28 February, 2008

The Road Warrior

What a pair of weeks!

Some of you have wondered what cliff I fell off. I fell off expedia.com.

In August, my daughter instructed me, "You will visit me in college in February for the presentation of the school rings." I, of course, answered, "Yes ma'am."

Well, it's February.

But about 3 weeks ago my mother in the Lord, Fay, asked me to attend a conference with her in Sacramento the very next weekend. This very weekend, as it happens.

In 25 years of faithful love, this woman has never asked me to do anything before. She didn't even ask me to attend her 70th birthday party. How could I even contemplate saying no? Well, contemplate I did. I had to. It was all I could do to even consider laying down money for FOUR flights in a two-week span, and 5 total days of vacation for nothing more than pleasure. With four flights at stake, there'd better be a chance to save a small polynesian island from destruction or some such!

But, there was the chance to make Fay happy, which was almost as good. So I bought the tickets. I didn't quite "shut up" and buy the tickets, but I bought them.

The first weekend, of course, was seeing my daughter. As an exercise in solidarity with her, I did not rent a car when I landed. Instead, I rode the mass transit system to her college, just like she had to when she flies. She was a real sweetheart, though, and met me at the airport to hold my hand through the scary train terminals. It was nice having her confident guidance through the frightening process of putting two of my hard earned dollars into the train-token machine, and eventually we made it. (Go ahead - ask whether I'm kidding.)

The weekend was beautiful. Her college is truly lovely, and the ring presentation ceremony was quite moving. Each of 155 girls stepped across the stage one at a time, was greeted by the school president (whom they each know personally), and received her ring with great dignity.

Evidently the ring is more than just a symbol. It's a sign all over the world to other alums that its wearer is a sister. And so many women having these rings have risen to places of influence that one local business man refers to them as a type of Cosa Nostra. At any rate, each of the girls entered into a deep, meaningful, long-term relationship with that ring that night. It was really cute to watch.

The ceremony ended with a slide presentation showing a picture of each of the girls as a child then another as a lady.

Did they have to make us all cry like that?

It was just a beautiful time.

I took the rapid transit system back to the airport and walked the half-mile from the depot to my ticketing station - only to find out the sales computers could not find my ticketing information. I cried uncle, and asked the drones for their help, and they couldn't find it either. On a hunch, I pulled out my BlackBerry, and checked my expedia.com details.

Yep. :-(

I had scheduled my flight out for Monday, not Sunday.

I was the dweeb.

You should have seen the nice ticketing ladies (suddenly they weren't drones any more) all relax when I smiled and said, "Um. I know what the problem is, and it's me."

They went to work, and were able to get me home on Sunday for only $600. Nope. I spent an extra day in Atlanta. And an extra $150. And an extra day of vacation. And woke up at 1:51 AM, ready to GO.

Oh well. It was a nice extra day off in its own way.

Today finds me in flight toward Sacratomato, CA. Tomorrow I will be at the "Precious Blood of Christ" conference with Fay. I will probably have something to say about this when I return. As the Lord would order things, this very subject has been on my heart for a while.

I was concerned when I was too young to vote that the church had fallen away from Christ. Now that I'm thoroughly into my forties, I've swung the other way, and am ready to seek a permanent home somewhere in the center.

When I started this blog I argued that doctrine does not matter, but only life in Christ. I am ready to correct this in myself, and I think the blood of Christ may be the perfect spot check to use on a church. I don't care whether they're Calvinist or Dispensationalist or Sacramental, but do they hold that the blood of Christ was physical and spiritual and the most precious collection of cells ever to die on this planet? Do they believe the Son entered into heaven as the Father's heir carrying that blood and that He purchased back our lives from death? If so, I'll plant my butt in their pew and worship the Lord.

If they believe the blood is a fundamentalist anachronism that makes it harder for us to evangelize, to connect with Bhuddists, Muslims, and Animists, then I'll run. Ours is a bloody faith, full of suffering and death. God cannot redeem that which is not lost, and the cross is where that redemption happens.

If the Lord is gracious, I will come back from this conference with a vision of the depths and riches of the Life that ran in Christ's veins and was burnt on the altar of the Father's love for us. Either way, I'll let ya'll know.

Love ya. Thanks for dropping in.

(And yes, I loved the movie, The Road Warrior. It was a solid, solid movie if you don't mind violence.)

(And has anyone else found what I experienced? United Airlines kicks butt. American Airlines was consistently disappointing, but United has blown me away with their attention to my wishes. Their automated ticketing system is brilliant. Their waiting areas are well attended. Their in-flight service is spectacular. I think I'm sold. And it really is fun listening to them talk to the tower on channel 9.)

20 February, 2008

Jesus Calls

As if giving myself to Elizabeth Prentiss were not enough, I've started reading Frances Ridley Havergal's devotional.

I cannot sigh deeply nor contentedly enough in a blog post to begin to communicate how comfortable and at home I feel reading these two ladies. Prentiss is a gorgeous Puritan sweetheart and Havergal is a fiery Arminian (sounding) dervish. Both of them hail from a day when love to Christ was expected to pour out from one's hands and feet, when a man was only a man if he were holy in deed and thought. They set the bar too high for me, and assure me Christ can make up the difference. Their words are so different from anything I hear in this age, and there is a tinkling of gold in hearing them.

I've not yet handed out all 15 copies I bought of "Stepping Heavenward," but I'm getting closer.

As I read Havergal the other night, she said one of the simplest things to a reader she imagined was under the conviction of the Spirit. She said that Jesus calls, and if Jesus calls you don't you believe it is safe to come?

And she is so right.

The thing is, He does not quit calling just because we go and "get saved." He calls us forward into and through the most frightening of nights. He calls us to stop and wait in the loneliest of deserts. He calls us to plunge off cliffs in the dead of night once in a great while. And in those times, we doubt whether it's Him calling or whether our mind is just playing tricks in the silence again. Sometimes we know it's Him.

One afternoon he called Peter to take and eat of the unclean food. We underplay that. We don't understand it. He might well have asked one of us to raw chicken, eggs and fish left in a warm broth on the dash of a car for two days in the Georgia summer. The food was unclean. And it was not only his stomach or his life that might be put at risk, but his relationship to God - forever.

