A Divine Mandate

I have a divine mandate, a calling from God. We all have one, so I’m not that special. However, my calling is pastoral in the sense of shepherding the people of God. Unlike most pastoral people, I don’t decide who shall be in my flock; it’s the flock that decides. In that sense, it is God who decides and leads people to give some regard to my pastoral leadership.

In this virtual setting, most of my leadership is exerted through persuasive writing. I’m trying to keep an eye on ways I can help God’s people get out of Satan’s domain. There is no image here of perfect escape, but of selective escape for certain issues that I have been granted to understand. On another level, it is a calling to understand something of the nature of Satan’s dominion so that people can discern for themselves how to look for ways to be free. Thus, I tend to offer my specific ideas as examples of how to approach the whole question.

One of those issues is the broad cultural trap in which we live. The best ally Satan has in keeping you under his thumb is the social mythology of our Western world.

We know that humans are inherently vulnerable to certain threats. That’s why there is such a thing as bulletproof vests, for example. They are expensive and their effectiveness is limited, while the act of wearing one is burdensome in itself. But if you spend very much time exposed to people inclined to fire bullets at you, it’s worth the expense and trouble.

We are also vulnerable in other ways. That includes a great deal of psychological vulnerability. The human mind remains open to some kinds of threat simply because that’s how we are wired. In order for us to live here in this environment, we have to take certain mental shortcuts. But those shortcuts can be exploited by other people to manipulate us into doing things we shouldn’t. Naturally you would expect the predators to lie and play down that weakness, saying it’s all a bunch of hoopla and scare-mongering. They have allies who dismiss the threats by saying you should simply ignore the manipulation, as if there is no cultural atmosphere that disarms us and makes it too painful to argue about it.

Precious few are born with the will and presence of mind to fight the system. And most of those are intentionally pressured and harassed until they stop exercising that will to resist. Our world makes it terribly expensive, even deadly, to take your own path. Distrust of the system will get you killed, or at least badly hurt. The system itself is predatory and demands that you keep yourself vulnerable.

I am my brother’s keeper; there are lots of sheep who aren’t wired to fight, so someone has to fight for them. I’m not a Darwinian about such things; I care. So it’s natural for some like me with a pastoral bent to make a lot of noise about things you need to consider changing. If I warn you about something the system seeks to do to us to deceive and manipulate, you can blow it off if you like; it’s really your choice. But if God starts knocking on the door of you conscience about this, then get with Him and work it out. If you start making noise about how people should naturally handle such things on their own, then you’ll be classed as an ally of Satan. Resistance has been beat out of them, so it’s my job work at healing the wounds and to provoke it back to life. Don’t be a calloused ass.

Advertising is inherently evil, folks. It’s one thing to let people know what you offer, but you’ll almost never see that in advertising; it’s so rare now you can’t call it “advertising.” Advertising is inherently manipulative, striving to prey on human weaknesses, both native and culturally derived vulnerabilities. By no means would I expect to change the system, particularly on the Internet. We are awash in advertising. What I am suggesting is that you as an individual consider the problem and decide whether God is calling you to act on this problem. I’ll offer ways to bulletproof your mind, both in restructuring the mind’s operations and in in blocking predatory input. There is no moral obligation to consume advertising, so fight it tooth and nail. That’s what Jesus did in resisting Satan in the Wilderness Temptations.

I’m not worried about some tiny slice of Internet users blocking advertising, as if this will bring the whole system down. The vast majority of folks won’t do anything about it. What I am worried about is the very real effort on the part of some to take that choice away from you. Those people are so evil they deserve vilification. These are people who want to hurt you. Given the right opportunity, I would consider taking more assertive action to stop them and removing the threat altogether. However, such opportunities are wholly unlikely, so I’ll stick with making noise about taking control of how you use the Internet. I’ll agitate for a few folks — that tiny slice of humanity who feel drawn to my message — to take more assertive action with how they use their computers.

That’s what God has called me to do.

Jehovah Jireh

The preacher is a little angry. Perhaps you’ll see it as a holy fire, not petty spite.

