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.