Humans face physical limits. Life is brief, resources are limited, knowledge comes slowly, little is known about the universe, and we cannot learn all that is known or act on all that we know. It is how we live within these limits, and how we seek to go beyond them, that defines who we really are. As children we have little power, so we imagine having supernatural powers without achieving them. As students, we study the frontiers of knowledge and space but fail to widen our limits significantly. As young adults we begin to feel trapped by these limits, so we move away, seek or change relationships, travel to distant places, fly in the sky or swim in the oceans. As adults, we stretch ourselves thinly to do more in a day, to gain enough resources to expand our limits but we merely exchange one set for another. As seniors we seek out news, hoping for more, but finding little that is truly new, and spend more time simply maintaining what we have already.
Spirituality takes us beyond the physical limits we face. Seeing an eternal spirit within ourselves, a place of importance for our lives in an eternal plan, an opportunity to do something of eternal significance, and a relationship with God can move us spiritually far beyond our natural limits and increase our patience and ability to cope with barriers. Living a spiritual life puts us more at ease with our physical limitations and sets us on a higher plane. Some take spiritual development further than others, to the real frontiers of human experience.
So much of life is spent just getting from one minute to the next, particularly for the under-resourced. Those with more resources have different types of concerns, and sometimes a wider playing field, but still bounce around within a similar set of physical limits. We plan one thing and then life bumps us in a different direction. We seek to self-actualize on a physical plane and develop a brag sheet of our achievements which looks rather thin upon our death.
Self-actualization is the antithesis of spiritual achievement. Becoming whatever we want to become, whatever we have chosen for ourselves in advance, while it may be a step better than simply fitting into what our families or others want us to be, is not as wonderful as becoming what God wants us to be. His view of what is good is so much broader than our own because he has the eternal perspective, knows us better than we know ourselves, and can move us and make us into something greater than we can even imagine for ourselves, plan for, work toward, or achieve separately. His measure of us is so much larger than our measure of ourselves, his goals for us are higher than our goals for ourselves, and his power to mold us into something better is greater than our own power to sculpt ourselves.
The journey into achieving what He desires for us, or becoming what He wants us to be, begins with faltering first steps in faith that strengthen our sureness of step and embolden us to trust Him more. Those first steps are followed by larger steps that move us into a distinctly spiritual trajectory and surround us with sources of support that raise us higher. Careful decisions made in consultation with God, with spiritual criteria as paramount, move us even higher. Difficult tests must be faced at each step, and failure, if it teaches a needed lesson or leaves an important mark on our character, may be more productive than success.
I count the spiritual steps in my life as precious. Faith in Christ was in me at a very early age, instilled by the Holy Spirit, supported by the words of my mother and grandmother and the power of their lives. At the age of 12, I stepped out in my own faith to be baptized. I took the step seriously and tried to be a better person than I had been. At 17 I trusted God to take care of me apart from my family, and moved far away from home to study in a private Bible College. There, at 19, I made spiritual friendships that continue to uphold my faith today, and I was called into the ministry despite the other ideas I had for myself. At 20, I vowed to remain single to better serve the Lord with freedom of movement according to His will. After a year in the ministry, I was called to go to South Africa as a missionary to work with Zulus. At 30 I began a career as a university professor and administrator, focusing on violence prevention and peace-building. At 40 I sought and received confirmation from the Lord that I would be His servant. At 51 I was finally able to make my break with my career and moved to Iraq to start a small church, where I continue to labor today in His service. I am nearly home now.
Immediately before each step there were several-day periods when I became more desperate for a more meaningful spiritual service, wanting more spiritually, longing in my prayers for the next step. These were followed by several days of waiting for an answer. The answers from God always came in sudden, shocking, beautiful ways that would speak to my heart in unique ways so that I would be absolutely certain the answer was from God and not my own idea. I never heard voices, but there was always an answer. The answer was sometimes yes, sometimes later, sometimes not there but in another place, but never no. The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man (only by virtue of forgiveness), asking for purification, enlightenment, and a humble place of service is always answered “Yes!”