Jesus called him. It was safe.

The fear of offending Him Whom we love wrenches our bowels, but His blood has covered our offense. The fear of appearing before Him undoes us, but His righteousness has covered our nakedness. We fail to reach even that level of wisdom we can grasp, but He bears fruit in us anyway.

When Jesus calls us, it is safe.

I Have Learned the Secret

For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances
Philippians 4:11

Trying times lead to dying times......
an opportunity to live what you profess.
To apply the principles of scripture.........
with a countenance of quietness.

When not getting what you want.....
you learn to accept what you receive.
You learn to emotionally not fight back.....
but in the strength of the Lord believe.

You then become innocent in your peace.....
without demand of sympathy ...stand.
You do not become angry and blame.....
with frustrated wringing of your hands.

Though all circumstances are changing.....
God's Word will always apply.
Do not get caught up in feeling rejected......
but take God's yoke and fly.

Unshakeable peace in the inside.....
comes by faith in God to abide,
which is unaffected by all circumstances.....
which try us from the outside.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:12 & 13

(I set the label to, "Guest," but forgot to add:) By Donna McGinnis

17 February, 2008

Aunt Jane's Hero

This is the introduction to Aunt Jane's Hero, by Elizabeth Prentiss. It seems I am quite taken with her writing, this being the third book of hers I've read.

They were living to themselves: self, with its hopes, promises, and dreams, still had hold of them; but the Lord began to fulfill their prayers. They had asked for contrition, and He sent them sorrow; they had asked for purity, and He sent them thrilling anguish; they had asked to be meek, and He had broken their hearts; they had asked to be dead to the world, and he slew all their living hopes; they had asked to be made like unto Him, and He placed them in the furnace, sitting by "as a refiner of silver," till they should reflect His image; they had asked to lay hold of His cross, and when He had reached it to them, it lacerated their hands. They had asked they knew not what, nor how; but He had taken them at their word, and granted them all their petitions. They were hardly willing to follow on so far, or to draw so nigh to Him. They had upon them an awe and fear, as Jacob at Bethel, or Eliphaz in the night visions, or as of the apostles when they thought had seen a spirit, and knew not that it was Jesus. They could almost pray Him to depart from them, or to hide his awfulness. They found it easier to obey than to suffer - to do than to give up - to bear the cross than to hang upon it: but they cannot go back, for they have come to near the unseen cross, and its virtues have pierced too deeply within them. He is fulfilling to them his promise, "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me."

But now, at last,
their turn is come. Before, they had only heard of the mystery, but now they feel it. He has fastened on them His look of love, as He did on Mary and Peter, and they cannot but choose to follow. Little by little, from time to time, by flitting gleams the mystery of His cross shines upon them. They behold Him lifted up - they gaze on the glory which rays forth from the wounds of His holy passion; and as they gaze, they advance, and are changed into His likeness, and His name shines out through them, for he dwells in them. They live alone with Him above, in unspeakable fellowship; willing to lack what others own, and to be unlike all, so that they are only like him.

"Such are they in all ages who follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. Had they chosen for themselves, or their friends chosen for them, they would have chosen otherwise. They would have been brighter here, but less glorious in His kingdom. They would have had Lot's portion, not Abraham's. If they had halted anywhere - if He had taken off His hand, and let them stray back - what would they not have lost? What forfeits in the morning of the resurrection? But He stayed them up, even against themselves. Many a time their foot had well-nigh slipped; but He, in mercy, held them up; now, even in this life, they know all he did was done well. It was good for them to suffer
here, for they shall reign hereafter - to bear the cross below, for they shall wear the crown above; and that not their will but His was done on them."

16 February, 2008

Too Good not to Quote

Palladian said:
So many people are looking for a President that they can be excited about. I am looking for a President I can feel calm about.

I could not have said it half so well. I will vote for the person I think will make the fewest mistakes, and have the fewest character deficiencies.

This concludes my brief foray into politics.

(Hat Tip to Tari, for getting me to subscribe to Instapundit. I hated to be a sheep, but the guy really covers everything that's important in 2 sentence bites. I can keep up with that.)

13 February, 2008

Worthless Trick

I have never been particularly good at balancing on one foot with my eyes closed. I think I once told how I keep my ankles strong for tennis by doing odd balances, but I need my eyes open to stay upright for more than a handful of seconds.

You might enjoy trying balancing right now, before I tell you what I did, so you can do a before and after.

So anyway, I was trying to give my eyes a little break after several too many hours staring at a screen. I went to a conference room, and just started staring out a window instead. Then I started passing the time by balancing. And I decided to see just how far I could move my balance point forward and backward and right and left. I was moving in kind of a size 12 rectangle. I'd balance on my big toe, then my outer heel, then my inner heel, and then my little toe, and that meant moving my weight back 10 inches or so, and to the right 2 inches or so, then left then back forward and right, etc.

I did that for a while on each foot, and I began to feel how stable my balance was when my weight was directly over the first knuckle of my little toe.

Nothing amazing. Just a mindless way to pass the time between perl hacking and red tape.

Then I tried to balance with my eyes closed.

And I could.

I had taught my foot what it feels like to have my weight at the outer limits in each of the four directions, so when I started to drift toward my big toe or elsewhere, I could feel it and fix it.

Not very profound, but it was funny for my mind to finally understand a feedback for the first time that my foot has been giving it for years.

12 February, 2008

Please Welcome Tye-Dye to Blogging

There is a new blogger out here, and it would be nice if a couple people said hello to her.

Tye-Dye Trinity

The Mind of Christ

I started this blog with a couple poems of Donna McGinnis's. She has sent me a couple more, and I'll try to share them over the next couple months:


My Father in heaven
I want a life without storms ...
Just sunny days,
Lord, may that be the norm ...
No mountains too high,
Nor valleys so low ...
Just a straight sunny path,
So that I may grow ...
No ups and downs,
Nor trauma or grief ...
But to rest in the shade,
To find sweet relief ...
Oh, I will trust You,
And I believe your words ...
But it's heavy and exhausting,
Always having my loins gird ...
I know that to grow,
That to surrender is gain ...
But could you purge me Lord,
Without all the pain?

