*Keep on Holding on*: Perserverance

The offspring of virtue is perseverance. The fruit and offspring of perseverance is habit and child of habit is character.- John Climacus

It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply. . . If man had his way, the plan of redemption would be an endless and bloody conflict. In reality, salvation was bought not by Jesus’ fist, but by His nail-pierced hands; not by muscle but by love; not by vengeance but by forgiveness; not by force but by sacrifice. Jesus Christ our Lord surrendered in order that He might win; He destroyed His enemies by dying for them and conquered death by allowing death to conquer Him.- A W Tozer 

If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good, and greed would make us saintly. And we’d live like animals or angels in the happy land that needs no heroes. But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity commonly profit far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude, justice and thought, and have to choose, to be human at all . . . why then perhaps we must stand fast a little-even at the risk of being heroes.- the character of Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons.

They Have Afflicted Me from My Youth

“Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth”—
    let Israel now say—
“Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth,
    yet they have not prevailed against me.
The plowers plowed upon my back;
    they made long their furrows.”
The Lord is righteous;
    he has cut the cords of the wicked.
May all who hate Zion
    be put to shame and turned backward!
Let them be like the grass on the housetops,
    which withers before it grows up,
with which the reaper does not fill his hand
    nor the binder of sheaves his arms,
nor do those who pass by say,
    “The blessing of the Lord be upon you!
    We bless you in the name of the Lord!”

It is one thing to have the discipline to hold on when its hard, but it is quite another thing to keep on holding on when things stay hard. A friend of mine put it well: “Life is difficult.” Perseverance is simply discipline maintained over a duration. The great duration we’re in now is a threshold place and period marked by swordplay set East of Eden:

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Sword play continues to mark humanity deeply throughout the biblical histories. Swords are mentioned over 400 times in the writings while angels are only mentioned about 280 times. There’s a bigger something to that, but today we’re trudging to a person. And we should be “under the knife” of a certain person if we are to stand the risk of being heroes in Jesus’ eyes:

(Heroes) who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 

And this person is in complete accord with the one who will mark the end of everyone’s experience within assigned limns of this present world, by the sword:

In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength… And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.

So, unless you want to become bird food as I once feared, it is best for all involved to willingly accept a little edginess, to be shaped, even afflicted, by God in a kinder and softer way, as a child of His habits, over a long period of time to manifest the fruits of a holy character.

Says it better than I ever could.
If these little ones, who are publically marked out by demon-driven oppressors, can dance liberated and sweat holy water through all the insults and horror, then anyone who is really in Christ can, and will, “turn a dime into a dollar” by perservering.

If I had just one word to sum up Balian’s character in The Kingdom of Heaven, it would be perseverance. He certainly didn’t want for sword play either. More importantly, the would be royal only took up the sword as a last resort against flesh. Imposters do the opposite, they use the great Sword to destroy entire peoples as a first move. Really it’s their only move and ultimately they’ll be cut down by it. So, they’re the real eternal losers. In victorious character, Balian’s perseverance led him to a thirst for God’s will not personal glory, wealth, or status. He could’ve “had it all.” But instead, with Christ-like habits (save one, to prove his humanity), our could be royal didn’t grasp at “all that” in order to help guide a people to salvation. They were a motely crew who had been led to the edge of slaughter by corrupt and foul leadership, all in God’s name. Again, those leaders are the real enemy. They’re simply petty tyrants, bitter manifestations of fear and hate, despite all that God gave them. But don’t fear those who’ll burn for their own designs with their gods. Fear God.

Oh wait you say? “Balian was just a coward!” Well, okay smoke show… Fortunately, we have the whole movie, not just act III. From the beginning, act I, he was betrayed by the brokenness of his family, a situation most never chose to recover from with earnestness. The religious elites lied to him, lied about him, and murdered his bride in worldly pursuits for their own glory… [Do you smell charred, eternal bar-b-q too?]. Certainly, in act II he discovered the lies of “the powers that be” over him were not just local but global, not just temporal but eternal, and not only unworthy but damnable.

So many battles and offences that anyone would understand if he had quit in the act I, like Hamlet, who is the quintessential gentile ruler. Balian was gloomy like that Dane, at times. But cheese and crackers people, who among us can claim anything like that kind of experience? If you’re meant to help save that many people (and you might be), then Jesus is all right with you being a sour-puss at times… it proves commitment and circumspection. The Christ Jesus himself became glum on occasion. God uses feelings to temper us, as we learn to temper them. The deepest cut to overcome was, like Jesus, Balian found more nobility in his “enemies” than he could in most of his “friends.” And that alone is enough to make any one weep all day over the people who were called to be different.  

Even at that point, don’t stay in despair too long, because God doesn’t waste a single crisis. He’s always there in the fire. He’s using it, if we keep holding on and letting go. And the harder and longer we stay at it, then He uses it in ever mightier ways. We just have to find him and stay close. Instead, imposters and gravy-trainers turn, and return, to worldly powers like dogs to vomit. Let them go, and strive to honor your real Father, the King, and the One who created you. Balian struggled to do that in act II, and look how he finished in act III by honoring and obeying, albeit imperfectly, his father’s code.       

Gorgeous song about a heart-felt return call to God for the ability to keep holding on.

Then there was Paul. Did he persevere? Yes. Did he gripe and moan? Like nobody’s business. In aside just between us, several learned rabbis I studied with commented directly to me that if ever there was a proto-type for the unfair and hateful “Jewish mother” stereotype, it would be Saul. So I honor him in mention, but land upon a quieter co-worker, who actually became great by staying small and holding the rope when Paul dropped it like a drama-king. It was in and by, not despite, the challenge of failed leadership that God used a renowned apostle’s short-comings to draw out, shape, and harden a hero like Balian or Jesus.

Our hero by, not in spite of, Paul’s weaknesses is Barnabas. If you read the Second Witness superficially, then he’s a background figure at best. But if we look at the character of the man, in the rare textual glimpses, then his shyness, short-screen time, or lack of prominence in the writings actually amplify his honor in God’s eyes. Remember the greatest saints are those whose names are only known above, not ever down here. Jesus articulates that principle with vehemence, repeatedly to his disciples. Barnabas was most effective in relative obscurity, his contentedness playing second fiddle delighted God, in the quiet place that matters most to God and ought be likewise for us.   

The “son of encouragement” only appears briefly at spots, but when he does, he’s depicted in ways we’d all hope to be illustrated. He hadn’t met Jesus in the flesh, still, in his emergence, he sells land and gives the money to the apostles to hand over to those in need. When’s the last time you saw a “great man of God” sell just one of their estates and give the proceeds it to the poor? Next, he’s promoting Paul, despite his murderous history with the People of The Way. As a good and faithful man in the Spirit, Barnabas spends a long time taking a backseat to “the star of Acts,” and he shines a greater light with other-centeredness through his caring for fledgling assemblies.

Then they hit the road. And the road is where you really get to know people. I imagine whichever flaws in Paul God used to shape Barnabas, they really came in handy when he first encountered persecution. That social molestation, in turn, prepared him to confront a great strain in the early days of the Messiah’s people, the issue of circumcision both in Antioch and Jerusalem. No doubt, the wear and tear of the internecine fracas, softened, not hardened, because next Barnabas takes up the slack when the apostle to the gentiles bounced John Mark for his refusal to hold on, once in the past. So too, we known he didn’t encourage others, even superiors, in their wrongness, but instead he redirected them with the silent and right witness of action. Paul quit a few times, but we never hear of Barnabas quitting on him or anyone. We’re told the opposite.

