Have you ever sat in complete silence and just opened your ears? I’m not talking about listening to the birds, the wind, or any other sounds that occur around us. There is always something to hear, but there are times when we are in an empty room, a noiseless space in time where we sit and hear nothing. If you have been there, you know exactly what I am talking about. The sound of that “nothing” can be quite loud!
In a day and age where we are constantly bombarded with sound; From people talking, to the ping of an email notification, to a video, to the music that we have playing as our children fall asleep. Some of us use noise to drown out other noises so we can study, get work done, or relax. This is exactly why I love the outdoors!
I was scrolling through YouTube on my phone the other day, looking for some music that I could listen to with my kids and stumbled upon a video from a recent concert that was honoring old rock-and-roll legends. In this video, the entertainers who came on stage were Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, the duo known as Simon and Garfunkel of early 60’s fame. As one would imagine, they came out and played a beautiful rendition of their hit song “The Sounds of Silence.”
We watched it (my kids and I), but when they wanted to listen to the next song, I just played Sound of Silence again, and again, and again, and again. In fact, I listened to every rendition that I could find. Old versions from their albums, covers done by Disturbed, and others. I could not stop listening to the song and I, at the time, didn’t know why. My kids quickly got bored of listening to the same song over and over and left me alone. I was by myself and then it hit me like a “flash of a neon light.” Silence indeed has a sound, and that sound is more powerful than anything that I have ever felt before.
Over the next few pages, I want to share with you, through the words of the song, what I came to realize about silence, especially the impact that silence can have on ones soul. But first, some background.
I was baptized on September 11th 1999 in the warm waters of Bolsa Chica State Beach in Long Beach, California. I had moved to California for a “6-month vacation” to live with my sister and brother-in-law; to work for them and to get out of my parents’ house after high school (and let’s face it, The Beach Boys had me asking the question of, “What’s with these California girls?”
Growing up in the Mainline Church of Christ I had heard a lot of negative things about the “Boston Movement,” and the “International Churches of Christ,” by the time that I had moved to California, but assured my parents that I had no intention of being “converted” or of being “brainwashed” by the church that my sister and her husband went to. Looking back though, I didn’t stand a chance. My brother-in-law, sister, my aunt and uncle (my mother’s sister), and my grandmother were all Disciples! It would only be a matter of time before God hooked me too!
I realized that I needed to go to church, if for no other reason that to be a good example to my nephew. Church wasn’t a bad thing, and I wanted to be a help to my sister and not hinder the way that my brother-in-law wanted to lead his family. I for one was always in awe of the power and authority that the preachers spoke with, yet also the down-to-earth nature of my personal interactions with them. It was honestly quite intimidating and I wanted nothing to do with it because it scared me and the feeling that I felt back then, which I couldn’t put words to at the time, was the feeling of being convicted by the Word of God and the lives of the Disciples that were loving me into the Kingdom.
I didn’t know what to make of this group that I had heard such negative words about, yet saw only the kind of Christian men that my heart longed to be. Little did I know that just a few months later, I’d be saying; “Jesus is Lord!” and washing my sins away in the waters of the Pacific Ocean!
As I look back on that time, it seems to be a world away, far from the day to day grind that I know and live today. My world was idyllic! Studying the Scriptures with other young men, I remember baptizing some of my best friends almost as soon as I got out of the waters myself. I remember late night talks with the brothers, later night prayers at the beach, deep personal relationships and powerful lessons about life, love, God and manhood. I loved the accountability, the discipleship and the brotherhood! I had found the Kingdom of God on earth, the church that was written about in the Bible, and the band of brothers that my heart had yearned to be a part of. The seed of the Kingdom was planted long ago in my heart and it had burst in me as it was watered by the blood of Jesus and cultivated by men discipling me into a man of God!
I started dating after being a disciple for only 6 months. I started leading a bible talk, which I was afraid to do; I felt I was not ready. I remember while at my prayer spot on Signal Hill, overlooking Long Beach, I met with our campus intern at the time and he told me that being a bible talk leader was the difference between sitting on the bench, and playing in the game. He called me higher and deeper into the man that God was shaping me to be, and it was amazing what God did! We planted a bible talk at a small art school in Long Beach, which blew up! This lead to me planting campus ministries on 4 other community colleges throughout the South Region of the Los Angeles International Church of Christ. And we saw God do amazing things!
Then, something changed. I changed, we changed, it all changed. It was 2002 and I was struggling. As a young man in my mid 20’s surrounded by younger men in their later teens and very early 20’s, I felt the need to “grow up” and “move on” from the campus world, but every time I tried to move on, I was called to stay. My sister had always told me that I should never move on unless God makes it obvious and I believed that the men in my life knew what was best for me and I trusted them to guide me in the right direction. I trusted God to move me through them, and so I stayed.
