Walking the Line

Johnny Cash The Man in BlackLast night I watched a movie about the early years of Johnny and June Carter Cash titled, Walk the Line.” While I’ve never been a big Country Western music fan (I was born with Rock ’n Roll pulsating through my veins), Johnny Cash looms larger than life on the American musical landscape even ten years after his death on September 12, 2003, a scant four months after his beloved wife,  June Carter Cash, died on May 15, 2003. They married on March 1, 1968, and were married until the time of her death.

The movie portrays his early life starting with his childhood and the death of his older brother, Jack, when he was ten and Jack was twelve, which devastated him along with the rocky relationship he had with his father. The movie continues through the years leading into his musical career, his first marriage to Vivian Liberto (from 1954 to 1967), his drug addiction, divorce and eventual marriage to June Carter Cash in 1968. He first heard the singing voice of a ten-year-old named June Carter on the radio as a young boy and it was a voice he never forgot.

To say his life was complicated is an understatement. Yet, the Man in Black connected with young and old, famous and infamous, Presidents and prisoners, and he was a champion of the underdog. According to a quote in Wikipedia, “Cash felt great compassion for prisoners. He began performing concerts at various prisons starting in the late 1950s. His first prison concert was held on January 1, 1958, at San Quentin State Prison. These performances led to a pair of highly successful live albums, ‘Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison,’ (1968) and ‘Johnny Cash at San Quentin (1969)” (quote source here).

In an article by Dave Urbanski in Relevant Magazine published on what would have been Johnny Cash’s 81st birthday on February 26, 2003, titled, Inside the Complicated Faith of Johnny Cash,” he stated:

“Johnny Cash’s musical accomplishments are storied and staggering. He occupies spots in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and the Country Music Hall of Fame—he, in fact, was the youngest living person ever inducted into the latter. He sold 50 million albums, recorded more than 1,500 songs, boasted fourteen number-one hits, won scads of awards, and is mentioned in the same breath as The Beatles when it comes to musical impact. . . .

“But more importantly . . . he always stood up for the underdog (the poor, Native Americans, prisoners, and others) and always stood up to the oppressive; and he beat just about every odd that was stacked against him” (quote source here).

Urbanski also stated:

“Cash lived long enough and hard enough to embody a host of personas—and they’re all true. Songwriter. Six-string strummer. Storyteller. Country boy. Rock star. Folk hero. Preacher. Poet. Drug addict. Rebel. Sinner. Saint. Victim. Survivor. Home wrecker. Husband. Father. And more.”

Actually, much, much more. The article continues with the following:

“As songwriting friend Kris Kristofferson recently said, ‘He’s as comfortable with the poor and prisoners as he is with presidents. He’s crossed over all age boundaries. I like to think of him as Abraham Lincoln with a wild side.’

“Cash’s cluster of enigmas was so impenetrably deep that even those closest to him never got to see every part of him, every thought, every emotion.

“‘I think Johnny’s as complex as anything God or man put on this earth,’ his brother Tommy once noted. ‘He’s a man of uncommon characteristics, mentally or physically. Even though you’re his brother, or his wife, or his mother, you never know him completely. I’ve felt myself at times trembling because of my inadequacy around him'” (quote source here).

JohnnyCashJuneCarterCash1969Of course, regarding his marriage to June Carter in 1968, “the 35-year marriage of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash is one of the great love stories of the entertainment industry. The movie ‘Walk the Line’ is about their being there for one another during the tough times” (quote source here). While the movie actually ends at the point where they married in 1968, their life together lasted another 35 years ending at her death in 2003 followed by his death four months later.

Johnny Cash was also a Christian (as was June Carter Cash). Regarding his faith, Cash made the following statement in the article titled, Inside the Complicated Faith of Johnny Cash:

“‘I don’t compromise my religion,’ Cash once declared. ‘If I’m with someone who doesn’t want to talk about it, I don’t talk about it. I don’t impose myself on anybody in any way, including religion. When you’re imposing you’re offending, I feel. Although I am evangelical, and I’ll give the message to anyone that wants to hear it, or anybody that is willing to listen. But if they let me know that they don’t want to hear it, they ain’t never going to hear it from me. If I think they don’t want to hear it, then I will not bring it up.’

“‘In short, telling others is part of our faith all right, but the way we live it speaks louder than we can say it,’ Cash said. ‘The gospel of Christ must always be an open door with a welcome sign for all.’