Everything we do is provider-centric. Read that a couple of times and let it sink in. We’ll come back to it.

When your average church or religious organization plans it’s various human activities in pursuit of the gospel message, chances are that the whole thing is deeply infected with human reason. Granted, reason is how we get things organized, but reason has to follow the heart. And how many churches do you know about that teach the heart-led way?

Stop and think about that. In my personal journey, long before I stumbled across the concept of heart-led living, I was already trying to implement it using terminology I had been taught in religious college. Back then, I referred to it as “conviction” and spoke of how it’s something implanted in your soul by God. The image I used was a bedrock of our existence, and how that was the bedrock of commitment to Christ. It comes from God, not from anything we can do. And I taught that God wrote with His finger in that bedrock something unique to us as individuals He Created for His glory. Our first duty was to discern what was written there, in part by pulling away the rubble that God didn’t put there. I suggested that, for most of us, it was several layers deep.

You should have seen how much Hell I caught from religious leaders for that. While the particulars they picked over varied, I could tell there was something fundamental about it that they rejected. At some point, I began to understand that it was a threat to religious leadership itself. These people had a vested interest in maintaining a system that was forced to deny that teaching. It happened in several different Protestant denominations.

When I discovered that the heart was quite literally a sensory organ in itself, something measurable with scientific instruments, a lot of things fell into place. Slowly I realized that the scientific works was misguided, but served to illustrate something that science could never understand, anyway. Never mind the physical realities of the heart; the heart is a symbol with deep traditions in the Ancient Near East, and particularly appears in the Bible. I already knew from biblical scholarship that Hebrew people regarded the heart as the metaphorical seat of the “will” — a term that roughly equates to conviction. At that point, I understand a lot of Hebrew imagery that never made sense before.

For all their talk of the “priesthood of the believer,” the American Protestant religion remains deeply centralized. Sure, you are free believe what drives you, but you can’t hang around with your church family in any meaningful way unless you toe the line of orthodoxy. I’ve had enough of religious leaders enjoying my talents while putting chains on me within “their ministry” so I didn’t weaken their authority.

So if someone tells me that this or that expert on something is “Spirit led,” it really tells me more about the one saying it than it does about the expert. Have you noticed how that works? “So-n-so is a deeply spiritual, man of God” — whose teaching just happens to keep the speaker in power. Whatever happened to the man of God wholly willing to surrender his position at any moment? Whatever happened to the kind of moral leadership that demands you work through all the questions yourself before you try to join up and follow him? And that you keep working through them and keep reaffirming that it’s good to follow for now?

I’m not interested in what some organizational leader tells me is the right way to go about doing the work of God, regardless whom he cites as the expert, nor how many experts he lines up to back his ideas. Since when does anyone have the mandate from God to decide what my calling and ministry should be? Give me your opinion, but don’t stand in the way if God leads me in a different direction. As the DeGarmo and Key song says in reference to religious debates:

Will you still love me after I choose?
Doesn’t the issue stand upon this truth?
Up on a cross he died for sinners!
Up on a cross between two thieves!
Up on a cross he died for you and me!

(DeGarmo and Key, “Up on a Cross,” Streetlight 1986)

Suddenly all those resources that they insist belong to God were denied me and they loved me gone.

The ministry of the gospel is donor-centric: It centers on God. God decides what talents and calling I shall have; He decides how it shall be carried out. The results are measured in terms of His glory, not my personal success as humans measure such things. Don’t tell me my talents are better off under your control, doing something that pumps your prestige. Don’t tell me that I have to meet the people where they are, when what you really mean is you want me to bring them into your shadow.

Nor does it matter what any human on this earth thinks that people out there really need. I can’t give them what I don’t have from God. God is the One who knows what they need, and if He can’t tell me Himself, it’s likely because of all the crap someone else put into my head that gets in the way of His direction.