My beloved child,
There is no love that I spare ...
I would not allow trials,
If I did not care ...
It is because I love you,
That I stretch you in the storm ...
That faith without doubt,
May become the norm ...
To make you my bond slave,
So your heart does not stray ...
So you are yielded to My will,
Without question or delay ...
That you may accept Me without
Is better by far ...
With acceptance comes calm,
No matter why things are
the way they are ...
So you lay aside the useless,
The wasteful meaningless things ...
So you are freed up from the clutter,
And the joy that it brings ...
So you will trust Me as you walk,
That the truth may govern your day ...
So you will give yourself to Me anew,
Trust in expectancy as you pray ...
It is only because I love you,
That the sun does not always shine ...
For if I did not change your thinking,
I could not call you Mine ...

"I press on towards the goal
For the prize of the upward call
Of God in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 3:14.

By Donna McGinnis ~2008

10 February, 2008

How Stuff is Killing the Planet


I couldn't quite get myself to pull the trigger on linking to this presentation. It has sat in my inbox, taunting me, for almost 2 weeks now. I don't even remember whom to hat-tip for linking me to it.

This is a young lady doing an engaging job of telling how our consumer culture is destroying the world upon which we depend. I think it was 20 minutes long, so set aside a little time if you plan to watch it. She uses numbers that I seem to recall being torn to shreds. I know I've heard them before from rabid greenies, the kind that don't care one whit about facts if they're getting their way. At best they are pulled out of the air, and at worst they're carefully culled and framed to manipulate.

With that caveat, she gives a great, wide-reaching overview of what's wrong with being a consumer culture so I'll share it. Enjoy.

Owning God

There is a progression in the Song of Solomon through which Madame Guyon defines maturity:

Sgs 2:16
My beloved [is] mine, and I [am] his: he feedeth among the lilies.

Sgs 6:3
I [am] my beloved's, and my beloved [is] mine: he feedeth among the lilies.

Sgs 7:10
I [am] my beloved's, and his desire [is] toward me.

In her youth, the Shulamite focuses on how her Lord is hers. In her maturity, she forgets that she owns anything, remembering only that she is happy to be owned.

The other night, I was sitting around being happy that God was my God - mine - and Guyon rose from the fogs to chide my immaturity. Could His love be reduced to a thing I might possess? Did He rejoice that that I was concerned with what my possessions were and were not? Was I not entirely fulfilled just to be His?

And well, no, I wasn't entirely fulfilled just to be His.

Maybe it was immaturity, but I wanted Him to be mine, too. I started wrastling around verses and wondering what God thought of this question. This time that didn't seem to work. God didn't seem to think this way, or at least He had not said a whole bunch about the problem. This usually means it's not a real problem, but Guyon's progression sure seemed solid.

Then I realized something. If God were not mine, then nothing was. To possess a thing is to be able to use it, to enjoy it, to benefit from it as needed or even just wanted. Could that be said of my car? Hardly. In just a few short years it will be gone. It is at best an overnight rental. In a blink, I would have no car. Or friends? A friend is a friend up until I offend him. Brothers and sisters in the Lord? Here is an odd case. Brothers and sisters in the Lord are mine, and will be forever, but they are not entirely available to me now. Between the crush of time on our lives and their flesh and mine all working against the perfect bond of love, they will be dependable forever but are not terribly dependable now.

God is my refuge and friend now and forever.

If God is not mine today, nothing is.

04 February, 2008

There and Back Again: Closing the Book

I returned from the Florida retreat center a very confused young man.

I wanted Gene to remain for me the man I'd always imagined him to be. I'd gambled my youth on Gene and on Atlanta, and I wanted to wake up and find I'd been right all along. I wanted my clouds of doubt to part, and to find I'd faithfully puzzled through the hard riddles to earn a job in the kingdom. I wanted to be one of the guys who would change the world, save the church, and suffer in quiet dignity for the rest of my life, regretting nothing I'd done along the way. Remembering the little man I'd seen behind the curtain in that Florida retreat center left those desires on life-support.

The mighty wizard of Oz was shattered into a million pieces. I'd walked my yellow brick road in hopes of finding brain, heart and courage only to have Gene disappoint me in these very qualities. But maybe that was my only problem? Maybe I was simply disappointed that my hero had clay feet? Maybe in my intractibility I would reject Christ Himself, had I the opportunity to sit at His feet instead of Gene's. Gene was not the mighty wizard I imagined him to be, nor that he advertised himself to be, but maybe he was still the man God had put in my life. It was mine to decide whether the real man behind the curtain was worth following.

The last week of the conference did nothing to help me decide. It was more of the same. I volunteered to confront Lenny directly, and to let him know the score of the game in which he was caught. It was my last action of the conference, and our conversation lasted two or three hours. I was a good deal more honest than I had been with the sister I'd confronted earlier, and I listened a great deal better.

I left feeling like we understood each other, and we arrived in time to attend the last conference meeting of the whole church with Gene. Yet again, Gene expected to straighten things out once and for all. Maybe Lenny came to that meeting a little too prepared because, again, nothing significant happened. Maybe I played a part in the cooling the fireworks; I don't know. If so, it was not due to any noble intent on my part. I wanted Lenny to decide to be fully in the church or fully out, and to quit hovering on the edge like he had been. I was still very much trying to walk Gene's straight and narrow path.

After the meeting, I loaded my bags back in the car and headed home to Atlanta. The eight hour ride, just me and my incessantly buzzing questions, was not to be envied. I could not go back to my first intent of serving under Gene's ministry 'til death, nor move on to the new idea of getting out before it was too late. Cutting and running held no appeal for me. Some day having to write a history like this was a heartbreaking thought.

Zig Ziglar tells about an old shoe salesman who decided to show the uninformed kid how powerful a sales position really could be. The kid was merely trying to help customers pick their own shoes, but the old salesman explained how his job was to help the customer pick wisely. The rub was that the kid believed every customer knew exactly what he wanted. Finally, the old salesman pulled out all the stops. He told the kid he'd sell the longest lasting, best made, but ugliest shoe in the store to whomever next came through the door.