I cannot wait to get the time and occasion to hear what all happened with he and the probable writer of my favorite Gospel, as Silas and Paul hogged the rest of Luke’s print. Who else was solely a human mentor to a gospel author? What an amazing honor! Barnabas held the line while others faltered; he supported those who no one else would. He was a Jew among gentiles, but always he’s presented with arms open to all. He made all the hard choices, putting God’s call before security, relative wealth, and friendships. I want to know the rest of that story, from the greatest apostle presented by Luke. I have a deposit of his spirit and I’m willing to sacrifice for the rest. I hold this opinion to be true because the Master himself says to be great you must serve.

My Help and My Deliverer

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

Blessed is the man who makes
    the Lord his trust,
who does not turn to the proud,
    to those who go astray after a lie!
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
    none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
    yet they are more than can be told.

In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
    but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
    in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”

I have told the glad news of deliverance
    in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation.

As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain
    your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
    ever preserve me!
For evils have encompassed me
    beyond number;
my iniquities have overtaken me,
    and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
    my heart fails me.

Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
    O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
    who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
    who delight in my hurt!
Let those be appalled because of their shame
    who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”

But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
    say continually, “Great is the Lord!”
As for me, I am poor and needy,
    but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    do not delay, O my God!

The Person for Holding on… and Letting Go

Keep being ready in the Fire.

He is real and it is all true, just not the way we want it to be… thank God. Tozer’s resolution for the liminal space in which we find God and still pursue Him, in a paradoxical existence, comes in the anonymous person mentioned above. To say that Western Christians have a complicated relationship with our Paraclete is an understatement, and for some of the worst it is an overstatement. Understatement because it was those doctors who threw off the necessary trials of sanctification and focused on more earthly delights, even in the most hypocritically austere ways. At day’s end they ignored, actually turned from the Holy Spirit. And the worst of them, they simply banished Him. They said He was no longer at work, because they replaced Him! Oh yeah, the stacks are littered with their self-centered words and vain babelings. So to say they have any type of relationship with Him is an overstatement.

Reverend Tozer has an excellent series of sermons concerning the third person of the Trinity. We toyed with the idea of presenting all of them weekly, but it wouldn’t be fair to do demand that kind of effort at the end of just the first year. Again, I wouldn’t say we’d argee on everything, the times have changed substantially. However, I would point you at least to the first wherein he makes my address of the issue pale by comparison. In a nutshell, the best of the known Evangelicals blames the death of the Holy Spirit on Evangelicals at the beginning of the 20th century in the U.S. of A. I never heard that issue addressed by another, save one, who shared a great message at the close of the 20th century (1998) on “Cousin Itt.” It rocked.

Felix Silla, Cousin Itt On 'The Addams Family,' Dies At 84
I mean, what leader would want this dude wandering among their people?

By that character in the Adams Family we mean the Holy Spirit. Ignored, unknown, and often left out by many of “the best” assemblies, it is questionable as to whether they can find him now or ever. It would probably cost them too much by their estimation, since they got things so well in hand. Oh, ‘they know that they know that they know.’ In truth, when it comes to matters of the misunderstood Person in our Trinity, they don’t know the Spirit from skubalon. Jesus says that’s a terminal issue. Even at the first Pentecost, untrained observers reckoned the Spirit quickly made the people drunk and disorderly. And if God completely took over those same leaders would be out of work. Can you imagine what God’s Power would do to their order of all things, which is their treasured social agendas for their desired political economy and news-entertainment industries? “Perish the thought, and proclaim the Holy Spirit has ceased to work because we have our church now!” Those folks make judgment very simple, in a bad way.

“That’s it this author has lost his mind, I am tired of being offended by this ridiculous nothing of a blogger. No more!” Well sir, good and thank you, buh-bye now. I haven’t lost my mind but it certainly ain’t what it used to be, and it ain’t close to what it will ultimately be. I handed it over to God for exhaustive and extensive renovations, and like Barnabas we prefer working in relative anonymity. As for being hateful, My Lord declared it much more angrily and indefatigable finality:

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Oh I know, all kinds of folks manipulate that declaration for all kinds of things and reasons, and honestly that’s much better than pretending it is no longer in effect. Simply put, no matter what, if you do not accept the Holy Spirit transforming you, then at day’s end Jesus won’t see himself in you. Tozer speaks of it in terms of Godly grace, ‘a grace that doesn’t change you will not save you.’

Let’s leave all that scary doom and gloom behind, and I’ll try not to repeat most of the few things that we hear about the Spirit almost exclusively in this season. In that spirit of newness, please allow me to introduce the concept of enjambment:  

One life swiftly and energetically striding over to the next, like a looping line.

Something unexpected? Some *new ground*? Yes, please and thank you! What’s more, you need to get used to the idea of being poetry, or you’ll have problems with the writer of Ephesians… not to mention the rest of the Bible at depth. You don’t want a full stop in your story. From the beginning I encouraged you to embrace the reality that death, the ultimate end stop for too many, is no longer our master. So, please start living eternity today. That’s how the Kingdom comes, literally. If you’re living by Kingdom rules and guided by the Holy Spirit here, then dropping your corruptible threads for Jesus’ heavy suit will hardly be noticeable. In fact, you’re going to love it!

“East of Eden,” or within the liminal bounds of we spirits who are incarcerated, for the most part on the world’s plain, there is always rumor and incompleteness that creates anxiety in our consciousness. I mean for heaven’s sake, we mostly communicate by babbeling… Its a miracle anyone ever makes any actual progress through the fog of misunderstood menaings. Faith enables us to focus on the unseen and unspoken, not the seen and said. Think about it: at root, we are spirits with our souls bound to flesh nodes for a few minutes.  In that time our flesh demands our soul’s attention on the visible and materially static, yet spirit is screaming out for our soul to look above and beyond. Our flesh demands comfort and sameness, yet our spirit yearns to change and rise in a Dynamic way. That’s the etiology of tensions within our threshold stage: it’s ‘being in the world but not of it.’

The world offers many pleasurable ways to resolve that stretchy soul ache. And they work for a time, but ultimately they all turn on us and start destroying us. If we aren’t rising to God we’re falling, still falling. Some use substances like drugs or money, others use people themselves even seeking fame in politics and elsewhere, while still others enlighten themselves with philosophies or even theologies… egad! Some of these help or even heal us, at times, but if we turn to any of them in dependency (read idolatry), then they lead us to an end stop. That’s why Jesus tells and calls us to accept his Spirit and be created a second time, in His image. It is necessary during our life because as the poet cried, we are born in sin and conceived in inequity. So at some point in our life we must, at least, start to repent from sin and live a life of ever-increasing equity, even with our enemies.

In a process of enjambment our beloved cousin Itt, transmutes our pain into Spiritual growth. The only one who can stunt that growth is ourselves or other entities that we willingly rent space to in our heads. Parents or a lack of parenting are usually the first renters, for better or worse. Some of the buttons and issues they bequeath us may take more than a lifetime to let go and fully exorcise in sustained adjuration. Conversely, if we hang on to their healthy lessons and virtues that shaped us, then we live a much richer life. The same goes for a plethora of folks, who in one way or another impress us. Remember, we aren’t responsible for what they did or do. We are responsible to hand whatever we’re given in the world to the Holy Spirit and let him return it to us, as the Son and Father hand their basilica of all things back and forth. This is God’s way to restore all things. I don’t know why theosis seems to be such a mystery to so many people who talk about God so often. I do know you cannot crucify a spirit, but oh how many do try.       

