Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Seasons

In the book of Ecclesiastes there is a passage the  writer speaks of ‘…a time for..’ In that passage events are contrasted as opposite events. Yet each one we all will learn is a part of the journey.  If we have allowed this life to teach us its nature, I believe we will see beyond the boundaries of our own flesh and peer into the magnificence of this life and all it has to offer us. We will learn to take it in stride the season we find ourselves in knowing it is only for a time. Perhaps a time of joy, perhaps not. There is the spring and summer but also there is fall and…winter. If we do not accept the place we find ourselves in, we will lose the most valuable of lessons.  There is a place and a purpose to all we experience in life and if our life has found a groove of smoothness and no real descent or incline or bumps, it is not a groove at all, it is a rut. I have seen much in this life and experienced the joy of it as well as the pain. The warm embrace and the solitude of separation. I have come to realize each one is as valuable as the other. It is the color of life and if we do not allow ourselves the taste of the bitter as well as the sweet, we are not in the process of learning at all but stasis. I have gathered and I have scattered. I have done good and evil. I have had faith and I have doubted. I have been loving and vengeful. Some I hold as positive and the others I hold in humility but I hold them all…I own them . If we are to learn the lesson that God teaches that of humility above all else, we hold all of it. If not we are nothing more than an unbalanced wheel always veering here and there. It is all of life that balances us.  I believe the Lord himself, in the gospels has tried to teach this lesson in perhaps a very subtle yet profound way. If we are followoing  Him truly following Him, the Way before us will balance  out. With each tendency balancing out the other keeping us on the straight and narrow way. If we do not we will veer and end up stuck on the berm of God’s highway.
“He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters…” Luke 11:23
What does it really mean to gather or scatter? It simply means in the end if you gather, you end up with more of life’s lessons, experiences and humility then less.  If we allow God to teach us through the seasons of fall (loss) and winter (death), it is the only way to get to spring.  The fruit of one’s life is not measures in meted measures, it is to be looked at as a whole. It is not about counting the good or the evil. The fact is the good is gathered and the evil is scattered.  It might seem that all we do is scattered and appears as loss initially, but the long term viewpoint is what is required to see it all in the correct light.
Many have come and gone or are in the process of dissipation. For these, Life is not looked as something to be freely given but protected, collected, measured and stocked away safely. This is how movements perhaps once brilliant become the dusty corners where old records and trinkets gather and collect nothing but the layered films of obsolescence. This is the main fruit of the scattered. The obscurity and tragedy of being no longer fit for the Master’s use. It causes me to wonder if the House of God has an attic.
The ironic thing about it is the picture of the gatherer and the one who scatters I get is exactly the opposite of their nature, appearance and perhaps even results as measured by the eye. I am drawn to the parable of the rich man and the poor man who begged scraps from the table of the former while dogs licked his sores. One exited their life in a whimper and release of pain and sorrow while the other’s mirth and plenty was abruptly cut off. Fast forward to the scene in Hell, one in paradise and the other in the flame with a great gulf between them. Ironically the beggar was a gatherer and the other was a one who scattered. In other words, Life cannot be measured in works but grace.
What does it really mean to gather. It is about love. Love goes through its seasons and seems dead in winter…but it is only for a season. Genuine love waits, hopes and never stops believing in the God who is nothing but love. The fruit of a gatherer is that they themselves are gathered. There is a phrase in the Old Testament in the times of the patriarchs, judges and kings where it was said an individual was ‘gathered’ unto His people. The gathering defined here is the same meaning as when Jesus peered upon Jerusalem and out of the aching of His heart, he was overcome with compassion and wanted to gather them as a hen does her chicks. Stop and let that sink in. A true gatherer seeks that which rejects them. It hopes for a day of gathering to understand, forgive, heal and once again walk with those who were once separated.
What does it mean to scatter. It may include the acquisition of power of the individual. Self-exaltation and aggrandizement.  It may actually collect in the sense of captivity. It may cast a protective veil over its possessions and even prosper. But all garments not woven by God wear out. Holes from wear and pressure and weight tatter and tear the tapestry of one who scatters. If you follow one who scatters for a while you will notice the trail of the broken pieces that line their way. In the end whatever was collected is lost and mostly so broken, there is only the shadow of what was originally there. This is God’s  testament and record against the one who scatters. In the end there is nothing but self.
When I look back on my own life, as a whole, I realize that have done both. We all do. But when we see the seasons change from winter to spring, I think I can say I am at least a little favorable on the gathering side. The lesson I have learned is in God, whatever He has established in me will last and endure and the rest will fall away to reveal its own true nature and in that process I become more like Him and  my desire to be so continues to 'gather'  

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Hollow Man

In the book of Psalms there is one that speaks of singing the Psalms of Zion when the children of Israel were in captivity. As I read this recently, I saw something different than I had seen before.  In the dysfunctional group I was in, this scripture was used to capture and portray that the only place to be was in that group and anywhere else is captivity. The leader used to say ‘You can’t sing the songs of Zion in a strange land…’ Meaning to depart the group would be leaving Zion. But as context is considered, the argument seems flipped and as so many times before, quotes and verses used out of context to make a point that bends truth to the group’s mindset. Actually, the scripture is about the captives of Babylon that could not sing about Zion because they were not there, they were captives of an oppressive master. It was their origin and source of all they are that was now dried up.  It goes like this:

For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

Below are my thoughts on the proper context:
This scripture I have heard a thousand times used to separate people from their kin. The premise was ‘you have a new home’, ‘you have a new family’. ‘Forget the old ways and embrace the new.’ ‘The past was a drag on who you are now. Embrace the new and become the new’. Little did I realize then how this could never be. Why? It is an artificial life filled with busyness and activity to distract while life hurls by at a break-neck pace. This tactic is so similar to Scientology’s strategy, it is almost the same. The idea is to keep the patrons so busy with achieving rungs on a ladder, all sense of true importance (family, personal goals, etc) are sacrificed to the cause. In this blur of industry, activity and huge sums of money being fleeced, One year becomes three becomes five and ten. You look in the mirror as a youth and turn again to see the crows foot and wrinkle with a weaker eye. You strain to see what once was and there is only a glimpse caught at the right angle and in the passing swirl of motion as you peer closer. What is it that you see and feel at that moment of remembrance? It is the man or woman boy or girl that you once were before all the industry and kingdom building. It is the hope of a bright future and outlook of a coming life now jaundiced by industry and effort the leads to yet more of the same. The songs you once played now are but a distant recollection and you can barely remember how the tune goes  because the din of the cadence of the new song permeates everything and drowns out who and what you once were. Soft and suppleness has been tanned into strong cords of self-pride bordering on arrogance and the freedom once felt is now constrained by the life you have committed to live.