I eventually did move on and moved in with my brother-in-law and sister again (they had moved to Orange County) and were part of that region of the Los Angeles church. There I “got a haircut and a real job!” By then, things had changed considerably. I no longer had someone in my life who was discipling me as we had all “matured” beyond that, and people could go where they wanted to go and do what they wanted to do. At the time, I assumed that this is what it looks like to be in the Singles Ministry. Was this really how things progressed? No one communicated this change to me, the transition from campus life to single life was different, but not in the way that I’d expected. The sound of silence was an unfamiliar tune and I could not put my finger on what was going on, so I just accepted it.
Brothers weren’t taking sisters out on dates, brothers and sisters were bringing their “boyfriends” and “girlfriends” to church and they were not disciples. The preaching became much more like a pep-talk or motivational speech than the strong and forceful preaching that I had loved from the men who impacted me in my early years as a disciple. The men around me became more like Ned Flanders, just good Christian guys; faded away were the men of passion and conviction that had drawn me to the Kingdom in the first place. People seemed to not enjoy their relationships with God anymore, and it became a chore to have quite times and to share their faith. Evangelism and discipling became dirty words that would spark “sharp debates” that quickly turned to angry rants. But again, I thought, this is what it looks like when we start to “mature” as Christians, and “build our own convictions.” This was nothing more than the sound of silence, being woven into the fabric of the kingdom. During this time, I spoke up where I felt that the men were not in line with the Scriptures. Preaching and discipling passion back into the brothers and sisters where I could.
While in Orange County I met my wife and we got married. 10 months later, we packed up all we had and moved to Alaska. It was here that the silence began to “like a cancer grow.”
I can remember a time where we were able to say with confidence that you could go to any ICOC in the world and feel the same love, the same commitment, sing the same songs, and have the same experience. Much like the way that Paul built churches in the first century (1 Corinthians 4:17), one of the most wonderful things about the Kingdom was that we all were unified under one banner and singing one song for the Lord. Little did I know that this song had stopped and that many new songs were being sung with varying tunes and pitches and it was not a symphony.
In Alaska, I remember asking for help in my marriage, to get discipling from older couples in the church and being passed off from one couple to another, shunned and not helped. Left to our own devices to figure out how to navigate the newness of our marriage and being new parents. I remember my wife and I being asked to go on staff in Alaska and in the effort to get some clarity around organizational structure, asked who was discipling the lead couple and we were met with “It’s none of your business!” That was the beginning of the end. Shortly after, we were ambushed by the other leaders in the church who wanted to side with the lead couple, though privately, they told us that they were in the wrong and that they would stand up for us. Others were given false information, or worse, no information about what had transpired. The silence of the other leaders in the church was a deafening cry of self-protection and insecure leadership. We were pushed out of the church by lies and false accusations that we “wanted to take over the church,” and that “we just wanted to lead,” all trumped up out of a fear that our influence and conviction would expose the true state of the church and its leaders.
We spent another 3 years in a mainline Christian Church where we were cared for and loved by older men and women in the faith. We never stopped preaching the word, studying the Bible with people and making disciples. We used the same study series in the Christian Church as we do now, our convictions to see people saved never wavered, though our hearts were crushed by what Satan had done in the ICOC church in Alaska, and what we were seeing in the Kingdom around us. Many friends had fallen away from God, or had become so lukewarm that they no longer cared about the spiritual state of the people around them. It became increasingly hard to distinguish between someone who was a disciple and one who was just a good moral person who went to church. Like the proverb of how you cook a frog, all of us in some way began to boil as Satan turned up the heat, we just couldn’t recognize it and I began to grow dull in my convictions.
The cancer was growing and I didn’t know why. How did this happen? How did we get here? What was going on? Spiritually we were beaten, bloody and left for dead on the side of the road. Our only hope was to try to get back to a church that God was still with. We uprooted our family once again, this time with 2 kids and 2 dogs and headed to Denver, Colorado. Our intent was to join the Denver ICOC as we had heard that it was the healthiest ICOC in the United States at the time. We had visited the ICOC church in Orange County but most of those who were our friends there were cold and didn’t even have time for us. Walking by us in the fellowship as if they didn’t know who we were. We knew that OC was not the place for us to begin again, to find the Kingdom again.
We had family in Denver and so that was the next logical place, we felt lead by the Holy Spirit there and made the move in 2013. Little did I know that God, through the Holy Spirit had indeed lead us to Denver, but not in the way that we were thinking.
