Thursday, August 23, 2018

There is a Time for Sorrow and Joy: A Walk Along Myrtle Beach

Jeremiah 15:16-18 (NLT) 16 When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.
17 I never joined the people in their merry feasts.
I sat alone because your hand was on me.
I was filled with indignation at their sins.
18 Why then does my suffering continue? Why is my wound so incurable?
Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook, like a spring that has gone dry.”

I walked along the beach near midnight, along the ocean, and considered the state of the world.  The flood waters seem to be rising quickly. To see such a great generation being led to destruction is truly an astonishing thing.  To see the brokenness of humanity, is painful.  To see the deceived deceiving, and the lies reigning, well, it's difficult.  

I understood for a bit, the reality of how one walks into the sea. And I realized how that works.  The ocean takes you out.  The rip tide pulls you out to sea, and off you go, never to return. 

I went from believing we were finally winning, to realizing I was on the wrong side, and the realization that we are actually losing, badly, came to me back 6 years ago when I became a follower of Christ.

And I went from lamenting and depression in the depths of drug addiction and death to a new kind of lament. And now, to lamenting after getting born again, because of the state of the world and the fallenness of humanity. But a lament is a brief affair, it comes, we walk in it, then it passes, the Lord encourages us, strengthens us, preserveres us, and we move on again into joy, peace and longsuffering. 

Jeremiah lamented the darkness and sin all around him. He had no one, no one but God.  And he saw the evil of the world. He was troubled by it, just as Lot was troubled by the evil of Sodom. He suffered, and was isolated from it. He called out relentlessly, but no one would listen. 

A casual reader might assume two things that are both untrue, I'm being judgmental, or intolerant.  "Who are you to call sin, sin?"  All I can say is that the prophets, priests, apostles, and disciples all spoke against sin, while being careful to be kind and compassionate to those lost in sin and seeking escape. That is a line I try to walk, carefully.  

But to not speak up against blatant sin is of course, wrong.  Unfortunately we live in a time where the only universal ethos is "tolerance" of everything, no matter what it is or how harmful it is. "You might offend someone!" Is the ultimate concern. Nicety is the concern, above all else, and above truth. 

The gospel is offensive, it tells us we deserve death, but Christ took our punishment for us.  So be it.  But we don't seek to be offensive, not at all. We seek to love, and share truth.  That takes a careful balance.  

And with a blank stare, after this apologia, they will often reply, "...But you're being judgmental."  

It's not judgmental to speak the truth.  Such a tired refrain, "you're being judgmental."  It's bogus, because we all judge things everyday.  We judge whether we should turn into the right or the left lane.  We judge what tv show to watch.  We judge whether it's safe to spend time with someone.  We judge whether we want to go on another date with that person.  We judge things all day everyday.  We're suppose to judge things and discern truth. What we're not suppose to do is condemn people.  Understand that difference, it's very important.

The hour is late my friends. I really do believe that.  Time is running out.  Jesus is coming soon.  He is coming very, very, very soon. We need to be prepared.  Without holiness no one will see the Lord.  If you're still smoking cigarettes, quit. If you're still engaging in sexual sin, end it today. If you're still trapped in gossip, backbiting, or abuse, seek the Lord for escape and freedom. Because the scriptures say we must be blameless and spotless if we expect to see the kingdom of God. 

"So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him." -2 Peter 3:14

In 2016 I completed a bachelors degree in the study of religion at Liberty university. I began classes at Olivet Nazarene University last January.  I've completed my first year of officer's training in the Salvation Army, and completed my summer assignment.  In 9 months I'll be ordained as a Lieutenant, if all goes well. Soon I'll return to Chicago to continue this process. 

Honestly, I'm dreading returning to Chicago.  Talk about a toxic place! I despaired for a while in regard to this, but the Lord has given me a measure of peace.  I dislike the politics of Chicago, and how it impacts the churches in the region, mine included. 

Most seem chiefly unaware of the dangers of this process, but I can see which way the wind is blowing.  If something big doesn't change, there may well be no return to scriptural Christianity. In 20-30 years our faith movements may be indistinguishable from what they are today, as expressions of biblical Christianity.

That's my concern. I want to faithfully preach the word of God, proclaim the gospel, and serve suffering humanity in the ways outlined in Matthew 25:31-46 and more.  That's what I signed up for.  

I didn't sign up to push identity politics, or fight perceived gender inequality, or advocate for open borders, or tell white people that they have 'privilege.'   

