad them o’er with purple beams
And azure wings, that up they flew so drest,
And spake the truth of thee in glorious Themes
Before the Judge, who thenceforth bid thee rest
And drink thy fill of pure immortal streams. – Sonnet 14, John Milton
“Thus Milton refines the question down to a matter of faith,” said Coleridge, bringing the lecture to a close, “and a kind of faith more independent, autonomous – more truly strong, as a matter of fact – than the Puritans really sought. Faith, he tells us, is not an exotic bloom to be laboriously maintained by the exclusion of most aspects of the day to day world, nor a useful delusion to be supported by sophistries and half-truths like a child’s belief in Father Christmas – not, in short, a prudently unregarded adherence to a constructed creed; but rather must be, if anything, a clear-eyed recognition of the patterns and tendencies, to be found in every piece of the world’s fabric, which are the lineaments of God. This is why religion can only be advice and clarification, and cannot carry any spurs of enforcement – for only belief and behavior that is independently arrived at, and then chosen, can be praised or blamed. This being the case, it can be seen as a criminal abridgement of a person’s rights willfully to keep him in ignorance of any facts – no piece can be judged inadmissible, for the more stones, both bright and dark, that are added to the mosaic, the clearer is our picture of God.” ― Tim Powers, The Anubis Gates
I’ve spoken of faith in a common way, now it may not be as familiar. From origin to end, I see faith as calculus not arithmetic. Faith is not the object of theory. It’s an explosively dynamic product of Spiritual exchange. For the called, faith is the currency of kenosis that throws off sparks of life; desire is kinetic faith’s by-product, not a prerequisite. After all, what is serviceable desire’s only good and right goal, if not our’s and it’s creator? Ultimately, faith in action leads to full sensibility in eternity, and most importantly of all the prize: the closest possible relationship with Jesus forever. He judges all, but he stands for only a few. His Father calls all, but choses only a few. Their Spirit is an open book to all, but empowers only the trustworthy… all according to their submission and willingness freely given in risk overtime. We are the shinning ramparts of God’s glorious works, the bright habitation of his prescence in a world of darkness, all of us stones of the only basilica that God desires to reorder a fallen creation, which Father and Son now openly hand back and forth to one another as the Spirit binds and loses, hammers and fires, presses and draws out the devoted, births us for purification, each according to our faith.
I say all that simply as a shield for my understanding of faith from attack by the more puritanical and doctrinaire… I, we, walk with Mr. Milton in the reading above, for none of his derivative latter-day sects, alive today, knows faith or doctrine as well as he did. Of course it begins with God the Father, perfected through Christ Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit to us with the signature intent of love to serve others until we die. But if “your faith” ends in you (think tip of your nose or pocketbook) or just sits about in “your community,” if you’ve buried the Master’s talents in a field, then I urge you with all the earnestness at my command, dig up your dead faith and spend it or invest it or give it away right now, so that you may live actively and powerfully by faith in eternity.
I hear so much about Nehemiah and others from faith producers, faith fund mangers, and speculators of faith. But God’s kingdom is people of right conscience, not faith recruitment, management, and hoarding as if capitalism is the model. It is not. In fact, it’s the opposite. Real faith is given and taken only for free, like life willingly picked up and laid down only for service to others. There’s the usual suspects, hovering about in the shadows, deadbeat religious folks. I don’t hate them because the only reason they are still in the dark is from a lack of real faith, nothing else. I understand that they’re fearful of losing something that they don’t think they could live without; it’s the great irony and biggest lie of all from their ego flesh (self) or Satan and the world tell them. Letting go and following Jesus is not easy. Don’t sell the lie that it is. So cash out your faith 401k give it all away to become the bride of Christ, or do like me and some others who die trying on a daily basis.
God wants life for his creation and people, and he sends his people to the nations, not to lie, murder, rule and get rich, like a special people all to themselves. Not just people have been destroyed, the entire good creation down here is being desecrated by some, just for themselves, hypocritically perverted even worse by claiming the necessity of that defilement in the Creator’s name. There’s a Stone coming their way. It has always been so, from Nimrod to now, but it will not be forever. Hopefully, not even very long, “soon” Jesus says… It is God’s Way or nothing in the end for every person. God’s anthropology and community are in the liturgy of his good creation. God’s storehouses are overflowing for his will and his glory and his new creation. If you’re about anything else, you might make bank today… but the day you die you’ll have nothing forever. Don’t discard the convenant to the devalue scars; to deny your’s is to deny his for you.
Prayer for Mercy and Help
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.
Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.
Your sacred cities have become a wasteland;
even Zion is a wasteland, Jerusalem a desolation.
Our holy and glorious temple, where our ancestors praised you,
has been burned with fire,
and all that we treasured lies in ruins.
After all this, Lord, will you hold yourself back?
Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?
The God’s Answer
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him— these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,
“Who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ imparted by trials.
Defend the Covenant, Live a Gospel Worthy of His Sufferings to be Without Shame
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have…
…What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them “garbage,” that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their appetite, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Last, just a simple illustration. I was sitting among some “long-timers” (we don’t say “old-timers” anymore because we’re over 50 too), as I do for some wisdom among my tribe. We were talking about faith and life, the relationship and fabrication of both. A retired, Jake-legged pipe-fitter from Pasadena told us his take brilliantly with just a hand and a glove. He said, “This is the problem.” Holding up his hand, nodded to his hand as if it were the boss and continued. “Most people think their life is the hand, and then they go shop for a faith to fit it like a glove, and they mess with it or buy new gloves all the time according to changes with their hand.” I thought that sounded reasonable and real. But he continued, “In reality, if you’ve ever been face down in front of your Creator, then you’ll always remember that the hand is your faith, and the Spirit suits it, and refits it, with a glove he makes and remakes, and that glove is your life.”
If these last takes on faith leave you feeling raw, weak, and frightened, or even somewhat confused or angry or doubious… Excellent, that’s a healthy response. That sense of general uneasiness with everything we just wrote is a sure sign the medicine is working. Kenosis (what pleases God) rises as stasis (what doesn’t please God) recedes. It can make you feel shaky and even a bit dizzy. In fact, in my experience, the more uneasy and dizzy, even pained, the better I will feel sometime later. It’s the initial stages of obedience in humility — what Jesus modeled perfectly. So the emptier you feel, then the more capacity you’ll have to be filled by the Spirit’s grace under pressure to follow Jesus with your cross.
(Burn or wash out as much “garbage” as you can for sunrise on the Ides of March)