In Judah Is God Known

This past weekend Sikki and I went away — just the two of us — for the first time since we had our first daughter over 21 years ago. We stayed at a very charming bed and breakfast in Virginia Beach which was two blocks from the boardwalk and served gourmet breakfasts each morning. We’d traveled to attend a conference at Bethany Bible Training Center, an offshoot of the old Pinecrest BTC in upstate New York where I really met the Lord when I was 15, and which is now located in Chesapeake, VA. In between attending meetings, we took naps daily, wandered around Virginia Beach and generally ate too much. It was refreshing and restful, and Sikki thought it was funny that I found it good to know that we still enjoy each other’s company after all these years and that we can talk and connect about things unrelated to our parenting roles or issues of the household.

The conference started on a Friday, so we both worked long, hard days in order to open up space in our schedules to leave after lunchtime on Thursday. On Thursday morning, I called the owner of the company to let him know I would meet my quota of stops and ask a few questions, and informed him that I would be taking Friday off to get away with my wife. At that, he really lambasted me, indicating that he thought my performance on the job was insufficient and I didn’t deserve a day off. He said my paychecks were just “charity” as far as he was concerned. He thought my billings should be twice what they’ve been this year. I responded that I am open to constructive criticism and asked what I could do to improve. At this, he was very vague and just said I “need to make things happen.” He threatened to fire me soon. I was shocked, as I’ve been gaining new customers nearly every week. The territory where I’m working is new — the company had not really “broken in” to the area until I was on the job. I pressed him for details of how I could improve but he couldn’t or wouldn’t offer specifics.

I told him that no one wants to improve the numbers more than I, and that I really want his business to succeed. What I didn’t tell him is that I pray for him and his business every day, because I am seeking the “good of the land of my sojourning.” I ask God for wisdom and direction to the best places and connections where I can serve customers and help them with their problems. My service is not “charity,” because I do my best. In my heart I don’t work for any man — I am about my Father’s business. He directs my steps, He opened up the job to begin with, and He is the one I seek to please.

So the whole thing hurt. It really stung. And it was confusing. He said, “So you’re taking tomorrow off?” And I said, “Yes, it’s something I need to do.” I had the time to use, so after the flogging and bloodletting there wasn’t anything else to say. I hung up and asked the Lord, “Did You hear what he said? What do You think? What should I do?” Then I focused, smiling through the pain to finish my day. Then I went home to pack for the conference.

I don’t think there’s anything I could be doing differently that would change things. It’s quite possible that the market here is different than the market to which my boss is accustomed. People in my area dicker over money — they have a poverty mindset unlike more cosmopolitan regions. Even when they’re well-off they still think they’re poor.

So we went to the conference and it was an encouraging time in the Lord. There was a couple in attendance on Saturday morning who used to go to my parent’s church almost thirty years ago. They didn’t recognize me, probably because they hadn’t seen me since I was fifteen or sixteen. I introduced myself to them and they remembered me. She used to lead worship, and he was a Bible teacher. They’d been pastors themselves for fifteen years. “We used to feel so sorry for you, with your family being as crazy as it was,”  the husband said. “It’s a miracle you or your brother and sister are in the Lord.”

I knew what he meant, though I think it’s always a miracle of grace anytime anyone is a believer — regardless of their past or situation. Usually when kids grow up in Christian homes where there is serious dysfunction and hypocrisy and wounding, they (quite naturally) revolt and end up far from God as possible. Religion is always the first enemy of true life and experience in Christ. Most Christians are religious enough to think they’re saved but unwilling to suffer the disturbance and bother of giving Jesus the entirety of their lives. That’s a very damaging thing, even though it’s probably “normal.” Religious parents who are self-absorbed, abusive and unloving will produce atheists faster than McDonald’s makes Big Macs. But the Lord had mercy on me and my siblings.

Anyway, I exchanged contact information with this couple as it was good to see them and they told me of other conferences in NC and elsewhere that they’re a part of which I might enjoy.

