Loyalty to Our Friends

Completely Loyal

“Loyalty and truth preserve the king,
         And he upholds his throne by righteousness.” 

Prov. 20:28

 “Through these fields of destruction, baptism of fire
I’ve watched all your suffering, as the battles raged higher
And though they did hurt me so bad, in the fear and alarm
You did not desert me, my brothers in arms”

Dire Straits, ’84

Loyalty, and our deep committment to our “brothers” and our “sisters” should be growing in your life right now.  It should be “escorting” you to a deeper sense of intimacy with each other.  About 20 years ago, I visited a Lutheran church on a Sunday service.  There was a point in the liturgy when you were to greet the people around you.  I remember grabbing a guy in the pew in front of me.  I gave him a massive bear hug, squeezing the air from him.  He was my brother, even though he was a stranger!  I hung on tight to him.  He was my brother.

In Bible times David and Jonathan had a friendship that defied political reasoning.  Jonathan was supposed to be the next king of Judah, everything had been arranged by his father, Saul.  But when David came into Jonathan’s life, everything was changed.  An instant friendship changed everything.  They would remain loyal to each other for the rest of their lives. I believe they are a model of what we are to each other, in the church.

I will confess to you, I have neglected so much in my spiritual walk.  There is a lot I am ashamed of. I have sinned more as a Christian, than I ever did before I came to Christ.   As a Christian, I have sinned quite vigorously.  But one thing, I have held to beyond all else.  I loved my brothers.  They all know who they are!  I can list them if you want.  But in the final analysis, I have been faithful to them.  I’m pretty stupid, in so many ways.  But it seems that at this particular level, things are simplified.  “Do you love, Allen?  Of course I do, Father: even if he is in a strange and difficult place, I love my brother; always, and forever.”

Loyalty to those who have been brought into our lives, should not ever be diminished or explained away for what we call “logical reasons.”  There should be a connection that should never, ever be terminated.  Some of the brothers who I connected to in the ’80s, are no longer serving the Lord.  But as I think of them, there is a relationship that can’t be broken, even by their disobedience.  I still love them deeply.

Being loyal to someone, does not mean you honor their choices, or their sin.  It seems that the issues they grapple with, can’t ever really erode or diminish your love for them.  When I was a boy, on occasion we declared a “blood” oath with each other.  It was almost “ceremonial,” we would cut our thumbs and meld with each other, mixing blood with blood.  If only commitment and loyalty were that easy.  But this is the definition of an “agape love.”

I believe the Holy Spirit sees, and honors loyalty.  But I admit, I’m not doing this things for His blessing.  Rather it is a compulsion, something I know is right; something I will do until they bury me.  And I honestly can’t explain it. But they will always be  my “brothers in arms.”

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When Life is Dark and Heaven is Quiet

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God’s people have always had to wrestle with the things from the dark.  We are in a permanent state of war.  There has never been an armistice or treaty signed to my knowledge.  Each of us are in the front lines.  The devil has been practicing with a deadly form of “spiritual terrorism.”  And he terrorizes many with his posturing and manipulation.

Life can get quite oh so dark, and desperately bleak.  Many of us who struggle with a mental illness have been made very much aware of this situation.  No one needs to educate us about the dark nightmare that is come.  We know what has happened, in the ‘here and now.’

Over a couple of millennium, God’s covenant people have been harmed and harassed.  Enemies are constantly manipulating and twisting–in a very serious way, mind you.

“And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.”

John 3:19, NLT

God has not been silent.  And He certainly has not been passive.  As we read our Bibles (and let our Bibles read us) our faith becomes a bit like teflon.  Nothing can stick to us; even though so much is thrown at us.  When life is really dark, and terribly bleak, we can protect ourselves and others and avoid an ugly spiritual injury.

There are times when we can sense nothing. Sometimes heaven is silent. But I believe, it is never, ever disinterested.  We can read in our Bibles, Hebrews 12:1, (ESV.)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”

I believe each of us has an audience.  Some say that this can’t be so.  And I do admit that there is a bit of a challenge here.  But if we look at the other parts of this verse, we simply can’t nullify the first part.  We must take the whole verse at “face value.”  We are not theologians, we are simple disciples.  He knows this.  He simplifies things in order to help us understand.  He has little reason to complicate things for us.

I believe that we are “surrounded” by saints from all ages.  They see in us a faith that justifies us.  And I must admit, that helps me.  I am part of a continuum.  I now know that my simple faith, must always pass the test of discouragement.

But now the torch is passed, and now I must run with it faithfully and honestly.  And when all is so dark, and things seem far too quiet, I still intend to hold up that torch and carry it all the way to my Father’s house.

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“There was a castle called Doubting Castle, the owner whereof was Giant Despair.”

John Bunyan, “Pilgrims Progress”

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Can a Mother Forget

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Yet Jerusalem says, “The Lord has deserted us;  the Lord has forgotten us.”
Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child?  Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible,    
 I would not forget you! 16 See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands. Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins.”

Isaiah 49:14-16, NLT

Some of us need to be persuaded of God’s love. We are unconvinced. But Isaiah understands. We grasp the theology, but not the meaning. Our own native ideas keep us in disbelief. Perhaps the greatest liability we have as believers is this doubt that God really feels this way about us. But, He does. Isaiah claims the impossible, yet grounds himself in what is real. The Father loves us and we’re His very own. Even if we don’t seem as holy as we ought to be. In His out reached hands, we discover scars.  This is the price He has purchased us with. We once were blind, and very lost— but now we are His own children.

