No one has ever become poor by giving. — Anne Frank
This is as true in everyday life as it is in battle: we are given one life and the decision is ours whether to wait for circumstances to make up our mind, or whether to act, and in acting, to live. — Omar N. Bradley
Listen to the wind blow, down comes the night. Running in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies. Break the silence, damn the dark, damn the light. And if you don’t love me now, you will never love me again. I can still hear you saying, you would never break the chain… — Fleetwood Mac
In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve. — Brennan Manning
The Cry of a Suffering Servant
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”
Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
Isaiah’s Reflections on the Deeply Rooted Theme
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
“I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”
Listen to me, you islands;
hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
and my reward is with my God.”
And now the Lord says—
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord
and my God has been my strength—
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
This is what the Lord says—
the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—
to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation,
to the servant of rulers:
“Kings will see you and stand up,
princes will see and bow down,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
This is what the Lord says:
“Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce
with which I sent her away?
Or to which of my creditors
did I sell you?
Because of your sins you were sold;
because of your transgressions your mother was sent away.
When I came, why was there no one?
When I called, why was there no one to answer?
Was my arm too short to deliver you?
Do I lack the strength to rescue you?
By a mere rebuke I dry up the sea,
I turn rivers into a desert;
their fish rot for lack of water
and die of thirst.
I clothe the heavens with darkness
and make sackcloth its covering.”
The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears;
I have not been rebellious,
I have not turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
from mocking and spitting.
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.
He who vindicates me is near.
Who then will bring charges against me?
Let us face each other!
Who is my accuser?
Let him confront me!
It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.
Who will condemn me?
They will all wear out like a garment;
the moths will eat them up.
Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the word of his servant?
Let the one who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on their God.
But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment.
See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.
Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
“Who dis?” is actually a very old question and among the first questions I ask of a text: Who from and to whom, along with who profits/loses by its saying? In this case it is Isaiah and the Isaianic tradition reflecting on an already ancient knowledge by God’s faithful ones. Due to his inherited and achieved status in Jerusalem, Isaiah was an unlikely pick because he seemed to have everything in common with the people that he addressed… Irony for efficacy, that is the reality of God as we discussed last time. God resolved that paradox in a Flash, somewhat like that fellow Saul who stood with discarded cloaks at the stoning of Stephen. We may come from a people, but we are transformed into the people of God. That divine process always comes with a cost today for a profit in the future, ask Isaiah or Saul or Stephen. Often that cost is the very system of bogus belief, crumbling worldview or delusional cosmology, that made us fat and semi-euphoric for so long. Shoot, I myself literally came of age in The Valley of Quail…
Despite the social status and cultural privileges (gifts of man) Isaiah enjoyed, at his maturity he recieved a gift from God that reoriented salvation history. It rectified poor Aye, so that he might know all that former “glory” as filth and sin, which he then confronted, endured, and overcame. In the midst of world-ending circumstances arose the genesis of a revelation, which we know as the Most High calling, from the only God that breaks the chain of the world through suffering service. Like so many others, Isaiah saw that all those “gifts,” all that “greatness,” became as crappy rags in the twinkling of an aye. It was his humility, honesty, and willingness to serve, no matter the loss, that made him “a man of God.” Further, he admitted, from the start, that his sins were part and parcel of his people’s even greater sins.
It was his painful and prolonged sufferings because of his own people, not necessarily for his people (the coming terror was already on them because so many of them kept doubling down in their sins), that made him who he became; it was by appointment with God that the prophet’s overwhelming faithfulness grew and became memorialized across the Writings and the Witnesses. As a result of his lived, believing loyalty to his God, he became his name, “God saves.” He and some from among his people faced a disastrous future and distant hope all at once, centuries before any one became aware of the sufferings of Jesus of Nazareth. What an honor, what a horror, talk about a trail blazer and a saga for the ages, a rain-maker and heart-breaker of the second order… “who is like the Lord?!”… But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Isaiah turned from the boutique charity and plastic charms of Israel’s gods of lifestyle. God put him to work calling out the lies and loves, the dark and the light, of those gods, which many people insisted that they couldn’t live without, or worse, they would die for them. So be it, the unholy rubble had to be cleared out, no matter how long it took, so that survivors might know the real shalom of God. Only survivors know the faithful terror of the journey, the Arms that held them thorough it all, and the Power that raised them to overcome both their past and all the obstacles to come. Those who’ve jumped in enjambment across that chasm can and did carry each other. Their suffering enabled them to fully trust and know a suffering God. Others cannot. Only a suffering God can “save” a suffering people. And who is not sin-bruised? Those who entertain themselves with ersatz victimhood have gods that will not “save” anyone. Those people and gods forge the chain of their world by chaining others in darkness. God breaks all chains and the dark with the Light. The idols and their servants anesthetize guilty bystanders in night-fall. The Spirit of God draws in peoples to awake at Day-break.
There is a beautiful isle where I learned one of their most enduring and widespread sayings quickly for survival’s sake: “Mind the gap.” It may seem doggerel and trite for a people renowned as eloquently repressed poetic folk, but it is essential to everyday life there, just as an embrace of Spiritual enjambement is required for real life with God everyday… If you don’t remember, no worries the post is up most days for now. And if you’re new, then please start at the beginning of the blog. (It will be inverted this summer just to make sure).
“In the gap” is where those Isaianic texts were written, and it’s where we live, in analogy, almost like the first generations of Isaiah’s readers. The most knowledgeable folks conclude there’s about a two-hundred-year gap between Isaiah 39:8 and 40:1 (yes, I am averse to more recent impositions to the Writings, but for wit and brevity sometimes exact addresses are helpful). The first 39 chapters are primarily about loss, this is where God’s judgment comes as withdrawal, not wrath, and not because of “other people,” but because the people who claimed to be His people didn’t act like His people for a very, very, very long time. To be fair, some did, but many others did not. Unfortunately, God’s judgment is global and communal, as well as personal. There were too many who had put their “faith” in their glory which, in reality, was rooted in unjust economic and military policies of unfaith. Ironically, that faithlessness was championed most by those who called themselves “faithful.” The power of faith-filled unity meant to glorify the God of Israel, was co-opted by vichy believers and the powers that be.
So, God simply handed them over to the circumstances that they had built for themselves for so long. It is Right and Just in every age, and I will always praise Him for it no matter what. Even if it happens, again, sometime soon, my tune will not change. Of course the name of Isaiah was celebrated only in the aftermath and reinvestment of Israel so many years latter, while the faithless are lost to history and God. It ain’t nothing new, and very few look back at Isaiah as a prophet of doom. But in the thick-of-it, back then, the people were only happy in their delusions, but a time later, and today, most rightly remember him as a messenger of God’s salvation, a great prophet, perhaps the greatest. I need to remind myself of that on an almost daily basis.
