“I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable.”
- Joseph Addison
It has been a while since I’ve sat down and written anything with any thought what-so-ever. Life, if you will, has sort of interrupted my life. But it is this very statement upon which I write today. I found myself today writing in confusion; fighting the person I am with what little of the Spirit of God have I left within me. I say all of this with brutal honesty. Even now I couldn’t imagine a better adjective for the beating I am giving myself but than to let it be pure brutality.
As Christians, we go through life drinking the most pure, plush, and posh poisons put in our cups; then after it is all said and done, we blame the devil, we blame the flesh, we blame everything but ourselves. How ignorant can a follower of Christ be? Jesus, the Gospel is right there at our fingertips and we flick it off in disgust in the same way a child flicks the slimy, green nose bacteria off their fingertips; not knowing where it lands, just that its gone until the next time. I know, disgusting picture, but it is true. It is truly how we treat the only Person that should matter in our lives.
Today, the most beautiful thing happened to me: I experienced the act of forgiving. However, this broke me: The pure stupidity on my part to waste every moment and minute of my life harboring disgust, hate, malice, etc. towards the persons involved. The Christian life is complicated because we make it complicated. We make it beyond unbearable. We waste so much time trying to pin-point the problems with everyone else; and even the most humble of Christians waste time pin-pointing their own problems. What we really need to be doing is letting God pin-point the problems. This reality became true for me today.
I bathed myself in dung for so many years, washing behind my ears making sure everything is clean and pure before the eyes of God. I bathed myself in dung; the absoluteness of that statement manifested clarity as a familiar stench in my nostrils today. My focus has always been on the abominable actions and behaviors I allow to creep in and out of my life. These things break me, they shatter me. However, being faced with a choice to revel or embrace, I took the latter and it fragmented me.
The recurring theme in my life has been missing the most gracious opportunities to boldly go before throne and weep at the feet of my Creator. I’ve realized in the recent hours that I have been nothing but a jester in court of the King. I have missed every waking opportunity. What a fool I have been. What an absolute fool.
Myriads of lessons learned today. Lessons in Clarity. Lessons in Forgiveness. Lessons in Forbearance. Lessons in Love. Lessons in Peace. Lessons in Humility.
“[…]Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life.”
- Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale from the novel THE SCARLET LETTER
In recent days, I have found myself engrossed in the fictional life of the Reverend Aurthur Dimmesdale. A minister in adultery with the, later, impregnated Hester Prynne. Throughout the story she is ridiculed for her sin never revealing the father of the child during the ridicule. Dimmesdale, in his meticulous way, wants her to reveal his sin even though he cannot do it himself. His convictions weighed on him so relentlessly causing his health to diminish, ultimately killing him. So many times have I wanted to scream out the pain of my deepest, darkest sin but could not. Not to anyone I know. All abominable sins aside, no one would confess the murder or lust in their heart toward the people they encounter daily. It is human nature to feel shame. No Christian person would stand in door way of their church and declare their atrocious acts of lust or hate. Humanity makes it nearly impossible!
I deeply admire the character of Dimmesdale. He, in my opinion, represented a true Christian in deep sin. He hid his sin (as any proud person would) but did not allow the convictions of the sin to escape his conscience. It sounds easy to do, but it is not. Especially when one commits a specific sin repeatedly, it becomes routine and overlooked. One begins to rationalize why they do what they do and do not look at it anymore with righteousness and conviction, but instead regard it as truth rather than the lie it always was.
People get this sort of idea in their mind about suffering for Christ as if it has to be an array of physical beatings, martyrdom, or ridicule; but what about taking hold of the flesh, fighting it and then losing? What about the kind of suffering no one can see but you? The suffering dealt with in the deepest, darkest, most dank corners of your heart. How anyone can put on a Sunday face for so long with no spiritual infirmities is far beyond me! You may not be getting battery acid thrown in your face in the middle of a jungle somewhere or being called a “Jesus fag” at school. However, if you are dealing with pain of regret, asking God daily to forgive you of this sin or that sin, already knowing he throws it out as far as the east is to the west, you are suffering. No amount of apologies, no pool of Bethesda, no laying of hands could take away the guilt if you wallow in it. You will be like Dimmesdale; nauseated to death.
I realize now the approach to secret sin Dimmesdale made was truly the death of him in more ways than just the physical. I admire his convictions and character as I have said earlier but his approach was shameful in the eyes of God. To not allow God to build in him a stronger foundation was wrong. In times of sowing evil, when the harvest of rotten fruit is ready for the picking, just pick the fruit. There is no use standing around staring at it. Pick it. It’s yours.
