Posts Tagged ‘preacher’s kid life’

Matthew 14:1-12
John the Baptist Beheaded

I have no cute or clever introductory illustration to begin this blog today. In this blog, I am the illustration myself. Today, my illustration will be interwoven into the story. No clever opening to make you laugh or to make you go “Hmmmm!” just straight to the story. Let’s dig in…

Many of us read this passage and condemn Herod Antipas for allowing lust, pride and need for approval overcome him. How can we do that? It is the story of many of us. It is a modern-day story set 20 centuries ago. This story might as well be my story as much as Herod Antipas’ story. It is my story. The intertwining of the need for approval and intertwined with sex is my story. When we make the approval of others the reason for being, we live a tortured life. When we make the approval of others our god, we cannot see God. We make choices in life based on this need for approval which have consequences far beyond the moment. But we cannot see beyond the moment to moment need for approval. Let’s read about Herod Antipas below, in Matthew 14:1-12,

 

1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2 and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

3 Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

6 On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much 7 that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” 9 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

 
This passage resonates so much for me for I see so much of myself in Herod Antipas prior to my beginning to mature in Christ. I see my life story in this seeming little insert between Jesus’ extended discourses about the kingdom of heaven. I have always wondered why Matthew chose to place this story where he placed it. It is apparent from the verses that by the time this story is shared by Matthew that John the Baptist is already dead from what Herod says about Jesus. Why stick it here between the parables and the feeding of the 5,000 men. I think the purpose of the interjection between major stories of Jesus’ ministry is done purposefully because this passage is about recognizing Jesus as the Messiah and being blinded by our own desires and needs. Herod’s story is no different. Herod’s story demonstrates how we can easily make other things our gods to the point that we cannot see Jesus Christ for who He is. Herod’s story is my story.

From my earliest memory, feeling accepted and not being considered an outsider has been part of who I am. Maybe this was really a dream that I had once but it is seared in my memory as if it was real. I am in one of the bedrooms of parsonage in the Homeland Park community of Anderson, SC where my dad was serving Homeland Park & John Wesley United Methodist Churches. I am a little tike just barely about to walk and talk. I have nothing on but those little fitted pullup shorts that toddlers wear. No shirt. No socks. No shoes. Everyone else is dressed like regular grown ups including my older brother by 18 months. The discussion is about going out to eat somewhere (a rarity in South Carolina in the early to mid-1960s in a mill section of town). I wanted to be dressed up like everyone else even though I was a toddler. I didn’t want to be the kid with just short pants on. I imagine this is a dream because I am toddler in this dream and caring about being like other people is not a typical thought. But this dream is so real and it is the theme of my life. Being an outsider trying to fit in. Seeking approval and never feeling that you totally have it. It is crippling and it is real. I see this in Herod in this scene. He wants approval to validate who he is. It is a life of fear. It is a life of getting to the zig when everybody else has seconds ago already moved on to the zag.

Herod’s decisions are based on what other’s think of him and the consequences can be disastrous. He had John arrested because of the fact that he did not want the world to really think about his taking his brother’s wife as if she was his bride. He probably fell in love with this woman because she made him feel approved and accepted regardless of the morality of the situation. He wanted to quiet John by killing but he was afraid to do so because of public opinion of who John was. He was easily manipulated by his need for approval. He also confused sexual attention and lust as approval. His lust ruled him because sex was approval. If he could sway a woman into bed with him, it gave him the approval he so desperately desired. That’s why he let his desire for Salome and her dancing cause him to make a fateful decision. His desire to gain approval through bedding down Salome caused him to get backed into a corner where he had to follow through on his word. He had a man of God beheaded because he could not back down on his word to give her whatever she wanted. His fear of disapproval from his powerful dinner guests forced his hand to give Salome what her mother had put her up to asking him for. Herod knew John to be a special man by whom he was fascinated. He had him killed to maintain approval. He shut down a voice of God simply because of his desire for approval. Doing what he knew to be right took a back seat to finding approval from others, particularly women. His story is my story.