On that personal note, since it’ll be a minute before the next post, I wouldn’t claim any of those titles, because through many trials I have learned that it doesn’t matter what people call me, and it matters very little what I denominate myself as… What matters most is first what God calls you before His counsel, then what He calls you in private, and if the Writings are to be believed, the name our parents gave us at birth matters somewhat, but even that can be overcome/changed if renamed by God. So, I am a witness to my God, a servant to my Lord, and there’s another curious name, a three-off oddity that even has me and some others, who are most knowledgeable about such things, a bit puzzled. So today, “witness” and “servant” only for me… even if not asked, it is answered.
Now back to the plot: first we get a time of loss, deserved consequences, and divine repercussions… then some silence (two hundred years?) … and then hope comes to the fore in chapters 40-66. For those who kept the hope alive in the inspired, creative, and imaginative tradition of the great prophet, the horizon was the goal, the telos, while muddling through the gap. I’ve always felt that it is the profound tension between judgment and promise that made Isaianic texts so freaking awesome. I might not want to endure Jerimiah’s story again, but Isaiah’s? Yes, please and thank you more. Both were lugubrious, to be sure, but Isaiah looked up while Jeremiah looked down, a bit like comparing Yeats to Joyce, or if I maybe so bold, Emerson to Thoreau… both great but in different perspectives.
Certainly, we may suffer in service to God and others, but if we have indeed been set free, then no storm at sea is too much (an allegory we’ll explore next spring more fully)… Remember that after the shipwreck is when Balian’s story, like Isaiah’s, was rocketed into the fifth dimension. The new (old) land of myth-cum-reality, a place of ancient inheritance, and a new (old) way of living must be championed, not for the powers that be… No, but for the Power that redeems Balian… All against the dissolving backdrop of a lost wife, living among despicable people riding roughshod over a failing society, and against a terminally corrupt church. God delivers Balian, not for himself, but so that he might help heal God’s land, while delivering a beloved people at the very moment they felt abandoned and doomed. And he does it all, like Isaiah, every dang step God’s Way, in Right conscience, not the way of petty tyrants according to the vile desires of worldly achievement for a selfish priesthood. The Godly are delivered in pain, not comfort, according to and out of their natural state. Born again but from above, as it were. They are delivered while they lived in reality, not while they glorified themselves in a delusional future or over-nostalgized past, which was trademarked by the wealthy ghouls of politics and religion. That is what I am talking about, that is how “I am” does it, “just listen to the words long written down” and the movie you were just shown.
The salvific conviction that drives chapters 40-55 comes in the gap. The robes of glorious recovery can only be worn, if people remove their old garments. I confess some old attachments are more than skin deep and it’s almost impossible to imagine the loss of their comfort, even though their stench has finally offended the Long Nose of Heaven. Staying on God’s superhighway mapped out by Isaiah, the hope that renews hearts in chapters 56-66 also comes with struggle. The return, the reordering of Holy places, and the land itself are faithful yet contested. Contemporary readers may want to flag up the inclusiveness demanded in chapter 56 and the renewal of a greater neighborliness in chapter 58. There were many who capitalized on division and proclaimed exclusivity… But I guess they had to die first because everyone knows those types never change.
Personally, I find it beyond curious that time and time again certain peoples become convinced that their faith was full and complete before they were born, their forefathers’, and their’s alone, had everything completely right. How serendipitous their world is, how lucky they are! Well, I am sure that I will never know their world or where it goes because that is not my story, it is not Isaiah’s story, and it certainly isn’t Jesus’ story. My God and my Lord and Isaiah, all told me from the time I was a little child that our Way is narrow and beset on all sides, especially from the inside. Even on the far side of the Cross from here, before God was made flesh, even then, the way of the suffering service was well known to the righteous. We are always commanded to love till to our deaths, while others order ageless, baseless hatereds only to call it life. Bon soirée and c’est la mort to all those “lucky” people in that wide-way of living.
Before we bid adieu to Isaiah and his blessed people and turn to the Fulfillment of the suffering servant and those beloveds who first followed the Way of Jesus, I’d like to make a minor personal point, perhaps it is only important to me, perhaps not. But it seems to me that throughout the Bible, from Adam and Eve to Job and his “friends” to the Spirit and the Bride, that sometimes there is a man, or woman, every so often, put there by God in a highly conflicted situation…. They are salvation history writ small with burning bones and trembling flesh. “Sometimes there’s a man”, or so it is written, that embodies the panoramic dilemma of God’s people as a contested personification between heaven and hell, peoples and powers. That is the character of the suffering servant. History, or at least the narration of history, brings the eyes of the world to a cataract in time and place. The person is the round peg for the God-shaped round hole, but most, if not all, of the people that they encounter want her or him to be a square or triangle or anything and everything that they are not called, nay ordered to be. Why would they do that? Because… well because, Nimrods and all the petty goons who apologize for them want to control others.
Scripture, it’s Writer, and I put it to you, here and now, that living for self is not Satanic; it is just human. I can understand it. Every human ought to understand it. Hell, some of us even got rich and fat on it, you know “The American Way,” or even much more broadly “The Western Wind.” Those ways are melting away today, but their victims are still the most desired by God. Hence, they are very far from unredeemable, even the ones that victimized the others can be regenerated if they turn from their wickedness. Black sheep are best at breaking generational curses, and scapegoats that overcome devils are lifted up to ride on a horse of a different color.
Conversely, it is impossible to please God with “ethical wars” or “moral statutes”, both are spectacular manifestations of failed faith en masse. “Get religion” fiats reveal the end of an age, not the beginning of a glorious new Reich; see the imperial propaganda to conquest and Leges Juliae imposed on Roman citizens as the Republic fell to centuries of tyranny. The fall of the Weimar Republic is a more recent display of darkness in action by a people claiming to be righteous and imposing purity on others. There was a time, not too long ago, when everybody knew that “good Germans” would make “bad Americans.” But, from age to age, all it takes is one wicked generation for all to be lost.
It is even clearer today than back then, that compelling by threat of artillery fire, or homogenizing legislation, leads to antichrists’ counterfeit for God’s purity. Their terminal fraud is forcing others to conform to their will because their god told them so, or else they’ll make all others disappear… That is always Satan’s followers’ sin, always has been since Cain, and it will be to their bitter end. No matter what they call themselves or how they brand their faithlessness, the action of their heads and hands mark (for all to see) the desolating occultation of the possibility for Spiritual growth, with the abominable destruction of Holy space wherein people might have chosen God. Why? Because the white-washed tombs still chose unjust splendor over righteous suffering. It is the definitive and literal opposite of service to others. It is self-service, demanding all others serve them. God will not forgive this blasphemy in spirit, this eternal sin. My Lord says so.
