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 it...it 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.