St. Augustine’s footprints…or desiring to breathe in the Almighty

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I was twenty-one… or was I twenty-two when I first heard this teaching? I know for a fact it was Mr. St.Clair, one of my heroes in the faith that divulged its truth and splendor. During a team meeting he gave a passionate homily, as only a man of the Spirit can do. Towards the end of this lesson, during which I might or might not have been napping, he presented this story. As to the reality of the tale, I cannot confirm nor deny. Many acclaimed the main character to be the great St. Augustine, yet some say it was a simple ordinary monk. Whether it was or wasn’t the reality bears no effect on the truth of the tale. So I will therefore write it down as I heard it all those years ago.

St. Augustine, much aged and past his prime, was sitting down beside a beautiful pool one spring afternoon. He had transferred his administrative duties for the church of Hippo to his assistant Eraclius, and was very near transferring from this world to the next. The day was perhaps normal, like any other day. Maybe Augustine was napping beside the pool, as the elderly tend to do whenever the chance presents itself. Whatever the circumstances, it wasn’t to long until his peace was disrupted. A young pilgrim came and knelt down before him, begging to be taught the ways of the Almighty. “I would know God.” he said, as if this revelation would make Augustine jump to life. It did not. He was ignored. “Master, I would know God!” the pilgrim repeated, this time a bit more determined to catch the ancient man’s eye. Again, silence was the reply. “Please sir, I must know God!” the pilgrim yelled out, with passion and vigor.

Suddenly, without warning, Augustine jumped to life.

He grabbed the young man by the scruff of the neck, and forced his head under the cold water of the pool. After what seemed like an eternity to the boy, Augustine let him up. “Do you want to breathe?” he yelled. The boy nodded. “Then breathe!” As soon as the pilgrim took a breath, Augustine repeated this action forcing him into the water yet again. Three more times Augustine did this to the young man, who seemed to be little less a faithful pilgrim than a drowned rat by the end of the process.

Finally he let go of the boy. The boy backed away from the master, afraid that the crazed man might do something even more psychotic.

Augustine sat back down, looking the boy in the eyes. “When you desire God as you desire your next breath…then you will know God.”

Those words haunt me to this day. I would know God.

Later days

Duke’s Mission… a Culture in Transition

This week Duke announced that they will be allowing a Student Muslim group to do a weekly call to prayer atop its bell tower. Every Friday this Muslim group meets downstairs in the basement of the Chapel for their “jummah” prayer service. “The adhan is the call to prayer that brings Muslims back to their purpose in life, which is to worship God and serves as a reminder to serve our brothers and sisters in humanity,” said Imam Adeel Zeb, Muslim chaplain at Duke. “The collective Muslim community is truly grateful and excited about Duke’s intentionality toward religious and cultural diversity.”

I find this interesting for many reasons, but mainly because of this quote from the Chapel’s Associate Dean for religious life, Christy Sapp. “This opportunity represents a larger commitment to religious pluralism that is at the heart of Duke’s mission…”  Really Christy? This is Duke’s mission? And if it is, how far has it evolved from Duke’s Original goals and ideals?

Do you not know that your University was originally called Trinity College? That you were founded as a Christian University with the goal of spreading the Gospel, that trained Methodist pastors for free?

Do you not know where the name Duke University came from? That your University was re-named Duke in order to honor the memory of the Duke family, a devout Methodist/Christian family who gave their fortune in order to see the University prosper.

Do you not know your University’s motto? Eruditio et Religio, or “Knowledge and Religion.” And don’t regurgitate the bull crap that Religion can mean any religion. In its original context, religion meant the only ONE TRUE religion; That of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I think that this opportunity flies in the face of Duke’s original mission. I think that if Mr. James Duke were alive today he would be tearing your university down brick by brick because of this.

I don’t think that, because of today’s cultural shift, any Christian student would be allowed up in that bell tower to pray on a loud-speaker for all to hear. I think that it would be called religious intolerance. How foolish and stupid we have become as a nation. How much God will judge it, and tear it down, brick by brick.

-Later days,

Jeremiah

p.s. Find linked sources here and here.