But let me pause here and get back to the song. While I’ve woven some of the lyrics into what I have already written, the point of the song and its impact on me has not been fully examined.
Hello Darkness, My Old Friend
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Over the years, when the house was quiet and I was by myself I would open my eyes and look at the sealing and ask, Why has this happened to us? Why won’t anyone help us. Why won’t people stick up for us. Why are the very leaders that I’ve worked for and served now turning on us? Where is God, and where is His Kingdom that I had once lived in. If this was still the Kingdom, then why were things happening this way. There had to be an explanation to it, a reason for it. The Henry Kriete letter had exposed some half-truths and had caused us to look at what we were doing and the direction we were going, and some of that was a good thing! Still, there was no direction, no way forward, no answers as to how we will now do things. Many of our churches leaders were pontificating on “what do we now believe,” and “hyper-autonomy,” wrestling with the way that we did things. Yet, somehow we got stuck in the weeds of theology and theory of things and forgot about each other, forgot about the Kingdom, ultimately, forgot about God and ended up throwing out “the baby with the bathwater” and in many places, throwing out the entire bathroom! It is not possible to share the pain that my heart feels as I write these words. If you have experience an exasperated “WHY GOD!” at the very uttermost end of your strength, then you know the pain of which I write. Why? The darkness would answer back with deafening silence.
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains; Within the sound of silence
What made the pain even more was that the vision of the Kingdom of old was within me, as it is within all of us who once were and still are true disciples. God’s vision of a united kingdom, God’s true family was planted in me all those years ago. The men who invested their time, talent and treasure into helping me become a man of God. A leader, a preacher, and a world changer! The vision was still there and so when I’d place that vision next to what was the reality that I was experiencing, and with no answers as to how we got here, or why; I was left with silence.
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
The song goes on to talk about walking alone down a street. The cold and damp of the air being pushed through as the person singing turns up their collar as if to just deal with the reality of the weather. This too seemed to be my only remedy. “This is the way that it is. No fighting it. I’m alone in this, there must be something wrong with me, something that I’m missing and I just need to stop expecting too much.” The only light that I seemed to have was just enough for me to see one step in front of my face. The rest was darkness and silence.
A Flash of Light
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence
I had mentioned earlier in the story that we moved to Denver and started attending the ICOC there. But, as we began to engage in a bible talk, and trying to build relationships there, people seemed to be the same as they were in Alaska. Sure, they were much happier; seemed to be doing very well in their lives and careers and they would engage us in conversation at church but it was still hard to get time with people. There always seemed to be packed schedules of weeks before there would be openings to get time with people. I don’t believe that most of those whom we were trying to build relationships with were bad hearted, but as with me, were slowly becoming dull in their convictions (or had lost them) to seek first the kIngdom, and to love as Jesus did. The leaders of the Bible Talk that we were in seemed to want to grow their group by people moving into it instead of going out and making disciples. The only growth seemed to be coming from a small group that was led by the evangelist and his wife. People were into their own lives and growing themselves and not into growing the kingdom. It was very hard to build friendships and grow relationships in a climate where people are investing in their careers and not in the kingdom. Jesus speaks of the end times that the love of most will grow cold (Matthew 24:12), and yet again, the Scriptures rang true. It was indeed growing colder. We had experienced this in Alaska, and then in Orange County when we visited, and we were experiencing this in Denver.
As I was praying about this and wondering if we would just be another family in a crowd of more “mature” disciples, I posted on Facebook asking the men in the church if anyone wanted to have a quiet time. The only one to answer was a man named Jeremiah Clark, who just happened to lead the newly planted Denver International Christian Church.
I knew that I had a decision to make. Having heard all sorts of things about the International Christian Churches, or “Kip’s Church,” I knew that this was a moment of truth for me. Do I dare go and see what this is all about, or do I stay in the direction that we were headed? I chose to step out and see where God was leading. We met at a coffee ship near our homes (we lived less than 2 miles away from each other) and I asked him every skeptical question you could imagine. I was met with nothing but love, tenderness and compassion; and what I saw in his eyes was the fire of a man who I’d lost so long ago.
We attended both churches for a few months before finally making the decision to join the Denver ICC. The reactions from the leaders of the Denver ICOC and our friends in ICOC churches around the US was everything between complacency and rage, but we knew that God was leading us to join His new movement.