Sometimes the process takes great strides and at other times the Spirit just whispers in our ear. There is only one criteria for judgment: don’t quit, don’t reject what the Spirit is doing, no matter what your opinion of Jesus is… those are his words, not mine, as cited above. Now don’t get me wrong, no one is perfect or fully mature Spiritually. In fact among my own people, I have seen two folks with decades of Spiritual growth and emotional sobriety have a literal fist-fight about who had more serenity. My friend told them that if that is what they have, then they should take their asses to church and stay there. It was funny, really, really funny, for several reasons but not for either of the participants.

So it is the Holy Spirit, not our friends, our fists, or even our asses who we should trust in this threshold process because only He was here before all things came into being and will be forever with us, for God’s restoration of His order in everything. He encourages us, strides with us with greater speed and energy, to act in sometimes tense or curious ways to draw ourselves and others out of a static world with all its confusion and anxiety to a place of greater peace and a life that neither all the money in the world nor any legislation could ever build. Avoid those dark towers, because your eternal life depends on it. Moreover, we are called to follow Jesus, the Spirit ain’t changing God’s prime directive no matter who says what in any place or by any number. Following Jesus means we sacrifice for others to fulfill our Father’s commands. Remember, the Spirit is with us in all that faith-stretching and bodily suffering, so that we might come to maturity by those pangs, not in spite of them. In the end, Jesus deserves to delight in a full-grown bride.  

Call me mister revision. I more than anyone I’ve met has lived either enamored to God’s call or made every effort to blind and deafen myself to it. Mother Theresa lamented in the final years she spent in her mortal coil that she no longer heard from God. For much of my life that sounded like a vacation, so I never considered myself holy. No matter what I said or believed about Jesus, I was nothing like her. It even looks hateful on the page, but let me put it to you this way. If God showed you things while you had been sober for years that made an acid trip feel like a sugar cookie only to make you stare at the true wickedness of things, while “holy people” cheered… Then you might have a glimmer of insight as to why I desired what an almost perfect human feared.

It’s all so messed up for so many reasons. 2011-2018 was the most time I was given by God to accept Him at my own pace. Since then, at His pleasure, in a Spiritual Détente of sorts, for the umpteenth time, He’s handed me an entirely new peace that I am still learning. Point is this Enjambment never seems to end, so perseverance simply comes by way of my acceptance. The only pretense I might have for knowing any quality like perseverance is a simple desire to see the great things that He’s disclosed to me come to pass in the land of the living…. That and an occasional animal desire to survive on some odd occasions. I can see the virtue in others but not myself. On the rare occasions when others attributed that quality to my face, I was often feeling like God was revising me. It isn’t comfortable. I’m naturally averse to personal revision but it is a Spiritual requirement for every one. I am a natural born rebel, so steadfastness came hard to me.

As a teen, I had the mental chops and emotional desire to attend the Air Force Academy to become an aerospace engineer and fighter pilot. I made two visits and passed the cognitive military tests with flying colors. By age 16 I had secured the necessary references and my childish vision for my life seemed to be well on its way to being realized. Next, I would become a test pilot, and finally, with strings in place, I’d get a shot at becoming an astronaut.

Well, a funny thing happened on my way to the Academy. At 17 my GP informed me that I had an irreparable, congenital heart murmur. I’d be fine and could live normally, but it would keep me out of jets. The military still wanted me. Within a week of withdrawing my application all three other service branches had contacted me. The Marines even bought me a really nice dinner. I love the marines, “Semper Fidelis!” To their credit, they stayed at it until I accepted a scholarship elsewhere. But I got angry, back then, because every time those good folks tried to make me a wonderful offer I had to re-suffer the loss of a dream I had since I was three.

Revision made, I went to a state school closer to home. I was gifted and paid to be involved with the development of something that would change life on the planet for the better and greatly increase our knowledge of the cosmos. Here’s a public facing, watered-down necropsy of the project: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-supercollider-that-never-was/. Following retooling, I became very enthusiastic about the theoretical study of light and time. I was then told, after only one semester, that my section had been canceled. I was “invited” to convert to applied sciences where the money had been reallocated. They wanted me to build rail-beam guns. The useful and important work was abandoned for imperial military pipe dreams. Any first year student could’ve explained why it was never going to happen, not in that century nor probably the next.

Next revision, I returned home and went to work in the family business. My grandfather was thrilled and my father was happy we could fish together more, but he knew that my heart was re-broken, so he loved me through it. The work was easy and paid well; I was never going to miss a meal. But my brain needed exercise so I went to a local community college. From the lawns of Fermi Labs to the commissary at Alvin Community College… at first I was understandably down cast. But over the next 18 months God did an amazing thing, he showed me that the best teachers aren’t indecipherable know-it-alls, but instead they were kind, humble, and patient. Also, not becoming a theoretical physicist at that time saved me from the heartache of a collapsing field, as within a few years the fall of the wall flooded the world market with more acomplished scholars.

That simple revelation led me to completely recast my vision for my future. It wasn’t going to happen where I had been headed… not ever. And I had no idea of the academic and career trials ahead. Also, perhaps more importantly, it revealed my mother’s long-suffering for my childhood dreams. It was the beginning of the end of the last great imperial oil wars, 1991. I came home from Alvin and I heard my mother wailing, not crying but shaking the house audibly. I ran in there for a hug or a fight. On the TV were images of the first pilots shot down and tortured by the Iraqi Army. I screamed it’s okay, we’ll get them back home (and we did). But she couldn’t stop wailing. Finally, when she could begin to talk, she barely got it out: “I am just so grateful! That could have been you!” Well, heck, talk about unwelcome, next-level insight. I was still so selfish all I could think was, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to love anyone like that.”  

Famous last words again, because over the decade that followed I travelled all over the world to learn how to help the most vulnerable and forgotten, not oppressed necessarily but just flat-out ignored and left to die peoples. I cannot tell you how many graves I dug or how many wailing sessions I had. Is it wrong to grieve people you barely knew more than those you do? It must be at some level, but God got what He wanted in me. In that period of stretching, God made my diagnostically broken heart more pliable in so many ways. And plans? I never knew from one year to the next where I’d be flying back home from come September. I wound up at UTMB to do a PhD in international family health to serve those who most just call collateral damage in the wars men make and the plagues that Satan’s servants bring into the world while blaspheming the name of the Most High. I was set, locked and loaded. I knew where I would be and what I would do the rest of my silly life.

Not… Yup, you guessed it. Light to dark, over the next few years through personal losses beyond my control, a cascade of noble causes, and following Jesus ever-more closely I wound up in a place few know. Everyone knows about pits, burning trash valleys, and hell. But did you know there’s a place that’s worse? There is, but that’s another whole year of posts. So, let’s just metaphor-ize it the way the sage does in the story of Job. I was under a dung heap with open wounds hoping to die. In short, I was done with all personal, social, and cultural expectations. And that dear reader is exactly where God wanted me again. I strongly suggest seeking an easier path by way of Godly obedience.

