Friday, April 20, 2012

Missing the Mark

In my studies of the gospels, I have been struck by one contrast so evident and even prevalent in them: The lack of compassion of the Pharisees in the light and honor of the Law and the compassion of Jesus in his seeming 'dishonor' of that same Law. Clearly Jesus was not what Israel at that point in time was looking for in a Messiah. If you think about it, the Law and the prophets talk about the coming of the Lord and one of the prophetic pictures given for the Messiah was not a mild man on a donkey but a conquering King in flashes of lightning -- this is something labeled the 'apocalyptic' by theologians. Even after some time, John the Baptist seemingly missed the mark. How? He sent his disciples to Jesus to ask Him 'are you He or do we look for another?' It was not that John did not see the works of Jesus but that they did not accord with his and even the Jewish leaders of that time's expectations. What they expected was a Deliverer, what they got was a Redeemer. Many times we miss the mark as we consider the Messiah. In a dysfunctional group this is very common. In fact it is the norm. Why? There is a twisted form of self-righteousness that plays itself out as a pre-occupation with perfectionism and as a result, the perception of the messiah is more a lawgiver than one who breaks through to this world in compassion. Like John and the first century Pharisee, one in such a group 'misplaces' their perception of exactly what the Lord is truly like. We need to step back in time as we read the scriptures and lose our preconceived notions and fears and dare I say it, learned through personal experience relationship with God and read freshly the scriptures. We need to become the first century Christian. The first century Christian...what a bad lot. Full of sinners, publicans, prostitutes, murderers, zealots and generally the kind you don't bring home for dinner. These are the ones who followed Jesus and transformed the world with a message of hope for us all. The tax-gatherer, the prostitute who wiped His feet with her hair, the centurion...the thief on the cross. Bad people, a worthless lot but ones whose lives were forever changed because of His love, His care and a brief moment of His time where the heavens bowed low and touched the living clay once more. Did they stay as they were? All you have to do is read the Pauline epistles to answer that one. Yet while they gravitated by grace closer to holiness than the Pharisees, they for the most part still fell prey to those who espoused the law and mixed grace and law with a hellish mortar and pestle. What was their dilemma? It is the same as we have today.

The Legal Dilemma

The problem with legalism is you can't really argue with it. I mean, think about it. Everything the legalist says is pretty much wholesome and even to the letter correct. So what is the problem with it? There is no life in it. It is rote and it is death. Yet it is under this crushing millstone much of the grain that happens to find itself under its power is damaged beyond repair. Here is something for you to think about: In the kingdom of God there is primarily one use of grain: it is to be gathered, and reused. Lives sown into the ground of the world to reap an even bigger harvest. Yet in the dysfunctional religious group the emphasis is not on sowing but on reaping. Reaping, then threshing, then crushing the grain. Ultimately, it is transformed from grain to flour, having been crushed. The purpose, so it may be consumed by those who have gathered it. The grain becomes the bread for another - tragically misused and misapplied. C.S. Lewis alluded to the process of Hell. In one of the supplements to the Screwtape letters, the demon is speaker at a dinner and espouses the certain souls in Hell who had succumbed to the dark forces and had in themselves become evil. It is with a crunch and crackle these souls are consumed and with much relish by the netherworld's minions. In the scriptures it is said that Hell is never satisfied and that it opens its mouth to receive all who are destined to its realm. There is appetite there is hunger there is lust to consume to the point of gluttony and then some. It is to this I compare the DRG. It is ever consuming. The entropy of lives worn to a frazzle, from which the marrow is sucked and the bones crushed to make bread. Yet the hunger for more is never satiated. The rendering of a life in service. In some lunatic logic, the DRG asks for all. It is never satisfied with the current degree of commitment but always demands more and the hurdles to perfection steep higher and higher -- the question that comes to mind is what is this similar to: to heaven and the kingdom or to hell. Jesus said himself it is by the fruit of something that you can tell what it is. We cannot look always at what one says, teaches or even becomes. We must look at what is produced - what is its fruit. A single solitary life is not to be vaunted when the others that follow its pattern of living do not produce generally the same product. There is something inherently wrong in the process. I know, I know, the retort to that is 'Well Paul used himself as an example and said to follow his pattern' . Well, to that I fully agree...but we are talking about Paul here not a contemporary leader who possibly in their ortho-praxis has missed the mark. Frankly, anyone who holds them self up as an example to others in this modern time in any similar fashion, is misguided and more than likely thinks too much of his or her self. The moral of the story is 'be careful' whose example you follow. Ultimately you are a follower of no man but Christ.

