11 Years after the Mountainside, God is still here.
Jonathan David Faulkner
This coming Sunday, July 4th, while for many it will mark a significant national holiday, will again mark for me the anniversary of the day God brought this lost little lamb back to himself. The summer of 2010 was a summer of great convulsion for me, it had just finished up my sophomore year at Sterling College, was still healing from the trauma I suffered at my childhood church in 2009 and not sure I was even going to be a Christian. For two months that summer I sat with the homeless on the streets of Denver and at Christ’s Body and Joshua Station. I had so deconstructed that I was sort of drifting through a spiritual wasteland, no matter how much a good face I put on it, I was falling away. Whether or not our program leader recognized this or just knew I needed some firm spiritual guidance is still unclear, but when I accepted his challenge to a week of silence on Friday, July 1st I had no idea what God was going to do on Monday, July 4th.
That was the day I walked that labyrinth, the day I entered not sure of God or if I even wanted to be a Christian anymore, the day I experienced both the worst depression and darkest place I have ever been and the closest and sweetest fellowship with Jesus I had ever felt all within the span of two hours. That day marked the beginning of a journey of reconstruction into a deeper walk with Jesus, based not on feelings but on a real and active faith. Let me pause here to say that I am not opposed to feelings and emotions, what I am opposed to is the manipulation of feelings and emotions and convincing people that salvation is defined by constant warm and fuzzy feelings when that is not the case. God created emotions and feelings and he has a redeemed purpose for them, a purpose within his body, the Church. A real and active faith trusts in the promises of Christ even when you are in the darkest place, the times of great convulsions.
I have described the experience before, but I will again for newer readers.
Praying a Labyrinth is a prayer discipline where you walk through the labyrinth. You can do it by yourself or with others. As you are entering the labyrinth you are said to be leaving the world and you are to leave behind the cares of this world. In the center you are said to be in the heart of God and as you are going out you are to ask God what He has for you to do as you re-enter the world. As I was entering, in my head, God was taking me to all the places where I had felt abandoned by Him, the bullying I faced in school, the nights I considered giving up, the night with the grace killers when I almost left the Church altogether, the darkest places and I kept hearing in my spirit: “I was there and I loved you.” Every now and then I would look up and be close or far from people and the Spirit would say: “Sometimes you feel far from people, sometimes you feel close, but I have always been here and I have always loved you.” As I reached the heart of the labyrinth the spirits words changed to: “I am here now, and I love you.” As I was leaving he was showing me flashes of symbols of places I would be in the future, a city skyline, a church with two sets of footprints coming out of the door, nothing specific. As this happened the Spirit said: “I will be here with you, I will be there and I will love you.”
Normally I would not share spiritual or mystical experiences but I believe the Lord has given me permission to share this one because it can be an encouragement to others. A reminder that even in our darkest hour God is here with us and He knows our future. Needless to say, I did not enter the Labyrinth the same man I came out as, something in my had broken and a healing work had begun. The emotional and spiritual abuse I suffered at ABC was finally beginning to heal, a damn broke and the healing began, at the end of the summer, God called me Pastoral Ministry and when I returned to college I adjusted my focus so I could become a pastor.
I tell you all this again, dear reader, because once again we find ourselves in a time of great convulsion. Since it has been announced I can tell you here that after three months of an escalating conflict within our congregation we have resigned as the pastor of our church here in Iowa. I’m not interested in responding to the issues here, I will tell you that we are hurting deeply even as we celebrate the birth of our little baby girl. We came here three Mays ago with the hopes of making this into our long-term call. We saw and still see the potential for the Gospel to be proclaimed in word and life here. It is little comfort to know that this has happened to so many pastors, some I consider close friends, over and over again.
Right now I am weeping over the state of the Church, like Jeremiah as the exiles were being taken from Jerusalem I look out over the state of the evangelical church in this nation and I weep knowing that unless serious repentance happens and the fruit of repentance is on full and public display. Whether we want to admit it or not, we have created a culture of consumer Christianity that wants to be entertained and catered too, it has no desire to serve the risen Christ, lay down its life and follow him. It is based on the preferences and whims of the people sitting in the pews and it is killing the church and her witness to Christ here in the United States. Yet, she is unrepentant, and by being unrepentant she is continuing to hurt her brothers and sisters of Color, sexual abuse and assault victims, mothers and children and many others. Like many my age, I am discouraged, I am disheartened, it makes me wonder what the future looks like.
But then God draws me back into the Labyrinth, back to the mountainside, to the gently flowing creek and the evergreens. “I am here, and I love you, and I am pleased with you.” He says, and I am reminded once again that even as we look to try to find another church or job on a time crunch with a newborn and 2 and a half months of financial stability that He is not going to abandon us or leave us behind. Even in this conflict we have been in, He has given me the boldness to apologize when I have been wrong and trust Him for the outcome. No matter what, he knows what is going to happen and has our family in the palm of his hands. We can have faith in Him, in the midst of this hurt and frustration, we can trust Him because we know He is God and we have assurance in Him.
As for the future of Evangelicalism? Some have asked me if it is even worth saying and to that I say of course. But we cannot save it if we just preach better sermons, there is serious heart reformation that needs done at the center of American Evangelicalism, restoration of our call is needed, reclaiming the full Gospel of Jesus must happen, a Gospel that includes concerns for the physical needs of the poor and the marginalized, not just their souls. We comes as we learn to embody the Gospel, not just speak it with words that the people around us do not understand. Once again we need to understand that Christ died and sympathizes with the broken and that “What you have done to the least of these my brothers, you have done it unto me (Matthew 24).
As for those who refuse to repent, who continue to seek their own preferences or protect their positions of power and influence. I give you the warning Jesus gave the people of Jerusalem in Luke 19. You must repent or you will perish, not just in this life, but in the time to come. If you do not repent, hell, not heaven, is your future. Repent of the way you have treated abuse victims, repent of the way you have treated your brothers and sisters of color, repent of the way you have treated the poor, repent of the way you have treated pastors and the marginalized and the disinherited. Repent, or you will perish. Salvation is not a gift you can squander and if you have never given Christ your heart, and if you have not made him Lord of your life and do not have the fruit of repentance, than you are not His and He will not claim you. It does not matter how many volunteer hours you put in on the Church flower committee or how many souls get saved through your preaching (it can happen) if you do not have a relationship with Christ, if your personal life does not reflect a relationship with Him, then you are still walking in darkness and the truth is not in you (1 John 1-3).
As for the Faithful, remain faithful. I know these days are discouraging and disheartening. But there are groups of believers creating spaces for those who wish to reform Evangelicalism and for those who have experienced Church Trauma. The overall picture of Evangelicalism looks bright as the global movement continues to grow and the American Church sees more and more prophetic voices rise up from the ashes of deconstruction. There is a deeply formed faith present among younger Christians, a faith born out of struggle and uncertainty, where doubts, when not dismissed, have driven us deeper into faith and knowledge of Jesus. God has not abandoned his saith, He is still here, whispering, telling us that He loves us and is pleased with us where we are faithful to Him, convicting of sin and calling for repentance when it is needed. Reports of the dead faith of the coming generations are greatly exaggerated, I assure you.
May God continue to reform and refine us into the image of His son so that we may know again the blessings of being His people, a Church healed.