Joanne P was there, the prophetess who spoke to me at Pinecrest when I was fifteen and in just such a place of hardness of heart and questioning of God’s goodness because of what I witnessed in my childhood home. She’s heavily involved in the ministry there in Chesapeake. Before we left, she said, “This school needs you.” I asked what she meant and she was vague, telling me to pray for them. But I found myself wishing that I could be a part of such ministry to young people who are earnest about seeking God and establishing their lives on relating to Him. I told Sikki that I enjoyed the conference, but I think there needs to be more of an “immersive experience” where people can do as Jesus said and “Come away by themselves to a lonely place” to be refreshed and hear the voice of the Lord. Away from phones and civilization and normal life, I mean.

Now I am back home, focusing on work again and holding my life before the Lord, one day at a time, as that is all there is ever grace for. Sikki and I had an interesting conversation last night. When we moved to NC at the Lord’s direction, we didn’t want to buy a house because we didn’t know the area, and also because our house on the market in Delaware did not sell for over a year. So we rented. Then I got sick and my job situation was uncertain. So we continued renting. We’ve been renting the same house without a raise in rent for over five years now, here on this beautiful property on the ICW. She told me last night that she was praying one evening out by the salt marsh and felt like the Lord said, “I’m going to give you this property.” She couldn’t imagine where the words came from, as they would never have emanated from her own mind and her response was, “That’s crazy!”

I asked her, “When was this?”

“Why?” she said.

“Because I had a similar impression last summer while I was praying in the front yard,” I said. And that’s true. I didn’t say anything to anyone for the same reason she didn’t: because it was just a crazy thought that appeared out of nowhere — that this land right here where I’m sitting in a squeaky chair typing these words is where God wants to plant us. The owners listed the house for sale twice in the last two years, both times with an asking price of over half a million dollars. In all those months, only one realtor came to look at it. If this odd notion is confirmed somewhere by another source, I think I will have faith to believe it. Even Abraham needed a few assurances.

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Rescuing Jonah

This past week was extremely productive as far as work goes: I sold two machines and have a town’s public services department on the hook for another one, and I convinced a city’s public transit system to convert to my soaps to wash their busses.

I purchased and set up the necessary equipment to begin a podcast, which will center on what it means to be “caught up to God,” or the progression of life in Christ from being born again to being revealed to the creation in glory as the sons of God. I plan on writing and recording the first four or five episodes before I post any of them publicly, just to give myself a buffer to learn how to edit the audio and figure out where to host the files for transmission to delivery outlets like Spotify and iTunes. My brother and son are both talented musicians — my brother has written a few unique songs and led worship for years — so I won’t be lacking intro and outtro music to use without fear of copyright infringement. My personal blogging on this website will have to be moved to another location, as this will be the place where I post notes and information related to the podcast. I’m going to outsource my logo and website design because those things take so much time and I’d rather just focus on the content.

I have a YouTube channel that I started in October of 2017 and ended in March of 2018. In those seven months I posted 50 videos. The channel currently has around 17,000 subscribers though I haven’t updated it since. So I know a little bit about how to grow an audience and deliver content that people find meaningful. Time will tell what challenges I will face with podcasting, but at least I know I’ll be able to talk about my subject basically forever, since it’s my greatest passion.

The three oldest kids went to New Bern this weekend to visit my sister and their cousins. My sister has separated from her husband because he is abusive. He doesn’t realize he’s abusive, at least from outside observances. His oldest son is almost 18 and we have had several phone conversations where he wept and told me about his anger and the wounding his father has caused him. My sister has seven children. I think her decision to “draw a line in the sand”  with my brother-in-law was long overdue. He’s an angry, proud, unloving man. Of course, I also feel compassion for him because I have been where he is. I texted my sister this week warning her not to “try and rescue Jonah.” The sailors in the Jonah story tried to save him from the storm even after he confessed he was the cause of their suffering and loss, even after he told them to throw him overboard. There are a lot of protective mothers and hopeful wives who have done something similar when God was trying to get his man alone so He could talk to him. The day the sheriff served him papers to vacate their home, he fell at work and broke his arm, which means he’ll be out of work for three weeks. My sister said he took his bible with him when he left. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Disruptors

There has been some pressure at work and at home this week. I have had a sales slump which I am working hard to overcome. For a couple of weeks I was distracted by the problems at home and a sense of foreboding concerning my daughter, as well by some sadness or maybe depression about the general situation of this world and my part in it. I put in long hours this week and traveled many miles as I missed some work last week because of the hurricane.