The hapless customer asked for assistance, and the salesman brought him a couple shoes in the style he asked for, plus the ugly shoes. He let the customer try on the ugly shoe. He said it was butt-ugly. Then he tried the other shoe, and it was the wrong color. So the salesman went back for another shoe size and style. When he returned, he let the customer try the ugly shoe again. The customer looked at it, and decided against it, then tried the other styles. After a short discussion, the salesman went back for more shoes. On his third trip out, he had the customer try all the other shoes, then finally the ugly shoe once again.

This time, the customer bought the well-built, long lasting, ugly shoe.

The strangeness of the shoe is what had thrown the customer off. It was simple unfamiliarity. The third time the customer saw the ugly shoe, it was no longer strange. He could see it for what it was, and having become familiar with it, he decided to take it home.

So it was with me and leaving Gene. I had never listened to such a thought as disagreeing with my mentor before, but I was wining and dining it now. Over the next several months the idea grew a little more familiar, a little more believable, a little more possible, a little more probable.

One day Gene called an emergency meeting of the church in my living room.

The whole church came together to hear whatever news was weighing so heavily on Gene's mind. We were all scared. We'd been in trouble before, and we didn't know what could possibly have gone so wrong. Gene had just returned from Florida, so we suspected it was something from down there, but one never knows. We were right. It was Florida.

He told us that Florida's struggles had gone on too long, and that the struggles were all due to Lenny's negative influence. Gene recounted how he had worked for a month during his training conference, then written and phoned Florida trying to drag them out of their problems. Finally, he had visited Florida alone, and only then learned the true extent of their problems.

While in Florida, during a brothers' meeting, Gene had taken a vote asking who were the most influential people in the church there. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lenny was voted the most influential person in Florida. The rest of the votes had been scattered around as expected, and Gene had gotten a few votes himself, but Lenny was the most influential member of that church.

After that vote, Gene continued, his hand had been forced. He could not willingly split a church, so he had been forced to step aside as the father of the church in Florida. He had handed control of the church over to Lenny, and requested that every member of the church follow Lenny with all the faithfulness they had shown in following him.

We were stunned.

I'm sure the brothers and sisters in Florida were devastated.

That such a fate should come to such a faithful church was deeply shocking to us all. I was reeling. I fought to rationalize what Gene had done, wondering how it could be the right thing to do. I knew Lenny, and I knew the other brothers there, and I knew Gene. It was a matter of finding the missing link. I was missing something obvious, but key. I kept shuffling the players and games in my mind, seeking the combination that made it all come together.

Until I talked to one of the sisters in the church.

She said, "You believed that crap? None of that's what happened. Lenny won that vote and Gene lost his temper. They thought Lenny was the most influential person in the church, so Gene decided they could stew in their juices and gave the whole church to him. Gene knows it'll never last, and he was too angry to care who it hurt."

Wow. That was definitely the missing piece. Her explanation covered character, motive and opportunity perfectly. There were no gaps.

We sat for about an hour, connecting dots. We looked back at times Gene told us he was doing things for our good, and somehow those things always matched up with better with his convenience or emotions than ours. We looked at the way Gene treated influential brothers, and he always found a way cool their jets. And now, when the church in Florida withheld their affirmation, Gene lashed out.

No one knows what is happening in a man, except the spirit of the man and his Lord. I'll never know why Gene handled the church in Florida the way he did. I'll never know why he reacted the way he did to Florida, but when Gene rejected the church in Florida the ugliest shoe in the store started looking really good to me. I'd be walking away from Gene Edwards.

But it wouldn't be easy.

The old voice grew stronger as I slowly accepted my decision. My flesh screamed, "What about your work?! You have to mature into a worker in God's kingdom, and for that you need the church. You have to save the church, not run from its problems." I grew truly. I fantasized that I might change Gene's style, or run off and start another church, or that everything might just turn out OK. I'd built an inner world around waiting for the day I'd emerge from my cocoon and be a worthwhile person in God's kingdom. Breaking out of that cocoon was a slow, painful process. Losing my best hope of being "somebody," riding on Gene's coattails, was terrifying. Leaving Gene meant going back to just being Kevin, instead of Kevin Knox, church planter in training.

I couldn't really believe I'd be "somebody" as anything less than a church planter.

Slowly, though, walking away from Gene grew real to me. I loved the brothers and sisters in my church, but I realized I'd have to leave them. Too much of what they talked about was rationalizing the things Gene was doing in Florida, Lithia Springs, and all the churches. Many of their discussions assumed my implicit agreement with everything Gene was doing, and I'd have to leave the room or change the subject if they started wondering why I was so quiet. It was not workable, and I began to resign myself to my final departure from Gene's churches, from my church.

There were a couple of obstacles.

I lived in the heart of the Lithia Springs church, and I had promised to leave quietly if ever the time came. Gene was careful to teach that silence was golden, and anything else was a dishonor. If, at any point, you were unhappy with the church or the worker you were to talk to no one about it. And the day you decided to leave, you must leave without giving reasons, without confiding in friends, sharing your hurts, without "accidently" taking anyone with you. From the beginning, I'd promised to leave quietly and alone, and at the end I intended to keep my word.

That promise was a lot easier to make when I was sure I'd never, ever leave. Now that I was leaving, silence was a grave test. But was my word worth anything or not? I was silent. I said nothing, and prayed the Lord would show me an open door when His time would come. I prayed a lot - out loud.

The door opened painfully slowly, but when it finally opened no man could shut it.

One day while I was doing some of my freelance programming, Gene called. He had not called me three times in the nine years I knew him, so he had my full attention. To hear from Gene was an odd, odd thing. He called to ask me about the y2k bug. Did I know what it was? Did I know how serious it might be? Was it a threat to embedded systems? They were pretty technical questions coming from a pretty non-technical guy.

It so happened I'd just finished coding my very first y2k fix a day or so before he'd called. I had been examining some code from the Internet for reuse in one of my projects, and I noted a comment left by its second developer. He identified that the original code was vulnerable to the y2k bug, explained exactly what the y2k bug was, and outlined how his fix corrected the problem. (He explained all that in a 3 sentence comment. Computer programmers are very terse communicators.) From that day forward, I never wrote another y2k-vulnerable program, but that wasn't a big deal. The whole fix was only 2 lines long.