As I had told you previously, from an early age, I felt like an outsider. Never part of the inner circle. Always on the outside. Growing us as Methodist preacher’s kid did not help this feeling. Until I was 14 and moved to Travelers Rest, SC, we had moved on average every two years. Always the new kid. Always an outsider. Always doing what was necessary to gain approval. As I have talked about here before, I often threw my brother under the bus to gain acceptance from the local kids in the towns in which we lived. Sure, my brother as a child often invited much of the ridicule heaped upon him. However, he was my blood and I should have not cared about the crowd and stood with my brother even when he invited ridicule upon himself, even when he treated me as if was a dunce in his eyes. But, I was the chameleon growing up. Fitting in. Trying to gain the approval of the crowd. That was me. I was like Herod Antipas in that way. Finally, when we moved to Anderson, SC for the second time when I was 12-13 years old, I became truly popular. Part of the in-crowd. I was a big man on campus at Lakeside Middle School on the west side of Anderson. Approval. Acceptance. BMOC! Then, the Methodist Church in South Carolina screwed it all up. We were to move again in June 1976. We were to move to Travelers Rest. What? Is that a town or a rest stop on the highway?

I was heartbroken when we moved to Travelers Rest. From popular kid to nobody with the close of the moving van door that early summer day in June when all Methodist preachers in South Carolina who have new appointments must move. Although, in 2015, Travelers Rest has become this chic-y little hamlet to live in, back in 1976, it was just a small town completely separate from Greenville. Now, it is truly a suburb of Greenville, but back then it was just a small town at the foot of the mountains that enjoyed its isolation from Greenville. It was there that I felt truly alone and truly a stranger in a strange land. I had friends galore in Anderson and here I was just the new kid trying to become part of a small town teen hierarchy. It was not until the fall of that year that I started dating the young, talented organist and one of the two churches that my dad was serving that things started changing. It was through this young lady, Lisa McDowell, that I gained access to the social structure of teen-dom in Travelers Rest. Thus, began a cycle of my life and my view of myself being tied to how a woman felt about me. Over the next 17 years, I began to equate sex with validation of who I was and how the woman in my life felt about me. Needless to say this was a recipe for disaster. Ours was a volatile relationship that ended badly. Although our marriage produced our two beautiful daughters, the relationship itself was mountains and valleys for me. Sex and approval. Relationships with family were alternately good and strained based on how Lisa felt about my family. My feelings were pushed down about whether she was right or wrong because of sex and approval. Because of the loss of her brother to a car accident in 1980, it changed her and led her down the road and cycle of addictions and recovery that added pressure that finally blew up our marriage. Because of my disgust and anger over the long cycle of addiction with her, I found my afffections elsewhere. Did I learn anything?

Although I changed zip codes to the Berea area of Greenville when I jumped from one marriage to the next within 2 years, my own addiction to approval and measuring it by sex lead me to the same type of relationship again. I granted my second wife, Trena, great power. I was madly in love with her because she helped lift me out of a destructive relationship with Lisa and made me feel normal again. However, the relationship was the same again. It was about sex and approval. I measured my feelings about myself through access to sex. I equated this access with love and approval. I am ashamed to admit that I allowed this access, the animosity between Trena and Lisa, and the lack of a relationship with Jesus Christ to send me into a maddening dance that you think of when a person with a gun is shooting at your feet and telling you to dance. It was up one day. Down two. It was utter chaos of the soul. If I thought things were hard to manage with Lisa, it was equally so or even harder with Trena. Managing one marriage and the whole ex thing with kids was like juggling. Keeping all the balls in the air was difficult. I almost completely ruined my relationship with my daughters over sex and approval. I was not a deadbeat dad, but to maintain peace in my home I only did what was legally necessary for my children. At the same time, trying to maintain alimony, child support and keeping the peace in my home, it led to a string of huge mistakes financially in addition to the parental mistakes with my kids. It was a disaster of growing proportions, but I was blind to it all because it was all about sex and approval. These financial mistakes of my own doing were the beginning of the end of the second marriage. I was willing to keep my kids at arm’s length to maintain the sex and approval thing going. I was willing to make financial blunders to keep it going. Although we managed to survive the financial mistakes I made, the responsibility to my kids was the death knell. It was not until my oldest daughter went off to college and required more than just legally required child support to survive at college that the juggling act began to unravel. College is expensive and kids at college need more financial support than just tuition. This fact sent my tenuous cling on sex and approval and my God-ordained responsibilities to my children, particularly my child in college, on a collision course.

