“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Augustine of Hippo, Confessions
In my last blog, I suggested three purposes for this blog; to witness, to evangelize, and to have discourse in both theology and philosophy. This blog is to offer up the reason for “Why now, this blog”? Why this particular time? After all, I have now been a certified Christian for three years, plus 326 days. Could I not have gotten to this endeavor as my new life unfolded; a blow-by-blow journaling of events as they happened?
Well, in truth, I did write quite a bit. Daily diary entries quickly became letters to family and friends, which gradually grew into compulsive note-taking of the books I read on Gnosticism, early Christianity and philosophy. By the way, it must really sounds crazy that a born-again would dive into Elaine Pagel’s, The Gnostic Gospels, and Sean Martin’s, The Gnostics; let alone venture about in the Nag Hammadi library. Reading the Gospel of John is heady enough on the spiritual level, without choosing to dance with the devil and his deceptions. But I did.
I also choose to read a few books and listen to an audiobook or two on the subject of God’s existence in the dawning light of man’s science. There are a slew of good books and good writers on this subject. Coming into mind are authors John C. Polkinghorne, a physicist and Anglican priest, as well as Willem B. Drees, Keith Ward, and Nancy Frankenberry. Also, the list of Christian scientists is quite lengthy and quite soothing to those who listen to the constant babble and silliness that somehow man learning about the ways of God is in itself a statement of the non-existence of God. Well, I did read and listen.
And quite frankly, I am better for it. I had alluded in my last blog that I seek both the center of things, as well as its boundaries. How can one know the center without knowing the boundaries; the limits? That’s the only way you can know the center and understand it also. Knowledge does not necessarily mean understanding, and I believe that it is understanding that leads to an unbreakable faith and an opportunity for wisdom.
Well, God gives much. He transformed me permanently and completely in some ways, and He left the rest for me to work at and develop. He handed me the proper bag of tools, but He did not handover ether the plan or the manual for how I was to become an apostle. Some things He keeps for Himself. Some things are best learned through the hopeful discernment of the path that God has laid out for each one of us by His grace and love, and the willingness to walk it out.
Well, I was willing and, in truth, the first three years of my new life was a confident faith that God was leading me towards something. As someone who believes in purpose in the physical sense, I saw this experience as the opportunity to do God’s will through the physical efforts of helping those in need; hence the mission work I tackled. I looked about at what others were doing, said to myself, “This doesn’t look too hard”, and stepped out in like fashion. Taking charge seemed practical; I’m a trained and natural administrator. A+B=C. Good enough for me. No need to create a blog here. I’ve got this Christian thing down pat. Faith? Check. Work? Check. All systems GO.
To Seek; Hopefully to Find
My church of choice during these three years was New Hope Ministries, in Naples, Florida. It is a non-denominational church – a designation that seems to generally mean Charismatic or even more than – with a strong congregation of perhaps 1,500 people. Besides the Sanctuary and offices, there is a Ministry Center of 40,000 square feet; complete with a gymnasium, classrooms, dining hall and fully functional, commercial kitchen. This is anything but a sleepy church. Its Pastor is the founding Pastor and he has been hard at work for the past thirty years; guiding its growth and maturity.
It seemed the ideal fit for me. Like some kind of wide-eyed, country boy arriving in the big city, I saw all of the faith, obedience and righteousness, and little of the lack of faith, the disobedience and failings by those who seemed to be the most engaged. I was so intense upon my personal path – was I doing it right and keeping in the light – that I never formed a focus upon the fact that a church was, in reality, a hospital for ill spirits and misused, addicted bodies, and I was one of the patients. Perhaps too many of us see our role at a church as that of the doctor – dispensing the love medicine so desperately needed – while ignoring the fact that our bed is in Ward Three.
I’ll most likely get into the particulars of this all as I witness back to the path that has brought me to this point, so let me just say for now, that in watching all of the failings of those who seemed to be the most involved with the church – attending bible studies, theology classes at the School of Ministries, going on mission trips, evangelizing at local outreaches, participating in praise & worship concerts, and singing in the choir – I became quite convinced that I was missing a most valuable ‘thing’ that seemed to be pressing in on me to seek it out.