I explained to Gene that the y2k bug was mostly harmless. I explained what it was, that it could be very dangerous if us programmers could not make the fixes, but we would. The fixes typically took a few minutes apiece, and we all loved pizza and overtime. Embedded systems absolutely could not be hurt by the y2k bug, because they kept time in "seconds from the epoch," not Gregorian dates, so they'd never know the current year had 3 zeros in it. The electrical transmission grid was safe. I had solid knowledge on that one, because in my day job I formerly worked with 3-phase industrial generators. I let Gene know that I thoroughly knew what I was talking about on y2k, and that he need not worry about it.

Gene hung up, and I wondered whether I'd heard the last of it. I had not, but it was months before I found out what was brewing.

In late 1998, Gene released a book decrying the unavoidable disaster that would end Western Civilization forever. Y2k, he said, would take down the electrical transmission grid and all electrical generators. Without electricity we'd soon find ourselves living in the stone-age. There would be food riots radiating 50 miles outside of every major city, and little things like toilet paper would become the scarcest, most valuable commodities in our lives.

It took every ounce of discipline in my heart to read that book, but I did - from cover to cover. It was not a pleasant experience.

Gene's churches went into light panic mode, but Gene was prepared. He called us all together and layed out his plan. He assured us he'd been exercising practical parental care for us while we were still oblivious to the danger. He'd already thought through the ramifications and the wisest course of action for us. We only needed to believe the seriousness of the problem, and be thankful God had given us such a careful church planter.

He had already purchased a tract of land just across the Alabama border, more than 50 miles from any major city, and was preparing that land to be subsistence farmed. He counseled all of us to cash out our 401k's, taking the tax hit for early withdrawal, and invest that money into emergency supplies and a portion of the Alabama land. We'd move the supplies to Alabama throughout 1998 and some time in late 1999 everyone could evacuate there to start a new life.

My jaw went slack.

Brothers and sisters quickly figured out that I was not on board with Gene's plans and preparations. Not cashing out my 401k and buying zero emergency supplies was probably their first clue. At first a couple people asked me what I thought of the whole thing, but gradually they just left me alone. I was not 100% sure Gene was wrong, of course, but there was no way I was throwing my future in with Gene Edwards again on a subject about which he knew nothing - computers and farming were both in that category.

I watched saints cash out five-figure 401k's back when we thought that was a lot of money. They gave half their money to the IRS, spent the rest on disaster supplies and farmland, and then watched as the stock market soared (was it 40%?) in the ensuing months. I figured that a $25,000 401k was worth $14,000 after it was pulled, instead of the $35,000 to which it would have grown. I watched living rooms fill up with canned and dry foods, water, and survival gear. I listened while city-slickers debated what they could and could not grow in Alabama soil. The intensity kept ramping up, and I kept playing dumb. Finally, they reached the point of requiring a commitment from me.

They needed to know who was in and who was out.

That's how y2k gave me an open door out of the church. I went through it with peace in my heart. In Nov, 1998 I officially announced I would not be moving to Alabama and I was taking a break from the church. In late Jan, 1999 I announced that I would never be returning. In Mar, 1999 I received a piece of personal news that confirmed leaving was the right decision, but by that time I was already gone. I received that personal news exactly because I had finally left, so it was no factor in my decision. I hit the door because Gene did not treat churches the way he advertised he would, and Gene's y2k blunder was my convenient excuse.

I was well and truly gone, and never looked back.

I stayed in Atlanta through Dec 31, 1999, to see my company through the turning of the millenium. My family and I watched movies on the projector screen, while I babysat my computers through the transition into the new century. We had pizza that night, and not a single system hiccuped. I have no idea what the churches said or thought or did when all the lights were working on Jan 1, 2000. When I leave something I leave it for keeps, but I'm sure they congratulated themselves for preparing so well. It's human nature to always see the good in the things we do, and I don't blame them a bit. I shudder to think how much dried food I'd still be eating if I'd never gone to that training retreat with Gene.

I know the churches carried on after I left, and continued to explore the things I once held so important. I trust they found the Lord together, as I did with them during the good years. Their hearts were turned to the Lord, and He always hears His people. I praise Him for the hope I still hold that He's blessed them over the years.

For my part, I've slowly learned to enjoy being a regular Joe, a normal Christian. This month I will even sign the dotted line and become a thankful member of an organized church. My brothers from Atlanta will tut-tut me, and I will mourn my faded dreams just as if they'd been real. And somehow all of us, no matter what we've decided, will know that we are walking where the Lord has put us.

I'm not sure life gets any better than that.

And so I close the book on some of my dreams. As I look back at the pride that dragged me down, the pain I've caused and felt, the places the Lord has brought me, and the joy I've found at last, the letter from James seems to answer my story best:
Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each of you is tempted when you are dragged away by your own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Don't be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Praise the Lord's mercy, it's never too late to stand the test.

Kevin Knox

03 February, 2008

Serving God

I think I was raised with a pretty normal mental picture of God. As a matter of fact, I think I got it from Chick Tracts (anyone remember those?) and I think he got it from all the normal places.

God is really, really big and sitting on an even bigger throne. He is bright beyond compare, and surrounded by billions and billions of angelic servants. And in heaven, the saints surround the throne too. For all eternity we praise, admire, and serve the Living God there on that throne, immovable forever.

It occured to me last night that nothing could be further from the character of God. The first thing God will do in heaven is pop up out of that throne and look for ways to serve us.

I was thinking about the character of God as manifest in Christ, and obviously God is a servant through and through. Service was not just some anomoly paradoxically grafted onto Christ with His human body, it was the well-spring of His being. It still IS the well-spring of His being, or His Name would cease to be I AM.

So, when we get to heaven I'd bet a dollar we'll see God serving in love.

And if we're to be changed into His likeness here on Earth ....


I'm so unobservant.

I was tagged by Suzanne 4 days ago, so to remind everyone she's out there doing quality thinking, I'll play along. :-)

Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more.
(No cheating!) Find Page 123.
Find the first 5 sentences.
Post the next 3 sentences.
Tag 5 people.

The nearest book is still, "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy. I decided after enjoying "No Country For Old Men" so much (did anyone see this movie yet? Any thoughts? Some bad thoughts are expected.) to pick up some other of his books and see what I thought.