Why is this shadow of recollection on your life? Why will you not let go of it?  Because it is the song of Zion. The song of where you come from and mountain from which you were carved from.

The real you.

This is my story and the story of my children albeit they would never admit it. To leave that is to leave oneself and be cast adrift in a sea of ambiguity and complicity. Take a step back for a moment and look at your hands. Who do they remind you of? Are they your father’s or mothers?  Is the squint and smirk you possess manufactured in the life you have embraced or are they from something deeper and more permanent? When you cannot sleep and your thoughts fly, to what and to whom do they fly to? These are the sounds and chords of the songs of Zion the songs of Home where love is plentiful and unending and where laughter and mirth at the meeting are more intoxicating than any other potion, song or incantation.
The songs of Zion cannot be sung in a strange land no matter how it is portrayed. Why? It is a land of captivity no matter how well dressed and ensconced it is. The harp remains on the willow tree and with some it will remain until they breathe their last breath. Taking the full brunt and volume of regret to let all that is real  pass.

Only do not call yourself full because of your industry, your credo or dogma. They cannot fill you. It is only the love of those from where you were hewn who can fill that void. To believe anything else is a lie. To call yourself full when you are nothing but a hollow man. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Silence of the Lambs

This blogs is a different than ones I normally write. After some discussion with my wife, I decided to post her thoughts on the same event versus my own. The reason for this is not any one person can tell a story and there has to be more. You will not get the 'other side' unfortunately but at least you will get a wider perspective than just my own on a most tragic event that could happen to anyone. If you study the theology about God, you will notice that there are both male and female aspects to the God of the Bible. He is called Father but is referred to in the Old Testament as 'El Shaddai' the many breasted one. This is a clear reference to God as having something that a man could never have: the heart of a mother.

Kevin's Perspective....

Chilling title I know but in this case, I believe it is appropriate. I had a recent conversation with someone that is very dear to me but avoids any type of contact with me. This has troubled me for several years because I think of all the good things that we both could have experienced. So rather than play the blame game, I will admit I had most to do with the estrangement. You see, I rejected the leader of us both at the time and this person along with others sided with the leader – which was their choice and to be honest I respect that choice. 

The issue really boils down to offense. There was mutual offense between myself and the leader.  My offense was I saw injustice and a squelching of any direction that did not come as the leaders’ idea, leaning or thinking. This was repeated during my long history with them from as little of a thing as the choice of worship music to the direction of people to paths in life that were in direct conflict with their own personal convictions and inner voice. Some  bowed to this pressure. I could not. I believed it to be wrong no matter who spoke it. I know people with authority all have feet of clay and there is a certain degree of discretion that must be given to them. However, when repeated demonstrations of this kind of leveraging with no check or balance, it is time to look a little closer.  There comes a point where courtesy and respect of any particular leader reaches the point of breaking when there is continued behavior that is unwarranted and in error. I think of David and Saul and the conflict that David had with an authority out of kilter. What did David do? He rejected the frontal assault and began to avoid Saul. David watched his words and responded when asked or question with respect. Yet David reached a point where there was no going on with Saul. He had to leave or see his life folded into the life and pursuits and legacy of another. This is the real issue.  At what point does someone else’s expectation, plan or direction eclipse another? There is only one person who can do that and He is Jesus Himself. The root of that issue is separating God’s direction from any leaders who presumes a place that they cannot ever fill.  When these are blended, there is nothing ahead but heartache and an eventual tragedy. Saul waxed worse while David gained strength. David did not raise his hand towards Saul though he had many occasions to do so. Yet he did not let Saul get away without some accountability for his actions towards him. David’s conversation was motivated not to harm but to call into question Saul’s actions of his abuse of power and injustice. Such as the removal of David’s wife (Saul’s daughter) and his giving her to another. So, Saul’s actions were not repented of and even grew worse over time. In the end, this great leader was performing acts that were completely counter to the character of the God he said he served. There was David watching it all and suffering the injustice of broken relationships that God had ordained…but at a distance. In the end, Saul’s life was ended by his own action. The principle is when one lives for themselves and justifies their actions because of the mantle they had been given, not only will the mantle be removed but the life will end most commonly by their own actions and whatever they attempted to build is now dust.

The wheels of God’s justice turn slowly but there is nothing that can stop them. When one sows to the wind, they reap the whirlwind. It has been repeated throughout the history of God’s people.
So, was I completely innocent? Absolutely not.  I took action to save my life and hardened the boundaries so easily softened when leaders are invasive. What I mean by that is there must always be a clear boundary between one person in authority and their subject. When that boundary is not easily defined, the one leading can easily cross over into the realm of abuse and often does yet is blind to the actions they take because of the very sanction they exercise in the name of the mantle given to them . This hardening of my boundaries took many forms but the motive was never to hurt or abuse but in some cases,  I have to say I became a reflection of who I served. That was my sin.