That time, without any of my own ideas in the way, God did what He’s predictably famous for: He lifted me up, showed me great and terrible things, all just to send me on His merry way. His way, because it wasn’t merry for me, but it was better than where I had just been. It was really weird, so I turned pro, leaned into Him, and didn’t look back. I wondered as a child what it was like for Mr. Yeager to kick down the door of the sound barrier. Penny-ante childish dreams sister, the Spirit blew out the wall to the cosmos for me. But who was I? I had always tried to want the right things, set personal healthy goals, which were beneficial and needed by others. I did my best to conform and exercised conventional desires. But in the Kingdom, I do not get to decide what I need in “my world,” once God has literally pulled me out of it. I cannot go back, once we’re a pickle we can’t be a cucumber ever again… c’est la vie to the yellow brick road paved and maintained by the servants of alien gods. I was terminally God’s, and I had been given eternal vision, which only recently began to come into focus. I was patient about it only because I was the happiest I’d ever been in my life so I didn’t want to change much again, not because I am some spiritual giant.

As my last romatic vision of things dissolved, there were many strange and curious events, and more than a few witnesses at different points. I never made much of them because, by then, I feared if I did, then something far more weird or terrifying would happen. And I wasn’t in a rush. In fact, I became so mundane as to doubt any of it had ever occurred. Then I went to get a clinical stress test as part of my bodily recovery, and God proved His work in me to a couple of kind agnostic doctors. How can I doubt if God used the “miraculous” condition of my flesh to inspire a pair of professional doubters?

So, this is where we land today. To hear tell by monks and prophets, perseverance sounds like a learned and enjoyed virtue. For me it is not. It is like a coronary stress test. Ever had one? Avoid it if you can. They put me on a tread mill and said “run.” So, I did my best Gump impression, again, for the latent observation of specialists. There were many machines hooked-up to me with multiple displays. So I looked at the displays, thinking once I hit a magic number, then they’d say stop. Nope. I learned at a full sprint that they were just waiting for me to drop. The bastards! They hadn’t told me because that might impair my effort. I was supposed to try and run myself to death and they’d be there to catch me. That’s my illustration for God “gifting” me with perseverance. He cheers me on to complete exhaustion.

I don’t remember the finally tally, and I did quit before I passed out, so no effort was required by my spotters. The point is they claimed my heart was in perfect condition. I had told them I had a heart murmur from birth. They said, “No, you didn’t.” I had such a pecker-pulling with them that they immediately gave me an echo-cardiogram. No, I didn’t! You talk about pissed, I called my childhood GP and gave him what for. He immediately sent tests, records, and notes to my cardiologist. Their tune changed, “Well, you did… (Enjambment)… now you don’t.” My former GP invited me in for a free checkup just so he hear and see for himself. Both doctors agreed that I had had an irreversible heart condition, which, apparently reversed. And believe you me I did everything humanly possible the previous few years to die as pleasurably as possible. I did my body no favors. But despite the world’s and my own worst efforts, God literally revised my heart, and bragged about it to skeptics, straight in their faces. More importantly, He had revised all my good hopes and dreams. Apparently, all I needed do was survive and accept His changes.

Now, there are many lessons one might draw from this vignette, God’s architecture of that whole scene. Please feel free, mine aren’t written in stone. And until I meet someone who can poop marble, I ain’t trusting anyone else’s take too much. I only ask that no one believe that I am suggesting the way to fix an inoperable heart condition is through wretched physical self-abuse. So much for authorial attempts to shape reader-response. All I know is that there are facts, and the strongest facts will change the minds of honest doubters, even if it never changes their feelings. Further, I know that most often the most effective witness I can give is simply being present and willing to work with others in any salutary effort, then great and wonderful things come to pass. The trick is to learn and remember what God thinks is great and wonderful.

I can’t say that I am as saintly as Barnabas, because it took much longer for me to accept the dissolution of my desires and promptly accept God’s changing desires for my life. I lamented in ways that would have made Paul blush. I believe God did that because He involved me in things that are difficult to locate in the previous patterns of His works. But I like to think that’s the way Barnabas felt meeting and leaving Paul: it was all new to him too. For me, I like to see a precedent, in God’s Word, for whatever it is that God is asking me to do, because I think of myself as a ‘transient shadow cast upon a brief morrow.’ I used to think I should just imitate, not innovate, because if it doesn’t make money most people will tell you to take a hike, or I might just be wrong. I was wrong, God wants to do new things in real ways. The few people who’ve known me for a long time say I’ve changed… I think I really haven’t, but I am certain that God has changed me in real and demonstrable ways. I’ve just shared one today.     

One truth about Barnabas that God did realize in me, by making me realize it finally, is that I have grown Spiritually because of the failures of people that I should’ve been able to trust, not despite them. This point is numinously central, as it frees us from grievance and resentment, so we can grow and change… sometimes change everything. It liberates us from a victim mentality. Please hear me on this: It is one case for the oppressed to cry out, that is just to God, and He will receive them because they, like prophets, cry out for God’s will to be done. It is an entirely different case for the wealthy and empowered to lie about justice and pervert God’s will to keep harming others, so He will never accept them or their father, the Liar. There is nothing more disgusting before the eyes of a righteous God than some of history’s most privileged humans in world playing “the victims” and attempting to justify their vile works by hammering the scales and blaspheming His name. The kindest thing I can say about them is I might have become one of them if God had not allowed wicked and greedy “friends” to destroy my hopes and dreams, repeatedly. By keeping on and letting go in the Spirit, following Jesus, our Father took the world’s worst historic curse and turned it into my greatest blessing… and then some. What’s more? They’ve already lost. I was told “the living will turn,” and I can prove it by simply breathing.

I do not curse them in response, as I’ve learned a great pneumatological reality by coming out of them and looking back. If a person’s words and actions do not match, then their words are meaningless, just more toxic fumes. Action is far more indicative of who people are than any words ever could be. I am sorry this Truth was lost in poorly framed, speculative, and self-centered doctrines and institutes. If you’ve honestly accepted the reality of Jesus in your heart, then he will manifest in your life, his image will bare changes in your day to day, everything, from your clothes to your heart, overtime if you stay willing. So too, you will change the lives of others just by being, not really trying at all. Ultimately, you’ll love others sacrifically, never curse their existence like a devil.

Lastly, I’ve discovered that riches in the Spirit aren’t measured by what one has, but by what one gives. Certainly, you’ve noticed that the people with the most material wealth and power want it the most. People often say, “You’ve got to want it more than the other guy!” There’s a vaporous wisdom to that rusty logic. But my picker was broke, so first I had to learn to want what God wanted for me (remember discipline), then follow the Wind over time, then I could work at His choices harder than the other guy. It’s often tedious, but on occasion it’s been the greatest rush I ever had. Believing anyone else, for any length of time, to doubt God was my greatest mistake. In fairness, I was “supposed to trust” most of them.

Afterwards, even when I withdrew, God did not. He ain’t fragile or needy like some folks imagine or argue, so they can cultivate worldly controls. They’re dead. If we keep choosing Life, then He can take our doubt and use it to make us stronger. He can take our rebellion and bring His peace to the world. You won’t find a better deal. You’ll certainly find much easier terms from all the other gods, but every one of them ends in death, the end stop. For Enjambment, the only requirement is to humble ourselves and stay at our Father’s agenda. Then the Holy Spirit will invest in us eternally. That’s exactly what Jesus did, no matter what, and I am following hot after him. In final return, it is the oddest thing that He, not I, calls all that mess His glory… every… dang… day.

‘Everyone wants to be Full but very few are willing to be Filled.’ – A W Tozer

Your Throne, O God, Is Forever

My heart overflows with a pleasing theme;
    I address my verses to the king;
    my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

You are the most handsome of the sons of men;
    grace is poured upon your lips;
    therefore God has blessed you forever.
Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one,
    in your splendor and majesty!

