Friday, December 30, 2011

Time Poured Out Yet Recaptured: Rebuilding a Life

Life is a series of transitions and in the middle of those events there is time. We can measure it in many ways but I think one of the best is the recognition of a breath. After all, both the giving of life and the measure of it is breathing. So what do we live for: the points of transition or the time in between? One thing I have learned in my life experience is if one is not careful, everything we deem really important is set in the future: our point of arrival to some major goal that has been held out. Breathing becomes only the time between the events. This is perhaps the greatest source of personal damage. Our very lives are expended in the process of waiting for something: some spiritual goal we have expended much effort to achieve and yet when in sight the goal changes to something else. In it there is endless expending of energy for something that never seems to be obtained. Yet like lemmings we ran towards the greatest precipice not understanding nor even perhaps knowing the finality of that last event. You see, in groups such as I have described people just haven’t got it: there is no destination, it is merely diversion and this is the tragic element in it. What is robbed from members? Time, the procession of breaths the only time one will take those gifts of life given to them and expend them for something never obtained.

Rats on a Treadmill

Even when one finally gets it and they realize that they have not been on a highway but a treadmill and get off, the mentality developed in that other world does not just disappear. It lingers. There are stages to the capturing back of a life and then there is the giving of that life back to God. Notice that these too are events, two transition points and again there is life lived between them. Where one once chased a ghost through their house to capture but a glimpse, they then begin to rifle through the house to find a way of escape. Some of never do – some stay trapped by looking forward to a particular event that will somehow make all the pain and anguish worthwhile. At this point, have asked myself ‘what is that event that I am living for?’ In dysfunctional religious groups the power is to control the transition points and to hold them like a carrot in front of members while the member drives the donkey through the eye of the needle. They, unbeknownst to the member by doing so, the group annexes the time in between and so a member's life melts into the goals and aspirations of others. What is the end point of that? It is a wasted life. Time given to a cause or person that cannot be redeemed and cannot be recaptured: What they take is life itself…your life and perhaps the lives of those you love…all in the name of God. What is the nature and source of that? I remind you that it is not God who breaks in to steal and destroy…He binds the strong man.

The binding of the strong man

We must understand at this time that the scriptures offer us a key to the living of life. There is perhaps a possibility we have not yet considered: Our effort to regain control of ‘our house’ can never be achieved nor was it ever the point. Perhaps in the group we are in or were in, the whole point of it was to reach a level of spirituality where we possessed our house and it became a fortress and beacon and example for others to look upon. The table was set properly, we were trained in how to sit at it properly, the service we offered our ‘guests’ was completely proper and each piece of flatware had a definition and specific purpose. Yet the guest more than likely never stayed for dinner because we noticed their clothes were not proper attire. There was mud on their shoes and perhaps they never chewed their food properly and my goodness reached for the food and always had their elbows on the table while they ate. They became a nuisance and an embarrassment in such a fine house as ours. Who was the real strong man in this scenario? It was us. Enter Jesus, the real Jesus. All of the sudden he ties us up so He may take reign of the house. He begins to invite people in that are not like us at all. They are publicans and sinners and they sit at our table! He takes from our goods and prepares them a meal fit for royalty; laughter and joy…a sound rarely heard in a house of industry…begins to fill the house. Light enters and one begins to see the darkness that was there all the time before he entered. We sit powerless and watch the sovereignty of God transform our houses. They become more than cold palaces of ice and steel and now have a warm hearth at its center crackling and roaring. We begin to practice the art of breathing once again. We begin to live between the points of transition; no longer controlled by milestones but the living of life with the Lord in our houses. He unbinds us and lets us go. Jesus gently reminds us that it is not process nor form He has come to give us it is Himself. After all he states that He is the way , the truth and the life. He is not waiting up the road at some transition point where we arrive at spirituality and have achieved a spiritual merit badge. We are not cub scouts and he is not a scout-master. No friends, he says that we were to take His yoke upon us for his yoke is easy and his burden is light. We must understand that there are two places in that yoke: one for us and one for Him. He is not up the road but alongside us. In fact, perhaps the way has been difficult up to that point because we saw another row to plow that He did not intend for us to expend effort upon. Perhaps that is why it has been difficult: it was never intended for us to go ‘that way’ and it is only after a process of tearing us away where our bodies were bruised and perhaps it required some bones being broken but we have come now back to center.

In the book of Hosea there is a beautiful passage:

Hos 6:1 Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up.

He tears because He has to. We need to be ripped away from something: a life lived in vain. There were hooks in us and chains and flesh had to be torn for us to escape the prison of our own making.

The Great Escape

What is the truth? We were looking for a way out of the house we were dwelling within when the Lord was thinking of remodeling. When one comes out, the first impulse is to escape the house. The only way to do that is nothing short of ending one’s own life. No, the house was not meant to be abandoned and that is not God’s way. He does not abandon anything but there is always a sure return. In Judah after the captivity, the people came back to a temple that was razed to the ground. All that was left was the ancient foundation. God told them to rebuild it. He said the latter glory would be greater than the former. We said ‘Oh really?’ I am reminded of the passage in 1 Cor 3:10. It is ironically a scripture worn out by such groups to induce members to tear all they were building with away and let the group supply the ‘right material’. Yet folks, look at your house now. Is there nothing left but the foundation? What has happened? Well, the Lord has come early and rescued you. He has set fire to all that you built and well, nothing much is left…but the foundation (Is 28:16). He is all that is left…and He is enough.

He is the material and it is time we built a house of Him instead of something else. How do we build such a fine house? We do not re-build again using the same plan as before. We allow a new plan to be entertained and studied. What is constructed in the time we have left? It is a house fit for a King – our time, our breath, our heart and our lives lived each day in the building of it. A house that will be unfinished when we leave this world and shed the mortal coil: here is the greatest secret, we are not intended to reach the milestone of it ever being completed, it is the living of life in between then and now that is the real gift – a life in partnership with God building our house with Him alongside. Oh, our house will be completed make no mistake but it is Him who will drive in the last nail.

Was it all For Nothing?

It is a question I have asked myself. I think the answer is twofold.

Yes in the sense that what I was doing was never going to work. Me in my stubbornness kept believing somehow I could make it work but in the end, I couldn’t. Who is to blame for that? Me. I have no illusions about whose fault it was. It was my choice to stay. When there was no other choice except capitulation, there was nothing left to do but to make for the exit.

No in the sense that what we accomplished as a church still lives on today. Oh, not in the way I first thought about it. To some I know it is a place that cannot and will not have the Spirit of God darken the door. However, what I have seen since that time is literally hundreds of people come to the altars that were built. I have seen marriages put back together and the poor in spirit lifted up. To those who helped in the building of it, it was not for naught and ironically, it might just be the major portion of reward (if there is any to be had) that anyone associated with the work will receive.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Your Hole in the Razor Wire

Thing Prisons and Dyfunctional Religious Groups Have in Common

I have had the honor of being a part of a prison ministry and it is not at all like I imagined it. About once monthly, we trundle off to a prison just about thirty minutes from where I live and are received like no other place I have ever been in my life. In a sea of white uniforms, what I sense most is desperation. I have realized that every one is looking for a way out of the life they are living and these men behind the razor fence are no different. I am not talking about literal escape…or am I. I might not know what it is like being incarcerated but I do know what imprisonment feels like. It is there when you wake and when you sleep: each breath longing to breathe free; each gentle breath a prayer for deliverance. What I have realized is in my life experience is now something I can compare to living behind the razor wire. With thoughts flying to escape, friends, it may not be your imagination but the still small voice of God whispering freedom to you and pointing you towards a hole in the razor wire. We must be realistic here, we cannot ever think it is without cost because freedom is very precious and we pay for it in the loss we might suffer. So, what keeps one in the prison of a dysfunctional religious group? There are a few comparisons I believe can be made between a prison setting and a dysfunctional religious group regarding what keeps one in:

1> My goodness, believe it or not it is the rhythm and pace of life itself. What they both give is order and boundaries and what they take is everything else. Prisons are run on schedule and with harsh rules that punish the unruly. This is a fact of prison life. It is no different within a DRG (aka dysfunctional religious group).

