Saturday, December 29, 2012

Who is Your Neighbor?

  My wife has much to give you in terms of perspective from a wife's, woman's and mother's point of view in adjusting to what I like to call 'real world' or practical faith. The below is an excellent study for those who have somewhat of a myopic point of view not due to their intelligence but their training and environment. What follows is a breath of fresh and clean air that will provide a new perspective for you if you are in any state concerning a dysfunfunctional religious group: entrnched, questioning, extrication or recovery. This is a good place to start a new year.
I am grateful and proud to have her as my wife and what follows is some of the best work we have tried to relay to you.

                                                                           by Vicki Flynn

The illustration of “The Good Samaritan” has been referred to by many scholars as a parable that Jesus used to teach about loving our neighbor. But if we look at the more extensive context of why Jesus was even using this illustration, we may find a more allegorical use of the story.

This is exciting to me because Jesus not only teaches about compassion involving  an individual who is regarded as an infidel outside of the Jewish faith, but also by showing this type of unconditional compassion, this individual is meeting the main objective of eternal life.

The allegorical view is vital to undermining and even tearing down one of the more vicious doctrines that is common among DRGs (Dysfunctional Religious Group). The doctrine that sets the requirements of who qualifies to be called our neighbor, and what determines the way others are treated is a fundamental one.

The story of the Good Samaritan, Luke10: 30-37, actually begins in the 25th verse.

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he (Jesus) replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

So the lawyer has his answer, but needed to push a little bit further. Verse 29 – notes that the lawyer was wishing to justify himself by asking Jesus who his neighbor was. More than likely he already had a preconceived idea, identifying his neighbor as those like himself, pious and religious, who lived in the same proximity to the law as he did, excluding those of different race, religion and social standing.                                 

A DRGs neighbor includes, as the lawyer, those who pay homage to their law (the leader of the group) and excludes all who are not fellow members and practitioners of their doctrine, which is pretty much all of mankind.

“And who is my neighbor?”  The question is a crucial one in that the answer determines the lawyer’s eternal state. But isn’t the question being asked for all of us?  Who is our neighbor?                                                                    This brings us to verse 30 and to Jesus telling the story of the Good Samaritan.

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.

32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

Ironically the priest and the Levite were the ones who the lawyer would’ve claimed as being in his same circle. The Samaritan, however, the one who was considered unclean, is the one who Jesus uses in the story that shows compassion on the beaten man and the one we are to emulate.

33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.

34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.

 35 The next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

Not only did the kind Samaritan take care of the wounded man’s immediate need, but he made sure that his future state was taken care of as well. In a broader, allegorical sense, the wounded traveler represents mankind and the Samaritan represents Jesus. Interesting that Jesus would use someone that was hated by the Jews to show compassion to a Jew in contrast to the Jewish priest and Levite who left the man for dead.

How does this undermine a DRG’s teaching? Specifically, in the group I was in, evangelism to the “outside” world was considered to be the same as casting pearls before swine. The hurting, the sinner, and even a Christian that had different beliefs were treated in the same manner as the priest and Levite treated the beaten man. Yet Jesus shows that the Samaritan, the very type that is considered the epitome of outsiders, was the true neighbor.

In verse 36, Jesus asks the lawyer who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robber’s hands. Verse 37, the lawyer answers, “The one who showed mercy toward him, (he wouldn’t even mention the name Samaritan). Then Jesus says, “Go and do the same.”

Remember, the original question was, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Needless to say the parable of “The Good Samaritan” is not taught in DRGs. The very nature of this story is the antithesis of what a DRG represents at its very core, which is to listen to the law (from the leader of the group), perform the law (do what he says) and keep the law within the confines of the group.  Jesus’ intention of representing mankind through the man that was beaten and left for dead is not only ignored it is shrunken and molded into an entropic doctrine.

What shall we do to inherit eternal life? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself.

 It is time for us to ask the question, “Who is my neighbor?”




Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Gift

I am at my kitchen table this morning and I have just begun a sermon that I will deliver this Sunday morning. Why is this a gift? It is the faithfulness of God and the sure and solid confirmation that He has been with me through all the darkness and pain. It has been some years since I really have delivered anything to a church. Yet this Sunday at 10:30am I will deliver a message that is material proof that God is true to His. I am preaching in a church that was once my church. About five years ago, it all ended in a tragic nightmare that included comments regarding my personal integrity and honesty and ability to lead a congregation. It was said at that time that the building was of no use any longer but that it was ‘tainted’ and so the Spirit of God would never move within its walls again. That building sat vacant for almost two years. Yet in that time, there was support for the long famine that was to come. I remember getting calls about the building to use it as a funeral home and while it would have been convenient, the words that rang in that building in those nightmarish moments seemed to be coming into reality and I was helpless to stop it. Yet God told me by principle to not let the building be used for such purposes but within those walls life once again would be flooding that place. Months passed and yet there was still no clear direction. It seems that all I had built was on sand and not the rock and this was my fault. In the eyes of my family, I had forsaken the Way and deserved to be cast aside as a reprobate and even a heretic; such is the fate for those who see differently than what had been taught and practiced by rote. There was no doubt that I was now at the lowest spot in my life. Reputation maligned and given no confidence by anyone and it seemed all my wife and I could do was to survive each day. But in those times, I was forced to do one of two things: forsake the God who called me or begin to explore again who this God was. I embarked on studies that reviewed what I had been taught . I have to say that when the effort was made, the flaws were ever apparent and it was by the word itself I was able to assess all I had learned. I was able by that same word to  construct a life based not on myopic teaching but based upon the Bible itself and supplemented by teachings from perhaps the greatest minds Christendom has produced. Friend, I have found truth welcomes scrutiny and it is quite ironic that in dysfunctional groups dialogue and debate is non-existent or quashed.  In the finishing of that process, I received a phone call. Someone was interested in the church and I had mixed feelings on it because of what it meant. It meant a closing of a chapter and the beginning of another. Whatever base I had held to was at risk of being swept away and my heart broke. I remember walking down to the church from my home on an early spring morning to meet the potential buyers. I walked in and they were there. We had some conversations and I began to realize that they could not afford such a building. So I told them I would pray about them using the building. Pastor Jeff was a man who was just beginning a ministry as a pastor. He had been in the ministry for years and was very involved in a prison outreach and Teen Challenge. He had been through some rough waters himself but there was a spark I saw that the Lord let me see and it had been a long time since I had seen the fire of God in someone’s eye. To make a long story short, I believed it was the mind of the Lord to let their fledgling church use the facility. In that first service, Vicki and I came late and stayed in the back because it was no longer our place but we watched as God breathed His life into a corpse of a building. Friends, there were to be no funerals here – only a celebration of life. It has been almost three years since that first service. I continued to go there and to add what I could. With the graciousness of Pastor Jeff I was able to go to prison and Teen Challenge and lead people into the Lord’s Kingdom along with Pastor Jeff.  I have seen many come to Jesus in that building that once sat empty and dead with the words of those who wrote Ichabod on the door post bouncing off its walls and ceiling. Yet it was not to be. God had other plans, good plans and plans for another life for my wife and I. The Association was established while still small is growing and able to support ministries bringing people into a better life.  I am truly a blessed man.

So I sit here writing a sermon to deliver in a church where it was said God would never darken the door and where His spirit would never move again. I will on that day look around and remember the words of a gifted man the once spoke to me of ‘Ashes and Dust and Building Rubble’ you see what I did not understand then I do now. From the ashes has risen something beautiful and I am alive to see it and contribute to it. That sermon is a gift and I cannot help to think it is God’s way of telling me that the best is yet to come. If I could ever tell those who saw the death of this church that there is life after the death that was spoken to this church and to me. There is life and the heartbeat of that life grows stronger  because the words and promises of God cannot be thwarted or denied. What was built lives on.