In your majesty ride out victoriously
    for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness;
    let your right hand teach you awesome deeds!
Your arrows are sharp
    in the heart of the king’s enemies;
    the peoples fall under you.

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.
    The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness;
    you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
    with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
     your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
     daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor;
    at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

 Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear:
    forget your people and your father’s house,
     and the king will desire your beauty.
Since he is your lord, bow to him.
     The people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts,
    the richest of the people.

All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold.
    In many-colored robes she is led to the king,
    with her virgin companions following behind her.
 With joy and gladness they are led along
    as they enter the palace of the king.

 In place of your fathers shall be your sons;
  you will make them princes in all the earth.
 I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations;
    therefore nations will praise you forever and ever.

Yes and Amen

No matter what comes, let us endevour to persevere over this time. Heck, let’s use the Spirit’s word: overcome. If we have a bad day in the meantime just reflect on most any quote from the close of any of Paul’s letters. We need the time because there is a lot of work to do on all sides. Perhaps, “we must stand fast a little-even at the risk of being heroes.” I am sorry that so, so many were not prepared properly. That miseducation is not the fault of followers, but how they respond now is their resposibilty. So, let’s get through August and then see what is what in God’s New Year. Get low and love hard.

(next post, sunrise September 17th)

Believers’ Least Favorite Word: Discipline

Mark how to know yourself. To know himself a man must ever be on the watch over himself, holding his outer faculties. This discipline must be continued until he reaches a state of consciousness. The object is to reach a state of consciousness — a new state of oneself. It is to reach now, where one is present to oneself. What I say unto you I say unto all: Be awake. – Meister Eckhart

The Christian gospel is a message of freedom through grace and we must stand fast in the liberty where Christ has made us free. But what shall we do with our freedom? The Apostle Paul grieved that some of the believers of his day took advantage of their freedom and indulged the flesh in the name of Christian liberty. They threw off discipline, scorned obedience and made gods of their own bellies. & We should discipline ourselves to read the Word until it comes alive…until we can almost feel the breath of God. – A W Tozer

Discipline is doing what you really don’t want to do so you can do what you really want to do.- Jeff Fisher

Discipline for a Right Life

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
    but he who hates reproof is stupid
.
A good man obtains favor from the Lord,
    but a man of evil devices he condemns
.
No one is established by wickedness,
    but the root of the righteous will never be moved
.
An excellent wife is the crown of her husband,
    but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.
The thoughts of the righteous are just;
    the counsels of the wicked are deceitful.
The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood,
    but the mouth of the upright delivers them
.
The wicked are overthrown and are no more,
    but the house of the righteous will stand.
A man is commended according to his good sense,
    but one of twisted mind is despised.
Better to be lowly and have a servant
    than to play the great man and lack bread.
Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast,
    but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.
Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
    but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.
Whoever is wicked covets the spoil of evildoers,
    but the root of the righteous bears fruit
.
An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips,
    but the righteous escapes from trouble.
From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good,
    and the work of a man’s hand comes back to him.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
    but a wise man listens to advice
.
The vexation of a fool is known at once,
    but the prudent ignores an insult.
Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence,
    but a false witness utters deceit.
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
    but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Truthful lips endure forever,
    but a lying tongue is but for a moment
.
Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil,
    but those who plan peace have joy
.
No ill befalls the righteous,
    but the wicked are filled with trouble.
Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,
    but those who act faithfully are his delight.
A prudent man conceals knowledge,
    but the heart of fools proclaims folly.
The hand of the diligent will rule,
    while the slothful will be put to forced labor
.
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down,
    but a good word makes him glad.
One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor,
    but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
Whoever is slothful will not roast his game,
    but the diligent man will get precious wealth.
In the path of righteousness is life,
    and in its pathway there is no death
.

Believers don’t like to talk about discpline at all. And in review, they sing about it even less. So please just accept this as prayerful, biblical instruction set to music.

We’re trying to show a little discipline and keep the post manageable, so I won’t clip in James’ letter. But when I think of discipline, I think of “the wisdom letter of the second witness.” For me, discipline has become the pursuit of wisdom, and justice is the result (or wake) of exercising discipline. For James, it was simply public reflections on growing up with Jesus. It makes perfect sense that the person who had the most day-to-day experience with Jesus wrote to all those called to follow him about “how to live” our daily lives as Jesus lived his own trials, great and small, with discipline.

Odds are James didn’t know, in full, his brother was the Messiah until after the resurrection. To be sure nobody down here knew exactly how Jesus would live out his messianic role until after the resurrection. So today we’re spared the shock and awe of watching the glorification of Jesus and the transformation of his followers. Most of us have been handed a version of Jesus fully-formed, with all the glory “baked-in” when we first encountered his story. We gained it without any nagging personal knowledge that would make us say, “hey now, wait a minute.” In fact, often if you raise an exception “good people” are there to correct or scold you in many contexts. I think that’s sad. The way God made us and the way we messed ourselves up means that it takes a while for us to awaken to a new reality, and it takes even longer to walk in it. Many never do, and that, without question, is the saddest thing of all.

I’ve literally heard ordained ministers say, “after you’re ‘saved,’ Jesus has no expectations of you.” Yes they did, and there are entire trees of doctrine that imply worse by their teaching. It’s horseshit. And far worse, that “way of living” perverts souls and undermines the cause of Christ in the world much worse than any type of pornography or moral sin ever could. In reality, Satan is most pleased by undiscplined Christians. They don’t just stay “neutral;” in effect, they’re fighting for Satan as they’re stumbling blocks to other people seeking God. And I am being kind, because James straight up tells the same people they’re dead.

You can count me and James among the doctrinal transgressors and find us among the theological sinners, because we’d both rather be working out our shared salvation in daily fear and trembling, penitently in humility, than laid out, cozy and feasting, in an open grave waiting for the dirt to rain down with only a tombstone above that a self-named church wrote on: “they’re saved.” Too harsh? For me and James, the resurrection of Jesus changed everything. So if we ever thought, even for a moment, that we’d have to die in order to see real and substantial, demonstrable and empirical, changes in our lives and consciousness’, then in truth, death is still our real master. That is unacceptable, even for a moment, no matter how long you’ve been following Jesus.      

James knew, perhaps better than any other living soul, what it took for Jesus to handle his trials, from the family of origin to the public crucifixion. It took discipline. Therefore to follow Jesus, we need discipline. It is not an option that we may or may not chose for our personal form of salvation, nor is it a punishment for novices, nor is it something to look back on nostalgically as a long-timer who “arrived” years ago. Discipline is a requirement, every day for everyone, if one wants to marry into God’s family. Here’s the rub, I have confessed to you all before that I don’t see enough name-brand communities presenting the of the reality of Christ in the world, but I see even less of James’ wisdom at work in many assemblies. I confess further, I am not “good with it” my own self, but I have learned to accept God’s discipline. Thankfully, acceptance is often the hardest part most of the time.

There are a lot of good folks out there who do the opposite, they refuse to accept anything “of God” if it does not meet their requirements, as if they’ll discpline God. Heck, they can’t even judge angels if they don’t know them. They mistake belief for certainty, and they confuse what they think they know with the trust it takes to please God. Sadly, I cannot be sure that they’ll be at The Lamb’s Wedding Breakfast, even though they put the RSVP on their refrigerator, took/posted a selfie with it on social media, and told all their neighbors about it face to face.