The only Way that I’ve been given is to fulfill God’s promises, and trust Us, that Way cuts down every other way. Even if you pervert your pet passages over a hundred lifetimes across mass media… Can you fool God? Can you redeem Satan? It is not my job ‘to teach Nazis lessons in humanity, Nazis ain’t got no humanity because they exchanged suffering in God’s image for their own pleasurable power in the world; they are all foot soldiers of a Jesus-hating Lair.’ And devils rule every petty nimrod and all their apologists… But being a witness against all that gross wickedness and a servant to those who suffer from the evildoers, that is the suffering servant in a nutshell. God promises those servants a divine solidarity in Isaiah 61, which culminates with the righteous One’s proclamations at the Sermon on the Mount. That’s where I am headed, and who I am with, no matter how much hell all the devils try to heap upon us.
C’mon people, you don’t need to be Isaiah, for even Jonah, “the worst of the prophets,” knew that change is a requirement and Spiritual growth hurts/matures only by personal choice, never in bullying duress. Moreover, again, service to God and others is free and exists, for real, only in a volitional state. Most importantly, if we grow Spiritually then our understanding of God will change, grow every day, sometimes almost none (maybe it even feels like a loss) and other days there are giant leaps in perception. Life is part of that process. The trick is choosing every day to grow along His lines, not our own or this world’s. Then, without doubt, He’s always getting bigger. But unlike human tools, in Christ, the greater the scope of disclosure there’s also an increase, not a decrease, in the detail we see, “the more stones, both bright and dark, that are added to the mosaic, the clearer is our picture of God.” Heck, I am worse than Jonah or any of you, and still I know this little bit to be true: worship God alone.
Jesus’ Perfection of Suffering Service
First and Last Response to Satan
The devil led him (Jesus) up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
The Cost of Following Jesus
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”
The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
“The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
The Narrow Door
Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’
“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’
“Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’
“But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’
“There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”
Mister Robert Allen Zimmerman’s Song
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”
Still, the Same Dispute with Worldliness
A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
These are just a few salient passages from only one Gospel, and I had a whole spiel ready… but in final review, who could expand on the Master? Who can throw light upon the Light? What kind of fool could? Well, I got the Nod here, so I’ll briefly ask… Do you see Isaiah’s points on inclusion, greater neighborliness, and the holy rejection of worldly gifts, rule, and standards? Do you see the stakes? Who profits and loses? Do you see the vows, the commitments, and the guarantee of Isaiah 61? Do you see the blessedness, the exhilaration, and the rapture of Matthew 5? If yes, keep up the good works in right trust… If no, well, you are in luck because the time ahead will afford even the blind, deaf, and dumb many opportunities to break good. For the dead, it doesn’t matter what happens they’re going to stay asleep.
In turning from the Master to his disciples, I can say that we’re at least 2 years away from discussing Tactics: the formerly tenuous, subterrain seeds, the forgotten meanings of teshuva, tzedakah, tikkun olam pulled from death and darkness into flowering by the light of Christ Jesus. Suffice to say today… if you do believe, then you will suffer to follow him, God, and the broken world in right service. Despite their hiddenness to most, at present the rudiments are on full array wherever suffering servants garden. I need not say anymore on my Lord’s account… other than if you do not love him now in the embrace of service, you’ll never love him again. So, focus on growing His gifts in you, not building on your achievements, because the Spirit of Christ is looking to invest virtues not outcomes. To Him, in this world, human accomplishments are meaningless… at best. So stay at it, even if it seems that you’ve made no difference, the Spirit sees your faithfulness.
Disciples in Suffering Service
His (a Pharisee named Gamaliel) speech persuaded them (the members of the supreme council and tribunal of the Jews). They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man (Saul of Tarsus) is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering… The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!… Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,
“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin… Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
It would seem that no matter where we look in the New Testament, poor Aye, is always less than a stone’s throw away. These are just a few citations from a few of those books. None from Paul, just one more Paul quote further down, but as you’ve been shown over the past 27 posts, you cannot swing a dead gentile anywhere in the Paulines without landing on a passage concerning right suffering for, and like, Jesus. Can’t have too much scripture. Again, I’ll truncate the commentary so the texts may do the Lion’s share of their work in you. Just a reminder and a storied caution to end.
The Rule of Christ means his baseless love merits our eternal service. So why do so many who claim the Name express evermore baseless hate? Oh, you know the wicked creatures who judge by the amount of skin pigment per square inch, and the others who promote “convenient lies” for greed and selfishness, serving the Beast and their disordered world. Many of them scream about taking all scriptures literally, but of the multitude I’ve met, only one or two are missing their right hands… ironic or hypocritical? Perhaps both. Those “good people” will be startled (in the minimum) to awaken in Judgment that their doctrines and theologies are mostly human inventions. They have taken literalisms as metaphor and metaphor as literalism… that’s forgivable by any reader, even all the men “who’ve taken up their sufferings as a woman giving birth.”
It may be forgivable, but it is manifestly horsepucky, just avoid stepping in it. However, a worse sin comes when they get puffed up enough to foist it upon the Word, from the outside, for personal gain (imposing their disorders on God’s Order). To be sure, at certain times and places (people’s or “national” spaces), they helped to preserve and guide. They are excellent histories of human reflections about God, which are always historically situated and culturally contested. Therefore they’re not immutable or divine at all; in fact, they’re the opposite; they are the very evidence of change. Yet their promoters tell their followers not to change. How curious and queer of them. Simply ask anyone who has recovered from childish ideas or trauma: what happens when people try to carry all those old behaviors for too long into their maturity? The old beliefs begin to do much more harm than good; they can even kill. How many “Christians” have taken “a godly” social affinity for a situational teaching as propaganda to murder literally because of purely metaphorical doctrines on various perspectival debates? The nimrods among us are doing it this very day. That is not suffering according to God’s will. The best I can say is these teachings might assist some, but they will not save any one. Put your trust in Jesus, and serve God alone.
All the nations may walk
in the name of their gods,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord
our God for ever and ever.
That’s why I and others read for the story, particularly, resonances across the stories, melodies shared by the holy ones across the whole earth and every age. I don’t know much, but I do know that the semantic codes in the various, relevant languages have changed greatly just over my lifetime. Also I know, the Song remains forever the same, and it is the most direct route to the heart of any matter. Even as empires and their philosophies, or nations and their languages, or contracts and “covenants,” rise and fall… and brothers and sisters they do, they all do… Even if all the elements were to melt away tomorrow, I am with the One who created all things you see and even those you don’t yet. For he is the One who sent me himself to suffer for his cause: the restoration of His order in all His creation (independent clause)… and also, you’re invited to join Us along with any of your preferred saints (dependent clause).