“‘There’s nothing hypocritical about it,’ Cash told Rolling Stone scribe Anthony DeCurtis. ‘There is a spiritual side to me that goes real deep, but I confess right up front that I’m the biggest sinner of them all.’ To Cash, even his near deadly bout with drug addiction contained a crucial spiritual element. ‘I used drugs to escape, and they worked pretty well when I was younger. But they devastated me physically and emotionally—and spiritually … [they put me] in such a low state that I couldn’t communicate with God. There’s no lonelier place to be. I was separated from God, and I wasn’t even trying to call on Him. I knew that there was no line of communication. But He came back. And I came back’ . . . .

“‘Being a Christian isn’t for sissies,’ Cash said once. ‘It takes a real man to live for God–a lot more man than to live for the devil, you know? If you really want to live right these days, you gotta be tough.’ What’s more, he’s intimately aware of the hard truths about living God’s way: ‘If you’re going to be a Christian, you’re going to change. You’re going to lose some old friends, not because you want to, but because you need to.'”

In an article written on February 25, 2013 regarding Cash’s Christian beliefs by Dr. Russell Moore titled, Why Johnny Cash Still Matters,” Dr. Moore stated:

“It was through the quiet friendships of men such as Billy Graham that Cash found an alternative to the vanity of shifting celebrity. He found freedom from guilt and the authenticity of the truth in a crucified and resurrected Christ. And he immediately identified with another self-obsessed celebrity of another era: Saul of Tarsus. He even authored a surprisingly good biography of the apostle [“Man in White“], with the insight of one who knows what it is like to see the grace of Jesus through one’s own guilt as a ‘chief of sinners.’

“Even as a Christian, Cash was different. He sang at Billy Graham crusades and wrote for Evangelical audiences, but he never quite fit the prevailing saccharine mood of pop Evangelicalism. Nor did he fit the trivialization of cultural Christianity so persistent in the country music industry, as Grand Old Opry stars effortlessly moved back and forth between songs about the glories of honky-tonk women and songs about the mercies of the Old Rugged Cross.

“To be sure, Cash’s Christian testimony is a mixed bag. In his later years, he took out an ad in an industry magazine, with a photograph of himself extending a middle finger to music executives. And yet there is something in the Cash appeal to the youth generation that Christians would do well to emulate . . . .

Cash always seemed to connect. When other Christian celebrities tried to down-play sin and condemnation in favor of upbeat messages about how much better life is with Jesus, Cash sang about the tyranny of guilt and the certainty of coming judgment. An angst-ridden youth culture may not have fully comprehended guilt, but they understood pain. And, somehow, they sensed Cash was for real.

“The face of Johnny Cash reminded this generation that he has tasted everything the youth cultures of multiple decades have to offer—and found there a way that leads to death. In a culture that idolizes the hormonal surges of youth, Cash reminds the young of what pop culture doesn’t want them to know: ‘It is appointed to man once to die, and after this the judgment.’ His creviced face and blurring eyes remind them that there is not enough Botox in all of Hollywood to revive a corpse.

“Cash wasn’t trying to be an evangelist—and his fellow Bible-belt Evangelicals knew it. But he was able to reach youth culture in a way the rest of us often can’t, precisely because he refused to sugarcoat or ‘market’ the gospel in the ‘language’ of today’s teenagers” (quote source here).

In the last line of the article, Inside the Complicated Faith of Johnny Cash,” Cash stated, “I don’t give up … and it’s not out of frustration and desperation that I say ‘I don’t give up.’ I don’t give up because I don’t give up. I don’t believe in it” (quote source here).

Those words are familiar. They were spoken by Jesus Christ in the Parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18:1-6, specifically in verse 1 when he stated to his disciples “that they should always pray and not give up.”

And so we also should always pray . . .

And–just like Johnny Cashnot give up” . . .

Don’t ever give up . . . .

YouTube Video: “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash:

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Not a Timid Christianity

2 Timothy 1v7Of the sixteen writing prophets found in the Old Testament (from Isaiah to Malachi), Ezekiel is one that I haven’t often read. However, I happened to turn to Ezekiel the other night as I was reading in the book of Psalms and read the following verses from Ezekiel 3:4-9:

“He [God] then said to me [Ezekiel]: “Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and strange language, but to the people of Israel—not to many peoples of obscure speech and strange language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate. But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people.”

What really surprised me as I read those five verses was what God told Ezekiel regarding himself (see vv. 8-9): “But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint.” God made Ezekiel just as unyielding and hardened with his passion and message that God gave him to give to the Israelites as the Israelites were in their rebellion towards God and wanting life on their own terms (see Ezekiel 2:1-8). We don’t often think of God as purposely making someone “unyielding and hardened” and yet that is exactly what Ezekiel needed to be when delivering God’s message to the Israelites. He needed to be very tough and unbending.