Years had gone by without word. Then a phone call happened. It was not a call to offer any hope of reconciliation though on my part there had been years of an outstretched hand. It was to ensure that I was not at a place where we would meet. That was all it was about. I looking back on that conversation, I don’t think it was to harm or place any kind of blame. It was about nothing at all. It was a business call to ensure something would not take place. There was cordiality on the other side and I am thankful for at least that but whatever had passed between us in the past would never pass again. That was the reality of it. As a woman said to David once ‘the water has been poured out and there is not recovering it’. I forgive them for this and do not hold it to their account. But it is time to turn from it and leave It in the Hands of God. There will always be a light in the window for him and others  but that light is really placed there to remember fondly what was and will not be again this side of the grave. The Lord must be my comfort. It is time to move on and replace that hope with hope in something much larger than that. My heart is broken and will remain so but my quest is not over. In a way it has just begun. There is no way back so the only direction can be forward in the faith that they could not destroy. All the pieces are there and the Mender is at work to recover what can be recovered. Pieces offered to Him that I have left and they will be enough to cover me for the rest of the journey.  I chose a way less travelled than others and it has been hard but in that process when I look back, I have learned more about myself, God and the true nature of life than had I ducked and covered.  I raise and set my sail once more waiting for the breath of the Spirit to move me once again. I am waiting.

Vicki's Perspective....

In response to Kevin’s last blog, I have a few things to say.
When our children sided with the church and left us, it was inevitable. They had been indoctrinated to put the apostle first before anything or anyone else, including family.
We lived this before them for twenty- three years. Kevin and I put the apostle and his teachings first before our own families.
We had decided that it was time to come out from under the alternative doctrine where Jesus was just a symbol and the apostle was the one you had a relationship with. Before we could do that on our own initiative, we were kicked out.
Because we had seen the heresy incased by authority, when those pastors came down to remove Kevin from the office of pastor, I was relieved. I had expectations of moving on in Jesus without the intimidation and manipulation of a doctrine that focused on performance and mortal obedience.
I never dreamed that our children wouldn’t follow suit. Their eyes had not been opened to what we saw and when the time came for them to make a choice, they chose what they had beheld all those years. They chose a doctrine of dos and don’ts, a doctrine of Law and not Spirit and a doctrine of conditional love.
As Kevin said in his blog, they made a choice and he respects that. I can’t. I know that deep down beneath skewed logic is a place in their reasoning that has been shut off but still remains. Even though we have been made to represent the epitome of deception and even worse because we don’t see their “truth”, I still have hope.
A mother’s heart never grows cold. A mother’s heart never gives up. And a mother’s heart loves ”unconditionally”.
When our children left us, the pain was so intense that I couldn’t bear it. My mind couldn’t or wouldn’t perceive what had happened and I wanted to go away for a while to a place within myself where I could be numb. I never made it there.
Today, ten years later, the pain is just as intense. I only function with the help of my Lord Jesus, Kevin and others that love me.
When we received the phone call that Kevin mentioned, I was the one who answered and heard a voice that is still a part of me today. I traveled back in time to ten years ago and it was as if it was yesterday.
No, I will never move on and wish my children well. I will always continue to wait at the door of my heart and be looking in the far distance for that prodigal that I will recognize as soon as they walk over the horizon. I see them in my dreams but one day it will be face to face. Only then will I receive respite from the pain.

Some Last Thoughts...

Our thoughts on how to deal with the loss is very different but in it I see the nature of God and how conflicted He must be when a person is lost to Him. By presenting both, we as husband and wife gain a larger whole, more understanding and compassion for one another and to the ones we lost. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Lost Plan, the Sparkle off a Building

Is 32:8 “But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.” .

What is the meaning of liberal here? It comes from  a root Hebrew word that means ‘willing hearted’. That is being willing to do something. Yesterday was a very interesting day. A day of new beginnings as such. Priorities change in life and sometimes we prioritize wrongly. We get lost in the ebb and flow of life and stress what is not as important. So, how do we get back to the real noble plans ( another meaning of the root word of liberal). We first of all think and meditate on them, we deliberate counsel over them and consider them. This last weekend, I had surgery and we had to stay downtown at a hotel. Years ago, before we came to North Carolina, my wife had a dream (please don’t think this spooky, just listen). She saw a building of mirrored glass in that dream. In the dream, she was standing in some fashion by a courthouse when she could see the building. In the early morning of my surgery, she peered out the window and saw two things. The the sparkle off the building in her dream and the courthouse which was on the other side of the street where we were staying. Moreover, the building was about a block from  where I currently work downtown.

These are things to consider. I came here for the purpose of ministry and got lost in other things.. I blame myself for that. I make no excuses for missing the mark. I lost my way. This weekend, I realized time is short and what should I really be focusing on? I have been both a success and a failure. A success at my chosen profession to some degree but a failure as a messenger for the Lord Jesus. What is more important? What is that which will last? I think we all know the answer to that question. So I sit here in the morning patched up, sore and somewhat fused together to make it into the future what is left of it. I consider plans that have dust on them. Will they live? I do not know. The only thing I have to go on is certainly not my ability only my willingness. I am 59 years old, I have no strength left and my physicality is challenged at this time. There is no vision left for me to use, it is gone. But there is a weekend where I was reminded and perhaps stronger than that: re-called. I have no expectations and certainly no plans. I have set my sail once again. I may crash on the rocks and I may drown in the tempest but the journey is what is important not the outcome. I have already failed and there is nothing to lose.There is only a noble plan and nothing more. I take my last stand. If I fail again, I have tried. If I succeed in whatever in God’s estimation of what that means, I have counted for something. What is it we all really want to hear? ‘Well, done Thou good and faithful servant…’ That is my plan, that is all I have. I hope it is enough. 

So the questions are:
Can God use one who has squandered His greatest gift?
Will God use a washed up, never has been?