Thanks to Jesus and all the saints who have gone before me, I know that there is only one God who heals and liberates in the realities of Spirit and Truth. For others, I am reminded of what Kant said, “If the truth shall kill them, then let them die.” It has been my biggest nut to crack personally, but I’ve made some progress. “Live and let die” is actually part of the holy protocol when Jesus sent out some of the first missionaries, ‘don’t even mind the dust.’ It is also some of the Spirit’s last words, ‘let them be as they were.’ The only ones who reject truth are those preferring their own lies be imposed on others, so they might suffer a little less for a minute. Ironically, in the end, it is they who’ll suffer the most, by far. To build an idol, you must kill the truth first, to restore the truth you smash the idol first… but the lies that remain destroy the idolaters more than they’ve ever harmed the poor and oppressed. There is the greatest hope in the last judgment. It grieves me that Isaiah 61 and Mathew 5 are perverted in selfish mouths and belied in greedy acts to further alienate the very folks my God sent me to love… All-the-while clarity and mercy, beauty and joy, in Christ are on full display in the discounted and forgotten. They embody the Gospel, the sufferings of my Lord most, as they are drawn out of the world’s chaos and restored in the Spirit. The song, the Promise, and mission remain the same.
Make no mistake, whether I blog or not, whether anyone reads it or not, I will serve daily, because my Lord has set me free in deed. And even though I am old and grungy and poorer in worldly wealth than I ever have been, I am not glum, I have never had more joy in my life. I suit up and show up, and I let the Spirit do the rest. It is a beautiful plan: take it easy and share. My only lament is that it is too often from a desk, and not always out in the trenches where I was born-again. Sometimes people see the Glory and sometimes they don’t. But because I have been led through times of affliction, brokenness, and loss, practically no one is out of reach. I know enslavement and bondage in wealth and poverty, they are both imposters in seasons of grief like Job’s old friends. All that means I’ve been formed as a stranger to no person, unless they reject me. But then, “Ain’t no bother,” because the world is heaping up ever more consequences and repercussions for most who become, by pain, even better targets for the Gospel, sometimes I even add a few words.
Finally, as a true cautionary tale, allow me to end with a story that should be taken very literally by my intended first audience. It concerns a baptized and serving, famous follower of Christ Jesus, post-Pentecost, so I’ve always looked for him in myself. But thanks to right suffering for the cause of Christ over the decades, I see less of him and more of people like Paul.
Simon the Sorcerer
Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”
After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.
What can we learn from the father of lifestyle christianity? Is there anyone still today who’d dare prefer the fake news of their fetish to the Good News of God? Were Simon and his heirs counted as goats or sheep according to the Master? Did they repent to the extent that the Spirit might transform him into Christ-likeness? Were they finally will-ing to suffer God’s will rather than try to steal God’s glory by buying God’s power? Did they ever come to understand what they have done so very wrong? Can they smash their worldview ultimately, which was composed by sin and bitterness in a desire for status and reputation that ripped off other people for their own personal wealth? Are Simon and his children frauds forever? How was any of that about doctrine or theology, instead of just plain old self-will run riot? So what does the Judge say is important? Simon says the right words, like he must have at his baptism, but there’s obviously more to the salvation on offer through the blood of Jesus. All Peter tells us is “perhaps,” if Simon honestly turns and exchanges “greatness” in sin for humility in the Spirit. I trust that the narrator leaves us hanging (“enjambs” us) for a very good, spiritual reason.
Let’s not move on in negativity. There are a few things we can certainly know from this dense little vignette. We know, no matter your perspective on Pentecost, that God does not share his Glory nor splash out his Power willy-nilly. Luke often points us to obedience in the believer as a prerequisite for “greater” manifestations of the Holy Spirit through a convert. Whether you personally appraise that as “a reward,” or not, from either viewpoint we know growth in the Spirit is about the wise articulation of Christ-like principles in our everyday life, no matter the outcome. God does not invest His power in people based on their influence, public notoriety, reputation or worldly wealth. God judges differently, because charisma without character is always cancerous but character without charisma is always curative. Time is on God’s side, not the enemy’s; so we can wait, sometimes we even wait patiently. Like the wise man said, “everyone wants to be full but very few are willing to be filled.”
If you might be “a camel,” then start assessing yourself with “the eye of a needle” now, today. Further, we can know that the qualities which the Spirit searches for are neatly analogized, in summation, as a “heart” issue. Moreover, “heart failure” can disqualify you from God’s ministry. But fear not, for we should know also that repentance cures these spiritual heart issues. I practice mine almost daily, but your milage may vary… That is cool with me because, to be honest, I need all the work I can get in, while I am sure others do not. In addition, we see Jesus’ implied missional axiom at work: “Live and let die,” for no matter Simon’s final estate, the apostles went on doing the same thing. They remained “on-task,” grinding it out day after day. At least this time, they didn’t have to take a flogging. I certainly count that as a good day, while some fools who’ve never been beaten for God laugh. On that day the Lord’s servants only had to strongly admonish a greedy-rich and power-hungry man of celebrity. And lastly, we may know too that in the Lord’s service, some days are good and many others are best called “necessary days.” At times there will be suffering, but there is always purpose at work. I pray you have many more good days than “necessary” ones.
The Suffering Servant Balian
Behold, Immanuel Kant, the white, upwardly mobile man from a working-class background who founded CRT. Critical thought brought reformational ideas and European culture to full flower. But today there are a lot of leaders out and about, who claim his mantel and that cultural inheritance, yet they have betrayed their philosophical, theological, and political creators. So it is no wonder they make war on their Creator, chosing to make their own images instead. They are simply delusional sophists selling a destructive world system, which never existed in God’s name or will, for a moment of worldly power. They are literally at war with the only living God, His good order of creation, and divine will.
Wherever and whenever these nimrods get their way, Truth is murdered to raise their idols (and fetishes), as thinking of truth well, with cirumspection, is abolished. If they get their way enough, then whole generations, with God, will learn that the unity of apperception alone makes possible the synthesis of the manifold under a category out in the streets together. I wonder if that might not be for the best, for it will terrify and destroy the wicked thugs, the world system they’re trying to impose, and their beastly “house-keeping,” once again, as it has so many times before, but only after a terrible amount of unecessary suffering.
I had a few thousand words about Kant ready, but increasingly it came to our attention that many people would rather hate him than even attempt to understand him. Ignorance is no sin, we’re all ignorant, but pride in one’s ignorance is a very detestable sin that profanes the sapient qualities God gifted humanity. Still worse, imposing that ignorance on others, especially for pride or profit, is a stain on a soul for eternity. They should’ve chosen a Godly code. I mean for Heaven’s sake, most of their own theories of salvation (especially at the moment justification) require the person to be self-reflexive and appreciate their own sinfulness, to the point where they are willing to reslove a new Spiritual sythesis in their lives. That’s the essence of critical (anything) theory. Most idolaters are stupid, but you have to be far past dead (sold out to Satan on-the-down-low) to be that dumb about something so important and obvious to a Rectified life.