The Road is an interesting counterpoint to NCfOM. Both books are equally bleak, dark, terrifying, and ugly. But where NCfOM told us that evil is winning the battle for the world, and that we should give up the fight, The Road tells us that love conquers everything, everything. If NCfOM was the ultimate "feel bad" movie, The Road is an incredible "feel sad" book. When you're done, you want to know whether you could bear such a weight, believe so unwaveringly, endure such worry, and hope through such a night. Again, though, it's not a happy book and many people would not enjoy it at all.

The selected three sentences from page 123 are indicative of the whole book:

The water was so clear. He held it to the light. A single bit of sediment coiling in the jar on some slow hydraulic axis.

(I thought I would post part 5 of There and Back Again tonight, but my second edit was too extensive. It needs another look. Maybe tomorrow.)

02 February, 2008

There and Back Again: Against the Wind

In late 1996 I received an invitation for which I'd prayed since 1982. I would be allowed to spend a month with Gene Edwards, being shown how to nurture a church.

'96 had been a busy year. Gene poured his heart into rebuilding the church in Atlanta, and we began to see fruit. Our numbers went back into the double digits, as Gene put out the word that he would be working directly and specially with Atlanta over the coming years. And work with us he did. He publicized living room conferences and delivered some stunningly rich messages for us living in Atlanta and for those deciding whether to throw their lot in with us.

Gene hinted to us that he had never really liked Ormewood Park. It took little prodding to convince us to abandon the scene of our recent pain. Property values had gone up there too much, anyway. We needed to remove obstacles to entry for new folk, if we were going to make it back from the brink of death. Ormewood Park's inner-city feel scared people off even before housing prices soared into 6 digits. We all moved out to Lithia Springs on the West side of Atlanta.

Excitement and hope were back in Atlanta, and they felt good. Most of Gene's other churches seemed to be doing well, too, making it a good year for everyone. The church in Florida was the only exception. During our drought of '94 and '95 it was largely Florida's commitment to the Lord and their enthusiastic love for us that had kept our noses above water. We'd sent most of our inquirers and visitors down to Florida for two years, and they'd all come back with the highest praise for what they saw there. We'd even visited them ourselves, just to be reminded what it was like to be in the Lord's blessing. To hear that they were sliding toward trouble was worrisome, but then again, we'd seen up-close and personal that every honeymoon has to end eventually. Things were great all over, and Florida would bounce back, we were sure.

Into this exciting time Gene sent that monster of an invitation I mentioned above. He invited each church to send a brother to a retreat center in Florida to spend a month with him. He had observed that churches have down times and need encouragement. He could not be everywhere at once, so he decided to leverage some of his hard work. His idea was to prepare brothers from several churches to be able to visit and encourage the other churches through their hard times. He made it clear that the brothers sent to this retreat would not be learning to plant churches like he did, but only to encourage other churches. We would not be following in his footsteps, so no one would get too uptight about going or not going.


When Atlanta received the news, I was in "timeout." Harry and I had been kicked out of the brothers' meetings for not playing well with the other saints. Our presence was hindering the decision making process of the whole church, and detracting from her progress. You've probably heard me mention this before, but before I could even think about hoping some day to maybe be allowed back in I was required to read, "How to Win Friends and Influence People," ... twice. I needed the correction. I know I tell the story often enough, but I cannot help it! It was one of the most painful and profitable things that has ever been done for me.

In spite of my arrogance, I was surprised when I was one of the people the church chose to send. I was less surprised that Harry was chosen to go. For some reason, Harry could only stay two weeks but I was able to get all four weeks off from work and I took them. I'm pretty sure I'd have quit my job otherwise, but I worked for good people and they understood. I cannot imagine anything that could have kept me from that month.

I'm still glad I went, but for other reasons than I expected.

My fondest, most meaningful memories of that month in Florida are of the canoeing.

There was a little postage-stamp size pond set aside from the middle of the retreat center, and it had a canoe with a paddle. During the many moments of stress there, I would hop in the canoe and let the powerful wind push me along to the wayward shore. Once there, I would turn the canoe around and throw all my weight into paddling back up through the wind. It was a tremendous workout. If I pushed with less than all my strength or with a low stroke-count, I'd make no progress or even drift backwards. If, in my haste and exertion, I pointed the bow more than a few inches to the left or right, though, the wind would grab me and spin the whole canoe back in the direction from which I'd come. I'd lose dozens of feet of progress before I could get back on track every time that happened. The moments of abandon on that pond were deeply needed.

I faced a head wind the whole month.

There were seven of us there for two weeks, and six the rest of the time. We met in Gene's suite three times a day, and took meals in the cafeteria a quarter mile away. There was homework, note taking, and several oral reports. There was also a little ping pong, and a certain amount of time for me to keep my freelance web work on track. I stayed alone the public suite, and think the other suite had a good deal more fun. That suited me just fine. I was happiest when able to replay the events of each lesson and discussion in my mind. I only visited the other suite once in the entire month, if I recall, and I was content for things to be that way.

The first shock to my system came when I learned Gene's true views on prayer. Gene had been teaching us about prayer for 7 years, and I pretty much knew his spiel from beginning to end. In fact, I had gotten myself in trouble when he started one of his talks on the subject by saying, "I've never shared this publicly before..." Gene commonly starts messages with this phrase, and invariably I've heard him speak on that subject publicly a number of times. I stage whispered to the room, "Oh. Another rerun."

(For some reason, Gene and I had an on-again/off-again relationship.)

I had long heard Gene teach that one must first quiet the mind, before attempting to enter the presence of God in prayer. That made sense to me, even though I was quite fond of the Puritan tradition of prayer. Entering the presence of God in prayer always involved my mind and emotions at some point, but I could see the value of silence serving as the door to the deepest prayer. I embraced Gene's teachings on silence happily. For seven years I happily understood Gene to teach this very thing, so when Gene started repeating himself on our retreat I again embraced the practice of silence with joy.

We started with baby steps, doing the things Gene had taught us over and over again every six months since 1990. As the days rolled on, he added more and more and more silence to our prayers. Then he took away the crutch of the few words we had been speaking. Then we capped the silence with silence. Finally, it dawned on me that we were never going to advance to spoken, meaningful prayer.