It is said that what God speaks and desires prevails in spite of circumstances because He has spoken and desired it. It never happens as we would have planned it or thought it would be but there it is: it would not be God if we could have conceived it. It is not and will never be. It is a gift.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The 'DARK' Light

Is there such a thing? I have found it only in one place: The scriptures.

In the scriptures are stories of men and women put into extreme circumstances and I would say in almost every case, it was not the person’s choice but a result of the intention of a sovereign God. What I have come to know is that it is in the darkest of moments, we see the most clear and it is usually a vantage point that is reached by being swept along by an invisible hand that causes a forced result from what perhaps we should have or ought to have done ourselves. In my case, there were years I spent in frozen and suspended animation fearing the possibility of making the wrong decision…but for God. He led me from indecision to having little choice in the matter; and the way of return is shut. Should I have ever wanted to return to that place, it would not be possible. This in itself is my proof for a loving God who cared enough for me to force a way that had no other option. God does not allow options when it comes to His will although some might say so. So what do we do? We fight to maintain an allegiance to no other than to God and the words and promises we are convinced He has spoken to us.  Isn’t this the true spirit of forsaking all for the Master ? It is a well documented phenomena in dysfunctional religious groups that separation from family ties deemed by the leaders to be dangerous and satanic is reported across a wide spectrum of these nefarious organizations. What is really being done is not separating from those who believe differently. More often than not, it is an action that further galvanizes members to a leader’s influence – in most cases God really has nothing to do with it, it is simply leaders trying to protect their economic interests – follow the money as they say. Yet when one decides to cling to words believed to be sourced in God, there is inevitable pain and even broken-heartedness.  It is guaranteed.


What should be our focus in times of testing and trial? God.…Nothing  else. In fact this reality is the manifest presence  of the true will of God. No matter what you have heard from any leader take it from me, the true will of God is never by the hand of any man (Pastor, Elder or self proclaimed Apostle, Prophet, etc..blah, blah,blah) but it is a route we never could have imagined or engineered – friend, it is not supposed to be. In that true path lies elation and, if the truth be told, grisly horror where all the strength and personal fortitude we could muster melts away like hot wax. You see in the presence of the Almighty even the mountains melt. We find ourselves lying as dead men on the floor like cordwood and it is there we begin again. It is not a process of achievement and attainment as some  dysfunctional groups propose  and where the bar is set continually higher for the member of the group. No, counter to the position of some dysfunctional religious groups, God does not build elite societies as models of His Kingdom where the gilded look upon the tarnished with disgust. No, God brings us to a place where all strength and even ability has met the floor and shattered like a vessel dropped in the Sahara. 


You might ask ‘Why’? The only answer I can provide is God will not give His honor and praise to another so the vessels he will use must be emptied completely, ground to powder and reformed.  Yet in that reforming is the life and the direction we sought; it is only through the fiery furnace can the bonds that hold us be burned off. It is in those times we learn God. In my own personal  journey I have seen dark caverns of grief and have dwelt in places of pain and heartache but I have come to know now that is what God desired for me. Does that surprise you? Can a loving God cause us to live in circumstances that no one in their right mind would choose? Oh yes, and let me fill you in on a secret : it has always been so. The reason for such pathways is to confirm one thing: we do something for the right reason.   Because God is sovereign it is in the journey we take that we eventually bow to the plan and power of the Almighty…Notice that I did NOT say choose.  
LET'S BE CLEAR: Are we to live passively?

I must be clear here because many within  a dysfunctional religious group  have this mentality and may have even heard from those who lead them to be passive and accept their lot as the will of God. You see, DRGs teach passivity and prey on indecision and fear warning those who begin to think for themselves that they are entering into ‘deception’. This is a cheap ploy used to disarm the person from any sense of personal accountability and deferment of one’s life to the Master who bought them. Friend, your leader did not die on the cross for you and chances are they are filling their own pockets from your ‘obedience’.  I cannot say it any clearer – you have every right to question any teaching, in fact we are mandated by the scriptures themselves to test the spirits to see if they are of God. What holds you for the most part is the darkest of forces:  fear. Yet the Bible is clear that perfect love casts out all fear. We are not to live in fear and if we do, we have not submitted to God but succumbed to this world system and the master of it.

To those in toxic groups, if I might say it bluntly: wake up.  Time and loved ones are slipping away and you are changing for the worse. Let me ask you a question: If you have a loved one who you no longer communicate with because of a difference in beliefs, would that man or woman you so quickly have set aside die in your place? Would they give their own life that you might live? Now the next question, would your leader do the same? It is a stark question but nonetheless one that demands an answer. Jesus laid down His life for us, our Mother and Father and our spouse  would as well but I have my doubts anybody else would – especially a leader for a DRG. I would gladly and without hesitation die for my daughters and my son, their spouses and their children. From the day they turned aside from Vicki and I, there is not a day we do not long for them and wait patiently and hopefully for their return. We believe in a sovereign God and we believe in them as well.  We saw and still bear witness to what was forged in them by us. Love never fails only grows stronger and in its testing it is proven and so called genuine and pure – this is the key attribute that reflects the Savior. I and my wife have been profoundly changed by the darkness and pain we have experienced – but we are the better for it. We hope to one day see our reflection in the eyes of our children because we have no doubt that one day it will happen, in this world or the next…it is only a matter of time.


Friend, if you are ‘in the dark’ perhaps it is not the enemy of your souls at all, it is not the disfavor of those who lead you, it is the Hand of the Almighty moving you along unto conclusion, redemption and into His perfect will. Do not be afraid to stand and face the storm, the dungeon or the lash; the fact is there are more people than you know that will be there to support your decision to no longer be a part of the madness; they are ready and at the door and all is needed is a word uttered. These others that perhaps you have excluded from your life for reasons that may be clear to you or at least you can state why are still there, they will always be there to come to your support and stand with you in your decision.  Why? Because it is all about something that is truly godly, it is about love:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrongsuffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…

‘Dark’ Light…oh yes it exists, it is in its essence when God is very closely leading you, it is the shadow of His wings.



Monday, October 29, 2012


Some time ago I wrote an entry on the validity of the scriptural office of Apostle and in that blog, I enumerated several points that support the low probability that an office of this magnitude is truly applicable and even possible today (see The Emperor’s New Clothes – A Comparison to Authentic Authority April 02, 2010). For the most part, the office of Apostle as it is used today is more akin to the usage of the office of bishop in the second century of the church. If you would take the time to read some of the second century writings (especially Clement I and II), you would see an ecclesiastical viewpoint of a main leader within a group of churches. This person is defined as key to the operation of any church or churches (bishopric) that they are leading. The essential nature of the office of the bishop is clear in the writings and in fact many of the functions of the church such as baptisms and the like cannot be performed without their consent and even presence. This office no doubt is 'apostolic' but only in function. So could we say that the bishop of the second century is an apostle? Many would like to make that inference but it cannot be made. There are many qualifications for an apostle and I have enumerated them in my first blog relating to this but perhaps the most important distinction between the office of apostle (1st century) and bishop (2nd century) is the power invested in the office through the personal call and authorization (the key credential) for the Apostolic call - the eyewitness of the physical resurrection of Christ and His personal calling of that person to the work of an Apostle during that event.


Many have said that there is a 'post-ascension' class of apostles yet the Bible by itself does not clearly and indisputably confirm such a possibility. While there are possible references during the 1st century of other apostles (Andronicus and Junia - Rom 16:7), a good exegesis will show that it is more than likely Paul is referring them in their reputation among the apostles as being of note and so certifying them before the Roman churches. They were kinsmen of Paul and were in Christ before Paul. Given they are grouped here there are two possible interpretations:

1> they grouped to classify them as being among the elite company of apostles. What is the rub here? Junia was most likely a female - Junia is a female name - this is in essence rules out an apostolic call for Junia since in the time of the first century, women were not seen as leaders of this magnitude in the church and even today there is a solid argument against female apostles. This leads to the second reason why they are mentioned together

2> Andronicus and Junia were married and so mentioned together - not to group them with the apostles. This must be admitted and so changes the true tenure of her husband Andronicus as not being an apostle either but well known and respected among them. In context, married people of note are mentioned together in other places (e.g. Aquila and Priscilla Acts 18:2,18,26; Rom 16:3, 1 Cor 16:19, 2 Tim 4:19) so it is not unusual to mention them together.