It’s easy to suffer and serve the people and issues we care about. That is just natural love, even the gentiles can do that. But loving a stranger, or even an enemy, and expect nothing back? Even being accused or punished for their defense and restoration? That’s God’s kind of love, the love of a suffering servant. You may say, “I serve Jesus!” just like Simon did. And well, you might be right about that. Maybe it means something, maybe not… the right answer to that is “perhaps.” But I know for a fact that he Himself stands for those who suffer as he did. I am not ashamed, for that is the only thing that matters, because that is the Power that saves. By act, word, and deed that is the love of Christ Jesus.
I know people who actually live that kind of love, they are so easy to see and I am drawn to them; I am all about them now. But still, it is ever easier to see those who talk about God’s love, speaking beautiful words of life, healing people, etc… But my Lord calls them goats. I spent a life time trying to reach them, but they reject and accuse me most falsely. So now, I am ordered to keep moving and not to look back, not even to carry them as dust on my shoes.
“They call me Ismahel,” “but that ain’t no bother.” 6.6
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”
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.
It is clear that both the Master and the writers of the Second Witness inarguably linked suffering and the living experience of resurrection with Christ in the midst of a broken world. How was this most basic truth lost? Well, perhaps it stems from the only warning I’ll flag-up on that great fact. Praying for the sufferings of Jesus Christ, like Paul did is a mistake, or so it seemed at the time, for a long while. But I must say that accusing such a person of having an unclean spirit for undergoing such sufferings by God, following the Lord, in order to receive the Power of God… well, let’s just say Job’s friends are in better shape.
Oh, yes dear reader the accusations fly, no matter what demons I’ve cast out. But like the man sang, “I’d rather walk in the dark with Jesus.” And trust me, there is no quicker way to acquire “trust with God,” and be blessed with God’s trust in you. Lastly, before I begin, please remember that this is my witness, there are as many as there are other witnesses. I do not intend for anyone to be like me. I am simply sharing my experience as Jesus gave me his strength and hope, because he told me to, here and now. You need to follow Jesus similarly and pass it on in the life he gives you.
It was the spring of 2006, and all of the fun (from all but one) of the memories above were just that: distant memories, on the otherside of a very dark place. But that’s not the point today. As you might be able to tell from the photos, I was always a “utility player” who ranged almost globally. I wasn’t great at any one thing, so I was willing to learn many things as God, and his appointed mentors, allowed the Spirit maximum room to operate in me. I took pride in nothing, so if I failed, at least, I learned how to get up again, again and again. More importantly, if I were misplaced by my superiors, or abused by friends, then it wasn’t my fault! I miss the lightness of that freedom. Only in retrospect, I am now sure the point was that I always learned something while not reinforcing my own biases about myself. I remained teachable and open, kenosis-lite if you will. Also, as you’ll see below, I learned rule #62 the hard way, repeatedly. Is that another rule that is Greek to you? It shouldn’t be strange to anyone in the flesh, especially in the service, especially when we suffer in service. Rule #62 is simply, “don’t take yourself too damn seriously.”
My father had just died after suffering terribly for a decade, and a people, who God sent me to again, had enforced a very unholy separation. While many of the priests were gracious, the lay people were murder. So, you might think I’d be sad or frustrated. But actually, I experienced a great relief and freedom in both cases. Until, on my birthday, two very solemn angels of high rank came to me. I had not met them before, but I came to know one of them later as Raguel. Even though I did not know their names, somehow I knew their work, their protection of my Lord’s body in the tomb. I honor any angel of the Lord. I had learned that if you meet one, you can be very personal. However, if it’s two, or more, all seriousness and greater honor is required. So, I simply said, “What would my Lord have of me? His servant is listening.”
Then something unique and new happened, one, or both in perfect unison, spoke to me without moving their lips. He or they said, “Son of man prepare yourself for soon your soul will be raised while you still wake. But fear not, for we will remain with your body, so no harm will come to you as you rise to meet God and serve your Lord for three days.” Dumbfounded, all I could manage to say was, “If it is God’s will, let it be.” You can never go wrong paraphrasing the Lord’s mother, it was the safest response I know and the only one that came to me at the time. It has been my experience, in general, that if you quote scripture to angels, it’s hard to say the wrong thing. I like that because I’ve always been accused of saying the wrong thing with people.
The day was quiet and hot. There was no wind, but I went for a shaky walk in the park on Heights Blvd. I spent the better part of 90 sweaty minutes trying to figure out what all that meant exactly. I didn’t know if I should be excited or scared, or something else. Things hadn’t been going my way of late, was I going to be rewarded or punished? The possibilities were incalculable. The next day I was overcome by fear because my whole body, especially my head, felt like it was being squeezed in a vice. I called a friend or two daily to try to understand what was happening and what I should do. But I soon learned, that there are times when even well intended friends cannot help, and I should forgive them even if they hurt me because they simply don’t understand.
Over the next week or so, as my state of mind and body deteriorated, I became more and more literally “beside myself,” and my friends and family grew increasingly worried. But I remained compliant and calm, even as they suspected or accused me of using drugs again. Let’s get this out of the way now, so I need not repeat it: I agreed to every drug test, no fewer than 4 were given with blood and hair. Each affirmed that I was, and had been, stone sober for at least a year; it had been longer. As the Devil would have it, this concerned my good people even more. They were beginning to understand that they did not understand. And they were frightened. So, near the end of the process, my people handed me over to the police, even though I had committed no crime. I had been a lamb the entire time. The police finally handed me over to doctors, which had been my friends’ intent.
The police were kind, the cuffs were too loose, but I had to wear them for the ride. I tried to have an ordinary conversation under extraordinary conditions with them. I believe they were more unsure than I was, maybe even more nervous. Meanwhile, I was tearing the veil between realities. I could see people and spirits at the same time. And as the car rose along the express lane towards downtown, I saw all of Houston laid bare. As if people had never been there, but I could see all the artificial structures as well like fog. Later this type of binocular vision would become important to understand. I could see all the fallen spirits squatting along the bayous and could hear the frogs croaking and cicadas chirping. Back in my head I was talking about housing prices and the coming global economic crash in 2008. And you know, I think that tripped out those poor public servants worse than if I told them what I was really looking at!