2> What keeps a prisoner in order and in a state of compliance is the hope of freedom. In a DRG, what keeps order is very much the same: it is a goal somewhere in the future that promises all one hopes for and costs every minute of the present. In prison people live for tomorrow because today is too painful a place to dwell. There is always a coming day and coming event and in the pitch and yaw of our life’s crossing, life is spent. In a DRG it is no different; one lives for tomorrow: a ministry or office or place of service is held out as a carrot when it is nothing but a dry bone. Some hold on for decades waiting in hope for some stray word or impression by leadership to come to pass and be ‘fulfilled’. All the while the hope and effort expended to reach that goal is often scattered on the pile of smoldering judgment. Perhaps personal judgment or the leaderships’ but the result is the same; a life that lies in a heap of ashes fueled from a hope and vision injected into them that never was their own but one they adopted.

3> In prison, initiative cannot be taken because it may be perceived as a threat upon those who are in charge. In a dysfunctional religious group it is much the same; you cannot have initiative to discover and walk on your own and out of the shadow of the leaders. You will be taken down by the brute squad. These are the misled zealots who paint over their snarling face the face of Christ; it is in those lunatic moments that one can see the beast underneath.

4> In prison everyone looks the same, talks about the same thing and has a common goal. In a dysfunctional religious group they call this unity when it is nothing more than bare and naked oppression.

5> In a prison, life is passive and those who are bent in this direction, to let others lead and make decisions for them, are the ones who become institutionalized and fear the outside so much they endure being inside. This is a picture of a long term member of a dysfunctional religious group. It is fear or perhaps long and forced separation from a world that they once knew but no longer. They know nothing else but the walls they now depend upon for safety. It was said that even in the death camps of world war II, some of the inmates feared to leave because the inside was all they knew. When the gates opened, it was too much to consider to move out beyond the barbed wire even though the stench of their comrades, friends and family still rose from the furnaces.

When one journeys through the hole in the razor wire, while it takes a long time to fight many things, even one's own self, the exit is perhaps beyond their conception, it is not long and drawn out it is quick, surprisingly quick and the taste and fear of being free is felt at the same time. What helps one through the razor wire?

Personal Accountability is the real truth and freedom

Jesus once shared with a mixed group of people what He considered perhaps the most important event we as believers will ever face. It is when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ where our works will be tested by fire. It is said that what remains is what we as believers will be able to keep. Yet in the process of this the real nature of our service to God is clearly exposed. It will indicate to us and to all that either we understood the mission Jesus has charged us with for our lives and carried it out or balked and really have done pretty much what we wanted to do -- perhaps what some other one wanted us to do. In any case, it is us who will ‘hold the bag’ in the end not those we listened to nor those from whom we looked to for validation of what we have done and worked toward. In that clear and even sharp moment, the life we have lived will be revealed as a diamond or a shard. For who have come from or remain in a dysfunctional religious group, they will be exposed as having been prisoners or freedmen. It is with this perspective one can gain the most clarity concerning Jesus. Friends, one must take possession of one's personal responsibility now for that coming moment. In many dysfunctional religious groups, this whole area of responsibility is couched in the obedience to a person who leads. It is the ‘warden’ to whom the members of the group look to for all validation and ultimate approval by God and Christ of their lives. They rise and fall, ascend to heaven and plunge into hell by their countenance before that earthly, flesh and bone individual…if this is what you are doing, please for God’s sake and for yours take stock in the fact that you (and them) had better be right…completely right. The stakes can go no higher in the ‘game’ you are playing. We are not talking about ‘brownie points’ here. The person who perhaps is your focal point will not be there to shield or to blame for what stock you put in them…the reality is: it was your choice.

This reality was made clear to me a few years ago prior to my exit from a group where I had spent many years. I recall over lunch one day, a person asked me what I wanted the Lord to do for me? My response was as nebulous as the question. The person then pressed me and got more specific with me regarding my ‘ministry’. While the particulars are not important, the argument that they made was. Basically I was counseled to let go of what I believed the Lord had called me to do in light of the leadership’s desire for me not to pursue it. They had their reasons why and I had mine…so the impasse grew to the point of severing a relationship. I was told during that conversation in not so many words that the leadership would bear the responsibility for my deferring my ‘calling’ to their decision. My response, thank the Lord, was I did not believe that they could do so and that I would personally answer for my life and the pursuit of the call that I believed was from God. Well, the conversation ended. In the process of about twelve months, I was no longer affiliated with the group. Please don't get me wrong, I believe all was well intentioned but my personal conviction was this premise was ill founded and inconsistent with the scriptures. The eventual process of the separation was not pleasant and I will spare you the details what can be said about it is that it was ultimately my decision to leave the ‘fold’ and I made that decision and at a very high cost. Now as I look back on it, I see it as God’s mercy and Hand in my life.

The brokenness that flowed from that severing continues today. I have purposed to know one thing and one thing only…that Jesus loves me and that I have spent my life forming to that reality. I do not want to just ‘follow’ or ‘believe’, I want to know…there is no ‘knowing’ without the brokenness. There is no growth without our time in Gethsemane where we sweat drops of blood and grapple for what we believe is real and what indeed is real. It is in those terrifying moments, the voice of the Savior is most clear and the storms and swells of our passing through to Him are stilled and the ‘furious’ love of God splits the air with a crackle and the path is made clear…it is not another’s acceptance I desire above His, He is sufficient. If the whole world and church hate me, I can bear it as long as I know He is the polemic of that hate. This is the truth you must know to move beyond the trap and pass through the razor sharp and visceral fence of the dysfunctional religious group. Let me be clear, if you desire any other’s acceptance and approval, you will remain a prisoner of that desire…this is what the dysfunctional group builds its foundation upon. The closer one approaches that border-line, the more vicious the attack and the more costly the step. The false premise of the group is that the group truly believes it holds all the keys to life and truth and if one leaves the group they forfeit both.

Yet in reality they hold nothing.

Seeing the Hole in the Razor Wire and what comes after

There is much confusion in this sorting process ‘Do I stay or do I go.’ Forget the circumstances that would govern your life, take hold of your life once again and hold it and protect it: it is God’s greatest gift to you and the point is if you give it to someone else, even in His name, it is a misdirected and may I say it, clearly misspent. When considering the hole in the razor wire, one thing that must be seen is, those in such groups are in a prison and its purpose is to keep them there, restrict them, conform them and eventually institutionalize them. In these environments, industry and effort are tantamount and are balanced by conformity. The focus is placed squarely not on the group or the doctrine in some sense but one's implementation of the teachings. The goal one is told is to make one fruitful. Friend, stop and ask yourself: if you are in a group you suspect is toxic spiritually, ask ‘what kind of fruit is my life really bearing?’ If fruit bearing is the issue what is the ‘fruit’ of the situation you might be currently experiencing? Is it life and peace? Is it acceptance? Is it joy? Is it love?

Most likely if you are in a dysfunctional group, you don’t think too highly of yourself and
your ‘tree’ is bare and it isn’t because you aren’t trying. Many times one’s focus is totally on one’s self while assuming the group’s environment is not the problem (this is a major indicator of a toxic environment and extreme dysfunctional behavior). Yet is it not true that fruitfulness comes from the environment where it is planted…friends, have you entertained the possibility that it is the ground, the garden, the vineyard…the prison yard and not you?