And what they need is the heart-led life. That’s what this parish is all about. Not because I say so, but because each of you discovers for yourself that it’s true. That’s what I’ve discovered for myself, and that’s what I’m trying to share. I already know that this means there won’t be very many takers, at least not at any one time. I already know this means that I can’t invest much effort and interest in what most of humanity imagines is a good idea for making the world a better place. Sure, I’m a trained and experienced logistics and management guy; I bring order out of chaos. But I keep that in its proper place. It’s quite likely that such skills will get me into some place where I can help a lot of folks with material needs, but the real issue will be those few who see my faith in my work and are moved to ask about it. Those few are the real issue, the real reason God put me in that position.

The Hebrew word for “my provider” is jireh. Our ministry here together is centered on the ultimate Provider of all things; His name is Jehovah Jireh.

Perverted Professional Standards

There’s a burden on my mind about church leadership.

I’ll pick the occasion of Tullian Tchividjian’s professional meltdown for my opinionated screed. The linked story includes more detail than most accounts in the popular media. Let’s pretend it’s accurate, though I am no fan of the site. What matters is not so much this famous pastor’s experience as the entangling mess that made this whole thing worse than it should have been.

First: Don’t confuse pastors with elders, and don’t confuse deacons with elders. In the Bible, there have always been Two Witnesses, the king and the priest. Part of our problem is a horrific confusion over what those words mean, so perhaps it works better if we say sheikh and shaman. That helps you understand that the Bible is an Eastern document that presumes you already grasp that humanity is hard-wired to live in that moral milieu. Studying the Bible means first and foremost that you learn how to think like an Ancient Hebrew and ditch that Western intellectual model.

This link is typical enough of mainstream evangelical thinking about qualifications of a pastor. Right away we see that it confuses elder and pastor. I suppose it would require a genuine revolution with actual bloodshed before we get organized religion to do what’s right so I don’t expect this to change. But a pastor should be the ritual leader, a priestly function that calls to mind the higher meaning behind the symbolism we use in our worship and practice. The elder is the household ruler — the Bible presents the church as a defacto extended family household. The only time you see the two offices merged is when the church body is too small and too new to this whole game-change. Someone who operates in missionary mode approximates what the Apostles did and they were typically both pastor and elder until things got rolling. A deacon is a male or female attendant who helps both pastor and elder get things done, bearing some middling measure of authority.

The pastor is generally a full-timer, set aside for his mission. The elder might be full time as well, if the body can afford it, but he’s often a retired fellow who is already respected enough to rule. Pastors are appointed; elders arise naturally. In Judea, the first churches already had a protocol for selecting who among the various family chiefs would become the senior elder. The working relationship of the pastor and elder varied just as it might for an ancient sheikh and shaman.

But because Western Christianity has been doing it wrong since at least the time of Constantine when he suckered the church into participating in secular politics, we see some serious and painful side-effects. Not least is that a church organized as a Western bureaucracy or corporation will always be the wrong shape and size to meet genuine moral and spiritual needs. It cannot possibly do the work of God, not on purpose. His miracles will happen, but largely in spite of the perverted model.

The next most obvious flaw is the Western Myth of the Great Man. This is wholly absent in biblical thinking. While that linked list of qualifications is a proper quotation, it’s not a proper understanding of most of the Bible passages mean, because they are pulled from the specific context in which they were written. Still, it’s not hard to figure that you don’t want corrupt and violent thugs running the church. Charisma is the last consideration, not the first. Paul fought with that because he had precious little of it and people struggled (especially cultural Gentiles) with responding to him as a man of divine authority. I challenge you to tell me about the pastor of some monster church whose position doesn’t depend on charisma first. Paul would never make in Western Christianity.

On top of this, the profession comes with a false aura of moral superiority. The one bright spot in Tchividjian’s story is that he refuses to run and hide. I’ll let you decide whether that’s because of chutzpah or because he’s honestly trying to do the right thing and buck the broken system. I don’t take issue with his divorce or pursuing a fresh romance; I take issue with the apparent moral standards of his new girlfriend given her choice of costumes. I suppose we should wait and see if she improves on that. Still, his words approach the proper response to this mythology of church leaders as better than the membership. Biblical leadership is a matter of moral character, not performance to some artificial standard that few can sanely match. I can testify that being placed on a pedestal like that is a primary factor in temptation.