Dancing on the tightrope: Or how to be the saint in sinner’s clothing

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Sin is Sin. Grace is Grace. A sinner is a sinner, and a saint is a saint.

Recently a former student of mine asked me about something he was reading. He said that in the book, the author stated that we should refrain from using the old adage that a Christian is “just a sinner saved by grace.” Instead we should refer to ourselves as “saints being saved who sometimes sins.”

This is an interesting thought. One that I have wrestled with many times during my discipleship.

One the one hand, there is the startling truth that screams aloud we are sinners! We are nothing more than this. One of the fundamental doctrines of the church teaches that we are depraved. We all carry the disease of sin and death, which eats away at our very flesh and blood. It is a nature that compels us to the dark corners where we can hide as shivering masses fighting against the light. And it is only through this revelation that we can come to know Him. The One. The Messiah. The Savior with the cure for this disease.

And isn’t this the first step? Admission of the problem, diagnosis of the disorder? We must first admit our total depravity in order to beg for the cure.

As Brennan Manning puts it, A ragamuffin is one that knows he is a beggar at the door of God’s mercy! As the bible puts it, the one who beats his chest and cries out for mercy is the one who is forgiven. We are the whore caught in her sin. We are the wretch in the song. And the Gospel is “just” this simple. Those who truly realize their need cry out, like blind Bart in the Bible. These people are the ones who fully trust in the saving Grace of Jesus. These are the ones that have faith. So simple. So easy. So beautiful.

But this is one side of a two sided reality. there is another dimension we must acknowledge.

Jesus says to the whore that there is no condemnation, and then with the next breath states “go and sin no more.” In fact, all of Paul’s teachings echo this sentiment. We are a “new Creation.” We are “lead by the Spirit.” God has put the law of sin and death to…well, death!

The proof is in the puddin’, so to say. The evidence is in the fruit! Those who have surrendered to Him must follow Him. Those who follow Him will begin to change. To be made new.

In fact, Paul admonishes that we press on towards the goal, to become worthy of this high calling. And we must do that! We must remain focused on the things above. We must forget what was behind us, the fact that we were once blind, or sinful, or shameful. We must run the race! Fight the good fight!

BUT! What happens when we slip? When we fall? When signs of that old beggar pop back up in our lives? And it truly is not a matter of if, but when…

WE MUST NOT FORGET! We must never forget! We have a living hope! We must never forget we have been freed! We must never forget from whence we came. When we forget we lose touch of reality. The truth that our righteousness is as filthy rags. We are no better than the heathen down the street. The only difference in us is Him. This is what keeps us humble, loving, and willing to change.

To me it is much like a tight rope. Lean too far and fall, either in legalism or cheap grace. Neither are honoring to God, and both lead to the same pit. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am a sinner, saved by grace, which makes me positionally perfect, yet practically striving…

And if that doesn’t state it correctly, maybe Paul does in Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God: Not of works, lest any should boast. ”

-later days

I’m sorry…It’s my fault…forgive me.

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I am not under the delusion that the “great and mighty” Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, or John Piper would read my blog. I am an ant compared to their status. But if I could somehow approach Mark, or any of the others, This is what I would say.

Dear Mark, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that I treated you like a celebrity. I’m sorry that I bought your book or dropped your name (back when it was still O.K. to do so). I’m sorry that I even used words such as “hero of the emergent movement.” Forgive me for making you think that you had to have a book on the best seller list to be considered worthy or “relevant.” Forgive me for buying into the garbage that is “Christian” marketing in the first place…either mainstream (LifeWay) or obscure (everyone else.) Forgive me for making you think that you were a “brand” at all. Forgive me for making you think you were anything other than what you truly are. A sinner saved by Grace called to be a servant leader of a church. Not called to be a rock star. Not called to be a cultural icon. Not made to have your picture on a shirt. In fact, you were made to teach biblical principles… made to share the good news of the Gospel…made to convey theological thoughts. But you were also made human…the very definition of fallible. And to treat you as anything other than that…I was placing heavy burdens upon your back.