I am a ragamuffin in the deepest sense of that word. Worldly gain has been mine but I am spiritually impoverished and yet God asks me to take whatever I have left ,a few fishes and loaves, and pass them out. I have a willing heart and I may fail yet again but the service I have is given with the best I have left. I am bedraggled but willing, I am poor but had a noble start, I am tired and older than most but the sparkle off the building calls and I must go yet again. My path uncertain and ill defined. Groping in the dark for any footing and living dangerously in the hands of God. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

While We Wait

“Suffering, failure, loneliness, sorrow, discouragement, and death will be part of your journey, but the Kingdom of God will conquer all these horrors. No evil can resist grace forever.” –Brennan Manning
What is a good working definition of evil? Well, the best thing to do to really identify it is to look at how it manifests in one’s life. We have all experienced the presence of evil firsthand perhaps unwittingly. Actually if we look at the above, the first sentence is a good list of the presence and active working of evil. How? Well, if you look closer, you could say the same thing about the presence of good. In every case, the human condition faces the same set of ‘fruit’. We could say that good and evil are ever present with each of us because we all experience these aspects. The real insight comes from how we respond to the first sentence’s list of let’s call them negative aspects no one wants to have present in their lives. Our response proves what force is dominant – good or evil.
In my personal life, I have experienced both and I would say you have as well. We all have. We all will as long as there is breath. A key thing to understand is where the path leads for us as we respond to the in the first sentence. I remember when I lost my children to a dysfunctional religious group. Was I to blame? Oh yes. They were not to blame. The first few months were unmitigated hell. I can remember my wife and I driving to the beach on Friday night in very early spring (no green yet but signs of the change). We passed a car and that was not so unusual. But our thought was not to check what was even coming the other direction, we did not care. Vicki would usually always say to me ‘Please be sure’ but this time there was silence. We wanted to take the pain away at any cost to ourselves or any other. Friends, that is evil. We were engulfed in darkness. We stayed engulfed in darkness. We blamed everyone including ourselves. I would pass by a dead church (my old church that I pastored) everyday on the way to work and it was a painful reminder of my failure. My lost hope and close to my lost faith. I remember one of the leaders telling me on that fateful night that the building was ‘tainted’ and God would never move there again. Those were my thoughts and my heart would break. And so it went on and on all the while with my wife and I swimming in a sea of blackness, pitch black. Somehow, the building did not pass into their ownership which I honestly believe was their very intention during the ‘transition’. There was to be no pastor to take over but a scattering of my little flock to other places in their world. No, the plan I believe was to sell the building. This is proven by the fact that the main leader told me that fateful night ‘you know I can take you keys…’ and I let him do so. The building’s sale could increase their coffers quite a bit and that was the motive. As I look back on it, I am sure I was not the first to be fleeced. But there it sat, vacant and forlorn. I would mow the grass and pray, pray and mow my heart breaking. This went on for two years. Then something happened. A wife of a pastor somehow got my number and contacted me about renting the building. On the next Saturday, I walked my dog down to the building and let them in to take a look around. It was turnkey. There was nothing they would need to do. All they had to do was show up. I told them I would pray about it and meet with them over dinner for my decision. At that dinner, as I recall it, they did not talk about the building. They talked about us with a compassion I had not seen in my former life with my former leaders. Mercy was not one of their strong points. I remember in one pastoral meeting one of the main leaders said ‘You have to be ruthless…” when she said that I remember a chill went up my spine. These people were worlds from the world I came from. That was the major factor in my decision to have them use the building. They have been in it ever since. I have even had an occasion to preach in that building a few times. I have seen God move in that building, I have seen the altars full, I have been at the altar myself.
Ladies and gentlemen, that is the force of good. I have faced the horrors but I have also been convinced that no evil can resist grace forever. If our election is confirmed by the choices we make then I am a goner. But our election is based on something stronger. It is based on the mind and intent of God to bring good – even in the face and presence of evil. He turns self destruction into redemption. He brings mercy where there has been ruthlessness. He is the author of a Kingdom that will ever increase and never decrease. That is why His sons and daughters can go through hell in this life and still make their election sure (confirm it).
I have seen evil and I have seen good. I have been the author of “Suffering, failure, loneliness, sorrow, discouragement, and death” but for the Cross, I would have died years ago.
That is why I still wait and I still hope. It is not in my power to deliver one. But in the end I am convinced :
No evil can resist grace forever.”

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Apostle Test: A Case for the Modern Day Apostle

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Ephesus these words

 “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ…”

We might come away at first blush with the premise that all offices are in play up to the current time. I mean, certainly, it would seem by all accounts that we have not: come to a unity (universality) of the faith, our knowledge is still incomplete to bring us possibly to perfection and the full stature we would have in Christ. So the conclusion is the offices of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers must be not only present today but essential in the operation of a fully functional church in any sense. 

Well there you have it, the argument for Modern Day Apostles, it is right there in the Bible written by perhaps the most revered apostle, Paul himself. Let’s all pack our lunches and start finding places where these guys are and set up shop.

This is the mindset of many and I have to be frank, I was one of them at one time. Not to get nasty because I honestly believe these men and some women (gasp) believe themselves to be apostles. Unfortunately, there are requirements for them that are not so easily achieved. Paul met many of these false apostles who on their part claimed credentials for the most part that they were approved messengers from the esteemed leading apostles on the counsel of the Jerusalem church. These men would enter the churches Paul had established with these credentials and preached a false gospel that mixed the pure gospel of Christ with circumcision.

In the New Testament there are actually two applications of the word apostle:

11>   Primary – the primary usage surrounds the actual apostolic call that was given to the original twelve and Paul. These are men that were personally called by Jesus Christ to their ministry. We could call them  ‘Apostles TO the Church’ What this means is covered below.