“…God sent Nathan to David. Note, Though God may suffer his people to fall into sin, he will not suffer them to lie still in it.”
- Matthew Henry
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” – 1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV)
Without going into an elongated theological dissertation on free will, I would rather share some of the thoughts passing through my mind as of lately. Those of you who are close enough to me to have had some sort of deep theological conversation/debate, probably already know where I stand on the topic of free will and how it is used in human nature. To understand the next few paragraphs, I will give the reader a brief summation of how I ended up where I am today.
I was raised in Calvary Chapel, with Calvary Chapel thinking, Calvary Chapel music, Calvary Chapel “distinctives” ingrained in my mind. Before I go on, please note this is not a blog made to bash the Calvary Chapel ‘non-denominational’ denomination. If anyone is not very familiar with the theological stance of Calvary Chapel, the backbone is clearly Arminian. At the time, did I have a problem with it? No. Was I satisfied by what I learned? To my knowledge, yes. Most of the errors throughout my life made at church were because of two separate things: 1. ME. 2. The nature of the [Christian] church (which is a separate discussion all together).
Over time, as I faced different obstacles, I started falling off of the Christian “grid”, if you will. How could this be? I said my ‘sinner’s prayer‘ when I was 5. I got baptized at 15. How did I end up being so evil? And when I say ‘evil.’ I really was. Anyone who has known me all my life will attest to the things I am capable of doing. More time passes and I just became a person without a conscience. As my spirituality declined, my sins escalated into greater sins. Note, for this instance, I put sins on a scale in order convey my message a little more clearly. Being raised in church, being subliminally taught by my church peers, I was able to fool many people into thinking I was still on the “path” God wanted me to be on. It’s easy to live two lives: Church on Sunday through Wednesday and Party Thursday through Saturday. You just talk the right talk, show up when you have to show up, and people think you’re “saved.” It was almost too easy. However, it got harder play the part when I stopped caring about what I was doing and what people knew I was doing. More time passes, a series of life changing events (divorce, drug addiction, sex addiction, alcoholism, near death experiences, etc, etc) occur and then finally, it happened: I realized I wasn’t saved, even though I made the choice to get saved, I was not a true Christian. I had realized I was influenced by my peers into doing something that I was bred to do. I did it all before: I said the sinners prayer, I cried at retreats, I prayed for crying teens, I memorized John 3:16 and all of the other “greatest hits” of the Bible. Fortunately for me, I was later saved on my own, in my bedroom, on my knees in a sea of tears, filled with the darkest of confessions from the heart. The reader may say in Christianese, “Oh no, you were saved! You were just ‘backslidden‘ for a very, very long time.” I would respond to the statement with this passage:
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” – Romans 6:1-2 (ESV)
To say something like “he/she is backsliding” is not giving God the fear he deserves. I used to sit in these Bible studies where people would be so upset over someone they loved whom they thought was a Christian, just living in the world. I mean deep in the world. Not just accidentally getting pregnant or getting a DUI because when Christians are in sin and accidentally get pregnant or get a DUI, it just supports the idea that no one Christian can sin successfully. When I say they are “deep in the world,” I am expressing concern for their spiritual well being because they are people who demonstrate the nature of those described in Romans 1. I wish back then I knew to say, “NO! They aren’t backslidden! These people might not even be Christians! You should be praying for their salvation! And you need to repent also!” Of course, what did I know then? I wasn’t even born again myself.
The idea of ‘free will’ is widely misinterpreted throughout the church on both sides of the fence (Calvinists and Arminians). I know for myself, I was raised with a very light hearted view of the salvific process, including what happens after the process. The modern idea of free will not only states the obvious problems, giving man power over every choice, good and bad; but it also doesn’t give God the praise or fear he deserves. It sort of leaves God powerless, in my opinion. I do want to raise some questions in the minds and hearts of those who have spent their lives speaking Christianese, playing the part, singing the songs, quoting the scriptures, side hugging your brethren. They are the people believe the choices they make are theirs only. Here they are as follows:
- If you say you have free will, why do you say, “My flesh is stronger than me” or “don’t give in to your flesh”?
- If you say you have free will, why do you say, “Satan got a hold on my life”?
- If you say you have free will, why do you recite, “Let Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”?