Like those dreams where you suddenly notice you've been naked all day at school, I learned I'd been hearing Gene wrong for 7 years. I learned I'd been campaigning for real prayer from a false position for 7 years. I learned Gene really did teach something I found dangerous and unchristian. (I've already shared my thoughts on centering, silent prayer here.) Gene believed silence was more meaningful and spiritual than any expression of praise or repentance, and somehow I'd never noticed.

The discovery left me stunned and a little wobbly, but still standing. The hardest realization was the prayer itself, but that I could have been so wrong about what Gene believed. In 1992 I had even written Gene a 3 page letter (that's pretty short for me) explaining how I thought some of the members of our church were misunderstanding him. I complained that people in our church were merely doing transcendental meditation, and experiencing the relaxation benefits of meditation, but then claiming spiritual growth. I asked Gene to clarify this confusion for everyone, because it was not good to let people wander so far away from what he really meant. I thought nothing of it when Gene did not reply to that letter, it's not his way. I thought of it on that retreat, though. I was the one who was wrong about Gene's meaning all along. I was the one with no clothes on.

I thought about whether I should quit the conference and head back home. And I prayed about it. (Yes, out loud.) It seemed both that the Lord was not ready for me to leave, and that I could abide this difference with my church planter.

I pushed my canoe up into the wind, carefully keeping my bow pointed straight at the opposite shore. I accepted that I might have to disagree with such a man and still gladly follow him.

The second blow to my system was deeper and harsher.

Gene had chosen to have our little training on encouragement in Florida for a reason. The church in Florida was currently experiencing a time as dark and lonely as Atlanta's had been just a year ago. Gene intended to let us watch him lift that church. He even intended for us to dirty our hands a little bit helping him, but not too much.

It was very important to Gene that we be properly softened with impossible demands and clever ridicule. He often pitted us against each other and compared us unfavorably to each other. Not that this was in some way new during this conference. For seven years Gene had often "softened" brothers who showed signs of wanting to serve the Lord. Some were put off by this method, but my four years in the US Army made me comfortable with it. Drill Sergeants worked in this same way, and very effectively. The difference between a Drill's method and Gene's was one of duration. The Army treated its finest like trash for a few months, then spent the rest of their time building them back up again. Gene only saw fit to do the building back up part after ... well, I don't know exactly when. It seemed to me he waited much too long in several cases.

I could not imagine a more exciting use of our month in Florida than pulling a church out of the mire, nor a more valuable learning experience than watching an old worker in the Lord ply his trade. I was pumped.

I went in with huge expectations, too, from my years of reading Gene's declarations and principles. Gene has written at length regarding his standards, the Lord's standards in fact, for workers when interacting with a church in crisis. The core of his ethic was that room should always be given for the Lord to work the church's redemption, and the worker should always be the one to suffer. If there were a crisis in a church, it was almost always a crisis in leadership at some level, and the leader could best diffuse it by give the church Christ and taking upon himself the cross.

In a crisis of leadership in the church, a responsible worker would surrender the church into the Lord's care. Sure, a leader might try to defend the people of God on His own, but he would be subject to too many mistakes. He would almost certainly succumb to the temptation to defend "his own work" rather than God's people. He would most likely hurt people who would otherwise never even have know there was an issue. And mostly, he would pick up the tools of politics, manipulation and authority and learn to wield them.

There's an old mechanic's joke teaching people to buy 1 lb hammers.
"Don't ever buy a 2 lb hammer."
"Why not?"
"Because some day you might use it!"

Gene had taught us never to pick up these tools, and never to "defend the work of God." If it were truly God's work, let God defend it. He conjured images for us of dangerous workers in God's kingdom who had devastated entire churches for sake of "defending" the flock from "wolves." And he explicated those images, showing us how the real wolf was the worker who defended his own ministry at terrible cost to God's holy children.

His teaching on saving churches was positive, too. He explained that the church really only needed one thing, and it was not a thing at all. The church did not need messages, shepherding, counselling, or even defending, though she could benefit from all those things. The church needed Christ.

If a try to combine Gene's positive and negative lessons, I'd say that a church in crisis needed a rich, deep, living experience of Jesus Christ. She didn't need wolves to be shot nor rules to be established. She needed to be reminded of the work and character of her Bridegroom. Nothing less would do, and every trick of men and pastors was "less" than Christ.

We were into the second week before Gene felt prepared to start working with the nearby church. He called a special meeting to tell us what the church needed, and what he needed for us to do.

Gene told us about two sisters in that church. They had formed a clique of two, and they were constantly distracting themselves while he was preaching. In fact, he told us, they had unpleasant expressions on their faces the whole time he was preaching, and they were quenching his spirit. He would be unable to minister effectively in that church until two things happened.
1) They quit being a negative clique together. Their friendship needed to be sacrificed for the good of the church.
2) They developed better attitudes.

We were to visit that church over the weekend, and make that happen.

A mature man, a man without a selfish agenda of self-promotion, would have balked right there. I was not that man. I was a little man with big fantasies, and when I was sic'd on a victim, I sic'd.

Some people wonder how Nazi soldiers did the awful things their leaders asked them to do. It's easy. When you can get a man to focus on whether he's courageous enough, dedicated enough, man enough to overcome his own squeamishness, he will do anything. I already believed I was supposed to be being "someone" for the Lord, and if this was what Gene said I had to do to grow into that role, then this is what I had to do.

I would speak to one of the sisters, and someone else would speak to the other.

Like any other man in the depths of sin, I made a big point of being as kind as possible in breaking my sister's heart. My heart broke watching her, but I shut that down and did the job I'd been asked to do. I explained the damage her relationship was doing to the church, and that her friendship needed to be transformed or end. I also explained how her distracting habits were hurting the meetings of the church. And I saw the look of confusion and pain I brought to her face.

She didn't cry until after I'd left, but we both knew she would.

I never forgot the glass of water she and her husband served me while I was breaking her heart, the hospitality I accepted while I was bringing injustice into their home.

Some of you have emailed me and told me about meetings you were going to have with angry church leadership. Now you know how I knew what they would say. I've been those men, and I've hurt the children of the Lord for the convenience of a leader.