The policemen continued to be very kind. They removed my cuffs before we walked into the back of the station, so I offered to help them with their bags from the trunk. I sat alone in the corner of a hallway for a minute, and then they brought me a coke and took me to talk to an intake officer, who I believe was just trying to figure it all out. She couldn’t, but I tried to be calm and rational, even as she became disturbed. Whatever she figured, she took me to a table and another fellow asked if I’d like a sandwich. I said yessir thank you and please. And I’ll never forget as he walked out, he said aloud, “One more sandwich, we got royalty here tonight!” I still don’t know what he meant, but I enjoyed the free coke and sandwich, and a bottle of water to go. The sandwich guy came back and said it was late, so he was going to give me a place to rest. It was an unlocked room with a big window, two-way not one, and a new cushy mat that smelled clean against the back wall. So, I laid there as the binocular vision was fading, thinking to myself, “Well this isn’t too bad, in fact everybody has been really nice.”
Then came the drop, my two friends appeared over me and the padded slab beneath me, in the little room. I didn’t say anything, but I think the people outside heard something because I saw some folks walk to the window as Raguel spoke, “Son of man, rise now and be born above!” It felt like a terrible gravity wave was intent on ripping me apart, I began to shake and groan. I focused of the word “born,” and then I thought of how women screamed in pain, so I did. This had the folks at the window beside themselves and croaking and chirping like the bayou creatures outside. I looked down and saw the madness of it all. And in an instant, none of the madness concerned me… brothers and sisters I was gone, “Elvis had left the building.” For the next three days you’d have to ask the angels, police, and doctors what happened to my body because I was nowhere near it. And I was so happy to be free!
Next, I found myself walking up a valley. It was lush and flush with life. It was glorious, and as I walked up, I relaxed and felt as if this was the way I was meant to feel, the way everyone was created to feel. It felt good, but not too good. To move it still required focus and effort but there was no pain or tiredness. Then as large hills rose on either side of the valley, it began to dawn on me that I was walking a path that I had before, but there were no man-made any things. It was a river from Ein Gedi up to the Pool of Siloam… where “the old city” would be or had been. But that understanding cease to concern me as I saw God, the Father, alone sitting beneath a little pavilion or gazebo of sorts, as He rose, I flew to him and we embraced… I cry writing it now. He said, “Well done, son.” That’s all I ever wanted to hear, it is all anyone should ever need to hear, and I know it is what He wants to say to everyone. Whatever desires I still harbored for acknowledgement from anyone else ended that day, except for my wife… maybe… And for a long time, I wished the story ended there. But there’s always more.
Next, we cleared the embrace somewhat as He looked at me and said, “I want you to go to a place, not understand it, serve and just trust Me.” My heart fell a bit, then my whole being fell a long way. It got so dark that I couldn’t see, but after a minute some vision started to resolve. I felt small and cramped, uncomfortable but not painful like my body had before. It appeared to be a cave and on the back wall stood one figure, and another sat with forearms on his knees and head down. Both had on spotless, high-quality linen, but as I saw some blood on and about the one sitting, and I realized where I was and who I was standing before, as he raised his head to meet my eyes. I know it is hard to believe dear reader, but believe me, I was speechless for the second time in one story… impossible I know, and so does anyone who knows me.
The one standing, facing me, on my Lord’s right side, asked my Lord, “Are we ready now?” It was the first time I’d met Melchizedek. My Lord responded while looking at me, “Are we ready?” If I had a jaw, then it was agape, and still I was mute. But the two opposite me were patient, merciful, and kind in their silence, like they knew that I needed a minute, or a thousand. Jesus gazed up kindly, and Mel developed a slight grin. Finally, I got out one syllable something like, “What, er who, er huh?” Immediately, the one still standing said to my Lord, “You are right, he talks too much.” I began to feel stupid and hit my knees before my Lord and gushed, “What can I do?” He smiled and said, “You can start by helping me up, but be careful, this body is still weak.” I crawled under his left arm, as Mel dropped under his right, and we rose slowly to walk a few steps towards an unattractive entrance or exit out.
Where were we walking? There is only one place that smells and sounds like that, it is not a bad place; it is the bad place. And I was not afraid, I just wanted to know what to do. As Jesus regained his feet, he walked ahead with Mel and I side by side behind. Because I wasn’t crazy, I looked right to ask him, “What do I do?” Mel said, “You’ve studied this, don’t worry you will know.” And after a beat he said, “It is easier than dealing with a committee of the self-righteous!” Jesus turned back, a bit, to look and quip, “Yeah, they’re murder!” They had made me comfortable in the worst situation imaginable, only to confound the devils as we walked at them smiling, a bit. Imagine their surprise, as their party in the grave came to a full stop.
I don’t have the words yet to explain it well. I don’t think that is the point today. But we walked upward as if on a line, the devils parted like the Red Sea. Holding them in abeyance was the easy bit, the bad part was hearing the screams of souls, some cursing, most begging, while some yelled out confused bits of the writings, some even still recited platitudes. That’s when I learned to leave behind my timeline, because some of those sayings weren’t invited until long after the Christ event literally transpired on earth. But none the less, I heard them then as I do now. As we walked a sphere materialized about our Lord, and Mel and I held it as a train while moving away from one another with hands out stretched. Some of the souls made it to us and took refuge in the sphere, others could not, while still others would not. The devils were no issue at all, I kept my eyes on the souls. It reminded me of most my mission trips, or even my life writ short… Some coming close even as others fall away, while still others curse or beg at a distance.
As we rose the screaming dissipated and the multitude with us began to get a grip on reality; then some even rejoiced. But I stayed focused on the flanks. Finally, we came to a heaven that I had not seen before. There were walls, attractive walls, and an entrance with the requisite guards, some I knew. Before the gate Mel walked up by my side, putting his left on my right shoulder he said, “Brother, today is not your day to walk in. Stay with me here.” I was very disappointed but like in this here story, that was not the point… but it is coming. I took advantage of the time I had with Mel. I wanted to go back to where I had met the Father, Mel smiled and obliged. He had a similar experience and I believe he was happy to have a confidant. We talked a long time, and I really wish I could tell you his story today. It is an amazing tale and he’s every bit the character for it. It is sad so little is known about him, but maybe later I’ll be given permission. At the end of that day-long walk and talk down to the Dead Sea that was made alive before us by the river of life we strolled along, he said it was time to say goodbye, because there was more for me to do. That’s when it got weird, so I turned pro.
I came back to my body, in a clean bed with a blood pressure cuff on my left arm. The attendant said, “Oh, he’s back! We thought you were going to die and break the machine.” I asked what day and time it was, and as the angel had told me it would be, it was exactly 72 hours from the time my soul had left my body behind. I laid there a minute to breathe and feel again. As the attendant departed, I saw two fellows to my left. A fellow crying while lying in another bed next to mine, and second fellow sitting in a chair on the far side beneath a window reading the Bible out loud. I asked their names. The one crying said his name was Jeremiah and the one sitting was called Isaiah. Yes, I know. But given the week I’d had, I thought that it made perfect sense. And then, it got weirder still.
