“The Church Collects Sinners”

This following excerpt is from the devotional book, “Living the Message,” by Eugene H. Peterson.  This pastor-professor is probably the person I want to grow up to be like; he has a gentleness and eloquence that is seldom seen–and highly respected.

Author of many books, his translation of the Bible, titled “The Message” is a masterpiece of the English language.  Additionally, he has focused on the pastor, and on the many issues a pastor might face.  He understands being a servant of the Gospel and the Church.  I encourage you to read his stuff.  Email me if you want to start.  I will try to link up with your particular tastes.

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“When Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does.  Outsiders, on observing this, conclude there is nothing to this religious business, except perhaps, business…and a distant one at that.  Insiders see it much differently.”

“Just as a hospital gathers the sick under one roof and labels them as such, the Church collects sinners.  Many of the people outside are just as sick as the ones inside, but their illnesses are either undiagnosed or disguised.  It is similar with sinners outside the church.”

 Some other quotes by Eugene Peterson:

  • “All the persons of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us.”
  • “When we submit our lives to what we read in scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves. “
  • “When we sin and mess up our lives, we find that God doesn’t go off and leave us- he enters into our trouble and saves us.”
  • “American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition.”
 
Some Good Solid Websites:
 
 
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Dancing With Bruises

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Bruises seem to be part of life’s package to us. Some will be serious, most minor. But each are noted, and some will just have to be endured.

Dancers are some of the most wonderful people I know. Their gracefulness can be seen both on and off the stage. I know this is far from easy. By choosing to become dancers they have made a decision to absorb pain. Their toes and feet are blistered and bruised; they take constant abuse. Some must live with chronic tendinitis. Their feet bleed sometimes, and pain is their constant companion. Two things to consider.

  • They choose to dance. Dancers have an iron-will and a elegant grace. I suppose that is why they can dance.
  • The scars and bruises often become “badges of honor.” And they wouldn’t have it any other way. They would rather dance in pain, than not to dance at all.

Someone once compared depression as a “mental bruise.” I understand this. As depressed people, we must choose to walk out our lives from this pain. I know what it is like to bury myself in my bed for several weeks. My own mental bruise was simply more than I could take. There was a sensation of sinking into blackness, a sense of total and complete despair. I felt completely lost, and completely alone.

I prayed. I groaned, and I prayed. My sense of being totally lost was beyond comprehension. Dear reader, this was something quite real, and you must become aware of these things. Some of your friends are suffering. And it is a hellish and desperate depression.dancer-feet

To my Christian friends. Yes, I believe Jesus died for all my sins. He has forgiven me of much evil, I know that will live for eternity (with you). But mental illness is real, and like other illnesses it seldom is caused by evil or Satan. We would never say that diabetics are that way because of the enemy. Now the dark one will surely exploit it, but I think you give him far too much credit if you suggest he was able to initiate it. Satan just doesn’t have the spiritual “voltage.”

So, inspired by my dancing friends, and the Holy Spirit– I will make the choice to dance again. I’m pretty bruised, but I will try to ignore the pain. I would exult in my God, walk in His love, “leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture” (Malachi 4:2.)

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.”

Isaiah 42:3

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From a Mental Hospital Ward

3 For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.”

Psalm 143:3

Some time ago,  I was hospitalized for my mental illness. (Actually seven times.) And though each time was bitter, but the Lord carried me.  They would take me of shoelaces, and belts, and fingernail clippers.  Basically, I was stripped of everything, anything that I might use to harm myself. But I was creative, I took a clock off the wall and rolled it in a blanket,  I smashed it and used the shards of glass to cut my wrists.The nurses were exceptionally observant, and within moments they intervened.

I had already been stripped, searched, and then brought into a ward full of very sick people.  Much of all of this is a terrible glazed blur.  There was a real awareness of unreality.  I was quite confused, and it would take several weeks before I could reconnect.  Things were no longer ‘reasonable’ and I could discern nothing.  But I didn’t know I was so confused (but I did suspect it). The staff were quite aware and accommodating.  They let me be, so time could take care of the rest. I needed to unravel things  And, besides, Jesus knew exactly where I was if I didn’t.

Days rolled by, quite slowly.  The tedium of a mental hospital is the worst— much more difficult than jail or prison.  You walk in a very limited corridor, back and forth.  You wait for your shrink, and wait, and wait.  You pace, and pace. You pray, stupidly.  The other patients were equally disturbed.  There was a great variety among them.  One guy would urinate in any corner. Once he jumped up on the nurses station, and took a “whizz.” It was hysterical.  He almost shorted out their computer.