We are given the impression that He more than ‘loves’ us; He ‘likes’ us. That dear ones, is not a point I’m prepared to support with scripture— it doesn’t exist except in my own thinking. I know that He theologically loves me. But I also believe God also likes me as well. Surely, there is such a fine line here, between ‘like’ and love. The more I walk with the Lord, and it’s been almost 35 years now, the more I do love/like Him. I have learned to like Him as much as I love Him. And if God doesn’t like me, I think it diminishes His love.

Some of us must be persuaded again and again of God’s love.

Regardless, Isaiah speaks for the Lord with tender things. Among the people they had the mindset that God had somehow forgotten them. They thought that they were ‘the lost ones.’ God uses the analogy of a mother. A nurturing mother. This metaphor is strong and sure. No, God hasn’t forgotten His people. Look at His hands, your name is ‘tattooed’ on them. You’re His, forever.

“In math, if you divide an infinite number by any number, no matter how large, you still have an infinite quotient. So Jesus’ love, being infinite, even though it is divided up for every person on earth, is still infinitely poured out on each one of us!” 

Charles Spurgeon

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Bitter Water

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“Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. 23 When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).

24 Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded. 25 So Moses cried out to the Lord for help, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. Moses threw it into the water, and this made the water good to drink.

It was there at Marah that the Lord set before them the following decree as a standard to test their faithfulness to him.”

In this brief narration we have a graphic portrait of the condition of many within the Church today. The situation is becoming critical and its effects are devastasting. Some call it ‘crossless Christianity,’ ‘cheap grace’ or the ‘new cross.’ The writer of Exodus 15 calls it ‘bitter water.’

The children of Israel had begun to murmur. They demanded water for the long and hot journey through the Sinai desert. Coming to the ‘springs of Marah’ they basically undrinkable and bitter.

Mosrs responds directly to directly quell this potential rebellion. He begins to cry out to the Lord (what else can you do?) and begs the Lord for wisdom. He must know the next step.  “So Moses cried out to the Lord for help,” There was a tree, a piece of wood, and when that wood was tossed into the waters, the water were made sweet.

Today– people are waiting— searching for water. And never, ever has there been such a desperate search. They stampede to any new well on the horizon, and they search for anything on the horizon. Any well will do. Some will seek there lives away, only to perish at the ‘end.’ They’re chasing a mirage.

The Church is to be a well, an oasis in a dry and desperate land. But the water is becoming ‘bitter.’ We have defiled it with ‘sin and self.’ Friends, please understand— the ‘bitterness’ of our ‘uncrucified’ flesh was polluted our wells. We have poisoned our selves.

We need ‘the cross.’ It is a sweet source fo our ‘bitterness.’ We must return to ‘the old rugged cross.’ We need to embrace its cruelty again. Jesus, himself said this: “Whoever doesn’t bear his cross, and follow me cannot be my disciple.’  Those who followed after Him needed no preacher to interpret. Rome had a nasty habit of executing her criminals publicly. Everyone who had listened to Jesus Christ had seen people crucified. One Roman general, after suppressing a Jewish rebellion crucified 2,000 men at one time. The roads into Jerusalem were lined with crosses of dying men.

Every man and woman could see the terrible price of resisting Rome. This would result in death, and there are no halfway about it. A cross is a radical thing. There is nothing ‘halfway’ about it. It demands ‘no less than all.” A cross was a radical thing thing.

The Cross is in danger of being misinterpreted’ today. Somehow, our cross is somehow different. It seems softer, and more padded, it doesn’t rub us the wrong way.” It allows us much: our favorite habits, our prideful ways, and our self-centered ways. It would seem that what we call ‘our cross’ has a built-in ‘life-support’ system that keeps our old man alive just a little bit longer.

The Cross was an intensely radical thing. It demanded no less than everything.

“Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. 18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth.”

Philippians 3:17-19

There were those who opposed ‘the cross.’ But they didn’t oppose Christ— but were enemies of the cross. They loved and admired Jesus– they would sing and worship, but well, the cross was a different story. They refused to pick theirs up. They don’t want the ‘real’ cross, but will easily slip into ‘holiness’. They are really religious, but in a ‘crossless’ sort of way.

Dr. A.W. Tozer in an article entitled “The Old Cross and the New” wrote: “The new cross is not opposed to the human race, rather it is a friendly pal, and if understood aright, it is the source of oceans of good clean fun, and innocent enjoyment. His life motivation is unchanged, he still lives for his own pleasure, only he takes delight in singing choruses and watching religious films, instead of singing bawdy songs, and drinking hard liquor. The accent is still on enjoyment, though the fun is on a higher plane morally, if not intellectually.The new cross does not slay the sinner, but redirects him.”

“The old cross is a symbol of death. It stands for an abrupt and violent end of a human being.”

 “Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you[b]; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.”

2 Corinthians 13:5

Are we really carrying the cross of the Bible? Is our faith real? Are we carrying the real cross? We cannot be really His disciples unless we do so, and we are apostate if we do not.

“Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”

Mark 8:34

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