Friends, this argument for modern day apostles is VERY weak and does not hold scriptural water. Those that use this scripture in such a way to authorize their own apostleship in this day do so either under poor exegesis or flat out ignorance. Post-ascension? Get Real. Do your homework.


The modern day apostle proponents also reference Paul as being a post-ascension apostle and so gives ground to anyone that the office is still possible under the right circumstances. Let's take a deeper dive on Paul's own testimony about his apostleship.

So here is Paul's account:

1 Cor 15: 8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

In context, Paul is listing the appearances of the Lord from the resurrection event to the Mt. Olive ascension (1 Cor 15:5-7). Each of these accounts is a physical eyewitness. Yet Paul includes himself in this company of appearances and equal to the others. Friends this was no vision, this was in the class as the pre-ascension appearances. This has tremendous implications for the modern-day apostle proponents:

1> Paul experienced a theophany. These are quite rare in the entire biblical history and occurred to such as Abraham, Moses and perhaps Joshua. These are the most notable. God's purpose for such is to change the face and destiny of nations and even the world. Those that claim such as Paul - whose calling was in this class - need to show forth the fruits -in their lifetime as well as beyond. Time is the main witness of such a class of calling and to be honest I have met none in my life that have such a degree and proof of such a calling.

2> the phrase 'as one born out of time' - the original greek context is not necessarily one born 'late' as many have interpreted it. This real meaning here is one born - abnormally. That is a birth that is not considered to be late but in essence pre-mature - that is unexpected. What this implies is the supra-normal' connotation of Paul's experience. This coupled with the context of the appearances of Christ smack of one conclusion - Paul's experience of the Christophany was unique and non-repeatable because it was 'abnormal'.

3> the phrase 'And last of all' - can only be interpreted as the last component of a grouping of appearances. To conclude that this is the final physical appearance of the Lord to anyone holding the office of apostle is plausible. Why? In the context of the verse and its usage as coupled with 'as one born out of time' this is seen as not only the last of a sequence of appearances of such a nature but the final one.


One last argument in this post that needs to be addressed. Paul references the Corinthian church as proof of His apostleship. Many times 'modern day' proponents will use this argument citing the many church plantings that they have done as being proof of their apostleship. Paul cites:

1 Cr 9:12 If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.

This is where context is important. Let's be frank, anyone could apply this scripture by itself and gain some type of credibility. This is where it is important to look at the entire context of the epistle. Apparently, Paul is being questioned in terms of general authority. Just look at chapter 1. Here the Corinthian church has an identity problem in that they cite many 'authorities' from where they draw origin. From the beginning of the epistle Paul is fighting against those who question his apostleship. Yet in the body of the epistle, this is a recurring theme and Paul mounts his arguments on many points that together support his apostleship.

1> He has seen the Lord (1 Cor 9:1, 1 Cor 15:8)

2> He has labored as an apostle to establish the Corinthian church. (1 Cor 9:2)

3> He has done the signs of an Apostle among them (2 Cor 12:12).

These along with other 'proofs' (preaching the gospel sacrificially) frame Paul as an authentic apostle. One cannot just cite one of them but all and this is the final nail. One in essence is an apostle not by what they have seen but also their manner of life and their teaching.


That is the stark fact. There is no material to use to sew a mantle of apostle and the above solidly refutes those who would go by such monikers. Those who call themselves apostle in this day and time are sadly deluded as much as the fairy tale king that traipsed around in front of his subjects in his under-ware. When all is said and done there are a plethora of those who go by such names but have little claim to the title. So, what about what they teach in general. Can there still be solid teaching coming from such who call themselves apostles? I think so, but if the teaching is founded for the most part on the authority of one teaching, isn't it a good idea to look again at it and compare it to other points of view? The premise to do so here is that if the one that teaches you is basing their whole place in which to teach upon a false premise, can they be trusted to deliver to you teachings that are of a nature counter to their own false premise? I think not. Friends, no matter how grand they tell you their clothes are, they are poor, naked, wretched and blind.

Sola Scriptura.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Empty Chairs

I came home from work today. I entered the hallway that divides the house in two and on one side are the stairs that lead up and to my left, the dining room. We furnished it with an antique sideboard my wife and I bought the first year we were married and later added an oak table with eight chairs (two more in case we ever needed them). The dining room lay quiet where the chairs sit emptied of life that once filled them so regularly. It is hard sometimes to believe and hold on to hope. Once graced by friends and sons and daughters, they now seem to have no purpose but to remind me of what they once were and the love that warmed them. It would seem that all has been forsaken and only ghosts made of the gossamer of memory fill that room. Yet, in those seats there sits as real as the life that once sat in them: God's sovereignty. I remember and bring to mind the scriptures that became life verses for my children and the words that became framework for flesh and bone to sturdy itself and walk into the future with faith. Scriptures that came to place and to remind and to point to the roads only God could call them to and to places from which only God could make them return. These are my armor and these are my breastplate. These are the words from the ancient book that caught fire and helped to identify those who no longer wish to call me father. To some I am Kevin and to others only a fretful and painful 'Dad' so reluctantly stated and sorely remembered to be swept away as yesterday's discards. But I remember, I saw those words bring life, I helped to build them and I will always hold them. It says in the Bible that we are to cast our bread upon the waters and many days they will return. It has been many days and more than likely to be many more. But I will wait with words in hand and them in my heart. I will wait for them each day until I am covered with earth. So here they are and to the ones to whom they were spoken, I cast them upon the waters:

Bread Upon the Waters

Psalm 139:13-16- For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb. For You formed my inward parts; I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.

Psalms Spoke to my oldest. Many years ago a teen girl found herself in the nightmare of each teenage girl: to be pregnant at the age of fifteen. Oh the voices that swirled around this young woman and they were voices of parents, family and friends who sought to have plucked that little life that lay growing within her. What did she do? She prayed. The Voice that answered said keep the little one; spare the baby and keep it. My wife answered that voice and took on a responsibility at the age of fifteen that many a man would have cowered to take. Yet she did because she loved Jesus and the little one within. I had a part of that in a way you might not expect. I was not the father but in the prior months before, I had taken that teenage girl to church were she met the Savior. This is the work of a sovereign God and it was His voice that whispered to me even before that time that this teenage girl would one day be my wife. There were many dark roads she had to walk before that happened but it did and the life we shared up to now has been work after work of God's sovereignty. In the fifth year of my oldest one, that courageous-teenage-girl-turned-young-woman became my wife. Since that time, I have been there and will remain there in both their lives as God's doorway to another life. To the oldest now I am an apostate to the faith--such a tragic misuse of words. I guess in her mind since I no longer follow the same people as she does, I do not follow at all. For this reason, I oppose what she stands in because from my point of view after much study, it simply is not supportable - the facts are what they are and there is no changing them. The fact is I never left Jesus and never will regardless of what has been said or stated. Sadly, she will not talk to us and I know even if she does, there is a gulf I cannot breach. That can only be done if she has a change of mind and heart as it has happened to me. She is in every aspect my first born and always will be, my love in spite of her choices grows over time and does not diminish -- it is not based upon condition; sadly she cannot say the same. We will wait and will continue to wait if not on this side of life on the other. To her there is a chair at my table and always will be reserved and waiting.