Bare Trees, Bare Souls: The Bulemic Soul

In many cases, the DRG promises fruit but the tree is so ravaged by self-hate and self-loathing, there is little possibility for progress; there is simply no sustenance given but only a constant bleeding out of life's blood. Spiritually starved people is an evidence of dysfunction yet its key manifestation is surprising to most. What is the manifestation of one who is spiritually starved? It is a higher zeal for the teaching of the group to the point that it causes internal damage. I have known some who were so enthralled with the process of 'losing self' and 'the pursuit of holiness' that they were obsessed with further self-denial. This is nothing more than an extreme form of self-hate more than a wholesome desire for holiness. You might say that 'spiritual bulemia' has manifested itself. Bulemia is a mental condition of gradual self destruction through the practice of what the subject perceives as discipline (virtue) but is implemented by the exercise of true self hatred. The bulemic binges and then purges to deny the body of ingested food; the spiritual bulemic is similar in that they practice and manifest self hatred through extreme practice of the teachings they have received. The more they ingest of the teaching, the more they purge. How is this behavior determined?  The source where further spiritual purging comes is not from a personal encounter with Christ but with the leadership pointing the way to further spiritual growth via their dogma. It is by the leadership's measure and meter that progress is measured. It can even be to the point that the salvation of one teeters on the assessment of a man or woman. What is the main flaw of this type of thinking and putting oneself in such a position? One who subjects their person to such has a misguided view of biblical authority. More frequent than would care to be admitted, the root or kernel of this type of system is that the people in charge fully believe they are mandated and authorized by God to exercise the teachings and positions that they hold on their members -- under the auspices that it is the 'true' gospel. This can come under many monikers ( the Gospel, The Kingdom of God, The Gospel of the Kingdom, etc). Many times 'apostolic' authority is being leveraged -- yet the reality is that these people who honestly believe that they are so mandated are mistaken. Apostles are a rare thing and in fact, their presence in the contemporary church must be scrutinized to actually see if they meet the criterion of an apostle. The Bible outlines such a ministry and I can tell you, the bar is pretty high and I seriously doubt in the truest sense this role in the modern church is even feasible (see my post 'The Emperor's New Clothes - A Comparison to Authentic Authority). In fact even making such a statement borders on the ridiculous. Just because someone touts they are an apostle does not make it so. Just because they have developed a systematic and even coherent teaching (as they would assess it), is no confirmation that it is fully truth. For example, the Pharisees of Jesus' day had systematic teaching that for even Jesus was daunting to combat . Moreover, the Pharisees SEEMED right in the eyes of the people but they were not -- remember what I said about legalism at the outset, it is very difficult to combat because it sounds correct. What was the fruit of their stance - death, condemnation and full of dead man's bones. Most teachings of groups can be likened to the white-washed sepulchers of Jesus' day. Jesus called them blind guides who search the world for a proselyte and end up making them more a son of hell than themselves. When the sheep are separated from the goats before the throne of Christ, will it be the codex that was followed that mattered or the relationship we had with the savior -- they are NOT the same thing.

The true fruit of a true Apostle

What was the true fruit of an Apostle's ministry? Was it 'truth' in the form of teaching? Let Paul himself answer:

If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

Friends, it was not teaching but PEOPLE. who were the seal to Paul's apostleship. Can this same
statement be made by a 'modern day' apostle if there is such a person. Of Course, but there are other vital criterion that MUST be confirmed (see my post aforementioned). Moreover, such a one's teaching will confirm the word, not expand it nor more 'fully' explain it. This is the trap false teachers most likely will fall into: they have touted that there is a revelation they have received that 'more fully' explains the word'. Yet in most cases, these teachings and expositions do not measure or balance with fundamental truths and classic orthodoxy. Why is this the case? The teaching is usually not based on comparative study but on what they would call revelation from God. If time is spent on analysis and exegesis on these 'teachings' they simply will not hold any water. Their flaws will become obvious. The problem is that this is not ever really fully done by the member or prospective member and if it is done, then the so-called authority becomes flustered and starts personal attacks. In the after-math, with time and effort, I would say ANY of the doctrines from such groups will be seen for what they are: heresy.

Proverbs to the Rescue

If you require help in sorting out truth from error, find yourself a mature Christian leader who does not come from your orientation and have them explain the basic tenets of the faith, you will be amazed at the simplicity and clarity of the truths they will present - versus the 'secret' revelations you may have been exposed to during your tenure in the DRG. In the book of Proverbs, it is said that where there is no counse, the people fall but in the multitude of counsellors, there is safety (Pr 11:14). The writer who produced many proverbs also wrote that there is nothing new is under the sun and in this case, this story is so worn out -- this is nothing more than the gnosis-spirit the early church fought in order to retain the integrity of the person of Christ. It seems today, everybody has a revelation; some unique perspective on truth that when taken into practice becomes unsound and dangerous. Friend, read again with fresh eyes the gospels and take time to see Him pause, go to, seek out, eat with and eventually die for people like you and me. Why can't we be happy with the Cross and the finished work of Christ upon it. I think I have the answer: we are religious by nature - which is why legalism can ensnare us all. The Adamic nature within us wants to forge another way where we can participate in our salvation...God will have none of that. The Cross is what saves us, not some secret knowledge shown only to a few. I'll take Jesus thank you very much, keep your 'deep things of God' to yourself.

Santayana was right

In the first century, Paul fought those who added the Law to grace (see the epistle for the Galatians in its entirety). We must also fight against those who like the Pharisee add to the burdens of the people yet do not lift one finger in aid. The reality is - missing the mark is missing Golgotha and taking a beating heart and replacing it with one of stone - where there is no compassion for the lost we find beaten and left to die on the road of life. Who are we really, the pristine priest who hurriedly scuttles past or the dirty samaritan not fit for God's Kingdom who stops to rescue. Which one is the true follower? Which one misses the mark and which one doesn't? George Santayana once said 'Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it'. Enough said.

Take a Walk

Walk again the streets of small cites of Galilee with Him, see Him in the synagogue reading Isaiah's prophecy, see Him call down the small in stature man to sup with him, see Him before Pilate silent, see Him walking ALONE up the road to Calvary, see Him, see the crowd and step out an follow, step out and follow Him. Missing the mark is staying in one's own learned perception of God seared into the soul and spirit by a DRG. Step out of the crowd, don't be afraid, walk up the way where the Blood flows down from a pierced body and be grateful be humbled and be changed and healed. It is said in heaven we will receive a new name, we need to live in that destiny, our past is gone no matter how good or bad it was, it is gone and we are left here at this crossroad between what was and what will be only living in the what is. Missing the mark is not taking the opportunity to know Him not as we want Him to be but as He is and for who He is...our savior.