How can you tell?

Look at those around you…are they really faring any better than you or are they just as heartsick? How do you know? I find one key indicator of a dysfunctional and toxic environment: over time many leave (or die) and fewer enter – face the reality that you are living in a time-elapsed implosion. In His kingdom, prisons are emptied and shut down, this is the fate that awaits the dysfunctional religious group: spiritual entropy – it just wears out and the fuel that it runs on, becomes less and the body count mounts.

The moral of the story is it might not be the fruit or lack thereof or even the ‘root’ that is Christ, but the ground you are planted in. This truth is your hole in the razor wire. Take it. Christ and we -- His Body -- are waiting on the other side.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The One That Satisfies All

I have been thinking about a scripture I ran across that describes my condition.

“Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body [is] not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.”

'No I am not a glutton and I am not a fornicator'…you and I might say but that is really not
the point of this scripture yet being either describes perhaps where our focus is. Much of the time we are focused on worldly provision or a particular appetite we have. In each case we are a dry spirit looking for shelter. Yet each point of our misplaced focus, as Paul has concluded in this scripture, possesses a mislaid purpose of what comprises us: the inner discontent of not finding peace. We strive and struggle to fill a void within us. That void that cries out to be filled and we spend countless hours and efforts to do nothing but pursue it and believe that if we can reach that Xanadu, we will be free - our burning thirst quenched, our hunger filled and our desire satisfied. Yet repeatedly we find at the end of our pursuit the ragged hole of disappointment and so we begin to chase the wind again having caught scent of something else we think or hope will fill that void. This is the state of mankind to a great degree. We are a miserable lot and there is no home yet in sight. But in this scripture, the Lord unlocks a very simple and profound secret. There is a oneness here in this scripture that whispers to our inner man the incredulous truth that in Him we find all that we are looking for and yet that is not the half of it. In this scripture we see something else that is too good to be true given our experience; we see the purpose of the Lord Himself described and we must reach the conclusion:

He seeks us, desires us and, dare I say it, finds it His main mission to be in us.

As much as we think we have sought Him, we must also look again and recognize that He finds His place, yes His true and real place, is within us. The stinking stuff the hands of the Trinity formed from the dust of the ground and kissed His life within us and we became living souls. The reality is it is His burning desire to be with us. It is not His need but it is His purpose as it concerns us the objects of His love. This is the conclusion of a Ragamuffin like me. I do not have to strive to find Him, I have to realize He is striving to find me. This opens a different world to us. We have settled for a conditional God and have made artificial barriers to Him. There is one and only one condition: That we are convinced He loves us and that we are willing to trust that love enough to surrender all we are to Him – blemishes and bumps, bruises and the stink of the human condition. He will take it from there.

The Judgement Seat Revisited

I have rethought the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor 3:10-15)…you know the event where we present ourselves and what we think we have done for him and He strikes fire to it. As the story goes, what is not burned up is what we keep…Good for us. But looking a little closer, notice in that passage the six elements that describe the potential possessions presented to the fire: gold, silver and precious jewels versus wood, hay and stubble. I might be taking poetic license with another scripture here but in the context of what this entry is about, I think it applies – judge for yourself. There is a large contrast between the first three and the latter three. One set endures fire and is actually improved by it while the other set is consumed totally. In the scriptures there are three elements that will endure and they are found in the last verse of the love chapter: 1 Cor 13:13. These three elements that will abide – that is to remain as one is and not change, to be constant: are faith, hope and love. These are the only elements we can possess that will make it unchanged and even improve in the fire. This gets us down to the real issues about exactly what we will bear before him and have it preserved. Let me pose it this way:

On that day I am convinced we will be asked questions that will reveal really what we truly walked in:

Did we truly realize that Jesus loved us and that we walked in that reality?
Did we have our hope in life totally pinned on Him?
Did we have faith in Him in all our circumstances and life-flows?

As Paul has stated with an iron stylus, only these abide. Gifts or giftedness, spiritual power or the lack there of will be a non-issue on that day.

These are not trivial questions nor are they inane. It gets down to the other question:

Did we really know Jesus?

If all of the above three cannot be answered in the affirmative, then we cannot answer the last question nor should we even broach it.

So if the ‘body is for Christ and Christ for the body’ this is more than a trite scripture for a piece of needlepoint or one of those precious moments figurines. It is the power of God unveiled and revealed. This causes us to approach the frontier that perhaps we thought we could never attain to or experience; the real and true Christ within our flesh and blood body. It does not get any more real than that. We have the potential to realize that the most important consummation that will ever take place for anyone or anything has already taken place from the moment we believed. It is our basis and foundation for the rest of our lives…the reality that our body is for Christ and Christ for our body.


Ask yourself the question: ‘Can I know Jesus in that way?’ Oh yes, He has already prepared a way and the last vestiges of your fortress heart is to open up the gates and let Him in to all you are right now, not the cleaned up version you let everyone else see because on that day what you truly are will be revealed by fire and your faith , hope and love for Him will be for all to see….

we* are - the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life's tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.
Brennan Manning

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hocus Pocus – The Alchemy of the Dysfunctional Religious Group

Many believe that the term ‘hocus pocus’ is a term that originates in the realm of magic and wizardry. Well, there is nothing further from the truth that has ever been uttered. It is an adaptation of the term used in Roman Catholicism during the celebration of the Mass. It is the misunderstood uttering of the phrase “hoc est (enim) corpus (meum)” - which means ‘This is my body’ I am sure some five year old peasant boy during the Middle Ages heard a priest utter this within earshot and walked away with ‘hocus pocus’.

The Stone Faced Icon

Ironically, this twist of the Real is very true within Christendom in general and most specifically within dysfunctional religious groups. Why is this the case? They have taken so much of the humanity of the phrase uttered by Christ during His last hours on earth amongst those He loved and replaced it with the stone marbled iconism of the Son of God. Cold and tyrannical, aloof and yet holy. If there are tears on this iconic Christ, they are made of dust as the weak and failing are crushed under the weight of self introspection and self-flagellation in the name of the pursuit of holiness. Who is exempt from the rabble who tries to rise from this muck of humanity? It is the ones that are in charge. In many venues of the faith where dysfunction is present, there is the ruling elite. These are the ones who construct a state that many truly faithful and good people live in: slavery. You might ask ‘what kind of slavery?’ and I would reply the worst kind – the slavery that is self imposed trying to follow a leader’s way of salvation. How is this formed within a dysfunctional religious group?

The Two Answers: One Life and One Death

There is a gradual formation of this iconic version of Christ versus the Real One. Tragically, this takes place in a displacement of Jesus with the way to live that one perceives would please Jesus. This is a modern-day Judaizer and the Dorian Gray of the legalist. In essence the glory of Christ, His person as described in Isaiah 53, is replaced with some perceived perfection of the Law in one’s life. That is, instead of gazing with wonder at the person who is Christ, we are confronted with the barriers to Him. In other words, if we can ‘lose’ enough of ourselves, then we will be able to fellowship Him. The process whereby these hurdles are removed is in the methodology the follower receives from the leader in most cases. On the surface there is nothing really wrong with what is being said. No, in fact who would disagree with the pursuit of holiness, the denial of our base desires in the name of love for the Savior. Yet, we must pause to ask ourselves questions. In the pursuit of all this have we lost the very thing that called us into His presence to begin with? Have there been barriers that have been erected that He Himself went through great lengths to remove? Have we lost our way in the pursuit of Christ? How could this have happened? Well there are two answers- one Infernal and the Other Eternal:

The first answer we receive from perhaps those we followed and trusted. We have either not understood the ‘truths’ we have received because they are revealed by God and because we are fleshly, we have not fully understood them – God only speaks in a limited fashion to such as these and it is usually through those that He has ordained to be the leaders. Or, we are in rebellion and there are areas in our lives that grieve the spirit of God so much, He cannot fellowship us. In either case, the answer is more spiritual ‘elbow grease’ and industry. To shred off the living tissue. The fruit of such an approach ultimately is self-hatred and a twisted co-dependence on those who lead. In this way of life it is not what is real that matters only what is perceived. If we are perceived as adhering to the codex of the group, we are growing spiritually mature. However, if we hear other things and see beyond the box we have been given to dwell within, we are the worst kind of person: a rebel and a devil’s child.