Up to this point, while so much was so good, I seemed to be constantly shown the price of ignoring God’s truth through the example of friends at church failing so miserably at their own discipline to God’s will. Divorce, adultery, jealousy, pride, self-righteousness and addictions revealed became a Chinese water torture to my soul. How can this happen to those who earnestly seek Him out?
Of course, I am no exception to this concupiscence. And that’s what bothered me perhaps the most. Our behavior becomes a normalcy by which we compare ourselves to others. One sees through one’s eyes, hears with one’s ears, feels with one’s heart, and judges with one’s mind. How can one possibly be able to be objective about oneself when there is only the self? As such it is much easier to visualize a failing brother or sister that troubles and persecutes you than a failing you troubling and persecuting your brothers and sisters.
Talking of mankind in general, I have found that one tends to remove themselves from responsibility through a growing societal belief that when bad things occur, we are victims to a disease. It’s not our fault; therefore it is not our shame. The domain of our secular law does not recognize ignorance as a valid excuse for an offence; rather seeing ignorance as clearly the act of ignoring the law. The same holds true for the spiritual domain; ignoring God’s truth is an activity of choice and not a victimization by evil. Man chooses evil when he chooses to ignore God’s truths. I had to eventually ask the question to myself, “Why do we ignore God’s truths?”
Evil is a man-inspired and man-created action. God is not responsible for evil; man is. If man saw clearly that evil was arsenic, would he drink it? I think not. So where does this lack of definition and clarity as to the true nature of evil reside; within man or without. Do we victimize ourselves by shoving all blame off onto Satan, and hold to the hope that Jesus will eventually come riding in on a white horse, or do we accept the responsibility that the inclination to sin is within us, and it is up to us to do something about it. The plan of God is known to us, but the manual for our lives seems to be hidden or blurred. Our manual details the personal process of purifying the body, mind and spirit so it has the will and strength to see evil as arsenic. Sanctification is an internal process, and it has a lot more to do with working on the self, than working for the betterment of others. “Love thy neighbor” will only be successful if one loves oneself first. One cannot truthfully, and to the measure that God wills us to, help others until we help ourselves. It’s not “Beam me up, Scotty”, it’s get the beam out of your eye; yourself.
Moment by Moment
At this juncture I began to toy with a simple idea. If I could visualize my choices within the context of a moment by moment expression; then perhaps I could resist temptation to sin – that deception of what evil actually is – for ever increasing periods of time. All I was really asking myself to do was not sin now; this moment. Then again; this moment. Then again; and so forth. Ask not for the great leap of change , but the slow, life-long acquisition of the virtues. So what is this; patience is it not? Discipline is much too great a project, with much law along the way, but patience is benevolence and peace. And what is that if not humility.
There came in the midst of this a business trip to Pennsylvania. I was on a national search for a particular type of cabinetry company that could do high-quality reproduction work involving inlays of various wood veneers, and carved moldings in walnut. My attention, through a referral, brought my focus on a company in Lancaster County, Christiana Cabinetry in Atglen. I thought it curious, the name Christiana, and wondered if this was some reference to a Christian state of mind or purpose. As it turned out, it rather referred to the nearby town, Christiana, and the history of the name resides in the name of the town’s founder.
I made contact with the owner, Jerry Metzler, set my travel plans, and up I flew from Naples a week later.
I was met at the airport in Philadelphia by one of the company employees, Galen Kauffman. He was a kind man; polite with his words and humble of heart. Radar was ‘binging’ back to me with some force and I pursued our conversation. I soon learned that I was being chauffeured by an elder from the Old Road Mennonite Church. Much came to light, and I was fundamentally struck by the deliverance of this trip into my life, and at this moment. God is instructive and I am one of his students. I wanted to know more.
In being guided about the factory floor, I came to know that Jerry was a Mennonite, and it seemed he had some number of employees of the same faith. I further came to realize that I was at ground zero in the Amish community of Lancaster County. Now here was a denomination of Christians that had intrigued me for my entire life; let alone in the past three years – Anabaptists. I had always considered their successful commitment to a life separate from the rest of the world and its compulsion to materialism as virtually mystical in nature. They seeked the immaterial, and were rich in it. And the little I did know of these people, I did understand that it was humility – denial of the self – that filled the sails of their spiritual ship.