There is the middle one to whom this was given:

Isaiah 30:18-21 -Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him. O people in Zion, inhabitant in Jerusalem, you will weep no longer. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you. Although the Lord has given you bread of privation and water of oppression, He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher. Your ears will hear a word behind you, "This is the way, walk in it," whenever you turn to the right or to the left.

This is the one who wondered if ever she would get married and who worried most about the future. So much so, she no doubt worked the hardest to ensure a future. I remember telling her in her last years at home that a man would enter her life and there would be a life to share with him that would be full of blessings. This was her main prayer and in the sovereignty of God that happened. God has indeed been gracious to her. In the midst of all that, there was a break with her and her husband and they both left torn and broken. On one occasion, I saw her after that break. I had found out where she was living and came knocking. She shrieked when she saw me yet there was still an underlying connection. We talked at the cracked door for awhile in the background a babbling little boy of which I only caught a glimpse. She said it was my fault for the situation and my answer to her was that did she believe that everything that had happened was the will of God. To that she smirked, and in her heart she must have thought 'Yeah, that's why I am here and you are not..' What she did not understand I believe I know in part. Not that I am an expert by any means but the few years in seminary I have had has taught me that to rely only on one person's biblical view (even my own) is very dangerous and will most likely lead to significant error. About a year ago, my wife took a great risk and came knocking on her door. She would not open and threatened to call the police- which she did. There is my wife, her mother on the front porch clutching packages of little stuffed animals being taken into the police car an emotional wreck. 'She wouldn't even open the door...' How many days I heard that phrase on our drive back home. At this point, that little frightened girl is long gone now and there stands a woman behind a shut door I no longer know but still love. I can only hope my second is well now. All I know is, she has but to utter a word and I would come and brush it all away. So I ask you, friend, which is the face of Christ? We do not stay the same and we are formed by the ebbs and flows of life. It is my prayer she and her husband are well; for they both are good to the very core. May that quality in them lead them back to their senses and see beyond the rote they serve into a living Presence where freedom of spirit and thought can be expressed and where ideas can be related without recrimination - no longer the bread of privation and water of oppression. To them there is a chair at my table, it will always be there and the thoughts I have for them can never be anything but good.

And to the last:

Jer 29:11-14 -'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 'Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 'You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 'I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, 'and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,' declares the LORD, 'and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.'

He was so very young when he left. No doubt there were many voices he listened to and heeded. He is now a young man and one I cannot say I know. My last picture I have of him was in a hospital room where my wife and I had risked to come after my second had given birth to a beautiful little boy that summer when literally all hell broke loose. He was holding that little life his face rigid and jaw set firm as he always did when he was angry - he would not look at me and only gave my wife a passing glance as she sat in a wheelchair. She relayed it to me recently. It was a manufactured stare and one that did not at all resemble the son we knew. He was masked with anger. You see, that is the only emotion they all know so well. It is anger only. I know they call it 'holy anger' that is to bring repentance to those it is directed but it is anger that cannot be shouldered by humankind only the divine and it is reserved for only God. Moses held it once and lashed out because he acted for the divine and it cost him everything. I say let it go, it will cost and has already cost so much. He is married now and that is about all I know. As he grows older, the cost of a young man's decision will loom larger and only in the perspective of time will the weight be truly known. It was by his own mouth and decision he left all he had known to embrace something in faith and of that I am very proud he was able to do such a thing. What decision he made, in my estimation, he felt he had no choice. He could not support me in my decision to leave the group we were a part of and only knowing the bits and pieces and not the whole picture as to why, any decision he made was not based fully on his own perspective but others. The bottom line is he followed and could not lead; he was only a very young man and to this the charge cannot be laid. Years have passed and the busyness of a young man's life are filled with activities that distract and cause one to consider things that are immediate as more important but there are things left undone that remain so. There is a chair waiting, it is empty but yet in it sits the sovereignty of God. I grow older and in my heart there is only love and grace for him. I can only hope it is the same for him. Anger is no place to dwell and those that helped him to justify holding it have already begun to suffer its bearing.

Sunlight Breaks
I took the time above to relate actual experiences to you friend. I have done so that it might let you know that if you are in a similar situation, there are those going through it as well. There is a gulf we cannot breach and if we did, as the above clearly demonstrates, we are struck down by the very ones we love so dearly. What is the answer? I say to myself it is only a room, a table with some chairs. In them sat ones I will never give up on in this life. I keep them because they are a promise in action. Isn't it funny that beyond the great divide there sits a table ready and waiting, the places already set and reserved for each and every one. Some places I am sure others will be surprised even have a setting reserved. I cannot know my table partners but if I have any say in the matter I would make one request of God, to have those whose chairs are now empty are filled on that day. In the next phase, all will be known and revealed. In the next phase, we will all see the foolishness we allowed and there will only be forgiveness for it, only love will remain. I know what drives those who left is an amalgamation of spiritual pride, confusion from scriptural equations they work but will not ever balance, and what they consider true obedience -- but in my opinion, it is misplaced submission. The fact is, only love remains in the end and that is all I have left and want to give. I think only good thoughts to empty chairs and the eye grows dim but the heart remains as it always has been. Each morning, sunlight is cast on those empty chairs...even when I am sleeping and unaware, the light comes.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Damascus Road

It is quite common that those who emerge from dysfunctional religious groups have many quandaries regarding just where they fit in and even what they believe. It is an arduous and painful process to re-orient oneself outside the group. This is highly correlated with the time within the group. It is akin to being a refugee no longer having the familiar places and people in one's life. There is life that has happened and many experiences that occurred when one was tenured in the group. Not all the experiences were bad and perhaps there were as many good as there were bad. Yet in the end, there was a breaking of relationships. The reasons for these are plethora and I believe each one has a unique quality to it that is the life experience of the person who has decided the group was not the way they wanted to pursue their life. Many who emerge lose their faith and so take a life on that excludes the Savior that bought them. I cannot believe this is the right course but I have to say I have seen others take this road and in a very basic sense by doing so, they are still allowing influence from the group from which they emerged. What about these? Before the judgment seat of Christ, it is clear that the blame is to be shared. For the one who left their faith shipwreck, they will answer for the Person they abandoned. For the ones who lead them, I believe a more severe penalty awaits them. The leaders of such groups should regularly re-evaluate their methods and even the 'truth' they so much cling to as the ways of God and repent of their methods. Perhaps if they did so, they would no longer be dysfunctional. What is an indicator this needs to be done? The growing casualty list. If a group is shrinking in size over time and the main line of defense of the teachings is the reason used for the mounting body count, something needs to give or the grinding judgment of God will prevail. What is final stroke of judgment on such a group?


I cannot tell you how many movements over time that espoused that their way was the true one and ended up on the ash heap of church history -- they have been without number. What is the conclusion that must be reached? Theirs was not the way and their lack of continuance confirmed this.

Those that emerge must see that in time, justice is served for God is not mocked and will not allow such to continue and if they do, to the trained Christian eye, they are no longer Christian in nature but have devolved into something else.

So, what about those who emerge? There is a choice to make and if one does not make the choice consciously, they have done so anyway. They have let others choose for them. My goal in this entry is to provide perspective to you friend that will allow the compass of the Holy Spirit to turn you towards Home. It is not a time to look backward and regret or grieve the past actions and decisions. They are done, they are over and there is no changing them. We either live in their shadow or in God's light. Look at it this way, if something had not happened to you personally you perceived at the time as injurious to your person, you more than likely would still be in the group taking doses of spiritual novocaine to deaden and obscure your clarity that something was amiss. No, the pain and the tearing separation shocked you from your stupor as you were expelled from the cocoon of an artificial spiritual life. Let's face it square, on your way to Damascus with orders from the leadership in hand and in pursuit of words whispered in your ears that caused your imagination to flush and your blood rush, Jesus intervened. It was unexpected and He came in a form that you did not recognize. In the Bible, there are countless entries of unusual means by which God makes His will known: from the gallows of Haman to the Jack-ass of Balaam each was the turn of the wheel of truth whose imprint in the dust led home. So it is for you friend. The truth, the meeting caused Saul to become Paul and a murderer of God's people to the titular head of Christendom.