The second answer comes from the reality of the first coming of Christ. I bid you to read again Isaiah the 53rd chapter. In it, Jesus is the suffering servant. In it we see the humanity of Christ, we see the suffering, the emptying of self and the choice of being a substitute for us on the Cross. In it, the pain and terror of Gethsemane and the burning walk up to Golgotha is vivid and sticks in the mind. The Jesus that removes barriers to Himself, the one who bids us to stick our hands in His side and the one who breathes on us to receive His Holy essence. Who dines at our table simply because he chooses to do so. Who tells us stories of how God reconciles and yet drives from His presence the ones who have turned a House of Prayer into a den of thieves. What is stolen? The most precious thing: the thought, the hope, the dared whispered prayer of the sinner saint – the reality that they are accepted by God. Not because they have earned it or because they have understood the rules. No but by a far greater power that silences any hissing voice: love…the love of the savior.

The Cheap Alchemy Trick

What is the alchemy? It promises to turn common elements to gold. Brennan Manning in his work Ruthless Trust, crystallizes this dark form that seeks to eclipse our only Hope: the Love of God, The wonder of God, the Glory of God:

“When the glory of the transcendent God is not addressed, our focus shifts to human behavior, the cultivation of virtues and the extirpation of vices, the qualities of discipleship, and so on. Personal responsibility replaces personal response to God, and we become engrossed in our efforts to grow in holiness.”

This is the answer to how one gets lost. We replace the person of Christ with activity for Him and in that we lose everything, our life becomes hollow, our gait falters and our vision grows dim. We eat the husks and pods from the trough of religion hoping to fill our bellies and our souls with peace but if it is true as the Apostle Paul has so succinctly stated in his first epistle to the Corinthians 'the body is for Christ...and Christ for the body'...only He will do...only He will satisfy. Friends, listen to your own heart and see if you truly have the savior or some cheap copy. In the
name of Christ, be honest with yourself and still the voices that are not yours and not His.

When all is left quiet, we can then see the Glory of God that is Christ (Jn 1:14). We must allow ourselves to peek over the edge of life and our own shortcomings and to stare into the shining crystal throne room, to walk blood-path to Mount Zion understanding God has made it our home. We were prodigals, now we have come home. We are not coming home, we are home. Do we really need the work of Alchemy? The real truth is that most of us don’t realize we are gold already…fine gold, purified in the fires of Calvary.

‘This is my body’ is not the hocus pocus, the cheap and shabby imitation…Don’t walk away from the Christ and accept the alchemist’s wafer – I hope now you will see that there is no real comparison.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Jeremiah Test

In these days of ‘restoration’ as some in the church would call it, ironically, there is more confusion than ever. We know that God is not the author of confusion but I believe it is important to say that I personally don’t believe it is all attributed to the enemy of our souls either. In the past 75 years, there has been what some would call a Pentecostal explosion and others would say that heretical teaching is at a fever pitch. Yet in the perspective of history, this period of time in question is not unprecedented nor is it wild beyond belief. It is a nursery school run wild. In these days of unhistorical orthodoxy, a true test of any spiritual truth cannot be ‘felt’ nor is revelation to be trusted on its own merit. It is a time that, if near the end of days, should not be a surprise to anyone who is versant in the scriptures. After all, the Apostle Paul said in 2 Timothy (4:3-4) that in the last days people would gather to themselves teachers who tickle the ears and that people would not endure sound doctrine. So what is sound doctrine?

The Presumptious Prophets

In the days of Jeremiah the prophet, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was in peril and God had clearly spoken through Jeremiah that captivity was imminent and to go quietly and orderly to Babylon so as to preserve life. Yet in opposition to Jeremiah were the leaders, the priesthood and the prophets. Most specifically Hananiah who was the mouthpiece of the nation. In their brief exchange, Jeremiah and Hananiah were in direct confrontation. The Lord had told Jeremiah to put himself in a wooden yoke and bind himself as an example of what the Lord was going to allow to happen. Yet, Hananiah resisted him and tore off the yoke on Jeremiah and again stated the Lord had told him, that Jerusalem was to be delivered and all the people who had already gone into exile would return. To this Jeremiah responded with a principle we would do well to heed:

“The prophets who were before me and before you from ancient times prophesied against many lands and against great kingdoms, of war, and of calamity and of pestilence. The prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then that prophet will be known as the one whom the Lord has sent..” Jer. 29:8-9

So what is the principle? If you want to discern the truth from presumption, you need look no further than history. In this time of God ‘doing something new’, this principle will be the only sure ground on which to stand. Look at it this way: the further we go from the point of origin, the more likely for doctrinal error. Any student of church history will tell you that most ‘revelation’ ends up with elitism, separation and eventually spiritual burn out and self-destruction. Our time will be no different. Let the prophets of the ‘New wave’ beware. History is watching and God is judging the buildings most recently constructed in the last 75 years. We must ask ourselves what it is that we know has endured over the last 2000 years. What are the lasting truths as we see them handed down from the apostles – these meet the Jeremiah test:

1> The word of God is the ultimate judge of any movement and doctrine. It is the plumbline of Amos and the sword of the writer of Hebrews.

2> Jesus is God, the Son incarnate. He was born of a virgin. Led a sinless life, suffered a criminal’s death and was resurrected on the third day.

3> To those who would believe in Him, he would grant eternal life and safety from the fires of Hell and eternal punishment.

4> He sent the Holy Spirit to be with those who would believe in Him. This Spirit was to baptize them and also indwell them.

5> Jesus will return to judge the quick and the dead.

While there is much more, these basic truths must be the foundation of any relationship. We could talk of baptisms here, sanctification, etc. But the point here is that these are the basic truths upon which we must all rest…that is upon the Son of God Himself.

Modern Times?

Are these truths not enough for us? Are they not the bulwark that has lasted and will last? They cannot be supplanted from a fundamental sense but will remain long after we are dust – as countless saints before us can attest. What do these truths pronounce?

1> One who believes in Jesus has received forgiveness of their sins.

2> One who believes in Jesus has the Spirit of God – indwelling them.

-- period--

Yet in our time, even these basics are marred beyond recognition and many things are added to them. Yet whom the son has set free, they are free indeed. If we are to build upon this foundation, let it be with time and battle tested truth. Truth of the kind that was forged in the fires of first century after the apostolic era when believers built much of the bulwark and Christology we rely upon today. Let it be refined by the fires of the reformation that cost those who penned them everything they had. Let it be the heart warming of Wesley, the burning of Lightfoot, Moody, Studds, Spurgeon, Sunday, Graham, Barth and so many others. These ancient prophets speak and they should carry more weight than the currently we afford them.

What have we seen the past 75 years?