22>   Secondary – the secondary usage surrounds those who accompanied and aided the Primary Apostle in his spreading of the gospel. We could call them ‘Apostles OF the Church’
This is a good working definition of the usage of term ‘apostle’ as it is used in the bible in a grammatical, contextual and thematic way. One thing to notice here is the Secondary group of apostles is dependent on the presence of the Primary group. This secondary group either accompanied the apostle or was sent as a messenger by the Primary apostle. Let’s stop here for a moment and ponder this. I think the conclusion we could come to is there is not necessarily a symbiotic nature to this relationship where both independent parties find and share in ministries. No, the presence of the secondary group can only exist as messengers ( the term apostle used in a more general sense than the specific use of it when applied to the Primary group). For example, John Calvin had this conclusion regarding Andronicus and Junias when the term apostle is applied to them: “…he {sic Paul} calls them Apostles: he uses not this word in its proper and common meaning but extends it wider, even to all those who not only teach in one Church, but also spend their labor in promulgating the gospel everywhere…” (Calvins Commentary of the Epistle to the Romans). So the ‘wider’ usage of the term is quite different than the primary term in the sense that one is sent/commissioned by a Primary Apostle for a specified purpose. The key to understanding the usage here is that we might better interpret the role of this secondary group as a Relay/deputy of the Primary group.Ths can be said for any of the extraneous people who were mentioned as apostles or at least where mentioned when the term was used: Andronicus, Junias, Timothy, Silvanus, Epaphroditus, possibly Apollos and James.  Taking all this into account, explains the simple count of ‘apostles’ including both the primary and secondary group as approximately 22 give or take. .

Here is the first test: Can the ministry of an apostle exist on its own, independent of any other human person? If it can, then that person qualifies in part as an apostle in the Primary sense. In other words, their ministry is not dependent on another person. Of all in the secondary group, we can say in most every case, their ministry would not be possible without the Primary Apostle. This discounts them into a secondary group as messengers not apostles in the Primary sense.

Interestingly, the multi-ethnicity characteristic is removed from the Primary group. All these men, the Twelve, Matthias, Paul, Barnabas, Apollos and James were Jews. This will become a lynch pin in the forthcoming analysis.

This does not directly address the question at the outset. ‘Are there modern day apostles?’ In fact, there are many today that claim to be apostles whose ministries we could say can survive on their own. But the above does address one key issue, the secondary group of apostles (messengers), have a dependence that their ministries lifeblood is in their association with a primary apostle. In other words, where there is no primary apostle, there is no secondary on either. While this does not address the key question, it is a crucial point to note as was trudge on.

Now that we have separated the groups and defined the nature of the Primary Group, we can better define this group. Let’s start with the 14 Primary Apostles (I use 14 here at the outset).

Who were these? They were the original 11 plus Matthias. These would could sub-divide as the Apostles to the Lamb. They had been with Jesus through His Earthly Ministry, Had seen him resurrected physically, been charged directly by the Resurrected Christ (save one Matthias who was chosen by lot to replace Judas Iscariot) to preach the gospel to the known world at that time. The thirteenth was Paul, who had also been commissioned by Christ and witness to the physical resurrection of Christ. (Acts 26:16). Paul was born as one out of time (1 Cor 15:8). This likened him to one premature born in the sense that he was not a ‘developed’ as the Apostles to the Lamb since he had not been trained by Christ during his earthly ministry yet seen as a peer to his ‘brothers’ having the same One that commissioned him. Then there is Barnabas. While known as a Cyprian Jew and his earliest mention in the scriptures right before the ordeal with Ananias and Sapphira  (Acts 4:36). What we do not know is of his commission by The Lord Jesus. We do not know if he was of the company that was with Jesus during His earthly ministry like Matthias. What we do know he was not chosen as one to cast lots for the lost office of Judas Iscariot. Frankly, we cannot know by the scriptures if he even saw the resurrected Christ. In all estimation, these have to go into account when we talk about his apostleship and it’s nature. I have no doubt that he was separated with Paul for a work to which they were called. I know that he was present with the working of miracles in their ministry but this is still no proof of him being in the primary group. An apostle? In some sense for sure but in my estimation and by the criteria above, he does not qualify as in the primary group. One additional note is that when there was a break with Paul, there is no more mention of Barnabas in additional ministry other than re-visiting the churches He and Paul had established. This in my mind relegates Barnabas to the Secondary grouping. Apollos was from Alexandria and by scriptural accounts was preaching the message of John the Baptist possibly during  and definitely after the ascension of Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit to the church. So, we stand at fourteen. The final reduction is Matthias, James the brother of Jesus and Apollos. While they meet all the criterion, there is one key factor missing: There is no mention of either receiving no documented personal calling by the resurrected Christ. Specifically, James no doubt was seen as a key leader but the formal title he held was bishop of the church at Jerusalem. He is credited with the writing of his epistle and is to be considered as perhaps holding a unique case concerning that. This is a true sign of an apostle which is that his teachings and works are universally accepted as canonized. However the bible is not clear regarding is personal call by Christ as the others.  This is crucial since to be in the Primary Group, the personal charge and choosing by the resurrected Son of God done in a physical form, is essential. Apollos was from Alexandria and by scriptural accounts was preaching the message of John the Baptist possibly during  and definitely after the ascension of Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit to the church. There simply is no record of Apollos receiving any direct charge from Jesus Christ and he in scripture is never associated with the term apostle in the primary sense. He deserves all honor but canonly be relegated to the secondary grouping, So in my estimation while apostles in the sense of the general use, they are relegated to the secondary group. We are down to twelve: The original eleven plus the Apostle Paul.

Here is the second test: Has the person been an eyewitness to the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ and in that same time space been personally charged by Jesus Christ Himself to be a witness and carry His revelation to the entire world. Now let’s pause here a minute and ask ourselves what this really means. First of all, this is no vision. This is a physical presence. He could be seen, heard and felt. He could be interacted with as Paul actually had a conversation with Him in his calling. Is this a rare occurrence in the Bible. Yes, one of the rarest. The number of theophany events that include a personal manifestation of God are something you can count with your fingers in recorded biblical history. It is rare, very rare. There has not been one I know of that has been recorded in over two thousand years. Secondly, the personal charge of Jesus’ revelation to bring into the world would simply mean that they would not be repeating the truths already recorded and known but would be revealing new revelation as they received it from  Jesus Christ through His Holy Spirit and recording those revelations in holy writ. These men were innovators and were actually the conduit for the holy writ to come into being. They were the vehicles for God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.