A lot can happen on the Road to Damascus. Many of us on the road had other plans and visions and ambitions. Some we owned and others we adopted due to sweet-talk and the quest for position - it is the oldest trick and its source is our own inbred Adamic avarice. It is of this we need to repent for it is our own desire to be rushed to the head of the table where the honorable reside - this is a common form of seduction, it was the appeal of Lucifer in the garden and in the desert his offer to Jesus, the torch in the hand of Saul the King, the censer in the hand of Uzziah. We cannot know what was in Saul of Tarsus' mind as he slouched toward Damascus but being human and made of the same stuff allow me to speculate: Saul sought fame and honor from his leadership. He followed them in pursuit of his understanding of how God was to be served. Yet in essence by his own confession, he looked on while good men were beaten and stoned to death. This did not deter him, and if I might offer, it was this bloodlust that drove him to escalate the persecution to the point of seeking out the Christians and to lead them back to Jerusalem in chains. What is this akin to? The Roman captors and their parades of vanquished foes while the crowd roared adulation - this was the seduction of Paul by those who lead him. What was ringing in Saul's ears was the praise and position just within grasp at the cheap cost of the lives of these followers of Jesus. With another agenda in mind and in hand, the light struck as if lightning with a force that knocked Saul to the ground. Well now...this was unexpected. A voice rippled from eternity only distinguishable by whom it was meant to call from death and pursuit of a wrong way. Paul left staggering and blind and it was only upon his arrival at Damascus, he began to understand. Oh friend, will we stagger? Oh yes, we will. We will be disoriented and flap on the ground like a beached fish gasping for the familiar but it does not come. Yes. What is its purpose this blinding and tearing? It is the true calling of God. It comes unexpectedly and in forms we do not wish but come it does...thank God.

The form of deliverance God uses commonly is manifested in what would seem to be a secondary event. Moses as he entered the grandeur of Pharoah, a shepherd boy facing a Philistine with a stone and a sling, three starving lepers approaching the besieged city with wonderful news...a man riding the colt of a donkey. It will not come as you expected may even be uttered from the lips of your enemies - their very words and actions only a tool in the hand of a loving God who has purposed to set you in the right direction. Why? Well you know the answer to that one: it is because you have intended to find and follow at all costs: this is true discipleship not blind compliance. Is it not true that you were made to count the cost and made the decision anyway? Has the way been easy since that point of decision? Well, you know the answers to those as well: He would not be the decent and open Savior He is without letting you know what lied ahead. But you went anyway, why? It was the way to Damacus - the trail prints left by a God-man you followed up to this minute. Look around you. You are probably alone and perhaps maybe a few with you -- yet is it also not true that there resonates a deep down confirmation that it played out as God wanted it to do. God has entrusted to you the trip because He knew you would follow -- He knew you and by so doing has it also not been true you have grown to know Him more than you had under any other tutelage. Why? When you left, He was all you had and it was Him you clung to on the Road when the mental storms came and the robbers of your treasured peace held knifepoint to your throat. But you did not die, you did not stop, you kept on: on to Damascus.

God's 'There'

Friend, what awaits you when you get 'there'? Will it be rest and relaxation? Will it be living on the laurels of God's deliverance and visitation? No. What lies ahead of you is work...hard work. God has gone through the extreme to battle-harden you and to put a right vision in you and make you a chief among debtors to the grace He has cast your way. God has changed you into another person...unrecognizable to those who formerly knew you and perhaps followed you. As they cast aspersions at Paul so they will to you. So many names: apostate, one whose faith is shipwrecked, a sinner, a blasphemer, a reprobate. Oh my, it is much more to ease their own decision to stay and continue than to take the road to Damascus. You have left the 'golden city' of the group but it is more like the flight of Lot before the judgment fell, it is no time to look back and ponder, it is in the past now and what lies ahead is Damascus. Now you will find the true callings of God in your life and not the dark whispers of the perhaps well-intended but mis-informed voices. Their mistake? They perhaps spoke as the oracles of God but in a very real sense mis-represented Who they spoke for and in the name of...this is their mis-step and this will be their judgment.

In Good Company

In time the voices and the faces fade. The sharpness of the break is dulled in time. What is real is where you are now...on the Road to Damascus facing the true and ever present task that waits for you at journey's end - a life of true service and a place in the ranks of the faithful who bent but did not break. Friend, this is our personal encounter on the Road. We have met, I have looked into you and you have into me. Turn forward with me and continue, no we do not know the full plan that awaits us there but wherever our 'Damascus' is and what we find out once we get there I know it will be fraught with peril but the accompanying miracles and deliverances will be there too. So it is, so it has always been to those whom God first struck and broke and sent falteringly on the road to Damascus - you friend are in the highest of company.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Life Unscripted

To live a life unscripted requires risk. We can live our lives knowing exactly the outcome because we fail to assume risk. In the journey of life, it is intended to be a time that all is risked and decisions are made -- what are we waiting for? In God's mercy and sovereignty, if we are fortunate, hopefully our decisions  are based in our following no other than Him. What must be understood is living a life with assumed risk will cause things to not go as planned or perhaps as we wanted or expected but there it is: life, a life unscripted.

                        To live otherwise is to cheat oneself.

The name for such states of being is not chaos, it is not trial and it is not error, it is adventure: friends, it is truly living. Because to risk something is to put ourselves in the hands of the Almighty and to allow ourselves to be swept along His great river of life and into where His destiny is for us. The absence of risk is the absence of faith and trust. It is settling into the mundane and being drugged by the narcotic of safety and security and in the process we build no longer castles of grandeur but something dark and cold: we build prisons for our own souls. What is it that we want from our lives? We have a choice to make: To allow ou lives to be metered by the rules of this worlds or to step out into the cold yet clear and exhilarating future of the unexpected, the unscripted. It is where men and women of faith have always gone and it is in their company I long to be.

I am reminded of the story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and asked what must he do to inherit eternal life. Jesus' response to him was not to give out of his possessions but to give them all -- and yet here is the reward 'and come follow Me...' It is something I ponder, it is something I roll over in my mind. I ask myself who I am like. The perfumed young boy who thinks he has it all and eternal life too or the grungy fisherman whose hands cannot rid themselves of the piscatorial smell who came through the dark nights of self condemnation to stand on the summit of freedom. Peter found the life unscripted, unwritten standing open and free and whose sails we let out to be driven by a divine wind. I an 54 years old and I feel my journey, my life unscripted is just beginning. I stand on the brink of change, I stand on the rim of the unknown and I have never felt more alive than I do now. To take a step not knowing the footing that I will encounter. The Savior bids me go and it is as if the ones on the road to Damascus or Perea or Rome slow for but a moment turn their heads and with a look that says to me 'well are you coming or not? we don't know where we are going either, what we will encounter or what awaits us...all we know is we must go because God bids us...we are driven...we are welded to His call and will and wherever He wills we will go..."

The Mind-Killer: Fear

I have said it before in previous entries but I think it bears repeating: You need to take control over your own life. Not in the sense that the Lordship of Christ is ever challenged or compromised but just the opposite. In dysfunctional religious groups the main tool to immobilize is not anything other than fear:

1> fear that if one makes decisions independently, then it is never from the Lord.

2> fear of the unknown if decisions are made to do something else than to stay in the group.

3> Let's face it, fear of hell and damnation because someone has said that leaving the group is leaving Jesus.

4> fear that relationships with family members may be strained by our decisions.

5> fear that one is not making the right decision.

6> fear of change itself.