The chief source of what has been experienced over the last 75 years is the Latter Rain Moevment 1947-1960s – The watershed of so many modern positions such as:

Discipleship movement – Born during the late 70’s and early 80’s. Those who founded it were directly a part of Latter Rain, this is a historical fact. How did it end? With elitism and even the movement’s leaders themselves admitting the ‘it was not the major teachings of the group but their orthopraxis (how they implemented the teachings) that was wrong. Yet the damage done to people’s lives measures in the thousands.

Prophetic Movement – Born during the 80’s and through the 90’s. Again, it can trace its founders to Latter Rain. How did it end up? In spiritual abuse and immorality. This movement, now in its last days, continues to vaunt spiritual experiences over scripture.

Fivefold Ministries - 40’s-present. Born in the fires of Latter Rain with such doctrines and the Manifestation of the Sons ( an elite company of believers who will rule over the nominal believers in the coming kingdom and will be the only company taken from the earth during the Great Tribulation) and The Apostolic Movement – where modern day ‘apostles’ teach various versions of the Way, each that in the end promotes their own approach and way to live.

Yet let one of the founders – George Hawtin -- of Latter Rain offer us all some insight:

“ I look sadly in retrospect now, I can see with clearness that the great and blessed move of God was not two years old before the sectarian spirit began to show its ugly head…it is true that we vociferously denied that we had become a sect…

1. there was to be no fellowship with anybody who was not within the confines of our ever narrowing circle. We were the true church. We were the elect. We stood on the foundation and all other men stood on sinking sand.

2. No man cast out a devil unless he followed us.

3. No teaching was worth the time it took to tell unless it originated with us.

4. We were the most spiritual people in the world.

5. We were going to reign in the kingdom and even now were beginning to reign.

6. We had the gifts of the Spirit, and we were going to “call the shots” in the tribulation.

But we did not know that like Ephesus we had lost our first love, and must repent and do the first works over again…”

If you want to see the end fruits of any ‘unhistorical othrodoxy’, it is the above. What may have been termed as glorious sinks to the squalor of self-promotion and begins to feed on its own self-perception and spiritual narcissism – all the while proclaiming that they themselves are the keepers of the kingdom. History has judged and God has recorded. In the time of Jeremiah, all the nation stood against Jeremiah and repeated the phrase ‘The Temple of the Lord, The Temple of the Lord’. What that represented was the people’s belief that what mattered was what God put in their midst and not the responsibility for their keeping it according to the Lord’s instructions. How true of the last 75 years. Whatever spiritual blessing may have been in these movements ( and I say that with a large grain of salt), it was long ago lost and the mere form is all that is left if anything at all. Yet Jeremiah’s test has stood the test of time and the words of all that have gone before are still a guiding light through the fell heights of modern orthodoxy.

Back to the Ancients

Where do we start to get back on track. We return to the word. We do our homework. We strive to learn again and have the Spirit of God confirm. There is so much material of saints long dead that are of the scholarly level that would shame all the above. I would venture to say that out of all that has come about in the last 75 years, there is not a writer, theologian nor teacher well schooled in the spiritual disciplines of exegesis, hermeneutics and fallacies among them all - because if there were, their movements would not be dying but would have sunk their roots down and would be flourishing. Yet the ancient truths still stand and will stand. After all, this flotsam and jetsom is but a blip, a mere disturbance on the historical church: such is its fate, such is its place. It is by its own mouth condemned and assigned to the brackish back waters of church history.

Yet the Jeremiah test of being consistent with what God has revealed as unshakable truth will be that which guides the disheartened, broken, cast aside through the shining and simple light of the fact the Jesus came and died for us sinners. He simply came to save us from ourselves. That is the good news.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Biblical Authority Gone Bad and What to Do About it

Identifying a Saul and Being a David.

There are many lessons in the Old Testament but perhaps one of the most clear is the abuse of divinely appointed biblical authority. There is a ‘jump’ we must make to understand this possibility in the sense that while God is sovereign, it is possible for the truly anointed of God to go awry. In spiritual abuse the major premise of any leader is that they are divinely chosen and so anointed and have a ‘special’ place from which they legislate that authority. In addition, in many cases, this said ‘anointing’ by God makes the one who holds it unapproachable in terms of questioning any teaching, doctrine or even personal viewpoint of the one holding such authority. In many cases, the ‘authority card’ is played on the follower in the sense that God has chosen their leader and anointed him to carry out God’s will and to question that leading or place of authority is to question God. The main premise of this ‘authority card’ is: it is not for one to question authority if you believe it is wrong, God will judge that authority…the believer under such an authority is to allow God to deal with the issue not take personal action. What is the fruit of such thinking? Well, it empowers that authority to remain untouchable and unassailable from the follower’s standpoint. They are left to ‘take it to God’ and wait for God to act. Sadly, this is not biblical at all and that is why I think it is important that we as believers understand the limits of the ‘anointing’ by trumping the ‘authority card’ with correct thinking about authority.

Authority is a Mantle not a License

After study of the true biblical authority – the good and the bad – (yes there are examples of divinely appointed and anointed going ‘bad’), the evidence is clear. We need to think of the anointed one as wearing a mantle that God allows them to wear. This anointing is tentative and conditional. One thing we see is that with the anointing comes great responsibility and God is very much interested in the person so anointed and will remove that anointing when it comes to mis-representing Him. The tragedy of this is that the person who had that anointing has not recognized their misrepresentation – yet there is no check or balance within this type of system to self-correct itself. No better story and illustration of this is the life of Saul the first king of Israel. This story is the first indicator of authority gone bad and God’s removal of his mantle from them. While I cannot take the time to go through the calling of Saul and I leave that up to you to do your own research, I will say this. God chose Saul to be King. God promised Saul that if he followed Him, there would be a posterity for his house in terms of his line remaining in a place of kingship over His people 1 Sam 9:1-13-10. In this passage of scripture, the story of the rise of Saul is chronicled and also the blessing of God upon him. Tragically, the ‘anointing’ begins to be something Saul believes he has been given as his person. What I mean by this is that he internalizes the anointing and takes ownership of it and so begins to operate on his own power using the ‘anointing event’ as a license to operate and exert his own will – this is a chief indicator of biblical authority gone bad. Taking ownership of the anointing and operating on one’s own power using the anointing as a license to operate and exert one’s own will. This is Saul to a tee and anyone who claims to be anointed as a spiritual leader that may have started in humility and ended up with presumption. That is the second step of the losing of the anointing. In 1 Sam 13:11-15. Saul assumes a priestly office. He offers a sacrifice and in doing so assumes to be in a position he could never fulfill. He in essence here sets himself up as a priest-king: this is reserved only for the Messiah Himself and no other. In this brazen act, he loses it all. To state succinctly, the second indicator of biblical authority gone bad: One presumes a place one could never fill –in essence they want to become a mediation between God and the people that follow them. While they might never claim this, it is usually borne out in the treatment of others who beg to differ with them. What is usually their stance against them? It is from the premise of their granted authority that they question the right of anyone who might in turn question them; after all they are God’s anointed. This is the beginning of the end for Saul and unbeknownst to him, the anointing leaves him in the night 1 Sam 16:14. This is similar to the episode of Samson after his hair was cut – he was unaware that his strength had left him. It is at this time, that the decline of the ‘anointed’ commences. In the scripture, it is said that an ‘evil’ spirit from the Lord came upon Saul and tormented him. While I do not discount this possibility, I do believe that the ‘evil’ connotation is from Saul’s and those who authored the book of Samuel. Perhaps the ‘evil’ connotation included conviction. Saul knew he no longer had God’s full blessing – as Samuel clearly stated to him -- and this tormented him. But note the nature of Saul, he did not repent but only sought relief. This speaks of the mantle now stripped from him. In essence, he knew he was exposed and sought to ‘cover’ himself with something. He was now operating on the false belief that he could continue to operate effectively in the station where he had been placed. This is another trait of biblical authority gone bad: One tends to believe and re-asserts that the anointing is permanent in the sense that they can effectively carry out the responsibilities that were legislated to them based on the ‘anointing event’. Yet Saul begins to morph into paranoia. He sees another so anointed by God and so he squelches that one. Ironically, Saul began to resist the will of God. Moreover, he is fearful of David and the call on his life from God. In most cases, biblical authority gone ‘bad’ begins to develop a ‘persecution/martyr’ complex. Let me explain, in many cases the final evolution and form of an abusive/dysfunctional leader is paranoia. They literally presume to be in a place where they believe the entire fate of Christendom hangs in their balance and anyone who confronts them is worldly, fleshly or perhaps satanic. Moreover, these who confront them represent the forces that are set to ‘destroy’ them and they as true followers of Jesus, are being persecuted. Moreover, the paranoia of the leader is leavened amongst the followers who cut themselves off from anyone who might offer them another perspective and point of view from their leader. The final state for most of these groups who go so far is implosion or self-destruction.