Not least is that you will try to hide things that normal people do. This is exacerbated by the perverted view of human sexuality held by most of Western Christianity, a view that arises from heathen mythology, not Scripture.

I’m starting to see glimmers of truth here and there in non-traditional churches, but nowhere near enough. Things are shifting quickly and I cannot guess how far or in what direction it will go, but what we see in the mainstream is ripe for collapse because it can’t keep up with the pace set by God’s wrath. It’s built on the wrong foundation and the flood will come and wash their sand away.

Church Ball-n-Chain

Church politics has not been good to me.

I’m gazing back over the wreckage of my life seeking entrance into the ranks of professional ministry. It would be easy to oversimplify and note that God never intended me to succeed at that game. At the same time, I know with a certainty that I was supposed to try so that I could be touched and changed by a particular kind of failure. None of that absolves the people who used and abused me along the way.

It’s not as if I wasn’t up to the par of those I worked with, but that was never really the question. Most people who spend time in the conditioning process of church activities can find their place; it requires no phenomenal talents that your average Christian can’t summon. Mostly it’s a matter of conviction, from whatever source, that you should be doing that work. You can’t just shove the discussion aside with God-talk, but most do that because it justifies their relative success as humans measure such things: admiration, influence, and some measure of wealth. I came close to those things at various times and it kept me believing that somewhere around the next corner I would be established as one them.

One of the greatest single causes of repeated failure was this thing in my soul that would come rushing to the front at those critical junctures. Like any human, I can find myself moved to lie and deceive about things, but at those singular moments on some threshold, I would speak with grave honesty among people who had something to fear from such frankness. With typical social conditioning, you might suggest I was offering the wrong kind of truth, but I would counter that my heart demanded it. If it shattered the illusions of the moment, then I would insist that it was the hand of God revealing to me in that moment just how deluded the whole system was. It’s not a question of whether folks want to know, but a matter of throwing pearls to swine.

That is, the question wasn’t whether they were swine — we all are in one way or another — but whether people understood the value of what was offered. Operating in a system that makes no room for honesty, a system that is fragile at those points most in need of God’s moral redemption, was the real problem. I didn’t fit. At some point I realized that I could not fit, and the system was not going to change. The people involved were too deeply invested in that broken system where self-disclosure was “inappropriate.” They weren’t morally better, but were unable or unwilling to look in the mirror the same way I did and refused to make allowances for how it opened the doors to moral integrity. They couldn’t cross over with me.

In my own mind, I was trying to point out the miracles of redemption in my life. I was lifting up the glory of God, but all they received was the shock of having to recognize that I was just an ordinary man. The professional ministry was founded on the illusion that some of us were somehow a cut above the common rabble. We were supposed to be “holy” using a definition that was inherently unholy.

At this point, I gain nothing by condemning them. The tears have evaporated and I am here instead of there. But for once, I know where I am supposed to be, and my impulsive honesty is not a hindrance. Now I have new tears because I see that a lot of people I still care about are stuck in a meat-grinder that comes with the collapse of the world they failed to leave. But I still want them to see and escape and join me at whatever point they can, and salvage whatever is left of their souls. Yes, I know many will go down with the system. There is no joy in watching those who closed the door on me refuse my hand of rescue.

My humanity finds it rather odd to be in this position, where for once in my life, my impulses are correct and God grants me peace I cannot describe. Granted, this is the wrong place for a lot of other folks, but I still want them to have that peace. I forgive because it’s part of that peace and I can’t find whatever it is that breathes life into ungracious gloating. I’m still no better, just very fortunate, and it’s a fortune that’s available to anyone who wants it. I’ve found that Pearl of Great Price for which I long searched. Some of them are not ready, not able or willing, to shed that pigskin and see the value.

They are still trapped in church politics. But I’m still hoping some of them work it out before it’s too late. They were as much victims as I was and I sense that I was granted an early rescue for their sakes.

Vision Refresh

This is just an update for the sake of accountability.

