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CBN.com Recently, I found myself looking back down the road behind me, reflecting personally on the life journey to date. In a number of ways the following picture of the children of Israel parallels the trip some of us have taken.
"Remember our history, friends, and be warned. All our ancestors were lead by the providential cloud and taken miraculously through the sea. They went through the waters, in a baptism like ours, as Moses lead them from enslaving death to salvation life. They all ate and drank identical food and drink; meals provided daily by God. They drank from the Rock, God's fountain for them that stayed with them wherever they were. And the Rock was Christ. But just experiencing God's wonder and grace didn't seem to mean much - most of them were defeated by temptation during the hard times in the desert, and God was not pleased.
The same thing could happen to us." (1 Corinthians 10.1-6 - The Message Translation)
My personal spiritual and geographical roots go back to Scotland. I had initially come to America with my family. My dad, who was in ministry with the Apostolic Church in Glasgow, pursued God's call to him to come to the United States. It was obviously a major upheaval in our lives as my mother, father and I packed up or sold our belongings, said goodbye to lifelong friends and boarded a train to England. Then we boarded the ship, SS America and sailed away into the gray dawn of a Southampton morning, to New York City, a new land, and a new life.
I truly was a "stranger in a strange land." As my Dad pursued
his ministry, we journeyed from city to town throughout the northeastern
parts of the United States. I had to learn to find my way on my own. Not
only around my new geographical environs, but social ones as well. My
school years were a time of becoming acclimatized to an entirely new way
of living. To my American schoolmates I talked funny with my Scottish
accent. In learning to adapt socially, I had to struggle with my Christianity
that had been learned in a Scottish-Pentecostal-Presbyterian milieu. It
was too much of a stretch; therefore I threw over my belief system, or
tried to, and went off on a prodigal journey of some eight to ten years.
As an individual I was trundling down the lonesome road, doing the best or worst I could. Then for some inexplicable reason, through a series of dramatic events, my life was changed by an encounter with God in a way I had not planned. I wasn't sure I had even been looking.
The lonesome road wasn't lonesome anymore, and I set out with a song in my heart and on my lips, of "Just, Jesus & Me," in which I declared to God that I didn't want anything to do with His Church, I just wanted Him. A good friend had once told me, "The Church would be fine, if it weren't for the people!" And that's the way I tried to live out my life in Christ. However, that was a misinformed idealism. I found out that when you join Jesus, His friends come with Him; and Jesus has lots of friends. I began to meet others who had had a similar experience as I; and He dumped me right in the middle of them.
At times, it almost drove me back to the drugs I had been saved from.
However, it was also through people that God began to heal me of the isolation,
and loneliness, that had dogged me, "the stranger in the strange
land." I eventually came into a place of security, identity, and
belonging that had been the secret desire of my lonely heart. We became
companions on the journey. I had found family. The shocker was, the family
turned out to be "Church."
However, this was not the once a week parade to the religious orphanage, where no one knows anyone else -- the stained glass, pew-sitting, variety of church. Rather, this was the blood, guts, gore, good and bad, shared, transparent life, community expression of Church, (not commune) where we learned to die to live. It was free, but it was not cheap.
We read the Bible in contemporary translations that we carried around in our jeans pocket. We were even reckless and abandoned enough to believe it. Prayer was spontaneous and we got answers. If someone was sick, we prayed and more often than not, they got healed. Why not? The Bible said it, I believed it, and that settled it. Don't make it complicated by getting hung up on theology.
We even had our own music. Not our parents' music, but God, love & rock and roll. Of course there were those "fundy" types, who saw God and rock and roll as an oxymoron. So they burned their records on a bonfire with all the other false gods. But if all of us didn't have that conviction, no big deal, we were just to love one another, allow for differences and celebrate our unity.
There were Jesus festivals. A gathering of the family, the clan, the tribe, the nation if you will. Moreover, it was a lot more than the Woodstock Nation. Some of our musical contemporaries ended up on the stage at Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden. Thousands showed up on these pilgrimages, and the New York Times and the TV networks all took notice. Jesus was news, even making it on to the cover of Time magazine. Evidently God was not dead after all.
