Flashing Lights. Facts About Authority, Part I

When certain events take place in our lives, odors, sounds, colors, food, etc., can anchor those moments in our memory. So, at later times, when we smell a certain aroma or see a certain image our minds rocket back to those distant events. For me, special events or people are brought to mind when I smell funnel cake at a fair or hear, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, sung by the Hawaiian crooner, Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole. I could be lost in thinking about another disappointing Penguins season and suddenly remember my Aunt Florence because I smell a certain perfume. Memories are powerful reminders of where we’ve been and what we’ve experienced.

Now, before I get to my story, I want to tell you what I began to learn many years ago. I discovered that true authority is given, it’s never taken! You’ve heard people say something like, “I was in the meeting and it was going nowhere so I took control and saved the day!” Well, maybe for the meeting, but not for the authority that was present! When someone does this they don’t have authority, they’ve merely taken control. Even if the person “earns authority” there’s always someone that must bestow it, whether a single individual or a group.

Years ago I bought a used VW Rabbit and it ran like a top! It had a silver exterior with a gray/blue interior and lots of “extras” that made it a “Black Tie” special edition. It was faithful through several trips to and from Miami during my undergraduate career.

While home one summer, my faithful Rabbit developed a bit of an issue with the oil light. Every time I went over 35 mph the light would flash on. So, off I drove to Dave’s Friendly Service in town for repair work. He fixed it up and I was on my way. However, being new to driving, warning lights and automobiles, I went easy on the accelerator. As I left the station I was extra careful to watch for the light to flash on (back then lights had just replaced gauges and there was rumor that when a light came on an explosion was imminent. I know better now). So, as I drove up a long hill approaching the community college, I was hovering right at 40 mph. No sooner did I crest and start to head downhill when lights started to flash, but not on the dashboard. They were in my rearview mirror!

When we take authority or control, we do a few things. 1) We set ourselves up as false kings. Yes, all Hades may be clamoring around you, but it’s not yours to take and you place yourself in a position that isn’t yours to be in. 2) We can actually make things worse! Short of a, “there’s-a-zombie-apocalypse-with-no-leadership-and-we’ve-gotta-do-something-now” scenario, when we take control we are usurping someone else’s authority and that’s not a good thing. 3) We can miss out on some major blessings by not adhering to the authority in place. If you want, take some time in the Bible and read about Jesus’ character in Philippians chapter 2 and the rewards that accompanied his humility when we He came under authority rather than grabbing for it.

Many people, who sidestep the path of authority, taking it upon them selves rather than waiting for it to be given to them, have forfeited many unseen blessings. The life of King David in the Older Testament book of 1 Samuel is a classic example of someone who would not take authority until it had fully been given to him. He was greatly blessed because of this.*

As I collected all of my paperwork for the trooper, my heart raced and my stomach was in knots. That nasty feeling that’s always present when we see law enforcement lights in our mirrors was mine in all its glory. “Do you know why I pulled you over?” queried the state trooper. “Uh, no…,” I said dumbfoundedly. “I clocked you doing 55 in a 40 zone,” he responded. I knew this was impossible because I had just come from the service station so carefully watching my speedometer. As I tried to elaborate he simply raised his hand and my mouth magically closed, like a marionette on a string. I’m awestruck to this day how he did that.

The reason why I pulled over and my mouth shut was because I acknowledged his authority. But the reason why he could pull me over was because he had authority and it had been given to him. Keep this in mind, honoring authority has nothing to do with having authority. We’ve heard of people who’ve dressed up like police only to deceive others. They don’t have authority even though we may honor the authority they (falsely) represent. And, just because someone has authority doesn’t mean we always honor it – parents know this full well with their children. More on this tidbit in another post.

Authority is always given, never taken. Yes, there are military coup d'é·tat that replace one government with another, but either one won’t relinquish authority or the other wants it so badly they’ll kill for it. And that’s another side of authorityit always rests with the person or entity it’s been given to until its time is done. Failure to acknowledge when you’re authority has been taken away is heinous and usually ends up beyond tragic. It never bodes well for the corporate CEO who was fired on Friday to show up to work on Monday.

So, authority is always given, never taken. And, when it’s run its course, it’s time to give it up.

In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 28, verses 18-20, Jesus gives His final instructions before leaving earth. He commands His disciples to make more disciples. He begins His command like this, “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me, therefore…” It would seem that after Jesus was beaten, bloodied, nailed to a cross and slaughtered then brought back from the dead, that He wouldn’t need anyone telling Him or giving Him anything! Yet, even He didn’t take authority for Himself. God the Father gave Jesus the authority to instruct His disciples. Jesus sets the stage for how authority is supposed to function.

The end of my state trooper story was actually pretty positive. I did get a ticket but I decided to contest it. Although I didn’t present my case very well in court, the trooper took much pity on me and actually told the judge that he may have clocked someone else speeding. I was more dumbfounded in the courtroom than when I was on the roadside! There’s a certain ritual that’s repeated by police and judges when someone is caught speeding and it’s bulletproof. God, the court and the trooper had mercy on me that day.

So, let me repeat the lessons I’ve learned so that you may not make my same blunders.

1) Authority is always given, never taken. Control is taken, authority is given.

2) Acknowledging and honoring authority is a choice.

3) When the allotted time for authority expires, give it up – no matter what!

These lessons will serve you well if you’ll remember them. May this blog will serve as a positive anchor for you to remember these truths.

This is a substantial topic and I will be posting more about authority in the coming months, like, “does it matter if the authority is flawed or poorly executed?” May God bless you as you grow in executing the authority given to you.

This is the Governor's Mansion in Williamsburg, VA. What a pronouncement of authority!

This is the Governor's Mansion in Williamsburg, VA. What a pronouncement of authority!

*For an excellent book that illustrates some of what I’ve written about read, A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness, by Gene Edwards is highly recommended.