Yet in the final analysis, if there is a presence of fear (not reverence, there is a difference), chances are it is not from the Lord anyway. How can I be so confident of this? Because of the Apostle John the Beloved who stated ' Perfect love casts out all fear.' Isn't interesting that epistle of 1 John was written to those who had been battling those who said that their 'gospel' was the only way and that their teaching was superior to what they had learned from the Apostle? No, there is a precedent in this epistle that is very important. John told them :

But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. 1 John 2:27.

This is not a repudiation of all leadership but only those who seek to dominate and subject. In my opinion, what John is providing is an order of precedence: one should always look to God first before any earthly authority. This is the root teaching.

Once fear is conquered, the monsters we hear scurrying through the dark corners of our minds are silenced and that which the cankerworm has eaten away, will begin to blossom once again -- it is in the nature of what was planted. You did not plant faith within yourself, God did. The calling you received from God has not changed, it has just lain dormant for the first vapor of God's Spirit to make contact. It is time dear friends, time for you to move, to face life unscripted and to throw out all others who have brought you a life you did not ask for or even plan. Life in the Spirit is living in the overlap of the Kingdom of God that Jesus bursted upon this realm over two thousand years ago and is still increasing. God has broken into space and time that we do not have to live under its power. We are not governed to think or to do according to this world nor any power that reflects the oppression of it. We have crossed over, do not let fear suck you back down into oppression -- and if you do, you have no one to blame but yourself: Christ has come to set us free to not think and live as ordinary people but to live and function in an extra-ordinary life fraught with the greatest of heights and the most darkest places from where we sing the hymns of God...and watch prison doors open with the brush of an angel's wings.

The Road Ahead

It takes, as Brennan Manning has said, ruthless trust in the Savior. It is moving when there is no indication of success but the urging of the Spirit of God - let Him pour over you. It is daring to take a different path than the one you are on because it is all you have ever known and tragically if you don't change, it will be all you will ever know and experience. If it is true that Christ came that we might have life and life more abundantly, it is not to be found in security but being lashed to the mast of a storm-struck boat in the rage of a hurricane heading into the unknown when we know God has called us to do so. Let me ask you a question. What is it you will remember in this life? I have found it to be points where I shoved off into the unknown with nothing but the vision God gave me personally. Something He gave that cannot be taken away nor tarnished. To be honest, it has lain fallow and strewn in a field of confusion but no more, God has made me to find it once again. It is right where I dropped it. I have found it, I have picked it up. It is a map of my future but the rain of God's grace has washed off all markings. The light of God's truth has faded it...there is no writing there are no markings. The latitude and longitude are no longer there, the map is now just an empty parchment....a life unscripted.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Sacrament of the Broken Heart

We all know God is close to the broken hearted, it is proclaimed in the Psalms and I have to say it has been true in my life. It is one privilege that offsets the pain for the most part. The deal is this, if you have lost loved ones to dysfunctional religious groups, the point is that the pain you feel you will never get over. I have been told to move on and to get on with life by those who see only from a perspective that is stunted at best and perverted at worst. First of all, I do not think that one can truly understand the loss of loved ones to a DRG unless they have either gone through it themselves or are close to someone who has. Secondly, there are those within the DRG that have turned away from loved ones because they chose to no longer be a part of the group - this was either done to them or their choice but the result is the same - separation. That is why to some I say that their perspective is stunted - they do not have any point of reference or perverted - they have a perspective but it is not in the spirit of Christ at all, it is Judaic.

The Seeking God versus the Monster

The Judaic perspective of God is I believe very akin to the picture of God in a dysfunctional religious group. If you study the god of the Pharisee, they see a God who is angry at the sin of the world and their rejection of Him in their disobedience to His Law. This god has withdrawn his holy self from the world and is waiting for the sinner to repent and then will take action. The question here is: 'Is this the God of the Bible?' In biblical theology - which includes the historical record, it is a 'stretch' to define God in such a truncated fashion. How did the Pharisee arrive at such a viewpoint? It is in the fact that they had their own perspective on God that obviously given Jesus reaction to them was NOT the God of the Bible. If Jesus is truly a reflection of the Father and in fact is as the gospel of John refers to Christ as He has explained Him (God - the Father). So, if we want to understand the God of the Bible, we need look no further than Christ. To understand that Jesus is the 'explanation' of God of Himself to the world, then in Jesus' life we can see the following: God is a seeker. He seeks fellowship with humanity and has paid a tremendous price in the life of His son to do so. In His earthly ministry, He exemplified true holiness is not obedience to tradition or even the Law as it were (even though He totally fulfilled it). He is the Lord of the Sabbath. He does not just interpret the law but due to His divinity He explains it and at times supercedes the Law (these are the expressions in His teachings when he quotes the Law but adds 'but I say...'). No, Jesus is not a withdrawn and sequestered god of the dysfunctional group seeking retribution on all flesh and waiting for the day of destruction of all that opposes Him. He is one who invites the world's sinners to repent and receive the gift of the Kingdom (see Peter's echo of this in his speech in Acts 2).

It is true that there is nothing new under the sun, and in fact the dysfunctional religious group that sequesters themselves from an unholy world in the name of the Kingdom is not consistent with the person nor the message of Jesus. What we have here is the modern-day Pharisee and that is all.

God is all about love, redemption and reconciliation. Those that reflect these three actions are closer to the spirit of the Kingdom than even they might realize. This does not mean that they wink at sinful acts but that they understand that man is fallen and will serve imperfectly. There is little doubt that the heart of God aches for the lost and the fallen. What is the sacrament of the Broken Heart? It is loving someone even though that person does not respond to that love and in essence rejects it because that person is not in compliance with their perspective. Does God know this pain? Yes and if you suffer rejection because of you no longer being with a group, you know the pain too.

So What Do We Do?

Well I wish I had some nugget of scripture that could be invoked and miraculously heal the scars and pain but friend there simply isn't one. If there were, then the character of a God who is defined as Love would be truncated into nothing more than a caricature of Himself - one would have a god no better than the DRG they left.

We have the privilege of taking part in the Sacrament of the Broken Heart. We have the privilege of loving unconditionally those who now reject us because of our non-compliance to their 'gospel'. It is part of the deal. We have to learn to accept that our heart will be broken and will remain so as long as we live, it is the price of love and may I say it, the sweetest aroma of the sacrament. We must understand that to love is to risk all, even sanity. It is to continue to put a light in the window for the ones who left in such an angry huff. To hope all things and endure all things.

A Personal Story

My wife and I were cleaning out our basement with the intent of getting our house ready to sell. It was full of things we had long forgotten were there. I took a load of junk to the dump and another to a local ministry's thrift store. In the midst of that process, I ran across some things I had not seen in I would say at least a decade maybe more. Buried under piles and boxes there was an innocuous little plastic bag stuffed to the brim and bulging. My first thought was to throw it out and keep going but something made me stop and I picked it up again and looked a little closer. When I saw what was on top I decided to call my wife down to look at what I had found. She reluctantly came down and started to unpack the bulging package. The first thing that she pulled out was a pink, white and blue crocheted blanket. We used it when the kids were babies. That was hard enough but then she pulled out another item and completely broke down. Right there in the musty basement was the sacrament of the broken heart. What was the item? It was my son's toddler outfit. A little tan and brown plaid pair of shorts with shoulder still smelled like him. that was my wife's cry 'I can still smell him...I can still smell him...'

In that basement as I held her body collapsing under the weight, I looked up and uttered a flash of anger to the ceiling 'I hope you see this...' I say it here because it is the truth. I did not understand and the dark thoughts of my own failures in the eyes of my children swallowed me for an afternoon and the rest of that night. In the morning I went to church and there was a song they played I am sure was just for me. I did not know where to go with the pain and the weight of it was crushing to the altar I went. I prayed over the picture of all my children and grandchildren that we had placed on that altar over two years ago and let the burden go. I let it go and gave them back to God for His keeping.

