So Somebody Put Out the Fire
Perhaps by now – for those who have read a few of my posts – you might think that all things in my life are in the hands of God, and He holds me with tender care and love. I do feel His love and I shall always know that He loves me with an unquenchable fire. I also know now that He must sometimes quench the heat of my pride in the waters that will temper my spirit to the strength that it must be in order to bring about righteous sanctification. I imagine He’d rather see us all sanctified than “purgatorified”, though I also imagine only a few Saints, if any, have ever passed Go and collected Monopoly’s two-hundred dollars without some time in the waiting room.
God hands out no free passes and the trials we face are good opportunities to acknowledge the good path that God has set before us. Suffering comes into trial when knowledge is in want and the lesson must be learned. We all have those moments, as have I, and one such lesson I can recount here.
Over the past year I had worked with a client on the design of her new residence. She had a spiritual mélange of experiences; Presbyterian, Christian Scientist, dabbles with Eastern mysticisms, and New Age encounters. From this all came a mindset that saw truths as illusions and it played viciously against my efforts to move our project along a path of reality. All discussion of design became subject to the most meticulous assessment of even the smallest of matters. And decisions made through this process were continually reassessed in the form of long lists of repetitive thinking that wasted time, spawned endless dead-ends, and endorsed illogical design-processes.
This process created quite a maelstrom for my spirit and there were days when I came home physically ill from a long day with the client. I felt an intense pressure being exerted upon my spirit to another course of belief. It was as if my client had the ability to directly interfere with my walk with my Lord; to confuse all faith and doctrine within me. Honestly, I sensed evil. Poorly, I had chosen my mind to deal with this trial rather than leaving it to God.
So as a new week of work began, Kim apprised me of another long list generated by the client via email during the weekend. I shut it out as Kim was trying to walk me through it all. I felt angry that I should be subjected to such an attack on my mind and spirit. Anger and judgment clouded my sensibilities, and now I even began to find frustration with Kim. I wanted to avoid her as much as I wanted to avoid this client.
As I drove into the office the next day I began processing the long list of things I would have to contend with during this day’s meeting with the client. My mind clearly was trying to revolt. Once in the office, I asked Kim a question, did not like the answer, and packed myself up and left the office not to return. Revolution! Once in my car, I called the client, noted I had a personal issue to handle and would be cancelling our meeting. Sitting there, I opened my bible for guidance. A bookmark was at Luke 5, and my eyes came down to the story of the man with leprosy, verse 16:
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
Good advice, I thought, and I took off in my car for a long ride to a barren and dry region of South Florida – the Devil’s Garden. Once out of town and twenty minutes into the countryside, I saw a sign on my right; a sign for Ave Maria. Now I had forgotten this Catholic university and community was on this road. I had never been there before as it is located well out of the path of civilization; like some monastery would be, I imagine. Well, I knew that this was no coincidence, and before I continued onto the Devil’s Garden, I knew I had to stop here first.
The Oratory, located in the center square of the same town, is stunning in its humility. Materials are basic and raw. Design is minimal. Any element present is with incredible intent – no more than necessary to demonstrate God’s sovereignty and transcendent nature through all things animate and inanimate. The design is a harmonious blend of past, present and future – classic and eternal. I entered and sat while a Mass was coming to a close.
After observing a bit of the mystery of the Mass – something I knew nothing about – I did find my way to my knees and began to pray. I seemed to cycle myself through prayer, reflection, yearning, and of most importance, listening. By now things were quite silent, with just the occasional sound of a door closing, a gentle cough somewhere else away from me, or the approaching and receding sound of footsteps. I was there with Him alone.
The altar area is a lofting, spherical space of bone plaster walls and humble furnishings. To the right end stood Joseph – perhaps twelve feet tall – and to the left end stood Mary of equal height. Centered in the upper reaches of the altar, hung from the bone plaster wall, was an immense wooden cross at least sixteen feet in height. Crucified was Christ upon this cross. In kneeling I reflected well upon what Jesus had done for all mankind and for me. I sought His protection.
Getting back into my car – much more the comforted – I soon found myself in the Devil’s Garden. Hot? Even in November. Dry? You’re going to have to irrigate if you want to grow anything in this sandy soil. Scrub land as far as one can see; only broken by man’s thrust of his will to dominate the land for agriculture. If one is looking, there is much to observe. Here and there are crosses staked in the ground. Surrounded by plastic flowers, they call us to pray for the death of someone at that very spot; their car sending them into another life just when they thought this one was fine. The Hendry Correctional Institution is out there. More lost lives to count; souls contemplating a second chance in bodies not inclined to second chances. It’s a sober land.
God Is Always With You
I stopped at the Southern Citrus Processing Plant as I headed towards Moore Haven, parked the car nears its entrance, and found an oasis with a serene, small lake and a winding, low brick wall along one side. With bible in hand I sat there and felt God’s warmth on me. He had something to say and I was to listen now. I set my thumbs to a page and opened to Romans, Chapter 1: 7-13.
“To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.”
Leave Judgment to God
I turned the page and read Romans 2:1-11.
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.”
This is God’s world and it is not up to us to judge on His behalf. He has His plan for me, and I need not concern myself with the path that my client has taken; God will deal with that. I need to set myself to His task and let Him protect me from those things that would divert His purpose in my life. I need to keep my focus on the Christ. It was time to leave and continue this pilgrimage.
For me it was but a short drive along Moonshine Bay, on past Nicodemus Slough, and west on State Road 78, until one comes to the Pure Gas Station; marking the corner of Ortona Road. During that drive I had the chance to cleanse and redeem that which my mind had wished to put away; my submission to God.
Turning onto Ortona Road, I sought a peace of mind;
That God should put away what things I thought divine.
Put away the pride I had in my mind as charity.
Put away the doubt I had in God as my liberty.
I came into a farmland of bird-perched wire fencing;
And tire-worn roads that left my eyes consenting
To a view of cattle baked like mud in the field,
And woods that left much to my mind unrevealed.
Woods of oak trees; where beneath their branches,
Sat weathered, wood-framed homes like churches;
Much comfort for the toiling spirit of man.
Shaded homes stretching out in a caravan.
With porches where screen doors sat ajar in Godly honesty
And hand-me-down bicycles bowed modestly,
I could well imagine my evenings spent beneath these skies.
Gentle winds rocked on porches; their brows sweating fireflies.
Yet what touched me most in my few minutes there,
Was a sign by which all men and women may prepare:
“Ortona Holiness Church, Pastor Jeremy Howell”
God’s heaven on earth as given by He
Who has given so much to mankind and me.
And So To Home
When I returned home, Kathryn listened to my story as I recounted it and summarized it beautifully.
“Perhaps God is telling you He will be with you wherever you might go in life.”
And so as I stated at the beginning of this post, my life is in the hands of God, and He holds me with tender care and love. I do feel His love and I shall always know that He loves me with an unquenchable fire. I also know now that He must sometimes quench the heat of my pride in the waters that will temper my spirit to the strength that it must be in order to bring about righteous sanctification. Lessons from God should be held close and steadfastly practiced throughout one’s life.
I will forever have faith that God will always be there. To the highest and purist, to the most threatening, and to the most humble; He will always be with me. And one must always witness their lives to others, for God shall continue to speak to you and His words are meant for us all. He never ends in His love. Neither should yours.
God Bless – Reese