Getting discipling, building friendships and studying the Bible with people again was a refreshment to my wife and I. We began to grow, we began to see areas of our lives that had need of healing and repentance and God began to work in our hearts. Honestly, I do not know what we would have done without the help of the Jeremiah and Julie Clark and the Denver church! Our marriage would be on the rocks and our kids would be stuck in the same world that I grew up in as a kid. Repeat the family curse all over again. Thank God he had another plan.
It was a wonderful time being back in the Kingdom, but to be honest, I didn’t get it. I had heard that many people who join the ICC say that “This was the church that I was baptized in.” And this isn’t saying anything bad about Denver, but my own calloused and hard heart. The reality of the decision we had made didn’t really hit me until I attended the 2015 City of Angels ICC Winter Workshop.
It was here, among the songs of the Kingdom, the thousands of Disciples, the baptisms, the appointments of Evangelists and women’s ministry leaders, and the fellowship that it hit me. I remembered in the old “East Region Building” seeing thousands of campus disciples huddled in a circle around Marty Fuqua as he preached for a Friday Night Devotional. The Central and South America Missions Conference in San Diego with thousands of disciples singing “Men who Dream!” I could not stop crying. Even now, as I write these words, tears fill my eyes as I recall those earlier days, and the day that it all clicked! This wasn’t just the church I was baptized in, this was the home I’d be searching for since we left California all those years ago. This was the family that I was baptized in, this was the kingdom of God that I was baptized in. My eyes saw the flash of light that touched the sound of silence!
No One Dared
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
As the years have passed, we have shared with many from our former fellowship, many in the ICOC and others who have since left. Some listen with curiosity, others outright disdain for us is apparent. What once was a worldwide family is now a conglomeration of splinter groups trying to figure things out on their own, denying the very thing that will bring them back. People still bitter and hurting from the sins of the past, either refusing to accept the healing of God, or so checked out that they cant even hate, or detect their sin. Men building their own kingdoms, not houses as was the problem in Haggai’s time, but their own churches.
In Alaska, no one dared disturb the sound of silence as Arielle and I were persecuted for our convictions on discipling and faithful church leadership. People wanted to hold onto their position and their “freedom from the past” instead of moving forward and living the Bible. I am reminded of the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 4:16 when his companions deserted him. I echo his words as I wish that God would not hold it against those who deserted me and my family in our time of need. As was the story of Joseph, we believe that God was working, even in those moments of pain to his end, and his end is always good.
In listening to a sermon where Kip McKean walked through the history of the Mainline Church of Christ, to the International Church of Christ to our family of Churches today, I was stuck by something that was said. He mentioned that in his final meeting with the Los Angeles ICOC leadership group, he challenged them on the direction that they were leading the churches and his greatest challenge was that while all these changes were being made, they did not inform the people. They had kept silent as to what was happening.
When I heard these words, I paused the audio and just sat there. This was the answer to my question. Not of why the song struck me so hard, but the “Why God!” The culture of the Kingdom had changed and no one knew why. No one knew why because those who were leading the change didn’t communicate it to the people. Why they did not, maybe I will never know, but the important thing is that their silence was a catalyst for the souls of many to be far from God. Sure, we all have our sin and have left, or wandered, from God for various reasons. Please do not assume that I am blaming them for my sin. My sin is mine, and I will be held accountable for it. But the “why” in my heart was answered in the sound of their silence. That is why that song captured me! And that is why I write to you today. Satan used silence as a weapon against the family of God. In not communicating what was happening, people were left to themselves, leaderless and scattered, even if only spiritually.
Hear My Words
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you
I write this in the hopes that it will break the silence! And that you will hear my words and allow God to teach you. Allow his word to reach you and break the silence.
In the cover version of the song by Disturbed, the music video shows a large group of people who have written music but have no instruments (it’s the theme of the video). Towards the end, you see a boat full of musicians sailing to the island of those who had written “songs that voices never share.” God has put a seed in your heart, the seed of the Kingdom. Remember when it was fully grown? Remember those earlier days (Hebrews 10:32)?
Even now I know that there are thousands who have had the same questions that I did. The why? Where is God, what happened to his kingdom…the words of your heart have been heard, the songs of your soul can be sung again! Do you hear the sound? Another sound is breaking forth into the silence!
Don’t let these “words, like silent raindrops” fall into the “wells of silence.” God is calling you…in a gentle whisper. Do you hear it?
And whispered in the sounds of silence
There is a sound in silence. It is a gentle whisper. The whisper of the Kingdom. The fragile and faint whisper of the kingdom in the fog of Satan’s lies. Do you hear it? Can you see it? Listen closely, open the ears of your heart and you will. God is calling you out of the darkness, out of the fog, out of the silence and into the Kingdom again!