On the surface of things, my daughter is not doing well. She returned from Washington emboldened in her rebellion and hostility towards Sikki and I. I suppose she intends to relocate to Washington as soon as she can. For my part, I am trying to treat her with patience, with the patience of God if that is possible. The Lord is gentle and kind, and has compassion on all that He has made.

I’ve been tossing around the idea of starting a podcast and spent some time researching what equipment is necessary. I think the planning and writing that would be required for a 15-minute episode each week would help to keep my mind focused on things above. I am tired of feeling like I am just slogging through life in survival mode, without a sense of transcendence over my body, mind, emotions and circumstances. Most of my prayer life in the past year has been marked not by a sense of joy and ecstasy in God’s presence with the discovery of truth, but by distraction and general sighing in my soul. This isn’t what Christ died for.

The called-out ones are supposed to be challenging and disrupting and bringing divine order to the natural environment, not getting tossed around by blowing winds and stormy seas. We are supposed to be proactive agents of change, not reactionaries. There is something missing. I need grace, and vision. Humility, faith and hope are what open the doors to the supernatural and extraordinary life. I realized this week that there is much in the Word of God that I’m not hoping for, that I’m not expecting to see at all.

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:24

44

Hurricane Dorian demolished the Bahamas early last week and reached our area as a Cat 2 storm on Thursday night. We fared extremely well in NC compared to Hurricane Florence last year and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, with the exception of Ocracoke island on the Outer Banks. A lot of Christian acquaintances of mine here in NC think it is because they prayed hard for the storm to move out to sea. One person on Facebook posted these words: “I don’t believe the meteorologists got it WRONG…I believe our FAITH filled PRAYERS got it RIGHT! Don’t discount the miracle!!!” But I had seen a video of a woman praying for her household in the Bahamas as the storm was wreaking havoc, and let me tell you, she was praying:

Prayer in the Bahamas

I can’t help but think, what about the Bahamas and the people of faith who genuinely put their trust in God there? As she prayed I noticed that she cried out for God to be a refuge. Not to save her landscaping, or home, or things, but for those around her. I wonder if our attitude might sometimes seem somewhat proud to our fellow believers around the world. Sikki and I talked about it last night. She was actually mad about what some of her acquaintances were saying. I told her part of the problem is that most people — even most Christians — are not very global in their thinking. They live in tiny bubbles of existence. Many of the people of the rural area we live in may have traveled a little, but their consciousness is still embedded in what is familiar and peculiar to southeastern NC, and it is natural that they have trouble thinking “outside the box” of what they know and love.

I have never had a sense that any patch of ground on this earth was my home, perhaps because my family moved so often when I was little. Anyplace I am is only an extension of “this world” to me. I am a sojourner. I could sojourn here, or in upstate New York, or in Timbuktu, though I notice and am aware of the cultural differences of every locale. But this is not most folks’ experience or maybe more specifically their feeling.

It so happens that I am reading Job right now. The central question of Job is not how much faith he had or his opinion of things, which basically matched those of his friends and the entire perspective of the ancient world for that matter. One moral lesson of Homer’s Odyssey is that Poseidon punishes Odysseus for his lack of humility before the gods. The Babylonians and Persians had tales similar to Job, arriving at similar conclusions: that good people do not suffer, only someone who has offended the gods by acting immorally will suffer pain and catastrophe. But the story of Job is different because that is exactly what the adversary says to accuse Job: “God, Job is only righteous because You bless him. If you took his blessings away he would be different.” Really, this is still how people think.