In the midst of all this sex and approval cycle, I accepted Christ as my Savior in December 2000. For those who believe that immediately upon salvation your life goes from cloudy to sunny immediately, I can assure you that it does not. Sometimes, it actually gets worse as the Holy Spirit begins working in your soul. There are mighty struggles that go on as we let go of our previously held belief and as we let go of our previously held gods. That was true with me. The Holy Spirit begins opening your eyes but it is a slow process when you are stubbornly clinging to your gods. So back to the story. In order to keep the juggling act going, it led to lies about my support of my oldest child. Covering up support beyond the monthly child support check. This all came to a head in a mighty confrontation in the Summer of 2004, three and a half years after I gave my life to the Lord. Another marriage ended. My god of sex and approval failed me again. Did I learn anything? Not yet. For the next two years, I was awash in the loneliness of not having a steady relationship and no way to measure my approval. A string of failed relationships followed. But the Holy Spirit was working on me. I thought the world would explode when Trena and I split up but it didn’t. During this time, the Holy Spirit moved me away from everything I had known. I had lived in Travelers Rest and the Greenville area from 1976 to 2006, when because of changing jobs, he led me to Rock Hill, SC. It might as well have been a foreign planet. After 30 years in and around Greenville, God had me where He wanted me. Alone. No wife and no way to measure my approval and in a brand new town. That was when He began His work in me. That’s when He led me to the woman that He intended for me all along.

During my years after Trena, I dated a lot and began to gain more confidence in myself about dating. The world had not exploded when Trena and I split and I had begun the process of restoring my relationship with my daughters. Things were getting better. But still, I was all about approval of women and the game of single life in the 21st century. I measured my value still by sex and approval of women. It was then that this newly confident dude that ran into a woman who didn’t think I was all that and I couldn’t convince her that I was. Elena was not the girl next door but she was the girl downstairs in my apartment building in Rock Hill. She was not impressed with me as this dude about town. She was fresh off a break up of a marriage herself so she was not looking for a relationship and was not looking to get entangled in a modern day sexual relationship. But God made her intriguing to me. Instead of trying to bedding her down, we became friends. Since she was not interested in a relationship, we actually became friends. Because the relationship did not start in the bedroom, we became friends. Because it was not about showing your best side to get the prize, we actually opened up to each other about our skeletons in our respective closets. We actually became best friends helping each other grow up. It was not a relationship about the games men and women play to get the prize, as I will call it. She was intelligent and bright and I didn’t have to dumb down conversations with her. She was challenging. In the meantime, we fell in love with each other. It was amazing that she accepted me for who I was, not what she wanted me to be. We know each other’s mistakes and failings and yet we accepted one another as the flawed persons that we chose to love. But, hey, God was not done yet.

In God’s grand plan to get me to further open my eyes about where my approval should come from, He knew that I could easily get caught up in this whole female approval thing again with Elena and that something drastic was required. So, He orchestrates the buyout and closure of the company’s corporate office where I was working in southeast Charlotte. Immediately, I landed a consulting gig in Duncan, SC with America Fujikura, Ltd. (AFL). That required me being in Duncan five days a week and then back home to Rock Hill for the weekends. That was training for what was next. This consulting job at AFL ending up being long-term and they sent me out to their division in Santa Clara, CA to help develop better internal controls in the finance department of Fujikura America, Inc. (FAI), a subsidiary of AFL. This happened in May 2008. While I was out there, and in October 2008, the Controller at FAI (who was completely and totally over her head in that position) decided to leave the company. Immediately, I was offered the position. To get out the consulting world (where you could be out of work for weeks or months in between consulting gigs), I accepted the job. The intention of the parent company, AFL, was for me to get the accounting mess out there cleaned up and ultimately move the accounting function in Santa Clara to AFL’s headquarters in Duncan. No one knew how long that was going to take and I accepted the job knowing that. OK. Now I was on the complete other side of the country from my family and from my new girlfriend. It was a lonely trying time. But it was during this time that Elena and I grew closer and closer as friends. We would only get to see each other once every couple of weeks for a weekend either back home in South Carolina or when she we fly out to California. However, it was during this time, that I finally began to grow up. Elena simply loved me, warts and all. No longer did I have to dance for approval. Finally, Elena moved out to California in August 2009 to be with me. We then decided to live in God’s way through marriage in March 2010.