In the Introduction to the Prophets by Eugene Peterson in The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002)–see insert below for full text of the introduction–he writes the following:

“The prophets purge our imaginations of this world’s assumptions on how life is lived and what counts in life. Over and over again. God the Holy Spirit uses these prophets to separate his people from the cultures in which they live, putting them back on the path of simple faith and obedience and worship in defiance of all that the world admires and rewards. Prophets train us in discerning the difference between the ways of the world and the ways of the gospel, keeping us present to the Presence of God.

“We don’t read very many pages into the prophets before realizing that there was nothing easygoing about them. Prophets were not popular figures. They never achieved celebrity status. They were decidedly uncongenial to the temperaments and dispositions of the people with whom they lived. And the centuries have not mellowed them. It’s understandable that we should have a difficult time coming to terms with them. They aren’t particularly sensitive to our feelings. They have very modest, as we would say, ‘relationships skills.’ We like leaders, especially religious leaders, who understand our problems (‘come alongside us’ is our idiom for it), leaders with a touch of glamour, leaders who look good on posters and television.”

Sound familiar? Here are a few more quotes from the introduction:

“The God of which the prophets speak is far too large to fit into our lives. If we want anything to do with God, we have to fit into him.”

“The prophets are not ‘reasonable,’ accommodating themselves to what makes sense to us.”

“[The prophets] words and visions penetrate the illusions with which we cocoon ourselves from reality. We humans have an enormous capacity for denial and for self-deceit. We incapacitate ourselves from dealing with the consequences of sin, for facing judgment, for embracing truth.”

“[The prophets] don’t explain God. They shake us out of old conventional habits of small-mindedness, of trivializing god-gossip, and set us on our feet in wonder and obedience and worship. If we insist on understanding them before we live into them, we will never get it.”

The last section of the introduction states the following:

“One of the bad habits that we pick up early in our lives is separating things and people into secular and sacred. We assume that the secular is what we are more or less in charge of: our jobs, our time, our entertainment, our government, our social relations. The sacred is what God has charge of: worship and the Bible, heaven and hell, church and prayers. We then contrive to set aside a sacred place for God, designed, we say, to honor God but really intended to keep God in his place, leaving us free to have the final say about everything else that goes on.

“Prophets will have none of this. They contend that everything, absolutely everything, takes place on sacred ground. God has something to say about every aspect of our lives: the way we feel and act in the so-called privacy of our hearts and homes, the way we make our money and the way we spend it, the politics we embrace, the wars we fight, the catastrophes we endure, the people we hurt and the people we help. Nothing is hidden from the scrutiny of God, nothing is exempt from the rule of God, nothing escapes the purposes of God. Holy, holy, holy.

“Prophets make it impossible to evade God or make detours around God. Prophets insist on receiving God in every nook and cranny of life. For a prophet, God is more real than the next-door neighbor.”

What I have noticed over the past several decades is how we as Christians in America practice an insipid, timid, self-serving, politically correct form of Christianity that is rarely appealing to outsiders except on a surface level of “what we can get” from God that mainly focuses on the “pleasant” verses or themes in Scripture and ignores the really hard stuff (like what the OT prophets had to say to their own rebellious generation). We like to say the Old Testament has little value to our lives today, unless we can find a really good verse to hang onto when life gets rough. And, we like to preface all of that Old Testament “stuff” with the fact that it all happened before Jesus Christ came to earth. Well, Jesus Christ has always existed even in the Old Testament (see John 1). In fact, he is our Great High Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek (see Hebrews 5:6, Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 7-8). The book of Hebrews in the New Testament clearly warns Christians again and again against hardening our hearts in unbelief and against falling away (a significant problem in all generations). And even the Apostle Paul stated that Israel’s history from the Old Testament has very clear warnings for us as Christians today (see I Corinthians 10, for example) by admonishing us not to become idolaters (placing anything—money, jobs, materialism, status, etc.–or anyone before God) and not to commit sexual immorality. The consequences from doing so are severe and bring down the judgment of God.

Heart-ScreeningWhat I love (and hate) about reading the Old Testament prophets is that they can be terrifying in their descriptions of God’s judgment against those who ignore Him over and over again (and it happened time and time again in Israel’s history) and yet it is comforting to those of us who will pay attention and give heed, even in the midst of great tragedy. We have been lead to believe, at least here in America, that this life we live is our own and we can do with it whatever we want. Our goal often seems to be to get as much money as possible so we can buy all the pleasures and things we want and to make us as comfortable as possible (oh yes, and have a great retirement, too). It’s all about acquiring “the good life” which is about as opposite of the clear teachings of Scripture as one can get. Nothing in the Bible tells us to put self before God. Nothing.