- If you say you have free will, why do you pray, “Holy Spirit, reign over my life”?
- If you say you have free will, why do you cry, “Lord, help me to not sin again”?
I hear Christians all around me say these statements verbatim all the time. A service I was at a few weeks ago had an altar call and in the “sinners prayer” were some of these very ideas. Lately, I’ve been thinking about these very questions; not in a theological sense, but more in a concerned sense. We can all agree what separates us [human beings] from the Angels in Heaven is the very gift of being given the power to make choices. Would one be able to define having a choice as being free will? One could, but ask yourself, what influences your choices? Your flesh, the Holy Spirit, Satan, your mom, Jesus, God..what? Something or someone has to have an influence on every choice you make, whether you like it or not. In fact, if you speak Christianese, you agree by the things you say when you ask someone to pray for you, or when you confess a sin to another person in the church, or when you praise God for giving you the power to “make the right choices in the midst of temptation.”
I have to conclude here because again, this could turn into a theological dissertation. At this point in my life, I want to throw my arms in the air when it comes to taking a theological stance on anything! I side with one thought and God shows me the opposite. However, since the inception of my regeneration, I have always felt the urgency to open the eyes of the sleeping church. I was asleep in the same way and I look around and see the same thing in churches everywhere. As much dismay I express towards the church, I love it with all my heart. I love the people in it. I love the people that surround me. I love the people I grew up with. I go back often to the church I was brought up in and the people I knew as a child are still there, growing old, having families. I love them all! In the church with all the different denominations, doctrines, verbatim, methods of discipline, and so on; these things become blinding and worse, binding in hearts of men and women passing through church life. Church, give God the fear and reverence He deserves. Don’t just mind the vulgar things you say, but mind the holy things you think you are saying. Be vigilant of everything around you. Do not be haughty and proud of your own choices because most likely, the choice you made was not your idea in the first place.
“In efficacious grace we are not merely passive, nor yet does God do some and we do the rest. But God does all, and we do all. God produces all, we act all. For that is what produces, viz. our own acts. God is the only proper author and fountain; we only are the proper actors. We are in different respects, wholly passive and wholly active.” – Jonathan Edwards
“Integrity is the glue that holds our way of life together. We must constantly strive to keep our integrity intact. When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.” – Billy Graham
A few weeks ago, I encountered a situation far beyond my control. It was a joke gone terribly bad. Rather than going into great detail on the subject, I can only say the situation put my integrity into the fire. In fact, put so far into the fire, it figuratively made me sick to my stomach. I could not sleep at night. For a while, the whole thing was an all out plague, choking the life force of my soul. The reality check became more obvious for me when I realized I actually do care what people think. Maybe adulthood has finally shifted into full gear in my life? Maybe I am just like the very people I have loathed my whole life; the face value whores. Or maybe, God is beating down my door. As I write this, reader, envision me shaking my head in shame knowing how much I have failed and still fail…at everything.
As said before, I won’t go into great detail on the situation, because the situation isn’t what I want to focus on. To make a long story short: someone who didn’t like me decided to have fun with my eclectic persona and impersonate me on the internet. Yes, very funny. However, the unfunny part happened to be the part where this person spewed my personal information out enough to where an anonymous person who knew me, thought it was me. At that point, this anonymous person (I say anonymous because I have no idea who they are) threw up a barrage of insults big enough to block the sun. How I found all this out is a whole other story in and of itself. But as I said in the preceding sentences, I do not want to focus on the action but rather the outcome. The insults are what snagged the rug out from under me. They cut deep. They were not normal insults. The subjects spoken, snubbed my integrity as a Christian, a husband, a person. I can take a good verbal beating. Anyone who knows me knows when it comes to verbal attacks, they mean nothing to me. If someone comes at me with a verbal shotgun, I return fire with a verbal cannon. I want to also add that returning insult for insult is not the best reaction. It is an enormous flaw I carry with me and most likely, to my grave. I digress.
The issue at hand was not whether it was me or a person impersonating me. The issue for me was a tad more enfolded. Someone out there, in their heart, in the back of their mind saw me as a person with no integrity. They saw me as a fake. Even worse, they proudly called me out as though they had been right the whole time. Oh what a feeling! When I say it cut deep, it went through the skin, through the muscle, the bone, and sinew. Why? Why does this vex me? I concluded, I have been doing life wrong the whole time. I have been roaming the earth, crucifying Christ with my very character. How shameful! Is there any way to do life right? Is there? I have gone through great pains to separate myself from legalism, exclusivity and blatant hypocrisy. If I find myself in the midst of such religious debaucheries, I swiftly run in a different direction. In all honestly, I now, do not know where else to turn. Why should I have to choose legalism in order prove my character?