Eschatological blow-outs and no-shows aside, this is one of the few truths I know about discipline, God, and his people: God ALWAYS sends his people what they need, not what they want. Only sometimes does he send what they want, but even then most are slow on the uptake (i.e. Jesus himself). That story repeats countless times in the Book, and the only thing that ever changes are the names and faces of folks who refuse to accept the reality of their situation simply because they don’t want to. They are spoiled children at best. I know because I was an expert at being a spoiled child, until I learned to desire what God wanted to teach me.

This is an immature form of discipline, which the powers in this world and Vichey Christians in the past age believe to be like God’s discipline. It’s really just how they want to act as a ruler, like power-mad and blood-lusty gentiles always have. That is why this worldly model is passed on down by dark minds and selfish hearts, even in sermons and family homes. Sadly, in reality, they don’t know God because they never accepted His discpline, so they certainly can’t “ape it” in leadership.
Bailian pulled a real David… a mature failure in discipline, despite noble goals and a good heart, that he mangaged to straighten out latter in the story, by ‘deciding for Jesus’ discipline’ instead of the easy, expedient, and profitable way out. However, it did cost him and a lot of other people. But in fairness… Eva Green? That ain’t cricket.

God’s Discipline is Unbelievable Love (Please believe it now)

 I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and nakedI counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repentBehold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Inward mature discpline is costly, wrought with soul-crushing and thinky pain, as it evokes an awareness of who we really are and what we’re really doing. But if we hold on, it always awakens a new consciosness of self and others.
Once learned, mature discipline turned outward in simple, daily interactions reforms the consciousness of even an enemy with clarity of thought and a better grasp of reality.

Legitimate Children of the Unshakable Kingdom

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives
.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons (and daughters). For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holinessFor the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

“Discipline reveals itself when it’s raining.”

The quote from below sister Rosetta came from perhaps the most disciplined person I ever knew. He was a mentor of sorts, who I watched closely as he taught heroes how to do the impossible on a daily basis, often before sunrise in some of the worst conditions a person could imagine. I mean the worst conditions, the Darién Gap during the rainy season or the Sahara desert in the summer. By the time artic conditions were offered, I was in my late twenties and took a hard pass. I’ve got some stories about all that, but the point for today is that I arrived at those experiences, which set me up for even greater experiences later, not by some ingenious plan or by any kind of visual, miraculous intervention. It was really simple and mundane, God led and I followed. Only now, under orders am I mentioning it. I didn’t ever need to talk about it before I did it or while I did it. The undisciplined talk and never do it. When was the last time you met a generous woman, who talked all the time about how generous she was? Same goes for an honest man…

…More than 99% of the time, mine was a Forest Gump experience, rather than Ezekiel’s encounter with interlaced and invisible realities. I stumbled onto that path by allowing God to turn my desires, which some thought noble enough, slowly but yet methodically into a desire He had for his Son, a Nobility that no one has fully encountered yet. There were so many places it could have ended suddenly and terribly with awful people, and there were alot of charming places I could have settled and quit, among lovely people. But I kept allowing God to draw me on. It started out selfishly enough about a year after my baptism. I was on a long break from studies in a scenic part of Mexico, where many gringos retire. It was a convenient and affordable way to work on my Spanish and run around in an exotic and romantic world. Afterwards, I just kept running. Sorry to mix in another movie reference, but it’s so apt that I don’t have the discipline to pass it up.

I met a fellow who had been in special service to Westmoreland in Vietnam. I used to read military history all the time, especially on his theater, so I had a lot of questions. Over the weeks he had a lot of answers, and I got to meet his family, who he called his “reward” after decades at war in Asia. I wanted to know those worlds, their secrets, and how they affected others. He wanted a confessor, it seemed at times. It put me aback at first, but I just kept on running with uncomfortable acceptance and service. A couple of months later, without preparation on my behalf only openness on my part, I had a focus for my graduate work in Anthropology and a ready-made global network of informants (one was the disciplined fellow I cited above). I was set to study how the world’s last great empire treated its’ subalterns and how it told a very different story to folks in the homeland. Without exception all empires do it. Despite all my Gumpish innocence and ignorance, it was a world of darkness and terror covering the globe that I ran through for at least 15 years.

In the end, upon my exit, an authority marveled at my discipline in debrief. His remark bemused me. Usually authorities have called me undisciplined simply because they didn’t think I was doing what they told me to do, like that was what God wanted me to do. But this one accused me of having great discipline. If I do have any discipline, then I’d be the last to know, because God has kept giving me more to learn every day, more than “the powers that be” ever could, more than I ever asked for. So I’ve never once had a long time off to feel like “Ah ha, I’ve arrived. That’s nice.” It’s always felt like more running, after a cool-down, and thinking “What the heck is all that about now? What more could possibly happen?!” The point is, for me, discipline seems to look much different on the outside than it feels on the inside.

When I asked the authority to explicate, he responded, “Son, in all my years (about 45 in the field I presumed of him) I have never seen anyone pass through a world of shit like that and come out the other side smelling like a rose.” All I thought to myself was, “Well, I best not tell him the bigger half of the story if I want to get home quickly.” So I bought him off by saying, “I had a couple of good teachers and the only God that matters. So there might be some discipline in it.” He laughed and confessed he was an atheist. So I looked him in the eye, shook his hand real hard, and said, “Sir, if your testimony about me is true, then you must know that God is as real as our handshake. And if you ever want to know him all you have to do is ask.” When I saw that all too familiar expression on his face, I could tell the message had reached him, so I practiced some discipline by leaving well-enough alone and ran back to what was left of my home.             

I almost forgot the important part! The fella who gave me the quote for the clip above, also gave me some of his secrets about personal discipline. One of the more practical ones I’ll pass on to you now. He said whenever he was under fire or feeling edgy for a long haul, he’d repeat a single couplet of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) chapter 2 every day… just a single couplet throughout the day, day after day. It worked for him, and it’s worked for me so far. If you try it, we hope it works for you too.

Discipline in the Time of Trial

My child, when you come to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for testing.
Set your heart right and be steadfast,
    and do not be impetuous in time of calamity.
Cling to him and do not depart,
    so that your last days may be prosperous.
Accept whatever befalls you,
    and in times of humiliation be patient.
For gold is tested in the fire,
    and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation.
Trust in him, and he will help you;
    make your ways straight, and hope in him.

You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy;
    do not stray, or else you may fall.
You who fear the Lord, trust in him,
  and your reward will not be lost.
You who fear the Lord, hope for good things,
 for lasting joy and mercy.
Consider the generations of old and see:
    has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed?
Or has anyone persevered in the fear of the Lord and been forsaken?
    Or has anyone called upon him and been neglected?
For the Lord is compassionate and merciful;
 he forgives sins and saves in time of distress.

Woe to timid hearts and to slack hands,
    and to the sinner who walks a double path!
Woe to the faint-hearted who have no trust!
 Therefore they will have no shelter.
Woe to you who have lost your nerve!
    What will you do when the Lord’s reckoning comes?

Those who fear the Lord do not disobey his words,
    and those who love him keep his ways.
Those who fear the Lord seek to please him,
    and those who love him fulfill his law.
Those who fear the Lord prepare their hearts,
    and humble themselves before him.
Let us fall into the hands of the Lord,
    but not into the hands of mortals;
for equal to his majesty is his mercy,
    and equal to his name are his works.

