"Life is more than food or clothing." (Luke 12:23 CEV)
2010 is mere days away and soon all the calendars will flip digits, the months will roll back to January and begin their countdown again towards the end of the year and life will continue much like it has; invested time, energy and agendas will lead our country, our state, our cities, our churches and our relationships towards their next step in the progression of life. Some, like our nation, will continue down the path of destruction by continuing to deny the Truth of the Gospel and relying on the humanist power of a chosen 'messiah' in the form of our President who seems more intent on pushing forward his agenda rather than serving the American people. Some, like our church and our relationships, can be a source of eternal glory for God or a sinful expression of our lack of faith. As 2009 ends, just like 2008 ended, it is our faith that is not hidden under bushel baskets that will affect our world in small ways and in greater ways. It all comes down to where God is in our lives; outside, held at a distance or inside, our very movements made with His Spirit energizing our muscles. Much of what exists in our country, our states, our churches and our families have been years in the making; 2009 is simply the year in which we have progressed furthest from God by the inaction, indifference or tolerance of our own sinfulness.
I sit here and look back at 2009……and find very few things the same with a lot of things very different both from expectations and from where they were. Life is constantly evolving, constantly changing, and we are wont to hold on to the very things we grab only to have them torn from our grasp sometimes forcibly but too often times casually slipped from what we thought was the tightest hold by the hands of another or through the circumstances of life. Life was born in 2009 and life was ended. Friendships made and friendships brutally ended. The ebb and flow of life remained continually in motion…..the shoreline of our lives forever changed in the passage from January 1st, 2009 until the last day of December 31st, 2009. Life happened; sometimes a blessing, sometimes a sorrow but always organically moving towards the 'future.' In 2009, I celebrated 12 years since that eventful morning in April where God blessed me with a baby boy who was impatient to come into the world and begin LIFE….counting all the joys, sorrows and pronouncements since that moment in the room where he lay in an incubator and I promised him that I would do whatever I had to do to give him everything he needed and as much of what he wanted as I could humanly provide as his father; 11 years since that impatient evening spent waiting for the arrival of a baby girl who didn't seem to concerned with beginning life here in this world…..again counting the joys, sorrows and the struggles since that moment when she grabbed my finger and I knew that forever my heart would be lost to this little bundle of energy; and 42 years since I started this journey on this world called life…..shaped by the influences, sins and agendas of those nearest to me at my birth, battered by life's events through the educational experience and just living, to be drawn to a place where the desolation of disconnection silenced the world for a moment and God spoke to me, "Don't you think it's time to stop running"….drawn into a life that has been abundant, for sure, ever since…….changing, growing, painful, joyful, peaceful, sorrowful and frustrating all at once. But, Christ has never violated His promise; it has been life abundantly lived since the process of surrendering began that February day in 2004. Even in the health of my country, my state and my family. He has given more than He has taken, whether I have used His blessings for their intended purpose or allowed them to be corrupted by my own sinful regression. Christ has remained as He always has been….my Savior, my God and my King.
2009 was touted by the secular world as a year of change…..of progression and new hope. At 8:35 am, a Wednesday morning, on January 20th the 44th President of the United States of America, the first bi-racial (though he promoted and declared himself to be solely African-American) Barrack Hussein Obama stepped into the Oval Office and assumed the mantle of leadership of this nation by the popular and electoral vote of the majority of the American People. Within 100 days of taking the office, this President, still haunted (as he is today) by the constitutionality of his legality to assume the office would begin the process of change that he promised and the majority of the American people endorsed. From the 'light-hearted' scavenger hunt of the Obama girls on the first day that ended with the Jonas brothers to the life-ending removal of the Mexico City clause that prevented our American overseas aid to be used to fund abortions in countries that received it (against the majority of Americans' wishes to the contrary), promotion and creation of over 30 "czars" (high-level staff that oversee a president's top initiatives, non-vetted, accountable only to President), to the concern of many that it concentrated too much power in the Executive branch and subverted Congressional authority (President Nixon was the first and appointed 1. Since Nixon, 4 other Presidents have appointed czars: President Reagan (1), President George H. W. Bush (1), President Clinton (3), and President George W. Bush (4)), the approval of a 3.44 trillion dollar budget while challenging his government to cut a mere 100 million in 90 days, a 789 billion stimulus bill, pushing a universal health insurance bill, massive interventions in the housing and credit markets that have left the American people out and the corporations executives wealthy, the plan to bail the auto industry out by government ownership, the bailout of banks and Wall Street without ownership or accountability, and 'overhauling' the foreign policy of the USA, many felt President Obama's first 100 days were more dramatic and effective than the originator of the term, FDR, and by far more 'worthy' than his successor President Bush. Just as the American People allegedly reached a milestone by the election of the first African-American President, the supporters and cheerleaders that thronged the streets of our nation's capital reached another milestone, though not a very rewarding one. They showed how not to be gracious winners, singing songs of "Goodbye" and cheering as the departing President left the Oval Office for the last time….a first that will forever haunt the image of this country.