I see myself as a leader. People are always coming to me for advice or maybe they just want to hear an opinion from someone they respect; this goes with people inside and outside of the church. With that thought in mind, whether in church or outside of church I have to try to hold my standards close to those set for overseers/leaders in 1 Timothy:
“Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” – 1 Timothy 3:7 (ESV)
The truth: I am a failure if someone outside of the church can not defend my integrity. What a horrible feeling to be rebuked by an unbeliever. Truly rebuked. Not one of the normal, “you fundamentalist, you suck because you say gays are going to hell” rebukes. NO! This is the kind of rebuke only fit for a brother in Christ to bring to your attention. Whether the rebuke was directly to me or at me or meant for me – it is still a rebuke.
My friends, I cannot lie and say I am perfect. Deep, beyond my bowels, I am the most hideous, most heinous, most disgraceful creature you could ever know. All I have is my integrity. In my heart of hearts, I suffer more than anyone will ever know because all I want to do is please God. I never can. I always demolish what He builds. Further, seeing someone rebuke who they thought was me, it confirmed how much I have truly missed the mark. This whole situation has become what will be now a new milestone set for my life. I have to step things up. I have to run the race, not power walk or casually take a jog. It was not until a few weeks ago, I realized how opaque I have become when I should be transparent. Never again will I disparage my own candor. People are watching me – us, brothers and sisters. They are waiting for me – us to lie, to fail. They need to know that all I – we do is fail. Be transparent. Guard your integrity.
“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
- Romans 6:16 (ESV)
An intelligent man I greatly admire intently listened to the testimony of my life. After hearing every antic, every failed attempt at success, every mistake, every corruptible action I had ever made; he then looked at me and gave me his assessment. I wanted him to. I needed words, his words to resonate deep and my mind. I wanted my mind to swell up like water-soaked timber; even after the words dried up, the marks from the swelling would always remain evident. I waited. After a few minutes, he finally said to me, “It sounds like to me; you’ve given ‘Satan’ some serious hard time.”
It never really struck me that I had been a prisoner my entire life. As a Christian, I have always been familiar with Romans and its recurring theme of being “slaves to sin.” Maybe the whole idea of imprisonment or slavery never really sunk in as deep as it should have. After hearing the phrase, “hard time”, I then realized what being a “slave to sin” truly meant. If one were to pick apart the definition Paul gives in Rom. 6:16, it would seem simple enough to grasp. This is not true at all. It took just two words to be said to me before my life started to make a little sense. I found myself meditating on what was said. Hard time. I felt like a ‘bad-ass.’ All prisoners are ‘bad-asses’ right? Hard time. I was caged because I wanted to be caged. I was sentenced to death by humanity.
People are generally told by the Christian church about how getting “saved” will change their lives. Yes, this is true. But what the Christian church fails to tell its newfound converts is the part where their conscience is made new by the Holy Spirit. Yes. A truly, radically saved Christian will go from no conscience to having one. The things they enjoyed in their sin, they now hate. This truth is discovered in the most excruciating ways. New convert’s lives are destroyed by the lies told to them from the people who, in good mind and heart, meant to save them!
When someone goes to prison, their lives change. The way prisoners live on the inside is different from the way they live on the outside. Everything is different for a prisoner: the food, the beds, the habitat, the environment and the people surrounding them, when they arise and when they sleep, the human pecking order. Everything changes. With this philosophy in mind, what happens when prisoners are taken from this sort of environment for a long period of time and put in one where they get their freedom back? The answer: nothing makes sense. The way the person thought, ate, slept, spoke, etc.; it just cannot go away over night. As a prisoner, what challenge would there be to prove to the world you have been reformed from the mess you once were? It takes time, hard lessons, people who love you. It takes patience. After all, hard time can do a number on us.
Today, and every day, my prison philosophies still linger. I find myself caged and not wanting to leave the cage. Only after a short time do I want out. But the cage constantly attracts me. Like any prisoner, doing hard time did a number on me. I am fully aware my freedom lies in Jesus. I am fully aware that I am free! But it is hard to reform. Like a prisoner, I feel like I have something to prove to the outside world: I’m not who I was. After all is said and done, I am still doing hard time.