Making the Break

So, those in such groups are trapped. Oh, they may be going along with the current trends in the group as espoused by the leader, but in each in every heart, there is a little voice that will not go away telling them all the while, ‘something is wrong’. Yet they fight and suppress that voice clinging all the more to the way that they have chosen. In their minds, the ‘anointed card’ trumps any play they might make. In essence, they are trapped and they are miserable. Those in such cases, long for spiritual freedom but there are no keys in their dogma to release them. They are trapped by their own practice. What can be done? Go back to the scriptures. I believe some simple precepts are important and these need to be re-stated so they will provide keys to free thinking albeit it is labeled as ‘rebellion to authority’ in the world one might be living within currently. Here they are:

The Elijah Principle – If you take the time to read the feats of Elijah, you will see one stark reality: Even a king is subject to the word of God. This was true of Samuel as well in Saul’s day. The word of God is the great equalizer and any teaching or person is subject to its precepts. Using Jeremiah as an example, he was told that God would empower him to stand alone against entire nations. We can never acquiesce this power to any station or person – yet this is exactly what biblical authority gone ‘bad’ requires of us. This is done gradually almost imperceptibly because it works as much through the group itself as the leader. We tend to act in what is accepted practice so to remain consistent with the group. In so doing, we relinquish the freedom of thought for the herd’s mentality. Yet God never has allowed group-think to manifest His will and the prophets, apostles and Jesus Himself are a testament to independent thought that is based on scripture.

The David Principle – While David never raised his hand against the Lord’s anointed (Saul), he did not continue to put himself in a position where he as a person was threatened. He did not ‘obey’ Saul in the sense that it meant a threat upon his life. This is a good principle for us. While it recognizes what God may have given to the leader – supposing that his station is indeed a biblical office and that they have met the biblical requirements for such a station – it does not allow that person to dictate the working of the will of God for the one who, as David did, pursues the will of God yet not according to the authority they might recognize. In essence David deferred to a higher authority. He chose to dissent and by his actions chose to set himself apart from Saul out of necessity. He recognized what the ‘anointed of the Lord’ had become and could no longer live directly under that regime. Take note here: If anything, Saul was a legitimate authority but David did not go along with it – this in itself is a principle for us: Even when legitimate authority is present but performing acts that are outside its station, we have the right to dissent. What is our vehicle to do so? It is David. He did not agree with Saul or his methods and saw them as flawed and even a physical threat to himself and his family. David confronted Saul on at least two occasions and reproved him. He was not silent but vocalized his concerns and his defense of his actions. If we are to dissent, if done in the right spirit, we can vocalize our dissent in a righteous fashion. Moreover, there were people who collected themselves to David that he accepted and provided protection for during his time of flight. Who were these people? They were the distressed, indebted and discontented (1 Sam 22:2) under King Saul. This is another principle, we are to aid those who seek refuge from spiritual oppression.

The Bottom Line

Everyone is accountable for their actions. In the formative years of the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic church attempted to squelch any dissent from Papal authority – which by the way was touted to be by divine right and anointing. Dissent is the hallmark of the true seekers of God and is our right and heritage in the face of any spiritual oppression – In fact, if history itself is the judge, we could be confident to take the position that God works, renews, restores, corrects and judges through dissent against spiritual oppression. Very rarely can change come from within oppressive systems because there is no avenue for it to happen. We must be convinced that the church, and so us as individuals, are in sovereign Hands. We must also be convinced that truth will prevail and any authority that is biblical will welcome its light upon all they are doing. How does this light come? In two basic forms: legitimate questions and if they are not heeded by those to whom they are posed, through our dissent.

Evidence of the End Game

As a final thought, when dissent begins to occur in a significant measure, it is a tell-tale sign the end is near for the movement that is unbiblical in its praxis of the Faith. Here are some indications of the 'end game':

1> unwarranted fear – Saul feared David to a point that cuase action on his part to remove the object of His fear.

2> Continued abuse to those who aid their foe. Saul killed all the priests of God at Nob because they unwittingly and innocently helped David. These actions are not rational.

3> Continued pursuit/aggression even when God sovereignty is indicated in the preservation and blessing of David.

4> Paranoia against all. No one is trusted and every one and every action is seen as against them. They manifest a victim/martyr mentality.

5> Anger and brutality are the only fruit they produce.

6> Grasp and hold to power through intimidation and fear.

7> Wrong Actions cannot be carried out by those who fear God. Many times people are required to do things that go against their own conscience and convictions. This causes more fear and aggression by them and their minions.

8> Plan to create a posterity that reflects only their immediate family at the high cost sacrificing others to do so.

9> Fear that there will be no posterity after they are gone.

These are what bring down the abusive authority. Their actions no longer reflect their anointing – When this principle it manifested, it is time to make for the exit and to dissent. This is when the time of their leading has ended. This is the point when blessing becomes judgment. We must recognize that our carrying out of their instructions cannot be done in good conscience and we must resist. This is what the Saul's soldiers did that were with him when He ordered the destruction of the priests of Nob. Sometimes, it is right to resist anointed authority when it is in the wrong…it is the only thing to do.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

When Color Becomes Pallor

In a dysfunctional group perhaps one of the most heinous acts is not the separation from loved ones nor is it the dryness that one’s soul must find a way to endure, it is the lack of color. Edgar Allen Poe described it as one’s life without the presence of music. It is then ‘that Color becomes pallor and home becomes catacomb’. What becomes missing is the rhythm of life or that which sets a pace where our psyche and heart strives to find and keep pace. What is the real issue here? The reality is that one who has left a dysfunctional group has artifices shattered and demolished and the stark reality of a life without any given structure provided is the only presence and worldview.