Many times we use Christianity to fulfill our own purposes whether materially, politically, socially, in business or in pleasure, and in relationships. No wonder we don’t want to hear (or we pretend it doesn’t apply to us) what the Old Testament prophets had to say to their own generation who lived life on their own terms by ignoring God (who is, by the way, the Creator of the entire Universe).

Now, I’m not pointing fingers at anyone. I’m not fond of what the Old Testament prophets had to say either but it is written for us to learn from and heed in our own lives. This life is not about “us” and what we want and how we go about getting it. It’s not even about our comfort or our own security, folks. It’s not about portfolios and retirement accounts and “living the good life.” It’s about God. It’s about Jesus Christ. It’s about all the stuff we are never (or rarely ever) taught anymore in our churches because the focus has been taken off of God and put on ourselves and what we think God should be doing for us. We don’t even take sin seriously anymore. In fact, many times we flaunt it. For example, how often do we try to “keep up with the Joneses.” How often do we strive for that promotion with a bigger paycheck; seek accolades at work; go searching for the perfect spouse; in pursuit of an ever bigger house with more bathrooms then we need and with a manicured lawn? And how about a BMW in the driveway? How often do we justify divorce because we’ve gotten bored with our current spouse and found someone else (for however long that next relationship will last)? Or justify an affair? Or ignore our children as they grow up and then follow in our footsteps (or maybe not)? Or screw over coworkers to get what we want? That list is endless and it’s all about self, not God.

And the church is often a willing accomplice because so many of the sermons focus on us and not on what God wants from us. We twist Scripture conveniently to fit our lifestyles, and if it doesn’t fit, we just ignore it. After all, who cares about what the Old Testament prophets had to say to their own generation “back then.” We’re cool, hip, and we just don’t need that stuff in our lives. God loves us just the way we are—greedy and selfish–right?

Wrong . . . .

Just as Eugene Peterson stated in his introduction, “One of the bad habits we pick up early in our lives is separating things and people into secular and sacred. We assume that the secular is what we are more or less in charge of: our jobs, our time, our entertainment, our government, our social relations . . . . leaving us free to have the final say about everything else that goes on.” And the “prophets would have none of this.”

As he stated, “God [DOES] have something to say about every aspect of our lives: the way we feel and act in the so-called privacy of our hearts and homes, the way we make our money and the way we spend it, the politics we embrace, the wars we fight, the catastrophes we endure, the people we hurt and the people we help. Nothing is hidden from the scrutiny of God, nothing is exempt from the rule of God, nothing escapes the purposes of God.” Try as we may, we cannot evade or detour around God.

We need to honestly examine our own lives. All of the shady areas and deceitful dealings we think we can hide from others and God are always in clear view of God. He misses NOTHING. Our true heart attitudes are always on open display to Him. And eventually judgment is what happens to a nation and a people who clearly ignore God. The Old Testament prophets provide a clarion call to all of us to get back to God–now–before it is too late. And remember . . .

“Nothing is hidden from the scrutiny of God . . .

“Nothing is exempt from the rule of God . . .

“Nothing escapes the purposes of God . . .

“Holy, holy, holy” . . . .

YouTube Video: “Holy Holy Holy Lord God Almighty” [Agnus Dei]:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Those Whom Society Shuns

Galatians1We can be a self-righteous bunch. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were much the same. They placed their emphasis on their own interpretations of the law while extending very little (if any) mercy to others, especially those they didn’t understand or who didn’t regard or respect them as the “religious authority” of their day. And Jesus had a lot to say to them in Matthew 23 (read the “seven woes” listed in that chapter—they don’t paint a very pretty picture).

Still, in our day we fail to recognize that what the Pharisees did back then we still do in large measure today. We condemn others we don’t understand, and judge others who aren’t like us. We live lives of hypocrisy expecting others to “do away” with their pet sins while we totally ignore the pet sins so rampant in our own lives. And, while we don’t like having our own reputations smeared, we have no problem smearing other people’s reputations, even lying about them to make ourselves look good or for monetary gain (or for other not-so-altruistic reasons).

Jesus was a friend of sinners, yet it was the Pharisees who had a problem with him eating with them (the sinners). In fact, Matthew 9:10-13 states:

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

“Go and learn what this means . . . .”  But do we? Jesus desires mercy, and the folks who didn’t understand this were the Pharisees (e.g., the self-righteous)—those who were always looking down on others and judging them according to their own standards.