Far from this being a political discussion, the advent of "a year of change" has degenerated into 'a year of liberal progression and moral regression' as the American people have been less than impressed with this 'agent of change' with approval ratings that dropped from 65% to 49.9% with a telling disparity of +5.3. With the highest unemployment rate since 1945, over 2.9 million Americans out of work (526,575 plus in 2009 alone), many have been disappointed with the expansion of the Federal Government and its policy of burdening our future generations with debt that has had little effect on the economic concerns of hundreds of thousands of American families. The loss of popularity comes from Obama's own political party, the Democrats, despite a Democrat-controlled Congress and Executive branch. In my own home state of Michigan, the Democrat-controlled Executive and House branches along with a Republican-controlled senate have faced the challenges of the automotive industry bankruptcies (GM and Chrysler), revenues falling to a 45-year low as families depart for employment opportunities (in other parts of the country as efforts are made to 'diversify' its economy; advanced manufacturing, clean energy, defense/homeland security, life sciences, film and tourism while continuing to lead the country in unemployment (15.2%, the lowest since 1985). In a 'critical year', the 47th Governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm (who assumed the post in January of 2003 with an inherited state deficit of 1.7 billion) has lost over 43,000 jobs as of August while generating only slightly more than 7,000, mostly in the health and education areas with a deficit of 2.8 million, garnering the distinction of being governor during the longest job-loss streak in Michigan history – eight years…the longest since the Great Depression. To say that the state of the country and the state of Michigan is dire is an understatement but it is because of the improperly placed belief of entitlement and requirement of government, a body of career politicians accountable to themselves, to take care of the people instead of the people governing themselves through the government elect, a body of servant citizens who serve the citizenry of the country. As Lent Upson, 1st Executive Director of the Citizens Research Council (CRC) said "The right to criticize government is also an obligation to know what you are talking about." The fabric of the political cloth of this country is changing only because the majority of Americans simply no longer care what the government does or why. The governed no longer hold the governing to accountability and the birth of politicians has lead to the death of the true statesman…or woman….upon which this country's republic was founded. "The trouble with this country is that there are too many politicians who believe, with a conviction based on experience, that you can fool all of the people all of the time." – Franklin Pierce Adams. We, the American people, are reaping the harvest of a political system that has created corruption as a requirement for public office; 1 million dollars is far beyond the reach of the common man to even file the paperwork necessary for running for President. 2009 has become a year of political indifference to the wishes of the American people. I voted my faith when I went to the polls in 2008, nominating by handwriting Alan Keyes, an African-American Baptist pastor from Illinois as my choice for President. Some will say that by doing so, by proxy, I nominated Barack Hussein Obama to office but I remained true to my faith and used my vote, as Teddy Roosevelt would say, as a 'rifle' in the battle politic. Neither John McCain nor Barack Obama was, in my opinion, of the caliber necessary to lead this country into the future. Since the nomination of our 44th President, though, I have continually prayed for his earnest effort to be a leader to our multi-cultured, economically-diverse and multi-generational nation by being a servant-statesman to his countrymen and women and not a stereotypical liberal politician that the Democrat party tends to attract. I still believe in the power of God to bring about good from the selfish desires of a nation that has attempted to remove Him from its history and its moral compass. 2009 has deepened my political awareness and patriotic hope for a nation once seeking God's purpose for its citizenry.