So if we recap here in order to be  a part of the primary group of Apostles, one must be an eyewitness to perhaps the rarest of events. Can this take place in modern times? Yes but it is a possibility not a probability. One thing we do know, is one in the primary group would be able to add to the revelation of Jesus Christ being so charged by Jesus Himself with that very task. To be clear, this does not include the unlocking of the existing scriptures, it is being directly involved in their composition.

So after the whittling down a bit we are down to twelve key figures. These twelve have everything required in common as described. Here is an interesting fact: they were all Jewish. That might be obvious at first glance but here is what is not so obvious. Each was raised as a practicing Jew and were well acquainted with the Jewish practices, traditions and each passed the rite of transition into manhood where they lead the reading of the scriptures in a synagogue. Paul perhaps eclipsed them all being a Pharisee, a Jew of Jews. Why is this so important? It is because they were the products of the collective Jewish people from the beginning point from Abraham on ( and ever further back than that!). They knew the culture and the scriptures and how those ancient writings could be brought into the revelation of Jesus Christ to buttress and support it through examples and quotations inter-sprinkled in the new revelation they were recording. They understood the prophetic heritage of the Jewish people and were able to leverage it and emphasize the Lord Jesus being the fulcrum upon which the entire creation rests. They were able to reflect the nature of Yhwh into the person of Jesus Christ. These men were bridges to an ancient culture where they were physically the roadway and passage of the Revelation of God from the Old Testament to the New. These men were walking miracles in my opinion. Their grouping is perhaps one of the most unique in recorded history.

Here is the third test: In order to be common to the primary group, one must not only create teachings that extend the known revelation of God to the world, they must have a perspective and human experience that reflects and is common to the primary group. These writings as holy writ were confirmed by the fact that they were universally accepted by the churches at large during the first century and thereafter. This is a key factor to the proof one is truly an apostle: their teachings are universally accepted by the church at large. This is a challenge for any person who would propose that they are an apostle – in fact history would show that there has been no one since that primary group that has scribed anything to this scale. In addition, I would venture to say that if one is not of Jewish origin, there can be no claim to be in the primary group. That person simply has no basis or standing for it.  Without these points, at best, those persons must be relegated to the secondary group of apostles.

The twelve we have whittled down to all suffered for their ministry. In most cases, each died a martyr for their Lord. Countless beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonment, being exiled were the fate of these men. There is suffering in modern times I know. But what must be compared are the degrees of suffering using these men as a baseline.

Here is the fourth test: In order to be in the primary group, suffering must be documented that is to the degree documented in the bible of the primary group. It is easy to say one has suffered but holding one’s suffering to this standard and being able to compare them and conclude they are comparable, is a requirement. If not, then that person must be relegated to the secondary grouping.

This primary group was renowned for their spiritual power. This can be listed as the working of signs and wonders that accompanied their preaching the gospel to parts unfamiliar to the message as confirmation of the truth of their words. This is the most difficult one to assess objectively by the subjective nature we all hold about signs and wonders. What is a sign and wonder to me might not be that to you. So in order to cut down the list of a sign and wonder, let’s use the scriptures themselves to define what these are:
11>   A sign and wonder must be generally accepted by all. The example here is the working of signs and wonders by the Apostles Paul (primary) and Barnabas (secondary) in the city of Iconium. That caused the people to call them deities.
22>   Miraculous deliverances such as Peter’s and Paul’s deliverances for prison.
33>   Healings of people who had permanent disabilities from birth.
44>   Raising people from the dead.
55>   Power over natural creatures: On the island of Melita, Paul was snake-bit but survived.

These types are in a class by themselves that caused one thing to happen, conversion of people of those cities to Jesus Christ resulting in the establishment of churches.

Here is the fifth test: In order to be in the primary group, a person must have documented evidence that is generally accepted as miraculous that has also been documented to have caused the revival of those places in which the sign or wonder had taken place. This is because the main purpose of any sign and wonder was documented to be in an evangelical action or effort or the result or consequence of an evangelical action. Signs and wonders are done in the field of service and not within church walls. So, a true apostle must be one in the field actively working most of the time to even qualify for the potential of manifesting a sign or wonder as a result of their intent to forward the revelation of Jesus Christ to the world: If these are not evident and in operation in a person, at best they must be relegated to the secondary group.

So, how did your candidate fare with the test?

 Did he pass the test as an Apostle in the primary grouping?

What about the secondary grouping?

I would venture to say that there are still twelve.

What about the secondary grouping. Maybe your candidate falls more into the second grouping. Well, that might be true but the key here as detailed above, the secondary group depends on the presence of a Primary

Where there is no primary, there can be no secondary. 

We still have twelve.

The Final Analysis

The office of apostle has no legitimacy in this age because the group is still twelve. There are no more. There will be no more. A person can say they have ‘seen’ Jesus, any one can say that and often do. This is no different than the false apostles (messengers) in Paul’s day who brought false credentials in the name of the Council of Jerusalem to foist their additions to the gospel message in the form for the requirement for post-repentance acts such as circumcision. What one cannot do is be a bridge to a past that is no longer is present. The space-time window for an apostle is over. There is no being a bridge to transition the revelation of God from the Old to the New Testament mainly because it has already been done. There can be no tie or heritage or perspective to a culture lost to history. It is simply impossible. There will be no universal acceptance of anyone’s teachings to the magnitude of the works of the primary group. The scripture canon has been closed for almost two thousand years in a formal sense. There is no new revelation and according to John’s Revelation those that seek to add or take away will suffer dire consequences. To continue, the suffering one can undergo in this day can be heinous but is it ever to be to the degree of this primary group? I doubt it. Finally, the working of signs and wonders although controversial can be clearly legitimized as to the fruit those actions produce, namely people coming to Jesus as a result of the sign or wonder. The whole point is, has your candidate been enough in the field to produce even the possibility of these events occurring?
So, let’s revisit the scripture in Ephesians that we started with:

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, 
pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ…”

Our questions that we had at the beginning are still unanswered at first take aren’t they. But let’s look again using the analysis above on the office of apostle.