Large tests come throughout life. Mine included the divorce of my parents, the physical abuse I suffered from jealous strangers, separation from family as a teenager, the betrayal of my closest friends, lies told by ministers to cover their sins against me, the betrayal of my father, and loss of a home due to the jealousy of neighbors. I lost several excellent high level jobs in my life, for several good reasons related to taking a stand with the Lord against evil, including my refusal to allow government money to be misspent (twice), publishing my religious beliefs publicly outside of work, taking in orphaned Arab children in a Kurdish city, and exposing unethical practices of the U.S. government in Iraq, among others. I have always counted the cost and willingly and quickly paid it.
Leaving home, children, or even work for the sake of the kingdom of God is always rewarded. One suffers for a time, takes a lower place somewhere, bides his time, and the Lord lifts him back up to a place higher than ever before. I have experienced elements of the tests that came in the lives of Abraham, Job, and Joseph five times already. There is always a recovery and a lifting up after tests, as the Lord was lifted up after His own greatest test on the cross. These trials serve the Lord’s purposes, produce patience and meekness in us, create marks in our character, and spread the word of God. The cutting, shaping, and polishing work is all unpleasant for the moment, but afterward produces the beautiful fruit of righteousness in us and in others.
The sacrifices I have made meant nothing if they did not serve to spread the gospel in the world. Though I had the right to take a wife in my ministry, I did not. Taking the counsel of the Apostle Paul regarding this has left me free to spread the gospel in difficult places like Africa and Iraq. I could have had my own biological children, but I chose instead to help some who were suffering without parents. Leaving a beautiful place like Hawaii to live in a war-torn, denuded region like Iraq allowed me to experience how giving is more blessed than receiving. Going without a personal car for many years introduced me to many drivers, some of whom found that we had something they also wanted. If these sacrifices have helped a few people as much as they have helped me, then all will have been worth-while.
The failures I can count in my spiritual life even now assure me that God’s work in me and with me is not yet complete. I struggle to keep my passions on the altar, to remain pure in heart, to speak the truth with gentleness, to love others as He as loved me, to be a diligent father, to earn through secular work the bread that my children eat and to have extra for others, to seek the Lord with fervor and to daily feast upon His word, among other things. As I struggle among other people, I learn to appreciate their struggles, and they to appreciate mine. Therein is fellowship perfected, not that I am above them, or they are above me, but that we are all sinners who bow the knee to Christ who redeems us.
There are always joys that come after the struggles and failures. I count my greatest joys in my love for the Lord, the little church meeting in our home in Iraq, the smiles on my younger son’s face as he hugs me, the diligence that occasionally springs up in my teenage son, the spiritual growth I see in other youths I have fostered, the good-natured playfulness of the children after they are released from the Sunday meeting, the generosity of any one in our church meeting toward another, the moments when we are able to send money to my mother to sustain her in her old age, the payment of any debt, the remarkable benefits that accrue to the people to whom I have ministered the Lord’s grace, the flowering of my humble garden, and the joyful dancing of the little rabbits I have raised in my garden.
Yet many people are surprised at my choices, mistrusting their authenticity, seeking a hidden motive, jaded as they are by the evil world they have seen, and blind as they are to the joys I experience. I am told that no one will appreciate it when I pick up garbage on the street or in the park, that the animals I care for are dirty, that there are institutions for orphans and the elderly, that the strangers I aid are dangerous. In the U.S., I am a considered selfish for having never married and a crackpot for having written about Biblical prophesy. In Iraq, I am assumed to be a CIA operative for living so long in a place where no westerner stays for any length of time, and assumed to be in hiding from authorities for some heinous crime by any American I meet.
Satan has thrown his fiery darts. I have had enemies pay children to try to take photos of me doing something, anything, evil, certain that their money would be well-spent but gaining nothing. I had an American man make lists of vague incriminations in a blackmail letter hoping that one or more of his listings would touch a nerve in me and make me give him money for fear he had some evidence against me. I have had an Israeli who didn’t like a book I wrote about the future of Israel hack into my Facebook account and send vile pictures of Jesus involved in indecent acts to my friends as if they came from me, only to find all my friends calling him out for it. I have had people pay bribes to policemen and courts in Iraq to try to extract money from me on fear of being thrown into prison. None have been given power over me for any length of time.