The penultimate thought that I have to share about disciplined growth with God is scary, but I know so many others quit too soon because of it. Besides keeping an open mind and willing heart even when your world collapses, prepare yourself for long periods of bone-chilling loneliness… even if you’re in fellowship. But please remember that you are never really alone. The reality is God wants you to Himself for a time. It is often dreadful, but if you stay with Him, stay awake because you won’t hardly recognize yourself, or Him, on the other side. Honestly, now that I am married and boring, now that He’s given me better than what I thought I wanted, way too much honestly, I look back to all the rain storms and desert winds with some fondness and a lot of nostalgia. And I think, “Huh, what a small price to pay for such a great gift.”

So many years ago, I found a kindred spirit in Tozer on pilgrimage.

Lastly, imagine you were assigned night-watch over a ward of diabetic children. How would you respond if you were confronted by such a task? Would you do your best to get them to daylight safely? Or would you spoil them with sugar, giving them only more of what they craved? Would you do the easy thing, to make yourself their hero in the dark as you lead them from illness unto death? Or could you do the disciplined thing to heal them for when the doctor returned in the morning? Would you be willing to be lonely and falsely accussed, even cursed, all night by morbidly spoiled children in order to deliver them at daybreak?

Now, imagine what would become of a “mature” people who only ate what they wanted for decades. What if a people only indulged news that agreed with their appetites for years? What if they lived for themselves at the expense of others for a generation? What if they only believed what they wanted to believe? Can you imagine that level of spiritual sickness? Remember, it has happened to “God’s people” often. God’s response has always been the same. Now, try and imagine why anyone would lie in that situation. It’s beyond me.

Leaders REALLY need to think about these thought experiments closely because they will be held to a standard commensurate with their prestige, not their followers’. Before accepting any leadership role, even more so when I know it’s God’s call, I take a long time wondering, “Can I honestly fulfill my obligations?” The only righteous “yes” requires God’s discipline… for more than a minute. In the Book, successful responses to God’s calls to leadership took a long time in R&D. For the undisciplined any time is too long; they want what they want, when they want it, and they want someone else to pay for it. Conversely, after due consideration and apropos of the experiment at hand, the wise response would be, “Can I do anything besides eating sugar to feel good?”  Next I think, “How shall I pass on my experience with not eating sugar and still feeling good only some of the time?” I don’t worry any more about what the “diabetics” will say or do about me. But also, I know that’s the first and only thing that many leaders consider. I understand the impulse, but it is increasingly destructive for themselves and others to go on that way.

Honestly, I already know all their protests by rote. Their predictable counter-tactics and lack of original thought astonishes me. It all could be comic if not for their impenitence and what it entails. Afterall, I was born into a basket of bourgeois platitudes set upon a river of affluence. Whatever insult they think scathing, sister I teethed on it. It was only God’s discipline that saved me from dying their regrettable yet well carpeted way. So I am only beholding to Him in the end for all the “whys” and “hows” and “where/when fors.” To keep my head straight, I recollect first myself as one of the diabetic children. Then I think mostly of the only One we all must answer last. From that position, if I honestly desire to live in God’s reality and no other’s, then discipline is wanting what God says I need, not what I feel that I want. And, as a gracious bonus, whatever comes next is right, and I am awake to accept all things, all people, and God’s further instruction.

Life can be traumatic and discpline is harsh on occassion, but hold on (stand fast) in acceptance (at liberty) for the Spirit will transmute all that noise into a beautiful and unique soundtrack called your life.

Discipline: Instruction with Warnings

He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
    will suddenly be broken beyond healing.
When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,
 but when the wicked rule, the people groan.
He who loves wisdom makes his father glad,
     but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.
By justice a king builds up the land,
    but he who exacts gifts tears it down
.
A man who flatters his neighbor
    spreads a net for his feet.
An evil man is ensnared in his transgression,
    but a righteous man sings and rejoices.
A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;
    a wicked man does not understand such knowledge
.
Scoffers set a city aflame,
    but the wise turn away wrath.
If a wise man has an argument with a fool,
    the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.
Bloodthirsty men hate one who is blameless
    and seek the life of the upright.
A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
    but a wise man quietly holds it back
.
If a ruler listens to falsehood,
 all his officials will be wicked
.
The poor man and the oppressor meet together;
    the Lord gives light to the eyes of both.
If a king faithfully judges the poor,
    his throne will be established forever
.
The rod and reproof give wisdom,
    but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
When the wicked increase, transgression increases,
    but the righteous will look upon their downfall.
Discipline your son, and he will give you rest;
    he will give delight to your heart.
Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
 but blessed is he who keeps the law
.
By mere words a servant is not disciplined,
    for though he understands, he will not respond
.
Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?
    There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Whoever pampers his servant from childhood
    will in the end find him his heir.
A man of wrath stirs up strife,
    and one given to anger causes much transgression.
One’s pride will bring him low,
    but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.
The partner of a thief hates his own life;
    he hears the curse, but discloses nothing.
The fear of man lays a snare,
    but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
Many seek the face of a ruler,
    but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.
An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous,
    but one whose way is straight is an abomination to the wicked
.

(Next post, sundown May 23rd)

Love

Love, which is the complete dwelling of God in those who by means of dispassion are pure in heart, for they will see God. To Him be the glory forever. ― John Climacus, The Ladder

On a day set apart to listen in silence, the last day, I serve only to ensure that his words live.

Two angels facedown, wing tips to wing tips over the body laid upon a slab of stone, which is now the foundation stone of the City of Life and Garden of Peace. The custodians of the Word whispered in responsive repetition to unify their intelligences and wills. United, they avowed the last embodied words of his earthly ministry in aboriginal flesh. They enunciated until the tomb’s stone walls whispered in responsive testimony to a stony world and unborn assemblies of those yet to come to hear. In reflection, those called out embody his words in their flesh as living stones… who are sculpted, inscribed, and mediated by angels. In fulfillment, in further ways and greater things, reborn through infinite ages, we are heard to the end.

“Whom are you looking for?”

“I AM.”

“I AM.”

“Whom are you looking for?”

“I told you that I AM. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” 

“Put your sword into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?”

“I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why ask me? Ask those who heard me what I said to them. They know what I said.”

 “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”

“Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?”

“My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”

“You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 

“You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”

“Woman, behold, your son.”

 “Behold, your mother.”

“I thirst.”

“It is finished.”

Echo of whispers even from the past…

“Not a bone of it will be broken.”

“They will look upon him whom they have pierced.”

Hear the angelic testimony, come to his words thirsty, as he was… echo them into the future, into your flesh and your world, until he answers you, in person, risen from your tomb…

“Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water.”

Reflecting on just these words we can know important things, in a simple way, about his earthly ministry that we will follow, if we speak his name on earth. He is, and he is the One who is. He is always liberating captives and healing God’s creations. His way is never violent, yet his way embraces the violence of embodied suffering for our Father’s will. He’s looking for witnesses, true witnessses. Where people follow his kingly rules, where people are truth-filled, there is his Kingdom; it’ll never be where people judge falsely. There is ultimate and unavoidable accountability for all powers and authorities, in every dimension of Creation. There is a Glorious weight that assays the sin within a soul and deflates vainities within an ego. This answerability is perfect love that never puffs up. He is always creating a salvific, Spiritual community that is always superior and only analogous to a family in the flesh. He is unbrokenly human yet thirsty and pierced.