A while back I remember hearing a pastor say to a small Bible study group that the reason people moved from big cities to the suburbs was to get away from all the evil found in the big cities. Around the same time I heard one of the television pastors (probably not the one you might be thinking of) make a statement regarding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He stated that Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed just because of their evil ways, but that they were also destroyed so that the rest us of could be free from having to live around all that evil.

Oh, really???

If you think about it, both of those statements are full of self-righteousness and an “us” versus “them” mentality. Evil resides in people, and that includes all of us. When we move to the suburbs we bring our own brand of evil with us (gossip, greed, materialism–the list is pretty much endless). We pride ourselves in the fact that we don’t murder or steal, yet we murder others with our gossip, and we steal the life away from others we don’t like by shunning them or pointing fingers or calling them crazy or stupid or, well, you get the picture.

In Matthew 15, some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus with an accusing question regarding his disciples by asking why they “broke tradition” by not washing their hands before they ate (Matt. 15:1-2). And Jesus replied:

“And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your traditions. For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who curses your father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ ” (Matt. 15:3-9)

Hypocrisy lives in all of us and unless we are willing to take a good, long—and honest—look at ourselves, we will continue to cast aspersions at others while justifying ourselves.

In a devotion titled “What Mercy Means” in Open Windows,” Winter 2013-14 edition, Gregory Pouncey, Senior Pastor at First Baptist Tillman’s Corner, Mobile, Alabama, writes the following using Matthew 9:10-13 as the devotional passage:

The Pharisees were powerful religious leaders in the first century and were Jesus’ greatest foes. They placed such an emphasis on following their interpretation of the law that they showed little mercy to those who couldn’t reach their own unattainable standard. When Jesus came, however, He spent the majority of His time with those the Pharisees had disregarded. He forgave a woman caught in adultery, He healed the lepers, and He cast evil spirits from those who were possessed.

In Matthew 9, Jesus sat down and ate with tax collectors and sinners, which in the eyes of the Pharisees was a violation of the law of Moses. But Jesus had mercy on those whom society had shunned. They were spiritually sick, but Jesus knew He could make them whole.

Mercy means that, like Jesus, we will invest in people who might seem far beyond hope in our own eyes. Mercy means looking at people through the eyes of Christ and not evaluating them based on what we see on the surface. Mercy means seeing everyone as created in the image of God and, therefore, worthy of our love.

Read that last paragraph again . . .

  • Investing in people who might seem far beyond hope in our own eyes.
  • Not evaluating them based on what we see on the surface.
  • Seeing everyone as created in the image of God and worthy our love (and not our hate or judgment).

Hosea 6v6The only folks that Jesus had a major problem with were the Pharisees and teachers of the laws—those folks who thought they were better than anybody else; who made up the rules as they went along but didn’t live up to those rules themselves; who judged others without mercy and were always falling back on their own traditions; who demanded respect from others while not extending it. Sort of like the example I gave earlier of the two pastors I mentioned who implied that the evil all around us was somehow only in “them” (the truly evil folks) and not in “us.” The problem with that is that there are no “good, decent people” (as in “us”) with the rest of humanity falling into the “them” category. We are all sinners—every last one of usin need of a Savior, and we are all capable of great evil when we turn to our own ways and nullify extending mercy to others.

It reminds me of a parable that Jesus taught found in Matthew 18:21-35:

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Jesus extends great mercy to us, yet most of the time we don’t extend it to others. Instead, we judge them without mercy; we point fingers and accuse those we don’t understand; we mock, we laugh; and in doing so, we condemn ourselves.

The apostle Paul warned his young protégé, Timothy, in 2 Timothy 3:1-5:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

This is not an “us” versus “them” statement. All of us can find ourselves somewhere in that description—“. . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God–having a form of godliness but denying its power.” The description in these verses permeates our society and saturates many of our church cultures. The Pharisees didn’t see it in their day and so often we don’t see it in ours, either. Jesus didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners, and He desires mercy, not sacrifice (Matthew 9:13).

“Go and learn what this means” . . .

And that means all of us, folks . . .

Not just “them” . . . .

YouTube Video: “Gotta Serve Somebody” sung by Willie Nelson:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #1 credit here

What Has Happened to America?

nobody-cares-001-jpegThe question, of course, is rhetorical. I am already well aware of the answer.