In Iraq, I have been told that it is a pity I so squandered my unusual talents and left a life of high action in Washington, D.C., working with the White House and Congress, for a pitiful life in Iraq. People sneer at me when I extoll the virtues of the used clothing bazaar where high quality clothes from Europe and America can be found for a small price. They don’t realize that all the tall carved spindle-backed chairs and beautiful ornately carved tables in our English Institute were recovered from the junkyard and restored through our own efforts while training children in woodcraft.
Through the power of God I have grown to see myself as a stone in a field, not a famous landmark, unremarkable, not especially tall or beautiful. People can step on me with my permission and rise to a higher level, gaining a wider vision, or they can kick me to their own injury without moving me from my place. But no one can have power over me unless the Lord gives it to him for His own purposes. Living in Iraq for five years is a duration record for an American family. Yet the joy only grows, and we are enriched by every day we spend here.
There are a thousand angels hovering just overhead in the darkest moments, ready to work a miracle to glorify God in us. I have struggled to help my children see them, but they are always there. When we have been tormented, some of those we help have shied away from us. Evil speakers have come among the weaker of our brothers and sisters and caused them to turn away for a time, though they usually come back over time. There have been a couple of times when I became fearful and considered escaping in the night from some specific threat, times when I too lost sight of the angels above, but when I stopped looking down, and looked up, they were still there.
Our situation in Iraq is not as difficult as some would think. The Kurdistan Region is remarkably safe, and far safer than any American city. We don’t experience the violence of southern Iraq, which is separated from us by a well-trained line of Kurdish soldiers. Kurdistan is self-ruled even though it is inside Iraq, and the region is considering a bid for independence from Iraq in the next few years. We don’t have the theft that is common to American cities. My children do not go to school with youths who degrade their bodies, get abortions, and give themselves to drugs, drunkenness, and partying. They move about freely in the community. They are on soccer and basketball teams, frequent coffee shops and candy shops, go to amusement parks and modern shopping malls, and go camping and fishing in the mountains on vacations. They study in English in school, eat pizza and ice-cream, and do not feel at all deprived.
At the center of all we are and all we do is Christ, and we live to see His return to us on the earth. We are convinced that He will return in a cloud and touch His foot to the Mount of Olives. I have stood on that Mount and beheld the clouds above, taking in a portion of what I hope to experience in the future if He returns in my lifetime, and if I am there to say with others, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” We are told that the Euphrates River will dry up for the first time in recorded history and saints will cross it from Assyria, the ancient name for where I now live, on their way to Jerusalem. I pray that my children and I will be among those saints. I wish the same for you and your family. But if you cannot come so quickly, may we wait there for you patiently, that you may enter into our joys.
It fills me with joy to speak again of Christ coming into His kingdom. Every eye will see Him come, so don’t go here or there looking for Him, or you will find one of many false Christs. He has said that the wheat will grow up with the tares for yet a while longer, lest the wheat be damaged in removing the tares. Then the time will come when we will all be cut down, harvested, and the wheat will be taken in small bundles, small groups of travellers, to a place of storage awaiting the preparation of the new field. The enemy who sowed the tares among the wheat, Satan, will be bound for a thousand years, so he will be unable to torment us further for that time. Then, when the field is prepared, we will be sown in the Holy Land, and will grow over time, producing an increase to the Lord, a hundred-fold. Children will play in the streets, people will live to a ripe old age as the almond tree that is covered with white buds. Every man will help his neighbor and brother, and all will know the Lord, from the least to the greatest. God loves His people, and His eye is on the Holy Land every day, He has said, so he loves it too. What joy it will be when His two loves, the land and the people, are joined together in harmony, the world and Satan are removed, and only the flesh remains to test us in that last millennium.
So now, as the worldly are being cut down in these difficult times, losing jobs and hope and even their lives, be cut down yourself, humbled. Seek out your loved ones in the Lord and be bound more closely to them. Travel to the storehouse to prepare. Sacrifice what you have and enjoy in this world for the greater joy of waiting in the Lord’s gentle care for the preparations of the field, then cross with us over the river into the Holy Land, and be planted together with us there, to be loved by the Lord in the Land that He also loves. There comes a time when evil prevails, and good men and women cannot live and raise their children in godliness. That time is here. Come out from among them and be ye separate, says the Lord.