Call it a result of our hero worshiping culture, we drop names like bad habits. It all begins with baseball, football, artistic, and cinematic “heroes.” We become fan boys of our personal favorites. This transitions into our “spiritual” lives. Billy Graham was an O.G. of this curse. My grandfather and father would collect his entire library simply because he was the “pastor to the presidents.”  Fast forward a few decades and things haven’t changed a bit. Are you “reformed?” You must think John Piper, R.C., and MacArthur are God’s on earth. Are you into the Passion clique? Louie, Chan, and Moore must never misspeak. How about those Spirit-Filled folks? They got Joyce Meyer, Osteen, and Hinn. We’ve even began digging up long dead theologians and putting their pictures on shirts! I am guilty of this! I want a Martin Luther shirt so bad I can taste it! Derek Webb once wrote that “…We’re turning shepherds into sheep, and leaders into celebrities, it’s holy sabotage, just look around you.”

And I think about what Luther would think. How would a man that once whipped himself in a closet respond to Christians worshiping his long dead visage?

It’s my fault…

It’s my fault that I raised you up to celebrity status…that you fly first class and sell out stadiums. It’s my fault that New York Times best sellers has such a grip on you. It’s my fault that when you repent it matters not. Me and others who decry your name now, saying such statements as “Mark Driscoll is a dark stain on Christianity.” Guess what…I’m a dark stain on Christianity. WE ALL ARE DARK STAINS ON CHRISTIANITY! It’s just that we raised you up to have “followers.”

Instead of following the God you talked about, we followed the mouth-piece.

And granted, when you fell, you were a bad example of our Lord. But it’s not as if the righteous never fall…in fact the bible says they fall often. (Proverbs 24) It’s not infallibility that makes us righteous…its in our rising…our restoration in Jesus.

So forgive me. Forgive me for being star struck. This Summer I was in the same room as a rising “star” preacher, J.R.Vassar…and I was star struck. I wanted to meet him. I wanted to talk to him, as if talking to him would make me somehow a better person. As if it would give me validity. I could casually quip to other pastors in conversation that “I was talking to J.R.Vassar the other day…” Forgive me of this filth. Forgive me of giving you more validity than you deserve.

I’m praying for a full restoration. I’m hoping for the best for you.

For when I fail

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There is morsel of scripture that I have been savoring lately. Like a thick steak (medium rare please) or an exceptionally ripe apple. I must continue chewing in order to savor and ultimately ingest the nourishment that comes from this bit of truth.

“For if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him…” Paul is suffering for the Gospel’s sake. He is being punished for his part in the spreading of the good news. Sitting in a Roman prison, awaiting trial and eventual beheading…it’s almost as if this letter were his final words written to his student, Timothy… when all others (save Luke) have abandoned him.
He reminds himself, and Timothy, and us, that in order to truly live with Him…we must die with Him.

“If we endure, we will also reign with Him…” He has spent the earlier part of this letter reminding Timothy to be a good soldier. Tough times are coming. There will be hardship, persecution, death. But we must endure. We must ever remain the “hardworking farmer,” planting seeds that bring forth fruit. We must remain the “athlete” competing faithfully according to the rules. The “Soldier” focused on his marching orders and nothing else.

“If we deny Him, He will also deny us…” The only way to deny Him is to deny the work of His hands. The truth of the gospel revealed in our lives. I am beginning to think that there are two main ways to do this. The first is to deny that we NEED the Gospel…that we NEED a savior to free us from ourselves. Brother John would say that “…those who say they are without sin have no truth in them.” The second is to understand the need, and knowingly reject the medicine. To curse God and die, as it were. Many think that this might mean if I “deny Him” in a moment of sin, or weakness, that I am going to be denied by Him on Judgment Day. That somehow I can lose what has been given to me…namely the Grace imposed upon me. But this would render his next words mute.

“If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself…” And this is where “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene.” There is grace ever abundant. There is grace for the screw-up. Grace for the addicted. Grace for the faithful. Grace for the faithless.

You see, I messed up today. I lost my temper and kicked a laundry basket. I thought things I shouldn’t have thought. I went there. I was less than faithful. I sinned.

And if you were honest, you went there too.