I am currently in the middle of a dispute with my new landlord who purchased the house where my efficiency apartment is located on December 30, 2013. Mind you, for the past almost two years that the previous owners have owned this house (an investment company), it has been going downhill (it was built in 1938). They put it on the market to sell a scant one year after they purchased it (guess they just weren’t making a profit, right?), and had to lower the original price they were asking for (because they got absolutely no response for months) by almost $100,000. Since that price was lowered back in October, we had a variety of “potential buyers” come through to look at it (sometimes I felt like an animal in a zoo with curiosity seekers peering into my private life), and the three fellows from Rhode Island who looked at it were especially obnoxious. However, one of the groups of “potential buyers” (local to this area and well known in the community) ended up buying the house and the sale closed on December 30, 2013. Well, at least the parade of potential buyers ended at that point.

The first shock from the new owners came when I opened the downstairs door that leads up to my apartment on January 3, 2014, to find a large envelope stuffed in the doorway that included a one-year lease with an increase in my rent of $100/mo. I was shocked to say the least and refused to sign it (for a variety of reasons and not just because of the substantial increase in rent). However, I asked them to justify a $100/mo. increase in rent considering the current shape of the property. This is a very old house in disrepair because the previous owners didn’t give a crap to keep it in good condition (the swimming pool in the backyard looks like a swamp and has had no chemicals or any type of maintenance performed on it since the end of September 2013 if that tells you anything). The water is the color of tar, and I’m expecting frogs to start jumping out of it anyday now. Not even an alligator would want to live in it. And the backyard? The maintenance on it ended back then, too (with the umpteenth maintenance man quitting or being fired and they decided not to hire another one for this particular property since it was for sale). So much for an investment company owning this house and property.

Back to the issue at hand–the substantial rent increase. Mind you, my kitchen area is falling apart as it was built with particle board that is probably older then me (okay, okay, they might not have had particle board back when I was born, but you get my drift). Someone stated to me that it might be from termites but then I’m not sure anyone cares as there has been no evidence that anyone does actually care. The showerhead on my shower only half works (hence, I just shower half of my body at a time–okay, okay, so the humor in this situation is running a bit low) and the bathtub has a liner over it (because the original owners of the house didn’t want the expense of putting in a new bathtub) that sometimes fills up with water and has to be drained and, well, if you could see pics, it looks pretty nasty. Also, my toilet is broken but I managed to fix it myself with some superglue and by taking the top off the tank in the back so that I can push the plunger thingy (for lack of a better term) down each time I flush it so that the entire town doesn’t lose water from the constant draining of my toilet tank.

And for all of this my rent gets increased $100/mo. starting on February 1, 2014, from the new owners who haven’t yet even taken care of my first maintenance request to please just fix my toilet (which has been broken since the previous owners still owned it). Oh yes, I can certainly see why the new owners feel justified in raising my rent $100/mo. Want to know what they had to say to me when I told them that considering the shape of the house and specific areas in my apartment that an increase in rent AT ALL was way out of line? Here’s a quote from an email from them written to me on January 4, 2014:

Hopefully we will show you that under our ownership and maintenance there will be many advantages to you and the other tenants. Unlike the previous management we will be making several improvements including a new roof, paint, air conditioning, pool, etc. As you know all of these cost a considerable amount of money. We did not buy this location to keep it in disrepair as we do not operate that way. I hope that you will come to understand that we purchased this property as an investment and we have to charge a certain amount of rent to cover our expenses. At this time an apartment the size of yours with utilities included and no lease rents for far more than $600.00. We have set the rent at $600.00 beginning February 1, 2014.

As for the issue with the toilet, we will have a new toilet installed at your convenience.

Show20me20the20Money_thumb_500x270_72909_answer_1_xlargeReally . . . . Well, it’s now January 9, 2014, and I have received no phone call from anyone wishing to “install a new toilet at my convenience.” However, at their convenience they are expecting me to start paying $100 more in rent per month starting on February 1, 2014, for the privilege of having them as new owners/landlords. NOT . . . .

Don’t even get me started . . . .

“An apartment of my size” (as she stated in her email above) . . . . My apartment is an efficiency apartment located in a house built in 1938 (and in a current state of disrepair) in the downtown section of a town where the rent for a two-bedroom apartment isn’t even what she is expecting me to pay starting on February 1, 2014. And since when are the expenses of an owner the responsibility of tenants? For crying out loud I can’t even get them to fix my toilet in a timely manner (shades of the previous owner second time around) yet they are more worried about recouping the cost of any expenses on an old house they just purchased that is in considerable disrepair so they decide to screw me, the tenant, for an extra $100 bucks per month to help recoup their expenses? And they bought this house for what reason? Obviously, they only care about themselves and their “investment” and screw the tenants. Lucky me . . . .