By the time I made it back to the conference grounds, I was squarely in the middle of a cognitive crisis. I was sure I had performed adequately, but I felt like death warmed over. Gene approved of me, but I did not. The two could not mix in my mind, so I shoved them to the back of it and dug more deeply into the training.

My little canoe started showing signs of heavy use.

By the next weekend, the whole story had changed. Those two sisters had never been the problem at all. No, instead the problem was two brothers. They were strangers in the church, having only moved in a year or two earlier, and they were too close to each other. In fact, Lenny was the leader and Terry was his lapdog, but together they were causing every problem in that church.

Gene aimed to cure the problem once and for all.

His plan was to call all the "black hats" and "white hats" of the church out to the conference center for a reckoning. All the brothers who were causing problems and all the brothers who were keeping things together would gather with us, the brothers in training, and Gene would settle all scores. (The brothers who did not get invited were probably hurt the worst. Who wants to be nobody in the family he loves so deeply?)

Gene worked hard to prepare us for that weekend meeting. He had us each read a selected passage from Paul without commentary. He chose all the passages that selfish men use to justify defending their work against sheep in wolves' clothing. They were all the passages about Paul kicking divisive people out of the church, and coming to the church with a rod, and the kingdom of God being built on power. Gene chose all the verses he had spent a lifetime writing and preaching he'd never use.

He told us that he would use every one of them, and that he would always use them. We were all dead silent. He promised us he would use them more swiftly and more brutally than we'd ever imagined before, until the wolves were scared away. Then he'd have a quiet laugh with all the sheep who remained and put away his scary verses, his rod and his power, and everyone would be happy again.

And he told us we'd all be there in that meeting with him to see how it should be done.

He capped our preparations off with this threat, "I'll be watching every one of you. I'll be watching your eyes to see whether you blink, and if you do I'll know it, and I'll know what you're made of."

The meeting rolled around, and nothing memorable happened. I'll never know what Gene thought of us, but I don't remember anything being said that warranted a blink. I remember everyone walking out and wondering why they'd even been called out to the retreat center. I remember wondering whether I'd blinked, too, and whether I should have. We'd publicly read Gene's tough-guy verses for him, but no one had risen to the bait. No one had really opened up and gotten honest.

I didn't really wonder why.

The last couple weeks of the conference forked into two separate conferences happening in the same living room. The first was the repeated rehashing of Lenny's and Terry's sins and how to split those two from each other. As Gene worked through this problem out loud with us, he identified a coherent enemy and a solution. He had delivered a message in the year or two leading up to our retreat regarding friendships that mutated into enemies of the church. Now he reapplied that lesson to Terry. He even sent a tape of that message to Lenny and Terry for them to listen to before the next weekend. Gene worked his way around to the conclusions that Lenny was bad for the church, that Terry was being sucked along, and that he would have to find a way to fix that problem.

At the same time, though, we talked about the heart-purity needed in the ministry, the brokenness. We talked about church history and the practical day-to-day grind of making sure a living room is properly ventilated, comfortably furnished, and suitably cleaned. Gene spent a lot of time trying to convince us that beautiful sermons are nothing compared to looking out for the little things.

He told us the old story about Watchman Nee visiting a church every year for three years. They had requested him to come and advise them why they were not growing in the Lord. The first two years he left, to everyone's consternation, without saying a word. The third year, he finally spoke. He pointed up at the clock at the back of the church, and observed that it had been broken the first day he came, and it was still broken. Then he left without saying anything else. I assume the story is fiction, but it was impressive.

Gene drilled home to us that caring for the little things, caring for maintenance, caring for comfort, was the real work of God. The people of God would take care of ministering Christ to each other, if someone would just keep the bathroom clean and the room bright and the clocks ticking. That job would fall to us because everyone else would overlook it.

It's hard to underestimate Gene's attachment to history, either. He took us over into the public suite and had us lay out a piece of butcher paper on a long table. On this piece of butcher paper he drew a picture of a bookcase with several shelves, and then he proceeded to draw a library of Christian history that he needed to know would be written before he died. There were series and period pieces and accountings of little groups in every age from before Genesis to after the Revelation. The church, he said, needed to know her place in the eternal drama of God's plan. She needed to be saved from her tunnel vision of the present, and have her eyes opened to the sweeping grandeur of God's eternal campaign for His bride.

When the felt-tip bookshelf was full, Gene looked up and asked me point-blank whether I'd agree to be the one to write these books, to carry this project to completion after he was gone.

He had no idea the cognitive dissonance wracking my heart at that moment. The things Gene said about prayer threatened to blow me to left, and the things he had me do to a sister threatened to blow me off to the right. The things he'd planned for Lenny were like a gale in my face. I was paddling my canoe upwind for all I was worth, but I wasn't sure I was strong enough to make it. I wasn't sure I could push hard enough to overcome those questions, and I wasn't sure I could keep from turning aside. I was paddling ferociously, but not single-mindedly. I wondered with I should be paddling with the wind instead of against it? Was I even in the right pond? I didn't know any more.

I've never been less prepared for a moment of decision in my life.

For all my doubts, I was still paddling into the gale with all my strength. I just didn't know whether I should be. I really didn't know. Gene wore his pecadillos on his sleeve and admitted them freely. Was that enough? Was it enough for him to be human and admit it? Or should I demand a standard of him to which I could not rise myself? Could I really be sure I was right about silence in prayer? Could I really be sure Gene was wrong to defend the church in the way he'd chosen? Was I sure enough to throw away this opportunity? I had a chance to co-author a whole library with the best church historian I'd ever known. Should I say no? I had a reputation for cussedly saying, "No." Wouldn't overcoming my stubbornnes be a good thing? The flesh lay on either side. There was no way to make this decision.

I didn't make it.

None of those thoughts went through my head at that moment. I'd already thought them all through in my canoe, and I'd never found the bottom of my heart. I'd never find it with 7 men staring at me.

But when looked him in the eye, I knew I couldn't say yes. So I said, "No." I told him I was "shooting at another target." I had no clue what that meant, but he didn't ask and the conversation moved on.

From that moment, I was outsider in the only place I'd ever hoped to be at home.

There were still a couple more scenes left to play out.