Nehemiah’s Night Walk

I am reminded in this case of Nehemiah and his nocturnal walk through the ruins of Jerusalem- once a shining city where the presence of God was ever apparent and radiated, at least in the Hebrew’s mind, to the world at large. Yet he stood there amongst the rubble and charred stones from the sieges that took place there in the final death rattle of the city and on into captivity. But he saw something that the dysfunctional expatriate must see: The city was still there and although wrecked , the material to build it again was already provided. There was a chance, a slight chance that the breath would once again be given back to that place and it was his task to see it through. From modern physics, it is a known fact that nothing ever truly disappears, it is merely converted back into energy. As Nehemiah stood there, he did not see the rubble as much as the task at hand to take what was there and rebuild. In that night when all the color was drained through the lack of light, where red is grey and yellow white, Nehemiah saw it all from the inner light God had already provided. The color had returned to the charred stones and rubble of a city whose back was broken. My friends there are very important solid foundations in our lives that once supported facades that our God has seen fit to blow upon and wreck. While we might mourn the lost rhythm, we must now admit to ourselves, it was not the rhythm of God but another’s. Perhaps our own or a vision given to us by another that we followed but the real truth is God did not see fit or intend for us to follow it any longer. He saw fit to change it, to restore us back onto the path. To allow us to stand in the rubble of what God had not intended. We must remember the lessons of the Old Testament and God’s dealings with Israel when they sought to serve forms and idols versus God. What God did was blow upon them so fiercely it swept away everything that was not Him and all that they were left with was ashes, stones and building rubble. What we often focus on here is the God’s judgment of an aberrant life. But what must really be seen is God’s mercy to allow them to no longer go their own way and build their ziggurats that would reach to heaven. Friends, it is the mercy of God that will bring us to stand at night where all color is gone and what has been built is gone. It is then we have a choice and mark what I say, we can live in the pallor or allow God to fill us with vision and so color once again. What does it take to do the latter?

The Fade to black and white.

In a dysfunctional group many times, the onus is on the person. The responsibility for living a life ‘according to the scriptures’ - I say this tongue I cheek, because in most cases, it is not according to the scriptures, but according to another who has laid out the pathway blazed in their own perception and experience. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Many of the teachings we receive over a lifetime are what I like to call ‘secondhand’ but in this truth, there should always be the balance of the inner witness within us all. When we sense a check in ourselves, it is not always because we see in error (as we have possibly been told) or that we are deceived, it is the warning that the color is draining from our lives. I have a personal story regarding this. When we were entering the ‘days of draining color’, my wife up until that point had a very large ‘mercy flow’. She reached out to families in need and made sure that families that were without that we knew never had a barren Christmas tree. I remember traipsing to houses unknown with bundles and unloading them on families whose parents were wide eyed with humiliation and yet thankfulness – oh but the children is what I clearly remember. Friends, it was all color. When my wife relayed this to someone who visited our house from the group we were to become a part of, she was told to ‘be careful with that gift, it is the least of the gifts. When you extend mercy, you tend overlook people’s sin and give them an excuse to continue, you tend to coddle people, when they need to be woken up to make changes…’ Very well said, at least we thought at the time. Sounds good, but in the back of all that a steely and cold objectivity that resembles more what Jesus came to eclipse; the Mosaic law. It seemed solid and even correct…to my power of reason so the questioning of it was put aside. I doubted what God had done and what I had actually experienced in the face of this teaching. What I have come to know is that this is not uncommon. The legalist is quick to imbalance the unsuspecting and gain initiative over them; to steer them away from their own experiences with God and replace them with other things such as precepts and their own teachings. What must be perceived at this point requires a lot of spiritual discernment and listening to one’s own conscience. If it is filtered through our own mind and thought process, most likely we will not choose rightly. This is where legalism is most powerful. You see, it makes sense to us, that is, it is logical. But a major indication of the poison of legalism is the lack of mercy and the vaulting of the scriptures over the object of God’s affection: us. In the story of the Brothers Karamazov; there is a depiction of this to where the very Christ is spurned by the religious and this ultimately is what happens in a legalistic dysfunctional group – the doctrine becomes more important than the people and the individuality of the person fades into anonymity and the pluralism where all diversity in the body of Christ is blotted out in the orthopraxis of the group.

“They will be amazed at us”, says the Grand Inquisitor to Jesus, “ and will think of us as
Gods, because we, who set ourselves at their head, are ready to endure freedom, this freedom from which they shrink in horror; and because we are ready to rule over them – so terrible will it seem to them, in the end, to be free. But we shall say that we are obeying you and ruling only in your name. Again we shall be betraying them, for we shall not let you have anything to do with us anymore.” Indeed, “Why have you come to disturb us?” The Grand Inquisitor means to take this Jesus who has come again, bringing freedom once again, and burn him at the stake in the name of the Church”

Here is a scriptural case of the above. In Matthew 9:9-13, the story is about the calling of Levi. Ironically, we all know from the scriptures that Levi was the name of the tribe that would carry the Law before the people and be the priests and intercessors for the people before God. They were the executors of the Mosaic Law. Jesus is at table with Levi (Matthew), and calls Levi to follow him. The Pharisees with him make the distinction between themselves and the fact that Jesus is eating with publicans and sinners. Jesus turns them to the scripture in Hosea 6:6 where He quotes the heart of God His Father: “I desire compassion and not sacrifice…” This is the one thing that would penetrate the heart of the Pharisee. You see they themselves would have quoted another scripture as most legalists would do out of I Samuel 15:22-23 – to summarize this it says ‘obedience is better than sacrifice’. To the legalist who is blinded by spiritual pride, if Jesus would have tendered this instead, they would have thought themselves justified but He did not quote that scripture. How many times I have heard the latter as a hammer to bludgeon the follower and of course to challenge to any teaching of the legalist and dysfunctional leader is to receive the title of ‘rebel’ and we all know ‘rebellion is the sin of witchcraft’. What is implanted in the member of such a group is that to question the teachings is rebellion. This is what exposes the mask of the legalist – false virtue – that is designed not to make free but to produce bondage and fear.

From that point on was the beginning of pallor for my wife and I -- all in the name of virtue. This is the spiritual ice we embraced and we became frozen, metering grace and love by the measure given to us. It was to those who mirrored our own reflection and who walked and talked as we did. We shut ourselves out to the world at large and called from our cave and made beckoning waves to passers by to come join us in the darkness, where it is safe and where life can be laid out in the particulars and in the following of it, all the color drains. We were not convincing obviously, we did not grow. What was this chalked up to? Well there were two scenarios. First, God had not called them into the ‘light’ who took the time to visit us. We were the stalwart faithful and all else was deception and would lead to destruction. Or second, it was because we were not implementing fully what the ‘Lord had showed us’ and so God was withholding the blessing of spiritual fruit from our preaching our gospel. But through it all, oh the inner voice that said, ‘something is wrong, why aren’t you growing as a church and as a people?’ To this we turned a deaf ear and pressed on through the years. The whisper became a shout and when we began to listen to it, to take paths that the Lord directed us to take, we fell from the graces of those who led us. While they believed the first scenario and parroted it back to us ad naseum, they used the second as a club to pulverized any leading outside of their perception and power. Eventually they came and laid waste, took everything and left us in the rubble. What we did not see then was the mercy of God masked in the ferocity and brutality of those few days. He had by His hand removed us from the dark caverns of dysfunction and the stilted religion into which we had ossified. While those with us could not bear the strain of it, I do not blame them, it is all they have ever known. They decided the cave was safe and warm. Habit and familiarity ruled their thoughts and the decisions made were through remote control unbeknownst to them. We were devastated and dear ones, sons and daughters allowed anger to overtake love and were told the conditions of reconciliation was capitulation. In other words, it had to be our own souls because there was nothing left to take. But God would have neither occur. We stood in that dark night for years waiting on God to bring a plan for re-building. Friends in that process, we learned again the God we served not the one presented to us. We had given back to us what was ripped away. What was the first thing that thawed from under the ice? It was mercy. God taught us mercy. Mercy in delivering us. Mercy in blowing upon the facades we had allowed to be built. Mercy for the vision and truth He had brought to us that caused so much pain. Mercy to divide and separate us from those we loved because He was jealous over us and would build a city in which Mercy would be the banner because Mercy is where He dwells most.