I signed up to be a minister because I want to evangelize the lost for the gospel of Jesus Christ and saves souls.  I signed up because I want to visit prisoners in jail, comfort the sick in the hospital, feed the hungry, and provide clothing to those who need it. I signed up because I know for a fact that Jesus Christ is really our God and King and that He is really coming back to rule and reign. I signed up because I know that to know Christ is eternal life and to reject Christ is eternal darkness. 

So a large part of why I've been lamenting lightly, is the thought of returning to such a place. And there is a time for lamenting, and also a time for lamenting to end. 

There's a few songs I really enjoy listening to when I'm lamenting, I find them quite beautiful in their melancholy.  One common one is "The Echo-Blomp" by The Helio Sequence. Another is "Something Dark is Coming" by Bear McCreary. "Swimming in the Flood" or "The Reeling" by Passion Pit are also great. The most recent album by Citizens and Saints is also great for lamenting, it's a Christian band. Another Christian group, Seeker & Servant has an album called "Exiles" that's great for sorrow as well. Additionally I would recommend groups like techno-ambient Boards of Canada, and Radiohead's "The King of Limbs" and Turin Brakes "Ether Song" never gets old.  Also, anything by Elliott Smith or Nick Drake, but don't come crying to me if you hear a curse word in one of the songs, these aren't strictly Christian groups. 

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens ; a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance..." -Ecclesiastes 3:1,4

The Lord has recently ended this time of lamenting through encouragement from His word.  God assures me that He will protect me, guide me, and keep me secure in all His ways.  The Lord has also made it clear that a fiery trial is coming in the near future. I don't know a lot about it, he hasn't made the details clear at all, but I'm reminded of the Apostle Paul when he said: "I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me." -Acts 20:23

I feel like old Admiral Hansen before the battle of Wolf 359 when he said: "Truthfully, we aren't ready."  It's true for me as well. We've got plenty of starships, but they aren't warships. We've got plenty of ideas, but none of them are particularly good or useful for this situation.

I am not ready for what is ahead. I can only hope in the Lord and pray that I am miraculously delivered. God has promised just such a thing will happen.

So I walked along the beach, Myrtle beach in the deep dark night.  It's fascinating because the beach is never quiet. On that night there were dozens and dozens of people out walking around with flashlights and cell phones looking around, some were in lawn chairs staring up at the sky, and some were even searching the dunes for buried treasures. Then there was me, staring blandly up into the dark sky, toward the moon, considering the state of humanity, and what came to mind was the tired case of Elijah who after his victory with the 400 false prophets of Baal ran for his life from the queen who wanted him dead. 

"He himself went a day's journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." -1 Kings 19:4

It's quite interesting to me, that as I read a biography of John Wesley called "A Real Christian" I realized as I read, that the blessing of perfect holiness that Wesley preached so fervently, he never claimed for himself.  Oh, such a beautiful irony.  Because as I walked that beach I realized I was no better than any of the lost tens of thousands out there within the vision of my mind's consideration. My righteousness is filthy rags.  Christ alone is my only hope. And though I hunger and thirst for sanctification it comes slowly. And as I turn to consider the world, and it's utter brokenness and sinfulness, which is certainly a truism, I realized quite clearly, and with great despair that the problem was not just around me, but within me, a maw, a cancer of my soul, of all our souls, and I would do anything to speed it's demise.  And yet, I wouldn't, because even my greatest desire to be different, to be holy, is easily over-ridden by pleasures, desires of this life, and manifold distractions which reside everywhere.  Oh, what a bitter state of lostness! How can we overcome? Only by the blood of the Lamb of God, only by the Father's sovereign will at work, and only by the impossible, improbable, amazing inner-working of the Holy Spirit. And our own aching and longing to be truly free, through and through. 

So, the meandering journey on the beach of life, as the water washes us away, and the ocean takes us out to sea, and untold billions descend into the depths of hell and darkness, we dare to have hope, despite it all. Dare to believe that in Christ, you can and will walk on the water.  And somehow, some way, Christ will preserve us spotless and blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

There is a time for sorrow and confusion. There is a time for difficulties and trials of the soul. These things come in life, they are not unnecessary. We must endure patiently through all of them. God loves us, but this world is a struggle.  Terrible things occur underneath the blue sky and the dark nights of this life. But hidden in the darkness and the lostness are burning embers of bright hope, if we have the eyes to see them. Hope is like a beautiful gift that spreads, it can't be stopped once it is let loose. Hope leads us from defeat, from sorrow, and from the mindset in which we've given up, and stopped believing that things can be different. Hope changes everything. In Christ we have hope, and our hope does not fail us. It grows brighter and brighter, in spite of everything, as we turn our eyes to Jesus, to things eternal, our hope is established and secured, through all of it.  And lamenting breaks to joy. 

When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.
Psalm 94:18-19 NIV