I knew this was all God-driven, and that means I must follow and give myself over to a willingness to witness, experience and learn. I spent that day, that evening, and the next day talking with Jerry on everything I could inquiry of him about his faith, while witnessing to him of my experiences, and the events of my rebirth in 2009. I can hardly say what moment was the most important and poignant, but I can say that walking about the farmland that surrounded Jerry’s log cabin at the break of dawn, with the mist settled in the valleys and the dew wet on the ground, I knew I would be leaving Atglen with a new purpose; a manual for my life.
Step by Step
When I returned to Naples, the moment by moment concept that I was working on became a step by step process; move the thought into action, take the body and mind and transform it. I needed to get things in order. I needed to walk and I needed to read; read the Bible from cover to cover, in order, without skipping around, and I needed to do this daily until I was through it all. Being in a multi-tasking world, I began walking in the dark of each early morning – one hour or about 3.5 miles – and I began Genesis at the same time – listening to the Bible as an audiobook.
Of many things I learned, my level of understanding of scripture improved markedly, and of great satisfaction came the teachings of patience in a most simple manner. Simply put, to read the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Numbers and several others in the Old Testament requires a clear and focused patience to the process and order of God. The detailing is immense and time consuming, and it is a very valid teaching of how to set our spirit towards those things that cannot be lost, rather than towards those things that can be lost.
Augustine had noted in his treatise on The Free Choice of the Will, that, “Surely evil people desire to live without fear, just as good people do. But the difference is as follows. Good people pursue this by turning their love away from things that cannot be possessed without the risk of losing them. Evil people, on the other hand, try to remove hindrances so they may securely attach themselves to these things to be enjoyed.”
To remove hindrances is to employ an infinite variety of methodologies that will carry our body, mind and spirit away from God’s call to His will. Whether atheist, agnostic or theist, we spend much time rationalizing the deceptions we place before us so we can ignore God’s will; all to secure a pleasure that is not due us or capable of possession beyond our inevitable death. So evil pursuit of such possessions is futile and limited, and yet so many people do attempt to rationalize such a lifestyle as a necessary good for themselves and their loved ones. In so doing they have limited their love, defined “Love thy neighbor” to their own terms of acceptance, and quickly discover their continued generational sin, guilt and shame.
It took a little over three months – listening almost daily – to work through the Old Testament; another month for the New Testament. Once again the New Testament, a good dose of lectures on faith, free will, determinism, atheism vs. theism, and now at six months into following this manual, I can say I have lost twenty-eight pounds in body weight, lowered my cholesterol significantly, improved my diet, learned much on the depth of the scriptural teachings, and am finally beginning to see who I can be in assurance and peace under God’s will.
I am now at seven miles per day, with fitness center workouts three times a week. Twice a week I am walking fourteen miles. The plan is to rid myself of those things that are at risk of loss, and to look to those things that cannot be lost. I listen, I write, I focus.
Should all good scheduling of work in my career go as planned, I will be on a pilgrimage that started in the 9th century, The Way of St. James, this April 2013. For those scratching their heads, this is a Christian pilgrimage that entails a monastic walk of some distance across Spain to the city of Santiago de Compostela; ultimately to the cathedral where the body of St. James lies in rest. The most popular route, and lengthy, is the French Route that originates in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a French city at the foothills of the Pyrenees. From there, it is a 490 mile trek to Santiago de Compostela; a pilgrimage that pushes one to daily walks of fifteen miles, on average, for a period of thirty-three days, also on average. I’ll place a few links for more information on this pilgrimage, also called The Camino, on the blog sidebar.
Let me leave here in saying that this is my walk, my path towards my sanctification; one that I trust will at least cleanse me of many things not necessary to God’s purpose of me. I do not say this should be yours. During the next four months leading to April, I will be engaging in those actions I suggested in my last blog; to witness, to evangelize, and to have discourse in theology and philosophy.
In witness, I am going to back up to my real birth – that of the spirit – and walk through the events that have shaped my life to God’s will. In evangelizing; well that naturally flows from the work of witnessing my faith. In discourse on the nature of God and His creation, I hope I come to better understand man’s dilemma in achieving happiness, and come to find a manual that we might all benefit from; each in our own unique manner.
God’s Grace is Everlasting – Reese Cumming