Afraid of the Dark

I grew up in a holler in southern West Virginia.  If you’re not familiar with the term “holler” then you probably don’t know anything about apple butter festivals, muddin’ and snipe hunting either, so I’ll forego mentioning those in this post and just focus on the story.  A holler is basically a valley between two mountains wide enough to put a trailer and a driveway.  In my holler, we lived in the middle.  My mamaw Rosie lived about 100 yards in front of my house, and my uncle and aunt lived about 100 yards behind.  No one lived beside us, because after all, we lived in a holler.

As a kid, I often had to run errands between these three places.  Most of the time, this just meant I had to pause Super Mario Brothers and accomplish my required chores before returning to jump on that duck on world 6 to get all my extra men.  There were times, though, when this chore struck terror in my heart.  (Sidenote: I’m afraid of the dark… or rather, I prefer the light.  Is that so wrong?  Should I be ashamed?  I am a child of the light, and I don’t prefer total darkness.)  It can get really dark in the hollers of West Virginia, so I had to psych myself up.

“You can do this.  There aren’t really wild animals, mountain lions or black panthers that will attack you.  No bad guys are hiding in the woods.  You can do this… you’re 18.”  I had a vivid imagination, with the tendency to ramble and get off track.

Anyway, my antidote to these fears was to make lots of noise.  I would sing songs (“Some glad morning, when this life is o’er… #southerngospelkidproblems) or even rap (“Stop, Collabroate and listen, Ice is back with my brand new invention… #90skidproblems).  I was convinced something was lurking in the shadows.  Something bad, and terrible, and ferocious that would either eat me or torture me, and neither thought was too pleasing.  Again, vivid imagination.

When the fear would reach a braking point, and it always reached a breaking point, an electrical impulse would fire and my body would surge into a dead sprint.  I would run as fast as I could, completely assured that I was indeed faster than any animal or evil villain that would chase after me.

The only exception to this rule was when I had a friend sleeping over at my house.  When they joined me on this walk “through the valley of the shadow of death,” I was a completely different person.  I would talk, laugh, and cut up.  I would even attempt to scare them.  But I wasn’t scared.  For reasons unknown to me at the time, having another human being walk through that dark holler in the night with me made the wild animals and evil people leave me alone.

Can you identify with that?  Have you ever been in a situation that was frightening and fear-inducing, but then the fear subsided when another warm-blooded human body joined you.  Just having somebody there, knowing you didn’t have to be alone in the dark, was enough to calm your anxiety, silence the terror and free your heart from the grip of fear.  I’ve come to recognize this as the power of presence.

God knows how we’re all wired.  He drew up the schematics, He created the wires, and He knows what’s inside.  He knows that when we get alone, we’re more prone to experience fear, anxiety, worry, stress and terror.  Especially when we’re alone, and its dark.  Darkness is not limited to physical darkness, intense as it may be.  It can be dark emotionally, when the depression rests on your heart and fear grips you like a vice.  In the dark, physical or emotional, humans are capable of a tremendous amount of terror, fear and anxiety.  But just having someone we trust in the room with us… the power of presence.

Jesus’ last few words in the book of Matthew highlight a reality that I think we forget far too often.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

His last sentence on the planet: “I am with you… always.”  The last word Jesus gives is a promise of His continuing presence.  “I am with you” is a formula given to God in the Old Testament.  It reminds us, at the end of the book, that Jesus is still Emmanuel, “God with us.”

And He is with us always.  Literally, Jesus promises to be with us “all the days.”  His presence will be with us day by day by day.  He has promised to be with us, day in and day out.

And that’s good news, even when it’s dark outside.

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What are you doing between now and June 12?

What are you doing between now and June 12?  Are you planning on getting lazy after Easter, just coasting into the summer?  So many Christians focus a tremendous amount of energy on Easter, so much so that they forget the weeks that follow Easter are ripe for continued growth and stretching in their relationships with Christ.  June 12 is Pentecost Sunday.  For those of you who may not be familiar with the church calenday, Pentecost comes 50 days after Easter, counting both Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday.  It originated in the Old Testament as a festival that celebrated and gave thanks for the first fruits of the early spring harvest.  The most significant instance of Pentecost came in Acts 2 and the familiar scene of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on those in the “upper room.” The New Testament writers associated the events of Acts 2 with Pentecost, and related it to the prophecies of Joel 2 and earlier promises of Jesus. In both, the emphasis is on an empowerment through the Holy Spirit to enable the people of God to witness to Jesus Christ.

For Christians, Pentecost Sunday is a day to celebrate hope, a hope knowing that God through His Holy Spirit is at work among His people. It is a celebration of newness, of re-creation, of the renewal of purpose, mission, and calling as God’s people. It is a celebration of God’s ongoing work in the world. Furthermore, it is also a recognition that His work is done through us as He pours out His presence upon us.