The crux of the matter today is that he completed his assignment through great suffering, which we will follow… or die trying. His role in love is fulfilled, the model of love that God desires was finally established perfectly on earth, long before any of us were born to accept our imperfect roles. Only devils try to change this plan of love, because angels never will forget what they witnessed and guarded, even when human desire and pride within “his people” abandon love. Finally, let’s not forget the future among the ashes, the enjambment of last things… there is what happened next, on the first day, and will happen soon for all those who come and receive.

For all the vain, earthly fireworks about death and destruction, for all the lofty notions in low theology or selfish teachings, and for all the religous folks forever running amok… it is real easy to lose the plot. Afterall the sound and fury of men, God’s Story is just a love story for God’s glory in all Creation. Sometimes it is Days of Wine and Roses or Failure to Launch, maybe Casablanca or An Affair to Remember, while for other times it is Mr. and Mrs. Smith or When Harry met Sally, it could be anyone or all. The important thing to remember that love is and love is happening, because He is love.

In that spirit, I asked Jesus for a word that I could relay to his beloved in meantime, past all the smoke and mirrors, all of the common guns and butter “Christ-haunted” agendas, safe and separate from today’s holy terror and ungodly glories. I asked ‘if he had one chance to tell you something intimately‘ above all the other voices… for this night and at this particular time… no matter what comes or what other tidings anyone may try to sell you. I was dumbfounded at how quickly and clearly I got an answer, and kept getting it back in January. It seemed a bit silly, yet it’s profound beyond compare. I was gobsmacked because it’s by one of my favorite song writers and a favorite singer of mine; they combined in a song that I never heard till we had this dicussion January 3rd.

Until all is said and done, keep him in your heart while headed north to Pleasant Stream.

Ascend, children of God, ascend eagerly. Let your hearts’ resolve be to climb. Listen to the voice of the one who says: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of our God,” Who makes our feet to be like deer, “Who sets us on high places, that we may be triumphant on his road.”

Run, I beg you, run with him who said, “Let us hurry until we all arrive at the unity of faith and of the knowledge of God, at mature adulthood, at the measure of the stature of Christ’s fullness”. . . . for God indeed is love, and to Him be all praise, dominion, and power, forever and ever. In Him is the cause past, present, and future of all goodness throughout infinite ages. Amen. ― John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent

(Sunrise April 21st)

Willingness

Come now, let us set things right,
says the Lord:
Though your sins be like scarlet,
    they may become white as snow;
Though they be red like crimson,
    they may become white as wool.
If you are willing, and obey,
    you shall eat the good things of the land;
But if you refuse and resist,
    you shall be eaten by the sword:
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken! – Isaiah

And I am giving counsel in this matter, for it is appropriate for you who began not only to act but to act willingly last year: complete it now, so that your eager willingness may be matched by your completion of it out of what you have. For if the eagerness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have… — an apostle born irregularly (talking about more than just money)

Obedience is the burial of the will and the resurrection of humility. — John Climacus

Willingness is the principle that is fixed in the eternal now. It is only good if exercised in this moment. It has no utility for the past nor any use for a promise of tomorrow. Come now, as you are, in every moment.

Holiest Wednesday

Often, in the very stream of being rescued, we feel great and are lulled into a belief that everything is done. We think all our problems are over and our role is finished. Grace misconstrued can have that effect. In this state, at these times, we are tempted to stop and rest on our laurels, dream about a distant future, and construct our own expectations of how God should fulfill his promises. We must avoid this beautiful trap by willingly pressing forward to the real prize no matter what, treating the two imposters of success and failure as one in the same.

I wrote a poem in the dark night of March 23rd of 2005. I’ve shared it before, but never the story about it. Attenuated at the end of a very long tether, I was shocked and shone some of what was to come in the next months and years. I thought my beloved and myself were home free, but things were grim and brilliant all at once. I knew too much and not enough, as if knowing more would’ve helped. I was not resting well, and Jesus asked me if there was anything I wanted. So I asked something I always wanted to know, but never had the opportunity nor taken the face time, as those are the rare occasions I try just to listen.

I asked when he knew exactly, with some detail, how and when his earthly ministry would end. He said he knew as the Sun set on Tuesday of the first Holy Week. Even then, he didn’t know everything. There’s the fact that he is the Son, not the Father who knows all in advance, despite the fact that the Son gets the last say for the willing, humble, and obedient. There’s also the underlying stochastic processes that stand behind the dynamics of life in the flesh. Moreover, let’s not forget, the capricious nature of the crowd’s will that may turn on a mustard seed. His answer un-nerved me, because it was not the omniscient and magisterial revelatory answer that I expected. It was small like me, not great like him. It was completely relatable and comprehensible to me in that moment. I knew it was true because that is the Jesus I’ve known since my soul awoke, and the same one I’ll always know.

We talked about Micah, now called chapter 6 (initially verses 7-8 to be exact), about how he and his would suffer for others. We also discussed how he felt about and thought of the people from there through the subsequent oracle, into the last chapter, the end, then and now, grieving that many would still be devastated no matter what he or anyone else would do. That’s him… always thinking of others, and also, he said he thought about the story of Absalom’s reconciliation to David, Absalom’s rebellion, and David’s escape from Jerusalem. We also spoke of how that projected into things playing out in a then distant future, and we discussed how you can know something well without knowing exactly. That’s him too… dropping something insightful yet hard to square with the fresh understanding I just gained.

I went to sleep afterwards, and awoke sometime in the night and just scribbled this out in one go. I still have that piece of paper, but it’s just proof. Further proof, some of the things we discussed and I wrote that night never made any sense, not a lick, until recently. Now they’re dead-on and all the way live. I had a suspicion that might the case ultimately, so I always kept them near my heart and close at hand. But all that is just doggerel compared to knowing how he feels and what he thinks. That is the prize that brought me peace, then and now… only because he was willing.

His secrets cry aloud,
we have no need of tongues.
His heart keeps open house,
while our doors widely swing.
An epic in His eyes,
His Love wears no disguise.

Our truths are all foreknown,
His anguish we self-reveal.
We are naked to the bone,
His nakedness His only shield.
Overselves is all we wear,
we keep His Spirit spare.

His Love will endure,
the dead will speak the Truth.
In language strict and pure,
we stop our lying mouths.
Desire wraps our clearest cries,
Witnessed agony carries us to the skies.

Humility in doing justice and loving goodness is what God desires of all his children, at all times, even his only unique Son when he was torn upon the lies and hatreds that we construct and lift-up… when those are the very things we should murder. And that type of humility, in this type of world, takes a mountain of willingness, day after day, even unto death.

The Lord Cries Out

Hear, then, what the Lord says:
Arise, plead your case before the mountains,
 and let the hills hear your voice!
Hear, O mountains, the Lord’s case,
    pay attention, O foundations of the earth!
For the Lord has a case against his people;
 he enters into trial with Israel.
My people, what have I done to you?
how have I wearied you? Answer me!
I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
from the place of slavery I ransomed you;
And I sent before you Moses,
    Aaron, and Miriam.
My people, remember what Moab’s King Balak planned,
    and how Balaam, the son of Beor, answered him.
Recall the passage from Shittim to Gilgal,
    that you may know the just deeds of the Lord.
With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow before God most high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
  with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with myriad streams of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my crime,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

You have been told, O mortal, what is good,
    and what the Lord requires of you:
Only to do justice and to love goodness,
    and to walk humbly with your God.

(Be willing to walk humble loving goodness and do justice tommorrow night at sundown)