While we were out there alone and away from everything that we knew back home on the east coast, we learned about how marriage is about being best friends and making the marriage bigger than our own needs. Elena accepted Christ as her Savior out there and I began to grow up as a Christ follower out there. That time out there was necessary for both of us. We had to learn that the marriage is the most important thing, bigger than both of us out there. We had to learn to put God in the center of our marriage because He is what we had to depend on out there. Everything that we knew previously was stripped away out there. God is amazing when we open our eyes and clear away the gods of our making. He orchestrates what others call coincidences. The falling in love with a woman that didn’t care about who I was or what she wanted me to be. Necessary. Taking me away from her for long stretches so that I would not make the relationship about sex and approval and making it about revealing yourself and becoming best friends despite those flaws. Necessary. Moving her out there so she would encounter Christ through some faithful servants of God and dear friends in Livermore, CA. Necessary. Tearing us away from the familiar back east and making us alone and making us see that our relationship was bigger than us because all we had was each other. Necessary. Encountering challenges to our fears about marriage and guidance into doing it God’s way by Luke and Felisha. Necessary. Putting God at the center of our marriage and nothing else. Necessary. Preparing us to return back east and settling this time in Duncan, SC as maturing Christians. Necessary. If it were not for these events that some would call coincidence without seeing God’s hand in it, Elena and I would be in the same old cycles of relationships that we have had in our past. He stripped us down and broke us down so that we could find each other and grow up about relationships and marriage and about Him. To quote Tom Cruise in the move, The Last Samurai, “what could be more necessary!”

I am still growing up in Christ and there are many flaws in me that He is still working on to this day. But breaking the strangehold of making women, relationships with them, the center of my being, God had to take drastic measures. I have found, because of the woman He guided me to, that I do not have to dance to be accepted. That true love is acceptance. I spent a great deal of time from 2004 forward blaming Trena and Lisa for what those relationships became. However, I have come to realize that I made them my gods. I made their approval my gods. I was not the spiritual leader of my household in those relationships because I abdicated my duties to gain approval. I used to blame my dad for moving me around all the time and particularly for that fateful move from Anderson, SC to Travelers Rest, SC in 1976, that set the cycle of my adult life in motion. I do not blame him. He was simply doing what he was called to do. It was all part of the plan. God has plans. He orchestrates our plans and the interactions of all those 7 Billion plans on this planet. My past is my testimony now. It is part of His plan for my life. If my life had been perfect, I would have no testimony. My life is testimony to the changing, healing power of Jesus Christ when we accept Him as our Savior and He sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in us. Now, I can look back on those mistakes and use it in my testimony of what happens when you make people your gods. When you make approval your god.

Just look at Herod Antipas. He lived and died for public approval but yet He was a king. He needed no approval but his reign was faulty and erratic because of his constant need for approval. He would not do what he knew was best for his country simply because he desired the approval of others over doing what was right. I can so identify with Herod Antipas. I cry for Herod Antipas because I know him. I lived his life. I lived that roller coaster life for most of my life. It is only through the patience of God, the persistent work of the Holy Spirt, that I draw my value from Him and not others. When I think of the person I used to be, I cry for that Mark Bowling. I cry for the stupid things he did just for approval. I cry for the pain that Mark Bowling felt because of making the approval of others the measuring stick of his life. I cry for that Mark Bowling because I never want to be him again. I cry for joy at the changes that God has wrought in my soul over these years. I thank God that he cleared the clouds away and saved Elena for me til now so that I can be the husband she needs and be the husband that leads our household toward a deepening relationship with Christ. I cry for joy that my value and her value come from Him first. I cry for joy if this testimony helps someone see themselves in it and it leads them to turn to God for help.

Thank you God for delivering me from who I used to be. Thank you for your patience while you were maturing me through your grand plan for my life. I thank you and give thanks that I see you as the source of my value. I pray that others will find this blog helpful in their journey to Christ. I pray that others will see that God does indeed have a master plan for our lives to bring us back to Him. I pray that people see that Christians are just as flawed as anyone else. I pray that people see that we are all works in progress. I pray that we all see that God is not done with us yet. I pray that we all can have our lives redeemed by a faithful and loving God that has the patience to watch, prod, guide and kick us in the rear end as He matures us in Christ. Thank you Lord for loving me that you guided me to you and matured me in you even though it was tough and painful at times. Thank you for the pain of growing up in Christ. I look back at the old me and I am disgusted and thankful that I am not him anymore. Ten years from now with more chiseling through the work of the Holy Spirit, I will look back on 2015 Mark and say, man I am glad that I am not him anymore. I thank you Lord for the pain and maturation that you will put me through to make me more like you, day by day, year by year until such time that you see that I am ready to be with you, perfected in your presence forever. Amen and Amen.