That too is the sacrament of a broken heart....I can still smell him.

What is the epilogue of this personal story? That bulging package was lovingly stored for a better day.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Mustard Seed Principle: A Balanced Look at Biblical Authority

One of the most critical and essential efforts a believer must make in their life is to know the proper, biblical response to authority as it is placed in the body of Christ.

Why is this important?

It is key to establish biblically based 'limits' any other person may have to one's life in a literal sense. Believe me, if this is not done and those limits are not defined, any person claiming they have a 'license' through their role as a placed biblical authority can literally wreak havoc in a person's life. It must be remembered that we are all flesh and see imperfectly: fallibility is highly probable and in most cases, graciousness and patience is the rule of the day but there are times when these are not appropriate. There are occasions when 'stretching' the true application of authority must be checked for the benefit of the 'giver' and 'receiver'.

I must say that it is a very difficult topic and I offer no clear solutions here but I do have a perspective I would like to offer. Currently, the role of authority in the church is misunderstood and dare I say it, misapplied. In this misapplication, there are three malformed premises that are currently rampant in the churchscape :

1> authority in any age if in the ecclesia of God is set by God. Thus whatever that authority does - good or bad- is unassailable.

2> authority in the ecclesia of God has not changed and is timeless.

3> the ecclesia and the kingdom of God are the same thing.

The Authority Trap

When the person who is in 'authority' uses these points, it causes each party -- the 'authority' and the 'follower' to view that station in a potentially dangerous light. There is an 'imbalance' that may occur and when it does, it is rarely the 'authority' that is impeded by this kind of interaction. What happens to the 'follower'? Paralysis. The point being it may develop for the 'follower' that any of their life decisions can be 'checked' by the 'authority'. Not having a clear understanding of the limits of authority is the root source of paralysis and opens the follower to --intended or unintended-- abuse. What may be helpful are some guiding principles that may help counter-balance a misappropriation of spiritual authority:

1> If the life of Jesus is studied, it is clear. The Ultimate Authority did not come into the world to judge it (His own words) but to save it. Moreover by His obedience to His Father and the main force of His ministry --to show compassion---, he gained the right to sit in judgment. When anyone sits in judgment to the extent that they are defining another's boundaries that gauge the other's service to God, what must be understood is they are treading on ground that is left for the most part between the person and their Lord. While Jesus has ultimate authority, the authority He delegates to spiritual leadership is limited - especially after the apostolic age and the finishing of the canon. The main reasons why this is true is related to the points below.

2>Any exercising of discipline must be in the light of overt sin not perceived sin. It must be able to be clearly identified and logged and must be according to the scriptures listings of sin. Many times it is the soft area of perception and 'discernment' on the part of the 'authority' that sin is identified when there is nothing clear-cut -- in other words the 'follower' is not practicing their faith in the model that the 'authority' has defined. So what happens? The 'follower' is slated as being in 'sin' when what is really happening is non-compliance to the group-think the 'authority' has defined -- this obviously can be sin but in many cases it is not -- non-compliance is not necessarily sin. In addition, conditioning may have been applied to the 'follower' to the extent that they have identified with the belief system they have been exposed to that they may perceive it as 'sin' as well. In other words, the orthopraxis of the group has replaced biblical definitions with their own practices and as such have defined 'indicators' for sin that supplement that bible. This is no different than the Pharisees in Jesus day. For example, in Jesus' day rituals for purity were identified by the washing of pots and other utensils. The idea here is that the ruling 'authority' of the day identified sin that was what they believed an application of the scripture's teachings, yet Jesus saw it as the 'precepts of men'. This is a main flaw of a dysfunctional group -- what is really being practiced is teachings and not the word of God.

Dissent is not only legitimate here it is the check and balance of any religious group. The authority of God's word gives even the basest in the eyes of the group the right to speak.

3> Many mistake the Kingdom of God as the church. In a simple statement: it is more than that. The church composes members of the Kingdom of God. This is an important distinction that on the surface appears to be semantic. Yet in this the true government of God is exposed and defined. Folks, Jesus is head of the Kingdom of God where we the believing are members. Many times in a dysfunctional world the view of the Kingdom of God gets truncated to the microcosm of the group and its boundaries are so highly defined that the worldview of such becomes a reflection of the midrash (interpretation) of the group's leaders. In this setting what becomes the focus: the leader and their teachings. This is no different in Jesus' day: the teachings and the practice of them is a gauge of one's progress in-- you guessed it-- the Kingdom. Jesus is displaced and the way to Him directly becomes barred. Authority on the Kingdom takes on a 'local' flavor and whatever the Lord is going to administrate in His Kingdom is through the leaders. If this were the first century and the authentic apostles were in this administration, then I would have no problem with it but we do not live in that time and the time that event could even occur is long passed. The apostolic age was replete with revelatory authority for the purpose of defining and CLOSING the canon. This level of authority no longer is possible. The whole point of the scriptures was to raise its authority as the revelation of God's will and methods to men. This coupled with the Holy Spirit's coming completes the two factors required for successful discipleship. What dysfunctional groups do is create a third need that is on equal setting of the first two: in fact the other two are only supplied to the members through the conduit of leadership: this is a Pharisaic model of government not at all like the government of the Kingdom and if I might be so bold is despised by the Lord Himself (what was His reaction to the Pharisees?).

Re-Laying a Foundation for Biblical Authority

There is a counter-balance for any misapplication of biblical authority. Each relates to some essential facts:

1>We do not live in Jesus' day,
2> We will never understand the full breadth of living in the time-space of that culture.
3> While the applications and teachings of Christ were for all of us, they were transmitted to a people who better understood and related to the subject matter.

So the essential facts are that application of the bible in terms of authority are at best clouded. Some might counter this argument with the fact that the Holy Spirit can bring a clear perspective and to that I say amen...but the key word here is 'perspective':

'A related danger and enemy of study, is the notion that because the Holy Spirit influences our lives, he will somehow fill us with knowledge of the New Testament's truth without our having to work at mastering it ourselves. While we should not minimize our dependence on God's Spirit to understand scripture aright, it is a mistake to substitute spiritual influence alone for the substantive means of grace that God has given in the form of scripture....' Elwell and Yarborough's Encountering the New Testament - A Historical and Theological Survey

This in essence churns up some basic flaws in the application of biblical authority:

1> One can only invoke such degree of authority if one possesses a full understanding of what has been relayed in the scriptures. We stand at a point in time where this is very challenging and dare I say it unreasonable. In the area of spiritual authority, today and in recent history, the 'authority' often relies on revelation (of what the scriptures are actually teaching) to claim degrees of power and position -- as the apostles did. Well, one cannot 'go back' and claim the level of understanding of the writers of the New Testament and the foundations upon which Christendom is built. This is a good argument on the cessation of the office of the Apostle and the Prophet and there are many more - see blog entry: The Emperor's New Clothes-A Comparison to Authentic Authority. April 2, 2010. Here is a test: When discussing any subject with the 'authority' keep the conversation based on scriptures and if there is a contending interpretation you might have on a subject that the scripture is about, watch the reaction of the 'authority'. Let me tell you how it will go: The 'authority' will either evade the question or begin personal attack because their 'authority' is being questioned. This is a principle you are practicing: the scripture is the first and best revelation of God to man. You will witness the authority of God's word trumping the individual - it is your best and ONLY defense. In essence the discernment between wisdom that comes from above and that which is concocted here is clearly seen in this type of discourse: James 3:17 (Amplified Bible)

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure (undefiled); then it is peace-loving, courteous (considerate, gentle). [It is willing to] yield to reason, full of compassion and good fruits; it is wholehearted and straightforward, impartial and unfeigned (free from doubts, wavering, and insincerity).