After a few minutes I stood and walked out into the common room. I knew the room, I had served in that psych ward, on that floor, and in that room over a decade before as an intern from university to collect data on schizophrenia for a longitudinal study. I started to laugh, why not? There I was, someplace I knew but on the other side of the looking glass. Some people might have been worried, but in an instant I realized that God had prepared me long before hand with a profession and education that I had left behind and thought, “what a waste of time and effort for years.” Only in that delayed moment did I come to understand that suffering had been of great use. It prepared me for the time to come, all that “suffering” was invaluble preperation. I knew exactly what was going to happen and what I should do. It was easy, I just had to be patient and remain calm. I just took it as a staycation.
There were some hard bits. I had a few friends visit me, and I tried to ameliorate their concerns without getting too heavy. The older of my two sisters was my greatest concern. She saw me a day or two before and said that I “didn’t even look human.” She was relieved, but still very worried because she knew all my tox screens had come back pure as the driven snow. I thought to myself, “It is an old and well-known story, but wait a few months to unveil all of it to her.” Mostly, I listened and nodded for a few days. I said all the right things when people asked the right questions. Directly, I knew I’d get a release hearing. And I did.
Again, I was put at a big round table with a lot of well-intentioned folks. It was the same table I sat at some years ago, as we told young people that life was over as they knew it. They were usually hit the first time with a brutal diagnosis they couldn’t understand. So, I was curious about what I needed to say, but I knew their protocol. When the head doctor spoke up, the first thing she said put me at ease, “We hardly ever see a case like your’s sir. You came in psychotic, then you were suddenly struck sane.” They waited so I replied calmly, “From the looks on your faces and the reports others gave to me, I’d say it was a profound psychosis.” That took them aback, so I invited them to tour, in discussion, the symptoms and signs of adult-onset schizophrenia. I didn’t have the history or symptoms before the episode, and I had done things before or after, in the few days they watched, that schizophrenics can’t. And I told them the story of my last few years or so, all my family, friends, and all the other “good people” I had been among.
I love doctors and scientists with polite voices and loud pens, because I can alter a whole room full of them and their long-held opinions with one single fact. Whereas, I can confront a single idolater with a world of facts, and they still chose to die, or kill, in their misbeliefs. Just within that calendar year, I had sat before a similiar table filled with “good” and “spiritual” people. I tried to talk to them but their pride in ignorance was so great, God told me to go Jonathan Edwards on them. I did, and told them that if they did not repent God was going to start taking out American cities. They did not, so God did; within weeks Katrina destroyed New Orleans and then Rita emptied out Houston. Still nothing, they were far past dead. I didn’t bring it up back then, or today, like profiteers and gravy trainers do in books and on TV. That misses the point entirely. In fact, it makes things worse for everybody, especially the generations to come.
The point is righteous people must apprehend reality critically to adopt in an on-going and healthy fashion to build faith, not just once maybe to make much of one’s self. I don’t want more of me. I want more Jesus in me and everyone else, dead or alive. Also, I only mentioned it today to point out that I know some are sicker than others. That’s fine; it’s Reality. I’ll work with both, often, as I am now, but only with those who are willing to be honest, even if just a little to begin. Back then, the doctors released me med free the very next day. While those other people, I don’t know what happened to them. In both cases, I simply told each group a greater, but limited, truth within and about their worldview, which they could understand, with a lexicon they could comprehend, and I allow for the results to vary widely; that’s their choice and I am ordered to live with that come life or death. That’s really all you can do, short of abolishing their delusions and showing them the greater reality. But that takes much more time than I had back then. It is a gift, and it is a curse, that takes great wisdom and patience to exercise rightly. I watch myriad charlatans do it grievously everyday without insight and no wisdom in media, on the streets, and in churches. God hates it. They’re butchers of the heart, mind, and soul for profit.
Two things of note happened the last day. First, the lead doctor, a short brilliant woman, took me aside and said, “After reflecting on your history, I don’t know how you made it. Any of those half dozen events you experienced could’ve sent me over the edge.” I smiled and said, “Ma’am, you are a brilliant doctor and I completely agree with you.” In parting she asked me just to do two things for her, since she wouldn’t prescribe meds, “First, keep it up, stay clear of drugs… But more importantly stay away from those sick, wacko religious people and set strong boundaries with your dysfunctional siblings. That’s the hard part because I know how much you love them.” I said, “bless you for hearing me and understanding.” Her words are burned into my memory and I put into practice her sage advice and never looked back. That was a fast ball right down the center.
Maybe she sent in a relief pitcher for the curve, maybe not. But there was a tall, slender, and much older man, perhaps a visiting senior fellow or oversight board member, who’d remained silent throughout. He came to me as I was packing. He seemed a bit nervous, maudlin even, he said, “I know, you’re about to leave and you will. I just wanted you to know that I’ve never believed in anything that I couldn’t prove or see. But for the first time yesterday, listening to you, something happened. I couldn’t sleep and now I feel anxious, like something has changed and I don’t know what to do…” He began to fail in his speech, so I put my right hand on his towering left shoulder and said, “Man there is a God, he calls me by my name and I call him Jesus. I know, for a fact, that he literally went through hell on earth, and beneath it, just to get to you today. All of that just because he loves you that much. If you believed one thing I said, it needs to be that he as is real as my embrace. So, take your time and talk to him about it, tell him all your fears and doubts, heck be angry at him and blame him for this shitty world, you’d be crazy not to feel that way. I know he’ll work with a man like you no problem at all.” He simply said, “Thank you, thank you.” And he walked away, I believe he went to cry and have a long-overdue discussion with his Creator.
Now here’s the drop for you, dear reader. Thank you for allowing me to take the long way round to get to you… There is no board of know-it-alls that could ever exist that might train and send a someone on such a mission to get to that mature slender fellow. You couldn’t save enough flyer miles or move a coastline far enough to make it through. You may have heard of a mythical two kilometer sniper shot, but that one, that day, took light-years to measure. It would be insane to try it on human power. No one could survive or negotiate such a path, but I did because I was willing to endure the trial. That man was worth it, moreover the One who sent me, led me, and sustained me through it all is worthy.
My sisters have gotten much healthier over the years and now that we are older, we are the comfort to one another that our parents always wanted us to be. We’re all living happy and purpose filled lives. And what of all those terrible, whacko religious people? Shoot, I went to conference not too long after and paid to have Mark 3:21 translated into a dozen other languages. And while I’d love to say that it is all good news for them, that would be unwise and untrue at the moment I fear. But somehow, in a manner far weirder and greater than what you read above, I am still getting through to a few, so that many more might reach the Promised Land one day, in such a way, that it will make my story dull and inconsequential by any comparison. Their testimonies of the God and the Lord that I know have and will overcome the world.