Would you believe the spam I get on this blog? Every day I see at least a half-dozen spam comments on various posts, and easily a dozen spammy messages on the “Private Contact” form. Right now, the latter is mostly a bunch of Asian characters that I can’t read plus a few English phrases indicating attempts to market cracked software from Microsoft. Yeah, it’s a hassle to run this site, but it’s what God has called me to do.

So I’m going about this process of studying how to provide my own services and even buying some of the necessary equipment with your generous donations. This is DIY web services for a reason. At first I had to wonder why I felt so provoked to go this way. My instinct was to ponder if it was necessary to spend a lot of effort in high security preparations, but that doesn’t seem to be so important. I believe in prayer and how it changes us and helps us shed false impressions infesting our minds and imaginations. The longer I pray and contemplate what’s going on, the more it seems the real issue is not to worry about attacks, but to insure availability.

I’m utterly certain God’s wrath on America is merely the localized manifestation of His general wrath on the West. To the degree America dominates whatever it means to be “Western” we shall see America get a bigger share of that wrath, but it is sure to spill over into other places. That spillover includes virtual places. I really believe that many of the current services that we treat like public accommodation will go away or simply become less accessible. The funding model behind most of it is dissolving before our eyes. These are effects, not so much God’s purpose and plan. To the degree any of that stuff rests on making a profit, it will tend to disappear because profit will be hard to obtain. Only what people do for other reasons will stay around. This is why I trust Open Source software: It tends to arise from a non-profit drive to excel for its own sake. I’m seriously working to move away from reliance on commercially produced software.

Obviously I’m not trying to make a profit myself. I do this because something inside drives me and I can’t be silent or still. So it comes to my conscious mind that if I plan to keep doing this, I have to be ready to do more of it myself. In order to serve God, I have to know more about Internet services and the gritty details of running those services. I’m all too willing to share what I know and encourage you to be ready to learn as much as you need to provide your own ministry. I would talk about things like having sufficient hardware with the capabilities for running some of the services you require to minister, and stop relying on the Cloud to cover it. Even in Windows you can learn to run a server, or simply gather the software tools and learn how to use them so that you can pass the content to some other device somewhere.

If you sense even the slightest drawing to do something, I would urge you to research the new line of more powerful home routers. You’d be amazed at the stuff they’ll do, and you’d be surprised at how much your ISP will let you get away with. For example, most of them tolerate a private FTP server like mine because it’s not enough traffic to worry about. It’s so common these days they have a hard time telling you “no.” Properly secured against hijacking and abuse, a powerful home router can make your Internet presence much easier to maintain. If you need to do this stuff, learn how it works and do it well.

My point is this: We are coming into a time of tribulation when one of the few hopes for keeping your sanity is a driving sense of purpose. If you can keep your eyes on those things God demands of you personally, you can weather a lot of really tough conditions. I’m not doing this stuff because it’s a fun hobby; that might have been the case some years ago, but now I have a hard and clear focus on the imperative of divine glory. I’m not an activist fighting much of a human threat, either in the flesh or virtually. My focus is less about defending from attacks and more about making sure I provide with my own hands what is suitable for my calling. We all lean on each other, but right now there’s no one else in a position to do that work for me. I’m okay with that; this is something I tend to do well enough on my own, as it were. As things get tighter economically, I’ll have to gear up and do even more. A great many tasks in our Kingdom service will turn out to be more DIY than now seems necessary.

Part of that understanding is an awareness of the level of deception from the world about what’s going on. Some things are far worse than we are told, while there’s plenty of false alarm to distract. We’ve been talking about that already, so I don’t need to say much right now. It’s already past time, but you can start now reassessing what your calling demands and what you may need to provide in-house as we face a challenging future.

So right now I’m working on gathering content that supports my teaching. This is a mission of building the library and keeping it available. Maybe it’s a little superfluous right now, but I feel certain some of it will disappear suddenly. At the same time I’m updating and reformatting my own content to ensure it’s in the most digestible package I can offer. I’m trusting God for a lot of things I can’t do, but whatever I can do is now my sacred mission.

Right now the focus is content and availability.