I returned to the United States in January 2005 and began working for myself again as a landscape designer. I was living outside of Seattle now and too far away to regularly attend the messianic congregation I had been attending when I first went to Israel so I found a new church to attend closer to home. It was a good church, with a good group of people and a pastor I respected and enjoyed. I appreciated that he wasn’t afraid to live and preach truth from scripture even in the face of worldly opposition; and he did it with humility and with a degree of consideration of the human frailty to which all of us are subject. Several months later I was hired part-time to work with him as the youth pastor. From this job I found that I cared a lot about the lives of my students and wanted to help them in their relationships with God, but I also discovered that it wasn’t a natural fit for me to teach. I didn’t really like it very much, and in many ways I felt more like an activities director, or an entertainer, rather than a teacher or a guide, and this role was very distasteful to me. Even so, my desire to help the kids and be a positive person in their lives kept me at it for several years.
I recall a conversation I had around this time, with my former landlady, who I rented my first house from in Seattle, and in that conversation I said something about being a Christian, to which she reacted with shock and amazement and said she had no idea I was a Christian. It was a stinging indictment, though she didn’t mean it as such, but I was horrified to discover that my faith and allegiance to Christ was so insipid, so obscure, hidden and lukewarm, that someone I was in close contact with for several years had no idea I even had that faith and allegiance. I wasn’t sure at the time what exact change was needed in me, and I didn’t plan to suddenly be something I’m not, nor pretend to be something other than what God made me to be, but this woke me up to the fact that whatever I was, whoever I was, needed to be less afraid to show others the truth.
My faith is the essential thing about me, and yet somehow she didn’t know about it at all. This was a revelation. I remembered my time in the garden at the Mt. of Beatitudes and how my faith, the truest part of my faith, this relationship with Christ Himself, I had always considered a private matter, and one I lived privately, away from prying eyes. Perhaps my faith was too private. Though I served others in many ways and was visible through my service, there was nothing particularly Christian about serving others; any person with good will and natural love for others does this, and many non-Christians do this better than I do. But what is essential and different about a Christian, is his or her relationship with Christ, the Son of God, and by extension everything else that this relationship entails: obedience to His commands, faith in His claims to be the Son of God, belief in His statements that He is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the only way to eternal salvation, and all of the additional things He proclaimed and taught. These are the things that set a Christian apart, that make him different from the rest of the world, and make him the object of ridicule and derision; and these of course were the things I kept most under wraps because I don’t like being ridiculed and derided.
There are whole volumes written about the centrality and importance of derision and ridicule, of suffering for the Lord, and how instrumental and necessary these things are for us to lead a productive and fruitful Christian life. After all, Christ Himself suffered a humiliating death on a cross, and suffered all sorts of mocking, and He calls on each of us to take up our own cross and follow Him, and endure the same things that He did. These volumes exist, but for the most part they have been lost to history, and obscured by the modern trends that Christianity has taken in recent times, such as a gospel of prosperity, or a gospel of peace, or a gospel of social justice, or any number of other things that are practiced and that have some basis in scripture, but that aren’t the essential gospel that Christ Himself taught, or that His church preserved down through the ages, or that the early church fathers wrote so eloquently and instructively about.
But most of these things I hadn’t yet considered at that time, as my brand of Christianity was predominantly about serving other people, and about my personal struggle against vice and towards virtue—aspects of a Christian life, to be certain, but not the entirety of it. In becoming more honest with others about who I am and what I’ve done, I have found it important to remember who the ruler of this world is and what he does. Scripture states clearly that Satan is the ruler of this world, and that through his cunning and deception he has corrupted and brought about the downfall of man. He is our great enemy and our accuser and his intent is our destruction. So it is no wonder that we fear one another and hide ourselves from each other, as his spirit operates freely within each of us and we are prone to slander and to accusation and all manner of evil thought and speech against each other.
We see the devil’s methods on full display at every moment when we see people out of control, slaves to their passions, acting in rage and anger, in sexual abandon, unable to control their desires. He is a spirit, not a physical creature, but a powerful spirit, and his servants are likewise powerful spirits, and their methods are to lure men into evil, trapping them by their own natural desires and tendencies, tricking them into sin and then crushing them under the law. Some are caught here in this world, exposed in their crimes, accused and destroyed, but most are given freedom to fall deeper and deeper into vice, farther and farther from God, until there is no belief that God even exists, nor certainly any belief that there will be a penalty or a payment to be paid in the end.
This isn’t to say that I am not responsible for my thoughts and actions, because the devil made me do it. I am responsible for everything I do and think, and without taking responsibility for everything, and then repenting and seeking forgiveness, there is no hope for me, but it is very helpful to remember that there is someone, a spirit, and many spirits, behind the scenes offering a lot of assistance to me in all the wrong directions. And it is helpful also to recognize that everyone else we meet is struggling with the same battle that we are, falling victim to the same things as we are, and probably these same people are the ones most vocal in accusing us when we fall, and are our most vehement critics and accusers when they discover we’ve committed the same crimes or bad actions as they have done in secret. It is not the innocent that clamor, but the guilty; it is the innocent that are gentle and meek, and who witness the world in silent simplicity and generosity of spirit.
After returning from Israel that year was a particularly lonely one. I missed my relationship with V still, and I missed the excitement and adventure of living overseas in such a dynamic place as the Middle East. Throughout much of my life, since the time I was a teenager, I had been in a relationship, and while I could see a lot of value in this time alone, I yearned still for a partner. Out of this yearning, I succumbed for a short time to the deceptive attractions of internet pornography. I had no interest in anything graphic or depraved, but I wanted to see and experience beauty, physical beauty. This at least was the initial attraction and the basis of my superficial interest in the internet for this purpose. However, very quickly I could see the hypnotic power of this vice and how easily it could trap a person, like a fast current in a river, swiftly taking them downstream to places they hadn’t intended, almost against their will and beyond their power to escape. After three weeks of dabbling in this lascivious undertaking, I saw the writing on the wall and what danger it presented to me, so I stopped immediately, making a definite and final break with it, never to return again—God willing, I pray.
That experience, though shameful, also filled me with rage against myself and against the evil behind all vice. I was angry that such opportunities exist in our world, and angry at myself for having indulged in them. But it also gave me a huge amount of empathy towards others who have also fallen to this scourge, and especially for anyone who hadn’t been able to fight free of it. But mostly I was just angry that I went looking for this trouble intentionally; and equally frustrated at how pervasive very similar images are on so many magazine covers, in every grocery store, on so many television shows, movies and advertisements. I was angry at how much effort it took to look away, to avert my eyes from these images that the world has decided are innocent and fine for public consumption, but that I could see were not so harmless, and could stir up desires in people that could easily lead to promiscuity, and end in a degrading of the human form, a debasement of sexuality, and a fracturing in relations between men and women.
(to be continued)