2009 has led to a deeper experience for me in the corporate community of 'church,' much to my dismay and also renewed hope that the original purpose and mission of the body of Christ could be rediscovered and recommitted among the faithful despite the continued degeneration of church influence by worldly influences. 2009 started with me being a member of the 10,000 plus, four campus church of Pastor Jim Combs. Attending The River Church in Holly, Michigan under the campus leadership of Cliff Powell, who's brothers lead North Ridge (a larger church which saw a 'satellite planted' in Saline) in Plymouth, Michigan, I once again found myself drawn into the desire to be actively involved in church and ministry, having 'hung up' my ordination as Chaplain (Ordained) the previous year. A desire that ended much like earlier enticements; disconnection and then disassociation with the fellowship as the battering of myself upon the walls of human invention left me disillusioned and disheartened. Pastor Jim Combs, a dynamic and powerful man of God, seemed caught up in what I called a "david complex," so intent on building a 'temple' for God that he missed the decision of God that it was not for him to build. It is at The River that I first realized that even a man of God, Pastor Combs is surely one of those, can be lead into worldly assumptions of God's purpose and mission……there were very few sermons that Combs gave that did not challenge me in my faith even as I felt disillusioned by the obvious disconnection between buying and building on a 2 million parcel of land a mega-campus church while countless members of the congregation were facing financial crisis…..in the words of Pastor Powell…."we don't have funds to help anyone because there is so much need" while money was hoarded and grasped to enable the capital funding for the property. Far from the disconnection of a pastor from the sheer size of his four congregations, I realized how far the corporate body of the Christian church has gone from the community mindset of outreach to the selfish and self-serving mindset of possession both of congregation and of property. In The River, through a series of experiences, my faith was tested and found wanting….enticed to grow and sorrowed by the state of affairs. In a community of faithful, where we are called to bear one another's burdens, edify and journey alongside each other in the spirit of love taught and emulated by Christ Himself, we have digressed into denominations and opinions where possessiveness outweighs connection, man-made structures overshadow God-ordained relational faith, and discord is ruthlessly abolished under the 'heavy hand of righteous' isolation. I left The River in September of 2009, my hand forced by the silence of the leadership in addressing situations I found in life that only community could have answered, but they were never asked by the leadership after I approached them with my requests. A fact discovered when talking to several of the congregation the night before I departed Holly for Canton.
I have discovered in the last few years since my surrender was first articulated of how far the corporate experience of Christianity has separated from its origins as handed by Christ into the hands of the apostles and down through the ages to the likes of those of us who profess Christianity as our belief system. Orchard Grove, where in 2004 I began this journey of surrender, gave way to the emergent agenda and dictator pastorship style that is prevalent in our western culturized doctrine today; Soul Quest, under the hands of my first god-seeking pastor, surrendering to the doctrinal beliefs of Henry Wright the prosperity of healing minister; The River of Faith (The Rock, The River, Faith Baptist and The Point) giving into the desire of 'temple-building' rather than community outreach even among its own congregation…….it doesn't matter the leadership or the congregational make-up, the Church has fallen far from its Great Commission in proclaiming the Gospel to all nations through the discipleship and laying-of-hands upon those it commissions to fulfill it. I am no longer of the opinion that this church is wrong or that church is right….so long as the biblical continuity of God's word is evident within its walls, rather I have realized the digression from Christ's intent for His church has multiplied itself into the denominational mindset of His people. If this continuity doesn't exist, I would speak to the discrepancies of a "Christian" named church and seek a return to a biblically, not culturally, based doctrine. But I have realized that even within the walls of a biblically-based church there is the corruption of humanity even under the guise of seeking God's intent and I must remain true to that which God has envisioned for me. This church experience seemed to culminate in 2009 for me; surrendered to the fact that my possibility of fulfilling God's purpose for me as a pastor in a congregation was far more likely after Christ's return than before when left in the hands of human invention and decision, I found myself not looking for a church in which to develop my talents, skills and gifts given from God for His glory and purpose but rather seeking to find that church of sufficient diversity where I could effectively hide among its pews and cushy chairs and be one of the cultural Christians that populate many congregations today. The one church where such a life could have been effectively led; Life Church in Canton, proved to be too slow for my over-engaged mind despite its mission statement of 10 ministries in 10 years. Berean Bible Church in Livonia, while being biblically sound, strongly disciplining and faithfully challenging was too generational of a church congregation for me, being sold to Christ under the modern model of Church with energetic worship music. In the most unlikely of places and through only the prompting of a mentor who has been faithful in his biblical interpretation of my adventures both in church corporate life and personal accountability, I found a church that grudgingly I have found a fledging hope that while I may still never obtain through the invented manifestation of the western church of humanity a position purposed and called to by God, the further development of my faith and my heart as a servant can be fostered, mentored and discipled for the further purpose of God……among a congregation that is not one that I would have willingly walked into in the years before. A diverse collection of college-aged, middle-aged and elder-aged faithful who came together under the leadership of Oak Pointe and Lead Pastor Shannon Nielsen to plant a church in the college city of Ann Arbor that would be guided by the principles of biblical community: team-based, intergenerational, biblically deep, others focused, and reproducing. I have found in investing myself and my family into this relatively new Church plant a reawakening of a sense of discipleship and purpose that have been largely absent in my past church experience.