In whatever form it took we had a vision of the Kingdom of God as an alternate society, and we were zealous. We were going to turn the world upside down. We were going to make a difference. We were not going to make the mistakes our forefathers had made. Certainly, this was not religious. Who cared about forms, structures, denominations, or church buildings? This was a spiritual movement. And we were moving. We weren't all sure where we were going, but literally, by God, we knew whom we were following.
However, relatively early on there were some indications that we all didn't see things in quite the same way. Some thought that Jesus would be back in half an hour, so forget getting married or having kids; we wouldn't be around anyway. Others thought that before Jesus got here, we would be hunkered down in caves with our bag of groceries as the anti-Christ chased us through the hills. Then the Lord would come and rescue us. And then there were those who saw themselves as contemporary heroes of the faith marching off to war with visions of world conquest for the cause of Christ dancing in our heads.
Many of us thought history began with us; and a few thought it might end there too. It was an egotistical self-deception. And it wouldn't be the last time.
But there were more immediate internal skirmishes invading the camp. Whether one joined a traditional church or hooked up with one of the more contemporary Jesus movement groups that had sprung up. Whether one was baptized in water by immersion, or by sprinkling. Then there were other issues like drinking wine, smoking, the movies we went to, and the music we listened to and long hair on men. But one of the biggies was the "tongues" issue. Some spoke in them and others didn't. But whatever the persuasion, there was a lot of tongue lashing going on both pro and con. It seemed everyone did speak in tongues after all, it was just whether the source was from above or below.
These little foxes were chewing on the vine, and as a result disillusionment began to set in and we began to lose people. Some just dropped out and went back to the old lifestyle. To compensate young leaders tried to control things and instituted some heavy handed rules to check the disaffection. Others just went with the flow and veered off into aberrations of doctrine and practices that became cultic. A number were absorbed into the institutional church they had vowed never to join. And there were those who withdrew into personal isolation to lick their wounds and ask, "What was all that?" But, although the idealism of seeing the Kingdom coming here on earth was dashed for many, a tattered remnant hung on to God for dear life, pressing on with a desire to please Him and find out what He has apprehended us for.
It got real basic:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 23. 37-40)
Jesus said you need to stake everything on those two commandments. And as someone stated, commandments are not suggestions. I concluded that it would take the rest of the years left in me to fulfill those precepts...if at all. So I stumbled on, sustained by those formative years, this in many ways had ruined me for anything less.
Work in television had me traveling throughout the United States and different parts of the world. Often in visiting churches, I would frequently hear comments and exhortations to "get ready because Jesus is coming back soon!" However, my observations of the condition of the Church was a real "mish mash," and had me asking, why the Father would release the Son to return for such an imperfect Bride? It was Paul the Apostle who used the metaphor of Christ being the Groom and the Church the Bride. And it was Jesus Himself who yearned and prayed for a people who "would be one, so the world would know He had been sent and that we would be with Him where He is." Like any prospective marriage, He emphasized that His Bride would be "getting ready," and preparing for that day of ultimate consummation when He would come back to this earth for Her.
Certainly, I have carried with me those thoughts, desires, and hopes that pertain to His return to this planet. However, it is not the "any moment now" theology that occupies my thinking, but rather the question of what He is coming back for. Certainly it is His Church; but what kind?
From my own marriage of over thirty-five years, I came to understand that "oneness" is not only an external manifestation, but first, internal and relational. The outer display of His Church before a watching world could only be as genuine as it's internal integrity. Inherent to that integrity is words like, loyalty, truthfulness, transparency, maturity, etc. In other words, a Bride that, like a mirror, reflects her love one for another. This picture constitutes the Body of Christ as the Apostle Paul depicted it as a "radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, holy and blameless." (Ephesians 5.27) This is to be the radiant Bride that will walk the aisle; no less.
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