Welcome to America in the 21st Century . . . .

And thank you for letting me get this off of my chest. If I only had the money, I’d buy a motorhome and hit the road . . . .

YouTube Video: “Money” by Pink Floyd:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

No Compromise – Keith Green

Keith and Melody GreenOn December 8, 2013, I published a blog post titled, No Compromise,” which highlighted the life of Margaret Thatcher, who was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 and was nicknamed “The Iron Lady” because of her uncompromising politics and leadership style.

This blog post focuses on another individual born here in America and who is a product of my own generation—the Baby Boomers—who rocked the world for a short time before his death in 1982 in a plane crash and who’s legacy (his writings and his music) lives on through his wife, Melody Green, at Last Days Ministries. His name is Keith Green (Oct. 21, 1953 – July 28, 1982) and his life story can be read in a biography written by Melody Green, first published in 1989 and expanded and updated in 2008, titled No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green.” Keith Green also lived a life of “no compromise” and the forward in this book, written by Winkie Pratney, gives a clear snapshot of who Keith was—a voice crying out in the wilderness of his generation. Here is the forward from the book found on pages ix-x (2008 edition):

Once upon a time, in a generation steeped in much emptiness and spiritual darkness, a boy was born who was given a great gift. Deeply talented, trained as a musician, he had a unique ability (some would later say genius) to take spiritual truth and put it in the language and vocabulary of the common people of his time.

His biographical writings (now available for others to see) record the intensity of his struggles, his early odyssey into pathways that promised so much but sadly lead nowhere. These records chronicle the search of a young man seemingly out of step with his age—a young man not afraid to risk everything for what he found to be real and right. He was nothing if he was not intense—and in that intensity he questioned everything and everyone that seemed to hold a key to life and reality. Once he found that Answer (as we know now he did), nothing could turn him from it.

That commitment given, he began a lifelong crusade to see his world likewise transformed. No one who knew him would deny that he offended many. He often especially shocked established religious people in his youthful zeal to bring compassion, honesty and reality back to the church. Perhaps the truest practical test of a real prophet is this: “Does he make me uncomfortable?” If he does, he probably is. If he doesn’t, he probably isn’t. After all, you never read in the Bible of a popular prophet except the false ones who always went around telling people the things they wanted to hear.

So this young man was blunt. He was funny. He was tactless and sometimes even crude. He steadfastly refused to accept the spiritual status quo. He quietly mocked hypocrisy with laughter while he laid bare his own struggles and fears with tears. Many of his songs are simply sermons set to music—prophetic pieces in harmony that set standards for a generation. He was controversial. He was criticized. He was cut off by some and almost canonized by others—but he was impossible to ignore. His life and work literally affected millions around the world. Although gone from us now, he impacted his generation like a spiritual H-bomb, and the reverberations of his life, courage, and commitment will still be felt for generations to come.

Most people today who have never before had the opportunity to read his writings and journals know him only by his music. (After all, not everyone can write a song that will still be sung five centuries after his death!) We remember him today as the man who launched the Reformation; the musician with the hunger to know God and to make Him known by faith; the man called Martin Luther.

And this, of course, is not his story. But in another century, another culture, and in another country, on a smaller scale, with not as much time to accomplish a task, it might have been. Keith loved Jesus. He did what he could in the few intense years I was privileged to know him. If you have never had the opportunity to share in the life of someone like him who lived for Jesus, you will catch a glimpse of that love in this, his story. He was my friend. I miss him. ~Winkie Pratney, May 1989

(Winkie Pratney has studies every recorded revival in history, and is a world authority on true revival. He has written over twenty books and speaks to over a half-million young people a year. His background in science and pop culture allows him to interpret current trends for the welfare of youth in our technological and media-dominated society.)

Keith Green did not live long enough to witness the ever-deepening spiritual malaise of our day. Our nation is now saturated with mega-churches focusing on how we can have “the good life” with God’s blessings and with a focus on self and material prosperity while remaining calloused towards the sin in our own lives. These elements were apparent in his day, but have exploded exponentially in ours. Who preaches on sin and the need for repentance today? In a two-part series titled, What’s Wrong with the Gospel? Keith wrote the following regarding the removing of the cross from the gospel (p. 363):

Paul said, “I determine to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Nowadays it’s “Jesus Christ and what he can do for you!” You cannot have more exact opposites than the Bible’s Christ-centered gospel and our modern, cross-less, self-centered gospel.” . . .