If there is no presence of an apostle made in the modern church, it would seem that there is no progression of the Lord’s church to reach full maturity. This is the conclusion of some and as such, they still make a case for modern-day apostles. It would seem that this scripture is at odds with the findings of the analysis thus far. What is the answer? The answer comes in the subject of the verse. The church. It is for the church that Christ gave the gifts unto men as he ascended to take His rightful place. These gifts were to the church described here as in the ministries listed in this verse. 

To get it down to basics, there are stages to any building. There is preparation of the building site such as the removal of brush and debris, perhaps terra-forming to some site plan. There is also the building of a foundation upon which that church will rest. There is the actual building, its occupancy and maintenance. In this analogy, the office of apostle can be seen as the building phase. They do the prep work and lay the foundation (see 1 Cor 3). The primary role of the apostle was to establish the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ. This was through their life’s work of preaching and writing the scriptures to establish the church and to provide its foundation. Once that work is accomplished, the church is ready for the next step. All the while the vision of Jesus for His church becomes more a reality upon that foundation laid where the scriptures written provide the vehicles for unity and maturity. It is not that we ever arrive at perfection. We will not in this life but the church goes beyond life. What is pictured here is a life lived in a foundation built that allows entry into the church, a life lived housed in the church of Jesus Christ where the man enters and is established by that foundation and grows and changes into maturity through their life and when their life is reaching completion, they are ready for the next phase where the full stature and the unity of the spirit are manifested, in the presence of their Lord and Savior. This process of the saints within the church is balanced and confirmed with Ephesians 2:19-20:

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone…”

This scripture confirms a general sense unity of the body as well given this is addressed to a gentile based church. The emphasis of this scripture is that there is one unified body and there is no difference between Jew or Greek. Both are built upon the foundation of the apostles (New Testament) and prophets ( the Old Testament is also a part of  that foundation because the word of God spans both time frames).  Taking these scriptures into account, the fact that the foundation is laid and there can be no other ( 1 Cor 3). As a point of emphasis, the phrase ‘are built’ is in the aorist tense in particular the first aorist tense. The aorist tense is used to set the action firmly at some point in time in the past. There is no on-going or continuing action. It is set firmly in the past.

The redeeming factor here is that in the analysis presented, the ancient primary group is essentially active and present even though their physical presence is not. They are most certainly there in everything the church does, everything the church grows into and everything the church will be. The same way a foundation is active in the sense it supports and upholds all activity that will occur in a structure. I will mention in passing that the teachers and pastors as well as evangelists play an active and continuing role  during the church age but the role of prophet in the sense of writing holy writ and the role of apostle as being a living personified force is long past.

The point being, there is no need for modern-day apostles because the role of the primary group is STILL active and powerful as when they trod this world. In eternity, there is no time. These are men of eternity, being a bridge from an ancient past into the ever present. They are still with us so there are no needs for their replacement.

So, where does this put a modern day Apostle?

This has great implications for those who press the issue of modern day apostles. There is no more shakier ground to stand upon than to say the foundation of the church is flawed and needs supplements. In fact, the assertion of the need for the continued apostolic office does not fully appreciate the work of Christ for the church. In the words of our Savior:

It is Finished.

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Birthday Song

It is my oldest daughter's birthday and I miss and will always love her. This entry is for her in case she ever feels it is too much....there is always home and the door is always open.

Happy Birthday, my oldest one. I love you.

"The House That Built Me"

I know they say you cant go home again. 
I just had to come back one last time. 
Ma'am I know you don't know me from Adam. 
But these handprints on the front steps are mine. 
And up those stairs, in that little back bedroom 
is where I did my homework and I learned to play guitar. 
And I bet you didn't know under that live oak 
my favorite dog is buried in the yard. 

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it 
this brokenness inside me might start healing. 
Out here its like I'm someone else, 
I thought that maybe I could find myself 
if I could just come in I swear I'll leave. 
Won't take nothing but a memory 
from the house that built me. 

You leave home, you move on and you do the best you can. 
I got lost in this whole world and forgot who I am. 

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it 
this brokenness inside me might start healing. 
Out here its like I'm someone else, 
I thought that maybe I could find myself. 
If I could walk around I swear I'll leave. 
Won't take nothing but a memory 
from the house that built me.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Strange Fire - a Case Study

My wife and I have collaborated on the below. I thought it was a good example of dysfunctional group's notorious and regular use of taking biblical text out of context. It is a good lesson in what to look for when visiting an independent non-denominational type of church. There are many good churches of this type out there but there are also many not so good. Here is an example of what to do when you see extraordinary practices in a group that are seemingly backed by scripture yet take an entirely wrong trajectory and so its conclusion. What is 'Strange Fire'? The example comes out of The Penteteuch books of Leviticus (10:1) and Numbers (3:4,26:61) where forms of worship were not accepted because they were not according to the Lord's instructions. We have the Bible now, and thus even more so it must be followed for any subject. It is clear, the absence of any subject does not make it an acceptable practice especially when it comes to the Almighty.

                                      Praise and Worship 
               An Example of Scripture Taken Out of Context
                                        by Vicki Flynn 

      What you are about to read is an example of “bad” interpretation of scripture. This is prevalent in many non-denominational churches and hopefully this will make you aware of “wrong doctrine”. When there is no accountability, the leaders are apt to trust their own conclusions. This is warned against in the scriptures and has proven to be detrimental to many believers.