Where at the beginning of 2009 I had been at the point, as I told my mentor – my Barnabas, that I was done with 'organized church' as a part of my life, I have found myself ending the year with a feeling that there is something that has been taught and shaped through my experiences of 'church' from the beginning to now that have, as Wendell put it, given me an unique experience that I can bring to my home church that will be of benefit to both of us, me as a servant and my church family as a member. And though I have been progressed no further towards the God-given sense of full time ministry, my faith has developed to the point where the obtaining of such a lofty and precarious goal is no longer the end of the journey I am on, but rather simply a progression of my faith and my surrender to God. Whether it remains true my belief that in such man-dominated environments such as the western church there will never be the movement of one as broken and intolerant of misguided philosophies called doctrine that exist in the modern church or that God will suddenly present the opportunity to join Him in the work He is doing in the true Church that He is preparing as a Bride for the Bridegroom remains only seen in His eyes. In the journey of my relationship with Him, I have found that following Him into the unseen future is all that I am required to do……..He is the One to create, nurture and implement the plan He has for my life. All I know, as 2009 ends and 2010 begins, the sense of completing His 'boot camp' and being 'assigned my first combat duty station' overwhelms and dominates my eagerly searching eyes for His will in the moments of my life. And that is the purpose and commandment of God…..to have a heart crying out, "Send me!"
From employment to unemployment, home to living with family, financial progress to devastating regression, I have borne the training that God has either allowed, chosen for me or has asked me to endure for Him in this year of 2009. I am not where I would want to be in many things, but I know that where I am I walk with God in many areas and ways that I scarcely believed possible at year's beginning. My wants have dissolved into basic needs and the things that God has given provide for the needs as my surrender to Him becomes more and more developed, realized and implemented in my life. I have a long way to go, far beyond the realms of where I'd dream I could possibly live and am enticed by God's voice to go……..
As 2009 draws to a close, I find myself in a 'ceremony of competition'; the honor guard marching proudly in step with the flags of God, country and community proudly flapping in the winds of His purposing change as the gathered faithful stand in formation; proudly gleaming in the metals of God's armor; the helmet of Salvation, the breastplate of righteousness with the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit strapped securely to the belt of Truth secured around their frames as they stand in the shoes of Gospel preparation. Equipped, trained and developed through the trials, tribulations and circumstances of 2009…..I no longer am the 'raw' recruit that signed the pledge so long ago to join the Army of the Lord in the eternal battle for the souls of the lost, the progression of the kingdom and the return of the One True King. After the ceremonial graduation is over and we wander through the throngs of our families that have watched us grow in this place who have gathered to celebrate life-giving death gained in the servant hearts of His warriors and the discipling of the young to be mature faithful citizen-soldiers, we will stand before our mentors and our teachers…..and be commissioned to go forth into the duty stations of God's purpose for the Kingdom and His glory.
This fruitful training ground of God's design; where the simple faith I professed to Him one February day so long ago has progressed into a faith more simplified in the eyes of the faithful and more complex in the eyes of the sinners, the personal development from rejected son to a son who is seeking to understand the blessing of being a beloved son, experience in the hand-to-hand combat of this world where being Christian is no longer a 'nice' thing to the world but rather a 'intolerant' expression of a crazy and foolish people, and a firmness of spirit that understands that love sometimes has to speak accountability, sometimes has to be held accountable, sometimes tested, sometimes testing but always has to be the language and intonation of a member of God's family to everyone……and that the 'training and development' of a soldier in the Army of God will never truly be complete as we fight our old nature with our new nature born and developed by the Spirit. The provisions of God have been plentiful in this year; from the equipping of a saint in the family to bless my need for a car at year's beginning to the continuous prayer and support through the wide-spread and faithful family of God's larger family that has taught me the lesson time and time again that God's provisions will not end because the need does but will be there when the need becomes known in our life again and that we are, as His people, to faithfully accept and articulate such provisioning through the proper application and thankful witness of a blessed people.
As 2009 draws to the end of its natural progression through the history of mankind and we, as a people…..both of this nation, this state, this community and of His blood….draw closer and closer to the end of time, when our Savior will return upon the white horse of war to bring the usurper's domination of this world to an end, I am thankful for the many who have stepped into my life with prayer of supplication for me and my family through the financial crisis that we have faced, the heart-heavy decision of divorce and the relocations to places both old and new, those who have provisioned with God's wish into our lives with food, clothing and funds and those who have stepped into the uncomfortable role of accountability to draw me closer to God and His purposes to me. As we step into the future of 2010, there is no other than each of you that I would have standing side by side with me as we struggle against the world of darkness to shine the light of the Risen King. It is because you, having faithfulness to lift your voices to our God on my behalf that have given me the strength to go into the darkness for the sake of God's light.
"God's love and kindness will shine upon us like the sun that rises in the sky. On us who live in the dark shadow of death this light will shine to guide us into a life of peace." (Luke 1:78-79 CEV)
The life that I have experienced in 2009 has taught me the truth of the verse at the beginning of this post…..life is so much more than food and clothing and Christ has given to us the opportunity to live that life surrendered to Him in a manner of abundance….not of wealth, health or any possessions but in relationship with Him.
I cannot wait to see what 2010 holds for His people.