Unless people are truly convicted of sin . . . then it is virtually impossible to show them a need for a savior. Why, what would they need to be saved from? Fun? Today the Lord is presented as a sort of “ice-cream man Santa Claus,” and the church is the candy store where you can get every goodie your heart desires.

Keith goes on to say:

First and foremost, today’s “gospel” appeals to the selfish. If people come to Jesus mainly to get a blessing or only to get forgiveness, they will ultimately be disappointed. But if they come to give him their lives in honor and worship, then they will truly have forgiveness and joy—more than they could ever imagine!

In part two of the series, Keith talked about “the traditions of men” which include “the alter call and the easy assurance of salvation just because someone came forward” as well as an examination of “the sinner’s prayer” (p. 364):

It is obvious that there is no set sinner’s prayer. The words are not important. It’s the state of the heart of the one saying the prayer. I believe that a true sinner’s prayer will gush out of anyone who truly is seeking God, and has been enslaved to sin.

And he spoke about “cheap clichés and Christian slogans” such as (p. 365):

“Please be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.” This can be really a horrible replacement for “I’m sorry!” It puts the blame on the wrong person. “The reason I’m such a creep is because God isn’t finished with me yet!”

Then there is that other fabulous excuse that absolutely ends all quests for expectations for holiness: “Christians aren’t perfect . . . just forgiven!” What we are saying by this fabulous piece of prose is, “You cannot trust your teenage daughter with my Christian son. You’d better keep your eye on him. He’s just forgiven!”

He summarizes by pleading with Christians to examine what they are doing (p. 365):

Don’t you see what fools we are! We preach a man-made plastic “gospel.” We get people to “come forward” to the altar by bringing psychological pressures that have nothing to do with God. We “lead them” in a prayer that they are not yet convinced they need to say. Then, to top it all off, we give them “counseling” . . . telling them it is a sin to doubt that they are saved!

Beloved family, the world around us is going to hell. Not because of fanatical dictators, television, drugs, sex, alcohol, or the devil himself. It is because of the church! We are to blame! We alone have the commission, the power, and the truth of God at our constant disposal to deliver sinner after sinner from eternal death. Even though some are willing to go . . . they are taking a watered-down, distorted version of God’s message, which God has not promised to anoint. That’s why we are failing. And unless we admit that we are failing then I’m afraid there in no hope for us or the world around us. We have the choice between causing eternal tragedy for our whole generation, or bringing our beloved God a whole family full of good and faithful servants.

galatians“We preach a man-made plastic ‘gospel’” . . . What was true in Keith’s day is exponentially true in ours. Today it’s called easy believism and it saturates our landscape, and it does not produce changed lives—not in us or in others. We end up instead with a “religious, churchy” spirit that is easy on our own sin but judgmental of others, and not with a truly changed life. And Jesus is still left on the cross because our sin has never been dealt with. As Keith stated, it’s not about saying a prescribed “sinner’s prayer,” it’s about the state of our heart as he stated when he said, “a true sinner’s prayer will gush out of anyone who truly is seeking God, and has been enslaved to sin.” Especially in our day today, our own sin is treated casually and with great indifference, and mostly as a nonessential, irrelevant to our relationship with God. We come to Jesus to get his blessings and never think twice about actually laying down our very lives in service to him. And that, folks, is a false gospel that can’t save anybody, and it certainly hasn’t saved us.

In the closing thoughts of the book (pp. 481-482), Melody states that one of Keith’s favorite passages in the Bible is found in Galatians 6:7-10 (NIV):

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

At the end of the book in a section titled “Retrospective” by John Dawson, President of Youth with a Mission and Founder and President of the International Reconciliation Coalition, he states the following about Keith (p. 489):

Keith had the heart of a child with an Ezekiel 37 assignment: “This is what you need to tell the people. They are not going to listen but you need to tell them anyway.”

Keith was a revivalist at heart. He wanted to see the open heavens of God, in a time of the outpouring of the Spirit and of the harvest. We were talking about all that, but it hadn’t turned into song lyrics yet. It was being processed by prayer. Keith was getting ready to prophesy to those dry bones . . . .

Life is long and messy for most of us. But Keith was like a comet. He came and went and left the rest of us here to mop up and run the marathon . . . .

Romans 12:1-2 states:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

So let’s not be conformed to the pattern of this world . . .

But be transformed by the renewing of our minds . . .

And let’s run that marathon . . . .

YouTube Video: “So You Want To Go Back to Egypt” by Keith Green:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here