     When you are looking into a place to worship, make sure that there is an order of accountability in the leadership. There shouldn’t be one man who shoulders all the theological premise of the church. There should be many “counselors” who help make the final decisions of doctrine, government and spiritual guidance.

     Kevin and I were discussing praise and worship in a Latter Rain church according to what we had witnessed when we attended this church. If you have never experienced this type of praise and worship, you might find it quite different. Probably the best expression of it is found in the practices of the movement by its original leaders. Here is an excerpt from Richard Riss’ work on the movement: 
      We have heard vague rumors of the so-called Heavenly Choir in association with the outpouring of the Spirit which occurred around the turn of the century and have longed to hear it. But having heard it we must confess that it completely beggars not only description but also in large part both appreciated and understanding…A deep consciousness of the Spirit of Worship and Song always pervades the meeting as prelude to the choir….The most outstanding thing about it is the amazingly complicated depth of harmony…There is such a perfect order and timing as the mighty chords swell and roll that one is forced to concede that there is an unseen conductor”  -- Riss, Richard, Latter Rain Honeycomb Visual Productions Ltd, 1295 Eglinton Ave. E, Mississauga, Ontario, LAW 3e6, Canada Copyright 1987 pp 82-83

      What we experienced first, is the usual singing of hymns and songs. The progression into what is described above is a matter of song selection to cause the congregation to focus on God. Then the leader initiated what is described by Riss. In the Latter Rain based church we were in, the following scripture is what was used to support this type of praise and worship:
Hebrews 2:12
He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.”
13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.”

      The question is: Is this form of praise and worship biblical? After some discussion and research, I have to say, it is not. In fact, there is no form of worship in the entire bible that follows this pattern for corporate worship. So, we must at face value discount the form of worship here.
     This scripture was used and twisted into a doctrine that was ultimately practiced by the Latter Rain Movement. Because of the experience people received, it was validated. The apostle ironically taught in this church that experiences need a biblical base. That is completely absent here.
     Let’s look at this doctrine from the Latter Rain perspective as practiced in this church:

      Heb 12:12-13 – The 'apostle' taught:
     Praise and worship is the spirit of Jesus walking to and fro through the assembly singing praises to the Father. In other words, the Holy Spirit is singing through the people to worship the Father. Then once the people have ministered to Him, He returns the gesture by ministering to the people by distributing gifts of the Spirit i.e. prophesy, tongues, interpretation of tongues, etc.

     Let’s look again, objectively at what the writer of Hebrews is saying. First, we need to know to whom he is writing to. He is writing to the Jewish people using the scripture they had at the time.
     He uses Psalm 22, a Messianic Psalm to teach from. In context, Saul pursued David for several years to kill him.

  22:1 - My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.

 David is prophetically ( verse 1) speaking the same words that Jesus spoke on the cross. This psalm is a window into a distant event. That event is what Jesus did for us by undergoing horrific suffering and ultimately dying for us by shedding his blood.     Jesus is looking forward to the utter triumph that His sacrifice would bring into being for mankind. This ‘looking forward’ is prophetically foreshadowed by David. David suffered humiliation and the threat of death at the hand of Saul but looked forward to his triumph when God would seat him on the throne and make him king of Israel. When he was crowned, he was elated and humbled by what God did and wanted to praise Him for making him king.
 David was promising and committing to Almighty God that when he was seated as King, he would proclaim the mightiness and power of God to the court and all the people. This is the meaning of ‘I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee’ in context.

 Clearly, it was NOT congregational worship but a proclamation from David of God’s greatness TO the congregation. Christ culminated this prophesy in the heavenlies when He went before God with His blood and was accepted by God His Father into Heaven. He was clearly the initiator, not the congregation.
Remember, Hebrews is written to the Jewish people and the writer of Hebrews is using the writings to show them that Jesus is truly the Messiah. It was written to the Hebrews in such a way that there would be no question as to His deity.  The writer continues with the writing of Hebrews and tells the people that Jesus also suffered. He was made lower than the angels for a little while and suffered death and then was exalted by being seated on the throne at the right hand of God confirming David’s prophesy: 

     The author of Hebrews starts out in Chapter Two…
 1 We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3 how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.  Heb 2:1-4
 The scripture describes to perfection the one-time event of Pentecost. The acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice by God as cited in Peter’s account, Acts Chapter 2. This is a significant one- time event – in other words, it is not supposed to be repeated.

Hebrews Chapter 2:
     9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.[g] 12 He says,
“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.”[h]13 And again,“I will put my trust in him.”

     This is not about the spirit of Jesus walking to and fro through the church proclaiming His name to the brethren through praise every Sunday, becoming liturgy. How shallow in comparison to the following:

     * This is about a one -time event where Jesus was crowned with glory, culminating His sacrifice on the cross and then finally and eternally sitting down on the right hand of God, His Father. He then sings praises unto God the Father for what He has done on Jesus’ behalf. 

     * This is about the writer of Hebrews showing the Jew that God the Father was so pleased with Jesus’ sacrifice, making Him perfect through His suffering, He then made our salvation worthy enough to be called family by Jesus who was not ashamed to do so.

     *  It’s not about us ministering to God then receiving back ministry from Him.  It is about Him, Jesus, who accomplished conquering death and making a way for eternal life by His sacrifice of being nailed to a cross, shedding His blood and then tasting death for all of us, being accepted by God the Father who in turn sent the Holy Spirit to the church.

     To reiterate: One of the main scriptures used by Latter Rain groups, especially the group we were in, is magnitudes out of context and the focus of is completely wrong. It is not the congregation at all or congregational worship. It is about Jesus and Jesus alone.

     This is a taste of eisegesis (scripture interpreted through a personal filter) that is taught by the apostle. Not exegesis where there is an objective view taken by considering many different views of the same scripture, then coming to a conclusion. The danger of one-man’s revelation: 

Where no counsel is, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety. Proverbs 11:14