It is not Job but God Himself who is on trial in the story. And God doesn’t answer to any of the charges. He just says, “There’s a lot you don’t know, Job. I have responsibilities and things in play in the world that would never even enter your mind. You can’t begin to imagine them because you are too small and finite. Too small even to have them explained to you in a way that you could comprehend at all.” In the end, Job places his hand over his mouth, which in the ancient world was a way of showing great respect (and of course, sweet silence.)

I wish that attitude of humility was a hallmark of believers in Christ.

Today marks the beginning of the 44th year of my pilgrimage.

Hurricane Dorian

Another year, another hurricane bearing down on us: Dorian. “Dorian” means “child of the sea.” We spent the day boarding up the house and cleaning and trying to make sure we’re up to the task of being without power for a week or so. I parked my wife’s and daughter’s car in our one-car garage by parking them parallel to the back wall, which took some doing. The garage is the lowest point in our home. We moved our mowers to our front porch, hoping to get them up higher. Did the laundry. Showered, taking care to exfoliate. The worst part of being without power is making the transition from having air conditioning to not having air conditioning.

It’s always a crap shoot with hurricanes because no one really knows what they’re going to do. I spent a few minutes looking at hotels out in western NC, but after Hurricane Florence last year it was such a hardship to get back home that I really don’t feel like leaving this time around. We’ve been catching some rain from the outer bands today but the wind and sustained rain aren’t supposed to pick up until tomorrow morning, at which point it will probably be too late to leave. We live with the Intracoastal Waterway in our backyard, surrounded by trees. Hurricane Matthew in 2016 drove the waters up to about 15 feet of our garage. I’m hoping Dorian weakens overnight and that the surge of the water isn’t more than Matthew.

We have plenty of water, two tanks of propane for the grill, and plenty of lights and batteries. Sikki took care of buying the food. We’ve done the best we can to prepare. I’m feeling pretty tired from the day’s activities. There is nothing left but to wait, and pray.

My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit

Last week I was in Raleigh for two days for product training with my job and to meet my new supervisor: a portly, pink fellow who reminds me of my extended family in upstate New York. (He is in fact from upstate NY.) First daughter went to a youth retreat in Chesapeake, VA, as a counselor and had a productive time learning what it means to serve others and came home with a sense of awe that she could be used by God, as well as making many faith-filled friends. Second daughter returned from Washington State yesterday, not making eye contact with her mother and I, and with not even enough shame to bother trying to cover the ugly hickeys on her throat. Honestly I’m not sure what to say to her. We were hoping that she would be driving herself and her brother to their high school (school started today), but she spent $1100 to go to Washington, not earning for two weeks in the brief summer window, and now she doesn’t have the money to afford car insurance, her cell phone bill, and whatever she will owe the IRS in February.

I’ve been doing a lot of driving lately and sometimes I need a break from music. This past week I listened to podcasts from The Babylon Bee, Michael Malice, and Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. I love history, and Dan Carlin’s podcast is the “find” of the month.

Ezra and Nehemiah have been the Bible reading of the week, along with a snippet from Jeremiah Chapter 2 which came to me one morning after I’d spent two days around my boss, who is an atheist and whose mind is consumed with business, with ways to expand the reach and profitability of his enterprise. I like him, really. We were sitting in a Japanese steakhouse with six or seven other salespeople – one of whom was obviously on cocaine, wide-eyed and sweating profusely – and an old Japanese cook who kept dropping his spatula and eggs and things as he was trying to be all fancy. Those hibachi places are a tribulation because of all the noise and clanging and fear of having a decrepit out-of-practice old chef lob a raw egg at your face, so I wasn’t crazy about the scene but I’m always interested to hang out with the owner of the company I work for, because he is so passionate and focused. He doesn’t have a lot of social grace (neither do I) but he is ultimately a generous man and doesn’t have a poverty mindset. It’s kind of like working in Potiphar’s house sometimes, or maybe for Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar.