You may have been more controlled, or Spirit led than me; but at the end of the day you went there in some respect. But here-in lies the secret. Here-in would make a man “endure” and go happily to the gallows. This is a trust-worthy saying. We get to live with Him forever if we are real about our need, and understand one thing. His grace in contingent upon Him, not upon us.

So for when I fail…He does not. Thank God.
Later Days

The Depressed Christian

Photo by Christian Hopkins. View his gallery here...http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/christian-hopkins-photography

Photo by Christian Hopkins. View his gallery

Yesterday reports confirmed that one of the greatest actors in history took his life because of depression. Robin Williams was one of my favorite actors. In fact, oddly enough, he is also my father’s celebrity look-alike. Every time I see him in a movie, I am reminded of my dad. 

Anyways, I haven’t been able to shake this story from my mind to focus on more “important” stories, such as the Isis genocide or the Israel/Hamas warring finally subsiding for a time. I keep coming back to the thought that this guy had it all! He had Emmy awards, an Oscar, world-wide fame and wealth. A loving family, talent, and even wisdom. True, he was suffering from a down-hill slope in the ratings recently, and he had always struggled with alcoholism. But from the outside, these things seem trivial compared to his success. So why the depression, and why did it lead to suicide? 

I have often heard little antidotes such as “suicide is the most selfish thing a person can do.” and “Depression is the result of negative thinking.” I’ve even taken some classes in psychology to learn that Clinical Depression is extremely difficult to get a grasp on and diagnose; and yet is no less dangerous. I have friends that suffer from anxiety and depression, and I struggle to understand what they are going through.

I used to think that depression was just a catch-all for laziness and lack of accountability. I used to think that those who were too depressed to get a job simply had no drive or ambition. I have now come to the conclusion that I was pathetically wrong about these beliefs. I have learned that some of the most depressed people I have met are also very driven, dependable, and certainly not lazy.

I used to believe that those depressed couldn’t possibly know Jesus! In fact, to know Jesus is to know true joy, fulfillment, happiness, and purpose. So people that are too anxious to get out of bed could certainly have no relationship with the Almighty! In fact, if I believed this way currently, I would use this argument against Mr. Williams. He seemed to have everything in the world that would make a man happy, and yet he took his life. He certainly didn’t know Jesus. 

But then again, how many have known the Lord and still lamented their current struggle. 

This morning I opened up my bible to Psalm 42. I am reading through the psalms, doing five a day, and today just happened to be the day I read this. “Why am I so depressed? Why is this turmoil within me…I am deeply depressed; therefore I remember You from the land of Jordan…I will say to God, my rock, why have You forgotten me…Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me?” 

These verses were ascribed to the Sons of Korah. There is an amazing story behind these Korah guys. Simply put, they were the relatives of a man who tried to rebel against God and was brought down(Numbers 16). They were originally placed in a position of honor, then brought to nothing. Through time, God began restoring their family to its rightful position. In fact, the Prophet Samuel was a decedent of Korah, and many of these “sons” became musical leaders within the temple.   

Many of the most beautiful poetry in the Psalms was a contribution to the sons of Korah. “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul pants after You…Be still and know that I am God…” It seems that these sons were extremely poetic and abounded in the knowledge of their Creator…Yet they were also depressed. 

Maybe the Sons of Korah were able to feel and understand the human condition a little bit more than others. In fact, their story seems to echo ours, doesn’t it? We were placed in a place of high honor. In our foolish pride we chose to rebel from our Creator and were brought to nothing. Yet in His graciousness, He chooses to restore us. This is the redeeming story that echos throughout eternity. This story gives us hope, joy, peace, purpose…but also hurts a little. To accept this story, we must accept the fact that we are screwed up. We must accept that we are nothing on our own. This can most certainly be depressing.

I think that the depressed Christian gets this fact better than anyone else. I think he is able to empathize better with those who have no hope in Christ, because the nerve is still raw from the wound of sin. This might be why so many of our great poets, musicians, and artists were and are so depressed. They were and are more able to fully grasp the human condition and share it with a world that almost seems to deny this despair.

I think the world needs depressed Christians. I think God uses depressed Christians to connect to those still in despair. I think it’s amazing that a depressed Christian can look up in his depression, and cry out “Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and God.”