This year, I have decided to read through a good portion of the New Testament during this time.  Pentecost Sunday is June 12, and my goal is to have read from Acts – Revelation before that time.  To do so, I’ve created a reading plan that will allow anyone to follow along and read at the same pace.  Feel free to share it with your friends and invite other along the journey.  I plan to record my thoughts as I read and share them on this blog.  If you’ve never done anything like this, this reading plan is a good one to start with.  We’ll be reading between 1 – 5 chapters a day, and each Sunday is a built in grace day.  There’ll also be opportunities to fast and pray, which I’ll share a couple of days in advance to give you time to prepare.  Looking forward to this exciting journey and hope you’ll join in as you can!

You can access the plan by clicking the link below.

Pentecost Reading Plan

Rob Bell, pentecostals and heresy

Disclaimer: This post is probably not written for those who typically read this blog.  I promise to return to the normally scheduled program tomorrow.  Thanks!

Unless you’ve been living under an evangelical rock lately, you’ve noticed the absolute firestorm that Rob Bell’s new book has set off.  He’s been dismissed and labeled a heretic by various evangelicals… from President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, R. Albert Mohler to John Piper (author) to local associate/staff pastors all over the twitterverse.  Others have come to his defense, including Eugene Peterson (The Message) and President of Fuller Theological Seminary, Richard J. Mouw.  Rob Bell has held an event in NYC that was streamed onlined, been on Good Morning America and will appear on MSNBC later this week.  The whole world, it seems, is getting a front row seat to this heated debate.

Now, I’m not here to argue in defense of Rob Bell.  I’m actually here to speak to my pentecostal brothers and sisters who are tempted to take part in the mudslinging and labeling of another follower of Jesus.  Rob has been called a heretic, false teacher, liar, wolf in sheep’s clothing, dangerous, etc.  This makes me incredibly sad.

We, as pentecostal believers, are so near-sighted.  It was only last century that we were accused of heresy by those in the establishment.  We were modernistic heretics, because it seemed we thought doctrine and dogma evolved and could change over time, in expression and substance.  We had a heretical doctrine of the trinity, with its strands of modalism and monarchism.  We were reformatting the heretical teachings of the Montanists, with our emphasis on prophesy and tongues.  Many of us were deeply shaped by that Neo-Pelagian known as John Wesley.  We were labeled as “Satan’s preachers,” “anti-Christian,” and “the last vomit of Satan.”  Our mothers and fathers at the Azusa St. Mission were accused of practicing witchcraft, worshipping the devil and advocating sexual promiscuity.  They threw rotten vegetables and stink bombs at us.  They set our tents on fire.  Our preachers were beaten, arrested, tarred and feathered.  Our churches and homes were destroyed with dynamite.  All in the name of defending orthodox Christianity against these heretics called “the pentecostals.”

Not only would we do well to remember how we were treated when we differed with the establishment, but we would also do well to remember what we said.  R. G. Spurling, one of the founders of the Church of God, Cleveland, TN, wrote a very short book titled, The Lost Link (you can read it here).  In it, he lays out his belief that the greatest tragedy in Christian history is the Council of Nicaea, where Arius was condemned as a heretic, expelling him and his followers from their fellowship and communion regardless of their love for God and one another.  He equates this tragedy with Babylon the great, mother of harlots, riding on the beast in Revelation 17.  Furthermore, this separation of Christians on account of their belief was not God’s law of love, but a law made by men, resulting in an instant departure from God’s law, “raising a spirit of malice, strife and persecution.”  This began the blackening of God’s holy church by Christians persecuting each other.  For Spurling, it seems that even calling Christ a created being wasn’t enough to issue a “Farewell Arius” tweet to the twitterverse.

Finally, a little over halfway through Spurling’s little book, he says this:

“What has been the greatest hindrance to the cause of Christ? You say infidelity. I admit it is but who is the cause of so much unbelief or infidelity? Was it Tom Payne, Voltaire or Bob Ingersoll? No, no, but few ever read their books. Then what has caused the great trouble wherever Christ is preached? It is because every church or denomination’s internal laws are contrary to Christ’s law. See the little preacher in the stand riding some hobby, branding all others as heretics or devils. So he wounds someone or more and breaks the unity of the Spirit and brings division instead of unity, hatred instead of love. Thus the world stands in unbelief for Christ and that we all be one, that the world may believe. This division caused infidelity. If you want to see a church scattered, just pull the string of church doctrines and you can destroy more good than the greatest revivalist can do. Oh, preachers, do not scatter the flock and make infidelity.”

To all my pentecostal brothers and sisters, I beg of you, in the words of R. G. Spurling, do not by pull the strings of doctrine and scatter the flock, becoming the reason that the world stands in unbelief for Christ and that we all are one.