In all of this, there was a very bleak and strange awareness, of being incredibly ‘detached,’ and only remotely aware that something was not right with me.  I tried to get well, but I was mentally lost.  I paced, and I remained confused.  I was most definitely in an ugly place.  Desperate and increasingly bewildered, I knew I had no place to go.  A fine place for someone who used to pastor, and teach at a Bible college.

If you have been in this place, you will recognize the ‘lostness’ of being on a ward of a mental hospital. It is confusion mixed with despair,  and without a part of very strong drugs, and there is nothing you can do to be released.  And really until you come to this fact, they will never let you go.  They wait for you to snap out of your confusion, unfortunately that takes time. Sometimes many weeks and whole months. Sometimes never.

It’s worse when you have a family.  In my case it was my wife, and two small children.  This at times, would twist my heart.  I would get a very short phone call, once a week.  But this was quite difficult.  I gained very little from those calls, and I found myself quite disturbed after each call.  Being on this ward tinged me completely. It was like being dipped into darkness.  I was very much affected.  Now on the outside, I admit I was quite disturbed, but at the time I honestly did not understand a way out.

Dear friend, having a mental illness is cruel and disturbing.  And being committed to a mental hospital is a desperate thing.  Having passed through its locked doors is something you will never forget.  The way I figure these seven hospitalizations have stolen over six months of my life. Its work is irrevocable, its fingerprints will be on your life, for as long as you live.  But God will bring good out of this. This I know.

“Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
    Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be my light.”

Micah 7:8

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When Brutality Smashes Into Grace

photo, by Jonny Jelnek- Flickr
photo, by Jonny Jelnek- Flickr

“Or God disciplines people with pain on their sickbeds,
with ceaseless aching in their bones.” 

Job 33:19, NLT

“Don’t waste your pain; use it to help others.  Your greatest ministry will most likely come out of your greatest hurt.” 

Rick Warren

There really is not anything I can say about your pain that will make you feel better.  Words and counsel are almost always pathetically weak. Many will want to speak to you, they mean well, but seem to lack authenticity and wisdom.

Pain, in every way is always evil and dark.  I have friends who struggle with migraines, and others with Lou Gehrig disease.  A few friends have been incredibly injured, with bad disabilities.  Some have severe diabetes and one has a degenerative hip syndrome.  A dear elderly saint is in her later stages of Alzheimer’s. One of my friends has cerebral palsy. I had very close friend who just died with colon cancer.  Pain has been a constant companion to them. It is a definite issue.  And yet, there are also terrible mental disorders– and vicious schizophrenia, depression, and frightening paranoia that cripples them, they need medication.

We who hurt deeply, have an option of growing into gentle people.  Gentleness is not a given, in so many ways it is earned.  Not in the sense of attaining something, but “experiencing” something.  Our pain drips down on us while we sleep, and we discover we start caring about others, which is new.  Tears of love, mercy and grace begin to flow, often coming after years of stoic hardness.

“Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings.” 

Exodus 3:7

Having to live for the rest of your normal life with this pain can be horrifying, and incomprehensible.

God’s grace does meet us, we find.  But there are some moments of empty desperation.  So few understand, and even fewer can help.  Some have asked me if I had the faith to be healed.  But, doesn’t it take just as much faith to be ill? Think about it.

If you had never known afflictions in your own life, how do you think that you can touch those ‘nail-scarred’ hands which Jesus meets you with?  And the apostles, and all those martyrs from every generation in an unbroken line of suffering.  Grace grows considerably faster from a bed of pain.  It has our Father’s “Miracle Grow” in it.

Some should try to readjust themselves.  Faith doesn’t always lead us to sweet victory; but it does lead us to obedience.  And when it grows this way, sometimes victory will come.  But our Father places such a premium price on our obedience.  When we hurt, we grow.

“Ah, afflicted one, your disabilities were meant to unite with God’s enablings, your weakness to combine with His power. God’s grace is at hand –sufficient– and at its best when human weakness is most profound. Appropriate it and learn that those who wait on God are stronger in their weakness than the sons of men in their stoutest health and vigor.”

F.B. Meyer

“He who learns must suffer
And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget
Falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until in our own despair, against our will,
Comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

Aeschylus

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