The present pallet

No longer black and white. The colors are returning. We seem to find a new shade or stroke that adds dimension and life. Our lives are filled with mercy. Our words are permeated with it. Our building is filled with it. Where there was once law there is now life. People have seen the light there and I have to say I have seen all forms and kinds of people from the business man to the drug addict throw themselves upon the mercy of God in the last year than I had seen in twenty plus years as a cave dweller. This is the truth of it. This is the real not the ideal. This is the return of color and the blotting out and covering over of pallor. Many times an artist will reuse a canvas. In fact many masterpieces in museums today are painted over something the artist found not to his liking and had an eventual vision that overtook what was on the canvas. This is what God did to my life. May He do so to yours. Let Him blow upon the facades you have built. Let His mercy flow down the streets and the buildings of law and stone be swept away in the flood of mercy. Will there be rubble? Oh yes, but a dear fried has said to me 'What a Difference a Day Makes' - I have taken this to heart. Hand me another brick.

Monday, May 30, 2011

What is pain?

Sometime ago, I asked my wife to give her perspective on what we have been through and how she has confronted the massive changes and stress we have encountered together over the last three years. I can say this, I am very proud of my wife for the inner strength and the wisdom she has but most importantly for never giving up on me or on the Lord. I hope this ministers to you as much as it has me.

Her Post, My Wife, Vicki:

What is pain? The dictionary describes it as “physical or MENTAL suffering caused by injury or GRIEF.” What is grief? Again Mr. Webster says,“intense emotional suffering caused by a loss. Come to grief to fail or be ruined.” I know pain. I know grief in the most personal way imaginable. I was paralyzed by grief. I had come to grief to fail or be ruined.
Some examples about grief in the Word are:

• 2 Samuel 19:1,2: Then it was told Joab, “Behold, the king is weeping and mourns for Absalom.” And the victory that day was turned to mourning for all the people, for the people heard it said that day, “The king is GRIEVED for his son.”

• 1 Samuel 1:10,11: And she, (Hannah) greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. (She was experiencing intense emotional suffering.) And she made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of Thy maidservant and remember me, and not forget Thy maidservant, but wilt give Thy maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life…
These examples speak of children. There are many more scriptures that deal with the grief of the loss of a child. Or the heart wrenching desire to have one. These are only a few that I used to make a point. I’m not alone. My Father speaks to us by His Holy Spirit that this is not an unusual problem that plagues women and (men) such as me. Yet I haven’t always been so in tune to this fact.

When I was in the pit of despair, little by little, the Lord started showing me these examples. At the time I thought, “Well, great! Misery loves company.” But this was only the beginning of a miraculous healing process that my Father had planned for me. There was a plan. I couldn’t see it then. You can’t see when you’re doubled over holding your womb or through a curtain of constant tears. Looking up, my line of sight stopped when I would observe the pain in my beloved husbands face.
But thanks be to God! The Word gives us a promise. Isaiah 53:4: says: Surely our GRIEFS He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried.

I knew that. I had heard it for 38 years. But I never had to really apply it to my life. All the inconsequential circumstances that had been a thorn in my flesh from time to time, completely faded in the wake of THIS pain, of THIS grief. And the reality of the scripture seemed to be light years away. We all think we are immune to such tragedy. That it happens to other people and our responsibility is to be there for them like a good christian, to help pick up the pieces.

Surprise! I was as broken glass spilled all over the floor and at the time, I didn’t think there was anyone or anything that could put the pieces back together again. I had forgotten the definition of grace and mercy. They had been “trained” out of me. They were considered gifts of weakness that condoned weakness, and ‘only the strong survive’. I wasn’t strong anymore.

Then the beginning of my healing process happened. After a few years, I heard a quote that reminded me of God’s love and mercy. Faintly in the distance I remembered something, it started to become more and more evident and then –the eyes of my heart were opened and the essence of what I was hearing flew straight into my very soul! Thanks be to God, I was broken for a different reason this time. It was the working of His Holy Spirit.

There are people who go after your humanity.
Who tell you the light in your heart is a weakness.
Don’t believe it.
It is an old tactic of cruel people to kill kindness
In the name of virtue.
There is nothing wrong with love.
Have you forgotten the message of our Savior
- Love for the people.-

This old tactic had not only allowed my love to grow cold in the stead of introspection and judgment, it had also taken the knowledge and the experience that God loved ME. How can I love others when I don’t feel the love of God? My mind reeled during those dark months. If God loved me, how could this have happened? How could He allow my precious children to be stolen from me? If He works all things for my good, how can this be good?

I had quoted scriptures through my years as a Christian such as : I Peter 5:10: And after you have suffered for a little while, the Lord of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm,
strengthen and establish you.

I Peter 4:19: Therefore let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful creator in doing what is right.

I Peter 4:12: Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.

It was strange alright! I prayed to be numb. I prayed for the Lord to take me. I prayed someone else would kill me. I even thought of killing myself.
I realized that my self - righteous preaching had been nothing more than dung, during the fog of sorrow and misery I was going through. I thought I had been so wise, teaching about suffering. Even my life threatening illness was nothing to compare to the “suffering” that I was now experiencing.

Yet, though I didn’t feel His presence, looking back He was there the whole time. He was holding me like a straight jacket, making sure that my feet weren’t stepping toward destruction.

Hope? Didn’t have any. Still, that quote continued to play in my mind. Although I knew about renewing of the mind, I wasn’t interested. But, without realizing it, my mind was being renewed in spite of myself. The Lord began to bring certain people into my life who left a small token of light that began to feed my soul. Extended family was so instrumental in making sure that I was O.K. on a daily basis. Different old friends, whose relationships had been taboo, began to filter back into my life, each representing part of the body of Christ. His hands, His ears, and His mouth to comfort. Again, not knowing at the time, the Lord was in the process of orchestrating something miraculous.

My husband and I met a pastor and his wife who wanted to rent our building that had been sitting there as empty as we were. A relationship was sparked and the beginning of retraining my spirit to receive the love of God was in motion. We began to attend the services that were being held, by someone else, in OUR building. I have to admit, things were peculiar at first. Then we were just glad that the building was being used. We understood that not only were we being blessed, but the people that were using the building were being blessed by its use. For the first time, in my walk with the Lord, I can say with conviction that,” God’s planning is always perfect and on time.” The fog was beginning to dissipate. My heart was beginning to thaw out and the remembrance of love and mercy was becoming normal again.

We saw souls being saved at the altar that we had built. We saw broken hearts being healed. We saw lives being changed and we knew it was all part of God’s plan.
I began to rock drug addicts in my arms while they despaired and spoke to them about the love of Jesus. Each time I spoke to them, I was speaking to myself. I was speaking the love of God the Father into existence, once again. Jesus was using my arms to be a substitute for His arms and I knew He was loosening the straight jacket and was holding me as I was holding them. I started to realize again, after so many years, that Jesus really does love me.

What about the pain? Oh, it’s still there. Every day I pray for my children and my heart aches and year ns for them. But now, all those scriptures that fell away during the early years, are beginning to bring life. The love of Jesus has allowed me to love others. I know what mercy is. I understand compassion as never before. I know His grace held me when I felt that I was free falling into nothingness.

Hope? I can truly say, “My hope is in Him.” My fiery ordeal that came upon me for my testing is finally evident. Grief? My intense emotional suffering is becoming intense compassion for others. What a journey!

Bad things do happen to “good” people. Count on it. But if I can help keep anyone from the intense pain that I experienced for so long, become just a little easier, and a little shorter; if I can demonstrate that He wants to perfect, confirm and strengthen us, through our suffering, well – I can live with that.

Jesus said to the “religious” of His day that He, “desired compassion more than sacrifice”. What have I learned through this journey? I have seen my sacrifice turned into compassion and that compassion foster mercy and love. And above all else: He has to be first! In all things, my Lord has to come before my children, before my ministry, before my husband, before….

A final thought:

"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world".
C.S. Lewis