Peculiar as it sounds, it is all true. I could prove most of it today circumstantially, but one day in the future I believe the right people will know it, in full, substantially… Can’t wait! Even better, it is mine alone with God. And as of today, I can finally say, out loud in writing, in full faith and complete confidence: This is the Jesus I know… that by him I made peace with all my past and forgave myself last. So that now, all might find peace with God by forgiving and serving others first, just as Jesus did. Amen, and all glory be to God!
Parable of the Constant Gardener
Once there was a generous Landlord who granted a people a prime valley under the most gracious set of conditions for many ages. And in a time after a time and another and a half, there was a general issue gardener who was given an ordinary plot, by the extraordinary Landlord, in the hills just outside, and above, what had become a rich and powerful city within the grant-land valley. He came from the valley and understood the indulgent people there. By all accounts, from the few below that knew him, he was far from perfect but he worked daily, some days were good while others were necessary. Most thought him curious because he really wasn’t interested in their fascinations, and none of them were fascinated by the things that interested him. The gardener found this curious because it was the Landlord who had directed his interests, and weren’t they supposed to serve the same interests, those given by the same Landlord… or so they claimed?
The gardener saw three folks, or types of folks, from the city on a semi-regular basis, always as they were walking up to the hilltop above the garden and far above the city to yell into the valley about the Landlord. They’d scream things that didn’t sound like the Landlord, who’d given him his plot, and they their valley. The gardener would silently, but dutifully, observe them in his few free moments as they’d go up and down, up and down, up and down, time after time, season after season, year after year… Finally, one day, curiosity got the better of the gardener because the Landlord asked his constant gardener for just one last season of work. So, the mediocre gardener, at his best, thought to himself, “this might be my last opportunity to ask the self-distinguished folks on their way up, what all they’re doing while being so conspicuously busy all the time.” So, he asked out loud, “Pardon me, what are y’all saying up there on the hilltop?”
The first just laughed as confetti came from their cosmetic mouth in a semi-ecstatic state. They mocked the gardener with the sore back and chapped lips by saying, “Oh you fool, why do you move the stones about to raise such a meager crop, then only to have to grind the grains and bake your own bread?! We only have to ask, and free bread along with everything else we dream of, is delivered to us every day!” The grubby gardener almost spoke… But he became focused on an idea given directly to him by the Landlord a long time ago: “Life here in the valley ain’t about the bread. No, it is about serving the Landlord according to his will, not what I want for myself.” He wanted to say it out loud, but before he could, the first accuser transformed into a very pretty peacock, and began to squawk and rave about in their plumage, and no sooner than they had started in on their raving, than they begin to melt into a gurgling puddle of stink.
Just as the gardener began to say, “Oops, it was a mistake to ask.” The second accuser chimed in too quickly and sharply with the most eloquent speech ever composed, a jive of pondering verbosity, which they claimed was all about the Landlord’s most important precepts. It was a lecture so erudite that the gardener didn’t, or couldn’t, understand it as a long tongue descended from that educated mouth only to tickle their self in an area the gardener had been taught to avert his eyes from. And just as the dull-witted, poor spelling gardener wanted to say, “Oh please, stop talking, I don’t understand you, but I fear for you!” The second became a turkey, who strutted and gobbled. The gardener couldn’t speak gobble, but thought to himself, as the Landlord had taught him in his common ignorance, “Life here in the valley ain’t about testing all His words and concepts. No, it is about serving today as the unique Word of the Landlord served all long ago.” The turkey observed the slow-thinking agrarian and laughed in presumption at him for even trying to respond to their overwhelming speech. And as the wordy bird continued on, they too became an even larger bubbling pothole of stink, while the gardener thought to himself, “Too bad that jive turkey wasn’t even aware enough to pay attention to the horrific plight of the bird who walked by them for so long and stood right next to them.”
As the gardener turned his gaze to the third, the last accuser, he thought to himself, “If this one responds too… Well, I won’t say they’re the dumbest in the land, but they better hope that other fellow doesn’t die.” However, as the devil would have it, the third began to speak by dropping their pants and tried waving what only wives, mothers, and doctors ought to see. This embarrassed the gardener who turned, only to listen as the willy waver began to shout his propaganda, “You are low and I am already on high! The Landlord told me that I should rule and do as I please with the land and everyone in it, because I am great and you are not. I am already perfect and you are still terrible compared to me! Now turn to gaze upon me and become awed by my might!” In turning the gardener began to meditate on the Landlord’s rule that, “Every creature who received the good land should serve the Landlord only, who ordered us to serve the other people and the land, not rule it, in the Way that the Landlord did in person, both in word and deed.” But just wanting it to end, the lowliest of men turned all the way back around to see the third’s… short-coming. The gardener tried not to laugh, but as he sealed his mouth, the “Ozymandias” of the group grew ever angrier and devolved into the ugliest vulture you ever did see with the same diminutive “micro claw.” And then, as the filthy bird “powerfully” charged the “defenseless” gardener with the fowl’s dead menacing eyes, with beak out-stretched… Can you guess what happen? Yup, the same as happened to the first two but just faster and smellier.
Now this quiet fellow who only gardened before, threw himself to the ground in a heap and began to think, “I really should have kept my mouth shut, just smiled, maybe even waved, and then none of this would’ve happened. The stink certainly wouldn’t have been this bad. Man, I really messed up the order of things!” And as the pea-brained, almost hunchback, old dirty gardener began to condemn himself, he heard the voice of the Landlord say, “Stop it! You only thought to tell them the truth, which is what I told you and them to say. Now, stand and walk to the top of the hill and I will meet you. There is a lot to do because the wicked and the greedy have confused most the people with lies to destroy my land and each other, from the lowest valley to the highest hill.”
Well, the gardener’s day went from catastrophic to perfect in a wink, and he started walking up the hill with hands free and heart aflame. As others descended and drew close to walk up with him, he didn’t even mind the strong smell of salt at work behind them in the air, because he was looking forward to seeing Landlord face to face and learning of the things to come. In fact, his heart was so full of glee about those prospects that he didn’t have any room in there to wonder about what became of those three special folks who had carried all their own “weights” up and down the same path so many times just to melt and stink in the end.
A Psalm of David
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
“There’s been enough talk for one day…” and I’ve been ordered literally by counsel to read, circumabulate, and break chains, while withdrawing restraints and saying as little as possible for a time. But I will be out there every day in the streets and libraries tak’n her easy fer all y’all, making the rounds Ghost-mode engaged. I whole-heartedly encourage each of you to do the same, in his Way. I pray that all of you live as the One we trust does, clean your own house, while “suffering” to serve others in fear and rejoice in trembing. “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your own way…” Then come what may, whenever or however it may… you will be in the best possible position, and I’ll be right there with you all in Spirit. That is God’s promise being fulfilled in us, his servants.
(The next post is planned for sunset March 26th… yes, I know and selah)