Evasion and personal attack are not in the characteristics of godly wisdom and indicates insecurity in one's position. In discussion and application of scriptures to your life, it is ultimately between you and Christ. If the 'authority' interjects themselves in between, this is a spiritual no-man's land. They are to assist and guide not to mandate.

2> While God may have seats of authority in the churchscape, these seats are limited and always defer to the authority of Christ -- and they have always been limited.

********* The Mustard Seed Principle******************
In biblical times God's revelation to man was a seal of His choice of that person to lead. Yet in the time that spanned the completion of God's revelation in scripture to now, that criteria can no longer be fully applied. There is a principle here. In many of the parables about the mystery of the Kingdom of God -- which is resident in and completely depends on the person of Jesus Christ, there is a common theme: the Kingdom of God is established in Christ's work and slowly increases: He is the mustard seed that becomes the great tree and He is the leaven that leavens the whole lump. In the principle of the Kingdom, all must decrease as He increases: this most assuredly is applied to the delegation of authority. Why is this the case? Because Christ and scriptures are the only permanent fixtures in the Kingdom of God. The idea that any biblical authority can possess a 'revelatory seal' is long past. This is seen in the scriptures in the letter to 2 Timothy 2:

24 And the servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome (fighting and contending). Instead, he must be kindly to everyone and mild-tempered [preserving the bond of peace]; he must be a skilled and suitable teacher, patient and forbearing and willing to suffer wrong. 25 He must correct his opponents with courtesy and gentleness, in the hope that God may grant that they will repent and come to know the Truth [that they will perceive and recognize and become accurately acquainted with and acknowledge it],26 And that they may come to their senses [and] escape out of the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him, [henceforth] to do His [God’s] will.

The 'seed' of Christ's example of true leadership [and authority] personally demonstrated by Him when He served the disciples and then gird a towel around Him to wash the disciple's feet is exemplified in Paul's words to Timothy at the end of the times of the genuine apostles. Any authority now possessed by anyone comes from the scriptures and these are the clearly defined borders whereby any authority is to operate and function. The revelation of God started with a few and so God's authority while the process of scriptures being completed was concentrated yet in the latter epistles, the role of the lowly believer is put on a higher footing: Peter writes in his first epistle about two things: Jesus is the builder and cornerstone and second that He is raising a house of living stones a royal priesthood (notice the absence of the foundation i.e. the humility of Peter). This is an execution of the mustard seed and leaven parable. The final form of authority in the church is much flatter as the canon begins to close. Note the final teachings of the New Testament as the canon was closing:

But as for you, the anointing (the sacred appointment, the unction) which you received from Him abides [[o]permanently] in you; [so] then you have no need that anyone should instruct you. But just as His anointing teaches you concerning everything and is true and is no falsehood, so you must abide in (live in, never depart from) Him [being [p]rooted in Him, knit to Him], just as [His anointing] has taught you [to do].

In the time of the writing of the New Testament, the writings of John were at the end of the apostolic age. What John was countering here were the teachings of those who had foisted their beliefs on the readers of the letter in order to gain control over them through their superior teachings and revelation. What John was stressing here is not the absence of leadership nor there being no need for it: he was stressing the fact that anyone who believes in Christ can and should rely on their abiding in Christ first and foremost and is the first and foremost teacher through His Spirit to the person. If 'revelatory authority' is past its time and role, then the structure for authority is based on two things: Jesus and the canon of scripture -- church leaders and such can only augment and should be seen as secondary in this process. To the extent that they manifest the characteristics Paul defines for them in the above scriptures, they have a role to play...nothing more. My friends, you not only have the right to question teachings it is your duty to do so!

Some Errata...Some Thoughts

The below is provided as supplemental material before I conclude this entry. Just some
food for thought.

When it comes to spiritual authority, some have what I call the 'Moses Complex'. To explain what this is it is that some hold that authority as chronicled in the old testament as being unapproachable. What is the premise of this? God did the appointing. Therefore if God did the appointing then there is no escaping that fact to the one who sits under and recognizes that authority. However, by the very nature of 'Gods' appointing' this sets apart any example of the Old Testament from being used as comparison. Why?

1>It must fit the situation of the Old Testament. That is, it is a major move of God for His people. What do I mean by that? My answer is look at the texts often cited by 'posers'. The scale and gravity of the scripture's examples deal more than with a mere small group but is national -- get this: Nations were impacted. We are not talking a small group here but millions of people. If one is going cite an example of the Old or New Testament as an example of proper application of biblical authority for the church, then one must look at the proper context of it.

2>Is the person claiming such a degree of authority at or above the calling of any key Old or New Testament figure? The countermanding question is 'Has God risen them to a position of prominence that the peoples of the world within and without the body of Christ so that they are known and more importantly is there a high degree of visibility of what they teach as the 'truth'?' This is one evidence of the degree of authority one truly possesses.

3>Authority is given for a reason: impact on the world. There is no figure in the Old or New Testament that was obscure and was only impacting a handful. Moreover, as time passed and their lives ceased, their words and teaching became universal. This is a pretty high bar for any modern day authority

4> In each and every case, Old and New Testament the focus of the authority was outward. Why? God is a seeker not one that sequesters. Many times such persons that claim a degree of 'biblical authority' turn inward and so the group they lead. There is so much inward focus that the burden for the lost and growth of their ministry through conversion and not biological growth (i.e. people in the group have children) is not a priority. True authority focuses on what God considers very important - so important that He sent His Son to die for it. What is the important effort from God - to reach out to the lost and dying.

With the points above one can conclude that if a person in one's life claims governmental authority and uses biblical examples and applies them to their personal self and ministry, they that must meet the criteria above.

In Conclusion: Say it isn't So

So the question is, can biblical authority be in any way corrupted? One only has to look at history to answer that one. In one word: absolutely. Following history from the Old Testament to the present, there are many stories of authority that was perceived as going in the wrong direction and in each of those cases there were those who dissented. A classic case of this kind of thing revolves around Saul and David. Here is the point, Saul having biblical authority -- he was the anointed king-- had conflict with David. Many would argue that the 'anointing' left him because of what he did and David was the replacement yet David was the one who lived the time of transition. He was almost murdered by Saul on several occasions until he realized he could no longer survive in the presence of the king so he fled. I use this example because those who would say biblical authority is 'absolute' have a very flat interpretation and frankly is not according to the real scriptural account. Some would say obedience is the rule when it comes to authority and to that I would say 'obedience to whom'? If we understand the use of authority within the church versus the Old Testament, it is the same. In David's case, it was obedience first to God and then to those He appointed. Now in David's case, there was a conflict of the two, how did this conflict arise? The usurpation of authority Saul did not and should not have tried to acquire. What was the crux of this usurpation? He wanted to become the mediator between God's people and God Himself. If you follow the biblical account, Saul waited for Samuel to come and after a time, decided to offer sacrifice. This was his usurpation. There is only One who can hold the position of Priest and King and it was not Saul nor any earthly man. This is the litmus test for biblical authority that goes awry: one begins to act as mediator between God and man in any sense. How can this be expressed? It is usually manifested by the usage of the scriptures that reflect and emphasize the absolute nature of biblical authority by those who use it to retain position. David being obedient to God first, dissented. He did not speak ill of the authority because he knew God would judge it in His time - however, he did not continue to subject himself to it to be 'obedient' and as onlookers would perceive a respecter of God's placed authority. No, he left and I believe this is the proper course of action for anyone living under such conditions. Dissent is more a shaper of the church than blind obedience to a rogue authority. Dissent was the classic argument of the protestants that first tried to change the catholic church from within and when that did not make progress, they took their dissent to the next level, they left the holy mother church. What was their premise? Any biblical authority that violates biblical principles it uses for the basis of its authority disqualifies itself.

In Luther's response to Papal authority, it was the scriptures that set him on equal footing and were the bulwark and manifesto of the Reformation:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.

Sola Scriptura..amen