I was thinking about my employer’s laser focus on his goals when the phrase came to mind: “My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit.” When I looked it up I was convicted by the ideas expressed in Jeremiah 2, because I feel so distracted and depressed and out of sorts for the past couple months, like I’m in a rowboat full of leaks, and every time I get one plugged two more holes open up. I get frustrated with my “yo-yo” lifestyle: up and down with exercise, up and down with weight, up and down with my pursuit of God and other relationships. I hate feeling inconsistent. I think I could’ve written ten books by now if I could stay focused and disciplined, thinking and writing a little each day. But when I’m off the rails, I’m off the rails everywhere.

I’m reading a couple of books that sparked my interest which I heard about on the podcasts. One is Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter. It’s about the seductions of screen technologies like games, social media, and “binge-worthy” shows. The other is The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power Over Christian Values by Ben Howe, regarding the 2016 election. I ordered these books in part because I feel like my mind has grown dull. I’m having trouble focusing like I used to, and I’ve wondered whether it is because I receive all my news and input through “snippets and bytes.”

The Great Omission from the Great Commission

It’s been a week since my daughter left for Washington. She texted pictures of the landscape once or twice, and says she is having a great time. Because she is so young, she doesn’t understand that you nearly always have a great time whenever you visit somewhere else — anywhere outside of your normal routine — especially when you are on vacation. Listen to a heroin addict describe his first experience of getting high and he will tell you just how wonderful it made him feel. But it leads nowhere good. And given enough time in any place, the “honeymoon period” wears off and it becomes just another place, because problems exist everywhere and you’re the same person whether you are here or 3,000 miles away.

I had a conversation with Sikki the other day where I wondered aloud how I’m supposed to love our daughter when she comes back, and because we speak English and have only one word for “love” of course I had to explain myself. Love to me means doing and saying whatever is truly in the best interest of another’s welfare, and of course “welfare” to me means more than just physical welfare. Sometimes real love might not appear very loving. Jesus loved the Pharisees when He told them the truth from God even though He knew it would make them very angry. Paul loved the Galatians when he called them stupid, and when he instructed the Corinthians to expel the man in their midst who was engaged in persistent sexual sin.

So here I am wondering: My daughter defied her parents’ wishes, in fact has nearly always dishonored us and preferred her peers, and is now texting pictures. Am I supposed to reply, “Glad you’re having a good time?” If she returns more emboldened in her sin and still expects to live under our shelter as she quarrels and disregards us, should I allow that? I’m not even sure I can. Life is perplexing sometimes.

There is so much that I don’t know. I was listening to an audio sermon by the Christian philosopher Dallas Willard this week while I was driving somewhere. I almost clicked away from it because the audio quality wasn’t great, but I’m glad I stuck with it because he was talking about something that has always mystified me. He mentioned that “the great omission in the Great Commission” is that we make plans to get people saved and baptized, but the church by-and-large is really terrible at actually training people — at making disciples. The church is fractured, for one thing. There’s no sense of cohesion or unity in any of it, really. People tell you they love you but they get mad and leave, and they never tell the truth and say they’re leaving because they’re mad. Most of the time they don’t say anything at all; they just disappear. But if they do tell you why they’re going it’s always because they’re so holy and spiritual and can’t walk with the rest of you duds because you clearly don’t know Jesus as well as they do, or you don’t obey Him enough, or you didn’t appreciate their gift enough, or whatever the speck. So there’s barely anything that approaches real relationship or honesty in Christian life, let alone the kind of training or discipleship that Jesus modeled. So a guy like me just flounders through life feeling like a failure and a perpetual orphan and having no heroes, wondering how to live, and looking to the Lord for guidance to do so, but still feeling alone.

Is there a place anywhere on this earth where a body of believers in Jesus Christ are actually doing the things He told them to do, together? There must be. There must be answers to these questions and longings.